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
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 Karolina again.

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 third group.

To Ohio
"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 lodging.

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 Mehrer, Jakob Mutschelknaus, Gottlieb Sailer, a total of twelve men.

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 Collection, GRHC].

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.

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