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The John Schmaltz family of Emmons County: from Ukrainian Steppes to Dakota Prairies

Schmaltz, Eric. "The John Schmaltz family of Emmons County: from Ukrainian Steppes to Dakota Prairies." Emmons County Record, 15 January 2009, 13.
(Editor's Note: This is part sixteen of Eric Schmaltz's history of the John Schmaltz family.)

One of the Largest Families in N.D.

Family portrait taken in 1944 in Emmons County around the time of Margaret (Schmaltz) Materi’s funeral. The family actually inserted a previous picture of her face into this group photo (see far left). John and Clara (Bullinger) Schmaltz produced 17 children (one son died in infancy), making the family the largest in North Dakota at one time.

This prolific union of Germans from Russia immigrants to North Dakota produced seventeen Schmaltz children between 1904 and 1932. One child, George, died in infancy, but sixteen survived into adulthood: Margaret, Adam, John Jr., Anton, Ralph, Mary, Agatha, Frances, Agnes, Rose, Martina, Michael, Leo, Clara, Hugo and Felicia.

Daughter-in-law Eunice (Germain) Schmaltz reminisced years later that John Sr. always wore a clean, starched white-collar shirt. By most accounts, matriarch Clara, a good woman, also assumed much of the day-to-day responsibility for childrearing and discipline. Her hands were certainly full with the children, especially the boys, who became well-known for working hard and playing even harder. A book could be written on these things, including both the comical and the almost macabre.

Eric Schmaltz. The author is immigrant Johann Schmalz’s great-grandson.  Born in Minot, North Dakota, in 1971, he is Assistant Professor of History at Northwestern Oklahoma State University, where he teaches Modern European and World History.  He expresses his eternal gratitude to old issues of the Emmons County Record as well as various extended relatives by blood or marriage who have assisted him with family history research over the past two decades, in particular Bro. Placid Gross, Mrs. Mary Lynn Axtman, Mrs. Nicole (French) Bailey, Prof. Amy Deibert, and Prof. Michael M. Miller.

The Schmaltz clan and related branches grew by leaps and bounds over the decades. In 1946, for example, the Emmons County Record reported that the John Schmaltz family had earned for a time the distinction of being the largest in North Dakota, and was still one of the largest in the state and county.

The Schmaltzes, most notably the first generation born in America, were rabid baseball fans. During the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s, America’s “pastime” constituted one component of the overall successful cultural assimilation of ethnic-immigrant groups, not least of all the Germans from Russia on the northern prairies. Leo (1923-1987) was especially interested in the game. When he owned his Schmaltz Super Valu store in Washburn, North Dakota, during the 1950s and 1960s, he served on the baseball committee for the local American Legion post and worked hard to improve the local diamond. He was ever a diehard Yankees fan, and one time his friends conducted a mock “funeral” in front of his store when the Yankees lost the World Series.

Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller
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