Friday, June 10, 2016

Friday Farming: Roosians. 1915. A glimpse of ethnicity

Caption reads: A case of "Economic Need." Jacob Roomel [i.e., Rommel?] and his family live in this roomy shack, well-furnished, with a good range, organ, etc. They own a good home in Ft. Collins, but late in April they moved out here, taking contract for nearly 40 acres of beets, working their 9 and 10 yr. old girls hard at piling and topping (altho[ugh] they are not rugged) and they will not return until November. The little girl said, "Piling is hardest, it gets your back. I have cut myself some, topping." The older girl said, "Don't you call us Russians, we're Germans," (although they were most of them were born in Russia). Family been in this country eleven yrs. (See photo 4041.) Location: Ft. Collins [vicinity], Colorado

This is a photo from the Library of Congress depicting a Colorado farm family in 1915.  the photo tells us volumes in ways that it probably doesn't mean to.

For one thing, it's interesting that this family commuted from Ft. Collins to land they owned, or leased, to farm it for the summer.  A commuting 1915 farm family. Also interesting is that they were farming beets in this area of Colorado that is still pretty intensively agricultural, but right now is producing a final crop of houses in a way that should give any nation pause. 

Also interesting is they're identified in such a fashion as to cast doubt on what they were.  The photographer obviously felt they were Russians, as they were born in Russia.  The oldest daughter, however, was aware of their German ethnicity.  These folks would have been descendant of the Germans that went into Russia, at the invitation of the Russian crown, in the 18th Century.  In the early 20th Century they were immigrating to the United States, tired of cyclical Russian oppression.  They had a major impact of American agriculture at the time.

Confusion over their ethnicity caused them to be called "Roosians" in some areas, an intentional mispronunciation of  Russian, recognizing the Russian element but not fully crediting it.  As they almost exclusively settled in agricultural belts that were already heavily settled by ethnic Germans, and as they often shared the same religion as the local German American communities they settled in, their ethnic identity tended to be absorbed into the local one, and today many of their descendants would tend not to know that their German ancestors had a long period of residence in Russia.  There are quite a few efforts today to preserve their heritage by their descendants in the US. 

A very large number immigrated to the US and Canada prior to World War One.  The tragedy of the Great War caused more to move, particularly after the Russian Revolution arrived and brought in forces that were fully opposed to their farming enterprises and religious faith.  Those who remained were heavily oppressed by Stalin. Even with that, however, enough remained that following the reunification of Germany some of their descendants claimed German citizenship and immigrated to Germany, where culturally they provided an odd window into an earlier era, and linguistically they struggled with a language they largely no longer spoke.

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