presented at the Bukovinafest, September 19, 2003, Ellis, Kansas
by Rebecca Hageman, Wichita, KS
Posted on the World-Wide Web with permission of the author
There is a legend
of a young girl who lost her way in the Carpathian Mountains. She was the
daughter of a mighty prince. She was sheltered by shepherds until her
father found her. The area was named “Voivodeasa,” Prince’s
Valley. In German, it is translated to “Fürstenthal.”
This year marks the
200th anniversary of the founding of a little village called Fürstenthal.
Most people have never heard of it. So what makes it so special?
Its importance to us lies in the fact that so many of the Bukovina Germans in
Ellis can trace their heritage to Fürstenthal. And it is interesting, and
maybe a little unique, in that 200 years later, we find that so much that made
them Fürstenthalers, before there was a Fürstenthal, lives on here in Ellis.
had a phone book, but it did have church records. If you were to compare
those church records with the Ellis phone book, or the St. Mary’s Church
Directory, you would find many of those same family names.
Fürstenthal is not
an old village. 1803 was not that long ago. Let me put it into
perspective to which I can relate. In 1803, Lewis and Clark began mapping
out the Louisiana Purchase, which included a large territory west of the
Mississippi River, including Kansas. At the same time, our forefathers
were cutting their own trails through the wilderness of Bukovina.
Why Bukovina? we
ask. What was happening that would make them pick up roots and settle far
from home and family? From a quick historical perspective, Austria, in
1774, had acquired Bukovina from the Ottoman Empire. This area had been
the site of wars and heavy taxation for many years, and was now depopulated and
very poor. There were only 60,000 inhabitants in its 10,000-plus sq km, or
about 6 people per sq km. (15 people per square mile). The government in
Vienna actively recruited and sponsored German settlers throughout the Austrian
Empire, including Bohemia, the homeland of the future Fürstenthalers.
serve as a land link between the Austrian provinces of Galicia and Transylvania.
The Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, and her co-regent Joseph II, needed to
populate the area with persons from the Austrian Empire to help create a buffer
and to develop the province economically. The area was heavily forested
and its mountains contained valuable ores.
than farming, was encouraged because of the great abundance of lumber, salt, and
ores. German settlers, especially the earlier settlers, were offered free
land, housing, farm animals, transportation, and religious toleration. For
the first 10 years, oldest son of each family would be exempt from military
Enter the German
Bohemians. For centuries, these “Border People” had lived and
worked in the mountainous Bohemian Forest along the Austrian and Bavarian
border. Germanic in origin, they had been there as early as the last
century BC. It wasn't until 973, when the Catholic Church sent
missionaries into the region, that they became a major presence in the area.
Bohemians ancestors brought stability to the land. They were diligent
workers, and valued as settlers. As far back as the mid 1300s, they had
been granted freedom unknown to other Bohemians by Karl IV (Charles IV), the
Holy Roman Emperor. In exchange for moving into the region and
“patrolling” the frontier to watch for smugglers and invading Bavarian or
Prussian troops, they were given free land to till, and they were freed
from obligatory feudal service to their landlord. Being far from the
capitals of Vienna and Prague, they viewed the border as an arbitrary line, and
often married with Czech and Bavarian families on both sides of the border, and
traded contraband. They were fluent in the Bavarian dialect, and some
The Germans in this
region were principally forest workers and glassmakers. The two
occupations went hand in hand. Glass was an important commodity in
Bohemia, and it required huge amounts of wood for potash as an ingredient, and
to fuel the fires to produce the intense heat needed to melt the sand.
large families and limited space made land ownership difficult. Entire
forests were clear cut because of the enormous amount of lumber required for the
glasshuts. The people, and the glasshuts, moved with the availability of
two new glassworks had been successfully started in Bukovina – at Althütte
(1793), and Karlsberg (1797). News of another possible new glassworks in
Bukovina spread throughout the Bohemian Forest about the same time that a local
glassworks was closing. Many in the region were unemployed.
government actively recruited these workers with enticements of land, housing,
and other concessions. In October, 1802, glassworkers from the Prachin
district of the Bohemian Forest arrived in Radautz to apply for jobs in the
glass factory that had not yet been established.
a new glass hut could take a long time. First, permission had to be
granted by the military authorities that had jurisdiction over the area.
Then there were negotiations concerning taxes, land allotments, wages, traveling
expenses, and feudal dues or exemptions. Land that was “given” came
with strings attached – it was heavily forested, and rocky, and had to be
cleared and made arable.
It had been decided that the new glassworks would initially employ eight plate glassmakers, one glazer, one kilnmason, four stokers, several curved glassmakers, and apprentices.
The State Domain Inspectorate negotiated with Sebastian Schuster to recruit lumbermen. At the time of the negotiations, they were promised housing and some land, for which they would pay a yearly tax. They were exempt from corvee (unpaid) labor and tithing to the Domain. Each household was responsible for providing a certain amount of lumber to the glassworks.
The applicants were
guaranteed jobs. Among them were:
would be recruited by Johann Weber.
One month later, in
November of 1802, a forester named Pöllmann described an appropriate location
along the “Fürsten Brook” for the construction of a glassworks. It
was decided in the spring of 1803 to establish a glassworks in the Fürsten
Valley, or Fürstenthal, the “Valley of the Prince.”
arrived first in April of 1803. The first order of business was to prepare
housing for themselves and the glassmakers, and their families, who would arrive
Meanwhile, back in
the Bohemian Forest, families prepared to journey far from their homeland.
If I may take liberties to assume that the journey to Fürstenthal was a similar
experience to that of other colonists (to the village of Bori), meager
possessions may have been loaded onto small carts drawn by dogs or a single
horse. Some settlers may have had only a hand-drawn wagon.
They walked the entire 1000 km journey, about 620 miles. The
roadways were paths. Thieves made travel dangerous. There was no time to rest. At every prescribed stop, they
had to report to a government official. Lastly, delegates
were probably sent to Solka for final negotiations with the Department of
Economic Affairs concerning the conditions of the settlement.
The mandatory travel permit dictated their exact route from the Bohemian forest, (present day Czech Republic, then through Poland, the Ukraine, and Romania. They knew the names of the towns and villages by their German names. Borders have changed, and in some cases, so have the names.
What did they find
when they arrived to the new site of Fürstenthal? In the words of a later
generation: A charming, idyllically peaceful place, richly endowed by natural
beauty and pure exquisitely fragrant mountain air. A
picturesquely narrowing mountain valley far removed from the world. The
entire valley is about 10 km (6 miles) long, dominated by a high ridge, 1000
meters (over 3000 feet) high. The Fürstenthal forest, shimmering green,
slumbering softly, rustling gently.
Once they arrived,
they had to clear the dense forest to make paths, homes, and garden space.
Paths were made through the forest by women and children, through gnarled
roots and hard rocks.
By 1808, in five
short years, there were now 48 German Bohemian households. The names
Bauer, Blaschi, Dombrowski, Fischer, Haas, Pöllmann, Schlehuber, Stadler,
Stöhr, and Straub were added to the list of inhabitants.
some of the employees of the Karlsberg glasshut had a dispute with the Economic
Office, left Karlsberg, and relocated in Fürstenthal. More settlers
with the familiar names from the Bohemian Forest’s Prachin district arrived in
Fürstenthal – Aschenbrenner, Bauer, Kuffner, Gaschler, Müller, Straub, and
By 1822, the Fürstenthal
glassworks was thriving. One source listed 13 glassmakers, 2 glazers, 3
stokers, a stamping mill operator and sandwasher, glass cutter, shop carpenter,
and a binder, and assorted other craftsmen.
A school had
been established, teachers hired, and the town also had an inn.
of colonists arrived between 1835 and 1850.
What was life
like for these rugged pioneers?
with 8 or more children were common. Consider this in light of the fact
that their houses were probably small, with a corridor linking a kitchen to a
living room. Cooking was probably done in a cast iron kettle suspended
from a tripod in the kitchen hearth. A baking oven might have been located
outside the house, as it was in the Bohemian Forest.
The stable would
have been located under the same roof as the living quarters so that it could be
reached easily from the house during heavy snows. Feed for the animals
would be stored in the attic space over the stable and living quarters.
heavy snows, winter could begin early. As early as September, the forest
can be thickly covered with snow. Bitter winter begins in November and
ends in April.
Many of the Fürstenthal
men were forest workers, all year. They weren’t home much – the job
site might be miles from home for weeks at a time.
A descendant of
a woodcutter described to me how the forests were harvested. Notches were
cut into the bases of the trees, from the bottom of the mountain, up to
the top of the mountain. The highest trees were cut down, falling on the
trees below, causing those to snap, and the trees cascaded down the mountain
like falling dominoes. The crash could be heard back in Fürstenthal,
dragged as much as 2 cords of wood 1,000-2,000 meters – as much as a mile - on
a heavy wooden sled down to the valley floor. Paths had to be cut through
the forest, and then laid with wooden crossbeams. Small bridges had to be
erected over steep places, and the pullers had to move quickly to avoid being
run over and crushed by their own sleds. Snowfalls in winter made it even
more treacherous. Logging accidents were common.
possibility of the early death of their parents, children were trained to be
ready to assume adult responsibilities by age 17-18. The boys may have
apprenticed to learn a trade, including working in the forests and glass hut;
the girls learned to run the household with all its attendant chores.
Potash was a
necessary ingredient to make glass. Potash comes from burning the beech
wood. I’ve been told that standing trees were hollowed, and burned from
the inside out. The family name Aschenbrenner means “ash burner.”
stayed in town to work, but had to endure the heat of furnaces that reached
about 1,500 degrees – hot enough to melt the sand and potash together.
The circular furnace would be in the center of the glasshut. There would
be one man and one boy (the apprentice) at each of several compartments, each
compartment containing melted metals for a different color. Available ores
provided the colors for brilliant reds, blues, purples, emerald greens,
would dip a 4 ft. pipe into the molten glass, and roll it against a paddle or
metal plate to shape it. Standing next to the furnace, constantly
reheating, rolling, and blowing the glass, he would control the form and
thickness. Simple hand tools, such as shears and tongs refined the form.
Some glass pieces were blown into a mould of beech wood, held by an apprentice.
Molten glass trailed across the surface of the product formed stems, handles, or
Glass could be
finished by cutting, polishing, gilding, and painting. Men and children
skillfully decorated the glass household objects with flowers, butterflies, and
scrollwork in the craftsman’s cottage. Colors were baked into the glass
in a small oven in the cottage, while the mother prepared meals in the same
As in Bohemia, the
Church was a strong presence, even though they didn’t have a “church”
until the first chapel was constructed in 1820. The first settlers were
Catholic. A cleric traveled between 20 and 30 km to conduct services.
They didn’t have a local chaplain until 1844.
Bohemians felt a piety toward the wild lands and immense forests that surrounded
them. Their identity had always been more influenced by the romanticism of
the Bohemian Forest, than by the influences of the capital cities of Prague or
Vienna. How could our ancestors, now in the Carpathian forests of
Bukovina, have felt otherwise?
took care of their own. They established independent cattle and life
insurance to see them through tough times. When the glassworks changed
management, and the new owner didn’t honor the agreed upon wages set by the
Czernowitz State Domain Inspectorate, the glassworkers staged the first
organized strike in Bukovina. Government officials were called in, and as
a result, they were granted higher salaries and additional benefits.
There was a town
But times were
still difficult. The population was growing in this small valley, beyond
its ability to sustain its needs. As in the Bohemian Forest,
families were large. Fürstenthal was one of the most prolific
villages in Bukovina. Nearby forests had been cleared, and the job
sites for the woodcutters were further and further from home, sometimes 30-40 km
(25 miles) away. They subsisted on mamaliga made from cornmeal, and lived
in makeshift log cabins, for weeks or months at a time.
In 1866, a
cholera epidemic claimed 1/10 of the population.
exportable glass didn’t materialize. Transportation was poor, and the
glasshut wasn’t able to show a profit. When it burned to the ground in
1889, it was never rebuilt. A sawmill had opened in 1877. Some
unemployed glassmakers found jobs there; others turned to lumbering and
forestry, working twice as hard for meager wages. In Fürthenthal,
80% of the inhabitants derived their living from the forest. Others became
craftsmen. Most were skilled woodcarvers, but the lack of markets meant
they couldn’t sell anything. Land was scarce – at one point, the same
space that had accommodated the original 48 families now had to support 450
families. The average family had about ½ hectare, or a little more than
one acre, where they grew potatoes, corn, wheat, barley, and rye. Most
were undernourished. The men were described as stooped from
hard work; the women worn out and shriveled, but also cheerful. Some
families started looking abroad for opportunities in North and South America.
system, at first a community enterprise, was later greatly affected by the
political climate. The first classroom was most likely in a private home.
A school was built between 1818 and 1820, and the first teacher was paid by the
community and supervised by the Church. In 1820, 36 of the 72 school aged
children attended school. With the cession of Bukovina to the Kingdom of
Romania after World War I, Romanian became the official language, affecting both
education and civil service. Those not able to pass the language exams were
removed from their positions. As the population grew, so did the school.
Eventually, the one room schoolhouse was expanded to 6 rooms, with 5 teachers
and a headmaster. By 1940, this village of German Bohemians, did not have
a German teacher. The Romanian elementary school teachers downplayed the
German language and culture. A Hungarian priest gave religious instruction
in German and was supportive toward the continuance of their German culture.
a village where time had seemed to stand still. It was off the beaten
path. For many decades, they were quite isolated from influences of the
outside world. The people had retained their dialect and old customs.
You wouldn’t believe that they were wedged in between a Romanian population.
In its later years, other than 2 Jewish entrepreneurs, the Romanian teachers,
and a forester, the population remained purely German Bohemian. The
families had intermarried with each other for generations. They had lived
together in the Bohemian Forest, and lived together in Bukovina.
Eventually , some of their descendants would emigrate to North or South America,
and again, live together as a group.
We think of them
as the Bukovina Germans. But more specifically, they remained, in spirit,
the people of the Bohemian Forest. They had brought with them and
maintained their culture: their faith, their traditions, their language,
those same traditions and values they brought to Ellis can be traced back to the
Bohemian Forest. I located some “core values” or characteristics
attributed to the German Bohemians, and will mention just a few. Do any of
these sound familiar?
devotion to spiritual life was at the core of German Bohemian culture. The
church was the foundation of community life. Individuals are expected to have an
inner humility in the face of the Holy Spirit.
to nature or to the wilderness – God is found in nature as easily as in a
cathedral. Church songs celebrate the spirit of the forest itself, and
invoke the listener’s awe in this creation. The cycles of seasons are
Fun loving – Work
is not the end in itself. It is the way one gains the security and comfort
to have a good time. Music, dancing, beer, and celebrating are important.
Practical jokes have a ritual importance.
People often did not know an individual’s Christened name. The same names were
repeated in families. One author said that “The 30 families always
intermarry with each other, certain names recur to the point of boredom.
The situation is made even more difficult in that the choice of baptismal names
is greatly limited.”
– Religious holidays were a time to stop working and celebrate together.
The local band paraded people through town. Traditional weddings lasted
for 3 to 5 days, and the entire village was invited. Not only did everyone
bring gifts, they also pledged themselves to help the marriage survive.
important as personal decoration, as costume, and as home decoration.
Music – every
town had a band. Church music was important. Men prided themselves
on their ability to sing beautifully and spontaneously.
– the “brotherhood” – there are insiders and there are outsiders.
Once you are in the brotherhood, more is expected of you. And far more is
given. Men strive to make 2 or 3 close friends who last for life, and
don’t much care to open up to anyone else.
They re-use everything possible. They conserve traditions.
They keep careful mental and written notes.
– the German Bohemians act out of moral convictions that are strongly shaped
by the community ethic, not out of individual whim - each person is held
accountable to community standards by all the others.
Children serve parents and family – almost entirely dependent on the parents, they also know the importance of their contributions.
children were expected to develop an inner discipline and hold to it.
Strict honesty – people keep their word, though sincerity is often tested by practical jokes.
A sense of privacy
– the focus is on family life; emotions are often repressed.
Hard work –
people felt better if they worked hard, and often had no alternative – the
family was productive, disciplined, moral, and solvent.
Women build the
community fabric – visiting each other and caring for their neighbor’s
needs, without which the community would disintegrate – there were quilting
bees and feather–stripping bees, at which local news, gossip, and tradition
Order – things
have their proper place.
Cleanliness – a
symbol of having one’s life in order.
There’s a little
village in Romania, called Voivodeasa , just north and east of the Carpathian
Mountains. This year, 2003, marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of
that village. The inhabitants may not observe the occasion, because it
means little to them. They are Romanians, and most likely, do not share in
its historical significance. In 1803, Voivodeasa was founded, not by
the Romanians, but by a small band of German Bohemian glassmakers and forest
The name Fürstenthal has disappeared from the map, but it lives on in the hearts and spirits, in the traditions, the values, the foods, the religious customs, even in the very names of its descendants, who are scattered in all directions from Bukovina, even to Ellis, Kansas. Fürstenthal will not be forgotten. Fürstenthal descendants in Germany have annually gathered for a reunion these past 26 years. And today we gather here to commemorate and celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of Fürstenthal, in the Valley of the Prince.
Border People: The Böhmisch in America, by Ken Meter and Robert Paulson
The Bori Story by Maria Lang Becker, Larry R. Jensen, Sophie A. Welisch
Bukowina Irma Bornemann et Paula Tiefenthaler
“Bukovina Germans in Lewis County, Washington,” by Mary Lee Rose
Bukovina Villages/Towns/Cities and Their Germans by Sophie A. Welisch
The Emigration of Bucovina-Germans to the United States of America by Ruth Maria Kotzian
Economic Realities of our Bukovina Forebears in the Austrian Period (1775-1918)” by Dr. Sophie A. Welisch
Fürstenthal A German Bohemian Community in Bukovina, Josef Wild, ed., translated by Sophie A. Welisch
German Bohemians in Kansas by Oren Windholz
“Glass of Bohemia”
“History of the Settlement of Karlsberg” by Erich Prokopowitsch, trans. By Dr. Sophie Welisch
Museum Für Sächsische Volkskunst
“My Path to Genealogy” by Michael Augustin, The Bukovina Society of the Americas Newsletter, March, 2003
Rand McNally Goode’s World Atlas
““Rise and Fall of the Mining Industry The Settlement of German Population Groups in Bukovina II” by Claus Stephani, trans. By Dr. Sophie A. Welisch
“Some Glass Facts”