Brost speaks on Germans from RussiaSunday, July 1, at the Stutsman County Memorial Museum Front Porch Chat, 91-year-old Ronald Brost told a few jokes before beginning his talk about his ancestors on his mother’s side of the family. Ronald was born and raised in Kulm, N.D., where the Herman ancestors settled after they came to America.
Sunday, July 1, at the Stutsman County Memorial Museum Front Porch Chat, 91-year-old Ronald Brost told a few jokes before beginning his talk about his ancestors on his mother’s side of the family. Ronald was born and raised in Kulm, N.D., where the Herman ancestors settled after they came to America.
Brost said he got most of his information about his ancestors from his mother, Matilda, during the last few years of her life and some from other relatives in their later years. Matilda lived to be 100 years old and had been reluctant to speak about her experiences before that. He stated the Herman (originally spelled Herrmann) men were a stoic lot who didn’t talk about their problems, and the women were loyal, almost to a fault.
According to Brost, his great grandfather John Herman, had a family meeting and informed his children, two girls and four boys, that they were all going to America or they would be disinherited. The four boys embarked on the adventure with their parents, but one sister stayed behind with her spouse, and there remains an air of mystery about the other sister.
His grandfather, Fred Herman, was a carpenter/cabinet maker who had a good home and a profitable business in Bessarabia (modern day Ukraine). But left it all behind to come to America in 1897. His wife was the adventurous type and saw America as a chance for new experiences and opportunities.
The adventure began with a covered wagon trip to Leipzig, Germany (Southwest of Berlin). Their first train ride took them to Bremen. They made the journey to America aboard the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. The ship was one of the newest and fastest.
The Hermans had heard about the hardships involved when other emigrants had to sail for over two weeks to get to America on leaky ships with unsanitary conditions. The Germans were also a superstitious lot and were concerned about sea monsters.
The sailors assured the family the ship was very safe and there were no sea monsters. Their comfortable 3,400 mile voyage took only six days, landing in Ellis Island.
They then took a 2,000 mile train ride across the Eastern U.S. When they passed through Minnesota some of the family hoped that the train would stop there; the lakes and forests reminded them of home. The train continued on to the wide open prairies and rocky hills where their journey ended at Kulm, N.D., the end of the line at that time.
As Brost said in his opening remarks: “Kulm isn’t the end of the world, but you can see it from there!”
Many of the townspeople would meet the train to hear of news and meet friends and relatives from their Russian homeland. Everyone on the train was offered lodging with one of the residents until they could build for themselves.
Land agents showed the brothers the free land that was available. They were able to obtain land close to each other. The first building to be built was always the barn, built from sod, with few windows and doors, the family would then live in the barn while they built the house.
The sod houses took longer because the windows and doors were more difficult and took more care to build. They were good farmers and eventually got more land.
At one time it was said a person could go from Merricort north to the Soo Line and never leave Herman land.
Life on the prairie was difficult, they were lonely, felt like strangers in the new land, feared loss of their culture, language, customs and even their religion. They would come together in what they termed a “brotherhood” to raise their spirits.
They would pray out loud to bolster each other up to get through the week until the next Sunday when they would meet again. They would apply Bible verses to their problems and talk them through. Fifty years later the psychologists would call this “Group Therapy,” something the Germans from Russia had been doing all the while.
During the depression in the 1930’s the times were so tough that even their prayers became so negative that the “brotherhood” sessions were no longer effective. Brost said the depression was so bad because it was accompanied by the drought.
There were very poor crops and the grain they did get was worth very little, consequently many farmers were to lose their land because they had no money for taxes. The money they had was used to keep them alive.
Brost told of a time when their bull broke the water tank. They couldn’t afford to buy another tank so they traded the bull for a new tank to save the rest of their herd. When they needed a new washing machine, the merchant was willing to give them the washer to use until their calves grew large enough to sell. They would settle the bill when they had the money from the calves.
Kulm had a flour mill. If the farmer brought 33 bushels of wheat to the mill they would give him 1,000 pounds of flour, enough to last the year. They would trade eggs for groceries, use cream checks for clothes and gasoline.
They needed to find some positives in their lives to keep them going. Brost said that they turned to songs of praise as one of these positives. They realized that they still had blessings even though times were hard.
They concentrated on singing lively tunes and could only sing two verses of each song, allowing them to sing more songs to raise their spirits. Many of their friends and neighbors did lose their land, some bought it back when times were better, others moved on to other places.
Next week there will not be a Front Porch Chat. The Stutsman County Memorial Museum will be hosting the Dog Days of Summer as part of the White Cloud’s Birthday celebration. Come and have a hotdog with all the fixins’ and a root beer, Coke or orange float between 1 and 4 p.m. at the museum.
On July 15, the Front Porch Chat will feature Tim Burchill speaking on the history of Ave Maria Village.