The Jewish Settlement of Painted Woods, North Dakota

The Jewish Settlement of Painted Woods, North Dakota

Image courtesy of the American Jewish Archives

Before North Dakota was admitted to the Union in 1889, the Dakota Territory was home to a Jewish farming settlement called Painted Woods.

Established in 1882 near the towns of Bismarck and Washburn, the agricultural colony was named for trees in the area that Indians had painted with various colors.

Painted Woods was among the earliest Russo-Jewish farming settlements in the Americas. Others included Devils Lake, also in North Dakota (est. 1882), Sicily Island, near Bayou Louis, Louisiana (est. 1882), Moisés Ville, Argentina (est. 1889), Palestine, Huron County, Michigan (est. 1891), and Hirsch in Saskatchewan, Canada (est. 1892), named for Belgian philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch, a prominent supporter of Jewish farming settlements.

Similar settlements were founded in South Dakota, Colorado, Northern California, Oregon, Virginia, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

Forbidden from owning land in the Pale of Settlement, many Russian Jews dreamed of farming in Palestine and the Americas. Painted Woods began with this optimistic spirit.

Encouraged by the Homestead Act, which granted free acreage to homesteaders on federal land in the West, Jews of Russian-speaking lands came to Painted Woods.

The colony started with 20 families, each receiving 160 acres—the maximum allowed by the Homestead Act. They received support from Rev. (Rabbi) Judah Wechsler of St. Paul, Minnesota, and his Jewish community. By the end of 1882, Painted Woods had grown to 54 families (about 200 people).

Rabbi Weschler wrote excitedly in a letter dated May 15, 1883:

I have just returned from a trip to the Wechsler colony at Painted Woods, Dakota, and am more than pleased. A most favorable location has been secured. Arriving at Bismarck, which is one of the most flourishing towns of the territory, I found a majority of the colonists assembled to welcome me. In the evening, until twelve, I had a consultation with them regarding their present and future wants, and resolved to visit the colony in person.

However, due to poor conditions, the settlers typically left after working the land for the minimum number of years to obtain ownership.

Prairie fires, droughts, crop failures, blizzards, and other hardships resulted in heavy losses and great physical and emotional distress. There were only 40 settlers left by 1885, and bleak conditions forced most of the stalwarts out by 1887.

Many of the homesteaders returned to more traditional work as merchants in far-flung market towns along the country’s growing railroad system.


Jewish Settlers of Painted Woods

A message from Rick Levine, compiler of this list of Jewish settlers:

First, I want to apologize to the settlers and their families, now and forever, for any names I have accidentally or otherwise left off the list.  This is the best list I could come up with on short notice. If I discover more names, I will send them to you. Also, I only list those who filed claims before about 1896.

Original Settlers (1882-1884)

Axelrad, A. [probably “Abraham Axelrod”, b. 1860]

Axelrad, J.

Baron, B. [may be related to Lasur Barron]

Bromberg, N. [from Bessarabia; may be related to Israel Brumberg; other possible relatives are Nudelman, Goldstein]

Cohen, N.

Diller, S. [from Odessa]

Diller, L. [from Odessa; full name Levi Dillar/Dellar, b. 1862]

Dorfman, B. [from Kishinev, Bessarabia; probably Baruch Dorfman; Anna, Baruch Dorfman’s daughter, arrived with husband Joseph Confeld and children 1884-1885]

Confeld [related to Oxman]

Dorfman, J. [from Kishinev; probably Joseph Dorfman, b. 1860]

Dorfman, M. [from Kishinev; probably Moses Dorfman, b. 1858]

Dubiver, D. [from Zalozhtsy, Ukraine; probably “David Dubiver,” b. 1835-1837]

Fuchs, J.

Gale, A. [from Ukraine; possibly related to Marcus Grabifker]

Gale, J. [from Ukraine]

Gerstman, L. [from Ukraine]

Goldstein, H. [from Bessarabia; probably Hyman Goldstein; may be related to Bromberg, Nudelman]

Goldstein, J. [from Bessarabia]

Goldstein, D. [from Bessarabia]

Hechtman, B. [from Ukraine]

Israel, B. [may be related to Barnet Israel

Katz, N. [from Vina, Poland; probably Nachum Chaim Nolan Hyman Katz]

Katz, S.

Kartman, J. [Joseph Cartman spelling in land patent]

Kartman, A.

Kosofsky, N. [may be related to Louis Kosofsky]

Kosofsky, A.

Lenetzky, A. [from  Ukraine; may be related to Solomon Linetsky]

Levidansky, N. [from Ukraine]

Levidansky, C. [from Ukraine]

Levidansky, J. [from Ukraine]

Marcules, M. [may be related to Calman Marqulius]

Nudelman, J. [from Bessarabia; Joseph Nudelman obtained Land Patent in 1891]

Nudelman, S. [from Bessarabia; Solomon Nudelman obtained Land Patent in 1892; may be related to Bromberg, Goldstein, Dubiver, Cohen]

Nudelman, M. [from Bessarabia]

Nudelman, Philip

Rogowol, Simon

Rogowol, J.

Steinman, M. [from Odessa; Mike/Moses, married to Sarah Dorfman, daughter of Baruch Dorfman; son Joseph born 1885 in Painted Woods]

Steinman, S. [from Kishinev; this is Sarah (Dorfman) Steinman]

Schenk, J. [from Odessa; may be related to Michael Schenk]

Schenk, L. [from Odessa]

Wolf, Abraham

Other Known Settlers

Confeld, Joseph [from Kishinev, Bessarabia; married to Anna Dorfman Confeld; unclear which children were with them in 1885; daughter Rose Confeld was born in December 1885 in Painted Woods, or possibly Bismarck]

Katz, Joseph

From Federal Land Office Records (1880s)

Lepdowski, Nathan (sp.?)

Kosonki, Sochem

Ruprik, Kirch

Rugofe, Elizah and Simon

Cushner, Benjamin [possibly Krushmer]

Fairman, Isaac [Furman?]

Fairman, Samuel


Kraswaski, Zacariah

Kosovsky, Cusher

Kaminetsky, Michael

Hultmann, Baruch

Myers, Jacob

Jackson, Jacob

Wing, Zacharias S.

Other Names from Lists of Painted Woods





Levine (maybe they meant Levidansky)




  • Gunther Plaut, The Jews in Minnesota: The First Seventy-Five Years (New York: American Jewish Historical Society, 1959).
  • Max Rosenthal, “Agricultural Colonies in the United States,” in Jewish Encyclopedia (1972).
  • Norton B. Stern, “The Orangevale and Portervilles, California Jewish Farm Colonies,” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 10/2.

Thank you to Rick Levine, a descendant of the Dorfman family of Painted Woods, for providing the list of Jewish settlers. We are also grateful for additional information provided by Lori Delman, whose husband’s great, great grandfather was Joseph Nudelman, a settler of Painted Woods. If readers have comments, questions, or information to add to this exhibit, please contact Rick Levine at or visit his website: http//