Interview with Annie Roesch Larson (AL)

Conducted by Bob Dambach (BD)
13 August 1999, Aberdeen, South Dakota

Transcribed by Peter Eberle
Editing and proofreading by Peter Eberle and Reverend Marvin Hartmann

Prairie Public Collection

BD: Why don’t you tell us about your family history: Where your family came from? How large a family? When they came over to the United States?

AL: Well, they came over just a hundred years ago in last October. [October, 1898] They came from Glückstal and they came on the ship Kaiser Wilhelm. They got to Ellis Island. There were seventeen families [that came over from Russia with them]. My brother John had sore eyes, he was six years old; my sister Rose was two. Mother had to stay on Ellis Island and they sent my father on ahead to New York. She had to stay there with the children for several days and then she met my father in New York later.

They came by train to Hillsview, South Dakota where my uncle met them at the depot and took them to his farm. It was my father’s step-sister and my uncle that they stayed with for a few weeks [before] they moved to a farm east of Eureka for the winter months, this was in October. They stayed with a family there, Rier was their name. In April they bought a farm five miles north of Roscoe, SD and that’s where I grew up with my four brothers and [four] sisters. I am the fourteenth child in the family. There are three children buried in Russia. The one little boy that they buried was four years old. He had the passport and everything to come to the United States and he said he was not going to go to America. He died fourteen days before the ship sailed. So they buried my little brother there along with two other children [also her siblings who had died earlier in Russia] and came to America. And then there were two children [siblings who were born and died in the U.S.], one was still born and the other one was ten days old. Those two children are buried at the farm north of Roscoe along with a little cousin of mine and there is a little grave there that is marked. The little graves are all marked on the farm there.

BD: When your mom stayed on Ellis Island, she must have been very scared.

AL: Well, there were so many things that she could talk about that were so frightening. You know the fires - there was nothing to stop a prairie fire anywhere. They were out there in the open. As we were growing up, we were all just frightened of prairie fires. How long would our home be there? And mother often talked about being left in New York; that was so terrible. Of course there were a few other people (there were seventeen families), but I don’t know how many were kept at Ellis Island [with her]. But not being able to speak the language for one thing; a complete stranger. She was a strong person.

BD: Do you think that she thought she might be sent back to Russia?

AL: Oh I imagine that crossed all of their minds all the time.

BD: You said they were from the Glückstal village. Why did they decide to leave?

AL: During the time of Catherine the Great is when these people came to southern Russia and Catherine the Great asked these German people to come there to teach the Russian people farming methods. They all lived in little communities and my parents happened to live in the little colony of Glückstal. There were many of these little colonies. They lived in the community and then went out to farm from this little village. They raised grain and they had a lot of grapes. But they came here because Catherine the Great reneged on their promise. They had promised that their children would not have to go into the Russian army and my parents could see that this was going to happen to my brother John; that he would be sent into the Russian army. So they, along with other people, came to America.

BD: They must have had relatives over here?

AL: They had just this one brother-in-law and my father’s step-sister and those are the only relatives at that time who were here in the United States.

BD: Did they talk about being sad about having to leave Russia?

AL: Not really, no. My father always wanted to go back to visit Russia to see what the changes were, but he never was able to go back. But they were so grateful to be in America. There wasn’t a moment that they weren’t thankful to be in America, but of course my brother John didn’t have to go to the Russian army. But they came over here and my brother John was in World War I, he was shipped to France. I remember that so well, as a little girl my parents and I went by train to Fort Dodge where he was in training to see my brother John off to the army. I was only four years old and he carried through the chow linewith the permission of his commanding officer. I remember that so well. My brother John came back safely from the war. He wasn’t injured and he lived to be 92 years old.

BD: Now you grew up on a farm. What are some of your memories of growing up on a farm in the early 1900s?

AL: The depression which was absolutely terrible, you know. I can’t believe the growth in SD now when we had nothing but dust in ‘30 and ‘32. It was just terrible, we would look towards the sun and it was just black. There was no sun, it was just all dust. My father passed away in ‘30 and so all of the rest of my brothers and sisters were all gone by that time. My brother Ed was four years older than I was. I graduated from high school that next year and then I stayed at home and worked on the farm with my brother Ed so we wouldn’t lose the farm; so we wouldn’t have to hire a hired man. I worked in the field and milked cows and you name it, it had to be done. One year Ed and I harvested 75 bushels of wheat from almost…of course it wasn’t all cultivated land, but a section of land that had a lot of cultivated land and we harvested 75 bushels of wheat out of all of that. But you had to go over all of it in case there was a little. It would be about this high and you had to go over all of it in case there was…you just couldn’t miss any of it. And for the cattle we went in the ditches to cut the thistles and feed those to the cattle and their mouths would bleed. There was not very much nourishment in them either. We had to sell some of the cattle. We drove them to Roscoe and were paid eight dollars a head for them and they just shot them and put them into a ditch. The meat wasn’t even good to eat anymore because there was no nourishment in it. The little pigs we took to Roscoe and they were sold for three dollars a head. I guess the farm memories to me are not good.

BD: When you were a little child with your brothers and sisters?

AL: Well we worked hard all day long and then at night we’d run races. (Laughter) And I could never run very fast because I was so little. (Laughter)

BD: Being the smallest one, did everyone treat you differently?

AL: Well, they were all very good to me because I was the baby; all my life. Of course I grew up with these four brothers and four sisters and they were all just wonderful to me. For all of their living days they were good to me because I was the baby.

BD: So they never played any tricks on you?

AL: Oh, they played a lot. The worst trick that they played on me…I always wore those little overalls with pockets and we were cleaning out the granary and there were some tiny little mice there and they put the little mice in my pocket. That wasn’t very nice, but… (Laughter] they meant well. They had to have a little fun with me. And then of course they would frighten mother. We had this big tank where the cattle came to drink water and the horses and my brothers would throw me in the water when mother would see me. Of course she’d make sure that they’d pull me out again. So those are the things that they [teased me]. But they were always very loving to me. There wasn’t anything they wouldn’t do for me.

BD: You were doing this thing on food ways so could you talk a little bit about the type of food and the food memories you have growing up?

AL: Well we always had such good meat to eat and mother always had a big garden. We had good vegetables and she was an excellent cook. In the winter time we would have beef. In the fall of the year we’d butcher a great big beef that dad had fed a lot of corn to to make it good and tender. Then we would butcher a beef and a hog all at the same time, all at the same day. We had a neighbor who would make the sausage for us. He would come early in the morning and we would have to have the hot water ready for him to dip the pig into so he could fix that. We’d have to have everything ready for him to go to work and he would make a lot of sausage. He knew just exactly how to make good sausage.

Dad would even have dried beef in a barrel of salt that he kept up in granary. See, there was no refrigeration anywhere. We had a cistern and mother would put in a pail some of the meat down into the cistern and keep it cool there. Then the mutton, the lamb, she always fried down into a 20 gallon crock and kept that in the cellar and then she would take out what she needed for one meal. She would cook it in so many different ways that it was always very tasty.

BD: I know you married a Norwegian. After you were married, were there any things that you realized were distinctly German-Russian type of foods that your husband didn’t know about? Were there any foods growing up as a child that now you know were German-Russian in origin?

AL: Well, they [her husband’s family] too, used a lot of flour and they made a lot of pasta things and of course that we had in common. We ate a lot of chicken at home too, and so did they because his parents lived in town. His father was a railroad man and his mother raised chickens in town and so they too had a lot of chicken. I cooked very little chicken for him because he didn’t care for it. Just like I still don’t care very much for lamb because I had so much of it when I was growing up and Lars had so much chicken, he didn’t care for chicken. He liked bread and I liked bread and so we had that in common.

BD: Being a farm girl, how did you feel about moving to the city when you got married?

AL: Well, I had to stay in town when I went to high school and so I was used to being in town. I worked for my board and room for the Presbyterian minister and his wife. We were only five miles from Roscoe and I went to high school in Roscoe, but you know in those days five miles you couldn’t drive that far each day to take me back and forth to school. So I had to stay in town from Monday morning or Sunday night until Friday night and then my father or my brother would come and take me home for the weekend.

BD: You were telling me a story that your dad was very patriotic. Could you tell me the story about his buying the war bonds?

AL: When my father would go to Roscoe…there were quite a few people who came from England in Roscoe, and this one particular man would cross the street when he saw my father coming because he didn’t think my father was up to his standards because my father was a German from Russia. And dad thought he was as good an American as anybody in the United States and so he went to the bank and he asked in the bank how many war bonds (this was for World War I) this man had purchased. My father said, “Just give me a hundred dollars more than he purchased.” After that, this man spoke to my father. He thought then he was all right.

I’d like to tell you one more thing about the war. During World War I, my father had a little wagon with one horse that he went all over and did veterinarian work for all of the neighbors. But during World War I he went on a pony and he took a sack of garlic and left garlic for all of the neighbors who had the flu. He wouldn’t go in the house or anything; he would just drop this sack of garlic for them. He went to all of the neighbors that way and then he’d come home. None of us had the flu, but so many people died of the flu during World War I.

BD: Where do you think he learned that remedy?

AL: In Russia, or got it from his parents in Germany.

BD: Your father sounds like he really worked a very, very hard life.

AL: He did everything. He said you couldn’t make a living with just wheat. You had to have diversified farming; you had to have cattle, you had to have pigs. Then in the fall of the year he always went out to Montana and he bought a car load of horses and out of those horses… (He bought those horses to do the farm work, you know.) But out of those horses, he always selected one for a riding pony and he had some beautiful…one especially, Chief was a beautiful riding pony. Then we had another one, Stuart, he just wasn’t trainable, but we rode him (my brothers rode him, I could never ride him) But I could ride Chief. I always had to ride Skeeter to church. Skeeter was a great big farm horse. My father would put me on Skeeter and my legs would just go like that and he’d turn the horse toward the school house and I’d wind up at the school house and then my brother would take me off of the pony there. We were two miles from the school, [A216 Sangamon] township; number six was the school. It was two miles from home and sometimes we had to walk it.

When we walked to school I was always so afraid that the coyotes would catch me and eat me up. Especially if I had to walk alone and then my brothers and sisters would walk ahead of me just to scare me, you know, and think that they’d forgotten me. I was so afraid because we could hear the coyotes howling. It was frightening, but coyotes never ate me.

BD: Are there any German-Russian Christmas traditions that you remember?

AL: We always had a nice tree. We had candles that you just clipped on the tree and the decorations were almost all homemade. We would sit around the Christmas tree and sing songs. I still have a chair in the basement that my father used to rock me in to sing Gott ist die Liebe. I can’t sell that chair or throw it away. It is not in good condition but… I love that chair. On Christmas Eve we went to church at Hosmer which is ten miles from home and we always had to go with the sled and horses and then we’d be in the Christmas program. My aunt Eva and my uncle Jake lived in Hosmer and after the program we would always go to my aunt Eva (that was my father’s sister) and she was very good to us. Then we would come home and have halupsi. Mother would have put a big roaster of… (halupsi is rice and ground meat rapped in a cabbage leaf) and this baked in the oven all the while we were gone. It would be just delicious and we would have that around midnight when we got home. That was our traditional Christmas meal and it was…I can’t make it that good. You have to make it for a family of nine children and parents to make it real good. (Laughter)

BD: When you married someone that wasn’t German-Russian, what did your parents say?

AL: Well, I wasn’t the only one who… (Laughter) they were used to that by that time. My sister married a Frenchmen and so they were used to.

BD: Do you think it surprised them the first time one of your family married someone not German-Russian?

AL: Not really, no. No, not at all. There was never any objection to any of that. No.

BD: They seemed like that they really became American very quickly?

AL: Yes they did. They accepted America, it was their homeland.

BD: How quickly did they learn English?

AL: My father learned English and he could even read. We had a magazine that my father could read. I think the name of it was ‘Liberty.” My mother never went to school and of course my father didn’t either, but he just picked it up from…we had hired help a lot and we always had the teachers stay at our home all the time and she would teach us. In the evening, we would all sit around the table and as we were learning our lessons for the next day, my parents sat around the table with us and that is how they learned a lot of the English language. My mother could read the paper; she could read the printing. She always waited for the paper when she lived with me, and my father could read it well and he spoke well. Mother spoke pretty good; she did very well with her English for never having gone to school.

BD: Did you speak when you were growing up… [As Mrs. Roesch paused to get a tissue from her purse she made a comment about the humidity and nose bleeds she’s been getting. Mr. Dambach stated that he thought it’s been a strange summer. Mrs. Roesch agreed and made a comment about the lightning. Mr. Dambach said, “Tell me about it”]

AL: I was twelve years old. My father and mother and my sister and brother went on a trip to the Black Hills and so I stayed at home and cooked meals for the hired man. One night we were doing the milking and I brought two pails of milk from the barn and took them to the well house where we separated the milk. I set the milk down and lightning struck the windmill. I was just starting to turn the separator and something hit my back. Fortunately, I had left the door open and then I ran as fast I could over to my brother’s house (my brother John and his wife lived right across the road from us). I ran over there and I was very sick for a couple of days from this lightning. It was a terrible experience and to this day I am very much afraid of thunderstorms.

BD: Did you speak English or German when you were growing up?

AL: Well, we spoke German most of the time, but when she [her mother] lived with me we always spoke English to each other. She would answer me in German a lot of times though.

BD: You said she spent the last twelve years of her life with you. Did she live on the farm up until then?

AL: Yes she did. My brother and his wife moved on the farm and then she came and lived with me. My brother Ed, my youngest brother, lived on the farm until he died.

BD: Is the farm still a family farm?

AL: It is over a hundred years old now and my brother’s family still owns it. My brother passed away three years ago.

BD: Why don’t you tell me about the family picture on the wall?

AL: This is my family and this picture was taken just before my brother left for World War I.

That’s my brother John. He was a farmer when he came back from France.

This is my sister Rose. She was the oldest sister. She went to Stowe’s(?) Sewing School her in Aberdeen.

And this is my sister Eva. She had rheumatoid arthritis and my aunt Eva didn’t want her to go to country school so she lived with my aunt Eva and my uncle Jacob and they sent her to school. They sent here to Northern Normal and Industrial School and then she taught one year in the country. Then she worked in the bank at Herried, SD and she married a man from Eureka. Isaac was her married name.

This is my sister Marie. She went to business college here in Aberdeen and she worked for Dr. Bunker and Rudolph. [She was] the business manager. She worked there many years until she was married.

And this is my brother Fred. He went to the business college here in Aberdeen and he started his banking career at a bank at Barnard and then he worked in the bank at Aberdeen and was vice president of that. Then he moved to California and worked in banks there until he retired.

And this is my brother Jake. He had an implement business here in Aberdeen.

This is my sister Martha. She graduated from nurses training over here at St. Luke’s.

I got this mixed up; this was my brother Ed. [?]

BD: How old was your father when this was taken?

AL: He must’ve been in his 40’s - early 50’s.

[Again to the picture] This is my brother Jake. He was in the implement business.

And this is my brother Ed. He stayed on the farm and lived there all his life. He was born on the farm there and he died just three years ago.

And this is the baby Annie. And my mother and my father.

BD: Tell me about your mother’s hairstyle?

AL: Well, my sister Rose…see we were in America and she wanted her to have her hair up in a bun like the American people do and mother didn’t want it that way and so she was a little angry when this picture was taken. She wasn’t smiling and she was so beautiful, but she was unhappy that day. And my sister Rose made all the dresses for us. She was a very good seamstress.

BD: Where would that picture have been taken?

AL: At Hosmer. Imagine getting this many people and driving ten miles to have their picture taken. That wasn’t easy and we weren’t angels, believe me, none of us. We were all very human.

I like this picture [she is referring to a different one than the above]. This was when my brother Fred was a baby and this was the way my mother always had her hair. My sister Marie was the baby there and my sister Eva and Rose and John.

BD: So how many years do you think that picture was taken before the one on the wall?

AL: Oh that was… Fred and Marie was a baby…well…

BD: Like ten years earlier?

AL: Oh, a lot more than ten years. Oh yes.

BD: Your dad’s hair was darker.

AL: Yes, my father was gray all the while that I knew him.

BD: What are some of the pictures up here in the glass?

AL: Oh, this is my mother when she was hoeing potatoes.

This is the chimney of the homestead house. They homesteaded across the road and there was a little house there, but they bought the farm over in Sangamon township, but you could do that during those days.

This is my mother cutting up potatoes to plant.

BD: How old did your mother live to be?

AL: 85. She had several little strokes. She was an invalid the last two years, but she crocheted all the time. Those little rugs that I have all over the house, mother made all of those. When she had her last stroke, I took the crochet hook out of her hand and called the doctor. She crocheted from the time she came to live with me until she died. And you know raising this big family she never had time to do any handiwork, but I had to find something to keep her busy or I could not have kept her happy in my home and so I taught her how to crochet those little rugs. My brother Ed whittled out a crochet hook for me and that’s how mother started with those [rugs]…crocheting like that. I still have boxes of them in my home that she crocheted.

BD: Is that a picture of your dad below there?

AL: Oh, this is a picture of my father in front of the old house. That house was on the land when they bought it. The land had Aberdeen Angus cattle, it was a ranch. That’s why he bought it and there was a flowing well that the cattle could get water at. He leased that land from the state and that was across the road from us, but when he bought that ranch he said the grass was so high that if a cow was lying down you couldn’t see her. The prairie grass was that high. So it was beautiful then and then the depression came. My father died just before the worst depression; it would have killed him because it was … the countryside was so beautiful and dad always appreciated the land. The land was our living and he appreciated every inch of it.

BD: What about the one on the end?

AL: This is my mother shocking grain. You know the wheat always had to be shocked first and then threshed after that when it was dry.

This is my oldest brother John. He was very good to me cuz I was the baby.

And this is my aunt Eva and my sister Rose. They were hoeing potatoes as usual. And the chimney of the homestead, the house is the background. We had to raise a lot of potatoes for this big family you know.

BD: Potatoes is something you had a lot of wasn’t it?

AL: Always, yeah. Usually had a wagon load full of them that my father put in the basement of the house and then on top of the potatoes were the pumpkin and the cabbage. So we were always… the land fed us well. We had to work for it, but that’s alright. It made us strong people.

BD: I am going to ask you one other question about the pictures there. Would these two pictures of the potatoes been done about the same time or were these two different time periods?

AL: They were taken about the same time I’d say.

BD: When do you think that was?

AL: Oh this was when I was a very little girl.

BD: So this might have been 1915, something like that?

AL: Yes, yes, and you know my sister Rose ordered a camera from Sears-Roebuck catalogue and a developing machine and she took the picture and developed it.

BD: Could you talk about the picture on the wall?

AL: Well, this was taken in Glückstal where my parents lived. The big building over here is the church and I understand the church is still there, but it’s not a church anymore and the steeple is taken off. And then the school. In the corner is my parent’s home and I understand the school is still there too, but it’s apartment houses. I guess my parent’s home… I think Dr. Miller said that my parent’s home is still occupied.

BD: Was it unusual? Is this the only picture that they have from Russia that you know of?

AL: This is the only one like that we. That’s about the only picture that I have from Russia except my mother’s picture there and then I have a picture of my grandmother, but I don’t have that here right now. I don’t have other family pictures from Russia, but I have these other pictures that they brought from Russia that were always hanging in our house. And this is…Mit Gott fang an, mit Gott hoer auf, dass ist meinganzer Lebens lauf – You start with God and you live with God and that’s what you do all your life. (You start with God and you quit with God. That’s the whole course of my life.)

BD: What about the picture over here in the corner, is that your dad holding a lamb?
AL: That is my father and mother. He loved the sheep and he was always bringing a little lamb to the house. And that’s my mother carrying my niece Alegra (the one that’s a missionary) and she loved the lambs too so she went out to the barn where the lambs were. Then dad brought this little lamb up to the house and then we took this picture. That’s a very special picture to me. It’s a good picture of my parents. And of course we had quite a few sheep. My father would always bring little pets for us like little lambs and we’d have to feed them and little pigs. We always had one teaspoon that we used to feed the pigs because the pigs had a lot of teeth and would bite into the teaspoon and ruin the teaspoon so we always had to keep just one for them.

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