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From Russia to the Dakota Territory 1884

"From Russia to the Dakota Territory 1884." Lodi Chapter Newsletter, September-October 2001: 4.


In January of 1940, Gottlieb and Christina (Huber) Schatz of Linton, Emmons County, North Dakota, were interviewed in their home on nine separate occasions by Leonard Jellema, as part of a project to record the experiences of some of the settlers in the Dakotas. Later, Mr. Jellema, a field worker for the Historical Data Project, Liberty Memorial Building, Bismarck, North Dakota, wrote a biography of each of the individuals he interviewed. The following is what he wrote about Christina Huber up to the time of her marriage. Christina was my maternal grandmother. - G. J. Ott

Christina Huber was born at Gueldendorf, Russia on November 3, 1870, to Jacob Huber and his wife Johanna Huber nee Wolfer. Christina's parents were both born in the same village, Gueldendorf, - her father on April 14, 1844, and her mother in 1842. Christina was their eldest child, followed by a son and a daughter, Jacob and Barbara, who were born during the nine year interim between Christina and her brother George, born October 10, 1879. These two, Jacob and Barbara, both died in infancy in Russia. After George, two more daughters were born to them in Russia, - Margaret in 1881, and Elizabeth in 1883.

When Christina was about four years old, the family moved to Wilhelmsthal, Russia, and lived there nearly ten years. Her father was a farmer and owned about 20 desiatiny, about 54 acres of land. They raised wheat, oats, corn, rye, barley and potatoes, just as we do here, but in a more primitive manner. It was Christina's job to drive the four horses, two abreast, which pulled the plow, while her father held the plow. At harvest it was her job to bind the grain, which was cut with a scythe, into bundles, with straws of grain. She was often kept out of school to help with the farm work.

She entered school at Wilhelmsthal when nearly six years old, and attended it until she had reached the age of 13. About 50 children went to this school, which she says, was a public school, but in which they also received instruction in Bible history. Reading, writing and arithmetic were also taught. The children of Lutheran parents were given instruction in their catechism, to which the parents of Baptist children were opposed, and from which their children were excused. Christina's parents were Baptists.

Because of the small farm he had and very little prospect of adding acreage, Mr. Huber decided to immigrate to America where much land could be obtained free or at very little cost. On farms near Scotland, Dakota Territory he had two sisters, one married to Anton Orth and the other married to Peter Orth, brothers. These had emigrated a few years before, about 1875, and were already moderately prosperous. This fact was, of course, an added attraction.

When Christina was 13 years old in 1884, her father sold his land and all personal property, except clothing and bedding, and with his family boarded the train to Odessa late in September and arrived in Hamburg three days later. Three days later they left this port in the steamship Hamburg [in error the ship was the Moravia]. They traveled third class and were on board 16 days. Due to a severe storm at sea, Christina cried and said she wanted to go back home. The ocean waters washed the decks. She was happy all the time, otherwise, and was not at all seasick, though her father and mother both were attacked. Because of her mother's illness, the care of the younger children devolved upon Christina and she especially remembers she had to wash Elizabeth's diapers. As to the food, she says she and the whole family much enjoyed the potatoes and herring, the rye bread and oatmeal that was served.

With them from Russia came:
Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Renz (Mrs. Renz was Mr. Huber's sister)
Mr. and Mrs. Carl Renz
Mr. and Mrs. John Krieg, their two children; and Mrs. Krieg's sister Katharina Wagner, who later married Alex Walther
Mr. and Mrs. Philip Fischer, their three children and Mrs. Fischer's sister.

They remained in New York only about half a day and took the train to Scotland, Dakota Territory. They arrived three days later, about the middle of October 1884. There they remained the following winter with the Orth families, their relatives.

Mr. Huber had just $121.00 left when he arrived in Scotland. This amount, with the clothing and bedding he had brought from Russia, was all he possessed. From Anton Orth he purchased a yoke of oxen on time. He paid for these about two years later. From another friend, Mr. Billigmeier who also lived in Scotland, he purchased a wagon. Anton and Peter Orth and other friends donated some furniture, including a table, a few chairs, a bed and a kitchen range. Anton Orth had also donated a two-year-old heifer with sale of the oxen.

On the 1st of May 1885, Mr. Huber hitched his oxen to the wagon, loaded his family into it and, leading the cow, set out from Scotland across the prairies to locate a homestead. They went by way of Ipswich where Mr. Huber purchased some lumber for windows and door frames, another bed and a couple of benches. From Ipswich they proceeded in a northerly direction about 90 miles, until on the fourteenth day of their journey they arrived at the location they had selected. They had to go this distance from Ipswich because all the land between there and Ipswich had been taken. True, there were a few isolated claims and sections which had not been taken, but the party which had set out from Russia wished to take up land close together, in order to form a German Baptist colony with a congregation and church of their own.

Mr. Huber's homestead was located about one mile west of where Artas, South Dakota, now stands. The town, however, did not appear for several years more. John Krieg's homestead was located about one half mile southeast of Huber's, Philip Fischer's about one mile west and the Renz's about 3 miles west.

Mr. Huber, his wife and Christina immediately set about the building of a sod house. Mr. Huber and Mr. Krieg had bought breaker plow in company and with this plow, Mr. Huber's two oxen and Mr. Krieg's two horses, they turned the sod for the house. Christina and her mother then hauled the sod to the building site while Mr. Huber laid the sod. As the walls rose, Christina though now only 14 years old, also lifted the heavy sod up to him. Then she in the company with some neighbors took their wagon and ox team to the Missouri River, a two-day-journey each way, to haul a load of timbers for the roof rafters. Across these timbers smaller logs and branches were laid. These were covered with straw and over all sods were laid. The house was 14 ft. x 24 ft. and had two rooms. One of these was the kitchen, about 8 ft. x 14 ft., and the other, used as a sitting room and bedroom was about 14 ft. x 16 ft. One door led outside from the kitchen and one door from the kitchen to the other room. The kitchen had one window and the other room had three. All windows were about 2 ft. square. The ceilings were plastered with clay mixed with hay and straw and whitewashed. Into this house they brought such furniture as they had taken with them from Scotland, and the bed and benches Mr. Huber built of the lumber bought in Ipswich.

Mr. Huber also built in the house one of the Russian style stoves for heating the sitting room. It was so constructed that the hay and straw used for fuel was pushed with a stick, was on the kitchen side of the partition, while the stove proper was in the sitting room. This eliminated the dust and straw from the `best' room. The chimney also was built in the partition and was visible only from the kitchen. For cooking purposes they had a kitchen range obtained from one of their relatives in Scotland.

During the first summer, before they had raised a crop, their only fuel was hay cut with a grass mower which Mr. Huber had bought from Charlie Paffer in Ipswich. Mr. Paffer had a general store and implement shop in Ipswich and also purchased buffalo bones. During their first years in Dakota they traded with him almost exclusively.

A creek ran near their home site and from this obtained their first water. During the summer, Christina and her father dug a well about 18 ft. deep near the creek. Most of the hard labor of this well and other work fell upon Christina, because her father was not well, and she was much older than her brothers and sisters. Water was drawn up from this well with a pail and rope.

Having come to their homestead location rather late in the season, they had not much time left after building their home to prepare the land for a crop. Christina and her father together with their neighbor, John Krieg, broke about twelve acres. Huber sowed his six acres to flax and a little corn. They harvested a little flax with the mower and threshed it, but their corn was destroyed by an early frost.

The following winter was a hard one for the Huber Family. They had planted a small patch of potatoes but harvested only 1/2 bushel, all the potatoes they had that winter. Mr. Huber had also helped another man transport a number of pigs whereby he had received a couple of little pigs, weighing about ten pounds each, as payment. This was their meat supply. Trading facilities were poor and they did not have enough money to lay in a large supply of foodstuffs at any one time. However, they always had sufficient to eat.

During the early years they scoured the plains for buffalo bones which they hauled to Ipswich 90 miles away to exchange for groceries. While Mr. Huber drove the ox team and wagon, Christina walked beside the wagon or some distance away with a sack into which she put the bones. Whenever she located quite a large pile, she hailed her father who then drove up to the pile. When they had a full load they took it to Ipswich. This work was done in spare time or when there wasn't much farm work to attend to.

During the summer of 1887, when Christina was 16 years old, she made a trip to Ipswich in company with some neighbors to exchange buffalo bones for groceries. Mr. Huber was not well at the time and the family was in need of groceries. So Christina had to go. Thirty miles a day was a good day's travel for oxen. They left early on Monday morning and returned Saturday night. At night she slept on the ground. In Ipswich she traded her buffalo bones at Charlie Paffer's at whose home she slept that night. She occupied a bed with the Paffer's hired girl. She says they were very kind to her.

They bought no clothing the first year in Dakota. They had sufficient clothing along from Russia and mended these when necessary from cloth obtained from other old clothes. In later years Mrs. Huber had a spinning jenny and spun her own yarn from wool of their sheep. From this yarn she made knit stockings and mittens. That was her job. It was Christina's job to do all the sewing, all by hand of course. Practically all the clothing worn by the entire family, including the men's shirts and trousers and underwear, was made in the home and mostly by Christina. She says her mother could not sew very well; she took too large stitches. However, Mrs. Huber hated idleness and brought up her daughters accordingly. After supper they washed themselves, combed their hair, put on clean dresses and sat down to knit, sew or to do some fancy work such as embroidering or crocheting. Mrs. Schatz says she brought up her own daughters in the same way and "not like the girls of today."

In 1886 a baby boy was born to Mr. and Mrs. Huber. This was the last of their children. He died the following year and was buried on a corner of the Huber homestead. This became the first burial ground of the neighborhood. Christina remembers that she carried the box containing the dead baby on her head to the grave, the young men who had dug the grave walking beside her. Near Hubers' place lived a family who, Christina says, "had a baby every year, and every year one died." These babies were buried on the same corner of Hubers' land. Later a church was erected on Mike Fischer's land and a plot of land set aside near it for a cemetery.

Christina married Gottlieb Schatz January l, 1891, and both now live in Linton, North Dakota. Mr. and Mrs. Huber spent the declining years of their lives with Mr. and Mrs. Schatz while they were living in Temvik, North Dakota. Mr. Huber died there in 1912 and Mrs. Huber in 1915.

Reprinted with permission of Lodi chapter newsletter.

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