Some Americans From Overseas
Munroe, Kirk. "Some Americans From Overseas." Harper's New Monthly Magazine, February 1898.
Although all the inhabitants of the United States,
Indians excepted, are either of foreign birth or the direct descendants
of those native to other lands, though the unwavering policy of
our government from its inception has been to encourage immigration,
and though we owe most of our material development to the tireless
industry of toilers from abroad, it is, and always has been, the
habit of native-born Americans to assume airs of superiority toward
their fellow-citizens from overseas, and to express for them a contemptuous
dislike. In this, however, we do not stand alone, for to all peoples
of the earth, the stranger within their gates is one to be pitied,
disliked, or hated. To the home-abiding European, an American is
of an inferior race, and pitied for his crude ideas of civilization.
In what we are pleased to term the "Dark Continent," the
black-skinned sons of Ham despise the progeny of Japheth because
they are white; while to the Mongols of Asia people of the Western
world are "foreign devils," to be hated always, and killed
if opportunity offers.
We of America do not seek to kill the immigrants whom we have invited
to assist in the upbuilding of our great republic, but we nevertheless
despise them, and rarely hesitate to express this feeling with a
brutal frankness. While this ever-present animosity is general and
applies to all foreigners, it has epochs of especial virulence against
especial classes. Irish, Germans, and Scandinavians have been denounced
in turn; but today the first outrank us all in the learned professions,
the second are our merchants and manufacturers, while the third
have become the agriculturists upon whose efforts are based the
very foundations of our national prosperity. Bereft of these three,
we should resemble a man partially paralyzed in brain, functional
organs, and limbs. We have had paroxysms of fear concerning the
Italians, Poles, Hungarians, and Bohemians, who have built and are
building the railroads of the East, as well as over the Chinamen,
who have performed a similar service in the West; but these have
been alleviated. More recently our energies in the line of denunciation
have been directed against a class of immigrants from Slavonic countries,
who are settling certain regions of the Northwest that American
farmers have deemed worthless for purposes of agriculture.
Much has been written and said against the "filthy Russians,"
the "ignorant Finns," the "groveling Polanders,"
and even the "thrifty Icelanders," who have established
themselves in that portion of Uncle Sam's domain. They are charged
with crowding out the native-born American, stealing from him his
birthright of free land, clinging to their own language and customs,
refusing to become Americanized, lowering the standard of citizenship,
reducing the price of labor, and in many other ways demoralizing
the community at large. So clamorous were these charges that this
magazine became interested in the subject, and decided to send into
the Northwest a representative who should visit the Russian in his
lair, the Finn in his cave, and the Icelander in his den. Having
been chosen for this service, I started early last summer for the
State of North Dakota, where, as I was informed, the Slavonic hordes
had made their principal invasion.
The Russians, being the newest comers and also the most bitterly
denounced by that class of Americans who glory in the title of "Know
Nothings," claimed my chief attention, and at St. Paul I learned
that they were to be found in greatest numbers somewhere along the
line of the Northern Pacific Railroad, west of the Missouri River.
At Bismarck I was so fortunate as to meet a young Americanized Russian
who has been instrumental in bringing more of his people to this
country than any other person. He had been a medical student in
Russia, became connected with a nihilist plot, was suspected, arrested,
and sentenced to Siberia, but made his escape, and came to this
country five years ago. He at once took steps to become naturalized,
and now, as Dr. C. C. Young, is an American citizen, intensely proud
of his adopted country, enthusiastic concerning its institutions,
particularly its liberty of speech, and is able to converse in excellent
English wholly acquired since coming here.
"A nihilist," said Dr. Young, "is not an anarchist,
nor even a socialist. He is merely one who desires with all his
heart, and above everything else in this world, the liberty of speech
and action that is the birthright of every living soul, and which
is guaranteed to every American by the Constitution of the United
States. Oh, you Americans should be the very happiest people on
earth, for you have everything that the rest of the world is striving
The doctor surprised me by stating that "his Russians,"
as he termed those settled in the Dakotas, were of Teutonic stock,
and not Slavs at all, save as they had adopted Slavonic customs
and modes of life during a residence of several generations in Russia.
According to him, Peter the Great, by liberal promises, induced
several colonies of German farmers to settle in his dominions, where
they were to teach his people their methods of agriculture. Each
family of these colonists was given a house and land, on which all
taxes were remitted, the men were exempted from military service,
they were allowed to retain their own religious forms, and were
free to return to their own land whenever they pleased. Under these
favorable conditions the colonists flourished and multiplied for
two hundred years, becoming in that time Russianized in everything
save their language, religion, and independence of thought and speech.
In Germany some of them had been Lutherans, while others had remained
Catholics, and to this day their descendants have retained these
forms of belief through all vicissitudes of fortune.
At length these semi-independent and liberty-loving people became
so numerous, and on account of the extraordinary privileges granted
them, excited so much discontent in the downtrodden communities
in which they dwelt that the Russian authorities became alarmed,
and decided upon their repression. So, by imperial ukase, Czar Alexander
III arbitrarily revoked all concessions made to them by his famous
ancestor. Thus by a stroke of the pen the Germano-Russians were
reduced to the servile condition of their Slavonic neighbors, and
saw naught before them save a future of hopeless misery. Rather
than accept this, vast numbers of them attempted to leave the country.
Many were intercepted and forced to return. Some were imprisoned,
transported to Siberia, condemned to death, or otherwise punished
for striving to gain other liberty than that allowed by the Czar;
but thousands made good their escape. Of these fortunate ones, some
settled in Germany, others went to the Argentine, and so great a
number came to this country that ten thousand of them are estimated
to be settled in the Dakotas.
In North Dakota, I found their farms scattered along the sluggish
prairie waterways from the Missouri River west to the Bad Lands
of the Montana border and met them in all the little railroad towns
from Mandan to Medora, which they use as shipping and trading points.
Thus in New Salem, Kurtz, Hebron, Dickinson, Richardton, and Glen
Ullin were seen the wagons of Russian farmers, drawn by teams of
big strong horses, and heavily laden with wheat in sacks, or more
lightly freighted with recently purchased goods. Always, too, there
were passengers - broad-shouldered, stolid-looking men; wide-hipped,
squarely built women; and innumerable children, sturdy and bright-eyed.
The men have already discarded their Russian costume, and appear
in the conventional slouch hat, flannel shirt, short sack-coat,
and jean trousers tucked into boot-legs of the American frontier;
but the women retain the characteristic dress in which they came
from overseas. It is invariably of gray or dark blue home-spun,
with scant skirts barely reaching to the ankles, heavy cowhide shoes,
coarse yarn stockings, and a triangular kerchief knotted beneath
the chin, covering their smooth black hair. Everything is severely
plain and serviceable, without an attempt at ornament, except that
the younger women generally display some point of color, such as
a red ribbon or brightly-bordered kerchief. The children are miniature
counterparts of their elders, with the exception that the skirts
of the little girls are so long as to hide their feet.
I followed several of these families to their homes, distant from
ten to fifty miles from the railroad, and was always made shyly
welcome as a friend of Dr. Young, whose influence over them is unbounded.
Having been told that they lived like pigs in mud hovels, I was
prepared for some very unpleasant experiences during my stay with
them, especially at night; but in every case I found the anticipation
much worse than the reality. To be sure, all the houses that I visited,
with one exception, were constructed of mud; but so is every brick
building in the land, and these Russian dwellings were far from
being hovels. All had board floors, and contained at least two rooms.
While those of the more recent arrivals were built of sod, in every
case where the proprietor had been two or more years in the country,
his house was a long, low, but neatly finished and very substantial
structure of sun-dried brick, made of mud mixed with straw, and
differing in no way that I could see from the adobes of Mexico.
The framing was of unhewn cottonwood timbers hauled from the nearest
river bottom, and in many cases the interiors were sealed with boards.
The roofs were of closely laid poles or rough boards covered six
inches deep with adobe, while every house had wide chimneys and
glass windows. Many of them, as picturesquely foreign in appearance
as though transplanted bodily from the Russian steppes, were neatly
whitewashed both inside and out, while often both doors and window-casings
were painted a bright blue.
As the sod houses of the newcomers are not storm-proof for more
than two years, they are considered as only temporary makeshifts
until time can be taken to mould adobe brick and erect more permanent
dwellings. Thus the adobe house, which is often given a stone foundation,
marks the abode of him who has been in the country three or four
years, and but few Russians have dwelt in Dakota for a longer time.
Most of them had, however, made previous and unprofitable attempts
at farming in the Northwest Territories of Canada, to which they
were attracted by specious promises and low rates of transportation.
The third stage of the Dakota settler's progress is marked by a
shingled roof projecting with wide eaves over the low walls of his
adobe house; while the fourth, which I saw reached by but one man,
and he had been in this country seven years, is the frame-house
stage. The old-timer who has gained this height of prosperity lives
in Mercer County, which is almost wholly settled by Russians, and
his neat dwelling containing six rooms, all on the ground-floor,
stands on a crest of the water-shed between the Missouri and Big
Knife rivers, commanding a glorious view of twenty miles in every
direction. This man owns six hundred and forty acres of land, all
of which is upland prairie, such as American farmers, having in
mind the rich valleys of the Red, James, and other wheat-region
rivers, had deemed unfit for cultivation. Nor could it be profitably
cultivated with their extravagant methods; but its Russian owner,
in 1897, put one hundred and sixty acres into wheat that yielded
him eighteen bushels to the acre, forty more into flax and potatoes,
and enclosed the remainder with a wire fence as a pasture for his
two hundred head of cattle. On the open range he herded a flock
of sheep, and from the free prairie meadows he cut one hundred tons
of hay, which he hauled home and stacked for winter use.
His stables and out-buildings, low but thick-walled and warm, form
two sides of a square that opens to the south, while his dwelling
and its adjacent granaries form the third side. Besides owning several
teams of fine horses, a herd of cattle, and a flock of sheep, he
raises pigs, chickens, turkeys, and ducks; sends eggs and butter
to market every week, is not in debt to any man, has $1000 in bank,
and is estimated to be worth $10,000 more. Seven years ago when
he located where he still lives, he had less than $500 with which
to make his new start in life, and he was fifty miles from a railroad.
But he had pluck, energy, and thrift, besides a family of sons and
daughters who had been educated to hard work.
Now, though the old man still hauls his wheat fifty miles to the
railroad, he can count twenty-three homesteads from his own house;
and though most of his sons and daughters have left him, he is proud
of the fact that they are raising families of bright young Americans
who will honor his name and bless him for their heritage of freedom.
This first settler can speak but a few words of English, and his
children use it with difficulty; but his grandchildren talk the
language of their adopted country as fluently as they do the Russo-German
of their parents. They attend schools where only English is taught,
and in which the law of North Dakota compels them to gain a rudimentary
education. They ride the unbroken cow-ponies of the range with the
fearlessness of young Indians, and celebrate the Fourth of July
as though to the manner born; but the acme of their Americanization
was reached in a thirteen-year-old lad whom I met in the valley
of the Knife River. Alone on the prairie, miles remote from a house,
and with no sign of human presence in a wide range of vision, he
was herding sheep on a bicycle. He was a cheerful little chap, and
claimed that a wheel gave much less trouble than a pony, because
it did not have to be watered, and never ran away. It was also very
good to chase coyotes with when they came sneaking around his sheep,
and he believed that if he could only induce one to stick to the
road, he could run it down.
Yes, he was a Russian, that is, he was born in Russia, but he did
not remember much about the place he came from, and was forgetting
what he did remember as fast as he could.
The wildness of the region in which this solitary young wheelman
was herding his sheep was shown in a few minutes after I left him
by a small bunch of antelope that dashed out from a "draw,"
and ran for nearly a mile parallel to the trail along which I was
driving. Of course I had no gun, and they knew it.
That night I spent with a Russian family whose chief pride in life
was their flower-garden, a tiny enclosure filled with poppies, marigolds,
sweet-peas, mignonette, and pansies, which they tended with assiduous
care. It was the only out-of-door flower-garden that I saw among
them, though in nearly every house a few potted plants brightened
These Russians had been accused of being filthy in their habits.
I did not find them more so than are many native-born Americans
of my acquaintance, though, to be sure, certain of their customs
were not such as a fastidious person would approve; while others
would at least strike him as peculiar. It was, for instance, somewhat
embarrassing when I was ready to go to bed to have the entire family
gather curiously about, with the evident intention of witnessing
the performance. In vain did I try to out-sit them, but they declined
to leave, and remained, laughing with each other in high enjoyment
of the situation. I was dead tired, and finally, in despair, crawled
fully dressed between the two feather beds prepared for my resting-place,
where I quickly feigned to be asleep. Upon this the spectators reluctantly
departed, taking with them the only lamp in the house. Upon this
I slipped out from those beastly feather beds, softly closed the
door, and began hurriedly to undress.
Inside of a minute the door was flung wide open, revealing my host,
followed by his wife and others. As he smilingly inquired after
my comfort, and if there was anything I wanted, or at least I thought
he did so, I replied that I only wanted to be left alone. With this
they all cheerfully sat down, prepared to keep me company so long
as I should remain awake, and I again retired to my feathers. This
time I really fell asleep, and when I next awoke it was with a lively
sense of suffocation. The house was hermetically sealed against
the admission of air, the outer doors were locked, not the smallest
chink pierced the two-foot-thick walls, and not a window would be
opened, as I proved by strenuous effort. At length, in desperation,
I picked up a stool and drove it through the window nearest my bed.
The entire sash went out with a prodigious clatter that brought
the affrighted family to my room. As I could not satisfactorily
explain my action, they evidently believed me to be crazy, and watched
me apprehensively until daylight. Before leaving that oppressively
hospitable house I was allowed to pay for the broken window, but
my host refused any recompense for board or lodging.
Another custom brought from the old country was that of greeting
new arrivals or speeding departing guests with kisses from the men
and simple handshakes on the part of the women. Even a minister
who visited one house in which I was staying, heartily kissed all
the men on both cheeks and merely shook hands with the women. At
home also the women and girls went barefooted, while the men and
even the small boys wore boots.
It did not seem wholly nice to have to wash in the same tin basin
and use the same towel with which the entire family had performed
their ablutions; but I remembered the historic towel of the mining-camp
hotel used by thousands of men without complaint, and held my peace.
I did hate, however, to see the radishes that were to be served
for breakfast cleaned in the same useful basin; nor was it pleasant
to have one of the children capture my toothbrush and closely imitate
my recent use of it.
My hostess skimmed the cream from a pan of milk with her hand;
but as I had seen the same thing done by an Irish woman in Mexico,
I could not credit the custom with being peculiarly Russian. Bread,
cheese, milk, and radishes formed the bill of fare for breakfast
and supper in every Russian house that I visited; but for dinner
there was an addition of greens and coffee with an occasional frying
of bacon. The bread, made of unbleached wheat flour and baked in
mud ovens, was as light and sweet as any that I ever tasted, and
when on one occasion I drew a long black hair from a slice that
I was eating, my hostess remarked, nonchalantly:
"Ach! Dot mak nottings."
It is, however, unfortunate to have been educated to fastidiousness
if you must live among Russians of the peasant class.
The prime causes of success among these foreign-born farmers with
lands that Americans had declared only fit for grazing are thrift
and frugality. They protect from the weather their expensive farm
machinery, while the native-born nearly always leaves his in the
fields where it has been used, from one season to another. The American
wheat-farmer exhausts his rich lands by planting them to the same
crop year after year, burning his straw, and restoring nothing to
the soil that he has taken from it. The Russian varies his crops,
or allows his land to lie fallow in alternate years, and plows in
It costs the American about thirty-five cents to raise a bushel
of wheat and deliver it to an elevator within a mile of his field.
The Russian can raise wheat on poorer soil, haul it fifty miles,
and place it on board the cars for several cents per bushel less
money. When the latter goes to town he carries provisions with him
and sleeps in his wagon; the American puts up at a hotel. The Russian
rarely eats fresh meat, but his more civilized neighbor must have
it three times a day.
The American engages in stock-raising on a large scale, allows
his cattle to pick up their own living on the open range the year
round, and loses half of them during a hard winter. His competitor
from overseas only raises such stock as he can feed and care for,
with the result that even in the severest winters he saves it all.
He is narrow-minded and conservative, and his methods are those
of the Old World, where of necessity his sphere of operations was
limited. The American, especially in the West, brought up with large
ideas, scorns a small economy as he does a petty meanness. He despises
the small but sure profits with which the foreigner is satisfied
and prefers to assume great risks with the hope of large returns.
A fusion of the two races should yield most desirable results;
but at present they will not come together. The native-born regards
the naturalized citizen with dislike and contempt; while the newcomer
has to overcome both fear and mistrust of those whose ways are so
different from his own. Throughout the West the young American who
marries a foreigner is considered to have lost caste and disgraced
his family; while the foreign-born are said to be equally prejudiced
against such inter-racial alliances. These antagonistic feelings
cannot be eradicated in minds that have held them for a lifetime
but it is probable that in another generation they will largely
if not wholly disappear.
The birth rate among Russo-Americans shows a phenomenal increase
over that of the old country, and the substantial mud houses of
the Dakota prairies swarm with children. I was disappointed at not
seeing these future citizens in school, but at the time of my visit
no school was in session. I did, however, see several district schoolhouses
in communities wholly Russian, and found plans in progress for the
building and support of others. On every hand were evidences that
North Dakota, with her fifty per cent of foreign-born citizens,
is fully alive to the value of education, and is providing it to
the full extent of her resources. The little wooden schoolhouses
dotting her wind-swept prairies, the substantial brick academies
to be seen in every town, the well-equipped agricultural college
at Fargo, and the promising State university at Grand Forks - all
prove her earnestness of effort and her realizing sense that nothing
else will so readily amalgamate the diverse elements of her population.
The land of which the Russian immigrants have taken possession
presents a limitless succession of long easy slopes, softly rounded
uplands, and broad valleys holding occasional streams or glinting
chains of water-pools at which the range cattle quench their thirst.
Contrary to the generally preconceived ideas of the great Western
plains, there is nothing flat nor monotonous about the country;
while its very bareness of trees adds a charm to the superb sweep
of landscape over which the eye may roam. In hazy distances conical
buttes are uplifted, or sharply outlined cliffs mark the erratic
course of the turbid Missouri. Nearer at hand the monotone of neutral-tinted
prairie grasses is occasionally relieved by serpentine lines of
dark green, indicating the timber fringe of water-courses.
Both heat and cold can be borne with comparative ease in the atmosphere
of this region; for it is as invigorating as a tonic, and so dry
that the word humidity is unknown to the vocabulary of those privileged
to breathe it. Potable water exists everywhere within twenty feet
of the surface, and the whole country is so uniformly underlaid
with beds of lignite that every farmer may, if he chooses, open
a coal-mine on his own property.
The wonderfully picturesque Bad Lands bounding the Russian holdings
on the west were formed by the burning out of enormous coal-measures,
and the consequent falling in of the superimposed crust. This chaotic
rearrangement of the landscape has left a vast region of pinnacled
butte and frowning mesa, precipice and cliff, stately architecture,
exquisite sculpture, and savagely distorted forms - all burned to
vivid colors by the fierce heat that created them, and chiseled
into shape by the cunning hands of wind, rain, or frost. Nestled
among these are valleys and gorges covered with rich grasses or
pungent sage, in which animal life from the adjacent plains finds
shelter from winter blizzards and deadly snowdrifts. Thus the Bad
Lands form a notable game-preserve and a desirable cattle-range.
Here are located the world-famous ranches of the late Marquis de
Mores and of the Hon. Theodore Roosevelt, the hospitable Custer
Trail Ranch, owned by the Eaton Brothers of Pittsburg, and many
others equally interesting though not so well known. Here an occasional
Russian, quick to recognize natural advantages in his line of business,
has appeared with a flock or herd. The cowboys of the Bad Lands
hate the Russians, dread their encroachments, and would fain exclude
them from this favorite range; while the latter, stolid but tenacious,
are equally determined to share it. This state of affairs cannot
fail to create a fierce competition in ways, means, and methods
that in the end must result favorably to all concerned.
Having spent ten days among the Russians of North Dakota, and learning
to entertain a decided respect for this most recently arrived class
of our immigrant farmers, I set forth in search of another colony
from overseas, who, coming from the most poverty-stricken of all
European countries, could now show the results of a twenty-year
residence in the New World. It is a community of Icelanders, driven
from their beloved island home by the rigors of its climate and
unproductiveness of its soil, and now settled along the line of
the Great Northern Railway in Pembina, the northeastern county of
North Dakota. Here, in the land formerly governed by Joe Rolette,
and occupied by the half-breed descendants of French voyageurs,
Scotch engages of the Hudson Bay Company, and American fur-traders,
families of Icelanders now form a large proportion of the population.
Although I had at the outset no idea of where to find these people,
a study of the map was sufficient to locate them; for who but Icelanders
would name their post-offices Walhalla, Gardar, Akra, Hallson, Eyford,
Maida, and Hensel?
My way to these led first to the extreme eastern border of the
State, and then down the broad Red River Valley, the most glorious
wheat-garden of the world, due north to the Canadian border. A railway
ride of two hundred miles over this country, which is as level as
a floor through an almost unbroken wheat-field of thirty bushels
to the acre, and extending to the horizon on either side, is at
once an object-lesson and a delight. At that season, the wonderful
valley was a sea of undulating green, dimly bordered on the west,
near its northern confines, by the distant blue of the Pembina Mountains,
bisected by the dark timber belt of its river, and dotted at short
intervals with tiny island-like hamlets clustering about groups
of tall grain elevators, or the protecting groves planted around
substantial farmhouses. Against the intense blue of the sky, smoke
clouds from other and faraway trains suggested passing steamers,
while at night the electric lights of the larger towns simulated
the warning beacons of a coast.
Forty years ago, this vast wheat-field was a buffalo pasture through
which wound the dusty trail traversed by long trains of creaking
two-wheeled Red River carts, each drawn by a single ox, and laden
with robes or furs from Pembina for the St. Paul market. Now all
is changed - the whole face of the land, the people, their industry,
and their methods of transportation. The homemade carts creeping
at a snail's pace gave way to riverboats and those in turn to the
railroad. The rich freights of furs have been supplanted by a still
richer freighting of wheat, while the light-hearted but improvident
half-breed with his French-Indian patois has disappeared before
the sturdy advance of an English-speaking race of husbandmen; and
who shall say that the change is not for the better?
Not all the farmers of the Red River Valley were English-speaking
when they first settled its fertile acres. Men of diverse nationalities
were attracted by the fabulous richness of its soil, until its tongues
were as those of Babel; but in due time the language taught in its
public schools prevailed over all others.
Most interesting of the many comers from overseas who have here
found new homes are the Northmen from Iceland, who, like their Russian
followers, first settled in Canada, on the lowlands surrounding
Lake Winnipeg. There drowned out by floods, they were compelled
to a second migration, this time to the United States, where they
located in Pembina. Warned by their recent experience, they sought
lands from which no flood could drive them, and finally selected
a plateau known as the "Sand Ridge," which, though well-timbered,
contains the poorest soil in that entire region. Fortunately the
Sand Ridge is of such small area that later comers were forced to
take the much richer and treeless lands on either side.
In this locality the Icelandic colony has grown and thriven, until
today, twenty years from the date of its foundation, it is a thoroughly
Americanized community, numbering several thousand intelligent and
prosperous people. It is well represented in the State Legislature,
and has furnished to Pembina County many of its leading ministers,
lawyers, and doctors, all of whom were born in Iceland, and only
came to America when in their teens. In spite of their foreign origin,
these men retain no trace of it in speech or thought, save in a
broader liberality than is common to native-born Americans, and
an intimate acquaintance with the Northland classics, of which most
Americans are profoundly ignorant.
In the Gardar district school I found fifty bright youngsters of
Icelandic parentage gathered beneath the same flag that floats above
the schoolhouses of New England, and studying the very textbooks
used by the descendants of the Puritans. At recess the boys played
baseball, preparatory to a match game with a neighboring school,
and were as keenly alive to its niceties as though they belonged
to some Eastern interscholastic league. They were intensely interested
in the photograph that I took of them, and were vastly proud of
the fact that it was intended for publication in a great magazine.
These young Icelanders were as well behaved a lot of children as
I ever met, trained to politeness and a respect for their elders,
eager to understand without being inquisitive, and, above all, courteous
to each other. All of them can speak Icelandic as fluently as English,
and every one can read in the vernacular the grand sagas of the
far Northern isle that their fathers still hold in fond remembrance.
Like all other poverty-stricken immigrants in this country, the
Icelanders made their start in rude little houses of logs or sod,
and holding but one or two rooms. After a lapse of twenty years
these have so completely disappeared that it was difficult to discover
one of them in all the county. With the advent of prosperity, their
places have been taken by roomy and well-built frame structures,
neatly painted, and flanked by great barns. Although there is little
to distinguish the dwellers in these comfortable houses from any
other Americans of their class, a few old-country customs still
remain with them, such as the caring for birds, and the piling of
their firewood in conical stacks that may not be buried by drifting
snows. In one house I found a very quaint, very clumsy, and very
ancient cradle, in which many generations of Icelandic babies had
been rocked; while in another sat a bright-eyed old woman spinning
wool with a wheel of most primitive pattern. In their churches all
illuminated texts, as well as the service-books, are printed in
Icelandic; but the minister of the Gardar church, who, though born
in Iceland, had been educated in an Ohio college, was one of the
best read and most interesting men whom I met in North Dakota.
That these Icelanders, who but a score of years ago were poverty-stricken
foreigners, ignorant of the customs, language, and institutions
of this country, are today so thoroughly Americanized that it is
difficult to detect a trace of their foreign birth, is cheering
evidence of the possibilities latent in all immigrants from overseas.
They have accomplished nothing that the despised Russians do not
bid fair to equal, and even to excel, in an equal length of time,
since facilities for learning and succeeding are many times greater
in the North Dakota of today than they were twenty years ago.
Across the Red River in Minnesota, with its 2,000,000 of population,
of whom one-fourth are Scandinavians, 134,000 are Germans, 11,000
are Bohemians, 9,000 are Poles, 8,000 are Finns, 6,500 are Russians,
and 108,000 are foreigners of other nationalities, the process of
amalgamation was found to be fully as rapid as in North Dakota,
and in most cases even farther advanced towards a thorough Americanization.
Of course the Germans and Scandinavians have so thoroughly identified
themselves with this country that they can no longer be considered
as foreigners, while the 50,000 natives of the British Isles who
settled in Minnesota have hardly been regarded as foreigners from
the outset. Eliminating these, leaves for consideration only Finns,
Poles, Bohemians, and Russians.
Flying visits to communities of each of these located along the
lines of the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railways disclosed
them to have attained a degree of Americanization intermediate between
those of the Russians and the Icelanders of North Dakota. In every
case I found them to be frugal, thrifty, and industrious, largely
guided in their temporal as well as in their spiritual affairs by
their ministers or priests. Wherever I met these men, they appeared
to be conscientious, liberal-minded, and well educated. The Minnesota
school laws compel the education in English of every youth in the
State, and in every foreign- born community that I visited it was
quickly evident that the children are being thus taught. They always
spoke fluent English, generally without an accent, and above every
schoolhouse floated the American flag that they are thus taught
to love and respect above all other national emblems.
As the result of a month's experience among the overseas Americans
of two great agricultural States, I am convinced that there is nothing
to be feared but everything to be hoped from such immigrants, no
matter what their previous condition, they are willing to till the
soil and people the wide vacant spaces of our vast territory. So
long as the existing school laws are enforced, their children, even
in the first generation, will become as truly Americanized as are
the descendants of those earlier immigrants who settled the Atlantic
coast. Whatever dangers exist in unrestricted or in partially restricted
immigration must then be sought, not on our Western prairies, but
in our cities, where the very atmosphere of the congested tenements
is moral poison; and here, too, the most effective preventive of
anarchy and crime lies in an enforced primary education of the children.