The Soil was Everything for the Germans From Russia

"The Soil was Everything for the Germans From Russia." North Dakota Horizons, March 1992.

If Lawrence Welk's success as a world-famous entertainer is worth celebrating because of his uniqueness, then the legacy of how his tenacious parents - and thousands of others like them - traveled to a lonely new land in search of a better life is worth remembering because of its commonness. Their decision to leave Russia, where they were under increasing religious and political persecution to abandon their German heritage was not an easy one. It was a decision that required faith in God and in their ability to adapt to sparse new surroundings. German-Russian pioneers of the Great Plains had both.

Ludwig and Christina Welk emigrated to United States in 1893. They traveled by train to Eureka, S.D., which was a regional center of commerce and which promoted itself as "Wheat Capital of the World." Probably like many others who arrived with few worldly goods and much faith with determination, they purchased oxen and wagon to complete their travel to Strasburg. The wagon box was tipped over and used as shelter until a more permanent dwelling could be built.

After touring the sparsely furnished Welk house, John Cogan of Mishawaka, Indiana, was reminded of earlier settlements near his home. This simple life-style is similar to what you might see among the "Amish or Quaker people, where they live an austere life-style."

The Welk homestead was built in approximately 1895, using materials and building methods learned years earlier from Russian soldiers on the Ukrainian Steppe. The house is constructed of bricks made of mud-clay, wheat straw and water combination that was mixed like concrete and poured or stomped into wooden "block-molds" and left to dry in the prairie sun. After the blocks were stacked to form walls, they were covered with a limestone plaster and water mixture to protect them from eroding. The walls of the house are between 10 to 24 inches thick, providing much insulation from the extremes of sub-zero winter winds and the blazing summer sunlight. The house's exterior clapboard siding was installed years later, when it was more affordable.

Reprinted with permission of North Dakota Horizons.

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