Senger Family was one of the First Pioneer Families in Emmons County

"Senger Family was one of the First Pioneer Families in Emmons County." Emmons County Record, 21 December 1999, 29.

Editor's Note: The Michael Senger family was one of the first German-Russian immigrant families to settle in Emmons County. They arrived from Russia in 1886.

Michael Senger was born August 18, 1847, and died April 10, 1917. His father's name was John Senger. Michael was married in Russia to Barbara Schumacher, who was born August 4, 1850, and died September 9, 1915. Her father's name was Joseph Schumacher.

Michael's second wife was Katharina Roehrich, who was born April 11, 1859, and died April 9, 1949.

The Sengers' forefathers migrated from Germany to Russia in 1763 at the invitation of German-born Catherine the Great II, then Tsarista or Empress of Russia.

The Senger's sod home is still standing southeast of Strasburg.

Irvin Senger of Strasburg and Clem Rohrich of Linton, both descendants of the pioneer family assisted the Record with the story and photos.)

Early Homesteader describes trip to the river with ox team. Lad of fifteen spent night in hills expecting to be devoured by monster beasts.
By Anton Senger (Oldest son of Michael Senger)

In our family when we left our home in Strasburg, South Russia, were my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Senger, myself, four other brothers and two sisters. I was the oldest son, being fourteen years of age.

My father owned two well improved farms of about 150 acres each, about four miles from the little colony where all the farmers lived. Farming operations there were carried on differently than over here. The farms were located out in the country and the owners or tenants lived in the little village, going out in the day to do the field work and returning to the village at night.

The question has often come up as to what brought the German-Russians to North Dakota. In the first place the main reason was that the people there were oppressed. They were heavily taxed and just as soon as a son was old enough he was forced to serve in the Czar's army. It was to get away from this servitude that caused many of them to leave that country.

The U.S. Government had an immigration agent working in that territory as early as 1870 and as the farmers were accustomed to raising wheat in a prairie country, he advised them to go to North and South Dakota where they could adapt themselves easily to the same methods of farming they were accustomed to. To all of us America was a land of Paradise; where a person was free of servitude and oppression; a land where taxes were low and where great opportunities existed.

In the fall of 1885 my father sold his farm and turned all his property into cash. The next spring in March we left by train from Strasburg to Bremen, Germany, and from there took the boat for New York. In our party were about ten families. We had second class quarters on the boat and spent 11 days on the Atlantic. I will never forget that trip. For five days I never got out of my bed and I was the sickest I have ever been.

We spent one day in New York and then took the train for Menno, South Dakota, where my father bought his farming equipment--2 yoke of oxen, 1 span of horses and six cows. We loaded them into a box car and went on to Ipswich, South Dakota, the end of the railroad. Father paid $120 for each yoke of oxen; $300 for the team, and $20 each for the cows. He figured he made a good deal for when we got to Ipswich they were selling for about twice what he paid for them.

We left Ipswich on the last day of April 1886, and started out across the country for our new home. It took five days for us to reach our homestead nine miles northeast of Hauge on the Little Beaver.

We lived in the covered wagon for a few days until we had the shack built. Although there were quite a few neighbors to the south of us, we were on the north end of the settlement and from our place north our nearest neighbors were the people who lived at Williamsport.

As soon as we got our shack up we walled it up with sod and then looked for something with which to cover the roof. We had heard that to the west somewhere was the big river where there was plenty of timber for everyone. So we started out one morning to get what was needed to finish up our home.

In the group were myself, my father, John Senger, Jacob Fischer, Jacob Bolander, and George Gackle. The latter was a young man 20 years and a hustler. He soon afterwards started dealing in the land and within a few years had made a fortune. The town of Gackle in Logan County was named for him. There was no road to the river and we had to make our way across the prairie the best we knew how. Each of us had a yoke of oxen hitched to a wagon. We left early in the morning and the day was plenty hot. There was no track for the oxen to follow so I had to lead them all the way.

At noon we hit a homestead about two miles north and two miles west of where Strasburg is now. Our oxen were panting and their tongues were hanging out of their mouths. We watered them there, filled our jugs and started on--headed west. I found out afterwards the place we stopped at was Wally Petrie's.

I will never forget my first night out on the prairies. The farther we got the bigger the hills were, until, when night came, we were right in the middle of them. I was scared to death, and felt sure some unknown animal would surely eat us up during the night.

We picketed our oxen and rolled in blankets to sleep. But I didn't sleep a wink. There were millions of mosquitoes. Then every little while a coyote would howl on one side and then a fox on another, and to make it more miserable for me, a night owl would let out a screech in between. All of those different noises kept the chills running up and down my back all night and I was glad when morning came.

We arrived at Winona about noon the second day. It was a real town and everything was booming. We made our deal for timber and spent two days cutting timber and loading it up on our wagons. We stayed at Winona during the night, camping near one of the dance halls. The trip home was not so bad because we had our own trail to follow.

That winter we spent three days in our sod shack while one of the worst blizzards I ever went through hit the country. We used hay for fuel and that soon gave out. The snow blew so hard we couldn't get out of the house and all we could do was sit inside and try to keep from freezing.

That same winter my father started for Eureka, South Dakota for supplies for the family and was caught in the blizzard on his way home. The trip in those times took nine days and there were only a few houses on the way where a traveler could stop if he was caught out in a storm. When the blizzard came we all expected we would never see our father again, but he finally got home. But when he arrived icicles were hanging from his beard and his feet were frosted. The horses suffered a lot on that trip. They had to break their way through hard crusted snow about every step on the way and when they arrived at our place the hide was all scratched off their legs from their hoofs up to their knees.

Those early days on the homestead were hard ones, as all the old settlers know. But along with the hard times we had our fun and enjoyed many pleasant evenings dancing and visiting in each other's homes or visiting with each other on Sundays.

There were no churches nor any schools in those days. Later we built a church north of Zeeland and as for a school, we took care of that in our own home with myself as teacher. We had an old slate we brought from the old country and that was our blackboard. Our lessons were taken from the Bible and what other few books we had brought with us.

Now, with the country settled up, we have schools within a short distance from every home in the country and every town has its churches and even the country districts are well supplied with them.

Michael Senger eventually owned 25 quarters of land which was farmed by his sons and sons-in-law.

Senger children and grandchildren

- Barbara Senger married Anton K. Fischer, and they had nine children.
- Anton Senger married Marian Eisenzimmer, and they had nine children.
- Lorenz Senger married Marian Schweitzer, and the couple had nine children.
- Joseph Senger married Johanna Feist, and they had seven children.
- John Senger married Veronica Schnuur. After Veronica's death, he married Katie Michael, and they had nine children.
- Katharina Senger married August Thomas, and the couple had eight children.
- Christ Senger married Marian Scherr, and they had nine children.
- Eva Senger married Sebastian Schmidt, and they had seven children.
- Michael Senger married Anastasia Rohrich, and they had five children.
- Ludwig Senger married Marian Schmidt, and they had eight children.

The family jewels

According to Senger family history, John Senger, Michael's father, farmed land owned by a Russian noble, which was commonplace for the German-Russians.

John's hogs were digging one day and unearthed a large steel chest. John opened it and discovered it was filled with gold coins and jewelry. An honest man, John gave it to the noble.

In gratitude, the noble gave John all the land he could cover in a day on horseback, riding in each direction.

The noble also asked John's wife what she would like to have, and she picked out a gold ring. He gave it to her, and it has been passed down from generation to generations in the Senger family since that time.

Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record.

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