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From the Banat to North Dakota: A History of the German-Hungarian Pioneers in Western North Dakota

From the Banat to North Dakota: 

A History of the German-Hungarian Pioneers in Western North Dakota


David Dreyer

Product Details

Hardcover: 231 pages

Publisher: North Dakota State University, Institute for (January 2006)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0911042660

ISBN-13: 978-0911042665

Book Review


A history of German-Hungarian pioneers

RITA GREFF Citizen Reviewer Thursday, December 25, 2008



David Dreyer

808 N Claremont

San Mateo , Calif 94401

Josette Steiner Hatter

23297 Pompeii Dr

Dana Point , Calif 92629


During the period 1892 to 1912 about 600 German families from the Hungarian province of the Banat homesteaded in Stark and Hettinger counties of Southwestern North Dakota(1). This main region of Banat settlement in ND overlapped somewhat into adjacent areas of Morton, Mercer and Dunn counties. These homesteaders were decedents of Germans, primarily from the middle and upper Rhein Basin , who had been recruited by the Austrian Crown in the period 1722-1788 to colonize the Banat . It is convenient to refer to these German-Hungarians as Banaters. The Banat had been reconquered by the Austrians from the Turks in 1715 and was at that time a vast, swampy, depopulated wasteland. Though the efforts of these German colonists, at a staggering cost in lives, the swamps were drained, land cleared and roads, cities and towns built. The population of the Banat constituted the first line of defense against Turkish inroads from across the Danube into the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The perseverance, diligence, industry and ready adoption of progressive farming methods caused the Banat German-Hungarians to be among the most prosperous of the various ethnic populations of the Austrian Hungarian Empire as well as making the Banat , by the end of the 19th century, one of the most prosperous areas of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Following World War I the Banat was partitioned between Romania and Yugoslavia .

By the end of the 19th century the population of the Banat was largely a mixture of Germans, Serbs, Romanians and Hungarians. In most cases these various ethnic groups lived in separate villages and even when living in the same village tended to ignore each other. The Banat German-Hungarians developed and maintained their own dialect, customs and traditions. Maintance of these traditions contributed to the tight knit solidarity of Banaters when they migrated abroad as well as more currently with the Banat groups now living in modern day Germany .

There was little new migration from Central Europe to the Banat after 1788. During the period 1782 to 1900 the German-Hungarian population of the Banat increased by natural growth from 75,000 to 410,000. This expanding agrarian population created pressure for additional farm land and led to the founding of daughter villages from the original settlements throughout the 19th century. By the end of the 19th century no further farmland was available for settlement in the Banat . The tight knit Banat Germans with their long pioneering traditions, agricultural background and culture were ideally suited by their mental outlook and experience, for homesteading on the high prairies of Western North Dakota. The search for prime farmland, available at low cost, was a factor in the decision of many Banaters to migrate and homestead in the Dakotas .

The first Banater known to migrate in Southwestern North Dakota was Johann Braun(2, 3) who arrived with his family in New York on the ship “Salle” from Bremen on 23 Mar 1889 . Eight days later, on 1 April 1889 he filed a homestead claim for land in Stark County, and a declaration of intention to become a United States citizen, in Dickinson, N. D. Clearly, Johann Braun was a man with vision and a purpose. John Braun was born in Kl Jetscha and had married Anna Mayer of Deutsch Bentschek on 6 June 1881 where they had lived a number of years.

Josef Kilzer, in his memoir(2) describes Johann Braun as enterprising, well educated and widely read. Hand-me-down accounts(2,3) indicate that he came into possession of a flyer distributed by the Northern Pacific Railroad in Hungary which described the promise and possibilities of homesteading in North Dakota . After arrival, Johann Braun had maintained close contact with friends and relatives in the Banat , particularly D Bentschek and nearby Josefsdorf, and wrote letters back describing the availability of free land and the prospects of farming in ND. Braun had sent back samples of Durum hard winter wheat grown in North Dakota . This wheat was superior to that raised in the Banat and made a favorable impression on the knowledgeable Banaters. Two years later, Peter Mayer, Johann Braun’s brother-in-law, and Michael Scharick both from D Bentschek arrived on 26 Jun 1891 in New York with their families on the “Werkendam” from Rotterdam . They too, settled near Johann Braun in Stark County .

In 1892 a major migration of Banaters to North Dakota began(1). On 13 Feb 1892 a group of eight families from D Bentschek disembarked in Baltimore from the ship “Hohenzollern”, destined for North Dakota . The heads of these families were Martin Andor, Georg Hubert, Peter Kilzer, Martin Roth, Emmert Koenig, Stefan Kilzer families and the widow Katherine Kirchner and her kids. One single man, Josef Kilzer, also traveled with this group. Both Stefan Kilzer and Josef Kilzer report being met in Richardton by Johann Braun and staying with the Braun family for some time, until they found homesteads of their own.

A scattering of single families and two other family groups also arrived later that year. On 8 September 1892, the families Schroeder, Haas, Goetz, Lefor and Faulhaber arrived in Baltimore and were followed, on the 16 December 1892 by the Wog, Puljer, Freer, Roth, Seros, Harle, Anton, Morganthaler, Engel and Heckel families who entered the U. S. through the port of New York . These two later family groups came from Josefsdorf. During the year 1892 about 23 families can be documented as arriving from the Banat . The following year 32 Banater families similarly arrived in ND. The 1893 migrants came in five groups, the first two of these consisting of D Bentschekers and the remaining three of Josefsdorfers. In addition, nine other families came in this year in ones and twos, most often from Josefsdorf. During the years, 1894-1896 migration from the Banat nearly ceased. In the following two years, 1897-1898, a renewed, larger wave of Banaters arrived. When the year of arrival as indicated in the Federal census is plotted against the number of arrivals one gets a profile of the Banat migration rate to North Dakota . See Figure I for a plot of this arrival data. These results show that Banat migration to ND went through 3 maxima, 1892-1893, 1897-1898 and 1905. These 1897-1898 arrivals came largely from Josefsdorf, Bakowa, Nitzkydorf, Setschan, Blumenthal, Dolatz and Ernsthausen, all villages which either were closely situated in the area of D Bentschek-Josefsdorf or were related to Josefsdorf through heavy internal migration.


Based on this arrival data, which shows a limited area of origin of the first German-Hungarian settlers to ND, the decision to migrate to ND must be ascribed to the efforts made by Johann Braun to communicate his satisfaction with the lands available in ND to those back in the Banat with which he had close contact. Eventually, Banaters arrived in ND from villages distributed from all over the Banat . In general these ND Banaters tended to come from poorer villages in the Banater Hecke or Hill country or those places which were more subject to vagaries of nature, especially those localities located in the flood plains of the Theiss, Temesch and Bega rivers.

The term chain migration is used in immigration studies to describe the process whereby relatives and friends follow the initial migrant abroad in a sequential fashion(4). By their letters back home first arrivals could offer advice on employment prospects, living conditions and orientation in a New World locality. In this way the later arrivals would settle in a somewhat familiar community composed of relatives and friends from home and find the support they needed to help them to get established in a new region.

The evidence supports the idea that John Braun initiated the chain migration of the Banaters to North Dakota . This key roll in initiating migration to ND is supported by the fact that most of the follow-on arrivals in 1892 and 1893 came from D Bentschek and Josefsdorf, the communities with whom he had the closest contact and upon whom his letters back home would have had the greatest influence. Of the 32 families who arrived in 1893, 15 came from Josefsdorf. Early passenger ship lists did not record the names of friends or relatives to whom newly arrived migrants planned to join. This information was generally recorded after 1896. Where the data are available, it is clear that most Banaters intended to settle near relations or a friend.

A later, and larger, Banat immigration(ca 100,000 migrants) to North America occurred in the decade after the turn of the century(5). The twentieth century Banaters tended to settle in larger American cities, for example, Cincinnati , St Louis , Chicago , Detroit , etc. Many came with the intent of staying only a few years, hoping to earn monies sufficient enough that they could return home and re-establish themselves with a more secure future. A large proportion of these later immigrants were single men and women. Only 15-25% of Banat arrivals in the early 1900’s, came with their families. This tendency is also correlated with their village of origin.

Two striking points stand out when comparing ND Banaters with those Banat immigrants of the early 1900’s. Almost to a man, these ND migrants arrived accompanied by their families. And, especially as measured by the standards of the day they mostly arrived with relatively large amounts of money. Clearly these early Banat immigrants had sold out their property in the Banat , were immigrants of some substance, who had come to North Dakota to stay. They had no intention of returning to their former homes.

The various maxima and minima in the Banat arrival profile for ND(Fig I) do not seem to correlate with either economic or political events on either side of the Atlantic . In considering other possible reasons for the roller-coaster arrival profile, the low migration rates in 1894-1896 and 1899-1902 and the ready ability of Banaters already in ND to assist new arrivals the data argues that a period of two to three years was required for the initial immigrants to establish themselves and to be in a position to advise other relatives and friends in the homeland on the prospects of homesteading in ND. Thus the minimum in migration rates for 1894-1896 and 1899-1902 reflects the time lag necessary for the arrivals in 1892-1893 and 1897-1898 respectively to establish themselves and arrange for subsequent relatives and friends.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. The authors are indebted to Anton Kraemer for advice and encouragement and to Helen Kilzer and Bernie Schwindt for copies of Kilzer and Schmidt mss.


1. Dreyer, David, Banat Family History Series Vol I, “Family History Research for North Dakota Pioneers from the Banat , self Published.

2. Kilzer Josef, “Mein Lebenslauf”, unpublished ms, Hatter, J. S. and Dreyer D., Banat Family History Series Vol. V, in preparation.

3. Schmidt, J. Peter, “Reminiscing” unpublished ms. Deciphered and Edited by Alice May.

4. Veroli R. J. and Sinke, S. M., Eds., “A Century of European Migration 1830-1930”, 1991, Univ of Ill Press.

5. Dreyer, David Banat Family History Series Vol III, “Some Banaters in Pre World War I United States Passenger Shipping Records”, self-published.



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