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As soon as navigation opened in the spring the journey down the Volga continued till the ships docked at Saratov on the Lower Volga, the district set aside for the emigrants. This was a large expanse of land lying on both sides of the River. The district west of the River was known as the mountain side (Bergseite), and east of the River as the meadow side (Wiesenseite). The former was in the government of Saratov, and the latter in the government of Samara.
In all, about 104 colonies, 45 on the mountain side, and 59 on the meadow side, were founded. The homes of the settlers now in Ellis County were: Katharinestadt (popularly called Baronsk, because founded in 1765 by Baron de Beauregard), Boregard (founded 1766), Obermonjour (founded 1766.), Zug (Gattung, founded 1767), Luzern (Roemler, founded 1767), Schoenchen (Paninskoje, founded 1767), Solothurn (Wittmann, founded 1767), all lying on the east bank of the Volga, north of Saratov; Rohleder (Raskaty, founded 1766), Graf (Krutogorowka, founded 1764), Herzog (Susly, founded 1764), Mariental (Pfannenstiel or Tonkoschurowka, founded 1766), Louis (Otrogowka, founded 1766), lying north and south of the great Karamann, which flows from the south into the Volga west of Katharinenstadt; Liebenthal (founded 1859 from the other colonies), south of the Great Karamann; Neuobermonjour (founded 1859), 10 verst south of Liebenthal, Marienburg (founded 1860), 68 verst northeast of Liebenthal. All these colonies were on the meadow side. On the mountain side lay Kamenka (founded 1766), 110 verst southwest of Saratov, Pfeifer (Gniluska, founded 1766), 7 verst southwest of Kamenka, Rothamel (Pamnatnaja, founded 1767), about 25 verst northwest of Kamenka, Semenowka (founded 1766) 15 verst southwest of Pfeifer.
Since this is not the place to treat at length of the gradual rise and development of the Russian Settlements, let it suffice to say that from the very landing in Kronstadt the colonists were sadly disillusioned. To begin with, practically half of the immigrants were artisans, having no knowledge of farming. These had been induced to leave their native lands by promises of plenty of opportunities to practice their various trades in the cities and towns of Russia. Once arrived in the Land of the Czars, however, all without exception were transported to the Lower Volga. This, the vaunted paradise of the commissaries, proved to be a vast expanse of wild, semi-arid steppe land which, as it then appeared, must have discouraged every one of the colonists. Moreover, the buildings which the government had promised to erect were nowhere to be seen, and the allowances of money advanced by Her Majesty proved sadly insufficient. To make matters worse, the colonists had arrived too late in the season to do any planting, with the inevitable result that the winter which soon overtook them, proved a time of dire need and bitter suffering in which death reaped a rich harvest.
With the advent of spring, however, the outlook became somewhat brighter. The land proved to be rich and well adapted for wheat raising. Nothing daunted by their sad plight, the colonists, both farmers and artisans, made a bold attempt to wrest a living from the stubborn soil.
Energy, industry and thrift, the national characteristics of the German people, were not wanting in the settlers on the Volga, and these, together with the fruitfulness of the soil, gradually overcame all difficulties. But before the colonists arrived at a stage of comparative prosperity, they had to pass through terrible hardships and sufferings. Thus, for the first ten years their crops were total failures, and to ward off starvation, they were forced to apply to the government for food; they had to fight for their lives in the murderous raids of the savage Kirghiz hordes which periodically swept through the colonies with fire and sword, wiping out four of them completely, and retarding the development of many others; their members were thinned by disease and death which claimed many a victim in the early years. Added to all this there was the evergrowing irritation caused by almost continuous bickering between the colonists and the government concerning the repayment of the money advanced, the amount of subsidies, taxation, and a number of similar matters. In short, so fraught with disappointment, worry and suffering were those early years that one is compelled to admire the optimism and tenacity of purpose which enabled the colonists to go steadily forward in spite of their grievous trials.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, we find the colonists enjoying a measure of peace, prosperity, and happiness undreamed of in the early years of their sojourn in the realm of the Czars. But it was not to last.
Transcribed from The Golden Jubilee of German-Russian Settlements of Ellis and Rush Counties, Kansas, August 31, September 1 and 2, 1926
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