Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Life in the North Dakota Plains

My great grandmother was born in a small town called Ashley, N.D. near Wishek, N.D., in which she spent her entire life until leaving with her husband and remaining children in 1942 for Richmond, CA. Her parents were both Russian immigrants, however, one parent had been here his entire life except for his first 6 months. Her mother was born in Russia, and came to America when she was about 13 in 1889 through the New York Port known as Castle Garden, which is now part of Battery Park/Castle Clinton. Ellis Island had not opened yet, so a lot of people neglect to look at this website and if they cannot locate their ancestors through Ellis Island's website, they might just give up. Little do people know, but since Ellis Island didn't open until late in the game, there was still a significant amount of immigrants that came through other ports in New York that go largely unnoticed - Castle Garden is one of those ports.

Even though my great grandparents were born in Russia, they were of German descent. In the 1700's Catherine the Great called upon her fellow Germans (she was of German descent herself even though she was a ruler of Russia) to come to Russia to help work the land and farm in what some would call today, inhabitable parts. These areas included along the Volga River, parts of Siberia and along the Black Sea region. Our family came from the Black Sea region, which is now what they consider the Ukraine.

Looking closer, however, my great, great grandfather's side (surname is Herr) came from an area called Kamorovka - See below for a description from Wikipedia:

Kamarovka was founded as Kassel in 1810. It is part of the Bergdorf, Glückstal,[1] Kassel, Neudorf area near Odessa in Ukraine, which was allocated by the Russia Crown government to German immigrants who left certain areas of Germany/Hungary (Hesse, Baden, Württemberg (now Baden-Württemberg), Alsace (now part of France), the Palatinate, or Hungary) between 1808 and 1810.[2] The immigrants who founded Kassel were all Protestants, the majority Evangelical [Lutheran], a minority Reformed. Czar Alexander I encouraged immigration from many countries into the Ukrainian areas along the Black Sea, acquired from the Ottoman Empire in 1804. The Germans were fleeing the oppressive occupation of southwest Germany by Napoleon’s armies (until his defeat at Waterloo in 1815). Although the Russians discouraged the practice of any religion other than Russian Orthodoxy, the official church of Russia, Czar Alexander I granted religious freedom and other special privileges, such as local autonomy and temporary tax relief, to the German immigrants. In 1871, Czar Alexander II revoked some of the special privileges (including exemption from military service) originally granted to the German immigrants by Czar Alexander I, and shortly after that many of them began to migrate to the United States, especially to the Dakotas.[3]


The Herr family had a rich and varied history prior to coming to Russia. It seemed they had a case of wanderlust. Many of the Herr's lived and married in first Germany, then Madagascar, then Hungary, then France then back to Germany; when they removed themselves Germany completely and moved to Russia, for very likely the same reasons listed above - oppression from Napoleon's army.

When my great, great grandfather came to America (landing in Baltimore and traveling to North Dakota), his parents once again uprooted and left for yet another foreign land that brought promise to them. Maybe America finally brought the riches the Herr's had been looking for, because Jacob's father, Jacob Sr., was one of the more well to do in Wishek. He owned one of the major mercantile stores in the area, and along with good farming skills and business dealings, Jacob Sr., built a grand home in the area and made Wishek his homestead. His oldest son and namesake, took on the business with his brothers while also being involved with the cattle trade, often traveling on a private car on the Soo Line to Chicago. Unfortunately, sometime in 1926-27, Jacob Jr. never returned from one of his trips to Chicago. No one knows what happened to him except part of me questions some actions taken by some family members during the aftermath of his disappearance. Shortly after he disappeared, his wife Christina was removed from her home by several family members, she then moved in with her eldest daughter who lived nearby. It is presumed the home and property were either sold or other family members moved into her former home. Some years later, Jacob's daughter, Martha, hired a private investigator to track Jacob's whereabouts, however, nothing turned up on him.

There seems to be little sympathy for Christina and what happened to her husband. Dare I say there was some foul play that happened to Jacob? Was he murdered for his inheritance? Some legal papers I found stated that Jacob was entitled to a fortune, that with inflation, equaled close to $1,000,000 dollars.

It's a sad ending which left Christina a widow with several young children to still raise. Until this day, I cannot locate any death records for Jacob Herr nor a grave site for him. Part of me feels as if his body was left somewhere between Fargo and Chicago. I know it sounds dismal, but this is my hunch and it's a very sad outcome for a family member of ours.

The mercantile store stayed open at least until the mid-1980's. I am not sure if it prospered past that point.


Please see some photos here of the Herr's in Wishek, ND

Jacob Herr Jr with wife Christina (nee Orth) and oldest daughter, Lydia (my great-grandmother), circa 1897

 The Herr Mercantile Store in an add in the Wishek 1948 Jubilee book (this photo taken in 1909)

Martha, Lydia (my great-grandmother), Arthur and Sophie Herr, circa 1904, Wishek, North Dakota

Joshua and Jacob III Herr at their home, circa 1923-24. It appears a tent is outside for them to play in.

The Herr homestead as a Bird's Eye view, circa 1910's

A closer view of the Herr Homestead, circa 1910's

The Herr Mercantile store. A rare photo taken from inside. Lydia may have taken this photo. She worked inside the store as a seamstress, circa 1912.