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, 1 January 2009, 12.
(Editor's Note: This is part fifteen of Eric Schmaltz's history of the John Schmaltz family.)

Setting Up Shop in Emmons County

John Schmaltz working behind his Meat Market counter in Strasburg, North Dakota, circa September 1934, only a couple of years before he moved to nearby Linton.

In 1910, John relocated his ever-growing family south to Strasburg in Emmons County, where he established the Schmaltz Meat Market (Fleischhandlung in German). Farmers, of course, possess various trade skills, such as butchering. It seems that John wanted to transform this specialized skill into a full-fledged business operation capable of producing a good profit.

According to U.S. census records in 1910, John Sr. was able to read and write, as well as speak in English. By this time, he owned his own home as well. But the census taker noted that Clara at that time could not speak in English, and that she could not read or write. It is unclear, however, whether he meant that she could not read or write in English or at all.

On the edge of cattle country, Strasburg appeared to be an ideal location for John to start the meat business. Founded in 1902, the town was situated at the center of a large grain and dairy district. It also marked the dividing line between settlements of German-Russian Catholics and Dutch Reformers in the area. John’s fellow immigrant Germans from Russia Catholics probably made him feel more at home in Emmons County, but Strasburg was also prospering considerably during the 1910s and 1920s, reaching its population peak at that time.

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.

In 1926, during this relative boom period, John expanded his business with the purchase of the City Meat Market in the nearby county seat of Linton. Linton, established in 1898, is located about 10 miles northwest of Strasburg. Its population, too, reached its highest level by the 1920s. The older Schmaltz sons, who had learned the butcher trade from their father, operated the Linton business until around 1936, when John and Clara decided to reside in Linton. For the next several years, John continued to oversee the operation of both stores. During World War II, several of his sons served in the military, and he therefore had to take over active management of the Linton store. He retired around 1946, by which time he had also sold the old Strasburg meat market.

After John Sr.’s retirement, older son John Jr. ran the Schmaltz Meat Market in Linton until 1961, followed by his son Melvin who did so until his recent death around 2004. In 1999, the store was officially renamed Schmaltz’s Food Pride. In July 2006, Strasburg area farmer Kelly Scherr purchased the store from Brian (Melvin’s son) and Mary Schmaltz, thereby continuing a great tradition under the new name of Scherr’s Meats. 

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