Breaking Ground in Spasovka and Uspenie

by Deanna Konkin

Deanna Konkin (1946-) is an elementary school teacher and organic gardener in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Her parents and sister reside on the family farm located near the original site of Spasovka Doukhobor Village. On occasions she returns to the farm, gazes across the fields and wonders what life was like in the village many years ago. She is a collector of Doukhobor memorabilia and books and is very interested in singing. The highlight of her singing career was in 1995 when she participated in the Voices for Peace Choir. Deanna enjoys and is skilled in the crafts of her ancestry, in needlepoint, embroidery, crocheting and knitting. Her ambition is to learn the art of linen-making, draw-work, weaving, embroidering, fringing of Doukhobor shawls, as well as other native crafts before they are forgotten. In the following article, reproduced by permission from Koozma Tarasoff’s “Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers’ Strategies for Living” (Ottawa: Legas Publishing, 2002), she writes about the early days on the Saskatchewan prairies and the stories of her grandparents.

The Doukhobors from the Kars area in Russia settled in Spasovka Doukhobor Village. It was located in the block of land known as the Prince Albert Colony or the Duck Lake settlement, across the North Saskatchewan River and southwest of Duck Lake, Saskatchewan. The village was 14 miles southwest, on Section 14, Township 45, Range 5, West 3rd M. Of the Colony, it was the largest village with 47 households and a population of 217. The town of Blaine Lake was 14 miles [22.5 km] southwest. All that remains today is the unmarked graveyard on a hill with a lone tree growing on it.

The people who lived there went by such names as Stupnikoff, Konkin, Podovelnikoff, Demoskoff, Pepin, Perepelkin, Kabatoff, Shukin, Holuboff, Rebalkin, Maloff, Savinkoff, Tarasoff, Berikoff, Popoff, Babakaiff, Osachoff, Chernoff, and Hoodekoff.

Many villagers would go to Prince Albert via Duck Lake to find work and earn their daily bread. The men worked on construction such as building brick office buildings and dwellings, while the women washed clothes. My grandfather, Andrei Vasilyevich Konkin and his brother Ivan sought work in Prince Albert. Once they caught a ride in a boxcar filled with lumber at the time when the train derailed and they were pinned underneath. Luckily a conductor saw them and came to their rescue, saving them from serious injuries.

Some members of Spasovka village near Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. These include Andrew Konkin (back row, second from the left) and his brother John (5th from the left) as well as respected elder Vasily Konkin (2nd row, 10th person from the left holding baby), 1906.

My grandfather Vasil Konkin who lived in this village was a spiritual and religious man. It was not uncommon for him to go on foot to the Uspenie Doukhobor Village some 20 miles [32 km] away. He would disrobe under the trees, walk out onto the street and preach to the villagers about Doukhobor beliefs, brotherhood, love, and the evils of materialism. All was witnessed by my grandmother Nastia Salikin (later Boulanoff). As young 10-year-olds, she and her two friends, Masha Selivanova (Kalesnikoff, later Mrs Alex Cheveldayoff) and Polya Katelnikova (later Mrs Pete A. Rebin), witnessed the disrobing, saying to themselves: ‘Vot Konkin svobodnik pribil’ (“the Konkin Son of Freedom has arrived”).

My great, great grandfather Nicholai Stupnikoff also lived in Spasovka. He was a psychic who could on numerous occasions foretell the future. One interesting episode took place back in Russia. A distraught man came to him and told him that the Tatars had stolen his mare. Nicholai replied: ‘Be patient, soon two horses will come to your home’. This man did as he was told. Sure enough, before long his mare returned home followed by a beautiful, frisky colt.

Fedia Salikin, circa 1900

My great grandfather Fedia Salikin lived in Uspenie Village. As the first pioneers in the area, he and his family lived in avuls (dugouts) on the bank of the North Saskatchewan River.

Fedia was a devout Doukhobor who suffered greatly for his beliefs in Russia. He and Aleksei Rebin were shackled together following the mass arms burning protest. As they walked to prison, the shackles kept unbuckling and falling off. The Tatars who were escorting them saw what happened and hollered Allah! Allah! Superstitiously they believed this was some kind of incantation at work, especially when this happened three times. Finally, the commander of the troop said: ‘If you give your word that you won’t run away, you can carry your shackles’. And so they did.

In prison, Fedia and two of his friends were ordered to put on army uniforms. They refused and took their clothes off and remained this way for three days. This was in the middle of winter. A soldier came and told them that they would be shot outside by a firing squad if they did not obey. A general arrived just in time to prevent the bloodshed. The three men were led back to prison and given winter clothing. They were told they had to be sentenced first, but they never were sentenced and eventually were set free with the others.

From Uspenie, Fedia and his family moved to Verigin, Saskatchewan where he was appointed as a miller, milling wheat into flour for the Doukhobor Community (the CCUB or the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood).

When the Doukhobors began the move to British Columbia in 1908, Peter V. Verigin asked Fedia to stay and make flour and send it to the Community in BC. Instead, because of his strong faith in the leader, Fedia joined his brethren in the move west. He did not want to stay behind because he believed that he would never hear from his Doukhobor friends and relatives again. He told the leader, ‘Peter, I want to toil more’. So he and his wife Avdotia (Dunia) packed up and moved to Blagodatnoe [Blueberry Creek] BC. There he, along with others, cut heavy timbers, extracted stumps and rock in order to make way for an abundant orchard and fertile farming land.

Fedias oldest daughter Nastia (my grandmother) and her husband (my grandfather), Fyodor Andreivich Boulanoff, later moved back to Saskatchewan. The damp mountain climate and the lack of food did not agree with my grandfather’s health. First they settled in the village of Pokrovka in the Langham area. When the people in the village began to farm independently, Fyodor and Nastia and their family settled on a rented farm. They heard about good land being for sale in the Blaine Lake district and moved there. Here they felled trees, gathered roots, and prepared the soil for tilling.

My grandmother worked alongside my grandfather. She was a fully liberated woman in her time. Besides helping with the fieldwork and barnyard chores, she also was a skilled seamstress, having done the sewing for the Doukhobor Community in BC as well as for her family. An avid gardener, she grew beautiful, bountiful gardens, the excess of which she sold to neighboring towns and cities. She passed her gardening skills and love of gardening to her family and their families. She was skilled in many crafts. One of these was growing her own flax, processing it, and spinning it into yarn to be later knitted or crocheted into doilies. She also spun wool into yarn, dyed it, and knitted it into warm mittens, socks, scarves and sweaters. In addition to her excellent homemaking abilities, she managed to keep up her melodious singing, teaching her children and anyone interested to sing psalms and hymns. One could hear her golden voice carrying high above the rest when she sang at sobranias and funerals. Peter V. Verigin once remarked to her, ‘Budet truba vo ves svet, i budesh tipet’ vo ves svet’ [There will be a pipe that will carry its sound throughout all the world and you will sing to all the world]. Many years later this prophecy was fulfilled. Grandmother and her family sang at local amateur shows on radio in the 1940s. Many people listened and enjoyed their delightful a cappella sounds.

My grandfather, Fyodor, was a devoted farmer. He was one of the first to grow hull-less oats in the Blaine Lake area. He also grew wheat, barley and rye. When he lived in the Langham area, Doukhobor parents asked him to teach their youth to read and write in Russian. Years later, many of his former students approached him and thanked him for teaching them so well. He also was a captivating storyteller. He had a great talent for remembering stories he had read and was able to retell them as everyone sat around and listened in awe.

At this time I wish to extend a tribute to all my ancestors for their beliefs, struggles, and sacrifices. May they have eternal rest and peace in God’s Heavenly Kingdom.

Childhood Memories

by Alexey Ivanovich Popov

Alexey Ivanovich Popov was born February 8, 1876 in the province of Elizavetpol, Russia, in the village of Novo-Troitskoye. At the age of two, he and his family, together with a sizeable group of Doukhobors immigrated to the territory known as Kars near the Turkish border. There, they founded the village of Spasovka, where Alexey remained until manhood. Many years later, he recounted his Doukhobor childhood in his memoirs, written in 1953 but published posthumously. The following excerpt, reproduced by permission from Chapter One of “Autobiography of a Siberian Exile” (Trans. Eli A. Popoff. Kelowna: 2006), chronicles the first fourteen years of Alexey’s life and provides a wealth of insight into Doukhobor life, events and beliefs, especially with respect to the upbringing and education of Doukhobor children in the Caucasus, Russia the 1880’s.

I, Alexey Ivanovich Popov, was a son of religious parents. They were a poor, peasant family of Doukhobor faith. I was born on February 25, 1877 in the Doukhobor village of Troitskoye in the Russian Gubernia of Elizavetpol, which is situated on the southern side of the Caucasus Mountains in Southern Russia. My father was Ivan Semyonovich Popov and my mother was Anna Semyonovna Popov (Androsov). They were humble, poor peasants who made their living as tillers of the soil. They were staunch in their Doukhobor faith and devout believers in their spiritual Doukhobor leaders. As true followers of their faith my parents migrated to Canada in 1899 with the Doukhobor mass migration of that time. Here in Canada, all the days of their lives they belonged to the Doukhobor group known as the Sons of Freedom. Both of them spent considerable periods of time in Canadian prisons and endured various forms of beatings and other persecution, but they did not change their beliefs to the very end of their lives. They passed away at different times; both are buried at the same cemetery in British Columbia. In their family they had seven children – three sons and four daughters. I was their third child.

Alexei Ivanovich Popov as an adult, c. 1915.

Recollections of what my mother told me:

When my mother gave birth to me, she had a very hard time and remained ill and in bed for months after my birth. It was my father who looked after all the farm chores as well as most of the household duties. Mother told me that I was a very quiet child. Very seldom did anyone hear me cry. During her illness my mother did not have any milk in her breasts to feed me. She was also not able to get out of bed and prepare any baby food for me. As was a common practice at that time among the Doukhobors, all the mothers who were breastfeeding their children in the immediate neighbourhood took turns and came to our house to feed me. Each came at their allotted time to feed me. At the same time when they came to feed me, each of the mothers would do some of the housework and look after some of my mother’s needs. This went on up to the time that I reached two years of age.

After two years of age:

Some of the following that I write about, it seems to me that I remember it myself, but it is possible that some of it may have been told to me by my mother, when I was still a child of eight or nine years of age. I remember that I was a healthy child and remember how I walked with steady feet all over the yard, but the events that went on in the family household at that time I do not seem to recall.

The first thing I remember is that on the south, sunny side of our house, right against the wall, the ashes from our Russian bake oven were always placed in a pile. In the summer this pile got very dry. I loved to play on it and sometimes would even fall asleep, half covered in the ashes. Sometimes I would sleep here till I woke up, and sometimes someone would carry me inside the house while I was still asleep. When I was two and a half years old, I was strong enough to roam around the whole yard and even outside the yard. At one time after it was past the noon hour of twelve o’clock, my mother decided to pay a visit to the nearby shallow river where the village women placed their flax straw to soak in preparation for the next stage to be made into fiber for spinning and weaving. This was a yearly practice that was done in the fall of every year. I was allowed to go with my mother for this visit. Shortly after we had already passed the outskirts of the village, I had my first sight of a large prairie jackrabbit. He had been lying in the grass, till we came quite close to him. Suddenly he raised himself and turning towards the nearby mountain, he ran with a brisk jump towards this mountain. The mountain was a landmark in the area that was called “Troitskiy Shpeel” (shpeel means a peak or spire).

After a short while we arrived at the river. The spot chosen here was a curve in the river with a very slow flowing current. The bottom was covered with a coarse gravel with scattered round and flat rocks. The depth of the water was from 6 to 18 inches. Between the scattered rocks it was excellent to place the flax or hemp straw for soaking. These bundles of straw would then have the river rocks placed on top of them. This was done so that the current would not carry away the straw and so that the direct sun would not shine upon it. When we came to this spot my mother took off her shoes and waded into the water. She reached into the water and took out a handful of straw. She rubbed it between her hands for a while and then put it back. Apparently it was not yet ready to take out. At this same spot, a little further up river, we saw that there was another Doukhobor woman who had come to examine her material. She was also finished with her examination, so we started going back to our village together – this lady and my mother, and me following them. On our way home we did not see any other wild life. Arriving at the outskirts of our village I noticed that the sun was now setting over that same mountain, “Troitskiy Shpeel”, towards which the jackrabbit had scampered.

When we came home, mother went to milk the cows, but as for me, I felt so tired from the walk of about four miles that I immediately climbed up onto the space above the Russian bake oven where it was always warm. Feeling warm all over, I fell asleep almost at once. And it was here that I slept throughout the whole evening and night and right through the early morning. It was never the practice of my mother to wake a child to feed him the evening meal, or to move him once he was comfortably asleep. She always said – once a child is comfortably sleeping in the evening, let him be. Missing the meal won’t hurt him as much as disturbing his peaceful sleep.

In the morning I got up from my place of sleep before my other siblings got out of bed and at once told my mother that I was hungry. Mother immediately poured some milk into the earthenware dish, along with some small chunks of leftover wheat bread. I took out of the cupboard one of the hand-carved wooden spoons and heartily ate what my mother had set before me.

Being only two and a half years old, none of the household or yard chores had yet been allocated to me, and so my daily life went on as with all other children in the quiet peaceful life of our agrarian village. At this age I was already quite articulate in my speaking. Although I did not have too broad a vocabulary, this was being added to from day to day.

As usual, I was always interested in what my father did as his village work routine. It was about three weeks after the visit to the river with my mother that my father brought home on a hayrack wagon the flax and hemp straw that had been soaking in the river. He carefully placed it under a roof to dry. After a period of drying, mother would go to the shed and take small bundles of the straw and with wooden tools she would work days on end beating the straw till it would separate into fibrous strands. The straw would be thrown aside for use in making fuel bricks, and the semi-clean fiber would be taken into the house. During the long winter evenings, in a special corner of the house both mother and father would keep on tramping this semi-clean fiber with their bare feet. Every once in a while they would take this mass outside to shake out the straw from it. When this mass was reasonably clean, mother would then card it piece by piece with special hand carders. Now this fluffy mass was ready handful by handful to be spun into yarn on the home made spinning wheel. In the evening mother would spin while father would be tramping the semi-cleaned flax fiber in the corner. During the daytime mother would work with the wooden tools outside, doing the first stage of the straw separation. In the evenings my father would continue the cleaning process of tramping by foot in the corner of the house that what mother had prepared outside, while mother would be carding or spinning in another corner of the living room. This kind of work continued up until about the month of February. At this time all of the cleaning, carding and spinning should be completed. Now the spun yarn had to be made into linen and hemp cloth in a process that was very fascinating to me as a child. As I grew older the process became clearer to me, but it is still quite hard to explain step by step how the yarn eventually became a very durable linen, hemp or wool material used for sewing the clothes that were worn by all the Doukhobors. All this was done in the living rooms of almost every Doukhobor family in the village.

The spun yarn was rolled into large balls. The place for preparing the yarn for its required width of usually about two feet was chosen along the longest wall of the living room. After a rotating walk around the set up pegs on a raised bench, the resulting unrolling of the large balls of yarn into a long pattern was ready to go into the set up loom for weaving. The loom itself was an intricate homemade wooden construction that a woman had to sit at. Working with her hands to put a cross thread through the two-foot wide yarn on the rollers, and using her feet to move the thing along was an art exclusive mostly to Doukhobor women. The work of weaving on the loom to make these two-foot wide and of various lengths materials or rugs went on into the months of March, April and even May. When it became warm enough in the spring to do this, then the women would take these rugs, which were still quite coarse, to the river again. There they are again soaked in the water and then spread out on the green grass to dry in the sun. As soon as they are dry, they are again soaked and again spread out in the sun. This process softens them, and also makes them become whiter. From this material the women then sew what the family requires. From the purer and softer white material they sew women’s clothes. Some of the coarser material is coloured, usually blue, and men’s pants are sewn from it, and also some women’s work clothing. The women do all their sewing by hand, and use their own, finer linen thread. A lot of clothing material was made from sheep’s wool. The process of preparing wool into yarn for spinning and weaving was a bit different and a lot of wool yarn was used for knitting.

All of this work with flax and hemp straw and sheep’s wool was done in the wintertime, and most of it was done by the Doukhobor women residing at this time in the Doukhobor villages of the Caucasus area in southern Russia. In the summer, during haying season, these same women worked side by side with the men. The men with hand scythes would be cutting the hay, while the women, with hand rakes made of wood, would be raking the hay into little piles, which they referred to as “miniature stacks”. At harvest time the women together with the men, using hand scythes would harvest the grain, tying the grain stalks into sheaves that they would later thresh together. Threshing of the grain was also done by hand by both men and women.

Besides helping the men in the fields, Doukhobor women also planted large vegetable gardens, which they looked after from spring till fall using hand tools. Every Doukhobor family had cows, which the women milked by hand. They also looked after the sheep and it was the women’s job to shear the wool from them every spring. Every family raised chickens, ducks and geese and the women looked after these as well. Of course it was the women’s duty to cook, to sew, to wash clothes, clean house and do all other family chores including the bringing up of children. Among all of these responsibilities the women still found time to go and pick the abundant wild flowers of the Caucasus area. They also picked herbs for their own medicinal use, as well as for sale.

One other very important responsibility of Doukhobor women was that they had to pass on the Doukhobor life-concept to the children by teaching them to know from memory Doukhobor psalms, wherein was contained the aspects of the Doukhobor faith. When a child was still quite young, the mother taught them the psalms only for reciting purposes. As the child grew older, the mother was required to see that the child would start learning the melody of each psalm. This was in order that the child could participate in mass prayer meetings, which were based on the reading and singing of psalms. The melody for Doukhobor psalms was very intricate and not easy to learn, even if you were growing up as a Doukhobor. For most outsiders the melody of Doukhobor psalms is very hard to understand and almost impossible to sing in the same soul stirring way.

When I was two years and eight months old my mother taught me one short psalm, which was specially composed for children. It was easy to read and I learned to read it quite fluently. It started with: “Lord, give us your blessing.” “Thou art my God and I am your slave. You will not desert me, and I will not ever leave you” and ended with “Honour and Praise to our God”. This psalm I learned to read from memory while we still lived in the house where I was born in the village of Troitskoye (Elizavetpol Gubernia).

In the spring of the year 1880 a sizable group of Doukhobors including our villagers and also from the neighbouring village of Spasovka of our Gubernia of Elizavetpol, decided to move to the Kars area of the Gubernia of Tiflis. The distance to cover was about two hundred and fifty plus Russian “Versti” (about 150 miles). My parents decided to make this move with the group. Being merely three years old at this time, I was not too aware of the hardships of this trip. I only remember the convoy of covered wagons following one another and slowly making their way along wagon trail roads, which were often muddy and soft. The wagons were heavily loaded and sometimes got bogged down in the mud so that the team hitched to the wagon would not be able to pull the wagon out. I remember cases where all the wagons would stop and they would hitch teams from other wagons at the head of those stuck. After pulling out the stuck wagon, the whole convoy would then proceed. On the third day of our journey our convoy had to cross a river. Its depth was from one to three and a half feet. Its width was about three hundred feet and it was quite fast flowing. My father was driving a four-horse team hitched to our wagon and it appears that he had moved a bit to one side of the regular track where it was safe to cross. There was a huge unseen rock in the water that stopped the wagon and the horses could not move it. Many men from the other wagons immediately came to the rescue. They waded into the water, and finding out what the problem was, they placed themselves at the wheels and at the back of the wagon and helped to get the wagon over the rock and safely to the other side.

A sample page from Alexey’s handwritten memoirs of 1953, painstakingly translated by his son Eli A. Popoff in 2006.

At the other side of the river, all of the convoy stopped for a meal, to rest and to feed the horses. Feed for the horses was not being hauled because the wagons were overly full with all the household and other belongings that were being transported to the new place of abode. So the horses were fed merely with the local grass that they grazed and any fresh hay that could be cut on the way. The early spring green grass was not very nutritious for the horses. They weakened day by day, and so the journey was longer than it should have been. What added to the hardships was that there was much rain during this trip –making the roads wet and soggy. The wagon wheels kept sinking up to four inches – making ruts as they proceeded. Because of all this the convoy used to make as little as fifteen versti, and at the most 30 versti of travel per day (a “versta” is approximately one kilometre. – Ten kilometres is approximately 6 miles). It was fortunate for the whole convoy that the climate of this Caucasus area was reasonable during the spring. While there were times of very heavy rainfall making puddles three or four inches deep on the roads, within the same hour the sun would come out and in a short time the water would all disappear. The rain did not bother the people or their belongings because all of the wagons were well covered with good frames covered with durable canvass. The food brought along for the trip was very simple. Basically everyone had sacks full of “sookhari” or twice baked bread chunks, made from whole wheat. They had a supply of potatoes, millet grain and salted chunks of sheep’s fat. The road from Elizavetpol to the Kars area was very hilly and rocky and there was a considerable amount of forest growth all around. The territory that was being crossed was all Crown Land and therefore it was permissible to let the horses graze at every stop that was made. We children always rode in the comfort of the covered wagons, where we also slept every night. All of the men usually walked behind or beside the wagons. They did not have to drive the horses most of the time as the Caucasus horses were better trained to keep to the trails, than the Canadian horses that we have had to use. It was only once in a while when a steep hill would appear ahead that the drivers would sit down on the driver’s seat to urge and steer the horses.

In the evenings when the convoy was camping for the night, the men would gather in groups and join in light hearted discussions and usually sang joyous hymns and songs. The women would be cooking the evening meal and tending to the children’s needs. In general this migration from one area to another had its hardships, but there were also joyful times. Throughout the whole trip there was not a single occasion of misfortune or trauma to any family in the whole convoy.

In the latter part of April, our convoy reached its destination. My parents chose to settle in the village named “Spasovka” in the District of Arganov about 40 “Versti” east of the City of Kars in what was referred to as “Karsskaya Oblast” or the region of Kars in the Gubernia (or province) of Tiflis. The village of Spasovka was situated in a unique location. From the west side there was a huge long mountain. On the north, east and south sides, the river “Karsina” made a huge bend. Along the south west side and along the mountain there flowed a smaller unnamed river, which always had warm water in it. On frosty days of the winter months there was always a vapor of steam above it. At the southeast end of our village location these two rivers joined together and they flowed out of our valley in a southeasterly direction between two tall mountains of rock, which formed a gorge at this point.

Both these rivers had an abundance of fish. However these fish were of a small common variety and could not be compared to the special fish that we came to know in far eastern parts of Russia, in Siberia, province of Yakutsk.

In this, our new village of Spasovka, my parents did not have to build their new home to live in. This was because there were two parties of Doukhobors that had already moved here from our province. With one of these parties, my grandfather Semyon Leontievich Popov came here before us. These parties that had come here before us, by mutual agreement, had already allocated exactly how the village would be built. They had measured out equal lots in a long line with homes to be built facing each other. One side of the line would have the houses with the rear facing eastward, and the other side would have their rear facing westward. In the centre was a wide street running from north to south. The total length of this street was about one and one quarter “versti” (about ¾ of a mile). After all the lots were marked out and numbered – each family drew lots for the one that would be theirs.

Part of these lots covered a territory that once had the remains of a small Turkish village. This territory still had the skeletons of five Turkish dwelling homes that were not totally deteriorated. These dwellings all had the same shape and style. The structure was all under one roof and quite low to the ground level. The roof was made from turf. Each had two doors on the long side of the structure. One door led into the structures most spacious division, which had four separate divisions and was used to house the farm animals and the poultry. The other door, at the other end, led into the division where the family was to live. One of these structures still remained on the lot that grandfather drew as his allocated lot. When my parents arrived at this newly pioneered village, my grandfather greeted us at the front of this building, and this is where we settled in to live.

The first essential chore that had to be done here was to go to the place and dig the special clay, from which bricks could be made. After drying and processing the bricks, these would then be laid in proper formation to make the brick oven for baking and cooking. I remember my father and grandfather at work making the bricks, while mother was busy washing up all the clothes from the trip and doing other cleaning. From these very first days I remember my older brother and sister and myself climbing the low roofed dwelling of ours and walking all over the long roof.

Because grandfather had come here earlier, he had done some essential work that every homeowner had to do here at this time. He had tilled some of our allotted soil and sowed some barley. He did complain that the Turkish people who lived here had apparently used the soil continually for many years and he feared that the crop would be very poor. We did not have any choice at this time, so in the latter days of the month of April, we, as all others – planted our gardens, each on the allotted lots, which were also very much worked over before us.

At this time I was just three years and two months old and so all of the responsibilities of this first pioneering year did not affect me. All the responsibilities rested on the shoulders of our parents. As for us, children, free of worldly responsibilities, as soon as summer warmth came around, we headed in groups to the shallow warm river that was really right in our back yard.

There for days at a time we sat in the warm waters of the river taking hourly outings to stretch out on the warm sand of the beach. Because there were no schools in this new area where we settled, the children that came to the river ranged from two to nine years. The parents felt safe to allow the children to come here, because the river was shallow and slow flowing. The shore was not deep set, but just about even with the land’s surface and the river bottom was firm and solid. This was why all the children of our village spent all the sunny days at this river shore. In the evenings the parents always insisted that all children spend a certain amount of time learning from memory the prayers of the Doukhobors, which were called psalms. When I was four years old I learned my second psalm, which read as follows:

Lord, Give Us Thy Blessing

Let us all tearfully reflect on all the daily workings of our lives. Verily speaks to us our Lord with entreaty: “You my male servants and maid servants, devout Christians, do not forget to be faithful to God, and He will not forget you in the end time to come. In our present day, the times are very trying. We are being judged and persecuted. There has been born an evil anti-Christ. He has sent forth his evil oppressors out into the whole world. There is no place to hide for my faithful followers, neither in the mountains, nor in the caves, nor in the distant barren places. My faithful followers have to live in exile and suffer persecution for keeping to the word of God and for manifesting the teachings of Jesus Christ. But you my faithful followers rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.

Our God be praised.

Because my age group of children was not yet allocated any responsibilities, we continued to spend all our time at our favorite spot by the river. We would go there day after day. The only time we were not there was when we would see a dark cloud coming over the horizon and rumbling of thunder would be heard. At such times we would race to where the nearest covered wagons were parked and hide under their cover. For the first season, families continued to live in their covered wagons while the houses were being built. The last parties were all still living in their covered wagons. My parents were very fortunate to have the frames of the five Turkish huts that were on their allotted plot. We were sheltered in them during the first trying years. All the other families next to us were all hurrying to get their houses built. The construction of houses in this area was very simple. The walls were built from the slabs of unhewn gray rock that was freely available at the nearby foothills of the mountains. In between went layers of mixed clay mortar, which was also readily available at various spots of the valley. There was no visible forest anywhere nearby so wood was only used for window frames and doorjambs. For the roof some round poles were used sparsely, on which were laid split flat slabs of stone. On this base, plain soil was heaped, and this method was used for every roof of every building in the village. All the buildings had similar rock walls. Our village of Spasovka had 86 family residences. Each and every residence was similarly built and there was not a single wooden roofed building in the whole village.

With this form of construction, not counting the labor the cost of the buildings was very minimal. For a residence to house a family of ten with livestock from 25 to 30 head, the cost of constructing a residence would be from five to ten rubles. This expense goes specifically for the cost of glass and any ironware that was required for the buildings. It also covered anything that was needed for the large Russian oven assembled out of hand-made bricks. This oven served for all the kitchen cooking, bread baking, as well as supplying heat in the winter months. The construction of these buildings was the prime occupation of each and every family in these first years of settlement. All of the needed materials for this type of construction was readily available nearby. The forms of rock and stone slabs were all around you to the fullest of your hearts desire. There were mountains of clay for your mortar and brick baking. Water was abundant from the two rivers in the valley. The biggest detriment was the lack of forest nearby. The closest place for cutting any timber was 50 Versti away. Although there was one good thing about the timber, and that was, that for all our new settlers the state allowed a given amount for free. However to transport this timber was very difficult. In the first place there was still a shortage of horses in the first years and there was no supply of any kind of grain to feed the horses in this long and arduous journey. Even though throughout the Kavkaz Mountains there were always patches of good grass, this was not good enough to give strength for the horses to pull these heavy loads of timber for such long distances. Besides all this, horsepower was needed at home for hauling the rocks and for tilling the soil. The roads that were used to get to the timber belt were not kept up by anyone. Although the trails were somewhat packed down, the continuous summer rains would make them muddy and difficult for any kind of transportation. It was because of all of this that lumber was of the highest value in all of our villages.

There never was any talk of a sawmill to be constructed because the logs brought here were few and far between. For the absolutely essential boards the logs were cut by hand with long crosscut saws. Those families that did not have two grown men got together in pairs with other families. Since this was not an occupation that was practiced often, some of the boards that were cut were very uneven. These were the tasks that were performed by all the grown ups of the village throughout the spring, summer and fall. In the fall the gathering in of the crops took precedence over all. The first crops were very poor as these were sewn on lands that the Turkish people had been farming for many years and new land had not yet been prepared. Our children’s summer occupation that we loved best of all was our time spent by the river. Nevertheless there were times when we would go to the spots where the families were mixing the clay for mortar for the buildings. Here we would roll our own little balls of clay for our own kind of play. Sometimes we would dry them, but sometimes we would throw them at each other while they were still raw and wet. The object was to dodge them, as they hurt quite considerably. Sometimes one of the clay balls would hit a grown up person, at which time we would all be chased away. A chase from one place did not usually stop us. We would just go to another place further away where the same clay mixing was going on. Our group eventually earned the name of “mischief makers.”

When it was time for harvest all of our barefooted gang was broken up. Each went to their own family group in readiness to be taken to the fields together with the elders. Only those children stayed at home where there was an elder staying behind to allocate to them the home chores that had to be done.

Harvesting the grain at that time was very simple. The men cut down the standing grain with hand scythes, and the women raked it into small neat piles called “Kopitsi”. Then the men using special thin poles about 10 feet long, and sticking them under the pile from two sides, they would lift and carry this pile to a central place where a neat small stack would be made. This stack would be left that way till all the cutting down of the grain would be finished.

The children’s responsibility was to see that not a blade with a head of kernels in it would be left lying in the field. We would gather these individually and tie them into little sheaves with the spare straw stems. Every child would place his little sheaves separately into neat piles. These sheaves would then be taken home in the evening, where we would give them into caretaking of the parents and receive their praise according to how diligently they had worked and how many sheaves were made up. The parents kept these little sheaves separately and allowed them to be threshed separately. With the grain that resulted, the children were allowed to trade it with the local traveling merchants for goodies like apples, plums or grapes, either fresh or dried.

After the harvesting of the grain in the fields is completed, the families individually, if large families, and sometimes together with others, if small – prepare a special spot for threshing. A sizable smooth surfaced place is chosen. First it is wetted down with water and tall grass or straw is scattered loosely on it. A horse is then hitched to a special wooden roller with pegs in it, and with a rider horseback on the horse, drives back and forth on this patch until the straw is tramped in and the whole base is quite firm and solid. After this has dried, the excess straw is swept off and the reaped grain is then spread on this firm base which is called a “Katok” and the same wooden roller is hauled across, over and over until the kernels are all freed from the heads. When the men feel that all the kernels are free from the straw, they gather the straw with forks and take it away, piling it into stacks for feed. The grain is shoveled to the centre of the “Katok” and more unthreshed wheat or whatever grain is being threshed is spread around. Then the roller and the horse again commence their threshing process. After the men feel that there is about 50 or 60 “poodi” of grain (one “pood” is 40 pounds) in the centre of the “Katok”, the threshing process is halted. Now they take shovels and throw the grain into the air against the wind – thus separating the chaff from the kernels, as it is light and the wind blows it away. If there are any pieces of solid matter like dried mud chunks or small rocks – these are later removed by hand made screens.

All this harvesting work was carried out by the elders. In the meantime we children see how the elders are throwing the wheat and chaff into the wind, develop our own form of make believe. We gather in the street where there is loose dirt and make piles of it in the centre. Then cupping our hands we throw it into the air, just to see which way it blows. Because there are up to ten of us in a group, we create a regular dust storm in which you can hardly see our bodies. In the morning when we get together, all have different colored clothes. In the evening all our clothes are a dark gray. All around our eyes, nose and mouth there is a layer of black dust. We no longer look like children but like knights in black armor. In the event that we have a rainfall and the streets have puddles, we begin by racing through them, and then wrestling and before you know it we begin to go our separate and march home like fishermen coming home, wet and soggy.

It wasn’t always that we children got away with our naughty frolicking. Often either an elder man or an older woman would catch us doing something naughty and they would get after us with a willow switch, and without paying attention as to who belonged to which family, would give each one of us a good wallop on the back and chase us to our individual homes. Most of the time we were on the watch for any approaching elder, and when catching sight of one, we would immediately scatter and hide. There never was any thought of standing up to any older person of your own or any other village. If ever any child would answer harshly to any older person, he would be severely punished by his own parents at home. This meant that no child could do any mischief in any part of the village without immediately answering to any elder around. Even if he got away from the elder on the spot, he knew what he would get at home, when his mischief and disrespect of elders would be reported to his parents. This kind of upbringing allowed the Doukhobors to live in peace and harmony in their large extended families, and in their tightly knit villages. Every parent trusted their neighbouring parents to do the right thing when dealing with children’s pranks. Parents always trusted the elders’ assessment of an irresponsible occurrence, rather than the version given by a guilty teen-ager. There were no schools in our village and at most the literacy rate of the whole village was no more than 5 percent. Yet the whole village kept strictly to the above disciplinary guidelines without any exceptions.

With the oncoming colder weather, after all the fall work was done, our children’s group gallivanting came to an end. Because of general lack of warm winter clothing, most of us children now became confined to their homes. Staying at home, all we could do was think about all of the things we had done this past summer, and plan for the coming spring and summers escapades and the new things we might come up with.

During the fall and winter time of short days and long nights, because the children had no place to play and no responsibilities to fulfill and were having time on their hands, it became the duty of every parent and grandparent to teach them the prayers and psalms that contained the life-concept of the Doukhobors. These were passed on from generation to generation and were learned from memory. Families that had four or five children above four years of age, had them, every day, lined up in a row and made to recite from memory the psalms they already knew, and then separately, each one would be taught additional psalms. Up to a given age these psalms would be taught only for recitation. Later the melody of these psalms would be taught as well. In this particular winter I learned from memory my third psalm, whose contents was as follows:

“Lord, Give Us Thy Blessing”

“From the beginning of time and till now, the Lord God calleth to His faithful children: “Come to me my dear children, come to me my most dear ones. I have prepared for you the Kingdom of Heaven. Do not fear to forsake your father, your mother nor all of your race and lineage in the physical sense, but give reverence to me your heavenly Father in spirit. And the faithful children turn to Him in prayer – Oh Lord, our dear Lord it is so difficult for us to enter into your heavenly kingdom. All the pathways have gates of steel, and at the gates there stand fierce and unjust guards. And the Lord speaketh to them and sayeth: “Do not be fearful my children, do not be fearful my dear ones. I am the powerful wrestler that shall go forward before you. I shall break down all their gates of steel and I shall disperse their fierce guards. And then I shall lead you into my kingdom of heaven, where all shall reign with me as witnessed to by the God of Jacob.”

“Our God be praised”

During the winters male children under the age of 12 years had no responsibilities, so their day-to-day routine was always the same and the winters felt long. In regard to the girls it was a bit different. Beginning from the age of seven, the mothers began teaching them how to knit from the woolen yarn and even simple patching. Those families that had smaller babies, the girls were trained to take care of them. The girls were also taught to clean the floors as well as help their mothers with the washing of dishes. After the girls reach 12 years of age the mothers began to train them how to spin simple, thicker yarn for mitts and working stockings. All the spinning in our area of Kars province was done from sheep’s wool. Some sheep had been brought from our Elizavetpol province because there, most villagers had large herds of sheep. Some long horned cattle were also brought here from Elizavetpol, and these were used for milk from the very beginning of our new settlement.

When the frosts came in late fall, all work on construction was stopped. This was because in order to lay the stone walls it required mortar from the brown clay mixture. This mixture had to be handled with bare hands, and of course later this would get frozen and without a proper drying process this mortar would fall apart in the warm summer weather. Thus ,for the men folk there was less to do. All they had to do was look after cattle, horses and sheep, and in the homes they would patch the leather harness gear, repair worn boots or sew new ones. At times they would tan woolen sheepskins and sew them for wearing as short fur coats. Wood working shops did not exist here because wood was so hard to get. It was not even possible to haul logs from the forest in the wintertime. The roads were not passable. A blacksmith shop was very rare, as only a few essentials for household use or construction were ever made in the village blacksmith. There was nowhere in this area where men could go and do work for others, so in the year there were five months where the men, also, were tied to doing household and barnyard chores, the barn being part of the residence.

All the men’s main work of working the land, sowing, harvesting, and construction work could only be done in the spring and summer, so during the long winter evenings, the men – like the children spent a lot of time learning the Doukhobor psalms. This was done not only in their own homes. They also gathered in groups in neighbour’s homes. They not only read the psalms, but also in groups, sang them. On Sundays there were large gatherings for prayer meetings. At these prayer meetings everyone participated by each reading a psalm. The Doukhobors never had any special person for leading prayer services. Each and everyone participated with the reading and with the singing. That is why the children were taught from a very young age. It was always expected that each person would read a different psalm. And so if a group of one hundred gathered, the elders would be obliged to know just about that many psalms. The Doukhobors read their psalms, their prayers to God, not with the intent of absolving themselves from sin, but they read them for their own enlightenment as to how they should lead their lives. Each and every psalm had some explanation about the living spirit of the teachings of Jesus Christ. This is why the Doukhobors referred to their collection of psalms as the “Living Book”.

When a person has within his memory many Doukhobor psalms, no matter where he is, or what his circumstances are, he always has with him the instructional words contained in the psalms. No one can take them away from him, and having them always within the innermost sanctions of his being for his guidance, no one can sidetrack him, or change his deep seated and deeply rooted faith. This then, was one of the main reasons that the Doukhobors were not so concerned about grammar schools or other forms of academic learning. Their first concern was to instruct their children with the “Living Book”, their religious and moral, ethical, instructional psalms. In addition to all this the Doukhobors believed that their spiritual psalms were their own unique and bona fide life-concepts that no outsider had tampered with. Keeping firmly to the concepts contained in their psalms, the Doukhobors could safely withstand any foreign or alien influences. Their feelings were that any outside grammar teaching could still contain influences that were alien to Doukhobor thought and would infringe on or tend to obscure pure and untainted Doukhobor teachings.

During this first winter, with its short days and long nights was spent with even greater emphasis placed on spiritual aspects and the learning of psalms by both children and elders. I remember this first winter starting to turn towards spring because in February 25th of the year 1881 I became 4 years old. I really was not too aware of how good a crop we had this past year, or what other hardships my parents went through, because at my age this was not within my realm of comprehension. I do remember that the house (Saklya) that we lived in was warm and comfortable. The walls were about four feet thick. The rock walls were double layered. The rocks were laid in clay mortar in two columns, and in between the space was filled with common soil. The roof had round rafters – pine logs twelve to fourteen inches in diameter, on which were placed flat slabs of rock, a few inches in thickness. On these slabs straw was placed and then about twelve to fourteen inches of soil. There were only two windows and one door. The doorway entrance was a corridor with walls about 10 feet thick, and having a door at each end of the corridor. With only the two windows and a doored corridor entrance, the inside of the house was cozy and warm. I do not remember ever feeling cold or uncomfortable throughout the whole winter. It was only later in my life that I began experiencing a longing for the warm sunny days of summer.

Spring did come, and at the end of March the snow began to melt. It was wonderful. For just as soon as a bare spot of earth showed up, there immediately green tufts of grass started to show. By about April 10th the snow was all gone and a vaporous fog started to rise from the soil. Soon the soil warmed up and everywhere green grass appeared. Right after this, the earliest white flowers of the “maslyonka” plant, a variety of buttercups began to dot the green prairie land. These buttercups in their roots had a large kernel, the size of a peanut, which was edible. There we were in groups, armed with a special wooden rod sharpened at the end like a little shovel scampering all over the prairie meadow digging these peanuts to eat right there and to bring some home. This daily occupation of ours lasted till about the 5th of May. After this the white flowers would wither and fly away. Then there was no way you could spot the buttercup plant in the lush green grass, and besides that the peanut seed itself would get to be coarse and hard and not edible anymore. And so, for a time our children’s groups would be left without too much to do except wait for the warm sunny days to come, when we again could go to our favorite river beach to swim and bask in the warm sun. The last year’s pastime was to be repeated again this year, until such time as our parents would begin the harvest season and again get us to pick up all the loosely fallen grain.

This was the routine for all of us children, and this is what occupied my time when I was five and six years old. When I became seven years of age, that winter my parents taught me several more lengthy psalms. I remember that spring when the snow melted more rapidly and the streets were full of puddles and little creeks. Here was something new – to build little dikes and canals and float little hand made boats and make imaginary turning mills on the flowing rivulets. After this came the season of digging the buttercup roots and when that finished a new phase of my childhood development came about. My older brother Nikolay made a fish hook out of an old needle. He attached a length of string to the homemade hook and gave me my first instructions on how to catch the little fish that abounded in the same river that we loved to swim in. He showed me where to dig for the long, red earthworms, how to store them in an empty can with some earth in it, and how to attach them in short pieces for baiting the hook. He showed me how to lower the hook into the water and then patiently wait till a fish starts jerking on the line. This shallow river that we swam in seemed to have millions of these little fish. They were the size of Canadian perch and resembled them in appearance. And so, along with all other boys that were seven and eight years old this became another pastime with which we were occupied.

The little fish were very plentiful in the river, and if a boy struck a good spot he could catch from 50 to 75 of them in one day’s outing. The caught fish would be kept in a screened cage in the water. When these were brought home, the mothers would merely clean the innards and then fry them whole. When the fish was fried for some time they are smothered in a mixture of dough that is made quite thin, and then the whole mass is baked in the oven. This kind of fish in pastry, served as a very special delicacy for all of us children. It also substantially added to our dietary supplies, as in our first years in this new settlement food was not too plentiful. In our particular family this was even more so.

Alexey’s parents, Anna and Ivan Popov, c. 1915. Ivan was a very large man whereas Anna was diminutive. In this photo, Ivan is sitting while Anna is standing.

When our family was coming from our village in the province of Elizavetpol we had brought with us 4 cows. In the fall of 1882 three of these cows were stolen. On one night that fall a group of thieves came and from the far side of the barn they took apart a part of the stone wall and led the three cows away. Even with the help of the whole village, we were never able to track down the culprits or to find out where three of our best cows disappeared. From that time on, our dairy products were far more limited than in other families. Our daily food was bread made from whole-wheat flour with soup, which was made basically of potatoes and coarsely ground wheat. Borshch had potatoes and cabbage plus a large tablespoon of thick cream. Into both soup and borshch, for our family of six people, one small tablespoon of butter was added.

Therefore, the small perch that I caught with the homemade fishing tackle was a very welcome addition to our meager food supply. It was a change, it was very tasty and it cost nothing. Up to seven years of age, no outside family responsibilities were designated to me. I was still allowed to go and dig the buttercup peanuts. But when their season came to an end I was given a more serious responsibility. Most families had flocks of geese. This particular spring my mother was able to successfully hatch 48 goslings, in addition to the five older geese that we owned – making 53 in all. As soon as they grew up a bit and got trained to keep to their own flock, because of shortage of home feed, the flock had to be herded out to pasture in the meadow and also to the same river where we went swimming. The river was shallow and quiet flowing and posed no danger for the geese. In places along its banks there was a lot of lush green grass which both the older geese and the young goslings loved to feed on. Besides this, when they would plunge into the river there were all kinds of bugs that lived in the quiet eddies, and the geese young and old feasted on them. With this range free feeding, the young geese developed in leaps and bounds. My job was to keep them together, both on the range and in the water from 7 o’clock in the morning until 9 o’clock in the evening. After 9 o’clock I would herd the geese home where they had special housing under a solid roof with solid locking doors. It was not possible to leave the geese free overnight because there had been occasions when the large gray wolves which roamed the mountainside would sometimes come down into the village at night and kill some geese and drag them away for eating later.

In the daytimes there had not been any occasion that the wolves would come to the riverside. There were a few occasions when stray dogs would come there but they could be frightened away. On rare occasions there were serious hailstorms and some of the little goslings would be seriously hurt or even killed. Apart from these rare times of worry, we young children that looked after the geese felt free and happy. We often had time to swim in the river ourselves and lie on the shore. Sometimes we even did some fishing. The flocks of geese also enjoyed these free-range outings. At times when they would have a good feeding quickly, they would also stretch out on the sand and lie sleeping. Other times they would swim in the deeper water and then lazily stay in the shallow eddies snapping at the bugs that swam there. There were odd times when one flock of geese would get mixed up with another flock and coming home we would have different counts. To avoid disputes every family had their own markings on the feet of the geese. Some cut slits in the goose toe webs. Others cut one nail off, either, the left or right foot. All were different. And so checking the markings each family claimed their separated goslings. I do not remember that there were ever any serious disputes.

This work of pasturing geese continues from the first of June until the fifth of September when the harvest season commences. At this time the geese are not pastured at the river anymore, but they are brought out into the harvest fields where they methodically go through the harvested field and pick up every head of grain that fell aside from the main stacks. Some families who had the proper utensils brought out water for the geese into the fields and so the geese remain in the field from dawn to dark. Feeding on grain, the geese accumulated a considerable amount of fat. Thus, at home they are grain fed for no more than 2 weeks and then they are sold. The summer’s pasturing of the geese was not a troublesome one for the children. It was rather enjoyable, because the hours of work were not too exact. Morning or evening the timing could be one hour earlier or one hour later. There was however one hardship. Being bare legged all the time proved to have its disadvantages. Wetting your feet about every hour, and then being in the hot sand and sun eventually made all the skin rough, which later would have cracks appear and even open sores. The sores would bleed and be very painful. There was no medicine for this. The only thing that helped was to cover all your legs with black Caucasian oil. The oil seemed to protect the skin and going in and out of the water did not affect the skin as much.

Pasturing the geese at harvest time was more arduous. This was because the grain fields were sometimes one, two or three “Versti” from the home residence. During some hot days in the fall it would not be possible to herd the geese for such distances. This then required the young lad to get up before sunrise, and while the dew was still on the grass to get the geese into the fields and have them already fed before herding them to the river for water. In the evening it was the same problem. While the sun was still high it was too hot for the geese to trek from the river to the fields. They would get hot, open their mouths and lie down without going any farther. You could only start them from the river when the sun was already quite low. By the time they would get themselves fed it would already be getting dark. This created considerable hardships for a boy only seven years of age. Also the weather in the fall was not always calm. Sometimes it rained heavily. Other times a wind storm would come up and you would have to be fighting dust and wind against which even the geese did not want to go. There were times when the older people in the village felt that they had to come and help the young boys to bring the geese home on one or another turbulent evening. They would holler into the night and children would answer in the high-spirited children’s voices. The one saving grace for us children was that we never went in separate groups. Most of the time we had four or five groups of boys following each other, especially after dark. Each was looking after his own herd of geese. Being in a group gave us some comfort. At times, however, it used to get so dark that each of us seemed to be totally alone. All of us were quite well aware of the fact that the huge gray wolves were always not too far away from the grain fields. Thoughts of the wolves always brought a cold shudder down one’s spine.

In my eight and ninth year I did not get any additional responsibilities. There still were no schools in the village. So in the summers I herded geese and in the winters I added to my knowledge of psalms.

When I became 10 years of age I was given another responsibility. Now I had to begin herding sheep. Looking after sheep had its own season. This was from the middle of March till the tenth of June. At this time the sheep were having their lambs and the lambs had to be trained near to and around home, to stay with the herd.

After the 10th of June all the sheep in the village are brought together into one or two large herds. Specially trained Tartar herdsmen are hired, who take the sheep into the hills and graze them on especially rented crown land. They keep them here till about the fifteenth of October, and sometimes even till November 10th. They then bring the herds back to the village and every owner starts taking care of his own little group. They are pastured in and around the village till the time of the first big snowfall. Those owners who have over a hundred sheep pasture them individually. Those that have 20 to 45 usually group together and either hire a person as herdsman or take turns in herding.

All sheep have their own kind of markings. Their markings are on their ears with either one or two cuts or piercing. Herding sheep was one of my favorite responsibilities. There were many groups of boys. During dry weather and no wind, the sheep grazed quietly and the boys would organize some games. In this way, the days would go by quickly. The games could be different each time. One of the games played the oftenest was called “Na v shapki” or beat the cap. This was done by each one throwing his herding stick as far as he could. Whichever stick landed the closest, the owner would have to take off his cap and throw it in the same direction. All the boys were then permitted to run and beat this cap with their sticks a certain amount of times and then again throw their sticks. This could go on all day, and it did happen that some of the less lucky boys would have their caps beaten into shreds and come home bareheaded. To hide his shame this boy would keep his herd out till it was completely dark and then bring them home.

Sketch of merino sheep kept by the Doukhobors by Russian painter, Vasily Vereshchagin during his visit to Elizavetpol in 1863.

There was only one particular drawback in herding sheep, and that was the rainy weather. There were times when it would rain several days in a row. When it was this wet the sheep would not graze quietly but kept running around uncomfortably. For these rainy days we boys had a special garment, which was called a “Bashlik.” It was a kind of large vest that had no sleeves but did have a special parka that pulled over your head from the back. These vests were made from sheep’s wool, tightly knit and well pounded. These vests did not let the rainwater through to your body, but if it rained all day these would become so soaked and heavy that your shoulders felt like you were carrying unwieldy weights of steel that seemed to get heavier every step you took. Carrying this amount of weight from morning until evening was quite a trauma for an eight or nine year old. It was that much harder to carry this weight because the soil beneath your feet was all muddy and sticky. Some evenings it was real torture to drag one foot after another on the last stretch home and when you finally got to bed your legs would continue to feel the pain.

There was another hardship herding sheep in the spring and that was their giving birth to lambs right in the distant field where you had led them. If this were one or two lambs, you would be obliged to carry them home. If it there were more than two new born lambs, you would go to the nearest hilltop and holler at the top of your voice until someone in or near the village would hear and they would come to help.

The most frequent trauma in herding sheep in the summer was this matter of getting soaking wet, which was sometimes followed by a cold wind. There were times when one remained shuddering throughout the whole day. One other fear that always seemed to hover over you when you came closer to the mountains with your herd was the fact that you knew that the mountains abounded with large gray wolves. During my time there was never an occurrence of a pack of wolves attacking a herd of sheep. In the two years that I herded sheep there was only one occurrence of my actually seeing a large gray wolf lurking nearby. There were other older boys that let out loud shouts and the wolf disappeared into the mountains. As for myself I stood petrified and motionless for about half an hour. I was not able to move my feet. It seemed that my whole bloodstream was frozen.

There was one other occurrence that happened to me with one of my older and rather feeble sheep. This happened at the beginning of the month of December when the first snow covered most of our low-level pasture ground. About one quarter of a “versta” from our home there was a gorge through which flowed a larger river named “Karsina Reka”. This gorge stretched for about eight “versti” and three of these “versti” was in the territory of land that was allocated to our village. This gorge had banks of different elevations. Some places the height was about three times the height of prairie grain elevators, other places this elevation was lower. Most places the distance from one side to the other was about 160 feet. The river was not too wide, and it ran through the centre. At one side of the river there was the general road that ran through along the gorge, and at the other side the distance between the river and its mountainous bank varied. In places it came right to the river’s edge and in other places there were ledges of various heights, which contained luscious green grass. From the warmth of the river water there was no snow on these ledges. At places these ledges led to level pieces of land, and at other places they led directly into steep and very rocky mountainous territory. On some of these ledges even horses or cattle could graze. On others only the sheep, being more agile, could safely graze. And so in the first part of the winter, I took my sheep to these ledges. I directed my sheep to a lower ledge, which had very luscious grass on it, but the descent to it was quite steep. Going down, the sheep managed very well, but having smoothed the path going down, when I was ready to chase them back up they found it very slippery and difficult. I had to help practically every sheep to scamper up and onto more level territory. It came to the last one, a heavy older sheep that wasn’t very agile anymore. She just could not make it to the upper ledge, and with all the strength that I could muster I just couldn’t get her out of this lower ledge. It was getting dark and I had to make a quick decision. If I left her loose, she could conceivably scamper out of here later and wander into the mountains where the wolves would most certainly get her. Each of us boys had our slings for throwing stones and so I decided to use that string. I tied all four feet of the sheep as firmly as I could and left her there lying at the foot of the ledge. In the morning we would come with my father and rescue her.

I came home with the rest of the herd later than usual. When my parents asked why I was so late, I explained what happened with that one old sheep. Sheep at that time were valued from two and a half to four dollars each. To me that seemed not such a great deal. However, my parents were so upset with this possible loss that they hardly slept all night. They prayed and grieved and mother even went out into the night to carry out some kind of an ancient witchcraft ritual. She took an axe and plunged it into the ground in the middle of the road, and if everyone went around it without knocking it down, this would denote that the sheep would be safe.

In the very early morning, before dawn, my father and I went to the place where I had left the sheep. The spot was empty but there were signs of struggling. Looking further around and below, we found the dead sheep in a clump of brush. She had kept beating and turning until she fell and rolled among rocks. The whole carcass was so beat up; we could not even salvage the sheep’s skin. The loss of this sheep was a subject of grief to my parents for a long time to come. When spring came my parents did not fail to mention to me – you see that sheep would now have brought us two lambs. It was so hard for me to understand why it was that my parents were so overly concerned with this loss of one old sheep. Was it just grief for a material loss, or was it fear of loss of self-sufficiency, and possible want in the future? It was probably the latter, because we scarcely ever had anything in abundance. However in my childhood immaturity I thought that how could it be that my parents seemed to value the sheep more than they cared about me and my anguish. They continually mentioned that the sheep would have brought two lambs, and that she always fed them so well, and that her wool was of the finest quality. It was long and soft and it produced the finest of yarn. All these rebukes about my fault for this loss kept on for a whole year. For a nine-year-old child these parental rebukes about the loss of a mere older sheep gave me severe mental depression. I kept being sore at heart. At the same time it was a very indelible lesson to me to always be more careful in the future.

When I was in a more self-pitying mood I would think to myself – of course my action in getting the sheep to this luscious green ledge was not done for any kind of self-gratification. I had done this out of pity and love for the sheep. I well knew that they would be half hungry treading over grounds that were already eaten bare, but here I was directing them to a ledge of luscious green grass where not a single foot had trod, – a place you just didn’t want to leave from. And then I would reason again – true enough the thoughts came to me that if I did not take advantage of this ledge today – others would discover it tomorrow! And then of course our elders were always praising the boys that were more alert than others, and I did have the thoughts that when the elders found out that I had discovered and used this ledge for my herd before anyone else – they would say, aha, that Popov youngster finds ledges that even older herders failed to discover! And so really – this was the thought that made me venture to that steep but luscious ledge. Instead of receiving this kind of praise, it turned out that in the end I received an unforgettable lesson to be more careful rather than being more daring. Had I brought home the sheep that evening even half hungry, their suffering would have been minimal. No one would have been able to assess exactly how much was in their stomachs. My parents would have been at peace, and there would have been no rebukes to me in the future. With those thoughts of getting praise and commendations, I probably would have become unnecessarily proud and to think too much of myself. This event of the loss of a sheep brought out in me deeper thoughts of the wisdom of being careful in all matters. Not the least of this was that it is wise to be careful in material matters insofar as one’s welfare sometimes depended on saving every hair that was needed to keep the family self-sustainable.

Traumatic events be they as they were, time did not stand still. On the 25th of February 1887 I became ten years old. In this winter, after the loss of the sheep, I was more studious than before and learned a lot of new psalms. As usual there were no other particular responsibilities for young boys in these winter months. There were only the few times of warmer sunny weather when the parents would allow me to take the sheep for a drink at the river, the same river where we always swam. With the spring break we still went digging for the buttercup peanuts, but even before their season was over there was an additional responsibility given to boys our age with the beginning of the spring planting of grain.

The sowing of grain was done by hand. We did not know any other way, except using a special sack with two straps over the shoulder. The sack was open in the front and from here the sower would take the seed into his hand and scatter it fan wise. About 65 to 80 pounds of seed is placed into the sack. The opening of the sack appears under the left arm and with the right arm the sower takes fistful of seed. He scatters the seed from left to right measured by his steps. When he puts his left foot forward he fills his fist with seed. When he steps forward with his right foot he scatters the seed. This is done by the elders in the family. This job was done by my father. He scattered the seed onto the ploughed land. After this it was essential to pull harrows over the land so that the scattered seed would be covered by soil in order that the birds would not pick it up and in order for the seed to properly germinate and sprout. This part of harrowing was done quite uniquely and probably different from other places in the world. The harrows themselves were constructed right at home. The spikes that were driven into the frame of the harrow were made of dried, firm wood. Each separate frame was made for one horse to be hitched to it and drag it. Each horse would have a young boy driver. If the family did not have a boy, girls also could be seated horseback on the horse. One track of the harrow was not enough to properly cover the seed, and so it was most usual to have four horses hitched to four separate frames that would follow one after the other. Only the front horse had to have a driver. The other horses were just tied to the back end of the harrow. And so in my eleventh year I was entrusted with being the driver of the front horse. The other three followed my trail one after the other. This job was not one that required any amount of physical labour, but it did have its own peculiar difficulties. The driver of the lead horse had the responsibility of traversing the field in a straight line. Keeping this line straight was important, because on the return trip the boy had to make sure that he wasn’t going over the same trail twice, as well as he had to be sure that he was leaving no spaces uncovered.

It was always the same problem. The horses usually walked slowly and carefully. At this time of the spring the sun was usually quite warm, and so the gentle swaying of the horse, and the warm sun never failed to make the young driver start dozing. In this half asleep mood it was usually quite hard to keep your line straight. This brought about the fact that you either wandered over territory that was already covered, or also you left some uncovered spaces. What would happen was that when an elder came to check on the work, he would have a double job of getting the line straight and also having no spaces left uncovered. This slowed down the whole process of completing the harrowing of a given field that was already sowed.

In all our villages the land was divided into long narrow plots seeded on a three-year rotation basis. All the families usually worked their allotted plots at the same time. At times there were up to 50 families in the fields at the same time. When the elders would complete the sowing of a given field they would gather together in group discussions awaiting the completion of harrowing. When they felt that the young boys should by now have completed the harrowing, they would go out to the fields to check matters out. Quite often there would be poorly harrowed plots, and the elder who found such a state, would have to then take over the lead horse and correct the poor job. Sometimes, just about the whole field would have to be done over. Where the job had been ably looked after by the young driver – his elders would already start moving to another plot, and the one who had dozed on his horse and made a mess would then get serious lectures from his elders. Some very irresponsible youngsters were sometimes even punished. Thus it would happen, when horses are unhitched for noon feeding, those boys who had everything in order would be jolly and would get together and have fun amongst themselves. The unfortunate ones whose fields were poorly done would get lectures from their elders, and all of the other boys would be ribbing them about how sloppy their work turned out. Not only would the boys receive lectures from their immediate elders, other elders would also pipe in. This sometimes happened to me. Other elders would have their say – admonishing me: “How come Alyoshka, you worked so sloppily that your father had to spend so much time correcting all your errors? At this rate, if you keep up such irresponsibility – no one will ever want you for a husband, and you will never get married”

At our age this seemed to be such a dire prediction. To add to this, if one received the elders’ lectures several times throughout the spring season, you would never hear the end of this from all of your peers and friends for the whole summer. Of course the age we were, and the warm spring sun and the swaying horse were all part of the natural make-up of things. It was really not such a major sin to doze – but it was really hard to take all the consequences of this dozing. And so this simple responsibility of driving the lead horse in harrowing the fields proved to be its own kind of a painful chore.

Seeding operations are completed by about April 20th. Land is not worked again until June 10th. This gives the working animals a rest of about one month and twenty days. During this rest time I had to lead the horses out for grazing in the pasture. In the free pasture land, the horses had to be hobbled on their front feet. If a horse was exceedingly frisky he would have to be hobbled on a third back leg as well. When the horses would be all hobbled they would be allowed to graze on their own. This was the job that every boy of the village was occupied with. The pasture was common to all the villagers and so all of us boys would get together for games throughout the whole day – as the horses could not wander away too far while they were hobbled. Some of the boys who weren’t too enthusiastic to play –would catch up on their sleep that they lost in the spring. The games we played were simple. One was called “V Tsoorki” and another was called “V Doochki”. Rarely did we play ball, and sometimes the younger boys played riding horses near the river and then we would go swimming. Some of us would take this opportunity to catch fish. Pasturing horses during the rainy season was not as troublesome as with pasturing sheep. Horses did not really get upset with the rain. They either continued grazing – or would just stand quietly in one place. As for us children, we would also stay upright quietly or rest on some jutting stone outcrop, which were plentiful in our area. The only problem with horse pasturing during rainy weather was the form of hobble that was used. If the hobble was made of leather, the rain did not affect it, but if the hobble was made of rope – it would tighten when wet, and it was very difficult to get it undone when the horses would have to be herded home. Sometimes a boy would have to take his horses home all the long way from the pasture while they remained hobbled. This was a slow process and such a boy would come home a lot later.

Picture of Alexey as a young man with unidentified woman in exile in Siberia, c. 1903.

Some of the times the horses would not be herded home every night. At such times all of the horses would be brought together in a large herd where designated elders would watch over them all of the night. The elders of 15 to 30 men, who would divide into groups of four taking several shifts through each night. There were also times when the younger children would take designated horses to the village homes for work that was needed to be done in the gardens or other work within the village structure. When all of the village work would be finished, then all the horses would be divided into two or three large herds watched over by two men to each herd in the daytime and by one additional man coming in from the villages for night time watching. This general overall system continued up to June 10th.

At this time the horses would all be brought back to each individual household for preparing the land that was left as summer fallow land, that is, the land that is left for resting for one year. The plowing of these fields had its own particular routine. To each plow there were hitched from six to eight pairs of horses. The front pair had a boy rider in the ages of from ten to thirteen. Every other pair also had a rider. It was the work of these riders to guide his own pair of horses, and also see that the pair ahead of you was pulling its share. Each boy thus had to look after four horses. This meant that in the morning he would have to put on the harness onto the horses, bring them and hitch them into their proper places and then keep them moving in their proper direction following the furrow that was made. At the proper noontime, the horses would have to be unhitched, unharnessed and allowed to graze in a special field of grass left nearby. They would also have to be taken down to the river for their drink of water. All this would have to be repeated in the evening. The land that was being plowed had been already grazed and well trampled by the village cattle. The plots where the horses had to be allowed to graze were nearby. None of the stock were allowed to graze here since the year before and therefore the grass was lush and plentiful for the working teams of horses.

As I became a ten-year-old boy, it was my job to look after 4 horses. Keep them harnessed when needed, unharnessed and fed at given times, and led to water as designated. Getting the horses to water was a chore in itself, as the fields for plowing were sometimes two to three “Versti” from the river. This entire fallow plowing time proved to be exceedingly hard and trying for me as a ten year old. This was especially hard during the night routine. At 8 o’clock in the evening you had to bring the horses to the place where they were to graze, hobble them and then lie down to get some much-needed sleep. The total of your clothing for the night would be one additional light, longer length semi-raincoat. At 12 o’clock midnight you had to get up and unhobble the horses and take them for their drink at the river. You had to bring them back, hobble them again, and then again lie down to sleep. At 5o’clock in the morning you had to get up, bring in the horses, unhobble them and lead them to the workplace. During the times when it remained dry, this job, although quite hard, was still bearable. However, when the rain kept coming all night it became a real nightmare. At times you would wake up and find yourself lying in a puddle of water – as in the night it was not always easy to spot a higher piece of ground for taking your nap. This torturous spring responsibility continued each year for a period of from 28 to 34 days.

The length of time depended on whether there was more or less fallow land, and also on whether there was more or less of a rainy spell. In some years the weather was cool, and not too much rain. In other years you had spells of intense heat and also many days of wet weather. Of course when it became obvious that conditions were too extreme and hard for the young boys – there was always the fact that there was one elder, the plowman for every group of three or four boys. It was his responsibility to see that the boys were reasonably looked after. This elder was always free to catch up on his sleep during the noon break, which lasted for three hours. But during the nighttime he also took four horses and went with the young boys when they took the horses for their grazing period. He always had the boys sleeping near him and would wake them when they had to take the horses for their drink at the river, and also when they had to take them in the morning to the field which was being plowed. In the nighttime he would help the boys get on their horses to ride to the river, and on the way there would often holler to the boys by name – in case one or another of them would begin to doze while riding and perhaps allow the horse to veer away from the others and head for home instead of the river.

During the time of fallow plowing all the boys remained under the rule and instructions of the one elder designated for their group. He was the one that told them how to look after all the harness gear, how to handle the horses, when to take the breaks and so on. This elder was given the authority to discipline any boy in his group. If need be, he had the right to even use the same whip, that was used on the horses, for punishing a disobedient or irresponsible boy. There was one time that I, when I was 12 years old received a snap of the whip for being too lippy. Our elder was a distant relative by the name of Jacob Voykin. He gave me a sharp snap, that made my pants wet. The wet was not from blood! This Jacob Voykin was the elder in our group, which was made up from several families. Because you needed 12 to 16 horses for each plow, and some families did not have that many horses, it was the custom to get several families together who then shared one plow. The plows were of heavy wood construction. The only steel on the plow was the share and the cutting disc that went ahead of it. There was only one share to the plow and it threw a furrow of about 14 inches. The soil was quite heavy and it required from 12 to 16 horses to pull it fast enough to throw a proper furrow. It was with this one plow that all the land had to be tilled to supply several families with a living. Sometimes the total of these families would be twenty or more souls. All the sustenance of these 20 souls would have to be derived from the produce of their allotted plot of land. Where there were this many souls to their allotted plot, most of the time they barely had enough produce to keep themselves and their stock for the ensuing year. Others, whose families had not grown since the past allotment was made, but who had the horsepower, were fortunate enough to have some produce for sale. Some of these more fortunate families were able to rent land from the nearby peasant Tartars and always had some produce for sale. Renting land was very favorable here as after three years of giving shares to the owner – the lessee could claim ownership of the land.

I spent four years of my life doing the routines that I explained, from the age of 10 to 14 years of age, to help the family till the land for their sustenance. Despite the fact that these years remain in my memory as very trying and hard times during this growing period up of my life, I do not remember getting sick at any time in spite of the many times of being wet, cold and tired. My physical health remained at a good level and I have no bad memories of this particular period of my life.

Afterword

   Cover of Alexey Ivanovich Popov’s “Autobiography of a Siberian Exile”.

Alexey Ivanovich Popov lived with his parents in Spasovka, Kars until the age of 21, when he received his call-up for conscript service in the Russian army. He refused to perform military training, as the taking of human life ran contrary to his Doukhobor faith and beliefs. For this, in 1898, he, together with other young Doukhobor conscripts, was exiled to Yakutsk Siberia for a term of 18 years. In 1905 a Manifesto of Amnesty was issued by Russian Emperor Nikolai II, thus granting the Doukhobor exiles in Siberia their freedom. Soon thereafter, Alexey and his new bride Katerina immigrated to Canada to join their Doukhobor brethren who had arrived some six years earlier. Alexey lived for a time in the Doukhobor Community, but soon became an Independent Doukhobor, taking out a homestead at Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, where he lived and farmed until his death on August 14, 1955.

To order copies of Alexey’s fascinating life story, “Autobiography of a Siberian Exile” along with various other informative Doukhobor publications written by his son, Eli A. Popoff, contact: The Birches Publishing, Box 730, Grand Forks, British Columbia, V0H 1H0, Tel: (250) 442-5397, email: birchespublishing@shaw.ca.

My Beautiful Sons – Why Did You Have to Die?

My Beautiful Sons – Why Did You Have to Die?

by Akim A. Fominov

In the 1890’s, hundreds of young Doukhobor men endured persecution and suffering as a result of their refusal to perform military service. The following is a true, first person account of Doukhobor Akimushka A. Fominov’s visits to where his two sons were exiled for denouncing military service and surrendering their army tickets. Reproduced by permission from the pages of ISKRA Nos. 1915-1916 (Grand Forks: U.S.C.C., 2001) it features the struggles and tragedies that occurred during that time. Recorded by William A. Faminow. Translated by Vera Kanigan

I

After surrendering their army tickets and denouncing military service because of their newly declared pacifist beliefs, Vanya (Ivan) Fominov and Grisha (Grigory) Gorkov were first arrested and then placed in prison in the Kars Region. Soon thereafter, they were led on foot to Tiflis where they were exiled to the Tartar villages close to a place called Agdash.

On the way to Agdash, the military horsemen herded them 40 kilometers on foot, attempting to cover this distance in one day. The young men were humble and obedient, walking diligently. It was very hot, and they got extremely sunburned and thirsty. Coming upon a creek by the road, they drank with great zeal – they were unaware that the water was not suitable for drinking. When they had arrived at the designated place of the wealthy Becka (officer who looked after exiled people) it would not have been too bad, as he gave them adequate quarters; however, shortly after, they both turned very ill. They wrote to the Fominov family and explained their situation. I, Akimushka Fominov (Ivan’s father), decided to secretly go to visit them.

When I arrived, I tried to make them as comfortable as possible and looked after their needs before returning home. After some time, they wrote once again, telling me that their illnesses had continued, and indeed, gotten worse. This time I invited my daughter-in-law Masha (Ivan’s wife) to accompany me.

When we got off at the last train station, we were supposed to walk another 40 verst (kilometers) on foot. Here I asked my daughter-in-law to dress in a man’s attire, as the road was very remote, frightening and open to all kinds of occurrences. This precaution of ours was very wise as two Tartars happened to catch up to us on horseback, and with suspicion, asked us many questions.

By the time we arrived at the young men’s living quarters, the sun had already set. Grisha Gorkov sat beside the house leaning against the wall, apparently feeling very sick and not even noticing us until we came up very close. As we walked closer, the thought went through our heads, “God, why are you young people suffering here, as you have not done any evil to anyone in the world?”

My son Vanya was in the house and he looked a bit more cheerful. We did not waste much time in pleasantries but immediately tended to the tasks at hand. I went to see the Becka and took from him a kettle and started to heat water for a bath as they had been eaten up by lice. First of all we bathed Grisha and then Vanya and then we boiled their clothes to get rid of the lice.

In the morning Grisha looked more cheerful and asked me if I could arrange to move him to another village – Kietkeshen. This village was eight or nine kilometers from Agdash and they had good water and a more tolerable climate. In that village were two more exiled young Doukhobors – Feodor Ivanovich and Nikolai Vasilievich Tikhonov. I went to address this request to the Becka. He agreed and sent a Tartar on a bullock-cart to transfer Grisha and his belongings. I went with Grisha and helped him settle in with the Tikhonovs and then returned to my son and daughter-in-law. We discussed with my son that we needed to return home, so we proceeded to arrange our return trip. But Vanya’s health had not improved, and he asked us not to leave him alone. His wife, Masha, decided to stay with him for the winter while I returned home. I agreed to come for her in the early spring. 

Burning of Arms, June 29, 1895. Painting by Terry McLean.

When I came back to the village on February 25th, I spent some time with Vanya and Masha and then walked to visit Grisha Gorkov. Grisha appeared a bit more cheerful this time, but both Grisha and our son Vanya’s health was not very encouraging. When March came, we decided to travel home to the Kars Region. Vanya became very despondent but said: “Once you have decided, do not delay your plans: I will accompany you to Agdash.”

I then went and asked the Becka if he would allow for such a plan. The Becka agreed and even gave us a horse for Vanya to ride on. When we woke up in the morning, preparing for our return trip, Vanya appeared very ill. He hardly ate anything for breakfast, drinking only half a cup of tea. We started to talk about postponing our trip, but Vanya would not agree to this, and we proceeded on our journey.

Vanya rode horseback, and we walked on foot. By the time we arrived at Agdash, our young man turned worse, swaying on the horse, and when we helped him off the horse, he lay down and was unable to walk on his own. We were unable to leave him alone, so I decided to find temporary living quarters. I was unable to find anything. The only place where there was vacancy was in a small hut where a single woman, a Kazonian Tartar, resided. She agreed to allow us to lay Vanya on her porch providing that Vanya’s wife would look after him, as to leave a single man with her would be viewed questionably by the surrounding residents. She made a living by doing laundry in the region, and if people would hold her in suspicion, her source of income could cease. 

We were glad even with this porch, laid Vanya there, and then I proceeded to find the village doctors. They prescribed medicine that did not help at all, so we decided to transport Vanya back to the Tartar village of Agdash. To our good fortune at this time, a Tartar from his village was here on a bullock cart. For three rubles, he agreed to take Vanya, cautioning us that he would travel very slowly, as that is how his buffalo are accustomed, and he did not want to ruin them. 

After travelling all night, we arrived in the morning. My ill son had turned worse and passed away on the second evening. I went to tell the Becka about what had happened. He sympathized and asked, “What are your plans now?” I replied that we want to bury him according to our own tradition, and therefore, needed to make a coffin.  He gave us some boards and sent a Tartar somewhere for the tools. He also sent another rider to Kietkeshen to get the Tikhonov cousins to come and help with the burial.  The rider returned quickly and said that half way to the village he met up with a messenger from Kietkeshen, sent to inform us that Grisha Gorkov had died as well – he was on his way to tell us that we should go there to help with that burial! 

We buried my son on our own. Even though the tools were not adequate, somehow we were able to cut the boards and nail the coffin together. The Tartars dug out a grave at the place where we requested. The police officer came, offered his sympathy, wished him to enter God’s Heavenly Kingdom, and left. With the help of the Tartars, we lowered the coffin into the grave and covered the body with dirt, while I said a prayer for my dear son: “Please accept his innocent soul into Your Everlasting Abode, as this sacrifice was offered for the adherence to the great commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill…” 

Upon returning to our quarters, I asked my daughter-in-law to assemble the clothes and belongings in order so that I could go to Kietkeshen to see if they buried Grisha Gorkov. When I had arrived and asked the Tikhonovs about Grisha, I was told that Grisha had died the same morning; and unbeknownst to me at the time, at the same hour and at the same minute as our son Vanya. I stayed a while at the Tikhonovs, then gathered Grisha’s belongings and returned to my flat.

When we got ready for our return trip home, we realized that we had too many items for us to carry and went to the district police officer to request permission to give us a ride. He did not allow us to take Grisha’s clothes, as according to the law, they were required to be returned by mail. When I objected, he said: “Aren’t you satisfied with all that I have allowed already?” My orders from my superiors were not to permit you to even make contact, but you were here and even lived here. If the authorities learn this, I will be fired from my position! I need to feed myself!”

I did not pursue my request any further, but thanked him for all of his concessions and left. Without Grisha’s belongings, we were able to proceed on foot. On the way, we stopped at the Becka’s quarters. His Matushka almost cried at Masha’s leaving because she had been a big help to her while looking after her husband Ivan.

When we arrived at Agdash, we realized that we didn’t have enough money to go by train. To our good fortune, however, Molokan carriers were travelling to Alexandropol and they agreed to take us along. On the way, they stopped in their village, Voskresenovka right on Sunday. We all attended moleniye (prayer service) together. These were the steadfast Molokans. They were not jumpers. Their Father Superior read the psalm: “Listen, King of Everlasting Glory.”

When we arrived with the Molokan at the town where we were supposed to get off, and we started to give them the promised 1 1/2 rubles, he took into consideration our hardship and did not accept any payment. We thanked him sincerely from the bottom of our hearts and bade him farewell.

From the town we traveled home with our neighbour. Our relatives gathered to meet us but all we brought with us was unbearable pain. Everyone who came cried and expressed their sorrow for Vanya. Only his very own mother, and my wife, did not shed a single tear, but paced around the house, whispering and praying to God…

II

My son, Fedya, for refusal to serve in the army along with others, was sent to the disciplinary battalion at the Ekaterinogradskiy prison. We received a letter from him that they were badly beaten for the second time; that is, they were whipped with birch rods. Military officers were trying to change their minds about serving in the army, and we heard that they decided to obey by using some of the firearms.

For that reason, I decided to travel and find out for myself how they were and what was being done to them, as many elders, both men and women, begged me to go there as soon as possible. They said that I had a son there and I would be allowed to speak to him. I decided not to put this off, gathered my belongings, bade farewell to my family and went on my journey. I travelled with my neighbour as far as the town of Aleksandropol and immediately came to the post office and asked the postmaster when the mail would be leaving. He told me that in a 1/2 hour it will leave to Delezan and that I can go with the driver in the wagon. I was happy with this arrangement.

I sat down and we left on our way. When we arrived at the train station, I got on board and traveled to the city of Tiflis. There, I had a chance to see many brethren (Kholodenskiye). They were dispersed among the Georgian villages. I had an opportunity to speak to several of them, and I learned that with the majority of them, their situation was very dismal.

I continued my trek further, from here to Dushet, travelling by train. From Dushet I traveled on the letter-carrying horses, over the Kazbetskiye mountains to Vladikavkaz, then by train to Prakhladnoe. From there, I went by horseback to Ekateringradskoye station, where the prison was located and where my son Fedya was being held in the disciplinary battalion. In the station there lived mainly Leninskiye Cossacks. I entered my former quarters where I had once previously stayed.

Group of Russian Prisoners with Heads Half-Shaven, circa 1890’s Photo by John Foster Fraser.

The proprietors welcomed me pleasantly and said: ” So, Starichok (“Elder”), have you come to visit your lads?” I replied that, yes, I want to see them. They said: “This is the situation, old man, that we need to tell you. Please do something about your lads. Ask them to serve in the army like everyone else, or ask the authorities not to punish them so harshly, or approach the Tsar himself so that he could arrange some sort of lenience or pardon. Just a short while ago they were so harshly beaten and tortured that they screamed and cried with inhumane sounds. It is getting to the point where it is impossible for us to stay here, as their cries break our hearts. At this station reside five hundred families, and the last time nearly all of us moved three kilometers away just so that we couldn’t hear their heartbreaking screams…” I replied that I’ve come here for that very reason, to speak to the lads and the authorities. At this time I went to the fortress.

From a distance, I noticed that six people sat on the roof of a new building, which was part of the prison stronghold. They were covering the roof. I walked up closer to the gate of the fortress and saw a soldier walking away, carrying a garbage pail. Behind him was a corporal. I walked up closer and started to greet them loudly. “Good day, countryman! Are any of our Doukhobors here?” The sentry man answered: “Certainly not!”

Apparently, those who were on the roof heard me and when I looked up, I noticed that there were only five of them, as one of them had already left. He ran and climbed along the wall of the fortress and started to greet me. It was Lukyan Fedorovich Novokshonov. He immediately started to say: “Akimushka, I beg you, please leave from here immediately. Do not even show yourself to the officials. They are extremely angry right now. The other day they tortured us almost to the point of death. We barely survived. They told us that if any of your hometown people come here for a visit, we will also rip a strip out of them and will deport them home like convicts. ” I gave him some money and said that it is to share with those in need. He jumped off the wall and ran away from me. I looked up and there he was, once again, sitting on the roof in his own place. Obviously, he was afraid of being noticed.

He frightened me so much that I stood still for a long time, contemplating my next step. What should I do now? Should I listen to Lukyan and return home? But everyone would gather and ask me: “How are the lads, what is with them?” I would have to tell them that someone warned me not to show myself to the officials for they would tear me apart, and therefore, I was too afraid to stay. What will my people say then? The lads are so young and are enduring such extreme torture -“for whom and for what? For our common cause, and you, old man, are running away?” I thought to myself, “let them flog and cut me up in small pieces, but I must speak with them in person.”

It was Friday evening. I went back to my quarters and almost all night thought about my situation. How could I arrange it so that the officials would not suspect me and catch me?

On Saturday morning I woke up, washed myself, prayed to God and then went to the fortress, thinking that I may see one of the lads. I stayed quite a while, not too far from the gate of the fortress and not seeing anyone walk out. I checked around from another wall, thinking that someone may be there. In one place were a group of soldiers. I walked closer to them and noticed that they were digging dirt. I didn’t know for what purpose. Two officials walked up to me, very quickly, and immediately started to say: “Did you know Mikhail Shcherbinin?” I answered that although I did not know him personally, my son had written me about him, stating that he was ill. They replied, pointing: “Do you see those black gates, that is a cemetery. Remember, he will be there soon! Do you know Fominov and Malakhov? We will build them coffins as well for they are very stubborn. But in this group, (pointing to someone), one of your Doukhobors, since he came to this battalion, has not received even one whipping.”

He stood there smiling and I thought to myself, “Fominov is my own son, and you are such hypocrites, you want to take one to the cemetery, and for the others, you wish to build coffins, and the other one is laughing.” Then I spoke up: “Aren’t you afraid to punish innocent people? You should fear God,” They replied: “Here no one speaks of God, they only say hit and whip… We simply obey our commands.”

I did not continue this conversation and went back to my place. As I was walking, I thought to myself -”as if no one speaks about God?” Here, in this fortress, stands a church, one that is called “Orthodox”. Our lads were forcefully driven there, that is, as if they had strayed from God’s path. Where should there be more conversations about God than in this church? At that point, a thought came to me to enter this church and there, hopefully, see my lads, but I couldn’t figure out the way to get inside.

I approached the store to buy some bread. It was possible to buy some good bread there, as well as watermelons. Several area villagers were also in the store. I started to ask them whether they attend the prison church. They answered yes, some of them do attend. I said that I wanted to attend the church but had no idea as to the procedure. They suggested that tomorrow was Sunday and when others start to assemble, that I could join them and walk inside. I went back to my room and didn’t go anywhere else. I lay down to sleep early, but couldn’t sleep as I kept thinking about how to attend the church and how I could see my son. I woke up way before dawn, washed up and went to the fortress. There I stopped and stood and waited for the people to arrive.

It seemed to me that I stood and waited there the whole night. Finally, the church bell tolled and I thought that now people would assemble. I waited and waited but no one came…

Then the bell tolled a second time and still no one came. When daylight arrived, the third bell tolled and I saw one family corning. I walked up to them, thinking that I could walk in with them, but when we walked to the gate, there stood the sentry soldier. He opened the gate, let them in and yelled at me: “You! Stand there! Where are you going?” I answered that I wanted to attend the church service. He said that he could not let me through until he consults the sergeant major. He went to confer with the sergeant as I stood thinking: here I wanted to walk through so that I wouldn’t be noticed, but the sentry went straight to the major, who would order the soldiers to put me in jail. But, so be it, if it is God’s will. I will not run away!

During the time I was waiting, more people assembled. At last the sentry came, opened the door, allowed others through and also told me to enter. I walked with the other residents, thinking, wherever they stand in church, I will stand with them. We entered. The plain folk stood on the left and the soldiers stood on the right. Everyone looked at the priest who waved the censer and read something. When he would say “Amen”, the soldiers knelt on their knees and our boys remained standing. Doing so, I was able to see the boys, and my son Fedya, but they kept looking straight ahead, not even glancing to the side. I thought to myself, you poor soldiers, you are under strict discipline, even in church. I started to think of a way to move closer to the front, so that the lads could notice me for the moleniye would end soon. They would be taken to the back and they wouldn’t even know that I was here. I started to slowly and inconspicuously move forward.

I hardly moved a half-meter when an officer on duty called out from the back: “Leave the church at once! You came here not to view the church, but to see your lads.” I begged his forgiveness and said that I simply was not aware of their procedures, that when we have visitors at our moleniye, we do not restrict their movement, nor do we tell people where to look or not to look. He once again sternly warned me that in their church, they have their own rules and that I should follow their procedures. I promised to do so, and he left me alone. As a result of this argument, our lads clearly recognized me, and when the church service concluded, and the soldiers left, our boys came over to me, walked by, greeted me, and said, “Thank God, we are still alive!” My son rushed up to me, said that he was okay, and continued walking after the others, not stopping for a moment. I went outside and looked sadly upon them and thought – “I sure have heard lots about God, and was almost beaten on the neck! I didn’t even have a chance to get a good look at my son because they were driven away. What sort of a place is this Russian Orthodox Church?”

I stood and glanced around. I noticed that I was not too far away from a large house where a man in an overcoat was pacing on the balcony. At that moment the sergeant major came up to me, and simultaneously, I heard a loud voice blare out from somewhere near the balcony: “Well, old man, do you want to see your son now or after dinner?” I realized then that I had not remained unnoticed. I thought to myself, “Let whatever happens, happen. I am already in their hands!” and replied, “If possible, right now.” The sergeant major said: “Okay, I will relay this to the colonel.” 

The colonel turned out to be the fellow pacing on the balcony, and I overheard him say that a Doukhobor from the Kars region had come and wanted to meet with his son Fedya Fominov. I noticed the colonel waving to me to join him. I came forward, removed my hat, bowed, and said, “The best of health, Gospodin Colonel,” and then placed my hat back on and stood still. At first, he harshly reproached me: “You come here for a visit and then simply confuse your children! Not too long ago an old grey-haired elder like you came from the Kazbetski mountains and do you know what happened? The boys had just started to settle down here and had begun to finally serve, but the old man knocked them off the path of reason, confused them, and they, once again, refused to take up arms! We whipped and ripped strips out of them that they will never forget! Do you know that this is a correctional prison, that not only your lads, but if an angel from heaven were here we would have to make him serve. And you, old man, refuse to submit to authority and the Tsar. You and all your people have been dispersed over all of the Kazbetski Mountains!” 

Russian Prison Warden and Guard, c. 1890. >Photo by John Foster Fraser.

I turned to him and said “Gospodin Colonel, we are not against obeying the will of God, but we are against that which contradicts His will.” Here the colonel started pacing even faster on the balcony, almost running. He walked over to me and hollered: “Tell me, what here is against the will of God?” I noticed that he was very angry, so I decided not to answer, thinking that in this case, silence was the best answer. For quite a while he continued to pace the balcony, cursing and calling me all kinds of names, then he ceased and became calmer. He stopped pacing, turned towards us and addressed the sergeant major: “Go with him and let him meet his son for one hour.” We hadn’t walked more than five steps when he yelled for us to come back. I felt shivers down my spine, thinking that he had changed his mind and would now put me in jail. As we got closer to him he turned to the sergeant major and said: “Let him visit for two hours, one hour is too little. After all, the old man traveled a long distance and the trip cost him money.”

We went to the area where visitors were allowed. The sergeant major told me to wait there while he went to bring my son. Soon after, my son arrived, accompanied by three soldiers. They took us to another room and set us side by side on a bench. One soldier sat beside me and the other sat beside Fedya. The third soldier stood across from us, glancing quite often at his clock. They were instructed to listen to our conversation. In fact, we couldn’t talk about anything confidential. My son simply asked a few questions about news from home and I answered. As soon as the two hours were up, the soldiers got up and led my son away, and I stood for a long time with tears in my eyes, watching as they left. I felt so sorry for the poor lad. All of our boys looked very beaten, and with inadequate nutrition, they had become mere shadows of men.

The thought occurred to me to go to the colonel and ask him where I could purchase a few things to treat our lads. I walked up to his home. The sentry informed him of my coming and he walked outside. I thanked him for allowing me a visit with my son, and then I asked him: “Gospodin Colonel, allow me please to buy some bread and watermelon to treat all of the lads.”

“Absolutely not. I have everything here – bread, borshch, meat, and kasha, and if your lads do not wish to eat these things, that is not my business,” he replied. With this, he concluded his conversation with me, and I walked away from the jail with great sorrow and grief. I thought – “What authorities, they are whipping and beating our sons and won’t even allow us to treat them with bread!”

I went to my quarters, had breakfast and lunch at the same time and then sat down, thinking about what I should do next. Since it was impossible during my visit to discuss the most important issue, I decided to try get a secret meeting with my son. During the last two times I had been within the prison, I noticed that one sergeant major by the name of Zaitsev often left the jail for one reason or another. I decided to go, watch him more closely, and hopefully, talk to him. I walked up to the prison wall, and to my good fortune, he soon came out. Immediately, I went and started to speak to him directly. “Gospodin Zaitsev, could you please arrange a secret meeting for me with my son Fedya A. Fominov?” “If you will give me a ruble, then I will,” he answered. I agreed and we arranged to meet in a large new building in the early morning.

That night I hardly slept, praying that our meeting would pass safely. When I arrived that morning, the non-commissioned officer was already waiting for me with new plans, for the colonel had ordered the new building to be plastered, and therefore, it would not be possible to have the meeting there. He took me to a far corner of the prison grounds where tall weeds grew. He told me to pick some and make a wall so that I would not be seen and then went to go get my son. I made the wall and sat down waiting. Some cattle were grazing nearby and some of the cows came up towards me. At this point I started to worry, thinking that the soldiers would come for the cattle and see me. Here, I would get caught! They would whip and exile me. And that was almost exactly what happened…

A soldier came for the cattle, but because he was deep in thought, he did not pay any attention to me, took the cattle and chased them away, shouting at them to leave. Soon, the non-commissioned officer came, bringing Fedya and Kuzma Pugachev. We exchanged greetings as necessary and then I started to talk. “Before I left home. I met with Vasya Obetkov and he said that if I had a chance to meet with you, that I should advise you if I can. Since it is very difficult to bear the torture of this disciplinary battalion. You lads should concede. When everyone is returned to their own regions, then again they could refuse military service. There in their own regions they will not be subjected to such torture.” 

The lads answered that this plan would not work, as no one is released until they have served their entire sentence in the disciplinary battalion. Then I answered them: “If so, then stick to your convictions, as you are the first detachment (the vanguard) of our people. If you change your direction, the rest of us will surely be shipped through this battalion.” They answered that in spite of the hardships, they would endure suffering as long as they would have the strength.

I further started to tell the lads that when I was getting ready to come here many of the elders wanted details as to the reason why many of our young men were backing down and serving. Somewhere they had heard that one Russian man had been flogged to death, but that he never conceded to them; but none of our lads had, as of yet, died from the flogging. 

When I told our boys about this, both in unison started crying like small children. “We could endure almost everything from the flogging. The pain is unbearable at first, but afterwards, the body becomes wooden and a person loses all feeling. At this point the doctors’ assistants pay closer attention as to how much you can endure. When they see that a person is close to death, they cease the flogging. They rip the meat off your back, then put your clothes back on. They drag you to the punishment cell, pushing you there like an unfortunate animal. In this cell there is no bed and no bench. The floor is cold cement, and one can only lie on the stomach. The clothing freezes, turning to wood. For food, they bring a piece of bread and water. When the wounds heal a bit, the commanders come and tell you to now accept military service, and if you don’t, tomorrow you will be flogged twice as hard. At this point, one, not having any more strength, agrees, telling them, I will pick up a rifle, but we pretend it is just a stick when we agree to serve, and under no circumstances will we kill anything or anyone.

They continued, stating that even if angels from heaven were to come here, they would not be able to endure the punishment and would submit to military service. They told me that if I were to arrive home safely, I should ask the elders to take the brushwood which they use to light a fire and imagine themselves being whipped, as the lads are here. I asked them about those who had totally agreed to serve in the same way as the soldiers. They answered that even though their situation was already unbearable, that this has made it even more difficult. At this point the non-commissioned officer rushed in and told the lads to hurry, it was necessary to go to the colonel. They left with him, and I left the fortress. When I came to my living quarters, I had breakfast, packed my belongings, bade farewell to the proprietors and left on my return home.

I arrived home safely, passed on regards to my family and shared all about my visit in detail. When all the rest of our people assembled, I explained what the lads had told me and passed on regards to their families. Soon after my trip, Nikola Chevildeev went to the disciplinary battalion as well. His son Kiryusha was there. During his time there, a new agreement was made in regards to the imprisoned Doukhobors. A decision was reached that would have all the Doukhobors who were refusing to serve in the military, sent to the Yakutsk Oblast for eighteen years. Therefore, Nikolasha Chevildeev accompanied the lads to Vladikavkaz. The boys were driven further, but Nikolasha returned home.

On the trip to Siberia, our son Fedya had mailed a very sad letter home. “My dear parents, father Akimushka and mother Polyusha, sister-in-law Masha and your son Petya, my dear wife, Anyuta, as well as my children Mavrunya and Malasha, brother Vasya and your wife Tanya, and also my sisters, Hanya and Marfunya, all of our dear Fominov family combined.” 

Siberian Prisoners Starting Up-Country, circa 1890’s. Photo by John Foster Fraser.

“At this time I wish to tell you about myself and about our present life here. My health is very poor. From day to day I feel as if I am drying up like the cut grass in a meadow.”

“What stands before us is a very long walk. Some people say it is more than a thousand verst. We must walk 35-40 verst a day, and when we arrive at the station, they send us to a convicts’ building which is infested by many different insects, especially bed bugs. We must sleep right on the floor, but the bed bugs eat at us all night, not giving us any peace. We have to get up early in the morning and proceed on the trip once again. When I get up and start to dress, my feet are so swollen that I am barely able to pull on my boots, but we must walk another 40 verst.”

“When I lag behind the group the soldiers walk up to me and start to nudge me with the nose of their rifles. They aren’t the ones to blame though. Those to blame are the higher authorities that do not give us more transport carts. The carts are only given to the convicts who are shackled. But even amongst the shackled convicts, there are kind people. When I start to get weak, almost falling down on the road, someone from the group of prisoners gets down off the cart, walks up to me and says, “well brother, I see that you are exhausted. Go to the cart and sit in my place, rest, and I will walk in your place.” Such people support me, and if it weren’t for them, I would long ago have been left alone on the road.”

“My dear family, I beg you, don’t worry about me and don’t feel sorry for me. Even though this trip is extremely difficult, I do not complain, nor am I sorry. Yes, I cannot com plain, for I chose this path myself. After all, our Lord Jesus Christ took the cross and carried it on His back to Golgotha: “He who wants to follow Me, take My cross and follow Me.” On this cross He was crucified. We must also continue without complaining, and with God’s help, we will reach our destination. If something should happen to me on this trip, then this will be the will of our Lord in Heaven. With this I will end my letter. I send you all my love, warm kisses and hugs. Your son, husband, father and brother. Feodor A. Fominov.

III

Following after Fedya’s letter were several other accounts about our ill son and his friend.

Misha V. Arishchenkov’s Account

“When we were brought to the town of Yakutsk we bought ourselves some warm clothes, especially good, warm valenki (boots made out of felt). From Yakutsk we had to go further north to the place where we were to serve our 18 year sentence. We arrived at our destination and occupied an abandoned yurta (nomad’s hut). It was very cold, and the windows were all iced up. There were approximately thirty of us. We installed some glass windows, and with difficulty, built a Russian kiln for baking bread in the middle of the hut. Beside the kiln, we set up a bed for our sick friend, Fedya Fominov, and for the rest of us we set up nari (plank beds). In order to sleep, we would lay down with our heads towards the center of the hut and our feet towards the wall. We always slept in our valenki. The weather was fiercely cold and the nomad’s hut was so poor, that by morning, our valenki were frozen to the wall…”

Grisha Sukharev’s Account

“My responsibility was to look after our ill friend. Near him, I tied a belt to the crossbar of the hut. This was done so that when I went elsewhere, and Feodor needed to sit up or turn on his other side, he took hold of the belt, and although with great difficulty, he slowly turned himself over. After the winter was over, Fedya spoke gravely to us: “Brothers, tovarishchi (comrades) I want to ask you to please take me back to the town of Yakutsk, to the hospital. Even though I feel that I will not survive, I wish to at least free your hands as there is enough for you to take care of in order to survive. You must go and earn your daily bread without having to also care for me. There, in the hospital, it may be easier for me…”

Narrative of Seoma S. Usachev

“I chose to go with our sick tovarishch to Yakutsk and take him to the hospital. With difficulty we brought Fedya to the river and set up a tent. I stayed to look after him: We waited for the ship to arrive. On this particular river, the steamboat comes only once throughout the whole summer. Apparently, the boat was in Nelkan picking up winter tea brought from China on the backs of deer. We had to wait a long time. At one point Fedya said: “Seoma, tovarishch, are you here?” I replied that I was. He called me forward and said: “Please look at my side, there is something soft. ” I opened his shirt and saw a lump as huge as my fist. I got scared and explained that the situation was not very good. He turned and said: “if you have a knife, try and cut it off.” I started to carefully cut it off, ask- ing him if ithurt. He said that he didn’t feel any pain. When I finished I carefully cleaned the area and bandaged it up. It was a chunk of old, black blood. Fedya had been unmercifully beaten in the disciplinary battalion. His sergeant-major was strong, almost the same size as Fedya, and was an extremely angry man. He would often beat Fedya with his fists, on his cheeks, on his head, on his side. He also beat him with a stump of wood or with the butt of his rifle. His last beating was the most injurious, when he was beaten with an ammunition belt filled with shells on the back of his head, and both of his ears were severely scarred. They were always pussing. Almost all of his skin hung from his bones.”

Group of Doukhobor Exiles in Yakutsk, Siberia, circa 1904

“I wanted to look after Fedya until his bodily existence came to an end. However, to my regret, before the arrival of our ship, a man from our work party walked up to us and told us that he was also ill, and was going to Yakutsk and could take Fedya with him. I did not argue with him.”

“When they arrived in Yakutsk, he placed Fedya in the hospital, but he did not consider it necessary to constantly visit him and Fedya was left alone. Soon afterwards, a few middle-aged Doukhobors, exiled from Elizavetpol (including several brothers of Peter “Lordly” Verigin) arrived in Yakutsk. Petrunya Dimovsky, a middle-aged man, exiled for incitement, was also placed in the hospital because of his illness. He was not altogether bedridden, and at times, looked in on Fedya Fominov. When Fedya became even more tired and exhausted, Petrunya asked him: “What is with you, brother Fedya, how do you feel?”

“I feel that I will soon die and return to my Heavenly Father…”, replied Fedya. “What should be done about your clothing – should it be returned to your family?” asked Petrunya. “No, my family has everything, give it away here amongst the poor,” further stated Fedya. And so, on the 20th of August, 1897, in the Yakutsk hospital, one of our Doukhobor martyr’s earthly existence came to an end.”

IV

When we received a letter and learned about our son’s death, all of us grieved and mourned for him. Only his own mother did not shed a single tear, but prayed to God, so that the Lord would receive her son in his everlasting abode. She considered crying a sin, and said that her sons went to share the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, after the sorrowful news, she stayed in bed for a whole week -“and how could she not lie in bed, when two of her sons died at the height of their youth, both in the same year?”

Our eldest son, Vanya, passed away in the Georgian villages in March at the age of twenty-six, and our middle son, Fedya, passed away in the Yakutsk Region in August at the age of twenty-four. Their families never saw them again. Their mother (and my wife) lived very well with her daughters-in-law. They looked upon her like their own mother, and she considered them like her own daughters. When they remarried and took her grandchildren with them, only then did our mother cry out loud, repeating, “Only now do I see that my devout family is torn apart!” She had three daughters-in-law. For many years they lived together and never spoke a harsh word to each other. They always tried to live a happy, Christian life.

My Trip to Shenkursk and My Communal Life There

by Grigory Vasilyevich Verigin

In September 1888, Grigory Vasilyevich Verigin journeyed from the Caucasus to the town of Shenkursk in the far northern province of Arkhangelsk to visit his brother – Peter Vasilyevich Verigin.  The Doukhobor leader had been exiled there, together with several Doukhobor elders, during the previous year by Tsarist authorities. At the time of Grigory’s visit, the exiles were living communally, giving charity to the poor and practicing vegetarianism according to the teachings of Peter Vasilyevich.  Grigory recorded his experience of life among the exiles in Shenkursk in his memoirs, published in 1935 as “Ne v Sile Bog, a v Pravde” (Paris, Dreyfus & Charpentier).  The following is an English translation of Chapter 8 of Verigin’s book by Galina Alexeyeva and Larry A. Ewashen.  Besides its historical value, this chapter provides important insights into the Doukhobor leader’s spiritual and philosophical teachings which were adopted by the Doukhobors of the Caucasus in the years leading up to the “Burning of Arms”.

The elders living in Shenkursk, along with Peter Vasilyevich, advised him to invite a (Doukhobor) lady from the Caucasus, one who would be able to look after the elders and housekeeping. The lot fell to the wife of Dmitry Vasilyevich Lezhebokov. His wife was Irina Vasilyevna, middle aged, energetic, wise and industrious; and well versed in housekeeping and related duties. Such a lady was needed there. Such a hazardous journey was not suitable for a lady travelling alone.

General map of Arkhangelsk province, Russia where Peter Verigin was exiled from 1887-1890 and 1892-1894. The town of Shenkursk is located in the boxed area.

Peter Vasilyevich wrote to our parents, and asked them, if possible, to allow me to travel with her, as a guide, and visit like true brothers. Our parents gladly agreed, and on September 12 we said our good-bys and began our journey. We travelled by railroad to Tiflis. From Tiflis to Vladikavkaz by baggage van. From Vladikavkaz, we purchased railway tickets to Moscow. In Moscow there was a transfer and new tickets to Vologda. From Vologda there was no longer a railroad and we travelled by the postal system on horses for 300 versts. We travelled by carriage and found the trip extremely arduous, especially Irina Vasilyevna, as a lady would. We were surrounded by swamps, nearly all of the road was bogged down, covered with logs, and the travel was shaky and difficult. One hundred versts from our destination, snow fell and we continued by sleigh. Before Shenkursk was a large river, the Vaga, over which we travelled by ferry. A severe squall with sludge ice began which made it dangerous to proceed. This was on the 29th of September. We had our belongings with us, and we crossed safely and were left on the shore, awaiting further transport. Others crossing with us lived in Shenkursk, and learned from our conversation that we were travelling to see Peter Vasilyevich, they assured us that as soon as we disembarked, they would let him know.

After some time, a conveyance arrived, in which was seated Dmitry Vasilyevich, someone I did not know; he was from the Akhalkalaki area. His wife also did not recognize him. He did not introduce himself, and it was only after some talk that his wife recognized her own husband! After that, we embraced him, loaded our luggage unto the sleigh, and left for our quarters.  There, Peter Vasilyevich and the elders greeted us with heartfelt enthusiasm and were extremely gratified for such a meeting. First they enquired as to our route, how we managed it safely, then as to the life of our parents and relatives, and all of our Brothers and Sisters in Christ. We explained everything in detail. He, along with the elders, was very pleased to hear the news; all were healthy and well and had begun living the Christian life. And this is how we continued living there, spending the time happily. They all seemed to live well.

Large (detailed) map of Arkhangelsk province, Russia. The town of Shenkursk is located in the lower right hand corner along the Vaga River.

They lived in two homes about seventy feet apart, one from the other. The elders lived in one house.  Their household consisted of the Makhortovs which included his elderly wife who had come from home, Rybin, Tsibulkin; also living with them was Nikolai Ivanovich Voronin, with his wife. His wife was a dear old lady, Ekaterina Vasilyevna, many years his senior. Voronin was of middle age, a full, handsome man of Russian background, with good humour; he had little, and the elders asked him to live in their house without payment; he ate separately. He was banished administratively and belonged to the political exiles. Peter Vasilyevich, along with Lezhebokov, lived in the other house. There was a kitchen and a dining room, and they ate together with the elders.  There was a hired cook, and two girls, orphaned, of whom I have written earlier; there were two youngsters about sixteen years of age, one cared for the horses, the other the cows, of which there were four of the Kholmogor breed.

There were also about 20 geese which Dedushka Makhortov minded. He liked them extremely well, and this duty of caring for them was therapeutic for him. He tended them with kindly care. He had a bell with which he called them for feeding. As soon as he rang, they would surround him. He gave them their feed, and if they began to nip at each other, he would reprimand them, “such behavior is not necessary”; they would listen to him, stop their strife, and stretch their necks towards him, and indicate to him that they would no longer fight. The geese were well bred, large and very gentle. I often watched and admired how he handled them. One time I said to him: “Dedushka, could we butcher that one that is lagging behind? What a tasty noodle soup that would be!” He replied; “Enough, enough!  Let them live and rejoice under God’s grace! We can do without that!” By this time, Grandfather was a complete vegetarian.

In the winter time, the nights were long, there was little to do, it was not good for the elders to stay in the house all of the time; because of this, every morning we went for a walk for an hour and a half, or even two; this was good for our health, especially for the elders. After such a walk we had a good breakfast, then retired to our quarters for rest.

In the evening after dinner, when the cooks cleared the tables and all was in order, Peter Vasilyevich, and all of us, except for Lezhebokov, went to the elders, and there we studied the New Testament. This was for everyone, and especially the elders, for they had suffered for truth. It gave them some comfort in their difficult circumstances when they heard how Christ had said; “They persecuted me and they will persecute you, fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; My yoke is tolerable, I carry my cross with ease; Learn from me and you will no longer live in darkness”, etc.

Voronin attended these meetings without fail and Ivan Semenovich Tikhomirov of the political exiles was also with us. He was a moral, good hearted person and had left his former beliefs and joined the Christian teachings. After the reading, there was much discussion. If some text of Christ’s teachings was not understood, all was examined and dissected from different directions, until we all agreed on one conclusion; this went on until 11:00 o’clock. After that, after good-nights were expressed, we departed to our respective quarters. There was also there Vasily Obetkov. He was always near Peter Vasilyevich, like a brother and a true and faithful servant.

Grigory Vasilyevich Verigin, taken after his escape from Siberian exile in 1902. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

On Sundays, not always but often, we would hitch up the horses for a sleigh ride. The horses were hitched singly. Such a trip included the entire family; the family consisted of all at home: the cook, the girls and youngsters. We did not look at them as outsiders but as members of our own family. If anyone was left at home and did not go on the ride, it was Lezhebokov; he looked after the homes. This was our entire assembly: the three sleighs, horses which were racers and pretty as a picture; two horses were from the Caucasus, one was from our parents, the other was from Ivan Ivanovich Ponomarev. He wished to give the stud racehorse as a gift to Peter Vasilyevich, the third was from there. Such rides were looked upon with envy by the administrators, overseers and police and others; they did not even see such horses, let alone ride with them. Occasionally this disturbed them – how was it that the banished, inferior to them, enjoyed such rides? 

I will give you another instance; People here live poorly, children from around Shenkursk come to beg in the name of Christ. Peter Vasilyevich suggested to the elders that twice a week they would prepare a hot meal for them. Some forty or more began to show up. This developed into a whole new story.  This was stirred up by the priests. They came to the Chief of Police and said that our Orthodox children are going to the sectarians for dinner, and that through this dinner they are being seduced into becoming sectarians.  He summoned Peter Vasilyevich and warned him that, he must not let the children gather around him, and he must not prepare any more meals. Peter Vasilyevich replied: “How can I deny those children who ask in the name of Christ, you are exhorting me to break the command of Christ, which you believe in yourself; those who ask must be given to. Such a request from you is unseemly – if you have the authority, you may place a sentry at my gates to prevent the children from entering, once they are in my yard, and ask for food in the name of Christ, you must forgive me, in this matter I must listen to Christ rather than listen to you.” – At this, the commander raised his voice: “I will write the minister.” Peter Vasilyevich replied; “That is your affair,” and walked away. Whether or not the Captain did write the minister, we do not know, but the dinners continued. A senior administrator came to see the children at dinner, praying before and giving thanks after the dinner.  The children, though young, were accustomed to icon worship, and at first, did not want to pray and give thanks. Then the cook, who had been an Orthodox believer, and who now understood through Peter Vasilyevich’s teachings that one could pray to God in spirit and truth without icons, told them: “It is possible to pray without icons, let one of you look at salt and bread, the others recite silently.” This they began. The observer could not find anything to object to, that the children prayed without icons; he came with nothing and left with nothing. In this matter, this was one stupid attempt to find some fault on the part of the priests and the chief.  Children that are begging in the name of Christ are hungry, and are asking for their daily bread, and such children aren’t interested in preaching, they only need bread. With grown ups he truly often discussed the teachings of Christ whenever possible, and pointed out the errors of the priests and their own gains for an easy life, as they ruined the populace and misrepresented the teachings of Christ. They are fooling the people and the people are falling for it.

Some agreed with Peter Vasilyevich, and four families stopped going to church; and they were subjected to secret surveillance, of course, they suspected that Peter Vasilyevich was responsible.  One family was called Krasnikov; it consisted of a man, wife, and eighteen year old daughter, which I had seen as guests at Peter Vasilyevich’s.

Many agreed with him in words only, as they were afraid to take action. Why? – because of exile and suffering. Until people stop emphasizing worldly life, they will not make a decision in such a matter. But when people understand the importance that life includes the spiritual life, one that flows without beginning or end into our sensate being, they will not fear to suffer for the truth. Our temporal life is secondary in terms of time; today we’re here, tomorrow we’re gone, I am telling you of the flesh. Spirit is without beginning, it has no end, and when people understand that, they will no longer be afraid of fear or suffering. The example of this is illustrated by the life and death of Jesus Christ.

Life in Shenkursk in the home Peter Vasilyevich and the elders continued joyfully. There was one thing that bothered me; Peter Vasilyevich and the elders were already fully vegetarian and because of that, no meat was prepared, as for themselves, so for the guests. Even if someone wanted meat, it was not allowed. For me this was not right and unsettling; at home I ate meat. Although the food was very good and nutritious, there was enough butter, milk also, every morning there was always coffee with cream and leavened bread, often they prepared piroshki with cheese and potatoes, there was tasty borsch, good soup with various grains, they served pasta, you couldn’t ask for better. But my heart was not at ease, I wanted to eat meat. Peter Vasilyevich saw this and noticed it. One day he asked me: “How do you like our food? Can you live without meat?” I answered, “The food is very good, but I can’t live without meat.”

Peter “Lordly” Verigin (1859-1924) taken at the time of his exile in Arkhangelsk. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

He laughed; I was a little embarrassed, and he, wanting to ease me out of my embarrassment, said “I noticed that your body is weakening.” I answered: “I live as a guest, and do not work; I noticed that I feel weaker.” I did feel weaker, but it was not the result of the food, but plainly because my heart was not at ease because I did not have the understanding of living creatures. Peter Vasilyevich sympathized with me but there was nothing to do but get used to it. He said: “We got used to it, it occurs to me that at our table there is surplus food; enough to get fat on, not just to get weak on; in my understanding we could cut back a little at our table but it would be difficult for the elders and they might start weakening; this depends on your understanding. For example, I now hold this belief, all things created are created here for life, and this includes human beings, a person is a higher form of life, imbued with a reasoning power, this person will be recognized as such from the other forms of life only when he acts like a human being. For example, man is not a carnivore. This is illustrated in his body and his organisms. Don’t give him a knife or a weapon and turn him out with a steer or a ram. What will he do with them? nothing; but let the steer in with a lion or tiger, or the ram with a wolf, and quicker than the eye can see, all will be over. Mankind has strayed from his natural food, and with his violent ways, is bringing himself down to the level of animals; is this a good or reasonable direction for mankind, one who is made in the image of God? – if one has anything of God within him, he must look at all creation with love and compassion, and for all this bounty, he must give praise and thanks to God, In this way, as an intelligent being, he will be different from the rest of the living creatures, in such bloodthirsty behavior such as the eating of meat, mankind does not distinguish himself from the fierce animal, and to satisfy his Mamon-like craving, decides to destroy what God has created.

I will repeat again; everything is created for life, not for death; if for death, then people should be fattened as a person fattens oxen, cattle or rams, especially older ones that are no longer fit for physical labour. They say, I don’t know how true this is, human-flesh is the best and the tastiest of all meats, and we could use this for ourselves, and for sale. I suppose people would cry out and protest in every which way that this is not good, and even sinful that how could we do this with people, this is how animals behave, this is frightening, he would be finding all sorts of excuses to be saving his own life. And if through this reasoning, we would be saving our own lives, why shouldn’t we think seriously about all other life? – perhaps they are thinking and saying; it is not right and it is even sinful to end their lives, they want to live as people do, but we don’t understand their language; we get strong ropes ready for them and continue to sharpen knives. In such circumstances where we do not understand each other’s language, we must speak with the language of the heart and soul, especially because the heart of mankind should understand and communicate with the swiftness of a telephone, which can transmit his own sound for several tens or a hundred versts. This invention is made by a human being, but a person, who has the spark of love or God within them, such a thing is present, but he is not conscious of it. Sometimes when they tie down the oxen for slaughter, he feels he is going to die and there are tears in his eyes, nothing helps, the man nevertheless continues. He should understand this with his heart, but where is such a heart, when all is in strife, and mankind has only begun to be regarded as evolving as a human being, the spark of Godliness is hidden and buried, the man with this spark is not seen.”

He said a lot more about this subject, this made me think about my desire for meat, and after that I began to have doubts and began to have a new understanding about vegetarianism; after some time my weakness disappeared. In such a manner, Peter Vasilyevich brought me to a new understanding. In essence, where there’s a non-credible weakness, you need a serious strengthening.

A complete English translation of Grigory Verigin’s 1935 Russian publication, “Ne v Sile Bog, a v Pravde” is currently being prepared by Doukhobor Village Museum Curator Larry A. Ewashen. For more information on this project, please email: larryewashen@telus.net.

Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin, His Life and Role in Doukhobor History

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

The following is a brief biographical sketch of Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin (1756-1816), Russian statesman, philosopher, writer, educator and philanthropist. A sympathizer and benefactor of the Doukhobor, Lopukhin intervened with Tsarist authorities on their behalf, helped ease their sufferings in the face of persecution, and masterminded their resettlement to the Molochnye Vody (“Milky Waters”) region in Tavria. Compiled from various Russian and English language sources (See Notes).

Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin was born 24 February 1756 in the village of Voskresenskoye, Orel province into a wealthy landowning family of the upper nobility. Plagued by a sickly childhood, he received much of his education at home. In 1775, at the age of nineteen, Lopukhin entered military service with the Preobrazhensky Regiment, but retired seven years later with the rank of polkovnik (colonel) for reasons of health.

A keen student of law, Lopukhin was appointed sovetnik (counselor) of the Moscow Criminal Court in 1782, and later he became Court President. In judicial affairs, Lopukhin was interested chiefly in reformatory aspects of the law. He once wrote that it would be better to acquit many criminals than to convict one innocent individual. However, his progressive stance resulted in a dispute with the conservative Governor-General of Moscow, J.A. Bruce, which led to Lopukhin’s forced resignation in 1785.

Thereafter, Lopukhin assumed an active role in the literary and philanthropic activities of prominent Masonic writer N.I. Novikov (1744-1818). In 1789, Lopukhin underwent a religious conversion upon recovery from a lengthy period of illness and embraced Masonry as a new, spiritual and idealistic world-view. He became Grandmaster of a Masonic lodge in Moscow, translated works of Western mystics and Freemasons, and wrote several treatises of his own. In 1790, he published ‘Nravouchitelnyi Katezhizis Istinnykh Franmasonov’, a defense of Russian Masonry that called for love of God and one’s fellow man and for constant inner, personal improvement.

In 1792, Novikov was arrested as part of Catherine the Great’s campaign to rid Russia of “the notorious new schism” of Masonry. Lopukhin was searched and interrogated for his Masonic activities. The Empress initially ordered Lopukhin into exile, but he was permitted to remain in Moscow “for the sake of his aged father.” From 1792 to 1796, Lopukhin lived and wrote in Moscow, publishing numerous literary and dramatic works.

Lopukhin’s career in the Russian civil service resumed in 1796 when Tsar Paul, recognizing his talents and abilities, summoned him to St. Petersburg and appointed him State Secretary. The following year, in 1797, Lopukhin returned to Moscow as a Senator.

In 1800, Lopukhin and Senator Spiridonov completed a three-year senatorial inspection of the provinces of Kazan, Viatka and Orenburg, in which they identified various abuses of power by the local administrations. In his report to the Tsar, Lopukhin displayed particular consideration for the peasantry.

The following year, in 1801, Tsar Alexander I ordered Lopukhin and Senator Neledinskiy-Meletskiy to undertake a senatorial inspection of the provinces of south Russia to study the status of sectarian religion in the region, and in particular, to investigate a series of complaints by Doukhobors, who had returned there from exile, about their living conditions.

Arriving in Kharkov in November 1801, Lopukhin met with the Governor and requested records relating to the history of the Doukhobors in the province. Lopukhin learned that during Catherine the Great’s reign, “several” local Doukhobors were summarily imprisoned and “not returned”. Under Tsar Paul, entire Doukhobor households were exiled into penal servitude. In August 1801, however, the exiled sectarians were returned to their former homes in Kharkov province following Tsar Alexander’s edict of release.

Portrait of Ivan V. Lopukhin (1756-1816) by Dmitry G. Levitzky.

Lopukhin was alarmed by the haste with which local authorities began “admonishing” the returning Doukhobors. He bluntly told the Governor that rebellion would surely ensue; the sectarians “did not have time to rest quietly” before they were accosted by civil and ecclesiastical officials. Lopukhin ordered the Governor to recall the “teams” sent to the districts to “counsel” the Doukhobors.

The next day, however, the Governor, “pale, with papers in hand,” rushed to Lopukhin’s lodgings with news that a bunt (rebellion) had already broken out among the Doukhobors of Izium district “where an admonition was performed.” The worried Governor informed Lopukhin that the sectarians, several of whom had already been arrested, renounced recognition of the Tsar and Jesus Christ and vowed never to pay taxes nor fulfill state obligations. The Izium land court was investigating the incident.

Lopukhin calmed the Governor by assuring him that the “rebellion” would be subdued and others prevented. The problem, as Lopukhin saw it, was that the interrogations of the Doukhobors were “needless” and “unskilled”; they served only to embitter them. The Senator defended the sectarians, remonstrating that they were “full of reverence” toward Jesus Christ and the Tsar and ready to “obey all laws” and “fulfill all land obligations”. To alleviate the situation, Lopukhin ordered the Governor to release the arrested Doukhobors and suspend the inquiry. The Governor agreed.

Lopukhin wrote a report of his investigation to the Tsar dated November 12, 1801. The Tsar was informed that the Kharkov authorities did not understand the “direct essence” of his edicts concerning the Doukhobors, that the “rebellion” was not the fault of the sectarians themselves, who displayed “faith and reverence” and “particular gratitude” towards the monarch. The Senator outlined the remedial measures he had ordered the Kharkov Governor to adopt.

During the course of his investigation, Lopukhin met for a period of several days with a sizeable group of Doukhobors. This was done in secrecy so as not to arouse “unnecessary inquisitiveness” among the Orthodox. He was impressed by the sectarians’ faith and “very fundamental and correct concepts of Christianity” and sympathized with their plight. For their part, the Doukhobors “took a liking” to Lopukhin, and they conversed openly with him about the tenets of their faith. On the last day of their meetings, the Doukhobors presented a petition to Lopukhin requesting to be established “in a separate colony” and expressing their “loyalty and real zeal toward the sovereign”.

Lopukhin wrote a second report to the Tsar, skillfully rendering the Doukhobors request. It began with a hearty defense of the sectarians in the face of unfavourable reports issued by Kharkov officials. The Senator then offered a short explanation of the Doukhobor “manner of faith”. Finally, Lopukhin relayed their request for a separate colony, using language that consciously echoed Alexander’s emphasis on legal treatment for non-conformists and his desire to lead them back to Orthodoxy. First, Lopukhin argued that the formation of a separate colony would quiet Doukhobor unrest by removing them from the harassment and animosity of local officials. Second, isolation would all but eliminate the sectarians’ ability to spread their beliefs. Finally, concentrated settlements would help well-educated, moral and patient priests bring the Doukhobors back to Orthodoxy.

The Tsar agreed wholeheartedly with Lopukhin’s proposal and immediately set in motion the consolidation of a separate Doukhobor colony in the recently incorporated lands of Novorossiya. In his January 1802 edict, the Tsar granted permission for any Doukhobor in the Novorossiya provinces to settle together in the Molochnye Vody region of Melitopol district, Tavria province, which was then a sparsely populated part of the empire. Alexander wrote to the Governor of Novorossiya that the concentration of Doukhobors, separate from other Russians, would prevent their further ruin and mistreatment, and that he considered their separation to be “a most reliable means for the extinguishing of their heresay and for the suppression of their influence on others.”  In the years that followed, the Tsar extended the edict to allow Doukhobors from across the Russian Empire to resettle in Tavria.

Lopukhin’s involvement in the “Doukhobor Affair” would determine the fate of the sect throughout Russia for the next forty years. For the first time, the Doukhobors had in Lopukhin a sympathetic high official who spoke up for the sectarians and stressed their virtues as well as their faults.  He acted as a conduit between the Doukhobors and the highest circles of Russian society, transmitting their beliefs using the language and metaphors of the Imperial Court, and in doing so, helped lay the basis for Tsar Alexander’s policy on the Doukhobors.  But for his intervention, the Doukhobors of Sloboda-Ukraine and elsewhere would have remained isolated, dispersed, voiceless and oppressed.  It is through his efforts that the Doukhobors owed a great measure of release from persecution, and also an opportunity to exist and develop as a self-contained community. 

Lopukhin left Kharkov in December of 1801 to resume his senatorial duties.  Between 1802 and 1805, he served as President of a commission “to deal with the dispute of estates in the Crimea”, travelling to the Crimea to the Crimea to settle land disputes between Tatars and Russian landlords.  In 1806, he observed the formation of national armed forces in Vladimir, Kaluga, Ryazan and Tula provinces.  In 1807, he served in the Eight Department of the Senate, a branch of the Senate which was located in Moscow. 

In 1808-1809, the “Zapiska Niekotorykh Obstoiatel’stv Zhizni i Sluzhby Dieistvitel’nago Tainago Sovietnika, Senatora I. V. Lopukhina” [“A note on some circumstances in the life and career of Acting Privy Councillor, Senator I. V. Lopukhin”] was written under Lopukhin’s dictation.  The tract contained Lopukhin’s detailed reminisces on the “Doukhobor Affair”.

In 1812, during the Napoleonic War, Lopukhin fled Moscow to escape the advancing French armies, resettling to his estate of Saviiskoye in the Baltic. In 1813, Lopukhin took a leave of absence from the Senate for health reasons, which was repeatedly prolonged.  He moved back to his family estate at Voskresenskoye and married the daughter of Moscow merchant M.E. Nikitin.  From 1814 until the end of his life, Lopukhin was a member of the Russian Bible Society, a non-denominational organization devoted to translating and distributing the Bible in Russia. 

Throughout his later career and until his death, Lopukhin was censured by Orthodox clergy, local and provincial officials, and by conservative elements within the Russian aristocracy for his efforts on behalf of the Doukhobors.  The Senator ignored the criticism until the Holy Synod (council of Orthodox bishops of the Russian Empire) reproached him for the “harmful multiplication” of Doukhobors. In response to his critics, Lopukhin composed the essay “Glas Iskrennosti” [“Voice of Sincerity”], explaining the Doukhobors’ “errors of faith”, outlining their history of persecution, and defending his activities in connection with the sect. The essay was circulated privately in 1806, but was only published posthumously in 1817.

In addition to ‘Glas Iskrennosti’, there are several historical tracts on the Doukhobors attributed to Lopukhin. The first of these, “Zapiska, Rodannaya Dukhobortsami Ekaterinoslavskoy Gubernii v 1791 g. Gubernatoru Kakhovskomu” [“Note of 1791 submitted by the Doukhobors of Ekaterinoslav Province to Governor Kakhovsky”] contains one of the earliest expositions of Dukhobor beliefs. The Note is known only in copies; the original has never been discovered.  However, scholars have ascertained that the first copy was made from a document belonging to Lopukhin.  The second tract is an 1805 note entitled “Nekotorye Cherty ob Obshchestve Dukhobortsev” [“Several Characteristics of Doukhobor Society“].While the authorship of these tracts has not been positively identified, scholars such as Svetlana Inikova have identified Masonic influences in both, and have justifiably attributed them to either an unidentified Mason or directly to Lopukhin himself. 

A prominent theme in Lopukhin’s many writings was the idea of a spiritual “inner church”, the foes of which were the secular learning and self-indulgence which kept man from following Christ and gaining “true wisdom”. Lopukhin’s ideal man, the “spiritual knight”, defended the “inner church” with the spiritual weapons of silent suffering and freely given love.  In “Glas Iskrennosti”, Lopukhin characterized the Doukhobors as the “hidden saints” of his new church.  Interestingly, perhaps the most famous convert to his idea of a new inner church was Leo Tolstoy, who became an archetype of Lopukhin’s “spiritual knight” with his “conversion” to a new non-doctrinal Christianity that abjured violence and taught that “the kingdom of God is within you”.  Tolstoy, like Lopukhin before him, would view the Doukhobors as living examples of his philosophical ideals. 

Lopukhin died at his family estate on 22 June 1816.  Among his contemporaries, he enjoyed great popularity as the epitome of the fair and disinterested judge, the philanthropist, the man who put the welfare of his Motherland before his own, the trusted advisor to the Tsars.  At the same time, his mystic writings and philosophy earned him many denigrators who accused him of hypocrisy and personal defects.  Sadly, his role and influence in the history of the Doukhobors, perhaps second only to Tolstoy amongst “outsiders” to the sect, remains largely unappreciated and forgotten.

Note

For more about Lopukhin’s legacy as a writer and thinker see: Lipski, Alexander. “A Russian Mystic Faces the Age of Rationalism and Revolution: Thought and Activity of Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin” in Church History (Vol. 36, No. 2 (Jun., 1967), pp. 170-188; and Billington, James H. “The Icon and the Axe, An Interpretive History of Russian Culture” (New York: Random House, 1966.

For more about Lopukhin’s investigation of the Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors and the formation of the Milky Waters colony see: Fry, Gary Dean. “The Doukhobors, 1801-1855: Origins of a Successful Dissident Sect” (Ph.D thesis, American University, 1976); and Savva, Vladimir Ivanovich, “K Istorii Dukhobortsev Khar’kovskoi Gubernii” (Kharkov, Kharkov Historical-Philological Society, 1893); republished in P.N. Malov, “Dukhobortsi, ikh Istoria, Zhizn’ i Bor’ba”translated as More about the History of the Dukhobortsy of Kharkov Province on the Doukhobor Genealogy Website. 

For more about Lopukhin’s role in the historiography of the Doukhobors see:Inikova, Svetlana A. Spiritual Origins and Beginnings of Doukhobor History in A. Donskov, J. Woodsworth & C. Gaffield (eds.), The Doukhobor Centenary in Canada, A Multi-Disciplinary Perspective on their Unity and Diversity. (Ottawa: Slavic Research Group and Institute of Canadian Studies at the University of Ottawa, 2000); reproduced on the Doukhobor Genealogy Website.

This article was reproduced by permission in ISKRA No. 2020 (U.S.S.C., Castlegar, BC, July 3, 2009)

Visit to the Doukhobors

Manitoba Morning Free Press

The year 1902 was a turbulent one for the Doukhobors in Canada. Disputes with government over homestead entry, internal dissension and zealot activity turned the tide of public opinion against them, prompting many wildly outrageous and grossly exaggerated reports. Despite this, some fair-minded Canadians continued to stand up unreservedly for the Doukhobors. One such citizen, E.H. Blow of Fort Pelly, Assiniboia, wrote a detailed and sympathetic account of the Doukhobors of the North Colony, extolling their prosperity and progress, social customs, skills, industry, work ethic, and charity, homes, buildings and yards, and other positive characteristics. Published in the Manitoba Morning Free Press on October 1, 1902, his message was simple and direct: Leave the Doukhobors alone. Give them a chance, and let them become Canadians on their own terms.

The peaceful, inoffensive, industrious Doukhobor has been the subject of much talk of late. This talk has been caused by the foolish utterances of idle and irresponsible people, and by the malicious statements of mischief makers. All the reports that have been spread abroad are either willfully false or grossly exaggerated. With the exception of his disinclination to observe three simple governmental regulations on account of his religious beliefs, there is no reason for complaint against him. He is a hard-working, uncovetous, and exceedingly charitable to all but when he has to rub shoulders with government, he becomes obstinate and fortifies himself with the instilled faith that God alone is supreme, and his laws only are to be observed. As the human Laws of all Christian nations today are based on God’s law, the Doukhobor cannot be regarded as other than an admirable character.

His present obstinate refusal to enter for his homestead, to register his vital statistics and to pay his road tax is no doubt annoying, but as some one has remarked “obstinacy is not to be commended but fidelity to what one deems to be right and proper is ever to be commended and recognized.” Leave the Doukhobor alone and he will soon became a citizen of Canada whose example in matters of industry and religious zeal will be worthy of emulation. The minds of the young men are turning in the right direction and victory will be with them.

It has just been my privilege to visit the thirteen Doukhobor villages in the Swan River valley, extending from Thunder Hill, eighteen miles along the Swan River, in Eastern Assiniboia, and the impressions that I formed from my personal contact with the Doukhobors and from my observations of their habits and customs is extremely favorable in their behalf. In the thirteen villages there are 2,500 souls, the population of the villages ranging from 100 to 250. These villages comprise what is known as the north colony.

Store Houses Filled to Overflowing

It is a little over three years since they settled on the land set apart for them by the Dominion government. They had no cattle, horses or implements to start with, but the good Quakers of the United States came to their aid and furnished them with means to purchase these necessary articles in a limited way. With primitive methods they went to work with characteristic energy and abounding patience and faith and today they have under cultivation an aggregate of 5,540 acres of which they have reaped this year a rich harvest of wheat, barley, oats, flax and vegetables, so that their store houses are filled to over-flowing, sufficient to place them, beyond all possibility of need for the next five years, supposing they did not wish to produce any more during that period. But they do intend to produce more, because they are now busy at work plowing the stubble fields and breaking new land. They had the wheat cut and stacked two weeks earlier than the English speaking settlers in the district and have a good part of their threshing done, not withstanding the fact that they have no modern machinery and do practically all their work by hand labor.

Village of Vosnesenya, North Colony, c. 1904.  Library and Archives Canada C-000683.

The Doukhobor Homes

The Doukhobor villages and the Doukhobor home life are picturesque. It is like a bit of the old world transplanted into the newest. The cottages are ranged on either side of an open street and are tastefully constructed, presenting an attractive appearance. The material used in the construction of the houses is un-sawn spruce timber. Both the exterior and interior are plastered over with a clay mixture and then painted with a wash made of white painted clay, the prevailing white being relieved by dadoes around walls and posts made from a wash of yellow clay. The roof logs project over the walls and form verandahs which are neatly ornamented with woodwork, in some instances carved and scrolled. Beneath the verandahs on the sides of the houses mostly used are plank, stone or earthen platforms. Erected over the gates are ornamental arches such as are common in Northern Europe and eastern countries. The home yards are kept as neat as a palace walk by means of sand spread on the ground and watered and swept every morning, and once or twice during the day. The interior of the houses, with scarcity an exception are spotless. The walls and ceilings are immaculately white, while the tables, benches, and chairs all made of lumber fairly shine with the constant scrubbing and polishing of the good housewives. Generally speaking the houses each have a living and sleeping room, kitchen, and work and store room. In some cases where families live together under the same roof, the living and sleeping rooms are duplicated, both families using the kitchen in common. Where two or more families live together, they are usually relatives, the parents and their sons’ wives and children. The son always takes his wife to his father’s home and there they live until the young folks build for themselves, or if the husband has to go away to work, his wife and children are under the care and protection of his parents.

The Sleeping Apartments

A number of the members of a family may and do sleep in the same room. Because of this fact, some people are disposed to harshly criticize the Doukhobors, but it must be remembered that this habit is customary among the peasant folk of other European nationalities and thee are many pioneers in this country who can recall the time when Canadian settlers in their first homestead shacks were compelled to live in a similar way. Some of these settlers today are living in houses that cost from six to ten thousand dollars, and they will tell you not with a blush, but with feelings or pride, of the inconveniences they had to put up with in the early days, and how they overcame them. The Doukhobor is a God-fearing good-living moral man. No one can deny that. He who says to the contrary speaks with a false or foolish tongue. While to those who know naught to the contrary it may appear that there is no privacy in the Doukhobor home; there is privacy and above all there is sanctity. The Doukhobor believes with Canon Farrer: “It may not be ours to utter convincing arguments, but it may be ours to live holy lives; it may be ours to be noble, and sweet, and pure,” and so he lives by day and by night.

Clean Barns and Stable Yard

As neatness and cleanliness is the conspicuous feature of the Doukhobor home, so is with all about the homestead. There is a place for everything and everything is kept in its place. The horse and cattle stables are warm and clean. The manure is not thrown out of the stable and left there to contaminate the air or to pollute the earth. It is hauled away to the fields or otherwise disposed of. When the cattle come home at night, they are corralled some distance from the house and the feed is not thrown to them on the ground, but placed in racks, so that there may be no waste and no litter. Everything is neat and tidy and thrifty-like. Some settlers could get many useful sanitary and economic pointers by a visit to the Doukhobor villages.

Evidence of Taste and Skills

The large oven found in every house is an interest object. In its capacious interior all the baking and cooking is done, while sufficient heat is radiated from its ample surfaces to warm the entire house. On top the little children and old women have their sleeping place. The oven is kept scrupulously clean, the same as every other part of the house. Stoves are now coming into use in most of the villages. In every house visited there were plants in the windows, curtain draperies and little ornamental knickknacks of silk and woodwork, giving evidence of skill and taste on the part of both men and women.

Will Build Better Homes

The Doukhobor house is of a character that no pioneer in a new country need be ashamed of, but the Doukhobors are not satisfied. They have already expressed their intention of erecting larger and more substantial homes as soon as they get more land under cultivation. Their new homes will be chiefly of stone and each man will build on his own farm. Many of the men are skilled in the art of stone masonry, and as the shallow river beds in the region where they live abound in boulder stone, it is natural that they should decide to build their permanent homes of this excellent material.

The Women Spin and Weave

The ancient spinning wheel is found in every home and with it the women make yarn from the wool of their sheep and also spin flax thread, from which they weave coarse, serviceable cloth and also make twine, etc. The Doukhobors appear to understand the manufacture of hemp, and the industry among them should be encouraged. With improved machinery they could manufacture a number of merchantable articles, such as binder twine, rope and linen. What they are doing in this line now is on a small and crude scale. The women are skillful with the needle, their lace and silk work being very artistically designed and splendidly executed. The women also excel in basket making, the fancy straw baskets made by them being equal to anything ever imported into Winnipeg from abroad. This work they do, it would seem, for amusement, and generally to present to friends as souvenirs, though they turn it to profitable account sometimes. Some of the men carve animals and birds, and all are handy with carpenters’ and smithing tools. They are able to make anything they want out of the most unlikely material. The Doukhobor is by no means the stupid being hat some people think. Necessity has made him a genius. It has sharpened his wits and inspired his hand, and as soon as he feels that he is an absolutely free man he will become a model citizen. He has no vices; his wants are simple, and he follows the Bible precept that it is more blessed to give than to receive. He gives away one-tenth of what he produces, here again showing his strict observance of Biblical teaching.

Doukhobor women baking bread in outdoor ovens. British Columbia Archives E-07248.

Everybody Works

I have seen the people in their homes, in the fields, in the towns and on the trail. They are always at work, and everybody from the youngest to the oldest, finds something to do. Many hands lighten the burden, and their work seems to be a pleasure. The household duties of the women are light, owing to the assistance they receive from the young girls, consequently they accompany the men to the fields and help with what work there may be there to do. The outdoor work done by the women is voluntary. They go with the men more as a matter of comradeship and as the men are kind to the women, the latter are anxious to help all they can in sewing, caring for and reaping the crops. Many of the women who go to the fields do not join in the farm work, but take their sewing and knitting, with them. I have seen several groups of women of the various villages sitting around the stacks while the sheaves were being hauled in, or at the winnowing grounds, busily employed with their fancy work, while the children played about or occupied themselves with light employment. These scenes were very pretty and reminded one more of a happy family picnic party than anything else. Yet the work of the harvest was going on unceasingly and it was wonderful what a few men could accomplish in a day. Three stone flour mills are being put up in the north and south colonies, and the rivers are being utilized for motive power.

How the Doukhobor Threshes

The Doukhobor threshes his grain in the fields either with flails or by horses attached to corrugated rollers, the tramping of the animals and the pounding of the rollers separating the wheat from the straw. The threshed grain is finally cleaned by throwing it into the air so that the chaff and light foreign seeds may be blown out by the wind. The grain is then passed through home-made sieves and is then ready for mill or market. The process is slow but with the number of winnowing grounds in a field a lot of grain can be harvested in a day. I saw in one field a party of fifty men and women standing in a circle threshing with flails. It was a pretty picture of industry, the effect being heightened by the quaint multi-colored garb of the women. They sang as they worked, and were apparently as happy as school children.

Social Customs

The community system prevails among the Doukhobors. All moneys earned by the members of a village are pooled and each village has a common storehouse in which provisions and supplies are kept. Individuals may contract debts, but the village to which they belong becomes responsible for payment. All debts are promptly met, so that no business man hesitates to give the Doukhobors credit for any amount. Those who have commercial dealings with these people hold them in high esteem for their unfailing probity.

The marriage ceremony of the Doukhobors is simple. It is merely a declaration made before elders, but it is to them just as solemnly binding as any rite, ritual, or sacrament of the great church denominations. The story that a Doukhobor may divorce his wife at pleasure is untrue. The Doukhobor who does not treat his wife kindly, who fails to provide for her properly or deserts her is excommunicated, as it were and becomes a social outcast. To the Doukhobor, so firm in his simple Christ-like faith, this is a severe penalty as is rarely if ever incurred.

Cleanliness of person is one of the cardinal principles of the Doukhobor doctrine. The first house built in a village is a Russian bath-house which is used daily and in addition to this, men, women and children are frequently to be seen bathing in the rivers in nature’s attire. For the benefit of those who think this a depraved or questionable custom, the well-known motto of the British royal coat of arms may be cited. However, as the district becomes settled up and the Doukhobors become familiar with the customs of the country they will, no doubt, perform their outdoor ablutions in a more conventional manner. They would not wittingly give offense to any person.

The Doukhobor is Sociable

To the casual observer the Doukhobor might appear sullen and distrustful. But such is not his nature. He is merely respectful among strangers and training refrains him from being familiar. When approached, however, in a friendly spirit, he warms up and becomes sociable. He is full of good humor and wholesome fun. He bubbles over with a happy spirit. Children and adults are the same. The youngsters romp and frolic in the villages and have their play things, always homemade, the same as other children.

The warmth of the welcome that a stranger receives to the Doukhobor home is marked. There is no doubt about the genuineness of the hospitality. Gate and door are flung wide open and food for man and beast in abundance is instantly forthcoming if wanted. To offer payment for the entertainment is to offer insult. They will give but not receive.

Deeds of Charity

To illustrate the great Christian charitableness with which these people are imbued, it may be mentioned that they have frequently made gifts of animals and provisions to poor English speaking settlers whom they had accidentally learned were in needy circumstances. It is not long since that some of the villagers in the South or Yorkton colony, hearing that the house of an English speaking settler had been destroyed by fire, went to the forest, cut logs, hauled them to the unfortunate man’s farm and built him a new house and offered other material aid. One village also gave to Mr. Harley, Dominion land agent and Post master at Swan River six cows, with the request that they be given to any poor settlers that might be in his district. Many similar instances of exceeding generosity and kindness are on record. Charity is one of the virtues that the Doukhobor believes in exercising freely, and his charity is dispensed unostentatiously. When he sees opportunity to do good he does it as a solemn duty and without expectation of worldly favor or reward.

The North Colony Reserve

The north colony reserve is eighteen miles long and twelve wide, comprising six townships of 188,240 acres. The soil is uniformly good, being a rich loan. The land generally is what is known as highland prairie, much of the tract being open, but there are belts of excellent timber along the Swan River and in the hills. The typography of the country is attractive, being a succession of gently rolling hills, scored with ravines, which run back from the valley of the Swan River and furnish natural drainage. The Swan Valley west and north of Thunder Hill, is very beautiful. The banks in some places rise to a height of 300 feet above the meandering serpentine stream, and with treeless buttes and wooded dales present as lovely a picture of nature in its wild state as one could wish to gaze upon. The villages extend along the river southward from Thunder Hill, and are nearly all situated on the river banks, some on the north and some on the south side. Numerous spring creeks rise in the hills and furnish the purest of water. Some of these creeks run all winter and have never been known to freeze.

What can be said of the Doukhobor reserve may be said of the entire Swan River valley, so that the Doukhobors have no monopoly of the good things. There are thousands of acres of the very best agricultural lands west of the Duck Mountains, extending north from Shell River to the Swan valley, and westward from there indefinitely to the Saskatchewan country. This vast territory will soon be open for homesteading. Some of it already is, so that the Doukhobor reserve is but a speck on the map. The land between Swan River town and the first Doukhobor village just outside the province is a splendid district, and the Canadian and other settlers who have located there consider themselves very fortunate. The Doukhobors are well satisfied with their land, their only regret being that they cannot grow fruit as they did in Russia; but they have decided that it is more profitable and less trouble to grow wheat and buy apples. The country is overrun with small wild fruits. The Doukhobors are good farmers. They are careful and study the nature of the soil. When they acquire machinery, as they assuredly will as they grow richer, they will be big exporters of all kinds of cereals.

Doukhobor pilgrims leaving Yorkton to evangelize the world, 1902.  Library and Archives Canada C014077.

Religious Zeal

The Doukhobors are intensely religious. Their zeal in this respect has recently created a nine days’ wonder for such it will prove to be. Some of the old men fearing that their sudden change from poverty to plenty might make them worldly, or that prosperity might cause the younger members of the community to relax in their faith, agitated for a thank offering to God, and advised that this offering should take the form of liberating their horses, oxen and cows. They also advised the renewal of vows not to kill or destroy life or use the product of any beast, bird or being that had been killed. The influence of the elders is strong. Obedience to the will of the elders is instilled into the Doukhobors from childhood, so it is little wonder that the strange propaganda had its effect. However, all the people were not carried away by the “craze.”, more than half of them refusing to give up their live stock or to follow any lead that made for retrogression. Less than 500 animals – horses, cows and sheep – were turned away from the two colonies of 4,500 people. A few sold their animals and bought implements. Those who declined to give up their live stock are among the most intelligent of the people, who recognize the advantages of having horses and work cattle for the carrying on of their agricultural pursuits. This faction will continue to add to their live stock and implements whenever they can afford it, and in fact were among the buyers at the sale of the Doukhobor cattle at Fort Pelly last Wednesday.

Will Result in Good

This wave of religious zeal will do good. It will probably result in the solution of the little difficulties that have been encountered with respect to the observance of the governmental regulations already referred to. There are already signs that this will be the effect. The factions are now at outs with each other, and the progressive spirits will break way from the prevailing communistic ideas and will strike out for themselves. When the others see how well these succeed they will fall into line. They are thinking and debating, and discussing and all will end right, because the young men who are breaking away are now just as stubborn as the elders, though it causes them many a heart pang and brings down upon them a species of petty persecution that under the circumstances requires a strong will and much moral courage to withstand. The two factions are known among themselves as the “bad Doukhobors” and the “crazy Doukhobors.”

The Passing of the Craze

When the Doukhobors became affected with the craze, they discarded their boots, woolen stockings and every article of clothing made wholly or partly of leather or wool. They bought rubber boots and made shoes of planed binder twine with wooden soles. They took the leather peaks and bands from their caps and replaced them with cloth, and took the place of the horses and oxen at the wagons and plows. They are getting tired of this practice now as it evidenced by the remarks that the “bad Doukhobors” let fall occasionally among their English speaking friends; and I saw myself people from one of the villages who had turned loose their sheep, hauling sacks of wool home from Swan River. This is indicative of a recantation which all who are in touch with the situation, believe will soon become general. They probably realize that their extreme self-abnegation before God involves altogether too much punishment of the flesh without corresponding benefits to the soul. No one minds if they do make cart horses of themselves. That is their own business.

Some may think it cruel to have the women helping to pull the wagons, but the women do this of their own accord and against the wishes of the men, and the loads are so light, compared to the number of men and women who do the hauling, that the individual work load is light. As they march along the road they sing joyful songs and laugh and joke one with the other. The women do not hitch themselves to the wagons in all cases. They accompany the men to town to make purchases and to prepare the meals at the roadside camps, and may frequently be seen on the trial, walking ahead while the mean pull the wagons and carts. No argument can convince the Doukhobor that he is wrong in giving up his horses and cattle. When cornered by a Bible quotation, he repudiates the Old Testament, falls back on the New, and finally tells you that he gets his teachings and inspirations from the Book of Life. The Doukhobors are not the only people who are carried away by religious fads. Only a few months ago in Winnipeg then were men and women who gave up all their money and land to join some Bible school that was conduced by a Yankee on Broadway and there are several other sects in the city whose religious practices are so emotional that they partake of the nature of mania.

Objections to Government

The Doukhobor does not believe in government. He recognizes but one ruler and that is God. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” and therefore, he must not lay proprietary claim to anything in the earth, under the earth, or in the sky. Hence his objections to the making entry for his homestead, to pay road tax, and to the registration of vital statistics. He will build roads, but he wants no government supervisions; he is willing that the homesteads be entered for in the name of the village, but will not agree to individual ownership. He would also report the births, deaths and marriages, but fears that that means taxes and taxes mean government. He is afraid that compliance with these simple but important regulations would be the inserting of the thin end of the wedge and the end would be tyranny. He does not understand, but soon will. The government will find means to convince him that he has nothing to fear and the example of those of his brethren who have homesteaded, will have a salutary effect, though it may be slow. It took the children of Israel a whole generation to realize and appreciate the benefits of their release from thralldom, and so it takes time with all people who have been subjected for centuries to the falling yoke of despotism, and have learned to hate their oppressors with a bitterness that knows no bounds to get rid of their prejudices, their fears, and their doubts. It is safe to predict that before next spring the number of Doukhobors to take up their homesteads will largely swell the present list.

Doukhobors plowing, North Colony, 1905.  Library and Archives Canada A021179.

The Doukhobors Developing

The Doukhobors are developing. Those who saw them arriving in Winnipeg a little over three years ago would scarcely know them now. Many of them have laid aside their national peasant garbs and adopted Canadian attire. They young people want to get on: it is the elders who cling tenaciously to their old habits, customs and beliefs, just the same as the old men of those excellent people the Mennonites cling to theirs and urge the young people to do the same. But with the progressive influences surrounding them, neither the young Doukhobor nor the young Mennonite can be checked. The Mennonites have been in Manitoba nearly 30 years, but yet their advance towards that goal which Canadians desire to see them attain is only beginning to be noticeable. It will take another generation to evolve the real thing.

Not a few of the Doukhobors can now speak English, especially the young lads. Several boys have been employed as store clerks in Swan River town, and a couple are engaged there now. The merchants speak highly of their ability as salesmen, and of their energy and faithfulness to duty. They are bright and quick to learn, mastering all the details of counter work in a few weeks. These lads are well dressed and if they were placed with a group of Canadians, any one who did not know them, would not be able to identify them. I have watched the immigration of foreign peoples since the arrival of the Mennonites, and in my opinion the Doukhobors are equal as agriculturists to the very best Europeans of the peasant class that have come to this country and much better than a good deal of it. They are self reliant, good providers, and will never cost the country one cent. Some of those who stubbornly cling to their belief may perhaps endeavor to seek an asylum where they will be allowed to follow their peculiar ideas regarding government without interference, but there will be few.

Not Illiterate

It is frequently asserted that the Doukhobors are illiterate. This is not a fact. The majority of them can read and write in their own language, even the young boys can read and I have frequently seen them reading letters and the tracts received from a Russian committee that has headquarters in London, England. They Doukhobors do not favor the establishment of English schools, but teach their children at home. Every father is the teacher at his own house, and also the preacher. The children are taught the unit system of reckoning by the use of the abacus, such as the Chinese use for calculating. The Bible is the only book seen in their homes, but they receive papers and tracts from abroad.

How the Doukhobors Came

An impression has gained ground that the Doukhobors were brought to the Northwest at an enormous expense to the Dominion government. This is erroneous, as most of the reports about these people are. The Doukhobors were sent to Canada by money provided by the Society of Friends in England, and the Quakers of the United States furnished money to buy them seed grain, live stock, and implements. In two or three trifling cases the government did advance money for implements, but on making inquiry I ascertained that the amount has been repaid. The per capita bonus paid to European steamship companies for promoting emigration, was given to the Doukhobors as the steamship agents had not worked among them and waived their claim. Part of this money was used in purchasing food supplies under the direction of a committee of local gentlemen. Considering the expenditure for advertising, agents, etc., the average British immigrant costs per head vastly more than the Doukhobors did. I am informed that all inducements given to the Doukhobors are open to any large bodies of desirable settlers from any other part of the world.

As to the character of the Doukhobor, his industry, his morals, his charity, I am glad to state that the opinion I have formed in respect thereto is shared by the business men of the towns where they trade and by those who have had occasion to come in contact with them in matters of business or otherwise. One business man said: “If they will only leave the Doukhobors alone until they get to understand things here. They will make a veritable garden out of this country.”

Not All Alike

The people in each village have their own little fads about dress and edibles, and sometimes the people of the same village hold diverse views about these things. Now, regarding the turning away of their live stock, only a certain percentage in each village have done this. Out of thirteen villages that I have visited there were only two that had no horses, oxen or cattle. In the others more than half of the live stock has been retained, and as I have said more will be purchased by the independent men as soon as they can get the money. In every field passed, I saw more men at work with oxen and horses. I saw no women pulling plows or wagons on the farms. Some won’t eat butter; others will, and I saw the women making excellent butter. Meat in all forms is tabooed, but fish has a place on the bill-of-fare in some homes. However, a straight vegetarian diet is the prevailing rule, and it seems to agree with these people, for they are stalwart, healthy and strong. The children are the picture of health. They would make fine illustrations for health food advertisements. Disease is rarely known among them. Both men, women and children are comfortably clad, and in all the colonies there is every appearance of comfort, happiness and prosperity. Leave the Doukhobor alone. Give him a chance and he will soon evolve into a sturdy, worthy Western Canadian citizen.

E.A. Blow

Fort Pelly, Assiniboia
September 26, 1902.

Special thanks to Corinne Postnikoff of Castlegar, British Columbia for her assistance with the data input of this article.

The Origin of the Freedomite Movement

by William A. Soukeroff

The Freedomite (Svobodniki or Sons of Freedom) Doukhobors began as a small, radical movement to reinvigorate the faith, restore traditional Doukhobor values and protest the sale of land, education, citizenship and registration of vital statistics. They would achieve infamy through civil disobedience, nude marches and burnings. Reproduced from Vestnik (April 8, 11 and 15, 1959), the following article by William A. Soukeroff examines the history and influences of the Freedomite movement. It was written as an attempt to educate the Canadian public about the Freedomites at a time characterized by sensationalistic, one-sided and misrepresentative news coverage of the movement. Translated by Steve Lapshinoff.

I

The problem of the Freedomites of British Columbia is an important link with the forceful abduction of their children and their plans of migration to the “Motherland”. It has attracted the attention of the Canadian public. Many sincerely sympathize with their plight, would like to understand them and help them, and to lessen the burden of their bitter fate. But to the many who are unfamiliar with the history of the Doukhobor movement and the conception of the Freedomites amongst them, the problem does not seem to fall into any sort of logic.

It appears to me that no logical solution to this problem can be found, not knowing how the Freedomite movement was conceived among the Doukhobors, from whence came their views on life, misled if you will. This question cannot be resolved superficially.

The religious Doukhobor sect has been in existence for over 200 years. It had periods of calm and of revivals. When they were not bothered by the authorities, the Doukhobors lived quietly and peacefully, but the moment that the authorities began to press them, there would be spurts of uprising amongst them. This is the way it was in the Transcaucasia. The refusal of military service by the Doukhobors and later the persecution of them by the government brought out the uprisings.

Religious movements often go to the extremes and fall under the absolute influence of the strongest individual in its’ midst. These extremes often surface through ideas and aspirations to adhere steadfastly to given goals, not withstanding any agreements, laws or rights of other people. With these beliefs, the Doukhobors migrated to Canada.

There was a split among the Doukhobors within the very first years in Canada. It seems that a community proclaiming universal Brotherhood would be the more united but life and ideas, like words and deeds often do not go hand in hand.

Part of the Doukhobors became attracted to private ownership in Canada and immediately began to obtain separate lots of land and to live individually. The larger part (of Doukhobors) strived to live in accordance with their religious beliefs – communally. Doukhobors always had leaders. They listened to their teachings and were guided by their advice. Peter Vasilyevich Verigin was in exile in Siberia and was unable to migrate to Canada with the Doukhobors. After a few years in Canada without a leader, many became “Free thinkers” and introduced new ideas into the Doukhobor midst.

In the material sense, during the first years in Canada, the Doukhobors encountered severe hardships as a natural occurrence. An insignificant number of respected elders did not want to accept this reality, insisting that Doukhobors pay more attention to their spiritual rather than material, i.e. strive toward spiritual attainment rather than worry about material comfort.

In 1901 Doukhobors received a book “Letters of the Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin”, released under the editorship of Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich, his introductory article and with a forward by V. and A. Tchertkov.

These “Letters”, gave the Doukhobors the opportunity to get more acquainted with the philosophies and outlook of their leader. While in exile Peter V. held wide communications with many friends and sympathizers of the Doukhobors, and most importantly with people closely associated with Lev Nickolaevich Tolstoy. In these letters, Peter V. often emphasized that his expressed views appear as “Fantasies” or “Theories”. It could be said with confidence that he did not in any way think that these “Theories” and “Fantasies” would be accepted by the Doukhobors as precepts in their life. As in one of his letters of this collection (letter # 17) dated November 41h, 1896, from the village of Obdorsk to Nickolai Trofimovich Ezumchenko, he wrote the following:

I would like to see education as well as any written communication of course, dropped altogether as a trial period for a couple of years. This is, as yet only a thought, a product of fantasy. For example, our society’s old age views of education are reprehensible, and we have very few educated people amongst us. The few, if any, are self-taught. We maintain that education destroys the inclination to greet people, also, schools corrupt the morals of children, and thirdly all things through which education is actualized are obtained through great hardships, therefore, to participate in the subjugation of people in any form must be avoided.

In spite of the fact that this was not written to the Doukhobors but to an outsider, the opinion of his “theory” later manifested in the Freedomite way of life. From this is seen, that many views of the Freedomites have direct connection to these same philosophies.

In the same letter Peter Vasilyevich continues:

In my theory or understanding, in essence the order of composition should be: to drop physical labour one by one and go out to teach peace and charity which coincides with temperance. Bread is already plentiful; all that is necessary is to be less greedy. The soil, already depleted by man, would rest and replenish itself. I do not even foresee human suffering should they subject to such a theory, because by eating in moderation there would be enough (food) for a hundred years. Humanity is omnivorous, and unfortunately eats for pleasure rather than need. In a hundred years the earth would have enough time to completely recover and go back to its’ original state. And humanity would attain spiritual growth along with a natural earthly paradise, (which Adam and Eye had lost).

Further in this letter he directly states:

If people want to become Christians they should gradually cease physical labour and preach the Gospel (that is Christ).

In this letter Peter Vasilyevich brings forth arguments, which the Freedomites later attempted to fully apply to their way of life:

… That the Apostles and Christ wore clothing and ate bread is natural because both were plentiful and it should be said that Christ and Apostles could not suddenly go naked. I speak of their achievements. I propose that people would gradually get used to physical nakedness – spiritual nakedness is much more sad. Having worn out his clothing and having eaten up one’s bread, mankind would come to the condition of which I spoke earlier. I am told that all people cannot live as Christ and the Apostles did, bit I will say that this must not sway us, for I believe that all can.

These very deliberations which Peter Vasilyevich himself called “products of fantasy” became the foundation for a small group of the elderly, who sought to make manifest this fantasy into reality, and who came to the point of asceticism.

From there “theories” it can be supposed emanates the relentless struggle of the Freedomites against education, with their preaching of the New Testament and their “experiments” in practicing nudity which evoked extreme feelings of prejudice against them from the Canadian public.

The largest trek of the Freedomites (up to 3,000 people), to spread the Gospel, took place in 1902 in Saskatchewan under the slogan of “we are in search of Christ the bridegroom”. In this manner, almost immediately, from the very first years of the settlement of the Doukhobors in Canada, the Freedomites attracted attention of all the Canadian public and the government. The trek was stopped by the police in 1902. The participants were returned home and spared desertion and freezing. In November of 1902 Peter Vasilyevich Verigin arrived in Canada from Siberia. He placated the disturbed Doukhobors and advised them to begin rebuilding their lives.

The trek of 1902.

The community began to get involved with livestock and all other community inventory and life was restored to order. But in several villages the older people began to doubt and to deliberate “Petushka” (this is what they called their leader) is totally violating Christian teachings. After all he himself professed that animals are our lesser brethren, and one cannot oppress them. We preach full freedom to all life, but what sort of freedom is it for horses when they are harnessed? This is not a Christian act.” etc….

Yet the believers in the leader will always find justification for his act saying, “Petushka is only fooling the Englishmen with his doings and is only avoiding harassment from the government but he is not a betrayer of Christianity. We will not worry about this.  Let him do his job and we will do ours. This is only a test from God.”

The whole Freedomite movement, right up to the death of Peter Vasilyevich numbered not more than 200, striving to live the simplest life and subjecting themselves to self-denial and testing their endurance for the accomplishment of the goal of self perfection.

The community with Verigin at its’ head always rejected the Freedomites, and as a result they lived out of the community most of the time. At the time, their eccentricities did not bother the surrounding communities and they had little conflict with the authorities.

In 1921 and 1922, suddenly school buildings burst into flames. Eleven schools were burned. The Doukhobor community was against schools for a long time, but later accepted them on the condition that children will attend schools only to the age of 12. From that time the situation between the Doukhobors and the authorities intensified. The orthodox blamed the Freedomites for the burning of schools, although there were no individuals directly accused. The authorities were unable to find the guilty. In 1924 Peter Vasilyevich was killed by an explosion in a railway coach, by which he was travelling. The Doukhobors are deeply convinced that he was murdered by a bomb by outside evildoers, but this crime was never solved.

The Doukhobors ceased to allow their children to school in protest of this act. The authorities used repressive measures against the Doukhobors for this step, confiscating their belongings, etc. At this time a delegation from the community traveled to Russia to invite Peter Petrovich Verigin, the son of Peter Vasilyevich to come to Canada to head the Doukhobors.

II

With great impatience the Doukhobors awaited the arrival of a leader. In the end, in the year of 1927, P. P. Verigin arrived in Canada.  Immediately in the Doukhobor midst there was a feeling of rejuvenation.

Upon his arrival, the Freedomite movement broadened in character. (In his first speech, P. P. Verigin appealed to the Doukhobors to unite and ordered the Freedomites to drop their fanaticism.) In his second speech, concerning the movement of the three groups, the Orthodox, the farmers Independents, and the Freedomites. He named the Freedomites, “the Named Doukhobors”.  “Freedomites, he said, are called good for nothing, insane, etc. etc., but that is harsh and not true. For Christ, they are none other than the ringing of a bell awakening us. The Freedomites are our Doukhobor scouts; these are the true servants of Christ. Amidst the Freedomites, there are certain individuals, (just as in other groups) who, with their unreasonable actions, strive to blacken these glorious workers, who are on God’s path. I am appealing to them and asking these liars who work with the spirit of Satan, to leave the ranks of these pure Freedomites.” He finished his speech with the following: “The Named Doukhobors, consisting of three indivisible but different levels of growth and emanation: firstly – Freedomites “Scouts”, secondly -center Community, and third – the rear, these are the so-called Independents.”

The bringing forth of the Freedomites to the first place by P. P. Verigin, gave a start to an even bigger growth of the Freedomite movement. However, the 1930’s economic crisis also contributed to the growth of this movement. The crisis had a hard impact on the community. Many of the community members had to go outside the community in order to find work to pay the debt for the community lands. During the crisis year’s jobs could not be found. The Canadian workers traveled from one end of the country to another on freight cars, but could not find jobs anywhere. Under these circumstances the community could not function for very long.  The directors of the community started court proceedings against their own non-paying members. Some members were removed from the community for not paying dues. In the end, the (court) authorities refused to forcefully remove the community members from their land. Many community members proclaimed the slogan of “Land is God’s gift. It should not be an object of trade,” and declared themselves the Sons of Freedom. Yet in the early 1930’s there appeared placards on the community lands, with a similar slogan.  The Freedomites went from village to village and proclaimed, “(We will) forget the taxes and interests. We will put schools out of our minds.”

In the end, after long discussions with the authorities, an agreement was reached that the community would allot a separate region of land where all the non-payers (Freedomites) must settle. This was done. The Freedomites were allotted an area, now known to all as “Krestova”. Many former orthodox made their way to this Krestova, considered as the Freedomite center yet then, and looked upon by all as a leper colony.

Krestova became a haven to many independents as well, from Saskatchewan and Alberta, ruined by the depression.

In 1932, the community began to forcefully oust some 200 members, orthodox – almost half the population of the village of Glade.  Being evicted, instead of going to Krestova, they left all their belongings along the side of the road and marched to Brilliant, the center of the Christian Communities. Other Freedomites began to join their trek, as well as Doukhobors having nothing in common with Freedomites except the wish to help the protest of the ousted members from their homes, which they had built themselves. The protesters never reached Brilliant. The police blocked the road and requested that they return home. But they had been forcibly evicted from their homes and did not want to go to Krestova. In protest, taking an example from the Freedomites, they disrobed.

Freedomite camp near Nelson, British Columbia, 1929.

Thrums, where the marchers were stopped, became the center of public attention. The police arrested the nude and took them to the Nelson jail. But sympathizers of the evicted, arriving in Thrums and seeing the police also disrobed. They were then loaded onto police buses. Near Nelson appeared an encampment of tents, where the protesters were temporarily kept.

Among several hundred Doukhobor protests grew spontaneously against accumulated grievances, deprivations and disagreements of existing order.

In the end the B.C. Government allotted Piers Island, located in the Pacific Ocean near Vancouver, where close to 900 people were sentenced to 3 years for nudism.

At this time Peter P. Verigin was sentenced to 3 years of imprisonment in Saskatchewan and newspaper harassment began against all Doukhobors demanding Verigin’s deportation from Canada. While these two circumstances had nothing in common, the arrest of Verigin had an impact on the Doukhobors in Piers Island: through their imprisonment they tried to share the fate of their leader. The Freedomite children were forcibly taken away from their parents and placed in foster homes around the Vancouver area. Several infants died of neglect. Then a Special Commission of people sympathetic with the Doukhobors was formed, who decided to take the children from the foster homes and place them with Doukhobor families. In our settlement, families including ours took several children to our homes. The children were frightened and didn’t know where their parents were or why they were forced to live among strangers. This had a psychological effect on them.

On completion of 3 years imprisonment, on Piers Island, they returned to their homes (if they had any) – but the majority settled in Krestova. On this manner, people of different outlooks and beliefs were gathered in Krestova. Not surprising then, that media, sociologists and other learned people can’t find one goal or one philosophy among the Freedomites. Many do not understand why the Freedomites reject English Schools, as they see many adequately educated amongst them. By their rejection, they reveal their struggles and protests not only against schools but also against all wrongs in accordance with their beliefs of contemporary living.

As I indicated above, the Economic crisis of the 1930’s had a ponderous effect on the community. At that time, on top of the economic crisis, the community also suffered a loss as a result of the burning of community property. Orthodox, as well as surrounding communities blamed the Freedomites for the burnings, and as a result, there developed extremely acute antagonism. The community was right to defend their interests as they felt that their possessions were threatened. This led to a growth in numbers of “Non-payers” of community dues, who joined the Freedomites. As a result, in 1936-38, the community lost all their properties because of non-payment of dues. With their land lost, their community possessions sold by the courts for next to nothing, brought out not only the dissatisfaction amongst the remaining Orthodox, but was also the reason for the expansion among the ranks of the Freedomites. Many of the Orthodox realized that the Freedomites were correct in their struggle against the laws of private ownership of land, decided to join their ranks.

The Second World War also brought out turmoil among the Freedomites. Notwithstanding the fact that the Doukhobors were legally exempt from military service, the military authorities distributed call-up papers to the young Doukhobors for medical examinations. During talks with Doukhobor representatives, the military authorities indicated that these call-ups were a mere formality, and that no Doukhobor would be forced to serve in the army. Different groups settled this matter with the authorities in their own way. In British Columbia this matter was left without consequences, but in Saskatchewan several young Doukhobors took substitute labour.

Then in connection with the war, the country put into effect the registration of the populace of Canada. Many Doukhobors, not only the Freedomites refused to register considering this to be subject to military laws of the country. Almost all the Freedomites refused to register and were again imprisoned. Therefore, Freedomites according to religious convictions, always protested against all government measures contrary to their beliefs.

III

Analysing the question of the Freedomite movement, one cannot refute the fact that the disturbance in their midst, their protests and strife, their disagreements with the set order of present day living comes from deep, even through distracted convictions of inherent Russian sectarianism.

Sectarianism in my opinion, portrays the condition of a person newly awakened from a long spiritual sleep and not yet fully alert to his surroundings. Consequently, sectarianism often had the appearance of deformity.

Although I do not share Freedomite views upon the persistent struggle against education and assimilation, I do however believe that the movement of the Freedomites cannot be judged superficially and cannot be resolved in a forceful manner. The Canadian government cannot understand the persistence of the Freedomites. To the government, every person living in Canada must firstly be a good citizen and it looks upon him as its’ subject. Concerning the convictions and beliefs of the citizen, for this there are known existing laws and all beliefs and convictions of the people, must fit into this category on the same level of convictions of all the citizens.

The government cannot seem to take into consideration this spirit that was instilled into the Doukhobors over several generations. This open, free, fleetingly turbulent spirit that does not bow to anyone and with which all great warriors and reformers of humanity distinguished themselves.

The Canadian government and the Doukhobors are two opposite poles. For the Freedomites the Canadian government represents all Kings, Princes, Kaisers, Pharaohs, Emperors, Roman Popes, Archbishops, Patriarchs, wars and military generals. Among the Freedomites you will find Diagnoses and Pythagoras’s, Jan Husses, Luthers and other reformers and philosophers, also among them are Razins and Pugachevs.

From this kind of element, a separate group was formed called the Sons of Freedom and it was not without reason they were called “radicals”. Because many Doukhobors, upon migration to Canada, began to disagree under the influence of Canadian “freedom”, the group gathered in strength. The struggle against evil is a thorny path. In the Transcaucasus, the Doukhobors overcame great trials and tribulations and upon migration to Canada, many decided to “rest”. This “rest”, was the cause of dissension. Many, not only “rested”, but also were enticed by a more luxurious way of life. They accepted Canadian citizenship, accepted and purchased individual lots of land separate from the community. They bought automobiles, luxury furniture and began to accumulate money. But among the Doukhobors, there were people who did not succumb to this enticement, fought against it and became objects of persecution even from their own brethren. These are the kind of people the Freedomites were.

No matter how we judge them or disagree on methods of battle or their understandings, we all must acknowledge that the Freedomites did not sell out to the dollar system, nor succumb to the temptations of private ownership and did not stray from their beliefs.

Many Doukhobors would call Freedomites rebels, do not know what they want themselves. Let this be so. But Doukhobors who renounced the Orthodox Church and consequently military service were also rebels. There was also a division among the Doukhobors, yet in the Transcaucasus with their struggle against military service, some of the Doukhobors were also called “rebels”, and “traitors”. If the Freedomites did not practice nudism, one would not be able to distinguish them from Doukhobors of past generations who fought against churches and militarism. It is true that in the past, Doukhobor struggle had a specific and clear goal that which was shared by many elders of that time. The Freedomites now protest against the Canadian system in general and continue in their struggle against government schools and against assimilation with this system and to many this struggle seems foreign and incomprehensible.

What astonishes many is this persistence to follow their convictions and under no circumstances stray from them.

The government is at fault in that it tries with any means including the application of force to convert these people into its citizens.

Many people, wanting to decipher the Freedomite problem, attribute their persistence to fantasy or political propaganda and do not want to acknowledge the fact that the Freedomites can think for themselves, that these simple people are capable of having some sort of ideas or principals.

Freedomite house burning, 1950s.

The Commission on Doukhobor affairs, attempting to settle the conflict between the Freedomites and the government, invited a representative of the American, Quakers, Emmett Gulley, to Canada. Confident that this representative of an influential, religious organization related in spirit to the Doukhobors will influence them. But the outlook and methods of this representative appeared unacceptable to the Freedomites and he was unable to reconcile them with Canadian realities.

Many propose that the Freedomites need a strong spiritual leader, one who can influence them and persuade them to a different way of thinking. But this leader will have to share their views; otherwise they will not acknowledge him. Aside from this, it seems to me that the Freedomites are gradually beginning to drift away from leadership. Their independent decision to begin planning a move to the Soviet Union is witness to this. In the Freedomite midst, there have been discussions of migration to the motherland for quite some time. One of their leaders, a certain Displaced Person, Stephan Sorokin attempted to dissuade them from migrating, and even went as far as slandering against the Soviet Union. In the end, he too was convinced that the idea of returning to the Motherland, among the Freedomites was not simply by chance, not a fleeting vision, but a totally normal and even unavoidable inclination of people, torn from their own people, tradition, and from their birth place, and finally, he gave his agreement.

Speaking of Freedomite intentions to migrate to the motherland raises the question of how they will accept Soviet authority. In the condition of being unable to answer this question authoritatively, I can however only say that the Freedomites are faced with a choice: either to renounce their conviction here in Canada and to change to a superficial, formal way of performing their rituals, and to reconcile with that against which they struggle, as was done by the majority of Doukhobors; or reconcile and rebuild their lives in a new place, the Soviet Russia. Verification to this is the fact that the Freedomites cannot find an empire anywhere that would allow complete freedom; such as they understand it for man. After all, they could have found it possible to assimilate with the Russian people and to build a decent way of life, depicting their world outlook. The Freedomite delegation, having visited the Soviet Union in connection with the business of migrating there, could find nothing contradictory to their ideology, in Soviet culture or way of life. The basis of their ideology fully coincides with the ideas of Socialism and more important is abolition of private property in the Soviet Union. Their slogan of “Land should not be an object of trade” is protected by law and fully practised in life, in the Soviet Union. Let the Freedomites form their convictions about private ownership through Christian teaching. The fact remains, that in the Soviet Union they can live in agreement with this conviction, and not break the law of taught socialism, which exists in their former motherland.

To the Canadian authorities, the migration of the Freedomites comes as a convenience to rid themselves of these obstinate and restless people, who will not succumb to assimilation.

On the basis of all the above said, the reader may form the impression that I am defending the Freedomites and their method of fighting. This is definitely not the issue. It is possible for one not share these or other convictions, but one should attempt to understand them. If the Freedomites refuse to act against their conscience, against their convictions, if they renounce being a Doukhobor through word, but defend the right to live in harmony through their beliefs, for this they will answer themselves. I consider it unjust to judge people on the surface and say that the Freedomites are willful because of some whim or that they want to spite the Canadian government. It is doubtful that such people exist who would, on a whim, or from a desire to spite, would agree to suffer such hardships that the Freedomites suffer, to the extent of losing their children. Some attribute the Freedomites to excessive fanaticism. It could be said that no religion is free from fanaticism. Religious fanatics are not only those who profess the New Testament in word only. But if all churchgoers and in general all religious people professing Christianity began to do that which the New Testament teaches, they would all be considered fanatics.

Tolstoy and the Doukhobors: Main Stages of Relations in the Late 19th & Early 20th Century

by V.O. Pashchenko & T.V. Nagorna

Most Doukhobors today are well aware of the historic relationship between Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy and their forebears. However, surprising few modern Russians and Ukrainians know about the close connection between Russia’s greatest writer and the sectarians with whom he was a kindred spirit. The following article, written from a contemporary Russian and Ukrainian perspective, examines Tolstoy’s close cooperation with the followers of the Doukhobor religious community, as well as his moral and financial support of their emigration en masse to Canada in 1899. Reproduced from the Journal of Ukrainian History Vol. 3 (No. 468) (Kiev: Institute of Ukrainian History, 2006). Translated from the original Ukrainian by Khrystyna Hudyma exclusively for the Doukhobor Genealogy Website.  Further translation and editing by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.  Click here for the original Ukrainian article.

Introduction

The figure of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy hardly needs any additional comments: the famous Russian writer, public figure, person with an active position in the Russian Empire. However, some aspects of his public activity still remain unresearched. For instance, the fact that in 1897 Tolstoy refused the Nobel Peace Prize in favour of the Doukhobors is not well-known. As is the fact that funds raised by his publication of the novel Voskresenie (Resurrection) amounting to 32,360 rubles, Tolstoy transferred to the committee organizing resettlement of these Spiritual Christians abroad. Moreover, an average reader does not know about Tolstoy’s admiration of Doukhobor social practice, their way and peculiarities of life, and attitude to a range of different problems. The high level of social organization of Doukhobor communities allowed the writer to call them “people of 25th century”. Tolstoy borrowed these kind of thoughts, i.e. ideas of equality, priority of spiritual values, non-violence, which were too progressive for that time, from his communication with adherents of the Doukhobor movement. Taking this into account, special attention is focused on his relations with the followers of the Spiritual Christianity movement, communities of which were spread across Ukraine in the 18th-20th centuries. Furthermore, Doukhobors in the Russian Empire first appeared in the territory of Ukraine. Thus, there is information about them appearing and spreading in Kharkov and Ekaterinoslav provinces starting in the second half of the 18th century [1].

The definition of the term “Spiritual Christians” to signify this religious movement does not have unanimous agreement among modern researchers. This article utilizes this term in order to signify religious communities of DoukhoborsMolokans (“milk-drinkers”), Khristovery (“Christ-believers”) or Khlysts (“flagellants”) and Skoptsy (“castrates”). Followers of the aforementioned movements communicated with Tolstoy and his associates during second half of the 19th-beginning of the 20th century.

The Doukhobor movement at that time did not leave Tolstoy unmoved. In his articles published in 1895-1896, the writer appealed for help for the Doukhobors, called them “a phenomenon of extraordinary importance” and compared their force of influence with the appearance of Jesus Christ. Of course, such an idealization is not justified in the modern age; however Tolstoy, if we take his life position into account, had some ideological prerequisites for such assumptions.

This article attempts to trace the main stages of Tolstoy’s relations with the Doukhobors based on an analysis of his religious heritage, memoirs of contemporaries, research of late 19th-early 20th century literature, and published critiques.

This area is completely under-researched. However, some materials and books give us an opportunity to reconstruct the relations. First, correspondence between Tolstoy and Spiritual Christians was published by P. Biryukov in his work, “Doukhobors. Collection of articles, memoirs and other materials.” In his monograph “Biography of Tolstoy”, he managed to highlight the issues of Tolstoy’s close cooperation with Spiritual Christians [2]. Some aspects of Tolstoy’s activity in this area and peculiarities of the Tolstoyan movement are described in the articles of K. Grigoriev, I. Kronshtadsky, L. Tikhomirov, including articles published in Orthodox Christian publications in the 19th-20th centuries [3]. Of course, these publications are characterized by the negative attitude towards religious communities separated from the Russian Orthodox Church. Clergy and missionaries of the 19th century demonstrated a biased approach in depicting relations between Tolstoyans and Doukhobors; thus in the brochures of Ye. Bobrov and Father Nikanor, we find rather critical remarks about such cooperation [4]. Their main aim was to contradict the views of Tolstoy and to show his negative influence on the followers of Spiritual Christianity. L. Sulerzhitsky demonstrated a positive attitude toward the Doukhobors in his monographic research, viewing the main problems of resettling the faithful outside of the Empire [5]. This work is valuable in investigating the dynamics of Spiritual Christians starting from the second half of the 18th century, and the main stages of their development. Sulerzhitsky’s research is, in fact, comprised of abstracts from his notebook, where in a descriptive manner main stages of Doukhobors’ life in [North] America are portrayed. The artistic style of the material does not imply any deeper theoretical conclusions, but facilitates the accumulation of a large amount of actual data with interesting details about their life abroad.

Present day researchers do carry out some research in this area. A considerable contribution was made by V. Bonch-Bruevich, who tracked the main stages of Doukhobor immigration to Cyprus and Canada and also gave a positive portrayal of the role of Tolstoy and his associates in these events [6]. O. Yaroslavsky tried to trace the attitude of Tolstoyans towards the changes of the Soviet period, and traditionally, for a representative of Soviet historiography, was highly critical about this religious phenomenon [7].

Among other modern researches the one published by M. Zybarov and P. Planidin might be of particular interest. There is published correspondence between P. Verigin, a leader of the Spiritual Christians, and Tolstoy [8], which for a long time remained unknown to admirers and experts of the writer’s art. Today, 22 original letters from Doukhobors are stored in the department of hand-written funds of the L. Tolstoy State Museum.

Researches in this area are of vital importance considering the history of Spiritual Christians’ development and also as one of Tolstoy’s activities. One of the famous public figures of the Russian Empire was V. G. Chertkov, a close friend of L. Tolstoy. They became acquainted in 1883, but a year later, in 1884, for public speaking in defense of the religious communities Chertkov was exiled out of Russia. Consequently, he lived in Great Britain and not only was engaged in publishing (distributing L. Tolstoy’s essays banned by censorship, the “Svobodnoye slovo” newspaper, and the “Papers of “Svobodnoye slovo” collection), but also helped the Doukhobors resettle to Canada [9]. Another associate and close friend of Tolstoy was P.I. Biryukov, with whom the writer started to collaborate in 1884. P. Biryukov actively participated in preparations for the resettlement of Spiritual Christians to Canada. However, he also paid for that – beginning in 1898, he mainly lived abroad [10].

The faithful at the end of 19th century actually needed help. This is explained, first of all, by the peculiarities of Imperial legislation in the field of religion. According to then-current legal regulations, we can trace the change in state policy toward the aforementioned religious groups. Legal statutes which were published starting in the second quarter of the 19th century involved the eviction of Spiritual Christians to remote parts of the Russian Empire and also abroad [11].

Doukhobor Historical Development

Before we begin analyzing Tolstoy’s correspondence with the Doukhobors, let us dwell upon another related aspect, namely the main stages of the community’s development. It is worth mentioning that the dynamics of their number and peculiarities of development largely depended on external factors, i.e. Imperial legislation, missionary work, and influence from the ROC (Russian Orthodox Church). According to P. Biryukov, 1792 should be considered as the starting point of state-Doukhobor relations. That is the time when Ekaterinoslav governor, in one of his reports to St. Petersburg wrote that nothing connected with iconoclasm deserves any mercy [12]. He was talking about Doukhobors and Molokans who appeared at that time in Ekaterinoslav province. In his monographic work O. Novitsky suggests 1799 to be the time when authorities started paying attention to Spiritual Christians, who for a long time had influenced hearts and minds in Russia [13]. The last third of the 18th century witnessed trials against Doukhobors in Kherson province. Trials of the same kind took place against Mariupol and Ekaterinoslav Doukhobors under Kherson provincial administration. They were accused of spreading their doctrine on the streets and being accompanied by crowds.

The basis of Tsar Alexander I’s religious policy were the attempts to reduce Doukhobor activity, neither by introducing additional penalties, nor by diversifying the struggle against them, but by paying due attention to them and providing them some benefits and concessions. In 1801, Tsar Alexander I issued a royal edict, owing to which many Doukhobors were able to return home (Kharkov, Ekaterinoslav, and Kherson provinces) from Siberia and the Caucasus. A fact proving the aforementioned policy on religious communities was the closing of the Doukhobor case in the Izium court of law, which gained widespread publicity due to its promotion by local authorities.

Immediately afterwards, the Doukhobors submitted a formal request asking for a separate colony. O. Novitsky and P. Biryukov consider this to be a voluntary step, whereas O. Titov points out that they agreed to the resettlement following a lengthy period of negotiations [14]. In 1802, an Imperial Edict was published which allowed Doukhobors to settle along the Molochnaya River in the Melitopol district of Tavria province. Thus, Doukhobors from Kharkov and Ekaterinoslav provinces were exiled to the new colony, i.e. Ukrainian Doukhobors were given the priority, then came their peers from Russian provinces.

It is worth mentioning that mass relocations to Tavria province continued until 1817. In 1820, official permission to allocate an additional 5,236 acres of land to the Melitopol colonists was passed. That year, a ban was passed on further resettling, lasting, in fact, until 1824. The exact number of people exiled to Molochnye Vody is unknown. There is some information attesting that around 800 families amounting to 3,985 people lived in the Molochnaya River area in 1827 [15]. There is no evidence of Doukhobors being evicted by Alexander I to the Caucasus; however in 1821, 2,300 people already lived in Akhalkalak district of Tiflis province [16]. The percentage of Ukrainian Doukhobors among them is unknown. Nevertheless, we know that they were the first ones to be evicted. Thereupon, we can conclude that Ukrainian Doukhobors comprised the largest part of Molochnye Vody residents. Later on, Doukhobors from Voronezh, Tambov and Saratov provinces as well as from Azov, Ekaterinburg, Siberia and even Finland were settled there too.

Representatives of other Spiritual Christian branches, mainly the Molokans, also settled in the Molochnaya River area. This is due to a number of legal statutes aimed at regulating relations with other communities opposed to the Orthodox Church. After the eviction, only 59 Molokans were left in Ekaterinoslav region. However, according to an additional decree issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, they were also exiled to Molochnye Vody.

Thus, in the first quarter of the 19th century, the Molochnaya River area became a center of Spiritual Christians in Ukraine. Doukhobors who lived there were exiled in 1802-20 of their own will. The total number of Doukhobors amounted to 5,000 people; amongst whom 3,000 were from Ukraine. Along with them, Molokans also lived in this area founding their own colonies in Tavria province. Another center of Spiritual Christians from Ukraine became the Caucasus. Beginning in 1819, a considerable number of Molokans from Ekaterinoslav region was exiled there.

A characteristic feature of Doukhobors in the first quarter of the 19th century was their active engagement in dealings with the authorities. This is evidenced by the considerable number of petitions and appeals to the Emperor relating to the improvement of their socio-economic conditions. These kinds of appeals had been addressed by representatives of Spiritual Christians to Alexander I throughout the whole first quarter of the 19th century. Each appeal was thoroughly considered and properly by Alexander I, and he satisfied most of the requests. However, these concessions were of small importance.

Innovations in Russian imperial religious policy started with Nicholas I’s rule. He launched an authoritarian relationship model, and his policy towards Spiritual Christians was characterized as much tougher, compared to that of Alexander I. For instance, the faithful were limited in their rights; Doukhobors and Molokans were deprived of some of the privileges they used to have. Spiritual censorial committees and special commissions were created by the initiative of the Emperor to consider the crimes of Spiritual Christians.

The reason for such a “cooling” of relations was a sudden change in the domestic policy of the Russian Empire, which was reflected in the religious sphere of life. Thus, the monarch began to consider Spiritual Christians as particularly dangerous for the nation’s peace. The main examples of such an attitude are: the introduction of censorship surveillance, publishing guidelines for Doukhobors, a cruel attitude towards the faithful during legal investigations, an expansion of the possible exile territories (with extremely unfavourable living conditions), and prohibition of voluntary resettlement. Thus, the first years of Nicholas’ I rule witnessed moderate opposition to some religious communities; the following years witnessed an open struggle against them and the development of a corresponding legal framework [17].

In the second quarter of the 19th century, several anti-religious legal acts were passed, whereas representatives of Spiritual Christians lost a whole range of privileges gained during previous periods. However, this time was important for the development of the aforementioned religious congregations, since it facilitated the intensification of their activity, increase in number, cautiousness and moderation in their attitude toward authorities, and greater influence of Spiritual Christians in the social and political life of the Russian Empire in the 19th century. As a consequence, people were persecuted by authorities for their participation in the religious communities; and their rights were restricted as well. The policy of the Russian Emperor was completely supported by the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church had a strong influence in the territory of Ukraine and significantly affected people’s life in the Russian Empire.

The Imperial Decree of October 20, 1830 was important for the further development of Spiritual Christians. Doukhobors were proclaimed to be one of the most dangerous groups, and their preaching was prosecuted by order of the court. Exile to Transcaucasia was the main punishment, and for adult males it was call-in to the Caucasian military corps [18]. According to this decree, resettlement to Tavria province was prohibited, and Doukhobors were not allowed to hold any public office. Thus, the gradual process of the liquidation of privileges of Spiritual Christians obtained during previous times began, and Nicholas I made his first steps toward declaring their practice to be illegal [19]. The next decree in the same period was the adoption of guidelines in 1830, the main provisions of which reinforced the focus of previous legal statutes and offered no improvement in the attitude of the state toward the faithful.

Consequently, the state policy toward Spiritual Christians during Nicholas’ I rule in the second quarter of the 19th century became unfavourable for those Christian communities. In 1835, a special commission for the investigation of crimes committed by Doukhobors was created. On February 17, 1835, the “Highest Rescript” was adopted, according to which Spiritual Christians from the Molochnaya River territory were to be resettled to the Caucasus, the only exception were those who admitted their mistakes and returned to Orthodoxy. In 1835, the decision to evict Doukhobors from the Melitopol district was made, but in 1839, subsequent legal statutes prescribed definite conditions of their resettlement. First of all, in the Caucasus, Spiritual Christians obtained the same-sized plot of arable land as they had in Molochnye Vody. Second, no adult male was granted exemption from military service. Third, Doukhobors had the right to sell movables (or to take with them) and receive compensation for real estate as assessed by the special commission [20]. Sources in historic literature give information about three main waves of resettling from Ukraine and what is more important – the numbers of evicted people: 1841 – 800; 1842 – 800; 1843 – 900 [21] [Note: there were in fact five waves of Doukhobor exile from 1841-1845].

The locality known as “Doukhobor’ie” received its name after the Spiritual Christians exiled to the Caucasus. It is situated in the southern part of Akhalkalak district, Tiflis province which is bordering with Turkey. Doukhobors founded 8 villages there, namely Gorelovka, Bogdanovka, Orlovka, Efremovka, Spasovka, Troitskoye, Rodionovka, and Tambovka. Apparently, Ukrainian [Doukhobor] settlers lived together with the Russian ones. According to F. Putyntsev, the main evidences are the names of villages and the population number – 5 thousand, among which, around 3 thousand were from Ukraine. The “Wet Mountains”, the other name of this territory, was given because of its changeable climate, and much worse, if compared to Tavria province, living conditions. The only advantage was the non-interference of the state in Spiritual Christians’ affairs. According to another “Highest Rescript” issued in 1842, Doukhobors and Molokans were forbidden to buy peasants. If they had any, they were to remit the peasants to the state and receive remuneration for them afterwards. An interesting term of the document allowed all the faithful, except the most dangerous groups in the state’s view, to resettle to provinces with better living conditions. In the 19th century the most dangerous religious groups were considered those of the Khristovery, Skoptsy, Doukhobor, and Molokan communities. Thus, Spiritual Christians could not take advantage of this privilege.

In 1842, a special document was published aiming to regulate relations between state and religious congregations. First of all, the most dangerous religious groups were named: Skoptsy, Zhidovstvuyushchiye, Doukhobors, Molokans, i.e. Spiritual Christians. Zhidovstvuyushchiye was the name of one of the Molokans subgroups, namely the Subbotniks (“Sabbatarians”). According to the “Rules of resettlement of dissenters of harmful heresies”, the main type of prosecution, as in the previous period, was resettlement to the Caucasus after each case was considered in court [22]. As a result of this decree, a new one was worked out – “Rules of primary education of colonists’ children, especially of dissenters’” [23]. Parish clergy was assigned to supervise the education process. Those who completed the course passed an examination held by local priest. A special class register was used to document the examination procedure with signatures of all present. Then the results were referred to a diocesan bishop. However, it was noted that the document should be enforced soberly and carefully. According to the corresponding act of 1843, Doukhobors were forbidden to accept orthodox children to their families. Even in this way, authorities tried to avoid the growth in their population numbers [24].

Therefore, by the end of the 19th century, Transcaucasia remained the main center of Spiritual Christians. However, the events of the last decade [of that century] rapidly changed the history of the community. In 1895, P. Verigin called for the burning weapons in all Doukhobor settlements. It is possible that such views were formed as a result of his communication with Tolstoy. At the same time, those Doukhobors who were forced to carry out military duty refused to continue their service and to bear arms. The Doukhobors’ campaign of destroying weapons and anti-war protest did not pass unnoticed. About 5,000 of Doukhobors were dispersed across a large territory of the Caucasus without any land or property. The result of such measures was a high death rate among Doukhobors (about 2,000 of people died either during or after the resettlement). Doukhobor soldiers were transferred to disciplinary battalions, and P. Verigin was exiled to Obodorsk. In 1897 P. Tregubov and P.Biryukov, after their trip to Georgia, described this situation to Tolstoy. Such a difficult period in Doukhobor life was certainly linked to financial problems. Economic issues, lack of basic resources for living, and the slow process of resettlement all caused financial difficulties. According to various sources, in the second half of the 19th century, a significant number of Doukhobor migrations in the Russian Empire took place. Furthermore, more than 20,000 of the faithful went abroad (3,000-8,000 of them were from the territory of contemporary Ukraine) [25].

Tolstoy’s Correspondence with the Doukhobors

In the 1890s, Tolstoy, his friends and adherents systematically corresponded with P. Verigin, the [main] leader of the Doukhobors, and other Spiritual Christians. It is worthwhile to analyze those letters in detail to determine the level of mutual influence between the writer and Spiritual Christians. Letters sent by P. Verigin in late 1896 contain his thoughts about good and evil. He called Tolstoy “a good man”. Sincere dialogue with the writer, according to P. Verigin, was possible only by treating Tolstoy with a good spirit. “If you believe in the power of education and paper, you might be wrong” – said the Doukhobor [26]. As we can see the key concept of spirit in the Doukhobors’ doctrine finds a further interpretation in the works of their leader. In his next letters, P. Verigin develops this viewpoint and states that only one thing necessary – to keep one’s heart from evil, regardless of where one is – in church or plowing the land – this is the sole condition [27].

There are also letters of other Spiritual Christians to L. Tolstoy and P. Biryukov. As a rule, the main topics of those letters were the everyday problems and living conditions of the colonists. Furthermore, they contained sufficient information about the leaders of congregations, milestones of their biographies, based on which, and also by direct communication with the settlers, it became possible to publish a number of materials on this phenomenon of religious life of the Russian Empire [28].

For Doukhobors living in the territory of the Russian Empire, the issues of performing duties, especially the military one, were of great importance. This issue became a key point in their letters. Moreover, P. Verigin provided quite interesting explanations in defense of Spiritual Christians. First, he wrote about the well-known idea of non-violence, which was promoted by Doukhobors, but then developed the viewpoint of the equal righte of everyone to choose, and the impossibility of coercion against one’s will. He wrote that the main standpoint of their conviction was not disobedience, but a refusal to acknowledge the usage of people in any form – especially when one has to use violence [29]. At that time many Doukhobors refused to work in local administrations. The reason is the following: according to P. Verigin officers and officials refused to carry out their responsibilities because they didn’t want to rule in districts, i.e. to rule the same people as they are, and to not obey elders. According to Doukhobor belief, one must obey elders, but cannot be an “elder” himself [30]. It is important to note that Tolstoy called on the Doukhobors to not abandon public service, nor to neglect their duties. He addressed Spiritual Christians with an appeal to not oppose authorities, because their (Doukhobors’) wives and children would be the first to suffer [31]. This information refutes a wide-spread idea in the literature of the end of the 19th – and beginning of the 20th century about the crucial influence of the writer on the Doukhobors’ refusal to carry out military duties.

After P. Biryukov and P.Tregubov returned from the Caucasus, they received letters from Tolstoy. Thus, in 1897 he addressed the settlers as “My dear brothers who suffer for Christ’s teaching”, called them pioneers in spiritual struggle, thanked them for their spiritual support and help “because you are the first to follow Christ’s example, the ones who follow you will have an easier way. You are the first of many people to appreciate that. [32]” The Doukhobors responded, stating that many of their associates were being resettled to Siberia, Elizavetpol, Baku and Erevan provinces. Their letters also contain information about the appalling living conditions, unfavourable climate, and financial problems. These documents revealed a new idea that was appearing – that the faithful need to be resettled outside of the Russian Empire. Eventually, the critical situation made P. Verigin appeal to Empress Alexandra Fedorovna with a request to allow new resettlement [33]. He provided various reasons to convince the Empress. First of all, P. Verigin pointed out the misleading explanation of their name, which was falsified by the officials and clergy. Thus, “doukhobor” meant that they spiritually believe in God, he also cited evangelical texts to demonstrate that. Second, he explained the urgent need to be resettled by the significant problems of the community: “women and children are suffering there (in exile); hundreds of husbands and fathers are imprisoned; thousands of families are resettled in mountain villages, where authorities encourage local people to treat them badly”. P. Verigin also noted that more and more Doukhobor women were imprisoned, justified vegetarianism, and also explained that they carry out all the state duties except the military one, as it contradicted their belief system. He considered it possible for the Doukhobors to be resettled to one of the European countries, e.g. Great Britain, though pointed out that probably, the most favourable living conditions were those in America, where many of their associates [i.e. ethnic Russians and Ukrainians] lived already [34].

These requests were not left unnoticed by the Emperor, and resulted in the Doukhobors obtaining permission to leave the Russian Empire. First, negotiations were planned with Great Britain. An official delegation, including V. Chertkov, [and Doukhobors] I. Ivin and P. Makhortov was sent there. V. Chertkov was the one to unite those who sympathized with Doukhobors and began the resettlement preparations. However, despite calling on the public, the money raised was not enough. The Spiritual Christians appealed to the Quakers, who established the Committee of Friends organization to raise money. First, 3,200 Doukhobors were planned to be resettled outside of the Empire, but the situation had become worse. The British suggested Cyprus for this purpose. Such haste is explained by the Spiritual Christians’ desire to leave Russia as soon as possible. Therefore, the first group of Doukhobors, amounting to 1,128 people, was resettled to Cyprus. There, with the help of Quakers, they were given some land. The smaller than expected size of the group is explained by the fact that the British demanded payment of 250 rubles per each adult settler. Owing to V. Chertkov’s efforts and Quakers financial support, the funds raised were sufficient enough only to resettle 1,128 persons. They went to Larnaca (Cyprus) in August, 1898. However, climatic conditions, malaria, fever and other diseases influenced their decision to immigrate to Canada in spring 1899.

Tolstoy reacted to these events by appealing to the public. In his letter of March 3, 1898, he offerred to be a mediator between the Doukhobors and those who wanted to negotiate with them [35]. The writer diplomatically avoided the issue of who was right in the situation. He wrote “authorities, who recognize the incompatibility of Christianity with prisons, executions, and most importantly with waging wars or preparing for them or Doukhobors who consider the rule of Christianity, which denies any violence, murder, among the foremost for them, and therefore they deny military service – you cannot help seeing that this contradiction cannot be resolved. [36]”

Tolstoy cited gruesome information about state abuse in relation to Spiritual Christians. He managed to categorize main methods of interaction on the faithful. He stated that the first type of punishment was alternative ways to carry out military service, which turned out to be violent, but didn’t contradict Doukhobors’ religious doctrine. Another, more radical method, was to imprison Spiritual Christians for the period of their military service. As the writer pointed out these measures were characteristic of any country in its attitude towards unacceptable religious communities. However, there was another type of punishment in the Russian Empire: the authorities would persecute parents, wives and children of those men who denied military service in order to influence their decision. The number of families taken apart by resettlement of its members to the Caucasus and other parts of the Russian Empire made this situation quite tragic. However, we cannot agree with the writer on his viewpoint that Doukhobors still living in Ukraine experienced the same attitude. According to archival information, some of them were allowed to resettle with their families, however, in practice, positive decisions usually were made in favour of families with children.

The conditions in which the resettled Doukhobors had to live were even more terrible. Tolstoy was extremely distressed by this situation. In his letters, he mentions prohibitions on leaving their place of residence, imprisonment for not complying with the requirements of local authorities, starting from penalties for using the name of their community and ending with meeting with the family, trips to the mill, gathering firewood in the forest, etc. The writer’s diplomatic skills also deserve praise. Thus, he endeavored to justify authorities by their ignorance of these issues; however he also noted that the reason might be their unwillingness to know. Tolstoy also cited the grim statistics of high mortality rate among Doukhobors exiled in Caucasus, where about a quarter of 400 families died within 3 years after resettlement. One cannot help noticing the ironic style of interpretation of official information about resettlement abroad. Conditions for Doukhobors’ resettlement abroad included: obtaining passports according to the local laws, traveling solely on their own expense, and providing signed statements on their non-return to the Russian Empire.

Tolstoy wrote that, by chance, he was familiar with the details of persecution and suffering of the Doukhobors and, therefore, he had kept in touch with them. He also appealed to people both from Russia and Europe to support the Doukhobors in such trouble [37]. Moreover, he called upon them to help, not only by donating money, but actually contributing to the process of resettlement, since Spiritual Christians had no knowledge of foreign languages, nor had they any experience traveling abroad.

While preparing the resettlement of the first group of Doukhobors, some measures were taken for the following group too. Although they needed 88,780 rubles, the committee was able to raise only 45,000. This became known to the writer. He wrote to V. Chertkov about an option he found. Tolstoy suggested selling some of his novels, including Voskresenie, to English and American newspapers on the most favourable conditions and transferring the money to the Committee for the Doukhobors’ resettlement [38]. According to V. Bonch-Bruevich, the writer gave 32,360 rubles to the committee.

There were 2,200 Spiritual Christians in the second group. They resettled in October, 1898. The third group was accompanied by Tolstoy’s son, Sergey Lvovich, in winter 1898-1899. Another 1,700 settlers joined the first two groups. Simultaneously, 1,020 Spiritual Christians emigrated from Cyprus, accompanied by L. Sulerzhitsky. The fourth wave amounted to 2,318 Doukhobors and was accompanied by V. Bonch-Bruevich. The total number of Doukhobors living in Canada by August 1899 was 7,160 persons. Later on, a few more families decided to immigrate as well. 5,800 Doukhobors settled in the area between Yorkton (Saskatchewan) and Swan River (Manitoba); a smaller part (about 1,400) settled near Prince Albert. Thus, there were two big centres of Doukhobor localization – Saskatchewan and [after 1908,] British Columbia.

At this difficult period, P. Verigin wrote a psalm, “Declaration of Brotherhood Life”, which is considered to be one of the main and most respected Doukhobor works. The psalm’s main statements are: members of the [Doukhobor] community respect and love God, because they consider him to be the beginning of everything; they respect the dignity of every person, both among themselves and among others; members of the community perceive all life with love and admiration and try to bring up their children in the same spirit; under the word “God” they understand the power of love and life which is the core of existence; the world is constantly moving, everything strives to perfection, and everything in the world is in transition; one cannot destroy anything; every single being has life; to deprive a person of his or her life is unacceptable; members of the community believe in full freedom; any order established by force is considered illegal; the core of a person’s existence is energy, thoughts and mind; its base is water, fruits and vegetables; life in a commune is acceptable when it is based on moral principle: I would not wish for another what I do not want for myself [39].

The main ideas, set out by Verigin in this psalm, were aimed at raising the faithfull’s spirit and moral support. It essentially became popular during the period of resettlement. Moreover, its ideas were the main topic of his correspondence with Tolstoy.

During their life in Canada, the Doukhobors have managed to retain their culture. However, the community faced changes. In 1902, P. Verigin came to Canada after his exile. However, he never abandoned the hope to return to the homeland. His visit to Russia and meeting with P. Stolypin in 1906 concerning this issue wasn’t successful. In 1924, P.Verigin was killed in a train explosion. A radical party called the “Sons of freedom”, which was established after Verigin’s death, in the second half of the 20th century had about 3,000 members in Canada, those who did not want to become assimilated by the local population and lose their peculiarities. Such attitudes contributed to the emergence of ideas about a possible resettlement to USSR. In 1939, Canadian Doukhobors sent a letter to Y. Stalin with such a request. The reasons for its refusal are still unknown. Starting in 1943, the Doukhobor magazine Iskra (the Spark) had been published in Canada [40], its articles dedicated to issues of community development. Thus, many faithful were concerned with mixed marriages, losing ties with motherland, etc.

The total number of spiritual Christians in Canada at the end of the 20th century amounted to about 100,000. In 1991, Georgian Doukhobors began a resettlement to the Tula region. An interesting fact is that even today, it’s not common to lock a house in their community. Those who stayed in Javakheti (Gorelovka village) live in difficult conditions. In 1991, Russian Spiritual Christians gathered in the town of Tselina, Rostov region, where they established an organization called “The Union of Doukhobors of Russia”. Part of the faithful resettled to Bryansk region in 1999. Now they have a loyal attitude toward the Russian Orthodox Church. For instance, in Georgia they helped St. Olga Monastery and sent provision to the Orthodox Christians in Tbilisi. In 2001, Vytoki Centre released 2 CDs of Doukhobor ensemble music. In 2002, Spiritual Christians and the Vytoki ensemble participated in the international festival, “Baltic-2002” in Vilnius, Lithuania. At the beginning of the 21st century, the Doukhobor movement is popular in many regions of Russia (Rostov, Tula, Bryansk regions), Azerbaijan, Georgia, Middle East, Ukraine, Canada and USA.

As to Canadian Doukhobors, general number of their descendants is more than to 30,000. However, a long period of living abroad, mixed marriages, interactions with representatives of other religions have influenced their culture. Nevertheless, descendants of Spiritual Christians are not only interested in the peculiarities of their community, its history, but also in the ties with the motherland. It’s a well-known fact that they cooperate with the faithful from Tula region in Russia. All of that became possible owing to the help of Russian intelligentsia at the end of the 19th century. Due to its contribution, the phenomenon of Doukhobors was saved.

Another aspect is the issue of interrelations between the Doukhobor and Tolstoyan movements. Thus, it is hard to deny a considerable number of common traits in both doctrines. Missionaries and the clergy viewed the existence of different subdivisions of the Doukhobor movement as a result of Tolstoyan doctrinal influence [41], for instance the postniki (“fasters”), who did not recognized Tsar authority. The peculiarity of further contacts was the appearance of Tolstoyan adherents in Ukraine. For example, in village of Balky in Kharkov province, a religious movement based on Tolstoyan ideas became popular. The same information is known about the Sumy district of Kharkov province, where in the 1880s similar teachings were also wide-spread [42]. The main reasons to think that adherents of the Tolstoyan movement borrowed their ideas from Doukhobors and not vice-versa are the following: first of all the time of the Doukhobor movement appearing (second half of the 18th century, whereas Tolstoyan movement appeared only in the second half of the 19th century); secondly, the high interest of Tolstoy in Doukhobor ideas about the priority of human values, non-violence, respect for a person, etc. and transferring them to the Tolstoyan movement. However, this issue is a subject of further researches.

Hence, the relation between Tolstoy and Spiritual Christians began at the time of their migration within the country and continued after resettlement abroad in the second half of the 19th century. The initial stage of relations with L. Tolstoy and his associates (P. Biryukov, L. Sulerzhitsky, V. Chertkov) was characterized by a great interest in the peculiarities of the Doukhobor doctrine, their social practices, community organization, interrelation within the community, etc. The next period (1890s) was characterized by attracting public attention to the faithful’s problems, supplying them with moral and especially financial support at the time of resettlement. The third stage (beginning of the 20th century) is described by correspondence and publication of several Doukhobor-related monographs [43]. Special attention was given to the development of the community in Cyprus and Canada. The main reason lays in the fact that materials discrediting Doukhobor life abroad were published in Orthodox newspapers at the turn of the 20th century. In reaction, several works on the diasporal way of life were published. Of course, Tolstoy’s publications played an important role, especially his afterword articles for P. Biryukov’s works – “Persecution of Christians” and “Help!” published in 1895-1896. After his refusal to become a Nobel Prize Nominee, Tolstoy addressed an open letter to the Swedish newspaper Stockholm Tagblatt, with suggestion to give the prize to Doukhobors. Despite the fact the letter was published, they never received it [44]. There is information about another open letter of Tolstoy’s called “On Nobel’s Testament” in the Swedish press. In this letter, he offered to use all the money left by this entrepreneur for resettling the Doukhobors to any country of the world [45].

Public reaction was sluggish and no practical suggestions were made on how to resolve this issue.

Thereby Tolstoy and his associates’ help became important for the further development of the [Doukhobor] community. As only owing to the resettlement outside of the Russian Empire, a unique culture was retained. Despite significant financial difficulties and appalling living conditions, Doukhobors continued to promote their ideas, based on human values, brought up their children with the best human qualities in spirit of respect for elders, good, non-violence, etc.

Promising directions for further research are: analyzing the Doukhobor movement as a social phenomenon on Ukrainian lands in the period of the New Age; studying the modern stage of Doukhobor diaspora development, its number, way of life, customs and traditions, system of education, etc.; characteristics of the main aspects of cooperation between modern Doukhobors on one side, and Russians and Ukrainians on the other, in cultural, educational and other fields.

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  44. Chernyshov V. Ukaz. soch. – p.49.

Personal Experiences Among the Doukhobors in Canada

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,

“Baboshka (Grandmother)

“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.