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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, 24 July 2008, 4.


(Editor's Note: This is part three of Eric Schmaltz's history of the John Schmaltz family.)

Changing Times in Tsarist Russia

Tsar Alexander II

In the last decades of the nineteenth century, however, dramatic transformations in Russia began to take place, influencing the ethnic Germans not least of all. Catherine the Great and Alexander I had both proclaimed that their manifestos would apply “for all time,” but their tsarist successors could just as easily revoke them. Such was the power of absolute monarchy.

By the late nineteenth century, “Russification” policies distressed the empire’s “immigrant-colonists.” Behind these policies rested Tsar Alexander II’s (1855-1881) sincere desire to reform his sprawling empire. He introduced sweeping changes intended to revitalize the Russian peasantry and the surrounding countryside and to unify his many subject peoples. By doing so, however, the tsar also had to remove in the course of the 1860s and 1870s the Germans’ cherished privileges such as local self-government and exemption from military service.

Russia’s ethnic Germans expressed growing concern with the changing political climate in the region, above all with the rise of Russian nationalism and anti-German sentiment (Germanophobia).

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.

These fears combined with acute land hunger, which resulted from overpopulation and more restrictive laws on land purchases for non-Russians. These rising political, social, and economic pressures led to a large migration of tens of thousands of Germans from all parts of Russia to the Western Hemisphere in the half century following 1870. Less than a century after arriving in Russia, Germans again wandered far and wide in search of new opportunities across the globe. The vast majority of Germans, however, remained in Russia. For a time, they continued to live much as before, but they began to feel the effects of a gradual encroachment of Russian language and culture into their village enclaves. Political and social change accelerated further with the outbreak of World War I in July 1914 and the Bolshevik Revolution in November 1917.

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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