Dukh-i-zhizniki in America
An update of Molokans in America (Berokoff, 1969). — IN-PROGRESS
Enhanced and edited by Andrei Conovaloff, 2013. Send comments to Administrator @ Molokane. org
Chapter 1 — The Migration [Contents] [Chapter 2>]
[PAGE 11] The emigration of [more than 10 thousand]
the[Spiritual Christians] Molokan peoplefrom Russia occurred at about the same time that the great migration of other peoples of Eastern and Southern Europe reached its peak. Previous to the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries most of the newcomers to the new world were from [Western Europe —] Great Britain, the Scandinavian countries and Germany. Most of these, with the exception of the Irish [who immigrated earlier], sought to take advantage of the Homestead [Act of 1862] Law, enacted in the 1860'sto aid in the development of the newly-opened territories in the MiddleWest and established themselves as farmers in the various states and territories west of the Mississippi River.
However, towards the latter part of the [1800s]
19th centurythe United States were becoming more and more industrialized. There was great need for laborers in mines, steel mills, rail roads and the textile plants of New England and other industries of the Eastern states.
This development opened up vast opportunities for [Eastern and Southern European peasants —] the poor of Russia, Poland, the Southern Slav countries as well as Italy for a change in their hopeless poverty. In addition there was an opportunity for the Jews to flee from the oppression and periodic pogroms in Poland and the Tsarist Russia as also for the Poles to escape political disadvantages from the same government. The Slavs of the Balkan countries too, sought to make what was for them a quick fortune from the high wages in the mines and steel mills of the United States, a fortune that would enable them to return to their homes and their families [PAGE 12] and to live comfortably in their old age. The Italians, of course, were trying to escape the hardships of an over-crowded country and, on the whole, had no desire to return to the old country.
Millions flocked to the new world, each for his own reason. Russians, too, came in significant numbers, some for political reasons, some for economical and some for a combination of both. [See: Why Did They Wait So Long in Russia? Why Did Most Stay Home?]
[In a 13 year period (1899-1912), more than 10 thousand Spiritual Christians migrated to North America from the South Caucasus led by the Doukhobors. The Doukhobor migration is extensively documented in many published first hand reports (100s online), more than all other Russian Spiritual Christian faiths that migrated to North America combined. Most readers of Berokoff thought he was reporting first hand the history of all the non-Doukhobor Spiritual Christians who he mistakenly called "Molokan," when he was just trying to report the history of his Dukh-i-zhiznik faith of Klubinisty, as he wanted it to be told.
What was the actual sequence of events that brought these Russian peasants to the Americas more than 100 years ago?
The omission of the Doukhobor connection by Berokoff is puzzling because E.G. Klubnikin, presbyter and prophet of Berokoff's congregation, lived next to all Doukhobor villages in Kars oblast, where he surely knew about their 1895 arms burning protest, and witnessed their arrest and exile transport to and from Kars. All Kars Doukhobors had to travel through his village, past his house, to go to south to Kars city or north to Tiflis oblast (Georgia). Klubnikin lived in the only non-Doukhobor village located to witness most all the local Doukhobor traffic. The Doukhobor protests and persecutions aroused the international news, politics and aid needed to move about one-third of all Doukhobors (~21,000 population) from the South Caucasus to Canada within five years. By 1899, about 7,400 Doukhobors of the more zealous divisions were relocated to Saskatchewan, Canada.
Though a majority (2/3) of Doukhbors stayed, many from all the other neighboring Spiritual Christian faiths also wanted to go to Canada, if the move would improve their lives and they could pay their own passage. Scouts were sent by Molokane and Pryguny to follow the Doukhobors to Canada. Berokoff is the most quoted source for this part of the story. Here's what he missed reporting.
The chart shows total immigration to the United States from 1820 to 1990. The added colors (green, yellow) show time ranges of Spiritual Christian immigration from Russia to north America about 1900, when more than than twice as many Doukhobors (green) arrived in Central Canada in one year (1899) than all the non-Doukhobors (yellow) in Los Angeles, California in 8 years (1904 to 1912). Map source: web.missouri.edu/~brente/immigr.htm
[When U.S. immigration is charted by regions of origin (below), the policy restrictions for Eastern Europe can be visualized.]
The chart shows that non-Doukhobor Spiritual Christians arrived after the peak of Eastern European immigration to the U.S., during the crackdown
Graph source:US Department of Education Teaching American History Program (TAHPDX) with Immigration Act of 1924, Wikipedia
[A few Spiritual Christians]
The Molokans too,decided at about this time to migrate to the new world but not for the same reasons as the other people. They came neither to seek their fortunes nor to find relief from economic pressure or political disadvantages because at that time, and for about a half century before that, in fact since their banishment to Trans-Caucasia in the late 1830's, they were better off economically than any comparable [peasant] class of people in Russia, Eastern Europe or Italy.
[For a more thorough history of resettlement of Spiritual Christians from the Russian interior to the new Caucasus border, see Dr. Breyfogle's Ph.D. thesis, book and articles which rely mostly on government documentation.]
Being sober and industrious, it did not take them very long after their arrival in Armenia, Georgia and other parts of Trans-Caucasia to build villages where none existed before, to cultivate grain fields where none grew before, to establish flour mills along the many streams of the mountainous country and to plant orchards to supplement their food supply. And to supplement their incomes they became freighters [wagon builders and drivers (drozhky)] during the winter months in a country devoid of railroads [until 1870] or of any other kind of roads, so that at the end of the century they were quite self-sufficient economically although, to be sure, there were some poor families in each village.
In religious matters too, they were enjoying a fair measure of freedom. No one was compelled against his will to worship God in any manner but his own. Although the Orthodox Church [and foreign churches] would, from time to time, send their missionaries to [non-Orthodox] Molokan villages to try to reconvert them into the state church [or a foreign faith], these would be repelled by self-taught [sectarian] Molokan debaters, but no compulsion was used and no one was punished for opposing [PAGE 13] the views of the missionaries. [Some Molokane and entire villages did convert or were altered by Protestant missionaries — Adventist, Baptist, Friends (Quaker) Lutheran, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Shtundist, etc. Also Spiritual Christians changed faiths among themselves and with Orthodox.]
[(New paragraph)] Although [the Prygun] Maxim Gavrilovitch [Rudomyotkin]* was imprisoned at about this time, (1858) it was not for refusing to return to the fold of the Orthodox church but for daring to petition the Tsar's Viceroy of Trans-Caucasia for relief of harassment by the local authorities who were trying at the instigation of the [Molokane] Postoyannaye to put down the new spiritual manifestation of jumping during religious services.
[* Berokoff is writing for Dukh-i-zhizniki who would know this man's last name, but who is unfamiliar to most Pryguny and Molokane.]
[More likely Rudomyotkin was arrested for (1) being a sectarian leader, and (2) illegally declaring himself a tsar (tsar dukhov : king of the spirits). Nearly all the visible sectarian leaders were removed from their groups to exile, prison, or monastery training. It may be that zealous Maksimisty were evangelizing Molokane who did not want to be harassed. If anyone has Rudomyotkin's arrest documents, please scan and send for posting.]
As a matter of fact the churches in the villages and towns were flourishing as never before. Members were loyal to the faith and at peace with one another. There were no back-sliders but many converts from the Orthodox faith [which is illegal. If Rudomyotkin was actively converting Orthodox, he would be arrested]. A large neighboring Armenian village, [Karakala]
Karakalla, became converted to the Christian Jumpers [Pryguny], [many] mostof whom eventuallycame to America at the same time as the [non-Doukhobor Spiritual Christians] Russian Molokans.
There was much visiting from village to village. The arrival of a group of visitors from one village to another would be a cause for celebration. These visits, in effect, would be [Spiritual Christian] Molokan revival meetings. There would be prayer meetings
in churches and in private homes at which time there would invariably be[with] repetitions of prophecies of "Pokhod" [(journey)] to the Refuge. Token flights to the refuge would be undertaken by marches of [a] the wholePryguny congregation from one end of the village to the other and back again to the prayer house. These were called "Spiritual Maneuvers". They foreshadowed the eventual flight to the refuge in America. Matters concerning the affairs of the whole Brotherhood would likewise be discussed and settled at such gatherings.
[When Pryguny and related faiths arrived in Los Angele s, they witnessed 6 weeks (Feb-Mar 1905) of mass street marches by 2000 American Evangelic Christians to save sinners, drunks, prostitutes, etc. in the neighborhood around the Bethlehem Institutions.]
But despite the apparent calm and complacency there was a noticeable undercurrent of a feeling that their settlement in Trans-Caucasia was not permanent. The [Spiritual Christian] prophets were frequently moved by the Holy Spirit to remind the people that they should always be prepared to move to a Place of Refuge (Oubezhisha) [убежище — ubezhishche].
[PAGE 14] The [Prygun] prophet who was the first to utter these words was David Yesseitch who, as early as the 1830's wrote in his Book of Zion that there would be separation of the Dukhovny [Духовный — dukhovnyi — Spiritual (Jumpers)]
Molokansinto two groups; Zion and Jerusalem, at which time Zion will be led to a place of refuge and Jerusalem will remain and will be subjected to a period of tribulation. Of Zion he spoke in these words; "The Lord will gather all such in good time from all the countries into a place or refuge where they will be nourished a thousand two hundred and three score days in all serenity and quiet." [Though many American Dukh-i-zhizniki agree that, by definition, all Spiritual Christians who migrated to the U.S. were "Zion," the most zealous continued to insult and shun Molokane, Pryguny, Subbotniki and Armenian Pryguny.]
This theme was repeated over and over in all the Dukhovny [Prygun sobranie (congregations)] churches throughout all the villages in Trans-Caucasia. Songs, which generally reflect the yearnings and desires of people better than any other media, were composed and sung with fervor, exhorting the people to be prepared for a Pokhod [trek, journey] to the Refuge. Our present song book is replete with old time songs containing such exhortations. Among the many are the following numbers: No. 3, No. 140, No. 147, No. 149, but the most famous and most popular in its day and very much beloved even now was No. 326; [Ne pora li tebe Sion, Upravlyat' sebya v pokhod.] "NE PORA LI TIEBE SION OPRAVLIAT SIEBIA V POHOD".
"Is it not time for thee Zion to prepare thyself for Pokhod?
From this terrible menace that is coming so soon
From this northern land it is time for thee to escape,
To a far southern country, a wilderness of peoples,
. . .
There is the Refuge for members sealed to be there, etc., etc."
Не пора ли тебе Сион, Управлять себя в поход.
От ужасной сей грозы, Хотящей скоро прийти.
От Северной сей страны, Время тебе Сион выйти.
В дальнюю Южную страну, В людскую пустыню,
. . .
Там убежище членам, Запечатленным быть там..
These songs repeatedly reminded the people that there will be a flight to the refuge but not from economic want nor from religious persecution but from a terrible menace that is coming soon, a menace that was to shake the whole world [, the Apocalypse].
No one knew the precise meaning of these prophesies. No one knew the location of the Refuge nor the exact time of the Pokhod. There was one youthful prophet however, to whom [PAGE 15] the Holy Spirit revealed the approximate time of the Pokhod but not the place, except in very general terms.
Some time around the year 1852 this youthful [Prygun] prophet, Efeem Gerasimitch Klubnikin, who was born in 1842, was inspired to draw prophetic sketches and plans and to write down prophesies of the flight to the Refuge.
In these revelations he was told that at the proper time three certain signs will appear by which he will recognize the time for the Pokhod. He wrote these revelations down in his boyish hand and telling no one about them, awaited patiently and secretly for about forty years for their appearance.
On page 638 of the Book of Spirit and Life, among his other writings, there appears this prophesy:
"A plan was drawn. On it were drawn
the numerals 99 and 44, a rising sun and a window. From that time
forth the judgments of God will begin their fulfillment year after
year. Angels of God will be released to torment and punish. The
nations will groan from their calamities. Soon there will be three
signs previous to the flight to the Refuge.
1: The people will gather for prayers in the middle of the night.
2: A light will flash across the heavens at night. It will be seen throughout the whole land.*
3: At night time, from the cast towards the west, a song will be sung, 'A cry is heard; Behold the bridegroom cometh'.**
Those who will believe this will make the journey to a far country but the unbelievers will remain in their places."
[ * 1853 Klinkerfues comet, or was Klubnikin predicting a later comet, below?]
Efeem Gerasimitch was born in the village of Nikitina, in the [governate] province of Erevan, (now [in the territory of] the capital of Armenia) on Dec. 17, 1842 only two years after his parents, to gether with many other [Spiritual Christians] Molokans, made the arduous journey on foot from Central Russia on orders of the government of Tsar Nicholas the First. Efeem was the third child in a large family of five brothers and five sisters. [Nikitino was renamed Fioletovo in 1936.]
Of his father he wrote; "My father, Gerasim Karpovitch, lived in Russia in the province of Tambov in the city of Morshansk. [PAGE 16] My mother, Anna, was also from the same province, from the Village of Algasova". [Footnote: This was also the native village of M. G. Rudamiotkin.] When my father was 17 years old, he was severely punished for his Molokan faith. He was given 180 strokes with birch rods and on the next day again that many, after which he was turned over on his back and given another 180 strokes so that he could neither sit down nor lie down. When he again refused to return to the Orthodox Church the priest ordered the police to bind his head in wooden stocks and told them to tighten the screws more and more until he fainted, after which he was made to stand in the freezing cold for some time and then was sent home". In 1840 his family, together with other families refusing to recant their Molokan faith, were banished to Trans-Caucasia and eventually arrived in Nikitina where Efim was born. [Pryguny were officially labeled in New Russia, now south Ukraine, about 1856.]
Here the [Prygun] Klubnikin family lived until the end of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878. When the peace following this war was concluded, Russia took over the region around the city of Kars from Turkey, and, desiring to settle the new frontier with Russian People, induced many [Spiritual Christian] Molokan families to move there in the years after 1880. Soon quite a number of [Spiritual Christian] Molokan villages were established and thriving there, later becoming the center of agitation to migrate to America [which was led by 1/3 of the most zealous Mennonites in the 1870s, then by 1/3 of the most zealous Spiritual Christian Doukhobors in 1998].
The Klubnikin family settled in the new village of Romanovka [Kars guberniya, now Turkey]. It was there that Efeem Gerasimitch later saw the appearance of the three signs that he was patiently awaiting for so long.
While he was thus waiting, another event occurred that greatly perturbed the [Spiritual Christian] Molokan people throughout Trans-Caucasia. In 1889 the fifty year period of exemption from military service granted them [and all settlers] at the time of their banishment from central Russia in 1839, had expired. The Government immediately informed the [Spiritual Christians] Molokans, through the leading elders assembled [PAGE 17] for that purpose, that hereafter their young men of the age of 21 years will be conscripted for a five year period of military service like any other category of the nation.
Although this decision certainly violated the consciences of all the assembled elders, they did not offer any resistance at that time but secretly meant to find ways to evade the order.
About this time Russia pacified the newly conquered territories cast of the Caspian Sea (Turkestan*) and, being anxious to settle the region around the new border with Russian nationals, offered the [colonists] Molokan another 10 year period of military exemption to those who would settle there. Hundreds of [Spiritual Christian] Molokan families took advantage of the offer, moving to the newly opened territory from Armenia, Georgia and from the [governate] region of Kars and establishing a number of thriving [Spiritual Christian] Molokan villages there.
[* In the 1800s, "Turkestan" originally literally referred the place of the Turkic peoples, the general large Middle Asia area inhabited mainly by Muslims, which included what became Russian Turkestan and the Kazakh Steppe. This entire area may be the Tika (East) of which M.G. Rudomyotkin wrote.]
Others however, sought a more permanent solution to the question of military service. Conference after conference was called to find a solution to the problem. In the meantime certain events transpired that convinced Klubnikin that the signs he was so patiently awaiting had now appeared. Some time around the turn of the century, in the villages of Melikoy and Romanovka, without previous consultation of any kind, people spontaneously began to gather in the middle of the night for prayer services.
At approximately the same time a tremendous flash of light had appeared in the sky.* Many people witnessed the phenomenon, awed and mystified by the manifestation, but being for the most part illiterate, they did not note the date nor the hour of the occurrence so that now we are without a written record of the event although many are alive now who heard of it first hand from their parents. [Footnote: The Los Angeles Times of Sunday, Feb. 9, 1969 contained a dispatch from Chihuahua, Mexico describing a similar phenomena that occurred in Southwest United States and Northeast Mexico the previous day. "A blinding blue-white fireball, believed to be a meteor turned night into day across Mexico and S.W. United States. The light was so brilliant we could see an ant walking on the floor", it said. An American astronomer visiting an observatory in Texas said; "It was extremely bright. We had high clouds in the area but it burned right through. It was several times brighter than a full moon".] [This was the Allende Meteorite shower. "Meteor-Like Object Turns Night Into Day: Blue-White Fireball Seen for 1,000 Miles, Vanishes Over North Mexico's Mountains", Los Angeles Times, February 9, 1969, page A-10.]
[ * Table shows possible sources for this light, before winter beginning 1900, and 3 after.]
Date Meteorite name Country State or province Classification Distance*
April 10, 1890
April 7, 1891
Indarch Azerbaijan Baku EH4
September 28, 1891
September 22, 1893
Zabrodje Belarus Vitebsk L6
July 27, 1894
Ukraine Odessa LL4
May 9, 1895
Nagy-Borové Slovakia Stredoslovensky L5
April 13, 1896
Lesves Belgium Namur L6
May 19, 1897
Meuselbach Germany Thuringen L6
August 1, 1897
Zavid Bosnia and Herzegovina
March 12, 1899 Bjurböle Finland
Uusimaa L/LL4 (broke,
330 kg, 728 lbs)
Magnesia Turkey Aydin IAB complex iron
July 8, 1900 Alexandrovsky
July 25, 1900 Ofehértó
August 23, 1900 Leonovka Ukraine Chernihiv L
[* None of the Meteorite names have a description shown. Assuming the "tremendous flash of light .. in the sky" is reported from Klubnikin's village of Nikitino (Fioletovo), then the approximate distance of each meteor from the "Many people [who] witnessed the phenomenon" can be estimated.
[PAGE 18] The third sign also appeared soon after these when in the village of Malo-Tiukma people began to sing a song whose gist was; "Behold, the bridegroom cometh".
Being fully convinced by now, Klubnikin confided his secret to some elders who were closest to him in spirit and urged them to take measures to leave the country altogether as there was going to be a period of great tribulation in Russia in the very near future.
This gave the needed impetus to those who were seeking a permanent solution to the question of compulsory military service, efforts which in the winter [at beginning] of 1900 culminated in a decision [by Spiritual Christians] to petition the Tsar's government for a release from the obligation of military service. Four elders were selected to personally present the petition in St. Petersburg. Philip M. Shubin and Ivan G. Samarin were selected from
the region ofKars [governate] and Simon T. Shubin and Ivan K. Holopoff were chosen to represent the region ofErevan [governate].
The petition as quoted in part from page 749 of the Book of Spirit and Life is as follows "Your Imperial Majesty! In view of our Christian upbringing, the existing compulsory military obligation contradicts the faith that we profess. Our youth are also instructed thusly, but endure it because of fear of punishment for refusal to obey. Sooner or later they will refuse to do so. Fearing to bear the suffering for refusal on the one hand and not wanting to provoke the government to harsh measures on the other, we ask Your Imperial Majesty to free us from personal military service. If that is impossible, we ask to be allowed to leave the country with our families."
[PAGE 19] The delegates after making the long journey to the capital [St. Petersburg], returned with a negative reply and in the spring of the same year, 1900, the Pryguny chose Philip M. Shubin and Ivan G. Samarin while the [Molokane] Postoyanaye chose Feodor T. Butchneff to go to Canada to survey the possibility of migration to that country, supporting them with signatures representing 1000 people.
Meanwhile Klubnikin took it upon himself to inform the villagers in
theErevan [governate] region. Traveling from one village to another, he confided his revelations to elders in that area who, in his opinion, were sympathetic to the cause but being told about others who were not favorably disposed and fearing betrayal as an agitator, he returned to Romanovka and concentrated his efforts in the region ofKars [governate], not neglecting to inform the Armenian brethren in [Karakala] Karakallathat unless they left the country their people will endure far more in the coming period of tribulation than their Russian brethren. This warning was heeded by the majority of the Dukhonvy [Pryguny] Armenians and when the time came they followed the latter to America. [Footnote: The prophesy concerning the Armenians literally came to pass in the first world war. When the Turkish army marched through the area in 1917, they committed unspeakable atrocities against the Armenian people in all the villages, including [Karakala] Karakalla. For that reason the memory of Efeem Gerasimitch Klubnikin is revered among the Armenian [Pentecostals] Molokans to this day. [See: Armenian Genocide]
The three delegates meanwhile arrived in Canada and inspected the Doukhobor settlements in central Canada [map by Jonathan Kalmakoff] Manitoba as well as [and] land in other provinces
in the Dominion, at the same time conferring with Canadian government officials in Ottawa who agreed to grant a 100 year exemption from military service to the [non-Doukhobor Spiritual Christians] Molokans. After that they visited several states in the Northwest part of the United States as guests of railroad company officials who had surplusland to sell on acceptable terms.
[PAGE 20] During their absence another, younger group of men were preparing to leave for Canada on a similar mission but at their own expense. These men — Aleksei Ivanich Agaltsoff, his three nephews, Mikhai N. Agaltsoff, Andrei N. Agaltsoff and Vasili I. Holopoff and Aleksey I. Silvkoff who was not related to the others — were also supported by signatures representing 1000 persons. While the first group was on their return journey, the younger group were leaving for Canada in April of 1900. These were to become the pioneer [Spiritual Christian] Molokan settlers in America for they spent about nine months in Canada and then, upon the advice of a Russian traveler [Demens?] whom they met in Winnipeg, moved to Los Angeles where they secured work laying tracks for the newly-organized Pacific Electric R.R. Co. at wages of $1.75 to $2.00 per day.
The four Molokan pioneers in Los Angeles.
Left to right: Vasili I. Holopoff,* Aleksei Ivanich Agaltsoff, Mikhail N. Agaltsoff, Andrei N. Agaltsoff.
Photographed in Winnipeg [Canada] in 1900.
[Photo] Courtesy of John A. Agaltsoff.
Click to Enlarge
[ * The first man, V.I. Holopoff, spent five years serving in the Russian cavalry. He settled in Hartline, central Washington, and worked in Vernon, British Columbia, Canada. On May 25, 1915 he joined the Canadian military. See his Attestation Paper : Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force". On the back of the form he wrote in: "Religious Denominations: Other Protestants 'Brotherhood' ." This may be short for "Brotherhood of Spiritual Christians." — Molokan Soldier Enlisted in WWI Canadian Expeditionary Force, Doukhobor Genealogy Message Board, post by Jon Kalmakoff, 5 Mar 2007, with many replies.]
The oldest of this group — Aleksei I. Agaltsoff — after a stay of one year in Los Angeles, returned home. Of the remaining four, Vasili Holopoff decided not to return to Russian while the other three, after an absence of another year following the return of their uncle, returned home with a glowing account of their life in California, its glorious climate, abundance of work for willing hands as compared to severe winters and poorer living conditions in the old country.
It is very probable that the report of these young men had considerable influence in the final decision to make the migration because the report of the three older delegates was not unanimous. Although Shubin and Samarin's [Prygun] report was highly favorable, [F.T.] Butchneff's [Molokan] report threw a damper on the whole movement. He reported in effect, that America was not a place for religious people, the climate in Canada too severe and the Doukhobors were struggling hard to survive. His report had a decidedly negative effect on the [Molokane] Postoyanaye and henceforth they ceased their activities in support of the migration.
[PAGE 21] Some of the Pryguny were also swayed by Butchneff's report. However, this did not stop Klubnikin who continued to warn the people of the coming calamities in Russia, nor did it discourage Shubin and Samarin who redoubled their efforts before the authorities for permission to leave the country en Masse. More petitions were written and presented to the Tsar in St. Petersburg as well as to his Viceroy in Tiflis.
The authorities were decidedly antagonistic to these activities. Nevertheless the resolve to move did not weaken. On the contrary, growing bolder, the elders decided to present a final petition containing these statements; "Your Imperial Majesty! Your rejection of our pleas for freedom from military service and permission to leave the country not only did not weaken our resolve, on the contrary, it strengthened out spirit to continue our efforts until the end ... Therefore we ask Your Majesty that orders be given to permit us to move beyond the confines of Russia. We ask Thee as the Tsar and Sovereign of the people, ruler of the throne of the nation. It is in Thy power to give freedom to those who labor and are heavily laden".
In response to this final plea Philip M. Shubin and Ivan G. Samarin were arrested by the civil and police authorities and confined in jail in the city of Kars as subversive agitators.
When their followers in the near-by villages heard of this they gathered in large groups in Kars [ ] and remonstrated [objected] before the authorities who, in turn, requested them to disperse pending the disposition of the case by the higher authorities. But the people, although quiet, were firm in their demands for the release of their leaders.
This went on for a few days. Meanwhile, an attorney with a Molokan background was retained to negotiate their release. After spending fifty days in jail in Kars, through the combined efforts of the people and the attorney, Shubin and Samarin were released. After this incident there was no further interference [PAGE 22] on the part of the government and no preventive measures taken to stop the emigration except that no men of military age were issued passports to leave the country. But this did not deter the emigration because men of that age bracket (21) had no difficulty in crossing the border illegally by being smuggled across the border into Germany by organized bands of smugglers for a certain fee, indeed, a number of men already in the Army deserted their regiments and were likewise smuggled across the border.
Although the government ceased its interference, the Pryguny themselves were not yet unanimous in the decision to move. There was strong opposition on the part of very influential elders as well as on the part of some very respected prophets who proclaimed repeatedly that our final gathering place of refuge was not in America but right there near the base of Mount Ararat as foretold in the writings of Maxim Gavrilovitch [Rudomyotkin]; that although the [pakhod] prophesies of Klubnikin will certainly come to pass, it was their firm conviction that the Omnipotent God will protect Tiflis people from harm in the face of all calamities.
The actions of these prominent prophets — Ivan Mihailovitch Butchneff of Malo-Tiukma and Aleksey Semionitch Zadorkin, of Nikitina to name the most prominent ones-influenced a considerable number of sincerely devout people who were strong believers in prophesies but who were torn between their loyalties to the opposing views.
Others were opposed to the emigration because of their attachment to their worldly accumulation; while yet others, themselves influential elders, disliked to subordinate their prestige to a younger leadership for it must be admitted that Shubin, Samarin, Agaltsoff and Klubnikin and others prominent in the movement were in their fifties, too young by [Spiritual Christian] Molokan standards to be leading such an important movement.
[PAGE 23] This debate continued in all [Spiritual Christian] Molokan villages throughout Trans-Caucasia and the Trans-Caspian regions for about three years or until the beginning of the winter of 1904. [Meanwhile about 40 led by V.G. Pivovaroff leave Kars May, 1, 1904 arrived in Los Angeles in ]
It was at this time that the testimony of the recently returned brothers [Mikhail N. and Andrei N.] Agaltsoff played such a decisive role. Very early in that winter a conference was assembled by the elders of the Kars [governate] region in the village of Novo-Mihailovka where representatives of ten communities were present, including a leading member of the Armenian community of [Karakala]
Karakalla, Ardzuman Ivanitch Ohanessian, who was much respected in the Russian [Spiritual Christian] Molokan communities.
In accordance with [Spiritual Christian] Molokan customs, a three day fast was declared followed by a prayer to God for guidance. After the prayers and during the repast, the brothers Agaltsoff were questioned closely by the elders and guests relative to their life in America. Evidently their testimony was convincing for it turned the tide in favor of the migration.
During this repast there was yet another prophesy, a prophesy which was quickly interpreted by [Armenian] Ardzuman Ivanitch [Ohanessian] to mean that the migration must begin but it must begin in secret, especially from the authorities. This interpretation was, approved by the whole assembly. Thus the decision was taken to begin in earnest.
On May 1, 1904 the first group of approximately 30 persons [led by Prygun V.G. Pivovaroff] left Kars via Tiflis to Batoum where they boarded a steamer bound for Odessa. At Odessa they disembarked and took a train for Bremen, Germany where they again boarded an immigrant ship to New York.
Arriving in New York the group was compelled to split up into two groups because the larger portion lacked sufficient funds to proceed to Los Angeles. The smaller group, composed of Vasiley Gavrilovitch [Pivovaroff]
Pondvaroffhis wife and four children, his brother-in-law, Ivan Ivanitch Rudametkin; Mihail Rogoff, his wife and two children, proceeded to Los Angeles where, [PAGE 24] after a period of two months Vasiley Gavrilitch managed to arrange credit with the Southern Pacific Railroad Co. for the passage of the group stranded in New York. [Some believe that a few stayed in NewYork.] The above mentioned 11 persons, led by Pivovaroff, are actually the first [Pryguny] Molokans to arrive in Los Angeles for permanent residence. [Pivovaroff performed the first Prygun wedding in Los Angeles on December 24, 1904. Prygun and most Spiritual Christian marriages were arranged by parents for a price and not legally registered until 1912.] Following this group came other small and large groups, the migration gaining momentum until it reached its peak in 1907.
A group of [Spiritual Christian] Molokan emigrants in Bremen, Germany awaiting ship to America, 1905.
[Photo] Courtesy of John A. Agalstoff
Click to enlarge
Meanwhile, agents for various shipping concerns of Western Europe were very active in all Eastern European countries, offering their services and the services of their companies to prospective immigrants to America. [Competition increased illegal immigration, drove prices down and caused a federal investigation in 1907.] The Hamburg-American Lines of Hamburg, Germany and the [Norddeutscher Lloyd] North German Lloyd of Bremen, being the largest in their field, were able to attract the most passengers. They became the principal carriers of the [Spiritual Christian] Molokan emigrants although several groups [with little or no money] were induced by other companies to take the longer route by way of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea to Marseilles, France and thence to Panama, crossing the Isthmus by train (it was ten years before the completion of the Panama canal [in 1914]) and then north along the West coast of North America by steamer to San Francisco. This route was so long, involved so many hardships that no other groups willingly chose it after 1905.
On the other hand, the route through Germany meant crossing the Atlantic at its narrowest. Going overland by train through Russia, Poland and Germany, they would embark either at Bremen or Hamburg. After crossing the Atlantic they would either disembark at New York or as many did, would stop in Philadelphia or Baltimore to unload freight and passengers then would continue on the same ship around the Gulf of Mexico to Galveston, Texas and then by train to Los Angeles.
Arriving by train in Hamburg or Bremen, they would be quartered in immigrant barracks belonging to the steamship companies where they would await the departure of the next [PAGE 25] immigrant ship. These ships sailed to America at intervals of two weeks.
While thus awaiting, they would have to undergo a series of health inspections demanded by the United States Health authorities, in fact the U.S. consular offices in these and other large European ports maintained their own staffs of doctors for this purpose. In particular, the prospective immigrant had to show evidence of smallpox vaccination. If none were showing they would be vaccinated on the spot. Their lungs would have to be free of any suspicion of tuberculosis and their eyes would be closely examined for signs of trachoma.
If the inspecting doctors were convinced that the immigrant was free from these and other contagious diseases, he was allowed to board the next scheduled ship hoping that nothing unfavorable would develop at the examination in the port of entry.
It was at this point that many heart rending scenes of separation took place because, not infrequently some member of the family failed to pass the necessary health inspection and was compelled to return to his birth place, either alone, or if a child, accompanied by one or both of his parents while the rest of the family continued the journey to America.
In the nature of things, it was either the very old or the very young member of the family that would fail the examination. Measles and small pox in the children and tuberculosis in the aged was a frequent cause of rejection. Occasionally children would be confined in a local hospital for further observation and after a couple of weeks the symptoms would disappear and the family would be allowed to proceed happily on their journey. But the aged were usually without hope and would return home with much sorrow and tears. Occasionally too, persons turned back at this point would try again after an interval of some months and would somehow succeed, [PAGE 26] but others would be too spent or too discouraged to try again and the separation would become permanent.
For these reasons one large group in the summer of 1907, having several such rejects among them, decided to heed the advice of some agents who advised them that they could easily enter the United States by going to Argentina first and applying for admission from there, the agents further convinced them that the journey would not be much longer than via New York. With these high hopes the whole group sailed on the next steamer for Buenos Aires.
Arriving in that great city, they discovered to their dismay that things were not as simple as the agents claimed; that there was still a lot of red tape to unravel. Seeking an escape from their predicament, they were advised by some Russian speaking people that their best solution would be to travel by train to the city of Mendoza [, Argentina], at the foot of the Andes mountains and from there on foot and by pack mule along narrow trails across the Andes via the 12,640 ft. high mountain pass to Santiago, Chili and thence by steamer to California.
After several weeks in Buenos Aires the group, consisting of 70 people of all ages, proceeded by train to Mendoza. Since their reserve of money was practically spent, they decided to find work in that city as casual laborers in order to replenish their funds for the balance of the journey, meanwhile arranging for guides and mules for the difficult and hazardous trip across the mountains to Chili.
Three months after arriving in Mendoza they set out on the seven day journey across the continental divide over the Uspallata Pass, spending the nights at wayside stations provided for the purpose by bordering countries and, incidentally burying a new born baby and losing a guide whose mule lost its footing on the narrow trail and plunged headlong down the steep mountain side, killing itself and the guide.
[PAGE 27] Completing this harrowing journey, the group finally arrived in Santiago, Chili where, to their great and pleasant surprise, they were met by two young [Spiritual Christians] Molokans who were stranded there for lack of funds and who found work in the city as day laborers.
While in Santiago the group split in two, the majority remaining there to rest up and to replenish their dwindling funds while several younger men and women, being more impatient, boarded a steamer in Valparaiso and sailed to Panama where they crossed the Isthmus by train and proceeded north by another steamer for Vera Cruz, Mexico and thence by train to El Paso, Texas where they finally entered the United States three months after leaving Santiago.
Those who remained eventually wired their relatives in Los Angeles for assistance and, after burying a woman member of the group who died there after childbirth, were able to proceed without further incidents by steamer to Ensenada, Baja California, entering the United States at San Ysidro, Calif. some time in the winter of 1908. [Footnote: This group included the Lydayeff, the Kornoff, Veloff, and Meloserdoff families.]
Undoubtedly their hardships exceeded anything that other groups had to endure, perhaps equaling the hardships of the Mormons when these had to cross the Rocky Mountains in their trek to the Great Salt Lake. But hard as it was, costly in life and money, it proved to be infinitely better than the alternative choice of returning to Russian from Bremen, perhaps to endure the wars, the revolution and famine that Russia was subjected to after 1914.
As for the steam ships that catered to the immigrants trade, these were nothing more or less than freighters whose upper holds were converted for passenger carrying purposes by installation of double-decked steel bunks arranged in [PAGE 28] sets of four — two bunks end to end, two side by side, with narrow aisles between each set. Some ships, in addition to the accommodation for the immigrants, (who were called steerage passengers) had accommodations for higher paying passengers. These accommodations, when viewed by the steerage passengers, seemed to be the ultimate in luxury.
Before the ship sailed, the holds were crammed with steerage passengers to full capacity. Each ethnic group, as indeed, each family group, desperately sought accommodations near each other for the duration of what to them was a new and, perhaps a dangerous adventure.
The holds soon became a bedlam of noise as mothers tried to comfort little babies crying from fright in the strange surroundings deep in the semi-darkness of the hold. Older children becoming lost, were yelling for their mothers. These youngsters soon became acclimated to the new scene and were having a great adventure. Older people would be yelling at each other over real or imagined wrongs. After a day of sailing, however, as the ship entered the English Channel, and later the Atlantic Ocean, the seas became very rough and the passengers became sea-sick, remaining in their bunks without the strength to make any noise until the seas became less violent or the passengers became acclimated to the motions of the ship.
In any case, the results of seasickness plus the smell of crowded humanity created an indescribable stench. Whenever the weather permitted, the passengers were all routed out of their bunks and forced to ascend to the top decks, allowing the crews to clean up the holds. At the same time the Ship's doctors would inspect the passengers for signs of contagious diseases. it must be remembered that the ship's owners were responsible for the health of every passenger until the very moment when the health inspectors at the United States port of entry admitted him. In the event any of them failed to pass the inspection [PAGE 29] at that point, the ship was contract bound to return the immigrant to the port of embarkation at its own cost. It was, therefore, advantageous for the ship to deliver its human cargo in as healthy condition as possible.
In spite of all precautions, passengers became ill and some even died during the voyage and were therefore buried at sea in the same age-old manner as they are buried even today. It is a strange mystery why ships could not be equipped with mortuaries so that a misfortune such as this could be more bearable for the bereaved relatives by making it possible for them to bury their loved ones at the nearest port.
More than one [Spiritual Christian] Molokan was thus buried at sea. The only consolation for the bereaved family was that they were allowed to perform their own burial rites, selecting some worthy member to perform the rite if no recognized presbyter was present.
Not all was tragedy, however. There were many occasions of lighter nature also. Babies were born on board these ships, the mother receiving excellent care in the Ship's hospital ward. When the weather permitted them to remain on the top deck there was much singing of religious and folk songs. Other nationalities indulged in their own forms of recreation, such as dancing, wrestling and the like.
Finally the long anticipated day came when the ship entered the harbor. As the ship approached the dock the passengers were told to pin their identity cards to their lapels or hang them around their necks.
All was bustle and excitement. The meager belongings — usually bedding and clothes — were tied together, loaded on the backs of adults and brought out to the top decks. Older children too, were laden with light baggage, usually tea kettles without which no [Russian] Molokan family ever traveled.
Immigrants fought for position in line, each family desperately trying to stay together. As the gang plank was tied to the ship they began slowly to descend, being herded by guards to [PAGE 30] the many lines where teams of expert doctors and custom inspectors stood ready to examine each immigrant individually, passing each family to especially constructed wire cages and sorting them as to their destination and condition of health and detaining those whose appearance showed signs of sickness, also detaining those who lacked the required $5.00 in cash for each immigrant as expense money for traveling by train to their destination.
The unfortunate ones who were detained for reasons of illness were housed in government accommodations such as Ellis Island in New York harbor and similar places in other ports of entry. There they would be comfortably housed and fed for the duration of their stay. If they were denied admission the ship would take them back to the port of embarkation on the next sailing date. Although these accommodations were clean and comfortable they were places of confinement nevertheless because no one was permitted to leave them until the final disposition of their application.
Eventually, after weeding out the whole complement of passengers consisting of between 2,000 and 3,000 persons, all but very few were allowed to proceed to their future homes in the new world. The rejected ones, alas, had to return to Europe to face an uncertain future, separated from members of their family and friends, completely broken in spirit and ruined financially.
The [Spiritual Christian] Molokan migration continued until 1912. Only a few families arrived in that year. None arrived in 1913. Perhaps more would have come in following years but the outbreak of the war m Europe in the summer of 1914 closed the gates to the United States completely. Never again would they open as widely as formerly. At the end of the war, in 1921, the United States Congress, to discourage the entrance of immigrants from Eastern Europe, passed a law restricting their numbers by a [PAGE 31] quota system which favored the immigrants of Western Europe against those from the East [, Immigration Restriction Act of 1921].
But even this law would have permitted the entrance of a small number of immigrants from Russia but the Soviet government in its turn prevented the emigration of anyone from the confines of its borders, therefore the year 1912 could be considered as the termination of [Spiritual Christian] Molokan migration and from that year until 1950 no personal contact was possible between the [Spiritual Christians] Molokans in America and their brethren in Russia with one exception.
In 1922, after the Bolshevik Revolution and after the civil wars in Russia, several [Molokan] families in San Francisco formed a cooperative [Kalifornia village, Tselinskii District, Rostov Oblast] and returned to the Soviet Union intending to live there permanently. But after about five years they became disillusioned with their life in the new paradise. They were able to return to the United States only on the strength of the fact that each family had one or more children among them who were born in the United States, therefore, being citizens of. U.S. they and their parents could legally claim the right to enter the United States outside of the quota system. In 1927 they all returned bringing the first personal stories of the wars, revolution and the terrible famine of 1921-1922.
[<Contents] [Chapter 2>]
Spiritual Christian History
Spiritual Christians Around the World