|Steven Schumacher, son of Ron and
Annette Schumacher and his great grandfather Leo Gross were
dressed alike with coveralls and caps as the two spent part
of a spring morning together.
Interview with Leo Gross (LG)
Conducted by Michael M. Miller (MM)
June 11, 1993, Napoleon, North Dakota
Transcription by Dorothy Dennis
Editing by Mary Lynn Axtman
MM: I am Michael M. Miller from North Dakota
State University and I am the Germans from Russia Bibliographer
with the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at North Dakota
State University. We're trying to preserve the heritage of the
Germans from Russia by interviewing people with the German-Russian
ancestry. I am in Napoleon, ND, and it's the 11th of June, 1993,
and I am in the home of Leo Gross.
Leo, good morning! I want to thank you for your
willingness to visit us. Tell me a little bit about yourself,
your birth, your background and a little bit about when you were
born and so forth.
LG: I was born July 5, 1916. In another
2 weeks, I will be 77 years old and my parents came from Russia,
born in Russia. My father's name was Raphael. He was born in Mannheim,
South Russia on August 29, 1878. My dad wasn't too far from Odessa.
He came over to this country in 1896 when he was 18 years old.
He [had] lost his parents. His father was from the village of
Sakretarka [the Germans called it Georgenthal]. His father died
when he was 10 years old and his mother died when he was 12. The
mother got remarried and within 2 years she passed on. He had
a very tough life. He was raised by uncles and some of them were
pretty mean in those days. So, he went from uncle to uncle. When
he was 18 years old, he and a cousin of his, they came over to
this country together. It was in December and it was very cold
and they were waiting at Eureka to be picked up. The roads were
blocked for awhile so they had to wait again another day. There
was a layover at Eureka and then they finally came back to Logan
MM: Now, were there other relatives over
here? You said somebody was going to pick him up?
LG: Yes, he had one uncle over here and
a couple cousins.
MM: Could you tell me their names?
LG: John Gross. He was an uncle to him [dad]
and he came with Matt Gross, his first cousin and another first
cousin was Clements Gross. They were very helpful to him to get
MM: Yes, a young boy at 18 with another
fellow coming [along]. It was not easy, a teenager coming to America
like that. Do you remember what the name was of the village where
he lived in Russia? I have a feeling it was probably a Catholic
village north of Odessa.
LG: He came from Mannheim.
MM: Mannheim, yes. It was one [village]
of the Kutschurgan district. Like many of the people here in Logan
and Emmons County. Your father then came to Napoleon and I suspect
he lived with some of those relatives to start out?
LG: For sometime. For a couple of months.
And then, well, there was no other place to go. And then his cousin
with him went up to Fessenden, ND, in that area. They thought
that there was probably some work to be gotten. So he stayed there
and was hired out to a farmer there. There was an elderly couple
already at that time that offered him $25.00 for the rest of the
winter. Then he said to his cousin, "I haven't got any overshoes.
Would he throw in, would he buy me a pair of overshoes?" Overshoes
probably were about a $1.00-1.50 at that time and I'll stay. So,
he got $25.00 out of them and he stayed there for the rest of
MM: He was a hired hand for this farm family?
MM: How long did he stay up in the Fessenden
LG: During the summer, I don't know how
much he got. But I know during the winter he got those $25.00.
But he didn't know a word of English. That was the hardest thing,
but he then stayed there. I think he was there almost a year until
there was a job available down here. It was very lonely for him
there alone. Then he got a job and it didn't take very long. This
farmer was in with sheep and cattle in Emmons County by Kintyre,
ND there. His name was Dugel Campbell. There was just so much
hay to be made and so many cattle to be fed. They had a few hired
men, so he stayed there and he worked there at that place for
4 years. He got married there then the last year and was asked
to stay and they will give him a separate house when he got married
to my mother. And so they stayed there until he homesteaded down
in Logan County, which is the homestead yet today. I lived on
that for all those years until a few years back when we moved
MM: Now, your father married and what was
LG: Mariann Feist. She was born on January
1, 1884 in Strassburg, South Russia. She came over all alone when
she was 16 years old. Her parents were very poor, I think like
all of them were. So, she was sent ahead. Relatives I think, probably
took care of her. By having her come, maybe she could earn a little
money so the rest of them could come later on.
MM: And she settled here in Napoleon also?
LG: In the Strasburg area.
MM: Oh, in the Strasburg area. Do you know
what year she came?
LG: Well, it probably would have to be in
MM: A little bit later?
LG: Later. Oh, yah.
MM: So your father was over here for awhile
before he met her?
MM: They were married in what year?
LG: They married in 1904.
MM: In 1904. They had a family of how many
LG: Ten children. Five boys and five girls.
MM: Oh my! The farm was how far from Napoleon?
LG: Ten miles south and one mile east.
MM: Is there still a member of the family
on the farm?
LG: No, I was the last one there. It was
the homestead and I stayed there until 1974. We moved to town
and there is no more farm there.
MM: But the land is still in the family
LG: Yes, I still own the land.
MM: Now, when your dad came over, he had
to learn English and then you came along. Of course, you're one
of the younger ones in the family and your father then lived in
the Napoleon area on the farm. Did he talk much about his life?
Was he willing to speak much? Not only your father, but your mother
about life in Russia? I'm interested in what he had to say. First
of all, let's talk about his youth.
LG: Well, his youth I don't know much about,
but I'll just give you a little example here. I went through a
tape not too long ago which I recorded about in 1960. Him and
my father-in-law and they didn't know I had the tape on and that's
why you can get the best tape and they were talking about how
they worked in Russia. One thing in particular struck me so much
when I heard that tape again was how they dug their wells over
there. They had about 3 or 4 wells in what they called their dorf
MM: The village?
LG: Right. The village, yes. How many would
I say lived in a dorf? Let's say several hundred?
MM: Oh, I would say a village was usually
about 300 to 500 [people]. I think the village of Mannheim was
at least that or more.
LG: Ok! Now, they got to the point of how
they dug the wells, which is unbelievable! They started digging.
Oh, usually they went to a little bit lower place. Wherever they
started, they had to dig by hand. They had to have it big enough
so they could work it, and wells were from 100 to 130-140 feet
deep. Now, this is quite a depth to be dug by hand. They had a
pulley after they got down. Let's say they got down about 10 feet
and here they had to have a pulley. They had to work down there
and then had to pull it up with a pail. And then I said, "well,
how come with a well that deep, weren't you afraid of it caving
in?" Well, they told me that they used stones to line out the
well. I said, "well, they had to keep on digging, didn't they?
He said they did their lining from the top. They dropped about
5 feet and then they got stones. Those stones you could cut with
a saw. Now, I don't know what they meant by what kind of saw they
used, but they were flat rock and they could cut them. What they
used for mortar, I don't know. That is what we call cement to
make it stick. Well, they said, "we don't know either, but we
did it." Then they mortared another 5 feet and dug. Then they
had to do the same thing again. And that's how they went down
and those wells, was it 100 feet or more, but they were all lined
out to the bottom. And then they said they remembered one time
when they had a cave in where 2 men got killed. They went a little
too deep and they were killed down there by the cave in. Those
wells were used even at night. They had to get water ready for
their cattle and what not. Some of them were going all night long
to carry water for the house.
MM: This was so important to him, remembering
LG: Oh, this was so important to him, yah.
MM:Yes. It was important for survival, for
drinking water for the cattle, for everything.
LG:Sure, it was for the cattle. That's right.
But now to this day yet, I just can't make myself believe how
it's possible that you can make those stones hold them from the
top, instead of from the bottom up. They had to keep on digging.
They had to line the well with stones so it won't cave in.
MM:They had some good planning. Those people
were smart. Common sense. They may not have been well-educated
in school but they learned a lot at home. Did he talk about anything
else? What are some highlights that he talked about that you recall
about Russia? You talked about the well and building that. Did
he ever talk about farm life?
LG:Well, another thing that struck me was
when they mentioned about threshing. The farmland was out from
the village, maybe some 10 to 15 miles out. When the harvest came,
he worked with the uncle and he had 5 hired men. At harvest time,
when harvest got going, three of them used the scythes. Everything
was cut with the scythes and then the others would follow-up.
And three would cut with the scythes and he and two other hired
men would gather the cut wheat and put it into bundles. And then
it had to be shocked after the whole field was cut, whatever they
had. If they had any more than maybe 8 to 10 acres, I think that
was probably a good crop for them. Or acres, some had more. Then
it was hauled back to the village and there [was an area] they
called a Dreschplatz. Then the machine had to be pulled in, the
tractor, the steam engine rather, I would have to say. They didn't
have no gears to move the machine itself. It had to be pulled
with horses. The threshing machine was pulled with horses. They
set the threshing machine right in with the Dreschplatz where
the bundled stacks were piled. They had to be carried because
they only had one setting and the threshing machines had to be
put in solid. I don't know what means they had, but they said
it had to be just solid. The steam engine that was pulled with
horses and had to be lined [up] with the threshing machine only
just so far and then the belt was put on. It had to be pulled
with horses again to stretch the belt. So, that's another thing
that really struck me. How convenient it is now and hoe they did
it at that time and they threshed everything they had.
Another thing, I got a little ahead of myself. There
was a lot of [grain] heads that were scattered around the fields
and they used rakes. They were wooden rakes and they pulled them
themselves and they would gather most of it. But there was one
thing, they called them those field mice they had. They [the mice]
would gather the heads of the grain and in comparison to an ant
pile of today that we see them out [in the fields] you know, that's
how they [the mice] gathered those ear heads and had them in a
pile. The mice did that at night and during the night they even
covered it with dirt. They worked up ground so they were to save
them if it was to rain or whatever. The farmers themselves would
go out and open those "huuts" and gather those heads themselves.
Took them home to be threshed. They looked for every wheat head
and kernel they could gather. So, they took it away from the mice.
That's on my recording.
MM: That's very interesting. I never knew
that. Of course, agriculture survival was important. But it sounds
like the horse was very important.
LG: Yes. Yes, the horse was important. I'm
sure they must have had their sulky plows and used to plow. And
other than that, what else they used to get the sod chopped up,
I don't know. Like now, we have disks. Did they have anything
of that kind, I don't know.
MM: Now, did your mother talk much about
her life in Russia?
LG: No, we didn't have [much about] the
life of her. I couldn't say too much [about] what they went through
because as soon as the girls grew up, they were hired out. They
were out in the field like the men were.
MM: Even back in Russia? Even somewhat here
too, they were hired out. Here they were more probably for housework.
LG: Oh, sure, that's right. She did more
out in the field than she did over there. I know of her telling
us how she raked hay and this and that in only the three years
she was here before they got married. From one place to another.
The last job she had she was a housekeeper for a priest.
MM: Here in Napoleon?
LG: No, in Strasburg.
MM: Your father, because he had such a difficult
life going from family member to family member, uncle to uncle
and so forth in that Black Sea colony of Mannheim, so he probably
didn't talk too much about how Christmas was. Did he talk much
about holidays and how they celebrated them in Russia?
LG: Well, no. I couldn't just go into that
right now to make it actually important. You probably can get
someone else that would know more about that than I could tell
MM: When he came over, you talked about
agriculture and the machinery and so forth they used. Did he bring
up anything else that you can remember? A high light he would
like to talk about or reminisce on life in Russia? Or even what
it was like those early days when he came over here as a young
boy? What were some of the things he would like to repeat? Let's
talk a little bit more about your father. You mentioned earlier
about some incidences. Tell me the one you just talked about when
your father was at a little gathering and what happened in the
cold of winter.
LG: Oh. Well, they had a gathering and they
went to his cousin's place and a first cousin of his came there
too. His parents and him only lived a mile or something like that
from the place where they were having a little names day party.
A storm came up about 11 o'clock and he [had] come with the manure
boat. Just one horse on there and stayed there. So when that storm
came up, they wanted him to stay. He said, "aw, my horse, she'll
find the way home, I'll go." He got on his heavy coat and said
the horse will find the way. Well, probably nobody paid no more
attention. He went home. The parents where he was supposed to
go to thought he stayed overnight and where the party was, they
thought he made it home. So, around ten-ten thirty the next morning,
they found the horse. It was right close to the farm, right in
with the hay fence. They found him and he couldn't move no more
and the horse had traveled almost all night. They took him in
the house and had to thaw him out. You would say it was just luck
that the storm had let up a little during the day that they found
him that early, or he would have froze to death right on the manure
MM: Again, that's how important it was that
the horse knew the way home.
LG: Yah, yah.
MM: He may not have survived if it had
not been for the horse. Of course, at that time, there was no
way to communicate. There was no telephone or anything to call
and say he's coming home and all that. That's very interesting.
So, your father went on then and had a good life and raised ten
children and so forth and your mother had a hard life, but a good
life raising ten children. Let's talk a little bit about your
life Leo, growing up in a family of ten. First of all, I suspect
you probably didn't speak much English growing up?
LG: As far as English, when we started school
we didn't know hardly a word of English. I am going to go back
a little further, our own children didn't know hardly a bit of
English. We talked German. We thought that this was just the way
to go. English was so hard to pick up for us and we just kept
on talking German. And to this day, we still talk German when
we are home here together.
MM: And your children can speak German?
LG: The youngest ones, they'll understand
it, but they can't talk it. I know they understand it all.
MM: Now Leo, you have a family of how many
LG: We have five children.
MM: You have five children?
LG: We had six but one passed away.
MM: But they can all at least still understand
German and some still speak it?
LG: Yes, yes. One of the toughest things
I talk about a lot is when we started school, but maybe I should
go back further.
MM: Let's go back. If you have a few memories
of what it was like back home, even in school. What you remember
about your ma and what she used to cook and the kind of chores
you had and so forth.
LG: The cooking? That was easy. We had
our own potatoes, we had chickens, and if you have chickens, you
had eggs too. Flour was about one of the most important things
they had to buy. Flour and sugar and coffee. The rest of it was
MM: I suspect they had a root cellar?
LG: We didn't have to much of a root cellar.
But our meat, you know, pork you always had. The Germans, they
had pork. That was cured so that you could save it well up into
MM: What were your chores? Did you have
special chores that you had to do?
LG: We all had our chores. We had to go
out early in the morning, the barns had to be cleaned, the milking
was done by hand. If you get back into the house, there was no
electricity, there was no telephone, there was no running water.
What about fuel? There was nothing. You know, it was made from
manure. We made our own manure [fuel] for heating purposes. You
know, it was packed with the horses and that was stacked. After
it was good and dry, that's what we used in the wintertime.
MM: You helped make that?
LG: Oh, yes. We even did that when I was
married yet. We had our own manure, but then we started buying
coal too, already.
MM: About how long was it that you remember,
until what year was it that you used manure for heat?
LG: I'd say about two or three years after
we were married. We got married in 1940, and so I'd say until
MM: You were still using manure. There
was a certain method you used that was very important how you
did this so it was real concrete, right?
LG: Yes, yes. They always said that sheep
manure was the best. It was almost like lignite coal, you know.
The sheep manure was packed solid.
MM: Did you ever run out of manure for
LG: No, you had coal already in my days
then. But if you go further back, I don't know how they got by.
They might have burned hay, slough hay, whatever. Of course and
I can't say. They gathered buffalo chips but they got by. But
in the kitchen, how did they do their washing? Well, the water
had to be carried in from outside. Sometimes the wells were away
from the house, maybe 200 or 300 feet. Water had to be carried
in there. The wash water had to be heated. What did they use to
heat it with? There came the manure again. The same with the cooking
and baking. Everything was always that manure. And they baked
the best bread, I think. Just as good as they do today.
MM: And probably better.
LG: That's right.
MM: You, of course, went to a country school?
MM: How far away from home?
LG: We were lucky. It was only a little
better than a quarter of a mile.
MM: How did they develop those country
LG: Well, they went section by section.
If there were only a few farmers together, why then they would
sometimes started out with school in their house. In a house if
they had a spare room, they would have a few days, you know, of
school. Maybe a month, that's all. But later on, now I'm going
back past my time. When they built the schools, they went to where...
If there was about four or five farmers in the area, of course,
they were scattered more. But anyway, where they thought was the
best place, they would set the schoolhouse. Then if it was a section,
they would put in four schools and I should call them townships.
The section wouldn't be big enough. But in a township, then they
would have them so it was convenient for everybody. But then,
they had as high as 25 children in one school. But later on, and
up in the 30's, I still remember the teachers we got. I am going
back again to the older ones. We didn't hardly get a teacher there
at that time, but there was some [teachers] that their English
was a little better and the people would bring their kids there
and have a few hours of that. You know, at least so that they
could write their names.
MM: They taught in the home, too?
LG: In the home. And then, later on in
the schools, they would get some outsiders in that knew English.
They would hire them for a teacher. Maybe only two months out
of the year that they would have teachers there. When they built
the schools, well, the teacher boarded someplace but she was supposed
to be there at the schoolhouse by 9 o'clock. Sometimes, those
stoves wouldn't work. Sometimes you sat in there until noon until
the schoolhouse was warm. In those days, it got just as cold as
it does now. Twenty below, that was just as cold then as it is
now. We had nice days and we had bad ones. But I still feel sorry
for what those teachers went through. We were supposed to learn
English. The teacher didn't know a word of German and we didn't
know no English and now, you put a teacher in with a bunch like
that. It was very, very difficult.
MM: So, where did the teacher live? With
LH: Yes. Somebody would always take care
of the teacher. They probably didn't have as many children. But
if they did have many children, they would always be kind enough
to board the teacher.
MM: So, when you were in the first grade
going to the country school, you spoke very little English?
LG: I don't think I could say a sentence
in English just to keep a conversation going.
MM: So, maybe some of the older children
might know a little bit and so they taught each other?
LG: That's how it was. They had all the
grades, first grade up to the eighth. The younger ones, they learned
by hearing in school what went on. It got a little bit easier
later on with the teachers.
MM: And then some of the older children
even had chores in school, I'll bet to help with the fuel and
LG: Well, the chores started at home. We
had to do our chores before we went to school. What did we have
for clothing? We didn't have too far to go to school. But you
take the rest of them. Some had to go mile and a half and some
as far as 2 miles. They didn't have the clothing in those days.
They didn't have those insulated suits and those goosedown coats
and parkas over your head. What they went through, some had to
walk to school, but they made it. Some came crying to school it
was so cold.
MM: But they were determined also to learn.
They wanted to learn so they learned together.
LG: Yes, yes. Probably, the kids themselves.
I put myself in place. We thought learning wasn't so interesting,
but we had to do it. We were raised a little different than they
are now. Now, if you don't like this or you don't like why, you
have a much easier chancne for kids to get by. But we were sort
of forced and we had to do what the teacher said. There was no
going home and telling the parents what happened today and the
teacher did this and did that. Nowdays, the teacher runs into
trouble if they lay a hand on you.
MM: That was important that your parents
encouraged and forced you to go to school.
LG: Yes. Many times we thought our parents
were a little too rough with us, but now I think it is going too
far the other way already. But we thought it was a little roughness
there, but maybe it panned out alright.
MM: Now, remember Leo, as you grew a little
older, of course you went to more months of school up the 8th
grade, but going back to your youth, your teenage years and so
forth, let's talk about some of the holidays. What was Christmas
like for you growing up?
LG: Well, I'll tell yah, at Christmas time
we got to get an orange. That was the only time we got to see
oranges. We got a little present, you know, a little toy or something
that you could wind up or whatever. Some of them didn't even get
anything at all, they couldn't buy anything but the nuts, they
was usually available and apples. But I still remember the extra
orange we got and that was our Christmas.
Another thing that was very important was the churches.
A few farmers, after they settled, they had services in the house.
There was no priest, no minister available. They did it themselves.
I remember later on, we being Catholics, the closest priest was
25 miles away and they would get him once a month, you know, for
our church. I don't remember that, but this was getting back to
when my parents started out. But just as soon as there was a bunch
of farmers together, then they built a church. And if it was only
about 12 X 14 feet or 16 feet, but a church, that was a must.
MM: Christian life, yes.
LG: Catholic, Lutheran, or whatever it was.
That's probably what persevered and made them as strong as they
are even today. Summertime, they would come and some didn't have
a buggy, they would come with a wagon. The family, they would
come to church. That was a must and not just with Catholics, it
MM: Of course, at Christmas time it was
very important, the midnight service.
LG: Yes, the Midnight Mass. I remember
going with the sled to Midnight Mass. We didn't have no car until
MM: What about Easter time? How do you remember
LG: Well, the Easter Monday was also celebrated.
Easter, the Easter Monday, that was a holiday, so no work was
done. Oh, Sunday there was no work. We felt that was something
if you saw someone working on a Sunday, that was uncalled for.
That's how the holidays were celebrated. Sure, they got together
more, like during Christmas, the farmers. But there was no cars
until later dates and then there was more and more.
MM: I remember a little even in my youth,
celebrating Saint's Day for your namesdays. That was a very big
LG: Yes, there was John, and there was Anton,
and there was Paul, and there was Nick. And they would gather
and they would have a nice time there. They would do the singing,
they would have a few drinks. They had some homemade beer there
later on already. They would celebrate a little in their homes.
MM: Was there singing in German? Do you
remember any of those songs?
LG: Oh, yes.
MM: What was one of your favorites?
LG: Well, when it comes to church, Großer
Gott, that was one of my favorite songs. But then, we as Catholics,
we had a lot of our own songs. Songs in honor to the Blessed Virgin
Mary and songs like that, and we sang them at home. My dad made
us sing. My dad was a good singer.
MM: Are you a good singer?
LG: I would call myself maybe a little
bit above average. We do a lot of entertaining yet with German
singing and English both, now. But we sing the old songs now,
just the in last few years. I sing in other churches too, just
for funerals where they want some of the songs they sang maybe
over a hundred years ago and there is nobody around here that
sings them. I had a pretty good helper here in town by the name
of Peter Frank. He's going to be 92 years old and he is very good
to this day.
LG: We sing songs which they want sung in
the Lutheran churches. I had him already at a Catholic church
wedding. If they want this particular song that was sometimes
sung at the grave site or at church and we sing it for them.
MM: Of course, a wedding day was important
too, even your wedding day also. Do you remember how they celebrated
LG: You mean the old time weddings?
LG: Okay, Schnapps, that had to be. That
was number one.
MM: How did they make the Schnapps?
LG: They had their own brew. I don't know what
you call this now, but you could brew their own whiskey at home
and it was powerful stuff.
MM: Did you ever brew your own?
LG: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
MM: How did you make yours?
LG: Well, you had to have some kind of a
batch. You used yeast, you used barley and I don't know what else
you used, and it had to sit around for I don't know for how long,
maybe 2 - 3 weeks. And they just knew when it was time for it
to run it through the distiller or whatever it was called, and
you got the nice 190 stuff out of that, you know. And that went
big for the wedding. We usually had this all year around. You
weren't supposed to do it, you know. It was Prohibition days at
that time, but I think just about everybody did it.
MM: Then how was the wedding celebrated?
Just one day?
LG: Yah. Some of them went two days, but
in my days that I recall, it never went over one day.
MM: It was a big, all day affair?
LG: Oh, sure. You were already in church
at ten o'clock. You never had an afternoon Mass for our weddings.
So, you had dinner at home and then dancing started. We had to
clean out a room and if it was only about 12 by 12 or 14, something
like that. They were going all day long. Some would even just
use a harmonica, but that's all they needed to keep them moving.
Schnapps and a harmonica, that way you could have a good old time.
And the singing that went with it.
MM: The German Catholics, of course, did
a lot of dancing. But what about the Lutherans?
LG: Well, I don't think the Lutherans did
celebrate so much when it came to dancing at home, not that I
can recall. But I know the Catholics did, they went all day.
MM: Do you remember who played at these
dances? What orchestra?
LG: Who? Getting back, one of my relatives
was one of the early ones.
MM: His name?
LG: Was Anton Wangler. He played. And then
there was a John Schwab from Strasburg. Lawrence Welk in that
MM: Do you remember going to Lawrence Welk?
LG: No, no. I was too young at that time
yet. Even my Dad played for a wedding one time with the harmonica.
MM: Did you play an instrument?
LG: Yah, I play an accordion now, but not
for dancing. But we use it if we go out for entertaining, when
we go out in retirement homes or wherever we go with senior citizens
and then I use the accordion. I started late with it.
MM: Do you remember your Holy Communion
or your Confirmation?
LG: Oh, yah. We had about five to six weeks
where we went for Holy Communion. We had to go to a German school.
That was at where our church was. They had a good sized hall at
that time. So, I have to go back to about 1924-25 and we had what
they call the Schulmeister. He was organist in the church and
always an instructor for Holy Communion. Altogether, we had about
80 [children] going to school. But then, there was the other grades.
But every year, it started out with the First Communions, so the
older ones probably went to school there until they were probably
12-13 or 15 years old. I have a picture, I'll show it to you before
you go. Well, the instructor, he had all those classes. There
was the first, the second, and then it went to 4th and then 6th
grade. Some classes were skipped, they didn't have the books for
it. He was instructor for those 80 children and it was quieter
in that room than today when there is ten of them and I can prove
MM: Good discipline. Of course, they were
very attentive. But this Christian schooling was in German?
LG: German, yes. Everything in German. That
was German until in the 1930's when it kind of slowed down.
MM: Then of course, you had Confirmation
and that probably was in German too?
LG: Yes. But I still remember when our Bishop
stressed the English. When he started asking questions in our
parish and then one of the nuns, they were the instructors there
at that time, and the Bishop started out in English and the kids
couldn't answer. Then the nun said, "you have to ask them in German."
MM: And the Bishop could speak in German?
LG: Well, yah, but not too good. But when
he was done, he said, "parents, you have to try harder to get
the English into your children."
MM: This was in the 1920's?
LG: Oh, no! This was in the 1930's. Later
thirties. Just everything was in German.
MM: It is still important that we learn
good English, but it doesn't hurt to be bilingual. That children
learn another language, even today. Especially with our German-Russian
heritage, [it is good] to learn both. Of course your teenage years
were important. Do you remember the kind of games you used to
LG: Well, we had a little bit of baseball
and it was mostly just games where you would run around and catch
each other and this and that. But there wasn't too much time for
MM: Yes, there wasn't much time for that
as everyone had their chores.
LG: Yes, we had our chores and in the evenings
by 9 o'clock, why the lights were out. You went to bed.
MM: You had to get up early?
MM: What were some of the favorite foods
your ma made?
LG: Well, I suppose the baked stuff. Actually,
there was nothing too special you know. If you went elsewhere,
everybody cooked the same. If you went to the neighbors house,
the cooking was always the same. A lot of pork.
MM: A lot of noodles?
LG: Noodles, yes.
MM: What kind of noodles? Do you remember?
LG: We just called them noodles from dough.
They made their own dough and made noodles out of it. They still
do this today here in Napoleon. My wife makes them.
MM: What kind of noodles does she make?
LG: She uses the store bought dough, but
it's still the noodle like it used to be.
End of side one
Beginning of side two
MM: How about school? You finished through
the 8th grade?
LG: I made the 8th grade, yah.
MM: And by then, you could speak pretty
good English already?
LG: Well, no. The English wasn't too good.
I'm sure you noticed now that it is still holding back a little.
You know, it doesn't come out like the German. I wish I could
talk German with you.
LG: That comes out so much better!
MM: And after you finished the 8th grade,
did you stay on the farm and work?
LG: Yes. My older brothers, there were three
of us at home that were older than I was, and that was during
the time when the Depression started. So my folk's thought that
maybe one of us should start going to high school. I made the
8th grade. I didn't have no problems making the 8th grade, but
nowadays, when you are out of the 8th grade, you never even think
of not going to high school because the buses will pick you up
and so it's a continuous deal going to school. Very few in my
days started going to high school. We had about three or four
in our district that went to high school. So my dad and the older
ones they thought I should go. So, after I said, "I didn't want
Of course, we were kind of.... When did we get to
town? See, the town kids, they were even looking down at the farmers
as kind of dirty farmers. Sometimes, I can see why. When we got
to school you know, we were with the teachers. We left the barn
sometimes and went right to school. When did we change clothes?
We only changed clothes once a week 'cause the washing facilities
weren't like they are now that you can just throw it into the
washer and dryer and everything takes care of it by itself. Underwear
was changed, when we went to school, probably once a week in the
wintetime. You never took your underwear off when you went to
bed because usually the bedrooms were cold. You didn't have the
heating in the house like we have today. But way back when I started
high school then, I did commit after two weeks and then the English
was bad. The first or second night already, they took me to town
and they would pick me up on a Friday evening. Was [in] a boarding
place [with a] strange family. And here I was, homesickness started
the first night. The second night I said, "I can't take this."
The little bundle I had, I don't know if I unpacked it because
I knew I'm not going to stay! But when that Friday evening came,
I was just all done. When they got me, "that was it!" My dad never
said one word to force me to go. I found out later on, he said,
"I know what homesickness is." He had lost his father when he
was ten and he lost his mother when he was twelve. He said, "nobody
can tell me what homesickness is because I know what it is." So,
they didn't push me no more.
Well, I think I came out alright this way too. We
made a good living on the farm. I could see when I was in high
school, our English was so bad and got laughed at and we weren't
dressed like the town kids even though they were poor town kids
too. But we just didn't fit quite right into that bunch. So, stayed
on the farm and went through the Depression. We were all young
In 1936 and 1937, we went out west. I just told
you, I'll make it short, because there was nothing going on back
home. No crops at all for two years. In 1934/36, we never had
a binder or a header out to harvest a crop. So, I went out to
Oregon with someone else. He hooked a two-wheel open trailer behind
the car and that's how we went out. By the fourth day, we were
out in Salem, Oregon with an open two-wheel trailer. The hottest
day ever recorded in the state, that's the day we left on, July
6, 1936. There was eight or nine of us in a coupe car and a two
wheel trailer pulled behind. Nowadays, they wouldn't let you travel
like that, but that's how we went. We got 20 cents an hour, sometimes
25 cents an hour.
MM: Out there in Salem?
LG: In Salem, Oregon.
MM: What did you do out there?
LG: We picked hops, pears, peaches, apples,
whatever came along. We were working all the time, cemented barns,
shingled barns, you know. Whatever came along, we did. Picked
watermelons and cantalopes. We were busy all the time.
MM: How long did you stay out there?
LG: Three months. Then the following year,
I went again and stayed for six months.
MM: Came back home and went out again?
LG: Yah, we came back home and went out.
I paid for the trip out and then had a few dollars left over.
I think I kept a few dollars and the rest of it went back to my
parents. I was 20 years old and gave to the parents just what
I had left over.
MM: And this was in 1936? And then from
1936 to 1940?
LG: Well, in 1937, I went out again, but
things started getting better then. It got better in 1938 and
1939 better and in 1940 we got married. And then my folks moved
into town and we stayed on the farm and continued there until
MM: But when you stayed on the farm in 1940,
were other members of your family living with you yet?
LG: No, no.
MM: They had all moved out?
LG: They all moved out and my parents moved
to town. And then we stayed on the farm and continued farming.
I still have the land to this day. Built a new home in 1974 and
we're getting along quite well now.
MM: I am happy to hear that you have spread
the word or that you have been invited to come to the school and
talk about your German-Russian heritage. I think that is very
important. Let me ask you, do the students ask questions?
LG: Yes, yes.
MM: Are they responsive?
LG: One time I was there, they said, "oh,
if you are there about a half an hour, that will be enough time
to talk." But I was there for over an hour and they still kept
on talking and asking questions. It was mostly how the kids were
dressed to go to school, if it was the same as today. [Today]
they have everything. What else can they ask for? They've got
MM: Right. But going back to when you were
growing up, by chance, did your parents or anyone you remember
subscribe to any German newspapers?
LG: Yes. My dad always had the Nord Dakota
Herold. It used to be the Rundschau.
MM: The Nord Dakota Herold came out of
LG: For awhile, they had that Staatsanzeiger.
MM: Der Staatsanzeiger. Then the children,
I think would read that?
LG: Well, I don't know. I still remember
reading letters myself out of the Nord Dakota Herold because I
can write German yet and can read German. I can read the German
writing; it has to be written kinda plain, like the way we learned
MM: That was good that they kept informed
of what was happening over in Russia. About other families and
LG: There was a lot of letters in there
that would make my folks sit and cry, reading a letter like that.
See, their relatives, most of them were over there [in Russia]
on my wife's side. Her parents got married over there and they
are the only ones that are over here now, but they have both passed
away. She doesn't know a first cousin on either side of her parents.
There was never any communication.
MM: No correspondance? Not going into depth
of our conversation here, when we are finished, we should talk
about that because as you probably heard when I was visiting this
morning, there is possibly a way to help find people and/or relatives
and we have found a number of families in North Dakota. I am so
glad that you are telling the young people and hopefully, they
will express enough interest so that they will keep up our heritage.
LG: I hope so.
MM: Do you feel Mr. Gross, it is important
that we preserve this German-Russian heritage.
LG: I would think so. I would think so.
MM: Because you have such fond memories
and fortunately, you have good memories, remembering how your
father came over here and so forth. He had a very difficult life,
not always that difficult. All of them had a hard time, but to
think that he came over as a young boy, as a teenager and then
made a successful life, had his own land and so forth, and then
talked about it so you could preserve the heritage. That's very
LG: Communication was always good with my
dad, you know. I wish I would have listened a little better. You
know, there is so much now that I wish I knew because he repeated
stories sometimes, and as time went by, then we forgot. But today,
I wish I would have listened to more of it.
MM: Was the Bible and prayer important in
LG: Yes, you never went to a table without
a prayer. You never went to bed without a night prayer. We all
gathered together for the night prayer, we all sat together and
then we departed and went to bed.
MM: So, you prayed together?
LG: Oh, yes. Table prayer, yes. But even
after we got up after [a meal], before we went out to work, done
eating, and then a prayer.
MM: Can you recall, briefly in German, the
night prayer? Feel free to speak in German. Do you remember what
you used to say?
LG: You know, I couldn't even say them anymore
MM: Do you still speak [German] in church
here in Napoleon, like when you say the rosary? Do you say it
LG: No, no. The last German rosary I said
was when a friend of mine died and they asked me to do it. That
was probably in the 1960's. German rosary which they wanted, you
know, when they have wake services. They asked me to say the rosary
in German. I can still say it [in German].
MM: Now, when you are here in Napoleon and
when you go downtown, is there much German spoken?
LG: Yes, yes. When we go to company, it's
more German. Unless there is someone there that doesn't understand
it. The conversation, when playing cards, this and that, we still
MM: What about when the children come home
for the holidays? Do they speak German?
LG: It's mixed. Well, if there is someone
with them that can't understand German, why then it's English.
But if we are just wih the [family], well, the older ones don't
mind speaking German.
MM: When they come home, they probably say,
"let's have some German food."
LG: Yes, that's a must. German food, oh,
MM: And some Kuchen?
LG: Yah, yah. And they get it here.
MM: Do they make a lot of Kuchen yet for
weddings around here?
LG: Yah. My wife, she was head over heels
into baking Kuchen and what not.
MM: Yes, preserving out heritage is important.
We are trying to help with this effort at the North Dakota State
University. There is the Germans from Russia Heritage Society
and there are local chapters. What else can you think, Mr. Gross
that's important to preserve this heritage? We talked about being
in the schools being important, talking about it and preserving
it in the form of interviews and family histories and collecting
pictures and all those kind of things. But is there any message
you would like to leave? You know, someday should someone should
listen to our conversation, is there a message that you would
like to leave about the roots of these people that came over to
LG: Well, if you want to go back to the
schools, I think discipline. That went out the window. Discipline
is one of the most important. You know what? The parents are to
be blamed for it. That's all I have to say about that. I'll just
make it short.
MM: Discipline in the schools. Of course,
you remember going to Catechism School and going to country school
and there was good discipline and I remember that I had pretty
good discipline too because I went to Catholic school in Strasburg.
But I think it is important that there be dialogue between the
teacher and the students and be able to freely express, but have
it organized and when it's time for the teacher to speak, let
them speak and so forth. But it's interesting. Times have changed.
Let's hope that times will change, but the passing will bring
on and continue on our rich heritage, especially here in south-central
LG: Can we talk about our school again?
I still have a soft heart for the teacher, what they went through.
If they would send one of our sons or daughters to Japan to teach
them their Japanese language, they don't understand it and are
just at a standstill right there. That's why I say those teachers
didn't get the credit they had coming. I have a soft spot for
them and what they went through when they worked with us.
MM: Right. First of all, they were foreign
to the culture of the Germans from Russia. If they weren't German-Russian
themselves, they couldn't speak German and they could only speak
the English. And then having to go out and live in a rural setting
with a family that didn't speak English. There is a lot due and
we really need to pursue some of those teachers and talk to those
teachers who came out to Logan County, McIntosch, and Emmons County
and see what they have to say. Because hopefully, some of them
could still tell us about their life.
LG: Some of those teachers, they came here
from Minnesota. They were a little ahead of us in North Dakota.
They came from the cities and then they put them out on a farm.
Our lights? What did we have? We had the kerosene lamps. That's
all we had! With just an ordinary kerosene lamp, she had to do
her homework with us. Some times we were all sitting in the kitchen
and she had to do the homework at one end of the table to save
kerosene. It was terrible what they had to go through sometimes.
MM: It was terrible and yet they were all
in the same boat, generally speaking, out there. We made the best
LG: I think that people were happier in
those days than they are now. They would get together more than
they do now.
MM: Much more homelife?
LG: Yes, yes.
MM: And they did things together. They prayed
together and played together and they worked together and they
LG: What about the younger ones with respect
for the older ones? You know when, let's say we went to our Catechism
school to make our First Communion and from there on we went there
for three or four more years. [When] somebody older walked by
there, elderly people, or elderly men went by, we had to raise
our caps and say, "Praise be to Jesus Christ," in German: "Gelobt
sei Jesu Christus." If we got caught not doing this, we were really
punished when our instructor found out. When the Schulmeister
found out that we didn't raise our caps for so and so. I still
remember that. We had to raise our caps and they were into their
fourties. Do that! Respect!
MM: Into the '40's, you remember that?
LG: When they were 40 years old, I meant.
When a man walked by there while we were playing and we didn't
raise our caps, then we got punished. What would they tell to
a 40 year old now?
MM: That would be totally different now.
I think we are going to have to end our conversation. I has certainly
been a wonderful experience for me coming here to the Gross home
and visiting with you and we'll have to continue our conversation
privately and maybe even pursue what you might have in your home
that relates to the Germans from Russia. We are interested in
collecting clothing of the Germans from Russia, photographs, all
kinds of things and we hope to exhibit some of those things at
the university and you can play an important role in spreading
the word here in the Napoleon area.
LG: Well, I'm glad [and] if I can do anything,
I will do it. I wish I would have been a little better informed
here today as I just didn't know what was coming up.
MM: Well, I think we did a pretty good job.
LG: I can't do no more than what I did.
Well, maybe the next time.
MM: We had a wonderful time! Thanks so much!
It is closing time here in Napoleon and thanks for listening.
Transcription by Dorothy Dennis
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies
North Dakota State University Libraries
P.O. Box 5599
Fargo, ND 58105-5599