Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Leo Toepfer

July 2, 2010 at 4:22 pm (Cline Roots, Toepfer Roots) (, , , )

Joseph Leo Toepfer was born on January 26, 1915, in Crooked Finger, near Scotts Mills, Oregon. He was the 12th child of the 15 born to Johann (John) Michael and Margaret (Riedel) Toepfer. In 1917, when Joe was 1 1/2 years old, his folks moved the family to a 160-acre farm, east of Sublimity, Oregon. Joe attended school for eight years at Coon Hollow in Marian County. In 1918, Joe’s father, with the help of his other children, built a new house on the farm. John Michael died in 1935. Joe is the only one of the 15 children that stayed on the farm. He started to farm it in 1937.

During the summer of 1937, Joe met his wife-to-be, Cynthia Marie Cline. Marie and her cousins had applied for the job of picking strawberries on Joe’s farm. She got a permanent job. Joe and Marie were married on September 13, 1938 in Sublimity, Oregon, after a 15-month engagement. They lived in one of the cabins built for the strawberry pickers. It was small, but they made do. The cabin had no electricity or running water. They had to pack their water in and wash their clothes on the old wash board… Living in the main house was Joe’s mother, Margaret, and Joe’s younger brother and sister, Johnny and Julia. In 1936, Margaret’s brother, Uncle Andrew Riedel, came to live with them… Joe and Marie’s first two children were born while living in the cabin. Rose Marie was born on August 4, 1939, and Larry Joseph was born on December 31, 1940… In about 1942, Margaret, Uncle Andrew, and Julia moved into a house in Sublimity. Eight years later, Margaret passed away.

Joe and Marie moved into the main house at this time. Joe did some remodeling and got electricity and water, which made life much easier. They raised strawberries as their main crop. They also had some blackberries and loganberries. There were also a few cattle and milk cows for their own use. Chickens were raised and hatching eggs were sold. Around 1940, they started with a few sheep and as the years went by, the number of sheep increased. On January 2, 1943, Joe and Marie welcomed a second daughter, Elvina Ann, into their lives.

(Elvina Ann Toepfer :: My mother-in-law 😀 )

The purchase of their first tractor happened in 1948. It was a Model A International. Then, in the 1950’s, they raised fescue and bent grass seed. Joe and Marie’s fourth child, Ronald Paul, was born on February 15, 1953. Joe started to build a new house for the family in 1957. He had a sawmill and made his own lumber off his timber. He did most of the inside building himself, in between all the farming jobs. Four long years later, the new house was finished and moved into.

(Photo of the Toepfer house was taken in January 1994)

The neighboring farm came up for sale in 1960, and Joe had always wanted to own it. So Joe and Marie bought it. It was 222 acres, which increased their farm to 382 acres. The piece of property had a big hill on it, that they called “Black Tail”, because of the black tail deer living on it… A new shop and machine shed were built in 1949 with a new barn following in 1952.

(Photo of Black Tail was taken in January 1994)

Joe retired in 1977, at which time his two sons, Larry and Ron, took over the farm. They continued raising strawberries. The price dropped dramatically on berries, and it was difficult getting reliable pickers and keeping up with all the rules and regulations, so in 1992, Larry and Ron stopped raising strawberries. Since then, they have been raising beef cattle and grass seed.

The number 13 has been a special number for Joe and Marie. This number came up a lot in their lives. They were married on the 13th. Special events seemed to fall on the 13th. They have had 13 calves at one time, serial numbers have had 13 in them, and prices of items had 13 in them. They had many laughs, over the years, about how many times and different ways the number has appeared.

Some of the buildings have since been torn down and newer, bigger ones built… Joe loved to hunt and fish. Marie has enjoyed crocheting… Farming has been a hard way of living, but a rewarding one… Joe passed away on June 5, 1993.

To date, July 2, 2010, Joe and Marie have 4 children, 9 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren, and 6 step great-grandchildren.


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Johann Michael Toepfer

July 5, 2009 at 8:00 am (Toepfer Roots) (, )

Johann Michael was the youngest of the three sons of Johann Wilhelm Toepfer I and Catharina Maria Toepfer that sailed to America. They came to America on the S. S. Mosel in 1867. He was born on February 19, 1875 in Thelausa (Fischer), Russia. Johann Michael was just one year and 4 months old when the Johann Wilhelm Toepfer family arrived in America. His father died suddenly (of a stomach ailment) after being in the country just one year. With the plight of being in totally new surroundings, no father for the children, or husband for support (and Catharina Marie was pregnant), things were in a desperate state. Twins were born to Catherina Marie Toepfer. A son she named Johann Wilmelm II and a daughter she named Juliana.

When the twins were about a year old, Catharina Maria Toepfer moved to Herzog, Kansas, a German colony established in Ellis County, Kansas by Germans from Russia. At Herzog, Catharina met a widower, Michael Denning. After their aquaintance, Catharina Maria married Michael Denning on December 16, 1880 at St. Fidelis Church in Herzog, Kansas.

After the marriage, Catharina Maria (Toepfer) Denning and her 5 children moved in with Michael Denning and his 6 children from his previous marriage to Anna Knopp (deceased).

Johann Michael Toepfer was now 5 years and 10 months old. Michael spent the next 8 years in Herzog, Kansas in the Denning household.

When Michael’s older brother, Friederich, moved from the Dennings household, Johann Michael and two other brothers and sister also moved with him. On October 8, 1889, Friederich had married Maria Braun and Fred, Maria, his brothers, and sister moved to Rod’s farm.

Johann Friederich had just turned 22, Johann David was 19, Johann Michael was 14, and the twins, Johann Wilhelm and Juliana were 11 years old.

In 1892, David married Helena Beil and after they were married, some of the younger Toepfers lived with them.

The Toepfers worked the farm for seven years, but the fruits of their efforts were very disheartening. Several successive crop failures forced them to leave the farm and seek employment.

Toepfers in America by you.

Johann Friederich, Johann Wilhelm II, Juliana, Johann David, and Johann Michael ... in 1895

In the early spring of 1895, Friederich, his family, and his three brothers, and his sister, Juliana, packed their belongings into moving wagons and ventured forth for Topeka, Kansas. It took approximately six weeks to make the trip from Victoria to Topeka. When the horses became exhausted they found places along the path to stop and set up camp. At these stops they rested the horses, washed clothing and dried it on lines which they brought with them. The women prepared extra food for the travel while the children were able to play and exercise.

By this time two of the four Toepfer brothers, Johann Frederich and Johann David, and the twin sister, Juliana, were married. The two boys that were still single were Johann Michael and Johann Wilhelm II (Juliana’s twin brother).

When the travelers reached Topeka, Kansas they rented small houses on the outskirts of town. The men immediately began seeking employment while the women set up their households. The Toepfer men found work with the AT&SF railroad, but the work soon ran out and there was nothing else available. They returned to Victoria (Herzog) after about a 2 year absence.

Johann Michael and Margaret Toepfer by you.

Johann Michael and Margaret Toepfer, on their wedding day.

On September 4, 1896, Johann Michael Toepfer married Margaret Riedell. Margaret was born on May 14, 1878 in Herzog, Kansas. After their marriage they worked and lived at Victoria, Kansas.

Their first child, Benedict (Ben) Toepfer was born in Victoria, Kansas on June 7, 1897.

In 1898-1899 the Johann Michael family moved to St. Peter, Kansas where they farmed until the spring of 1908. During this time, their next seven children were born. William, born August 25, 1899, Bonaventure, born January 12, 1901, Mary, born August 28, 1902, August, born February 29, 1904, Jacob, born January 13, 1906, and twins Adam and Eva, born October 23, 1907. Michael Toepfer then moved to Mt. Angel, Oregon with his wife and eight children. There, three more children were born, Theresa, born February 22, 1909, Margaret, born February 7, 1910, and Adolph, born on February 23, 1913.

At first Michael followed the carpenter trade and also drove a cream truck for the Mt. Angel Creamery. As a carpenter, he helped to build the beautiful St. Mary’s Catholic Church, and the Michael Toepfers were also members of the congregation. After about five years they moved to Crooked Finger, a small settlement above a little town known as Scott Mills, Oregon. There he returned to farming. In 1914 they rented an old farm house with acreage from the McKowon family. Two more children were born to the Johann Michael’s, Joseph on January 26, 1915 and Catherine on July 23, 1916.

After three years in Crooked Finger, they decided on one more move. In 1916 the Michael Toepfers hitched up the horse, loaded up a wagon with their household goods and moved to Coon Hollow, seven miles east of Sublimity, Oregon. They purchased a large farm owned by the Willing family. It had a small, primitive, two room dwelling and the Toepfers; Michael, Margaret, and their 13 children called this home, but of course, this arrangement was obviously much too small for the large family. Michael put his carpenter skills to work to build a bigger and better house. In 1917-1918, he and his older sons, and some neighbors, began the building. They constructed a large two story house to accommodate his growing family.

The Toepfer Home by you.

The house that Johann Michael built. Joe Toepfer standing out front.

His last two children were born in the new house. Juliana on August 3, 1919 and Johnny on February 24, 1922.

The Johann Micheal Toepfer Family by you.

The Johann Michael Toepfer Family in 1930

Johann Michael farmed there until he died. Margaret Riedel Toepfer and the younger Toepfers continued to farm until later years. One of their sons, Joseph, took over. Joseph bought his mother, Margaret, a house in Sublimity, Oregon near St. Boniface Catholic Church. Margaret and her brother, Andrew Riedel, lived there together until his death in August 1949. By then, Margaret was ill and could not be left alone. Another son, Jake, moved her to his home at Marquam, Oregon where she lived until her death on January 31, 1950. It was a cold winter that year, the snow was deep and many guests ay the funeral had taken falls on the frozen walks. Salt was spread onto the ice by the Funeral Director to keep the pall bearers from losing their footing and end up falling during the funeral procession from the house.

Margaret (Riedel) Toepfer

Margaret Riedel was the daughter of Michael Riedel and Theresa (Schmidt) Riedel. Her parents came to America in 1875 aboard the S. S. Mosel. Margaret was the first of the Michael-Theresa Reidel family to be born in America. She grew up in Herzog, Kansas where she met and married Johann Michael Toepfer and they were married in Herzog, Kansas.

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Immigration from Russia to the United States

July 4, 2009 at 8:00 am (Toepfer Roots) (, )

FREEDOM :: A Providential Move

The 3rd, 4th, and 5th sons of Johann Christian I; Johann Christian II, Johann Wilhelm, and Johann Heinerich and their families came to America during the migration from Russia in 1876. Their mother, Sophia (Rosine) Wiedemann, was still alive after the three sons came to America. We have no record of when she died.

The two youngest sons, Johann Carl and Johann Ludwig have never been heard from. We feel that they and their families left Russia before or during the Russian revolution. My grandfather, Johann Frederich Toepfer, son of Johann Wilhelm, had passed down the word to our family that he had heard the two youngesr sons, Johann Carl and Johann Ludwig, had migrated to South America. It is reported that in 1877 a large group from the Wiensenseite, about 300, left for Rio de Janeiro. This is one year after the three brothers left for the United States. The group that left for the Rio de Janeiro actually landed in Buenos Aires.

Others left for South America in later years but many reports came back of the poor living conditions that discouraged a large influx to South America.

At present, there is no organization that can be contacted for the immigrant information to South America. Therefore, it has not been possible at this time to conduct any research to try and locate possible relatives in South America. The few that may be in contact have done so by family letters. As far as we know, there have been no letters forthcoming from the relatives that either stayed in Russia or may have gone to South America. The Topfers (Toepfer) in North America and their posterity have remained in the United States.


The S.S. Mosel by you.

The S.S. Mosel

The estimated size of the S. S. Mosel is approximately 300 feet long and 40 feet wide. It had a very low water line and when loaded, the main deck was precariously close to the water.

Compared to a present day vessel, it would be similar in size to an early (1951) U. S. Navy Destroyer Escort (DE) of the Dealy class. The “DE” had a ships’ complement of 170 men. The assignment to a “DE” was the most difficult duty that a sailor could get because of the extremely small size of the “DE” as an ocean going surface vessel, (not to be compared to submarine duty).

To perceive the extreme hardship that our forebears endured, add in addition to the 170 persons on the ship, another 1454 souls. Now pack them on board an old, slow, sail/steam vessel, designed 100 years earlier! Those are the conditions under which our forbears struggled with when they made the crossing! Also, consider that those 1454 persons consisted of many older people, widows and children, expectant mothers, young adults, families, and babies.

There were those that died on the voyage, young and old. An older man had a fever for about 10 days. The family stayed at his side until he silently slipped away. They knelt around him and prayed. He was wrapped in a blanket, taken to the rail topside, and let slip into the ocean for a final resting place.

This trip, on July 21, 1876, a baby boy was born at sea to Johannes and Catharina Dinkel (the parents were 26 years od age). The trip for the Toepfers on this occasion was 21 days. That is 10 days less than a month! Most people these days cannot stand to be confined in their comfortable home for even one day.

SHIP LOG :: S. S. Mosel

The following was taken from the ship’s log:

The S. S. Mosel arrived July 29, 1876 from Bremen to the port of New York. They came from Fischer, Russia, a Protestant Village on the East bank of the Volga. They traveled in the steerage section of the ship and all were farmers. From New York they traveled by train to Ellsworth, Kansas, arriving on August 3, 1876.

Johann Christian’s family were passenger numbers 161 to 168
Johann Wilhelm’s family were passenger numbers 169 to 173
Johann Heinrich’s family were passenger numbers 174 to 179


When the Toepfers reached New York on July 29, 1876, they boarded a train that took them deep into the middle of America. They traveled for 4 days and nights and after what seemed an eternity, they reached their destination of Lincoln County, Kansas on August 3, 1876.

The settlements in Kansas were greatly influenced by the railroads. The railroad owned great parcels of land that they offered to the newcomers along with the promise of jobs. Land held by the Kansas Pacific Railroad was offered to the settlers at $2.00 and $2.50 per acre. This is the present site on which Victoria, Kansas now stands.

Our forbearer, Wilhelm Toepfer, settled in Ellsworth, Kansas, and his two brothers settled at Bunkerhill, Kansas. Later, Johann Christian Toepfer II settled around Ladysmith, Wisconsin. Johann Heinerick and family stayed on a farm near Bunkerhill, Kansas.

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Johann Konrad Topfer

July 3, 2009 at 8:00 am (Toepfer Roots) (, , )


Johann Konrad Topfer, son of Johann Heinrich Topfer and Anna Gela Rosenkrantz, was born on August 16, 1736 in Schellbach, Hessen Germany. As were all citizens of Hessen, he was of the Reformed Lutheran faith. He married Anna Martha Reichmann of Remsfeld, Germany on September 30, 1765.

THE JOURNEY :: The Departure Route

Decisions had to be made! To emigrate seemed the only real option that provided opportunities and the means to climb out of the pit of abandon. Johann Konrad Topfer sold his belongings and joined a group of emigrants walking from Schellbach to Regensburg. The distance of 200 miles as the crow flies, but the terrain was neither flat nor straight. Central Germany consists of rolling hills and forests, and the 300 miles were more like 600. Regensburg was one of the meeting centers for the emigrants. From Regensburg, they were directed to Anhalt-Zerbst and then to Roslau, another 200 miles as the crow flies. People from all regions flocked to the gathering centers. They were registered and placed into “family” units. Two men of a family could comprise a unit, while it was required that three or four women join as a unit. As the daily stipend was greater for married couples, many “crash” marriages were performed at these locations.



Johann Konrad Topfer and his wife, Anna, boarded a ship on the Elbe River that took them to Hamburg. From Hamburg, they were transported by land to Lubeck on the Baltic Sea where ships awaited them. The ships on the Baltic Sea that transported the emigrants were usually Hanseatic or British.


It generally took nine to eleven days to travel from Lubeck to Kronstadt, but with “contrary” winds, it sometimes took up to six weeks, as reported by one chronicler among the Volga colonists. Storms at sea are not a rarity, and the Baltic Sea could become extremely turbulent. It may be that the Baltic Sea was especially tempestuous during the summers of 1765 and 1766. It is also purported that there were some unscrupulous captains who did not hesitate to sail backwards during the dark nights to prolong sea time. The captain then, would sell food stuffs to the poor emigrants at triple price. They would finally arrive at their destination after there was nothing left but moldy bread. At Kronstadt, in the gulf of Finland, the clean shaven Germans saw for the first time the Russian peasant, with heavy unkempt beards. This was a startling sight to the German emigrants, who had never seen anything like it. The emigrants were met at teh dock by Russian teamsters, who had come with farm carts and wagons to transport them, and their belongings, on the next leg of their journey.


In the time of the wooden vessels, the term “ship” was specifically, a three masted vessel with square rigged sails on each mast. A “Barque” (Bark) was a three masted vessel with the fore and main mast square rigged, and the mizzen mast fore and aft rigged. Since the invention of photography did not take place until 1816, there are no photographs of the ships or barques on which the emigrants traveled. However, in the early 1800s, photographs were taken of wooden sailing vessels that were not unlike the vessels that our forefathers traveled.

Barque by you.


The next leg of their journey was partly on water, and partly on land. The colonists first were taken by ship to St. Petersburg, the capital of Russia, and then to Oranienbaum, where the Imperial Summer Palace was located. There, they would take their final oath of loyalty to the Crown of Imperial Russia. At St. Petersburg, the colonists were not provided with living quarters in the city, and they had to live on board the ship lasting sometimes as long as three weeks. Johann Konrad Topfer and his wife Anna and newborn son, Johannes, arrived on September 12, 1766 on board a ship under the command of Skipper Faerfax. The stay on the ships, and a meager diet, ultimately resulted in aggravated illness for many. The misery that they were to endure caused many a traveler the desire to be relieved from the “water torture” once and for all. It was here, in St. Petersburg, that the colonists learned that they were all destined to become farmers, although they had been originally promised that they would be allowed to carry on with their original trades. Once the papers were processed, the official business was completed, the journey resumed. From the “water torture” the travelers were freed, but a new torment lay ahead…


From Kronstadt and St. Petersburg the various groups of colonists were placed under the protection and leadership of military officers. The colonists, with their military leaders, then went on to Oranienbaum, where they met and were welcomed by Catherine II. (Johannes was 4 weeks old when they arrived in Oranienbaum). After taking the pledge of loyalty to the Russian Crown at Oranienbaum, they proceeded onward with their military leaders. These leaders accompanied them through the empire to their settlement sight. They also prevented the immigrants from gathering and discussing “controversial” topics among themselves. Due to the ever increasing torments and disillusionment, there were those that were ready to turn back if at all possible! From Oranienbaum, different routes were followed to reach the lower Volga district. The most common route was to sail the Neva, and down the Wolchow for some distance past Novgorod. Here the sick people that were among the group were disembarked, and they remained there for the winter. In some cases, families were separated due to illnesses. The rest of the newcomers began the wearisome journey, 200 miles, overland to Torzhok, located on the Volga.

There was the Russian farm carts, also wagons for transportation, but they were so overloaded with mothers, children, and baggage, that the men could barely find a seat. The most able bodied were expected to walk. They traveled the long distance on foot with staffs in their hands moving forward along the dusty road, up and down the hills, through the fields and forests. It has been said that the migration resembled the exodus of the Jews out of Egypt as related in the Bible.

Because many travelers had not arrived for this portion of the trip until late in October, the beginning of the trek was already uncomfortably cold. They were provided with sheep skin coats, but that did not offset the illness that beset the travelers due to cold and hunger. More than a few of them died on the way, and were buried on the roadside in the cold and desolate Russian soil.

After walking the 200 miles from Novgorod, they finally reached Torzhok. Here, the majority of the travelers were forced to spend the winter. The families were distributed among the Russian peasants for lodging. Others had to push on the Kostroma, but were stopped there by the ice formation on the river. None could reach Nishi-Novgorod, where the government had prepared some kind of winter quarter. The suffering entailed during this travel was devastating. The stay in the interior was frightful. Accommodations provided by the Russian peasants were cramped and cold. Many became afflicted with measles, brain fever, typhus, red and yellow dysentery, large ulcers on the head and neck, and many died from the dreadful conditions.

It was at this time when Johann Konrad Topfer lost his wife, Anna, and son, Johannes.

In the winter quarters with the Russians, the immigrants had an opportunity to observe the manners and customs of their new homeland. To their astonishment, they saw people making room for barn animals, such as pigs, chickens, sheep, and so forth, in their living quarters, and living with these under the same roof. What was even more depressing was the fact that they were compelled to live in the same manner, there was no other choice. In the mornings when the stove was being heated, the smell inside the harbors became intolerable. Outside was the icy cold of the North. In spite of the cold, the emigrants were forced to go outside to save themselves from the unbearable stench. The dwellings contained not even a window or vent to allow the foul air to clear.

As soon as the snow thawed and the ice melted, the immigrants continued their journey. The Torzhok group continued to Kastroma, and others from Kastroma, down the Volga. It was almost a year after they left Germany when they finally arrived at Saratov on the Lower Volga. By this time, the travelers were sick, weary, and disillusioned. To compound the asperity of these new immigrants, almost half of them were artisans and knew nothing of farming. They had been induced to leave their native homeland with promises of being able to practice their various trades. However, before the travelers left St. Petersburg, they had been “persuaded” to become farmers.

Volga Region by you.

Volga Region, Procession on the steppe.

NO PARADISE :: Many Regrets

Catherine II had only a vague knowledge of the primitive frontier that she was determined to colonize and develop. The lower Volga was a teething trouble spot of hostile roaming bands of Kirghiz, Tartar, and marauding Cossacks. Catherine wanted a dependable settler population that would bring civilization and productivity to the frontier land that would take root and flourish. She envisioned the wasteland along the Lower Volga being converted into a region of farm productivity and social stability. The exalted paradise, depicted to the colonists by the enrolling agents, turned out to be a vast expanse of wild, semi-arid steppe land. It was void of trees and covered in dry grass nearly two feet high. The promised buildings of the government were nowhere to be seen. To make matters worse, the colonists arrived too late in the season to do any planting. The Russian winter set in with a vengeance, dealing the inevitable suffering and death.


In the beginning, the choice of the colonist’s settlement was as follows: “each could go to whatever colony he wished, for each was free to choose a colony, so long as there was a vacancy there”. But, there were restrictions. Their selection had to be “in their director’s district, and that a vacancy existed there”. There was an, exact, predetermined number, made by the authorities, which prescribed the number of families that each colony was allowed. Also, once a selection was made, the colonists were required to stay at that location. They did not have the privilege of moving from village to village at their discretion. (However, later census reports indicate that the colonists did move a great deal when the conditions permitted.)


The task of building shelters was now, foremost. Without building materials, it was necessary to adapt the Russian style of habitat that they had loathed when stranded in Torzhok, “the dugout”.

Dugouts consisted of a large hole scooped out of the ground. Some were large enough to hold two or more families, thus furnishing additional warmth during the long winter. The disadvantage to more than one family was that, it sometimes brought on discord amongst the occupants. The dwellings were covered with branches or sticks, then covered with sod and mud. A hole was cut out into the top to vent out smoke from cooking and heating fires. The fires were burned on the dirt floor in the middle of the room. The dugouts provided protection from the elements, but there were many disadvantages, such as darkness, and dampness that bred illness, and there was the ever presence of undesirable odors.

Through the long winter, the settlers suffered from hunger, loneliness, and the unbearable cold. When spring did finally arrive, another calamity arose that had to be reckoned with. The rapid rising flood waters from the melting snow made wide rivers out of the streams and sent the settlers scampering from their “caves”. They clambered to the nearest hills for safety, barely escaping with their lives. Half dead, suffering from fever and malnutrition, the new settlers ushered in the spring, but with little to celebrate. Out of the trials and tribulations of this ill-fated group of settlers came the dawning of a tough new ethnic branch. The Volga German, true survivors with a proud identity!

100 YEARS ON THE VOLGA :: First Settlers

Johann Konrad Topfer was among the first arrivals to the Russian Steppes. He had suffered the loss of his wife and baby son on the trip to the Volga and the severe and perilous hardships in the unsettled and wild country. He arrived on the upper Volga river, “Little Karaman”, along with the colonists that reached there in the late fall in 1767. Johann Konrad arrived on August 3, 1767 and settled in the village of Phillippsfeld. There were no accommodations or houses as promised and winter was about to set in It is not known how many houses did exist in 1767, probably none, since the date of the colony establishment was 1767. The census report of February 14, 1769 lists only 28 houses. There were 78 males and 66 female settlers, a total of 144 persons at that time.


Johann Konrad Topfer survived the first cold Russian Northern winter and several years that followed in the wilderness. He had built shelter in the ground. The settlers called it a “Zemlyanki” and referred to themselves as “cave dwellers”. “The original homes were emergency shelters at first, but they served the settlers for years before enlargements or improvements could be made — such as wooden floors to replace the hard-packed earth. It would be three years or more before rough little log houses elevated most of the colonists out of their Zemlyanki. By then the subterranean refuges had cost their victims dearly in health and lives. Because of the unaccustomed long, harsh winters, the undue exposure to constant dampness in the Zemlyanki and malnutrition, sickness broke out among the newcomers that often became epidemic. In one colony of 157 persons, no fewer than 26 died in the four month period. Entire families were wiped out sometimes. The heaviest casualties were made in the ranks of the older persons and young children… Not only had the physical hardships taken their toll, but acute melancholia often hastened death.


When the settlers first arrived, the villages were not named. The various groups of settlers named them after the villages that they left in Germany, or they chose the name of the group leader. These village names were ised by the German settlers for many years, even after Russian names were eventually assigned.

Johann Konrad Toepfer remarried while living in Phillippsfeld. The name os his wife is not known. They bore two sons, Johann Balthasar, born in 1771, and Johann Wilhelm, born in 1778.

Johann Konrad lost this wife while in Phillippsfeld. The census reports do not list her name, or the year of her death. Also, churches are no longer available to research… Johann Konrad married again to Dorothea Bruth. In 1786, the Topfers moved to the colony of Fischer, the German name given to the colony. Later, the official Russian name was Theleusa and later again, the government re-named it, Krasnaya Polyana. Fischer was located on the Wiesenseite (meadow side) of the Volga. It consisted of colonists of Protestant Lutheran persuasion.


Few could enjoy the convenience of having their designated farm land next to their villages. The village of Fischer was located miles away from the farming area. The families had to spend their weeks camped out in the fields during planting season in the spring, cultivating crops in the summer, and harvest time in the fall. However, on Saturday, all work ceased in the evening, earlier than usual, and the household would drive home to make preparations for full observance on the Christian Sabbath the next day.

A GRIM SURVIVAL :: The First Years

The settlers barely survived the first ten years on the Volga steppe, but many did not. The first ten-year cataclysm has been generally blamed upon the fact that the settlers were totally inexperienced as farmers. That is only part of the story.


The Volga was suffering from a severe drought cycle that lasted until 1775.

The Russian bureaucrats did not comprehend the system of planting seasons. It was absolutely necessary for the seeds to be delivered to the colonists, in the hands, by the middle of April to start growth with the early rains. The deliveries were being made in late May. Late planting caused the seeds not to germinate, because the ground was so prematurely parched each season.

Colonists grouped their resources together (because they did not have enough draft animals) to do the heavy work. Later, this practice was forbidden by the Russian bureaucratic overseer! The colonists were on the brink of starvation. The government doled out rye wheat, but it was caked and moldy… The flour was in such a condition that it was like a solid block, which had to be pulverized with an ax and hammer and it was green with mold, so that even the cattle would not eat it, and even of that there was not enough.


Not until 1775 did they enjoy their first blessed harvest… Consequently, they acquired their own seed. Thus, they were able to plant early enough in the spring of the following year to benefit from the early spring rains and melting snow. The Topfers survived the bitter years, managing to endure and staunchly retain their persistence to succeed. They were active in the Protestant Lutherine congregation of the Thelausa Gemeninde. They were farmers, as were all the settlers, per the mandate at St. Petersburg.

Johann Konrad Topfer and Dorothea (Bruth) Topfer raised the two sons by Konrad’s second wife.

The 1798 Fischer census states that Konrad Topfer had; 11 horses, 9 cows, 8 swine, and 14 chickens. He and his two sons had planted 200 liters of rye and 200 liters of wheat.

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