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Germans From Russia Traveled far Before Settling Here

"Germans From Russia Traveled far Before Settling Here." Pierce County Tribune, 22 June 1987.


The Germans from Russia who settled the Balta area traveled halfway around the world to find their new home. A change of attitude of the Russian leaders had driven these people from their adopted Russian homeland in the late 19th century.

From Russia they migrated to southern North Dakota, and then, according to Paul Sand in the Pierce County Press in 1936, “They were driven out by a drought. Scarcity of water compelled them to seek new homes.”

“To make this search, they selected five scouts. These men, Peter Vetsch, Wendelin and Alisi Schall, Carl Voeller and Dominick Tuchscherer, set out on the long journey in search of new land. There was no easy method of travel; they had much use for their knowledge of the prairies.

At last they found the place for which they were seeking and sent word back to their neighbors. Their new homes were erected in Jefferson Township, about twelve miles northwest of the present town of Balta. Into this rich farming land came the colony of home seekers. They had already made plans for the development of their community.”

Word was sent back to the Emmons county area, and other German -Russians moved to Pierce County. Joseph M. Voeller was among the first arrivals. He settled a claim and built himself a shack, and according to early issues of The Pierce County Tribune, “then went back to Emmons County from which he and many others had come, and got a wife to bring back with him. He was the first of the new colony to get married.”

Sand continued with his narrative, “Harking back to the farms of Russia, they decided their new colony would be just like the old.

“A homestead could be any shape one wished it to be, but all the land had to be adjoining. A homesteader could not take out his allotted number of acres in two separate pieces of land. They planned to have their land in long narrow strips on each side of a common road so that they could be more neighborly.

“By agreement, they left forty acres to be worked later for the church. These plans all fell through when the land recorder made a mistake and someone settled on the land set aside for the church.”

An endless stream of emigrants began to arrive, “Day and night,” Sand continued, “wagons creaked across the prairie bringing more pioneers to master the new land. There were hardships to face. A snowstorm arose and attacked them as though to turn them back, but they moved steadily toward their new homes.

“At night they camped along the trail. There were no hotels and tourist camps in those days. Each traveler had to furnish his own night’s lodging.

“Fresh furrows appeared where only the wild prairie grasses could be seen before. The broken ground, however, was the most notable change in the prairies, for the homes were mostly from the sod of the prairies themselves. Each man was his own carpenter and mason when he finally picked his land and unhitched his oxen.”

“That first year they broke the land for flax. The results were encouraging. For the next ten years, almost without exception, these people harvested good crops. The community thrived.

“The first year only one event marred their happiness. Wendelin Schall’s boy died. There was no church or cemetery. When the Fulda church was established, the body was moved to that site.

“There was only one thing of which settlers could complain. Their market was so far away that they could only haul a load a day. This made the marketing of the grain a tedious process. The trips were long and arduous and wasted a great deal of time.”

“In 1911 the news of the railroad approaching brought cheer to the community. A town was platted and the site selected fell upon the land homesteaded by Joe Ebach. This farmland is the present school grounds.”

The town was called Egan, honoring a railroad laborer who helped build the line into the area. However, after a while the post office put up a squawk because there was also and Egan in South Dakota, and the mail was getting mixed up. Thus the name was changed to Balta by the original settlers, in honor or a town in Russia where they had lived.

A town site was platted west of where the town now sits, and a bank building was built there in 1910, and was in operation. However, the buildings on that site were moved to the new site when it was determined the railroad would not run near enough the old site.

“The town rapidly developed,” Sand said. “Peter Fettig established an implement business. A lumberyard, founded by a man named Torgerson, soon followed. Sand and Zacher started a store.

“Soon Earl Orr moved in with a coal and wood yard. The first boarding house was erected by Nat Powell, who also ran a dray line. Two elevators appeared the Farmers’ and the O.M.”

Three factors helped develop the town: the railroad, the highway and the language. Most of the people couldn’t speak English and thus wanted to spend time with those they could communicate with. Those German-speaking people settled in and around Balta.

Built in 1912 was a pair of elevators, the Soo Line depot, a lumberyard, a bank, a store, a post office, a hotel and an implement shop.

Sand said, “There were few residents in the town in 1912. They were J.L. Elwell, W.H. Ortwein, Al Maurer, Paul A. Sand and Adam Zacher. On October 24, 1912, Katherine Sand was born. She was the first child born in the new town. This event occurred two days after her parents had moved their buildings into town.

“The year 1915 saw a big increase in the town. Business was finding a rich field in this new grain market. The community served by these pioneer merchants was a prosperous once. In that year Rochus Eisenzimmer opened a large general store. Ed Schneider started a pool hall; Ed Ferguson opened a hotel; Peter Fettig continued his implement shop; L.N. Abel established a butcher shop. A blacksmith shop was started by John Krim.

“In May of that year, Ed Schneider felt so prosperous that he took a wife.” (This statement by Sand was not mere rhetoric; many a marriage was postponed in the early days because people couldn’t afford to get married.)

“A few years later, John Reinbold opened a livery stable and dray line. He later kept abreast of the time by acting as a Standard Oil agent. Tony Klein built a pool hall. M.M. Werran was one of the first clerks in town. When the post office was opened, Mr. Ortwein was made postmaster.”

No town in the early days survived without a sufficient supply of water. Balta was lucky in that respect, but some of that luck was due to “several farmers who where having a great deal of difficulty getting enough water for the stock and themselves.”

Thus the railroad was not run through that area near Balta, as the railroad needed a great deal of water.

“The first wells drilled (in the new area, where the town is now) produced water before the shaft had been sunk more than 35 feet,” said The Pierce County Tribune. “The water was clear and the supply seemed endless.”

That is but one of many factors that has allowed this predominantly German-Russian town in Pierce County to survive.

Reprinted with permission of The Pierce County Tribune, Rugby, North Dakota.

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