Dukh-i-zhizniki in America

An update of Molokans in America (Berokoff, 1969).   — IN-PROGRESS

Enhanced and edited by Andrei Conovaloff, since 2013.  Send comments to Administrator @ Molokane. org

Chapter 3 — Attempts at Farming   [<Chapter 2] [Contents] [Chapter 4>]

    [PAGE 51] After a period of five years in America [, ~1910-1915 depending on arrival,] the [Spiritual Christians] Molokan people were, to all intents and purposes, established in their new environment. [Assimilation began, rooting them in Los Angeles.] The American language and customs no longer seemed strange or outlandish. The school children and the younger teenagers acquired a workable knowledge of the English language. The youth were then used by the parents as interpreters in their daily contacts with local stores, schools or employers. Even the older people had by now, learned some elementary words of English. Some of these were even incorporated in everyday Russian. Such words as ORAIT (all right) [still in use], GOOD-BYE, CARRA (car), LONDA (laundry), SHUZY (shoes), HOUSE, FARMA (farm), STREETCAR, PILE (of lumber), BOSS, JOB, MEESTER (mister), GIMMY (give me), BREAD, etc., and other such simple words were already in every day usage. This helped to some extent to overcome their period of homesickness.

    The more enterprising of the men were finding ways to earn a living outside the lumberyards. The earliest self-employment probably was in hauling of manure from the many stables to a railroad siding where it was sold to a wholesaler who, in turn, shipped the commodity to farmers in the outlying districts. 

    Others hired their [horse and wagon] teams and themselves to haul sand and gravel to contractors of building projects while yet others tried their luck at commercial fishing off the recently opened Port Los Angeles [, Southern Pacific Long Wharf at Santa Monica], now the site of State Beach near Santa Monica. Still others found work in laundries, machine shops, foundries and junk shops. [Most seeking rural life left Los Angeles, many to return.]

    But in the midst of these activities, consciousness of their obligations to God was deep and sincere. The attendance at [PAGE 52] [meetings] churches was regular and complete. Their annual holidays were observed. Everyone dropped all work for the duration of the holiday. The fact that a job would be lost as a consequence did not matter[, but it was an economic shock to their major financial supporter and employer, Captain Demens, who diverted them to Los Angeles from Canada]. In the spring of 1911 just prior to "Paskha" (Russian: Passover), the Holy Spirit moved Afonasy Timofeyitch Bezayeff to proclaim to the elders that a three day fast was to be observed. The fast was to be followed by the usual prayer by all [Pryguny] Molokans of whatever congregation, all to be assembled in one place. (By this time there were four small congregations in the area east of the riverbed in addition to the large one.)  

    The elders decreed that a large tent was to be installed on some near-by vacant lot and that Paskha should be observed together by all congregations after a three-day fast to conform to the command of the Holy Spirit. 

    A large vacant lot was available on the west side of Clarence Street just south of Third Street. Permission was secured for the use of the lot. A large tent commonly used for revival services was rented from a local sporting goods store which set the tent up on the lot while the [Pryguny] Molokans brought in loads of new sweet-smelling pine shavings for the floor and volunteers decorated the tent with real and artificial flowers and boughs. 

    At the appointed time the solemn festivities were begun in unanimity of spirit and harmony. All congregations were participating, including the Armenian brethren [Pryguny]. The presiding elders included Efeem [Efim] G. Klubnikin, Nikolai Ivanovich Agaltsoff, Philip M. Shubin and Vasiley P. Galitzen among others. 

    Dr. Dana W. Bartlett was invited as an honored guest and asked to bring some friends and representatives from the local government, from the clergy and the local schools whom, in his opinion, were appropriate for the occasion. The group that he did bring was quite impressed with the religious fervor that they witnessed as well as with the novel food and the large number of samovars that were gathered for the occasion. 

    [PAGE 53] The following week was the most joyful spiritual observance in the memory of those fortunate enough to be present. Even now, more than a half a century later, living witnesses of the event could not discuss it without emotion. The [Spiritual Christians] Molokans in America witnessed nothing like it, before or since that time. Two other such holidays were observed by them later; one in the spring of 1918 and another in the spring of 1921 but neither could approach the first one in spiritual unity and joyful outpouring of the Holy Spirit. 

    At the conclusion of the migration in 1912 it was estimated that there were approximately 3500 [Spiritual Christians] Molokans [, 94% were Pryguny,] in Southern California and about 1000 [, mostly Molokane, some Pryguny,] in the San Francisco area. The majority of these were from the Kars district. Fewer in numbers were from the villages in the Erevan district decreasingly followed by the Ashkhabad and Tiflis districts. Only one family—the Golubiffs—came from the Baku area. [A few were born in Baku and Azerbaijan, moved to Kars, then to the US. Several showed they migrated directly from Saratov oblast, central Russia.]

    [On August 31, 1911, a large colony of Maksimisty from 2 Erevan guberniya villages, Darachichak (Darachak) and Nikitino, arrived in  Arizona on their own railroad cars, zealously led by Mikhail P. Pivovaroff. Many did not first settle in the slums of Los Angeles, but trying to farm nearby, a location forgotten. They had 2 strokes of economic luck. They were the first congregation to sell California land for a profit which they reinvested in their Arizona commune 2 miles west of Glendale, Arizona; and they were the first agricultural colony to settle in one of the 5 federally funded irrigation projects, the Salt River Valley, which, despite the hot summer weather, greatly aided the farming success of those who persevered. Most all other Spiritual Christian agricultural colonies chose land without irrigation (dry farming) or in investor-funded irrigation districts, which were less profitable. The initial success of Arizona attracted 3 more congregations of Spiritual Christians from Russia, mostly Pryguny, each of which established their own meeting halls in adjacent villages. At it's peak in 1920, the population of these 4 colonies in Arizona may have approached 1000 people in 200 households on 10 square miles, more than double the population of all settlements in Mexico at the time.]

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    Being the majority and having the more prominent elders among their members—Klubnikin, Shubin, Agaltsoff and others—the Kars element dominated the community. But the others accepted this fact as natural and there was no resentment on their part. But by 1909 the community had grown considerably, overcrowding the church building and giving the younger generation an excuse to absent themselves from the services and, what was worse, to find other and very unsuitable means to occupy themselves on Sundays. 

    The parents of these young men began to worry over the new development and sought means to overcome their, indifference to the church with the result that small groups composed of families originating from the same or neighboring Russian village began to break away from the central congregation. 

    The first of these was the Ashkhabadskaia which formed a congregation of its own on North Gless St. Then came the Akhtinskaia on N. Anderson St. Then the Voskresenovskaia [PAGE 54] on Las Vegas St. near the Utah Street school followed by the Darochichagskaia on S. Utah St. 

    Besides the overcrowding there was another strong reason for the break up of the central congregation [Bratskii Soiuz Dukhovykh Prygunov — Russian for: Fraternal Union of Spiritual Jumpers, Братскiй Союзъ Духовныхъ Прыгуновъ]. This was the growing discontent in the Erevan, and to some extent in the Ashkhabad element to the majority's (Kars) element's refusal to accept Maxim Gavrilovich's new ritual in the church and the funeral services. [These immigrants were mainly of 2 opposing faiths, Pryguny and Maskimisty (who split from Pryguny and eventually converted all congregations to Dukh-i-zhizniki using their new books and rituals).]

    The [Maksimist] people from the villages of Akhty, [Darachichak] Darochichag, [Nikitino, Mikitino] Nikitina, Voskresenovka and Delizhan having strong ties to Maxim's native village of [Nikitino, Mikitino] Nikitina and being acquainted with his manuscripts in the old country, insisted that at least some of the services be conducted in the new ritual of Maxim Gavrilovitch. [The most zealous Maksimisty eventually converted all Pryguny in Southern California and Arizona to Dukh-i-zhizniki after 1928 when their ritual book, Kniga solnste, dukh i zhizn', was published.]


    Because the great majority of the Kars [Prygun] element whose native villages were quite remote from [Maksimist] Nikitino, they were unacquainted with them. Since it was 4 years before the manuscripts were brought to America and 7 years before they were published in 1915, the new ritual was strange to them and they resisted its introduction, unwillingly aiding the break up of the central congregation [Bratskii Soiuz Dukhovykh Prygunov — Russian for: Fraternal Union of Spiritual Jumpers, Братскiй Союзъ Духовныхъ Прыгуновъ].

    After the new congregations branched out on their own, they instituted a practice by which at least one service each week—the Sunday evening service—was conducted in the "New" or Maxim's ritual. Indeed, the Voskresenovskaia congregation which was composed of elements from Nikitina, Voskresenovka and Suhoi Fontan [Russian: "Dry Fountain"] used Maxim's ritual in all their services. Their presbyter [presviter, Russian for "presiding elder"] was the much respected elder from Suhoi Fontan, Ivan K. Holopoff. During the first year of its independent existence, some differences developed over the New Ritual in the Voskresenovskaia congregation. Soon the exclusive use of that form of service was abandoned in favor of using it once a week as the others were doing.

    Eventually, and in particular after the publication of "The [PAGE 55] Book of [the Sun,] Spirit and Life" in 1915, all [some Prygun] congregations, including those from the Kars area, adopted the New Ritual. Not only because it was different and more lively, it and added spice to the service. Also the publication of the works of Maxim Gavrilovitch added strength to the position of the Erevan group, making the universal adoption of the New Ritual practically inevitable. [Pryguny in San Francisco, Arizona and Mexico never transformed their localized faiths to Dukh-i-zhiznik, though many members moved to Dukh-i-zhiznik areas and joined congregations there.]

    Not only was the new service ritual adopted by all congregations but the wedding, the Khstini [contracted, slurred Russian: крещение, kreschenie, christening; child dedication.] and the funeral services according to Maxim's ritual became popular and have been in general use by all congregations throughout America and without modification to this day. 

    However, there has been a noticeable decline in the use of the "New" ritual in the church service during the last 20 years [1950s and 1960s]. Some congregations abandoned it altogether and even the more loyal followers of Maxim Gavrilovitch are becoming lax in their zeal. 

    This tendency could perhaps be attributed to the poor attendance at Sunday evening services, a fact which caused the present day generation of [Dukh-i-zhiznik] Molokan people to be entire strangers to the new ritual, not knowing the requisite songs nor prayers. 

    This is regrettable but true. It could only be corrected by a revival of Sunday evening services and by a renewed zeal of the younger leadership.


   Following the establishment of the Guadalupe Valley colony, other attempts at colonization continued without a let up. Egged on by land agents, who heard of their hunger for land, the [Spiritual Christians] Molokans sent delegation after delegation to [Mexico,] Central and Northern California as well as to other parts of the West, seeking a suitable [cheap] area for settlement. But for some mysterious reason no such area was found. There was always some drawback restraining them from making the move. [PAGE 56] Perhaps the agents were too greedy or the [Spiritual Christians] Molokans were too cautious. 

[The more likely reasons for colony failure are:

  1. Few wanted to leave the many irresistible comforts of city/urban life in Los Angeles mild climate, huge year-round food supply, free meeting rooms, abundant utilities (water, gas, electric, sewage), free medical care, free child day care with meals and baths, free county burials, free county court marriages, free education, free supervised playgrounds, free clubs, free supervised sports, free classes for adults by Russian-speaking teachers (English, general education, citizenship, cooking, sewing), free job training and placement, free advice (legal, colonization), low-cost convenient public transportation, outdoor clean water faucets, urban entertainment, police and fire services, much higher wages than rural life, and a choice of many Protestant faiths and entertaining city temptations.
  2. The many divided faiths would never unite in a large colony with one board of directors. At the end of 1910 Cherbak arranged with H. E. Huntington to relocate all Spiritual Christian faiths in North America to neighboring villages on a ~50-square-mile tract along the central California coast, but they refused to relocate together.
  3. Most congregations could not afford to buy enough adjacent irrigated land to farm, except those who went to Arizona with cash and survived the heat and poverty. Some of the first Darachak-Nikitino (Maksimist) colony survived because some bought farm near Los Angeles, and sold it at profit which financed their resettlement. Similarly, some of the Selimskii (Prygun) colony worked in San Francisco and bought cash with them to Arizona, and those who stayed after WWI took over the discounted land contracts of the majority who returned to California or Russia.]

    Being strangers in America, they were not aware that there were agencies of the government available to advise them where to seek land and on methods of acquiring it as well as to teach them American ideas and methods of farming. [None have yet been found with early homesteads. So it appears that they preferred to either rent or buy land rather than sign a contract with the government for free land. Believers in MGR prophesies to return to Mt. Ararat warned that all will soon go back to Russia, until their final denial by Turkey in 1945. The Jeromskiy (Prygun) colony in Arizona was under the direction of the Arizona State Agricultural Extension, which provided education and supervision, but their private water district did not deliver irrigation water during their first planting season, so most relocated south to the Salt River Valley Water Users' Association by the end of 1916.]

    Be that as it may, it was not until 1911 that the next colony was founded. This was in the Salt River Irrigation basin near Phoenix, Arizona. It was (and still is) an extremely fertile land with an abundance of irrigation water from the recently completed Roosevelt Dam. The land, comprising about 400 acres was bought from a land owner, R. P. [Davie] Davey, who [bought] built a new sugar refinery in the town of Glendale and who was anxious to develop the area as a sugar beet center. The price of the land was $125.00 per acre.

     [W. J. Murphy built the sugar factory in 1901, which was never successful. Davies was with the 3rd and 4th of 7 plant owner corporations. The sugar factory was only operated for 4 years, from 1909 to 1913. During that time Davie moved from Colorado to Santa Monica where he probably learned of the recent Russian immigrants crowded in the Los Angeles slums who desperately wanted their own farm colony. Many U.S. sugar factories already successfully contracted with immigrant Germans from Russia to grow sugar beets. Davie sent his subsidiary Greene and Griffin Real Estate and Investment Company to arrange the sale of the first 40 acres of his company land 3 miles west of the town of Glendale for a Spiritual Christian village which he named "Davie Town." He may have assumed, or was led to believe, as others were falsely told, that all these immigrants from Russia were collectively organized and experienced farmers.]

    A group of about thirty families, led by Mihail P. Pivovaroff, comprised the nucleus of the colony that at one time numbered more than 100 families. It left Los Angeles in the fall of 1911 and in the spring of 1912, another small group that went there directly from [Bichinak village, Erevan governate, ] Russia joined them.

    [On September 1, 1911, 30 Maksimist families arrived in Glendale by rail. Later Pryguny from San Francisco (Potter Valley, North California), Selimski, and a group from Mexico now called Dzheromskiy, originally from Tuikma (Dukhma) village, Kars oblast, joined them. Jeromskiy were named after "Jerome Junction," a railroad depot settlement in Chino Valley, Arizona, NOT after the mountain-side mining town of Jerome, 18 miles east. By 1916, there was a total of about 195 families (on ~8 sq.mi.)." — from page 4 of Molokans in Arizona by Fae Papin-Veronin, 1999.] 

    Although the land was fertile and water plentiful, the colonists had to endure extreme hardships for a time while living in temporary tents with their large broods of children during the rain and the cold of the first winter and the extreme heat of the first summer. They cooked their meals in the open and hauling their drinking water from the town pump in Glendale, two miles away. 

    In addition to physical privations and hardships endured by the colonists during the first year, they also had to undergo a period of training in a system of farming entirely strange to them. They were accustomed only to raise grain for their own use and by the most primitive dry farming methods in the cold, high plateau of Armenia. 

Darachichak (now: Tsaghkadzor) is about 5900 feet (1800 meters) above sea level, and Nikitino (now Fioletovo) is about 5600 feet (1700 meters) above seal level. The following 3 congregations came from 3 villages in south Kars oblast, now Turkey, also about 5900 feet (1800 meters) above sea level.

    [PAGE 57] Here in a semi-tropical climate of Arizona they had first of all to learn modern irrigation methods, to plant, cultivate and harvest the crop of sugar beets by machinery as well as to market the crop at a profit. All this had to be learned by trial and error, a costly method at best. Indeed, farmers of many years experience in that valley did not fare too well with sugar beets either, so that many of them began to venture into other crops for more profitable undertaking. 

    After a couple of years of profitless labor, the [Pryguny and Maksimisty] Molokans too saw the futility of beet farming, because the beet sugar plant closed in 1913. Many contracts were changed to grow sugar beet seed for decades. Resewing their fields with alfalfa, they some turned towards dairy farming as a more promising field. Although this meant that the whole family—men, women and children—had to work extremely hard for seven days a week, there was at least a little gain at the end of the month to show for the back breaking work.

    The improvement in their material conditions continued slowly but steadily. This allowed them to buy modest houses to shelter them against the extreme heat of the summer and the rains of the winter. At the same time they were becoming acclimatized to the country and its way of life. Their apparent contentment attracted other families from Los Angeles. 

    By the beginning of the Great War in Europe they were established as a going colony. But the great conflict in Europe revolutionized their life, both spiritually and materially. Spiritually it brought them into conflict with the United States government over the question of military conscription. Materially it raised their living standard to an unheard of heights (up to that time) and then, at its conclusion, shattering their economy and bankrupting them so that the majority had to abandon their farms to return to Los Angeles heavily indebted to their friends and relatives. 

    Previous to the Great War the cotton production of the United States centered in the southeastern section of the country, but [PAGE 58] the war created such a demand for that commodity that other sections of the nation, including the Salt River Valley of Arizona, succumbed to the lure of the enormously high prices that it brought. 

    The fever bug of easy money likewise bit the [Prygun and Maksimist] Molokan colony of [outside west of] Glendale [to outside northeast of Tolleson]. Many families of Los Angeles were attracted by the possibilities of getting rich quickly. In a short time the little colony of 30 families became a good sized [Prygun and Maksimist] Molokan community of over 100 families, many of whom began to sport new automobiles and other symbols of prosperity, a shaky prosperity based on easy credit. 

    This war boon lasted until the beginning of 1921 when the economic crash that followed the end of the war shut off the supply of easy credit resulting in the collapse of the price of cotton and bankrupting 80% of [Pryguny and Maksimisty] Molokan farmers. These had no alternative but to return to Los Angeles as best they could, some traveling across the desert with their household articles on horse drawn vehicles. Only about 25 extended families remained in Arizona to start life all over again.

    Despite the existence of these two more or less successful colonies— Guadalupe [Baja California, Mexico] and Arizona—the [Pryguny] Molokans of Los Angles did not cease their quest for land suitable for colonization in other parts of the western states. 

    At times Klubnikin and other leading elders expressed their doubts about the wisdom of scattering the colonies. These doubts were to a large extent disregarded. The elders did not care to exert their not inconsiderable influence on the people nor did they urge them to join one or the other of the existing colonies. Nor, for that matter, did they themselves care to lead them to any other location but remained in the city until their death. Consequently, small groups began to scatter to various parts of the western states to their eventual detriment. [Berokoff seems to conclude that their kingdom should be in the city.]

    In 1913 several families moved to the San Joaquin valley [Central California] near the town of Earlimart, forming the nucleus of future [PAGE 59] colonies of Kerman, Shafter, Delano and Porterville. In 1914 another group of about 35 families purchased land near the town of Hartline, in [Grant County] Douglas county, about 100 miles west of Spokane, Washington, and 30 miles south of the present site of the Grand Coulee Dam. 


    This latter group [in Central Washington] bought their land from a local land company, which was represented by its head, a former governor of the state. This company, unknown to the [Pryguny] Molokans, had an unsavory reputation among the local farmers, a reputation that was proven to be bad at the end of the first harvest season. It was only then, when the time came to settle the yearly account with the company that the buyers realized that their contracts were loaded 75% in favor of the company. It was impossible for them to make a living and make their payments on the land under the terms of the contract. Therefore, they surrendered their claims to the land, each family losing the down payment on the land ($400.00 per each quarter section of land) plus a whole seasons work for the benefit of the company. 

    Nevertheless, with the exception of two families who returned south to Arizona, the rest decided to remain in the region because it was an ideal farming country for people with their Russian background. 

    It was a beautiful and healthy region of rolling wheat land with a mild summer and snow covered winters where temperatures seldom fell below zero. But it had its drawbacks too. Every four or five years there would be dry, rainless and even snowless years and if two such years occurred in succession, the results were serious indeed for the farmers. 

    In other respects it was ideal for a [Prygun] Molokan community. Farming methods were not too difficult to learn. Instead of ox-drawn wooden plows of Russia, they took easily to teams of six and eight horses to pull a two and three furrow steel plow, and instead of sowing the grain by hand, horses drawn mechanical [PAGE 60]  seeders were used. Harvesting the grain was a little harder to learn but after the first season, and with the help of their American neighbors, they became very adept at it. 

    As a matter of fact their American neighbors helped them in every way. They were all good, law abiding, Christian people, always willing to lend a helping hand, materially as well as with their experienced advice. 

    But the biggest attraction of the region for the [Pryguny] Molokans was the periodic rest between seasons of work. Thus there was a break between the plowing and sowing seasons. Between the sowing and harvesting and when the grain was threshed and delivered to the grain elevators in town and the winter wheat planted, came four months of complete rest during the winter when the only activity on the farm was feeding and watering the stock. The rest of the time could be devoted to the favorite [Prygun] Molokan pastime of visiting each other. 

    Little wonder then that the group, despite their small number and several bad years due to drought, would not return to Los Angeles. It was not until the fall of 1921, when word reached them of the imminence of Pokhod [resettlement] that they, fearing to be left behind, returned to Los Angeles. Even then two families were determined to stay on. However, they too, realizing that their growing children would soon have to find their life mates somewhere, returned to Los Angeles the following fall.

*    *   *    *


    In the spring of 1914, following the departure of the Washington group, another good-sized group attempted to found a colony in the state of Utah in a place called Park Valley, in the northwest comer of the state. 

    This group too was victimized by unscrupulous land agents who induced the [Pryguny and] Molokans to part with hard earned cash and, in some instances to trade their homes in Los Angeles for bare, marginal land in an arid region without sufficient rainfall [PAGE 61] and no prospect of irrigation. The result was a complete fiasco, causing great financial loss to the would be colonists who were compelled to abandon their land at the end of the first season and to return to Los Angeles, broken in spirit and financially ruined. 

    Undaunted by these failures, other groups and individuals sought their own areas to colonize. The San Francisco [Molokan] community, by that time grown quite numerous, was just as concerned about the insidious city influence on the growing generation as the Los Angeles people. They too tried their luck at colonization, one group attempting a colony east of the city of Redding [California], in the Mt. Lassen region, while another chose a location near the city of Klamath Falls, Oregon

    However, their luck was no better than that of the Los Angeles groups. They too had to abandon their colonies, some joining the Arizona colony [Buchnak, Jerome, Selim] while others [Molokane] concentrated their efforts near the small towns of El Mira [Elmira] and Sheridan, near the city of Sacramento. These small colonies became permanent and more or less successful. 

    In addition to the Guadalupe Valley and the Arizona colonies, the most notable and the most lasting one was founded in 1915 in [northwest of] Kerman, Fresno County, California. This land was bought from the heirs of one of the biggest landholders of California—The [Kerchkoff] Kerkhoff Land Co. The purchase price was $130.00 per acre on easy terms. In some cases the sellers accepted the buyer's modest homes in Los Angeles as down payments on the land. [For summary of Kerman history, see: "2007 Kerman General Plan Update Part II", Chapter 3, pages 3-3 to 3-9.]

     Located in the most fertile valley in the United States, it was not too densely populated at that time, consequently there was an adequate water supply for the whole area. 

    Immediately upon their arrival they planted young grapevines and some alfalfa as the majority of local farmers were doing at the time. The fact that the San Joaquin valley was not at that time a cotton-producing region was a fortunate happen-[PAGE 61]stance for them for it prevented them from the total bankruptcy that their friends in Arizona experienced. Theirs was a commodity [grapes, raisins, fruit, nuts] whose demand was not entirely based on the war, neither was its price regulated by speculation as cotton was, consequently they were better able to withstand the few years of hardships that followed the collapse of the war boom.

 [<Chapter 2] [Contents] [Chapter 4>]

Spiritual Christian History
Spiritual Christians Around the World