Migration of the First German Russians
to Dakota: Memories of the Years 1872-73
Mutschelknaus, Friedrich. "Migration of the First German Russians
to Dakota: Memories of the Years 1872-73." Dakota Freie Presse, 11 November 1924.
The Czar's law regarding military service causes
Great tension arose among the German colonists in Russia at the
beginning of the '70s of the last century. The Germans had been
given assurance by Kaiser Catherine to be free from military service
as long as the sun and the moon lit the sky. These privileges were
abandoned and great turmoil dominated the Germans everywhere.
Old Johannes Sailer said in Johannestal: "No, I won't become
a soldier! I will leave, no?" With that he meant his sons because
he had seven sons.
Ludwig Bette returns from America
Whereas Johannes Sailer began corresponding with his brother-in-law,
Ludwig Bette, in America. Ludwig Bette and August Scheller, who
had emigrated in 1849 from Johannestal to America, had established
vineyards on Kelleys Island by Sandusky, Ohio, and had become well-to-do
men. Twenty-one families had immigrated to America together with
Bette and Scheller. It can no longer be ascertained if they were
all from Johannestal.
It may have been in the last days of June or July of 1872, when
Ludwig Bette returned from America to Johannestal, to us, to his
brothers-in-law, Johannes Sailer and Jakob Steiger. Based on his
stories, four families decided to immigrate to America. They were:
the brothers-in-law Johannes Sailer, Jakob Steiger, Michael Schatz
and Matthäus Sailer, son of Johannes. At that time a series
of meetings were held in which many participated. First of all,
people were happy to see their old friend again and secondly, they
were also curious to find out about life in America.
Ludwig Bette has to leave at night
The czarist government looked enviously at the presence of Ludwig
Bette. He was invited to the country by large landowners and it
is possible that he made some careless remarks comparing the United
States with Czarist Russia.
One day it was heard that officials were looking for him because
he stirred the people up. It would certainly have been possible
to arrest him because he was easily recognized as an American wearing
fine clothes and a hat. However, good friends helped him. The hat
was quickly disposed of and instead he put on a cap as we used to
wear. He exchanged his clothes for the customary clothes of a peasant.
That's how several of his friends brought him across the border
and one day we heard: "Ludwig Bette has disappeared!"
The first four families are getting ready for the journey
The four families sold their harvest. They had great difficulties
getting their passports for emigration because they were the first
ones. Robert Levi, the town clerk, first had to write the petitions
and fill out papers and it was necessary to go to the cities of
Nikolajev, Odessa and Cherson to get the necessary papers from the
authorities. Thus it was delayed so that the first people left only
shortly before the second group set out.
The second group
My father, Jakob Mutschelknaus, Gottlieb and Ludwig Sailer, the
sons of Johannes Sailer, Gottfried Mehrer, and several others whose
names I can no longer remember, belonged to the second group. The
families of Peter Moos, Adam Zimbelmann, Jakob Huber and several
others were from Rohrbach. Jakob and Johann Kusler and several others
were from the city of Worms. This second group harvested their fields
themselves, threshed them and sold them and then sold or auctioned
off their possessions.
Great mourning upon leaving Johannestal
On October 17, 1872, the second group was leaving Johannestal to
catch the train in Odessa. It was a nice sunny fall day; only the
hearts were saddened, mainly mine, Friedrich Mutschelknaus, and
that of my parents-in-law, Gottlieb Delzer. My wedding day had been
October 3 of the same year and now we were on the long way to America.
My parents-in-law thought no different than to never see their daughter
Great lamenting was among all other families because America was
much farther from Russia at that time. "She is gone; we will
never see her again," said my father-in-law Gottlieb Delzer.
However, they were incorrect because in September 1874, they too
went to America.
The journey from Odessa to Liverpool was via Germany. We arrived
in Odessa on October 18, in the evening, and took the train for
Germany the next day at 7:00 a.m. It took approximately three days
until we got to Hamburg, where we stayed two more days. A steamboat
took us from Hamburg to Hull, on the east coast of England. The
North Sea was very fierce and we were acquainted with seasickness
for the first time. We then went by train from Hull to Liverpool.
There was a shipwreck on the ocean and we headed back to Ireland.
We got to Liverpool about 7:00 p.m. Saturday evening and had to
wait four days until we were led to a great ocean liner. Until then,
everything went relatively well. However, after we had gone three
days and three nights westward, we got into a very violent storm.
The doors were tightly shut so that nobody could get out. High breakers
fell over the ship, which was badly damaged. The berth broke open,
much was torn off the deck and finally the rear propeller was damaged
so greatly that it was no longer useable.
During that night we were like the Israelites in the desert and
people cried out in need, "Were there no graves in Russia that
we have to go here to die?" However, where the need is greatest,
the help of the Lord is nearest. Nobody drowned, the storm quieted
down. They could not go on and had to return that night because
the boat was severely damaged. When we came on deck the next morning,
we saw that it went eastward instead of westward. The engine was
no longer useable and the boat had set sail. This time it took six
days and six nights to get back to Ireland.
We had to wait three days in the Irish port until another boat
came. Then it took another three days until all the goods were transferred,
and on the fourth day everything was ready for the journey westward.
We were in the water for a total of 36 days. Now we had very high
seas for the continuation of the journey.
Landing in New York
We arrived happily in New York in early December. As we had lost
so much time, the third group who had left Johannestal had arrived
earlier and was on their way to Sandusky, Ohio, when we arrived
in New York. My uncle Georg Jasmann, Christian Jasmann, George's
son Heinrich Sealer, Dominick Stroller and others belonged to the
"Where do you want to go?" we were asked in New York.
Yes, we were aliens in this country and didn't know for sure ourselves.
We were told that people had already arrived here and they had moved
on to Sandusky, Ohio. Then we decided to go to Sandusky. We arrived
approximately between December 10 and 15, 1872, in Sandusky. It
is an industrial town, and there were enough vacant apartments for
Good news to Johannestal
As no news came from us , people at home in Johannestal thought
that we had all drowned in the ocean. As soon as we arrived in Sandusky,
I wrote a letter about my difficulties. This letter was the first
sign of life, which got to the former homeland. The interest was
so great that Pastor Birdbath read my letter from the pulpit announcing
that everybody from Johannestal had arrived safely in America.
Winter 1872-73 in Sandusky
Sandusky was a large town. As many families as we were, we had all
found apartments. We who were young found work for daily wages while
the old people came and smoked their pipes and held consultations
on what to do next. Thus winter passed and the spring 1873 came.
Early March it was decided to select 12 scouts and send them westward
to find out where one could settle. Among these selected scouts
were: Georg Jasmann, Christian Jasmann, Heinrich Sieler, Gottfried
Wehrer, Jakob Mutschelknaus, Gottlieb Sailer, a total of twelve
They went to Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin first. They could
only get land, here and there a piece, but they wanted to stay together,
to build a church and a school. They were told to go way out west
to Nebraska, where Sutton, Nebraska is today. There they would have
had to buy a section of railroad land. But they were poor so they
were told to go to Yankton, S.D. so they sent 4 men to the area
around Yankton and along the James River, the land here was somewhat
settled but further out was nothing but sky and land. Those who
remained were the families of old Johannes Sailer, Adam Schaeffer,
Michael Stoller and John. Will Sailer by then had already bought
land by Sandusky. For the trip from Sandusky to Yankton we had obtained
a special train. All household goods acquired during the winter
was taken along, nothing was sold. As well as I can remember we
had one railroad car for our household goods, and two cars for our
people. On about the 14th of April at about 6 or 6:30 in the evening
we left Sandusky; it was raining lightly, when we arrived at Chicago
it was snowing, the further west we got the more it snowed. Two
business men Henry Hoeffner and Jacob Brauch met us in Chicago,
when we arrived lodgings had been arranged for us. The trip took
us about 3 days.
The Scouts had reported to us “the fields had been sown in
February, and the crops were in the fields nice and green already.”
But when we arrived there was only deep snow. “They didn’t
tell us the truth,” said Peter Foos of Rohrbach, “they
said they sewed the fields in the last days of February and here
it is the middle of April and they are still having snow. No sir,
I won’t stay here!” But stay he did and when the snow
melted the green crops appeared. On an afternoon in the last days
of April, it may have been around 3:30 p.m. Gottlieb Sailer said
“we have driven around long enough, get down off the wagon
and start measuring!” Old man later took his survey book and
tools in his hand, another man and I pulled the chain, as the first
claim was for Gottlieb Sailer. This place is located about 3 mi.
north east of Lesterville, S.D. That town did not exist then nor
did any of us have any idea that a town would be located there.
One claim after another we surveyed there going north, then turning
about and going south. So it went up and down always towards the
west. This colony received the name “Odessa Settlement”
because all the people were from the Odessa district in the old
country. We sowed the little land that was broke up (1874). It had
been broken up in 1873. In the month of July, the (cereal grain)
heads were (ripened for cutting with cradle scythe)....[previous
two paragraphs exerpted from Gordon and Sally (Hochstottor) Rudolf
The Reformed preacher of Sandusky, Pastor Schaf, whose church we
used to attend, gave the scouts directions. He had sent letters
to pastors and members of their churches that if such and such people
arrived that they should aid them, give them lodging, show them
around and show them land for sale.