Well, they weren't Russians; they were our own Volga Germans who emigrated here from the Volga River valley in Russia. The article under this headline, "Russians Win A Country," was written with the dateline Topeka, Dec. 10, 1897. It appeared in The New York Sun on Dec. 12 two days later.
"During the past 10 years, while changes and upheavals in Kansas politics have been going on, there is one county, Ellis, out on the western frontier that has never wavered in its adhesion to Democratic principles and ideals. Every scheme known to the artful Republican politician has been practiced on the Ellis County Russians — even to the use of money before and after the primaries, but without success. The thrifty foreigners have felt it their duty to accept all the money offered for their votes, but when it came to voting the Republican ticket that has been quite a different matter. Finally the Republican politicians discovered the Russians would not stay bought and gave up in disgust."
"Two years ago the Russians, known as the Black Democracy of Ellis County, were strong enough in the Democratic county convention to nominate half of the ticket. The minority Republicans agreed upon a ticket composed equally of representatives of both parties but this year the Russian Democrats announced their separation from the Regular Democrats and would go it alone. They nominated a full ticket for the county offices. The regular Democrats divided, some supporting the Russians and others joining the fight to defeat the Russian ticket. The campaign was waged with bitterness and every effort was made to divide the Russian strength, but without avail."
This was the first time they were able to put together their own slate of candidates — and win — and even make national news.
Before the Russians came there were Democrats and Republicans. Twenty-seven years before in the election of 1870 "Rattle Snake Pete" Lanahan, the deputy of "Wild Bill" Hickock and a Democrat, ran against "Wild Bill" (Republican) for sheriff. Lanahan won 114 to 89. Wild Bill was described as a radical Republican — which seems logical.
Now — about those other Democrats — the Russian Democrats - you know there has to be "the rest of the story."
Henry Oshant and John Schyler could speak fluent German. They were the only two people in Ellis County who could speak German and became invaluable —and good friends with our new arrivals. They monitored and advised them for all needs.
Henry Oshant was a Democrat and wanted to expand the party. Each Sunday he and John Schyler would hitch up "Old Riley" to a light spring buggy and, with a 16-gallon keg of beer and an adequate number of registration cards, head for the village of the week — 10 in all. Once the beer consumption was well underway, Henry, followed by John, would stand in the back of the buggy and give rousing speeches in German extolling the virtues of being a Democrat. At the appropriate time registration cards were distributed. I don't believe they gave Old Riley any beer, but several times it was noted he seemed to be enjoying the socialization.
They could have called it the "Pumpkin Party" instead of the "Democrat Party" and it wouldn't have made any difference. The Russians knew who they were and had their own beliefs. The Democrat name came with the Sunday free beer parties. Evidently their principles and ideas differed from those John and Henry had espoused.
And that's the "rest of the story" - and how our Volga Germans created their own version of the Democrat party.
Stan "Bud" Dalton, a resident of Ellis County, is an occasional contributor.