A Time To Remember: Christian and Christine Schumacher

Schumacher, Olivia, Nina Kunz, and the Late Rev. A.C. "A Time To Remember: Christian and Christine Schumacher." The Northwest Blade, August 11 & 18, 2011.

One hundred and twenty five years ago in the fall of 1886, on October 27th in the small village of Glueckstal, South Russia, a son, named Christian, was born to Wilhelm and Rosina (Schnabel) Schumacher. Four years later, on April 27, 1890, in Kassel, Russia, a daughter, named Christine, was born to Fred and Fredericka (Lehr) Klooz. Christian, like many others, a rugged man of the soil, and Christine, a hard-working and loyal partner, were destined to become a part of the early history of South Dakota and especially of

This story is not so different than all of the stories we have heard about our daring and tenacious ancestors. It is not so unique in its circumstances. In fact, if we change the surnames of the people in these stories, we find that the tales are all similar and it is their history that either led or forced them here that tells a story of its own. It is the history of these people that tells us who we are and how it is that we came to be here. In the 1987
Eureka Centennial Book, Pastor T. R. Baudler shares an article he previously published in the 1964 Zion Lutheran Church Diamond Jubilee Book. It is an account of the history of people descended from an ancient Germanic tribe of the Suebi. They spoke a dialect of
German that we speak in Eureka as well as Hosmer and Java, SD, and communities in North Dakota like Ashley, Wishek and Harvey, to name a few. It is a unique German, not
Russian language called Schwaben taken from the Suebi. Pastor Baudler speaks fondly, in his essay, of this “unique tribe” some of whose characteristics and tendencies make them clannish and passive with a taste for good and exotic food. They speak two languages and “this makes them a people set apart on our Great Plains.” I would urge you to read
Baudler’s historical account of “Who Are They?” in the 1987 Eureka Centennial Book.

Schumacher family history has been told and re-told throughout the years and so this is a kind of verbal history, perhaps not always acutely accurate, but when compared to the written history of those times and days of Russia we can weave the Schumacher family story into the fabric of an accurate historical account. Glueckstal had been the home for the
Schumacher family since the early 1800’s when Christian’s great-grandfather together with many others from Stuttgart, Germany, had come to the Ukraine, in Russia, as colonists.
The Napoleonic Wars plus famine brought hunger and deprivation to the whole of the Schwabenland in Germany.

In the war between Russia and Turkey, Russia as the victor acquired the Ukraine. Tzarina
Caterina was anxious to develop this fertile land bordering on the north of the Black Sea and she invited Germans to come and settle there with the offer to let the German settlers keep their language and their religion and she promised to exempt the young men from military service.

The records are not always clear, but it would seem that thousands from various areas of
Germany began their migration to the Ukraine. Many died along the way but those who reached their destination developed the new land so that it became, as it still is today, the “breadbasket of Russia.”      

Under Tzar Nicholas, Tzarina Caterina’s promises to the German colonists eroded and were slowly withdrawn. When the government began drafting their young men to serve in the
Russian Army, members of the Schumacher family as well as many other families decided to seek new homes in the United States. In 1889, Wilhelm Schumacher, whose grandfather had made the trek from Germany to Russia many years before, sold his home, took his wife
Rosina, and his 10 children, “booked passage” and boarded a ship at Odessa with their ultimate destination the United States of America. The child we met earlier in this story, Christian, was three years old. After a long hard voyage, the Statue of Liberty on Ellis
Island in the New York Harbor greeted them as they landed on American soil. It was here that they would be declared and examined as immigrants. They boarded a train bound for
Eureka, SD, where Wilhelm’s nephew Frederick Schumacher, who had made the trip from Glueckstal a few years earlier, met them at the station.

The Homestead Act of 1863 made land available to settlers so Wilhelm staked his claim on
160 acres just south of his nephew’s claim, 18 miles northeast of Eureka. Here it was that
Wilhelm and Rosina would settle with their family and here it is, also, that Wilhelm and
Rosina’s great- granddaughter Nina Schumacher Kunz and her husband Kenneth and their family continue the Schumacher legacy of “life on the land”. With their newly acquired land, the long, hard struggle to develop this land would begin.

Their first year on the deceptively serene prairie was difficult. The sod structure built by them with help from family members and neighbors accommodated both the family and their livestock and was crowded. Perhaps Wilhelm wondered if he had been too daring in bringing his family to this unknown territory. Their youngest child, Christopher, died. They soon found that the land was covered with rocks and boulders that made plowing the sod an almost impossible task.

Two more children, a son and a daughter, were added to the family and the sod home was replaced with a stone house. As they learned to clear and tame the unforgiving prairie, farm buildings were erected and more land was acquired. It was here that Christian would grow to manhood. The third youngest in the family, he had four years of schooling. Formal education on the South Dakota prairie was limited, but self taught, practical and “necessity” schooling was a way of life and Christian taught himself in many areas, especially in the use of farm machinery and improved methods of farming.

One by one, Christian’s brothers and sisters were married and claimed homesteads of their own. Christian, now 23, would decide to follow suit. But to claim a homestead suggested that he should first claim a life’s partner. Christine Klooz, who was 19, lived with her parents about six miles from the Schumacher homestead. She, too, at the age of three immigrated to the United States with her family. The Klooz family attended the same church as the
Schumacher family and Christian, reportedly, had had his eye on Christine for some time. In those days, courtship was not encouraged and custom dictated that a young man who sought a wife would ask an older man to accompany him to make the proposal. A bashful
Christian took not one, but rather two older brothers with him to the Klooz farm for moral support as he asked for Christine’s hand in marriage. The mission was successful and wedding plans were made. Two weeks later, on March 24, 1909, Christian and Christine were married at Salem Lutheran Church.

The match, with no time for courtship or first impressions, was a good one. Christian, who was a stoic and no nonsense man, was blessed with Christine, his wife who was by nature quiet and gentle, endowed with faith and an inner strength as well as a rich sense of humor.
Her attributes enhanced the relationship and as she had captured the love and respect of her family, she also captured the love and respect of the community.

The newlyweds, wanting to establish their own homestead, planned to seek land in the Mobridge, SD area where land was still available. Patriarch Wilhelm had an idea of his own and asked them to stay on the original homestead because retirement was looming and the young couple decided to stay. With that agreement came the excitement of building their own home just a quarter mile south of Christian’s parental home. Christine’s paternal grandfather, a doctor still living in Russia, sent his granddaughter money for a wedding gift and that money was used to purchase the lumber which would become their home.
Building plans were interrupted when a tornado struck and destroyed all of the lumber which had been hauled in from Eureka. Christian and Christine were a team, sharing the farm work as well as the housework. Eventually, the house was completed and would become the home in which all of their fourteen children were born. Ten of those children, Christian,
Reinhold (my father), William, Edward, Anna, Eleanora, Albert, twins Erma and Ervin and
Arnold survived. Amidst the joy, there was also great sorrow. Three children were still born and a daughter, Mildred, lived only several days. Edward, “Richard” died at the age of 4 from scarlet fever. Reinhold recalled the story of the four oldest boys ranging in age from 7-
4 years all having scarlet fever and sleeping in the same bed. Christian, Reinhold (my dad), and “Bill” were recovering from the illness but Edward, “Richard” grew weaker. He died on Christmas Eve in his sleep. Because of the extremely cold and snowy weather, the body couldn’t be taken to the mortuary, so mother Christine would bathe and dress her lifeless son while Christian built a coffin as he had for each of the children who died before they had lived. The coffin was lined with a quilt, no doubt made by Christine’s own hands, and carried to the granary with the body of their son in it, where the extreme cold would help preserve the body. Reinhold, at the age of 95, shared his memory of his father carrying him and each of the older brothers to the granary to view the body of their brother. Even though the memory was 90 some years old the pain in Dad’s eyes and the sorrow in his voice helped me understand just how difficult and raw life was for my grandparents. Surely, other families suffered the same kinds of losses and heartaches. But it seems, hardships and adversity served to strengthen their faith in Almighty God and in each other.

Life was not easy and required commitment, dedication and never ending physical, emotional, mental and spiritual strength. There were no vacations. Farming was a “do-it-yourself” occupation and Christian learned to be self-sufficient. His knack for repairing, building and inventing would be passed to his sons, especially Reinhold, who would try anything once to see if it worked. Farming from plowing to stacking hay, to treading of “mischt” to make blocks for heat, was done with horses. Cows were milked by hand, and cream was separated with hand cranked separators. Water was pumped at an outside well, carried to the house, heated on stoves, and used in the kitchen to wash dishes, clothes and bodies and then carried outside to be disposed of only to carry more water to the house where the process was repeated time after time. Food, with the exception of sugar, flour, salt, spices and other basics, wasn’t purchased, it was raised. Christine and her children toiled under the hot and sweltering South Dakota sun where they hoed and weeded and watered the plants that would yield the produce that was canned and preserved eventually gracing the shelves of their cellars and providing food for the long winters of caring for children and livestock. There were no refrigerators or freezers. Perishables were hung in the well during the summer and frozen meat was kept under piles of grain during the summer. Even though the winters could be brutal and blizzards blocked roads for weeks at a time, the long winter nights provided opportunities for the family to be together for popcorn, games, shoe repairing, clothes mending, story- telling and for sleigh rides to the neighbors for long overdue visits. Traveling during the winter months was done with horses and sleighs. Bricks or rocks were heated in the stove, wrapped in blankets along with children and placed in the sleds or sleighs to keep feet and hands warm while traveling. Life was not easy, but these German-Russians would overcome adversity and learn to love the land and life that helped to define who they were.

Christine would keep an orderly home and once told her daughter-in-law Vangie, in German of course, (translation) ”Your home must be so well organized that when the lamps are extinguished at night, you can find anything in your house in the dark.” Grandma Christine’s need for orderliness would, over the years, be transferred to many of her offspring to the disdain of those who live with them. Her sense of humor and kindness are what her children remember about her the most. She was generous, to a fault, and would never let her children leave her house, after a visit, without something in hand like a loaf of bread, homemade butter or a baked pastry. She loved life and exhibited that love to all who knew her. She would be proud to know that her name, though not always spelled exactly like hers was, has been given to at least 12 grand, great grand and great, great granddaughters throughout the years.

As their children grew, they assumed more and more responsibility for the working of the farm, and the need for a hired man waned. Both sons and daughters shared the farm work but the housework fell on the daughters. More land was added and the practice of farming grew more sophisticated with improved machinery and farming practices.

Church was a vital part of Christian and Christine’s life, as it was for most. Christian served both his church and his community on various boards and positions of leadership. He was, for years, a member of the Board of Directors of Northwest German Farmer’s Mutual Insurance Company in Eureka. He was respected by his peers who sought his counsel in community and public affairs.

The 1930’s brought years of testing. The Great Depression amid years of severe drought brought many Midwest farmers to their knees. Days, weeks and months of no rain led to years of nothing. No crops, no hay and no way to make ends meet. Many farmers gave up and moved west. Dust storms and grasshoppers were common, discouragement was real and hope seemed to be just a word. Christians gathered in churches and homes praying for rain and the strength to “make it one more day.” Through it all, Christian and his family endured. They harvested thistles and added molasses to make the feed more palatable for the cows and shipped in straw for the livestock herds that were significantly reduced through a government buy out. Farmers who participated, drove their cattle to a collection point, and were given a paltry sum for each animal. The cattle were then herded into a large hole, dug by the government, and destroyed. My father, Reinhold remembered his younger brother Albert riding a pet steer all the way to Long Lake, one of the cattle collection points, only to watch as his pet was taken from him. When the drought ended, Christian and Christine would be able to add more land, to help provide for the future of their sons.

The older children were ready to leave home and encouraged their parents to “get-away” from the farm as often as they could. Christian and Christine made promises to travel and vacation in “just a few more years.” Those years never came. With no warning, Christine died at her home February 14, 1943, at the age of 53. She had just finished, as was her custom, reading her Bible when an apparent heart attack took her life. Thirty four years of companionship, mutual love and sharing were suddenly ended.

Christian remarried in 1946 to Ida Rath Fischer. They moved to Aberdeen where they resided and he continued working as a claims adjuster for the NWGF Mutual Insurance Company. He was 93 when he was advised, by his children, that, perhaps, he should no longer climb the ladders that led to the roofs of the houses that needed to be looked at.!
Eventually, Christian returned to Eureka due to failing health. He was a resident at the
Eureka Nursing Home until his death, at the age of 102, on March 6, 1988.

Christian was a quiet, self-made and determined man. He was statuesque but humble; proud but always gracious; independent but a man of God. He was not a demonstrative man but told me, later in life, that he always worried about his grandchildren and prayed for all of us. One of my fondest memories is of him seated at the head of the table, no matter whose home and table it was, he was always at the head and we would, out of the greatest respect, bow our heads and fold our hands as he prayed the German table prayer:

Komm Herr Jesu, sei unser gast,

Und segne uns alles was Du uns

Aus knade besheret hast. Amen.

Although, I was never fortunate enough to meet Grandma Christine, the stories about her laughter, her generosity, her gentle spirit and her rock solid faith have inspired me. Having lived in the home that Grandpa built for her and on the same farm that was home to her for so many years I feel her presence and know that we share the same love of this prairie, I know that she raised her face to the warm South Dakota sky, I know that she, like me, felt the soft, black dirt in her hands and thanked God for all she had been given. Standing only five feet tall she motivated and moved her family to be more than and better than they ever thought they could be. And so, I am proud to claim the heritage of Christian and Christine Schumacher. It is a rich heritage of faith and concern for others, a heritage of honesty and industry and even though our Schumacher clan is scattered throughout this great country, we are all forever bound to the roots of that humble beginning on a homestead where life began and ended, where dreams came true and where dreams were shattered, where God was an everyday part of life and nothing was taken for granted.


Schumacher Brothers. Back: Christian and August. Front: Johann, Jacob and Ludwig
Rheinie and Vangie Schumacher
Christian and Christine Schumacher
Schumacher Family

Reprinted with permission of The Northwest Blade.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller