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Collector of Butterflies


Emil Krauth isn’t a name most of us would readily recognize. Unless of course, you are a butterfly collector.

Born in Germany, Emil Krauth studied at the Art School in Karlsruhe, Germany. Unfortunately, Emil was plagued with ill health and sought relief from a variety of doctors in a variety of places. Even the doctors at the University of Heidelberg Clinic were perplexed with Emil’s health. The best advice they could give him was to find an arid climate in which to live.

So in 1907, Emil booked passage to America. While in New York, not only did his poor health continue, but a new malady began to afflict him. Anxiety became so acute that he had difficulty sleeping; and at times, was worried he was losing his sanity.

Again, doctors prescribed living in an open county, preferably the Midwest. Someone suggested North Dakota.

Reaching Hebron, North Dakota in October of 1907, Emil began farming. His inexperience and poor physical condition however, precluded this from becoming a successful venture. He eventually settled into a real estate and an insurance business that became his lifelong career.

Still concerned about his mental health, he searched for something to help with his anxiety. One night while sitting on his porch, he watched a large “silk-spinner” moth circling the porch light. His interest was immediately aroused.

He sent for books on butterflies. He made his own butterfly net. Most importantly, he began to wander the hills around Hebron looking for and collecting butterflies. The fresh air and diversion gave Emil a feeling of resurgence in his life.

Emil Krauth bought more butterfly books, and began a correspondence with other collectors around the world. His collection of butterflies continued to grow. Butterfly excursions were now taking him beyond Hebron to other parts of the United States. Emil was the first to find the rare Parnassus butterfly east of the Rocky Mountains. On a later excursion to the Black Hills, he discovered a previously unknown butterfly sub specie.

Emil Krauth lived his life as he once said by “chasing butterflies instead of dollars.” When Emil died on this date in 1941, he left behind the largest private collection of butterflies and moths in America. Rolfsrud, Erling Nicolai, “Extraordinary North Dakotans”, Lantern Books, Alexandria, Minnesota, 1954.

Written by Dave Seifert