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German Settlers in Kansas

Germans were the largest European group who settled in Kansas. This Germanic heritage can be seen in many town names across Kansas, such as Humboldt in Allen County, Bremen in Marshall County, Stuttgart in Phillips County, Marienthal in Wichita County, Windthorst in Ford County, Olmitz in Barton County, Olpe in Lyon County, Bern in Nemaha County, and many others.

Some of these Kansas Germans emigrated directly from Germany, however many did not. They also came from Russia, Switzerland, Austria, and other parts of the United States. A large number, and some of the first in territorial Kansas, were the Pennsylvania Germans.

The German language was so common in Kansas that more than 60 newspapers have been published in the language. There were even different dialects of German spoken in Kansas, such as Deitsch, Plattdüütsch, Plautdietsch, Schweitzerdeitsch, Bäärntüütsch, and Deitsch-Behmisch. Some of these dialects were lost in an effort to assimilate to American culture, but traces can still be seen today.

Like other immigrants, Germans had many reasons for settling in Kansas. Some families came for economic reasons; others came for political or religious reasons. The earliest German immigrants to Kansas were from Hanover in northern Germany. They were tired of wars and were not happy with the leader of their country. Once established in Kansas many Germans were proud of their success in farming. They also helped build railroads and started new businesses.

In the 1870s large groups of Germans from Russia settled in Kansas. These people had left German in the 1700s and found refuge from Catherine the Great, living in the Volga River region. When they lost those protections, they searched for new more hospitable lands. A number of Mennonites from Russia settled in Marion, Harvey, and McPherson counties. Many German Catholic families settled in Ellis County.

Germans brought many traditions from their homeland. One such example is the Turn Verein clubs. Meaning gymnastics in German, these clubs served as both social and athletic clubs and brought together Germans from a community. The Topeka Turn Verein was established in the city's early days and featured a bowling alley and gymnasium. A reading room contained books in English and German. Coaches and musical directors were employed to help the members participate in athletic competitions and choirs and bands. Many Turn Verein clubs also provided support for the community. They provided financial assistance to the sick and needy, and money for funerals. Clubs would also support outside charities, such as orphanages.

Germans in Kansas did not always have it easy. They often faced difficult times while settling, and even after being in communities for years, faced anti-German sentiment during World Wars I and II.

Germans had a large impact on the formation of Kansas as a state. Many Germans were Mennonites, Quakers, Calvinists, or Protestants. As such they were some of the earliest members to push for Kansas to be a free state, and not have slavery.

Portions from The Kansas Journey.

Entry: German Settlers in Kansas

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2011

Date Modified: December 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.