Dr. Igor R. P1eve analyzed the Volga immigrations of the mid-1870s in his article Beginning of German Emigration to America .The Volga German emigration of the 1870s was different from the the later period at the end of the nineteenth century. The latter migration was result of crop failure economic hardships, and was encouraged and financed by the earlier immigrants to America.
The situation in the mid-1870s involved only a few colonies, and mostly the poorer citizens. One reason was the universal military conscription implemented in 1874. Religious groups that had broken off Evangelical-Lutheran Church, such as Baptists, formed the core of this migration. as they were against carrying weapons for military service. Since, the Mennonites were legally recognized as a church could pay fees and avoid draft into the Russian Army. Baptists were a dissident group who could not. Overall, the Volga Germans approved of the draft, it was mainly those who held such religious doctrines, namely Baptists, that were motivated to emigrate for reason of the draft. A second reason for offense was the liquidation of the Office of Guardianship for foreign settlers, causing rumors that the R government was about to force the German colonists to conform to the Russian Orthodox church. This mostly motivated those who belonged to small religious groups, and to the Catholics. The fact that they still had to pay tax of 22.5 kopecks annually for five more years to support the Office of Guardianship also created resentment. Thirdly, colonists feared that the ten year window for migration was all they had. A fourth reason that poor harvest in the early 1870s had impoverished many colonists, and a fifth reason, revolved around the Russian governments decision to do away with the Resettlement Capital fund used to help colonists during harsh years.
According to the law of 1871, when all Volga Germans had been given equal rights with the rest of the population of Russia. they could leave Russia within ten years, if they were not satisfied. One man from Doenhof, named Lissman, took advantage of this opportunity prior to 1874. In 1874, one man from Balzer and thirty-seven colonists from Kolb applied for passports. Ten additional petitions came a week later. By June 100 families from Norka were preparing for emigration, as well as others from Kutter, Messer and Beideck. Russian authorities were becoming alarmed. Mass migration in 1874 was delayed as people waited to here from their representatives who had previously been sent to explore the opportunities the United States had to offer. Thus, only 25 colonists from the Saratov region emigrated in the fall of 1874. These people had to submit application to the village administration, and as long as no taxes were outstanding, approval was granted to seek higher administrative authorities for the release from Russian citizenship, and request passport from the governor of the region. This took about two months. Though local authorities tried to discourage emigration and encourage the colonists to stay, they could not stop the migration from occurring. The Saratov Governor even submitted a proposal to the Russian Government to adopt a law that would give Germans permanent ownership to their land parcels, and thus, improve their economy.
A colonist from Balzer named Schwabauer, who had emigrated in 1875, wrote a booklet, circulated among the colonists, that encouraged the migration. Bremen and Hamburg ship lines conducted promotions, offering assistance to those who migrated in 1875-76. A Prussian representative, named Mitzdorf, visited Saratov and Samara regions several times during 1876 and 1877. From 1874-75, four hundred colonists left Saratov villages of Norka, Bauer, Balzer, Noor, Lisandorf and, including 29 from Dietel. Some of these emigrants even left without sufficient funds, hoping to find employment on the journey. They were detained in Prussia while the Russian and Prussian government negotiated their fate. It was decided to let all those with 150 rubles per adult and 75 rubles per child to go. Many younger men left to flee the military draft.
In 1876, the Saratov Governor Galkin-Vraski learned that many who left in 1875, obtained American citizenship and returned to their villages to continue farming and not paying taxes, while avoiding the draft. These men were deported by the end of that year. Some Balzar colonists petitioned the Brazilian Ambassador, Baron von Alexander, to honor the same conditions Catherine the Great had set down many years previously for them. Brazil supported four representatives to explore that country. In May 1876, 30,000 poorer colonists from Samara and Saratov met in Balzar to discuss such a venture after sending the four representatives, many immediately started selling their belongings. By 1876, 4000 Norka, and 6,690 Kamenka colonists expressed a desire to immigrate. The Russian consul in Brazil raised concern regarding conditions in Brazil. Mass migration continued until the middle of 1878, and had diminished, considerably by 1879, as discouraged colonists began to return. Despite a law denying citizenship to those who had abandoned it, most were allowed to return to their native villages.
Emigration remained weak until 1886 when waves of emigration continued until World War I. Richard Overton, in his book, Burlington West, explained the terms of sale for railroad land to immigrants, as announced in 1870. Land could be purchased at 6% interest for ten years credit. The first two years was, essentially, interest. At the beginning of the third, one ninth of the principle would be an equal amount annually thereafter until the obligation was liquidated ten years after the obligation had been signed. If short term credit were chosen the settlers would pay one-third of the principal down and the balance in two equal annual installments. The immigrant house in Lincoln was constructed in 1871. It was 100 by 24 feet. It included a kitchen and diningroom with running water, enough sleeping quarters for ten families, and was located next to the depot so passengers could be unloaded directly from the trains. Similar houses, designed to aid the immigrant in the search for surrounding lands, were erected in other locations, including Henderson and Sutton, Nebraska, Russell, Kansas and Burlington, Iowa.
A law was passed in Russia which gave permission for Volga Germans to emigrate to America, assuming all taxes and obligations were met. The Three Emperors League between Germany, Austria. and Russia was formed in 1872. This year the Russian Duke Alexis, son of Tsar Alexander II visited the home of William F. Cody (Buffalo) in North Platte, Nebraska and commenced the Last Great Buffalo Hunt, just north of Hayes Center Nebraska. Also, this year, the town of Culbertson, Nebraska founded on a railroad line. It was later a center for German from Russia activity.
Russia conquered Khiva in Turkestan, east of the Caspian, an area rich in gold, horticulture opportunities, and a good horse breeding area. And. despite deserts and mountains, the area was also rich in hemp, tobacco, silkworms and cattle, as well as unexploited land. This was in 1873. In the fall a group of Germans from Russia arrived in New York harbor, met by officials of the B & M Northern railroad and escorted to Sutton, Nebraska, where, north of town, they found adequate soil and water conditions. Soon, Sutton became a distribution center for colonists. This group contracted 3690 acres for $4.25/acre, negotiating down from the $5-$12 per acre by paying cash. The first groups to arrive in Sutton in 1873, 1874 and 1875, were from the Black Sea region. As there was no depot, one was set up railroad car along side the tracks. Houses were erected by carpenters hired from Lincoln, as the colonists quickly set about to prepare their land, sleeping in haystacks at night, These houses were two story , 24 feet, with addition of 12 X 12 kitchens, but due to schister tactics, or poor communication, were found to be of inferior quality materials and workmanship.
All had been well with the colonists of the Volga during the 1850’s and 1860’s. After years of struggle, they were prosperous, had self-government, escaped uncertainties of warfare, and attained religious, freedom. But, in 1874, Alexander II revoked some of the Manifesto issued by Catherine the Great especially the freedom from military conscription clause, when he introduced universal military service, which could effect all men between the ages of sixteen and forty. This was seen as a sign of deprivation of rights to come. (The reality is that these Germans held many special privileges for years that the Russian Serfs resented and did not have). It was only a matter of time before German education and religious freedom would be threatened by the reduction of the Manifesto.
The first induction of Germans into the military occurred in October, and these fought in the war Turkey in 1877-8. There was a clause in the Manifesto allowing for a ten year grace period to leave Russia, which the Russian government finally allowed, holding the Germans to a stipulation that all emigrants were required to pay ten percent of their property to the government before issued passports. The Volga scouting party from the Bergseite (from the villages of Balzer, Norka, Dietel, Messer and Kolb) to the U.S. for 10 days (this allowed one day in Sutton. Nebraska) who returned with samples of the soil, prairie grass and paper money , and with advertising literature describing land and opportunity. This group included a Jacob Bender, Georg Bender, Heinrich and Johann Weber and Johann Volz of Balzer, Johann Nolde and Johann Kreiger of Norka. The B. & M N. railroad printed pamphlets in several languages, including English, German. and Scandinavian tongues. More than 100,000 maps were printed to show the B. & M N. routes Nebraska and Iowa land for purchase. These pamphlets, designed to fix a definite goal in the mind acquainted the immigrant, with the area and answered such questions as “What was price of a cord of wood?, Where are building materials such as lime and stone available?, What was price of coal?, How poor could you be and still expect reasonable success in the new region? A pamphlet was printed by the Germans, this year. entitled An Unsere Verwandte and Freunde in Russland (To Our Relatives and Friends in Russia) Railroad agents often contact schoolteachers in the colonies, who in turn acted as agents within villages. If the group of emigrants was sufficient in size, the railroad agent would accompany them the entire trip for their safety and convenience.