The Hospitality of the Dukhobortsy, 1816

by Henry Downing Whittington

Henry Downing Whittington (1792-1820) was a young English adventurer who, at age 24, toured South Russia, Turkey and Armenia in 1816.  During his travels, he visited the Doukhobor village of Terpeniye on the Molochnaya River in Tavria province.  He kept a journal and recorded his impressions and exploits. His “Account of a Journey Through Part of Little Tartary: And of Some of the Armenian, Greek, and Tartar Settlements in that Portion of the Russian Empire” was published posthumously in the Rev. Robert Walpole’s “Travels in Various Coutries of the East; Being a Continuation of Memoirs Relating to European and Asiatic Turkey (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1820). Whittington’s observations of the Doukhobors, while brief, provide the earliest Western account of their hospitality, kindness and generosity to a travelling stranger; three mainstays of Doukhobor religious and cultural practice.  Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

…At the distance of four versts from Altona, the last German [Mennonite] village, we crossed the Moloshnia [Molochnaya], a small river, which, like the Berda, and others of this neighbourhood, is choked at the mouth by the sand which its own stream brings down.

Terpenia [Terpeniye], which stands on its right bank, is one of eight [nine] villages inhabited by the Duchobortzi [Dukhobortsy] or Worshippers of the Spirit, a sect of Russians who reject the use of priests and pictures, and who, after undergoing much persecution, have been collected and settled on this spot, during the reign of the present Emperor.

Their population was stated to us at 1500 males. In dress and deportment [bearing] they did not appear to differ from the common Russians; but on learning that we were travellers from a distant country, they were eager to manifest to us their hospitality and goodwill.

They would receive no recompense for the refreshments which we had taken, and even crowded round our carriage with presents of live fowls, sufficient to stock it for several days. We had nothing but money to offer them in return, and this they steadily refused, saying, “God forbid that we should rob a stranger.”

Their kindness did not even end here; for just as we were about to drive off, the Starista [starosta], or chief peasant, a venerable old man, advanced with solemnity, and publicly presented us with bread in the name of the village.

We left Terpenia about nine, with the intention of travelling all night, but were detained by an accident at the Russian village of Kisliar till the next morning.

View Tavria Doukhobor Villages, 1802-1845 in a larger map


The above account was published by Rev. Robert Walpole in 1820 in his Travels in Various Countries of the East; Being a Continuation of Memoirs Relating to European and Asiatic Turkey. Unfortunately, Walpole did not record the author’s full name, either in his “Table of Contents” or in the other three places where he is mentioned, being content to write merely either “Extract from Mr. Whittington’s Journal” or “From the Journals of Mr. Whittington.” It was only thanks to the discovery of three letters written by the author to Mariana Macri, over eighty years later, that his identity has been brought to light and it is possible to piece together some details of his background.

Henry Downing Whittington (1792-1820), a Cambridge graduate, was one of a generation of young English noblemen who, following the footsteps of the romantic Lord Byron, made Classical archaeology a fashionable study and organized expeditions to the Levant (countries bordering on the east Mediterranean) to record and collect examples of ancient Greek art for the purposes of introducing Grecian taste to their homeland. He travelled to South Russia, Turkey and Armenia in 1816, followed by Greece in 1817. It was there that he met and fell in love with the Grecian maiden Mariana Macri, to whom he wrote the three letters. In 1818, he visited Italy and France before returning to England. In 1820, he set out abroad again, but was shipwrecked and drowned in the Mediterranean.

It was during Whittington’s travels through South Russia in 1816 that he encountered the Dukhobortsy. On June 19th of that year, while en route from the Mennonite village of Altona to the Russian village of Kisliar, he crossed the Molochnaya River and stopped at the Doukhobor village of Terpeniye.

Whittington found a Doukhobor population of 1,500 males settled in eight villages (he erred as there nine Doukhobor villages on the Molochnaya in 1816) along the right bank of the river. He did not discern any significant difference in their dress and bearing from their Russian Orthodox neighbors. He found them distinguished, however, in the depth of their hospitality and kindness to a travelling stranger.

During his brief stay, the Doukhobors provided him with refreshments, offered a number of live fowl sufficient to feed Whittington and his travelling companions for several days, and presented him with bread in the name of the village, all for which they refused to accept any payment.

This genuine expression of sharing and kindness stemmed from the Doukhobors’ central philosophy of love and respect for humanity. It was a religious instinct and principle with them to do all that lay within their power for a stranger and to allow no payment. Doukhobor hospitality has been noted by many a traveler over the ages; however, Whittington’s little-known memoir is surely the earliest Western account of this deep-rooted ethic.

To read more, search, download, save and print a full PDF copy of “Travels in Various Countries of the East; Being a Continuation of Memoirs Relating to European and Asiatic Turkey”  edited by Rev. Robert Walpole (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1820), visit the Google Book Search digital database.

Travels in the Caucasus and the Armenian Highlands, 1875

by Gustav I. Sievers and Gustav I. Radde

Gustav Sievers and Gustav Radde were Russian-German naturalists and explorers who toured the Caucasus and Armenian highlands in 1875. During their expedition, they visited the Doukhobor villages of Orlovka and Gorelovka in the Akhalkalaki district of Tiflis province. They kept a journal and recorded their impressions of this encounter, which they published as “Vorläufiger Bericht über die im Jahre 1875 ausgeführten Reisen in Kaukasien und dem Armenischen Hochlande von Dr. G. Radde und Dr. G. Sievers” in “Petermann’s Geographische Mitteilungen” Vol. 22 (H. Haack, 1876). Available in English for the first time ever, this translation provides the reader with an extraordinary first-hand account of the Doukhobors during this little-known period of their history. Translated by Gunter Schaarschmidt exclusively for the Doukhobor Genealogy Website. Foreword and Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.


Gustav Ivanovich Sievers (1843-1898) was a Baltic-German naturalist and explorer. After working at the universities of St. Petersburg, Heidelberg and Würzburg, he obtained a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Heidelberg. From 1869 onward, he was librarian of the Tiflis Public Library and taught at the Tiflis Gymnasium. At the same time, he pursued the study of entomology, in particular, rare beetle species. From 1869 to 1875, he undertook a number of expeditions through the Trans-Caspian and Caucasus regions with Gustav Radde and published scientific articles about their travels.

Gustav Ferdinand Richard (“Ivanovich”) Radde (1831-1903) was a Prussian-born geographer and naturalist. He formally studied medicine and pharmacy at the university there. At the same time, he privately studied botony and zoology, which became his chief interests. In 1852, he emigrated to Russia and undertook explorations in the Crimea from 1852 to 1855 and in Siberia from 1855 to 1860. In 1860, he was appointed Conservator of the Zoological Museum of the Imperial Acadamy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. Following expeditions to South Russia in 1860 and 1862, in 1863, Radde was appointed Assistant Director of the Tiflis Physical Observatory. In 1864, he received a commision from the Chief Viceroy of the Caucasus to conduct an extensive expedition of the Caucasus, of which he published numerous scientific papers. In 1868, Radde became the Director of the Tiflis Public Library.

Gustav Ivanovich Radde (1831-1903).

In the spring of 1875, Sievers and Radde organized an expedition of the Caucasus and Armenian highlands with Dr. Oskar Schneider of Saxony for the purposes of geographical and natural historical study. While en route from Tiflis to Alexandropol, they visited the Doukhobor villages of Orlovka and Gorelovka. What follows are their detailed observations about the Doukhobors they encountered and their way of life.

As long as the road was relatively good, we moved forward rapidly and gradually ascended in the Akhalkalaki Plain up to the high-altitude source of the Kirkh-bulak that allows this creek (brook) to flow down towards the north. Lake Khanchali-göl is situated towards the southeast and is shallow and already partly overgrown at its edges. After arriving at the Kirkh-bulak source we turned quickly in a southeasterly direction and, not far from the edge of the lake near the Turkish border, continued straight on. Here the traveller finds himself at the lowest altitude of the road, yet still at an altitude of 6,000 feet above sea-level. The soil resembles the heaviest black steppe loam of the Black Sea lowlands. Due to the frequent rainfalls the soil was softened to such an extent that the carriage moved very slowly and we reached the Doukhobor village Orlovka only in the afternoon.

The sect of the Doukhobors that had been settled in these high and rough regions since the middle of the 1840s has transformed these areas that were originally used only as pasture lands by Tatar nomads into fine cultivated areas. That was accomplished in spite of the various natural obstacles including the nuisances caused by the vicinity of the Turkish border. To be sure, agriculture in this region is possible only in the limitations of a rough Nordic environment. There is no guarantee in any given year that wheat will ripen while crops like barley and rye thrive very well. Because of the abundance of haymaking and the inexhaustible summer pastures cattle-breeding enjoys excellent existential conditions.

The traveller enters this land of the Doukhobors with great joy: here he finds villages in the Russian architectural style with pointed gable houses and with carefully tilled fields over a very wide area giving testimony to the diligence of the inhabitants. The stork’s nests in the villages remind the traveller of home. In addition, he will find in the Doukhobors’ homes not only an exemplary order and cleanliness including in the solicitously tended beds but also all sorts of pleasant signs of affluence and even floriculture on the window sills. By nightfall we covered the route to the large village of Gorelovka and stayed there overnight.

In this village resides Lukeria Vasil’evna Tolmashova [sic. Kalmykova], a widow in her thirtees who enjoys the special esteem of all Doukhobors who, as it were, consider her to be the decisive adviser in all interior affairs of the sect. She had just returned from a journey to Elisavetpol and was festively received by the younger Doukhobor males and greeted with songs and gun salutes. All of us paid her a visit towards evening. On the outside her estate resembles a rich farmhouse in Northern Germany and is marked by an unusual tidiness and cleanliness. At the entrance of the house we were received by a giant of a man – he was the executor of our hostess’s orders. The rooms again were marked by an exemplary cleanliness and a comforting degree of a certain luxuriousness that, to be sure, does not at all result in sumptuousness but nonetheless guarantees a very pleasant existence to the inhabitants and goes beyond the mere satisfaction of everyday needs. Very soon there appeared our hostess, a strong, tall woman whose facial features pointed to an erstwhile beauty and whose figure just barely stayed within the limits of the permissible corpulence.

The road to Orlovka village in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia, much the same today as when Gustav Sievers and Gustav Radde visited it in 1875. A Panoramio photo by Dimit. 

The Doukhobors (literally: Spirit Wrestlers, or without thinking of Gutzkow’s novel, Die Ritter vom Geiste [“The Knights of the Spirit]) started out as a sect of the Greek-Catholic [i.e. Orthodox] Church in the middle of the last century. It is rumoured that as early as in the year 1740 a retired soldier in Kharkov Province is reported to have spread a doctrine that does not recognize any symbols of the Greek Church and wishes to worship only in the spirit. In the year 1750 we find the beginnings of this doctrine in Ekaterinoslav Province but not until 1768 there followed a public announcement in Tambov directed at the government by a sect that did not want to recognize either a church built by the human hand or icons or any external cult [i.e. ritual] but wished to worship only an invisible spirit, living Christ. Already during the rule of Empress Catherine the government was required to use force against part of the sect that did not only aim at an apostasy from the Church but gave reason to fear that they could incite serious and general unrest. At the same time the government was tolerant towards the peaceful adherents of the sect. However, eventually the tension of the orthodox congregations in connection with the apostates must have increased to such an extent that Tsar Alexander I gave permission for the resettlements of the Doukhobors to Tavria Province, not far from the Sea of Azov in the area of the Molochnaya River. Under the benevolent government of Alexander I the Doukhobors at the Sea of Azov had become well-to-do and, especially after the ukaz [“decree”] of December 8, 1816, had remained unmolested. This ukaz stipulated that the planned renewed resettlement of the sectarians be canceled; that the persecutions carried out against them (particularly until 1801) had turned out to be devoid of success and purpose; that the judgments of the concerned governors in whose regions the Doukhobors resided had all been laudatory; and that there should therefore be no thought of renewed persecution but, on the contrary, every effort should be made to spare them any unnecessary limitations and denigration. Only in the year 1830, under the reign of Tsar Nicholas, it was ordered that the Doukhobors be resettled into Transcaucasian lands. The main resettlement process took place in the years 1841 to 1845 and resulted in the eight settlements in the above mentioned region near the Turkish border that carries the name of Dukhoboria.

These Doukhobors thus have no churches, no saints, no priests, no written tradition, and no oral daily prayers, nor do they make the sign of the cross. They do chant a number of doctrines named psalms that from generation to generation have become part of the oral tradition. They maintain, however, that their belief is very ancient, that it is the only correct one of all the belief systems on earth, and that it ranks 78th among all such belief systems. The Doukhobors conduct their joint services in some room of a private home, greet one another in the name of God, sit down with the women separated from the men, and, after an elder has started, the psalms either individually or in chorus. Later they join hands and, by bowing to one another, they believe to have shown reverence to the holy God whose image they represent. They then kiss one another.

In the copious work that I envisage I will return to the Doukhobors, Molokans, Subbotniki (Russian Judaists), Pryguny (Jumpers, Leapers) in more detail; I want to mention here only that the settlements existing especially in Doukhoboria are far better off than those in the Caspian Lowland, not far from Lenkoran. The main reason for this is that the natural conditions in Doukhoboria quite closely resemble those in Central Russia and that therefore the new settlers were able to continue living in their long familiar ways. By contrast, the lush lowlands at the border of the hot Mugan Steppe differed in every respect from those in the homeland of the exiled peoples so that the climate decimated them and they are now complaining about the lack of descendents and keep on wishing that they could leave the area again – as I have learnt about all of this via my own eyewitness perception.

View Doukhobor Villages in Georgia, 1841-Present in a larger map  


While en route from Tiflis to Alexandropol, Gustav Sievers and Gustav Radde visited two Doukhobor villages in the Akhalkalaki district. On the afternoon of June 22, 1875, they traveled from Lake Khanchali to the village of Orlovka, where they briefly stopped. From there they continued east, reaching the large village of Gorelovka in the evening. They stayed overnight there and departed the next day. During their stay, they conversed with their Doukhobor hosts and observed their way of life.

The naturalist-explorers observed that the mountain highlands of Dukhoboria – the “land of the Doukhobors” – were inhospitable, “high” and “rough” at an altitude of 6,000 feet above sea-level. Subject to frequent rainfall, where spring came late and winter early, there was no guarantee that wheat crops would ripen. Despite this, they noted that the Doukhobors had transformed the region into “fine cultivated areas” of barley and rye, which thrived there. They had also developed extensive cattle breeding to take advantage of the abundance of haymaking and summer pastures.

Sievers and Radde wrote approvingly of the Doukhobors, who through “diligence” and hard work had adjusted to the adverse conditions and whose villages presented an “unusual order and cleanliness” and even “affluence” that gave the traveler “great joy”. They were particularly impressed with the Sirotsky Dom, the Doukhobors’ main spiritual and administrative centre, where they were billeted for the night, which was marked by “exemplary cleanliness” and a “comforting degree of a certain luxuriousness” that made for a pleasant experience. They had an audience with Doukhobor leader Lukeria Vasil’evna Kalmykova, whom they described as a “tall, strong woman”, an “erstwhile beauty” and a “decisive advisor”; interestingly, they witnessed the festivities that followed Kalmykova’s return from a visit to the Elizavetpol Doukhobors.

The Russian-German scholars reiterated the ‘official’ history of the Doukhobors, noting their origins in 18th century South Russia, their resettlement to Tavria in the early 19th century, and their exile to the Caucasus mid-century. They outlined the Doukhobor belief system, including the absence of churches, saints, priests, liturgy and sacraments. They also described a Doukhobor religious service held in a private village dwelling, in which the men site separately from the women, psalms were sung, followed by bowing to one another, which they may have witnessed during their stay.

Sievers and Radde’s writing are among the few, rare sources of published information about Doukhobor settlement in the Caucasus in the mid- to late-19th century.  As such, their work is a useful contribution to our overall understanding of this period of Doukhobor history.

To read more, search, download, save and print a full PDF copy of the original German text of Gustav Sievers and Gustav Radde’s work, “Vorläufiger Bericht über die im Jahre 1875 ausgeführten Reisen in Kaukasien und dem Armenischen Hochlande von Dr. G. Radde und Dr. G. Sievers”in Petermann’s Geographische Mitteilungen, Vol. 22 (H. Haack, 1876), visit the Google Book Search digital database.

Report from the Caucasus, 1875

by Hans Leder

Hans Leder was an Austrian naturalist and explorer who toured the Caucasus region in 1875-1877. During his travels, he visited the Doukhobor village of Tambovka along Lake Paravani in the Akhalkalaki district of Tiflis province, Russia. He kept a journal and recorded his impressions of his Doukhobor hosts. He jointly published his account with Oskar Schneider as “Beiträge zur Kenntniss der kaukasischen Käferfauna” in “Verhandlungen des Naturforschenden Vereines in Brünn” (Vol 16) (Naturforschender Verein in Brünn, Adolf Oborny, 1877). Available in English for the first time ever, this exclusive translation provides the reader with a brief, rare, first-hand account of Doukhobor life during this little-known period of their history. Translated by Gunter Schaarschmidt for the Doukhobor Genealogy Website. Afterword and editorial comments by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

On June 7 I rented horses and a guide and rode to the high mountains that beckoned from the West with their snowy plains. The distance is not very great, approximately 300 verst [an Imperial Russian measure of distance equal to 1.06 kilometers]; one ascends ever so gradually in the monotonous steppe so that one entirely imperceptibly reaches the height of 8,000 feet. There, from the highest point of a mountain pass, one suddenly catches sight of extensive Lake Toporawan [sic. Paravani] surrounded by mountains on all sides. At the upper end of the lake lies the Doukhobor village of Tambowka [sicTambovka] where in spite of my communication difficulties I was received very well and was assigned the room that was reserved for strangers, especially officials. To be sure this was not done entirely out of hospitality but also due to a letter of reference by the central administration in Tiflis [present-day Tbilisi] requesting all administrative authorities to facilitate my stay and provide support.

Hans Leder (1843-1921).

However, the dogs were not so hospitable. These dogs in general make life most miserable for the stranger because, being half-wild, they bark incessantly and jump at unsuspecting people and herds entering the village threatening to tear them apart. Unfortunately they do not just stop at threats but do attack in actual fact. Moreover, the Tatars are in the habit of neither fending a dog off nor beating him. Therefore one must be very careful not to harm these curs seriously or else one risks revenge by their just as half-savage masters who are only too willing to make use of their kinzhal [“Caucasian daggers”]. I saw that here in Tambowka everyone passing was armed only with a long pole because the dogs do not even respect the village inhabitants. But the villagers do not think of using these poles to beat the dogs – rather the people hold the poles behind waving them back and forth. The dogs then concentrate on the pole and they try to seize the end with their sharp teeth while staying at a distance from the pole-carriers.

The Doukhobors (Spirit-Wrestlers), along with several other sectarians, were banned from their home region because of their religious views and resettled to the less suitable and more dangerous areas of Transcaucasia. However, they firmly adhere to their accepted views and, as distinct from the other Russians, have very different morals and customs. They consider churches and priests superfluous and do not tolerate them in their villages. They especially show reverence for the Old Testament, interpreting it often very differently from established practice. They seldom give their children, especially the girls, the names of saints, for example, Baraschka (“little lamb”). Their wives live in considerable dependence on the men although all of them are willingly subservient to a female prophet, a descendant of the founder of their sect. The matrimonial bonds are very dissolute. Otherwise they live peacefully and are well-behaved people.

Their villages do not yet excel in excessive cleanliness but make a relatively favourable impression as compared with the earthen dwellings of the auls [“Caucasian villages”] of the indigenous races. Since the area is utterly deficient in firewood they prepare a fuel made out of cow dung mixed with straw, formed into bricks, and air-dried. The lake abounds in excellent species of fish, especially the salmon trout (trutta lacustris) of which I have seen truly giant specimens.

The shores of Lake Paravani near Tambovka village in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia, much the same today as when Hans Leder visited it in 1875. A Panoramio photo by Aleksan


Hans Leder (1843-1921) was an Austrian naturalist and explorer who possessed a strong interest in the study of entomology and published numerous scholarly works on the subject. From 1867-1872, his explorations in Algeria led to the discovery of new beetle species. In 1875-1877, he toured the Caucasus with Dr. Oskar Schneider. During their 32-month journey together through the Russian provinces of Kuban, Terek, Kutaisi, Tiflis, Elizavetpol, Baku and Erevan, they documented a number of rare, previously unknown species of insects.

It was during Leder’s travels through the Caucasus that he encountered the Doukhobors. On June 7, 1875, he stopped at the Doukhobor village of Tambovka, situated on the north shore of Lake Paravani in the Akhalkalaki district of Tiflis province.  He stayed there for three days, during which time he explored the surrounding countryside, documenting several rare species of beetles, before departing on June 9.  During his stay, he conversed with his Doukhobor hosts and observed their way of life.

The Austrian explorer wrote approvingly of the Doukhobors’ hospitality, noting that he was “received very well” and was assigned special guest quarters (gornitsa) reserved for travelling officials and persons of importance. Undoubtedly, the Doukhobors also provided him with food and supplies, along with shelter and forage for his horses. He admired their “peaceful” and “well-behaved” nature, along with their “firm adherence” to their unique way of life amidst one of the most unsuitable and dangerous areas of the Caucasus. As well, he admired the cleanliness of their homes, which left a “favourable impression”.

Curiously, Leder devotes an entire paragraph of his account to the vicious, half-wild dogs in the village. Without a doubt, the Doukhobors kept these animals to guard against, watch for, and warn off, attacks, raids and depredations by native Caucasian tribesman; a frequent occurrence in that era.  Leder noted that the Doukhobors armed themselves against the dogs with long poles – not to beat them with, but to distract them – which was a testament to their pacifist nature.

Leder did not have an opportunity during his stay to learn much about the Doukhobors’ religious beliefs. However, he observed that they had no priests nor churches in their villages, and that they held the Old Testament in great reverence, interpreting it differently from established practice. He also noted that the sectarians paid homage to a “female prophet” amongst them – a reference to nineteenth century Doukhobor leader Lukeria Vasil’evna Kalmykova (1841-1886).

This would not be Leder’s only brush with the Doukhobors. On September 4, 1875, he hired a Doukhobor carter from Karaklisi village to drive him by wagon from the city of Tiflis to the town of Mamudly, where he arrived on September 10. Leder found the 300 verst trip rather deplorable because there were few habitable homes and one had to camp out in the open, food was hard to come by, and because of the general lack of hospitality in the area; a sharp contrast to his experience among the Doukhobors.

Leder’s impressions of the Doukhobors, while brief, are among the remarkably few sources of detailed, published information about them during the third quarter of the nineteenth century. As such, his work is a valuable contribution to our understanding of this little-known era of Doukhobor history. 

View Doukhobor Villages in Georgia, 1841-Present in a larger map

To read more, search, download, save and print a full PDF copy of the original German text of Hans Leder & Oskar Schneider’s “Beiträge zur Kenntniss der kaukasischen Käferfauna”in Verhandlungen des Naturforschenden Vereines in Brünn (Vol 16) (Naturforschender Verein in Brünn, Adolf Oborny, 1877) visit the Google Book Search digital database.

Journey to a Colony of Doukhobors, 1903

by E.W. Thompson

On December 4, 1903, renowned Canadian journalist and author Edward William (E.W.) Thompson (1849-1924) accompanied an immigration officer and guide from Swan River, Manitoba to the Doukhobor village of Voznesenie in the Arran district of Saskatchewan. His personal experiences and observations were later published in the Manitoba Morning Free Press on January 22, 1904. His account is detailed, poignant and grabs the attention of the reader as he describes the Doukhobors’ unique customs and gracious hospitality, the goodness of the people, the interior of a Doukhobor house, their architecture and craftsmanship, well-mannered children, and the calm, peaceful village environment “where prairie chickens are tame” and unafraid of man. In doing so, he provides a rare, first-hand historic account of a Doukhobor village shortly after their arrival in Canada. Editorial notes by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Voznesenie, Saskatchewan, Dec. 4. This Doukhobor village, in the extreme southeast corner of Saskatchewan territory was reached by traveling 278 miles northwest from Winnipeg via the Canadian Northern railroad, then driving twenty miles southwest from the prosperous wheat-receiving village of Swan River. En route by rail we traversed a thickly settled region of Manitoba, where pretty towns, numerous elevators and a farming population well housed and barned indicate the solid welfare that has come of agricultural work during the past twenty-two years.

Swan River, Manitoba, Canadian Northern Railway railhead in 1903. Library and Archives Canada PA-021748.

At Swan River, there was more than half a day’s delay by difficulty in securing McGaw, most desirable of all possible teamsters. Because Sunny Johnny is a guide of guides, American land-seekers wanted him, and they are hard men to beat. I wanted him because my route of 105 miles across country to Yorkton on the Canadian Pacific Railway lay through many Doukhobor villages, wherein John is welcome as ever Peter Stuyvesant’s ‘Anthony the Trumpeter’ was in the hamlets between Weathersfield and New Amsterdam. Hugh Harley, the government land and immigration agent at Swan River, wanted McGaw because H.H. had business with Peter Verigin, the Doukhobor chief, who resides some fifty miles westward. By putting our gray heads together, H. H. and your correspondent beat the younger land seekers and got away triumphantly about 4 in the afternoon of yesterday.

The delay was fortunate. It not only secured me the valuable company of Harley and McGaw, who are literally and metaphorically white-headed boys, in the Russian villages, but it enabled one to purchase a considerable stock of big candy and little dolls for Doukhobor children, on learning that the men and women would refuse money for the hospitality that must be sought at their amicable hands. Finally, the delay enabled Mr. Archer to reach Swan River. He is an English philosopher, young, but not discreditably so, who understands the Slavonic dialect of the Doukhobors. Among them, he has resided off and on since they migrated to Canada. To him I had a letter of introduction from some of the associated Montreal ladies, who market, for sweet charity’s sake, the charming laces and embroideries which Doukhobor women made until they recently found ways of earning more money.

The temperature was near zero at 4 o’clock. Sun just sinking in the tops of distant poplars. A dead calm after twenty-four hours of windy snowfall.

Down the short steep to the Swan River Bridge, up the pull on t’other side and there we was the first token of Doukhobor customs. It consists of two log huts for people and of two more quite as good for horses and oxen. These collectively constitute the stopping places of Doukhobors visiting Swan River village to sell wheat, purchase supplies, or haul freight from the railway. Why should vegetarians squander their substance in buying profane hotel meals? Why should they submit their beloved cattle to the untender mercies of non-Doukhobor hostlers?

Bridge over Swan River, built by Doukhobors, c. 1903. Library and Archives Canada PA-021087.

How a Bully Was Thrashed

Moreover, there are in English-speaking villages men who at times drink heavily and assail Doukhobors, presumably on their creed, which requires them to suffer even more than is signified by turning the other cheek. Old Hugh Harley told a rare story of what happened in Swan River when a notorious local bully had belabored two Doukhobors almost to his heart’s content, ignoring their mild expostulations. A righteous Englishman, high in the confidence of all Doukhobors, went straightway to the place where Ivan, a giant among them, earnestly laboured with a hod [a long-handled box carried over the shoulder to move a load]. “Ivan,” he said in Russian, “a man is whacking Doukhobors unmercifully. He has bloodied gentle Piotr’s nose and cut kind Michael’s chin. Go thou instantly and whack him. Give it to him – hard – or never show thy face again unto me.”

Now obedience to the orders of Rectitude is a cardinal virtue among the Doukhobors. It is said that an unholy pleasure might have been marked in Ivan’s grin while he thumped and thumped the bully. Thereafter, “the man who had been licked by a Doukhobor” suffered such derision from his congeners that he reformed. Consistent Doukhobors lament that one of their numbers should thus have let himself be incited to violence, yet a certain indulgence for Ivan may be seen in their flickering smiles at allusions to that great day. Because he was so obedient to a good friend, they can pardon his frailty. From this incident, the unregenerate derive hope of the ultimate complete Canadianization of this singular people. “After a few years, they’ll do just as bad as the rest of us” said one of our party, “and just as good. This result will be called civilization. In that regime, real Christianity is out of place.”

The Goodness of the People

The trail was one long drift of snow, trotting rarely possible, our progress at a walk. An hour had passed and the undark night of snowland had fallen when we passed the white-washed cabin of an English-speaking man, well acquainted with the Doukhobor quality of mercy.

“A shiftless, good-for-nothing fellow,” said one of ours. “The Douks presented him with a team of oxen last year. They did his ploughing and seeding this year. They have given him all sorts of things – food, clothing, harness, the deuce knows what not. Seems they are afflicted about his family. Can’t pass his place without giving ‘em something, drawing water for his wife, or doing a good turn for him. It’s all no use. Never will be. He thinks he’s entitled to be supported by anybody but himself in this blasted country. The more done for him the more he wants done.”

Doukhobor family, Saskatchewan, c. 1903. Glenbow Archives NA-2878-15

Yet the good Doukhobors do not weary of their charity. They have a theory that persistence is good in such cases. Their interpreter neither names the man, in talking about him, nor claims any peculiar goodness for his sheep-skin covered confreres [brothers]. “Somebody is everybody’s neighbour,” he says with a pause between the words. “One mans get bad luck – oder man gets good luck – one mans tink no use for work anymore – oder mans give him some liddle ting, one time, two time, maybe more three time – de man find out peoples love him – he like himself better after while – den he pick himself up, he get shame of himself – he work good – be good man.” The interpreter’s English is not as beautiful as his theory. It may work out well in the end, but so far the “shame of himself” has not been reached by the benefited in this instance.

As the moon rose, the temperature fell. Perfect calm continued. So did Mr. Archer’s excellent disquisition on the Doukhobors and their virtues.

Why the Prairie Pilgrimage

Why did they go on that amazing prairie pilgrimage by which the attention of all America was called to them in October of last year? The philosopher’s explanation was, first, that not more than twenty-five percent of them did go. The 4,200 or so who stayed at their villages condemned the 1,800 who departed; condemned them, not roundly but gently, for these people are gentle, even in controversy with their own kind. The rest of Mr. Archer’s explanation is lengthy: to give it here would require much more space than can be presently afforded, but Archer’s theory was perfectly creditable to the sincerity, if not entirely to the practical sense of the 1,800 pilgrims.

Why should it be thought so amazing for Doukhobors to assemble to form a procession to walk 200 miles over the Prairie, seeking Christ? Have not analogous pilgrimages been seen or heard of since ever religions were invented? Mecca! Rome! Lourdes! Ste. Anne de Beaupre! Jerusalem! Benarcs! Lhassa!

If acute Yankees become dull [bored] in rural places, why not Doukhobors? May they not also desire to behold something out of the usual? They have neither theatres, dances, instruments of music, minstrel shows, dime exhibitions, prize fights, store windows, doctors, lawyers, editors, politicians, or a clergy to amuse them – few books and those mostly pious. Under such conditions, any sort of pilgrimage might relieve monotony. Also, some of the pilgrims had practical objects in view. That a queer mingling of ground and lofty motives set them on their notable march will probably be confirmed by [Peter] Verigin and [Semeon] Reibin. Now let us try to reach Voznesenie.

The trek of 1902.

Seven o’clock saw us outspanned at Charles’s Goodwin’s store for supper. If one of Boston’s prize ascetics had not warned me to beware, I might wish to specify, with some fondness of reminiscence the very remarkable quality and quantity of venison steaks that Mrs. Goodwin supplied to her hungry visitors. Alas, there is no duly philosophized reason for repeating that the steaks were not “too sweet and good for human nature’s daily food.”

Mrs. Goodwin’s husband is an Englishman, long resident in Kansas. Their five, big American-born sons have, like their father, homesteads near the store. Thus the family possesses 960 acres of good land as the result of paying railroad fares northward. They are just outside of the Doukhobor reserve and therefore assured of amicable neighbours.

The moon, when we drove again, was so high and so luminous as to reveal clearly the hands of a small watch dial. In the distances of the enchanted snow, plain poplar bluffs bulked as dark hills. Beside the trail ran incessantly a lovely lace of twigs, tall motionless bending grasses and the tracery of their shadows. Our dark ponies were white with rime [frozen water droplets]. Moustaches, eyebrows, tall fur-coat collars were thickly frosted. The air was so still that it was “as if moored there”, to use [Archibald] Lampman’s expression. Occasionally, where woodland had sheltered the trail and trotting became possible, one had the sense that the temperature might be below zero. But it could not be credited in so pleasant an air. We guessed at the record which Archer’s thermometer would be making at Voznesenie. One said 10 above, one said 5 above, another 2 above. It was 11:30 p.m. when we read the tool. Ten below zero! We had traveled for six hours in an open sleigh, at that pitch of cold, without at least discomfort.

The Arrival at the Doukhobor Village

The virtuous Doukhobors are wholly free at this time of year – of the common rural vice of going to bed early. Lights shone through many Voznesenie windows. Two women, sheepskin-cloaked to the ground and bulged out as by innumerable petticoats came from the neighboring cabin when our bells ceased to jingle before that of Nicholas Zibareff.

They stared placidly, asked Mr. Archer if they could do anything for us in the way of hospitality and they waddled away. Mrs. Zibareff, her lord being absent, came forth with her well-grown brood, neighbors collected speedily, handshaking became general. By the way, the Doukhobors do not shake well. They are unused to the rite. I am told they kissed instead before they came to Canada. They give you a slack hand with a glad face. You waggle the hand a little and let go without conviction of being welcomed. Next morning, when you find that the family gave you their own good beds you understand that the glad face only was indicative.

Village of Voznesenie, North Colony, where the author visited in 1903.  Library and Archives Canada C-000683.

Mr. Archer’s bachelor hut stands next to Zibareff’s family caravanserai [roadside inn]. Both are earthen floored. The good philosopher insisted on making tea for us at midnight. After that McGaw alone remained with the Englander. Into Zibareff’s house, Harley and your correspondent were conducted with impressive bows, almost salaams [a ceremonious act of deference performed in Islamic countries]. These semi-Orientals are truly polite, but people of all ages and both sexes went unconcernedly in and out of the main room while we got into night gear. We were soon in such comfort as to be soon asleep.

The bedding was sweet, clean, soft, light and warm. It was placed at opposite ends of the broad unpainted benches, scrubbed clean as the deck of a yacht, which go about two and sometimes three sides of a Doukhobor living room. Each bed was hedged in by a railing about five feet long and eight or ten inches high; a structure resembling one side of a child’s cot. The go-to-bed gets in or out from the feet end. Unfortunately the room was heated by that accursed American invention, a box stove of iron, instead of by a Russian stove of clay, and that made the room too warm.

Interior of a Doukhobor House

Broad daylight through un-curtained windows roused to observation of the room. The walls and ceilings were showily white-washed. Over the windows were some brightly colored rude [simple] decorations. Bits of pictures from “dress goods” and from machinery advertising posters had been so skillfully employed in various places that one was puzzled to know how the effect was produced. These people manifest a sound oriental sense for color effects. There was nothing ridiculous, unseemly nor squalid in the simple and neat room. Not until the family heard us moving did they run the risk of disturbing the morning slumbers of their guests. Then young and old of both sexes passed in and out indifferently while we dressed. Harley said: “They don’t mind us a bit more than if we were roosters.”

One thing must be noted here lest it be forgotten later. The Doukhobors have pleasant voices. After the strident tones of the Teutonic, Scandinavian, British, Canadian and American inhabitants of prairieland, these Russian voices fall sweetly on the ear. Perhaps nothing is rarer than to hear from illiterate or common-schooled lips the gentle and suave accents of well-bred people. Doukhobors have that charm from a source analogous to that whence it is derived by the best of good society. They wish never to offend, always to conciliate. They desire to give assurance of kindly feeling by their modulations. They express themselves quite without that arduous and oily effect of studied smoothness one hears from some of the professional evangelicals of anywhere. Their accents are worthy to be ranked with those of the delightful few to whom the French attribute the manners of the good heart.

Baking bread in the clay oven inside a typical Doukhobor home. BC Archives C-01577.

It was not until after breakfasting on our own carnivorous food, pork and other things that we had brought along, that I understood we had slept in the house of Zibareff, one of the chief leaders of the pilgrimage. To be consistent with the reports he and his should be wild-eyed ranting fanatics. Now he is absent in Winnipeg with $40,000 cash buying dry goods and groceries for the village. His family are as quiet, seemingly intelligent looking folks as you shall ever meet in a winter’s day.

A Primitive Flouring Mill

After we had partaken in Archer’s cabin of some Doukhobors’ bread and eggs, besides our own meal, Alexander the engineer invited us to behold the pride of Voznesenie, its flouring mill. In a large mud-plastered house, they had set up the engine of a stream threshing machine – bought last fall. This they had connected with large millstones rounded and “picked” or dressed by Doukhobor millers from boulder stones, taken out of Swan River’s bed. They were grinding wheat at the rate of a hundred bushels a day. The brown whole-grain flour was to go gratis [free] to any villagers who wanted it. To supply the others was part of Voznesenie’s appointed work for the whole commune of fifteen hamlets in the Swan River Colony.

It was evident that the much derided Doukhobor is “no slouch.” in learning how to employ modern machinery. Moreover his doors, windows, and excellent smithied hinges testify that he is a good carpenter and blacksmith. It is with a new respect for his machine abilities that we are getting ready for the sleigh about noon, after seeing most of the Voznesenie work of his ingenious hands.

His houses, usually two or three-roomed, are but temporary. They are roofed with poles and turf. In this, tall grasses grow. The under or ceiling side of the poles is smoothly clay-plastered, then kalsomined [white-washed] with a whitewash made of grinding in water balls of subsoil clay which had been previously baked. His apartments are mostly at once evenly heated and well ventilated by his own make of clay stoves. Many prouder settlers have a great deal to learn from him about the art of living comfortably in the north.

Well Mannered Children

As for good breeding, in Voznesenie Mrs. Manners [a popular author on Victorian etiquette] herself would feel at home with old and young alike. When we assembled the children for candy and dolls they looked eager enough, but not the smallest tot grabbed at the goodies, stepped forward out of its turn, failed in its profound bow and its Russian word for thankfulness. There were but two big and dressed dolls for Voznesenie. These went to the smallest pair of girls. Not a sign of jealousy was evinced even by the slightly bigger ones who had to be content with tiny white china figurines about two inches long and wholly un-garmented. In desiring to be left free to teach their children what they please, Doukhobor parents would seem to have good reason.

Two Doukhobor girls, c. 1903. BC Archives C-01390.

Where Prairie Chickens are Tame

The most surprising thing last! In the one long street of Voznesenie, on weedy roofs, in its cattle yards and door-yards, prairie chickens stalk about as if they owned the place. They pay less attention to human beings than to Doukhobor dogs, though of these well-governed quadrupeds they are little afraid. The wild indigenous birds are not a bit more shy than Doukhobor pigeons. Both sorts feed amiably with the hens, and walk around among the legs of the cattle. At this season, these blue grouse are in their winter plumage, and almost as broad as dorking fowls [a breed of chicken]. They are so feathered to the heel that they seem long-trousered. It is a treat to see at four or five yard’s distance, the innocent proud stare of the game bird that usually hurries away, thunderously flying when he sees at fifty yards, the form of murderous man.

The Doukhobor reserve will probably become one great “preserve” of “chickens” so intelligent as to have learned in three years that there are people who hold all life sacred. But the Man with the Gun need not hope for good shooting in that tract. When he comes banging on his destructive way, the Doukhobors, men, women and children, rise up as one and drive the grouse far and wide out of his reach into the sheltering prairie. But they do not look angrily at the man, nor hurl at him one harsh word. He is but doing after his kind, as they after theirs. They think they save him from sin. They hope he may become ”shame of himself”. Such a hopeful, ignorant [naive] people!

Letters from the Caucasus, 1858

by Floriant A. Gille

Floriant A. Gille was a Swiss-born educator, curator and writer living in Russia who toured the Caucasus region in 1858-1859. During his travels, he visited the Doukhobors living in the Akhalkalaki district of Tiflis province (present-day Ninotsminda district of Georgia).  Gille kept a journal and recorded these encounters, which he published in French as “Lettres sur le Caucase et la Crimee” (Paris: Gide, 1859).  Available in English for the first time ever, this exclusive translation provides the reader with a rare, fascinating, first-hand account of Doukhobor life during this little-known period of their history. Translated by Wayne Hudson for the Doukhobor Genealogy Website.  Foreword and Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. 


Floriant Antoine Gille (1801-1865) was a Swiss-born educator, curator and writer in Russia who came to prominence under Tsar Nicholas I.  In the 1840’s, he served as French tutor to the Tsar’s children and then became Court Librarian and Head of the Tsarskoye Selo Arsenal.  A man of tremendous energy and administrative brilliance, he was appointed State Councilor, and in 1852, was made Director of the First Section of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, where he oversaw the creation of an extensive collection of rare books and manuscripts.  He published a number of works on the museum’s collections.

Floriant Antoine Gille (1801-1865).

In July of 1858, Gille traveled to the Caucasus to visit the hot springs there for the good of his health.  His ten-month journey took him from Pyatigorsk, along the shores of the Tersk until Dagestan, then by the Sunzha and Vladikavkaz to Tiflis, Lake Sevan at Erivan, in Ararat, returning via Imereti and Mingrelia Pol.  He then proceeded to the Crimea, before making the final leg of his journey via Constantinople, Athens and Italy.  He kept a journal of his travels, which he published upon his return to St. Petersburg as Lettres sur le Caucase et la Crimee in May 1859.

It was during this journey that Gilles visited the Doukhobors living in the Akhalkalaki district of Tiflis province.  What follows are his detailed observations about their state and condition of life at this time.

October 10

As we came back up the left bank of the Arpa-chay, continuing along the Turkish frontier, the line of which we saw marked from time to time by white stones, we covered 34 versts to reach Troitskoye, a town that lies on the boundary between Armenia and Akhaltsikhe. To reach this place, we made our way up an incline in a region situated between two mountain ranges; I knew I had reached a great elevation from seeing snow caps on the mountains to the east.

We passed close to the source of the Arpa-chay, which is a small lake named Lake Arpi (6,670 feet above sea level), in the Turkish territory, which is filled from streams formed by sheets of running water in the Russian territory.

In Troitskoye itself, where there is a small lake marked on the Russian map named Madatapa, we stopped for several hours. It was there that I had to take my leave of Mr. Der-Maroukov and Mr. Blavatsky, who were going to return to Sardar-Abad and Erivan respectively.

Troitskoye has 35 houses and 200 souls living there. It is equidistant from Alexandropol and Akhalkalaki; it is 50 versts from each place. On the way to Akhalkalaki there are seven villages populated by Doukhobors, members of a Russian sect, who number about 2,500 souls. These villages are named Troitskoye, Efremovka, Goreloye, Orlovka, Spasskoye, Bogdanovka, all in the direction of Akhalkalaki; and Rodionovka, which is in the high country on the shores of Lake Taparavan [Paravani].

Lake Madatapa near the village of Troitskoye, much the same today as when Gille visited it in 1858. The Sinii Kurgan rises in the foreground behind the lake.  A Panoramio photo by Bazieri.

The entire region is filled with lakes. From the highest one flows the Taparavan-Chay [Paravani River] which empties into Lake Tumangel, from where it continues down to Akhalkalaki. On the left side of the road is Lake Kanchali. It is said that trout abound in these lakes and fishing them is a resource for Rodionovka and the Armenian villages of Poka, Ganza or Kanza, and Sagamo, where it is said there are ancient churches.

We stayed in Troitskoye at the home of the local elder. He was born in the province of Tambov and is called Vereshchagin. I talked with him about their way of life for some time.

“You see,” he said to me as he showed me immense sheds full of forage, “that we can harvest enough for our cattle, of which we can keep a great number, but a cow eats a lot, and we have to feed it for nine months, and it eats many puds each month; and then we have our horses, which keep us alive; we use them for transportation.”

“What about potatoes and barley?” I asked him.

“Potatoes do not want to grow; and as for barley, we have tried; in four years it only grew once. It’s because,” he added, showing me the lake, “it is still frozen here in June and by August 1st there is already snow.”

I learned that the population lives exclusively off the transportation of goods of all kinds. With their horses, these coachmen can haul heavy loads at the rate of 8 silver kopeks (32 centimes) per pud (16 kilograms) for a distance of 100 versts, from Alexandropol on one side to Akhalkalaki on the other. These people belong to the vigorous race of Russian yamchiks [“coachmen”] about whom I have already spoken. They are trusted with all kinds of merchandise. Convoys that travel the frontier have been exposed to attack by Turkish marauders, but the yamchiks do not fear them and know how to defend themselves.

Their women are not afraid of work. The house in which we spent several hours was spotless. A young woman saw to the preparations for our dinner. As I watched her doing it, I could not help but admire how resolute she was, yet gentle at the same time, with an air of resignation to a life of hardship.

There were no churches in these villages. I had known that and I asked about it. “We assemble in the biggest house and pray together there.”

Further on, I had the chance to gather more details about these Doukhobors, who furnished me with excellent horses and escorted me to Akhalkalaki, where people were expecting me and where I was going to have to find other means of transportation.

The mountain countryside surrounding the Doukhobor villages of the Akhalkalaki district, while scenic, was rocky and barren, and was capable of growing only hay for forage. A Panoramio photo by Highland_82.

I wish I could have travelled at my leisure through this remote country and discover for myself whether the land resources were really so poor. I had heard that the villages of Poka, Ganza, and Sagamo had arable land. As for Troitskoye, Goreloye and Efremovka, the ones that I visited, the elevation of the region is an obstacle to farming.

The mountain [Sinii Kurgan] that dominates little Lake Madatapa is 8,900 feet above sea level: I was not able to find out its elevation above the lake; but Tumangel is at an elevation of 7,620 feet, which must also be that of Troitskoye, and it is an elevation that is too high for cereal crops. All that remains is hay, made from the excellent grasses that abound throughout the Caucasus.

I took my leave of Mr. Der-Maroukov, who has been so helpful to me since Mastara, and Mr. Blavatsky, whom I handed a letter of thanks for General Kolubakin.

At the next stop in the village of Efremovka, where I changed horses, I entered one of the houses. I had stopped there for some tea. The main room in which I took my short break was whitewashed. There was a large clay stove that served as an oven, a large table, some wooden furnishings, and a bed that could be curtained off with a printed cotton cloth; all of these things were of the greatest cleanliness, even the floorboards. In front of the windows hung narrow pieces of white cloth embroidered in red [rushniki – a traditional Doukhobor handicraft].

“Are they curtains?” I asked an elderly woman who had invited me in.

“No,” she replied, “it’s the work our young girls do to decorate our place a little bit.”

I looked around as I slowly drank my tea. The old woman presented me a nice cucumber that she had cut up and served on a very white plate.

“It’s a good size one,” I told her, “and really very tasty.”

“They’re Akhaltsikhe cucumbers,” she said. “We buy them for giving to travellers who pass by.”

These cucumbers were as firm and juicy as Maltese oranges, excellent and well-deserving of the reputation they enjoy. They cost only one ruble (4 francs) for a hundred.

This nice old lady, so house proud and well turned out, had an expression of serenity that suggested her soul was unblemished. I spoke for a long time with her. She gave me much information about life in this country.

“Yes,” she said, “we live off transportation. The hay is good here, but the wheat won’t grow.”

She gave me the same details about their sect as the elder in Troitskoye.

“But having no preacher, no books, how do you manage to teach your children to read?” I asked.

“Oh, we manage. We have prayers and we pray for the Tsar,” she added.

I asked her if she had lived in the Doukhobor villages that used to exist by the Azov Sea.

“Oh, yes,” she replied, “in the same neighbourhood as the German colonists [Mennonites]; they were really brave men.”

The mountain countryside outside the village of Orlovka, much the same today as when Gille visited the Doukhobors in 1858. A Panoramio photo by Dimit.

She added more details about the Doukhobors, who had been more numerous at one time in this country; but the land wasn’t good enough, and some of them had been allowed to settle near Chemakha and Elizavetpol, in the same region as German colonists from Helenenfeld, where Molokans can also be found.

The old lady’s son-in-law stopped by to visit, followed by her daughters. What can I say? I was struck by the peace and gentleness that their faces all expressed, and by the order and propriety displayed in all of their houses (I had visited many). As to their doctrine, I do not know much; I only have the impression made by their physical appearance. It seems to me that I had spent a few hours in the company of a society of inoffensive Quakers.

I continued on my route and pondered the men and things I had seen. There are hours in life when the spirit is carried away across the ages. A memory awakened is there in front of you; it recalls facts, it sums them up, it brings them face to face, groups them together, puts them one against the other, and then deduces the outcomes.

In the domain of thought, what are the barriers and what limits should we set? In religious matters, is not a certain tolerance the safest way to deal with sects?

I stayed absorbed in my thoughts for many hours. What power can stop ideas? Are there distances, obstacles or barriers to them? The greatest strength is that of faith. What was it that drove the early Christians to those places where their faith bade them: Go?

The valleys through which I am travelling are on the same route taken by the first neophyte Christians who went to Armenia and Georgia in the 4th century.

In Orlovka, one of the villages I mentioned and have passed through, a road leads to the high country of Lake Taparavan [Paravani], out of which flows the Taparavan-Chay, the river along which I travelled a short distance to Akhalkalaki.

It was by crossing the same region, following the same river, that in the early 4th century, the light of the Gospel was carried in the hand of a woman who, fleeing persecution in Rome, then fleeing Armenia, went on and on, guided by a faith that was unstoppable. A Georgian legend says that this saintly woman, a contemporary of Rhipsime and Gaïane, having perhaps witnessed their martyrdom at Vagharshapat, arrived in this unknown region. A shepherd told her that the waters of Lake Taparavan join up with the Cyrus. The holy woman followed the river as far as Khertwis, and from there along the river into Georgia. The first thing she did was to bring the sign of the Cross and start to preach the Gospel. This cross, made from two vine stocks tied up with some of her hair, is the very cross that is venerated in the Church of Sion at Tiflis [Tbilisi]. The woman’s name was Saint Nina [from which the name Ninotsminda, the modern Georgian name for the Doukhobor settlement of Bogdanovka, is derived].

I arrived in Akhalkalaki in the evening. My arrival had been announced for October 10; at one stop before the town I found an officer of the regency who was waiting for me. He informed me that my lodgings were prepared at the home of an Armenian, Mr. Martyros Markarov, a former officer who had served in the Cossack regiments of the Caucasus line.

Akhalkalaki is 5,510 feet above sea level. The second largest town of the old pashaluk [administrative division of the Ottoman Empire] of Akhaltsikhe, it has a mixed population of about 3,000 souls, made up of Armenians, who own 216 of the houses, as well as Turks and Tartars. It is a town in decline that once had some importance.

View Doukhobor Villages in Georgia, 1841-Present in a larger map


On October 10, 1858, while en route from the town of Alexandropol in Erevan province to the town of Akhalkalaki in Tiflis province, Gille passed through a number of Doukhobor villages in the latter district. He stopped at two of these villages, Troitskoye and Efremovka, for food and a change of horses. During his stay, he conversed with his Doukhobor hosts, visited several of their homes, and learned about their state of affairs and way of life.

Gille found a population of 2,500 Doukhobors living in seven villages (he erred as there were eight Doukhobor villages in 1858) in the Akhalkalaki district. They were previously more numerous in this district, but owing to land shortages, a substantial number of Doukhobors relocated to the districts of Borchalo and Kedabek in 1844-1847.

Gille noted that the Akhalkalaki Doukhobors were assigned insufficient, barren lands in very inhospitable areas of the Caucasus. Because of the high altitude (over 7,500 feet above sea level) and the short growing season (the snow remained until June and returned by August) cereal crops did not ripen and mature. The Doukhobors were forced to adjust to the conditions as well as they could. They grew hay for forage for their cattle and horse herds, and relied exclusively on the cartage trade for their income.

The Swiss-born traveller wrote approvingly of the Doukhobors’ physical appearance, as well as their hospitality and industry, noting in particular that “their women were not afraid of work”. He admired their peaceful, gentle and inoffensive nature, along with their meek resolve to a life of hardship in these adverse geographic and climatic conditions. As well, he found their homes and furnishings to be of the “greatest cleanliness”.

Gille did not have an opportunity during his stay to learn much about the Doukhobors’ religious beliefs. However, he observed that they had no preacher, no books and no churches in their villages. Rather, they assembled in the biggest house in each village and prayed together there.

Gille’s impressions of the Doukhobors, while brief, are among the remarkably few sources of detailed, published information about them in the two decades following their settlement in the Caucasus. As such, his work is an important contribution to our understanding of this little-known period of Doukhobor history. 

To read more, search, download, save and print a full PDF copy of the original French text of Floriant Antoine Gille’s Lettres sur le Caucase et la Crimee (Paris: Gide, 1859), visit the Google Book Search digital database.

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.