Descendants of Valentine and Franciska Vetter Celebrate Centennial of Homestead

"Descendants of Valentine and Franciska Vetter Celebrate Centennial of Homestead." Emmons County Record, 11 July 2000, Volume 117, No. 6.

For three days, there was a new community established on the eastern edge of Emmons County. The name of the community is Vetterville.

Vetterville is not a real community, but if it were, it would have been the second-largest city in the county from June 30-July 2. Over l,300 relatives gathered to pay tribute to Valentine and Franciska Vetter, who homesteaded what is known as Vetterville one hundred years ago.

Around 75 campers, numerous tents and even a tepee sprang up around the original Vetter farmstead, which is now occupied by the couple's great-great-grandchildren. Dan and Marie Vetter, and great-grandchildren, Ben and Delphine Vetter.

A large tent was erected for holding Mass, dancing and other entertainment, as well as a smaller tent as an additional shelter. Several chuckwagons were set up, and family members were toted from the front gate with a trailer.

Several events took place during the 3-day celebration--some were planned, while others were not.

A petting zoo was available for the younger generation, and a display of older tractors, cars and trucks was set up for the sake of reminiscing for the older folks.

Adam Baumstarck (fourth generation) of Linton demonstrated how his mother used to wash clothing with an old wooden wash machine. The demonstration included homemade soap, which was made by his nephew, Dr. Joseph Baumstarck, Jr., while Leland Vetter (fifth generation) gave a demonstration on rope-making.

There was also tap-dancing, kareoke and even a style show during the event. The style show featured the modeling of some of the wedding dresses worn by family members during the past century, recalling the food, ceremony and traditions of a wedding during certain time periods.

On Saturday, around 1,200 people gathered under the big tent for Mass. The celebrant was Fr. Richard Gross (fourth generation). He was assisted by Fr. James Hagel (fourth generation), Fr. Austin Vetter (fifth generation) and Deacon Ben Gross (fourth generation).

Saturday evening, a prayer service was held in St. Joseph's Cemetery, where Valentine and Franciska Vetter are buried. Sunday morning Mass was again held under the tent with the celebrant being Fr. Austin Vetter. He was assisted by Fr. James Hagel and Deacon Ben Gross.

The temporary community started to dismantle on July 2, and the farmstead was almost back to normal on July 4.

German-Russian Heritage

The Vetter ancestors came from Alsace Larraine, France to Mannheim on the steppes of Russia when there was nothing but wilderness. The built houses and villages practically out of nothing and transformed the southwest part of Russia into the bread basket of the world.

The largest European movement into Russia came during the reign of Catherine II (The Great), a German princess who became empress of Russia (1762-96). She promoted European, particularly French, culture in Russia, and she laid out several incentives to draw the Europeans into her country.

However, about 70 years later, the Europeans became so prosperous that they were no longer wanted in Russia. The government changed all the rules by which they had asked the German and French people to come.

In 1871, Tsar Alexander II revoked the rights and privileges that were promised to the German people. South America, the United States and Canada seemed to be the promised land.

In 1872, the first Germans left Russia and they first arrived in North Dakota in 1884. The areas first settled by the German-Russians were the southern portions of Emmons and McIntosh Counties.

In the United States, the government needed hard-working people to till the soil and tame the wild. As an incentive to draw people, the homesteaders had certain privileges, such as 160 acres of free land with the option to purchase more. Of course, the homesteaders had certain obligations that came under government jurisdiction.

The original homestead

Valentine Vetter was born in Selz, Russia in 1840. Franciska Hoffart was born in 1844. Valentine and Franciska were married in 1864.

In 1888, Valentine and Franciska decided to take their family out of Russia as many of their relatives and friends were doing. They came with 7 children--Johannes, Anton, Juliana, Margaret, Marion, Balzer and one adopted daughter, Mary.

They first settled near Eureka, SD, but later moved to a farmstead 1 mile north and 3 miles east of what is now the city of Hague. Valentine applied for citizenship in 1896.

Because of a very poor water supply, Valentine and Franciska moved further north in 1900. They settled down on the edge of the Beaver Creek to start building up their house and farm. This farm is located about 17 miles east of Linton, and the farm is still occupied by the fifth and sixth generations of Valentine and Franciska's family.

In 1916 the farmers in the neighborhood decided to build a church (St. Joseph's). Valentine donated land for the church to set on, and the church was located about a quarter mile east of the Vetter farm.

The church burned down in 1954 and was never rebuilt. However, the church cemetery is kept up very well and this is the place where Valentine and Franciska are buried. After St. Joseph's Church burned down, its parishioners attended St. Michael's Church.

Johannes Vetter, the oldest child, married Anna Mary Schmaltz in 1893. Johannes and his family moved along with his parents to the present day Vetter farm in 1900. They had ten children, of which six lived to be adults. They were Juliana (Baumstarck), Joseph, Anna Mary (Werner), Magdalena (Gross), Kenegunda (Wolf) and Valentine. Johannes and Anna Mary had 73 grandchildren.

Anton, the second-oldest child, married Barbara Wingerter in Russia. He came to America before his parents. Anton and Barbara had one child before they left Russia, but the child died during the trip and was buried at sea. Anton and Barbara settled near Selz, N.D. (presently Hague). They had seven children--Martin, Frances (Sister Francetta), Elizabeth, Peter and Mary Magdelina. Two children died in infancy.

Juliana was 18 years old when she came to America with her parents. She married Ludwig Schmaltz in 1892, and they lived in Beiseker, Canada. They had 8 children--Caroline, Margaret, Valentine, Mike, Frances, Matilda, Peter and Mary.

Margaret Vetter married Johannes (John) Wenninger in 1895. They also started a homestead in Canada, settling in Allan, Saskatchewan. John and Margaret had 8 children--Leo, John, Walter, Theresa, Joseph, Roy, Helen and Magdalena.

Balzer Vetter was born in 1878. He married Albina Job in 1901. They moved to the farmstead of Valentine and Franciska, and later set up a farm about one mile east of the St. Joseph's church. Balzer and Albina moved their home just on the north side of his parent's house in 1905. They had 9 children--Valentine, Jacob, Margaret, John, Balzer, Roy, Joseph, Cecelia and Frances.

Marian Vetter was born in 1880. She married Vincent Schmidt in 1901. They also lived on the Vetter farmstead for awhile, until buying a farm nine miles south of Napoleon. They lived on this farm until 1929, and then moved to a farm one mile south of her parent's home. In 1938, they moved into Linton. Vince and Marian had 7 children--Frances, Julia Christine, Valentine, Mary, Theresa and Clara.

Mary was adopted by Valentine and Franciska Vetter in 1890 when she was 6 years old. She was often referred to as "Little Mary" since Valentine and Franciska already had a daughter named Marian. Mary married Bernard Vetter in 1907, and they farmed southwest of Linton in the area of St. Bernard Parish. Bernard and Mary had 9 children--Emma, John, Magdalena, Martha, Katherine, Valentine, Anton, Frances and Mary Ann.

Valentine and Franciska Vetter had 59 grandchildren. The oldest living grandchild, Magdalena (Vetter) Gross, was born in 1902, and she was on hand for the three-day reunion at Vetterville.

What is Vetterville?

The farmstead started by Valentine Vetter 100 years ago has been in the family for 5 generations. Because only Vetter descendants have occupied the farm in the last century, and several farmsteads were added nearby, the area is commonly referred to as Vetterville.

Valentine and Franciska Vetter, along with their unmarried children (Balzer, Marion and Mary) and another son (Johannes) and his family, moved to a 560-acre farm east of Linton and next to Beaver Creek.

The first home on the place was made of sod, but later in 1900, Valentine and Franciska constructed a wooden home. This home was later occupied by Valentine's great-grandson, August Vetter and his family, and the home is currently occupied by great-great-grandchildren Dan and Marie Vetter. Dan is the son of August and Loretta Vetter.

In 1901, Valentine's son, Balzer married and moved one mile east of the Vetter farm, but Balzer and his family moved back to the Vetter farm in 1905, In 1917, Balzer moved one-half mile south (just below the hill of the Prairie Bells).

Two of Johannes' daughters (Anna Mary and Juliana) and their families also lived on the farm site for a time. In 1921, there were five families living at this site.

Valentine's grandson, Joseph Vetter, and his wife, Veronica, built a home about 500 feet south of the original farm house in 1949. Joseph's son, Benjamin, married and moved on the farm in 1962.

Veronica passed away in 1963, and Joseph continued to live on the farm until his death in 1980. Benjamin and Delphine Vetter currently live in the home that Joseph built.

The Prairie Bells; Grotto of the Holy Family was constructed by the Vetter family using the rocks gathered from the surrounding countryside. The Grotto overlooks the generational farms in the area, and is located about a half-mile south of the Ben Vetter farm.

The statues of Jesus, Mary and Joseph were brought from Italy and the bells (which date back to the early 1900's) came from the St. Andrew's Church in Zeeland. The Grotto was blessed in 1994. More bells have been added since the blessing of the Grotto.

The Vetter farm has been a place to nurture love of the land, faith in God and bonding of family members. A total of 48 children have been born on the farm. Many memories, great and small, were created on this land in the past 100 years.

Of special significance are the annual July 4 reunion of the Joseph and Veronica Vetter families, the 1988 Vetter Centennial Reunion (celebrating Valentine and Franciska's coming to America in 1888), Father Austin (son of August and Loretta) Vetter's first mass in 1993, the 1994 Town & Country celebration and of course, the Vetter 2000 Reunion.

Dan and Marie Vetter are planning to tear down the original home built by Valentine and Franciska Vetter in 1900. They will replace it with a new home sometime next fall.

"It's time to move on," Dan said. The memories of this farm have been made for six generations. It's now time to make more memories for the next several generations of the Valentine and Franciska Vetter family.

Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record

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