“History and Geography Dictionary of Saratov Province” by A.N. Minkh

Published: Saratov, 1898. Pages 696-700.

Ober-Dorf, Oberdorf, Kuptsevo, Kuptseva Mill (Mel’nitsa), Bechers Khutor.

Translation and notes by Dr. Lyudmila I. Koretnikova


Ober-Dorf, Oberdorf, a.k.a. Kuptseva Mill (Mel’nitsa), Bechers Khutor, a German colony of Kamyshin uyezd (district), Ilovlya volost (small rural district), 8 location of Zemstvo[*]Head is located 50 degrees 19' North in latitude and 14 degrees 41' East in longitude from Pulkovo**on the right bank of the Mokraya Olkhovka (Wet Alder trees) river, right tributary of the Ilovlya river, which has 4 dams.

It is situated 180 verstas***from Saratov, 40 verstas from Kamyshin, 25 verstas to the west from the Volost Village of Ilovlya Volost Resenberg, a.k.a. Ilovlinsky Umet. Here, on the left bank of the Olkhovka river Tambov-Kamyshin railroad and the railroad station Kuptsevo have been located since 1894. The colony itself has a Lutheran church and a school. All the dwellers are villagers-owners, colonists, Germans, Lutherans, some are Reformists-Calvinists. About 1828 the colonist Bechers, from Kamenka County, founded a khutor****in this place. Then several other colonists from the same county settled close to him that is why this settlement got the name Bechers Khutor and is still known by this name among people. Before the colonists came here, the Russian peasant Kuptsov lived here - also in a khutor, so the Russians from the nearby villages call this colony Kuptsovo. Earlier, Lutherans and Catholics who came here lived in separate khutors; in 1852-54 colonists from Kamyshin uyezd came here (from Norka, Lesnoy Karamysh, Popovka,  Gololobovka, Vodyanoy Buerak, German Scherbakovka, Ust-Kulalinka, Verkhnyaya (Upper) Kulalinka, Buidakov Buerak, Nizhnyaya (Lower) Dobrinka, Krestovy Buerak), Catholics moved to the colony Marienfeld (13-15 verstas to the South-East, down the Mokraya Olkhovka River, on the left bank). After the khutor was fully settled in 1852-54 it began to be called officially Ober-Dorf (upper settlement) as it is an upper German settlement on the river.  The settlers got land from the government according to the number of men mentioned in Census #9. Each got 14.5 dessiatinas*****, total according to the agriculture plan – 4,365 dessiatinas of convenient land.

According to the 1859 List of Foreign Settlers (Our Coloniesby Klaus) Oberdorf, Ilovlya county had: according to census #10 (1857) – 73 families, 272 males and 252 females, total: 524.

According to the list of settlements of the Central Statistics Committee, published in 1862, the German Khutor Kuptseva Mel’nitsa (Mill) a.k.a. Ober-Dorf is shown under #1,084 on the high road, close to the Mokraya Olkhovka River, 39 verstas from the Uyezd City Kamyshin. There was 1 Catholic (?) prayer house, 1 school. In 1860 there were 51 families, 283 males and 266 females, total 549. In 1866 4 males left for the colony Kanovo (Ter Region in the Caucasus). In 1885 1 person moved to Verkhnyaya Gryaznukha (Ust-Kulalinka Volost). In December 1886 9 families moved to Kansas (America) having their passports and two men who were due to serve in the army went there without passports (in these 11 families there were 18 males, 18 females, total: 36 people). The commune does not help the re-settlers and their land becomes the property of the commune.

According to 1886 Zemstvo Census there were 128 households, 618 males, 631 females, total: 1,249; also there were 58 families constantly absent and 8 families, who were outsiders (57 people). 319 males and 328 females were literate. There were 130 inhabited izbas[†], 70 were made of stone and 60 of wood; roofs of 64 of those were made of wood, 66 – of straw. There were 158 ploughs, 22 winnowing-machines, 599 horses, 410 oxen, 1,124 cows and calves, 1,375 sheep, 436 pigs and 48 goats. 

According to the Saratov Province Statistics Committee (1891) there were 772 males, 754 females, total 1,526 people in Oberdorf. They had 5,247 dessiatinas of convenient land: 4,565 were arable land, 56.5 – meadows and 65 – forest. They also had 3,823.5 dessiatinas of inconvenient land, total: 9,070.5 dessiatinas. 

The allotted land is in one piece. The arable land is around the colony and its farthest end is 10 verstas from the houses. Pasture is in two places: to the east and to the south-west.  The water meadow land is to the north and north-east. The steppe meadow land is in the ravine, to the west of the colony. Forests are scattered in the arable land. The Mokraya Olkhovka is flowing through the arable land. It flows first to the east and then to the south. The arable land is somewhat hilly. There are about 12 ravines, 2 of them are absolutely unusable. The rest are used either as pasture or as mowing land. 1/3 is chernozem (black earth), 1/3 is clay and 1/3 is stony and salty soil. Subsoil is red clay, sand subsoil is stone. Before 1854 khutor dwellers owned land where they wanted and how much they wanted (so called “grab-it” way). From 1854 till Census #10 (1857) they divided land “according to ploughs”: those who had cattle for one plough, got one amount of land, those who had cattle for 2 ploughs got twice as much, etc. One had to pay 3 rubles for each plough. Only after 1857 a whole commune was formed and they started to own land according to the number of males mentioned in the census. Every 3 years they would redistribute land. In 1874 the land was divided between 526 men in the locationSpitzand Sirin, but in 1875 the land was again divided between 520 men for 3 years. In 1878 the land was divided between 608 men for 5 years, but because of bad harvest years many people left in 1879 and in 1880 the land was redistributed again – between 352 men, as 256 men had left. In 1883 there was redistribution – between 620 men (63 men who had left and orphans were not included in the head-count). They said it would be good for 5 years. All the arable land is divided into plots 100 x 100 sazhens*and marked with posts. Meadowland, both steppe and water, about 170 dessiatinas, are divided in the same way as the land. The forest is small (deciduous forest), it is felled each year – 1 wagon for each household. It is added to kizyaks** that are used for heating houses. Cabbage-fields and potato-fields are divided in the same way as the land and are given for the same period of time. Barns are not redistributed. For those who build new houses the sites are assigned on vacant plots of land. There is no common arable land. There are two spare common bread barns. Mostly they sow wheat and some kubanka***. Rye is 1/3 of wheat, oats – 1/5 of rye, a little bit of barley and millet. Wheat has always been dominating.  In the 1870s, for 2 or 3 years they tried to sow winter wheat but there was a bad crop. Some sow a little bit of spring rye and it has quite a good crop. Watermelons are always sown on the fallow fields and in the fall they would sow rye there, then - spring wheat for 2 years and after that the field is lying fallow again. Fields are not manured as manure is all used for kizyaks.  Land is worked with ploughs.

Gophers (ground squirrels) appeared here around the 1860s, every person mentioned in the census has to kill 30 gophers a year. Every available person has to come up with 17 tails. If someone does not bring the required number of tails, s/he is then fined 1 kopeck for each missing tail. The money is then used to buy the missing number of tails. Since 1887 each available person had to produce 50 tails as even though gophers are exterminated in different ways, there are still a lot of them.

Bread is sold in Kamyshin. There are 1,000 dessiatinas of pasture. Cattle graze also on fallow fields, meadows and after harvest time – on the stubble-fields. In winter cows are fed with straw and chaff, horses – with a mixture of straw, flour and bran. Hay is preserved till spring time. Some householders rent arable land at 18-25 rubles for 1 sotennik****. Some householders live in the region of the Don Army[‡]on the land owned by Mr. Zherebtsev and work by metayage system sowing crops. During haymaking time they pay 5-12 rubles per 1 sotennik. Separate householders rent extra land from the commune at 10-20 rubles per 1 sotennik of arable land annually. Besides, in 1873 the commune let ½ dessiatina (to be used as gardens) to 2 householders for 15 years. It cost 40 rubles for the whole period of time. In 1879 they let 7 1/4dessiatinas and in 1886 – 2 ½ dessiatinas to different people for 12 years to be used as gardens. The cost was 89 rubles 75 kopecks annually for the whole plot of 9 ¾dessiatinas. The condition was that after this period of time is over, trees become the property of the commune. There is no purchase land.

In 1886 there were in Oberdorf: 24 shoemakers, 8 millers, 4 wheel-wrights, 4 joiners, 4 weavers. There were 2 smithies, 5 joineries, 1 wheel-wright shop, 1 weaving mill, 2 shoe-making workshops. In 1890 there were 2 stores, 1 oil-mill, 1 windmill, and 4 water flour-mills on the Mokraya Olkhovka river, each having 2 mills. All 4 are let by the community. The school was founded in 1852 when the first settlers arrived. It is financed by the community and is housed in the public building. In 1890 there were 126 boys and 143 girls, total 269 students.

According to the Ilovlya Volost Board (1894) the colony Oberdorf a.k.a. Kuptsevo, Bekhers khutorr also had a wooden church covered with a wooden roof, sanctified in 1872, community church school, opened in 1852, Russian-German School opened in 1891, 1 wine store, 1 trifles store and 1 manufactured goods store; 2 wind flourmills, 1 oil-mill, 53 wells.   In 1894 there were 155 households, 1,575 buildings, 990 of them were wooden, 585 - made of stone and adobe. Most of the roofs were wooden, and about 1/3 of the roofs were made of straw; the community school roof was made of metal. The settlement was built according to a plan and is divided into quarters of 4 houses each. There were 844 males and 853 females, total: 1,697 Germans, Lutherans forming one community. Among them there were 4 Russian Orthodox people. Pastor did not live in the settlement. Besides farming, some settlers engage in useful arts: tailors – 2, shoemakers – 3, 1 woodworker, 4 carpenters, 1 carriage-maker, 3 smiths, 2 weavers.

The allotted land given to the community by the crown is 12 3/4dessiatinas for each male mentioned in the census, total 5,247 dessiatinas of convenient and 3,824 of inconvenient, total 9,071 dessiatinas of land. It is considered that the colony Oberdorf is 25 verstas from Rosenberg, 3 verstas from Erlenbach, 5 verstas from the Kuptsevo station of Tambov-Kamyshin railway, 10 verstas from the village Smorodiny, 18 verstas from the village Mokraya Olkhovka, 10 – from Kotovo, 39 – from Kamyshin, 179 – from Saratov.

Tambov-Kamyshin railroad and the Kuptsevo station are situated on the land of Oberdorf community. Also situated on the land of Oberdorf community are 4 water flour mills with grinding yards and a hut for the miller and his helpers: 1) Shekhtelev mill with one yard, 3 wooden and 2 stone buildings, 2 males and 2 females live there constantly, it is situated 2 verstas from Oberdorf; 2) Kling flour mill with one yard, 3 wooden and 2 stone buildings, 6 males and 9 females live there constantly, it is situated 1/2verstas from Oberdorf; 3) Fromm mill with one yard, 3 wooden and 2 stone buildings, 2 males and 2 females live there constantly, it is situated 3 verstas from Oberdorf; 4) Saken mill with one yard, 4 wooden and 3 stone buildings, 5 males and 8 females live there constantly, it is situated 4 verstas from Oberdorf.

(1862 List of Settlements of the Central Statistics Committee; Saratov Province Gazette # 46, 1890; Collection of Province Zemstvo, Kamyshin uyezd, 1891; Ilovlya Volost Council Documents, 1894; Maps: 1891 ordnance survey map of the General Staff and 1894 Zemstvo map). Look at the map on page 342.


[*]Zemstvo - elective district council in pre-revolutionary Russia.

**Pulkovo - 15 kilometers from St. Petersburg. The main observatory is located here. The observatory was built in 1833-39, 75 meters above the sea level, in latitude 59° 19' 40" North. Pulkovo meridian is in longitude 30° 19' 40" East from Greenwich

***1 versta = 3,500 feet, 1.06 km, 0.66 miles.


****Khutor - separated farm; farmstead.

*****1 dessiatina (measure of land) = 2.7 acres

[†]Izba - peasant's log hut.

*1 sazhen = 2,134 meters.

**Kizyak - pressed dung used as fuel.

***Kubanka - kind of wheat (originally grown along the Kuban River).

****Sotennik – 100 x 100 sazhens.

[‡]Today Rostov-on-Don region.


Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Saratov Province by A.N. Minkh (Saratov, 1898-1901)