EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
A Talk Given by John Harder Sr.
At the 50th Anniversary of the Emmaus Church
July 5, 1926
(Copied from the book, "History of the Emmaus Mennonite Church Whitewater, Kansas 1876-1976")
If today I am to tell something of our coming to this country 50 years ago, I would like to use as a basis the words we find in Genesis 24:56,"The Lord has prospered my way."It was Eliezer, the pious servant of Abraham, who spoke these words after he had carried out the difficult and responsible charge given him – to find a wife for Isaac.
We, too, faced serious responsibilities when we could no longer live according to our convictions, and had to leave the fatherland that had become dear to us, and had to seek a new home.This was not easy for our parents who had to leave well-arranged farmsteads on which they had lived for 20, 30, and even 40 years to move to a strange and unknown country.We thought we heard the voice of God saying to us, as to Abraham, "Go from your country to a land that I will show you."We also trusted in the promise to Abraham, "I will bless you, and you shall be a blessing."And today, as we view our settlement and our church, must we not confess that the Lord has made good His promise?He has blessed us materially and spiritually, and I believe He has also made us a blessing.
Fifty years ago we had no mission of our own.Then the first young man was trained to go as a missionary to the heathen.And today there are a goodly number active in the service, and we have been able to help send them to India, China and the American Indians;and we hear that a large number who formerly worshipped dead idols now have learned to know the living God, and in Jesus Christ have found redemption and peace.Let us think of our schools, our deaconess service, and our relief work in Russia and elsewhere.In all these things we have been able to help, and I believe God has fulfilled His promise; it has been a blessing to many.Therefore we say, as we look back on the last 50 years, "The Lord has prospered our way, to Him be the glory!"
It was in the late 60’s of the past century that compulsory military service was introduced in Prussia.That meant the canceling of the exemption we had enjoyed for nearly 200 years, and every able-bodied man between 20 and 45 years could be drafted for military service.
After much petitioning on our part, the government granted us some concessions, but our parents had come to distrust government promises, and began to consider emigration.Russia was first considered, as for 150 years there has been some emigration to there from Prussia; and we young people began to study the Russian language.But we had not accomplished much when the report came that compulsory service was to be introduced on Russia also.There, too, some concessions had been promised; but many lacked confidence in these promises, and began to consider emigration to America.But America was so distant, so unknown, lying beyond the great ocean; these were serious considerations.Then in 1873 eleven delegates arrived from Russia, among them Leonhard Sudermann.These had been chosen to investigate immigration possibilities in America.Elder Wilhelm Ewert of the Thorn congregation joined them as our representative, and these twelve, like those sent by Israel to Canaan, journeyed to America to study conditions and to seek a place to settle.
They traveled over the western states and Canada, and returned that fall after a very stormy return voyage.When elder Wilhelm Ewert gave his report in our Heubuden church, he said, "O how good it is in America!There everyone can live according to his convictions, and in material things we will be able to get along also."
Well, that sounded somewhat more hopeful, but there were still many misgivings.Some tried to dissuade us from going by saying, "You want to go to America, where for many years the scum of criminals has sought a refuge, and where Indians attack the whites and scalp them; no, that is no land for you!"Others, speaking of Kansas, said, "O, it is so hot there; the snake burrows in the mud, and animals seek the cooling shade; only man must eat his bread in the sweat of his brow!"Well, there was some truth in that; it did cost a lot of sweat.At first, Indians did visit us occasionally, but only as beggars, and even though they were sometimes rather insistent, nothing serious happened.
In the year following the investigation trip, 1874, many in Russia emigrated to America.Elder Ewert also left, and settled near Hillsboro, together with the Funk brothers from Russia, forming the present Brudertal congregation.This led to correspondence, through which we became more familiar with conditions here.Meanwhile we, too, and a number of others has come to a decision; and in the spring of 1876 we sold our farms and prepared for the journey.Chests were built in which many necessities and some non-essentials were packed, and on the 15th of June we boarded our special train at Simonsdorf, and journeyed to Bremen where the North German Lloyd steamer awaited us.After we had settled ourselves in our cabins the bell sounded for supper, and we went to fully loaded tables.After the excitement of travel we has calmed down somewhat, and had good appetites, so that the stewards were kept busy serving us.One steward remarked to the other, "Tomorrow will be different; some will be missing."And so it was; our ship had left in the evening, and by morning was on the high seas.When the bell sounded for breakfast many were missing, and I was among them.I did not get to the table for the rest of the voyage, and if my dear young wife had not always brought me something good, I don’t know how it would have turned out.I must mention that there were four couples who had been married shortly before our departure and so were on their wedding trips.Only half of them are now here; two of the men and two of the women have already gone home.Those still living are J.W. Regier of Elbing, the widow of Bernhard Regier, the widow of Edward Claassen, and my own insignificance.You young people, who perhaps are planning a wedding trip may envy us, and think it must have been glorious to take such a wedding trip to America.Yes, it would have been very nice, if ---- it had not been for seasickness.We Harders, especially, cannot stand rocking.Perhaps we were rocked too much or too little when we were young; who knows?At least we suffered seriously, especially father, who was often very ill, so that the ship’s doctor said he had never seen the like.But the wise Solomon said, "There is a time for everything under the sun," so our voyage finally ended.
Once we had solid ground under our feet, we soon forgot our troubles.After our luggage had gone through customs, we boarded the train and headed west.Our company divided in New York.The majority went to Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, for a temporary stay.We, seven families, went to Halstead, Kansas, where we had relatives.On the evening of July 3 we arrived in St. Louis, where we learned what a great national holiday the 4th of July is here, and how it is celebrated.On the evening of July 6th we finally arrived in Halstead, and were warmly welcomed by Uncle and Aunt Abraham Enss and the Peter Wiebes.
We had agreed with our travel companions that after a rest we would look at land together; for we wanted to settle together, if possible.Only the states of Kansas and Nebraska were considered.We thought that farther north it would be too cold, farther south, too hot, and farther west, too dry.When the brethren from Mt. Pleasant came to Kansas, Mr. C.B. Schmidt, agent for the Santa Fe railroad, was ready to show his land.This company still owned considerable land on both sides of the railroad, which they had received from the government on the condition that it was to be sold only to settlers, not to speculators.If not sold within a certain period, it would revert back to the government.We drove out from Newton, Halstead, and Peabody on six spring wagons, equipped with spades and augers.When we came to available land we stopped, examined the soil, and then went on.So we viewed land in several counties, once even going west to the vicinity of Pawnee Rock.The soil was good there, but we did not like the short buffalo grass.
Once, when we were looking at land near Sedgwick, we stopped for dinner at a hotel in town.As we sat down, the waitress named a number of dishes from which we were to choose.Well, we understood little and merely said, "Yes, bring dinner."It was in the season for roasting ears, and we each received a 10-inch ear of corn.This was something new to us, and we hardly knew what to do with it, but soon saw that Americans at the next table seasoned it with butter, salt and pepper, took hold at each end and thus consumed it.We did not follow their example.I like big ears of corn, but not cooked on a platter.
Others who expected to follow us has requested that we reserve a large area where we could settle together.This was no longer possible near the railroad, as most of the good land had already been taken.Mr. C.B. Schmidt said that even if we settled 15-20 miles from the railroad, there was a good prospect that we would soon get a railroad near us.This proved true; for we got not one, but two roads quite near us.
After we had viewed land in Kansas, we went to Nebraska where we were shown much land.There was still one township, which was still almost entirely available; but because it was high and hilly, we did not consider it suitable for farming.We were also told that only spring wheat could be grown there.But after the hard Turkey wheat was introduced, winter wheat does as well there as here.
After viewing the land, some favored Kansas, some Nebraska; and we were not able to agree on a unified settlement in either state.Since it was already late August and we wanted to get on our land and do some building before winter, we six families staying at Halstead decided to remain in Kansas.We soon came here to Butler County, which we has liked best, and bought six sections of land for $6 per acre.As we wanted to make some hay before winter, horses, harness, a wagon and a mower were bought, and on a Monday afternoon we set out from Newton for our new home.Since we has only been here twice, and each time had come on a different road, we had some trouble finding our way, but came to our land by evening where there was only sky and prairie.I had something of an adventure on the way.Whenever I cross the good iron bridge at Whitewater, I remember this first trip here.I had bought a team of young horses, which had never been driven much.Halfway down the slope the gray took the bit in his teeth so that I could not hold him, and we went down the bank until we landed in the water.Now was the time for quick action; to stop was not advisable or my loaded wagon would have bogged down.I helped the gray right heartily with my whip, and drove several rods down the stream to where I could get up the bank.I do not mention this as a triumph of my driving.I know that in this, as in many other cases, God has held His protecting hand over me and kept me from harm.
When we has finished making hay, we began hauling lumber from Newton.Later we hauled from Peabody, which was somewhat nearer.We spent the nights at our haystack and slept splendidly.Evenings we made coffee and ate bread and syrup.At breakfast, for a change, we had syrup, bread and coffee.
We soon started building.In Halstead there was a master carpenter by the name of Kruse, who could speak English well.He came with a number of helpers and put up the first building for my parents – a granary, which is still standing.When we had all put up some buildings and had made the most necessary arrangements, we moved in.The first religious service was led by Rev. Wilhelm Ewert in my parents’ granary.We had only a half dozen chairs for the old people.Nail kegs were set up, planks laid over them, and the benches were ready.To start the service, a song leader was needed.Father, who had experience as a leader, had been severely injured in a fall from a wagon and had not recovered.Now Uncle Ewert had brought a couple with him who wanted to see our settlement.The man said he could lead our singing; he had often done that in Russia.He selected a hymn and started in, but stopped with the second line; he did not have the right tune.He started once more, but broke down again.His wife said, "I Votsch, so geit daut nich!"(Low German for, "O dad, it doesn’t go like that!")Then he proposed singing the melody with la-la-la, and we were to chime in with the words.He did so, and we got into the proper swing, and the singing finally went quite well.I do not mention this as a criticism of this leader; no, we song leaders later had similar experiences.We had the old hymnbooks brought from Germany, which had no notes.We sang these slow, solemn melodies by ear, as we had learned them from childhood.It was not easy to strike the right pitch.We would often start too high.The second stanza would be about right; but by the fourth, the pitch had fallen so low that only a good bass singer could continue.I mention this only so that you young people might know there was more involved in song leading than now, when we not only have an organ, but also a piano.
We had much to learn here in dealing with implements, livestock and many other things.Not only we men, but also our women had much to learn in adjusting to conditions here which were so much different from the old country.There we had two or three maids in every household who were paid $10 to $20 a year.The men received only a little more, so it is no wonder that Social Democracy spread among the people.There was usually a nursemaid, a chambermaid and a cook.These the housewife had to supervise, but did not have to do everything herself, as she does here.There was the bread baking, done in large round brick ovens, which were heated thoroughly for three hours with straw or brush.Twenty-four loaves of dark rye bread were baked at a time.These loaves, while still warm were placed in a sack and hung away upstairs.When they had been there 4 – 6 weeks they were pretty hard, and it took a good knife to cut them, but they were wholesome.Cooking was done in large kettles.Cabbage and kale were cooked in large quantities to last more than one day, and it was said that the kale tasted better each time it was warmed over.Twice a year, in spring and fall, there was a great washday.This took a full week; and since we had no machines, it was done by hand.Now we have the very convenient electric washers.
There, tailors and seamstresses would come into the homes to do the sewing very cheaply; so in some respects it was easier for the women there than in the early days here.Now, thought the housewife must usually be the maid of all work, modern conveniences make it possible for her to cook, bake and iron at the same time, to tend the baby, and if she feels so inclined, to sing a little song.
Now that we have recalled many things here and over there, I would like to close with the words of Rev. Ewert 50 years ago;"Although I know that not everything is perfect here, still how good it is in America!The Lord has done all well indeed, and has remembered all our need.Give our God the honor!"-- John Harder, Sr.