The Burkhartsmeier Wagon Train

In 1899 a wagon train was formed at Eureka, S.D. Its masters were 3 Burkhartsmeier brothers: Anton (42), Michael (40) and Peter (34). They came to America in 1892 and settled at Eureka, where brother Jacob had preciously homesteaded.

The oxen-drawn wagon train was made up of 50 families (about 300 people) and their earthly belongings. Nine years earlier they had traveled from Odessa, Russia to Budapest, Hungary. It then took 2 years to arrange passage to America. They traveled by train from New York to South Dakota.

Each family needed covered wagons and supply wagons to carry food. Dried foods, produce in wooden barrels and chickens and milk cows were taken for eggs and milk along the way. Lumber was also loaded to make rafts as rivers and streams would not have bridges or ferries. During the daytime most of the members walked since traveling by oxen was an extremely slow process. If they made 5 miles a day it was considered very good progress.

Several midwives traveled with them and each family provided their own medical supplies.

Early in May 1899 they set out. They knew they would encounter some wild animals, snakes, wolves, etc. but the men were prepared with firearms and ammunition. Indians posed no threats. They kept their distance riding their ponies for many miles watching as the white man moved slowly northward.

The weather was fair to start but then drought set in and water holes became contaminated and diphtheria was prevalent. Peter's 3-year old daughter succumbed to the disease and was buried at Strasburg, ND. Michael also became ill so he, his wife and 5 children dropped out of the train and stayed at Strasburg. He died later that year and his wife in 1904. Several others died en route and were buried long the wayside. When the wagon train reached the next Roman Catholic Church, a mass was said for those that had died and the news babies were baptized. Some other families dropped off and stayed near relatives but 32 families remained and reached their destination.

There were few places they could take shelter from storms so they would draw the wagons into a circle, huddle together, keep the animals inside the enclosure and the people would take shelter under the wagons for fear of them overturning or being torn to pieces.

During the day the women would mix bread dough and at night would use kerosene stove with a portable oven to bake it. After crossing a river or stream the men and animals would rest while the women would wash clothes using their homemade soap. They would lay the wet clothes on the tall grass to dry.

They settled around Fulda, ND in Ness Township SE of Berwick, ND. Each person age 21 or over was permitted to homestead 160 acres of land but they had to live on it. Sod huts were built the first year and replaced with more permanent dwelling as time and means permitted. They were used to the cold bitter winter having survived their life along the Black Sea in Russia.

Younger people were planning for the future needs of their families. The older people were planning their church. Family lie had always been centered around the church in their old countries. Church customs, traditions and feasts had been such an important part of their life.

The language in America was English and most of these people could not speak, read or write English. They valued education so when the church was completed they built a school across the road. The priest was the best educated so he was the first teacher. These were independent people and did not ask for public funds. What they built together they paid for, but it was a public school.

As the children grew and the parents grew with them along came a very healthy interest in other activities and nationalities. A melting-process began because inter-marriage and respect and sincere tolerance for other nationalities and their customs and traditions.

These people found America different where all nationalities, races, colors, and creeds live in harmony. Truly America is the greatest of all nations and the face of the earth.

(Excerpts from an article by: Genevieve Burkhartsmeier Peter's granddaughter of Wagon Master, Peter Burkhartsmeier).

See also: The Burkhartsmeier Wagon Train pages 334-335, in A Centenary of Area History, Pierce County and Rugby, North Dakota: 1886-1986.

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