Autobiography of Adelheid Fischer
Scott 1872 - 1944
By Adelheid Fischer
Adelheid (Fischer) Scott was the daughter of Franz Karl and Margaretha (Kraft) Fischer.
Adelheid started to write about her personal insights on life in Russia in 1940 at age 68. Since her original writings were in German, they have been translated into English. She was only 12 years of age when she came to America, so she is writing as best she can remember.
Of their immigration to America, Adelheid writes:
Now the worst of it came; as there were 30 of us in all, with children and grandchildren. Mother said she wouldn't go without everyone, so dad told her not to worry as he would see they all get to go, as some of them didn't have their fare. Thank God all turned out well. If I remember right, we left in August and we landed in America in about October, so you can tell how long it took us to get here.
Of course, our uncles had to take us to the little town where we had to take the train, and it seems to me it was more like a funeral than anything else, as all of our friends were there to see us leave. It really was the first time any of us had ever gotten on a train. We finally boarded and got started and ...fare. Just a few of us in one of the cars. They were just like box cars - no place to eat, only on your lap, and no water, and no rest room, only when the train stopped. The cars were always locked so we couldn't get out. All the train men were Russians such great big men and they were sure men to...
Well, I think it took us three weeks until we got to Bremen; that
was in Germany, of course. That is where we had to take the ship.
I can just see myself and all the rest of our family - how funny
we all looked with our shawls on our heads. We had to have all of
our baggage hauled to the ship; they hauled it with some little
carts and the big boys had to pull the little carts. Well, it was
too funny for words, really. We all toddled after them, and I can
just hear myself laugh as I always got a big kick out of things.
My mother used to tell me to keep still as she always was so afraid
I might get left behind. I always wanted to see everything. If I
just had sense and would have paid more attention to things, I could
Well, to go on with my story. It must have been at least four o'clock in the afternoon when we got to the pier where we had to sail from. We had gotten into Bremen in the morning just at sunrise. It was a wonderful morning, and it was very hot! Well, we walked around and stretched our necks just like all folks who had never been in a city before. Was it a city! I can see the wonderful buildings and streets and street cars. They used dogs to do hauling of little things, and they also had big trucks. Poor folks couldn't afford them.
Well, to go back to where I left off at the ship. We all had to stand in line like they do here when they go to a show. My dad had to get his tickets out to let them sign. I never will forget when they asked him if he had all of his children with him, as 30, that's a lot. Dad said, "Wait till I see," so they said, "Are they all Fischers?" and dad said yes. Then they told us where to go and I never will forget we all had to climb three flights of stairs. Finally we landed in what they called second class.
My dad always had a big cask of brandy, and he always looked out for that as it was the only medicine I ever took in all my life. The ship purser started to take it from him. He hung on to it and it was a good thing as it came in handy. We all had to be vaccinated, and we got sick. Dad was our doctor. As for myself, I had an arm as big as a churn like we used when making butter, if you know what it is. I have made so many pounds of butter in churns and I wish I could have some of it now.
Well, we were on the ship for nine days on the way to New York and I want to say were we glad to get off of that ship. We just about starved as the food was just awful. At that, we had some good things as my sister and brother got a job in the kitchen and they used to bring us some good food. But for myself, I just lived on onions and tea, as I was sick the whole way.
Well, we got to New York in the morning; about ten o'clock. It took us about two hours until we got out. Of course, Dad had to stay to see to our baggage. They took us in a little ship and we had to go to what they called the Castle Garden* where all the passengers got off. Of course Dad didn't come for about three hours and we thought he got lost. Well, it was funny as Mother just had a fit almost as we couldn't tell her anything. She thought he had all the money and someone would rob him. But anyway, he finally came so, of course, we all were...and happy.
So we all went to find some place to eat. As you know, there are always some people that want to take you some place; and Dad, not being out in the world much, he just did as they told him. This old man could talk a little German, and he told Dad he could take us to a nice place to eat and it wouldn't cost us much. So we all went and we walked, and walked some more, and it was such a nice day and, of course, I was so interested, I wasn't a bit tired. There was so much to see - all the nice horses and the street cars always took my eyes as I always did love horses.
So we finally got to this place and it was just a little private house with one big table. I remember it had a great big looking glass in it so we could see ourselves all the time, and I had a lot of fun with my little shawl over my head. Well, I must tell you what we had for dinner: the first thing we had was rice soup and some crackers; then they took our bowls out and brought us some meat and brown gravy and brown potatoes, and some bread and butter. But there was so little of everything, we just didn't get filled up. But when we thought we were all done, then they brought us some rice pudding and some coffee.
Well, my Dad wanted to know how much it was, and the man said, "It will be just thirty dollars." I never will forget as long as I live as my Mother just about fell over, she was so shocked and I can see her yet, poor soul. She had glasses on and when she put her hand over her face, they fell on the floor. One glass fell out, but at the same time I had to giggle. I tell you, I never saw my Dad so mad, but he couldn't talk to the man, so he just had to pay and like it.
Afterwards, we went back to Castle Garden as it was called at that time. We kind of took our time. One of my brothers was a butcher and we happened to go by a big butcher shop. He said he would like to see, so he went in and looked around; when he came out, he said that you don't know what kind of meat we had for our dinner, as we all didn't know. I can see it yet as it was awfully coarse and I didn't eat any. But it was horse meat, so my Mother said, "Well, we will have to live on baloney the rest of the way," as we were going to South Dakota to stay for the winter Dad had some friends there. The name of the town was Yankton.
So we got on again after resting about twelve hours. I can remember just as if it were last night when we got in the train. It was so pretty and such pretty lights, and such wonderful sights. So we got to this town. I think it was the 18th of October, 1884 as much as I can remember, and I am almost sure.
My Dad rented a flat with eight rooms and bought just what we had to have to get along with, as he planned on going on a farm of his own in the spring. I know how tickled we all were at the first white bread we got and coffee. We just (lived) on it all winter as it was such a treat to us. We were sure a happy family until it was time for my folks to go on their farm as they called it at that time.
But it was more than that as Dad bought two wagons and two pair
of oxen. My aunts that were married, and Mother and Dad, they loaded
what house goods they had bought and were getting ready to go to
North Dakota to file on farm land. We (younger) ones, we had to
stay at this town where we'd spent the winter Yankton, South Dakota.
There were four of us and I was the youngest. Our Dad got us all
a place to work. He took all the money in advance so we just had
to stay until our year was up. And what do you think I got one dollar
a week and room and board. I don't know just how much my brothers
I was so lonesome and homesick at first, but I finally got used to it. I was left with a German family and they were the grandest people. They treated me just like their own. Well, I was a nice girl. They had three children; two of them just started to school and the one was only a year old, so I used to have to take care of them. Well, it was sure nice that I got in with such nice people as it was hard for me not knowing how to talk, only German. But the little girl could talk so we got along just fine. Always after school we used to go out in the garden and play school each day, and I used to be just tickled to have them tell me things. We had a lot of fun. They used to tell me how awful it was for me not to be able to go to school at my age as I could have. I could have gotten so many places to work for room and board as a lot of boys and girls did at that time, but our Dad just didn't see it that way. He really didn't think ahead as he told us we would have to get out and help him pay for bringing us over here.
Well, I haven't said a thing about my married brothers (Jacob, Martin and Ferdinand), and what they did to help Dad to pay for bringing them all over. Well, as I said, they all went to North Dakota to file on those homesteads. Then they went off and worked all summer. All the womenfolk stayed with Dad and worked and did what they could to raise gardens, some chickens, pigs and the like. Of course, they would always come home for the winter, and so they did until they could help themselves. In a few years, they were on Easy Street, and they always seemed to be as happy as can be, but I know they had some awful hard times just the same. It was quite some time before they could buy themselves some horses. They had to work with oxen.
I remember one summer - I think it was the third summer after we came here, as I stayed two years at the house my Dad left me in Yankton, South Dakota - and they were sure working hard. They wanted me to stay home, but I couldn't as I didn't like to do the kind of work they did on the farm, so I left again. I just kept on working all the time from the time I was twelve until I was nineteen, and they used to come and get my pay each month.
Well, I was always lucky. I always worked two and three years at one place, but the most pay I got was $4.00 a week, and I used to work from four in the morning until eleven at night. But I wasn't the only one, as girls used to have to work just like slaves in my time, and yet we didn't have to work as hard as they do in Russia. We never saved a dime the year round. We used to get a new dress at Easter time and wear it all summer for Sundays. We had one for weekdays and as soon as it got warm, we didn't have any shoes on, only on Sundays to go to church with.
Well, you will wonder how my folks got along on their homesteads
after they filed. As you know, they used to file on three claims:
homestead, timber, and streamlines. Of course they just went without
most everything in order to get the land, as that's why they really
came to America - to get all of this land, have our boys not have
to go to war, and have Freedom, thanks to God.
Well, in the first place, they built themselves some of those sod houses, and were they nice as they plastered them and white washed them, and put some nice floors in them. They lived in them until they got on their feet. They built some of those Dutch ovens just like we used to have in Russia to heat them with as they were made out of homemade brick. They also did their cooking in them as my Mother really liked them better than she did the stoves. She had some of those big iron kettles and she'd put her dinner in the Dutch oven at nine and by ten it was all cooked. She had a long fork with a long handle that she used to hook the kettles out with, and the same with baking bread. We always baked our own bread in those ovens as I remember before we came to America, as small as I was.
I used to get up often at three o'clock in the mornings to knead the bread and fire the oven, as it used to take about an hour to get the oven hot. We just had straw to burn in it, and it took about two hours to bake the bread hard. Was it hard! The loaves were as big as a rural dishpan. Well, my Mother used to have some nice white baskets to bake homemade bread in that my Dad made out of willow. Of course, it wasn't white; it was sure good just the same. And to think we never did have butter as we just couldn't afford it. Of course, after we came to America and kind of got on our feet, we had all the butter we needed. My Mother did all her cooking with butter - she never did like it - as lard was awful hard to get.
My Mother was a wonderful cook. She made such good things out of flour. I often wished I could cook like she could. I never was home with her where she could teach me. After I got onto the American ways, I just got so I didn't want to be ...away more as I didn't have to work so hard and liked those ways least.
It just came to me - I don't know just how old I was I don't think I could have been over eight years (in Russia). My Dad had an awful few ...and he had some flax and it wasn't fit to cut with the scythe as it was too short. So he took us children I think two of my little brothers and myself, and I know it must have been 30 varst, that is, 30 miles and he used to get us up early in the mornings and it used to ...frost on the ground already. Well, Mother used to get us children ready and wrap us up in some bedding, and we would get in the big wagon. I know it used to be still dark when we used to leave the house, and by the time we got out in the field, the sun would be just peeping over the hill.
Well, so we just got all three of us children out you might say babies and got busy pulling flax with our puny little hands all day long till the sun set. Then we would get in the old wagon and start for home. Well, we would be so exhausted, sometimes we would be asleep. I really don't see how we did it.
And another time, I remember, the bugs were awful bad, and they ate the entire crop up, so the whole village turned out to try to kill them. All of us children used to walk up and down the field with a big jar and just scrape the bugs in the jars and just bury them in a hole. I think the field was at least a mile long. We did it for days we didn't even stop to go home for dinner as Mother used to bring our dinner to us. When I think of all the things I did before I was the age of twelve years!!!
Of course, I didn't say anything about all the places that we really went through from the time we left Russia. It always seemed to be at night, mostly, when we went through some big places; as I know I used to see so many lights. But it was wonderful! I remember we went along some big fields of potatoes and all we could see was a lot of Russians picking them. They used to put them in jars as big as a small wash tub. They just used to put them on top of their heads and just walk along they wouldn't even hold them and put them in a big wagon. There was hardly a man in sight. But I can't tell just where it was. It was still in Russia, as most of the work was done by women. The men made them work just like slaves.
It put me in mind as we had to do the same things. As young as I was, I had to carry water on my head. It must have been at least a mile from our house. Some people had buckets. I wasn't strong enough to do it, so we had to go to this place. It was a big river and it was soft so we used to wash with it. We used to take a long pole. It had a hook on each end. We used to hang the buckets on it and hang it over our shoulders and carry it that way. That way we used to carry two buckets at one time. I don't know how we did. I know I couldn't do it now.
And I want to tell you how we used to wash clothes in the summertime as I did it. Anyway, at first we used to go to the river and stand on a big rock, rub and punch them with a lot of homemade soap, then spread them on the ground and dry them. Were they white and pretty! My Mother was sure a crank on clothes they had to be just so and such things as a doctor. I never did see one in our home. When they used to get sick, they would call in some old woman and she would look after the one that happened to be sick. And if there were such a thing as a birth well, then, they used to have what they called midwives, and they used to give them a dollar; that was their pay.
My Mother was a midwife for about forty years. I can remember she used to go out many times at night. Dad used to say, "Mother, I wish you would stay at home," as it used to be so cold in the winter time. But she used to just bundle up and away she would go. But she never did take anything. She always used to take all kinds of things to give to the ones she used to go to take care of. She sure was a wonderful Mother. Everyone knew her for miles around where we lived, and they always called her "Grandma Fischer." I really think she could do more for a sick person than a lot of doctors can today. My Mother didn't have any use for a doctor at any time.
And talk about SING. My Mother could yodel just like a clarinet or a flute. She sure was full of life. She loved to dance. I can see her yet in my mind, poor soul. How she used to get Dad out on the floor and make him dance with her, as he was kind of formal. I had a sister she was just like her until she got married. Then she stopped just like a clock she had so many other things that took up her time. Mother could also play the organ and learned she just played church music. So when all the family had gone, she and Dad used to sing ...and play they were very happy in their old age.
It was too bad my Dad had to pass on so many years before Mother did. He was only 74. Mother passed on at the age of 91. She was just as bright as she could be. I went to see her just a year before she passed on. She was in bed, of course, but she didn't wear any glasses, and she still used to read and sew buttons on, and little things like that. We lived in Montana at the time I went to see her. She still lived on this farm that they filed on when we came to America, in North Dakota, near Bismarck. Buried at the Krik.
* Ellis Island didn't open until 1892, so from 1855 until 1892, the arrival center was at Castle Garden, at the foot of Manhattan Island in New York used as the main port of arrival for immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Ferdinand Fischer Family is on the American Immigrant Wall of Honor at Ellis Island because all immigrants will be listed there due to the fact that a museum and computer center will be located there and it can be used as a resource center.
Our appreciation is extended to Jolenta Fischer Masterson,
Sequim, Washington, for providing this text.