with Elsie Gackle Wagner (EW)
Conducted by Gerald Wagner (GW), Jean Key (JK)
10 June 2000, Ellendale, North Dakota
Transcription by Gerald Wagner
Editing and proofreading by Beverly Wigley
GW: What is your name, your date of birth,
and where you were born?
EW: Elsie Gackle Wagner, born 28 February
1904, in a sod house on a homestead two miles west of Fredonia,
GW: What is your father's name and where
was he born? If he was born in Russia, do you know the name of
EW: Gottfred Gackle, born in Alt-Postal,
Bessarabia, Russia, 5 August 1861.
GW: When and where did he die? Where is he
EW: 2 April 1938, of a heart attack in Fredonia,
North Dakota, and is buried in the Congregational cemetery.
GW: What is your mother's name? Where was
she born? If she was born in Russia, do you know the name of the
EW: Born Rosina Dittos, 21 June 1864, Alt-Postal,
Bessarabia. Daughter of Adam and Christina Scherer Dittos.
GW: When and where did she die? Where is
EW: 30 January 1922, of cancer at Fredonia,
GW: When and where did your mother and father
EW: 1883 in Alt Postal.
GW: How many brothers and sisters did you
have in your family? Can you give their names in order of birth?
EW: Four boys and four girls:
Ottilie Gackle, born 9 December 1884; died 19 February 1885, Alt-Postal
Gottfred Gackle Jr., born 3 January, Alt-Postal; died 12 November
1978, Terry, Montana
Otillie Gackle, born 21 August 1888, Alt-Postal; died 19 April
1978, Fargo, North Dakota
Pauline Gackle, born 11 March 1891, Alt-Postal; died about 1989,
Daniel Gackle, born 24 January 1894, Alt-Postal; died 25 October
1985, Carrington, North Dakota
Ida Gackle, born 15 May 1896, Alt-Postal; died 1897 Kulm, North
Otto Gackle, born 10 October 1898, Kulm, North Dakota; died 1991
Oscar Gackle, born 20 July 1902; died 14 Feb 1977, Monango, North
GW: When did your family come to North America?
Do you know why they came to this country?
EW: Passport dated 7 April 1897, cost 10
rubles. Came so boys would not have to serve in the army and free
land to homestead in America.
GW: Do you know how they traveled to this
EW: They left Alt-Postal and went to Bremerhaven,
Germany, where they boarded an ocean liner to New York.
GW: Where did they settle? Did they homestead?
EW: They settled on a homestead two miles
west of Fredonia, North Dakota.
GW: Let's go back to your ancestors who came
from Russia. What relationship were they to you?
EW: Great-grandfather--Philipp Gackle (1794?1850)
born in Germany, died in Alt-Postal
Grandfather--Jacob Gackle (1824?1870) Alt-Postal
Father--Gottfred Gackle, born 1861 in Alt-Postal, died 1938, Fredonia,
GW: Do you know where your ancestors came
from in Germany?
EW: Ancestors came from Bernbach, Baden-Württemberg,
GW: When did they leave Germany and live
EW: They left Germany about 1803, went to
Lodz, Poland, and in 1813, migrated to Bessarabia.
GW: Did your grandparents talk about how
life was in the villages, such as social events, stories about
other family members, nicknames of people or villages?
EW: They never spoke of the "old country";
of course, I was born seven years after they arrived in North
GW: Did your parents, grandparents or other
relatives ever say they wished they were back in the "old
EW: They never spoke of it.
GW: Do you recall your family receiving letters
from relatives who stayed in Russia?
EW: I don't recall that they ever received
any communications from Russia.
GW: What language did you speak at home?
Did all family members speak German?
EW: Everyone spoke German.
GW: Do you know the name of the dialect?
EW: They spoke the German Swabian dialect
GW: Can you still speak this language fluently
EW: Not fluently as it has been so many years
[since] I have spoken it.
GW: Can you repeat a story, poem or prayer
in this dialect?
GW: Can you still understand German when
EW: Speaking German is not good, but I can
understand most of it.
GW: Have you taught your children or grandchildren
to speak German, such as phrases, rhymes or prayers?
GW: Were there other dialects spoken in your
home by other family members or married?in spouses of German from
GW: What were some of your childhood chores
that you were responsible for? Which ones did you enjoy and which
ones did you not like to do?
EW: To gather eggs, and errands outside and
dusting inside. My mother did not let me do baking because she
could do it faster.
GW: When you did not do the work that was
expected of you, how were you disciplined?
EW: No spanking. Don't remember scolding,
as I was the youngest.
GW: Where did you go to school?
EW: A one-room country school about a mile
GW: How many years did you go to school?
EW: Eight years of country school, four years
of high school (two at Kulm and two at Edgeley, where I graduated.)
Business school for six months in Bismarck, and summer session
at Ellendale N&I, then taught country school for two years.
GW: Did you go to school the full school
term or did you have to stay home at times to help with work?
EW: Never had to stay home from country school.
I went to the same country school all eight years. Then I went
to high school in Kulm. After one full year in high school and
after starting the second, I had to stay home to care for my mother
when she got sick until she died. Then I had to cook and take
care of the house for a couple of years till my father remarried.
After my parents retired from farming and moved into Fredonia,
I then returned to high school in Edgeley, where I graduated at
GW: Were there students of other nationalities
at your school?
EW: No, all were German-Russians.
GW: What are some special memories about
your childhood school?
EW: Christmas programs, box socials that
were auctioned off. We had to learn to read and speak English.
GW: What are some playground memories, such
as games and recess times?
EW: Ante-over, red rover, pum pum pull-away,
GW: How did you travel to and from school?
How far was it to school?
EW: I walked most of the time. School was
about a mile away. In bad weather my father would take me with
a team and sled.
GW: What memories do you have of your teachers?
EW: Sometimes the teacher stayed with us
and sometimes the teacher would have to sleep with me.
GW: What type of discipline was used, when
someone did not behave during school?
EW: We had to sit in the corner and stay
in at recess time.
GW: Was religion and church education important
in your upbringing? If so, how did this influence your family
EW: My parents were very religious, no swearing,
drinking or smoking. They were members of the Congregational Church.
GW: What were some of the religious activities
you experienced in your daily family life?
EW: I was baptized and confirmed in the Congregational
Church in Fredonia. There was always meal prayer and my father
would read to the family from the Bible in the evening.
GW: In what language were church worship
services and prayers?
EW: Services were all in German in the early
years but later changed to English.
GW: Approximately when did these worship
services switch to the English language?
EW: By the time I was age 15 [about 1919].
GW: How did your parents feel about this
EW: They were not comfortable with this in
the beginning but later accepted it.
GW: Can you tell us about when you were baptized
and/or confirmed? What special meaning did it have for you?
EW: All of this was in German. My religious
up?bringing has been an important part of my life in daily living
and rearing the family.
GW: Were there any special festivities for
these events? Who and where were these held? Did you have a framed
certificate of these events?
EW: These [events] were all important in
our lives. Framed certificates were given.
GW: Were your parents and grandparents involved
in founding a church or did they join a neighborhood church?
EW: My parents were instrumental in the founding
and building of the Congregational Church in Fredonia.
GW: How did your family respond and react
EW: Deaths among infants were high. Two of
my siblings died in infancy, and in my father's family there were
14 children born and six died as infants. Church bells were tolled
after a death, one toll for each year of life. Sometimes pictures
were taken of the deceased in the casket.
GW: Were Holy Scriptures, such as psalms,
recited during times of trial or stress?
EW: My father would read special scriptures
and psalms at these times.
GW: How did people express their grief?
EW: They believed it was all in the Lord's
hands and went on with life.
GW: What traditional funeral songs were sung?
Are you familiar with wrought-iron crosses as grave markers?
EW: "In the Sweet By and By" and
"Nearer to My God to Thee." They [the crosses] were
not the custom in the Fredonia/Kulm area.
GW: What kind of markers were used, if not
EW: Granite and slab markers.
GW: Is there anything else about spiritual
upbringing you would like to tell us?
EW: There was church every Sunday, sometimes
three times, and sometimes in Sunday evening.
GW: How was Christmas celebrated in your
family? Tell us about what Christmas was like during the war or
EW: There was church Christmas day and evening.
Christmas Eve programs with children. Children would get a bag
of nuts and candy. There were not many gifts, as church was most
important and most people were poor.
GW: How did you celebrate Easter?
EW: It was celebrated a lot like Christmas
regarding church activities. There were colored Easter eggs and
the Easter rabbit for the kids.
GW: When you or a family member were married,
where did it take place? How long did the festivities last? Tell
us about the reception, music and dancing.
EW: I was married in my brother's house and
immediate family members came. My brother's wife served a dinner
for the family. After the wedding, we drove to St. Paul, Minnesota,
to visit my husband's parents and sister and family.
GW: Were there money dances for the bride
EW: We did not have a dance but it was a
custom for many to have barn dances and square dances.
GW: Did wedding guests get together to sing
German songs? Do you recall any of these songs?
EW: I don't doesn't recall any of these.
GW: Did you participate in a "chivaree"
for the married couple? What did the people do?
EW: Yes, they would make a lot of noise,
sometimes they would steal the bride's shoe and the husband would
have to buy it back. They also sang songs.
GW: What foods were served at special events?
Were there special cured meats, Hochzeit schnapps, homemade beer,
EW: Kuchen, homemade beer and wine.
GW: Who helped with the food preparation?
EW: Family and neighbors.
GW: Can you explain the bridal clothes, decorations,
ribbons and flowers of the wedding. Was there a "Liebsband"
EW: There was no special wedding dress, just
a nice regular dress.
GW: Were photographs taken of the bride and
EW: There was no special wedding picture
GW: How did you meet your spouse? Was it
arranged, or unusual courtship?
EW: I lived with my parents, which was next
door to the beer parlor and pool hall that he operated, and got
to know him that way.
GW: What social events were available to
meet your spouse, such as community and church events, blind dates,
EW: We went to movies and dances but he didn't
GW: What music and entertainment was in your
childhood home? Did anyone in your family sing, play accordion
or other musical instruments?
EW: We had an organ and I took lessons. I
played the organ and piano. My mother and father and we children
would sing songs.
GW: Were you encouraged to play an instrument?
EW: Just allowed her to take lessons.
GW: Do you play tunes "by ear",
rather than by written music?
EW: I played by written music.
GW: What styles of dancing did you learn?
EW: Square dance, waltz, polka.
GW: Were there traditional dances that survived
from South Russia?
GW: Where did you go dancing?
EW: Saturday night dances.
GW: Did you attend barn dances? Who attended
these dances - young people, a few older couples and/or families?
EW: I did attend [barn] dances. Both young
people and couples came.
GW: What was the attitude of the older generation
towards dance halls?
EW: Many objected to these activities. For
card playing, the devil was in most card games, except ones like
Old Maid and similar kid's games.
GW: Was there a community meeting place for
people to socialize, whether in town or someone's farm or school?
EW: There were pie socials in country schools
and basket socials at the beginning of school year.
GW: What were your favorite childhood stories?
Do you recall any fairy tales?
EW: Goldilocks, Sleeping Beauty, Black
GW: Were there superstitions about unknowns
or scary stories about the bogeyman, ghosts, or hooting owls?
EW: Walking under a ladder, black cats, broken
mirrors. May Day rhyme repeated would make the freckles go away.
GW: How did your family view "Brauche"
or folk medicine? Can you tell specific techniques that were used?
Do you recall any home remedies or cures?
EW: Garlic on bread as a protection against
the flu, and Epsom salt as an antiseptic.
GW: What do you remember about the role of
EW: Midwives were common in the rural areas.
JK: Did your parents use any expressions
from Russian, Turkish, Plattdeutsch or French languages?
Where and when were they used?
EW: Wer sucht, der findet--Where you
search, you'll find it. Das Hous vrlierit nix--the house
doesn't lose anything. I gelobt shtenkt-self-praise stinks.
JK: Do you remember the German newspapers
that you received in your home? (Newspapers known to the German-Russians
include - Nord Dakota Herold, Dakota Freie Presse, Der Staatsanzeiger).
EW: My father got Der Staatsanzeiger
and read it to my mother as she worked.
JK: What kind of information did your family
gather from the newspaper?
EW: Current happenings.
JK: Did the family read the comics or "funnies"?
EW: I don't remember.
JK: What do you remember most when your family
got their first conveniences such as electricity, first car, telephone,
EW: Telephone about 1918. My brother, Dan,
got his first car in 1918, when he returned from the service.
Electricity came to the farm in 1951 from REA.
JK: What do you remember most about the early
days of radio? What were some of your favorite programs?
EW: Family radio programs. At age eight I
remember hearing news of the sinking of the Titanic. [The Titanic
sank on 14 April 1912.]
JK: What do you remember most during the
early days of watching television?
EW: Didn't have much time to watch and then
it was very poor due to distance from broadcast site.
JK: What do you remember about watching the
Lawrence Welk Show?
EW: Christmas specials with families of musicians;
JK: Which family member do you best remember?
EW: My oldest brother, Gottfred; his kindness
and goodness to me. I remember Dan's impatience in harvest when
I was driving horses.
JK: Who do you look up to and admire for
portraying life's best qualities?
EW: My mother.
JK: Why did her life and personality have
an impact on your life?
EW: She worked hard but took time to nurture,
guide and love.
JK: Did women homestead and prove-up their
EW: Yes, I read about women who did.
JK: What were the expected outdoor tasks
for women outside the house? Gardening, milking, poultry and livestock
care or fieldwork?
EW: Women worked beside their husbands in
the fields and with livestock until children were old enough to
help and even continued after that.
JK: What do you remember of the special German
foods which your mother or grandmother cooked or baked?
EW: Cheese buttons, strudel, kuchen,
knepfla, kekla, pigs in the blanket [halupsy].
JK: Are German foods still prepared in your
kitchen such as breads, borscht, strudels, halupsy, and
kuchen? Have your children learned to prepare these foods?
EW: My grandson made cheese buttons and daughter
still makes them.
JK: Have these recipes been recorded to pass
down to the next generation?
EW: Yes, and there are some German-Russian
cookbooks with these recipes
JK: Was there anyone in your family who had
artistic talent and craft skills such as sewing, weaving, knitting,
crocheting, quilting, broom-making, basket?making, bobbin lace,
EW: Most of the women knit, crochet, sew,
and do needle crafts, cross?stitch, and embroidery.
JK: Did anyone have skills in Scherenschnitte
JK: Did your family make their own clothes
or tailored clothing for other family members? Where did they
get the fabrics? How did they re-use old clothes?
EW: My sister made clothes for my mother
and got material from a dry goods store. They made rugs out of
JK: Do you recall any family member having
EW: Yes, the ladies and circles in church.
Small stitches were a pain.
JK: What are your memories of reading women's
activities and food recipes from the "Dakota Farmer"
from Aberdeen, South Dakota?
EW: I cut out many recipes--stacks of them.
JK: How was this information used by family
EW: We used many of these recipes.
JK: Is there any topic we have not discussed
which you would like to add?
EW: No, other than Saturday night was the
social and shopping time in town, and most people were speaking
JK: Are there other thoughts or observations
you would like to share?
EW: The depression years were very hard with
little money. We grew most of the food (meat, milk, eggs, vegetables,
potatoes, took wheat to the mill for flour). Clothes were hand-me-downs
and patched upon patches, shoes were soled at home and we had
home haircuts. Manure that froze in the barn in the winter would
be cut into squares in the spring and dried for fuel in the winter.
Corncobs and cow chips were used in the summer. Lignite coal was
brought in in the fall. Many people were very quiet about their
German heritage during the World Wars [I, II].
JK: What things such as skills, character
qualities, or achievements do you want to be remembered by your
EW: Follow the motto, "Do unto others
as you would have them do unto you."
JK: How is your family history and culture
being passed to the next generation?
EW: Through photograph albums, news clippings
in a scrapbook, handwork such as doilies and afghans.
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies
North Dakota State University Libraries
P. O. Box 5599
Fargo, North Dakota, 58105-5599