by Joseph Elkinton
Joseph Elkinton (1859-1920) was a prominent Philadelphia Quaker who, together with his father Joseph S. Elkinton (1830-1905), was instrumental in organizing and providing material assistance from the Society of Friends in the United States to the Doukhobors during their immigration and settlement in Canada. In the summer of 1902, Elkinton visited several Doukhobor villages in the Prince Albert and Yorkton districts and came to know the people and their surroundings quite intimately. His observations were published in the book “The Doukhobors: Their History in Russia, Their Migration to Canada” (Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach, 1903). The following excerpt, taken from Chapter One of his book, is a vivid and moving account of his travels among the Doukhobors and the hospitality and kindness of heart which he encountered.
The untiring devotion of my father, Joseph S. Elkinton, to these Russian peasants, has stimulated my interest in them since their arrival in America. During the summer of 1902 I visited several of their villages in the Prince Albert and Yorkton colonies, and came to know the people and their surroundings quite intimately. One can scarcely imagine a more novel and interesting experience, or one more likely to expand the sympathies, than this trip afforded. The warm, personal interest in these people which has been awakened in me by actual contact with them I would be glad to communicate to others, and for this reason I make my narrative a closely personal one, hoping that my readers may feel, in some degree, as if they had traveled with me to the homes of these Doukhobors, had shared with me their truly oriental hospitality, and had felt, as I did, their truly Christian kindness of heart.
Much has been published of late that greatly misrepresents the majority of their communities. Several hundred of the Yorkton colonists, who number 5,500 in all, have been deluded by a religious fanatic – not originally of their communion – who has posed as a prophet, and has taught that the use of animals as beasts of burden is unscriptural, and that Jesus would soon come again in person.
(l-r) Joseph Elkinton, Eliza H. Varney, J. Obed Smith, Commissioner of Immigration.
As there were only 285 cows, 120 horses and 95 sheep liberated by the Doukhobors, and sold by government agents to prevent irresponsible persons from capturing them, it is evident that no considerable part of the forty-seven villages near Yorkton were involved in this craze. Each village has a hundred or more cattle; and the Doukhobors bought back all these liberated animals at the sale.
The pilgrimage was a more serious affair, and was happily brought to an end by the government officials before there were many fatalities from exposure. Several hundred men, women and children marched thirty or forty miles to Yorkton “in search of Jesus.” The women and children were detained by the authorities at that place, being housed and fed by the English-speaking residents, while the men went on to Minnedosa, some 150 miles toward Winnipeg. Here they were put upon a special train by the Superintendent of Immigration, Frank Pedley, and Colonization Agent Charles Spiers, taken back to Yorkton, and so returned to their homes.
The sixteen hundred Saskatchewan Doukhobors have taken no part whatever in these foolish acts, and the large majority of those about Yorkton very much disapproved of them. The newspaper press has, by its exaggerated accounts of these matters and misleading comments thereon, done great injustice to the Universal Brotherhood. Probably one of the most accurate of these reports appeared in The (New York) World of Eleventh month 9th, 1902, and is given in full as a fair statement of this unusual pilgrimage.
“The strange outbreak of religious mania among the Doukhobors of the Northwest Territories of Canada has aroused widespread interest, not merely in the Dominion, but throughout America. People everywhere are talking of these ‘Spirit-Wrestlers’ as they call themselves; these men who will not fight, will not work nor use horses nor cattle, who are strict vegetarians, and who follow to their farthest limit the logical conclusions of their beliefs. Six hundred men and boys have been marching through Manitoba, exposed to all the inclemency of the winter season, sleeping on the snow-covered prairie, with no other roof than the sky, with insufficient clothing, wholly dependent for their food on the charity of the residents.
“They were looking for the second coming of the Saviour. Jesus is to reveal Himself to them, they believe; is to be reincarnated, to meet them on the snow-mantled prairie and lead them forth to evangelize the world. He was to have met them at Millwood, according to their avowed expectation – a pretty little village perched on the steep banks of the mighty Assiniboine – but though He came not, their faith did not falter. He simply tarried to try them.
“Now they are sure He will appear in Winnipeg, the capital city of Manitoba, which they expected to reach by the 15th.
Terpeniye (Whitesand River), the Model Village.
“The Doukhobors live in communities. They hold property in common. Tracts of land have been reserved for them by the Dominion Government. Some of these communities are located north of Yorkton, and others near Rosthern and Prince Albert, in the Northwest Territories. Smaller colonies are to be found in the vicinity of Swan River, in Manitoba. Three months ago a religious agitation broke out among the Yorkton and Swan River colonies. They refused to work their horses, or to milk their cows, turning them loose on the prairie. They refused to wear anything that had an animal origin; they discarded their leather boots and wore rubbers. They would not eat butter, eggs, or indeed any article of food connected however remotely with an animal.
“To the number of 1,700 men, women and children they marched into Yorkton, bent on a pilgrimage to evangelize mankind. They were met by the Dominion immigration officials and the women and children, after some little resistance, were compelled to accept shelter and food. The men, to the number of six hundred, marched away to the East, leaving comfortable homes, stocked with food for two or three years, and wives and children, to wander, they knew not where, till they should meet the Lord.
“This pilgrimage naturally evoked widespread interest in all classes of people and, to gather some information regarding the motives, intentions and beliefs of the Doukhobors, I went up to meet them. I overtook them at Binscarth, a little village on the northwest branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway, about two hundred miles from Winnipeg. They came straggling into the town in a procession two miles long. Picturesque figures they were, mostly clad in blue, and with gaudily-colored scarfs. The wide, flaring skirts of their coats were kilted behind. Though the snow lay three inches deep on the ground, fully a score were barefoot. More than double that number were hatless.
“In front strode a majestic figure, black as Boanerges, and with a voice like a bull of Bashan. He was barefoot. On his head was a brilliant red handkerchief, and his body was clothed in a long, dusty white felt mantle, reaching almost to his feet. He strode along at the head of the procession. Suddenly his face began to work, his eyes to roll and his hands to twitch, and in a few moments he began to jump in the air, clutching with his hands and shrieking aloud in Russian: “I see him! I see Jesus! He is coming! He is there now, my brothers! You will see Him soon!”
“The long cortege stood stone still. Straining their eyes to catch the beatific vision, they talked to each other a while, during which their leader calmed down to a state of almost torpor, from which he, without a moment’s warning, aroused himself to another religious frenzy.
“The Binscarth people gave them food – dry oatmeal, which they poured in little heaps on blankets, half a dozen pilgrims helping themselves from each heap. The meal was preceded by their favorite chant from the 8th chapter of Romans, and by the repetition in unison of prayer. Then the pilgrims sat in parallel lines and ate oatmeal dry from the sack. This, with bread, apples and the dried rosebuds picked from the prairie rosebushes, formed their menu.
“After the meal, which lasted about an hour, they repaired to the back yards of the residences, and for a quarter of an hour the pumps were worked without cessation to satisfy their thirst. An hour afterward the procession was formed, and the eastward journey resumed.
“I walked with them for the next eleven miles, conversing with different members of the pilgrim army. Knowing no Russian, I had perforce to talk only to those who could speak English. They do not themselves admit that they have any leaders. As we talked, a crowd pressed around us, eager to hear the discussion. My questions were translated into Russian for the benefit of the pilgrims not speaking English, and before Vassili Konkin, who acted the part of interpreter, replied, the answer was often the subject of some minutes’ argument and deliberation.
“I introduced myself as one who desired to know the reason of their wandering at this inclement season, in order that I might explain to all who read newspapers the motives prompting their pilgrimage. They all expressed their pleasure at seeing me, raising their hats, such of them as use them, with the courtesy innate to the Russians. They said they were glad to explain their beliefs to any one, much more to one “who had many mouths” – indicating their appreciation, I supposed, of the power of the press.
Winter scenes in the Doukhobor villages.
““We walked along in silence for a while, until at last Konkin said: “We go to tell the peoples; is that not good, yes? What for Jesus come first time? To live good life, to teach peoples how to live. We try live like He lives – go to the peoples and teach them, and tell them He comes.”
““But why did you start at the beginning of the winter? Why not wait till next spring? Then it will be warm and sunny. Now, if you go on and sleep on the snow, many of you must die.”
““Jesus Christ, He say people must think of Jesus today. Tomorrow God will see. He make cold warm. If not, He make us strong to bear cold. If we die, we see Him soon.”
““But others of your people, Vassili, do not think as you do. They think you very foolish in this matter.”
““Yes, that is so,” replied Konkin. “But he see the light soon. In old days people think Jesus foolish. They laugh at Him, yes; they nailed Him to cross, and He die, and for long time men laugh and say, “How foolish! Him fool.” Same way apostles. Peoples call them all fool, and none believe them. Some day, maybe after we die, people say, “Doukhobor right,” and they believe us. Maybe we no see Jesus yet; no, but we tell the peoples, and we see Him when we die. More soon we dies more soon we see Him.
““God is necessary, but government – no. We wait till Jesus comes, then He take the bad people off the ground. When He come, then bad man trouble no more.
““The Lord says, peoples not get rich – Jesus tell every one not get rich here, but to get rich in sky. If all poor, nobody would steal and be bad. If all poor, all good.
““Peoples say, “You must come back and live on farms.” God say, “Can’t work for two boss.” If live on farm and work for myself, me like me more than God and for God do nothing. If I like God for boss, I go out and walk and tell all the peoples.”
“I had told them that I had a two-year-old daughter, and Konkin was greatly interested.
““What you teach your little girl?” he asked. “What you give her to eat?”
“When I had told him he shook his head disappointedly.
“Should no eat meat,” he said. The living should not live on the living.”
““And you don’t work your horses, either?” said I. “Didn’t God send them here for us to use?”
““You like to work you?” he asked. “How you like put in plough, wagon, beaten with stick, eh? No; God He say be kind to cattle, to all things; so we no work them.”
““But, if the cattle are not to be used, why were they made?”
““They made to look at, to make us glad when we see – like the grass, the flowers.”
“It was long past dusk. The sun had dipped behind dusky bars of orange and crimson, and gray, mysterious shadows crept across the prairie. Darkness closed down on the earth. Ahead could be seen the twinkling lights of the hamlet of Foxwarren, a score of dwellings and stores scattered around an elevator and the railway station. The snow began to fall in light flakes. The pilgrims halted and made their pitifully inadequate preparations for camping. With their hands they tore up some long grass to serve as beds. From their pouches each took a handful of dry oatmeal and munched it. Some scattered in the darkness to hunt for the dried fruit of the rosebush. With no shelter, under the open sky, they lay down on the snowy prairie, wearied with their twenty-mile tramp. Before flinging themselves down, they sang a psalm and quoted Scripture verses responsively, standing meanwhile with bare heads while the snow fell quietly over them.
“Then they gathered about me to say good-by. I must have shaken hands with two hundred of them.
“You will tell the people what we say?” asked Konkin.
“I promised. Vassili looked at me sorrowfully, patted me affectionately on the shoulder and gave me a word of parting counsel. “We all of us wish,” he said, “that you may see the light. We wish you not to smoke, not to work for money. Do not make it hell for self there” – pointing to my breast – “make it heaven. We love you much. We tell Jesus to come for you. Goodnight!”
“As I turned to go several came up and asked me to read certain portions of Scripture. I noted down by the light of a match the following: Luke 12, Matthew 25, Romans 8 (their favorite chapter), Matthew 10, and Ephesians 6. Then, followed by many more “good nights” in Russian, I set out to walk to Foxwarren. As I neared the comfortable dwelling where I was to spend the night, I thought of those misguided pilgrims lying shelterless on the prairie, exposed to the rigors of a Manitoba winter. They have certainly forsaken all to follow their Lord, and, however their actions and beliefs may fail to harmonize with prevailing religious thought, none can deny the sincerity of these pilgrims.”
Winter scenes in the Doukhobor villages.
How inexpressibly pathetic! Especially when one can recall their honest faces and many kindnesses. One is reminded of the Crusaders and of dancing dervishes in such an account, but it is only an exhibition of the character of the untutored Russian peasant, temporarily excited by religious enthusiasts. Dr. J. T. Reid, of Winnipeg, who is thoroughly acquainted with the Doukhobors, and was familiar with the facts of this migration, gave his opinion of these over-zealous pilgrims in The Montreal Weekly Witness of Tenth month 6th, 1902, as follows:
“We do not censure the Puritans as a class because there were many religious fanatics amongst them. To censure the Doukhobors just because a minority of them are religious enthusiasts is as unjust as the Doukhobors themselves are in judging all Canadians by the more uncivilized minority of our people whom they occasionally see on the frontiers of our civilization in the West. To censure them as a people on account of the fanaticism of their minority is as illogical as it were to class the whole American people with those who follow Dowie and Mrs. Eddy.
“In the West there are six classes of men who have at all times seemed to glory in the abuse of the Doukhobors:
“1. The politician of a certain school, whose political game is “to get in” and who makes political capital out of every opportunity “to get the other fellow out.”
“2. The rancher, who wants the whole earth within the bounds of his own ranch.
“3. The class who cannot appreciate the high moral tone of the Doukhobors, and therefore look upon them as hypocrites.
“4. A fourth class who are so narrowly sectarian that they are unable to see any good outside the pale of their own particular creed.
“5. A fifth class whose grasping propensities in the West are being daily put to shame by the more Christian brotherly kindness of the Doukhobor, to whom Christianity is nothing if it do not include the love of neighbor.
“6. Some of the most unjust things said against them have been said by disappointed would-be missionaries, who thought the Doukhobors were spiritually benighted and were anxious to enlighten them.
“Just as every Anglo-Saxon “craze” runs its course, declines and disappears, so will it be with this fanatical exuberance of the Doukhobortsi.”
Indeed, that the craze very rapidly passed its height, and began to decline, is shown by the following extract from the Manitoba Free Press, Eleventh month 21st, 1902:
Frank Pedley, Supt. of Immigration C.W. Spiers, General Colonization Agent
” Mr. C. W. Spiers, colonization agent of the Dominion government, returned Wednesday from Yorkton, driving through the Doukhobor settlements as far as Fort Pelly, where he was met by Agent Harley, of the Swan River district. “The Doukhobors,” said Mr. Speers, “have returned to their respective villages, and are again occupying their former homes. Their houses were in perfect readiness to receive them. Ample clothing was carefully piled up in the corner, and things set in order, previous to these people starting on their pilgrimage. The villages are well supplied with roots and vegetables, and these have been protected by the department from frost during the absence of the people. In fact, I had arranged some time ago for everything to be protected. The villages are also well supplied with grain, consisting of wheat, oats and barley, and a quantity of flax. There is yet some threshing to do, and a number of grist mills that have been built by this community are in operation.
“These people will require very little to support them for six months, and they are at present consuming their own products. There is a greater spirit of contentment than I expected to find, and a great majority of the returned pilgrims will again assume the duties of life along right lines.
“I was informed that they purchased nine pairs of horses at Pelly on their return journey, which would go to prove that they are moving in the right direction. They met rather a cool reception from their brethren who remained and were not affected by the mania. This is having a good effect, because it must be remembered that only about twenty per cent of these people were affected. I have been having officials take an inventory of all ascertainable property, and find the villages in a most satisfactory condition as far as supplies are concerned. The pilgrims feel that their missionary work was not a success, and I think I can safely say that eighty per cent of the younger men are impressed with the necessity of commencing to work. I met a few who still want to preach, and there are a few leaders who will possibly keep up an agitation for a time, but it would be a difficult undertaking for any set of men to conduct such a movement again. I consider the situation highly satisfactory, and that the great majority of these people will be saved to the labor market of Canada, and make useful settlers.
“The influence of the Doukhobors who remained at home is constantly working in the right direction. There has been considerable outside influence brought to bear upon these people, and some are remaining among them to advise them. As to how successful these influences may be, I cannot say. I am led to believe that these people should be let alone for a time, as they have had sufficient excitement. I have observed that in Saskatchewan, where we have sixteen hundred of these people, they are considered good settlers, are in a state of perfect contentment, and have had no one among them giving any special advice.
This excitement has brought the whole Brotherhood into discredit in the view of those who are not personally acquainted with their many sterling qualities, but the Canadian Government has shown its liberal policy, and the humane action of its officials throughout these disturbing outbreaks has been most commendable.
Indeed, it was one of the privileges of my late visit to the Northwest Territories to converse with these officers, who have had so many perplexing problems to solve in connection with the colonization work of the Dominion. This has embraced many nationalities within a few years.
All these immigrants come to Winnipeg, as the distributing center for Western Canada, to ascertain their ultimate location. Thus the Immigration Hall in that city was a place of peculiar interest to me, and a whole week was spent in studying the character of those who gathered in and about it.
Group of Immigrants in yard of Immigration Hall. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
The group near the front door are Swedes who had just arrived from their native land to try their fortune in America. It was in this building that eight hundred Doukhobors were temporarily housed and fed three years ago, and the testimony of their caretakers was very pleasing, as both the janitor and the matron told me they had never before had such a clean and orderly lot of people to provide for. The group in the yard is made up of four Galician women, two Germans from Russia (with bread under their arms), two Doukhobor men (with broad-brimmed hats), and a few Canadians. It was in this yard that I met forty or more Doukhobors who were seeking work in Winnipeg. An honest-faced youth of twenty at once attracted me, and it was pleasant to talk to him in English, and to learn that he bore the name of his uncle, Peter Verigin.
Group of Doukhobors in Yard of Immigration Hall. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
These Doukhobors assembled in the Immigration Hall on the first day of the week to recite their hymns and go through the Sunrise Service. This is always accompanied by the greatest seriousness of manner, and one can but be impressed with their sincerity and love one for another. A week later I witnessed this ceremony in their Saskatchewan settlement and photographed the scene in front of a granary. The men were mostly absent, working on the railroad, and this accounts for the greater number of women present at the “service.” The boy is bowing to all the women in this group. Each man bows three times, kisses each of the other men once, and then bows once to all the women, to which they respond collectively by a bow. The women also bow and kiss each other as the men do. Finally, all the men and all the women bow at the same time, bringing their foreheads to the ground in true oriental fashion. All this is accompanied by a united chanting of their sacred hymns, and is preceded by the recitation of portions of the scriptures, or of some prayer in ritualistic form.
This service began at four a.m. and continued until six o’clock. The early hour was originally chosen so as to escape persecution by their enemies in Russia, and they quite agreed with me in thinking that the meeting might now be held a little later in the day, as that necessity no longer exists. They always gave opportunity for remarks by the visitors, and listened most respectfully to what was said to them. Their patriarch, Ivan Mahortov, was present at the third sunrise service I witnessed, in which twelve men and thirty-six women took part, and he turned round at the conclusion and explained their belief with great dignity and clearness. My interpreter said he recited some Greek Church hymns dating back to 400 A.D. and even included the Virgin Mary in the summing up of their creed. Such is the force of early associations!
Sunrise Service. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
After the “service” in the Immigration Hall, we had a Molokan (a Russian sect in many respects similar to the Doukhobors), who entered heartily into sympathy with the occasion, to interpret for my father and myself; and we found that these Doukhobors had some wrong ideas about the Canadian Government, which we endeavored to correct. A
bright little girl interpreted for the few Doukhobor women present.
From Winnipeg we went on to Rosthern, the nearest railway station to the Saskatchewan colony. This journey of five hundred and seventy-five miles was comfortably accomplished in twenty-four hours. To travel whole days with few human habitations in sight, and scarcely a fence or a tree, might have a depressing effect if it were not for the beautiful prairie flowers and occasional antelopes that can be seen from the train window. Yet there is endless entertainment in traveling on the Canadian Pacific Railway if one studies and sympathizes with the various classes of travelers. There are almost always four or five colonists coaches on a train, in addition to the tourists’ and Pullman cars.
At least half a dozen nationalities were represented on our train, and some of these representatives were going to their new homes on the prairie. On one journey of three hundred miles we had as fellow travelers a party of Welsh people who had just arrived from Patagonia, where they had lived twelve years. The children spoke Spanish, and had forgotten what English they had once known, which the parents regretted. The name of John Evans was evidence of their Welsh origin.
Upon our arrival at Rosthern we were met by Michael Sherbinin, and Nurse Boyle. The former is a Russian nobleman, who has cast in his lot among the Doukhobors, and is now teaching their children, while Nurse Boyle is ministering to their physical needs. Both of these useful workers were sent out under the auspices of the English Doukhobor Committee of London Yearly Meeting of Friends.
Next morning we started on Doukhobor wagons for the village of Petrofka, on the Saskatchewan River, twenty-five miles distant. On the way our Doukhobor driver gave us a soul-stirring narrative, told in Russian, of his experiences in the Caucasus. His sons had been imprisoned and so cruelly treated that one of them died in consequence. With tears running down his cheeks the father told us how he had nursed this young man, and how he had followed another son to his Siberian place of exile.
While we were still listening to the driver’s story, a Mennonite overtook us. Seeing the overloaded condition of our vehicle he very kindly invited Michael Sherbinin and myself to share his comfortable spring wagon, which we accepted. These Mennonites are particularly good neighbors to the Doukhobors. Our new friend told us that the Doukhobors had come to his house one evening three years before, as they were seeking their new home. There were several hundred in the company, and most of them were walking. They asked that a few of their women might be sheltered for the night. At first it seemed beyond his power to take any of them into his house, as it was small, but something in his heart bid him to do what he could; and he said it was always a great comfort to him that he had yielded to the impression, especially as he afterwards learned something of their experiences. He could not understand their language at the time he took them into his house, nor did he then know what brought them in such numbers to his door. We rode with our kind Mennonite friend to his home on the east side of the Saskatchewan River, and shared the evening meal with him before we rejoined our comrades.
Crossing the Saskatchewan River – Petrofka Ferry. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
To reach Petrofka we had to be ferried over the Saskatchewan. The approach to the ferry was quite perilous at this time, as the river was twenty feet higher than usual, and had overflowed its banks. The descent was very steep for several hundred feet, and, right at the river’s brink, it became almost a sheer precipice. The following account from the pen of a traveler who had made the crossing the preceding winter will give a vivid idea of the difficulties to be overcome:
“Of trail there was scarce a semblance. For three hundred feet our path lay down a slope as steep and as smooth as a toboggan slide. At its foot were a few willow scrub, and then came a clear drop of fifty or sixty feet. If the team became unmanageable, and could not be stopped at the foot of the slide, the prospect of the drop beyond was not reassuring. . . . The interpreter said he would walk down, so as to lighten the load and pilot the way. He started slowly and cautiously, but soon the slope and his weight increased his speed. His feet twinkled faster and faster through the powdery snow that rose up and enveloped him waist high like a halo, above which his rotund body and gesticulating arms could be seen as he rushed to what seemed almost certain destruction. But Providence, in the shape of the aforementioned willow bushes, interposed, and he crashed into their interposing boughs, and fell, a portly, breathless heap of huddled humanity, among their protecting branches. Next it was my turn. I grasped the lines short, braced myself against the foot rail, and chirruped to the team. But neither of them exhibited the slightest inclination to proceed. The sorrel was particularly rebellious, and plunged and reared on the edge of the steep in a most nerve-racking fashion. Finally, with delicate little steps, and snorts of fear, they were persuaded to essay the descent. Until a little more than half way down, all went well. Then one of them slipped, and in a second, cutter and team were slithering down, the former on their haunches. Down below I could see my companion scramble with frantic haste out of our line of descent. His plump figure could be seen through the blinding snow mist raised by the horses, crashing through the underbrush with an agility out proportion to his weight. At the foot of the hill I partly succeeded in pulling the team to the left, thus avoiding the sheer drop ahead, and giving the horses an opportunity of catching their feet. The thin, limber willow twigs sang like whips as, bowing my head and straining on the lines, we dashed into the brush. There was a moment’s wild rush, then a plunge and a bump, and the cutter was still – jammed against a tree stump whose top was covered with snow. The horses shook themselves, gave a snort or two, and then the brown proceeded nonchalantly to help himself to some outcropping tufts of slough grass. Neither of the team had a scratch, and no injury was apparent to the cutter. My companion “lost his English” as he described the slide, and went off into German and Polish and Russian and Magyar in recounting its incidents.”
The milder season of our own crossing reduced the peril of descending the banks, but increased those of the actual passage of the stream. The Doukhobor who managed the raft which was attached to a steel cable stretched across the river, felt very anxious about our passage, as there was a strong wind blowing us against the current. Once landed, we had a still more alarming experience, plunging through such mud as half buried our horses, and allowed the water to come into the wagon bed. The “snap” of our wagon shows it in such a hole or ditch, with the horses in water up to their breasts, and a woman nearly thrown out of the wagon. It was a very narrow escape, both for herself and child, for she was thrown violently over the side as the wagon dropped into this hole.
Prairie trail and slough, west bank of the Saskatchewan. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
The mud was axle-deep in the roadway up which we struggled to the solid bank. When this was ascended we were greeted by some thirty Doukhobor girls, chanting their plaintive Russian hymns of welcome, while the men and matrons of the village stood on the brow of the bank. Thus surrounded by a hundred of these swarthy sons and daughters of the soil, and overlooking the tumultuous stream we had just crossed, one could but think of Miriam when she sang her song of deliverance on the banks of the Red Sea.
It was a sight not soon to be forgotten, as these very picturesquely-attired peasants stood on the top of that bank, with the sun setting at their backs, and the prairie stretching around us on either side of the river for thirty to forty miles in all the glory of its early summer welcome.
Women waiting to extend a welcome to arriving guests. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
After photographing this group, before the evening shades had fallen – (one could see to read until 10 p.m.) – we proceeded to the hospitable home of Michael Sherbinin, upon the edge of the village, which we made our home while visiting the villages of this settlement of eleven communities.
A typical house, with sod roof. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
When I called at one of the Doukhobor houses in Petrofka, the father, lifting his little boy in his arms, told me how the child had clung to him when he was forcibly taken from his family by the Caucasian authorities, and how, after three year’s imprisonment, the lad did not know him. His argument with the military officer was written out at my request, and is substantially as follows.
““The Lord Jesus commanded us not to fight, but to be kind and meek; – to love equally all who live on the earth, as Christ the Saviour of our souls loved us all, and gave his body to be crucified for us sinners, and has manifested his love before all nations. He said, “Resist not him that is evil.””
““But why do you not want to serve the Imperial Power? We are going to fiercely persecute you and severely punish you in order to subdue you under the power of the Russian Emperor, and we will leave your wives and children fatherless.”
““Dear Mr. Procureur, our Lord Jesus Christ said, “The time will come when they will persecute you for my name’s sake; but be ye not afraid; for to the widows I will be a husband, and to the orphans I will be a father, and my eye beholdeth you all.”
“The Procureur shouted to the Russian soldiers, “Take him to prison!” Two of the soldiers ran up to me and put iron chains on my hands, and drove me rudely to the prison castle. My mother, father, wife and children followed me, and besought the soldiers to allow them to come and bid me farewell. The soldiers replied: “Do not come near here, or we will run our bayonets through you.” The baby boy cried and stretched out his hands to me. The soldiers shouted at the little boy, “Get away, far away!” and one of them ran with his gun after the boy and my wife. They got frightened and ran, and one of my boys fell down from fright. Then the soldier ran up to my wife and hit her with the butt end of his gun. I said to my parents and my wife: “Farewell;” and I entered the jail in the town of Kars. There I was kept three months without being permitted to see any visitors. On the 15th of November they took me to the prison of Tiflis, a journey of three hundred and fifty miles. My parents, my wife and children followed me. They applied to the soldiers, asking to be allowed to bid me farewell. The soldiers answered: “The commander of the fortress has ordered us not to admit you near. Go away from here, or we’ll shoot at you.”
“Then I said from afar to my relatives, “Live ye in the law of God and His hand will protect you!” My father Gregory said, “Our dear child, we are very sorry to part with thee, but the Lord is our help. Let us go forth to suffer for His name’s sake, and he will give us to meet where there is no parting!” Then the elder conveying soldier said, “That will do for talking! Go on!” And then the children stretched out their little arms towards me and cried bitterly.
“After these events I sat in the prison of Tiflis three years. After these three years were over the Procureur gave leave to my parents to come and visit me. On the 25th of May, 1898, my parents arrived to see me. They came to the yard of the prison, and I was admitted to meet them. I greeted them, and called to my little son, Nicolas, who was then eight years old; but the boy did not recognize me. He said, “Let me go; I don’t know thee at all!” With these words he escaped from my arms and ran to his mother. I wept bitterly and said: “My God, my God, my children have forgotten me!”
Doukhobor team, with the Mennonite Reserve in the distance. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
The view shows a Doukhobor wagon like that in which we had started to cross the prairie from Rosthern, standing at Michael Sherbinin’s house, with Nurse Boyle wearing a white cap. This particular load of Doukhobor women and babies had come twenty miles for the purpose of having the children vaccinated. Michael Sherbinin took them all into his house and gave them a hearty meal. The school house, which Friends of Philadelphia are building, will occupy a site similar to this upon which Michael Sherbinin’s house stands. The Mennonite Reserve is upon the other side of the river.
The Sherbinin homestead. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
In traveling across the prairie to the surrounding villages we used the Bain Wagon, as shown in the picture. The front seat is occupied by Vassili Vereschagin and his wife, who were helpful to us in many ways. They were about forty years of age, and were among the most progressive in adopting American ways of living. After Michael Sherbinin and his wife, who occupy the middle seat of the wagon, had interpreted my desires to them, Vassili would entreat his brethren to send their children to school. My mission was primarily an educational one, believing, as I do, that the education of their children is the effective way in which to reach their parents. Night after night we held conferences, and four out of five of their communities desired that a school should be started. I cannot forget the earnest faces of those strong men and women, standing three and four deep, in their clean, whitewashed homes, often until near midnight, eagerly drinking in the suggestions that were made regarding their educational needs. If those persons who have formed such unfavorable opinions of the Doukhobors because of the late outbreaks of fanaticism in the Yorkton district could visit these villages in the Saskatchewan settlement, their ideas would be greatly modified.
Ready for the start, to visit the Saskatchewan villages. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
These Doukhobors have taken up their homesteads, and they have done marvels in the past three years towards improving their condition. The soil is very fertile and being within the wheat belt, great crops of wheat and flax are harvested.
As we journeyed from village to village, separated sometimes by ten or fifteen miles, we saw badgers, coyotes, foxes and wild ducks, to say nothing of the innumerable prairies dogs. Upon our arrival at a village, the men and women, and frequently the children, would be gathered at a house, selected by themselves, in which we were to be entertained.
As they were fond of being photographed, after the usual salutation of bowing was over, I would take snapshots of the groups thus assembled. The women when at work always tuck up their skirts, which never trail upon the ground.
Village scene at eventide. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
An interesting street scene is at eventide, when the cows are coming in from the prairie. The large logs on the right in the picture were taken out of the Saskatchewan River by the Doukhobors to be used in building their houses.
As we passed through one village (Troitzkoye) we dined with Simeon Nicolayevitch Popov, a man of sixty-two years of age, who had built an entire flour mill, including the dressing of the mill-stones from rough stones which he found in the neighborhood. Three horses were turning these stones, and we found from personal experience that the flour was fine enough to make good bread, which we enjoyed eating.
The Doukhobors where I visited were vegetarians without exception, and they all seemed very robust in health. They need fruit, and it is a hardship that it cannot be grown in that climate.
A model home. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
Occasionally we would see evidences of considerable artistic ability. A certain house-yard fence attracted my attention, and I asked our driver who made it. He replied that he was the owner and had built it with his own hands. Everything about this house gave evidence of taste and skill. He is seen in the picture standing near the angle of his fence, while near at hand were several trees which he had planted.
The great oven is a characteristic feature of these Russian houses. The oven front stands six feet high and five feet wide. The interior baking space is approximately three by four feet. On top of this oven several small children can be stowed away for the night.
Baking pancakes. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
I stood by this maiden of seventeen years who holds the long-handled lifter, as she deftly placed the copper pan near the glowing embers, and quickly withdrew it with a toothsome pancake. The batter, cup and saucer, with the buttered cloth, are at the left, while the ashes were pushed to the right of the vestibule of the oven proper.
A baby show. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
At another time five young mothers were grouped in front of one of these ovens. The bonnets of these babies were quite elaborate, and their eyes very bright.
When we reached the village of Gorelofka, Savili Feodorevitch Choodyakov and his brothers, with their kind mother, were ready to give us a warm welcome, and we cannot omit to mention how all the good people of this village entertained us with royal hospitality. They also bestowed presents of clothes upon me. A widow of seventy years came to me with her marriage scarf, saying that she would presently die, and as her children were either dead or too far away to give them this sacred emblem of her marriage, she wished to bestow it upon me, as otherwise it would go into her coffin. The scarf is made of Russian crash, about two yards long, and has several bands of silk of various colors below a section of conventional design. Each woman is presented with one of these when she marries. They had shortly before given me a new coat and sacred sash, such as is worn during their Sunrise service. The cap (fedora) is made of a short, curly lambskin, and came from the Caucasus.
The same style is seen on a little boy on the extreme right of a group of men, women and children. In this photograph it may also be observed how two layers of prairie sod make the roof.
Group of chanting girls. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
The women wear a very picturesque and comfortable hood, with a rosette of bright color on the front of it. The velvet band which encircles the head is invariably black; otherwise there is considerable variety in the color used, although the shape is always the same. In this group none of the chanting girls are wearing their white handkerchiefs or shawls over their hoods, as I requested them to take these off when being photographed. This white shawl is invariably worn by the women in the fields, and whenever they are working, the hood being reserved for special occasions. The young man on the right was about twenty years of age, and, being lame, was serving as shoemaker to the village.
Sheepskin coat and Doukhobor doll. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
The heavy winter sheepskin coat was quite comfortable when riding across the prairie, even in midsummer. The women in this group were sixteen and eighteen, and the boy about twelve years of age. The doll baby they had dressed especially for me.
When about to leave this colony I found that one or more of the Doukhobor girls could talk English quite well, and so we had some conversation about their coming home with me as domestic helpers. It was very interesting to see how the proposition was regarded by them. After thinking about it for some time, the younger of the two thought she was willing to come, while the elder hesitated, for fear she “would not get back in time to get married.” I asked her how old she was, and she replied that she was sixteen. The younger was thirteen. The men and women generally marry when about seventeen years of age.
Sweet sixteen. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
After a week spent most pleasantly, barring the mosquitoes, in this colony on the Saskatchewan River, we returned to Winnipeg via Regina, in order to visit the Yorkton settlement, which consists of forty-seven villages, situated from thirty to ninety miles distant from that town. The South Colony is on the Assiniboine and White Sand Rivers, while the North Colony is located near the Swan River, north of Fort Pelly, and there are six villages on Good Spirit Lake. The ride of two hundred and eighty-two miles from Winnipeg to Yorkton occupied a whole day by train, but it fave us another opportunity to appreciate the great work which the Canadian government is accomplishing in colonizing these vast stretches of prairie. We saw two trains of thirteen cars each, entirely occupied by Galicians. One of these trains unloaded before us. It was a sight that continually comes back to me as one of the most remarkable of this interesting journey. There were throngs of little children and larger boys and girls with packages of every conceivable shape upon their backs, while their parents were laboring under loads that almost eclipsed their picturesque costumes.
It was four days after our arrival at Yorkton before we could get a carriage to take us the fifty miles north to Poterpevshe, where “Grandmother” Verigin lives. The roads were so bad, on account of the constant rains for the two preceding months, that they were thought to be impassable. These days of waiting were improved by gathering together the Doukhobor men who had come to Yorkton to trade and to find employment on the railroad. One hundred and fifty Doukhobors had been called for by railroad contractors, and runners had been sent out to the various villages to bring them to Yorkton.
Yorkton Doukhobors. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
The picture shows such a group as we repeatedly conversed with, and they represent the class of men who went on the late pilgrimage. They could not appreciate the good will of the Canadian government in its homestead regulations, and they were afraid of signing their names to any document, as they had always gotten into trouble by doing so in Russia. Time and again we endeavored to enlighten them, but without the same success we had had with their Saskatchewan brethren. Notwithstanding this, they had traits of character we could admire.
Frederick Leonhardt and Michael Sherbinin were both invaluable interpreters, and the kindness of the former toward Michael Sherbinin and myself in sheltering us under his most hospitable roof will always be a pleasant memory.
Robert Buchanan had come from Good Spirit Lake to Yorkton to see us. He and his wife have been very good friends of the Doukhobors, and can testify to their faithfulness as reliable servants. A Doukhobor and his wife have had entire charge of their home affairs for months at a time. He had influenced the Doukhobors near his home to take up their homesteads and not to go on the late pilgrimage, or release their horses and cows.
Blacksmith shop. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
After this interview we started for Poterpevshe, and soon passed the Doukhobor blacksmith shop in Yorkton, where lived the largest woman I saw among them. Our team was one of the finest, but the driver dreaded the journey, as he declared he had not seen such trails during the past twelve years. We dined on the open prairies, and had it not been for the innumerable mosquitoes our campfire lunch of coffee and boned turkey would have been very much enjoyed.
The mosquito pest of this country is greatly against it. The air was literally full of them during the entire trip, and they would settle so close upon the coat of our driver as to change the color of it from black to yellow, as the wings of this variety of mosquito are straw-colored.
About this time we saw several men and boys drawing a loaded wagon, and as they drew near I asked one of them, through the interpreter, why they did not use horses. His reply was very candid, and in the words of Scripture (Rom. 8: 19, 22): “The whole creation waiteth and groaneth even until now for the manifestation of (mercy on the part of) the sons of God.” I remonstrated that the Apostle was not writing about horses, but of a spiritual bondage which our unregenerate wills inflicted upon “the better part” in our own souls. He wished to include the animal creation as “sons of God.”
The tenderness of this man’s conscience was most apparent, and his honest face appealed to one strongly, so I knew not which to pity most, his body or his mind. They pulled that wagon through many sloughs that were dangerous for our horses to enter, and after a round trip of seventy miles I saw him again, and said I was very glad that they had survived their toils as horses. He looked earnestly into my face, and, with tears running down his cheeks, said: “If you would only think as we do, God might make some use of you in your generation, for I see you have some ability.” I assured him it would be some time before I thought as they did about using horses, and that their children would not hold such ideas.
About him stood a group of the most sincere and kind-hearted people I had ever met, showing every evidence of prosperity; and I felt that it was a psychological problem to eliminate this over-conscientious mental attitude from such a kind and true spirit. So it is with all the fanaticism that has appeared among this really worthy people. A people who will not fight, or steal, or drink anything intoxicating, or smoke, or use profane language, or lie, have a character which will bring forth the best qualities of Christian citizenship.
Men serving as horses. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
If we can but help and stimulate them to educate their children, in another generation these ignorant peasants will be transformed into intelligent farmers and tradesmen. It is greatly to their credit that they are very particular as to the teachers they admit I among them, and no one need undertake that function who has not a sympathetic temperament.
About sunset, after six hours of plunging in and out of those dreadful sloughs, we came upon a group of twenty-five women who had been picking ginseng root on the prairie. These Doukhobors were seated upon the grass, eating their evening meal, and apparently enjoying it greatly. They rose most courteously, but I requested them to be seated again while I photographed them.
That night was spent in the home of a German family with eight small children, and apparently several million mosquitoes. As it was a post-office, with a weekly mail service, we endeavored to divert our minds from these uncomfortable guests, by writing home, until the small hours of the morning.
Our experiences the next forenoon almost defy description, for these sloughs were such as Bunyan’s Pilgrim never saw. Three times our horses came to a standstill in the midst of sloughs axle-deep in mud, and holding three feet of water above the clay which underlies the eighteen inches of rich black soil. The situation was novel, to say the least of it. One horse lay flat on his side, holding his head above the water, while the other sat like a dog upon his haunches.
The interesting part of the situation was to see how admirably the horses understood the difficulties of their position and responded to the driver’s word. Instead of struggling, they rested until the driver got out in the mud and water and released the traces, when they sprang up and plunged forward on to more solid ground. A rope was made fast to the front axle, wound around the pole of the carriage, and extended some fifty feet beyond it. The horses were then attached to this rope, and with some encouragement from the driver they pulled us out. Twice after this we were compelled to get out of the carriage before it could be moved through the mud of the slough.
Sitting there surrounded by water, annoyed by mosquitoes, pretty well covered with mud, and in the midst of a thunder-storm, gave us ample opportunity to moralize upon the blessings of home. Never were mortals more thankful to get under a roof than we were that day when we reached a Doukhobor village and were taken into one of their comfortable houses, where we had our clothes dried. It is this whole-hearted hospitality that impresses all who have visited these Doukhobors, and we cannot undervalue this trait, however defective they may seem in other respects.
This was the village in which my father had some three months before found a welcome, after he had traveled in a circle for eight hours at night. He was at that time on his fourth visit to these settlements, and had left this village to go on to the next about five o’clock in the evening. The driver lost the trail, and they wandered about in the dark, until the horse brought them back to the starting-place, about one o’clock in the morning.
A few hours brought us to the home of “Grandmother” Verigin, near the center of the village of Poterpevshe (meaning in Russian, “those who have patiently endured”), a veritable haven of rest, on the north side of the White Sand River. This old lady of eighty-six is recognized by all the Doukhobors as a queen among them. They all pay their oriental respects to her by bowing most profoundly. These salutations were often quite impressive, and accompanied by much sincere feeling.
For three years I had desired to visit her, and to hear her history from her own lips. She told me, through my friend and faithful interpreter, Michael Sherbinin, how she had married when about seventeen years of age, in the Crimean Colony of the Milky Waters, and had lived there peaceably until 1842, when, by order of Nicholas I., she was taken to the Caucasus. The details of this journey were thrilling.
She had three little children, all under eight years of age, whom she cared for as best she could, while their party was driven along by the soldiers. When they came to the Caucasian mountains there were no good roads, as at present, over the mountain passes; and she remembered how the thirty men in their company could scarcely keep the wagons from going over the precipices. It was also dangerous for their horses and cattle to graze, and she would gather the grass for them with her own hands. The Circassians and other hillsmen would throw stones down on them from the heights above their heads, in more than one instance resulting fatally.
They were finally made to settle in the Wet Mountains, at an altitude of five thousand feet. Even here they prospered far beyond what was thought possible by their persecutors.
One night her husband was away from home, and her brother-in-law was also absent trading among some Tartars, who persuaded him, much against his preference, to remain with them over night. They then went to his house, and, as she opened the door, they killed the wife of the very man they had sheltered. They thought they had done as much to “Grandmother,” for they struck her four death-dealing blows upon the head, one of which opened an artery, and then kicked her under the bed in a pool of her own blood. She rose up, however, and tried to open the window near her, but the robbers, supposing it was the effort of her little boys, broke the window-shutters in her face. She added: “Had they known I had gotten up, they would have come back and killed me.”
When the men entered the house she had told her boys to keep very quiet on top of the oven, and they escaped being injured. They plainly saw the faces of the robbers who took ten thousand roubles out of a strong box, so that they were able to identify them at a later time. “Grandmother” told with much feeling how her dear little boys were asked to go among thirty criminals and point out those whom they thought to be the men who had entered their home and nearly killed their mother. They designated seven, and afterward “Grandmother” was told to say which they were, if she could. She said her eyes were so nearly closed by the swelling resulting from her wounds that she had to hold her eyelids open to see any of them, and yet she selected the same seven that her boys had indicated, without knowing their choice. The ten thousand roubles were returned to the family.
“Grandmother” has had seven sons in Siberian exile at one time. Her son Peter Verigin has been their recognized leader for the last seventeen years. He and his brother Gregory are now liberated, and on their way to America.
As indicating the vigor of this old lady’s mind the reader may be interested in a letter recently received her.
“Village Poterpevshe, llth mo. 25th, 1902
“My Dear Friend, Joseph Elkinton:
“I beg pardon for the delay in answering your kindest letter which I received this autumn. Be assured that I had the greatest desire to answer you immediately, but it is only now that I availed myself of the opportunity to express to you the deepest gratitude and love for your extreme goodness, manifested by you towards us from our first meeting.
“God bless you for all your generosity, and I ask His favor to be worthy of it and to give me the possibility to see you again in my life. I pray to God for your health, and hope He will preserve you for the happiness of all our people.
“I am extremely sorry to confess that a part of us vex all our benefactors and friends by their foolish actions, but I hope that (our) Creator will enlighten their reason and help us to arrange our common life in the best way. The Lord had pity on me and sent me a great consolation – my son Gregory, who came recently from Siberia, and the joyful news that my other beloved son Peter is on the way to Canada. I am sure you will partake of my hearty rejoicing and accept the humble compliment of your devoted [friend] truthfully,
“Anastasia Vasilinovna Verigina
“P.S. – This letter has been written by T. Dickericks, the brother-in-law of V. Tchertkov, who came from England to stay the winter with this (our) people, and help them in their needs, and he is very glad to have the opportunity to express to you, dear sir, his thankfulness for all the care and trouble that you and your venerable father took during the first time of settlement of his old friends, the Doukhobors.”
“Grandmother’s” household, in which I spent three happy days, was composed of “Grandmother,” her daughter Anna Podovinnikov, and three daughters-in-law, with three grandchildren. This house was very comfortable, and attractively clean. It was built of logs, some thirty by fifteen feet, one-storied, hand plastered inside and out. The inside was white-washed so beautifully one always felt sure of absolute cleanliness, and this is characteristic of their houses in general. The beds were made of feathers. The chief room was eighteen by twelve feet, with the usual oven in the corner, near which I slept most comfortably. This room is back of the group on the porch. A vestibule six feet square allows the visitor either to enter this apartment, or, turning to the right through a similar door, to step into “Grandmother’s” smaller room. Here she sat in the finely upholstered chair seen in the frontispiece, to receive her guests in queenly fashion.
“Grandmother” Verigin’s home. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
The patriarch, Ivan Mahortov, met me here, having come thirty-five miles to see me. He is the most active man of ninety years I ever met, and I shall not easily forget his energetic manner when telling us of Stephen Grellet’s and William Allen’s visit to the Doukhobors in 1818. After hearing his description of the two Friends, I am quite disposed to think that it was William Allen rather than Stephen Grellet who prophesied concerning their coming to America.
It was certainly a very remarkable utterance for any one to prophesy so clearly, eighty years in advance, the future experience of a people, telling of their future persecutions, imprisonments, exile to a foreign country, prosperity and visits from Friends.
The Patriarch gave us some of his experiences during the twenty-eight years he served in the Russian Navy. From 1840 to 1853 he had no active service. Then the Crimean War opened, and he was stationed on the warship Catharine II., then anchored off Sevastopol. The high officials of that town, with the officers of the Russian Army and Navy, were gathered in the Greek cathedral, hallowing the Easter service, when the English threw a cannon ball at the cupola, and shattered it over their heads – without, however, injuring the congregation. The Russian ship Northern Star was at once ordered to prepare for action by Commander-in-Chief Lazarev. A shot from the English man-of-war disabled her side-wheel, and it was proceeding to capture her, when two Russian frigates came upon the scene and tugged her out of danger. Thus two of the greatest “Christian” nations celebrated the resurrection of the Prince of Peace in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty-three!
When the old Slavonic inscription over the cathedral door in St. Petersburg: “My house shall be called a house of Prayer for all Nations,” was mentioned, this veteran of ninety summers naively remarked, “Yes, and my countrymen have many a time fulfilled the rest of the text.”
He was in the engagement when the Russian fleet sank nine out of ten of the Turkish men-of-war at Sinope, in the Black Sea.
The united fleets of England, France and Turkey then concentrated their attack on Sevastopol, anchoring at Eupatoria. As the Russians had no mounted artillery, the Russian sailors carried their guns and cannon on shore. Ivan Mahortov well remembers the difficulty of bearing a cannon thus strapped to his back. Two Russian admirals, brothers, by the name of Estomin, planned a successful stratagem at this time, when they were likely to be overpowered. A courier was dispatched to the Emperor Nicholas stating there were sixty thousand Russian soldiers in reserve to meet the allied forces at Sevastopol, when in fact there were only twenty thousand. He was sent through the enemy’s lines, duly captured and searched, and the Russians were allowed to withdraw their troops from Sevastopol without capture because of this misrepresentation.
Mahortov said: “At least three times during the siege of the city, when the batteries on either side were decimating the ranks of the other, and these were being immediately replaced, he heard repeatedly the appeals from the enemy in these words: “Brethren, Russ (Russians) don’t hit – fire aside”; and the Russians responded, “Fire aside, brother.”
“After this,” the old man told us, with tears in his eyes, “there was no more such carnage, and would to God that men and angels might never witness such hellish work again!”
He related another instance of that humanity which will ever assert itself while men are men, even when their rulers are compelling them to act as destroyers. The commander of his ship detailed him to visit a small detachment of the ship’s crew, who had been stationed on the land to raise some vegetables in the Oushakova ravine. These Russian sailors had been captured by the English and their comrade took tremendous risks in stealing his way through three picket lines at night, especially as it was “in the very hottest times of the war.” “One of my brethren found me secreted in the bush near their station and threw his arms around my neck. After enquiring for their health, I asked whether they had any food for themselves. “Oh! yes, the English send us coffee, bread and butter in the morning, and the same food they have themselves twice a day beside this.” And then they tell us, “Don’t be afraid; we won’t harm you; it is only Victoria and Nicholas who are guilty in this business.”
Mahortov was secreted during the day, and when night came he led his brethren back to the ship with remarkable success through the same dangers he had braved alone. He said, “I always served in arms under a silent protest, having a conviction that all war is wrong and I never aimed directly at the enemy.” When asked how the higher officers regarded this sort, of action, he exclaimed: “Oh! they had no time to take notice of that, but were only too glad to hide behind my back.” Once however, when master of a “top-sail” crew, who were somewhat noisy, the Captain’s mate shouted, “Come down, Mahortov,” and when he came down from the yard-arm he was ordered to take off his jacket and receive one hundred lashes; this was repeated twice on his bare back, and thus he received three hundred lashes during an hour for no neglect of duty, of which he was consciously guilty.
The patriarch teacher and his school. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
This dear old man gathered the children of Poterpevshe around him and taught them the hymns which form so important a part of their education. As I approached this group I thought I had never seen such an animation on the part of an instructor as Ivan Mahortov displayed as he led, corrected and praised his pupils. The well at the rear is in “Grandmother’s” yard, and serves the whole village. It was about fifty feet deep, and had a ring of ice in it fifteen feet below the top. One could but think of “the time that women go out to draw water” in the city of Nahor, as these Doukhobor women and maidens came each evening to fill their tin pails. Only the camels were lacking, and instead of the pitchers or jars balanced on their heads they carried the buckets on either end of a pole thrown over their shoulders.
Another group of children in front of a sawmill gives some idea of their faces. The logs are all sawn into slabs in this fashion.
Village children and saw mill. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
We soon went into conference with about one hundred delegates from the South Colony, and those of Swan River, to talk over their homestead interests. It was most interesting to see the delegates bow profoundly to the old lady.
As we went out of “Grandmother’s” door, the patriarch said, in referring to the Doukhobors’ hesitation about taking up their homesteads: “A scared hare is afraid of every stump,” and it was very appropriate to the assembled delegates.
I addressed these delegates from the porch rail, where the old patriarch stands by the side of “Grandmother” and her noble daughter, Anna Podovinnikov, with the other members of her household on either side of him. After several conferences near “Grandmother’s” house, during which it was difficult to get their signatures for any purpose, “Grandmother” said to me, through her daughter-in-law, she was sorry the delegates were so unresponsive, and she hoped I would overlook anything that might have seemed discourteous, for she and all her household were thankful for my visit, and glad to learn what I told them of Canadian law.
The Commissioner of Immigration and ex-Commissioner William F. McCreary had requested us to interpret that law to them and to bring three representative men back to Winnipeg to talk over their interests, which we did.
Saskatchewan Doukhobors. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
If the women in these communities could have the deciding vote, many things would be better managed, and probably all the late fanaticism would not have been heard of.
The man in his shirt sleeves at the extreme right in the photograph of “Grandmother’s” house is Ivan Podovinnikov, who lodged with Michael Sherbinin and myself during our stay in this village, and was most attentive and helpful. I cannot cease to thank him for putting me through a Russian bath – the most complete cure for a cold I ever tried.
The bathhouse, some twelve feet square, was in “Grandmother’s” yard. An antechamber, three feet wide and the width of the building, had clean straw nicely distributed on the floor. Entering the larger room one saw a neat pile of stones about two and a half feet high in the corner. These had been previously heated by a fire applied through the wall separating the two apartments, and there was no smoke. A slab three feet wide, extending the entire width of the building, was supported some five feet above the floor, as a shelf, upon which the bather was invited to lie down. Two or three cups of water were then thrown upon the hot stones, and the steam generated thereby was enough to smother or cleanse a dozen men. While immersed in this steam bath he received the best switching of his life from a bunch of birch leaves, applied so dexterously that the circulation was quickened to an incredible degree.
By taking a basin of cold water, and keeping the water constantly splashed in one’s face, I found it possible to endure this operation for ten or fifteen minutes, during which time Ivan would repeatedly look most tenderly into my face, and anxiously inquire, “Enough? enough? more? little more?” After going out to cool down on the clean straw this process was repeated once or twice, and then, with alternate dashes of cold and hot water, the patient was dismissed, and wrapped up in a warm blanket, under which he remained the rest of the night.
All the Doukhobors bathe in these houses at least once a week, and they are very clean in their personal habits. I remember speaking to some of them because their faces were fairly shining with cleanliness and glowing with color, saying, “I suppose you have been picking strawberries on the prairie all day,” and they replied, “Oh, no! we have just been in the bath.”
Before leaving this village, so full of interesting people, I took some photographs of family groups. Three out of four wished to send these “snaps” to their loved ones in Siberian exile.
Family group. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
One of these includes an aged mother of the exiled husband and father. The wife stands in the rear and to the left of her five daughters, who range in age from twenty to ten years of age. One of the three wore an American straw hat, which she wished her father to see.
Families of exiles, showing Persian rugs brought by them from the Caucasus. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
Another group shows the wife, whose husband is in exile, with her three married daughters. The Persian rugs under their feet were brought from the Caucasus.
Wife and family of a Siberian exiles. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
A third has six children in it, and was solicited very earnestly by them for their father. This house is a half dug-out. The crop of weeds on the roof was very luxuriant. These dug-outs were very damp and dark within, somewhat reminding one of a cave. In one village I saw a cow walk up one of these roofs and look around with apparent satisfaction.
A Doukhobor family of tpyical physique. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
A fourth family group of a man and his wife with two married daughters is typical for size.
“Grandmother’s” surrey. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
Ivan Mahortov sits in “Grandmother’s” surrey on the front seat, while the old lady and her daughter occupy the rear seat. This carriage was given to her by the Doukhobors as a special token of affection, and she insisted upon my father using it last spring, when the frost was coming out of the ground, with the result that it was broken pretty much to pieces. But when I found it in the village shed, alongside of a Deering reaper and binder, it looked as if it had never been used. I put as many girls as I could on the two seats, and asked the boys of Poterpevshe to give them a ride, which they did with great glee, bringing the surrey to Grandmothers door. She was then willing to get into it to be photographed.
Barbara Verigin and her household. Photograph by Joseph Elkinton.
The last group of five women and four children is the household of Barbara Verigin (“Grandmother’s” daughter-in-law), in the village of Besedofka. She stands with hand upon the post. This was the last Doukhobor dwelling we lodged in, and the kindness of our hostess, as well as that of all of her family, will be remembered as long as memory lasts. She was a true disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, and her loving spirit created the atmosphere of her household. Three of her daughters-in-law were under twenty-five years of age, while the fourth – the mother of the four children – is under forty. The husband of this daughter was killed on the railroad soon after coming to America. This was a terrible blow to the family, as his father died in Siberian exile about the same time.
Whatever may be the opinions of those who do not know the virtues of these Russians by actual acquaintance, we who have had the privilege of learning of their personal experience from their own lips, and have been witnesses of their self-sacrificing devotion to a high principle, and their affection one for another, must believe in them and their future.
About seventy-five years ago the “True Inspiration Society,” a communistic society of Germans, came to America, and settled in Eastern Iowa, in five villages, numbering a few thousand souls. They have prospered wonderfully, and have become recognized as amongst the most successful and moral communities of that State. When I visited them twenty-five years ago their farming and manufacturing industries were carried on in the most approved way. We believe these Russians, who have escaped to this continent after a century of persecution, will, in another generation, prove no less prosperous.
Indeed, they have prospered remarkably already, as their comfortable homes and neat surroundings, full grain houses and numerous flocks, show. One cannot but admire their kindness to their less-favored neighbors. Time and again they have loaded up their wagons with food and clothing, and for whole days driven in search of the Galicians’ homesteads, where they thought there was suffering for want of these things.
As we were passing one of these poverty-stricken households, the mother besought me to baptize her youngest child. I tried to explain the one saving baptism of spiritual life in her soul, as best I could through my friend Michael Sherbinin, when our Doukhobor driver, who could also speak the Galician dialect, turned to her, and with tears in his eyes besought her to find the Saviour in her own heart. His whole face was radiant with the love of God as he told her that the baptism the child needed, Christ alone could bestow.
It is a scene that continually comes back to my mind as one of the most impressive I witnessed while in the Northwest Territories. We were in a farm wagon, traveling across the prairie. This Galician family had just come to settle in a house scarcely fit for cattle to occupy. The roof was made of turf, and was partly fallen in. The mother was surrounded by six or eight little children, while her husband stood at her side, apparently much discouraged by their situation. It was raining, and the mosquitoes were terrible. We stopped to exchange a few words of sympathy with them, and to leave them some money. Then it was that this poor woman appealed to me in behalf of her baby. Her face was the picture of distress for fear the child might die before it was baptized. I suppose they mistook me for a Greek priest, as I had on a Circassian goatskin cloak. Before we left her her expression was more comfortable, but such is the ignorance of these Galicians that we felt she only half comprehended our ideas of baptism.