Immigrating, learning a new language and overcoming new challenges.
| THE LIFE AND TIMES OF HENRY
Ach de lieber! Life has been filled with great rewards and heartaches, building and settling this new land called Dakota Territory, and many times said to myself, "You dum-khuf! You should have known better!" My name is Heinrich (Henry) Stoller. I came to America at the age of fourteen in 1872, with my parents, Dominick and Margarth nee Kost Mundt Stoller, having been born May 8, 1858.
I was the second child of their second marriages. You see, we as farmers worked together as families and groups. My father lost his first wife, Magdalena Bachmann and had four girls to raise, but couldn't do it by himself. My fathers relatives and his first wife's relatives temporarily shared the burden by splitting up the family and each family taking a child in. When my mothers first husband died my father went to her and offered to marry her and put the two family's together. My father lived only one village away from her village and heard, that she and her three children were relying on her family for substance. He went to her family's church to become better acquainted with her and her children. This is what a suitor did if he was looking for a marriage. It wasn't necessary to love one another. What was necessary was to have a respect for one another and some admiration. Love came after you were married. If love didn't come you worked for the common good, and learned to get along. It was after death that you received your rewards in heaven!
It must have been a long time for my father to ask for my older half sisters back, because they didn't want to leave the homes they were in. Plus their aunts and uncles didn't want them to leave as well. He was saddened by their choice, but could understand his girls not wanting to have their lives disrupted once again. Father did raise my two half brothers that my mother had before she married father. My older half sister of my mother's died at the age of twelve, when I was six.
My grandfather Stoller came to South Russia from Strasbourg, Alsace, France, as a young man. Before that my ancestors lived in the province of Lorraine, Germany until the '1720's when they moved to Alsace Germany because of the thirty year war between France and Germany with France winning. When my ancestors left Lorraine they had a different name . A name that could have been French which they changed to Stoller. A name that relatives had, that were spelled Stolher. Since Alsace was mostly Germany, my ancestors could have felt that they needed to fit in. Alsace was being ravaged during the war as well, so they found it not much better. I guess you could say they were refuges.
In Lorraine, German and French villages lived side by side, with everyone respecting and getting along with each other. But with France and Germany fighting and disrupting our lives, people left. What I mean by disruptions is not only drafting our young men into the army's, but also being forced to give and sell food to the army that we, the people, needed. Not only that but we, at times were commanded to house officers in our homes. This led to other wrongs that was inappropriate. As my first wife told me, they had an ancestor that gave a first name of Lorenz to the family because of a Frenchman that had married into the family.
When Catherine the Great invited Europeans into South Russia with special privileges in 1763, the Stollers were already resettled in Alsace, but a lot of families left from Lorraine to South Russia. Lorraine and Alsace had become part of France and all Germans were leery about the peace and if there would be another war and a repeat of the devastation. We left Alsace around 1805.
When I turned thirteen in 1871, the Russian Government revoked the privileges the government had given to us, with my father, Dominick Stoller saying we weren't going to live like Serfs. He started talking and finding out what we could do and how. Old Johannes Sailer from Johannesthal had a brother-in-law, who along with twenty one families had migrated to Sandusky, Ohio in 1849. After writing to Ludwig Bette (Johannes brother-in-law) Ludwig came back for a visit in July of 1872. He wore fine clothes and bragged how successful he was and how America was the land of opportunity. Four families pledged to migrate to America. They sold their crop, though the crops were still in the fields and prepared to leave. Because they were the first ones they encountered difficulties in obtaining passports. Robert Levi, the church secretary wrote out the application and other papers, but the four heads of the families had to go to Odessa and to Cherson to obtain the necessary papers from the authorities.
Our group was the third group that left Johannesthal and Rohrbach that year. We had harvested our crops and sold all our possessions by the middle of October and by the time we got to America it was December. When we got to Sandusky Ohio we found the second group wasn't there. A few days later they came with a tale of how they almost lost their lives at sea and how they had to turn back because the ship was so damaged. They had boarded another ship and were thankful to be alive.
That winter I worked for two months for a farmer outside of town. He and his family went to the same Lutheran Church that we and Ludwig Bette went to. For two months I stayed with the farmer during the week and though they could speak Low German, they would speak English only so I would learn the language.
By the end of February the men had decided to send a few men west to find land. My father, Dominick, was one of them. Our minister, Pastor Schaf, drew up a route for the twelve men that went, with letters to pastors and people along the way. They went to Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois. They found land, but not a lot of land in one area. They went to Nebraska, only to find land that belonged to the railroad. Some people could not buy land because they were young and had nothing to buy land with. In Nebraska they were advised to go to Yankton and the Dakota Territory, were they found large tracts of Homestead Land. We took up land north west of Yankton. It was called the Odessa Township of Yankton County since Odessa was where we all came from.
By June of that year we had been given a post office and mail was delivered by stagecoach to Jacob Mutschelknaus's farm. Four years later, Henry Rudd, who lived six miles away, opened up a stagecoach stop with meals and named the stop Lesterville after his grandson Lester. Later on when the train came through in '81, he moved to the west two miles to what was known as Moscow, Dakota Territory . Moscow, at that time was a place the train stopped. The name Moscow, was then dropped and changed to the town of Lesterville.
When we settled in Odessa Township, Yankton was twenty two miles from us and the closest town there was. We came too late in '73 to plant any crops but we built houses and claim shacks, put up hay, and broke sod. My father put up a horse barn and bought oats, to keep the horses strong. He was a firm believer in putting the animals needs first before our own needs and wants. My father had owned land in South Russia, selling it to a man that wanted it and got a good price for it. (equivalent to two hundred and forty acres) Because of his good fortune he was able to buy as well as homestead, two, allotments of one hundred and sixty acre, plus turn the three hundred and twenty acres into a working farm, with the money and experience that he had, before a lot of our neighbors could. One of the things he was hoping to do was plant grapes like he had grown in South Russia and our ancestors had in Alsace, France.
In the late summer of '73 my Mother's relatives came from Berezan Colony of Worms, South Russia. The Kosts and the Mulbeiers were brothers and cousins to my Mother. Also on the ship Thuringia were the families of Surrs, who were second and third cousins to us. With all the relatives staying with us that fall, it was fun and not work, finishing the house and the barns, while plowing and getting ready for winter. Jacob J. Mulbeier was a year older then me, and his sister, Christina, was a year younger then me, with a lot of other children around besides.
There was a little girl that died of Jacob D. Muahlbeier's that didn't take the trip from South Russia well. She was less than nine months old when she died coming from Sioux city to Yankton. Her Mother held her till they got to my fathers place. Her Mother said she never had much energy from birth, and caught something during the trip. With the death came the subject of a cemetery and where it had to be. Jacob Mutschelknaus offered to sell a plot of land for a church and grave site for our Lutheran faith. We all agreed to share in the expense, even though a free and clear title was not to be had until Jacob proved up on his quarter. We felt it was an act of faith and brotherly love when we built our church the following summer.
On January 5,1874 Andreas and Sophia Bertsch had a baby boy. Before they moved to their claim at Wolf Creek, Pastor Jacob Orth baptized the little boy and he was named Ludwig. Sophia had wanted to name him Andreas after his father, which would have made him Andreas A. The A would have stood for who his father was. Andreas said he would have called him Zig regardless.
Pastor Orth also married my older sister, Magdalina to Henry Schortzman on March 8 of that year. That fall Pastor Orth went to seminary and became a Reformed Minister and planted a church in Scotland as well as the Odessa Township. Ten years later in very cold weather, while trying to plant churches, he became ill, because of the cold, and died, leaving a wife and thirteen children behind.
In '74 we got our summer crops into bundles before the grasshoppers got real bad. Neither Lesterville's nor Scotland's Grain Elevators were built yet but we had some people that would freight our grain to Yankton for a fee. There were stories around and about of grain and freighters disappearing, so father always made sure he knew the person that was hauling and where he lived. He also planned by '75 to have storage for grain and a big grain wagon for his horses.
Grasshoppers had been a big problem with the grasshoppers coming in like a cloud overnight, trying to eat everything in sight, then laying their eggs, before dying or leaving! They seemed to be with us for a month. We gathered our wheat and oats bundles together and tried to keep the grasshoppers off of our piles until the grasshoppers ran their course so we could thresh our grain and put it away or sell it. That fall everyone was busy breaking sod, burning grass, and praying the grasshoppers didn't come back next year.
In '74 we threshed our grain with a rolling stone, shaped like a five foot long by two foot high gear, made from Limestone. It had a hole through the center of the stone and pulled by horses in a circle of hard packed ground. After the straw had been crushed we threw the straw into the air with pitch forks to separate the straw from the grain. The next year we used a horse powered stationary threshing machine. By the '1900's I was one of the first farmers in our area to have a steam engine driven stationary threshing machine. I together with my brothers help, we threshed my crops, my brothers crops, and the neighbors crops. It was hard work, but also another source of revenue.
That fall and winter was cold with a lot of snow. It was April in '75 before we could start planting our crops. We couldn't believe how lush the crops were that summer and how the wheat was doing. One day after the wheat was ripe, with us working to put it down and bundling it up, a humming black cloud came over and blotted out the late afternoon sun. The next morning everything was normal with us talking about the strange occurrence, thinking it had to have been a swarm of grasshoppers. Later in the month we were told that Iowa was infested with grasshoppers that year. We knew God was with us!
In '75 my father grew some corn and we were busy that fall picking the ears off of the stalks till the middle of October. We later found out that if you had a husking mitt and a bang board on a wagon, harvesting went much faster. Father didn't haul wheat to Yankton until after the corn was in. We would load the one hundred bushels of grain into the wagon, with our steel grain shovel one day, with father making the trip to Yankton the next day. Father felt that by the end of February all the wheat would be sold.
Father also inquired at a Locker Plant and Meat Market in Yankton to see if they would be needing more farmers to raise pigs for them and what they would pay and how many they would need every week. We as farmers raised our own meat, but father was thinking that the people in Yankton would be a market we could sell to. We could raise more corn if we had something to feed it to. He wasn't going to raise it if he couldn't somehow sell it to make more dollars for us! That winter a couple ears of corn a day to the cows helped winter them through the cold. We also found that cobs made a good fuel for our wood stoves.
By Christmas we had a lot of snow with January of '76 coming in like a lion. Father was worried he wouldn't get all the wheat to Yankton before the ground got soft in the spring. He then would have problems getting the wagon stuck on the roads. We had the wagon loaded for two weeks with grain till February the third came. The weather was calm and cold when Father left for Yankton to deliver the wheat.
The horses on the way home must have still been 'feeling their oats' because they jerked the reins out of fathers hands and took off. They threw him out of the wagon and came home. When the horses got home we went looking for Father and found him still alive but unconscious. Three days later he went into a epileptic seizure and died. The doctor said the brain was damaged and swollen. We all were grief-stricken while mother was beside herself. I told her not to worry, we would manage. She said two husbands was enough. She'd never get married again! That summer Andreas and Sophia came and stayed with us with Sophia being a big help to mother.
I, myself, didn't think we needed help. I turned seventeen that spring with my brother John turning fourteen, my brother Jacob, was already eleven, my brother Fredrich turned nine the day our father died and brother George was seven. With my sister, Elisabeth turning sixteen that April I felt we had all the help we would need to farm. But Andreas was a big help, with Andreas and I learning from each other.
We did get more diversified as time passed over the next years. In the winter we would sell excess grain. February through April we would plant wheat, oats and barley. May we would plant corn, plus keep some ground tilled, or as we would say, 'Black'. June and July, we would put up hay plus cultivate corn. July and August we would be bundling, shocking and threshing small grain. August and September we would be cutting wood for winter heat to keep the house warm, plus haul grain to town. October and November we would be picking corn by hand and putting it into a corn crib. All year long we would be milking cows, taking care of pigs and chickens as well as butchering our own meat. On Sunday's we would go to church, have extended family over, go courting, and take afternoon naps, as well as milk the cows and do the chores.
We all had came from close nit familys, attended the same church, quit school before or after the eighth grade, and married someone our own age. Marrying your first cousin was frowned upon, but first cousins once removed was considered all right. I enjoyed being with Christina Muehlbeier, so I was glad she was my second cousin. In 1879 on December 9th I married Christina and homesteaded four miles from home. I was over twenty years old, and besides, my brother John was old enough to do what was needed to help mother. My brother, Fedrich was not of a strong constitution, having been infected with Hepatitis C, but still was of some help, while the others were a lot of help. We still exchanged work and farm machinery, so you could say everything was the same, we just farmed more land.
The next year, nine months and nine days, to risk sounding boastful, we had a beautiful little girl that we named Sophia, born August the 18th 1880. The next year on November 6th 1881 our little girl Paulina was born, but died shortly after that. For a little while Christina was afraid of living, but you have to go on. Our Katherine was born one year later on November 25, 1882. She was a very healthy and happy baby. In January 27th of 1884 our little girl Helena was born and two years later we had a son David Jacob Stoller, born January 25th 1886. With our growing family, was my sister that married my cousin once removed, Jacob Kost, and his sister, Elisabeth married my brother John. My brother Fredrich died the year my daughter Beatha was born. She was born on May 8th 1887. My son Henry was born a year and a half later on March 28th 1889. Two years later our daughter Eva was born on January 15th 1891. A year and a half later on June 18th 1892 my son George was born.
Though these past twelve some years our lives had been going by with so many blessing that I could only view them in amazement. Not only did we have eight wonderful children, our life in the Dakota Territory had been so rewarding. We had built a large home for my family, my homestead was without debt, and I was buying the quarter next to us from my cousin and her husband, Karl and Barbara nee Bertsch Jasman.
On May 14, 1894, our daughter, Christina was born, but two years later she died due to an epidemic of diphtheria. The whole countryside was sick including my children and me. My son Henry died also on April 20, 1896, being only seven years old. My wife, Christina was completely distraught! So much so, that she would sit for hours staring into space. Our oldest daughter, Sophia, was sixteen that year and was a big help to me, in holding everything together in our time of grief. That fall on November 28, our daughter Henrietta Christina was born. With Henrietta's birth, she also brought my wife back to us, becoming the warm and loving mother she had been before our loss. A year and a half later, on May 30, 1898, our son Theodore (Teddy) was born.
I had always felt if we had been able to share our concerns with the Russian Government in 1871, about our rights, and the needed rights of the Russian people, my family would not have needed to leave Russia. In 1898, I volunteered, and was elected to serve in 1900, as a representative to the State Legislative Body in Pierre (Perr) South Dakota. I came home in time to put in the crops and to see my son, Emil, born.
So many times when one becomes puffed up and feels like he's on top of the world, the Lord will take you down. On March 29, 1902, my son Gustav was born. A week later he died from influenza, along with my son Emil. On April the 20th , Teddy died, and days later my wife died.
My daughter Sophia was already married to Gustav Muchelknaus, so my daughter Kathy, who was nineteen, and daughter Helen, who had just tuned eighteen, were very much needed to run the household. David, who was sixteen, and I, got the crops planted, with all of us doing the best we could. Beatha, Eva, George, and Henrietta were all a big help, even though our youngest, Henrietta, was only five years old.
That summer the Republican Party, once again, convinced me to run for the South Dakota Legislature. It also came to my attention that a widow that was ten years younger then me had moved to Scotland and started going to our church. She brought some equity into the marriage, but also some responsibility. Her first husband had been a widower with five children, with them having three more children before he died. I agreed with Katherine that I would be responsible in getting the five boys of hers started farming as well as my own. Gottlieb, the first son, was already on the home place, and I felt he should buy some of it. Christian was twenty, and we needed him to make a land purchase. I bought a quarter for Christian with the understanding that Gottlieb and Christian would pay us for two quarters with interest. In case of a crop failure, the payment would be delayed for one year. As each boy reached twenty-one they would have a quarter to make payments on instead of share-cropping to get a start.
On December 15, 1902, I married my second wife, Katherine nee Reich Herr Stoller. I would always remember the wife of my youth, but this had to be. The living had to go on living, if not for us, we had to for the loved ones we were responsible for. In January, Katherine and I traveled to Pierre to attend the 1903 Legislative session for six weeks while leaving the children at home to take care of each other and learn to get along with one-another. Katherine and I got to know each other much better as well.
Two and a half years later Katherine and I had a little boy named William (Bill), born August 19, 1904. In 1906 Katherine was once again with child and I had agreed to run for a four year term for the Yankton County Commissioners. I won the election and three weeks later on November 25, 1906, my son Emil was born. On July 18, 1908 my son Albert (Jack) was born. Two and a half years later on February 13, 1911, my son Benjamin (Ben) was born. In May of that year I turned fifty-three. My youngest four boys would probably always think of me as an old man, especially Ben! Their was a thirty year difference between my oldest child, Sophia, and my Ben.
As the boys were turning twenty-one I was purchasing land for them to buy, at the same time trying to keep Katherine's money invested. In 1909, I was asked to buy shares in a new bank in Scotland. We called our new venture the Bon-Homme County Bank. A telephone company was being formed in Lesterville about this same time and it was looking for investors. I thought the bank was a safer investment, although if I had known that in a few years I could call my cousin in New York and talk to him, I probably would have bought shares. In 1909, I felt the phone was a convenience for the business men in Lesterville, to the extent that their wives could call them at the end of the day to bring home groceries.
In 1913, I became the Bank President. That summer Katherine and I along with seven of our children moved to town. My son George stayed at the home-place and bought it from me. During this time I also helped form and incorporate the German Mutual Insurance Co. We had a very big need for the insuring of our farm building and other farm property to be covered at a realistic cost to the farmer.
In 1915, Scotland supported an article in our papers describing what the town had done since it was organized in 1885, thirty years past. We had a population of twelve-hundred people, eight churches, an opera house, a hotel (which did cost a person $2.25 a night to stay) an electric plant and water works, a telephone company, three grain elevators, plus a railroad ( Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul ). We had two Veterinarian Surgeons, two blacksmiths, three hardware and general stores, a plumber, a stable, a tinsmith, three real estate agents, two lumber yards, three pubs, one brewer, two pool rooms, two lawyers, two barbers, and a clothes maker (milliner), and a man that fixed and sold automobiles.
Land was on the rise that year and selling for seventy-five to one hundred thirty-five dollars per-acre.
My bank had grown to fifteen thousand in invested capital with five thousand in surplus.
Six years after I became Bank President we were in the middle of the First World War. I sold my shares and resigned! Young people in the area did not like the conservative approach I gave banking. Because of the war, we as Germans went from being called 'Rooshuns' to being called 'Germans' to 'Huns', even 'Krautes' to our faces, and worse behind them. One business proprietor in Lesterville was even tarred and feathered one night because he did business with 'Germans'.
We moved to Menno and I bought stocks and bonds in the Stock Market. Land prices continued to go up, but with the crops that could be raised on our land, it was worth two hundred dollars an acre. By the mid 1920's, I had five farms, plus George's west quarter, that was in my name, with a lien against them all. George had the home-place paid for with the west quarter almost paid for . When the Stock Market crashed in 1929, I found myself owing more then Katherine and I were worth. George went to the bank and paid me the rest that was owed and I gave him the title. In the 1930's, land prices kept plummeting till the land bottomed out at fifteen to twenty dollars an acres. George always felt that he had paid way more then what the land was worth. In 1932, I turned the rest of the land over to the bank to cover the dept. The Lord gives and The Lord takes away! Blessed be the name of the Lord!
In the 1930's we continued to have drought in the summers, with low grain prices and a bad economy. My brother, Jacob, had homesteaded in Montana, with a homestead being three hundred and twenty acres. They never had it easy, and were always facing droughts even in the 1920's. Jacob died in 1921 and his boys continued to make a go off it till the 1930's. In the '30's half of the mid-west people left to go to the west coast. In 1933, my stepdaughter, Amelia nee Herr Weidenbach wrote to us, asking if we would go to Shafter, CA. and stay with them. In '34 we left Menno with my son Emil and me driving a car. It took us nine days traveling to reach Shafter, CA.
When we arrived in California my four boys found land to farm and we started over. Nephews and other relatives resettled all along the west coast and now we're farming once again, even growing grapes like we did when we lived along the Rhine.
P.S. Heinrich (Henry) Stoller died on May 3,1956, five days short of being ninety-eight, and his wife, Katherine died the following year on August 19,1957.
Footnote: The slang or saying of "feeling their oats" go's back to the time of farming with horses, where oats was given to draft horses during the winter, to build up muscles and energy for working in the fields, come spring. "Feeling their oats" got to be an expression that extended to the children when they were full of energy and running around the yard.