BC: Dedicated to Emma (Helmut) and Harry Miller
FC: Our Heritage
1: Our Heritage | Pictured on front cover: Top: Miller family (from left to right): Back row: John Dermer, Manual, Rudy, Edward Front row: Min, Emmanuel, Albert, Pauline, Harry, Pauline Bottom: Helmut family (from left to right): Top row: Mollie, John, Pauline, George, Emma, Conrad, Mary, Lydia Bottom row: Jeanie, Victor, Charlotte, Conrad, Rosie, Harry | The history of the German people who moved their families into Russia; established homes, farms and communities; and then moved to the United States is a moving, dramatic, tragic story of a heroic people. The Helmuts and Millers were among those who settled in the Volga River area and were later brutally evicted. The stories of those who couldn't leave Russia are mostly unknown, but the history of those who escaped and resettled across the sea needs to be told. It illustrates the invincible spirit of the German people. The Helmuts and Millers are two families who arrived in northeastern Colorado after long journeys from the Volga River valley. Their presence helped put northeastern Colorado on the map. Their work ethic and sense of community helped create a safe, productive environment for those who live here.
3: Our family is part of a unique group of Americans who were caught up in a culture of broken promises. They were known as "Germans from Russia" or "Volga Germans." Volga German history predates the American Revolution and the birth of the United States. It dates from the time of Catherine the Great until the Russian Germans were banished during World War II. In the mid-1700s, German-born Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great, became Empress of Russia. On October 15, 1762, she opened unpopulated areas of Russia for foreign settlement. Catherine felt the land needed tilling and the population of the country was in need of upgrading. She thought settlers from more highly developed areas of Europe might serve as good examples to current residents. There was practically no response to that vague decree. In 1763, she issued another manifesto promising privileges, including thirty years of tax exemption, the right to communal self-government without interference from Russian authorities, and "perpetual exemption from military service." She also provided grants, subsidies, and parcels of land with farming equipment. Four years later, Catherine appealed to the poorest of her own people. These German peasants had endured five generations of military conflict, ruthless nobles and warlords, exorbitant taxes, forced military service and crop failures. Compared to their living conditions in Germany, Russia sounded like paradise. Thousands of Germans accepted her offer and migrated to Russia.
4: Our Ancestors' Homes in Russia
5: Entire German villages joined the exodus. Immigrants from other countries followed, but Germans made up the majority. More than 30,000 Germans settled in colonies in several wilderness parts of Russia that included the Volga River region in the center and along the Black Sea in southern Russia. Over 100 colonies were established on the banks of the lower Volga River around the areas of Saratov and Tsaritsyn. During their nearly 200 years in Russia, the Volga Germans adapted to life in an unfamiliar, brutal landscape. Most were farmers who grew all kinds of crops, including winter rye, wheat, sunflowers, potatoes, millet, hemp and flax for clothing, vegetables and fruit. They cherished their faiths and their ways of life, and stayed in their villages. At the same time, they were influenced by the landscape and outside cultures. They adapted the agricultural methods, dress, and architecture of their Russian neighbors. For example, without trees for lumber to build wood frame houses, they adapted puddled mud and mud-brick construction methods. They kept their unique identity, and dialects from different parts of the German homeland prevailed, but many had a culture that was neither Russian nor German. The unprecedented amount of work required to survive on the Russian steppes had an indelible impact on the Volga-German world view. No one was exempt from grueling manual labor; women and children worked alongside the men. German Russians idealized work and considered their Russian neighbors to be lazy and slow. The colonies achieved remarkable vitality in spite of their unpromising beginnings.
6: How Our Family Came to America
7: German communities survived raids, beatings, hangings and burning of entire villages by Cossacks during Pugachev's rebellion from 1773 to 1774. In 1796, Catherine the Great died. The government of Alexander II canceled the colonists' privileged status she had granted them. Germans were denied freedom to retain their language and culture. In 1874, universal compulsory military service was introduced; Volga Germans were no longer exempt. Progress was halted. The colonies started to decline. Numerous Volga Germans started to leave Russia for countries across the sea.* Many German Russian immigrants were lured to the United States by railroad emissaries' promises of jobs and a better life. Immigrants settled in large numbers throughout the American West. Many found the type of wheat they had grown in Russia and brought with them flourished on the American plains. In northeastern Colorado, Volga Germans began by weeding sugar beet fields close to towns with sugar refineries. Their tenacious work ethic and large families provided the labor required to make sugar beets a worthwhile commodity. The obstacles the Volga Germans faced in the areas in which they made their homes were daunting. They met those challenges and made enormous contributions to their communities. It is important we keep our proud heritage alive for our descendants. *Later, on August, 28, 1941, a decree ordered the dissolution of the Volga Republic in Russia and the deportation of its entire German population to Siberia and Central Asia. Germans who had not emigrated were enslaved, killed or exiled to Siberia in box cars.
8: The Millers | Adam John Mueller
9: Adam John Mueller lived in Holstein, Russia, when his son, Emmanuel, was born on September 9, 1882. In 1896, 25 years after the Czars took control, John helped 14-year old Emmanuel, two older brothers and a sister flee Russia. He and Emmanuel's mother were unable to escape; the children never knew what happened to them. | Without legal papers, the children weren't allowed to enter the United States through Ellis Island, so Emmanuel worked for his passage on a ship to Canada. He settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba and worked in construction, building bridges. Pauline Dermer was born in Schilling, Russia, but was living in Winnipeg when she met Emmanuel. They were married there In December, 1903. In October, 1904, Pauline and Emmanuel migrated to Scottsbluff, Nebraska on the Grand Trunk Line railroad. At some point in their journey, the Mueller name was changed to Miller. | After a short time in Nebraska, they moved to northeastern Colorado, where they raised sugar beets, corn and hay in the Sterling, Iliff and Atwood areas. Most Volga Germans could speak only a few words of Russian when they emigrated to the United States; German dialects prevailed. The Millers were no exception.
10: Pauline and Emmanuel's certificate of marriage | Russian bills found in old coin purse
11: Pauline & Emmanuel at home in Atwood | Like most people in those days, the Millers were self-sufficient, with a garden, some chickens and a few cattle they butchered for food. Emmanuel started a baseball team; all the players were named Miller except two. One was John Dermer, whose mother died in childbirth; he was raised as one of Emmanuel and Pauline's own children. Another Miller family lived across the river from our ranch; their boys also played on the team. At first, they played at the Atwood school grounds, then Emmanuel built a baseball diamond in his pasture. When the Miller team won a game, Emmanuel rewarded them with five gallons of ice cream. | Place by the cemetery along US Hwy 6 Emmanuel Miller on the "new" 1937 GMC feed truck & Teddy the dog. The barn was moved from the farm by the creek where the old one had been struck by lightning.
12: When German Russians first settled in the South Platte River Valley, they weren’t readily accepted by the current residents. Many considered them “dirty Rooshans.” Undaunted, they grew sugar beets, corn, hay and wheat. Each crop provided its own unique challenges, but an understanding of what it takes to grow and harvest a beet crop reveals much about the character of the German Russian sugar beet farmers. Germans had long grown sugar beets as a garden crop they processed into a sweet, dark syrup. Once they relocated to America, they used their tenacious work ethic and large families to turn sugar beet farming into a practical way to make a living. Farm operations in the early days were done with horses. Each step in the beet growing process required hard work. First, the ground was broken and prepared for planting. A single bottom (one bladed) plow was used to turn the soil. The clods were broken further with a disc, then again with a harrow. Finally, a horse-drawn float was used to level and flatten the field.
13: A planter was used to make a furrow, drop seeds into it from a bin and loosely cover the seeds with dirt. A “ditcher” was then used to create a deeper furrow between each row for water to follow when it was time to irrigate. After planting, the crop was “irrigated up.” The banks of the ditch were manually notched with a shovel to allow water to flow from the ditch into the furrows. The water ran down the rows to give the seeds the moisture they needed to germinate and grow. As the water reached the ends of the rows, the notches at the top of the field were filled in and other notches further down the ditch were made to irrigate the next section of the field. Depending on the weather, each field had to be irrigated two to four times during a growing season. When the plants were almost 2” tall, they were thinned. The adults used hoes to remove some of the tiny plants to create growing room for the remaining beets. Children followed the adults on their hands and knees, further thinning the remaining beets until they were spaced evenly, with room to grow. | Naturally, as the beets grew, so did the weeds. At least three times during a growing season, weeds were removed between each beet plant with a hoe. The backbreaking work really began when the beets were ready for harvest. First, a horse-drawn beet puller loosened the soil around the beets.
14: Next, using a topping knife with a hook on the end, a worker hooked the beet to pick it up, grabbed it with the other hand, cut the leaves off with a single stroke, and lay it in a row. | Workers followed the beet puller, pulling the beets by hand from the loosened soil, banging them together to remove excess dirt, and laying them in rows. | Then, using beet forks, the beets were manually loaded into the horse-drawn wagons (or later, trucks.)
15: The loads of beets were hauled to the beet dump, where they were weighed and sent to the factory for processing. Farmers were paid for their beets at the end of the season, after they delivered their final load.
16: Emmanuel & son, Albert, harvesting wheat with the tractor and wheat binder. | When tractors came onto the farming scene, many established farmers were skeptical of their value. They were unfamiliar and very different from their trusted, reliable horses. His grandsons remember Emmanuel's first tractor was probably a John Deere with a hand clutch. It might have been sometime in the 1930s; everyone worried as they watched dust blow across the horizon. One day when Emmanuel and his son Albert were bucking hay, Albert heard his father yell, "Whoa, you son of a b_ _ _ _! Whoa!" He looked up in time to see Emmanuel manage to stop the tractor before it ran into a haystack. | Wheat harvest - 1927
17: Miller Farm
18: Emmanuel Miller's certificate of naturalization March 10, 1925 | In anticipation of their town being selected as the county seat of Logan County, the people of Atwood constructed this building to serve as the courthouse in 1885. After losing their bid to Sterling on December 20, 1887, this building became the first Atwood school.
19: Pauline: 1/12/1885 - 4/17/1962 Emmanuel: 9/9/1832 - 9/27/1953
20: The Helmuts | John Helmut (Conrad's brother) Charlotte (Schad) and Conrad Helmut Lydia, Molly, Mary
21: Conrad and Charlotte farmed in the Merino and Atwood areas and were parents to twelve children: Mollie, Lydia, Mary, George, Emma, John, Pauline, Rose, Conrad, Jean, Harry and Victor. Conrad passed away on April 20, 1965, in Sterling, on April 20, 1965. Charlotte passed away in Brush, on January 19, 1954. They are both buried in Riverside cemetery in Sterling. | On October 16, 1886, Conrad Helmut was born in Konstantinovka, Russia. On November 13, 1886, Charlotte Schad was born in Schilling, Russia. Charlotte met Conrad when her family moved to Konstantinovka. They were married there in February, 1905. In 1907, they began their journey to America from Leiback, Russia, with their daughter, Mollie. They docked in Halifax, Nova Scotia. From there, they traveled by rail to Winnipeg. On July 14, 1913, they boarded the Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Saint Marie train with their four children, Mollie, Lydia, Mary and George. They arrived in Noyes, Minnesota on July 15 and went on to Sterling, arriving August 15, 1913.
22: "Mom worked so hard. She baked every day. Washing lasted almost all week, scrubbing on a board. She was working in the fields about three days after Rose was born and worked in the beets up until the time Vic was born." - Molly (Helmut) Wambolt "...Mom would sit at night and darn socks and jeans and had us kids recite what we had to learn in Catechism for Confirmation. She knew it all by heart and knew when we made a mistake. She would often fall asleep as she was so tired. She would build a fire in the stove in the mornings while us kids and Dad went out and did chores. We would often have blina for breakfast and cooked cereal. Dad had his favorite mules, Maude and Jennie, he would cultivate with; he said they would walk a straight row. Dad would listen to the radio to the Nashville music at night. He also watched fighting and wrestling on T.V." - Emma (Helmut) Miller | Our Memories | Emma and Pauline Helmut at home | "I can still see Mom as she sat in front of the wood stove in the kitchen teaching one of us Catechism at night, or darning socks or patching jeans. She would fall asleep and wake up and work some more. Mom was always willing to help someone out--even bums that came along. She always made sure the house was clean; she always had three meals on the table if she felt well or not. I thank Mom for making sure we went to Sunday school and church and all got Confirmed. The last few months, when we went over to clean house for her, she would be in a lot of pain at times. She would get up and press the edge of the door against the middle of her shoulders for a while." - Pauline (Helmut) Werner
23: "Dad and Mom came from Russia. They rode in a box car. From Liverpool, England, they boarded a ship and sailed to Canada. Dad farmed with horses a lot. He had a 1937 International truck; we hauled wheat to the Hillrose elevator. Dad picked up on the English language through working with other farmers but Mom never spoke much English. Us boys used to sleep out in the bunk house; we had a feather mattress bed. Mom used to make schnitz soup out of mixed dried fruit; I liked it a lot. She also made blina, a thin large pancake made with yeast that she had to let set and rise. Mom and Dad made some home brews: whiskey, beer and root beer in the basement during the depression and prohibition days. We even had a device to cap the bottles. Dad would have a small drink of muscatel nearly every morning. Back in those days, the Germans from Russia had three-day weddings. There would be lots of dancing, visiting, drinking and eating. They would pin money on the bride to dance with her and to help out the young couple. We had a piano and Jeanie played it." - John Helmut | John and George Helmut | "I remember sitting on Grandpa's lap and saying little German rhymes; then he would give me a nickel. I remember picking swatchaben (wanderberries) with Grandma and getting to eat some before the pie was baked. As an adult, I think about the courage and strength they had to leave their families and country." - Shirley (Wamboldt) Adamson "I can picture Grandpa with his brown cigarette holder, watching wrestling on television and smoking--and you couldn't bother him while he was watching." - Doug Werner
24: "My mother and dad were very special people; there are so many special things I remember. They were always there for me. I remember Mom cooking and baking, especially her donuts and coffee cake. I remember her long, beautiful hair. I would watch her brush and twist and roll it up to the back of her head, then put big hairpins to keep it there. Dad was a big strong, good looking, hard working man; and when he said anything or corrected us he meant it. I remember him bouncing the grandchildren on his knee. I'll always be thankful for the courage it took both of them to leave Russia and come to the United States." - Jean (Helmut) Meer | "I can remember Mom's big vegetable gardens and all the canning she did. She also raised lots of flowers. She worked hard in the house and with chores and beet field work when she had some spare time. Dad raised sugar beets, hay, corn, barley, oats and pinto beans in the later years. He had a Model D John Deere tractor with steel wheels (he later put rubber on it.) He also bought a new '35 John Deere tractor. We went to church at least every other Sunday." - Harry Helmut | Rose, Harry, Jean & Victor Helmut | "I loved to go and see Grandpa and Grandma; they were very special to me. When we visited them, Grandma usually had candy in her cupboard for us--a real treat for my sisters and me. Grandma was very sweet and always had a smile for us. I can remember her mending or darning on the evenings while she and Grandpa visited with our parents, mostly in German--I understood only a word here and there. Grandpa was always happy to see and he used to tease us. In later years when he came to our home, he and Dad watched wrestling and boxing together on television. He really seemed to enjoy that." - Doris (Brunkhardt) Wahlert
25: "I remember Grandpa the most; he was always such a big teaser. Whenever we would visit we'd have to make a mad dash for the yard because the geese would chase us. Grandpa kept my horse for me when we had to move to town. I loved to visit him." - Charlene (Miller) Craddock | "I remember Mom doing a lot of crocheting and sewing. I can still see her sitting and reading the daily meditations book from our church. Dad had several mule teams. One was Mollie and Minnie; they were especially good for cultivating the little beets. He was very proud of them. He had another team he called Jerry and Jack. It seems like the first truck Dad got was a '34 Ford. During World War II we had some German prisoners of war brought out each day to work in the sugar beet fields, topping beets. The first year I started school, Mom, Dad and I went to visit some of Dad's relatives in Canada. Conrad Luft, his wife, Barbara, and their youngest child, Frieda, went along. We went in Dad's 1934 (or 1935) Chrysler with wooden spoke wheels. The roads in Canada were very muddy and in poor condition; Dad had such a hard time getting up the hills in the mud, we all had to get out and walk up the hill." - Victor Helmut | "I can remember Grandpa gathering eggs and cleaning them. I can remember going to Merino with Grandpa. What I remember most is the felt hat he always wore (which we have now) and how he always used a cigarette holder when he smoked." - Curtis Werner "I remember staying with Grandma and Grandpa and going out and helping water the flowers in front of the house; there were lots of zinnia and hollyhocks. When they butchered, they had a big iron pot outside on a fire and made cracklings. I also played the piano for Grandpa. His favorite song was 'Blue Skirt Waltz.'" - Pat (Helmut) Lowery | Pauline and John in front of the bunkhouse
26: "Grandma always had a flower garden. I especially remember the zinnias. I always thought it was a big garden, but Mom says it was a small patch." - Carol (Wamboldt) Holzworth "Grandpa and Grandma were always kind and loving. When they lived on the farm by Roosevelt School, Grandma would let me walk through her flower garden. My love of flowers came from that. " - Billye (Wamboldt) Wolever | "Grandma Helmut was thoughtful and kind. She always wore glasses, an apron, and her hair in a bun. Whenever we visited, she always offered us cookies or candy. She introduced me to my first Avon by giving me 'To a Wild Rose' cologne one Christmas. Her last Christmas gift to the family was a purple and white homemade quilt. Granddad Helmut was cheerful and loving. He frequently came to our house and Mom cut his hair. He and Dad watched boxing and wrestling on T.V. and discussed politics." - Betty (Brunkhardt) Repp | Roosevelt School | Conrad and Charlotte's home near Merino
27: "My first memory of Grandpa Helmut was when I was 5 or 6 years old. We had a special bond; his birthday was the day before mine. He brought a tricycle to our house for me. I was shy and afraid to ride it in front of him, but I loved that tricycle. I remember how excited he and my dad used to get watching wrestling on Saturday night television. Grandma had a wonderful big sea shell we used to listen to. At their home near Merino, I remember one visit when Grandma had just washed her hair. I was amazed how long it was and how she wrapped it in a bun. I loved those big oval pictures on the walls." - Nancy (Brunkhardt) Rudolph "When I was a child, my father, mother, sisters and I would make many trips to visit Grandpa and Grandma Helmut. The visits were always fun. My grandparents greeted me with warm and loving smiles, and Grandma always offered treats to my sisters and me from a candy dish in her hand. In their living room were baby, confirmation, graduation and wedding pictures of all my cousins, aunts and uncles. I would stare at them and wonder who they all were. On a bedroom dresser was a big sea shell. I loved picking it up to my ear to hear the sounds of the ocean waves. Their bathroom fascinated me; it had a flushing stool--a real novelty at that time. They were very loving and kind people. I'll never forget them." - Ellen (Brunkhardt) Larsen | Victor, Harry, Jean, Conrad and Rose Helmut