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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, 28 August 2008, 17.


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

Village of Kandel: On the Banks of the Dniester River

The ruins of the former St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church built in 1892 in the village of Kandel (Ribalskoye), Ukraine.  The Soviet authorities tore down the church steeple around 1935.  The structure is now used for coal storage.

Josef and Ursula were among the founding families of the village of Kandel on the banks of the Dniester River. Before the first German arrivals in 1808 and 1809, however, a Gypsy (Roma) settlement stood in the vicinity of Kandel. Not long after the village’s founding, according to village historians native to the region, the Gypsies decided to abandon the site and move on. Over the years, though, a small number of Gypsy families resided in the local German villages.

Kandel was located about 40 miles northwest of the great port city of Odessa, Ukraine, which Catherine the Great had founded toward the end of her long reign. In the Dakotas, Germans from Russia immigrants often told people that they came from Odessa, Russia, but they meant that they came from villages situated in the general area. It is comparable to someone today saying that they came from Chicago, but actually lived in a nearby community or a suburb of Chicago. It was perhaps easier for them to explain this to people who were unfamiliar with the old country.

In many respects, South Russia constituted the “frontier” for Germans and other immigrant-settlers in 1808, much like what pioneers in North America encountered. Of course, Germans pushed east, while Americans went west. Kandel was one of six German-Catholic villages—along with Selz, Baden, Strassburg, Mannheim and Elsass—in what became known as the Kutschurgan Colonist District. Officially, the settlement of Kandel was located in the Region of Odessa, in the Province of Cherson, in the Municipality of Selz.

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 majority of farmers who founded these six villages originated in Alsace and the Palatinate. The villages lay on the left (east) bank of the Dniester River, or “Nischter” as the Germans referred to it. The Dniester was also susceptible to overflowing its banks and damaging village property. The Kutschurgan (Kuchurgan in Russian) was a small river that flowed through Strassburg into the Dniester-Liman and on to the historic Black Sea.

Kandel was the most southerly of the four villages along the Dniester River and was also known as Long Kandel (Langenkandel). It stretched about two miles alongside a freshwater lake, the Liman, which extended out from the Dniester (i.e., an estuary). The Liman was almost eight miles long and one mile wide. By all accounts, Kandel as a result enjoyed a unique scenic location. As village populations increased, members from these communities established “daughter-colonies” in the region, including New Kandel (Neu-Kandel) in 1872.

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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