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September 26, 2013

Early German settlers: William Hancock and Louis Struett

Between 1820 and 1910, more than five million Germans crossed the Atlantic in search of new lands, opportunities and freedoms. Some settled in East Otter Tail County.

Rush Lake, the second permanent settlement in the county, was founded by a colony of Germans from St. Joseph, Ohio in the summer of 1866.

William Hancock settled in Dead Lake township with his wife, who had come over from Germany when a small child. As the community was predominately German, church services were held in the German language. Children started school knowing little or none of the English language.

Eventually, with new members in the community and the influence on teaching English in the school, affairs were more and more conducted in English. Older members still used German among themselves.

At the St. Joseph School District between Perham and Dent, German was taught as well as English, reading, arithmetic, penmanship, geography and physiology. When World War I started, German was dropped and the children were not allowed to speak it in public.

In 1869, Louis Struett arrived from Germany and located on a homestead in Pine Lake township adjoining Gustav Morganroth’s homestead.

Since Louis had been brought up in a large city in Germany in the merchant tailoring business, he was not accustomed to farm labor. He had a fine pair of oxen, but somehow the beasts would never go where he wanted them to go. Instead, they had pretty much their own way. His friends suggested that perhaps this was due to the fact that he spoke German to them, such as “Hott,” “Bist” and “Br-r-r-r,” instead of “Gee,” “Haw,” etc.

One day they found Louis rambling about the prairie with his team. Naturally, they asked him where he was going. He said, in German, “I do not know. My oxen could give you better information.”

Despite his lack of skill with animals, Louis was a very economical farmer. When his overalls were worn out in front, being a good tailor by trade, he would make them over and turn the back to the front.

As soon as the village of Perham was platted and lots offered for sale, Louis struck out for town. He bought a lot, erected a building and started a clothing store, where he had great success.

Louis became one of Perham’s principal merchants and the vice-president of the First National Bank of Perham.

Information for this article came from “Perham in its Early Days,” by Henry Kemper, and the East Otter Tail History Books online at Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.

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