My father was raised in Bunker Hill, Kansas. One of his expressions that I remember was that he called the local "Russians" "Roo-sans"! (As in "booo-sans"!) Beyond that, I can't remember him ever attaching any further implications to the name other than their apparently unique culture. They were just a local collection of immigrant farmers and merchants who settled the area years before my father was born.

Well, I found this article and surprise, surprise, those "Roo-sans" weren't really Russians at all! It turns out they were Germans who migrated to Russian under Catherine the Great and later, under the laws of Czar Nicholas, removed themselves to the plains of Kansas, which looked much like the east bank of the Volga, their former home.

It is said that the Germans of the Volga never learned Russian as they were a very close community. I imagine the "Roo-sain" language my father heard them speak was German!

So far as I know, my father never new any of this .... did you?

Read on:

 

Russians In Kansas.

Interesting Sketch of an Interesting People.
 

["Ottawa Weekly Herald," 06 Aug 1891, page 6, column 1]


Noble L. Prentis contributes an interesting article to the Kansas City Star on the settlement of the Mennonites in Kansas, from which the following is taken"

"When in the years 1874 and 1875 the people commonly called 'Russians' were arriving in Kansas, they were regarded with a special wonder, which did not, however, lead up to any sufficient investigation by the American multitude. A 'Russian' was a man who wore a sheepskin coat with the wooly side out, or a woman who wore a black kerchief tied over or around her head, and who spent most of her time going somewhere with an iron teakettle. 'Russian' and 'Mennonite' were somehow supposed to mean the same thing, and there are plenty of people in Kansas yet who do not know that Mennonite is the name of a religious sect, as Baptist or Methodist, but supposed it to be the designation of a race or nationality. All Russians were supposed to be of the same faith, with he same peculiarities of dress and manners and coming from the same region in Russia.

"As the years have passed the real situation has slowly become understood, and for one thing, those who have sufficient interest in the most remarkable immigration Kansas has ever known, have learned that great accession to the working force of Kansas was not 'Russian,' but German. Kansas has not today, it is probable, a single citizen who could be counted as in blood and language a 'Russian,' and all these thousands, though coming to Kansas from Russian, and for years after spoken of as 'Russians,' were Germans in lineage, in language, in feeling, as much as if they had come from Saxony, or Bavaria or Prussia.

"These German-Russians were divided into two bodies; the larger number coming from Southern Russia, a country extending from the Turkish frontier eastward, embracing all the wheat growing country north of Odessa, and the Crimea itself, were in religion Mennonites and settled finally in the counties of Marion, Reno, Harvey, McPherson and Butler; a smaller, but still large body, coming from the country of the Volga river on the confines of Asia, were Catholics in religion and settled for the most part in the county of Ellis.

"It will be perceived that these were important differences, but they were lost sight of by the American public. The Mennonites being the larger body were regarded with more of newspaper attention, and they have become, as it were, better understood. The word 'Russian,' is seldom applied to them in these later years, and there is now less distinction between them and the rest of the population than there is between their distant kinsmen the Pennsylvania Dutch, and the rest of the Pennsylvanians.

After referring to the thousand or so immigrants from Russia who, in the years 1875, 1876 and 1877, went out into the counties of Ellis and Russell on the old Kansas Pacific, as to an agricultural country, moved, like the children of Israel, rather more by faith than by sight, and some historical discrepancies as to whether Ellis county were better adapted to stock raising or agriculture, and the getting up of a party to visit the locality, the article continues:

"In pursuance of the objects of the 'exploration' it was resolved to visit the village of Catharine, or, in full, Catherinestadt, as a specimen of 'Russian' village, and on the way the expedition halted at the country residence of Father Sommereisen, who at at one time had spiritual charge of the colonists, but who now rests from the care of souls, under his own vine if not his fig tree. Father Sommereisen, by birth an Alsatian, an American citizen since 1854, kindly corrected the historians, official and otherwise, and likewise the geographers of Ellis county concerning the names of 'Russian' villages. For instance, on the official maps one sees the township of 'Hartsook,' the proper name, Father Sommereisen explained, is Herzog, which may be freely translated Dukesborough. The other villages, accepting his spelling, are Catherinestadt, or Catherineville; Lieberthal, or Love Valley, in Rush county; Pfeifer, or Fifer, named for some ancient player on the fife, and Obermundschuh, or the 'upper mouth' (of the river). Another village called Schoenhen, or Beautyville, had 'gone up,' or rather down, having been unfortunately located on the sand. It really had no motive to live after the neighbors got to calling it 'Sheniken.' Much other information the lively and hospitable padre gave of the Ellis county Russia, but seeing is believing, and so, pushing on over the prairie hills, we came upon a certain ridge and looked down the valley of the north fork of Big creek, and saw at one glance Harzog and Catherinestadt and the two great stone churches towering above the clustered houses, and between the towns and beyond them the dark green corn fields and yellow newly shorn wheat fields of the German farmers who had come from the other side of the world.

"The German colonists who settled in Russia back as far as the time of Peter the Great whom Father Sommereisen called Peter 'Boss' seem to have adopted the village system, where the community of farmers live together and own a common field and common pasture, and besides carry on their farms in severalty at a great or less distance from the common center. The Mennonite settlers began life in Kansas in this way, and thw writer in 1875 visited the village of Guadenan with its single street of grass thatched houses. The Mennonites entirely abandoned this system years ago, but among the Ellis county colony the old Russian village plan is not entirely lost. There were several suggestions of Russia in Catherinestadt. The town was made up principally of one long, narrow street, the houses standing sheer with the street, as in the pictures of Russian villages in George Kennan's sketches, only in those the houses are built of timber while the houses in the Kansas Catherinestadt are built of yellow limestone from the prairie bluff near at hand. Each house had a square or hip' roof, and all the windows were supplied with solid wooden shutters, usually painted green. Front yards were not in favor in Catherinestadt, but their numerous enclosures fenced with stone walls behind the houses, and behind everything, another old country feature, piles of stable manure chopped up with straw and cut in blocks like peat and piled in heaps to dry for winter fuel. In the Ellis country the curious Russian ovens, wherewith the house may be kept warm all day with a few armfuls of straw, are still in use, thought they are going out of style with the Mennonites.

"Mr. Karlin came out from his American built cottage at the back of a large garden, all in the suburbs of the village, and talked. A stout young man with broad shoulders was Mr. Karlin, with a red beard, which he explained came with the Karlin's from Sweden to Russia a hundred years ago. Mr. Karlin was 21 years old when he came to Kansas with his father and brothers from Russia. He has served as one of the county commissioners of Ellis county. He spoke of the old life in Russia among German colonists on the east bank of the Volga, a plains country something like Kansas. The Germans were fairly prosperous in that country, living under certain privileges granted their fathers, until the beginning of the enforcement of the policy announced originally by Czar Nicholas. One czar, one religion, one language.' With the revocation of the old privileges, and the attempt to force the Russian language upon them, they abandoned their native land and made the long journey to Kansas. In Russia they rented the land; in Kansas they owned it, and they had been prospered. They owned the land about the villages, which were named after the old places in Russia. Catherine was named for Catherinestadt, a town of 15,000 inhabitants, which was named in honor of the Empress Catherine II., and where her statue stands until this day. The people in the old country had a fashion of going out on their farms to live in the crop season and coming back to the villages to live in the winter and this plan is followed here, hence so many of the houses were closed in the Kansas Catherinestadt. There was a school kept up in the village eight months in the year and a German school for two months, four times as much English as German. The great stone Catholic church, which seemed as big as all the rest of the village, would be finished in November.

"Thus live the people called 'Russians,' really Germans become Americans; in fact, the villages and the farms are full of young Americans. They are an industrious people, working their farms in drought or rainy weather. They had transformed the valley of the North Fork and a portion of the valley of the Smoky into fertile fields and form an important part of the body politic in Ellis county."

 

 

More:

"The Golden Jubilee of the German-Russian Settlements of Ellis and Rush Counties, Kansas"

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