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South Dakota Beginnings

Germans from Russia Heritage Society Convention
Pierre, South Dakota
9 July 1994

Presentation by Clarence Bauman

Transcription by Joy Hass Stefan
Edited and Proofread by Linda M. Haag


CB: Good evening. You heard so many speakers these past two days, and come to think of it, I’m the only one who doesn’t have a doctor’s degree of some sort or another. It kind of makes me feel like the bad boy among a team of professional folk tellers.

With a name like Bauman, I should really be a carpenter, but, I even tried that. I didn’t have much success at it because every time I cut some lumber I had to cut it twice and it was still too short. [laughter]

Now if Dr. [? 015] is out there… I don’t see him, but there are so many of you out there… he talked about the public debts this noon and the grave marker… it so happens that that cemetery and that public debts marker was just a mile and a half from where I grew up. It was the cemetery part of the little country [? 021] and I believe I attended that church with my parents for about seven years before they merged with the St. Paul Lutheran church in Java in about 1931 or ’32.

I’m also glad that our good friend Armen is feeling better. Six months ago I was a bit worried, but it looks like you’re doing real well, Armen, and we’re so happy for you.
Presentation by Edwald Wutschke

And now, South Dakota. Tonight, as we near the end of the society’s 24th Convention, I’m going to ask you a question. What does it mean to be a South Dakotan? To me it means a rich mix of hearty people, open spaces, and all kinds of weather. Our winters are cold and our summers are hot, and the pioneers who settled here had to be strong to survive. As you came here this week for the 24th Convention, it would have been a shame if you had been taking a nap in the car – I don’t mean the driver by that – and missed the rolling countryside, the waving green fields, the healthy looking livestock gathered in the pasture, the farms next to a [? 042] belt, and the pioneer towns along the way.

Last winter on one very cold, 20 below zero night, I was reminiscing about the times as a youngster on the farm here in Java, SD, and the many winters I tested the pump handle with my tongue, [laughter] only to try again the following winter. [more laughter] I left plenty of skin on that pump handle. But when spring arrives, we look back and say, “Yes, it was a tough winter, but do you remember the winter of …?” Complain as we will, the winters won’t change, but then isn’t it just a sign that spring is coming?

About then, my thoughts returned to the present, and I remembered Bertha, sitting right over there. Bertha Gross had asked me some months ago to talk to you this evening about South Dakota, and not to forget the area around Holabird where her roots are. Now here’s a true story that took place, and this story was told to me by my sister Hilda Schaffer of Lodi. She was teaching in the Hoven school system at that time, and it was a typical spring like day in March. Three area farmers were standing on Main Street. They were visiting. It was a cloudy day. Sometimes the sun broke through, followed by a rain shower and then a snow squall. All the while, the wind was blowing in cold from the northwest. It really was a nasty day. After awhile one of the farmers looked up at the heavens and he said, “It looks like God took the day off and his helpers are just fooling around up there.” That one was for you, Bertha.

1861 was an exciting year in history and in Dakota. On March 1, 1861, Dakota Territory was established. It included what is now, North and South Dakota, plus parts of what is now Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Later in 1868, Wyoming and Montana were organized as separate territories. Very few people were here then. The Dakota Territory seemed so far away that the rest of the country paid little attention to what was happening or about to happen here. Yankton would become the capital of this new territory. Land offices were set up and surveying began so the land or property would be ready for settlers to claim. When Dakota Territory was almost 10 years old the census was taken in 1870, and the entire population was only about 10,000. Dakota needed a better image as a place for settlers, and in 1870 that meant railroads. By late 1872 the railroads came to Yankton from the east and south.

All of you here this evening are familiar with the Homestead Act of 1862, so I won’t go into much detail about that, except you should know that each homesteader was expected to live on his quarter section of land, and to farm it for five years. At the end of that time he was given ownership of the land after paying a filing fee which was usually $26 in Dakota. If he wanted to own the land sooner, he could buy it for $1.25 an acre. Now, after 1873, this settler could also get a quarter section of land by planting trees on it. This was known as the Tree Claim, and it was under the Timber Culture Act, which was passed by Congress, and that was to increase the number of trees on the prairies.

Also, settlers were able to get Government land by a process called Preemption. This gave a settler the right to settle on a quarter section and later buy it for $1.25 per acre. Often settlers tried to use all three methods of acquiring land. If a family filed a Homestead, a Tree Claim, and a Preemption, he could get 480 acres of land. Interestingly, during these early years, up to 1873, of course, most of the settlers came from the nearby states of Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois. These were the years of the great Dakota Boom and many immigrants had come from Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. They settled in the southeastern corner of the Dakota Territory. That was from Sioux Falls to Mitchell and Yankton, and by 1880, that’s 10 years later, the population of Dakota Territory had increased from 10,000 to 135,000. Now comes 1872, and Czar Alexander III had abdicated most of the conditions and privileges that brought our ancestors to South Russia in the first place. And furthermore, he thought to Russianize them.
Then the serious immigration movement to America was about to begin. I would remind you that the very first Black Sea German Russians came to the United States from Johannestal, Worms and Rohrbachl, and that was back in 1847 and 1848. They settled on Kelly’s Island by Lake Erie. That’s near Sandusky, Ohio, and also at Burlington, Iowa. I certainly hope all of you have read “Kelly’s Island” by Professor [? 133]. That was one of our heritage reviewers a few years ago.

Now, who then, was this minority group coming to the United States and Dakota Territory in 1873 and bore the ambiguous appellation of German Russians? Being neither Germans from Germany nor Russians from Russia, who then, were these people, who from all outward appearances seemed to be Russians, but whose mother tongue was German? The answer is so simple as to be misconstrued as an understatement. As unassuming as the people themselves, the German Russians were simply Germans from Russia. But even that uncomplicated explanation seemed to baffle our American neighbors since their arrival to Dakota Territory in 1873.

Most historians have never given proper credit for the valiant role played by the Germans from Russia as pioneer settlers. In Russia our people were always considered a foreign element, and were called [? 152] or Germans, or also, Schwabiat – that’s from the German Schwaben. That is what they were called by their fellow countrymen. Now losing this industrious element of hard-working people was a very real blow to the Russian economy. In fact, I heard that Czar Alexander broke down and cried one day when he realized that he was losing thousands of our people. This great immigration movement of German Russians began in 1873 and lasted well over a half century.


In February 22, 1889 the old Dakota Territory was divided into two states. Hence South Dakota and North Dakota became the great melting pot of immigrants from the Black Sea area of Russia, and who among many referred themselves as [? 166-Deutchen]. They first settled in counties such as Yankton, Hutchinson, Bon Homme, McCook, Turner and Douglas. And when most of the land in that area was taken, the movement began to the north and west. Of the total Germans from Russia who chose to come to South Dakota, 303,532 were listed by the 1920 Census. It is my personal opinion that the most accurate census ever taken was in Campbell County, South Dakota. That was in 1895. The work was done by the county assessors who by themselves were of our ethnic group, and understood what was meant by the different nationalities. The result was that 55% of the families counted were Germans from Russia. In one township called [? 179], the ratio goes to an astonishing 64%.

Through the heart of the Dakotas, the long arms stretching westward and northwards up into Canada is a compact human ethnic human peninsula of a most fascinating people. If you travel in southwest Germany, the people speak just like the folks in Eureka. Our central Dakotans who live mainly in an area beginning south of Hosmer and Java, South Dakota on through an area maybe 100 miles wide into Ashley, Wishek, Napoleon, Tuttle, Harvey, and Mercer, North Dakota are largely descendants of the German Schwaben or Württemberg area as it is called today.
In 1874 the area around Menno and Freeman was settled, and in that same year, the first families from Kassel arrived in the vicinity and founded the settlement of Kassel. The first immigrants from the Crimea also came to the Freeman area in 1874. A group from the colonies of Alt and Neu Danzig arrived in 1876 and founded Danzig near Avon, South Dakota. Coming to Tripp, South Dakota in 1877 were about 20 more families, and in the following years immigrants from Bessarabia settled in an area southwest of Parkston. In 1880 the area north of Delmont was settled. It was only a few years until all the available homestead land in Yankton, Bon Homme, Hutchinson and Douglas counties was settled by Black Sea German Russians.

Now the homestead lands west and northwest of Ipswich were still largely unclaimed, so the incoming Germans from Russia immigrants used the old settlements near Yankton as a base from which to travel north by whatever means possible. In 1884 some immigrants from Glückstal were homesteading the area around Hosmer, while those from Neudorf and [? 214] were settling in the vicinity of Eureka. In 1885, German Russians from Bergdorf filed homestead claims in the area of Leola and others from Glückstal located around Bowdle. Homesteads between Artas and Herreid were taken by ten families who had earlier settled near Scotland, South Dakota. A group of 29 or 30 families who had quartered temporarily at Freeman made their way to the area around Greenwood in 1885. Seven Black Sea families came to Java in Walworth County in 1889. By the time the Dakota Territory had been divided into two states, the counties of Edmunds, Walworth, Campbell and McPherson were well populated with Germans from Russia.

Some limited settlement took place on the west side of the Missouri River in 1890, 1904, 1905, and 1906. Between 1909 and 1910 the areas around Timber Lake and Isabel, South Dakota had been opened to homesteaders from South Russia.

Of the three religious affiliations among our early day pioneers, Lutherans seemed to number the highest, with Catholic running second, followed by Baptist. There were others, of course – Reformed, Pentecostal, and so on.

In 1935 there was a census taken in McPherson County. The total count was 8,652 people, of which 5,893 or 68%, claimed German ancestry. The number of farms counted in the 1900 Census, also in McPherson County, was 858 in 1900 and that increased to 992 in 1920. Smaller gains for the same period were reported in McCook County, Hutchinson and Edmunds counties and Walworth County suffered an increase of 22 farms in that period. Immigration into South Dakota had almost come to a standstill by 1905, but the influx continued into North Dakota and Canada.

Some, if not most of the census tabulations that I looked at are somewhat ambiguous, listing only two categories – that being Native or Other. The state of South Dakota on a census taken in 1915 tried to determine as far as possible, the ancestry of the people. Further reasoning for this action was that a considerable number of our people were natives of Russia. The reports state that from every point of view they are Germans. The Federal Census takers classed them as Russians. Chiefly, these reports returned as Russians were then statistically reported as Germans.

What was it like to live without any societal benefits? The pioneering problems were especially hard, and you’ve heard this before, on the women who came to Dakota. Along with starting new homes and raising children, wives of Dakota farmers had to help with the farm work at harvest and other busy times. Until schools could be built, they also had to give their children what education they could. The Dakota woman had to be wife, mother, farm hand, teacher and doctor, all at the same time and she might have lived miles from the nearest neighbor and go weeks without seeing anyone but her family. Women of Dakota remember that loneliness was one of the hardest parts of pioneering. The family was drawn together by the necessity of having to work to survive. Both husband and wife were vitally dependent on each other as each performed indispensable work. Children relied heavily on their parents for a livelihood and parents regarded their children as economic assets, for all of that in time, could perform valuable work.

Memories are often deceiving, but even at age 4 or 5, I remember what may have well been my mother’s second happiest day in her life, and I’m going to give her wedding day as her happiest day. This was I think 1928. Our father brought home a new 1927 stationery John Deere engine and a [? 291] washing machine, complete with a manual wringer and a pulley wheel. This unit was set up in a small outdoor building and while the engine popped the clothes were washing. Until that day, Mother scrubbed the clothes on a washboard; a before and after song was written for just such an occasion. The title is “Scrub or Chug.” It goes to the tune of [? 297]. I’ve never taken any prizes for my singing, but I’ve got to sing this song to you. It goes like this:

“In a kitchen filled with steam, you could hear the baby scream while this mother bent over the smelly pump. She was washing out the dirt from the socks and undershirt on the washboard every piece she had to rub. Scrub, scrub, scrub she did the washing, scalded fingers, aching, sore, with her back so bent and lame, and her temper all aflame, [? 306] to get too near the kitchen door.”

Now she got her new machine and the song goes like this:

“In an easy rocking chair, she was brushing baby’s hair. She was washing clothes and baking biscuits too. But her dress was neat and clean. No confusion could be seen when her husband came to dinner with the crew. Chug, chug, chug she did the washing. Work all run by gasoline. Overalls are and linen new, it will clean and rinse them too and fifty-two resounding cheers for that machine!” [applause]

Someone else had told me, not too long ago, that speeches are fine as long as the end is not too far from the beginning. [laughter] But I have a few more comments for you before signing off.

Earlier I talked of family values. A hundred years ago a widow with children had an excellent opportunity for remarrying. The prospective bridegroom not only looked upon the widow as a bargain herself, but also regarded each child as an asset. Boys represented field hands and girls signified as cooks and seamstresses. Speaking of marriages, most frontier parents wanted their daughters to marry early. Tradition was, of course, that the oldest would be the first to marry. The period of courtship before marriage was usually short. When a young man acquired the means of support, which was often nothing but a tract of land, a log cabin, a sod house, a few domestic animals, he usually popped the question to some girl and she, despising coquetting and affection as a waste of time, replied with a frank “yes” or “no.” The young ladies with their families in Dakota land didn’t have access to today’s perfumes or cosmetics, but they soon learned that a dab of vanilla extract behind each ear would enhance a man’s romantic intentions. [laughter and applause]

This impulsiveness to marry is exemplified in the following case: Having engaged in little or no courtship, one young man promised to marry a young lady as soon as circumstances would permit. And he resolved on a Saturday night to fulfill his word much earlier than he had planned. So he took his two companions to the local tavern, where they also served bratwurst and sauerkraut. After they had ordered a supper for the marriage feast, he sent his friends after the bride while he went to get the minister. An hour later his companions returned without the bride and this message: “I won’t marry any man who wouldn’t even treat me to even one meal before the wedding.”

Living apart from organized society, and innocent of most formal education, the Germans from Russia were often referred to as [those dummies.] But by no means was a formal education a prerequisite for obtaining food, clothing and shelter. Survival was the most important consideration. The story goes of the farmer who in 1914 sent his brilliant son away to college to study mathematics. The son came home at Easter time, just when the geese were migrating to the north. They were outside one day and after watching several flocks fly overhead, the father said to his son, “Why is it that when the geese are flying in a V formation, one line is always longer than the other?” The son was puzzled and perplexed. Finally he said, “I don’t know the answer to that.” Dad’s reply was simply, “Son, that’s because there are more geese in that line than in the other.” [laughter]

And finally, our ancestral pride, work ethic, and sometimes humor, gave rise to the vast prairies of Dakota and Canada. As this old German Russian pioneer once said, “What we do during our working hours determines what we have. What we do in our leisure hours determines what we are.”

Thanks you. [applause]

Emcee: Thank you very much, Clarence. I don’t think you need that PhD. Besides, it takes too long.

The next thing on the agenda is these awards, and I’m going to call on Edna Boardman to make the award, the Joseph S. Height, to the award winner. The Joseph Height Award is given to the best article that appears [? 405].

EB: I’m a member of the committee. Joe Eckman has been chair for several years and has given us some important leadership on that committee. I think before I give the award, I will tell you about some changes that have been adopted by the board of directors, and then by the general membership in their business meeting yesterday. In the past the winner of this award won a life membership to GRHS plus a plaque. During this past year the Joseph Height Award Committee was debating whether a change of this policy was in order, so that a larger number of writers are given recognition.

Instead of giving just a life membership award to those who write essays for our Heritage Review, the committee recommends, and this was accepted, that a 5-year membership award be given to the essay the committee judges most excellent, a 3-year membership be given to a translation work, making this a working award, and a 2-year membership award be given to all the other works, all other works like plays, speeches, old letters, poetry and other folklore. So we hope we don’t just have to choose one item that we can recognize some others who write. A number of Honorable Mentions have been given for articles, and I’ll read those names first. If you are here, would you come forward: John Werner, who wrote “My Remembrances of the Founding of the AHSGR.” Is John here? William R. Schwab, who wrote, “Ancestral Discovery Trip to the Ukraine. ,” Lawrence [? 450], “Swabic Collection of the Mennonite Heritage Center Archives,” Rev. Richard Gross, “A Trip to Siberia, Russia.” These are Honorable Mentions. [applause]

Now, the Joseph Height Award, which involves this plaque plus a life membership, goes to Doris M. Dickinson. Doris comes from Guerneville, California. She wrote two articles, one in the March ’93 issue, “In Search of the German Villages of the Ukraine: Journey to the USSR of June ’91.” Apparently she made a second trip there and wrote in December ’93, “Person to Person in the Ukraine,” then she went to May ’93. So we appreciate her efforts. Now, is Doris here? We’ll get this sent off to her, and we greatly appreciate the work of these people and anybody else that writes or translates anything else for the publications of our society. Thank you. [applause]

Emcee: In connection with the Joseph S. Height Award and Heritage Review, we always encourage you to submit articles and as long as you can submit articles, why they can be published. So please consider writing about some of your experiences. I’m going to call next on Delores Green for the Family History, Songbook and Scrapbook Contest winners. But I have another story I want to tell, that happened on our trip in 1990 to Europe. We came to Heidelberg, but one other city escapes me at the present time… it had a big square. We stopped off at the big square and we were going to have dinner there, or lunch. So we got off the bus and here was a host [? 511]. So I said to my friend Van Hoffmann, who could also speak German, I said we’re going to have [? 513] today, [?] and sauerkraut. So we went to the square to line up and eat with this rather large group. I did the ordering. I said, ‘[? 518] and sauerkraut.” Alright. The young lady, probably about 19 or 20 years old that was waiting on us, and then I also said to her, [? 521]. “Was?” [He repeated his German statement.] “Was?” I repeated it the third time. So, she said, “Do you speak English?” [laughter]

Now I call on Delores to make the awards.

DG: The Public and Inter-chapter Relations Committee are in charge of awarding ribbons for Family History books submitted since the last convention. A good number of family history books have again been donated to our society this year. First, second and third place ribbons will be awarded. I’d like to introduce Judith Walker as our judging committee chairperson, and while she’s coming up, I’d like to recognize the members of her committee: Elaine Bauer from Bismarck, Victor Cannel from Fargo, Frieda Gneiss from Minot, and Wright [? 549] from [?]. I give you Judy. Thank you.

JW: We had 54 entries this year. This is my 4th year to serve on the judging committee, and it’s getting harder every year. It’s an honor, by the way. The reason it’s so hard is because of the excellent quality of these family histories. It was evident that these family historians put in a great deal of work and research in these family histories. We appreciate the donation of these books which are very important and a vital resource reference in our library. I don’t know if I’m going to pronounce them right. My roots are German, but my branches are American here. [laughter] Third place goes to “Kragna, the [? 568]. It’s the [? 576] family chronicles by the Becker family – Karine, Ted and Carol. I don’t think they’re here. Second place goes to “The Schweitzer [? 576].” I think it means Schweitzer relationships, by Karl Lacher. [applause] The first place goes to “The Baine Family on the Northern Prairies” by Yvonne [? 601].

DG: Now I’d like to recognize the members of the Public and Inter-chapter Relations Committee. Again, Elaine Bauer from Bismarck, Clarence Bauman from Bismarck, Reuben Heiffle from Bismarck, Tilly Linderman from Dickinson, Kathy Schotts from Aberdeen, Ray Vetter from Elgin, and Edwin Zeigler from Pierre, South Dakota. I’d like for Edwin to come up to the podium. He’s the scrapbook judging committee chairperson for this year for the convention.

EZ: [speaking in German 631 – 636]. I have one request to make before I start, in case my face goes from red to white to blue – please don’t salute, just call 911. [laughter] I’ve been before crowds before, but if you hear some rattling, it’s my knees. I won’t keep you too long. I have a few points to clear up tonight, being chairperson of the judging committee for the scrapbooks. First of all, I wish to express our gratitude from the committee for all the excellent books that were turned in. There is a tremendous amount of valuable information, historical items, for down the road. For us today, it probably won’t mean much, but down the road. That’s the purpose of these scrapbooks – to make them so that 10 years from now, 20 years from now, when the future generation goes through these books, that they know what was in the past, and that it means something. These books the material that is in them today is very rigid quality for that purpose, but we do find that there are a few things that we need to clear up that’s in our guidelines. We feel that we have to redo them because some of the items that are in there are very good, but 20 years from now they may not mean much. For instance, if you have a picture, and say the caption of it is “Katharina and Rosina breaking bread” how do they know who Rosina is 20 years from now? But today the people from the period would read that and they would know who it is, so these items have to be identified in the proper way to mean something in the future. So we’re trying to remedy that. And, like I said before, the material is very good, but it’s getting very difficult to judge these books so it has become that we need to use a fine comb. When we started we said there would be no rating of 100% because if we do, we’d be at the end of the line. I think that what we should request is that we need your input. Give us your ideas as to what you think should be in those guidelines so we can do a good job of redoing them. Or, there is one other way to remedy… if you don’t think you want your scrapbooks to be used down the line, let’s forget about judging them. It’s up to you. We’re trying to keep it up. So I think that’s about all… oh, there is one more thing. You chapter presidents don’t forget this. This is very important. We’ve had comments, “well, what are your guidelines?” You presidents received those from headquarters. Please pass those on to your people that are working on these scrapbooks. We don’t like to hear that, “what are your guidelines?” Okay, now let’s go to the presentation. There are three awards. As your chapter name is called, please send someone up to pick up your award. The third prize goes to…

[Tape ran out on Side A. No recording on Side B]

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