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The privileges enjoyed by the settlers, especially their exemption from military service, together with their ever-increasing prosperity and their aloofness from the native population, aroused the resentment and jealousy of the Russians. The Empress Catherine, the friend and protectress of the strangers, was now dead, and in her stead, men generally unfriendly to everything German, ruled the land. All this gave rise to numerous curtailments, growing in importance as the years passed, of favors enjoyed by the colonists. Unfortunately, too, the settlers themselves helped along this unfriendly policy by indiscreetly signing documents inimical to their liberty. Things finally came to such a pass that the government passed the military law of Jan. 13, 1874, which subjected all the colonists to military service. This proved too much for the long-suffering settlers, and was the immediate cause of the emigrations which followed.
In June, 1871, an edict had limited the period of exemption from military service to ten years, leaving the colonists the right to emigrate within that time without forfeiture of property. This was not generally known for some time, but when it was finally brought to the attention of the people it led to a meeting of some three thousand colonists at Herzog, in the spring of 1874, to discuss the question of emigration.
Though at first sight it may appear unpatriotic on the part of the colonists to resent the military law of 1874, the question takes on a new light when we call to mind that they were solemnly promised exemption from such service as an inducement to settle in Russia. Moreover, when we consider the length of service (six years), the religious discrimination which prevented any but orthodox Russians from rising to the rank of an officer, the poor treatment accorded the soldiers, and the fact that during the whole of their stay in the army, Catholics were unable to fulfill even their Easter duty, we can readily understand why the colonists should resist such an enactment.
The meeting at Herzog in the spring of 1874 resulted in the election of five delegates, who at the expense of their respective communities, were to visit America, to look for places suitable for settlement. The delegates chosen were: Balthasar Brungardt (Herzog), Peter Leiker (Obermonjour), Jacob Ritter (Luzern), Peter Stoecklein (Zug), and Anton Wassinger (Schoenchen). Mr. Brungardt declining, his place was taken by Nicholas Schamne (Graf).
Picture: Peter Leiker (still living), One of the Five Explorers of 1874
Picture: Peter Stecklein, One of the Five Explorers of 1874
Picture: Anton Wasinger, One of the Five Explorers of 1874
The delegates soon convened in Obermonjour whence they proceeded to Hamburg by way of Katharinenstadt, Saratov, Warsaw and Berlin. At Hamburg they were aided by a Mr. Weinberg, who persuaded them to proceed directly to the United States. Arrived in Castle Garden, New York, they were befriended by a Mr. Joseph Koelble. While in New York they stayed with a Mr. Schneider for two days before going to Sutton, Clay County, Nebraska, traveling by way of Buffalo, Chicago, Omaha and Lincoln. At Sutton, they remained one day, examining the land. In all, their sojourn in America lasted ten days. Messrs. Leiker, Stoecklein and Wasinger took about one pound of soil, some prairie grass, bluestem (?) grass, and some paper money, and all took some literature descriptive of the land back to Russia. On their return to Russia they reported favorably of the land they had visited, and subsequently four of the five emigrated.
Toward the end of December, 1874, two other delegates, Joseph Exner of Obermonjour and Jacob Bissing of Katharinenstadt, were sent on a like mission. They came to Topeka and proceeded over the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad to Larned, in Pawnee County. They spent about a week in Kansas, and returning home, reported unfavorably of the new country, thus deterring quite a number from emigrating.
Anton Kaeberlein of Pfeifer and several others accompanied the five delegates mentioned above as far as New York. Here they separated, the former going to Arkansas. On his return to Russia, Mr. Kaeberlein reported that the land pleased him but not the custom of living on farms instead of in villages. This report induced several families to emigrate to Arkansas in 1874.
Transcribed from The Golden Jubilee of German-Russian Settlements of Ellis and Rush Counties, Kansas, August 31, September 1 and 2, 1926