Karl Schweikert: The Blacksmith’s Tales of Chimming Wheels and New Frontiers

Written by Judy A. Remmick Hubert

If you passed by my great grandfather’s crumbling headstone in Kulm, North Dakota you would probably not take notice. His name isn’t in history books, however, despite his lack of fame Karl Jacobovitch Schweikert (Strong) should not be forgotten. The man’s life passed through doors is forever gone. His trade was blacksmithing, now a lost art, he lived in the 19th century, now read in books, and created new frontiers in new lands as well as agricultural.

With the powers of my typewriter we can turn back the pages of time to the day Karl was born on a very hot summer morning on Friday the 22 of August in1862.

It was not unusual that the Schweikert men died thousands of miles from their birth. His forefather Jacob Schweikert, with his wife Sophia Herder, migrated to Bessarabia in 1812 to a Russian village called Borodino with 79 other emigrants of German background.

Jacob Schweikert had lived in Epyelheim/ Heidelberg-Baden in the late 1700s. Then, in his nomadic movements, traveled to Berlin, rottersdorf (Maszewo)/ Gostynin-Poland. Just one step in front of Napoleon’s army of 420,000 regulars and 600,000 reinforcements as they marched to the bank of the Moskova River on Sept. 7, 1812.

It was not until 1814 when the 17ers migrated to the small village that the colony was placed officially on the Russian records. That year they voted to keep the Russian name Borodino in honor of the famous Battle of Borodino where Napoleon was finally turned out of their lives.

But the French were not the biggest threat to Jacob and the others. The Turks had began to raid the area in hopes to gain back Bessarabia they had just lost under the new treaty with Alexander I of Russia. He had to set up his forge with a gun always at his side.

As time past, the threat of the Turks passed as Bessarabia became more settled, but the true stories faded into fables and tales. The fires which burned at night because of ignited escaping natural gas was turned into part of one fable.

The Fable was that under each burning fire was hidden a pot of gold left from the fleeing Turks in 1812.

In the 1870s a Turk had returned to Borodino to claim his hidden gold on the Michael Jarigovitch Heine’s property.

This directs me to the first known tale of Karl in his youth: One night Karl and his younger brother sat looking out at the burning fires that dotted the valley near Borodino when the idea struck them that they could gain their fortune by merely finding the Turks gold. So the young men set out on their adventure with only a part moon to guide their way. When nearing the fire, which they had chosen to investigate, Karl suddenly disappeared. His brother halted and called out to Karl who had been walking in front of him just a split second before. Up from the bowels of the earth came Karl’s curtling voice. “The Devil’s Got Me!” His brother grew so frightened that he turned and ran home. It was not until the next morning when Karl’s absence was discovered that the younger brother revealed that Karl had been captured by the devil. Karl’s father organized a search party who followed the youth to the place where Karl had vanished. There at their feet was a hole and in the hole was Karl perched on “his devil”, an old steer who had stumbled in the hole shortly before Karl. Laughter echoed over the area that morning and generations that followed.

It seemed that Karl had felt himself fall downward that night and the fall seemed to him as if he had gone down into the pit of hell. When Karl recovered from the fall he felt his surroundings with his hands. It was too dark to see. He felt horns and then a tail. The first picture that flashed in his mind was that of the devil.

The tale showed Karl’s character that was not to change the rest of his life. He sought quick fortunes and many times sat in a deep hole of debts, but he never gave up and ironically he help set the pace that would end his family’s ancient craft of the smithy shops.

How long the Schweikert family had been firing metals is not known, except for tales which claim they have never been anything else. If they made draught-beams of birch in the time of the Donnerupland plow found in Jutland it will never be known, but the pages of Karl turns quickly to his nineteenth year of 1881 in the month of March.

The magic of the typewriter found Karl in the forge as he pulled out the red hot steel that would be made into a new kind of plow.

The plow was based on the wheeled plough found in the herrad of Landsper’s Hortus deliciarium c. 1170, but this plow’s blade would win Karl first prize in the local fairs and later first place at the largest fair in Russia at Moscow.

His keen eye knew that his new plow was not like the old “Foolish plow” that the Schweikerts introduced in the early 1800s that were better than the crude “Russian plow” that broke and bent on the clay soil.

He did not gain personal credit but soon the plow would be known as the “German plow.”

With beads of sweat on his knitting brow, he told the apprentice to pump the bellows as he placed the metal once more into the glowing coals. As he placed the steel on the anvil an explosion occurred in St. Petersburg, the capital of Russia, which seemed too far to make itself felt in a far away village.

The bomb had been tossed under the carriage of the Russian Czar, Alexander II which seemed to set the fate of all the German-Russians as well as the Romanov family.

In the fall of that year Karl won recognition as the new blade parted the earth with such ease.

It is not known if he traveled to Moscow that year or the next, but his travels bring me to the next tale: In the shadow of Mt. Kasbek (Mkinvari) where the Greek mythical Zenus stole fire from the heaven, Karl found a Circassian friend who told him of the finest Caucasus metals that could be used for his plow. He showed him the Turkish artisans that made the oriental Sword mixed with glass and later invited Karl to his home. In that home, on the night of the tale, the Circassian clapped his hands and out from a side room came his three veiled wives. The Circassian told his wives to lower their veils and Karl would chose one of them whom he felt was the most beautiful. Karl was unaware of the customs and chose one of the wives. The Circassian grew angry and drew his dagger as he spit through his teeth of pearl, “You have disgraced my other two wives and I must kill you.” But the Circassian casted a smile across his aristocratic face and stated that he would spare his life because Karl’s friendship was important to his people.

The Circassians were known to have killed easily and without mercy.

These travels were filling Karl’s mind of new ways and new methods. It was all like contraband and was soon found being constructed in the Schweikert shops.

But the mind of Karl’s became quite frustrated at the slow response of the German farmers who were reluctant in adopting “new fangled” ideas.

In 1884 Karl's thoughts of work mingled with the face of a young girl, Katharina Henke, the daughter of Wilhelm Wilhelmovitch Henke and Christina Johanova Kränzler.

Katherina was not free to marry him, and so he watched from the distance until the news came that Katharina’s betrothed had become a prisoner of war on Alexander III’s Central Asian Conquest.

With a strong spirit Katharina refused to marry someone else and hoped and prayed that her betrothed would return. Besides she never really liked the gruff, unpolished rock, Karl.

As time pasted Karl became a steady visitor to the Henke home and finally Katharina gave into the pressures set by her parents and she agreed to marry Karl.

On November 22, 1884 after the harvest and the work had slowed at the smithy, Karl and Katharina married in the Lutheran Church in Klöstiz by Pastor Peters.

Their marriage was the third generation that had married in Klöstiz and the second that had said their vows under Pastor Peters.

The first forefather of Karl’s to wed in Klöstiz was Jacob Jacobitch Schweikert (son of Jacob and Sophia, nee Herder) to Margareth Butz (the daughter of Barbara Johanova Scholder and Albert Butz).

The second to take his vows in Klöstiz was Karl’s father, Jacob Jacobobitch Schweikert with Johanna Bippus, the daughter of Johanna and Johannas Johannesovitch Bippus.

The wedding was combined with many family customs. The recipe handed down for the wedding cakes was from the forefather Georg Frey, a baker of Aidlingen Germany. The beer recipe was handed down from a forefather Georg Balthasar Buz of Nagold/Calw’s White Horse Inn. The brides head piece was made by the Kränzler cousins because for generations they had made the rosemary and myrtle crescent-shape wedding headpiece. Even the name, when translated, meant “bridal wreath”. The Schneider cousins made the outer garments of Black satin for the bride and fine serge for the groom. Even their feet were fitted with shoes made by their relatives, the Hager, who owned a large shoe factory in Kischniev. Ahh, and the large banquet meal lay the Heusel geese.

The life of Katharina and Karl was not harmonious. Katharina thought Karl was too much of a dreamer and she was greatly disappointed in his whims. One minute they were wealthy and the next minute poor as church mice.

In 1886 as the cool chill of the coming fall fills the air, my grandmother, Christina, was born and to be the oldest of seven children.

But the air carried more than a seasonal chill, for discontent was impregnating the working classes of Russia. A movement similar to the years prior the French Revolution of 1789-93.

By 1888 the Jews, compared to the Huguenots in French history, began their resettlement. All Jews were told to return to their origin.

And at this time the Russian industry began to expand and the peasant left their dilapidated farms to go to work in the cities.

As the birth of the labor movement occurred a new invention circled Karl’s brain, but it was interrupted by the decision of his father’s migration to the Crimea.

I thought at first it was caused by the large implement factory of Hahn’s that produced a mass supply of plows, or the death of his first wife. The migration was not a few people, but a large number.

Karl would remain in Borodino where his roots were deep. He did not have the wonder lust of his forefathers. He would go on the journey to aid the overland migration. The woman would go by ship, except Katharina and Marie, John Hein’s wife.

The lost lover of Katharina had returned after his seven year imprisonment and Karl felt it wise not to leave Katharina alone in Borodino so he asked relatives to watch his daughter and new son, Jacob.

The migration traveled the old trading land routes used since ancient times. But it was not until the train reached the edge of the Russian main land that I type about this event in more detail.

At what seemed the edge of the world to Katharina, the Russian main land narrowed down to the sea’s bankment and across a long pontoon bridge was the land of the Crimea. The bridge covered the water span of the Perekip Isthmus and was very dangerous. For you see, the weight of the wagons on the bridge made the sea lapp up over the pontoons which made the horses travel uphill all the way which was exhausting. A number of people and all their worldly belongings passed safely and even Marie Heine drove one of the wagons across. Finally it was Karl and Katharina’s turn. The weight was heavier than the others and the tail gate by which Katharina sat sunk down and licked continually at the salty sea. It was terrifying to Katharina who saw the horses stumble and she cried out, “Abba! Lieber! Oh, Vater!!” and when the wagon reached the opposite side she concluded “Amen!”

Soon to cross was Jacob Ruff, a great uncle of my paternal side, who would later flee the Crimean Taters with his life. But that would occur years later when many of the people on the migration will have returned to Bessarabia.

At this point the life of Katharina and Karl grow quite vague, but we know that Karl’s father settled near his cousin’s sheep farm near Eurpatoria, the chief trade port town on the northwest coast.

Their cousins the Müellers had brought in the sheep of Merino in 1804 and by the late 1900s was only second to the sheep farmer. The Falz-Fein, my father’s cousins, who owned 210 sq. miles, hired 2,000 laborers for their 10,000 sheep. Today the Falz-Fein is considered the best operational collective farm in Russia.

This was not the last time Karl and Katharina ventured to the Crimea.

The next well known story was taken once again overland in the special wagon which Karl created.

Christina and Reinhold, Karl’s half-brother, describe the wagon: It was indeed something special for the chassie was made of light weight springs and the chassie was blue. Inside the carriage was leathered in black but the fringe which hung down matched the blue chassie. A great comfort to ride. The wheels were red (the colors were remembered because Christina and her brother Jacob would paint for extra money 35 plows a week and the beams were always blue and the wheels always red). The wheels chimed like a Swiss music box, the invention of Karl Schweikert.

“The wagon,” states Reinhold, “was driven to where my parents, Jacob and Elizabeth, nee Hager, lived near Kotschubei.” It is believed that it is located between Simferopol and Sebastopol where in 1854 the English Light Brigade rode for 1 ½ miles into Russian bullets as they charged to their death during the Crimean war.

It was on this visit that Karl was asked to take his talent to the Caucasus Mountains.

He accepted and sent Katharina home to sell the house and the two shops. Then he went to Tiflis and saw what he could find, and sent for them.

While Katharina was selling the property, the villagers sent Karl letters asking him to reconsider.

One of the letters from Tiflis, Christina recalls, stated that the mosquitoes were as big as hens in Katherinfeld.

A few months later Karl returned and bought a new shop near the mill and years later explained how people were dying from a fever. He did not want to expose his family to such illness.

But was there more to the story?

Why did he buy land if he did not plan on returning?

Let’s take a look at the history books and see what could have sent him home in silence.

There were young revolutionists springing up out of the terrible conditions of Rothchilds oil refineries. A young man in the early 1900s called Stalin was part of the unrest. And there was yellow fever and typhoid.

Perhaps Karl realized that soon all would leave Russia once again as migrates to a distant land of unfamiliar customs and language.

The years to follow in Russia were to be called “Eve of the Revolution” and in November of 1894 the head lines read:

Death of the Russia Czar

The Russian name of Neu-Borodino had been Alexander after the Romanovs to whom some in the village claimed kinship. Alexander I, II and III had ridden through her streets.

It was Christina and Ludwig who recalled the first time they had seen the Czar Alexander III riding after maneuvers, and next to him rode Daniel Michaelovitch Hein with his officers glusters and saber blinding them with delight. (Ludwig Hein was Christina’s boyfriend much later and then to become her husband.)

The man to rule in 1894 was three years younger than Karl and must have seemed puny and weak compared to Alexander III who could bend steel bars with his bare hands like Karl.

The air was thick with bad omens and fear, for the uncertainty of a new ruler was unsettling.

Marixt-Engle followers lurked everywhere.

In 1895 the Unions of struggle for the Emancipation for the working class were being headed by V.I. Lenin and Y.O. Martov plus women like N.K. Krupskaya and others.

Stalin continued in Baku and Trosky studied in Odessa.

Meanwhile, Karl was helping the farmers turn their methods out of the dark ages. He helped bring in new machines from England, Germany, Belgium and the United States.

The Mrash Harvestor, the brow-beater, the Milwaukee binder, the McCormick “Daisy” binder and the Ohio “Buckeye” took hold at the end of the 1800s.

Unfortunately, not all of Karl’s new fangle ideas were accepted. The oil driven tractor was just too much for the farmers and Karl lost all his money once again.

While Karl struggled to gain his feet; the farmer’s life was eased. The farmer no longer had to use the scythe, the hafted fork or the wimmowing basket. Seeds did not have to be thrown out on the tilled soil by hand. Yes, life was becoming easier.

While Karl made other fortunes and lost them on other wild schemes, let us take a brief look at his wife, Katharina. She had become the local mid-wife and delivered children by means of hypnosis.

The method of Katharina might have been considered “white magic” for it places the woman in labor in a trace like state resembling sleep in which the woman was susceptible to the suggestions to Katharina. Therefore, it can be said that she too was a woman ahead of her time for just lately the modern field of medicine is finding out the benefits to such actions.

Christina was not sure of her mother’s methods and even today is superstitious enough to rarely mention this part of her mother’s life. It was at this time that Christina was nearing womanhood and took in sewing to earn money for herself.

Let’s let her describe this part of her life: “The fabric bought was from a man called Deweydee. He came in a wagon filled with bolts of material once a week, sometimes more. We could not buy our clothes like we do today in a department store. All of it was sewn by hand and a few of us owned sewing machines. I owned a Howe machine, something my father bought in Odessa from an American trader.” She was asked about the styles of clothes. “I designed fashions from pictures I had seen. Some were the latest French and English garments. Wealthy women, like my mother-in-law-to-be, Frau Heine, nee Stärr, ordered the latest fashions and had shoes to match each dress.” The subject then filtered about the beautiful Christina Heine who wouldn’t wake the milk maidens and milked herself. “A kind and gentle woman. A woman most Bolesvicks should have known.” The conversation then went back to the sewing and I asked her about the military uniforms. “They too had to be sewn.”

As she describes one of the uniforms a childhood story entered my mind. Even to this day I can close my eyes and hear the description of Christina Schweikert’s future brother-in-laws uniform he wore before WWI. Officer Daniel Michaelovitch Heine wore a beautifully woven and expensive material of light blue wool. The jacket was ¾ in length and of light blue. It had gold buttons and gold braid telling rank. The pants matched in color and were tailored. The hat Daniel tipped on his head was lambs wool, and dyed to match the uniform. Later Daniel would become part of the elite German-Russian military group who never left the Czar side. Then Christina would sew dark blue with red piping for suite and cape.

Borodino and Karl were not isolated from the outside world. His wife and children did not wear only the garments described by other historians who describe billowing shirts and three cornered scarves.

The events which were to follow are difficult to explain. It seems that Christina, the middle class craftsman’s daughter, fell in love with the upper class family’s son, Ludwig Michaelovitch Hein (Heyn or Hähn).

The discussions between Karl and Michael Jarigovitch Hein was heated.

It lead to the results of Karl taking Christina with him to Hanover for a large fair, and Ludwig was to be sent to the University in Sarata.

But fate deemed a different plan.

All Russian universities were closed after the student demonstration in St. Petersburg.

When Christina returned she found Ludwig still in Borodino. Ludwig never attended a University. Ludwig had never been a good student, was not saddened by the loss of higher education, and soon proposed to Christina.

Meanwhile the rural districts were marked by troubles. The working classes had great strikes. Whole villages were burned while the occupants were shot down, flogged, or hung.

Nicholas II ordered the terrifying killings for one reason and one reason only. He was trying to prove to the world that he was Russian in mind, soul and blood. But his German relatives knew that only a thimble full of Nicholas II’s blood was Salvic. Nicholas II was German and he had married Alexandra, a German of Hesse-Darmstadt.

De-Germanizing Russia was found a delightful treat for the Slavic, who although of Germanic background, hated the Germans. All through history, one can find the ruins of some battleground where the Slavic and Germans fought.

The Kaiser of German, a cousin of Nicholas II, rubbed salt in every German-Russian wound and began the upswing of Lenin and the revolution, in hopes to get Russia as a coup.

It was the German-Russians who suffered.

It had been the statesman Orlov who in the 1700s saw German and Russia as two great bull dogs pulling at the mongrel, Austria-Hungary.

In the winter of 1904, Ludwig was called into military services, not as an officer, but as a private.

It was the 22 of Jan 1905 that fate began to crumble the Romanov Dynasty. One of the Hein brothers, Chistof, described to me the details of that day in St. Petersburg: “There were thousands of proletarians walking behind Father Gapon to the Winter Palace. The people wanted to have twelve hour working days and better wage. But lurking in the shadows was the Lenin men who wanted Nicholas II murdered. A shot rang out. Since the regiments had been given orders to disperse the crowd the shot caused them to run their horses straight at the innocent as well as the guilty revolutionist.”

On that day more innocent fell then the guilty and it would become known as “Bloody Sunday”.

And from that day on, only eye witnesses can give you accounts on what happened to the German-Russians.

When Ludwig returned from St. Petersburg to Borodino he insisted that Christina and he marry. On November 8, 1905 my grandparents were married in Klöstiz by Pastor Peters.

What Karl’s thoughts were at this time is not known. Even if he liked his son-in-law is lost to time. However, he and his first born, Christina, watched Ludwig pack his trunks for he was to be stationed at Omsk, Siberia. The Russo-Japanese war was raging in the east and Russia was losing the battle.

Later that summer while Karl was in Odessa the ground shook under his feet. The battleship Potemkin filled with mutineers was bombarding the Germanized city of Odessa. The revolutionists went mad like rabid dogs. Jews were slaughtered and Jewish hoes and shops were gutted with flames.

Civil war was now in the making and Lenin with the German Kaiser’s gold was taking the reins of Russia.

On March 27, 1910 Karl waved goodbye to Christina, Ludwig, his first granddaughter, and his second son, John. The small group was migrating to the United States, unofficially, and going on a long deserved wedding trip, officially. Despite the official papers Ludwig and John carried false identification. Once in Germany the family of Mirback (a German who later tried to help Nicholas II escape his prison in Ekaterinburg) booked them passage on the Mein which landed far from Ellis Island.

In 1911 as the communists took more control of Russia, Karl wrote to his father in Mumimbye, a suburb next to the Romanov’s Black Sea villa in the Crimean. He told about his arrangements to migrate to the United States.

Karl sold everything after his eldest sons, Jacob’s, wedding to Emma Zieloff. To Karl’s regret his eldest son would not leave Russia.

Karl settled near Kulm, North Dakota and set up a new blacksmiths shop.

Karl’s father also traveled to Kulm but left in 1912 for Iowa.

A letter came from Karl’s son Jacob that he had moved to Kherson and was working in a large farm implement factory.

Just shortly before WWI Karl’s daughter JoHanna married John Frenz.

While the German spiked helmets pushed towards Russia, another of Karl’s daughter, Margaret, wed Peter Lepp in 1915.

As the German troops took control of Bessarabia, the Crimean, and the Caucasus Mts., another daughter, Madeline in 1919 gave her vows to Paul Grotwold and his second son John married Ida Knop.

With all the money Karl could find, he sent packages to his eldest son, Jacob, and his family who were starving to death. The reports seemed unreal.

This period of time is mentioned almost not at all by the older generation. To my generation this period of time is locked behind forbidden doors.

But I shall never forget when I was introduced to the horrid of those trying years. I had picked up a photograph of the family while gathering the best pictures for my family book. I asked my grandmother, Christina, who the man, woman and children were. She grew quite sad and replied, “This is my brother, Jacob, and his wife. And look at those beautiful children. They did not grow much older than this picture…” her voice broke for a moment, “…see those lonely hands?” She pointed at the hands of the children. “Before they died they ate their own fingers down to the knuckles…” She still to this day could not understand how they could have starved to death. “Jacob lived, but the others starved in the land of plenty. No one would feed the people with German blood. And if they would have fed Jacob or his family the communists would have killed them too.”

Karl heard that Jacob escaped to Germany and there was hope. But the hope faded. Jacob was sent back to Russia because he was a Russian citizen. Once in Russia, the communists arrested Jacob and placed him in a concentration camp in Siberia.

Before Karl died a letter was smuggled out of the camp and Karl knew his son was a prisoner in a salt mind.

The body of Karl began to trouble him.

Ten years after Karl’s father’s death, Karl was to join the departed. The year of 1930.

And so the blacksmith perished into time and the burning sparks from his forge has long ago disappeared. But off in the distance waits the wagon with the chiming wheels and Karl Jacobovitch Schweikert as he waits for his children one by one.

Thanks to him of yesterday and the lessons he has taught. For in his flaming forge of life he has given a wealth of fortunes.

Thus by his gravestone I hear the anvil as it shapes a new time filled with burning deeds and thoughts for he told others that I might hear that faces should always be turned forward.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller