Pauline's Historical Notes

Life on the Open Steppes of Russia and Later in the New World, America

By Pauline (Filbert) Kleweno

Editor’s Note: It is uncertain as to the date of this piece but it is probably  from the 1980s, as probably does the "Pauline's Pamphlet" page. I have made only a few editorial corrections plus identifying the correct name of  Elisabeth’s sister, incorrectly remembered by Aunt Polly in her write-up.

My father, August Filbert II, was born in Schilling, Russia, on January 4, 1870. He lived with his parents, August Filbert Sr. and Mollie (Legler) Filbert; one brother, Alexander Filbert; two sisters; Pauline (Filbert) Ries and Lydia (Filbert) Walters. Lydia was the youngest, and was younger than my father's oldest daughter, Mary (Filbert) Clark.

Grandfather August Filbert Sr. and his family were very poor. As a young man, August Filbert II, being the eldest, served in the military. He was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran church. He was united in marriage to Elisabeth Pinnecker of Gnadenfeld, Russia  on October 3, 1891. They lived in Russia until September of 1899, when they came to America, arriving first in Mexico.

Life in Russia at that time was rough. The poor had no way of making a living; however, August Filbert Sr. was a clerk and manager for the city. With poor crops and hard winters, it was very difficult for everyone.

My father's uncle, Alexander Legler, had been to America, and went back to Russia, telling family and friends "America is Paradise," and telling them that it would be easy to make a living. Longing to make a better living, they took his advice, and made plans for a long journey.

August Filbert II and his wife had five children. Two were lying in Russian soil (Victor Emanuel and Amelia died in infancy with diphtheria). Mary, Bertha, and Anna (three month old baby) were with other families. August Filbert II and family, along with an 18 year old boy who had no parents, Conrad Luft, came by way of the Gulf of Mexico to the New World.

My mother, Elisabeth Pinnecker, was born on February 23, 1868. Her parents were Heinrich Jacob (referred to as Henry by Aunt Polly) and Catharina (referred to as Katherine Pinnecker by Aunt Pauline). She had two sisters in the USA: Catharina Maria Pinnecker (referred to as Aunt Mary), who married Henry Niedens, and Anna Maria Pinnecker (incorrectly identified as Katherine by Aunt Polly) who married Johann Fredrich Gieswein (incorrectly identified as August Gueswhine by Aunt Pauline) and two brothers: Henry and Jacob, with Jacob being the youngest. (Actually, there were many other siblings remaining in Russia.) Her parents were very rich. Her father owned the whole village of Gnadenfeld: everything from the liquor store to the tailor shop. All of their clothes were tailored in that shop.

Mother brought some lovely things with her to America, including her wedding dress (which was purple satin), a spread and a headscarf.  I think Dorothy has the headscarf.  The spread, Mother cut in fourths for her first grandchildren: Ruth (Kuehn) Higgins, Edward Clark and Evelyn (Hartman) Cartmill.

In Russia, the custom of the rich was to give each daughter 500 ruble and enough clothing and bedding for twenty years. When she and her husband decided to go to America, she sold all her clothing and bedding, except for a trunk full of things she thought she might need after settling in America. The money was used to pay for their trip.

The family and friends, eleven people in all, sailed for three weeks before landing in Mexico in November of 1899 (we have a problem with the dates here as immigration records show the August II family arriving Galveston from Mexico on 3 October 1899). They were given housing in a shed, which previously had stored bananas. Their money was all gone, and with a group of eleven, they had only a small amount of food left. My mother fed the children, but told my father he had to find food or they would starve.  He went fishing, and caught a large fish.  Not wanting to let loose of the fish, he was stuck in the joint of his finger with a fin, and had a stiff finger after that.

Mother's two sisters had come to America earlier. Henry and Mary Niedens had settled in Lehigh, Kansas and Anna Maria and Johann Fredrich Gieswein had settled in Garden City, Kansas. My mother and father sent a letter to Henry Niedens asking for help, so he sent them the money to come to Lehigh, Kansas (in Marion County).  Uncle Henry found my father a job on the railroad at Russell, Kansas in June of 1900.  Later, living on a farm four miles south of Russell, Mother took in washing and they began to prosper.  They moved again in 1904 to Ness County, seven miles northwest of Bazine.  They bought a homestead for $4 per acre.  By then, our oldest sister, Mary, took a job at LaCrosse, Kansas.  She worked as a housekeeper for Howard Baker Real Estate, earning $4 a week, and helped pay for the land. Jacob, the oldest son, was born in Russell, Kansas. Carl, John, Pauline, Gus, Martha, and Dorothy were born in Ness County. With love, patience, faith, and hard work, we all grew up, and we always had enough to eat and clothes to wear.

Father loved horses, and he did a lot of trading. They put out a large garden, and raised watermelons, cantaloupe, squash, cucumber, and a lot of schwartzbeeren northwest of the home place. Those of us that were old enough to hoe took a lunch of rye bread, salt, and water, and hoed a very large garden. Mother also had a patch of potatoes near the house, and another garden, where she raised beets, beans, cucumbers, onions, garlic, rhubarb, and cabbage. There were also peach and mulberry trees.

In the fall of the year, watermelons and cantaloupe were hauled by wagon to Ness City, Bazine, and Brownell. In exchange for potatoes, seven to ten large bags of apples, and more cabbage for sauerkraut was obtained. When it was time to make kraut, one of us had to wash his feet very clean and, as the kraut was cut and put in the barrel, the lucky one had to stomp it until the juice showed.

Our parents always had time for morning worship. Mother cooked for as many as twelve men during harvest but was never too busy to take time for prayer. In the evenings, our parents would sing after we were sent to bed. I can still hear them sing in spirit.

Our parents worked hard to give all ten children the necessities of life. As children, we created our own pastimes. Making stilts and learning to walk on them, chinning and climbing roofs and trees, playing hide and seek with the dog, jumping rope, high jumping, and wrestling were some of them. And when our parents went to Wednesday night prayer meeting, it was time to cook fudge, pop popcorn, and play the harmonica to make the dogs howl.

Our mother had a large part in the success of the farming operation and she was a good homemaker, seamstress and cook. She gave the credit for her cooking skills to her mother-in-law, whom she said taught her.

Our father was converted under the ministry of Karl Kerner and united with the German Methodist Church south of Russell, Kansas in 1901. Three years later, they moved to Bazine, Kansas, and he was largely instrumental in organizing the German Methodist Church there.  He continued as an active leader in that church, being licensed as a local preacher until the time of his death.

Our parents moved to the town of Bazine in 1926, with four of their children: Pauline, August III, Martha, and Dorothy. Their lives were a beautifully lived example of Christian living.

During the revolutionary war in Russia (19l9 through the 1920s) the Communists took everything from Mother's two brothers, who were heirs to all their parents' property. Our parents received censored letters, a lot of them blocked out, but saying they were in need of help. Clothes, money, and food were sent. But after a length of time, we were asked not to send anything more, because they were not receiving it. Uncle Henry and Uncle Jacob's boys had been drafted, and Uncle Henry’s wife had died of starvation. He had been in hiding for three days. In the last letter they received, Jacob had been sent to Siberia to hard labor. There is no way of knowing if any of them survived.

We attended Mayflower School, one and one-fourth miles east of the home place. We walked, rain or snow, unless it was impossible; then we were taken by wagon. It was a one-room schoolhouse with a blackboard all along the front, and plenty of chalk and erasers. Our teachers were Ellen Weaver, Maude Weaver, Mabel Venergrift, Florence Olson, Mabel Gunizer, and Esther Guzzer.

My brother John was very ambitious, and he was anxious to have something he could call his own. He wanted a calf, but didn't have the money to buy one. One of the cows had a calf, and it wasn't doing very well, so Dad told John he could have it if he would feed it and give it the care it needed. The calf lived and grew. John soon wanted to trade the calf for land. Dad said he would trade him for the land between the trees and the hillside—which was pretty much just water. The trade was made. John's land consisted of water, willows, and rock. He asked me to help him build a fence and buy a goat. We worked for weeks cutting willows for posts and trying to build the fence. The fence was never finished, and the goat was never purchased.

Eating between meals was a no-no unless we did hoeing or shucking in the field. There were four growing boys, and they did get hungry for some of those goodies stored in the cave. One day John and Gus decided they would get some canned peaches and go to the hog shed to eat them. Of course I got to join the party, or I would have told on them. To the hog shed we went, using our dirty hands to handle the peach slices. The jar was passed, and we shared equally until all slices were gone. Then the juice was passed around, and we drank all of it. We got by with that, so the next day they decided schwartzberry jelly would be good. (In those days, Pen Jell and Sure Jell were unheard of, so berries without a lot of acid would not jell.) We again went to the hog shed and drank it, but some of it spilled on our clothes, and it left stains. We went to the horse tank and tried to wash it out of our clothes, but these stains wouldn't budge. Those stains gave away our stealing. I don't remember what the punishment was.

Meat, for us, was beef, pork, goose, duck, chicken, and turkey. Geese, ducks, chickens, and turkeys were raised by setting hens on eggs—hatching them. The old mother hen would house them in small coops. They were fed and watered each day, with the mother hen caring for them the best she could, finding green weeds, bugs, and worms until they could find their own.

Dad always grazed an old cow for butchering, feeding her plenty of corn to fatten her up. She and two hogs at a time were then butchered and the beef was canned. Pork and beef were ground, mixed, and stuffed into casings (taken from the hogs). This was hung to dry in a cold room, and used as needed, or fried down in crocks, covered with melted lard, and stored in the cave. Also beef and pork were fried and put into crocks and covered with hot lard. This preserved it for a long time. Geese, ducks, turkeys, and chickens were butchered during the fall and winter months for special occasions.

Milk was made into cottage cheese and smear kase (a cooked cheese). Soda was added to dry cottage cheese and let set for several hours, then it was put on a low heat to melt. Sour cream, salt, and eggs were then added.

For light, kerosene lamps and lanterns were used out-of-doors. Crocheting, knitting, and reading were done by lamplight. Coal was used mostly during the winter months to heat the kitchen.

Then thieves found the watermelon patch, which was surrounded by a cane field. The idea was to protect the patch from being so visible. But the thieves found the patch and had been very destructive. My parents would not have cared had they taken all they wanted without destroying the rest. Then Mother and Dad came up with the idea to stand guard with a loaded shotgun one night adjacent to the field. They lay on the hillside and waited. About midnight, they heard voices and the rustling of the cane. They waited until the thieves were busy cutting and loading, then Dad shot a couple of shots into the air. This took care of the stealing for a while.

Mother took a lot of pride in making our clothes. She used hand-me-downs, old coats, and suits to make the boys' shirts and coats for the girls. Dresses and skirts were made out of gingham and pretty prints, as were her dresses, skirts, and blouses. She taught us girls to sew, to crochet, and to do embroidery. She also knew how to knit. She knitted gloves, sweaters, and socks for winter.

A lot of canning was done during the summer and fall. We had a cave north of the house for all the canned fruits and vegetables, plus crocks of cucumbers. Barrels of small watermelons were put in brine for the winter and so were apples and sauerkraut. The main fruits canned were peaches and plums. Jellies were also made. Watermelon syrup was cooked in the fall. Over-ripe melons were used for the syrup.

Dad bought an old two-room house and put it on a rock foundation. We called it the milk-house and wash-house. One room was used as a bathroom during the summer months. The water was carried in through a pipe in the wall and it was discharged outside on the ground. This was very modern! A range for heating water, washtub, washboards, and homemade soap were in the larger room. So were the separator and the milk buckets. This was where Mother cooked the watermelon syrup, using cow chips for fuel. She would spend most of one week cooking enough syrup for the winter, lying on a bench at night, and feeding that old range cow chips to keep the syrup boiling. The syrup was used with sour cream and dunked with rye bread. We usually had this for supper (or we had sour cream and eggs).   Syrup was also used in a sweetbread called Peppernitz, or in a topping for coffee cake called Dinakoka.

Milking the cows was our job, as soon as we were old enough. We also separated the milk, fed the calves, hogs, and chickens, and gathered the eggs. The machinery we used to till the soil was the plow, the disc, and the harrow, drawn by two horses. Our main crops were wheat, corn, barley, cane, and millet.

Coal was used in winter to keep the potbelly stove going and the kitchen warm, where food was cooked and baking was done. Corncobs and cow chips were also used for fuel. John and I spent a lot of time during summer months gathering cow chips and piling them up in small piles with our little red wagon. Later, Dad would come and get them with the lumber wagon and pile them up at home. Corn was fed to the hogs, and then the cobs were gathered up for fuel. They were also good to use to start a fire in the range. One day out gathering cow chips, John and I met up with two coiled rattlesnakes. From a distance, they looked like two large cow chips. That stopped the activity for the day. We took our little wagon and headed for home.