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By Reinhold Denke

Starting with my Grandparents, Martin Denke was born in Germany. I do not know the date of his birth or the town he was born in. Martin was married several times. It seems to me there was a Maria, and Martha, but my Father’s Mother’s name was Rosalia. I do not know their dates of birth or death.

The Martin Denke family moved from Denzig Germany 1 (SEE WEBMASTER’S NOTE BELOW) to Tabulde Simferople Russia, they settled in the Crimea in southern Russia, the move was made about 1867, they were Farmers and devoted Christians of the Catholic faith. There was a large family being Brothers, Sisters, half Brothers, & half Sisters, I think there were 13 all together but they did not all live. They were common people probably of the poorer class.

The only one I knew was John born December 27 1864, died April 14 1931, he was one of the oldest. I heard something about an Andrew, Martin, Jackob, there also were Sisters that I do not know the names of, August Denke born at Karlsnuke Russia, November 6 1879, Died July 20 1943, at home near Creighton S.D, he was married to Rosina Schuler November 2 1903. Elizabeth was born September 4 1887 and died February 24 1949 - she was August’s Sister.

Martin Denke died when August & Elizabeth were still young, Rosalia Denke had some kind of disease and could not work sometime before Grandpa died, she could not keep the younger children. August & Elizabeth were taken by Gottlieb and Katharina Gamper, they lived in a town called Wasserreich in Crimea, South Russia, away from the rest of the family. I think this couple had children of their own and were of Lutheran faith, This making it hard to get the children to their Church, so they went to Rosalia Denke to see if they could also take these two children to their church Rosalia gave them the right to do so because she could not support them.

The Foster Parents that raised August must have been devoted Christians because he was always prominent in his church. He helped build the first Lutheran Church in the new community, and also could take over the pulpit when there was no Pastor. August Denke also was a very good tenor singer.

My Mothers Side of the family, the Schuler family, Fredrick Schuler married Elizabeth Wiedenmeyer, I do not know where they were born either, their birthdays or when Grand Mother died, or when they were married.

Their children’s names are, Christina, Rosina, Katreina, George, Henry, Louisa, Michael, Magdalena, Fredrich, & another Fredrich, as the first one had died, the last Fredrich was not born until after Grandpas death. They were of Lutheran denomination.

Grandpa Fredrich Schuler froze to death in the hard winter of 1893 or 1894, he was not found until the snow melted in the Spring of 1894. After Grandpas death the older children had to go find jobs at whatever they could do or find, to help support the younger children in the family. I think Grandma Schuler as a widow did a good Job of schooling and getting the children to Confirmation Instruction in their Lutheran faith. My Mother also had learned to sing all kinds of Christian hymns. Mother was also a good forward pusher for her church helping where she could, and trying to keep the church neat and clean. Mother helped us a lot with our Confirmation Instruction, and making sure we got there on time. She was a hard worker and also the saving type. Nothing went to waste that was within her power.

Roslna Schuler was born July 13, 1880 and died February 18 1959 at a Rapid City Hospital, Rapid City, South Dakota. August Denke was born in Karlanuke, Crimea, South Russia, November 6 1879. He died July 20 1943, at Creighton, South Dakota.

Rosina Schuler was born in Karlsnuke, Crimea, South Russia on July 13 1880. She died February 18, 1959 at Rapid City, South Dakota.

August Denke and Rosina Schuler met and were married in the fall of 1903. They started with almost nothing keeping house and farming for themselves. The next year their first baby was born  - a girl, July 26 1904. One year eight months later a helper this time a boy, March 18 1906.

In the year of 1905, August had to go stand guard along the railroad as the Czar was traveling from Moscow to some place in south Russia. While on guard duty their four horses were stolen three they never found one mare was with foal and did not lead well either, so the thieves cut the rope off, as with her pulling back they could make no time traveling, this mare came back home and had a real nice colt.

Soon after this a party was planning to come to the United States, August had very little money so they decided to have a sale of what property they had, and see if they could get enough money to come along, Their stuff did not sell very well until they got to the horses, which sold real well giving the Denkes enough Money for their trip.




Mr. & Mrs. August Denke and the two small children left Crimea south Russia in October 1907  from a town known as Simferopole. Two other families came along  -  George Schulers, a distant Cousin of Mrs. Denke and a sister also of Mrs Denke – the August Wiedenmeyer family.

From Simferople they were sent to Germany for health examinatians. This took three days. By this time their ship had left, so they had to come on a freighter named "WILLHEAD". This was a slow traveler  - they spent 17-19 days on the Ocean, traveling from Bremen, Germany to Baltimore, Maryland. When they landed in Baltimore, they stayed a couple of days for rest and more health examinations.

From Baltimore they went by train to Chicago. Here a man took them to a hotel in a nifty buggy that had a mirror at the front end. As they were traveling, they thought more people were further ahead but soon found out they were seeing themselves in a mirror. They stayed in Chicago a few days and then left by train for Omaha, Nebraska. Here they changed trains and came to Wolsey South Dakota. Here they had to change trains again.

 The Weidenmeyer and Schuler families went to Roscoe, South Dakota to their relatives. The August Denke family went by Train to Pierre and then on to Philip, South Dakota. This being the end of the railroad at that time, they had to go by wagon the rest of the way to stay with half-brother of August’s – namely John Denke, who had come one year before.  It was almost winter by the time they got here so they spent their first winter with John Denke’s family, this is where Reinhold, their first born in America was born February 11 1908.

By spring, August had gotten a homestead south east of Creighton, South Dakota. The first thing he did was build a sod house so the family could live with him. This “Soddy” was partly dug in a hill and sod was carefully laid on top of each other to form walls. The roof was formed with poles, tree branches, backbrush, and dirt shoveled on top. The dirt held the backbrush down, even though the rain went through the roof. The only place that was dry enough to keep valuable paper in was a box under the table, as it had an oilcloth that shed water.

As the little money the Denkes had was now all gone August had to borrow a team of horses to plow the sod for the sod house and to plow his five acres of ground as requirements were for the Homesteaders. This was planted with corn and melons. The planting was done with a sharp stick to make holes in the sod to put the seed in then tramp it shut.

August also made a dugout in the side of a hill with the same kind of roof as the house to act as a barn. It was larger then the house.

During the winter months he hauled hard sandstones to build a house and barn. The stones were laid carefully on top of each other with mud mixed with hay packed in so there were no holes left. The next row of stones was put on while the mud was still wet. Wherever big stones were used that went all the way through the wall they would frost over on the inside of the house.  

Reinhold Denke standing in front of the stone barn built by August Denke. Reinhold is pointing at approximately the spot where the first sod house was built into the hill

The stone house still stands on the place, it was later used for a chicken house. One of the stone barns is also standing being used for grain and truck storage.

These stone buildings also were built with dirt roofs at one time, only to be changed later. A well in the creek about 14 feet deep was dug and rocked up. It was dug with a spade and shovel. It is now covered up but the stone wall is still standing in the ground.  

In front of Reinhold, on the ground, you can see the circular imprint of a well that was dug by hand and rocked up.

Times were very hard as they did not have any money. August picked up little jobs here and there in the neighborhood, he left his family in the spring and went to the eastern part of the state to work.

The first fall when he came home he bought a team of horses, a cow, and a wagon that he had to fix the wheels of before it was useable. Some of the neighbors gave them chickens.

Their first years meant a lot of hard work - hauling stones for buildings, and  planting corn by hand with a sharp stick to put the seeds in the ground. They had little to eat, meat was served only about once a week and that being mostly jack rabbits, it was hard to grow much of a garden because of the open range and big herds of ranch cattle getting it.

During the fall, August would haul up enough wood to burn so the family could stay warm during the cold winter, the winters were much colder those days then now. They also had a lot more snow.

In 1911 August seeded some wheat. It got so dry it didn't sprout until September that same year. There was no green grass that summer. From 1913 on the years got better, times weren't so hard. People had a little more money and could buy things they needed real badly. Mr. Denke worked every summer from 1908 until 1913 mostly in the eastern part of the state.

First their mail came to Grindstone from there it went to the Goettsch place, then Laffe O’Neal's, then Creighton where Mr. Lewis also had a small store. From there it passed on to John Clarin, Halver Jorgensen, Paul Lurz, Paul Goldhammer, and now Goldie Eisenbraun. The first year’s mail only came about twice a week, now we get mail every day except Sunday.

In the early years it was not safe to travel at night because of wolves and coyotes. There were also a lot more rattlesnakes, and they would move from water holes to higher ground and back to water.

The men had to get wood and posts from the Cheyenne River breaks. This was mostly ceder wood on Goverment land and only dry wood could be taken. Usually several men would go together to get wood going one day and come home the next. It took a lot of time to cut it and snake it out. Some times they could only haul part of a load out of the breaks at a time. There were no roads at that time and they didn’t have fast cutting chain saws.

I think in 1914 or 1915 my folks bought a house that was three fourths of a mile away. It was moved just east of the stone house.

The men from the newly formed congregation were going to help move the house to our place. They got it all jacked up and loaded on wagons, but when they hitched their horses to try to pull it forward, their horses would not pull together as some were fast starting and others were slow.

August had to hire Mr. Prichert to move the house. It took him about two months with two four horse teams and two sets of blocker tackers. He got it started all right as it was on a hill, but it went only about twelve rods, when one wagon got on soft ground and sank in so deep the horses could not pull it. This was in the year of 1915 - it rained so much that year there semed to be no bottom.

Mr. Prichert then jacked all four wagons up and put planks under the wagon wheels and let it sit there until the ground was frozen enough to carry the load. The block and tackel had two pullies on one side and three on the other with about four hundred feet of one and one quarter inch rope, so the horses had to be driven a long ways to make the house come about seventy five feet. Heavy stakes had to be driven for one end of the block en tackel to fasten to, about every eighty or ninety feet. Dad had dug a small basement where the house had to be moved over, I think Emil was the only one born in this house. This house was built onto later, first 14 x 14 with no upstairs and later 16 x 16 with an upstairs as it is now. This house is still on the place now.  

Built-in cabinet in the house on the North wall of the kitchen.

A big barn that was built is also still on the place. This barn has room for fourteen horses that were used for farming before we farmed with tractors. It was quite a chore to take care of that many horses each morning and evening. This big barn also housed twenty six milk cows, milking cows was our chore every morning before going to school, and also in the evening after school.  

Picture of the farm taken from the Southwest. The stone barn is in the forefront, with a larger barn behind it. Over the hill, you can see the top of the house that was moved and then later expanded.

 We milked a lot of cows as this seemed to be the best paying hour a family can put in on the farm. It also was the surest living, and still is today.

 The August Denkes had eight living children. From oldest to youngest they are:

Anna now Mrs Ted Heinrich born July 26, 1904

Henry born March 18, 1906 died May 7, 1965

Reinhold born February 11, 1908

Robert A. born February 22, 1910

John born October 11, 1911

Albert born September 17, 1913

Bergetta C. now Mrs. Otto Geigle born August 21 1915

Emil E. born July 25 1917

 Webmaster’s notes:

 1. Denzig, Germany should not to be confused with Danzig. Although both towns are now in Poland, Danzig is now Gdansk and was already a quite large city by the time of Martin Denke’s birth. Denzig, on the other hand was a very small town in the province of Pommern, Germany. It is now known as Debsko (according to one source, although it is too small to appear on my Polish road map) and is currently in Poland. It is 60 km in the east of Stargard (today Szczecinsky) and about 120 km in the south of Köslin (today Koszalin). It is very close to the Polish town Kalisz Pomorski, formerly Callies.

It seems clear to me from combining the stories of Brigetta (O'dell) Schott (who is a descendant of Martin Denke’s twin brother, Martha) that the birth place of Martin and Martha Denke was Denzig, and not Danzig. This is not to say that no Denkes ever lived in Danzig. In fact, Gay Logan refers to documents in her book that show that Johann Denke, father of Martin Denke lived in Danzig. I haven't seen these documents nor do I know whether they still exist or not, as in Gay's last letter to me she told me that many of her older records had been destroyed as they were copied from the original German documents on an old copier and the paper did not hold up.

At any rate, it is interesting the difference one vowel can make.