By Nicole Eisenbraun
The Eisenbrauns have been near — and later in — Wall, South Dakota, for about as long as the small western town has existed.
Wall was established as a railroad town for the Chicago and North Western Railroad system in 1907. The town name came from its location on the edge of the Badlands, the edge of a wall. By the 1930s it was still a spot described as the “geographical center of nowhere” with 300 citizens. Farmers and ranchers who lived outside the city limits made up much of the town; my family was among them.
Thirty miles outside of Wall is another township, a village really, called Creighton. It was here that Peter and Elizabeth Eisenbraun homesteaded in 1909 with their family. Both had been married previously so there were many children between them, including Peter’s five sons from his first wife Maria.
The third son, Albert, would become my great-great grandfather. He came with his family as an adult and homesteaded his own land. He settled on the land that his third son, Reinhold, would grow up to buy and live on himself. He later married Iva Albin. Iva and Reinhold’s eldest son David, the man who would become my grandfather, worked on that land. My father also grew up on that land, and for a few years I lived in the same little farm house he did.
Peter and Elizabeth had four more sons, not to mention their four daughters. The Creighton area had so many Eisenbrauns that their name — along with two other families’— was used for its nickname: the EisenGeigelDinkebraun community.
However, the Eisenbraun’s history in South Dakota isn’t much longer than Wall’s. Their story goes back to Germany, the origin country of my family.
Peter and Elizabeth were born in Germany. Peter was a man who had a hard time settling in a home because he was typically unhappy with his surroundings. He and Elizabeth moved to Russia.
Eventually, there was unrest in the Soviet Union. Under the ruling Russian czar there was the fear that religious and political liberties would be taken away. There was also threat of war. Peter had served in the Russian military and did not want the same for his sons.
To prevent his sons from being drafted Peter moved his family out of the Crimea to East Prussia. They were there less than six months.
They decided to try the United States next. The plan was to go through Ellis Island, but their first son, Henry, had eye problems. Authorities would not let Henry leave while his eyes were in this condition.
To get Henry to the U.S., the family paid someone bring him in. My great-grandmother speculates this was possibly through smuggling. Henry made it, and his family joined him in Tripp, South Dakota, after going through Ellis Island.
The entire family would have arrived in Tripp around April 5, 1905, joining family who had already settled there. Peter didn’t like living in South Dakota either, but he no longer had the funds to leave another country. Four years later they finally found their permanent home on the other side of the state.
In multiple ways my story is intertwined with the town Peter and Elizabeth chose all those years ago; the Eisenbrauns grew and adjusted with Wall. Many members of the family have stayed on the ssame land through the roaring ’20s and the Great Depression. They were there when the Husteads began offering free ice water at their small pharmacy to bring travelers into town — the beginning of the now famous Wall Drug.
Wall Drug shifted the town’s identity and gave opportunities to my family. Wall began attracting more and more tourists. This allowed the town to grow while many other towns failed, and that allowed my family to continue living in the placed they settled rather than having to move somewhere else.
Although we stayed ranchers through four generations, we are now involved in the tourism industry. My dad worked in the soda fountain at Wall Drug; my mom worked in the cafe. My parents later got into the motel business, and my grandparents help out.
Not all the Eisenbrauns changed their profession, but many of them branched out into other facets of the community. We have built ourselves into the foundations of Wall, South Dakota. It will continue being the permanent home for many of my family members. And yet, Peter Eisenbraun had to leave many homes before he found this little edge of the Badlands.