The John Schmaltz family of Emmons County: from Ukrainian Steppes to Dakota Prairies

Schmaltz, Eric. "The John Schmaltz family of Emmons County: from Ukrainian Steppes to Dakota Prairies." Emmons County Record, 20 November 2008, 25.
(Editor's Note: This is part thirteen of Eric Schmaltz's history of the John Schmaltz family.)

A New Home in North Dakota

The gravestone of Germans from Russia immigrants John and Clara (Bullinger) Schmaltz in St. Anthony’s Catholic Cemetery in Linton, North Dakota. For some reason, no death date of 1953 was carved into Clara’s side of the marker.
Johann’s age is marked at 19 years upon his arrival, meaning that he was born in 1879 (which is correct, as it agrees with Russian census records, but it conflicts with his obituary from 1951 as well as his Linton gravesite which gives it as 1880). Moreover, the passenger record shows that Johann was single and unmarried at the time, and that a younger sister accompanied him on the journey--Agnes (1882-1965). He carried with him a total of $70.00, a fair amount of money in those days. By today's standards, a nineteen-or sixteen-year-old is considered to be quite young. In 1900, however, people at such an age were regarded as more psychologically mature, better prepared to assume personal responsibility. Most people at that time were ready to work and move on with their personal and professional lives. At the time, many did not receive advanced educations, with the expectation that they would enter the work force as soon as they were capable. Therefore, Johann and Agnes were not “children” or even “teenagers” (a term only first coined in 1941) in the modern sense when they arrived at Ellis Island.

According to Peter A. Kraft’s (b. 1917) oral history interview with North Dakota State University, Johann and Agnes by the time of their voyage for America had a stepfather whose last name was Heintz. Perhaps one reason for their immigration to America was the stepfather, but that is pure speculation.

Peter also reported that Johann and Anges had at least six other siblings in Kandel: Anton, Lawrence, Alois, Peter, Wilhelm, and Anna Maria. The Russian census of 1882 for Kandel, however, does not corroborate these siblings’ names. The census only includes Ottilia (b. ca. 1871), Martin (b. ca. 1873), Katharina (b. ca. 1880), and of course, Johann (b. 1879). At least two other children came from the original marriage union:  Peter's mother Agnes (b. 1882) and Leo, who died in childhood, birth and death dates unknown.

Eric Schmaltz. The author is immigrant Johann Schmalz’s great-grandson.  Born in Minot, North Dakota, in 1971, he is Assistant Professor of History at Northwestern Oklahoma State University, where he teaches Modern European and World History.  He expresses his eternal gratitude to old issues of the Emmons County Record as well as various extended relatives by blood or marriage who have assisted him with family history research over the past two decades, in particular Bro. Placid Gross, Mrs. Mary Lynn Axtman, Mrs. Nicole (French) Bailey, Prof. Amy Deibert, and Prof. Michael M. Miller.

Johann and Agnes departed Russia first for the German Empire. Ellis Island records list their point of departure as Bremen, Germany, the great port city that had long served as the gateway for Central and East European immigrants to the Western Hemisphere. Their passenger ship was German-built, the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse (Emperor William the Great). Years later, on July 26, 1914, the Germans scuttled the ship in Spanish West Africa to avoid capture by the British at the start of World War I. Some family members think that Johann (now John Schmaltz in the United States) might have spent a brief period living and working in Chicago, Illinois, before making his way from New York to North Dakota. It is reasonable to assume that he would have traveled by train through Chicago to the northern plains.

Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record.

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