Sunday, January 16, 2011

From the Czar's America

He was buried 100 years ago in Mountain View Cemetery on the north side of Longmont, Colorado.   But there is no tombstone.  No marker.  Nothing that tells us anything about this German-Russian immigrant who escaped the hard life of Russia for new opportunities in America.

Conrad Luke Eckerdt
Undated photograph
This man, Conrad Eckerdt, was born July 12, 1858 in the German colonies along the eastern “wiesenseite”  (meadow side) of the Volga River.  We don't know exactly where he was born, but the discharge documents from his service in the Russian Army listed the village of "Splavnukha" as home.  The Germans living there called the colony “Huck.”  Conrad's parents were listed as Lewis (Luke) Eckerdt and Lizzie Liesmann, and he had at least one brother, Philip. 

The German colonists were largely a segregated group, preferring to remain unto themselves; however, the changing requirements of the Czar's rule discontinued the exemption from military service that German colonists had long enjoyed.  So it was in 1880 that Conrad Eckerdt entered the Russian military.  He was 22 years old and was described by one of his acquaintances as a "good-sized" man, and he would serve five years in the Czar's army. 

Conrad Eckerdt
Army discharge document
On March 6, 1885, Private Eckerdt, who had worked as a "Staff Helper" in the 96th Reserve Battalion, was discharged to the army reserve.  He returned to Schwed, and that's probably where he met Maria Dorotea Wilhelm.  There are no documents listing a date of marriage for the Eckerdts, but they were supposedly married by the Lutheran pastor from nearby Rosenheim parish sometime between 1885 and 1890.  Their first child, Alexander Eckerdt, was born on October 1, 1890.  

Some years later, Eckerdt was described by acquaintance Fred Gorr as a "pretty good carpenter," so he may have pursued that kind of work upon his return to Schwed.  However, Gorr also remembered that at some point, Conrad Eckerdt worked at a flour mill for an uncle named Kriegel.  

In January of 1892, Conrad and Maria had their second child -- Dora.  There are no documents to substantiate it, but family hearsay indicates that Maria Dorotea died giving birth to her daughter.

So Conrad was left to raise his two young children alone.  But at some point between 1892 and 1900, he remarried.  His new bride was the widow Helena (Lena) Neuwirth, who also had a son, Henry.  Conrad and Lena remained in Schwed for the next few years before packing up and leaving Russia in early 1905, headed for America.  They made their way to Bremen, Germany – probably by train – and then sailed from Bremen on March 29, 1905, destined for the United States.

There are lingering family stories that some of the colonists from Schwed -- like so many immigrants at the turn of the 20th century -- were not allowed to enter the United States because of “pink eye,” but that was not the case for the Eckerdts. 

They arrived in Galveston, Texas, on April 20th aboard a ship of the “Missler” line.  Arrival documents indicated that their destination was Denver and that  “Dorothea Schneider, 18,” accompanied the family.  She was listed as a niece to Conrad Eckerdt.

Peter & Dora Miller
Wedding photograph
March 21, 1909
Marie (Miller) Derrick, a granddaughter to Conrad Eckerdt, remembered being told that the family was met in Galveston by an unnamed uncle, who escorted them to Longmont, Colorado.  It was there that Conrad would would find work in the sugar beet fields of Boulder County.   And it was also where young Dora Eckerdt would meet another “Volga Deutsch” immigrant, Peter Miller.  They married on March 21, 1909.  He was 23 years old.  She was 21. 

According to the Longmont Call newspaper, Pete and Dora were married at the Longmont City Hall, which served as the temporary worship site for the Evangelical Peace Lutheran congregation organized in 1907 under the leadership of Rev. Wm. I. Busch.  It was Pastor Busch who married the couple.  Pete and Dora's first child, Marie, was born in December of 1909, and they soon moved to Chicago, Illinois.

Alex & Marian Eckerdt
2006 - Au Gres, Michigan
Conrad and Lena Eckerdt remained in Longmont, however.  Just two years after his daughter had married, Conrad Eckerdt, who suffered from diabetes, succumbed to heart disease and died.  It was December 26, 1911.

His obituary in the Longmont Ledger of December 29,1911, said “Mr. Eckerdt was a Russian by birth.  He was not feeling well and was going to the depot to take a train for Denver to see if he could get relief, when he was taken down.  Friends took him in a carriage to go to his home, but he died on the way.”

Conrad Eckerdt was just 52 years old when he died.

His widow, Lena, would eventually move east, settling in Michigan., where numerous Eckerdt and Neuwirth descendants continue to live.  At right are Alex Eckerdt, Jr. and his wife Marian, whom we had the great pleasure of meeting during a visit to Michigan in the fall of 2006.  Alex is a grandson of Conrad Eckerdt.