Portraying the life and times of an Ancestor that lived a hundred years ago.
Ach de lieber! Life has been full of challenges in many ways. And the challenges have been different in the United States compared to the ones growing up in South Russia.
My name is Andreas Bertsch, born January 25, 1848, in Johonnesthal, South Russia of German descent.
My Grand father Bertsch had once told my brothers that he thought he had made a mistake coming to South Russia. In Russia there were two classes of people, the Nobles and the Serfs, until we came. The Nobles had the Serfs down to the point of being slaves. Both groups seemed to live for today, but didn't think about tomorrow like we did. We, as immigrants, had been given special privileges by Catherine the Great, and one of them was owning land. We bought land from the State and the Nobles and paid for Serf labor from the Nobles when needed, as well as giving the Serfs something for their efforts. We tried to be a good example for everyone. Looking back, I realize we Germans had been an example of how the world was changing and the Russian Nobles should have accepted the changes and freed their Serfs, sooner than they did. Instead they tried to stop change and it cost them dearly in the end.
When Grandfather Bertsch immigrated from Germany to Russia in 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte had once again become Emperor of France, escaping from the Island of Elba. Grandfather knew, if he could, Napoleon would seize land again and draft young men into his army as he had before. What he didn't know was that Napoleon would be defeated in the battle of Waterloo and his time in office would become known as the “Hundred Day Reign.” Grandfather left the “Germany” that had been, for a couple of years, part of France, and fled with his family. Some of his relatives had been drafted by Napoleon and had served and died in the Russian Invasion. There is nothing like your so called government coming into your village and telling your elders that they need X number of men for their next invasion. He wasn't going to let that happen to his sons. Even though it was once again Germany, he couldn't take a chance with Napoleon and his land-grabbing ways.
As one of Grandfather's sons my father, David J. was born in the village of Klin-Ingersheim, Wurttemburg Country, in the State of Germany on June 8,1808. At seven years of age he immigrated to Russia with his parents and siblings. As a young man he farmed in Johannesthal, South Russia and married my mother, Elisabeth Huber, who was born in the colony of Rohrbach. To this marriage I was the seventh one of twelve children.
My father died the spring I turned eight. It was up to my brothers and me to continue farming and making a living. My last brother Stephan was born seven months after dad died. My sister, Cathrina, was sixteen and a big help to mother. Ludwig was only three, and Barbara was four, with Christian being six. My brother Leonard had died the year before dad at four months old. Also dead was my sister Leontine, who I dimly remember, and a sister who was born before my brother David.
My four older brothers, David, Jacob, Gottlieb, and John, did most of the field work the first two years. By the time I was turning eleven my brother David had gotten married to a neighbor girl, Anna Marie Schatz, and my sister Cathrina married Michael Schrenk from Rohrbach. The next year my brother Jacob married Anna's aunt, Regina Schatz.
That was my life growing up. Going to church and school, while helping to farm and helping mother raise my sisters and brothers. Speaking of church, I was baptized into the Lutheran faith on February1, 1848, and confirmed March 20, 1866. One of the church children that I was confirmed with was my future wife, Sophia Delzer, born July 26 and baptized July, 29th 1851. She was over three years younger than me, but seemed as old as me, if not older. The Delzers were bigger people than my family, also German, who generations ago, had came from the part of Poland that had became part of Ducal Prussia. The Delzer immigration had started from the homeland after 1226 when Prussia was conquered by a militarily Germanic religious order called the Teutonic Knights.
It didn't matter to me that she was from a more boisterous, dominating, and bigger people! She was my companion, and we were a team. Two years after our confirmation, on December 17, 1868, Sophia and I were married. A year after that we had a little girl named Rosina, born October 3, 1869. The summer after Rosina turned two, Sophia found she was once again with child. That summer the German people were told that most of their special privileges had been revoked. For the next year the only thing the people talked about was the loss of privileges and the Russian Decree of 1763. In it Catherine the Great had invited Europeans into her country with special privileges. (The right to worship how they wanted, the right to own land, the right not to be drafted or not give food and accommodations to the military personnel stationed in their towns!) The only right left was the right to worship, and some people thought they would lose that too. The draft was to begin in 1874.
My cousin, Dominick Stoller said he was not going to stay. He was going to America. He started selling his animals and machinery and land, along with his house. (He left, whereas a lot of other people said they were not going to start over again, rebuilding everything, including maybe, living in a sod house.) My mom said she wasn't going anywhere, but my brothers and I should go to America. Dominick had reread the Decree of 1763 and found that five percent of what he owned went to the Government when he left the country. He said he didn't care. He was leaving and taking as many people as he could!
Sophia said, “We are not going until we have saved up enough to go, and we know where we are going! With our twin girls now, we have three children to think about!”
Her older brother, Christian Delzer said, “We should all go, and we should keep talking to my other sisters as well.”
That fall people left for the United States of America and Dominick and family left with them. Every one that left was leaving friends and family behind and Dominick more so. His first wife had died, and his four girls had gone to live with relatives and didn't want to leave. So he left with his second wife, Margarth ne Kost Mundt Stoller a widow with three children. One of her married sons (Georg Mundt) and his wife (Katherine Kost ne Mundt) plus Dominick and Margarth with the seven children that they had together completed the family that left.
The next spring our community got letters from those that had left. They had found land that was affordable! In fact, land could be had under an American law called The Homestead Act. With it, you could sign up for 160 acres and with a fee, in five years, it could be yours!
Dominick also wrote, “Don't take the Black Sea, Mediterranean route. We heard of children dying from sea sickness. Also the Strait of Bosphorus at Istanbul is controlled by the Ottoman Empire, and you know how they feel about Russians and Christians.
Christian Delzer said, “We're all going!”
My brothers said, “Go and get settled, and let us know how you are doing. We'll help you if you need it.”
Sophia said, “Our twins are only six months old! Will Elisabeth and little Sophia be able to make the trip to America?”
I felt in my mind we had to do this or we might never do it! As I told Sophia, “The longer we wait, the harder it will become!”
So that is how it came to be. We came to the land of the free, to the greatest experiment in humanity, to the United States of the people, and to the greatest opportunity in my lifetime. I had never truly comprehended the vast distance, or the time, or the rubles it would take, to transport us to the new world until we did it! Thirty five miles to Odessa by wagon, to be inspected and to gain permission to leave Russia. We took a train north west to Ternopil in Galicia, [South Russia, now Ukraine] and then to L'viv. We then had to show our permission papers. Then on to another train through Prussia to Hamburg, Germany. Within a week we obtained passage on the Westphalia. On it we traveled down the Elba river to the sea. Once out to sea, we turned to travel down the coast to La Havre, France, to pick up supplies and passengers. From there it was across the ocean to New York City. We took a train halfway across the United States, (where every state was like a country) to Sioux City Iowa, and then north to the Dakota Territory.
To us this was way beyond a huge undertaking. We as subsistence farmers, would maybe travel to Odessa once or twice in our lifetime! I could see why Grandfather Bertsch had gone to South Russia instead of America. From Germany to the Black Sea, you could travel a short distance to the Danube River and than go downriver to the Black Sea. Than you turned left along the coast to South Russia. With the trains and steam engines, traveling to and across the United States, it only took us two months to come to Yankton. In 1815, it would have taken us eight months to a year to make the trip and would have cost a whole lot more, with some people dying along the way.
We stopped in Yankton, as new intended citizens of the United States and registered for a land claim. We had received and signed a statement of intent to become citizens of The United States in New York. It wasn't until years later that we would be able to raise our hands in the air and become naturalized citizens. We had exchanged our rubles for dollars in New York, and when we got to Yankton we had very few left. It took eighteen dollars to file on a Homestead claim or you could hold a quarter of land for six months for ten dollars. This doesn't sound like much money, but for a man working for someone else as a common laborer for eight dollars a week, it was a lot of money.
Sophia was expecting another baby at Christmas. Christian Auch was married to Sophia's sister Rosina. We decided to stay together, pay the ten dollars for our land on Wolf Creek, buy a wagon and team of horses and go find work. All fall we built buildings, starting close to Yankton, and ending up close to Lesterville before the snow started flying. Arriving in Odessa Township in early December, we were told that there was a abandoned claim shack south of Odessa Towmship by Beaver Creek that we moved into. An abandoned claim shack (six by eight foot with a single slopped roof) could be used, moved or dismantled. Christian decided that he would build a claim shack and move it with us in the spring. We cut up dead trees along the creek, for fire wood, plus bought some coal from my cousin.
On January 5, 1874 Sophia gave birth to our first son, Ludwig, named after my younger brother and Sophia's father, Johannes Ludwig Delzer. He was a good baby, but there were many cold nights for the next three months where Zig slept under Sophia's clothing to stay warm. Keeping the shanty warm enough for our four children, who were all under the age of five, was a full time job that winter.
I had written to my mother and brothers after I had made the agreement for homesteading and told them the area was being settled fast. In February Dominick Stoller received a letter for me from my Brothers saying they planned on coming to America, except my youngest brother Stephan who would stay home with our mom in her old age. They also sent rubles, in the letter saying the rubles were a loan until they got to the United States. This was one of the ways we bypassed having to pay the five percent of our money leaving Russia and justified it because we had been treated so shabbily. With the rubles turned into dollars, along with the money Christian and I had earned the fall before, I was able to buy some cattle and barb wire, posts and two teams of horses along with a one-bottom plow, drag and seed.
That spring on March,8, Margarth and Dominick's daughter, Magdalena, married Heinrich (Henry) Schortzman, and moved to his claim. It was a small wedding with the immediate families present along with Pastor Orth. We all tried to find something to give them as a wedding gift when we chivareed them a week after the wedding.
That spring we hauled Christian's claim shanty to Wolf Creek and we went to farming (Breaking sod, planting, building fences and buying some cattle). We thought we would go back to Beaver Creek and get the shack that had been abandoned, but when we got back, someone had already moved into it. Sophia and I started living with Jacob Schatz. Three of my brothers, David D, Jacob, and Christian had married Schatz girls, two sisters and a aunt to Jacob, making Jacob Schatz almost like family. He and his family were on the ship (Westphalia) last summer with us. Jacob went to Wolf Creek right away. He had built a twelve foot by twelve foot one room house that fall, made out of homemade clay blocks, like we had done in the old country. In it, five people lived through the winter. The one room could hold four big beds, with Jacob building on a kitchen and living room the next spring.
Our money was all gone once again, with Sophia complaining about no privacy. There was a washout by the wagon trail leading to the creek and we had cottonwood trees along the bottom by the creek. So in June, I went to work, shaping and digging until I had three square walls. Then for the next two weeks, Christian and I cut and hauled trees for the roof. We used sod to cover the trees. After that we set up the stove we had used from the shanty the winter before with blankets over the front. That fall after we sold some calves, I bought lumber for the front of the dugout.
Sophia felt like she was in heaven with a place of our own, but Jacob Schatz thought if that was heaven, he didn't want to go there!
Christian Auch and I didn't have any crops that summer except for a little oats planted. A person when breaking sod needed to leave the ground black over a winter before planting. The crop of oats that I had planted wasn't very good to begin with and then the grasshoppers came, eating everything they could find and laying larva in the grass. That fall we burned the ground trying to kill all the eggs the grasshoppers had laid. Then we plowed as much land as we could.
That fall in '74' a chicken coop and cattle shed were built although Sophia didn't think we could afford this. I had taken a loan at the bank against the cattle until I sold young steers. The interest was atrocious at sixteen percent. I told her what the banker had said. "High risk loans were twenty-two present!"
In the winter of '74-75' we had a lot of cold and snow plus a late spring. It was a time that Sophia and I went through a depression, where we questioned if we had done the right thing coming to the Dakota Territory. It was wet, cold, and dark, day in and day out. We didn't have money for anything, and if we didn't have a crop in '75 we would have to give up my dream of owning land. I would have to do the right thing and we would have to move to town to feed my family.
In the summer of '75' we had a bumper crop of grain with Sophia once again informed me that she was with child. She didn't want to spend another winter in the dugout and I didn't blame her. Though the dugout was warm, it was also musty and dark. No sunlight came in and a lantern had to be on in the daytime when it was too cold in the winter to open the door. I had brought in rocks from my fields with my stone boat, so I dug a foundation with my pick and shovel and made a foundation lined with rock and mortar. The house was two bedrooms with a large kitchen. It was than that she decided that flour sacks was a fabric that wasn't being used. She commenced to making me pants out of the sacks. With a belt to hold them up they were cool in the summer and a real joy to wear. The dugout we turned into a storm shelter and fruit and vegetable cellar.
Sophia's brother, Christian Delzer, was thirteen years older than Sophia. He had been able to accumulate some rubles while in Russia. He was able with these funds, to build a five-room two-story house, where we would meet for worship services every Sunday. Christian Auch would give the sermon on Sunday afternoons if a traveling minister didn't come. We had a Lutheran minister and a Reformed minister that were circuit preachers. Both ministers wanted us to commit to their faith and establish a church. We felt we didn't have the funds to do that. Mr. Auch enjoyed having both ministers come when they could, giving him a break from the pulpit.
Like many Germans, Christian Delzer liked to ferment and brew beer. This didn't set well with my other brother-in-law Christian Auch, who felt fermenting grain was to be used only as a way to soften grains for hog feed. Period! One Sunday afternoon we gathered at Mr. Delzer's for the Sunday service, which the Lutheran minister was to preach. It would be his third service for the day. It was a balmy July day and Christian had put his last best efforts in brewing into the cistern to chill the day before. When the preacher arrived we all, except Mr. Auch, had a glass of beer in hand, encouraging the minister to do the same. After a couple more glasses of brew the minister commenced preaching, slurring his words and becoming more inebriated the more he drank, and the longer he talked. By the end of the day he had become the bad end of a joke, with us saying one glass an hour should be his limit. Later that day we set the preacher into the buggy and giving the horse slack reins, sent the horse on his way.
The following Thursday Christian Delzer got a call from the Lutheran minister, saying we needed to get off of the fence and decide what we were going to be. Christian proceeded telling him we were going the Reformed way, but we would miss his sermons! We all thought Mr. Delzer had spoke out of turn. since we didn't have a say in the matter, but we all worked together in brotherly love, so that was that! Jacob Schatz hated giving up his Lutheran faith and voiced it! We came to respect and love the Reformed minister, and were converted to the Reformed faith. In 1879 we built the Johannesthal Church.
Dominick Stoller (my cousin) had owned and sold land in South Russia. It was comparable to Two hundred and forty acres in the United States. With this he was able to purchase, for two hundred and twenty-eight dollars, one hundred and sixty acres, under the preemption part of the Homestead Act, and Homestead another hundred and sixty acres. On the Homestead he built a home that was a two-story house. He also had built a two-room kitchen that was used for cooking in the summer heat, to keep the main house cool. In the three years, from the time he had came to the Odessa Township, he had also built a horse barn, cattle shed, and chicken coop.
Dominick and I kept in touch through the mail service, writing each other every month or so. In the summer, I would go by myself for a month at a time, to help with carpentering on Dominick's place, and also work on their new Lutheran Church they were building at Odessa Township. In the fall of '75 we went to Dominick's to visit. Sophia was five months pregnant and feeling better. The trip was twenty some miles one way, which was a full day's travel for us with horses and wagon. The visit was a real joy! Getting reacquainted with all the new arrivals from Johannesthal, South Russia and seeing Dominick's children growing up. Dominick's son Henry was sixteen then, and was tall like the Kost's, standing a head taller than Dominick. But what Dominick lacked in stature, he gained in energy. At fifty five he was still working harder than even I did and had plans on all he was going to do and accomplish. We came back with the whole winter, except January, being nice.
In February, on the eighth, I received a message from one of Dominick's neighbor boys that Dominick had died from a team of runaway horses. The funeral would be on the ninth at eleven o'clock. Sophia was eight months along, so the next day I went by myself to Dominick's.
Dominick's wife, Margarth, was besides herself. She didn't have any idea how she and Henry would be able to farm all the land Dominick and Henry had broken last year. I offered to see what I could do to help. After the funeral I went back home to talk to my brothers-in- law. They decided they could plant my land, watch my cattle, and put up my hay, but any profits I made from Margarth I would share with them. I thought that was more than fair.
The United States said our economy was in a depression, but all we knew was we were having a hard time feeding our families and stretching our money to make it last. To me this was an opportunity to bring in more money for the family.
On March 3,1876 Katherina was born. I was able to plant the oats before I left to help Henry. In May Sophia and the children came to join me. We were away from our Homestead until September when we received a letter from Sophia's sister saying our claim house was gone! My brothers-in-law said they didn't know who dismantled it, but they felt I didn't need to pay them for the summer. We should just use the money I had made for a bigger house. I thought it looked suspicious! The cook stove was there, the furniture was there, even the bedding we had left was there. Anyway, I added onto the foundation and we built a small two-story house. With the sale of our yearling steers, I wasn't too deep in debt! If you weren't careful on how much you borrowed, interest could become a real problem!
Margarth had a year and a half to prove up on Dominick's homestead, but she thought they could manage. Henry stayed on the farm till he turned twentyone, at which time he homesteaded four miles north of Margarth and married his second cousin, Christina Muehlbeier.
In the early fall, of '77 my brother, Jacob George Bertsch came to America with his family. Also on the ship was my nephew Adam Bertsch and his family. He was the son of my oldest brother, David D. Bertsch. On another ship, my brother Gottlieb Bertsch came with his family. That summer, thirty relatives came including my nephew Gottlieb Schrenk, who was twenty that year.
They had written earlier that my mother had died two years before, but they hadn't told us about my sister, Cathrina Schrenk's misfortune. Three of her children had died from scarlet fever that spring, leaving only two children alive out of the eight that she had given birth to.
Looking around the Menno area, that fall and winter, they decided there wasn't enough land to be had close together. In the spring they went up north, to the Ashley, Eureka area. They called the church they erected years later, between the two towns, Johannestal Baptist. Not only were they missing the H in Johanesthal, but they were Baptist instead of Reformed. As they said, it didn't matter what affiliation we had as long as our children received training in the word, and it was in accordance with the Bible. Over the next eight years, all six of my brothers and my two sisters came to America, but only my brother John, (Johannes Sr.) stayed in Menno.
The winter of '77-'78 my nephews and I put up a small horse barn, which I very much needed. The young men all tried to pick up jobs though the winter while their dads were looking at land possibilities.
By the time my son Jacob was born on May 9,1878, my relatives had all left to go up north. Having gone with my brothers to the land office, I had discovered I could apply for eighty acres in the form of a tree claim, which helped a lot with my expanding cattle herd.
My brothers-in-law and I were proving up on our original homesteads , and our land values were increasing. My neighbor, Jacob Schatz, was building a house on the strength of those values as well as a lot of other people. I had advised him on not trying to heat something too big. His thoughts were to put the house into a hillside and line the outside walls with adobe blocks. The walls on the bottom floor were over two foot thick, made out of field rocks and mortar. The second floor, being adobe blocks, were handmade from clay, and over a foot thick. The outer shell of the second floor was wood framed over the bricks. I helped with the building so I knew it was a warm, well-built house.
My son Andrew was born May 13,1880 and my daughter Lidia was born three years later on June 10,1883. With my oldest Rosina being thirteen, we had eight children in our small three bedroom home.
In '83, Jacob Schatz came to me asking if I would like to buy his land. He said farming with horses was a hard life and his arthritis was killing him. Plus his sons didn't want to farm. They wanted jobs in town! They wanted more time to enjoy life and not have such a struggle. He also felt he wasn't being true to his Lutheran roots by going to a Reformed Church. He was going to buy an open quarter by Lesterville for his son-in-law to farm and move to town. I felt he was asking too much for the land and wondered if the house was the problem. What he got for the land I don't know, but he sold it to the local Mennonite Colony and moved to Lesterville.
During this time there was developing a lot of anti-Mennonite feelings among the people. The Mennonites wanted a non-draft status from the service. The United States Government was passing anti-corporate laws that affected land ownership. The colony that had bought Jacob's land decided to sell out and go back to Canada. I bought the one hundred sixty acres of Mr. Shatz and my family and I moved to our new farm.
The first floor of the house, facing south at ground level, we used as a buggy shed. There was also a stair case and covered porch on the second floor facing south. The second floor of the house, facing north at ground level, had four huge bedrooms, plus a kitchen in the middle of the house. Two of the rooms were big enough to hold four full size beds in each room. One room we used as a parlor. When we had time at night, we would sing songs, play games and be a family. Leading out to the north, at ground level, we had a fruit and storm cellar put into the hillside.
Our ancestors, as well as ancestors of most Europeans, had for centuries in the past, housed animals below their living quarters. There was plenty of unused room on the first floor of the house, but Sophia put her foot down. "There are two big barns in the yard, and we may have to live with animals in the barn yard, but that doesn't mean we will have animals in the house!" I wasn't about to argue.
We had our share of troubles too.
In 1886 diphtheria killed four of the ten children of Christian Auch's children. Christian [Chris] Auch, age twenty, Andreas [Andy] Auch, age eighteen, Elisabeth [Liz] Auch, age twelve, and a newborn infant. Diphtheria is a terrible diseases. The symptoms are high fever, chills, and a swollen throat. If it gets too bad, you can't get your air and you choke to death, gasping and grasping for your last breath.
It started with Christian Auch, my brother-in-law, one morning early in March pounding on our door. Standing in the middle of the yard, he told me Chris and the baby had died the night before and it was diphtheria. He asked me if I could come to his place and get the lumber to make the coffins but stay away from the house! Hitching up the horses to the wagon, I got the lumber. While I was making the caskets, I realized I didn't have enough nails. Saddling up a horse and going back over to the Auch's, I saw my namesake Andy in the yard. I asked him to bring me some nails. When he brought me the nails I commented that I didn't need that many. To which he replied, “You might need them for my casket in a few days!”
Riding around to Christian Delzer's to see how they were, Christian told me he had heard that alcohol helped shrink the throat. Two days later when Christian Auch told me Andy and Liz had died too, I went to town for lumber, nails,and two fifths of one hundred ninety proof Everclear. I gave one bottle to Christian Auch and we used one bottle, one tablespoon at a time. It did seem to help. We didn't lose any more children to diphtheria.
After the deaths Christian Auch Sr. bought a clothing store in town and they lived on the second story while Rosina ran the store. This lasted for two years. Christian would go out to the farm during the week, and we would take care of
his animals, Sundays and sometimes Saturdays. After two years and another little one, Christian sold the store, and they started worshiping with us at Johannesthal once again, with everyone back on the farm.
In 1887 we lost our newborn Regina, who only lived one week. The first time I saw my little girl I knew something wasn't right. Instead of a nice pink coloring to her skin, she was chalky white and her little chest was thumping, like her heart was working too hard. The midwife said Regina would ether outgrow this or she wouldn't. She didn't! Sophia said her mother had told her to never get too close to your babies. Now she understood! All I could say was, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” It's not for us to question God.
On January 12,1888 we had what has become known as the children's blizzard of 1888. What started out as a beautiful day turned into a roaring blizzard that struck without warning. We were far enough south so that our children were almost, or were home before it hit, but in my brother's communities, they lost a lot of children, frozen in their school houses or in snowdrifts, trying to get home.
My first cousin once removed, Henry Stoller, (who served in the Legislative Body of South Dakota, along with his brother John) had fourteen children with his wife Christina Muehlbeier Stoller. They had lost two children along the way due to diphtheria in 1886. Then in the spring of 1902, Henry lost three more children to influenza, plus his wife, Christina, due simply to heartbreak! Henry had eight children to raise on his own. There was a widow with two boys and a girl that went to his church in Scotland, whose name was Katherine ne Reich Herr. Her first husband had been a widower that had five children before he married Katherine. Once Katherine was married to Henry they had four more boys. Between the two they had twenty children as part of the family! Six children had already left home in '02', but it still was a lot of children to support.
Through all this we continued to prosper as we met the day to day challenges of living. Sophia and I had three more girls and a boy. Magdalena, born June 12,1885. Paulina, born January 8,1889. Emanual, born September 29, 1891, and Rosilia, born October 7, 1894. There was a twentyfive year difference in age between our oldest, Rosina, and our youngest Rosilia.
People ask, “Why have so many children and with them so much pain?”
And I have to say, “And lose so much joy!” Besides in the Bible it says, “Be fruitful and multiply!”
We Germans have a saying,if a child stays home and helps till he is twenty one, he doesn't owe his parents anything. The first seven years he is a burden. The next seven years he supports himself in what he can do. The last seven years he pays back his parents for the first seven years.
In 1905, my brother, Christian, from Bismarck, North Dakota, wrote asking if Sophia and I would like to go back to South Russia, to visit and see our cousins that might still be there as well as the old cemetery where our mother and father were buried. Sophia had no desire to go back and said she would stay with the children, since four children were still at home. So I went in 1906, and when I got back from South Russia, I told Sophia, “Something is dreadfully wrong with that country. The Government treats their people worse than animals, and the German towns have shrank because so many people have left. The only ones left are the people that were too poor to leave, or the ones that had too much and couldn't see leaving it all behind.”
Stephan had written when mother had died and we found mother and father's gravestones. They were made out of limestone and father's was already hard to read. It had been almost thirty years since I had left and nothing had changed, or had gotten a lot worse. In that same time my family and I had put together four hundred acres, and we have opportunities to do so much more.
Our trip took a little more than three months to make. With four weeks to travel one way compared to nine weeks thirty years ago, our world had gotten a lot smaller.
In 1909 they had a Baptist Church Conference of the Dakotas in the Johannestal Church, between the towns of Eureka and Ashley. My brother John and his wife, with Sophia and I, traveled by train to Ashley and stayed with my brother David and his wife. Christian and his wife Katherine came down from Bismarck and brought my sister, Barbara with her husband Karl Jasman. Gottlieb and his second wife Elisabeth were there, as well as Jacob, although his wife Regina had just passed away. It was a bitter sweet time (Trying to catch up on everything that had happened in our lives, but also feeling like this might be the last time we would be together). Our youngest brothers, Ludwig and Stephan had passed away at the turn of the century, and my older sister Cathrina, had died three years before in Emery. It felt so like the reunion that it was. Two years after that time my brother David died and the 'Conference' was the last time I saw him.
In 1917 we heard that Russia was being overrun by the communists, and I could see why. Change was needed! In 1922 I received a letter from a cousin I had become reacquainted with while in Russia. He said the Bolsheviks had come into power and the communists were an unholy regime who didn't believe in religion in any shape or form. Church services on Sundays were banned, and the old Lutheran Church's steeple had been torn down and a dome had been installed in its place. Now it was a community house, but they still met there every Sunday to pray. He didn't know how long they could continue to get away with it. Thank God we live in America! Let us hold fast to the things that are good and let's not let Russia happen to us.
My son Emanual is buying our farm. He has married one of Henry Stoller's daughters, Henrietta. It is now 1925, and Sophia and I live in Menno. Behind every house is an outhouse as well as a chicken house for eggs and meat.
The doctor says my shortness of breath and pain in my chest is a symptom of my having worked hard all my life. I'm over seventyseven years old, which is well over the life expected for men.
The young people today talk about going out Saturday nights and having fun. The people that go to the Schnitzalbunk usually don't make it to church on Sunday mornings. I feel they are serving a different god than what is in Church. Or maybe it's me getting old!
P.S. Andreas Bertsch died on August 30,1925.
In 1937, Johannesthal, South Russia was no longer a German settlement, due to still holding on to Christianity. Most of the people were shipped to Siberia or Kazakhstan. Since then the town has been renamed four times and is now know as Ivenivka, Ukraine.
Disclaimer; Everything is as true as I can research it. My Uncle, Gideon Bertsch, at ninety one years of age help a great deal, along with Aunt Arlene who provided me with forty five pages of genealogy on the Bertsch's from the time they left South Russia (Ukraine) till the 1950's. With an article written by Freidrich Mutschelknaus, who lived from 1852-1929, pluss the obituary of Christian Auch of 1911, along with all the stories I heard from my Aunts and Uncles on my Moms side, I pieced this article together. I tried to verify everything with the computer for time and place including the ships that brought them over.
During the third revision of this story, Uncle Gideon stated that I misunderstood about Great Uncle Christian Delzer and the Lutheran Minister. It wasn't Uncle Delzer that drank too much beer but the Lutheran Minister. I shook my head at that, because a German doesn't give something away unless he's proud of what he is able to do and it didn't cost him much. I thought Uncle Delzer was buying his beer in town, not realizing that at this time most men knew how to brew beer, and beer was only good for about three weeks before it went bad! I beg Christian forgiveness for portraying Lutherans in a bad light.