Hermann Jantzen's inspiring memoirs
The amazing 1880-1881 trek of Mennonites to Central Asia offers many life lessons. Some of those are in the lives lost along the way. It is my hope to honour the dear people who died while following their dream, or that of their family’s, to achieve freedom from military service. A short travelogue accompanies this list of all those found who died until 1884, when the first group left for America.
The note “to wiki” means that I have transcribed and translated the person’s obituary and sent it to Bethel College’s Biographical Wiki, where you should find it soon. All sources are listed at the end. I continue to search for sources that may identify other names.
Hahnsau, Am Trakt
The death of Franz Bartsch’s little daughter delayed the departure of the first wagon train by two days. Sources:
Enroute: Train 1
July 3, 1880 Hahnsau, Am Trakt - Oct 18, 1880 Kaplanbek, Turkestan.
A small group of 10 families travelled 1,700 miles by wagon train in 15 weeks. Gerhard Jantzen and Peter Dyck wrote about their experiences on the journey in the Rundschau.
11 children died. Sources:
Enroute: Train 2
Aug 13, 1880 Am Trakt - Nov. 24, 1880 Kaplanbek, Turkestan.
A small group of 13 families followed the first train, travelling 1,700 miles in 15 weeks. Their journey is well-documented in Martin Klaassen’s diary, and memoirs of his sons, Michael and Jakob. Four young men joined them in Orenburg to escape conscription; their families followed in later trains.
None died, but twins were still-born. Sources:
Enroute: Train 3
July 31, 1880 Molotschna - Dec. 2, 1880 Tashkent, Turkestan.
The largest group of some 60 families travelled 2,600 miles by wagon train in 18 weeks. Kornelius Goossen provided a diary of the journey, published in the Rundschau, which documented many births and deaths. Helena Graewe Warkentin shared an inspiring account of her experiences in “Our trek to Asia.”
9 died: 2 adults, 7 children (one 7-8 years and 6 one and a half years and under). Sources:
7 identified, missing 2 infants (all sent to wiki):
Enroute: train 4
Unknown date from Kuban & Molotschna to Oct 9, 1881 Tashkent, Turkestan.
This small group of 11 families (including one single man, Jakob Funk, #36008) drove by steam (ship? train?) to Am Trakt, then by wagon train to Turkestan. The method was considered practical and safer than using horse-drawn wagons throughout.
Only one child, unidentified, died in Am Trakt while they were loading the wagons.
Source Rundschau 1 Feb 1882 p 2:1.
Enroute: train 5
Sept 1, 1881 Am Trakt to Dec. 16, 1881 city of Turkestan (1,600 miles).
This group of 41 families from Am Trakt was well documented by Johann Jantzen (1823-1903), its only official minister. Also present was Claas Epp Jr. (1838-1913), who later assumed an unofficial role of spiritual leadership and became increasingly radical.
5 or 6 died. Sources:
4 identified (3 children, 1 adult):
Turkestan city (train 5)
Occupied from Dec 16, 1881-Mar 31, 1882, where train 5 spent the winter. Note: Dietrich Wiens (1861-1880) #343775 also died here enroute from Molotschna, discussed above.
5 identified in J Jantzen diary (1 adult, 4 children):
Kaplanbek (trains 1, 2)
Occupied Oct. 18, 1880 - July 25, 1881 by trains 1 and 2.
Not far from Tashkent, temporary lodgings on an estate were offered for the settlers rent-free.
12 died here. Sources:
Tashkent (trains 3, 4)
Occupied Dec. 2, 1880 - April 8, 1882 by the groups from Molotschna and Kuban. Those joining the Am Trakt group to Bukhara left on July 29, 1881; others later left for Aulie-Ata.
Again accommodation was offered for the settlers rent-free. An outbreak of typhoid fever claimed many lives, partly due to young men stretching the hours they worked to include some of the hot hours avoided by locals.
Some 30 [“30 und einige”] graves were reported by Jakob Janzen in Rundschau 1882 Sept 15 p 2. Elis. Unruh Schultz’s autobiography says 80 died at p 22, but written long after; the earlier report is more reliable.
Samarkand & area
Passed through in August 1881 by the group mainly from Am Trakt.
Occupied Sept-Nov 1881 off and on, as the group mainly from Am Trakt tried unsuccessfully to settle. A small group of 10 families returned in April 1882 for 4 months.
Elis. Unruh Schultz autobiography says many died here of typhus & blackpox, p 31.
Occupied Sept-Nov 1881 off and on enroute to Bukhara; then stayed from Nov. 29, 1881 - Aug. 30, 1882. Train 5 arrived on June 12, 1882.
This Muslim village hosted the large group evicted from Bukhara, and kindly let them use their Kyk-Ota (Blue Grandfather) Mosque for church services, baptisms, weddings and funerals. The mosque is still standing, and the Mennonites are remembered fondly.
Enroute to Lausan
Aug 30, 1882 - Oct. 9, 1882.
After returning safely through Bukhara with the help of government escorts, the most challenging part of this trek required hiring camels to pass through the Karakum desert, while the men rode horses along another route. It weighed heavily on Heinrich Graewe (1834-1917) to lose his wife and never see her grave in the forest by the Amu Darya river.
Occupied Oct. 9, 1882 - Apr. 17, 1884.
This first settlement in Khiva was plagued by robberies, besides being a wasteland that took much work getting started. The Mennonites’ non-resistance to violent attacks and thefts seemed to encourage the less trustworthy neighbours. The brazen murder of Heinrich Abrahams caused many to rethink their dedication to Central Asia and pursue migrating to America.
These individuals died in Central Asia before 1885. As they were in train 2, which had no deaths enroute, it was perhaps in Bukhara, Serabulak or Lausan. Other family members were part of the group who left from Lausan to the US in 1884 (daughter Anna Dyck #405973 and husband Cornelius Wiebe #318811) and another went to Ak Metchet before migrating to the US in 1894 (Maria Dyck #286408 and husband Johann Becker #283308).
Enroute to US
Apr 17, 1884 Lausan - Oct 4, 1884 New York, New York.
Those leaving Lausan for America took another route by wagon train from Lausan to Orenburg, Russia; then by train to Germany, then by ship (S. S. Ems and S. S. Fulda) to New York, then by train to Kansas or Nebraska. Many also migrated in later years.
Elis. Unruh Schultz autobiography p 62 says all stayed healthy on return trek, but 2 deaths noted from records:
Occupied April 23, 1884 - April 1935.
The Khan of Khiva offered this safe garden oasis after he learned of the troubles in Lausan. Here Mennonites thrived in cooperation with their Muslim neighbours, and are remembered fondly for bringing advances to agriculture, woodwork, and photography. Indeed, the Ichan Kala Museum in Khiva is dedicated to the history of these Mennonites.
1 death in 1884 has been identified:
Aulie-Ata & area
Occupied from Apr 23, 1882 for many years until the Mennonites were exiled.
Most of those from Molotschna and Kuban, and some from Am Trakt, went to this settlement in the Talas Valley, straddling Kyrgyzstan & Kazakhstan (now in Kazakhstan). Included were the villages of Gnadenfeld, Gnadental, Hohendorf, Koeppental, Orloff, and Nikolaipol. In 1931, four villages were merged and renamed Leninpol. Pioneering here was challenging, but more peaceful than Bukhara and Lausan.
18 identified until 1884:
The survivors of these Mennonites can be found worldwide. May we be encouraged even now by the loving memory of those who have gone before us.
- Irene Plett