Online Exhibits - From Far Away Russia, Part 2
Russian-Germans in Kansas
Lured to Kansas by Railroads
The czars had first attracted German settlers to Russia in the mid-1700s with promises of exemption from military service, freedom from taxation, and free land.
The immigrants settled in tight-knit communities in Russia, maintaining their German language and customs as much as possible over the decades. But after nearly a century of independence, the Germans in Russia began to lose the privileges originally promised by the czars. This caused great disatisfaction among the people. The loss of military exemption especially disturbed the Mennonites, who objected to military service on religious grounds. The Germans in Russia began to consider other places to settle.
Meanwhile, railroads, newspapers, and businesses began a major campaign to recruit new settlers to Kansas.
In 1872 two railroads mounted huge advertising campaigns to sell land they owned along their railways. The Kansas Pacific and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe printed circulars in the German language and sent agents to Russia.
This handbill is an example of the recruiting methods used by the railroads. German text at the bottom refers to C. B. Schmidt, an employee of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe who traveled to Russia to recruit immigrants from among the Russian-Germans.
Kansas railroads were anxious to sell land to farmers who would soon ship grain on their lines, and the Russian-Germans had excelled at agriculture in Russia. American railroads lured them by offering free sleeping cars on express trains leaving Kansas City for the rich farm lands to the west. They also granted land for churches and schools, and supplied some farmers with seed wheat for their first crop in Kansas.
Men were sent by their Volga German neighbors to investigate Kansas land in 1874. Members of their community eventually settled in Ellis and Rush counties.
Many Russian-Germans responded to the railroads' campaigns. They sought good farm land with convenient access to markets via the rails. An added attraction in Kansas was a state law granting exemption from military service on religious grounds.
One-third of all Russian-Germans left Russia, and many of them settled in Kansas. By 1879 about 12,000 Russian-Germans lived in the state.