The Burkhartsmeier Wagon Train
In 1899 a wagon train was formed at Eureka, S.D. Its masters
were 3 Burkhartsmeier brothers: Anton (42), Michael (40) and Peter
(34). They came to America in 1892 and settled at Eureka, where
brother Jacob had preciously homesteaded.
The oxen-drawn wagon train was made up of 50 families (about
300 people) and their earthly belongings. Nine years earlier they
had traveled from Odessa, Russia to Budapest, Hungary. It then
took 2 years to arrange passage to America. They traveled by train
from New York to South Dakota.
Each family needed covered wagons and supply wagons to carry
food. Dried foods, produce in wooden barrels and chickens and
milk cows were taken for eggs and milk along the way. Lumber was
also loaded to make rafts as rivers and streams would not have
bridges or ferries. During the daytime most of the members walked
since traveling by oxen was an extremely slow process. If they
made 5 miles a day it was considered very good progress.
Several midwives traveled with them and each family provided
their own medical supplies.
Early in May 1899 they set out. They knew they would encounter
some wild animals, snakes, wolves, etc. but the men were prepared
with firearms and ammunition. Indians posed no threats. They kept
their distance riding their ponies for many miles watching as
the white man moved slowly northward.
The weather was fair to start but then drought set in and water
holes became contaminated and diphtheria was prevalent. Peter's
3-year old daughter succumbed to the disease and was buried at
Strasburg, ND. Michael also became ill so he, his wife and 5 children
dropped out of the train and stayed at Strasburg. He died later
that year and his wife in 1904. Several others died en route and
were buried long the wayside. When the wagon train reached the
next Roman Catholic Church, a mass was said for those that had
died and the news babies were baptized. Some other families dropped
off and stayed near relatives but 32 families remained and reached
There were few places they could take shelter from storms so
they would draw the wagons into a circle, huddle together, keep
the animals inside the enclosure and the people would take shelter
under the wagons for fear of them overturning or being torn to
During the day the women would mix bread dough and at night
would use kerosene stove with a portable oven to bake it. After
crossing a river or stream the men and animals would rest while
the women would wash clothes using their homemade soap. They would
lay the wet clothes on the tall grass to dry.
They settled around Fulda, ND in Ness Township SE of Berwick,
ND. Each person age 21 or over was permitted to homestead 160
acres of land but they had to live on it. Sod huts were built
the first year and replaced with more permanent dwelling as time
and means permitted. They were used to the cold bitter winter
having survived their life along the Black Sea in Russia.
Younger people were planning for the future needs of their families.
The older people were planning their church. Family lie had always
been centered around the church in their old countries. Church
customs, traditions and feasts had been such an important part
of their life.
The language in America was English and most of these people
could not speak, read or write English. They valued education
so when the church was completed they built a school across the
road. The priest was the best educated so he was the first teacher.
These were independent people and did not ask for public funds.
What they built together they paid for, but it was a public school.
As the children grew and the parents grew with them along came
a very healthy interest in other activities and nationalities.
A melting-process began because inter-marriage and respect and
sincere tolerance for other nationalities and their customs and
These people found America different where all nationalities,
races, colors, and creeds live in harmony. Truly America is the
greatest of all nations and the face of the earth.
(Excerpts from an article by: Genevieve Burkhartsmeier Peter's
granddaughter of Wagon Master, Peter Burkhartsmeier).
See also: The Burkhartsmeier Wagon Train pages
334-335, in A Centenary of Area History, Pierce County and
Rugby, North Dakota: 1886-1986.