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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.