The Way It Was: The North Dakota Frontier Experience: Germans from Russia Settlers

Review by Mary Lynn Axtman, Fargo, North Dakota

Tweton, D. Jerome and Everett C. Albers. The Way it Was: The North Dakota Frontier Experience: Germans from Russia Settlers. Fessenden, North Dakota: Grass Roots Press, 1999.

The editors, Albers and Tweton, selected eighteen first person Germans from Russia histories as recorded in the 1930s by interviewers working in the Works Progress Administration. These histories, two of them by women, were selected to best represent the different German Russian settlement areas in both Russia and Dakota Territory along with the religious traditions of Evangelical, Catholic and Mennonite of the Germans from Russia immigrants.

The book begins with acknowledgements to an impressive list of scholars and historical societies who aided and advised with the collection of materials, period maps and pictures which add interest to the various histories and book overall.

Dr. D. Jerome Tweton, a North Dakota history professor at the University of North Dakota writes an explanatory history of the Germans from Russia that includes Dr. Timothy Kloberdanz's ten unique characteristics of the Black Sea settlement of the Northern Great Plains. A second chapter by Everett C. Albers discusses the noticeable differences between the Reichsdeutsch and the Volksdeutsche settlers who often lived in the same communities.

The eighteen histories gives the reader many interesting details about pre-immigration Russian life, the trip to America via train, ship, and finally wagons, and the settlement on the open prairies. One such family arrived with 3 cents left in their pockets to begin life in America. Of interest also are the accounts of settlement loan fraud that left some settlers with nothing after years of trying to prove and establish their claims.

This book includes several indexes of places, origins, conditions, and travel along with churches, schools and other items.

The Way It Was is a great way to learn some of the answers to the questions we wished someone in our families had asked our immigrant ancestors before they died.

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