Book honors legacy of German-Hungarians

Josette Steiner Hatter's curiosity about her heritage has evolved into a book titled "From the Banat to North Dakota: A history of the German-Hungarian Pioneers in Western North Dakota."...

Josette Steiner Hatter's curiosity about her heritage has evolved into a book titled "From the Banat to North Dakota: A history of the German-Hungarian Pioneers in Western North Dakota."

Hatter wrote the book in collaboration with David Dryer, who is a retired research chemist living in San Mateo, Calif.

Hatter learned her maternal great-grandfather Johann Braun and family struck out on a solo journey to America in the spring of 1889 from their home in the Banat region of Austria-Hungary. Within days of their arrival in New York, Braun filed a homestead claim in Stark County, establishing the first German-Hungarian homestead in North Dakota.

As the mystery of their journey unfolded, Hatter discovered the forces that led them to leave their home in the Banat. She also learned why another 600 Catholic families sold their farms and followed the Brauns to southwestern North Dakota.

"It gives you a chill doing research, finding a name in print that mattered to you," she said.


The book was published by the Institute for Regional Studies at North Dakota State University. It's described as the first history written about this 19th Century migration from Austria-Hungary to the United States.

The book includes Hatter's collection of stories submitted by area families, while Dreyer adds archival data from ships' manifests, land records and newspaper reports.

"We set out to preserve the first-person voices of those original stories. We collected them and placed them in a context that allows for the whole story of the people themselves to be preserved," she said.

"We also provide people with hard data so they too, can figure out how to look for their families," she added.

"I was born in Omaha, Neb., but my mother and father grew up in southwestern North Dakota," she said from her home in California.

Hatter's father, Dr. Jack Steiner, practiced dentistry in New England, Bowman and Dickinson.

"I went to grade school at Dickinson and New England and finished up at Trinity," she said.

The children grew up knowing they were three-fourths German and one-fourth Swedish.


"We were well aware of the fact that recent ancestors had come to the United States," she said.

"Our parents were both interested in history. My mother took us on hikes. Sometimes we'd end up in the cemetery. It wasn't a sad thing. We'd look at head stones and dates," she said.

Hatter earned a master's degree in psychology and works at the University of California-Irvine. She is married to Rod Hatter and has two step-children and two grandchildren.

In doing research for the book, Hatter came to appreciate the courage of the early settlers. The book is one way of honoring their legacy.

"It was a very adventurous thing they did. They were very brave," she said.

"Another thing we wanted to do, was describe their traditions, their language, the Catholic Church. Sts. Stephen's and St. Elizabeth's churches were very important," she said.

Hatter said the research, writing and editing took about six years to complete. While the co-authors both live in California, they've only met twice. Most of their communication has been online over the Internet.

The authors chose the Institute for Regional Studies as the publisher because the research has larger applications.


Hatter believes the German-Hungarians were successful on the North Dakota prairies because of their strong ties to family and community.

"They had a strong heritage they could rely on to see them through some of the initial adversity," she said.

"We also demonstrate that in time they changed, they intermarried and they assimilated," she said.

Dryer's grandmother came to North Dakota from the Banat in 1892 with the third wave of immigrants. After living south of Richardton for a short time, the family moved to Portland, Ore.

"My casual reading always is history," he said. "The Banat is a mysterious place. During the Communist period, it was behind the Iron Curtain," he said.

"I started researching all my families. We live close to a branch of the National Archives, so it's easy for me," he said.

He studied naturalization papers and passenger ship records. When he made contact with Hatter, the research came together.

"If there's anything we could agree on, is the Banaters were industrious. The other thing, they were so cohesive. They stuck together," he said.


Dryer believes the Banaters left their country for the prospect of abundant land in North Dakota.

"These Catholic families in the Banat outgrew the land to support them," he said.

"The Northern Pacific was a great savior to Banaters. A lot of them got jobs with the railroad," he added.

The Banat of Austria-Hungary no longer has evidence of German occupation. The remaining German families have migrated back to Germany, he said.

Copies of the book are available by writing to the North Dakota State University Institute for Regional Studies, P.O. Box 5075, Fargo, N.D. 58105. The Web site is:

Books are also available through RBooks in the Prairie Hills Mall in Dickinson.

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