Russia to the Dakotas
A Prosperous Settlement of Russian-Germans Living Around Eureka
Came from the Black Sea
A Hard-Working, Generous and Honest Body of Men Eager to Learn American Ways.
"Russia to the Dakotas." St. Paul Globe, 29 April 1900, 18.
An interesting feature of Eureka, S. D., writes E. S. Rollins, in the Northwestern Miller, besides being one of the greatest wheat receiving points in the world, is that this little town in the northern part of that prairie state is surrounded for many miles by a class of people who are, or were, indeed strangers in a strange land a few years ago. From the southern provinces of Russia, on the north shores of the Black sea, to the Dakotas, is a change that requires some thought and a map of the world to fully comprehend. Yet these people came with their families, their household goods and a little money, and settled upon the wide prairies of the Missouri valley, their only thought to make their homes here and prosper as the conditions of the new country might permit. That they have prospered, the many fine farms, well-stocked and with good buildings, bear witness.
The strangers who came to this section of South Dakota a few years ago and who now are the predominating people around Eureka, have an interesting history, although they have no country of their own, no "fatherland.” Locally, they are called German-Russians, but in speech and customs they are neither one nor the other, fully. Their ancestors were Germans, from Wurtemberg and Baden, in Southern Germany. One hundred years ago, or, to be exact, from 1801 to 1813, the Russian government offered special inducements to German farmers who would go over to Southern Russia and settle in the Odessa district. They were given lands on a plan somewhat similar to the American homestead right; they were permitted to have schools, churches and courts, in which their own language was used; and, in addition, the men were exempt from service in the Russian army. These privileges were granted for a term of sixty-five years. It can be said, to the credit of the government, that, during this period, the compact was kept, so far as anything is heard to the contrary. But, of more recent years, the czar has thought that it were time they were becoming fully Russian. Their habits and speech had meanwhile become mixed, so that many of their words are unintelligible to a German.
What led to their Immigration to America was that the government began to insist that they adopt the religion of the country and become Greek Catholics. Then, too, land had become valuable in their district .and there were no opportunities for the young men to get a start in life. So, many of them sold their possessions, gathered together their household effects and their numerous family and turned toward the ever hospitable shores of far-away America.
The first German-Russians to come to South Dakota settled in Bon Homme county, in the southeastern part of the state, in 1872-73. It was not until 1884 that they began to settle in the northern part of the state, in McPherson county. In 1887 a railroad was completed to Eureka, in that county, which is still the terminus of the road. The western part of McPherson, the larger part of McIntosh, Emmons, Campbell and Walworth counties are now settled by these people. A man who has been among them and knows them thoroughly thus describes the German-Russians of South Dakota.
"Generally speaking, they are hardworking, generous and honest to a fault. Their hospitality is unlimited, and a person asking for shelter is seldom turned from the door, regardless of circumstances. These people are God-fearing, and in many ways adhere to their Russian customs, manners of belief and religion, but are eager to learn American ways; hence they are often duped by American rascals. When once misused or taken advantage of, they never forget. Through strict economy they are acquiring fine homes and are becoming first class American citizens. Most of them are now out of the reach of the money sharks and machine robbers who have preyed upon them for many years; and when they can are assisting each other to acquire independence and property. Those of the second generation are apt scholars, and as fast as opportunities are offered are making good businessmen and citizens."
Eureka is a town of about 2,000 inhabitants, and as it is the terminus of the only railroad in the country, with no paralleling lines nor competing towns, it is the distributing point for a wide section of country. Farmers come here to sell their grain and stock and to buy their supplies, from sixty to sixty-five miles to the northwest, forty to the westward and an equal distance to the east. Therefore, as wheat is the principal crop in this section, Eureka becomes a very large receiving point for wheat from first hands. Coming from the extreme distances with loads of wheat, farmers are on the road two days. They stay in town over night and start back home the following day. The women and children often come with the men. They bring provisions with them, as a rule, so that it is only necessary to find a place to pass the night in town. One of the merchants, who has a large store, permits these people to bring their blankets and quilts and "camp" on the floor; so that in the fall, when wheat is moving freely, it often happens that this store, at night resembles a barracks more than a place to trade; and as the German-Russians are good smokers and their pipes are well seasoned, the air is likely to become somewhat heavy before morning.
For the last four or five years the wheat crop in this part of South Dakota has been much below a full yield, so that the receipts and shipments have been light compared with good years. There are now twenty-seven grain warehouses and elevators buying and shipping grain at Eureka, and as each house has several buyers, there are lively times in the streets when wheat comes in in any volume. The buyers climb on the wagons, inspect the wheat and make their bids, while the owner stands haughtlly by, hardly the downtrodden and oppressed farmer we are often told about, who has to beg some one to take his wheat at any old price. With such competition margins often get cut pretty thin, and the farmer is the gainer.
On the 1899 crop, from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31, the shipments of wheat from Eureka amounted to just 999 cars; and of flax, 47 cars. Taking an average of 800 bushels of wheat to the carload, there was shipped in that time about 800,000 bushels. In an ordinary year the shipments would have amounted to 2,000,000 bushels.
In the trade Eureka has the name of being the greatest spring wheat primary receiving point. Here every bushel of wheat comes in wagons direct from farmers; and the farmers are mostly men who, a few years ago, were paying taxes to the Russian government and standing still in the world. Now they are American citizens, and the second generation has already advanced further than their ancestors did in their 100 years or allegiance to the czars of Russia.