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Russian Immigrants Fail at Klamath Basin Farming

In 1913, the Klamath Development Company recruited Russian immigrants to purchase farm land in the Henley-Mount Laki district of Klamath County.  Only about 20 actually settled there. 

A school teacher who wrote in the 1920’s about the Russians, Elvine P. Gienger, said they were “some of the most fascinating students I ever taught.”  She made it a rule they couldn’t speak Russian at school.  “It was a little harsh,” she said, “but that was the only way they could learn English.  It worked, too.  The other students helped them, and they learned very quickly.”

She said when the “poor little urchins” got lice one time, their parents put butter in their hair as medicine.  She said it “smelled to high heaven … in the warm weather,” and she scrubbed their heads outside from a cold-water pump.  Once, one of their fathers complained because she was teaching them the Earth was round.

The Klamath Falls Evening Herald had welcomed the Russians’ arrival, forecasting it would be of “prime importance” to Klamath Basin development.  But the Russians were gone within three years, overwhelmed by the high cost of farming in the region, including land payments, property taxes and irrigation fees.

Source: Johnson, Bill. "Russian Colonists in The Klamath Basin." Where Fortune Calls: The Journal of the Shaw Historical Library21 (2007): 33-38. Print.

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.