Tumbling Around These Prairies
Cory, Bob. "Tumbling Around These Prairies." Minot Daily News, 6 July 1974, 5.
At Rugby this week the North Dakota society of Germans from Russia
met in an area where the names of several towns are the same as
of cities in Germany, and the same as of German settlements in Russia.
This triplication of geographic names--the originals in Germany
and copies in South Russia and in the United States--attests to
the trail of German migration.
South of Rugby, for example, is the hamlet of Selz. The name originates
in the old German province of Alsace, and there was a village of
Selz in the Odessa district of Russia.
Similarly in nearby McHenry County, Karlsruhe bears the name of
the old capital of Baden. This is also the name that German settlers
gave to a village in Taurien north of the Sea of Azov. Some distance
from Rugby, and north of Devils Lake, is Munich, named for the great
Bavarian city, which in German is called Munchen. In Russia a Munchen
was established northeast of Odessa.
It would far oversimplify truth to leap to a conclusion that Selz,
North Dakota was settled by Germans from Selz, Russia, and that
they were descendants of people from Selz in Alsace. Or to guess
that Karlsruhe in Germany furnished the colonists for Karlsruhe
in Russia, who in turn migrated to Karlsruhe, North Dakota. It just
did not happen in that fashion. The trail from Germany to the United
States was more complex. Besides not all towns in North Dakota with
German names were settled by Germans who came via Russia.
Readers are free to point to other examples in this triplication
of place names, linking Germany with Russia and with North Dakota.
A possible example, I thought, might be Newburg in Bottineau County,
Tradition says, however, that the Bottineau County village was named
after a township which in turn was named for Andrew Newborg, an
early settler. One is tempted to dispute this, finding a Neuburg
northeast of Augsburg in Germany, and another Neuburg southwest
of Odessa; and knowing that there were Germans (though not from
Russia) among earlier homesteaders of Bottineau County.
It seems clear that the founders of early German colonies in Russia
chose the names of their settlements. Not always, however, was their
choice the name of the German community of their origin. The Mennonities
from Germany commonly chose the name of their home community, which
they had loved and left under political duress. Frequently, though,
southern German emigrants were poverty-stricken, depressed people
who although they loved the German language and culture were disposed
to want to forget the places where they had much unhappiness. They
did, normally, select familiar German names for the settlements
they established in Russia. In the United States (and in North Dakota)
immigrants from Russia may have been privileged to choose the names
of a few settlements. More often the German names were picked more
or less at random by railroad immigration agents or platters of
townsites, thinking any German name would appeal to German speaking
The Russo-Germans of North Dakota chose for their convention a
city which lays claim to the geographical center of North America.
That center, anyhow, is not far from the heart of the major concentrations
of their ethnic group in the United States.
States receiving the greatest numbers are North Dakota, South
Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado. The largest concentration
of all was in North Dakota.
Germans from Russia began entering Dakota Territory in 1873, first
in what is now South Dakota. From the southern part of the territory
they filtered into what became North Dakota starting in 1884. Between
1884 and 1920 the influx into North Dakota, including immigrants
and their children, totaled nearly 70,000. By comparison Kansas
in that year had 31,512, South Dakota 30,937, Nebraska 22,421 and
The preponderance of Russo-Germans in the Dakotas as of 1920 was
of immigrants classifying as Schwarzmeer Deutsch; that is, persons
who came from near the Black Sea.
Anyhow, as of today, Germans from Russia constitute the liveliest
ethnic group on North Dakota. They have their own state-wide historical
society. They have their own historians and their own periodical,
entitled "Heritage Review." Their society maintains an affiliation
with the State Historical Society of North Dakota.
The senior historian of Germans from Russia, anywhere you find
them in the United States, is Dr. Karl Stumpp, native of a village
near Odessa. He took his doctorate in Tubingen in Bessarabia. For
seven years he was director of German-Russian research in "Deutsches
Auslandsinstitut" in Stuttgart.
At present the interest of the members in North Dakota runs strongly
to family histories and genealogies.
The bible for family research is Dr. Stumpp's 1,020-page tome,
"The Emigration from Germany to Russia in the Years 1763 to 1862."
The edition of this work used in the United States is one published
by the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, Lincoln,
This work is remarkable for its compilation of names, dates and
places of settlement derived from passport and census records that
were found in archives in Dnepropetrovsk; plus lists of names from
church and community records compiled in Europe; plus data from
family Bibles and personal records and correspondence. The labor
that went into the book is tremendous. It is comprehensive, and
yet as selective as the angel's book of gold in "Abou Ben Adhem."
The energetic editor of "Heritage Review" and an effective booster
of the North Dakota society is Arthur Leno of Bismarck.
Reprinted with permission of Minot Daily News.