Correspondence with Dr Bowen

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See Dr. Bowen's research on Jumpers and Molokans in Utah and Arizona

Wed, 28 Mar 2001
TO: Park Valley, Utah,  Molokans 
FROM: Dr. Bowen

Thanks for getting back to me about my interest in the Molokan Russians who lived for a short while in Park Valley, Utah. This semester has been a busy and hectic one, and I haven't been very good about my correspondence. As I think I mentioned earlier, my wife [also a professor] had pneumonia (and then I got it!). .... So we have been preoccupied about health concerns, to the detriment of other, more interesting things.

It's true that I am "examining" the colony in Park Valley, but I'm in the very early stages of this research, and at this point I don't have a whole lot more than what has appeared in Sarah Yates' work. [Yates, Sarah. "From Dust to Dust: A Russian Sojourn" Beehive History, Volume 25 (1999) pp 14-17.] What I have begun to do, and will continue when possible, is work my way through the U.S. manuscript census for 1910 for Los Angeles, where many of the Molokans lived prior to moving to Park Valley. I have "found" some information about several families; these include those of John Chernabaeff, the various Kalpakoffs (including Alex, Andrew, John,and Mike), Mike Kunahoff, Joseph Potapoff, Alex Rudometkin, and Willi Volkoff (or Voloff). Most of the men worked at a lumber yard, and some of their wives and older daughters worked in a laundry or laundries. I also have these folks' addresses, the approximate time when they arrived in the USA, and the place and date of their childrens' births. These families all lived very close to one another, so when I find one of them it doesn't take too long before I find another, but to track down the whole group will take a whole lot more digging. Fortunately, I live only 50 miles from the National Archives in Washington, DC, where the manuscript census returns are filed, and after my retirement in May, 2001, from full-time teaching at Mary Washington College, I expect to have more time to do the painstaking, family-by-family research that this project requires.... I will also need to take a careful look at the Los Angeles City Directories for the years just prior to (and after) the move to Park Valley.

What I'm trying to do is to understand the Molokans' move to Park Valley in the context of city people moving to desert and semi-desert localities in the Great Basin (similar to what I did with Salt Lake City people [and Los Angeles people to a lesser degree] who moved to northeastern Nevada at about this same time, which I reported on in a 1994 book, Utah People in the Nevada Desert). I want to understand "who" they were, not just in an ethno-religious sense, but also in a socio-economic sense, to trace their migration from Russia to California, to understand what forces led them to take a shot at living in northwestern Utah, and to figure out where they went once they left Park Valley -- in essence, a study of migration, with one (short-lived) stopping point being Park Valley. So many city people went to poor lands at this time -- Salt Lake City people to northeastern Nevada, Los Angeles people to southwestern Utah's Escalante Desert (I wrote an article on that, too, though most of it focused on why these settlers' crops failed), Seattle people to cutover lands in western Washington, and other city people to similar cutover lands in northern Wisconsin -- it's all part of a broad pattern that transcended cultural boundaries. I'm particularly interested in the Molokans because, like most of the others, they were city dwellers before they moved out to the desert, but also because of their cultural distinctiveness (in comparison to some of the other groups who participated in similar movements), and because I'm already familiar with Park Valley and neighboring areas, and am curious about the evolution of this place, its landscape, and its heritage, to which the Molokans contributed.

So, that's about as far as I've gotten, and it will be a while before I'm able to continue. But I would be delighted to communicate with anyone who may have lived out there in Park Valley, or whose parents or other relatives (uncles, aunts, etc.) went out there. I'm certainly interested in the Park Valley experience, but I'm even more interested in tracing their paths of migration before and after the Park Valley experience. (Geographers love to draw maps of migration streams!) So, anything you can do to put me in contact with people who know something about the "before and after" of the Park Valley people would be really helpful. If anyone with this sort of information wants to get in touch with me, or if I can get in touch with them, this communication will start to open my eyes more fully with how the process of migration to and from Park Valley played itself out. 

Thanks for your continued interest (and curiosity) about what I'm trying to do. I'll try to be better about corresponding in the future (although I'll be out of touch for most of May and June, when I'll be accompanying my wife - her health permitting - on a research project in northern Alberta that has been funded by both Mary Washington College and the Canadian government). When I return in July, I will no longer have e-mail (nor an office!), but I can be reached through my wife, Dawn Bowen, whose e-mail address is .... I'm looking forward to hearing from you!

Best regards,
Marshall E. Bowen < >
Distinguished Professor of Geography
Mary Washington College, Virginia  [In 2004 Dr. Bowen retired, and the school is renamed the University of Mary Washington]

3/28/2001, I respond that Molokans were not "city people" or "city dwellers", rather peasants who recently migrated to a city with a few leaders who insisted that an agricultural commune was the only way of life for true Christian spiritual believers.] 

3/29/2001, Dr. Bowen replies: "Andy, You're absolutely right you have phrased it much more accurately than I did not city people, but people (of peasant backgrounds) who had been in cities like Los Angeles for relatively short periods of time. Thanks! MEB"]

And I answered: "Good, we're on the same wave-length (my BS was in Chemistry). Also, when  approx. 3,000 Molokans arrived in LA, the LA population was 100,000+. Molokans added 2+% to the city population, and could not find easy work. A real estate partner came to LA specifically to recruit Molokans to Glendale, Arizona, to grow sugar beets. That how we ended up here. More about this later."]

Dr. Bowen again: "Thanks for the info that's a good point about Molokans in LA having trouble finding work, and thus being receptive to real estate agents.... I found a similar situation regarding the LA people who moved out to Sahara, Utah. Most of them had blue collar jobs, often of a "dead end" variety, or were only intermittently employed, and were more than willing to believe real estate agents (working in concert with railroad people) who told them that the "Escalante Valley" (really Escalante Desert) would yield wonderful crops and help them become well-off and happy.... Hope to hear from you again. MEB"

I reply: "I'm working on a theory that the Molokans got a reputation as sugar workers after they returned from Hawaii (see Berokoff, Chapter 2) in 1906. Their over supply in LA and the demand in Arizona may have caused the agent to focus on the Molokans, but he may just be looking for any immigrants. The local paper reported that a Molokan elder signed an option for Molokans to buy all the land needed to grow all the sugar--an exclusive contract. By the time they got coaxed to Arizona in 1911, the sugar beet factory was in financial trouble. Had they arrived 5 years earlier, they might have helped save it. By 1920 there were 4 colonies occupying about 8 sq. miles. I'm sure you'll find parallels in all these stories."

Dr. Bowen [4/3/01] Your idea on the reason why the real estate agent targeted the Molokans is a good one real estate people seem to be always looking for an angle, and to take advantage of any situation that arises that may bring profit to him and his firm. As I look further into this situation, it may be possible to determine if indeed it was just the Molokans who were targeted, or whether anyone with a need to obtain land somewhere other than where they were living would have caught the agents' eye.

Subject: Molokans - Park Valley, Utah
Date: Fri, 07 Jun 2002 
From: "Marshall Bowen" < >

Dear Andy,

As you may recall, you and I corresponded last year about the preliminary research work that I was doing on Molokan settlements in Park Valley, Utah. Since that time, I have gotten deeper into this project, and, indeed, returned from a visit to Utah less than a week ago.

Through the use of aerial photo evidence, fragmentary tax records for western Box Elder  County, materials collected by Sarah Yates, and my own field work, I have begun to piece together the layout of the street village that the Molokans laid out down in the southeast quarter of Section 32, T12 R13. I have a pretty good handle on this in a general way, but the apparent disappearance of the 1915 tax assessments from both the Box Elder County Court House and the Utah State Archives has left some serious gaps in my ability to create a cartographic representation of the village. The folks at the Archives are still looking for the 1915 material, and I will be returning a phone call to them within the hour with regard to their possible discovery of a surrogate for the 1915 assessments, but I fear that this may prove to be a dead end as well (we hit many dead ends last week!).

A day or so after I returned from Utah, I received a package from Annie Zolnekoff of the UMCA library in southern California, who has been most helpful as my project has unfolded. The package contained two books (Mohoff, The Russian Colony of Guadalupe, and Veronin, Molokans in Arizona), and included in each book was a map of streets, lots, and houses that you prepared for each place. These maps are most informative, and show that the layouts of the Guadalupe village and the "Old Colony" village near Glendale were very similar, as might be expected, to what I have begun to put together for the Park Valley village.... I am wondering if you have also prepared a map of this sort on the village in Park Valley, or if you have collected information that might lead to creation of a map of this place? I would be greatly appreciative if you could let me know what, if any, information you may have about this now-deserted village

When I was visiting Sarah Yates in May, she indicated to me that you are (or were) living in the Fresno area (although your e-mail address suggests an Arizona base). I am planning to visit California in August, and will be traveling from Sacramento (State Library) to the Los Angeles area (Annie Zolnekoff at the UMCA library), and will be passing through (or by) Fresno as I make my way from one place to another. If indeed you do live in the Fresno area, would it be possible for me to meet with you to discuss the Park Valley community at that time?

Thanks so much for whatever help you can provide as I endeavor to learn more about the Molokan presence in Park Valley. I look forward to hearing from you.


Marshall E. Bowen
Department of Geography
Mary Washington College [In 2004 Dr. Bowen retired, and the school is renamed the University of Mary Washington]
Fredericksburg, VA 22401
(540) 654-1493

Subject: Re: Molokans - Park Valley, Utah
Date: Mon, 17 Jun 2002
From: "Marshall Bowen" <>


Thanks for getting back to me about my project on the Molokan settlement sites in Park Valley, Utah. I'll keep working on the map. I have a 1966 USDA air photo (1 inch = 330 ft.) that shows clearly most lots (and a few houses) in the village that the Molokans established near Russian Knoll. Village lots were, it appears, 12 rods (198 ft.) wide along the street and 40 rods (660 ft.) deep, although a reference in the 1918 Box Elder County tax assessment book to Alexei Karyakin's lot, at the extreme southwestern end of the village, says that he had a lot 24 rods wide and 40 rods deep, suggesting that he had a "double lot" or that he had taken over the property of his immediate neighbor when the other family left. 

The problem is this: the assessment book for that part of Box Elder County in 1915 has apparently been lost (neither Box Elder County nor the Utah State Archives can find it or microfilm copies of it), and by 1916 the lots in the village (except for Karyakin's) are assessed to investors, etc. into whose hands the land was falling. The information about the Molokans whose taxes were in arrears in 1915 appears in the Box Elder News, which Sarah Yates used to compile her list of settlers, but of course it only lists how much they owed, and not the parcel on which their personal property was located. I've requested the 1914 assessment book (on microfilm) from the Utah State Archives, which has graciously loaned me their microfilm copies of the 1916-1919 books, which may yield some information. Because the Molokans arrived in April, 1914, and the assessor came around sometime in the spring, he may or may not have assessed their property that year. Or, as sometimes happened, assessments were made based on January 1 conditions, and if this were the case with Box Elder County that year, then the tax books would reveal nothing because the Molokans were still in California on that date. I'm trying to match village lots (and other land) with families, and so far, with the exception of Karyakin's village lot and 80 acres assessed to him northwest of Russian Knoll, I've struck out. I'll keep plugging away, and will keep you informed if I manage to come up with something useful from this source. 

Thanks for offering to help put me in touch with descendants of the Park Valley colony who live in the Fresno area. I have Edwin Kalpakoff's address and phone number (though I haven't yet called him), but any others that you can come up with would be much appreciated. 

Your suggestion that I might make some contacts at the UMCA picnic is a good one, and I'll try to have my visit to California overlap with it if at all possible. Am I correct in assuming that it will be in Hacienda Heights, or is it possible that it would take place in the Kerman area or some other place? Do you happen to know the date of this event? 

Thanks very much for your continuing help. I look forward to hearing from you again. (I'll be with my wife in northern Alberta, where her research work is based, from next week through July 15, but will be back in my office from that date until I go to California sometime in August.) 

Best regards, MEB

P.S. You might be interested in knowing that Bill Yates (Sarah Yates' husband), whom I met when I was at the Yates home last month, passed away recently. His funeral was yesterday. Bill had been quite ill for some time, and to make matters worse, a few days after my visit he fell down the stairs and broke his neck. He never really recovered from that blow, and died in his sleep last week. I'm not sure how well you knew Sarah or if she had been in touch with you lately, but I thought that I should let you know of his passing, and her loss. 

Subject: Re: Molokans - Park Valley, Utah
Date: Wed, 19 Jun 2002
To: Marshall Bowen < >

If you didn't find these yet, here's some references to Utah on the Molokan website.

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 Molokans to part with hard earned cash and, in some instances to trade their homes in Los Angeles for bare, marginal land in an and region without sufficient rainfall 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.


Some few families did try going to Utah to farm, but didn't stay long because it was too lonesome away from the rest of the Commune.

I don't know when the picnic will be, so I also asked for the date of the picnic and announced your visit on Molokani Narod. You might get some e-mail from this.

I only know Yates from her writings. Sorry about her husband. Ethel Dunn's husband died a few years ago and she misses him terribly.


Mary Washington College Today [Renamed: University of Mary Washington.]
WINTER 2003 ISSUE - VOL. 27, NO. 2
Frequently Asked Questions About Mary Washington College

Whatever happened to...  1. Marshall Bowen ?

Marshall Bowen, distinguished professor emeritus of geography, retired from MWC in May 2000, but continued teaching at MWC as an adjunct during the 2001-02 academic year. After suffering a mild stroke in late January 2002, Dr. Bowen says he followed the advice of his doctor and family and decided to stop teaching. Now, he is "immersed in research projects, including one that involves a colony established in the early part of the 20th century by Russian Molokans [and Jumpers] in a remote part of northwestern Utah."

"I am working closely with the Molokan [and Jumper] community in California on this project, and have also spent considerable time in Utah doing fieldwork and searching the archives," he said. Professor Bowen presented a paper on his findings in Illinois in October, and plans to publish a number of scholarly articles on "different dimensions of the Molokan [and Jumper] experience in Western America."

He added, "Working at Mary Washington for more than three decades was an extraordinary experience, and has left me with many pleasant memories."

See Dr. Bowen's research on Jumpers and Molokans in Utah and Arizona
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