Tandburg, Kathy. "An Immigrant’s Dream Come True." Common, Supplement to Beulah Beacon and Hazen Star, 7 January 1999, 1.
With many family farms being purchased by larger farms, keeping the family homestead intact is more difficult than ever in today’s farming community. Fortunately, there are a few original homesteads still in family hands.
The Raymond Maas family farm 10 miles north of Hazen will celebrate its 100th year since Grandfather Johann Mass filed claim to his homestead in 1899.
The Raymond Maas Family, from back left: Frieda, Desmond, Raymond. Front left: Nancy, Randall, Jennifer.
100 years. It sounds like so long ago. Yet it was just yesterday to Raymond, who still has vivid childhood memories of Grandfather Johann and the stories he told. A story that starts the same for many settlers. A story that starts with a dream.
In efforts to encourage settlement of its vast lands, the United States Congress approved the Homestead Act on May 20, 1862 "To secure homesteads to actual settlers on the public domain."
Settlers could lay claim to a homestead of 160 acres and after living on the land for five years, it became theirs. Owning their own land was a dream many would never have known in the old country, where only the wealthy or the government owned land.
For generations, immigrants poured out of Europe bound for America, the new world offering free land.
Many immigrants headed west, continuing until they found unclaimed land. North Dakota was one of the last territories with homestead land available.
Johann Maas was born in 1871 near Odessa, in South Russia. He was home on furlough from the Russian Army in 1893 when his sister Pauline and her family were leaving for America. Seeing his chance, Johann left with them.
The family traveled to South Dakota where his sister’s family settled. Johann worked as a hired hand with a threshing crew, until he had enough to buy a team and wagon.
With no homestead land left in South Dakota, he headed for Mercer County, where he had heard there was still land available.
After his arrival in Mercer County, Johann laid claim to 160 acres, four miles north of Krem. It was a good location, with a creek near by.
He built a sod house and settled in. Eventually a large two story home was built.
Johann married Katherina Krukenberg in 1897. He proudly became a U.S. citizen in 1900. Katherina died in childbirth in 1909. Johann married a widow, Maria Reich Kruckenberg in 1910. The couple raised seven children: Friedrich, Ottilie, Bernard, Reinhold, William, and two children by Maria’s first husband, Anna (Heine) and Martha (Miller).
Mercer County was now home to Johann. Sometime after his arrival to the country, he met friends from Russia, Rahns and Richters, who had also settled in the area. The families rejoiced in the familiar faces from the old country.
As the years passed, Johann’s farm grew to approximately 1300 acres. He gave each of his sons one-half section of land and his daughters received one quarter.
Johann supported his family off the land raising wheat, range cattle and milk cows. He hauled cream to a creamery in Krem. Ray says the creamery came to the farm to chip ice from the nearby creek and hauled it back to town.
William stayed on the farm, marrying Ida Neuberger in 1934.
William and Ida Maas, 1934
Raymond says he spent more time with Grandpa Johann than anyone as a child, as Johann lived with them for many years after he was widowed.
In 1954 Johann moved to the Joachim Memorial Home in Beulah. In 1956 he was downtown picking up his mail when a car hit him. He suffered a broken hip and died two weeks later of complications.
William officially took over the farm after Johann passed on.
Johann Maas, 1951, at age 80
Raymond married Frieda Schwarz in 1961. The couple raised their family on the farm: Randall, Nancy, Desmond, and Jennifer.
These children ran and played in the same places their father played as a child. They hid in the same barn and in the same tall grass, as they played their childhood games.
They fished the same creek their grandfather fished. They looked out at the same wide-open spaces, across the same prairies, and up at the same stars, as did the children who first lived in the sod house across the yard.
Today, Raymond still raises the same crops and cattle as his father and grandfather before him, although he says wheat is about the same price today as it was when Grandpa was selling it.
In 1904, after five years of living and working the land, the homestead officially became Johann’s. He received an official handwritten Homestead Certificate No. 5559, Application 8007, with the red seal of the United States Land Office, signed in ink by Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States of America.
The historic document has been passed down from Johann to his son William when he took over the farm, and then to Raymond when it was his turn to take over the farm.
The document remains with the land from which dreams of freedom were made. The dreams of an immigrant. A dream come true.
The document represents county, state and national history.
Most importantly, to the Maas family, it remains a treasured piece of family history.
Reprinted with permission of the Common.