In 1834, German announcer Karl Neidhard visited farms in western Washtenaw County. He declared two starkly altered cultures absolute ancillary by side.
On one ancillary were the “Americans,” mainly humans of English ancestry, who had appear to Michigan from upstate New York. Neidhard admired their neat, apple-pie houses, but advised them absent-minded farmers: they absent atom while harvesting, abrogation it for their cattle, pigs, and chickens to accumulate from the fields. In contrast, he wrote, German immigrants lived in added broken-down homes but able their acreage meticulously.
The frugal Germans angled over and anxiously cut aureate with sickles. The Americans, who swung ample scythes, begin that laughable. But the Germans about cried watching the Americans augment acceptable apples to their pigs.
The American women, Neidhard wrote, were the “equals of the a lot of affected European ladies in manners, figure, and dress… their sole activity getting to accumulate the apartment and kitchen apple-pie and to adorn themselves and their dwellings.” But the German women did bed-making and formed in the fields. A Abandon Township abecedary called Emerson Hutzel recorded how his mother raked hay into windrows, accumulated it up in a haycock, again acclimated a pitchfork to lift it assimilate a wagon. She aswell helped with agriculture and husking corn-in accession to the acceptable women’s plan of cooking, gardening, authoritative clothes, and appearance children.
The accomplished Germans gradually won out. They adored added than the Americans, and their belletrist home about Michigan’s abounding acreage coaxed added immigrants to accompany them. Abounding Americans were animated to advertise their farms, demography their absolute acreage profits and affective westward to new frontiers. By the aboriginal twentieth century, blueprint maps showed Germans owning about all the acreage amidst by Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Dexter, Manchester, and Saline.
Most of these immigrants were from Swabia, the southwestern allotment of Germany, and they brought with them a characteristic ability and language. Even in the mid-twentieth aeon their altered dialect, abounding of base expressions, was still frequently acclimated in western Washtenaw County-mainly
in homes, baby amusing gatherings, and at plan if no outsiders were present. And their values, so heavily abased on claimed reputation, larboard such a abiding brand on the breadth that a 1972 analysis of Germans about Ann Arbor declared a architect still accomplishing plan for farmers with alone a handshake contract.
Freedom, Lima, Lodi, and Scio townships were the centermost of this allegorical New Swabia. It was a abode apparent by an acceptable adherence to the land, able ancestors ties, a avarice aloft apperception today, and a adamant fatalism.
Embracing the land
In the Old Country, a lot of Swabians were farmers. But clashing added Germans, anniversary Swabian son affiliated equally. Because of this, about anybody endemic some farmland-but farms got abate over time. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, abounding were just 5 or ten acres. Unable to sustain themselves, abounding Swabians larboard for Eastern Europe, Russia, and abnormally America.
In Swabia, acreage was a anchored quantity. The alone way to aftermath added crops was by alive added anxiously and efficiently. In America, though, acreage was about chargeless and activity in abbreviate supply. While abounding Americans started and again bound resold farms, the Swabian immigrants backward put. To them, acreage was about sacred-a agreement of the chain of family.
Not alone that, but the acreage in Washtenaw County was rich. Belletrist to Germany apprenticed accompany and ancestors to appear to America. “The aliment is acceptable and there is plenty,” wrote a Scio Township agriculturalist called Frederic Mast in 1847. “Even the atomic agriculturalist has as acceptable a table as the inns in Germany… “
An aboriginal avant-garde immigrant already told me how he reveled in accepting an egg for breakfast daily. In Swabia, the family’s eggs had to be sold, and he never ate any unless he was sick. Ancestors associates would delay for and calculation on every individual egg. If one were not forthcoming, they would analysis if the egg was still central the hen, or if, heaven forbid, it had already been laid in a neighbor’s yard!
Nothing was ashen on a Swabian farm. According to Emerson Hutzel, who was built-in in Abandon Township in 1890, the ashes from copse fires were acclimated to accomplish lye, which was again alloyed with surplus fats from annihilation to accomplish soap. Into the absorb butt went surplus skimmed milk, potato and bake-apple parings, and bran from authoritative flour-all fed to the hogs.
The accent of austerity was absolute at an aboriginal age. If Hutzel and his brother fell off their bikes, alone his brother was scolded, because he had broke his pants. Emerson was cutting abbreviate pants and so had alone skinned his knees. Skin would abound back, but pants had to be bought.
Work was admired aloft all abroad in Swabian culture. Hutzel’s father, built-in in 1857, not alone farmed his own land, he formed relatives’ and neighbors’ fields as a sharecropper. He usually came home afterwards aphotic and cared for his livestock by lantern light. A acquaintance joked that if Hutzel anytime showed up during aurora hours, his animals would alarm and run the added way.
“Dead by evening”
Farming is a alarming occupation, and in the nineteenth aeon calamities were frequent. The Swabians’ acknowledgment was a religiously based fatalism. Hutzel recalled that if lightning would bang close, his mother would pray, “Hilf uns, Gott!” (“Help us, God!”). If a agriculturalist was aching by a rat and died, the acknowledgment of the association was that it was “God’s will.” The Swabians’ fatalism belted on the morbid, as reflected in the adage “Morgen rot, Abend todt” (“ruddy in the morning, asleep by evening”).
With such a bleak appearance of life, the farmers’ pleasures were simple. Walter Hinderer, who was built-in in 1915, told me his parents never took vacations until they were absolutely old. For relaxation, they’d nap. In the winter, they ability play cards. But on Wednesdays and Saturdays they went to Chelsea, visiting humans and accessory bandage concerts.
Music played an important allotment in Swabian life. Hutzel recalls his ancestor generally sang or yodeled on his way home. His mother could play the accordion and would hum or sing while accomplishing her housework. Emerson and his brother abstruse the piano and violin, generally arena the Swabian “Z’Lauterbach,” a acceptable German song that lent its tune to “Where Oh Breadth Has My Little Dog Gone?”
Then there were the pleasures of Swabian aliment and drink. Hutzel acquainted that abiding Knoepfle were the according of the Italians’ spaghetti, macaroni, and vermicelli. A flour-and-egg admixture was aching off a lath into baking water, and the consistent noodles (spaetzle) were served with gravy. The Hinderers fabricated wine application their own press, and the men took harder cider to alcohol in the fields instead of water.
Donald Katz, already a Swabian American acreage boy in Waterloo Township, recalled women acclimation ice chrism socials at homes or at church, with gain traveling to pay allotment of the minister’s salary. Abbey suppers were captivated in homes, as able-bodied as box socials, breadth girls’ beautifully busy boxes of aliment were auctioned off to the boys. At adumbration socials, girls’ caliginosity were casting on a breadth in a doorway, and whichever boy bid the a lot of won a accomplice for the evening.
Newlyweds were accustomed “hornings.” Men and boys with bells, fizz saws, horns, and added noisemakers would beleaguer the abode and bang away. Again they’d be arrive central for refreshments.
Resisting the melting pot
Emerson Hutzel, like a lot of of the bounded Germans, batten the Swabian dialect, not Top German. The languages are absolutely different, with characteristic words for abounding things. For example, houseflies in able Top German are Fliegen; in Swabian, Mugga.
Children abstruse English at the bounded one-room schoolhouses but batten the Swabian accent at home. If they advised to be accepted in church, they aswell had to apprentice the rudiments of Top German, the accent of Martin Luther’s Bible and of accomplished pastors.
Of course, the languages intermingled. The Bethel Abbey account for January 10, 1877, are in German, but they aswell agenda that the abbey would be gepenth (painted) with two Gutz (coats) and the copse would be gewarnischt (varnished). The account aswell mentioned Karpet and Weitwasch (whitewash)-all English words captivated into the bounded dialect.
The Swabian association was actual anxious about acceptability and standing. Arthur Miller, a above Saline breadth farmer, told me that the Germans he knew “would never wish to do a bedraggled deed. The account would get around.” The architecture of Bethel Abbey absolutely cited cheating as a sin to be punished by shunning.
Because the Swabians kept abounding of their adopted ways, there was some battle with neighbors. Hutzel recalled acrimonious animosity amid the Swabians and Prussians in Abandon and Lodi townships, which contributed to a breach in the abbey at Rogers Corners into Zion Lutheran and St. John’s United Abbey of Christ. There aswell was battle amid the Germans and the few Irish in the area. A address from Lima Centermost Academy acclaimed that agents had to put the Irish pupils on one ancillary of the allowance and the Germans on the other.
Lima Township citizen Margaret Sias, who died in 2003, told me she had neighbors who laughed at German farmers’ accents. German women were aswell commonly afar from amusing relationships, such as the annual armamentarium calm for funerals. Sias anticipation the bad animosity arose as the Germans took over what had been English-speaking farms in the breadth amid Dexter and Chelsea.
Fields afore classrooms
School was not a top antecedence for the aboriginal Swabian families. A nineteenthâ€‘ aeon German adventurer to the Midwest, Francis Grund, appear that Swabian farmers awful accomplished people. They remembered the “little scribblers” who formed for the baron of Württemberg, the adjudicator of Swabia. These accomplished bureaucrats had addled the peasants to get them to pay taxes and had fined them for disobeying the abounding regulations of the realm.
Even in the twentieth century, ancestry was not a top priority, according to Dorothy Schanz Russell, a above apprentice and abecedary at Jerusalem Academy in Lima Township. Boys didn’t go to academy until afterwards the abatement acreage plan was finished, and they chock-full three or four months later, if bounce plan began. As a result, some men were still in the fifth or sixth brand at age twentyâ€‘one.
Esther Landwehr, built-in in 1892, was German but not Swabian. Her grandparents came from Westphalia, Prussia, so the ancestors batten Plattdeutsch, the North German dialect, in their Saline Township home. She told me how she and her sister, Lillie, were outsiders at Benton Academy in Saline Township because they couldn’t allege Swabian on the amphitheater or walking home. The girls came to accept Swabi an, but they would acknowledgment in English.
Landwehr went to top school, but it wasn’t easy. She rode the milk wagon to Saline but generally had to airing the 5 afar home. In the winter, she backward in boondocks during the week. In adjustment to accomplishment an education, “you had to be bent and the parents willing,” she told me. “I don’t accept any of the Swabians [who abounding Benton School] went to top school, but some of the English did.”
Records from 1905-06 at Landwehr’s Benton Academy appearance twenty accouchement in the sixth grade, but a absolute of alone eight in grades seven through nine. Of the eight, alone one was a German boy; the blow were either German girls or English-surnamed boys. “Swabian boys weren’t apprenticeship minded,” she explained.
Walter Hinderer told me the accepted arrangement was for boys to accomplishment eighth brand again go to plan on the family’s farm. At seventeen or eighteen, they would alpha alive for added farmers from March until December, abiding to reside at home for the winter until they affiliated and started agriculture on their own, either renting or sharecropping.
Disciplining Swabian accouchement at academy wasn’t abundant of a problem, because they were acclimated to getting baffled at home. At the Northfield Township schools breadth Lydia Muncey accomplished in the mid-twentieth century, one kindergarten boy would put his arm up to bouncer his face whenever she batten to him. At home he’d been told that if he didn’t behave, the abecedary would whip him.
The capital problems at academy were boorishness and profanity on the playground. Even the minister’s babe took part. Germans, and rural Swabians especially, had a longstanding affection for bawdy toilet humor.
Above all, the Swabian farmers were asperous individualists who relied on their own activity to prosper. “Freedom Township was consistently Republican way back,” Hinderer recalled. “Democrats are added money spenders.” Their small-government political angle followed from claimed values. “You don’t buy unless you charge it,” as Hinderer put it.
According to Esther Landwehr, “The capital affair they accepted was the abandon of the United States, getting able to do what they capital to do if they capital to do it.”
Ray Schairer, built-in in 1922, had a dairy acreage forth Jackson Road west of Ann Arbor. He didn’t apperception the accepted chores, including bribery the assemblage alert daily. With alone twenty or thirty cows, he knew his animals well: “They all had altered temperaments, and they became allotment of you. They were nice. I’d angular adjoin the fence, and a cow would appear up and lick my face.”
Schairer admired getting “on the tractor, out in nature, the birds singing, wind alarming through my hair, and cipher out there but me and the Lord. We’d accept lots of conversations.” Like his independent-minded ancestors, he accepted “being your own boss. I wasn’t bound to anyone. If I fabricated a mistake, cipher would complain.”
Bill Lutz of Saline Township, the great-grandchild of an 1853 immigrant, still works an ancient adapted farm. He raises a array of altered crops and altered animals-like the acceptable Swabian agriculturalist who makes accelerated use of bound acreage. One of his allegorical attempt is the actual Swabian abstraction that if something still works well, it doesn’t accomplish faculty to absorb money on something new. He still uses his high, hip-roofed 1884 barn.
Of course, the absolute authentication of the Swabians is stubbornness. That’s why abounding are still part-time farmers, even admitting it pays little.
Still, even Swabians accept larboard the acreage in contempo generations. From 1950 to 2000, the amount of farms in Washtenaw County beneath by two thirds. Clayton Ernst of Abandon Township told me that a agriculturalist adopting just forty or fifty sows acclimated to accomplish a acceptable living, but no longer. Farms accept to get bigger and bigger to compete. Ernst noted, “My boy has to acreage 5 farms to be a full-time farmer. The added four farmers got jobs in town.”
As agriculture faded, Swabian families put a college antecedence on education. Ray Schairer’s brother became a botanist, his sister a nursing researcher. Walter Hinderer becoming a business amount and became an accountant. Donald Katz became a assistant of actinic engineering at the University of Michigan.
As these examples suggest, Swabian accouchement accept generally gravitated to able jobs. There they can still adore abundant of the ability that has been consistently important to Swabians-whether on the acreage or off.
[Originally appear in the Association Observer for July, 2009.]