Germans From Russia Traveled far Before Settling
"Germans From Russia Traveled far Before Settling Here." Pierce County Tribune, 22 June 1987.
The Germans from Russia who settled the Balta area traveled halfway
around the world to find their new home. A change of attitude of
the Russian leaders had driven these people from their adopted Russian
homeland in the late 19th century.
From Russia they migrated to southern North Dakota, and then, according
to Paul Sand in the Pierce County Press in 1936,
“They were driven out by a drought. Scarcity of water compelled
them to seek new homes.”
“To make this search, they selected five scouts. These men,
Peter Vetsch, Wendelin and Alisi Schall, Carl Voeller and Dominick
Tuchscherer, set out on the long journey in search of new land.
There was no easy method of travel; they had much use for their
knowledge of the prairies.
At last they found the place for which they were seeking and sent
word back to their neighbors. Their new homes were erected in Jefferson
Township, about twelve miles northwest of the present town of Balta.
Into this rich farming land came the colony of home seekers. They
had already made plans for the development of their community.”
Word was sent back to the Emmons county area, and other German
-Russians moved to Pierce County. Joseph M. Voeller was among the
first arrivals. He settled a claim and built himself a shack, and
according to early issues of The Pierce County Tribune,
“then went back to Emmons County from which he and many others
had come, and got a wife to bring back with him. He was the first
of the new colony to get married.”
Sand continued with his narrative, “Harking back to the farms
of Russia, they decided their new colony would be just like the
“A homestead could be any shape one wished it to be, but
all the land had to be adjoining. A homesteader could not take out
his allotted number of acres in two separate pieces of land. They
planned to have their land in long narrow strips on each side of
a common road so that they could be more neighborly.
“By agreement, they left forty acres to be worked later for
the church. These plans all fell through when the land recorder
made a mistake and someone settled on the land set aside for the
An endless stream of emigrants began to arrive, “Day and
night,” Sand continued, “wagons creaked across the prairie
bringing more pioneers to master the new land. There were hardships
to face. A snowstorm arose and attacked them as though to turn them
back, but they moved steadily toward their new homes.
“At night they camped along the trail. There were no hotels
and tourist camps in those days. Each traveler had to furnish his
own night’s lodging.
“Fresh furrows appeared where only the wild prairie grasses
could be seen before. The broken ground, however, was the most notable
change in the prairies, for the homes were mostly from the sod of
the prairies themselves. Each man was his own carpenter and mason
when he finally picked his land and unhitched his oxen.”
“That first year they broke the land for flax. The results
were encouraging. For the next ten years, almost without exception,
these people harvested good crops. The community thrived.
“The first year only one event marred their happiness. Wendelin
Schall’s boy died. There was no church or cemetery. When the
Fulda church was established, the body was moved to that site.
“There was only one thing of which settlers could complain.
Their market was so far away that they could only haul a load a
day. This made the marketing of the grain a tedious process. The
trips were long and arduous and wasted a great deal of time.”
“In 1911 the news of the railroad approaching brought cheer
to the community. A town was platted and the site selected fell
upon the land homesteaded by Joe Ebach. This farmland is the present
The town was called Egan, honoring a railroad laborer who helped
build the line into the area. However, after a while the post office
put up a squawk because there was also and Egan in South Dakota,
and the mail was getting mixed up. Thus the name was changed to
Balta by the original settlers, in honor or a town in Russia where
they had lived.
A town site was platted west of where the town now sits, and a
bank building was built there in 1910, and was in operation. However,
the buildings on that site were moved to the new site when it was
determined the railroad would not run near enough the old site.
“The town rapidly developed,” Sand said. “Peter
Fettig established an implement business. A lumberyard, founded
by a man named Torgerson, soon followed. Sand and Zacher started
“Soon Earl Orr moved in with a coal and wood yard. The first
boarding house was erected by Nat Powell, who also ran a dray line.
Two elevators appeared the Farmers’ and the O.M.”
Three factors helped develop the town: the railroad, the highway
and the language. Most of the people couldn’t speak English
and thus wanted to spend time with those they could communicate
with. Those German-speaking people settled in and around Balta.
Built in 1912 was a pair of elevators, the Soo Line depot, a lumberyard,
a bank, a store, a post office, a hotel and an implement shop.
Sand said, “There were few residents in the town in 1912.
They were J.L. Elwell, W.H. Ortwein, Al Maurer, Paul A. Sand and
Adam Zacher. On October 24, 1912, Katherine Sand was born. She was
the first child born in the new town. This event occurred two days
after her parents had moved their buildings into town.
“The year 1915 saw a big increase in the town. Business was
finding a rich field in this new grain market. The community served
by these pioneer merchants was a prosperous once. In that year Rochus
Eisenzimmer opened a large general store. Ed Schneider started a
pool hall; Ed Ferguson opened a hotel; Peter Fettig continued his
implement shop; L.N. Abel established a butcher shop. A blacksmith
shop was started by John Krim.
“In May of that year, Ed Schneider felt so prosperous that
he took a wife.” (This statement by Sand was not mere rhetoric;
many a marriage was postponed in the early days because people couldn’t
afford to get married.)
“A few years later, John Reinbold opened a livery stable
and dray line. He later kept abreast of the time by acting as a
Standard Oil agent. Tony Klein built a pool hall. M.M. Werran was
one of the first clerks in town. When the post office was opened,
Mr. Ortwein was made postmaster.”
No town in the early days survived without a sufficient supply
of water. Balta was lucky in that respect, but some of that luck
was due to “several farmers who where having a great deal
of difficulty getting enough water for the stock and themselves.”
Thus the railroad was not run through that area near Balta, as
the railroad needed a great deal of water.
“The first wells drilled (in the new area, where the town
is now) produced water before the shaft had been sunk more than
35 feet,” said The Pierce County Tribune.
“The water was clear and the supply seemed endless.”
That is but one of many factors that has allowed this predominantly
German-Russian town in Pierce County to survive.
Reprinted with permission of The Pierce County Tribune,
Rugby, North Dakota.