Russia 1871+
Home Up Russia after 1901


In 1871, the Russia Government rescinded the agreements that they had with the German peoples (all foreigners) that came the Russia in the early 1800s.  Remember that, up to that point in time, the German people could keep their own language in school, not be part of the army, administer their own villages and essentially be German people living inside Russia, to name just a few conditions. 

Between 1890 and 1903 and especially after 1894, Rohrbach and Kassel lost about a 1000 people each, somewhere between 100 to 200 families each from Rohrbach and Kassel left Russia for the United States of America.  The people who left Russia had to have the money necessary to book passage to USA and train fare to the Midwest, hopefully with money left over to keep them going once they got there.  

Here is a review of the conditions after 1871 in Rohrbach and Kassel:


1871  Russia rescinds original agreements,


German men required to serve in the Russian army,


Russian army personnel sent into German villages to live with the people and to be supported by them,


Germans no longer free, but had to submit to Russian army direction within their own villages, often cruel and harsh punishment,


Took over the administration of the villages and schools,


Russian language in the schools, freedom of religion denied,


higher taxes, flour mill burned, live in fear,


      The USA was opening new land for farming to anyone who would work the land, (the Homestead Act) and that fact was being advertised throughout the world.

Thus began the migration of hundreds of thousand of German-Russians to the USA.  There was a large drop in population from Rohrbach from 1894 to 1903 [Height].  1901 is when Johann and Karoline (Braun) Hochhalter and family (9 children) went to the USA (my relatives).  There was a large drop in the Kassel population after 1890 [Height].  A quote from [Height],  will help explain these conditions in the German colonies:

[Height] > Joseph S. Height, "Homesteaders on the Steppe, The Odyssey of a Pioneering People", second printing, Germans from Russia Heritage Society, Bismark, ND;  "Cultural history of the Evangelical-Lutheran colonies in the region of Odessa;   1804 - 1945".

[Height], excerpted from page 323:


The predominant reason that motivated the German colonists to leave Russia and seek their fortune in America was the quest of free land.  To be sure, the ukase[1] of June 4, 1871, in which Czar Alexander II revoked the rights and privileges that had been granted by Catherine and her grandson Alexander I, made the colonists subject to military service and created a shock wave of distrust and resentment that swept through the German villages.  However, except for the Mennonites, who were conscientious objectors, the obligation to serve in the army was not in itself the principal determining factor in the emigration.  Many colonists also deplored the loss of traditional self-government and particularly resented the increased pressure to Russianize the village schools and to take over their administration.  However, as far as the Catholic and Evangelical colonists were concerned it would appear that most of the emigrants left Russia to find in America the promise of  “free land for a free people”.

 [1] {ukase} - decree, edict, order, manifesto, proclamation


Three Stories:

Here are three stories from German people who did emigrate from Russia to South Dakota.  These stories are taken from [Ponca] and quoted here as Quotes 1, 2, and 3  The stories are taken from people who came from Rohrbach, Russia.

[Ponca];  Adeline S. Gnirk, “The Saga of Ponca Land”, published in 1979 by Gregory Times-Advocate, Gregory, SD {Elaine Gnirk, RR1, Box 44A, Burke, SD 57523, $20.00 + $3.00 S&H, 605-775-2155}

Quote 1:  Jacob Eva Weist  [Ponca], excerpted from pages 315 and 316.

In the early 1800’s many German people colonized in parts of Russia.  Russia needed their agricultural ability and promised them many things.  At first it was good.  They lived in what they called German Colonies.  They were self-contained, having their own schools and churches.  In one of these colonies lived Jacob Weist; he spoke fluent Russian, was the colony spokesman, taught school, and also owned the flour mill.  He and his wife Eva had eight children.  Their homes were made of rock, as were all the fences, and these were kept whitewashed.  The colony had their own vineyard and apples, apricots and other fruits.   The families lived within the colony and drove out to the farms.  The women and children often worked in the fields.  The soil was fertile and their crops did well.  This was the colony of Rohrbach which was located about 100 miles south [north] of the port city of Odessa, Russia.

 It did not last!  The Russian people were poor farmers and often illiterate, the Russians came to resent the presence of the prosperous Germans.  Then came interference by the Russian army.  They were ordered into the colonies.  The army lived with the people; had to be fed, their orders obeyed, and they were often cruel.  There were many such incidences in the Colony of Rohrbach.  Taxes were increased and the freedom of religion was denied.  Then the floor mill was burned.  Thus oppression, taxation, and fear for their lives brought about the immigration of many German people to this country.  So began the exodus of Jacob and Eva Weist, along with many of their relatives and friends.  Kind neighbors took them by lumber wagon the 100 mile trip to Odessa, the seaport.  Ship’s passage to America was $300 per adult and $150 for each child.  This was by no means first class; they were herded aboard ship like cattle; they had no accommodations and no privacy. 

End quote 1.

Quote 2:  Jacob Fuhrman Sr.  [Ponca], excerpted from page 235.

Jacob [Fuhrman, Sr.] was a farmer in Rohrbach; the inhabitants clustered in little houses in the village and went out to farm.  The village was enclosed by a rock fence as a safety precaution against the ferocious wild roving wolf packs.  Their abode, a two room house, included a horse stable, cow barn, hog and chicken house built in sequence under one roof.  This eliminated the need to care for the livestock out of doors in inclement weather.  Herders watched the livestock outside the village during the day and the farmers tilled the earth planted and harvested the crops and hay.

Jacob Sr. was a carpenter and a wagon maker by trade.  Once a month he journeyed by horse and wagon to Barasofka where he purchased the unfinished wood to round out the spokes and hubs for the wagons and cabinet wood for cabinets, chests, beds, chairs and tables.

Jacob Sr. longed to come to America so he sold his acreage to his brother.  Securing passports, Jacob and Eva with their ten month old son, Peter, and Jacob’s older children, Jacob Jr., Katherine and Anna, made their departure for Germany where they embarked for New York, USA. in the fall of 1889.  They traveled from New York by rail to Sutton, Nebraska which was the “jumping off” stop for immigrant Russians.  Prior to World War I, the average of 300,000 Germans from southern Russia had immigrated to the United States and found a haven in Jamestown, North Dakota; Hayes, Kansas; Sutton, Nebraska; Scotland, South Dakota; and southern Canada.  One relative would bring another to this land of freedom, opportunity and milk n’ honey.

End quote 2.

Quote 3:  Daniel and Magdalina Hildebrand   [Ponca], excerpted from pages 244 & 245.

Daniel Hildebrand was born April 22, 1858 in Kulm, South Russia.  He was married in 1880 to Magdalina Banko who was born February 16, 1860 in South Russia.  The Hildebrand forebears were born in Germany but emigrated to Russia during the reign of Catherine the Great of Russia, she being a German born princess.  They claimed a homestead in the fertile Odessa valley and all was well until Russia began the conscription of German youths for service in the Russian army.  Thus began the great flight of the German peoples in Russia to the United States of America.

End quote 3.

 There are other stories in the book [Ponca].  I will let the three above stories speak for themselves as a short discussion in why the Germans of South Russia came to the USA in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  Please read the [Ponca] book for its history of that region of South Dakota.

Some colonists left Russia, via the city of Odessa, a port city on the Black Sea.  Passage was through the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic Ocean, a trip that took about three months to complete.  Later the railroad opened and it became possible to travel to Germany by rail and exit Germany at the city of Bremen by ship.  This later travel was faster.  Railroad travel and ships were improving at a fast rate during this time period. 

This later travel is what my ancestors took, my great-grandfather brought his family to the USA via Germany when my grandfather was only 17 years old.  They traveled to the port city of Bremen and sailed on the H. H. Mier in late April of 1901 and arrived in New York's Ellis Island a few days later on May 9 1901.  My father (Gideon) tells me that they left Russia to keep the boys from serving in the Russian Army.  In New York, they boarded a train to the Midwest, we do not know exactly where they went, but I suspect possibly Butte or Sutton Nebraska, or to relatives in South Dakota.

Rohrbach History after 1901

Click here to read about Rohrbach, Russia after 1901.

To follow Johann and Johann J to the USA click on Johann Hochhalter USA.

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