FOUNDING OF THE BANAT SETTLEMENT
IN SOUTHWESTERN NORTH DAKOTA
808 N Claremont
San Mateo, Calif 94401
Josette Steiner Hatter
23297 Pompeii Dr
During the period 1892 to 1912 about 600 German families from
the Hungarian province of the Banat homesteaded in Stark and Hettinger counties
of Southwestern North Dakota(1). This
main region of Banat settlement in ND
overlapped somewhat into adjacent areas of Morton, Mercer and Dunn
counties. These homesteaders were
decedents of Germans, primarily from the middle and upper Rhein Basin,
who had been recruited by the Austrian Crown in the period 1722-1788 to
colonize the Banat. It is convenient to refer to these
German-Hungarians as Banaters. The Banat had been reconquered by the Austrians from the
Turks in 1715 and was at that time a vast, swampy, depopulated wasteland. Though the efforts of these German colonists,
at a staggering cost in lives, the swamps were drained, land cleared and roads,
cities and towns built. The population
of the Banat constituted the first line of
defense against Turkish inroads from across the Danube
into the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The
perseverance, diligence, industry and ready adoption of progressive farming
methods caused the Banat German-Hungarians to be among the most prosperous of
the various ethnic populations of the Austrian Hungarian Empire as well as
making the Banat, by the end of the 19th
century, one of the most prosperous areas of the Austrian-Hungarian
Empire. Following World War I the Banat was partitioned between Romania and Yugoslavia.
By the end of the 19th century the population of the Banat was largely a mixture of Germans, Serbs, Romanians
and Hungarians. In most cases these
various ethnic groups lived in separate villages and even when living in the
same village tended to ignore each other. The Banat German-Hungarians developed
and maintained their own dialect, customs and traditions. Maintance of these traditions contributed to
the tight knit solidarity of Banaters when they migrated abroad as well as more
currently with the Banat groups now living in
modern day Germany.
There was little new migration from Central
Europe to the Banat after
1788. During the period 1782 to 1900 the
German-Hungarian population of the Banat
increased by natural growth from 75,000 to 410,000. This expanding agrarian population created
pressure for additional farm land and led to the founding of daughter villages
from the original settlements throughout the 19th century. By the end of the 19th century no further
farmland was available for settlement in the Banat. The tight knit Banat Germans with their long
pioneering traditions, agricultural background and culture were ideally suited
by their mental outlook and experience, for homesteading on the high prairies
of Western North Dakota. The search for
prime farmland, available at low cost, was a factor in the decision of many
Banaters to migrate and homestead in the Dakotas.
The first Banater known to migrate in Southwestern North
Dakota was Johann Braun(2, 3) who arrived with his
family in New York on the ship “Salle” from Bremen on 23 Mar 1889. Eight days later, on 1 April 1889 he filed a
homestead claim for land in Stark County, and a declaration of intention to
become a United States citizen, in Dickinson, N. D. Clearly, Johann Braun was a man with vision
and a purpose. John Braun was born in Kl
Jetscha and had married Anna Mayer of Deutsch Bentschek on 6 June 1881 where they had lived a
number of years.
Josef Kilzer, in his memoir(2)
describes Johann Braun as enterprising, well educated and widely read. Hand-me-down accounts(2,3)
indicate that he came into possession of a flyer distributed by the Northern
Pacific Railroad in Hungary
which described the promise and possibilities of homesteading in North Dakota. After arrival, Johann Braun had maintained
close contact with friends and relatives in the Banat,
particularly D Bentschek and nearby Josefsdorf, and wrote letters back
describing the availability of free land and the prospects of farming in
ND. Braun had sent back samples of Durum
hard winter wheat grown in North
wheat was superior to that raised in the Banat
and made a favorable impression on the knowledgeable Banaters. Two years later, Peter Mayer, Johann Braun’s brother-in-law, and Michael Scharick both from D Bentschek
arrived on 26 Jun 1891
in New York with their families on the
“Werkendam” from Rotterdam. They too, settled near Johann Braun in Stark County.
In 1892 a major migration of Banaters to North Dakota began(1). On 13 Feb 1892 a group of eight families from D Bentschek
disembarked in Baltimore
from the ship “Hohenzollern”, destined for North Dakota. The heads of these families were Martin
Andor, Georg Hubert, Peter Kilzer, Martin Roth, Emmert Koenig, Stefan Kilzer
families and the widow Katherine Kirchner and her kids. One single man, Josef Kilzer, also traveled
with this group. Both Stefan Kilzer and
Josef Kilzer report being met in Richardton by Johann Braun and staying with
the Braun family for some time, until they found homesteads of their own.
A scattering of single families and two other family groups
also arrived later that year. On 8
September 1892, the families Schroeder, Haas, Goetz, Lefor and Faulhaber
arrived in Baltimore and were followed, on the
16 December 1892 by the Wog, Puljer, Freer, Roth, Seros, Harle, Anton,
Morganthaler, Engel and Heckel families who entered the U. S. through the port of New York. These two later family groups came from
Josefsdorf. During the year 1892 about
23 families can be documented as arriving from the Banat. The following year 32 Banater families
similarly arrived in ND. The 1893
migrants came in five groups, the first two of these consisting of D
Bentschekers and the remaining three of Josefsdorfers. In addition, nine other families came in this
year in ones and twos, most often from Josefsdorf. During the years, 1894-1896 migration from
the Banat nearly ceased. In the following two years, 1897-1898, a
renewed, larger wave of Banaters arrived.
When the year of arrival as indicated in the Federal census is plotted
against the number of arrivals one gets a profile of the Banat migration rate
to North Dakota. See Figure I for a plot of this arrival
data. These results show that Banat migration to ND went through 3 maxima, 1892-1893,
1897-1898 and 1905. These 1897-1898
arrivals came largely from Josefsdorf, Bakowa, Nitzkydorf, Setschan,
Blumenthal, Dolatz and Ernsthausen, all villages which either were closely
situated in the area of D Bentschek-Josefsdorf or were related to Josefsdorf
through heavy internal migration.
Based on this arrival data, which shows a limited area of
origin of the first German-Hungarian settlers to ND, the decision to migrate to
ND must be ascribed to the efforts made by Johann Braun to communicate his
satisfaction with the lands available in ND to those back in the Banat with which he had close contact. Eventually, Banaters arrived in ND from
villages distributed from all over the Banat. In general these ND Banaters tended to come
from poorer villages in the Banater Hecke or Hill country or those places which
were more subject to vagaries of nature, especially those localities located in
the flood plains of the Theiss, Temesch
and Bega rivers.
The term chain migration is used in immigration studies to
describe the process whereby relatives and friends follow the initial migrant
abroad in a sequential fashion(4). By their letters back home first arrivals could
offer advice on employment prospects, living conditions and orientation in a New World locality.
In this way the later arrivals would settle in a somewhat familiar
community composed of relatives and friends from home and find the support they
needed to help them to get established in a new region.
The evidence supports the idea that John Braun initiated the
chain migration of the Banaters to North
key roll in initiating migration to ND is supported by the fact that most of
the follow-on arrivals in 1892 and 1893 came from D Bentschek and Josefsdorf,
the communities with whom he had the closest contact and upon whom his letters
back home would have had the greatest influence. Of the 32 families who arrived in 1893, 15
came from Josefsdorf. Early passenger
ship lists did not record the names of friends or relatives to whom newly
arrived migrants planned to join. This
information was generally recorded after 1896.
Where the data are available, it is clear that most Banaters intended to
settle near relations or a friend.
A later, and larger, Banat immigration(ca
100,000 migrants) to North America occurred in
the decade after the turn of the century(5).
The twentieth century Banaters tended to settle in larger American
cities, for example, Cincinnati,
St Louis, Chicago, Detroit, etc.
Many came with the intent of staying only a few years, hoping to earn
monies sufficient enough that they could return home and re-establish
themselves with a more secure future. A
large proportion of these later immigrants were single men and women. Only 15-25% of Banat
arrivals in the early 1900’s, came with their families. This tendency is also correlated with their
village of origin.
Two striking points stand out when comparing ND Banaters
with those Banat immigrants of the early
1900’s. Almost to a man, these ND migrants arrived accompanied by their
families. And, especially as measured by
the standards of the day they mostly arrived with relatively large amounts of
money. Clearly these early Banat immigrants had sold out their property in the Banat, were immigrants of some substance, who had come to
to stay. They had no intention of
returning to their former homes.
The various maxima and minima in the Banat
arrival profile for ND(Fig I) do not seem to correlate with either economic or
political events on either side of the Atlantic. In considering other possible reasons for the
roller-coaster arrival profile, the low migration rates in 1894-1896 and
1899-1902 and the ready ability of Banaters already in ND to assist new
arrivals the data argues that a period of two to three years was required for
the initial immigrants to establish themselves and to be in a position to
advise other relatives and friends in the homeland on the prospects of
homesteading in ND. Thus the minimum in
migration rates for 1894-1896 and 1899-1902 reflects the time lag necessary for
the arrivals in 1892-1893 and 1897-1898 respectively to establish themselves
and arrange for subsequent relatives and friends.
authors are indebted to Anton Kraemer for advice and encouragement and to Helen
Kilzer and Bernie Schwindt for copies of Kilzer and Schmidt mss.
1. Dreyer, David,
Banat Family History Series Vol I, “Family History Research for North
Dakota Pioneers from the Banat, self
2. Kilzer Josef, “Mein Lebenslauf”, unpublished ms, Hatter,
J. S. and Dreyer D., Banat Family History Series Vol. V, in preparation.
3. Schmidt, J. Peter, “Reminiscing” unpublished ms.
Deciphered and Edited by Alice
4. Veroli R. J. and Sinke, S. M., Eds., “A Century of
European Migration 1830-1930”, 1991, Univ of Ill Press.
5. Dreyer, David Banat Family History Series Vol III, “Some
Banaters in Pre World War I United States Passenger Shipping Records”,