FAMILY HISTORY BLOG #3 – July 15, 2016

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Roasted Pheasant in South Dakota
HUMBKE’s Sunday Dinner in South Dakota – Pheasant and Potatoes


Although Germans immigrated to North America for political, religious and conscription reasons, it seems that the availability of land and the opportunity to prosper as farmers were the main reasons. Industrialization was increasing in Europe and the rural way of life was disappearing as people were forced to move to cities.

The HUMBKE brothers Dietrich and Chris left Windheim, Germany for the free farm land available in America and to avoid compulsory Prussian military service for themselves and their sons.

After landing in New York on Aug 4th, 1883 Dietrich, Louise and 4 children had intended to go to White Lake, South Dakota where brother Chris had already settled in  1879. Plans changed and they settled in Buffalo Centre, Iowa for a year. In 1884 they continued on  to White Lake, South Dakota where they homesteaded for the next 7 years.

H.H. Meier
Passengers from Europe to America and Cattle from America to Europe!

Dietrich’s oldests son (15 yr. old Ernest Sr.) had crossed the Atlantic alone (3rd class) on the H.H. Meier, arriving in New York on May 12, 1883.  The H.H. Meier carried 84 1st class, 32 2nd class and 1,000 3rd. class passengers.  A third class ticket cost about $30 (equivalent to about $600 US in 2016) was called “steerage” because before returning to Europe, the facilities for passengers were removed to make room for a cargo of cattle (steers) to be sold in Europe. You can imagine the smell after a 17 day trip!

Sept., 19, 1883 Declaration by Dietrick Humbke in SD to become a USA citizen
Declaration by Dietrich HUMBKE to become a citizen of the USA – Sept. 19, 1883

On September 19, 1883 in Davidson, South Dakota, Dietrick  filed for intention to become a US citizen and, for $10, applied to homestead the SW 1/4 of Section 15, Township 102N, Range 65W (7 m. S. & 5 m. E of White Lake).

Life on the South Dakota homestead was extremely rough. Everything was moved by a pitchfork or scoop and required a tremendous amount of hard physical labor. First a sod home with a fire break was built and land was broken for a garden patch. Luise and the 3 older girls (Sophie,Wilhelmine and Mary) looked after the garden and helped the men.  Dietrich and his teenage son (Ernest Sr.) built their sod home; created a fire break; dug a well by hand; look after the animals; and begin breaking land for the growing corn or wheat.

HUMBKE Homestead, Plankinton, South Dakota

I am not sure how the family felt, but in July of 1999 when I stood on what was left of where they had lived, a total sense of desolation came over me and the realization, that the thought I would have had was, ‘I had made a great mistake bringing my family here‘. It was flat with few, if any, trees and resembled a swamp. After talking with locals I found out its highest value was for hunting pheasants and that rich Eastern American hunters would buy the land for just that purpose for years to come.

Despite this, the HUMBKE family built a sod house on the rocks that still outline where structures once stood, and eked out a living by way of a large garden, corn or wheat crops, some pigs, cows, horses, chickens and of course wild pheasants. ‘The family bent like the willows and grew roots for 6 year’s.

Each homesteader could register to buy 160 acres of land for $10. In return for establishing some kind of home on the land; putting in a few acres of crops; living there for five years; and paying another $4; the land was theirs. I believe they wanted to sell it and move 270 miles East to the Woden/Titonka area of Iowa.

Aug. 11, 1890 Dietrick Humbke paid $4 for 160 acres in South Dakota
Aug 11 , 1890 Dietrich paid an additional $4 and received clear title. Now he can sell it!

In 1891 the County paid him $12 for acre on which to build a school, but there is no evidence that a school was ever built. On Apr. 12, 1892 he sold the other 159 acres of his homestead to Nicholas SCHALTES and Charles WINTERS of Kossuth, Iowa for $1,000.

There is  evidence that the family went to the Buffalo Centre and German Valley areas in Iowa (270 miles straight East of White Lake)  on a number of occasions and socialized with other Germans there. There was an active German Lutheran Church at German Valley, and both the land and climate were much better for growing corn and wheat.

During their 7 years in South Dakota there was very little rain and the closest was 3 miles away. The driving of the cows and horses to water each day was just one of the many tasks necessary to survive.

Activities indicate that Diedrich’s family move from South Dakota back to Iowa at the earliest opportunity in 1891. Chris remained in White City with his wife Marie and their daughter, Louise HUMBKE.

Diedrich and Louise had two more girls who were born at  White Lake – Alvina on April 14, 1885 and Emma on January 29, 1890.

The next blog will cover the family’s life in Iowa until 1902.

Pheasant Hunting in South Dakota
Pheasant Hunting in South Dakota
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Author: Roger Humbke

I am multifarious, educator/facilitator/entrepreneur who has become more focused on learning new knowledge and skills required to research and write on my family's history. My goals also include developing new attitudes towards a senior's life and on-line business

5 thoughts on “FAMILY HISTORY BLOG #3 – July 15, 2016”

  1. I love genealogy! This is great that you can do a family history blog. I worked on my family history between 1998 and 2006 but I still don’t have enough to do a full blog. Nice reading on how Chris and Dietrich moved from Germany to of all places, South Dakota in the old west.

    1. It is so great to find another person than is passionate about family history and genealogy! Beside being internally self-satisfying, appreciation from other family members is a great motivator to do even more.

      Appreciation from non-family members is even more encouraging. Thanks so much.


  2. A very well presented and artistic laid out page which made good reading,The movement of people around the world is fascinating and more and more people today are trying to research their family tree. i am now finding out how important this is.I recently received an email from a family member about a health problem i discovered 3 years ago, as it turns out the problem is hereditary. How difficult was it to research the historical material? Thanks for sharing.

    1. Your so kind! Research is very time consuming in the beginning but it becomes ‘”A Labor of Love” so time goes by quickly and endorphins are created. It is a natural high and gives meaning to one’s life, so at age 73 – What better way is their to spend ones time!

      Alzheimer’s can be heredity and my dad and his brother both had it at the end, so I am somewhat concerned and keep researching new findings. That is partially why I got so interested in researching family history, as learning and keeping the brain otherwise active is one of the best ways to overcome or at least lessen the effects of the disease.

      I am posting at least once a month, but am working towards one a week!

      Roger Humbke

    2. Your words are certainly encouraging and motivate me to go forward. I have meet 2nd cousins for the first time from Florida, Texas, Louisiana and South Carolina which resulted in some 1 hour phone calls that were so enjoyable. Went to a family reunion in Alberta and met even more. Now I am planning a trip to the US. Research has gotten much easier with the Internet. I would advise starting with a free family tree at There are a lot of free resources so don’t spend one penny until you know what you are doing. It can get quite expensive paying monthly so be careful – I should know I have spent substantial and haven’t time to use what I got. If you go deeper be sure to read my comparison of the 5 major companies that provide research. Incidentally family search it self is free but it is part of Ancestory which is the most expensive. They will want to continually upgrade you.

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