Literature > Periodicals > The Commonwealth (Topeka)
The Commonwealth
(Topeka, Kansas)

The first Volga Germans arrived in Topeka on 28 November 1875 and articles about them began appearing in Topeka's papers on 2 December 1875.

 
1875-12-03 (Friday)
The New Russians.
    The most prominent objects in Topeka just now are the newly arrived Russians. They are somewhat different in their appearance and character from their Mennonite fellow citizens in other matters beside their religion. They are German in blood and language, hail from the government of Samara, on the Volga, along distance from the district in extreme southern Russia which has furnished the Mennonite immigration.
    We judge that in the Volga country dogs are not as sedulously cultivated as they are in Kansas, but that the dog industry is neglected in favor to sheep-raising. At any rate these Russians go heavy on sheep skin as a wearing material. The aristocracy wear long sheepskin coats with skirts like a woman's dress, which reach nearly to the upper edge of their ears. A round cloth cap, shaped like a sausage in the form known as the "dabs" cover the heads of the Russian gentlemen. All of the person not covered with sheepskin and cloth cap is covered with high-legged boots of the most substantial character. Arrayed in this costume our Russian friends might move unharmed through the midst of an Irish row, the flying brickbats rebounding without effect from their sheepskin armor.
    The army of Russia is encamped at the Topeka House, and a large number of them seem to have no occupation except going somewhere and coming back with iron tea-kettles in their hands. The among of iron transported around in the form of tea-kettles is enormous.
    As laborers the Russians, so far, do not appear to have "struck their gait". Some of them were sent down to work in the Carbondale mines, but failed on account of the antipathy felt for them by their co-laborers, the mules. Those coats got away with the long ears. The frightened mules stamped whenever one of the long-tailed sheepskin envelopes, with a Russian inside it, approached, or if driven into a corner, the mules stood on their defence, and kicked the mutton tallow out of every Russian who came within range.
    But the Russians can sing. Every night they gather in front of the Topeka House, or around the big paving rock at the corner, and sing and sing and sing. The women and girls never join in the melodies; all the singing is done by the men and boys, the shrill voices of the latter chuning in strangely with the heavier notes of the men. Nearly all their melodies have a strangely plaintive character. The words are German but the music is unlike anything else we have heard, resembling most of the airs sung by the Russian Imperial Singers, a troupe which visited Kansas some years ago.
    We suppose the Russians will soon be absorbed in the mass of our population, and first the sausage-shaped caps will disappear; then those charming zephyrs which came across the prairies like the balmy breath of a burning brick kiln, will cause a shedding of those Brian O'Dun coats, then in the course of four or five years those massive boots will disappear, and the Russian will have nothing to distinguish him from the rest of mankind except possibly his habit of traveling around armed and equipped with an iron kettle.

 
1875-12-12 (Monday)
The Russians are scattering over the city, that is, as much as they ever scatter. They failed to assemble in front of the old Topeka House last night and sing, so that the public missed the only aggreable feature connected with their stay here. To any passerby it is evident where the Russians have been. You may break, you may shatter that house if you will, but the scent of the Russian will cling around it still. The worst feature connected with these pelt-clad pilgrims is, that they exercise an unfavorable impression on visitors. People from the east who look at their dusty countenance are ready to swear that no rain has fallen on those "mugs" for at least three years, and go away believers in "droughty Kansas". The headquarters of the sheepskin brigade have been moved to the first ward, probably from the belief that the climate on the North side of the Kaw [River] is more like Russia than on the South side.

 
1875-12-24
The antipathy to our friends from the banks of the Volga is disappearing to a considerable extent. They claim and probably with justice, that the stealing laid to their charge is the work of a few individuals, and that the whole community is not responsible for them. They are certainly industrious, and appear to be finding employment in various directions. Some work for farmers in husking corn; they are always on hand where cord is to be reduced to stove wood, and the women turn their hands to scrubbing floors, washing windows or any description of drugery. A large number of Russians are quartered in a building on Kansas Avenue near the bridge and yesterday a number of the women were seated on the sidewalk in front, manufacturing bed clothing for the winter. A swarm of lightly clad children played about while the mothers sewed and gossipped. The men not working for wages, appeared to be putting in their time hunting for wood, and carry enormous loads of refuse firing material a long distance. The Russians are as stout as horses and a great deal more patient than mules.

 
1876.01.15 (Saturday)
Russians.
A car load of Russians have been in Hays the past day or two looking up land for their colony. Some are very well pleased with the country, and a few have taken claims. They all started out bright an dearly yesterday morning to look up claims, some going in one direction and some in another. Those who went out with our land agents seem to be well satisfied with the country, but one squad who went out by themselves and who wandered around on the rock bluffs near "Hog back" all day left for Topeka this morning, disgusted. Martin Allen has had some six or seven out to-day, but with what success we do not know. The few who have settled are a commencement; and we may expect a large body of them next spring. Some will buy railroad land, and some will homestead. They will be a valuable acquisition to our country, and we should do all in our power to bring them here. Hays City Reporter.

 
1876-02-13 (Sunday)
Notes from Russia.
    Fred Fensky says a Russian can shovel more pure dirt in a day than a white man can in two. Dirt is their best bolt.
    Three horses were stolen from the North Topeka Russians a few evenings ago - no clues to the theives. The balance of the "kritters" have been branded with a hot iron.
    Admire hired a Russian to saw a cord of split hickory wood. The fellow, assisted by his wife, two boys and girl, completed the job, in the highest style of the art, in exactly four days and three hours.
    North Topeka has been well policed during the past few weeks. Apple, potatoe and onion "peelings", bones, bread crumbs, cigar stumps, old rags, pieces of iron, boxes, old shoes, old hats, etc., have been carefully gathered up by our Russian fellow citizens, who utilize them appropriately. A "razor back" would have poor picking in that locality at present.
    I.N. Green, an Israliesh confectioner, accompanied a detachment of Russians out west as far as Hays. Driving into the country from there, the horses became freightened and ran away. Mr. Green was thrown from the wagon and his left leg was broken about the ankle joint. He came home on the train today. The limb has been "doctored", and promises favorably.
    The Russian ladies have learnd a valuable lesson from the female "possum", (which has a false bel-pocket in which it carries its "young uns"). In anticipation of the necessity, a false pocket is made in the clock, a convenient proximity to - to the place where an infant takes its meals, into which the babe is thrust, allowing the mother to go about her business and no bother. American women have much to learn yet.
    The average Russian is not exactly the amiable animal that he might, superficially considered, to be taken for. A pair of banged up and battered countenance bear testimony to his untamed, fiery and war-like spirit. The preprietors of teh mutilated countenance are brother-in-laws and Russians of teh strickest lot. A dispute over the ownership of a pot of soup was the occassion of the trouble. Judging from apppearances, they fight in English.
    A Russian saws stove wood thusly; when the stick is in position of the buck, he leisurely lights his pipe, gives a few energetic whiffs to see that it will go all right. Then he places his left foot emphatically and earnestly upon the stick to hold it securely in its place. He then runs his left arm under his left leg and grasps the lower part of the handle of the saw firmly. At the same time holding his pipe securely in his mouth, he takes hold of the upper part of the handle with his right hand. His wife, having seated herself upon the bround in front of and facing him, takes hold of the lower part of the saw. he then shoves and his wife pulls until the saw is imbedded in the timber, when he turns the stick over and begins again. After he has thus sawed the stick "all around", he then breaks it in two. After which he takes a rest also a quite smoke.

 
1876-11-07
Notes on Russian voters in North Topeka. Andy Wilson wanted them to vote.

 
1876-11-08
The Russian game did not work in the First Ward yesterday - only two Muscovites voted.

 
1876-12-13
Short Russian boys in their long tailed coats may be seen on the streets every day, with school books in their hands. The young Russian idea is learning to shoot, and in time they will shed their sheepskins, insist that they were born in Kansas, wear tight boots, and gold headed canes, and jeer at the wooden shoes that afforded a roof and shelter to the big feet of their ancestors.

 
1877-04-04
The North Topeka Russians were formally incorporated into the voting population. They were also treated to their first ride in a hack. Under the general direction of Major D.M. Adams, fourteen Muscovites were brought into the august presence of Arthur McCabe, were duly sworn and their ballots "executed the freeman's will" very shortly afterwards. Henceforth the Russian with his flat cap and long tailed coat and long-legged boots will be a part to the regular "scenery" at the polls.

 
Last updated 11 March 2009.