A Writer's Recollections: A Farmer by Necessity, a Writer by Choice, Jacob Huber Wrote About People he met, Places he Visited, Things he saw and Tales he was Told

Nixon, Lance. "A Writer's Recollections: A Farmer by Necessity, a Writer by Choice, Jacob Huber Wrote About People he met, Places he Visited, Things he saw and Tales he was Told." Grand Forks Herald, 27 November 1992.

Loretta Bush holds a large portrait of her great-grandfather, Max Huber, who stayed in Russia.

"Paul Rusmenko once described a Greek Orthodox church scene in Russia. The religious service was held next door to a saloon, and as only men attended the church service, there were always some in church, some in the saloon, and some on the way either to church or to the saloon."

"After the service the priest, who had been in charge of the service, also walked over to the saloon for a shot of vodka. The bartender, knowing there were severe penalties for those caught serving intoxicating beverages to a priest, refused to serve him. The priest left the saloon, but came right back in riding through the door on a broomstick. He rode his broomstick up to the bar and said, `I'm a man from a far country, and have ridden a great distance today, I need a drink of vodka.' Then he was served."

- from Jacob Huber's manuscript about growing up among Germans from Russia in western North Dakota.

Jacob M. Huber always kept two countries in his head.

There was this new one his parents had come to and that far one they left behind, selling a farm near the Black Sea so that they could buy one north of Dodge, N.D.

He got an earful of both growing up in western North Dakota, and when he was old, he wrote it down. He would write on those nights when he didn't feel like reading from his Bible or a history book.

He still was writing in 1984, when he died in a farm accident at age 72. His children gave the manuscript to the State Historical Society about three years ago - more than 100 pages of notebook paper filled front and back, handwritten in blue ink.

There's no beginning and no end to his work, only a long string of anecdotes written or rewritten in Huber's hurried scrawl. "Revised Memories of the Old People," he wrote at the top of some pages.

"When he couldn't sleep at night, he'd do his writing," said his son, Dalton Huber of Wahpeton, N.D. "He was a man who probably would have enjoyed writing or studying for a living instead of farming. He farmed for a living, but he didn't enjoy it too much."

There were too many things to be heard and told.

"He really liked talking to the old people and garnering all this information," said Loretta Busch of Rugby, N.D., Huber's daughter. "He enjoyed telling the stories. But he really wanted to impart the information, too. If he got any inkling that someone was only listening politely, he would wind down pretty quickly."

It was safer to tell the stories to a piece of paper. Now they are there for historians and family researchers and anyone else who really wants to hear them. The State Historical Society - following an index that Huber himself had written - has prepared an inventory of the manuscript listing the families that Huber mentions and the notable incidents.

What did he write?

So what sorts of things did Jacob Huber think worth writing down?

Locations, for one thing. This is a little book of settlements telling who lived where and what happened to them there.

"The parents of Mrs. Rudolph Petz homesteaded near Glen Ullin in the early days," he wrote. "One day the father came in the house and told his wife they would have to flee as there was an Indian uprising. The wife said she couldn't leave as she had made up her dough to bake. They stayed and nothing happened."

There are occasional bits of European geography and weather lore.

"In Crimea, South Russia, there was a swampland that ran to the Black Sea. Whenever this marsh, called `the Ozzar,' gave off an offensive odor which was carried to the villages by the wind, it was a sign that foul weather was coming."

There is other hand-me-down wisdom from Russia: Wrapping a slice of bacon around your water jug while you're in the field is a good way to keep the Muslim Tartars from helping themselves to a drink. Laying a broomstick across a doorway is a good way to keep out witches.

There is mention of the shabby treatment Russian laborers had at the hands of German farmers and some stories about kindness.

"One springtime, Fred Huber was short on hay, so he instructed his Russian helper not to feed any of the precious hay to the cattle, they could get along on chaff. The hay was needed for the horses that worked."

"Walking through the barnyard early Easter morning, Fred saw that each one of the cows had a small pile of hay in front of her and was eating it. He called to the Russian worker, demanding an explanation. The hired man answered with finality,`This is Easter morning.'"

Huber has much to say about how his father - also named Jacob Huber - and his mother, Catherine, came to the United States in 1906. That was five years before the younger Jacob Huber was born.

"Having been friendly with the Jews really paid off for my parents when the time came to leave Russia. After the land had been sold, my parents regretted their decision to leave, so tried to buy land again, but wherever they went doors were closed, so dad said to mother, `We will have to leave, the Lord wants us to.'"

"First a passport had to be procured, but a new ruling came out saying people could leave Russia, but their money had to stay back."

"Hearing my parents' predicament, a Jewish friend went to my father and said he would be able to arrange a valid passport, but Dad would have to have a certain number of one ruble currency notes in his possession."

"The currency and a blank passport were procured, then the Jew slipped two rubles into the passport and went to the first official who had to stamp it. The Jew explained, `This is my brother, Yankel, who lives in Abrahams Numbers and, not owning anything, would like to leave for America.' The official removed the money, then stamped the passport without any questions."

"Abrahams Numbers was a low-grade apartment house for Jews that were in financial difficulties."

"The passport was taken from official to official but always had to be replenished with two ruble notes. There was no difficulty in getting the necessary stamps put on it."

Leaving Russia

With the paper work in order, the Hubers boarded a train and rode north across Russia. They boarded a ship in what is now Lithuania. From there, the sailed to England, and then on to the United States.

They rode the American trains west for several days, listening at each stop for the name of the town, until finally they heard the name of the place where they were going: New Salem. A German family took them in for the night. The next day, for a small sum, they caught a ride with a man named Schach who had brought a load of wheat to town and was returning to his farm. He took them to the farm of Adam Guenther, a man the Hubers had known in Russia. From there, they were taken to the Adam Herman farm northwest of Zap. Next they were taken to the Fred Huber homestead north of Dodge, N.D. Fred Huber was a cousin who had come to America earlier.

"Fred Huber told my dad, `you are just in time, there is a homesteader 1-1/2 miles north of here who is sorry he took up a homestead. It is too far from town for him.'"

"The two Hubers drove up to the claim in question, tested the soil and water, then talked to Gottlieb Bertch, who was willing to give up his homestead if he could get out the money he had put into it, which was $400. This included a two-room gable house, straw roof barn, well, drill and mower."

"Bertch and my father went to Bismarck, and after getting the $400 from my father, he went into the land office and said he couldn't make his living on this claim and was giving it up."

"After he came out, my father went into the office and said he wanted to file on this claim. It cost my father $18.75 and he had 160 acres of land, which has been our home these many years since 1906 with the exception of eight years from 1919 to 1927 that we lived in Golden Valley."

The first winter was especially hard.

"Mother was pregnant with my brother, Fred, and the house wasn't finished in the interior, fuel also was scarce. So my parents dug clay out of the frozen ground, we also called this gumbo, brought this into the house to thaw out behind the kitchen range. This was wetted down and mixed with fine hay or chaff for a binding material. When it looked somewhat like well-mixed concrete, it was plastered on the walls, which were lathed...The winter was cold, with an awful lot of snow, and some nights the house would crack with a loud report. This had never happened in Russia, so it made them wonder if it was the house or if the Indians were shooting."

Tales of the neighbors

In the summer, the Hubers set to work farming. Their land was better than some of their neighbors had.

"The Jacob Zieglers homesteaded two miles east of the cemetery on the hill. Their land was hilly and rocky, so they worked hard digging rocks, then he would sit down on one side of the rockpile while she sat on the other side and both wept."

Huber also tells about the neighbors John Laubenstein and Manuel Mueller.

"In Russia they had a bird, known as the Thistle Finch. Whenever these birds sang there was sure to be a change of weather."

"One Sunday before church was to begin at the Lutheran church a mile north of here, my father was talking to a group of settlers standing on the south side of the church. He said there was a change in the weather coming, as he had heard the Thistle Finch singing last night."

"Jacob Ziegler caught the hint and said,`I think I heard them, too, there was a big one and a small one, not so?' My dad said that was right."

"Mueller and Laubenstein hung their heads because they knew they were the ones talked about, as they had been drunk the night before and sang on their way home."

Reprinted with permission of the Grand Forks Herald.

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