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South Dakota Moments: Ethnic newspaper started in Yankton
It served Germans from Russia

Callison, Jill. "South Dakota Moments: Ethnic newspaper started in Yankton. It served Germans from Russia." Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 16 August 2011.


A newspaper designed to bring news to ethnic Germans from Russia who had settled elsewhere had its start in Yankton, Dakota Territory.

For 80 years, the Dakota Freie Presse focused on promoting understanding and cooperation among the Germans in America, according to La Vern Rippley, who wrote about the newspaper for North Dakota History magazine.

"(I)ts focus of attention was distinctly on the Germans from Russia and the relations between the Germans still in Russia and those who were living in the United States," Rippley wrote.

Because of that, German-Russians retained a cohesiveness and a pride in their heritage to an extent unknown in any other German immigrant group around the world.

The Dakota Freie Presse, sometimes called the "bible of the Russian-Germans," was founded in 1874 in Yankton by a man named Bernhard Quinke.

It underwent several changes of owners and locations during its early years. One owner, Johann Christian Wenzlaff, erected a brick building on Broadway Avenue in Yankton to house the newspaper.

For 30 years of the Dakota Freie Presse's existence, however, its operations were overseen by Friedrich Wilhelm Sallet. It was under Sallet's ownership, Rippley's research revealed, that the newspaper took on a transregional nature and circulation skyrocketed.

Sallet had been born in 1859 in East Prussia. He gained experience at a Wisconsin newspaper beginning in 1894, but in 1902 he returned to Germany.

However, his three sons and one daughter preferred life in the United States, and so did Sallet. In 1903 he purchased the Dakota Freie Presse.

In September 1905, the newspaper moved into new quarters and declared itself politically independent.

"The new publisher gained the support of many German-Russians as a result of which the paper could boast of having not only the finest publishing house in South Dakota but also more subscribers than any English-language paper" in the state, Rippley writes.

In 1906, Sallet sold his publishing business, his presses and the building. That same year, he and his first wife were divorced.

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But two years later, he purchased the Dakota Freie Presse once again, and in 1909 he moved the paper from Yankton to Aberdeen. He had purchased a lot there, erected a building and bought all new printing equipment.

As the United States entered World War I, the Dakota Freie Presse found itself operating under a law that required translations of stories pertaining to the fighting to be submitted to the local postmaster.

In 1918, Sallet was arrested for failing to file an English translation of two articles and his editor was arrested for wearing "a ring with a traitorous inscription" on it and a watchband that bore an image of German's Kaiser Wilhelm and Austria's Kaiser Franz Josef.

The editor, J.F. Paul Gross, was found to be an enemy alien and was interned at Fort Ogle- thorpe, Ga., for the rest of the war. Sallet accepted responsibility for Gross' failure to file the translations and pleaded guilty. He was fined $500.

Lawyers' fees, however, were much greater than that. In 1920, Sallet sold the building in Aberdeen and moved to New Ulm, Minn. In the Feb. 24, 1920, issue, Sallet said Aberdeen was not open-minded and friendly to a German-American community.

"(C)itizens of German birth are still being persecuted with incomprehensible hate there," Sallet wrote.

In 1924, R.C. Richards of Huron, a politician, invited Sallet back to South Dakota, also suggesting that he start an English language newspaper to attract a younger generation, but it never happened.

That same year, the Dakota Freie Presse became the first newspaper published in the United States to be allowed re-entry into the Soviet Union.

Sallet retired in 1931, and his nephew became editor. Sallet committed suicide Sept. 23, 1932. His sons sold the newspaper.

The Dakota Freie Presse merged with other newspapers but never regained its peak circulation. It closed in 1954.

Reach reporter Jill Callison at 331-2307.

But two years later, he purchased the Dakota Freie Presse once again, and in 1909 he moved the paper from Yankton to Aberdeen. He had purchased a lot there, erected a building and bought all new printing equipment.

As the United States entered World War I, the Dakota Freie Presse found itself operating under a law that required translations of stories pertaining to the fighting to be submitted to the local postmaster.

In 1918, Sallet was arrested for failing to file an English translation of two articles and his editor was arrested for wearing "a ring with a traitorous inscription" on it and a watchband that bore an image of German's Kaiser Wilhelm and Austria's Kaiser Franz Josef.

The editor, J.F. Paul Gross, was found to be an enemy alien and was interned at Fort Ogle- thorpe, Ga., for the rest of the war. Sallet accepted responsibility for Gross' failure to file the translations and pleaded guilty. He was fined $500.

Lawyers' fees, however, were much greater than that. In 1920, Sallet sold the building in Aberdeen and moved to New Ulm, Minn. In the Feb. 24, 1920, issue, Sallet said Aberdeen was not open-minded and friendly to a German-American community.

"(C)itizens of German birth are still being persecuted with incomprehensible hate there," Sallet wrote.

In 1924, R.C. Richards of Huron, a politician, invited Sallet back to South Dakota, also suggesting that he start an English language newspaper to attract a younger generation, but it never happened.

That same year, the Dakota Freie Presse became the first newspaper published in the United States to be allowed re-entry into the Soviet Union.

Sallet retired in 1931, and his nephew became editor. Sallet committed suicide Sept. 23, 1932. His sons sold the newspaper.

The Dakota Freie Presse merged with other newspapers but never regained its peak circulation. It closed in 1954.

Reach reporter Jill Callison at 331-2307.

Reprinted by permission of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader

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