Every year, professional review boards in each state review applications for sites to become historical landmarks, from churches and buildings to roadways. These applications once reviewed and vetted at the state level, are then submitted to the National Parks Service which reviews the application to determine if a location should be added to the National Register of Historic Places. This year, North Dakota will have a new location added to the registry: the Sons of Jacob Cemetery.
The Sons of Jacob Cemetery is located in the community of Garske, approximately 20 miles from Devils Lake, and had its last burial in 1935.
Garske saw the homesteading of approximately 100 Jewish people from 1883 to 1925 from Eastern Europe. They came to the region to own property and farm the land and practice their religion without fear of persecution. At the time, Jews were not allowed to own land in Russia and the Homestead Act of 1862 gave them the opportunity to start anew.
While many showed up in the region to claim their land, most moved to nearby Devils Lake, partially because of the lack of resources & difficulty working the land and because there was already a full-fledged Jewish community there, making it easier to participate in their religion with others.
At the time the application was submitted for approval, there were only 17 burials listed in the cemetery, with only 13 remaining headstones. The cemetery was mostly forgotten until 2000 when Hal Ettinger, a descendant of a person buried there, reached out to other descendants to discuss erecting a plaque for the site to both list out all the homesteaders and rededicate the site, which occurred in 2006. Since Ettinger’s passing, other locals and descendants have maintained the site.
The site was officially added to the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places on June 5, 2017.
For more on this story by Caroline Grueskin of the Bismarck Tribune, click here.