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, 17 July 2008, 13.

(Editor’s Note: This is part two of Eric Schmaltz's history of the John Schmaltz family.)

Who Are the Germans from Russia?

Tsar Alexander I.

In 1804, Tsar Alexander I issued a great manifesto designed this time to invite prosperous farmers and artisans into the empire. Consequently, Russian authorities preferred to bring in married men with families, who were regarded as more reliable and successful, and not individuals. Every family was required to take along 300 gulden, a form of currency, a team of horses with harness, and a plow. The money went into a community fund supplemented with considerable state subsidies, so that settlers could purchase the required horses, cows, and agricultural equipment. New immigrants to the empire included not only Germans, but Italians, Swiss, French, Dutch, Swedes, Poles, and others, adding further to the region’s significant ethnic diversity.

Alexander’s policy had a more profound impact than Catherine’s in the formation of groups later known as the Black Sea (or Ukrainian) and Bessarabian Germans. From Hesse, Baden-Württemberg, the Rhineland-Palatinate, and Alsace-Lorraine, many thousands of German-speaking immigrants at this time arrived in “South Russia” (Süd-Russland), as the newly opened territories were called, for promise of economic concessions and land, not to mention religious and political protection. Some German settlements in Ukraine had appeared as early as the 1760s, but more substantial communities were established in the late 1780s and again between 1804 and 1824 following Alexander’s manifesto. Additional migrations along the Black Sea, including the Crimea and Bessarabia, followed between 1814 and 1842. In 1816 and 1817, about 10,000 Germans from the state of Württemberg in western Germany journeyed to Bessarabia, which lay just west of Ukraine. From the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth centuries, a total of about 50,000 Germans established roots near the Black Sea.

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.

On the whole, the Black Sea or Ukrainian Germans lived as productive, loyal, and privileged subjects within the Russian Empire. They achieved and enjoyed a good measure of local self-government and relative prosperity. In the span of only a few generations, they accomplished much in defiance of the initial hardships of building communities literally from scratch in remote, often undeveloped, areas unfamiliar to them and sometimes under quite severe climatic and environmental conditions. Over the course of time, a traditional German-Russian expression arose that captured the reality of the blood, sweat, and tears that went into establishing new settlements on the steppes: “The first generation gets death (Tot); the second, suffering (Not); and the third, bread (Brot).”

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