Shneer Motev Chersonsky (Херсонский, Khersonsky) from Tiraspol, was 32 when he died in the Odessa pogrom. Yankel Chersonsky, 29, who sailed from Rotterdam to New York in May 1907, with his wife, Leah, and their one-year-old daughter, Maria, may have been his brother. An M. Chersonsky owned a house on the outskirts of Perecyp, near Soldatskaya Slobodka, partially shown on the far left centre of the map.
I followed this family because they were on their way to Leah’s brother, Chaim Skadron, in Anamoose, North Dakota, and I was intrigued by a family travelling to the emptiness of North Dakota and a settlement named after a moose.
I discovered that North Dakota had been settled mainly by Russian Germans, Germans who had been encouraged by the Russians after they took over Ukraine, in the late 18th century to settle in and cultivate the huge empty areas of the steppe in the southern Ukraine, bringing much needed up-to-date knowledge of farming to the area. In the early 1800s, Jews were also encouraged with the promise of free land to leave the overcrowded towns of Belarus and farm in colonies in southern Ukraine. This was intended to also give the Jews a more productive occupation than peddling and being middleman, having never been allowed to own land previously, although Jews often managed farms and estates for Russian landowners. Many of these colonies sprang up from the mid-1800s and several people in the pogrom death records came from agricultural colonies: two Grinbergs from the Novo-Podolsk colony in Ekaterinoslav Gubernia, Balanovsky from the Gelbinovoi Kamenets colony in Podolsk Gubernia, two Borsch brothers from the Bogachevka colony in the Balta region, and a nine-year-old boy, Ber Duvid Bosakov, son of a farmer from the Abazovka colony in the Balta region. There is quite a lot of online information about the Jewish agricultural colonies in Ukraine on the following websites.
Several of the colonies can be found on this 1902 Balta map to the east of Balta at the bottom of the map.
Abazovka Colony, Balta
Gelbinova Colony, Balta
Many of the colonies were not successful because the government promises of help with housing and equipment did not materialise and there were high rates of illness and death. But many of these colonies were begun and some lasted until the Second World War. On this map the Jewish colonies are specifically labelled but there are also many places where Kol is written so there may have been many tiny colonies as well, whether Jewish or not. The idea of agricultural colonies was taken up by Zionists and others thinking about Jews settling in countries where they could have the equal rights of full citizens which had not been true in Russia but was gradually occurring in other nation states. The idea of Jews finding a new home, whether in Palestine or elsewhere, came to a head after the 1881 pogroms and small groups from southern Russia set off to form socialist agricultural colonies in Palestine, Canada, America and Argentina. The first two agricultural colonies in the US, in Louisiana and South Dakota, were organised by Herman Rosenthal, who also wrote a 1906 Jewish Encyclopaedia which is online, with chapters on agricultural colonies in Russia and in the US.
1906 Jewish Encyclopaedia 1906 by Herman Rosenthal
Many of these colonies did not succeed for similar reasons to the colonies in Ukraine – lack of proper management, falling through of government or charity promises, lack of knowledge of farming, inappropriate land, mounting debts for equipment and materials – but a few were successful and carried on for some years and some settlers would remain in the area either farming or as shopkeepers. Often it was disagreements, different philosophies, and breaking into factions that led to the death of colonies.
Two of my great uncles were part of the first groups to set up colonies in the US in 1881 and 1882. One went from Odessa to New Odessa in Portland, Oregon in 1882, and this colony possibly deserves its own entry. Several members of this family eventually helped set up a colony in New Jersey, where there were many early experimental colonies, which lasted until the 1950s. The other was part of the first colony in America in Sicily Island Louisiana, an almost uninhabited piece of wetland along the Mississippi River, which was not an ideal place for Russians used to a northern climate to settle. There were very few locals to help with appropriate farming methods and after a malaria outbreak and a severe flood, the colony disbanded, and many moved north to South Dakota, then still called Dakota Territory, near a town called Mitchell. There were also several colonies in North Dakota, the most successful one called Painted Woods.
Mitchell Main Street 1880s
The South Dakota colony, called Cremieux, was near a tiny settlement called Mount Vernon. The land was divided into squares called townships bounded by numbered streets. My great uncle, Joseph Petrikovsky, a socialist journalist, took part in both the Louisiana and South Dakota colonies, and wrote about them in the Russian Jewish press and as stories. In a semi-fictionalised story for an English newspaper he describes his party of four Russian merchant families and a dozen single male students on a four-day train journey to South Dakota.
Most of Mitchell’s 1000 population is at the depo waiting to see the foreigners. The town consists of 200 wooden cottages, a couple of two-storey hotels, a few boarding houses, lumber yards, three drugstores, a few country stores, three newspaper printing offices, a school, a photographer, three churches, four banks, and several land offices. All the 168-acre homestead claims were taken in south-west Aurora County, 22 miles from Mitchell and 17 from Mount Vernon, the little town with a railroad station.
By the end of two months, my great uncle had his own little cabin and was surrounded by new houses, barns, artesian wells, cattle and fields growing with corn, flax, oats and sorghum. According to a local newspaper, the leader of the colony, Herman Rosenthal, had a 1000 acre farm and an eight room house which was also used for schooling the children. In the winter, the Russians had musical gatherings which were popular with the locals.
The area does not look like it has changed much since the time of the Cremieux Colony in the 1880s.
Baker Township (Google streetview)
As Russian Jewish immigration increased after 1881, Jewish charities in the big cities began to encourage immigrants to become settlers in the West and they set up programs and networks to help accomplish this. The New York Removal Office, which helped find apprenticeships in towns across the country for Jewish orphans, was attempting this. But it seems that the Skadron and Chersonsky families chose their own route to North Dakota. In 1902, Shulim, 45, and Chaim Skadron, 25, from Kherson, travelled with a large family called Hirsch, Russian Germans, also from Kherson, who were travelling to relations in Harvey, North Dakota, a settlement very close to Anamoose. Two other Russian German teenagers, Friedrich Wohl and Christian Engel were travelling with them and had family in and around Anamoose and remained as farmers in the area.
Shulim and Chaim do not appear again in the census records but Salomon Skadron, his wife, eldest son and family, and several younger sons, are on the 1910 census, along with the Chersonsky family, farming in Alexander in McKenzie County, further west in North Dakota.
Solomon and Chaim, his eldest son or brother, may have gone to North Dakota to settle in before Solomon’s wife and family arrived. The only discrepancy between Solomon and Shulim is that Solomon says that he emigrated in 1907 rather than 1902. There is no trace of Chaim, the brother Leah was joining in Anamoose. The Chersonskys, later Cersonsky, went on to have five more children, and eventually the elder Skadrons and Chersonskys moved to a nearby town, Williston, and became shopkeepers.
A diary by a Jewish settler to Anamoose, who came from the Odessa area to America in 1905, Charles Losk, is in the North Dakota archives and presents a picture very similar to the Chersonsky and Skadron family experience (http://www.prairiepublic.org/radio/radio-programs-a-z/plains-folk?post=60250). They proved up homesteads which involved farming them for five years, married Jewish women from nearby towns, and eventually moved to nearby towns like Williston and Watford City. Another brother, Moses Losk, is on the 1915 North Dakota census with Sam Skadron and his family in McKenzie County, but that census only enumerates people without addresses or occupations. By 1920, Sam was a butcher in a nearby small town on the Missouri River, Sanish, and Moses had a dry goods store in Watford city.
The younger Cersonsky generation were scattered in the area, mostly in small towns. The father, Jake, died in 1931 at only 51. Two of the children died young, Kathryn at 18 in 1934, and Mayer at 33 in 1944.
Miriam, the eldest, born in 1905 in Odessa, was the only one to remain in North Dakota where she died the same year as her husband, 1973, and was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Minot, North Dakota. The others gravitated to other Western states, Colorado and Texas, and produced a long line of farmers, business people, doctors and lawyers. They probably all knew of their Russian ancestors, Jacob and Leah, who courageously, with a small child, followed relations to take up homesteads in North Dakota, but they probably do not know what propelled them to leave Russia, the 1905 Odessa pogrom, and the death of a relation, just as they were beginning out in life.