Many of the residents of Ellis County are descendants of German immigrants who came from the Volga River region of Russia. These settlers were people who migrated from Germany to Russia following the end of the Seven Years War in 1763. They were invited to immigrate to Russia by Catherine the Great, who was born in Germany and was the leader of Russia at the time. The Empress issued a manifesto on December 4, 1762 and sought to strengthen her empire by having immigrants settle and farm the vast steppe regions of southern Russia and the Ukraine. The first invitation was not effective and a second manifesto was issued on July 22, 1763 with many more enticements to lure potential immigrants. She promised freedom of religion, freedom from military conscription, free land and an exemption from taxation. Catherine’s invitation appealed to the people in the southern provinces of Germany, who had suffered great economic stress and other problems as a result of the Seven Years War.
From 1763 to 1768 many Germans left their homeland, traveled to Russia and built villages along the Volga River (hence, the name Volga-Germans). Nearly 200 towns and villages were established in Russia and the German immigrants prospered. In 1874 the reigning Czar began to remove the privileges Catherine the Great had promised the Volga Germans. Consequently, the Volga-Germans began to search for a new homeland. In 1875 they sent a scouting party of five men to America to inform themselves of the climate, soil and living conditions suitable for their farming lifestyle. These scouts found the Kansas plains similar to the steppes region of Russia and a large number of the Volga-Germans decided to migrate to America. In October and November of 1875, many of these immigrants left their villages along the Volga River and traveled to Saratov, Russia to begin their journey to America. The first Volga Germans arrived in Hays the middle of February 1876 and traveled south to settle land along the Big Timber Creek. Liebenthal, located in Rush County, was the first community to be founded on February 22, 1876. A second group arrived on March 1st and founded the village of Catharine. The other communities of Herzog, Pfeifer and Munjor were settled during the spring and summer of 1876. Although they had the same religion, ethnicity and culture, the immigrants continued to focus on life in their individual communities. Just as they had done in Russia, they retained their language with the various dialects that were spoken by the people of each village. Each individual village also retained traditions of food, family, religion and marriage. Being a very religious people, they expressed their creativity in the construction of the beautiful churches they built in their village.
Hays City was the first town that was settled in Ellis County in the fall of 1867. Although Hays City was not established by German immigrants, many of the residents of Hays are descendents of the early pioneers who founded these other villages in Ellis County. As the population of Volga Germans and Bukovina Germans increased in Ellis County, many of the residents of the smaller towns moved to Hays. Hays was - and is still the largest community in the area, and provided opportunities for employment, commerce and services not found in the smaller German villages.
Ellis - June 27, 1870
Liebenthal – February 22, 1876 (located in Rush County)
Catharine - April 8, 1876
Herzog - April 8, 1876 (later became part of the town of Victoria)
Munjor - August 10, 1876
Pfeifer - August 21, 1876
Schoenchen - April-May 1877 (founders came from Liebenthal)
Lorretto - 1902 (located in Rush County - founders came from Holy Cross Church in Pfeifer)
Walker - 1904 (founders came from Herzog)
Antonino - 1906 (founders came from St. Francis Church in Munjor)
Vincent - 1907 (church built to accommodate farmers who lived between Herzog and Pfeifer)
Take time and visit each one of the small towns in Ellis County and explore the sights, tour the beautiful historic churches, see the intricate details of the iron crosses at the cemeteries and admire the many buildings and school houses made of native limestone rock.