The Kempf Family: Germans from Russia Weavers on the Dakota Prairies



The Kempf Family History

The Kempf Family, the “Kanapee” Shawl, and Bibliography

Distinctive Shawls as a Kalideoscope of Colors

Die Familie Kämpf: rußlanddeutsche Weber auf den Prärien der Dakotas.

A glimpse of a distinctive folk survival/retention of a textile arts heritage through four family generations of German-Russian Evangelical-Lutheran families.

Their cultural heritage of textile treasures, through Bessarabian and Ukrainian culture of the 19th century and Anglo-American Culture of the 20th century, is preserved for future generations.

Family histories:
Kempf, Norman R. The Kempf Family History: Johann Georg and Gottliebina Kempf. Np, np, 1989. Germans from Russia CS71.K32 1989

Mitchell, Johanna. The Stolz Family History, 1850- 1974, np, np, 1974. Germans from Russia CS71.S8755 1974

Swiontek, Loretta Gebhardt. The Kempf Family History. Np, np, 1994. Germans from Russia CS71.K32 1994


Gottliebina (Stolz) Kempf and Johannes-Georg Kempf with their five children immigrated in 1901 to Jewell, ND, near Ashley and Forbes, originating from the “Budshak Steppe” of Bessarabia (now in Moldova and Ukraine).

Bringing their Swabian German heritage and Lutheran traditions from the Black Forests (Schwartzenwald) of Württemberg, this 1910 family photograph identifies Gottlieb, mother Gottliebina, infant Fredricka, Ottilia, Reinhold, Rudolph, and father Johannes-Georg with Matthias, Maria, and Jacob Kempf.
Photo is courtesy of Loretta Gebhardt Swiontek, great granddaughter and historian for the Kempf Family.

Circa 1918 parlor portrait of Johann-“Georg” Kempf and his wife, Gottliebina Stolz Kempf, who homesteaded in 1902 at Jewell, North Dakota.
Photo is courtesy of Jay Gage, great-grandson of Johann-Georg and Gottliebina Kempf.
Circa 1922, their photographic portrait with pride of their two-storied wood-frame house near Forbes, North Dakota.
Photo is courtesy of Jay Gage, great-grandson of Johann “Georg” and Gottliebina Kempf.
In April 1901, the Johann-“Georg” Kempf family sailed first class from Bremenhaven, Germany, to Castle Garden, New York City, on S.S. Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse, 1897 Northern German Lloyd.
Photo is courtesy of Steamship Historical Society Collection, University of Baltimore Library; published in “Ships of Our Ancestors,” by Michael J. Anuta, Genealogical Publishing; Baltimore, Maryland, 1953, page 142.
Textile treasures were a Kempf family tradition. Well-dressed daughters of John Friedrich Nill and Ottilie Kempf Nill (formerly of Beresina, Bessarabia), circa 1912, at Jewell and Coldwater (east of Ashley, North Dakota), McIntosh County. The Nill sisters (left to right): Emma, Christina, Martha, and Katherina Nill. [Their younger sister, Lydia, lived to be one hundred years.]
Photo image was donated in February 1998 to GRHC, courtesy of Hulda Wacker Reinhardt, Long Lake, South Dakota/Sacramento, California.
A circa 1904 photograph of Maria Kempf, born in 1888 in Beresina, is the oldest daughter of “Gottlieba.” Maria Kempf Gebhardt, Monango, North Dakota, is the “family-keeper” from 1925 to 1960 to be commended for successfully preserving both family history and survival of these Bessarabian textile treasures.
Photo is courtesy of Loretta Gebhardt-Swiontek, family historian and granddaughter of Maria Kempf Gebhardt.
This “Groomstub foto”/ “Brautpaar” wedding portrait of groom Jacob Pahl, Merricourt-Monango, North Dakota (born 1894 in Leipzig, Bessarabia to parents August and Dorthea Maier Pahl, who immigrated in 1898 to Merricourt, Dickey County) and bride Ottilia (Odelia) Kempf, Forbes, North Dakota (born 1896 in Beresina, Bessarabia to parents Johann-“Georg” and “Gottlieba” Stolz Kempf, who immigrated in 1901 to Kulm, La Moure County) celebrated their wedding nuptials on December 11, 1913 at Sanckt Johannes Evangelisch Lutherische Kirke, Jewell, McIntosh County, North Dakota.

The new church meeting hall of Jewell was situated immediately forty-feet west from the bride’s parental house, built of “batsen”/adobe block walls. The unknown photographer of this wedding portrait was probably second cousin Fred W. “Abby” Kempf of Kulm, North Dakota, who immigrated in 1885 from Beresina, Bessarabia.

Their lavish wedding party had five bridesmaids and five groomsmen. The young bride, Ottilia, was escorted from her family parlor to the nearby church meeting hall by the groom’s uncle Ferdinand Pahl, who was famous for his deep resonant singing voice.

Twelve-year old bridesmaid, Magdalena Schrum, baked and frosted an impressive four-layered “Lady Baltimore” cake, flavored with four oranges and grated orange citrus zest: indeed, a rare commodity.

Ethnic German weddings and similar community events were celebrated during early winter after harvest’s ingathering, to respect heavy labor demands during fair summer weather.

This “arranged” marriage for first-born son, Jacob (Jake) Pahl and Ottilia (Odelia) Kempf was one of eight marriage ceremonies, before celebrating with a frugally- planned joint reception and wedding dance in the same meeting hall. “Arranged” marriages were traditionally expected, especially to secure the eldest son’s family inheritance.

The Anglo-American notion of 19th century Victorian Romance had limited impact as a courtship concept. Jacob and Ottilia were not personally acquainted until a brief five minutes during “d’ Brautschau” (showing off the prospective bride) at six months prior to their wedding ceremony. Two hired “match-makers” (Kueppelsmann) judicated negotiations between parents for dowry agreement. The “d’ Brautschau” was the only opportunity for a prospective bride to voice her scruples and choose to reject her groom candidate.

When groom’s mother, Dorthea Maier Pahl, realized that her eldest son was yet unmarried at nineteen years old, she quickly became a self-appointed matchmaker before formalities of choosing “Kueppelsmann.”

Bessarabian-German textile traditions for wedding apparel had 19th century distinctives: 1) a Battenberg bobbin lace “Brustsmuck” (breast-bib); 2) a filament tape-lace often-decorated frontal panels for a Victorian apron design; 3) a “Liebsband” or waist sash of white grosgrain silk ribbon, with full bow worn on left, and flowing streamers cascading from waist bow to hem-line of full-length skirt. This same white silk ribbon was tied into a full bow on her up-swept hair-“pug” knot or full braided “pique-tail.”

The white “Liebsband” was valued as the most important symbol for bridal attire of full “honor” in purity. The bride’s hair was adorned with a “Kranz”/crown wreath and “Feil”/veil. This bridal headdress/ “Kranz” (Grenz) was a traditional wreath-crescent of cascading white floral blossoms of silk or white wax, which framed the young bride’s face.

Ottilia’s pastel blue silk dress has chevron arm pleats, very popular during 1890’s in Beresina village. Filament lace of mocha-brown decorated her Victorian apron panel, which super-imposed on a full-length skirt. Preferred bridal garment colors in the 19th century were blue, green, and bronze. Later colors of fashion were black during the Victorian 1890’s, while white bridal colors were introduced 1905 through 1920.

As traditional Bessarabian groom, Jacob wears a tailored dark blue woolen men’s suit. The groom sports (usually on his right chest) an elaborate “boutonnière”/ floral corsage of white silk floral blossoms, tied in a full bow of wide white grosgrain silk ribbon (matching the bridal liebsband) with two long-flowing streamers to his knees. These long streamers were uniquely traditional among most Bessarabian-German grooms, as a festive ploy to encourage more “pin money” during reception meal and wedding dance.
Photo is courtesy of Jay Gage, grandson of Jacob and Ottilia Pahl.

In Bessarabian-German households, the “Heiligen Ehrestand,” marriage certificate of color lithography, was traditionally displayed over the headboard of wedded couple’s bedstead, often with a wedding portrait photograph.
Photo is courtesy of Jay Gage, grandson of Jacob and Ottilia Pahl

Distinctively handsome with his handle-bar moustache, “schumacherei” August Pahl (born 1863 in village of Leipzig, Bessarabia) and his wife Dorthea Maier (born 1865 to her parents, Christian Maier/Mayer, a skilled shoe-maker in Beresina, Bessarabia) homesteaded in 1998 near Spring Valley Township (near Merricourt), Dickey County, “at foot of the hills” (Missouri Coteau) between Forbes and Merricourt, North Dakota.

August Pahl (whose West-Prussian grandparents, Gotthilf Pahl and Christina Laechelt, immigrated in 1928-1831 to Leipzig, Bessarabia from an ethnic German mother-colony of Annetta-Josephina, Volhynia) continued his traditionally Volhynian “Schumacherei” skills and successful shoe-cobbler/repair into his senior years at Forbes, until 1942.
Photo is courtesy of Jay Gage, a great-grandson of August Pahl.

Standing before their house entrance, south of Merricourt, and speaking their Katschuerbisch Plattdeutsch dialect, Gottfried Pahl and his wife Maria Kraft (Fey) Pahl, are the parents of August Pahl.

They originally emigrated during three Polish Partitions of 1820-1823 from Marien-Werder village of Langenwerder, West Prussia, to briefly east of Thorn at villages of Pildastie and Lantschin. They immigrated in 1823 to mother-colony village of Josephina across highway road from Annetta, west of Zwiahl/Novo-Volhynsk city. The conifer forested peat-marshes caused much tuberculosis and potato rot. In 1832, they again emigrated with Laechelt cousins as part of Second Influx to Leipzig, Bessarabia. The village of Leipzig/Skinos was situated on the Kogelnik River in “Budshak Steppe,” near Kulm/Paulsberg village.
Photo is courtesy of Jay Gage, great-grandson of Gottfried Pahl

Katherine Pahl, the older of two grand-daughters of female lineage, was the only grand-daughter of whom Gottlieba ever knew during her life-time.

Katherina Pahl selected a wedding dress of crepe “China grass”/China-silk/Ramie: lace gauze of acid-cut floral pattern, which was inter-woven with a back-layer of Ramie-gauze in blue-lavender.

This exceptional quality street-length dress was worn for her June 25, 1942 wedding ceremony to Edward Gage, her Old American-English groom at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Timber Lake, South Dakota.

A special dress accessory was a triangular cellulite-plastic brooch, designed with an art-deco cabbage rose. Single strands of natural pearls, or a golden heart-locket with delicate chain necklace, were additional accessories worn only for this dress by Katherina.
Photo is courtesy of Ruth Gage-Boom, daughter of Katherina Pahl Gage

These Volhynian-style infant shoes were custom-made and machine-stitched by shoe-maker and shoe-cobbler August Pahl. August probably apprenticed with his father-in-law Christian Maier of neighboring Beresina village.

These shoes were a fatherly gift for his first-born, one year son, Jacob Pahl in 1894-1895 at Leipzig, Bessarabia. These infant shoes, with additional two tassels of fringed leather per shoe, were replicas of adult men’s dress shoes.
Photo is courtesy of Jay Gage, grandson of Jacob Pahl

Katherina’s cherished shoulder purse of hand-carved leather with an antique-finish of dark maroon cordovan dye, depicted of an original design of wild prairie roses and mare/colt heads. This purse was designed and stamp-carved with “KG” monogram in 1960 by her son, Jay Gage.

An experienced horse woman, this decorative leather pattern memorializes the bride’s 1942 wedding flower bouquet of fragrant wild roses (Rosa Arkansas Blanda) which were gathered from roadside ravines just prior to her wedding ceremony. Her preferred Chinese rose/peonies had just completed their seasonal bloom.

The honey birch sewing box, only of wood jointery (no nails) and three wooden dowels, was a special gift crafted for Katherina by her son in 1959. Katherina was avid with textiles.
Photo is courtesy of Jay Gage

This Madonna portrait- pose by great-granddaughter Edna Jenson displays five antique 19th century textiles inherited from Gottliebina Stolz Kempf of Beresina, Bessarabia, who immigrated in 1901 to Jewell, North Dakota:
1.) Rose-paisley bordered woolen maroon “tschetschka”/teuchle.
2.) White cotton camisole with “spider”/lozenge patterns on crocheted yoke.
3.) Bunte gestrifte blachte/ “Bodenteppe” shawl/ "kanapee" schal.
4.) Vintage Kämpf family’s white cotton christening gown with eyelet lace of 19th century origins.
5.) Black linen box-pleated skirt with four borders of black satin appliquéd ribbon.
Photographer: JOM photography, Fargo, North Dakota. Photo is courtesy of great-grandson, Jay Gage.

Dancer portrait pose by great-granddaughter, Edna Jensen with 19th century textiles of Gottliebina Stolz Kempf: floral serigraphed “tschetschka”/Kopftuch/teuchle and colored-striped Blachte/kanapee shawl/ “Kanabett schall.”

Photographer: JOM photography, Fargo, North Dakota. Photo is courtesy of great-grandson, Jay Gage.

Frau Maria Stickel Rath of Wittenberg Village with her infant wrapped in a “bunte” “Kinderplachte” was painted by Bessarabian artist Hertha Karasek-Strygaviski. Frau Rath wears a silk-fringed black woolen shawl as Kopftuck, while her infant wears the traditional “Kinderhaeubchen” (baby bonnet) often made of knitted woolen yarn with bobbin lace or crochet lace trim. Specially crafted baby bonnets also were encrusted with patterns of “en-graissel” (seed-bead/glass-bead embroidery).
Photograph of oil painting: From the book, “Es Führetekes Schicksals Hand: Bessarabisches Tagebuch, page 201
This woolen “Blachte” (plachte) was produced by hand skills entirely by Gottlieba Stolz for her wedding dowry / “Mitsift” in Alt-Elft, Bessarabia, in 1883 and 1884. The crochet woolen lace was added circa 1914-1916 at Jewell, North Dakota.
This woolen “Bodenteppe” of 43 inches wide and 96 inches long, probably was used as a day bed / “Canabett” covering, hand-woven by Gottlieba in Alt-Eft in 1883.
Photo is courtesy of Betty Schneider Rall, granddaughter-in-law to Gottlieba Kempf.
The Schlabsz family had Swabish origins in Beresina, Bessarabia, with some family relocating to Wittenberg, Bessarabia. Carolina (Schlabsz) Sackmann of Jewell, North Dakota, cherished three surviving plaid-twill blachte (karierte plachte) from Wittenberg.

Carolina Schlabsz wore a pristine plaid-twill plachte in red and green woolen yarns. Carolina also wove an ingenious woolen “bunte karierte plachte” shawl of mustard yellows with elaborately colored torque-pattern crochet lace, presently displayed in the textile archives of McIntosh County Historical Museum in Ashley, North Dakota, in standard size of 44x 77 inches.

Carolina’s daughter, Frieda Sackmann Kessel, inherited this 1870’s woolen multi-twill plachte, achieving muted pastel plaids with purple, coral-orange, and mint/olive green. The chenille woolen yarns of the fillet-crochet lace fringe featured velveteen knap from “felting” when “fullered.” Variegated-colors of chenille yarns display traditional torque patterns. This antique blachte possibly was woven in Beresina.
Photo is courtesy of Leona Woeszner Neu, granddaughter of Carolina Schlabsz Sackmann.

This exquisitely hand-tailored, black, box-pleat linen skirt was worn by Gottlieba’s oldest daughter Maria, when immigrating to North America in 1901. The triple-ribbon skirt border of black satin silk appliqué identifies prestige, family, and village heritage. Metal eye-hook fasteners were used instead of expensive buttons. Linen fabric was manufactured since 1895 in the neighboring village of Teplitz, Bessarabia.
Photo is courtesy of Loretta Gebhardt Swiontek, great-granddaughter of Gottlieba Kempf.
This white cotton christening gown with hem of detailed eyelet and cut-work lace, was last used in 1915 at Monango, North Dakota, for Lutheran christening of Gottlieba’s grandson, Ernest Gebhardt. The quality of craftsmanship suggests this ceremonial cotton gown (with liner garment) for infant christening was a textile treasure in Kempf family, possibly since 1820 in Beresina village.
Photo is courtesy of Loretta Gebhardt Swiontek, granddaughter of Maria Kempf Gebhardt
This woolen vertical-striped skirt with camel hair white stripes was a very traditional example among ethnic German women. Christina Marie Spiekar (Speager) wore this skirt in 1917, when she emigrated to Manley, Iowa, from her native Volga German village of Norka/Wiegand on the “Bergseite,” a major textile production center. Stripes are indigo blue, red, yellow and white.
Photo is courtesy of Katrina Heagle's granddaughter, Sandra Bengerdes Miles
The heaviest woolen blankets were also wrapped by women around themselves as the heaviest shawl during severe winter cold, since they did not wear coats for warmth. These 6 feet x 8 feet “wollen-decken” often weighed over nine pounds. These “double-weave” double layers were interlocked during weave as reservable pattern, then felted and fullered with nine inch long black-twisted fringes. This Kempf family’s wollen-decken was dark olive green plaid pattern with plain olive green border.
Photo is courtesy of Lorretta Gebhardt Swiontek, great-granddaughter of Gottlieba and family historian.
This paisley-rose bordered “tschetschka” (chetsh-gah) from Gottlieba’s textile treasures is 39” x 39” in size. These fine woolen “Kopftuck” / head scarves were distinctive for their serigraphed floral borders, produced since 1810 in famous textile artisan village, Pavlov Possad, near Moscow.

Since brilliant aniline textile dyes were developed by German textile chemists in 1853, popularity of Tschetschka shawls soared during the Victorian era.
Photo is courtesy of Loretta Gebhardt Swiontek, great-granddaughter of Gottliebina Kempf.

Ottilia (Odelia) Kempf Pahl received this 1913 wedding gift. This cotton-serigraphed pastel floral border was the top cloth and was traditionally displayed diagonally across center of table top. The table was previously covered with two large white table cloths draping over the table corners. This was the centuries-old tradition for the ethnic German banquet table. The floral designs are blue forget-me-not/anchusa and red trumpet vine with magnolia leaves in coral-pink pastel border.
Photo is courtesy of Jay Gage, grandson of Odelia Pahl, second daughter of Gottlieba.
Along with sister Odelia Pahl, Gottlieba’s third daughter Friedericka Kempf (Frieda Rall) made many fancy kitchen aprons of wrap-around pattern, commonly used by German “hausfrau” with Victorian panels of colorful “ric-rac” appliqué and cross-stitch, proudly displaying folk fascination with vivid colors.
Photo is courtesy of Betty Schneider Rall, daughter-in-law and quilter.
Two cherished survivals of black “koeppeln” / bobbin-laced triangular church shawls/kopftuchen immigrated since 1940 with Kempf family cousins from their village of Beresina, Bessarabia, to the prairie provinces of Canada, according to textile historian/family descendent Klaus Jansen. These koeppeln-type Koftuchen were preferred with bold “tape lace” designs and considered a prestige art form.
Photo is courtesy of Auf den Spuren: einer Minder heit: Geschichte und Kultur der Deutschen in Russland/wdssr (GRHC Archives DK34.G3.G47 1989)
During the Victorian 19th century, Gottlieba Kempf was among the fashionable. These black woolen shawls with elegantly knotted silk fringe, were highly cherished fashion for German ladies attending church worship. Gottlieba’s black shawls were inherited by Kempf descendants.

This particular silk-fringed black woolen shawl was purchased by Karl Kusler in 1910 when re-visiting his birth place in the village of worms, Beresan District, Ukraine (South Russia), northeast of city of Odessa. Karl Kusler was from the lineage of George Kusler. Karl’s youngest daughter, Hilda Kusler Hodgins of Glueckstal heritage and formerly of Beulah, North Dakota, donated this family textile treasure in 1994.
Photo is courtesy of the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo, North Dakota

The Kempf Crest uses the "boss" design of original Kämpf coat of arms.

The white cross on red field evolved from the rinds (metal supports) of flour millstones used in Nagold district of Black Forest. Family vocations were flour miller, bread bakers and textile weavers. The Kämpf family is first mentioned in 1238 at Strausbourg, Alsace.

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