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Mr. and Mrs. John Kiest (Kust)

Mr. and Mrs. John Kiest and John Felchle tell of voyage to America and early experiences in the United States.

Felchle, Clifford. "Mr. and Mrs. John Kiest (Kust)." McClusky Gazette, 1930.


When Napoleon conquered part of Germany he left French soldiers to occupy the area. Napoleon went to Russia and was frozen out in 1812. His empire crumbled and some of his occupation soldiers stayed in the conquered territory as civilians. Hauk and Boschee, both French soldiers, stayed in Wurtemberg and married German wives. *

The Czar of Russia had married a German girl by the name of Catherine and because of this Russia was friendly toward the German people and invited them to Russia. *

Mrs. John Kiest’s great-grandparents moved to Russia in 1814. Possibly they took a boat down the Danube and moved the rest of the way by wheelbarrow. ** They moved to an area near the Black Sea. Great-grandfather Boschee was one and a half years old when his family moved to Russia. Great-grandfather Jacob Lang was carried to Russia as a nine month old baby. It is said that he developed three natural sets of teeth. He died at the age of one hundred and three years at which time Mrs. John Kiest was seven years old.

In Russia, Mrs. John Kiest lived thirty miles from Bender and twenty miles from Tiraspol, in the dorf Kassel, in the state of Bessarabia. From Kassel, which was situated in hills above a large valley, there was a narrow valley about one block wide which led to the Dniester River.

The houses were built out of rock and clay brick. The roofs were made of rohr, which was similar to the stem of the cattail which is a tall marsh plant. A six inch layer of the rohr was sewn with twine to the wooden roof frame. A roof would remain in excellent repair after ten years of exposure to the elements. Most of the Russians just stacked straw on their buildings and it was very easy to differentiate Russian from German homes. The house in which Mrs. John Kiest lived as a child burned down when she was seven years old. It had been a two bedroom, kitchen, and dining room dwelling. Her mother was able to save only their clothes. The cause of the fire was not determined. When she was eight years old the house was rebuilt. They lived in the new house for ten years. In their dorf there were eight rows of houses, each row being two miles long. The lots were two hundred and ten feet by one hundred and five feet. A lot cost thirty ruble.

They had epidemics of cholera. Sometimes one fourth of the population of a dorf would die. They would dig large holes and haul people by wagon to the mass burials. The last epidemic was when Mrs. John Kiest’s father was twenty-four years old.

There were two Lutheran, one Baptist, and one Reformed church in Kassel. The Baptist church was only one block from Mrs. John Kiest’s home. Often after she had gone to the Lutheran Sunday School, she and other girls went out into the woods to pick strawberries and flowers. The strawberries, which were plentiful, were about as large as our tame ones.

Kassel had two flour mills and two oil mills. Mrs. John Kiest’s father worked for fifteen years in one of the oil mills. They produced oil from mustard, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds. They used the oil for cooking. They used pumpkins for human consumption and also fed them to cattle. While her father worked in the oil mill the rest of the family took care of the fields. They rented land at two and a half acres for fifteen ruble or they furnished everything and the owner was given half of the crop as his share.

On July 10, 1905 Mrs. John Kiest and her brother, August, left Russia by train to Bremen, Germany. They had problems obtaining passports so they had to stay in Germany until September of that year. Mrs. John Kiest says she often cried during that time and found life very difficult. She and her brother were able to find work while in Germany, but it was difficult work. The ticket from Bremen to Baltimore cost one hundred nine dollars. When they got on board they had only eleven dollars left. The steamer, Kassel, carried six hundred passengers. They sailed for twelve days. For three days they were restricted to lower decks because of a storm. Mrs. John Kiest did not become seasick but her brother became very seasick. From Baltimore they traveled by train to Anamose, North Dakota arriving there on October 3, 1905.

Mr. John Kiest’s family was also from Wurtemberg. His grandparents were carried to the area of the Black Sea as two year old children. Possibly they also traveled by boat down the Danube. This was approximately a generation later than the immigration of Mrs. John Kiest’s family.

Mr. John Kiest was born on January 24, 1882 in Klöstitz, Bessarabia. His dorf was in a valley approximately three miles wide and ninety miles long, with its mouth entering the Black Sea. The name of the valley was Shar Kadal. Their farm to market road was approximately sixteen miles long and fifty feet wide. It was a muddy road when it rained. Shade trees lined both sides of the road. This area in Russia had a climate which was mild although it would snow some in the winter. It seldom was colder than ten degrees below zero. Even in the winter, snow would sometimes melt away.

They had many apple, peach, and plum orchards, but no citrus fruit. They did not have irrigation systems. Mr. John Kiest felt the fruit was sweeter from unirrigated orchards. They did not prune fruit trees. They only cut off dry limbs. The fruit was packed in wooden pails to be stored for winter use. Some of the fruit was used by the family and some of it was sold.

His family had four vineyards. They made their own wine and sold it for one ruble to one ruble and eighty kopecks per measure which equaled four gallons.

They raised wheat, corn, cats, and rye. To thrash the grain they spread it in heavy layers and used horses to pull a big wheel made out of stone over the grain. The stone wheel was pulled in a circular path until the grain was thrashed.

A scythe was used to harvest hay and grain. The scythe had a cradle so that a winrow would be formed. They scythe was sharpened by beating it flat and then producing a sharp edge with a wet stone.

They had a pair of oxen for about two or three years after which they obtained horses. To plow the land a three share plow was pulled by six horses.

Other activities included tending bee hives and some times they went fishing. Mr. John Kiest remembered selling fish to some Jewish people.

Because of the Russians starting universal military training many of the people in the area of the Black Sea became unhappy and looked for a new home. They returned to Germany and from there took a ship to the United States.

In 1901 Mr. John Kiest left Russia. He went to Bremen, a sea port in Germany, and there boarded the ship William The Great to the United States. He was on the Atlantic Ocean for Christmas that year and after a seven day voyage arrived in the United States in 1902. In 1901 William McKinley was president of the United States. The president was assassinated September 6, 1901 and Teddy Roosevelt, the vice-president became president.

Mr. John Kiest and his family went by train to Kulm, North Dakota where they bought nine cows, four horses, a wagon, and house hold things. They waited until spring after which they went by train to Bowden, North Dakota which was the end of the railroad line at that time. From Bowden to Goodrich they moved by wagon.

On March 5, 1906 Mr. and Mrs. John Kiest were married. This was the beginning of a new life on a homestead near Goodrich, North Dakota.

*May not be correct
**Incorrect

Information Following May Not be Correct

1. Catherine II (1729-1796), called “the Great”, was a German princess who became empress of Russia. During her rule, Russia expanded greatly. She promoted European, particularly French, culture in Russia.

2. This date is by my calculation. By history we know that Napoleon was frozen out of Russia in 1812. I expect the immigration of our forefathers to Russia from Germany would not have occurred before 1814. If this were correct than Mr. Jacob Lang would have lived to the age of approximately 83 rather than 103 years old.

3. I once talked to a German physician who told me that many of the southern German people migrated to Russia by taking a boat down the Danube. This would be about a 1,500 mile trip. Mr. and Mrs. John Kiest remembered having been told that part of the moving had been by wheelbarrow. I would expect the wheelbarrow was used to the boat in Germany and from the boat in Russia.

4. By history Nicholas II became the last Czar of Russia in 1894. A revolutionary movement started in the 1890’s when a series of bad harvests caused starvation in some areas. Discontent among the Russian people grew after an economic depression began in 1899. The number of student protests, peasant revolts, and worker strikes increased. The general unrest in Russia may have also been a factor in causing Mr. and Mrs. John Kiest to leave Russia.

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