BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) – The cold weather sweeping the state the past couple of days is no surprise to some North Dakotans.
For those with Germans from Russia heritage, you could say weathering the cold is in their blood.
Karen Retzlaff is reading from a book that recalls how her ancestors, Germans from Russia, kept their houses warm.
“There’s a good German word called … It means stubborn or determined. When they came, they had no choice. They could not go back,” said Retzlaff.
She says they came from a part of Russia that has similar temperatures but is more temperate, so the cold could be unbearable at times.
“They came with the clothing they wore there, and it was somewhat adequate,” said Retzlaff.
She says they wore warm clothes like heavy shawls, coats with fur that they wore inside out so the fur was turned on their skin, leather boots and thick woolen socks knit by the women in the home.
She says they used the land to build their houses.
“Out of sod bricks, which could or could not be very warm. They also, in some cases, built houses out of bricks they made out of manure, straw, and clay. And they also did rammed-earth, which was simply packing up all of this stuff and tamping it down,” said Retzlaff.
When the government enacted the Homestead Act, she says the cheap land attracted them here.
“They were all farmers. I shouldn’t say they were all farmers, but a good number were farmers. They came to do what they knew how to do from Russia,” said Retzlaff.
They were also fleeing to the United States for more opportunities.
“The freedom of religion, freedom of keeping their language German, no taxes. I mean, anybody would pick up and move somewhere where the land was free and no taxes,” said Retzlaff.
She says many of them came in the spring, so they were met with nice weather, but they had to quickly adjust when the cold weather hit.
The NDSU Germans from Russia Heritage says that by 1920, more than 116,000 German-Russians were in the United States with the largest concentration in North Dakota.
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