Every other year, my grandfather’s family gathers for a four generation family reunion over the Memorial Day weekend. The event alternates between the larger metropolitan area of Kansas City and the old family farmstead out in Western Kansas. This year the reunion was in Western Kansas.
The area where my grandparents and parents grew up is called the “German Capital of Kansas” and has a rich heritage of largely Volga Germans. At the invitation of Catherine the Great, the German-born leader of Russia, Volga Germans immigrated to the Volga River region of Russia in the late 1700s after the Seven Years War. Catherine the Great promised them freedom of religion, freedom from military conscription, free land, and an exemption from taxation. They settled in villages on the eastside of the Volga River, working hard to build their new community.
In 1874, the reigning leader of Russia began to retract the privileges that Catherine the Great had offered the Volga Germans. In 1875 they sent a scouting party of five men to America to explore the climate, soil, and living conditions to continue their agricultural lifestyle elsewhere. They found the Kansas plains to be a good fit and the Volga Germans began a mass exodus from Russia to America. Nearly 150 years later, the culture, language, food, and heritage continues to thrive in the “German Capital of Kansas.”
The image below is a photo of the Volga German Haus, a replica of the traditional, one-room limestone home that the Volga German immigrants built when they first arrived in Western Kansas.
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