Home History Culture

From the Black Sea to North Dakota and Beyond:  John Schmaltz’s Russian Passport from 1898

Schmaltz, Dr. Eric J. "From the Black Sea to North Dakota and Beyond:  John Schmaltz’s Russian Passport from 1898." January 2010.


This article published online by North Dakota State University Libraries’ Germans from Russia Heritage Collection in Fargo is designed to serve as an updated supplement to the 25 installments of the John Schmaltz family history series that ran in the Emmons County Record in Linton, North Dakota, between June 26, 2008, and July 2, 2009.  In addition to the online posting of more historic family photographs, all of the original newspaper installments are included on the NDSU GRHC website for future reference.  Some readers might notice that several minor revisions and updates were made in parts of the original newspaper series as well.  

I wish to express deep gratitude to a number of Schmaltz relatives over the past year who supplied me with particular last details for inclusion in the online compilation of supplemental family history materials:  Carleen F. Blume, Michelle Fraley, Colleen Kramer, Trish Purdy, Michael John Schmaltz, Pamela Truax, Stephanie Volk, Vanora Volk, as well as my parents John and Kathy Schmaltz.  I also want to thank Dr. Mary-Claire King at the University of Washington in Seattle for her valuable assistance concerning the Schmaltz family cancer history.        
           
In mid-2008, I learned from my first cousin once removed Michael John Schmaltz in California that my great-grandfather John Schmaltz’s (1879-1951) Russian passport still existed.  He and his family had been keeping it safe for all these years.  After informing me about it, Michael John and family were so kind to send me nearly a dozen scanned digital images of a truly well-preserved artifact of our Schmaltz family’s great trek from the Black Sea region near Odessa to central North Dakota during the final months of 1898.        
           
On the passport cover, the double-headed black eagle, the official symbol of Russia’s old Romanov dynasty, is easily recognizable.  Much of the official text is handwritten and printed in Russian (pre-1918 style), but in following sections, John and his children subsequently wrote down family dates, names, and places in a mixture of Russian, old German script, and English. 
           
To provide some historical context to this passport, a few general comments are necessary.  The first Germans from Russia settled in North and South Dakota in the 1870s.  This significant migration intensified in the 1880s, 1890s, and early 1900s and continued until the early 1920s, when the U.S. government established strict immigration quotas over the next four decades.  According to U.S. census data, North Dakota’s total population increased by more than 50% between 1900 and 1910.  Most Black Sea German settlements were concentrated in the north-central, southwestern, and south-central parts of North Dakota.  These clustered communities actually overlapped, creating a general triangular region that scholars have traditionally referred to as the state’s “German-Russian Triangle.”
           
During the 1890s, a number of Schmaltzes from the village of Kandel (today called Ribalskoye) and surrounding areas in Ukraine already had immigrated to the “Triangle,” especially Emmons County which lies in its south-central section.  For example, Ludwig Schmaltz (1833-1893) and his family came to the United States through Ellis Island on October 3, 1889.  He, his wife and sons homesteaded in Emmons County near Hague, North Dakota, until 1909.  One of the sons, Peter (1870-1942), sold his homestead and moved to a new farm close to Prelate, Saskatchewan, Canada.  Some of his descendants later moved on to Alberta, Canada.
           
My great-grandfather John Schmaltz soon followed in the footsteps of these and other Germans from Russia to Emmons County.  Why he made this life-altering decision, his descendants will most likely never know with absolute certainty, though there has been speculation about it for years.

On page 2 of John’s Russian passport, the travel pass section indicates that the permanent village residence of John Ivanov (the Russian patronymic, meaning “son of John [Ivan]”) Schmaltz, age 19, was the village of Kandel in the Odessa administrative region.  It also reports that he was “subject to a summons” in 1900.  This reference to an appeal or a call probably alludes to the fact that when he turned 21 years old in that year, he was subject to military conscription.  If he would have returned to Russia at that time, government officials could have taken note of his draft status in the passport.  By most family accounts, his departure evidently had something to do with the military draft.  After 1874, when Tsar Alexander II (1855-1881) enacted universal military service, this fear in Russia was unquestionably real among young ethnic German men and other minorities who were fast approaching the conscription age of 21. 
           
Several years ago, the U.S. federal government established an official website for the former immigration center at Ellis Island in New York.  Here one may click and find documentation of immigrant Johann Schmalz’s (later John Schmaltz’s) entry into the United States.  He could never have imagined in his wildest dreams that more than a century later his great-grandson and others could access his records with the greatest of ease.  According to the passenger record, John’s date of arrival into the United States is November 9, 1898, and his ethnicity is listed as “Russian” (i.e., as a subject of the Russian Empire).  In addition, the records list his home village as “Kandol” instead of “Kandel.”  This might result from the immigration official’s misspelling of it, but it might also capture the sound of John’s spoken German dialect.  Not least of all, John’s signature also appears on the website. 
           
According to the Ellis Island Records, John’s age is correctly marked at 19 years upon his arrival.   Moreover, the passenger record shows that he was single and unmarried at the time, and that a 16-year-old sister accompanied him on the journey—Agnes (1882-1965).  Records state that he carried with him a total of $70.00, a fair amount of money in those days. 
           
According to an oral history interview a few years ago by Agnes’ son Peter A. Kraft (1917-2008) with North Dakota State University in Fargo, John and Agnes by the time of their voyage to America had a stepfather whose surname was Heintz.  The immigrant John wrote down in his passport that when he was about eight years old, his father had in fact died in 1887 at the age of 47.  Other family accounts add that perhaps the impetus for their migration to America was the stepfather.  The basic story goes that the stepfather, a wealthy man, had forced John to sleep in the family barn, and that he was probably more than happy to pay for the younger stepchildren’s departure from the household.

On pages 2 and 17, the passport certifies that 10 rubles were paid for the passport, which permits the freedom of passage with the affixed seal, which can be found stamped on the middle of page 3.  The passport also informs us that it was signed in the city of Kherson in Ukraine by the governor or magistrate on September 30, 1898, a little over a month before the siblings’ arrival at Ellis Island in New York. 
           
The Ellis Island records state that John and Agnes departed Russia first for the German Empire.  Their point of departure was Bremen, Germany, the great port city that had long served as the gateway for Central and East European immigrants to the Western Hemisphere.  Their passenger ship was German-built, the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse (Emperor William the Great).  Years later, on July 26, 1914, the Germans scuttled the ship in Spanish West Africa to avoid capture by the British at the start of World War I. 
           
Some family members think that John and his sister might have spent a brief period living and working in Chicago, Illinois, before making their way from New York to North Dakota.  It is reasonable to assume that they would have traveled by train through Chicago to the northern plains.  As far as it can be discerned, U.S. Census Records from 1900 do not show John or Agnes residing in either Morton or Emmons County in North Dakota, though they might have been living elsewhere in the state at that time; however, we know that in 1902 Agnes married Germans from Russia immigrant Adam Kraft (1881-1935) in Strasburg in Emmons County, and that in 1903 John married Germans from Russia immigrant Clara Bullinger (1884-1953) in St. Anthony in Morton County.
           
John and his children made several pages of handwritten notes in the passport’s back sections in three languages (Russian, German and English), providing us many years later with a general historical sketch of the Emmons County Schmaltz family.
           
John and Anges left behind a number of siblings in Kandel.  The 1882 Russian census for Kandel includes Ottilia (b. ca. 1871), Martin (b. ca. 1873), and Katharina (b. ca. 1880).  A separate page of notes found in the passport also lists a deceased brother named Leo (birth and death dates unknown).
           
On page 4 in the passport, it is noted that John Schmaltz was born on June 9, 1879, in the colony (village) of Kandel (in the Kutschurgan Enclave) in Russia (modern Ukraine), and that his wife Clara (Bullinger) Schmaltz was born on May 19, 1884, in the colony (village) of Katharinenthal (in the Beresan Enclave) in Russia (present-day Ukraine).  According to the publication St. Anthony Book:  100 Years of Faith, Clara’s father Johannes Adam Bullinger (1847-1908) had a first wife named Marianna Hammel.  After her passing, he then married Clara Ressler in 1873 (another source, however, dates their wedding to 1876).  On May 12, 1893, the Bullinger family traveled to America on the passenger ship S.S. Lahm, first settling in Yankton, South Dakota.  After a short time, they moved north and engaged in farming near St. Anthony, Morton County, North Dakota. 

Apparently, the St. Anthony history book reports that the Adam and Clara Bullinger family produced thirteen children; it appears, though, that ten of the children at least survived beyond infancy and early childhood. U.S. census records from 1900, however, alert us that four Bullinger children died young, one more child than what the St. Anthony book lists.  In any case, in one of the notes attached with the Russian passport, one or more of the Schmaltz children kept a record of their mother Clara’s siblings as well.  Please note that I have inserted additional information from the U.S. census records to the following list of Bullingers.  Her brothers include George (b. 1877), Jacob or Jack (b. 1878), Julius (b. 1882), Adam (b. 1894), Nicholas or Nick (b. 1899), and John (no dates available).  Her sisters are identified as Jenny (b. 1886), Margaret or Maggie (b. 1888), Ann Mary or Anna (b. 1889), and Rosa or Rose (b. 1896). 

Immigrants John and Clara Schmaltz produced seventeen children in North Dakota between 1904 and 1932, sixteen of whom lived into adulthood.  The passport information about them, most of which appears in old German script (otherwise in English), is partial, but still helpful.  More recently, it was possible for me to have living Schmaltz relatives fill in some of the gaps in the family record, but additional fact-finding remains necessary. 

According to the passport notes, along with supplemental information from other records, the oldest child Margaret (Schmaltz) Materi was born on September 24, 1904, in St. Anthony, and died in 1944.  Adam arrived on December 24, 1905, in St. Anthony, and died in 1953.  George was born on February 7, 1907, but died on March 17, 1907, in St. Anthony.  John, Jr., was born on February 9, 1908, in St. Anthony, and passed away in 1977.  Anton (Tony) was born on July 27, 1909, in St. Anthony, and died in 1968.  Ralph had the distinction of being the first Schmaltz child born in Strasburg on November 8, 1910, and died in 1972.  Marianna or Mary (Schmaltz) Heer arrived on June 1, 1912, in Strasburg, and passed away in 1998.  Martina (Schmaltz) Volk was born on April 21, 1914, in Strasburg, and died from breast cancer in 1962.  Rose (Schmaltz) Cychosz was born on June 10, 1915, in Strasburg, also dying from breast cancer in 1963 (her funeral fell on her birthday).  Agatha or Aggie (Schmaltz) Truax was born on December 12, 1916, in Strasburg, and passed away in 2000.    

As we move to the younger Schmaltz children, the record-keeping at the back of the passport becomes sparser, and at this point I sometimes had to refer to available newspaper obituaries or other reliable sources to find the dates, meanwhile assuming that all the remaining children were born in Strasburg. Agnes (Schmaltz) Bryan was born in September 1918, dying in 2002. Agnes was the only survivor of breast cancer (diagnosed in 1964), but later succumbed to metastatic colon cancer (i.e., this form of cancer spread from the location where it started to other places in the body). Frances (Schmaltz) Schneider arrived in May 1919 and died in 1964. Frances, like her older sisters Martina and Rose, died from breast cancer, all of them struck down within a couple of years of each other. Michael (Mike) was born on September 20, 1921, and passed away in 1989. My grandfather Leo arrived on May 16, 1923, and died on August 21, 1987, in Sun City, Arizona. Hugo was born on September 9, 1925, and is still alive in Washburn, North Dakota. Clara (Schmaltz) Schall was born on May 14, 1929, and died in 2005. Though Clara never had breast cancer, she had a preventive bilateral mastectomy and later died from heart disease. Suffering from a mental disability since birth and never married, Felicia, the youngest, born 28 years after her oldest sibling, arrived on October 14, 1932, and passed away in 1975.

Of considerable value are the facts written down by immigrant John in his passport (pages 6 and 7) about his father and his grandparents on both sides.  Again, John composed this basic history in the old German script.  My edited translation of it reads:  “My grandfather [Ludwig (Louis)] Schmaltz [born in 1820] was 58 years old when he died on December 26, 1878.  My grandmother [Maria] Schmaltz [maiden name unknown] was born in July 1824 [the 1852 Russian census states that it was ca. 1820].  My Fischer grandfather [Johann, whose family came from Selz, the nearby village which today is called Limanskoye in Ukraine] was born in 1831 and died in 1903, age 72 [the 1852 Russian census lists that he was born ca. 1829].  Grandmother [Katharina] Fischer was born in 1837 [the 1852 Russian census indicates that her birth year was also ca. 1829] and died in 1895, age 58.  My father [Johann (John), according to the 1852 Russian census, was born around 1843/1844] died on December 23, 1887, age 47 [this passport’s account thus places his father’s birth year in 1840].”  In the developed world, the average life expectancy around 1900 was under age fifty, and the Schmaltzes, with a few exceptions, at that time generally seemed to follow this demographic trend.  Strangely, John makes no mention here of his mother, Rosina (Fischer) Heintz (b. ca. 1849 or ca. 1851/1852).  Is it because she is still alive and he is only referring in the passport to those who have already passed away?  Or does he hold some bitter feelings toward her because of her marriage to the wealthy Mr. Heintz?   We simply do not know. 
           
Various birth dates above differ slightly, including, for example, the birth year for John’s grandmother Katharina Fischer, but it is quite possible that he stands correct, since Russian census records have been known to make mistakes.  The fact that he knows that his maternal grandfather Johann died in the old country in 1903 also suggests that he maintained at least some correspondence with his relatives in Russia into the early twentieth century.  The 1852 Russian census records suggest that his paternal grandfather Ludwig was probably the youngest son of Joseph and Ursula (Maire or Maier) Schmalz, who migrated from the Rhineland Palatinate in Germany to Russia in the summer of 1808 as one of the founding pioneer families of the village of Kandel along the Dniester River (today Ribalskoye, Ukraine).  In addition, the act of re-marriage shortly after the death of a spouse was traditionally common in those days, primarily for economic reasons.  Thus his father Johann’s relatively early death in 1887 at age 47 (making the future immigrant John only about eight years old at the time) lends some credence to the old story about the wealthy stepfather Mr. Heintz.   

Beyond the Passport:  Miscellaneous Notes on the John Schmaltz Family

Though old Catholic Church records in Germany are sketchy and even subject to errors in interpretation, it appears that Josef Schmalz (b. 1780), who emigrated with his family to Russia in 1808, might have actually had a younger first wife named Barbara Troll (apparently born on January 26, 1787).  Church records indicate that Josef was married in 1801, making Barbara only fourteen years old at the time.  This date, assuming that her birth year is listed correctly, would have made for a rather early marriage, but in a traditional peasant or agrarian society, still legally permissible.  Based on one set of records, she must have passed away in Germany (Rhineland-Palatinate), still only in her late teens, shortly after bearing sons Peter (b. 1802) and George (1803/1804-1852).  Divorce was quite rare in those days, and many women also died during childbirth at that time.  By 1808, it is clear that Josef was already married to Ursula Maire/Maier (b. 1782), and that they produced several children in the Russian Empire, including our direct Schmaltz ancestor, Ludwig (Louis), around 1820.  Other family accounts, however, claim that Ursula was in fact Josef’s only wife (married in 1801) and thus the biological mother of Peter and George as well. 

Part of the Schmaltz family history also concerns the genetic link to female breast cancer.  Over the years, the Schmaltzes have referred to the high frequency of this form of cancer as the “family curse.”  There is roughly a 50/50 chance that the cancer gene (now identified by the medical establishment as the BRCA1 mutation) will be passed from males and females to their offspring.  The Schmaltz family definitely carries the gene, but of course not every member.  A blood test can determine this status.  Increasingly, breast cancer has struck the women carrying the gene at ever younger ages—in other words, it is a genetic time bomb. 

Dr. Mary-Claire King (b. 1946), who now heads the King Lab at the Departments of Medicine and Genome Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, has investigated the history and causes of breast cancer since the 1970s.  A human geneticist, she is a worldwide recognized scientific authority whose many notable medical accomplishments include the identification of breast cancer genes, including the BRCA1 mutation responsible for breast cancer.  Among the earliest test subjects, the Schmaltz family ranks forty-ninth in her institute’s longtime extensive study on hereditary breast cancer, which now includes about 1,600 large “kindreds” (family lineages).  In the 1980s, Dr. King first visited members of the Schmaltz family in North Dakota, with more than fifty family members now participating in the project.  At the end of December 2009, Dr. King informed me of the following about the Schmaltz family:

The BRCA1 mutation in your family is a change of amino acid cysteine to amino acid glycine at position 61 of the BRCA1 protein. This mutation is among the most common in Europe and the U.S. It is found in families who identify their ancestry as German, Austrian, Ukrainian, French, Belgian, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Italian, Polish and Czech. Genomic [genetic] analysis suggests its origin was about 1,000 years ago, in an area that is now southern Germany.

For a good number of years, however, speculation among some Schmaltz relatives has centered on the possibility of Jewish ancestry.  As a young teenager in the mid-1980s, I first heard such whispered discussions.  Though hardly scientific, such conjecture over the years was often based on the physical appearance of certain relatives, even including the Bullingers.  But looks can be deceiving, and one should not judge a book by its cover.    

Following the publication of the Emmons County Record family history series in 2008 and 2009, I learned that several Schmaltz relatives had come to believe that the source of the “family curse” of breast cancer, the BRCA1 gene mutation, might stem from a Jewish heritage.  In this case, it could have been Jews who had once lived in the Rhineland during most of the Middle Ages (roughly the period between 450 and 1450).  These were the so-called Ashkenazi Jews.  “Ashkenazi” comes from the Hebrew word for “Germany” (i.e., the Rhineland) during this time.  They started immigrating into the region during the late Roman period.  Near the end of the medieval period, most all of them migrated to Eastern Europe following waves of religious persecution in Western Europe during the 1200s and 1300s. This ethno-religious community was relatively few in number and often culturally and socially (and even genetically) isolated until fairly recent times, but the few Jews who remained in the Rhineland after the late medieval period might have assimilated or married into the gentile (non-Jewish) population and converted to Roman Catholicism to avoid further persecution. 

Schmaltz female survivors of breast cancer have informed me that the BRCA1 gene mutation appears to be more prevalent in people of European Jewish descent (Ashkenazi), though other sources note that it certainly arises independently in non-Jewish populations.  During their time in treatment and recovery, Schmaltz breast cancer survivors have learned from genetic counselors about a potential Jewish connection, even hearing in some instances that the gene mutation now found in Europeans in fact had originated with the Ashkenazi Jews.  I have come across respectable academic and medical literature online and elsewhere pointing out higher breast cancer rates for Ashkenazi Jews.  For example, Breastcancer.org states: 

Most women who get breast cancer do NOT have an inherited abnormal breast cancer gene.  BRCA1 and BRCA2 abnormalities probably account for only about 10% of all breast cancers….

A more recent study (Journal of the American Medical Association, December 26, 2007) of more than 3,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer looked at the risk of abnormal BRCA1 genes in different ethnicities. The results showed:

  • 8.3% of Ashkenazi Jewish women had an abnormal BRCA1 gene.
  • 3.5% of Hispanic women had an abnormal BRCA1 gene.
  • 16.7% of African American women younger than age 35 who had been diagnosed with breast cancer had an abnormal BRCA1 gene.
  • 2.2% of white [European] women who were not Ashkenazi Jews had an abnormal BRCA1 gene.

Conversely, it is also possible that the BRCA1 gene mutation in certain cases was transferred to the Ashkenazi Jewish community from the local gentile population through intermarriage during the medieval period.  It is known that sometimes Jewish men, perhaps for the sake of securing greater female variety, brought willing gentile women into their small community and converted them to Judaism and made them their spouses.  This intermingling across cultures in Europe thus helps account in part for the different physical characteristics of some Jews today—blond or red hair, blue or green eyes, and lighter skin complexions, etc., just as some gentiles might possess what appear to be Semitic traits (darker skin complexions and a particular nose shape, etc.).  About one thousand years ago, some of these non-Jewish women might have already carried the gene mutation, introducing it into this select gene pool.  Since the Rhineland Jews remained a relatively closed community until recently, this gene mutation, along with other hereditary ailments, could have thus become even more predominant in the fairly small Jewish population over time.  Consequently, their descendants faced a higher risk of developing breast cancer.  Some of them might have also later intermarried into non-Jewish populations.     

Though a smaller number today are Sephardic Jews from the Mediterranean world, the vast majority of Jews, including those in the United States, are now descended from the Ashkenazi branch.  Indeed, from the medieval era until the early nineteenth century, the Schmaltz and related families had lived in Alsace and the Rhineland-Palatinate, regions located on the modern French-German border near the Rhine River.  This area today constitutes a part of eastern France and southwestern Germany, relatively close to the point of origin one thousand years ago for the BRCA1 gene mutation.   

Upon reading the early installments of the Emmons County Record family history series, my second cousin Mrs. Michelle (Gillette) Fraley, a high school teacher and granddaughter of Ralph Schmaltz (1910-1972), wrote me a kind email in late 2008 on the issue of breast cancer and its possible link to a distant Jewish heritage:

…I want to let you know that this [Schmaltz family] history has hit home for me personally.  I don’t know if you are aware of the extensive history of breast cancer among the Schmaltz family.  I did not become aware of this myself until I was diagnosed two years ago.  My mother was diagnosed thirteen years ago but did not share [it] with me, or even fully realize herself, the extent of the family history until I encouraged her to do some digging.  Apparently most of John Schmaltz’s daughters had breast cancer, and the family participated in the early research studies (conducted by Dr. Mary Claire King, currently at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle) to identify genetic mutations associated with breast cancer.  As a result of all this information, I was referred for genetic testing and was found to have the BRCA1 mutation.  The genetic counselor I worked with told me that this particular mutation is believed to have arisen in Eastern European Jews.  I wondered about that, but your history confirmed the likelihood of Jewish ancestors.  The presence of the mutation seems to make the relation to those Jewish ancestors even more likely. 

My first cousin once removed, Stephanie Volk, a daughter of Martina (Schmaltz) Volk (1914-1962), carries the BRCA1 gene mutation, just like her mother and older sister.  Like her cousin once removed Michelle, Stephanie has heard from her genetic counselors about a possible Jewish heritage as well.

According to Dr. King’s findings, however, the BRCA1 gene mutation alone is not necessarily characteristic of Jewish ancestry, as gentile populations—especially Europeans, but also others, including African Americans and Hispanics—have also carried this gene mutation (of course, many African Americans and Hispanics today can also claim some European ancestry).  In late December 2009, she explained to me that “[t]herefore through their BRCA1 mutation, your family does NOT have a genetic footprint of Jewish ancestry.  More generally, among Volga German families with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, none are mutations of Jewish ancestry.  Of course this is only one genetic lineage in your family and does not speak to the ancestry of other lineages.”  I interpret this conclusion to mean that her findings do not categorically dismiss the chance that the gene mutation could have been inherited from a Jewish ancestor, but that we also find this mutation in cases of non-Jewish populations.  By contrast, some genetic counselors hold the alternative explanation that the gene mutation can be in fact traced to the Ashkenazi Jewish community, and by implication, that it permeated other populations through intermarriage over time.          

In the Schmaltz family, are there Jewish roots in the Rhineland dating back to the religious persecutions about 650 or more years ago (which, interestingly, would fall relatively close to the beginning of the 1,000-year timeframe given for this gene mutation)?  Despite generations of obscurity and a series of human migrations, is this gene mutation the one defining marker, the remnant, of a heritage whose source lies in the ancient Mediterranean world and the Middle East?  Perhaps one day such a remote ancestry could be traced through the Schmaltz, Bullinger, Fischer, Maire (Maier) and other related family trees in the Rhineland, but at this time we do not possess clear evidence to verify this genetic link with absolute certainty.  Again, it must be stressed that a higher incidence of breast cancer found among Ashkenazi Jews does not necessarily translate into Jewish ancestry for the Schmaltz family or others, but some genetic counselors have maintained that the gene mutation found in white European populations today had started with the Ashkenazi Jews.  In the future, the emerging field of DNA genealogy might help us uncover this and other tantalizing family mysteries from the distant past (such as ancestral migratory patterns thousands of years ago across Eurasia).   

Let us move from the distant past and historical conjectures to our own backyard and living memories about the Schmaltz family.  Interestingly, a handful of people are still alive who can remember the early years of the Schmaltz family saga in North Dakota.  For instance, in his self-published book Memory Stories (1997), Dr. Edward F. Keller (b. ca. 1927), now a retired dentist in Bismarck, North Dakota, and for many years a local history enthusiast who has published numerous short articles in the Emmons County Record, fondly recalls his experiences growing up in Emmons County, North Dakota, during the 1930s and 1940s.  In particular, John Schmaltz Sr. and his large family in Strasburg and Linton remain etched into Dr. Keller’s mind several decades later: 

In “My First World” time, when I was a little boy, a most intriguing visitor to my farm was the butcher, in the person of John Schmaltz Sr. or one of his sons, John Jr., Tony, Ralph or Adam.  When he arrived in his pickup I rode with him to identify the cow my father said he could butcher. 

As we encircled the herd, bouncing through the prairie, the cows grew frisky.  They stood shoulder to shoulder, droolings dangling from the corners of their rubbery lips.  After the shotgun, Mr. Schmaltz drove close and unloaded a scaffolding, rope, tackle and pulley to hoist and hang the cow by the hind legs.With keen edged knives he quickly skinned the animal (like I did jackrabbits), severed the head and feet, and placed the hide on the pickup.  After slicing the length of the midsection he dressed out all but the liver, heart and tongue.  These he placed into a pail of water on the truck. Then he rinsed the carcass from a barrel on his truck and sawed it vertically in half.  Next he pulled the halves into his vehicle, dismantled and loaded the scaffolding, leaving the remains to the coyotes, crows and vultures.  Mr. Schmaltz dropped me off back at the farm house and drove to the butcher shop in Strasburg.  There he cut the meat into steaks, roasts, borscht soup meat and sausage meat.  Schmaltz’s ring bologna recipe, smoked, boiled and ready to eat cold, appeared on everybody’s menu.

I loved visiting Schmaltz’s Butcher Shop and Grocery.  The full cookie jars, candy shelves, 10 pound bulks of halvah, fruit and vegetable window displays so impressed me.  Mother handed the clerk the grocery list.  He gathered the items into a paper box and carried it to the car.  Sometimes I lunched in the back room, sitting on apple boxes and eating store bread, ring bologna and watermelon.  Mr. Schmaltz served delicious cider (fruit extract) from a wooden barrel in his cooler.         

. . . Mr. Schmaltz, or “Das Schmeltzle” as he was lovingly referred to, exuded friendly warmth that permeated the store.  In his full length apron he smiled at patrons and managed the store with the help of his children, Margaret, Adam, John Jr., Tony, Ralph, Mary, Martina, Rose, Agatha, Agnes, Frances, Mike, Leo, Hugo, Clara and Felicia (pp. 9-11).

For almost a century, the Schmaltz family name and “meat market” were virtually synonymous in Emmons County.  After farming near St. Anthony in Morton County for a number of years, John Schmaltz brought his young family to Strasburg in 1910 to seek his fortune.  He turned out to be a successful local businessman, expanding to create a second store in Linton in 1926 and passing his trade on to his seven sons.  Around 1945, John sold the Strasburg store upon his retirement and moved to Linton.  Then in 2006, his descendants sold the Schmaltz Food Pride (former Schmaltz Meats) in Linton, in effect closing a long chapter in the county’s history.  Despite that, numerous Schmaltz descendants can now be found scattered far and wide across this great continent and beyond.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller
North Dakota State University Libraries
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
Libraries
NDSU Dept #2080
PO Box 6050
Fargo, ND 58108-6050
Tel: 701-231-8416
Fax: 701-231-6128
Last Updated:
Director: Michael M. Miller
North Dakota State University Library North Dakota State University North Dakota State University GRHC Home