Cowboy Jam Session by Jeri L. Dobrowski: In search of dirt
Recently while scouting the stacks in a used bookstore, I spotted a copy of “From the Steppes to the Prairies” by Monsignor George P. Aberle. It’s the third book of the Monsignor’s I’ve gleaned from the nonfiction corner, each a different title. Born in Strassburg, Kutschurgan, Russia, Aberle was among thousands of Germans from Russia who emigrated to America when western states were opened to homesteading. He arrived in 1908, at the age of 17.
Privy to stories passed down through generations, Aberle relates the saga of farmers and artisans leaving southern Germany for Russia in the middle 18th and early 19th centuries. Approximately 100 years later – enticed by opportunity and free land – a second wave of migration set them sailing for Canada, South America, and the prairies of the Dakota Territory.
One of the world’s most comprehensive collections about this ethnic group is archived in the Germans from Russian Heritage Collection at North Dakota State University (library.ndsu.edu/grhc/). Included are the Dakota Memories Oral History Project, clothing and textiles, photo, publications, translations, and heritage tours.
Prairie Public Broadcasting (PPB), the network of public television stations covering North Dakota, portions of Minnesota, Montana, South Dakota, and the three Canadian provinces produced a series on the Germans from Russia. I’ve watched many of the programs, some several times, including my favorites which deal with food and the distinctive wrought-iron cemetery crosses.
In a 2000 media release, co-producer of the film Michael Miller stated, “These were a people who overcame much adversity.” Touting the importance of “Schmeckfest: Food Traditions of the Germans from Russia,” he said, “It preserves a legacy of a very self-sufficient group. The film is a chronicle of the prairie women who left no records of their lives, but who are remembered every day in the recipes and rituals of the kitchen: the heart of the home.”
The Germans from Russia Food Pantry Collection DVD brings together three award-winning favorites: “Schmeckfest: Food Traditions of the Germans from Russia” and “Recipes from Grandma’s Kitchen” Volumes I and II, plus bonus footage and recipes. Among the dishes are Fiegele (little birds bread), Pfeffernuesse Brot (pepper-spiced bread), Fleischkuchla (Volga-style meat turnovers), and Knoepfla Supp (dumpling soup). The DVD sells for $29.95 plus shipping from NDSU Libraries, Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, NDSU Dept. #2080, P.O. Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050; (701) 231-8416; http://www.prairiepublic.org/shop.
Jared Rogerson’s latest CD release, Dirt, gives credence to the adage, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Raised with the majestic Rocky Mountains as his backyard, Rogerson writes from a contemporary westerner’s viewpoint, what he calls “Cowboy Music from the New West.” As the title song from the 14-track album proclaims, “Dirt, it’s what this land’s made of / Work, it’s what this ranch is made of … It’s a hard, hard life / But we got what we came for … Dirt, is where the best roads lead / Dirt, it’s how I know I’m really free / And I wouldn’t trade this way of life for anything.” (Read the lyrics in their entirety at http://www.cowboypoetry.com/jaredrogerson.htm.)
While Rogerson’s message is rooted in the age-old desire for personal freedom and the lure of land, his sound is decidedly modern. Co-produced with Brenn Hill and Ryan Tilby, Dirt will remind more than a few Chris LeDoux fans of the late singer’s message, style, and intensity. (Take a glimpse into “Where Dirt Comes From,” the story behind Rogerson’s music at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1qQ7yOXQBs&feature=youtube.)
Acknowledging today’s fast-paced world, Rogerson laments the loss of individual purpose. In his biography, the bronc-rider-turned-songwriter says great challenges face those living in today’s American West, just as the courageous men and women who traversed the country 150 years ago. Of the opportunities that exist, he says, “Now is the time when every single person can make an impact on the world. For me, it is music. My hope is to inspire others to dream big and then chase down those dreams. Now is the time. Life’s too short to ride a slow horse.”
Dirt sells for $20 from Roughstock Records, P.O. Box 2071, Pinedale, WY 82941; (307) 231-0610. Listen to samples and order online at http://www.JaredRogerson.com. Downloads are available on iTunes.