The Bohemian Pioneers of New Hradec and Dickinson, North Dakota
The Czar's Promise of Free Land in the Ukraine
The ancestors of the Czechs of Dickinson, ND originally came from the western part of what is now Czechoslovakia near the city of Chrudim. Bohemia is the name for that region. However, during this time, Czechoslovakia as a country did not exist and Bohemia was a region of Austria-Hungary. Czechoslovakia declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in October 1918 as a part of the Treaty of Versailles.
During the mid 1800's many central European countries were suffering from wars and economic hardship and the populace was unable to feed itself or advance their own prospects. Russia encouraged these people to settle and farm the rich lands of southern Ukraine. Each family received 15 Desatinas (approx 37.5 acres) for each member of the family. Thus a family of three would receive 45 Desatinas or about 112 acres of land.
Crimea and Kherson are provinces or oblasts of the country of Ukraine. Many other Europeans including many Germans and Poles also settled in that area during the 1850-60's. The people from Bohemia lived in a settlement called Czechohrad and their farm land was around the settlement. The closest Ukraine town was called Melitopol which was 20 Versta (12 miles) away.
Czechohrad, had 100 members, all settlers. It had a Catholic church and a school. Both Russian and Bohemian children attended the school. Half were Bohemian children from six years of age up to nine years of age who were taught to read and write in the Czech language and Catholic religion. From nine years of age the children went to Russian schools. A Catholic priest came to Czechohrad twice a year for confessions and baptisms.
The offer of "free land" and exemption from military duty was the main reason people left their European homelands. This offer turned out to be bogus. Too many wars in the region necessitated drafting the men into the Russian service and the success of the settlers in making productive land out of wild land, created friction and resentment between them and the native inhabitants (Russians and Ukrainians). This was one of the main reasons most emigrant families only stayed in Ukraine for 1-2 generations before moving again to America.
Emmigration to America (1886-1906)
The first local Czech families to leave Ukraine (Crimea) in 1886 traveled to Menno, SD where another Czech, who had been in the USA since 1859 and was a immigration and real estate agent, helped them and others to find land around Tabor, SD. The railroad tracks ended at Aberdeen, SD at that time.
These first immigrants wrote home and told others about the "free land" (Homestead Act, 1865). This encouraged large numbers of immigrants to follow and soon the land around Menno and Tabor was taken, forcing the immigrants to move further west. A land agent in western Dakota Territory told them of available land around Dickinson, ND and so between 1886 and 1891 the first Czech families began to arrive here and settled land northwest of Dickinson, in what would become the New Hradec, ND area. New Hradec is located approximately 15 miles north/northwest of Dickinson, ND.
"New Hradec", originally "Novy Hradec", was named by the settlers after much discussion. Some wanted the village to be called "Chrudim" after a town in Bohemia that was centrally located to many of the families home villages. However, it was decided that "Chrudim" was too difficult for American tongues to pronounce, so they opted for "Novy Hradec". ('Novy' means 'New', 'Hradec' means 'Castle').
After 1891 the pace of immigration soon outstripped the available land and newcomers were either forced to move on or take smaller acreage (<160 acres, which would not be enough to make a living on). Many failed at setting up homesteads and moved into Dickinson and started businesses. By the early 1900's the number of immigrants coming to this area diminished, so it was mainly the decade of 1891 to 1900 that saw the largest number of settlers.
An approximate number of immigrant families from the Crimea region alone that settled here is between 80-100. There were 26 founding families that started the Roman Catholic parish of Saints Peter & Paul, New Hradec, ND.
The Bohemians Travel Across Europe
The map below, depicting Europe in 1898, shows the migration of the Dickinson, ND Bohemian ancestors. In the 1850-60's they moved from Bohemia to the Ukraine on the promise of free farm land. There they farmed until the 1890's when they started their migration to America. Many of the families left from the port of Hamburg, Germany but others came to Dickinson from other ports in Europe.