Jump to Navigation

The Migration of the Russian-Germans to Kansas

by Norman E. Saul

Spring 1974 (Vol. 40, No. 1), pages 38-62
Transcribed by Teresa J. Smith; HTML editing by Tod Roberts
digitized with permission of the Kansas Historical Society;
numbers in brackets refer to endnotes at the bottom of the article.

ONE HUNDRED years ago several thousand German-speaking people from Russia settled on lands in Kansas and left a considerable impact upon the history of the state. The purpose of this article is to examine some of the reasons for the move from Russia, why Kansas became the chief host state, the distinguishing features of their settlement and reception, and their contributions to the history of Kansas. Since the scope of the subject and limitations of space will preclude a thorough analysis of all aspects of the topic, the focus will be on a presentation of a general outline of events, discussions of sources, and thoughts and questions concerning new approaches. [1]

The Russian-Germans [2] who arrived in Kansas in the 1870’s settled in two main geographical areas of the state that also correspond to separate places of origin in Russia and, for the majority, to different religious backgrounds. The first to arrive in large numbers, in 1874, were the Mennonites, mainly from the Tauride province of South Russia, who concentrated in Marion, Harvey, and McPherson counties. The other major area of settlement in Kansas, in Ellis, Russell, and Rush counties, was colonized by the Volga Germans of Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Baptist denominations. Of course, many counties of western and central Kansas became the homes of Russian-Germans, but many of these came later and often involved people who immigrated first to other states or to Canada, Mexico, or South America.

The Russian-German immigrants were distinctive in several respects from other newcomers to the prairie in the 19th century. First of all, they moved in large groups, settling whole areas, founding their own social and religious communities. Strong religious faith and attachment to particular customs gave these people greater ability to sustain the difficulties of a long trip and reduced the shock of adaptation. That is, unlike most settlers and immigrants, the Russian-Germans maintained, and perhaps even strengthened, their community consciousness. In this respect the Russian-Germans of all denominations resembled the Amish, Hutterite, Mormon, and other religious groups who made the North American frontier their homes.

The new arrivals from Russia were also similar to religious sects in the fact that they were separated from a developing national consciousness for so long. They had not lived in Germany during the 19th century, the age of nationalism, but in colonies within a particularly non-German society, preserving the customs and traditions of Slavic social and economic institutions. Most of the Russian-Germans, who came to Kansas could, in fact, speak some Russian as well as German. The differences in appearance, manners, and language from other German immigrants were so great that people on the scene quickly and easily referred to them as Russians or "Rooshians." To obtain a basic understanding of these people it is important to examine in some detail where they came from and why they left.


The Russian-Germans were not the only people of Germanic ancestry residing in the Russian Empire in the 19th century. Germans formed an important part of the merchant population of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and another large German ethnic group was absorbed as the result of territorial expansion, particularly in the 18th century. The "native" Germans consisted mostly of the "Baltic" Germans living in what are now the Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. By contrast, the "Russian" Germans were those who migrated to Russia to farm, beginning in the reign of Catherine the Great (1762-1796) and continuing through the first third of the next century. The first territory to be settled by these Germans was on both sides of the middle Volga River near the cities of Samara and Saratov. Catherine the Great was interested in the agricultural development of this region and the pacification of an unruly frontier when she first issued the invitation for foreigners to colonize in 1762. A subsequent manifesto of July 1763 promised free lands, expenses for the move, freedom from taxation for 30 years, and exemption from civil and military service for themselves and their descendants. The empress’s agents recruited settlers especially from the poorer German states devastated by the Seven Years’ War. [3]

Several thousand colonists, usually from towns rather than villages, both Roman Catholic and Lutheran, accepted the Russian invitation and made the long trek eastward across Russia to the Volga. Under haphazard military supervision and through the turmoil of the Pugachev revolt (1773-1775) they suffered great hardships, but by the beginning of the 1800’s, under the more lenient supervision of a special office of the Ministry of Interior, the Volga Germans prospered, at least relative to the Russian peasantry in general. Others joined them, especially during the Napoleonic wars, and by the 1860’s they numbered around 250,000, approximately the then population of the state of Kansas, and dominated the economic life of two of the Russia’s most productive agricultural provinces—Samara and Saratov.

Another area, in South Russia, was opened to colonial settlement after Russian acquisition of the Black Sea Coast and especially after the annexation of the Crimea in 1783-1784, by which a large expanse of thinly inhabited steppe became part of the Russian Empire. Prince Gregory Potemkin, Catherine’s lover and favorite, was particularly interested in attracting farmer of proven industry to help develop the economic potential of this region called "New Russia." And in addition to Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs, and other peoples from southeastern Europe, he invited a large number of Mennonites, particularly from the area around Danzig that had fallen under Prussian control as a result of the partitioning of Poland. Coming under heavy pressure from the modernizing ambitions of Frederick the Great to pay taxes and furnish recruits, the Mennonites there decided to accept the Russian conditions of 1763, which were even improved by negotiation to include a substantial subsidy for each family; many more followed after the disruptions of the Napoleonic wars in central and northern Europe. Unlike the Volga Germans, the Mennonites generally moved as religious communities with years of agricultural experience behind them. Many were, in fact, Dutch or Swiss in cultural and linguistic heritage rather than German proper. [4]

The two largest Mennonite colonial areas of South Russia were Khortitsa, on the Dnieper river about 175 miles northwest of the port of Berdiansk (now Osipnenko) on the Sea of Azov, and Molochna, centered around the market town of Halbstadt, about 90 miles from Berdiansk. Other settlements were scattered along the Black Sea coast, in the Crimea, in Bessarabia, and in Russian Poland. The total Mennonite Russian-German population of "New Russia" was about 40,000 by 1869, half of whom lived in the Molochna colony, while the number in all of the Russian Empire was probably not over 75,000. [5] They fulfilled Potemkin’s original expectations, developing a widely diversified agrarian economy that included orchards, dairying, sheep herding, silk culture, and, of course, the raising of grain. By the middle of the 19th century, their wheat production had become a significant part of Russia’s Black Sea exports to Western Europe. Mennonite entrepreneurs were handling and processing their own products for the Russian or foreign markets, and the Mennonite "oases" of South Russia (as they were referred to in contemporary Russian accounts) were relatively prosperous.

Though much of the economic and social history of the German settlements in Russia remains to be written, major achievements appear to have been accomplished in those areas. Why, then, did many Russian-Germans decide to move to a new, unknown land? The reason most often cited is that the exemption, which all had enjoyed, from military service was being withdrawn and that the Mennonites in particular, as conscientious objectors, could not tolerate the change in status. It is true, and somewhat ironic, that the Russian government in a liberal-rational course of modernization after the Crimean War was attempting to treat all people living within the Russian boundaries equally, and the new military reform law, devised to create modern, efficient armed forces and which went into effect in 1874, did propose to make everyone, noble and peasant Russian for foreign in origin, subject to the draft. The removal of the special exemption must be considered at least as a catalyst for the idea of emigration. The fact is, however, that only a portion of the Mennonites, and an even smaller percentage of the Volga Germans, actually left Russia at this time. In the case of the Roman Catholics and Lutherans there were no religious scruples against military service, and, of the Mennonites that remained, probably none actually served in the Russian army before the Russian Revolution, since, after several frustrating efforts to settle the issue with the government in St. Petersburg, the Mennonites obtained a compromise that made it possible for they to serve in alternate forestry work under their own administration. [6]

Those who could not claim a right to alternate service were subject to the new recruitment, and the first were drafted during the annual November processing in 1874. Hostility to serve in the Russian army was quite high, however, because of the conditions that prevailed for recruits, perhaps exaggerated by rumor, bias against advancement for non-Russians, and the predominance of Russian Orthodox religious services. [7] Despite this situation, which would become much worse in the 1890’s, the priority of the removal of military exemption as a cause of emigration needs more substantiation than has been offered in the past, and other political, religious, and socio-economic factors should be weighed. It is interesting to observe, for example, that the arriving immigrants in Kansas did not appear to include a particularly large number of recruitment age.

Politically, the status of the Russian-German colonies was being closely examined in the middle of the 19th century by the imperial government, and the inhabitants could probably not avoid becoming suspicious and restless when on Russian surveying team after another came through their territory. Beginning especially in the 1840’s with their transfer to the new Ministry of State Domains, the central government began to treat the colonists more and more as Russian state peasants. The reform movement of the 1850’s and 1860’s shook the fabric of Russian-German society as well as that of the rest of Russia. Efforts to equalize landholdings among the agricultural population in the peasant emancipation (beginning in 1861) affected the Russian-Germans, especially the Mennonites, whose landholding statistics reflected a wide disparity—from the several thousand-acre estates of Jansen, Miller, Cornies, Shroeder, Peters, etc. to the many landless, poor families, who, according to Russian records of 1865, included one third of the total Mennonite colonists. [8] By a series of government decrees, the richer colonists were being forced to contribute land and supplies for the less fortunate, despite the existence of relief programs within the communities, and Russian courts were examining titles closely for illegal alienation of land that might have resulted since the original grants. Speculation was current that a single family should have only the amount of the first awards, about 175 acres. [9] In any event, the result was a marked increase in Russian interference in the internal life of the Russian-German communities in 1860’s. This caused particular concern within the central organizations in South Russia, The New Russian Mennonite Brotherhood and the Halbstadt Agricultural Society, and may account for the active leadership for emigration by prosperous leaders such as Cornelius Jansen and Bernard Warkentin. [10] Separate schools and social and economic autonomy in general were being threatened in addition to the military exemption.

While new political currents were very much in evidence in Russia in the 1860’s, religious changes were also occurring in a complex, interacting process. West European pietism reached the Mennonite colonies in the 1840’s, and by 1870 a number of church communities had been fragmented by religious controversy. And the revival of sectarianism even influenced the more remote Roman Catholic and Lutheran colonies, where the German Baptist and Methodist movements gained converts. Disputes over church doctrine added to the impulse to get away and start over—to make a trek—which was already a part of the Mennonite tradition of founding daughter colonies. One group of Mennonites, the Hüpferites, left Molochna for a new territory in the Russian Caucasus in 1865, but initial reports on conditions there were discouraging. [11] A split in the Alexanderwohl church in the 1860’s was apparently a prime cause of the transplantation of a large part of that Molochna community to Kansas. And the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren was an other offshoot of the 1860’s that joined the emigration. Perhaps a thorough analysis of the religious affairs of the Russian-Germans would result in the conclusion that they were the most important cause of emigration.

A Russian source (Klaus) emphasizes the relationship of the pietist movement to poorer economic conditions. There may be an interconnection, but none is readily apparent in the Russian-Kansas migration. More relevant are the socio-economic conditions prevailing in Russia around 1870. That Russia at this time was a backward, agricultural country is generally recognized. The growth of rural population was quite rapid in the middle decades of the 19th century, caused especially by the lowering of the death rate through, for example, decreasing the incidence of cholera epidemics. And few new frontiers were open in European Russia that could be cultivated by existing methods. Population pressure (or land hunger) affected the Russian-Germans perhaps higher and death rates lower due to better living conditions. One must remember in this context that the German colonists were not affected by military recruitment and the forced or voluntary labor migrations that relieved some of the pressure from Russian villages.

The colonies of South Russia, however, were generally in better condition than those of the Volga, because of their proximity to the Black Sea ports and larger per capita allotments of land. According to the Russian census of 1858, Volga villages such as Pfeifer and Herzog averaged 15 acres of land for each male inhabitant, while Alexanderwohl, a typical Mennonite community, had about 30 acres for each male. An average family holding in the Volga region was around 35 acres and in South Russia over 100 acres. [12] On the other hand, although wealthy landholders can be found among the Volga Germans, equality of farm size was much more prevalent there because of more widespread use of the Russian communal land tenure that provided for a redivision of village land periodically. By contrast, in the Molochna area, 32 Mennonite families owned 250,000 acres in 1860 and hired several thousand Mennonite and Russian laborers. [13] The Mennonite landless complained to local Russian authorities about their situation, but the result was greater Russian interference and the setting up of more communal land associations, which probably frustrated both rich and poor.

Besides the land-population crisis, all colonists suffered from declining grain prices due to increased competition from the United States, tax rises (25% between 1840 and 1868), and the withdrawal of economic privileges such as exclusive licenses for the brewing of beer. [14] Another factor that needs closer study is the effect of the death in the 1860’s of Johann Cornies, long time patriarch of the South Russian Mennonites who had considerable influence with the government in St. Petersburg. [15]

One escape remained open, and it may have been the Russians who first brought this to their attention. In 1864 an offer, directed especially to the landless Mennonites, of free land, reduced taxes, and guaranteed exemption from military serve was made to those who would move to Eastern Siberia, to the newly acquired Amur river basin. Some, such as Bernard Warkentin, Sr., seriously considered this possibility and made an inspection trip to Siberia, but the remoteness of the land and lack of railroads for exporting grain discouraged further pursuit. [16] Besides, the logistics of such a move would be just as great, perhaps greater, than a move to Kansas.

By 1870, before the terms of the military reform law were known, a number of factors stirred the Russian-German colonies and stimulated projects for movement, and leaders were beginning to discuss the possibilities—Canada, Brazil, the Near East, as well as the United States. German language newspapers circulating in both South Russia and the Volga region brought information about immigration, and the Russian government, still of a relatively liberal disposition, made it clear that those Russian-Germans who were not satisfied with their status (as confused as it was) were free to leave the country, an attitude that would later change. But with so much of the world open to them, how did it happen that a large portion of the first Russian-German emigrants came to Kansas?


Political, religious, and socio-economic turmoil was certainly not alien to Kansas in the 1860’s, and at first glance one would wonder why Russian-Germans in search of peace and quiet and a stable economy would move to an area notorious for its lack of law and order and infested with grasshoppers. In general terms the reason can be found in the achievements of that decade. America and Russia were both witnessing rapid population increases, but in the United States land was available and economic progress was remarkable. Kansas changed in the 1860’s not only through the establishment of new frontier homesteads, but especially by the development of urban market centers and, in connection with this, the phenomenal advance of railroad construction across the state.

Acts of congress set aside eight and a half million acres of Kansas prairie to promoters on condition that railroads be built through the territory. The successful accomplishment of this task by 1872 gave the two giants, the Kansas Pacific and the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe the right to claim seven million acres in alternate sections 20 miles on both sides of their rights of way. The railroads had not only acquired good agricultural land, but had also contributed to no small degree to the creation of a more civilized urban environment. The change that occurred in the unruly frontier cowtowns was quiet remarkable. For example, one of the wildest of them all, Newton, was quickly tamed by the combined forces of the Santa Fe, the Newton Kansan (beginning publication in 1872), and the Temperance League; a local reporter boasted of the progress achieved by August, 1873, just before a small delegation of Russian-German Mennonites toured the area under the guidance and care of railroad agents. [17] Besides acres and acres of prairie grass, the visitors must have been impressed by the commercial bustle of the towns, the pace of new construction, and the efficiency and determination of both workers and officials.

But why did Russian-Germans choose Kansas over other possibilities? To answer that, perhaps other questions are relevant: what brought C. B. Schmidt and Noble Prentis to Kansas, and what inspired Boston capitalists to stick with a nearly bankrupt venture and pull the Santa Fe out of the 1873 depression?

Kansas was already well advertised by this time, though, of course, not all of the publicity was of a favorable kind. The establishment of the Kansas Immigration Society in 1871, the collection and publication of information by the State Board of Agriculture, and the promotional activities of local newspapers, in particular by the Topeka Commonwealth, did much to extend and improve the image of the state as a suitable home for immigrants and a profitable place for railroads. [18]

With this encouragement the railroads, particularly the Santa Fe, began a gigantic advertising campaign to sell their recently earned land. They were motivated in the first instance by the need to meet payrolls and pay interest on massive floating debits, thereby avoiding collapse. Boston bakers, Joseph and Thomas Nickerson, in association with Kidder, Peabody and Company, manipulated the debts of the Santa Fe through the squeeze of 1873, while in Topeka, at 6th and Kansas, A. E. Touzalin directed the activities of the rapidly expanding passenger and land departments. [19] In the latter, at the beginning of 1873, Touzalin set up an immigration office, headed by Carl Bernhard Schmidt, a native of Saxony who arrived in Kansas in 1868 and, prior to his joining the Santa Fe, operated a grocery in Lawrence. [20] Schmidt soon established communications with German ethnic groups in the country, and, through Mennonite colonies in other states, learned of the desire of Russian-Germans to emigrate. An American Mennonite leader, Christina Krehbiel, was particularly instrumental in guiding the reconnaissance mission from Russia to Kansas in the summer of 1873. This delegation, which included Jacob Buller and Leonhard Sudermann, looked at land in several Midwestern states, but after their tour of the Santa Fe territory in the Arkansas valley, Schmidt committed them to a preliminary purchase agreement at the end of October. [21]

Railroad land sales went hand in hand with other efforts to sell the state of Kansas. Noble Prentis arrived in Topeka in 1869 to begin a long and distinguished journalistic career. He became well known throughout the region for his feature articles and editorial craftsmanship. It was either Prentis or someone inspired by his example who first brought an awareness of the Russian-German Mennonites to the people of Kansas. The following is an excerpt from the Topeka Blade of November 10, 1873, very much in the Prentis style:


The Mennonites are a class of citizens that will become more readily Americanized than many of our best classes of foreign citizens. They are liberal in sentiment, frugal and industrious in habits, peaceful from their principle, and can readily be brought to understand and adopt our American manners and customs. We may regard them as one of our very best classes of citizens. Added to this, though this is emphatically the home of the poor man, where all can get homes at a nominal cost, and by frugality, industry and perseverance, almost arrive at a competence; yet it is no disparagement to this class of citizens, nor to our young and growing State, that these settlers are nearly all well off in this world’s goods. Few of them have less than $2,000 or $3,000, while many are reported to be worth $10,000, $20,000 and even more. They will make the beautiful valley of the Arkansas blossom as the rose. [22]

The writer assumes that Russian-Germans are coming to Kansas, that they will be good for the state, and that they have money, the beginning of an emphasis on the wealth of the Russian-Germans that persisted in the press through the 1870’s. What began in 1873 was a two-sided publicity campaign, selling Kansas to the Russian-Germans and the Russian-Germans to Kansas.

This kind of exposure of the Russian-Germans prior to their arrival, no doubt assisted by more private and direct pressures from the Santa Fe, contributed to the passage by the Kansas legislature in March, 1874, of an act amending the militia law exempting those who objected on religious grounds from military service upon signing of a simple declaration in the county clerk’s office. [23] Soon afterwards David Goertz, a Russian-German Mennonite temporarily residing in Summerfield, Ill., published a pamphlet in German describing the Arkansas valley and including the texts of the new Kansas military exemption provision and the preliminary sale terms. [24] Most likely the emigrants did not receive any copies prior to departure from Russia, but they probably obtained them along the route before their arrival in Kansas.


During the winter and spring of 1874 the findings of the Mennonite delegation to the United States circulated through South Russia. The Krimmer Mennonite Brethren, the Alexanderwohl church, and other groups of Swiss-Volynian Mennonites living in Russian Poland prepared to leave for America. They were able to sell their farms, with crops in the field, at good prices to other Mennonites, and the sale of meeting houses, shares of mutual insurance funds, and other community property provided additional sources of funds. Packing personal belongings in trunks, baskets, sacks, etc., they made their way be caravans to the nearest railroad connection and from there by train to Odessa, the transfer point for the trip across Europe to Hamburg, and from there they sailed by ship to New York. Arrangements for the mass transit were made by railway and shipping agents in Odessa and Hamburg.

1870's poster advertising Santa Fe railroad land in southwest Kansas

An advertising poster of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad in the 1870's telling the world of the good railroad land to be hand "in southwest Kansas."

interior of a temporary immigrant house provided at Alexanderwohl and Gnadenau, Marion county, Kansas

The interior of one of the temporary immigrant houses provided at Alexanderwohl, and Gnadenau, Marion county.

public well between two of the immigrant houses

A public well, located between two of the houses. The sketches are from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, New York, March 20, 1875.

Carl Bernard Schmidt, German-speaking Santa Fe land agent who encouraged migration of Russian-Germans to Kansas

CARL BERNHARD SCHMIDT, a German-speaking Santa Fe railroad land agent, who did much to encourage the coming of the Russian-Germans to Kansas.

The first group of around 800, composed mostly of the Krimmer Brethren but including some Swiss-Voynian Mennonites, departed home in June and arrived in New York in late July, a journey of about five weeks by cart, train, and ship, which cost each family around 250 rubles ($200). [25] Staying in New York only long enough to change rubles for dollars, most of the Russian-German Mennonites stopped along the route with American Mennonites in Indiana and Illinois. Only 200 were at first expected to settle in Kansas. A few families arrived in Marion county in the second week of August and settled in the vicinity of Hillsboro, while another group of 240 traveled directly to Peabody. [26] Then the main party, led by Jacob Wiebe, arrived in Topeka on September 8, where they spent one night encamped at the King bridge shops before resuming their journey to Marion county to found the town of Gnadenau. [27]

A larger party of 1,100, mostly from Alexanderwohl in the Molochna colony, landed in New York in August on the Teutonia and stopped at Summerfield, Ill., before journeying farther west. They at first intended to settle in Nebraska, where they were offered lands by the Burlington railroad, but reports from those who had already arrived in Kansas, some unfavorable aspects of the Nebraska location, the salesmanship of C. B. Schmidt, and perhaps the Goertz pamphlet persuaded the Alexanderwohl community to come to Kansas. [28] Arriving in Topeka on September 23, they were joined two days later by another shipload of 800. Not having made any advance arrangement for the purchase of farmland in Kansas, this party stayed in Topeka for a longer period, housed at the King bridge shops, while leaders inspected the terrain and bargained with the Santa Fe. [29] Several more smaller groups passed through the Kansas capitol in November and December, raising the total in the state at the end of the year to around 3,000, perhaps as many as 4,000. According to the Commonwealth, 6,356 Russian-Germans arrived in North America in 1874: 2,980 to Kansas, 1,000 to Dakota, 750 to Eastern states, 400 to Nebraska, 75 to Minnesota, and the remainder to Canada, but these figures probably did not include 600 who passed through Topeka on New Year’s Eve. [30]

If the number of Mennonites immigrating in 1874 greatly exceeded local expectations, that of 1875 fell far below an optimistic projection of 6,000, [31] as departure from Russia became complicated by drought conditions. In addition, the imperial government’s decision to allow alternative service late in 1874 may have arrested the desire of many to leave. The departure of 15 percent of the Russian-German population of South Russia would have alleviated some of the population pressure, and there was a natural tendency to wait and hear how things were going in the United States. In fact, letters extolling the benefits of the new land did contribute to continued migration in later years. The disruption of communications in South Russia by the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878), the difficulty of selling land to those remaining, the decline of the ruble, and increased restrictions by the Russian government also slowed emigration. The Santa Fe immigration chief claimed that by May, 1877, 8,000 "Mennonite and other Russian-Germans," had settled on Santa Fe land in Kansas, purchasing a total of 88,000 acres, but he also noted that additional Russian-German colonists were more likely to come from the Volga region. [32]

By the time the first large groups of Mennonites arrived in Kansas, representatives of the Volga Germans were inspecting lands in the United States. After meetings in Herzog and nearby villages in the spring of 1874, a delegation was sent to survey settlement possibilities. Perhaps instinctively, these Russian-Germans concentrated their search farther north in Canada and the Dakotas, but some took soil samples from western Kansas and Russell county. [33]

The trek of the Volga Germans was generally more difficult than that of the Mennonites, because they did not move in established church communities. In the case of the Roman Catholics, for example, parish churches were left behind in Russia and new ones had been established under a local diocese in this country. On the whole they were not able to command as many resources since land holdings around the Volga were smaller and values lower than in South Russia. This is probably the reason why the majority waited until after the harvest of 1875 could be sold before departing Russia, but the delay added extra hardships of traveling and finding new homes in winter. Another problem was the slower and more awkward transport from the Volga region and the Volga Germans did not have the opportunity to secure free lodging en route as did the Mennonites. But like their Russian-German predecessors in Kansas, the Volga Germans did tend to come from particular towns and villages—Herzog, Katherinenstadt, Liebenthal, Pfeifer, Schoenchen, Obermunzor—and found towns of the same or similar names.

The first contingents of Volga Germans left Katherinenstadt in October 1875, and, traveling via Bremen and Baltimore, arrived in Topeka on November 28. While the families lived in temporary quarters in North Topeka, the leaders searched for suitable lands to purchase. They first went with C. B. Schmidt to inspect Santa Fe territory around Great Bend but considered the price ($5 an acre) too high. Then with the assistance of Adam Roedelheimer and Martin Allen they were attracted to lands of the Kansas Pacific in Ellis county. [34] Even there, however, many depended on homesteading rather than purchasing from the railroad. [35] Settlement began in February 1876, with the arrival in Hays and Victoria of the first families. [36] Other groups followed the path of the first, arriving at intervals during the spring and summer, especially in August. By the end of the year about 1,200 Roman Catholic Volga Germans had located in Ellis and Rush counties, and another group of Lutherans had settled along Landon creek in Russell county. [37]

After 1877 it is more difficult to distinguish large immigrant parties of Russian-Germans, either from South Russia or the Volga region. They were no longer as newsworthy, and, in fact, the paths to the new frontier were both numerous and well charted, once the Russian border was passed. By this time, too, many were branching away from the first areas of concentration and finding homes in a large number of counties of central and western Kansas. The total number of Russian-German immigrants to Kansas in the 1870’s can be estimated at about 12,000. [38]


The first year of life in Kansas set a pattern for the Russian-Germans that would last for two generations and to some extent survives to the present day. In order to analyze this critical period one must examine how the people already resident in the state greeted the new arrivals as well as how the Russian-Germans adapted to a country with different social, economic and political basis from Russia. What occurred was an interaction of factors that resulted in the community consciousness and exclusiveness being preserved in what one normally thinks of as a much more open society.

The language barrier was an important cause of the initial separation of Russian-Germans from other Kansans. Only a few could speak or understand English within the largest blocks of Mennonites and Roman Catholics, such as the Alexanderwohl community and the Volga Germans who arrived at Victoria in 1876. For the most part they had to rely upon local interpreters, but probably none of those could understand the conversation low German spoken by the immigrants among themselves. The language difficulty made it impossible to ordinary Kansans to carry on a conversation with the new arrivals, but it did little to impede business negotiations, in part because of the concern of railroad agents, but also because of the experience that most of these people had in Russia with non-German speaking neighbors. To the Russian-Germans, a language problem was nothing new, nor was it unexpected.

Unlike most other immigrants to Kansas, the Russian-Germans generally arrived in separate groups, often by the trainload. Debarking at depots in Topeka, Newton, Hays, and Victoria, they caused something of a sensation and attracted a great deal of curiosity. The Mennonites at the bridge shops in Topeka found themselves looked upon as animals in a zoo.

They were visited on Sunday by a great crowd of people, which, it may be suggested, must be somewhat annoying, as it would be to any one to have their domicile invaded without leave by a curious, gaping crowd of strangers. [39]

But newspaper descriptions must have been partly responsible for this kind of turnout. For its initial reports the Commonwealth relied on the New York Herald’s account of the arrival of Russian-German Mennonites.

They were all Germans, but having lived all their lives in Russia, their German has a curious Russian flavor, which did not at all improve the harsh Teutonic sounds. They were dressed in their primitive, homespun garments, which were usually of coarse wool, and of the most primitive style. Our crack tailors would have been puzzled at the droll appearance of these ancient dresses. The women and children—the young ones were all consuming huge pieces of bread and butter with a rapidity which argued well for their digestion—had funny old handkerchiefs tied round their heads, and certainly no Broadway milliner ever supplied one of the quaint bonnets which the fair Mennonite beauties wore. [40]

At every step of the road the Russian-Germans attracted attention by their number and appearance.

For several days our streets and vacant grounds (in Newton) were alive with them, and they appeared to make themselves at home at once and prepare for business. A great many of those who brought no teams or implements with them, supplied themselves here, and a surplus team, wagon or cow is now hard to be found. [41]

The Hays City Sentinel described the arrival of the first group of Volga Germans, under the heading "Mennonites":

The whole outfit, wagons, horses, dogs, cows, women and children of the men folks of the Russians, who had taken claims in this county, arrived last Wednesday night, and a queer looking set they are. . . .

They are strong looking animals, and seem capable of any work, especially the women, who seem to perform as much menial labor as the children, which are numerous. It is refreshing to see one of these females with a small child slung to her in a pouch, in very much the same manner in which the American Indians carry their young, harnessed to a yoke with a bucket of water at each end get down to business! [42]

And later that summer as immigration in Ellis county began to reach the level of an invasion, the Sentinel was even more condescending:


They are here; they are there; and at every corner they may be seen gathering, jabbering about this and that no one knows what. Their presence is unmistakable; for where they are there is also something else,--a smell so pungent and potent as to make a strong man weak. What the material is, from which that smell is manufactured, no one seems to know; but there is a striking similarity of opinion as to the existence of something. It is as penetrating as a west wind, and everything is pervaded with it. . . . Even now our olfactories are protesting; and to our knowledge, there isn’t a Russian within twenty rods of us. [43]

But the Sentinel also noted redeeming features: "One of the pleasing features of the Russian presence in our town, is their singing. All have good voices, and none have any hesitancy in displaying their vocal accomplishments." [44]

Such personal notes were part of the journalism of the day, especially in small rural towns, but even in the pages of the more urbane Topeka Commonwealth can be found items betraying prejudice: "If any one wants to read a history of the Mennonites, the most important is said to bear the simple and pleasing title of ‘Gescheidens der Doopsgesindnen in Friesland, Overyssel en Oostvriesland,’ etc., and is written by the eminent author, Blaufot Ten Cate." "Six hundred is good many nites, but we can stand a few more." "Fred Fensky says a Russian can shovel more pure dirt in a day than a white man can in two." [45]

But the overall impression in the press is that Kansas is lucky to have these people. The Commonwealth described the Mennonites before they arrived as follows:

They are the most peaceable foreigners that arrive on our shores. In their colonies there are no quarrelings, no fightings, no murders, no lawsuits, no lawyers, no juries, no courts, no police, no officers or governors; and crimes even of the smallest character are of the rarest occurrence. The expense of their government is trifling, because they have no government. [46]

In Hays, the Sentinel, for all of its other real or pretended sensitivities, corrected its original impression that the "new comers" were Mennonites as follows:

The Russians who have settled in Ellis county, on Big Timber and north fork of Big Creek, resemble their Mennonite countrymen except in religion, they being Roman Catholics. Like the Mennonites they are industrious, can live in a frugal manner, readily conform to our customs and manners, and before long we will be obliged to class them as among our best citizens. Encourage them to come. [47]

And several examples of Kansas hospitality can be cited. For example, during the stay of the largest group of Mennonites in Topeka, the city omnibuses were placed at their disposal for a grand tour of the city on September 28 that included a reception by the governor and other state officials. [48]

Even this display seemed to go hand in hand with the knowledge that these people from Russia were not going to stay in town long but that they had money to spend on supplies before their departure. Without these inducements, the attitude of Topekans might have resembled that shown by the Commonwealth to a hundred Negroes from Tennessee who arrived in the spring of 1876:

If these people will only go into the parts of the state where lands are cheap or where homesteads can be procured, instead of trying to live in the towns and cities, they will prove a valuable addition to our populations. There is plenty of room in Kansas, but little of it about our towns and cities for those who must depend upon their labor exclusively. [49]

Money, then, was another factor that eased the transition, improved the hospitality, and at the same time made independence and exclusiveness easier. They had the cash to buy railroad land rather than scramble for remaining homesteads. By dealing in volume and paying cash, they got a better price and other benefits from a happy railroad management. The Santa Fe provided free transportation for the Alexanderwohl community, not only for the trip from Topeka to Newton, but also for themselves and supplies for the remainder of the year. In Victoria complaints arose over the granting by the Kansas Pacific of a 50 percent discount on freight to a Volga German grocer. [50] The railroads also provided as part of the package, free land for churches and schools, and in the case of some of the Mennonite groups temporary housing en route and at the places of settlement. The Alexanderwohl immigrants, for example, lived during the winter of 1874-1875 in two large "immigrant houses" that were built 15 miles north of Newton near the present church buildings. [51] And another important contribution of the railroads was a supply of seed wheat for the first year.

Ready cash made it possible for the Russian-Germans to get a substantial start with horses, livestock, implements, and buildings. In this respect they had a much easier time than the average homesteader in Kansas. Some were able to contract the construction of homes and hire labor to plow the virgin prairie, while they supervised, shopped for implements, and made other arrangements. Community action produced a large bulk order of Russian threshing stones from a nearby quarry. At Gnadenau the Russian-Germans lived in distinctive A-frame type dwellings initially, but within a few years these were either abandoned or converted to farm buildings. [52] Some built Russian-style adobe houses themselves, a few of which survive around Hillsboro and Buhler, while most settled down in the standard American frame house, erected for them by local builders.

It is also true that among the Russian-Germans were several people of considerable wealth, and their prestige and influence helped others in the community. They assisted particularly in the negotiations with railroad agents and local officials, in planning community buildings, in establishing mills and lumberyards, and in making loans to the less fortunate. Notable among the Mennonites were Bernard Warkentin and David Goertz of Halstead, Jacob Funk, and Jacob Wiebe. Among the Volga Germans were the Dreilings and Brungarts of Herzog and John Jacob Krug of the Landon creek Lutheran settlement. Perhaps the richest of all, at least in anticipated largess, was Andreas Meyer of Katherinenstadt, whose cash holding were estimated at $700,000 upon arrival. Though greatly exaggerated, Meyer’s wealth did assist his fellow Russian-Germans and provide the capitol to purchase five sections from the Kansas Pacific and set up a lumberyard. [53] But the wealth of the Russian-Germans was exaggerated at the time and only large in comparison with that of an average American homesteader. Frugality and care in making purchases made dollars go far. Many were quite poor upon arrival and other spent all they had in the initial investments. [54] On the whole the Volga Germans had fewer resources than those from South Russia, though they were able to benefit from the Kansas Pacific’s policy of delaying title claims and thereby avoid paying taxes for several years. [55]

Beside financial leaders, the immigrants from Russia also included people of intellectual stature, who were interested in preserving the cultural and religious heritage. They had been active in promoting emigration from Russia for the purpose, and it is no surprise to note how quickly schools, churches, and even printing presses were founded in the Russian-German settlements. The inauguration of a German newspaper in Halstead in 1875 by David Goertz is a remarkable achievement at a time when many Kansas towns of that size did not have a newspaper. [56] And the fact that several German-language newspapers were being published in Russian-German areas in the 1880’s and 1890’s attests to the high literacy rate of the first and second generations. But more important—this self-sufficiency slowed the adoption of English language and American customs and helped retain community integrity.

Schools and churches were obviously great strengths to the Russian-Germans. Settling on large block of railroad land and buying up or homesteading the intervening sections, they were able to monopolize contiguous areas and determine the religious and social institutions to be located there. The simple, well-kept churches of the Newton-Marion-McPherson region and the spires of the Volga German villages of Ellis county are lasting tributes to that heritage. Community bonds were also fostered by the land tenure system brought with them from Russia, concentrating homes in a village pattern with neatly arranged farm strips on the nearby sections, or, as was more common with the Volga Germans, living in larger villages but commuting to the fields either on a daily or weekly basis. This was a distinctive "un-American" practice, preserved still to some extent, especially in Ellis county. This village environment was a major factor in the Russian-German ability to retain their language and culture through the second generation. [57]

With collective strength and with individual industry and leadership, the Russian-Germans were able to fulfill successfully the prophecy of the Commonwealth:

From the Cottonwood river to the Little Arkansas, a scope of magnificent prairie country fifty miles in length, is now one colony, composed of the thriftiest and most intelligent class of foreigners that ever landed upon our shores; and "in three years"—to use the language of one of their elders—" that ocean of grass will be transformed into an ocean of waving fields of grain, just as we left our Molotschnoi colony." Kansas will be to America what the country of the Black sea and Sea of Azov is now to Europe—her wheat field. [58]

Ironically, 100 years later Kansas had also become the wheat field of Russia.


The first Russian-Germans arrived at a critical time in Kansas history, at the end of a depression, severe drought, and terrible grasshopper infestation. More people were leaving Kansas than coming in as discouraged homesteaders pulled up stakes and headed for urban employment or new territory. The business community and especially the railroads were becoming desperate, and the first special session of the Kansas legislature met in Topeka in September to deal with the problem. Many Kansans found solace in the arrival of the determined new immigrants and saw even more reason to advertise their presence. Where the Mennonites settled it cannot be bad was the message heard across the state and all across the country and to Europe in 1874.

Although the immediate impact of the Russian-Germans in dollars and cents cannot be easily calculated, to the Santa Fe alone they paid $332,509.72 between February 15, 1873, and May 31, 1877 according to C. B. Schmidt. [59] Most of it came in 1874 and may actually have saved the railroad from bankruptcy. But this figure obviously does not include the outright purchases of land from previous farmers. Even more immediately recorded, however, was the boost in local business, first in Topeka:

Notwithstanding the chronic complaint of hard times and scarcity of money, our merchants are now doing more business than at any time for the past three months . . . . The Mennonites now here are very busy laying in supplies of all kinds, and their custom is very valuable to our dealers. They are also purchasing horses, cattle, wagons and agricultural implements as well as household goods, and their purchases will aggregate a very handsome sum. [60]

And this picture passed on down the line to other towns:

We know of three one thousand dollar bills having been exchanged for smaller currency [in Newton] on Friday, and it is safe to say that a good many extra hundred dollars have been put in circulation by their appearance. [61]

In those localities there were reports that people who had lost crops and were preparing to leave the state were now staying because of employment opportunities afforded by the new arrivals. Estimating the purchases of equipment and new construction at double that of the price of land, the claim can be made that the Russian-Germans brought over $1,000,000 into a nearly destitute state in the last half of 1874. [62]

An article written by "Traveler," published in November, emphasized the surprising prosperity of that region of the state:

A ride over Marion county showed a very large breadth of fall grain in better condition than I have ever seen. . . .

Commercially, Peabody is one of the most promising little towns on the line of the A. T. & S. F. road, and socially and morally is one of the pleasantest towns in the state. . . .

From Peabody I passed on to Harvey county and found the same evidence of prosperity there that I found in Marion. . . . The merchants in Newton say that their business continues good. [63]

And on November 17, the Commonwealth quipped: "Anarchy has been revived in Arkansas, creation in Ohio, the crusade in Indiana, and business in Kansas."

Although the Russian-Germans were not the only immigrants to come to Kansas in 1874-1877, they were definitely among the first in key agricultural areas, and where they went others followed. Mennonites from eastern states, especially Illinois, joined the settlements in Harvey and McPherson counties:

For two or three days past very many wagons filled with emigrants have passed through the streets of Topeka bound south. The tide seems to have turned, heretofore wagons were going out of the state; but there seems to be about as many coming in. [64]

Obviously, some Kansans saw a connection between the arrival of the Russian-Germans and the wave of other settlers coming into the state.

The Chicago Tribune, after reprinting a long article on the Russian-German Mennonites from the Commonwealth, added:

The importance of this valuable accession to the wealth and industry of Kansas can hardly be overestimated. The emigration will probably be completed next year, and will add to the population of Kansas two thousand of the most skillful, intelligent and thrifty farmers upon the face of the globe, who will bring into speedy cultivation 100,000 acres of wild and rich prairie land, which will be broken for the first time this fall. [65]

And a tendency to carry this to romantic extremes also prevailed:

The mowers that had been laid by for the season are brought into requisition again to cut the waving grass for the thousands of work horses, oxen, and milch cows to subsist on during the short winter season; car load after car load of breaking plows and other implements are sent down the road, and it seems as if the working season for the farmer had just begun. The wild prairie is to be broken doubly deep in October, yet to receive a dressing of wheat and rye. No one thinks of drouth and grasshoppers—everybody is happy and energetic, and hope and energy will find their reward. [66]

But the immigration wave and accompanying capital investment were transitory phenomena. The Russian-Germans are most famous for having brought wheat to Kansas, or more specifically the red, winter, hard wheat, called Turkey Red, a strain that was particularly suited for the Great Plains and became the major export of the wheat belt of the central and western states. The real origins of this wheat are obscured by legend, but it is not true that any quantity of significance was brought directly to Kansas by the Russian-German immigrants of the 1870’s. In the first place it was logistically impossible for them, burdened as they were with families and belongings, to bring enough wheat to plant many of the 200,000 acres that they brought under cultivation in the first years. [67] Secondly, the Russian-Germans were accustomed to planting spring wheat in Russia, in the case of the Molochna colony a soft wheat called girka. [68] Only very small quantities of a spring, hard, red wheat, called arnautka, were planted in the Berdiansk exporting area. [69] The arnaulka or one of the "utka" varieties such as "White Turkey" (actually red grained), which was grown in the Volga region as a spring wheat, was probably the kind that was adapted for winter planting in Kansas within a few years after the Russian-German arrival. [70]

The kind of wheat to plant was actually a subject of much debate in Kansas prior to the Russian-German arrival [71]; most natives preferred corn, however, for its greater household use and as feed for livestock, especially pigs. Land promoter T. C. Henry was one of the first to plant winter wheat on a large scale, in virtual plantation style, near Abilene in 1873. The question of which was to be the dominant grain for Kansas was actually being settled upon the Russian-German arrival, and the grasshoppers deserve some of the credit—for wiping out the corn crop and most of the spring wheat. Only winter wheat was generally successful in 1874. [72] And at the time the Volga Germans were settling down around Victoria, the Hays City Sentinel proclaimed that the question was now resolved: winter wheat was the kind to plant. [73]

But the Russian-Germans undoubtedly increased the pace of adoption of wheat and helped make possible the rapid expansion of the wheat export and milling industries in the state. They were accustomed to dry, prairie type agriculture—the only settlers in Kansas of such background—and to the raising of wheat for export. And so it happened that most of the Russian-Germans arrived in Kansas in late summer or early fall anxious to commence planting. The railroads also had a vested interest in their early start and arranged the distribution of large quantities of winter seed wheat. The new arrivals also planted corn and spring wheat the next year and went on to try other crops, such as mulberries for silk culture, tobacco, and even cotton. Strangers to corn foods, but already conscious of the importance of wheat exports, the Russian-Germans quite naturally devoted a large percentage of their ground to wheat.

The most lasting and important gift of the Russian-Germans to Kansas, however, was their determination to stay. They brought families, invested all their resources, and immediately began the construction of substantial houses and churches, whole communities, many of which have survived for a century. In Ellis county in 1875 only four out of 72 farmers had families. [74] This unstable situation changed drastically with the arrival of the Volga Germans. While many other settlers drifted on from county to county, from state to state, as itinerant homesteaders or tenant farmers, the Russian-Germans stayed on through good times and some of the worst droughts in American history to cultivate the Plains and establish their own particular "good society."


NORMAN E. SAUL, reared on a farm in Indiana, received his B. A. degree from Indiana University, and his doctorate from Columbia University. He has written a book on Russian interest in the Mediterranean and several magazine articles on Russian-American relations, and although a member of the history department faculty at the University of Kansas, he is presently an exchange professor at University College, Dublin, Ireland.

1. For general information, insights, and encouragements the author is indebted to many individuals and institutions. Among those who were generous of time and assistance were: Dr. Cornelius Krahn and John Schmidt of the Mennonite Historical Archive and Library, North Newton, August Kirksen and Martha Unruh of the Goessel Historical Society, John Dinkel of Herzog, and Irwin Staab of Catherine; special appreciation is also extended to the cooperative staffs of Bethel College Library, Fort Hays State College Library, Hays Public Library, Kansas Historical Society, Regional History Division of the University of Kansas, and the Lenin Library in Moscow. Curtis Rohland and Cobb Rogers, graduate students at the University of Kansas in the Department of History and Slavic and Soviet Area Studies, respectively, provided valuable research assistance. The study was supported by the General Research Fund of the University of Kansas.
2. The term "Russian-German" is used in this article because it is the one most often found in historical literature, but it is not entirely satisfactory. One alternative preferred by many descendants is the more awkward "Germans from Russia," and some think that "German-Russian" is more appropriate. For a discussion of this problem see the June, 1973, Newsletter of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia. 3. The German historian, Karl Stumpp, is the chief authority on the Volga Germans. One of his major works, Die Russlanddeutschen: Zweihundert Jahre Unterwegs (Freilassing in Bayern, Pannonia-Verlag, 1965) has been translated into English by Joseph Height: The German-Russians: Two Centuries of Pioneering (Bonn, Atlantic-Forum, 1967). Stumpp has also compiled an exhaustive list of Volga German immigrants to Russia: The Emigration From Germany to Russia in the Years 1763 to 1862 (Tubingen, published by the author, c1972). The most complete treatment of the move to Russia is G. G. Pisarevskii, Iz Istorii Inostrannoi Kalonizatsii v Rossii v XVIII v. (Moscow, Snegirevyi, 1909). Much historical and genealogical interest has been generated by the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, whose Kansas membership chairman is Mrs. Martha Heinze Miller of Independence.
4. An old but still reliable guide to the Russian-German Mennonites is C. Henry Smith, The Coming of the Russian Mennonites: An Episode in the Settling of the Last Frontier, 1874-1884 (Berne, Ind., Mennonite Books Concern, 1927). Also of great value are: From the Steppes to the Prairies (1874-1949), edited by Cornelius Krahn (Newton, Mennonite Publication Office, 1949), and Karl Stumpp, Die Deutschen Kolonien im Schwarzmeergebiet dem Früheren Neu (Süd)-Russland Stuttgart, Ausland und Heimat Verlag, 1922).

The best literature on the Russian-Germans, though indispensable to any serious study, is unfortunately not widely known and generally of an introspective nature and narrow in focus. Much remains to be done on comparative social analysis within the broader framework of ethnic studies. And for this the potentials of oral history and the collection of private letters, diaries, pictures, etc., must not be neglected:
5. This estimate is compiled from the best source on the Russian-Germans just prior to the emigration of the 1870’s: A. A. Klaus, Nashi Kolonii: Opyty I Materialy po Istorii I Statistike Inostrannoi Kolonizatsii v Rossi (St,. Petersburg, Nusvalt, 1869), which is a collection of articles from the widely circulated Russian journal, Vestnik Evropy. Unfortunately, Klaus does not include Russian Poland in his statistics.
6. The new option was tendered by the Russian government only a few days before the departures of the largest groups from South Russia.—Newton Kansan, October 1, 1874.
7. "Grandmother Reminisces," in Amy Brungardt Toepfer and Agnes C. Dreiling, Conquering the Wind (Garwood, N. J. Victor C. Leiker, 1966), p. 164.
8. Klaus, Nashi Kolonii . . ., p. 161.
9. Ibid., pp. 184-186.
10. The roles of individuals in promoting emigration needs more investigation. The biographers of Jansen emphasize his religious motivation and international connections, but he was also a recent arrival (1850) in Russia who retained his Prussian citizenship.—See Gustav E. Reimer and G. R. Gaeddert, Exiled by the Czar: Cornelius Jansen and the Great Mennonite Migration (Newton, Mennonite Publication Office, 1956).
11. Klaus, Nashi Kolonii . . ., p. 195.
12. Ibid., App. II
13. Ibid., pp. 154, 165.
14. Ibid., p. 140.
15. Cornelius Krahn, intro., From the Steppes to the Prairies, pp. 3-4
16. Klaus, Nashi Kolonii . . ., p. 187: C. B. Schmidt, "Reminiscences of Foreign Immigration Work for Kansas," Kansas Historical Collections, v. 9 (1905-1906), p. 494.
17. Newton Kansan, August 14, 1873; The Commonwealth, Topeka, July 26, 1874. And even a Kansas City reporter was impressed by the change in Newton: "Four years ago it was the ‘red-hot’ town of Kansas. Its streets were witnesses almost daily of acts of violence and bloodshed."—Kansas City (Mo.) Journal of Commerce, December 29, 1875.
18. Thelma Jean Curl, "Promotional Efforts of the Kansas Pacific and Santa Fe to Settle Kansas" (M. A. thesis, University of Kansas, 1960), pp. 21-23. See, also, Cornelius J. Dyck, "Kansas Promotional Activities with Particular Reference to Mennonites" (M. A. thesis, University of Wichita, 1955). 19. Curl, "Promotional Efforts . . .," p. 56; Arthur Menzies Johnson, Boston Capitalists and Western Railroads (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1967), pp. 290-293.
20. Schmidt, "Reminiscences of Foreign Immigration Work . . .," pp. 485-488.
21. Topeka Blade, October 31, 1873.
22. Prentis worked for several Topeka newspapers before joining The Commonwealth in the summer of 1874.—Caroline E. Prentis, A Kansas Pioneer (Newton, Kansas Printing Co., n. d.), pp. 14-15.
23. A copy of an early declaration is found in Mennonite Life, North Newton, v. 25 (April, 1970), p. 68.
24. Die Mennoniten Niederlassung auf den Ländereien der Atchison, Topeka und Santa Fe Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft in Harvey & MarKansas (St. Joseph, Mo., David Goertz, 1874). A copy is in the library of the Kansas Historical Society.
25. David V. Wiebe, They Seek a Country: A Survey of Mennonite Migrations With Special Reference to Kansas and Gnadenau (Hillsboro, Mennonite Brethren Publ. House, 1959), pp. 81-87.
26. Marion County Record, Marion, August 15, 1874; Atchison Daily Champion, September 10, 1874.
27. The Commonwealth, September 10, 1874; Marion County Record, Marion, September 12, 1874.
28. The Commonwealth, September 24, 1874.
29. Ibid.
30. Ibid., April 25, 1875. A count of those registered in The Commonwealth as coming through Topeka in 1874 is 3,600; this figure may not include smaller parties who traveled directly to their destination, but on the other hand may contain some American (Illinois) Mennonites.
31. Ibid. Earlier, during the height of the immigration in 1874, the Commonwealth boasted that all 40,000 Russian-German Mennonites would settle in Kansas.–Ibid., September 24, 1874.
32. C. B. Schmidt to A. S. Johnson, June 9, 1877. "Immigration (Foreign)," "Santa Fe Papers," Kansas Historical Society, Newspaper reports of purchases of over 100,000 acres were apparently or included options taken.
33. The chief sources on the Volga-German settlement in Kansas are: the Rev. Francis S. Laing, "German-Russian Settlements in Ellis County, Kansas," KHC, v. 11 (1909-1910), pp.489-528; Sister Mary Eloise Johannes, "A Study of the Russian-German Settlements in Ellis County, Kansas," The Catholic University of America Studies in Sociology, v. 14 (Washington, D.C., 1946); and J. c. Ruppenthal, "The German Element in Central Kansas," KHC, v. 13 (1913-1914), pp. 513-533. Local historians such as Lawrence Weigel and Father Burke in Hays are building on the solid foundation erected by the above, but much remains to be done, especially in the collection of personal papers and analysis of state and local records.
34. Laing, "German-Russian Settlements . . .," p. 494; The Commonwealth, January 15, 1876.
35. Hays City Sentinel, August 9, 1876.
36. Ibid., March 1, 1876.
37. Ibid., October 4, 1876; Ruppenthal, "The German Element . . .," p. 530.
38. The census statistics of 1880, which record 8,082 born in Russia, are misleading since many of the Mennonites who arrived from "Russia" were actually born in Poland, Prussia, Switzerland, or other German states. Nearly all of the 1,200 who gave their birthplace as Poland (which did not exist as a state) should be counted as "Russian-Germans."
39. The commonwealth, September 24, 1874
40. Ibid., September 10, 1874.
41. Newton Kansan, October 15, 1874.
42. Hays City Sentinel, March 1, 1876.
43. Ibid., August 16, 1876.
44. Ibid.
45. The Commonwealth, September 10, 1874; February 13, 1876.
46. Ibid., July 29, 1874.
47. Hays City Sentinel, April 5, 1876.
48. The Commonwealth, September 29, 1874.
49. Ibid., March 23, 1876. The Commonwealth also noted (March 29): "It is much less remarkable that the Mennonites of far-off Russia should have heard of Kansas than it is that the colored people of the rural districts of Tennessee should have got hold of the same piece of information. Special pains was [sic] taken to induce the Mennonite settlers to come here, in fact all Europe has been traversed by active and intelligent agents, and a flood of reading matter about Kansas has been distributed; added to this, thousands upon thousands of letters are yearly written from settlers in Kansas to their friends beyond the ocean. The poor farm hand in Giles or Maury or Davidson counties in Tennessee has, as a rule, no Kansas friends to write to him, and none of the land grant railroads extend an invitation to him in the shape of a pamphlet, map or circular."
50. Hays City Sentinel, March 9,1877.
51. Newton Kansan, October 8, 1874.
52. C. B Schmidt published an illustrated pamphlet in 1878 that captured the life of the early Russian-German Mennonite villages. See C. B. Schmidt, "Kansas Mennonite Settlements, 1877," translated by Cornelius Krahn, Mennonite Life, v. 25 (April, 1970), pp. 51-58; illustrations, pp. 65-79. In a later edition, probably published in 1881, most of the A-frame dwellings at Gnadenau had disappeared&endash;only one was left and that is apparently a barn.&endash;Neuestes von Kansas und Seinen Hülfsquellen mit Besonderer Berücksichtigung der Ländereinen der Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fé Ei-senbahn (Hamburg, T. F. Richter, n.d.). A copy is in the regional history division of the University of Kansas Library.
52. Hays City Sentinel, September 27, November 15, 1876, and March 9, 1877.
54. Of the nine Alexanderwohl "villages,’ one, Gnadenfeld, consisted of poorer families, many of whom worked on other farms or in nearby mills.
55. Paul Wallace Gates, Fifty Million Acres: Conflicts Over Kansas Land Policy, 1854-1890 (Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell University Press, 1954), pp. 264-267.
56. The Commonwealth, November 11, 1876.
57. The Kansas City reporter, covering the foreign settlement areas of Kansas in 1911, contrasted the resistance to adaptation of the Russian-Germans to others such as French, Swiss, and Bohemians.&endash;"Foreign Feet in Kansas Furrows: The Russians," Kansas City (Mo.) Star, December 17, 1911, p. 4B.
58. The Commonwealth, October 15, 1874.
59. C. B. Schmidt to A. s. Johnson, June 9, 1877, "Santa Fe Papers," KSHS.
60. The Commonwealth, September 26, 27, 1874.
61. One example, Peter Wiebe spent $320 of the $1,000 that he brought to Kansas on land. He paid $145 for a span of oxen and wagon. And with the remainder he hired a Negro to "break sod" and purchased winter supplies.&endash;"A Voyage Report," in David Wiebe, They Seek a Country, pp. 81-87. The Alexanderwohl community paid $34,688 for the construction of 64 houses, and those leaving Topeka on October 8 required 30 freight cars for livestock and 12 more household goods and implements.&endash;The Commonwealth, April 25, 1876, and October 8, 1874.
63. Ibid., November 10, 1874.
64. Ibid., October 20, 1874.
65. As noted in ibid., November 6, 1874.
66. Ibid., October 15, 1874.
67. This agrees with Professor Malin’s conclusion.&endash;See James C. Malin, Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas: A Study in Adaptation to Subhumid Geographical Environment (Lawrence, University of Kansas Press, 1944), pp. 163-168.
68. I. Palimpsestov, ed., Sbornik Statei o Sel’skom Khoziaistve Iuga Rossii (Odessa, Frantsov, 1868), pp. 271-273, 311-312.
69. Klaus, Nashi Kolonii . . ., p. 164.
70. This is the opinion of a Russian agricultural expert.&endash;See S. M. Bogdanov, Illustrirovannyi Sel’skokhoziaistvennyi Slovar’ (Kiev, Barskii, 1895), p. 1087.
71. For example: "Will some of our experimental farmers who have tried wheat raising in this part of the State, give the Kansan their ideas upon the best season to plant the same, and what quality to plant."&endash;Newton Kansan, August 14, 1873.
72. Kansas City (Mo.) Journal of Commerce, November 18, 1874.
73. Hays City Sentinel, April 12, 1876.
74. Fred C. Cook, "Settlement and Economic Development in Early Hays City and Ellis County, 1867-1880," typescript, Forsythe Library, Fort Hays State College, p. 19.