Joseph Rott Family History
By Connie Dahlke, Napa, California
Joseph Rott b. 1852 Gluckstal, South Russia was the tenth child of Martin Rott b. 1804 Hunsbach, Elsass, Germany. Martin Rott emigrated to South Russia as a young child with his parents in 1809. The family of Martin Rott, Sr. (b. 1767) included wife Elizabetha Niess (b. abt 1768), and the older siblings of young Martin: Salome Rott b. 1786 married to Franz Foerderer, Balthasor Rott b. 1789, Margaretha Rott b. 1791, and Friedrick Rott b. 1799/1800. Also traveling to South Russia in 1809 were the Georg Landenberger family, with wife Barbara Rott b. 1769 (who was pregnant) and their children Anna Maria Landenberger b. 1790, Michael Jacob Landenberger b. 1793, Georg Landenberger b. abt 1797, Barbara Landenberger b. 1799, and Eva Landenberger b. 1807. Martin Rott, Sr. and Mrs. Barbara (Rott) Landenberger were the children of Georg Rott and his wife Barbara.
The party likely took the overland route in 1809, as the Danube River was closed to travel due to the war with the Turks in the lower reaches of the Danube. It was an arduous route, through central Germany, across lower Poland to the border crossing and quarantine station at Radzivillov. Groups traveling this route aimed to leave their homes in Germany as soon as the dirt roads were passable in the spring, with the hope of arriving in South Russia before the snow began to fall. At the border crossing they could expect to be held in quarantine for 30 days.
The Rott/Landenberger party arrived in South Russia just as the Gluckstal colonies were being set up. Salome and Franz Foerderer were initially assigned to Rastatt, one of the Beresan Colonies eastward on the Steppe from the Gluckstal Colonies. Some earlier arrivals in South Russia had been housed in Grigoriopol on the Dniester River since 1804, most being placed in with Armenian families. The German colonists found this arrangement to be unsatisfactory, so they appealed to Duc de Richelieu for their own village. The good Duc granted their wish and decided to move a village of Moldavians out of their mud-hut village of Glinnoi into Grigoriopol, and simultaneously move the German colonists from Grigoriopol into the mud huts of Glinnoi vacated by the Moldavians. The changeover occurred in the spring of 1809. The Rott/Landenberger party arrived in the fall of 1809 – the Rott family was assigned to Houselot G-111 in Gluckstal, while the Landenberger family was assigned to Houselot N-90 in Neudorf, a smaller village that was just being established. And they arrived just in time – baby Martin Landenberger was born in Neudorf November 10, 1809.
Times were rough for the early colonists. They had many urgent tasks to complete just to survive the winter. There were 10 water wells in the village of Glinnoi, which was renamed Gluckstal, but the mud huts were cramped and unsatisfactory. As soon as possible, the German colonists laid out decent-sized houselots and began building brick homes to replace the mud huts. But let us remember that these “bricks” were made of mud dried in the sun. Later, when materials were more plentiful, the bricks might have added straw or “mischt” (manure) to strengthen them. As the village became more prosperous, colonists built houses out of stone quarried from the local hillsides. Much later, there was a tile factory which made roof tiles, but in the early days the roofs were made of thatch.
Early in the spring, all males of working age were required to break up the steppe sod and begin planting crops. This was virgin land, never plowed, and it was tough going, especially with the single plows which were in use at the time. Too often the rains were unreliable, the grasshoppers ate what did come up, or hailstorms flattened it all before it could be harvested.
And then there were the epidemics. The German colonists came into a land where diseases sprang up to which the colonists had no natural immunity. If a water well or a stream became contaminated from human or animal waste, it could wipe out all the families which depended on that water source. In 1812, just 3 years after arrival, Martin Rott, Sr. died at the age of 45. Elisabetha (Niess) Rott died two years later in 1814 at the age of 46. By this time Margaretha Rott had married Johannes Gross and was living in Houselot G-3. Balthasor Rott married Klara Dieter around 1814 – Balthasor became “head of household” with voting rights, and he and Klara became surrogate parents to Balthasor’s younger brothers Friedrick age 14 and Martin age 10. Eventually Friedrick Rott married Rosina Schaeffer (married around 1821) and Martin Rott married Catherina Sauter (married about 1828).
In the winter time, the wolf packs in the area could become very aggressive. When traveling from one village to another, an extra horse was always included in the team. If the wolf packs attacked and could not be frightened away, the extra horse would be cut loose and the wolves would run off after the hapless horse, allowing the remainder of the team and the wagon to escape safely to their destination. (1)
By the 1850’s Gluckstal had entered its “Golden Age.” Farmers were more prosperous, and the church and school had a steady, disciplining effect on the colonists. The foundation built in the early years began to yield dividends.
Then Czar Alexander II came to the throne in 1855. His great desire was to modernize and unify Russia. No more would the crown tolerate serfdoms, nor special colonist status for the Germans. The Czar freed the serfs in 1861, and in 1871 announced that the German colonists were henceforth expected to serve in the Russian military. He advanced many civil reforms in the court system and promoted the industrialization of Russia, including the building of a vast railroad system. When Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 his son Alexander III came to the throne. Alexander III was a strict authoritarian as he ruled Russia. He continued to push the “Russification” of all peoples in his land. This meant the German colonists were expected to conduct all business in Russian, and all school subjects were to be in Russian, from Russian speaking teachers, with the exception of Bible classes and German language class.
The Germans resented this change in their historical status. They had been promised not only freedom to practice their religion and culture in Russia, but also exemption from military service “forever.” To their protestations, the crown replied that in Russian culture, “forever” was 100 years, and their 100 years was expired. The German colonists began looking elsewhere to settle. Those who felt strongest about the possibility of military service left first – many Mennonite Germans left Russia as early as 1871. As the military conscription was enforced and the reality of Russian military service became known, more and more German colonists sold all their possessions and left. Those who stayed often tried to escape the Cossack’s who were sent to enforce the edict. If soldiers were seen approaching a village, all the males of military age would try to hide – some hid in the barn, some hid by climbing trees -- they hid any place they thought the soldiers would not find them. Those who were caught hiding or who resisted the soldiers were often summarily killed. If a young man was known to have escaped, the bodies of his parents were often found floating in the river. In the 1880’s a Rott cousin was murdered by the soldiers and his head was displayed on a pole in the middle of his village -- a stern warning for any others who thought they might resist military conscription. (1)
In 1878 Joseph Rott (b. 1852) married Christina Kessler (b. 1861). The Kesslers had become Baptists prior to this time, and it appears that Joseph Rott also became a Baptist about the time of his marriage to Christina. Their marriage is not recorded in the records of either the Lutheran or Reform records of the time. They worshipped with the Baptist group in Neudorf and the village of Neudorf became as important to them as the village of Gluckstal. Later in America, Gluckstalers would remember that there was one Baptist family in Gluckstal who would sit outside their home and sing hymns at set of sun to welcome the Sabbath. (2) Was this the Kessler-Rott family?
From 1880 to 1889 Joseph and Christina (Kessler) Rott had seven children. Of these, three died in Russia as young children or infants. Again, no official record has been found of these child deaths, since they would have been included only in Baptist records.
One day, in the 1880’s Christian Kessler, the father of Christina (Kessler) Rott, was thrown into the local jail for his religion. Apparently he took seriously the adage of Gerhard Onken “Every Baptist is a missionary.” The neighbors (or the local Lutheran pastor?) complained, and the sheriff took action. When Joseph Rott heard that his father-in-law was in jail, he went to the authorities on behalf on Christian Kessler – only to be thrown in jail also. The next day both men were released. Whether they were punished as they were released is not known, but the warning was sufficient. Soon afterward the family decided to immigrate to America. (3)
After the harvest of 1889, the Joseph Rott and Christian Kessler families, bags packed, left Gluckstal. They traveled first by train from Odessa to Bremen, Germany where they boarded the S.S. Ems bound first for Southhampton, England, then on to New York. They were on the ship crossing the Atlantic for three weeks. They arrived in New York on October 16, 1889. The next leg of the trip, again by train, took them to Eureka, South Dakota. They stayed in Eureka for the winter, and there in February 1890 their first American child, Daniel Rott, was born. In the spring of 1890 the Rott family, with Christian and Louise (Voegele) Kessler, on the advice of their Baptist pastor in Eureka, headed out to North Dakota, to the area known as “The Flat,” near Richville, where it was said that homestead land was still available.
Joseph Rott later said that he arrived in America with US $300 in his pocket. (3) This money had to support the family of 4 adults and 4 children through the winter in Eureka and supply funds to purchase essential farm tools, livestock, and household goods to start their new life, including a pair of oxen and a wagon to carry their supplies to North Dakota. The money also had to purchase any necessities needed until they might have a crop for cash income that next fall.
Joseph Rott and Christian Kessler each filed a homestead claim for a ¼ section, and they eventually purchased another ½ section. This gave them a full section of 640 acres, plus the “lay of the land” gave them title to another 30 acres, for a total of 670 acres. (4)
As with all pioneers, many pressing duties had to be done as quickly as possible, including building a sod house, digging a well, breaking the prairie sod and planting a garden and a cash crop. It is unknown which duty came first, but it can be assumed that all adults and the oldest son Joe, Jr. (age 10) worked hard that first year just to survive. It is known that the family lived together in one sod house for ten years before they built a frame house from wood hauled in from Dawson, North Dakota. (4)
It is also known that the Rott family provided shelter for other immigrant families as they arrived from Russia, whether the new family was related to them or not . (5) The marriage between Christian Kessler and Louise Voegele was a second marriage for both of them, and several of the families who settled in Logan County were descendants of Louise from her first marriage to Philipp Kiess, or were related to Christian Kessler or Joseph Rott.
Joseph Rott was well respected and considered a leader in his community, often functioning in the role of a magistrate in those early years. (1)
It was in the Richville area (Logan County) that Joseph Rott became a Seventh-day Adventist. In the fall of 1890 the Richville Seventh-day Adventist Church was organized by Pastor Henry Schultz, Joseph Rott becoming a charter member. The name of the church was later changed to the Streeter SDA Church. For several years, the Adventist group met in the homes of its members. As the group grew, it became necessary to meet in larger quarters, so they arranged to meet in the public school house. Eventually a group of some twenty families were meeting together. “Rott soon became a leader in that early church and a very effective lay evangelist. Rott, with his large, musically talented family, began to hold evening meetings in his home, inviting the neighbors to come and sing with them. Older residents of the Streeter area even today talk about the beautiful music that floated across the prairies of the Streeter flat as buggies were parked and horses tied by their owners who were coming to ‘Father Rott’s’ home at set of sun. After the music, Rott would preach to the people, and as he touched on subjects unique to Seventh-day Adventist teachings, Rott invited the neighbors to come and worship with the little Richville group on the next Sabbath.” [Bob Dupuy in Nothing to Fear, p. 42]
The Rott family farm had both good years and bad years. One year the crop was good, and they worked together with their neighbors in the harvest. All the neighbor’s crop had been harvested and they had worked one-half day at the Rott place, when a hailstorm struck, leaving them with only the small amount already harvested, and no prospect for other income for the next year. One day Joseph Rott was in town and the grocer asked him if he had enough food at home. When Joseph Rott said they were running a little low on staples, the grocer gave the Rotts enough flour for the winter. “The Rott family then lived that winter on foods made with flour and potatoes – no meat was available.” (6) It was the lack of money to purchase beef and the fact that the Rotts would not eat pork, which set the tongues clucking and wagging. “Now he’s done it,” the neighbors must have gossiped. “They won’t eat pork which they could raise themselves, because of their religion, and now they’re going to starve from his stubbornness.” But if they had potatoes, they also likely had other root vegetables for the winter such as carrots, onions, beets and probably parsnips. And what decent German garden would be without cabbage and cucumbers for pickling? The Rott family was also known for drying peas and mature beans from their garden. Undoubtedly they had a few chickens for eggs and at least a couple of milk cows. So what could they make with flour, potatoes, eggs, milk, cream and vegetables? The list of German-Russian dishes made with just these ingredients is endless! And none of the Rott family died that winter from illness or starvation.
When haying time came in the summer, everyone pitched in – one year even a very pregnant Mother Christina Rott. She soon realized that she had better get to the house before the baby was born in the field! After little recovery time, Mother Christina was back out pitching hay. (7)
Boys were taught to do farm work at a young age. As the boys gained experience, they were given more responsibility. This was wheat country and a major event was threshing time. As threshing machines became more common, many young boys aspired to learning how to run them. On breaks from the more manual part of the wheat harvest, they would hang around the crew working the machinery and began learning as they watched. Eventually they could help out the crew that came to their farm at threshing time, learning to run the steam engine and the grain separator. If they were good at it, as teenagers they might start traveling from farm to farm with the threshing crew and eventually become responsible for a good share of the operation or even buy an outfit of their own and run their own threshing crew. (8)
On their Logan County pioneer farm, by 1900, the Rotts built a large comfortable house of wood carted in from Dawson, North Dakota – a two-day trip if they started out at 4 o’clock in the morning. (4) This was a two-story house with a wide front balcony on the second story. They also built a separate summer kitchen a few steps away from the main house, so that the hot cooking and canning in the summertime did not have to be done in the main house. (9) They used large barn window screens and square nails when they built the summer kitchen. (4) Outside the door was a cast-iron dinner bell mounted on a tall post, to call the family in for dinner. From the second-story balcony on the south side of the house one could look out over the farm yard, past the barn and out over the grain fields. (9)
In 1900, daughter Christina Rott was 12 years old and was doing the dishes in the kitchen. She and her mother were the only ‘grownups’ in the house, and she wasn’t sure just what her mother was doing. After a while, Christina needed a dry dish towel, so she went to get one from the linen cupboard which was in her parent’s bedroom. She discovered her mother was in bed, holding a newborn baby. Christina was definitely surprised, as she had no idea her mother was pregnant. As she got a little older, Christina began to realize that her mother had given birth alone, with no assistance, and acted like this was routine. Of course, this was Mother Christina’s 12th baby! (7) (This story places the death of Louise (Voegele) Kessler prior to 1900, otherwise she would have been helping her daughter. Louise was born in 1821 so would have been 75 years old in 1896.)
In 1917 son John Rott was inducted into the U.S. Army where he was trained as a cook/baker at Camp Cody, Deming, New Mexico. He served during World War I, coming home in March of 1919. He had been exposed to mustard gas during his time in the Army, and he arrived home with badly damaged lungs. Joseph Rott sold the farm in April of 1919 and the family moved into Napoleon. Did they sell the farm to raise money for John’s needed medical care? Joseph Rott was 66 years old at the time. Three of the Rott sons, Joe, Jr., Jake and Dan, had married prior to 1919, with Dave, Ned and Sam still at home. Joseph Rott did divide a portion of the proceeds from the farm among his sons. Daughters Christina and Louisa were married by 1919, with daughters Martha and Ida still at home. John Rott never recovered his health. In late 1923 he became ill with the flu and pneumonia and he died at home January 1, 1924 in Napoleon, North Dakota. (1) (3)
In their Napoleon house, Grandmother Christina Rott had a buffet in which she kept white peppermint candies in one of the drawers. When the grandchildren would come to visit, Grandmother Christina would give each child a treat of peppermint candy from the buffet drawer. (10)
In the kitchen, a hand-pump to pump water was attached right by the sink, so that they could pump water directly into the kitchen sink as needed. Grandfather Joseph Rott liked to sit at the kitchen table and peel onions and garlic from his large garden. These he ate raw, in abundance. Family members always felt this is partly why he lived to be over 90 years of age. (10)
Around 1920 or 1921 Dave Rott decided to teach his sister Martha to drive a car. They headed off down the straight roads of their area, but somehow Martha drove the car off the road and the car overturned. After that experience, Martha refused to drive any car on a public road. In later years, she would sometimes, with reluctance, drive the car on their farm property as long as she didn’t have to go out on “the road.” (3) (11)
One day, a neighbor told Joseph Rott, “You Adventists don’t believe in Christmas.” Joseph replied, “Yes we do. And we have special Christmas treats for the children, just like everyone else. My wife and I fix up the sacks of nuts, candy, oranges and apples every Christmas and hide them in the attic, then on Christmas I bring the treats down from the attic and give them to the children.” (7)
In 1923 Gilbert Ringering was in the Napoleon, North Dakota area helping run the threshing machines during harvest time. He attended the Napoleon Seventh-day Adventist Church and became acquainted with the Rott family. It wasn’t long until he started to show an interest in the youngest Rott daughter, Ida (age 18). One day, he approached father Joseph Rott as to the possibility of marrying Ida. Joseph Rott informed Gilbert that Ida was not available – Martha was the oldest unmarried daughter of the family, so it would be Martha or nobody. Gilbert thought about that for a while, then started courting Martha. Courting in those days consisted of visiting with the individual in the parlor or living room of the family home. The young people would sit and talk in the parlor, and in the case of the Rott family, would participate in the “singing school” which father Joseph Rott often organized in his home in the evenings. Then they could do a little visiting after the singing and preaching had wound down. In the Rott home, when “Father Rott” walked into the parlor in the evening winding his pocket watch, everyone knew “visiting hours are over” and it was time to go home. After two weeks of courtship, Gilbert Ringering (age 29) and Martha Rott (age 22) were married. For a time they lived “in town” in Napoleon, then in 1932 they moved their possessions (including their house) to a farm north-east of Napoleon, next to the Kapp farm. (8) (10)
Around 1933, grandson Gilbert Remboldt decided to start a wheat-puffing business. He and his cousin Clarence Horst bought a wheat-puffing machine and set it up in the basement of Grandfather Joseph Rott’s house. The Rott family was then “treated” to the noise of the wheat-puffing machine on a rather constant basis, as the contraption would heat up, and then the kernels of wheat would explode with a resounding “bang.” After a few weeks, the wheat puffing operation was moved to other quarters! (10)
In the summer of 1936, during the terrible dust bowl years, Joseph and Christina Rott decided to move to Lodi, California, where several of their children had already moved. Daughter Christina (Rott) Remboldt came from California to help her parents pack their things, then Joseph and Christina went by train to California. For a time they rented a house from their son Jake Rott. When the rental house on daughter Christina’s back lot became available, they moved to Christina’s place. (10)
Joseph Rott died in Lodi, California in February 1943 at the age of 90. Christina (Kessler) Rott died in Lodi, California in September 1948 at the age of 87. Joseph and Christina Rott, immigrants from Russia, traveled half-way around the world – from Gluckstal, Russia to North Dakota to Lodi, California. They had 14 children, seven born in Russia and seven born in the United States. Of these, three died young in Russia. Three additional sons died unmarried, without descendents. The remaining eight children provided Joseph and Christina with 23 grandchildren and 54 great-grandchildren. Joseph and Christina Rott embraced three religions in their life-time and fluently learned two languages. They were true pioneers.
1. Family story passed down to Dan Rott.
2. From an interview by Jim Klein with Fred Flemmer (Son of Christian Flemmer b. 1882 Gluckstal)
3. Family story told by Martha (Rott) Ringering to her daughter Verna Tillotson.
4. From title papers and information from Bert Spitzer.
5. From Viola (Horst) Kaiser, granddaughter of Joseph and Christina (Kessler) Rott.
6. Streeter, N.D. Golden Jubilee,1905-1955, p. 72. Republished by Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, NDSU Libraries, Fargo, N. Dakota.
7. Family story told by Geraldine (Rott) Anderson.
8. Family story told by Gilbert Ringering.
9. From photos taken in 1917 by the Rott sons’ “Minute Camera.”
10. Remembrance of Verna (Ringering) Tillotson.
11. Remembrance of Connie (Tillotson) Dahlke.