‘Something…we had not seen nor heard of’: The 1873 Mennonite Delegation to Find Land in ‘America’

by Hans Werner, Winnipeg, Manitoba

The military reforms of the 1870s in Imperial Russia threatened the military exemption that had been promised to Mennonites by Catherine the Great and confirmed by her successor Paul I for all time. Meanwhile in Prussia the King’s subjects were increasingly becoming citizens, a status that flew in the face of granting special privileges to some, but not others. For many Mennonites, the threat to their pacifist position stimulated a sense that their time in the cherished homelands of Russia and Prussia was coming to an end. Certainly there were other ‘push’ factors: landlessness, leases that were expiring, religious disunity, and the pull factor of vast new lands in ‘America’. When one delegation to St. Petersburg after another failed to negotiate an acceptable compFJromise various groups of Mennonites commissioned delegates to travel to North America to find a place for them to settle. Among the Prussian Mennonites many chose to abandon their stance of rejection military participation, however, Wilhelm ewer, one of the 1873 had made a trip to Russia to determine whether his congregation could migrate there. When he realized Mennonites there were facing the same problem, ‘America’ became the preferred option.

The delegates’ trip to North America has been a regular part of the history of the 1870s migration. The outlines of the story emphasize their representing prized prospective settlers for the immigration agents of the new Dominion of Canada and railway interests of the United States. It is duly noted that some of the delegates very quickly concluded that the land and climate of Manitoba was not to their liking, while others wrote off the American West because of the inability of the United States to guarantee military exemption. The delegates’ story is often told from a regional point of view, particularly as it relates to the story of the Bergthal, Fuerstenland, Kleine Gemeinde and Old Colony settlers who chose Canada.1 My aim here is to retell the story of the 1873 delegation’s trip from the point of view of what the delegates saw, their reactions to the people they encountered, and their assessment of the New World they were to recommend to their coreligionists. The delegates’ impressions offer a unique perspective on the world of 1873 and their interactions with the American and Canadian settlement frontier. They would see and experience new things, meet other Christians and even ‘brothers’ with different beliefs and senses of propriety, and encounter worldliness not seen before.


Cornelius Toews – 1836-1908, farmer and minister, born in Fischau, Molotschna Colony, emigrated from Gruenfeld, Borosenko Colony, as representative of the Blumenhof Kleine Gemeinde. Entire Gemeinde emigrated to Manitoba, but many converted to Holdeman (Church of God in Christ, Mennonite) church in the early 1880s. Print at the Mennonite Heritage Village, 973.74.1  Photo Credit: Ernie Braun.
David Klassen – 1813-1900, farmer and minister, born in Pietzkendorf, Prussia, emigrated from Borosenko Colony, representing the Heuboden group of the Kleine Gemeinde. Entire Gemeinde emigrated, but a small part of Heubodener group chose Jefferson County, Nebraska. David Klassen did not settle on the East Reserve but opted for the Scratching River (Rosenort, Mb) area, where he led some 35 families to settle.

The trip to North America would be a long journey and a momentous undertaking for those chosen. While the railway age had also finally arrived in the Black Sea areas of the Russian Empire and travel had become much more common even for Mennonite farm folk, a trip across Europe and the Atlantic Ocean to a New World they had only read about was still a major undertaking. The sources for the delegate’s travel experiences are mainly their diaries. Tobias Unruh and Paul Tschetter kept diaries with what appear to be almost daily entries. Leonhard Sudermann also kept a diary and based his 1897 travel narrative Eine Deputations Reise von Russland nach Amerika on entries recorded at the time of his travels a quarter of a century earlier. Andreas Schrag seems to have recorded a diary, but judging by some of the entries, the surviving fragment may have been recorded later. His actual diary may have been a victim of a storm at sea on their return trip. Orpha V. Schrag, who translated and published an excerpt of the diary, also suggests that portions of the diary may have been borrowed and not returned. The diaries of John F. Funk who accompanied the delegates on portions of the trip are also invaluable.2

Funk, while not from Russia and not a delegate, was instrumental in facilitating the eventual migration of Mennonites from Prussia and the Russian Empire to North America. Unfortunately diaries of the Bergthal and Kleine Gemeinde delegates either were not kept, or have not survived. Delbert Plett has published a small diary fragment from Cornelius Toews that was part of a letter sent from Fargo to his brother Peter in Russia. The rest of the diary and other materials were likely lost in a house fire in Gruenfeld on Manitoba’s East Reserve in 1875.3

There are also a few letters extant that Wilhelm Ewert and Jacob Buller wrote to their families while they were travelling. The delegates’ travels in Kansas and Texas are least represented in the diaries and here the writings of Christian Krehbiel, a Mennonite from Summerfield, Illinois, are helpful to outline the Bergthal and Kleine Gemeinde delegates’ trip to Kansas and Texas before they saw Manitoba. A letter written by Bernhard Warkentin to his friend David Goerz offers some insight into Jacob Buller and Wilhelm Ewert’s tour of Kansas near the end of their stay in North America. Warkentin came to North America as a tourist in 1872, where his extensive travels included a trip to Manitoba. He later settled in Kansas where he became a miller and was instrumental in the introduction of hard red wheat to the Great Plains.4

Getting There—The Trip


The Bergthal Delegates
Jacob Peters: 1813-1884 farmer and Oberschulz of Bergthal Colony, born Kronsweide, emigrated from Heuboden, Bergthal Colony in 1876 to East Reserve, Manitoba – Canada – entire Bergthal Colony dissolved and sold, and almost all emigrated.
Heinrich Wiebe:1839-1897 farmer and minister, born Schoenfeld – emigrated from Schoenfeld, Bergthal Colony in 1874 to East Reserve, Manitoba to WR. Entire Bergthal Colony dissolved and sold, and almost all emigrated.
Kornelius Buhr – 1826-1885 – not an official delegate; estate owner, born Niederchortitza, lived on Bergthal Estate, stayed in Russia – many descendants emigrated in the 1920s.The Bergthal delegates travelled together for the entire trip.
Alexanderwohl Delegate
Jakob Buller – 1827-1901- farmer and minister: born Alexanderwohl, Molotschna Colony, from Alexanderwohl to Goessel Kansas 1874. Except for 3 families the entire.

The delegates left their homes in three groups. The first to leave were Jacob Peters and Heinrich Wiebe representing the Bergthal Colony. They were accompanied by Cornelius Buhr, a wealthy estate owner who travelled on his own expense. The three left the Nikolaivesk train station on March 4, 1873 and travelled to Hamburg. There they were met by Jacob E. Klotz, a Canadian immigration agent who made sure American railway agents would not lure them away. Since it was too early in the year for the St. Lawrence to be navigable to Quebec City, they landed in Portland, Maine, arriving there on the S.S. Scandinavian on April 8, 1873.5 The second group consisted of two Hutterites, Paul and his uncle Lorenz Tschetter. They left Huttertal on April 26, 1873 and were joined in Nikopol by the two Kleine Gemeinde delegates, David Klassen and Cornelius Toews.  The four took a steamship on the Black Sea to Odessa and then travelled by train to Hamburg via Berlin. In Hamburg they boarded the S.S. Silesia and landed in New York on May 20, 1873.6

The third group consisted of Tobias Unruh and Andreas Schrag from Volhynia, who travelled to West Prussia, meeting Wilhelm Ewert in Thorn (Toruń). The three then joined Leonhard Sudermann from the Berdjansk congregation, and Jacob Buller from Alexanderwohl. The third group arrived in New York on May 29th; Sudermann and Buller had left Berdjansk on April 30, 1873. 

While in our day a loved one failing to return from a trip to distant lands is a tragedy, for Mennonites in Eastern Europe in the 1870s, returning from such a trip whole and hearty was still a miracle. Leaving was traumatic for Paul Tschetter and his family. On April 14th he announced to his diary: “I began my momentous journey to America, taking leave of my wife and dear children with a heavy heart…. Love obliged my dear father and mother to accompany me as far as Nikopol and so we left sad and with a troubled heart, only God knowing if I should ever see my loved ones again.” When they finally separated his parents embraced him and “wept bitterly.”7

The storms at sea were particularly unnerving. Tschetter described the waves as rolling “furiously” while Tobias Unruh was sure they “would perish. Many thought the sea would be our grave.”8

The danger was real in the 1870s. Unruh’s ship nearly collided with another ship; the two were so close he thought they “could have reached hands with the people on the other ship.” A few days later “the raging storm” forced another ship so close to them that they actually collided, breaking the other ship’s mast.9


On the return trip on the Hammonia, Schrag, Sudermann, Ewert and Buller endured a terrible storm where huge waves crashed into the ship, breaking away some lifeboats and dumping water below decks. Sudermann “thought of my wife and child and commended them to God,” while Schrag had doubts “whether we would again see our loved ones.”10

The ocean passage brought them face to face with their own mortality and when they awoke at sea each morning, they “praised and thanked the Lord for his protection,” as Tschetter put it. When the storm on their return passage began to abate, Schrag exclaimed to his diary: “it appeared God would be merciful.”11

Travel on land was mostly by train. Tschetter was impressed with how they “travelled across long stretches of plains, hills and valleys” in Europe “at tremendous speed.”12

When their train almost derailed on a section of relatively new rail that had washed out west of Duluth, Minnesota, an exasperated Unruh confided to his diary that “the trains run unusually fast in America and the roads are not built any too good. Sometimes the trains go speeding at such a terrific speed that you must commit your life into the hands of God and say farewell to your loved ones at home.”13

New Things


Tobias Unruh – 1819/21-1875, farmer and minister, born in Karolswalde, Volhynia representing the West Prussia Mennonite group in Volhynia, to Dakota Territory in 1874. The entire group emigrated, mostly settling in Kansas. He was the first of the delegates to die in America. Photo Credit: Gameo
Andreas Schrag – 1821-1899, farmer and minister from the Swiss Mennonite congregations in Volhynia, to Hutchinson County (Yankton), Dakota Territory in 1874. The entire group emigrated.

A trip across Europe, the Atlantic and a large part of the United States with stops in some of the great cities of the time meant that delegates saw many new things worthy of note in their diaries. They were certainly impressed with the cities. Berlin had a “large railroad station such as I had never seen in my life” and its zoo featured “a large number of strange and wonderful animals.” Philadelphia impressed Tobias Unruh and he offered a detailed description of its water distribution system. He finally despaired that he could not “explain or describe the whole matter,” but it was certainly “operated and handled with wonderful and miraculous machinery.”14

Earlier on the trip, Unruh experienced the joys of running water personally. While spending time between trains in Ypsilanti, Michigan he and the others went to a mineral bath where each room contained “a large white tub and there are two faucets over it, one supplies cold water and the other hot. We could mix the water to the temperature that we desired; it was something that we had not seen nor heard of. We thought it wonderful.” He, Jacob Buller, Jacob Schantz and Leonard Sudermann all took a bath.15

Paul Tschetter did not attend the circus that had come to town while he was in Elkhart because he “considered it a sin to witness such devilish things.” He was, however, fascinated by the parade that wound its way through the town to entice people to attend. He described the “thirty-four wagons in which there were all kinds of animals,” the “seven teams of horses” that pulled the first wagon with “all the men and horses … decorated with red, white, and green colors. The wagon was as if of gold and seated upon it were musicians and comedians who played tunes. The other wagons were all drawn by two and three teams.” He had “never seen such things in all my life.”16

Other Mennonites

The delegates spent considerable time among various groups of Mennonites in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ontario. Sharing only theological rather than ethnic roots, meeting these other groups of Mennonites produced its own sense of wonderment. Delegates did not always share sensibilities with the Mennonites they encountered. In some cases they avoided contact with questionable coreligionists. Paul Tschetter, one of the more outspoken diarists, was invited to visit Pastor Rosen in Hamburg, but declined because “I knew that he was an unsound Mennonite. The Apostle warns us to ‘avoid those who may harm our souls’.”17

Tschetter was also surprised the Old Mennonites he visited in Pennsylvania allowed instruments and music. After listening to Deacon Henry Brenneman play a number of songs while visiting in his home he quoted Ephesians 5:19 to him, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Brenneman countered that David had also played the harp, to which Tschetter responded that “David was also a warrior and shed much blood.” Tshetter notes that Brenneman, “became silent and did not say another word.”18

Since a number of the delegates were ministers in their congregations they were often asked to sit together with the ministers in worship services of their hosts and frequently were asked to preach. Tschetter found this difficult because the American Mennonites preached extemporaneously, a practice he was not accustomed to. In general he appeared to approve of their practices of praying out loud, the conservative dress of the men, the custom of parting their hair in the middle, “like we do.” He describes the colourful dress of the women, but does not seem to find it objectionable and approves of the use of the ban, “as in our church.” One thing he did not approve of, namely “the fact that some women smoked and chewed tobacco.” He allowed that the Old Mennonites were more hospitable to visitors, but also had “their dark sides. The minister at whose home I stayed had three guns in his house and everyone in the house smoked, even the women.”19

Andreas Schrag was more generous. He refers to the “dear Brethren” and the “dear wife who was a gracious hostess.” When he forgot his reading glasses, Brother Abraham Metzler’s wife Elizabeth, “considering my need, gave me hers.”20

Leonard Sudermann’s reflections, admittedly written some time later, recalled “how it cheered our hearts to meet so soon … cherished fellow believers in such unexpectedly large numbers,” when they arrived in Ontario. In the worship services, “much was new and unfamiliar in the singing and preaching, but nothing was offensive.” Tobias Unruh, who was with Sudermann in Ontario, agreed that they “received a very warm reception” that left “a deep impression” on them.21

We learn very little from the diaries about what they thought of each other, since they also came from different areas and congregations. It does seem that the conservative orientation of the Bergthal and Kleine Gemeinde delegates resonated with the fairly conservative view of Paul Tschetter. When he met the Bergthal delegates and visited with Heinrich Wiebe, Tschetter exclaims that “it seemed to me that they were of my own.”22

Other Christians

The delegates had occasion to brush shoulders with, and sometimes worship with, other Christians. In some cases these interactions were quite ecumenical. On the International between Fargo and Winnipeg John Funk approached the captain about the possibility of having a worship service on a Sunday morning and William Hespeler invited the passengers to participate, which many did. The boat’s engines were slowed to provide a quieter atmosphere. John Funk preached in English, and Leonard Sudermann and Wilhelm Ewert spoke in German and sang a German hymn. Both Tobias Unruh and Leonard Sudermann were moved by the ‘Americans’ kneeling in prayer with them, although Unruh thought “the whole services were rather long.”23

Sometimes attendance at worship services of other Christians was positively unsettling. While they were staying at John Funk’s home in Elkhart, Paul Tschetter attended an evening service in what he terms an Evangelical Church near Funk’s home. His diary entry conveys his discomfort with the experience:

The minister began to speak louder and louder and as I sat near the pulpit I was greatly bewildered; in fact I felt like running from the church. He marched back and forth behind the pulpit, once to this side then to the other as if he were insane. He hammered on the pulpit with his fist and pointing to his heart he cried: ‘Herein must the Lord live’. At times he pointed to heaven and then again down to hell shouting like a mad man, for only a mad man could act like he did. His actions were not those of a minister of the Gospel, but those of a general. Sometimes he praised everyone into heaven and then again he dammed us all into hell. It is not in my power to describe this and my readers will doubt my statements, but it remains true nevertheless. I have been in many churches but I have never witnessed the like. A comedy could hardly offer more entertainment. He preached the truth, but with great indiscretion and lack of judgment.


Paul Tschetter – 1842–1919, farmer and minister, born Blumenort, Molotschna Colony, emigrated from Hutterthal, Molotschna area in South Russia to Neu-Hutterthal, Dakota Territory in 1874.


Lorenz Tschetter -1819-1878 was uncle to Paul. The entire Hutterite community emigrated except for two families. Paul Tschetter did not attach himself to a Bruderhof, and lived on his own homestead, as did other Prairieleut. Photo Credit: Gameo and C. Krahn, From the Steppes to the Prairies, 77.


The World


Wilhelm Ewert: 1829-1887, minister: born Stronske, Thorn, Prussia, from Obernessau, Prussia, to Bruderthal, Marion County, Kansas in 1874. A few families from his congregation emigrated. Photo Credit: Gameo

Given a shared Mennonite sensibility that the Christian should separate themselves from the world, delegate interactions with people outside of the religious sphere gave opportunity to both reinforce their own sense of what was appropriate, but also sometimes engendered surprise and respect for the people they met. Paul Tschetter was the most critical. When they arrived in Berlin he was sure that in the city, “plenty of wicked people can be found.” He was even less impressed when they entered an emigration building in Hamburg “where boys and girls were dancing.” He “was almost terrified and shrank back” and thought they should rather pray. When the person he was with retorted that “we cannot always pray; we must enjoy ourselves,” Tschetter resigned himself that it was simply the “wicked way of the world.”24

Wilhelm Ewert, on the other hand, was impressed with the people they met in North Dakota. When they visited some settlers near Pembina he describes them as “very pleasant and charming, like most Americans.” He seems particularly sensitive about the use of alcohol and the behaviour it spawned and contrasted what he saw in Manitoba and the United States. In the United States he notes that there are entire cities where no liquor is permitted to be sold and even in railway station restaurants they did not serve beer, on “moral grounds.” In Manitoba, however, “old and young, brown, yellow and white carouse in the bars, arguing, partying, and fighting.”25


The photo of the 1873 delegates and the entourage that travelled with them to the East Reserve. Tobias Unruh and Paul Tschetter were not pleased with being photographed. Photo Credit: Manitoba Archives.

Some of the delegates’ sensitivities were aroused when they were assembled for a photograph before leaving Winnipeg for the East Reserve. Tobias Unruh confides to his diary: “this act grieved me seriously. We had come here as pilgrims and strangers, labouring in distress, seeking a home in a country where we could, with our children together live according to the dictates of our conscience, and we were, as it were, arrayed and classed highly.”  The photo opportunity was also not to Paul Tschetter’s taste. As he explained to his diary, “I do not like to have my picture lying around in all parts of the world.” But, as he was forced to admit, the “world is the world and will remain the world until the Lord will come and end it all.”26

The Landscape and Environment

On June 28, 1873 some of the delegates climbed the hill at St. Joseph (Walhalla, N.D.) where the Pembina River emerges from the Manitoba Escarpment. Tobias Unruh recorded that he “looked to the east and my thoughts went home to my loved ones and an ardent desire arose, could I now only look into my home, my heart bled and I could not keep my tears from flowing: but in vain. I had to turn again and look after things that pertained to my mission.” This 2014 view from the Pembina Valley Lookout Point just outside of Walhalla may be the point Unruh was looking from some 140 years earlier. Photo Credit: Hans Werner

On June 28, 1873 some of the delegates climbed the hill at St. Joseph (Walhalla, N.D.) where the Pembina River emerges from the Manitoba Escarpment. Tobias Unruh recorded that he “looked to the east and my thoughts went home to my loved ones and an ardent desire arose, could I now only look into my home, my heart bled and I could not keep my tears from flowing: but in vain. I had to turn again and look after things that pertained to my mission.” This 2014 view from the Pembina Valley Lookout Point just outside of Walhalla may be the point Unruh was looking from some 140 years earlier. Photo Credit: Hans Werner

An important, possibly the most important agenda item was to evaluate the land with an eye to its productivity and ease of establishing hearth and home. The most favourable assessments were for the land in North Dakota. On their tour of the area east of Pembina Unruh was sure it was “very good land and much timber. … We need not look for nor wish for better land.” Wilhelm Ewert was similarly impressed. In his letter to his family he reports there “is a lot of very good land here.”27

 Manitoba fared much less favourably, although here there was also land that pleased the delegates. Tobias Unruh noted the land in the East Reserve was “good and plentiful”, “was still virgin prairie” and would be “very good country if ditches were provided.” On the whole, however, most of the delegates were unrestrained in their negative assessment of what they saw in Manitoba. Tschetter notes frequently how wet and marshy the land was and how poor the roads. Leonard Sudermann notes that most of the delegates were “considerably disheartened.28

Most distressing were the mosquitoes. Sudermann reserved his most eloquent accounts for a description of the mosquitoes. After a day where the wagons got stuck on the soggy banks of a stream and grass had to be cut with scythe to provide a more solid base, he describes the evening and night:

Our lodging for the following night was not an enviable one. The mosquitoes gave us no rest in our tents. Their forwardness surpassed all limits of decency and moderation. There were too many of them for us to satisfy. Completely clothed, hats on our heads, with nets over our faces, it was still impossible for us to protect ourselves from these intruders. So we greeted the dawn of a new day with joy.29


Leonhard Sudermann – 1821-1900 – businessman and minister: born Goldschar, Prussia, emigrated from Berdyansk to Butler County, Kansas in 1876 – almost no one else from his church emigrated. He also represented the Molotschna Colony as delegate. Photo Credit: Gameo


The diaries and letters of the delegates offer a small window on the world of 1873 and what migration was like. Although the immigrants who would follow them faced the reality of pioneering on the prairies and Great Plains of North America the delegates’ journey brought a greater range of experiences. They met face to face with other Mennonites, English speaking railway promoters, boosters of particular provinces and states, and were moved by the sights and sounds of new places. Ironically, perhaps, only a few of them would actually settle in the areas they saw, much less the areas they thought were the best. The area of North Dakota west of Pembina and Cass County west of Fargo would see few Mennonite settlers. Although the delegates saw the Mountain Lake area of Minnesota, none would settle there, but other Mennonites would. Kansas would become the largest benefactor of Mennonite settlement, even though most delegates either did not see it or had written it off as unsuitable.

The Itinerary of the 1873 Delegation to North America

The itinerary below is constructed from the diaries of Paul Tschetter, Tobias Unruh, Andreas Schrag and Johann Funk; the journal of Leonhard Sudermann, and letters written by Bernhard Warkentin, Wilhelm Ewert, Jacob Buller, and Cornelius Toews. The dates have all been converted to the Gregorian calendar.

Getting to America

The Bergthal Group

March 4, 1873

Nikolaievsk station.30 Jacob Peters, Heinrich Wiebe and Cornelius Buhr boarded the train and travelled to Liverpool by way of Berlin and Hull. In Liverpool they boarded the S.S. Scandinavian and arrived in Portsmouth, Maine31 on April 8th or the early hours of April 9th.

The Hutterite and Kleine Gemeinde Groups

April 26, 1873

Lorenz and Paul Tschetter, representing the Hutterites, and David Klassen and Cornelius Toews representing the Kleine Gemeinde left their homes in south Russia on the 26th. They met in Kherson where they took a steamer to Odessa. They then travelled to Hamburg by way of Lemberg (Lviv) and Berlin and boarded the S.S. Silesia bound for New York on May 7th.  They arrived in New York harbour on May 20th.

The Volhynian, West Prussian Berdjansk and Alexanderwohl Delegates

April 19, 1873

Tobias Unruh left Karolswalde, Volhynia. He met his fellow Volhynian delegate, Andreas Schrag at the Black Eagle in Lemberg (Lviv).32 The two travelled together and arrived at the home of the Prussian delegate, Wilhelm Ewert in Thorn (Torún) on April 26th.

April 30

Leonard Sudermann from the Berdjansk, and Jacob Buller from the Alexanderwohl congregations left for West Prussia, arriving there on May 3rd.

May 14

After joining the others the entire group arrived in Hamburg via Berlin and boarded the S.S. Frisia. They disembarked in New York on May 29th

Getting to Know the ‘Brethren’

The Bergthal Group

April 15, 1873

Arrived in Berlin (Kitchener). After disembarking in Portsmouth, Maine the Bergthal delegates left immediately for Montreal where they were met by William Hespeler. They stopped briefly in Ottawa and spent the weekend in Toronto before visiting the Swiss Mennonites in the Kitchener-Waterloo area.

April 23

Elkhart. After being accompanied as far as Detroit by Jacob Schantz, the delegates arrived at the home of John F. Funk where Heinrich Wiebe preached in the local meetinghouse. The delegates soon left for Summerfield, Illinois where Bernhard Warkentin resided. Warkentin was a Mennonite from Russia who had travelled extensively in North America the year before.33

The Hutterite and Kleine Gemeinde Groups

May 23, 1873

Elkhart. After arriving in New York on the 20th the Hutterite and Kleine Gemeinde groups left immediately for Elkhart where they spent just over a week among the Old Mennonites of the area, although John Funk was not at home.

The Volhynian, West Prussian Berdjansk and Alexanderwohl Delegates

May 30, 1873

After arriving in New York the day before, this group of delegates split up, with Ewert and Schrag going to Philadelphia while Sudermann, Buller and Unruh joined William Hespeler on a trip to Canada.

June 4

After spending ten days visiting Ontario Mennonites where they preached and visited, Sudermann, Buller and Unruh left for Elkhart to catch up with the Hutterite and Kleine Gemeinde delegates.

Evaluating the New Land

Texas and Kansas

Two groups of delegates visited these two states. The Bergthal delegates spent a month here before they went to Manitoba, while Ewert and Buller visited after their group split up on July 22, 1873.

May 2 to June 4, 1873

The Bergthal delegates left Summerfield, Illinois for Kansas with Christian Krehbiel and John Ruth. Little is known about this part of the trip. Christian Krehbiel had to leave the group due to family illness on May 9th while they were in Kansas. John Ruth apparently continued the tour into Texas.

July 24-August 11

Ewert and Buller travelled to Kansas and Texas with Bernhard Warkentin and others from the Summerfield area. There is also little information about this portion of the trip. The group was in Topeka, Kansas on August 8th.34

The Entire Group of Delegates

June 4 to 9, 1873

These days were spent trying to bring the group together as the Bergthal delegates made their way from the southern states, while the group that had gone to Canada (Sudermann, Buller, Unruh) tried to catch up with John Funk and the Hutterite and Kleine Gemeinde groups, and Ewert and Schrag were making their way from Philadelphia. On June 5th the Hutterite and Kleine Gemeinde groups met the Bergthal group in St. Paul. They continued on to Duluth and then Glyndon, Minnesota, leaving the Bergthal group behind in St. Paul to wait for the rest. On June 6th the group who had gone to Canada met Ewert and Schrag in Chicago and then joined the Bergthal group in St. Paul. The various groups finally caught up to each other at the Glyndon train station in the evening of June 9th and the entire group travelled to Moorhead that evening.


June 9, 1873

While they were waiting for the rest of the delegates, the Kleine Gemeinde and Hutterite groups toured the area around Glyndon, Minnesota.

West of Fargo

June 10-12, 1873

The entire delegation toured the area west of Fargo. They took the train from Fargo and then toured in wagons and camped in tents.

July 6-9

After returning from their Pembina River tour, Ewert, Unruh and the Hutterite group spent a day on a further tour of the area west of Fargo. They were joined the next day by Buller, Schrag and Sudermann for an extensive tour of the area over the next few days.

Manitoba East Reserve

June 18-21, 1873

The entire delegation left Fargo on June 13 for Manitoba on the paddleboat steamer, The International, arriving in Winnipeg on June 17th. The delegates left Winnipeg with a large entourage to tour the East Reserve the next day.

July 5

After arriving in Winnipeg from a tour of Western Manitoba the Kleine Gemeinde and Bergthaler groups likely returned to see portions of the East Reserve they had missed earlier.


This advertisement in the form of a poem appeared in the Manitoba Free Press on July 5, 1873 while the delegates were visiting Manitoba. The editors would like to thank James Urry for pointing us to it and providing the image.

Western Manitoba

June 23, 1873

Some delegates left the group on June 21st to travel back to Manitoba, but Sudermann, Buller, Schrag, the Kleine Gemeinde and Bergthal groups left Winnipeg for Western Manitoba. They travelled to about present day Arden, where Buller, Schrag, Sudermann and Schantz turned back on June 25th

July 1st

Sudermann, Buller, Schrag and Schantz left Winnipeg for Fargo. The Kleine Gemeinde and Bergthal delegates, accompanied by Hespeler, likely turned back after going as far as present day Neepawa.  On this day they were involved in a dispute between their drivers and a group of Métis at White

The Bergthal and Kleine Gemeinde ended their evaluation after they had visited the East Reserve a second time.Horse Plains.

North of the Pembina River to International Border and west to St. Joseph (Walhalla) in Dakota Territory

June 23-26, 1873

Ewert, Unruh and the Hutterite group left the International at Pembina for a tour just south of, and according to Funk, occasionally into the area that would later become the West Reserve.

Alexandria, Minnesota

July 9, 1873

After touring the Fargo area, the remaining delegates went to Breckenridge, Minnesota and from there took the train to Douglas, Minnesota (Alexandria). They toured this area for a day before heading to Minneapolis.

Mountain Lake, Minnesota

July 14-16, 1873

From Minneapolis the delegation took the train to Worthington, Minnesota and then toured the area around Mountain Lake by wagon.

Columbus, Nebraska

July 17-21, 1873

The delegation took the train to Columbus, Nebraska by way of Sioux City, Iowa. They toured areas east and south of Omaha.

Negotiating and Soliciting Support

July 26, 1873

The Bergthal and Kleine Gemeinde delegates left for Elkhart on July 14th. From there they travelled to Ottawa where on July 23rd they addressed a letter to Department of Agriculture outlining their requests. They received the Lowe letter of privileges three days later on the 26th

July 23, 1873

The remaining delegation split up. Johann Funk went to visit his brother in Missouri. The Hutterite delegates and Unruh travelled by train to Elkhart; Buller, Sudermann, Schrag and Ewert went to Summerfield, Illinois and then left for Elkhart on July 26. Buller and Ewert continued to Kansas and Texas from Summerfield.

August 1-8

Sudermann and Schrag, accompanied by Schantz, visited Mennonites in Ontario. Sudermann spoke at least three times during the week.

July 30-31

Philadelphia. The Hutterite delegates and Tobias Unruh travelled to Elkhart and then left for Philadelphia to speak to Jay Cooke, the head of the Northern Pacific Railway, regarding fare for crossing the Atlantic and settlement on its lands.

August 9-14

Sudermann, Schrag, Ewert and Buller visited Mennonites in Pennsylvania.

August 8

The Hutterite delegates and Unruh continued negotiations in New York regarding settlement and then visited President Ulysses S. Grant in Long Beach on this day to request military exemption.

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Bergthal and Kleine Gemeinde Groups

August 7, 1873

The delegates left Ottawa on July 31st, boarded the ship in New York, and arrived in Nikopol on August 7th.

Hutterite Group and Unruh

September 9, 1873

The Tschetters and Unruh boarded the S.S. Cimbria in New York on August 14th and arrived in Hutterthal on this day.

Sudermann, Buller, Schrag and Ewert

September 14, 1873

The three delegates boarded the S.S. Hammonia in New York on August 21st. They experienced a terrible storm at sea, but arrived safely in West Prussia on September 6th. Schrag arrived at home on September 10th while Sudermann and Buller arrived in Alexanderwohl on the 14th.  


  1.  See for instance John Warkentin, The Mennonite Settlements of Southern Manitoba, (Steinbach, Hanover Steinbach Historical Society, 2000) and E.K. Frances, In Search of Utopia, (Altona:  D.W. Friesen and Sons, 1955).
  2.  The diary of Tobias Unruh was published as Abe J. Unruh, trans., Great Grandfather’s Diary, (Montezuma, KS, 1970), (hereafter Unruh Diary). Paul Tschetter’s diary was published as: J.M. Hofer, trans. and ed., “The Diary of Paul Tschetter, 1873 I,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 5(2)(April 1931): 112-127 and “The Diary of Paul Tschetter, 1873 II,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 5(3) (July 1931): 196-220, (hereafter Tschetter Diary). For the diary of Andreas Schrag see: Orpha V. Schrag, “Andreas D. Schrag: The Delegate and His Diary,” Mennonite Family History (July 1993): 102-109, (hereafter Schrag Diary). Leonhard Sudermann’s travel narrative was translated and edited and appeared as Elmer F. Sudermann, trans. and ed., From Russia to America: In Search of Freedom, (Steinbach: Derksen Printers, 1974), (hereafter Sudermann Journal). John F. Funk’s diary was published in Kempes Schnell, ed.. “John F. Funk’s Land Inspection Trips as Recorded in His Diaries, 1872 and 1873,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 24(4) (October 1950): 295-311. Funk’s diaries were reprinted in Clarence Hiebert, ed. Brothers in Deed to Brothers in Need.
  3.  Delbert Plett, Storm and Triumph, (Steinbach: DFP Publications, 1986), 293, 301-302.
  4.  The letters of Wilhelm Ewert are at the Mennonite Library and Archives (MLA), Newton, Kansas, Wilhelm Ewert Collection, MS 6. A letter dated 29 June 1873 was published in Der Mitarbeiter, ????. For Christian Krehbiel see: John Thiesen, “Travel Report of Christian Krehbiel, 1873,” Mennonite Life 58(3)(September 2003) and Edward Krehbiel, ed. and trans., “Christian Krehbiel and the Coming of the Mennonites to Kansas,” in C.J. Dyck, ed., From the Steppes to the Prairies, (Newton, Ks: Mennonite Publication Office, 1949): 25-49. The Bernhard Warkentin letters are published in: C. J. Dyck, “Some Letters of Bernhard Warkentin Pertaining to the Migration of 1873-1875,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 24(3) (July 1950): 248-263.
  5.  John Dyck, Oberschulz Jacob Peters, 52 and Clarence Hiebert, comp., Brothers in Deed to Brothers in Need, p. 41. In the text all dates have been converted to Gregorian calendar or New Style, which at this time was 12 days later than the Julian calendar  (O.S.) used in Russia until 1918. For ease of referencing the notes that follow reference diary entries with the date given in the respective published versions. For Paul Tschetter’s diary these are O.S.
  6.  Tschetter Diary, April 14 to May 8, 1873.
  7.  Tschetter Diary, April 14 and April 15.
  8.  Tschetter Diary, April 16 and Unruh Diary, May 21.
  9. Unruh Diary, May 24 and 28.
  10.  Sudermann Journal and Schrag Diary, August 24.
  11. Tschetter Diary, April 20 and Schrag Diary, August 27
  12.  Tschetter Diary, April 18
  13.  Unruh Diary, June 9.
  14.  Tschetter Diary, April 20 and Unruh Diary, May 11.
  15.  Unruh Diary, June 4
  16.  Tschetter Diary, May 12
  17.  Tschetter Diary, April 24.
  18.  Tschetter Diary, May 21
  19.  Tschetter Diary, May 16
  20.  Schrag Diary, August 12 and August 17th.
  21.  Sudermann Journal, June 1 and 3 and Unruh Diary, June 1.
  22.  Tschetter Diary, May 24.
  23.  Sudermann Journal, June 15 and Unruh Diary, June 15.
  24.  Tschetter Diary, April 20 and 23
  25.  Wilhelm Ewert Letter, 29 June 1873
  26.  Unruh Diary, June 18
  27.  Unruh Diary, June 23 and Wilhelm Ewert Letter, 29 June 1873
  28.  Unruh Diary, June 18 and 21 and Tschetter Diary, June 6 and 7, Sudermann Journal, June 19.
  29.  Sudermann Journal, June 20
  30. Klaus Peters gives the date as February 26 O.S., which would be March 10, 1873. See: Klaus Peters, The Bergthaler Mennonites, (Winnipeg: CMBC Publications, 1988), p. 13
  31.  William Schroeder and Klaus Peters incorrectly have them landing at Halifax. See William Schroeder, The Bergthal Colony, (Winnipeg: CMBC Publications1986), 38 and Peters, 13.
  32.  “Under the Black Eagle” was the name of a pharmacy at the corner of Market Square in Lviv, Ukraine. It is now a museum of pharmacy.
  33. In the Herald of Truth, it is reported that they went to Chicago to meet Bernhard Warkentin. It seems Schroeder and Dyck use this as evidence that he travelled with them, but there is no other evidence of Warkentin having accompanied them. Hiebert, 43, 47; Dyck, 54; Schroeder, 38.  Warkentin’s letter to Goerz, dated April 22, 1873 suggests he had just become aware that the delegates were in Elkhart and were coming to Summerfield where he was at the time.
  34. Warkentin indicates in a letter of August 13, 1873 that he accompanied the two to Kansas and Texas, a trip that took two weeks. A Topeka Daily Commonwealth report of August 9, 1873 indicates Buller, Ewert and Warkentin had been in that city the day before. Hiebert, 66.


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