Pioneer Family (Victoria, KS)
Sculpted by Kansas artist Pete Felten, Junior, this 1976 monument commemorates early Volga German settlers in the region. It emphasizes their cultural distinctiveness.
Backstory and Context
Sculpted by Kansas artist Pete Felten, Junior, this 1976 monument commemorates early Volga German settlers in the region. Volga Germans (also known as Russian Germans, Germans-from-Russia, or Volga Russians) were ethnic Germans who were recruited by Catherine the Great of Russia in the 1760s to migrate to the Volga region to develop that region agriculturally. A century later, Alexander II rescinded the privileges that had lured these settlers to the region, and many immigrated to the Great Plains of the United States and Canada to escape military conscription.
As other Midwestern towns celebrated ethnic inclusivity during the nation’s Bicentennial in 1976, Felten’s sturdy Volga German immigrant family for Victoria, Kansas, emphasized the Russian Germans’ otherness. The Volga German monument’s dedicatory plaque explains that “the first religious activities of these settlers centered around the village cross.” But Felten depicted the pioneer family as split along gender lines by that village cross: a mustached limestone father, two sons, and a pet dog peer almost angrily at a woman in a headscarf and her two daughters (the younger dragging a rag doll on the ground) from opposite sides of a large wooden cross. Although the monument was a tribute to the families that established the adjacent village of Herzog, Felten’s depiction seemed to suggest that, despite their religiosity and efforts constructing the 1100-seat Cathedral of the Plains, these Catholic Russian Germans could not be easily assimilated into American culture.
“St. Fidelis Church: The Cathedral of the Plains.” Accessed January 18, 2016. http://www.kansastravel.org/cathedralofheplains.htm.
Laegreid, Renee M. “German Russians,” Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. Accessed June 15, 2017. http://plainshumanities.unl.edu/encyclopedia/doc/egp.ea.012.
Prescott, Cynthia Culver, Pioneer Mother Monuments: Constructing Cultural Memory. University of Oklahoma Press, 2019.