Letters From Tashkent
Camel caravans were common in 1881 Tashkent
Photo: 1977 Ethiopia © Mennonite Heritage Archives by Eric Rempel and John Wieler
In 1880-81, Mennonite migrants travelled over mountains, through deserts on camels, and by covered wagons from South Russia to Central Asia. Their perilous journey is shared in these letters to the Rundschau and other magazines. Now with author photos, thanks to Robert Friesen!
There were blessings on the trip, like when the Muslim community of Serabulak welcomed the Mennonite wanderers. One of my distant relatives, Helena Graewe Warkentin (1865-1942, #88939) and 20 others were baptized there in a mosque.
After arriving in Tashkent, the settlers split into two groups. One group, mostly from Molotschna, settled in Aulie-Ata, now in Kazakhstan. The Graewes joined the other group, mostly from Am Trakt, who experienced the most upheaval and several false starts. Helena tells her own story in Helena’s Asia Story.
Four years later, they were back on the move. A report paints a grim picture of their circumstances: “The Mennonites seeking a home in Central Asia … have found their long tedious journey a total failure, have lost what little means they had, and their friends in America are now helping some of them to come to this country” (Herald of Truth, 15 July 1884). A massive fundraising effort helped the Graewes and others to travel to the U.S. They faced another arduous journey back across the desert and mountains, then by train and steamship to their destinations in Kansas and Nebraska.
Thankfully, conditions improved for those who remained. Those in the Aulie Ata settlement built a thriving community, of whom many descendants now live in Germany and North America.
Those who had endured robberies and even a murder in Lausan, Khiva, were relocated by the Khan to a garden oasis in Ak Metchet, Khiva. Ak Metchet thrived for 51 years until everyone was deported by the Russians in 1935: a story for another day. But “locals still remember their excellent wood craftsmanship, agricultural productivity and the introduction of new technologies including photography.” (Reimer, Canadian Mennonite)
I translated the letters below with the help of DeepL and Google, adding paragraph breaks and bullets for improved clarity. Typos were corrected and place names standardized. The original text is in the German language version of this blog post. GRANDMA numbers are included for people who could be identified in the helpful genealogical database of the California Mennonite Historical Society. Price conversions were calculated from values given by Rundschau editors in Gerhard Janzen’s letter.
I’m grateful to Elena Klassen, who transcribed several letters from the Gothic German script. She has done a great deal of work collecting historical articles on Mennonites in Central Asia. Scans of the Rundschau articles below are available for viewing on her contribution page to Willi Vogt’s Mennonitische Geschichte und Ahnenforschung website.
I pray that you are staying safe in this difficult time of COVID-19. Reading of the difficulties that others went through certainly puts into perspective what is important.
- Irene Plett
Gerhard & Justine Jantzen in early years; photos received from Robert Friesen
Gerhard and Justine Janzen (minus a "t") in later years
Gerhard Jantzen: Letter from the first wagon train
The author of this letter is Gerhard Jantzen (1847-1912, #342342). Sixteen children are recorded in GRANDMA with his wife, Justine Esau (1854-1918, #342380); because of this letter, we know a little more about two of them. - IUP.
published in the Gemeindeblatt Feb. 1881 p. 14-15, and the Mennonitische Rundschau 5 Mar. 1881 p. 1:3.
News from the Mennonite emigrants to Turkestan (Asia). (Continuation)
Brother Ed. [Emil] Riesen in Fresenheim (southern Russia) [Am Trakt] informed the editor by card that the second train [from Am Trakt] also arrived happily in Tashkent on Nov. 24. The first train had already arrived in Turkestan on October 17 and, as was reported, will remain on an estate near Tashkent over the winter. The following letter is from the first train about the 554 verst [367 miles or 591 km] stretch from Karabulak to Kazalinsk.
Kazalinsk, Sept. 13, 1880.
Beloved mother and brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus! I hope you received my previous letter of Aug. 17 from Karabulak in good health. It brought a message of sorrow, as it reported the death of our little Anna [1879-1880, #604457].
Now this brings a message of joy, as I can report to you that my dear wife delivered a healthy little daughter [Elisabeth, 1880-, #601308] here on the 10th of this month by God's gracious assistance. Mother and child are doing very well according to the circumstances. Yes, the dear Father has helped us through asking and understanding. May His name be praised forever. Amen.
After providing ourselves with the necessary food and supplies in Karabulak, we began our onward journey on Aug. 18 and arrived safely in Irgiz on Saturday, Aug. 23. This is the last place before the desert where anything can be obtained, so we had a few days of work until we had provided ourselves with the essentials to start the journey through the desert.
We had hardly chosen our campsite there and unhitched [the horses], when the Kyrgyz were already there and immediately ready to take us through the desert with our wagons. They demanded only 40 rubles [$20] for one of the heaviest wagons, as they specified that they had to harness four camels.
We received the most varying reports about the road ahead, until we met a merchant who had come from Tashkent a few weeks ago with his own vehicle, and was now on his way back. He did not doubt that we could get through with our horses, especially if we wanted to put one another forward in the most difficult places. We followed this advice and found ourselves doing quite well.
In Irgiz, I bought a Kyrghyz mare for 35 rubles [$17.50], five years old and in good condition, for my second wagon, which had been a bit heavy for two horses anyway. For the oats, we had to pay 1 ruble 20 kopeks [60¢] in Irgiz; purchased from Crown magazine military authorities, otherwise none is to be had. We had to pay 7 kopeks* [4¢] per pound for Kalatsch [wheat bread], 7-8 kopeks [4¢] for meat.
We hired four Kyrgyz men with 25 camels to transport our oats. Freight per pood [16.38 kg or 36.11 lb.] to Kaplanbek was 45 kopeks [23¢]. And to take care of the camels, 4 rubles [$2] in total to the caravan basch (chief), without which no caravan can be hired.
I bought 70 poods [1,145 kg or 2,528 lb.] of oats for 7 horses. It will seem a bit much to you, but there is not a pound of hay to be had for money in this desert between Irgiz and Kazalinsk, so we had to rely solely on our oats. Haven’t come across any pasture, cane, or anything else [for horses to graze]; only tumbleweed (salt weed - editor) or other thorny plants and shrubs, probably suitable for a camel, but for no horse. In any event, I still had about 10 poods [163 kg or 361 lb.] of my oats left over.
Except for two stations, we had enough water everywhere. We only had 6 verst [4 miles] of quite difficult sand (7 verst = 1 German mile - editor), the longest stretch where the road goes by the Aral Sea. We put each other forward, first driving half of the wagons through [with all available horses, including hired ones], then catching up with the other half [the next morning: F. Bartsch p. 47]. In a period of eight hours we were done with that. Immediately behind this sandy stretch was a station and sufficient water. After that, we had to help each other ahead twice more, about 3 and 2 verst [2 and 1.3 miles]. Otherwise, we drove away pretty easily everywhere. On the longest stretches we had clay soil, very lumpy in some places.
If we sometimes could not see our camels during the day, the guides always turned up for tea in the evening and kept themselves completely free; it was just a pity that we could not communicate with them. What we had to say to them was interpreted by the directors of the [postal] stations.
So with God's protection and assistance, we arrived happily and in good health here in Kazalinsk on Sept. 9th. We wanted to stock up on provisions for our onward journey and then start travelling again on Sept. 11th at noon, but that was prevented by my wife’s childbirth, as mentioned at the beginning of my letter.
Also on Thursday evening, the Wiebe’s little Jakob [1878-1880, #187429] died. This is the 11th child taken from our traveling party by death. As we have heard in various places, it is the children's disease prevalent in this area this year which has caused the death of all of our children. Adults in Irgiz have also succumbed to it.
So, since my wife is quite well, we are thinking of continuing our journey on Monday, the 15th of this month. Oh, we can certainly believe that the faithful Lord, who has graciously guided and led us until now, will also continue to help us (etc. etc. - editor).
In conclusion, I remain your loving brother in the Lord,
P.S.: I must briefly note that we first came across the melons and watermelons here that we expected to find in Irgiz. Melons and watermelons cost 3-5 kopeks [2-3¢] each, but are worth much more than where you are. Here in Kazalinsk, we are living on fish, catfish and carp, at every noon meal. Fifteen pounds [7 kg] costs 14 kopeks [7¢], and they are even cheaper if you haggle.
* 8 kopeks = 28 pfennigs, one ruble about 3 ½ marks, 1 pood = 40 pounds [more precisely, 36.11 lb. or 16.38 kg].
The editor of the Mennonite Rundschau added: At the current exchange rate, 8 kopeks = 4 cents, and 1 ruble = 50 cents.
Peter Dyck: Train 1 has arrived
Peter Dyck (1835-aft 1881, #276108, duplicate #1353054) from Köppental, Am Trakt, was wealthy and often helped needy families along the way. In one covered wagon and a small open vehicle, he traveled with his wife, Katharina Penner (-aft. 1879, #276109), daughters Marie and Agathe, and a servant girl named Anna. More family details are below.
Because Peter had asthma and was not physically strong, his nephew Gerhard Dyck, son of E. Dyck from Hohendorf, was their driver. When Gerhard became critically ill with typhoid fever, others took the reins until he recovered: Johann Kopper and Cornelius Wall, and even the Dyck’s servant girl, Anna. (Bartsch, Our Trek, p. 52, 103, and Gemeindeblatt).
I enjoyed Peter’s “romantic” description of Tashkent, and the diligent work preparing apartments for those following them, while they waited for a permanent home. - IUP
published in the Mennonitische Rundschau 1 Apr. 1881 p. 2 (excerpt from Gemeindeblatt Mar 1881 p 20-22).
Kaplanbek, Asia, Oct. 25, 1880.
Again it is the Gemeindeblatt which shares original correspondence from a brother who is among the emigrants to Turkestan. We will restrict ourselves to taking from the long report only the part that would most interest wider circles:
On the next to last day [of our journey], at the third postal station from here, an official met us and told us where to stay temporarily. He took brother W. [Wilhelm] Penner [#387974, see below] into his carriage, and off they went with his team of three horses.
Brother Penner was brought to us the next morning on horseback, accompanied by four Kirghiz men. The official had been with brother Penner here at Kaplanbek and had shown him this opportunity. The Kyrgyz men now had to accompany us there to give directions; we did not need to go to the city, which would have been a detour of 50 verst [33 miles]. This was arranged by Mr. Kaufmann (the governor-general there), and that kindness did us a lot of good.
However, the road, more a dirt path, was not the best for our wagons. Aunt Janzen's one wheel had been very bad for a long time; now it fell apart completely, so that a tree had to be pushed underneath. She reached our destination on three wheels, evidence that we had gone far enough. From here to the city of Tashkent was also about eight verst [8 miles] of poor road, ie. with bad sections. We have asked for repairs, which should be done already today under our supervision.
Close to us, a few steps away, a rich Kyrgyz named Schoenebeck lives in a typical round tent (kibitka). He has three houses in the city, and a business in one of them. He must also have a good reputation, because he has been assigned to help us procure everything that we are lacking, even to buy the horses that we want to sell. The official who met us asked if we were lacking anything: wood, barley, flour, etc., but we had been provided with everything.
I forgot to mention that in Tashkent, we were asked for our passports, which had preceded us by mail.
Earlier, people were already expecting us at all the [postal] stations, only because they had learned that we were coming from the postal travellers who had met us. At the last station, where we turned off the postal road, the supervisor inquired a lot about how much money we had been advanced, and would now receive! But thank God, we could still deny that we had received any.
As already mentioned, we were on the journey for 15 weeks and cannot thank the Lord enough. That was probably a long time, but it was always good for our horses to have a half day rest from travel.
Here now at Kaplanbek, an active life immediately unfolds. Here a residential house has six heatable rooms, but only one has sealed doors and windows. The sick and their relatives stay there. Through this, we now enjoy compensations for the limitations of the trip….
They are working diligently on the apartments, and for those who will follow us. There they have built high clay [or mud] walls, divided into three different squares. The open space contains columns. Here the friends have windows and doors inserted and thus create a thick wall. Up to 20 and more Sarts quickly glue the walls on. Ready-made framed windows and doors are bought from Tashkent. Many partition walls are conveniently available there, so many apartments have been quickly completed.
Today is October 30, as I write this. It froze a bit already this evening, and we’re thinking a lot about the brothers who are following us. Anyway, it is a miracle to the local people that the weather is still nice, because otherwise it is already the rainy season here.
A little clay [or mud] house on its own is in front of our door. Now the inner walls are being broken up to gain as much space as possible for the schoolhouse and the house of worship.
The location of this Wirtschaft is quite romantic. We had to drive through a river, then soon entered an avenue of willows that runs past the house to a small wood. Everything is cultivated. The trees are already very tall, mostly poplars, but with very large leaves like maple leaves. Behind the rising forest is a wide ditch used for irrigation. Even now, water rushes through the falling leaves almost daily. Because it falls somewhat steeply past our house at one point, we only need to walk a few steps with a bucket.
A little further away are various groups of trees that beautify the view, as well as Kyrgyz dwellings, where the evening lights shine so neighbourly. Then even further away the high Karatau mountains, where the snow can be seen very clearly in various places; it doesn’t melt here, even in summer. We could already see that light layers of clouds were lowering, and the snow peaks were towering over the clouds. Many rich people would travel miles to see this magnificent view. The mountains are said to be 80 verst [53 miles] from us.
We also have a market town near us, only 1 verst [0.6 mile] away. But when we first went there, we bought everything that was to be had.
After the city is 15 verst [10 miles], half of it bad road, but then a very good post road. I already went there with my wife and children. Long before the city, one can always enjoy driving in tree-lined avenues and other pleasant diversions. Jacob Hamm (our delegate) did not describe the city as beautifully as it is. Well, he was here in the winter. Now every street is a dark avenue with not one row, but two and three rows of very tall trees. If one comes then to a cross road, then one sees only tree-lined avenues, the streets nicely [or beautifully] rounded. The buildings peek out from behind the avenues, many also quite splendid, with five two-storey buildings immediately in front of the high school.
The store prices here are a little more expensive than in Saratov. The window glass, however, is more expensive etc. etc.
Brothers Herman Jantzen [1835-1919, #342340] and [Wilhelm] Penner also introduced themselves to Gov. Kaufmann in the first days. He also addressed them in a friendly manner: "You H.H. Mennonites, are you finally here?" About the 15 weeks [on the journey], he said, "Truly no fun!" He inquired very sympathetically about the  children who had died, and then said: "Your task now is to care for the brothers who will come after you.” Since, among other things, brother W. Penner said that God had guided them on the journey, he said: "God will continue to take care of you," and then recommended himself this time. Tomorrow we should be instructed where to plow.
Your brother, Peter Dyck ["Dyrk"]
In 1883, daughter Marie (1863-1960, #87024) married Abraham Dirks (1860-1943, #87413) in Lausan, Khiva. When the settlement was dismantled, they migrated to America on the S.S. Ems with their little son Abraham, born in Turkestan. They had 11 further children in Kansas. Further details about daughter Agathe and the parents are unknown.
Family details have been pieced together from various sources. Robert Friesen’s Mennoniten in Mittelasien names the family in train 1 from an authoritative list (p. 313), that helped to identify Peter when his name was misspelled here. Franz Bartsch’s memoir provides some family and personal details (he calls him “P.D.”). The longer version of Peter’s letter in the Gemeindeblatt also provides family names. GRANDMA has Peter with 2 numbers, one with two married daughters (Marie and Margarethe, who stayed behind in Molotschna with her husband), the other with his birthdate. An 1880-1881 diary by Margarethe Jantzen (1865-1910, #4955), daughter of Jacob Jantzen (1826-1882) and Renate Dyck (1823-1888), explained that Peter was the author’s uncle. - IUP
Johannes Penner: Letter from train 2
Johannes K. Penner (1850-1924, #342334), a teacher and minister, was in the second wagon train from Am Trakt with his wife, Helena Jantzen (1856-1936, #4931), and several children. Elizabeth Unruh Schultz (1866-1943, #282168) remembered him as a spiritually gifted man who held Bible studies and choir practices with the youth in Asia (p. 102, What a Heritage). - IUP
published in the Mennonitische Rundschau 5 Mar. 1881 p. 1-2.
Orsk, Sept. 18, 1880
My dear brother Riesen, may the peace of the Lord Jesus be with you and yours. I’ll quickly write a few lines with news about our journey.
We left Orenburg on Wednesday, Sept. 10, in the afternoon. We were prevented from leaving earlier by the fact that on Monday evening Brother Froese's eldest son had broken his right arm, which you probably know. He is doing quite well.
We arrived here a few hours ago (11 a.m.). In the afternoon, the necessary purchases for the onward journey will be made, and then, God willing, we will set out tomorrow morning.
Some news about the road from Orenburg to Orsk: we did not have any shortage there, people and animals have always had plenty. Oats cost 80-100 kopeks [40-50¢], in Orsk on demand 50-80 kopeks [25-40¢]. We want to buy 400 poods [6,552 kg or 14,444 lb.]. We will hire drivers for whatever we are unable to carry ourselves.
That route was interesting; perhaps it will be the most interesting route of the whole trip, especially going through the southern foothills of the Ural Mountains. Although these mountains have more gentle crests, we could still get a picture of mountain landscapes from what we saw; especially where the rocks are exposed, stark and bare, stripped of the humus layer that mainly covers it all and is overgrown with dense steppe grass.
The road is quite good, only some parts are bad, very bad; among them is the ascent over the height of the mountain range. It continues for a long time, for me much too long for the poor horses and the wagons, a narrow stony path between mountains and rocks, always uphill. In some places the road is barely wide enough for two wagons to pass each other. One of Uncle M. Klaassen's horses became unusable, at any rate, as a result of the hardships of this route, and had to be sold.
Otherwise, everything is fine, for which the Lord deserves our heartfelt thanks. Our children are quite healthy, there are no significant diseases in the whole community....
Kornelius Goossen: Diary of train 3
Kornelius Goossen (#37047; family notes are below) provides a daily diary of the largest trek from Molotschna. Along with travel notes, he details three births and seven deaths during the four-month journey. The remaining three births and two deaths were probably from Sept. 25 to Oct. 19, in the missing section that was never published.
Arriving in Tashkent, set up in one of 56 rent-free apartments provided for the settlers, his family soon was “sitting in the warm apartment by the fireplace drinking tea at our table.” About the people, he says they “are so friendly towards us, it's just a pity that we can't talk to them [due to the language barrier]. We have never been afraid of bad people on the route.” Despite the hardships of the journey, he avers, “we don’t want to go back, we really don’t want to." - IUP
published in the Mennonitische Rundschau 20 Jan. 1881 p. 2:2.
[Orenburg, Sept. 1880]
Notes written during the trip to Turkestan.
Beloved brothers and sisters,
As the Spirit has often reminded us that we should write, and there would have been an opportunity to post a letter, I can no longer excuse myself that there is no time to write. So I’ll take a quill and, as much as the Lord gives me grace, note the main parts of our journey. To describe our journey completely and in detail would require too much time and paper.
Leaving Waldheim on July 31, , by the grace of God, we got to Mariupol on Saturday, August 2. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday we were at the Kalmius river; it rained a lot on these three days. On Wednesday, we crossed the Kalmius on the barge, and stayed overnight on the mountain. On Thursday the 8th, we continued our journey healthy and happy.
Also this week we again got a lot of rain. On Sunday, August 11, it rained a lot. On Aug. 13, arrived at Rostov. A day's journey before Rostov, there was already a good dry road, but monstrous ground. On Thursday the 14th, arrived at Novotscherkask. This city is so magnificent and large, much could be said about the resplendent things that the eye can see there. It rained on Friday the 15th. On Saturday the 16th, we arrived at the Donetz River, and on Monday we crossed it on a barge.
On Tuesday it rained. This week we had a lot of sandy roads; very hard to drive. On Saturday, August 23, we drove across the Don River. I must remark that the Lord always led us across very happily.
Rested on Sunday. Drove 60 verst [40 miles] on Monday the 25th [says 24th; dates have been corrected until Sept. 6th]. On Tuesday the 26th, arrived at the city of Tsaritsyn [now Volgograd, was also Stalingrad], which lies on the Volga [River]. On Wednesday at noon, we drove on. On Thursday the 28th, when we had just gotten into our night’s lodgings, the Lord spoke to us through thunder and lightning and heavy rain. On Friday the 29th, arrived at the Volga; it took two days until we were all across, i.e. by means of a barge, which a steamship pulled on a rope. It cost 60 kopeks [30¢] per wagon.
On Sunday the 31st, we held Holy Communion and received the following persons into our congregation: the Schmidts from Waldheim, the Ekks from Friedensdorf, and the family of Johann Martens from Wernersdorf.
Drove on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday, Sept. 4th was a day of rest. A daughter was born to the family of Joh. Klassen of Blumenort; everyone is nicely healthy. Travelled again on Friday the 5th.
On Saturday the 15th, a daughter was born to the family of Kornelius Unruh [1840-1909, #72913] of Gnadenheim. [The writer may mean Sat. Sept. 6 or Mon. Sept. 15; Kornelius’ daughter Elizabeth Unruh Schultz said in her autobiography that her brother Henry was born about 17 days after the earlier birth.]
Sunday the 7th was a day of rest. Drove on Monday and reached the city of Novosensk [says Novesen], where the Volga brethren had been waiting for us already for three days. This city is 120 verst [80 miles] away from their colony [Am Trakt]. These brothers and sisters who stayed behind said goodbye to us here.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, lay until noon. Until Sunday, drove at least 60 verst [40 miles] every day. Drove on Monday, and on Tuesday the 16th, arrived in the city of Uralsk.
On Friday the 19th, the Klassens of Blumenort buried their little daughter, who had been sick for several days. On Sunday the 21st, the Funks brought their little daughter, over one year of age, to the peace of the grave. For a few days now we have been hearing from time to time of diarrhea and indisposition, both of which we have experienced too, but by God's grace we are now healthy again. Eye problems are also prevalent in our wagon train.
For the previous three days, we had driven along the Ural River; a lot of forest. For half a day, we drove through the bushes and forest. This river is the border between Europe and Asia.
On Monday the 22nd, we crossed the river; so now we are in Asia. Now we have the river on our left side. It is still 120 verst [80 miles or 128 km] to Orenburg. On Tuesday the 23rd, we have rain with a very strong wind. Until now we had very nice weather. On Wednesday the 24th a very cold wind, but it was at our back.
On Thursday morning, we reached the great city of Orenburg by God's gracious guidance. It is a little colder than yesterday. Now we want to provide ourselves with provisions for 8 days and intend to travel on again tomorrow....
published in the Mennonitische Rundschau No. 22, 15 Apr 1881 p. 1-2, editor’s comment p 3.
The travel report of K. Goossen was sent to us by a reader from Russia with the following accompanying words: "In the last issue (No. 16) of the Rundschau, I read an account of the trip to Turkestan, and since our dear friends in America are always curious to hear news from the old homeland and especially from those traveling to Turkestan, I am sending the editors an excerpt from a letter by K. Goossen which arrived here the other day for a brother P.G." — So it is true, dear friend; you have done us an essential service by sending us this travel report. - Ed.
Asia, Tashkent, Jan. 1, 1881
Beloved brothers, sisters and parents in the Lord! We believe that you will have received our second letter, which we posted in Irgiz. [The second letter was not published.] Here now follows the third.
On Oct. 20, we left Irgiz at noon in God's name for the desert, equally difficult road. On the 21st, the road was easy, very nice weather. On the 22nd, a little more sand, very hot, drove 45 verst [30 miles]. Until the 25th, very nice weather and a good road, and 7 verst [4.6 miles] of sand.
On Sunday the 26th held a day of rest at a lake. On the 27th, cold wind, 3 verst [2 miles] of sand; we are all healthy and doing very well. On the 28th, up to 8 verst [5.3 miles] of sand. On the 29th, up to 10 [6.6 miles] of the same, a little cold.
On the 30th, with God's goodness and help, we passed through the desert and came to the town of Kazalinsk. From Irgiz to Kazalinsk, there are 20 postal stations or 360 verst [239 miles]. The desert was described to us in the old country as so difficult that it would be almost impossible to travel, and we ourselves were quite worried [or doubtful] about the sand, and now we would soon not have been able to cope with it. If you still remember Münsterberg and Tiegenhagen, it is sometimes worse there. We have also (except for one day) always had enough water for the horses.
On the 31st, we provided ourselves with fodder and food; here on this side of the desert, there is no oats or hay, but barley and clover. We paid 1 ruble [50¢] per pood [36.11 lb or 16.38 kg] for barley, and 3 kopeks [2¢] for a sheaf of clover.
On November 1, by God's grace, we left again. It was very cold, until the 5th very frozen, then warmed up again such that the children ran around barefoot. On the 6th, we arrived in the town of Kamieschi, procured food and fodder, and continued our journey early on the 7th. On the 8th, strong easterly wind.
Sunday the 9th was a bright day, held church service in a barn. Our son Peter [#1324999] fell ill. The 10th was bright and beautiful. On the 11th, arrived at the town of Fortgeroffke [Fort-Perovsk, now Kysylorda]. It was cold at 10 degrees [Ré, -22.5°C or 22.5°F].
Old Mr. Wedel from Waldheim [Johann Wedel, 1786-1880, #56526] disappeared during the night. He had gone to relieve himself, and since we were by a large river [Syr Darya], we believed that he had fallen into the river. We reported it to the city on the 12th, went there and searched, but no trace of him was found.
On the 13th we drove on; quite cold, also on the 14th. You dear brothers and sisters will probably say: How bad it must be for you with such cold. To this I reply: Our Father in Heaven cares for us and we are undaunted. We find so much wood and forest here that a thousand families could still travel here, and would not see it diminished. Then we make coals of wood and take them in the bucket in the wagon, and the oven is ready. We buy beef or mutton here for 5 kopeks [3¢], and 10 kopeks [5¢] for fish that would cost 30 kopeks [15¢] at your place.
On the 15th, we went to the city of Schulikk. It is 170 verst [113 miles] from Fort-Perovsk to Shulikk.
Beautiful weather on Sunday the 16th. On the 17th, again cold. On the 18th, heavy frost at night, very beautiful during the day. Our son Peter [#1324999] was still sick. It was cold on the 19th and 20th. On the 21st very rainy, at noon arrived in the city of Turkestan. It is 208 verst [138 miles] from Shulikk to the city of Turkestan.
Today of the family of Dietrich Wiens [#25820], their son Dietrich [#343775] died, had been sick for over 14 days; they have buried a son named Aaron in the desert. To the family of Johann Baergen [#9344] from Fischau, a little son was born.
Here we pay:
On the 22nd, in very fine weather, we resumed our journey by God's grace. On Sunday the 23rd, held a day of rest at a pretty village, somewhat cold. I must add that because of firewood, we are longing for the forest, which we now have behind us. But here on the steppes, there is a kind of high "Strempel” (wood-like stems of some tall steppe herbage - editor) which burns very well. We collect it or buy it from the Kyrgyz people. Traveled on the 24th and 25th very happily, very nice with the sun warming us.
On the 26th, in the evening we reached the city of Chimkent. Today we had a difficult road, the snow that lay here had thawed. It is 150 verst [100 miles] from the city of Turkestan to Chimkent. It was very rainy on the 27th; a day of rest was held, and the Baergens from Fischau buried their little son; 6 days old.
We left again on the 28th, it was very warm. On the 29th, it rained, and we had to climb a very large mountain that was 3 verst [2 miles] high. This seemed almost impossible. We immediately made ready four horses [for each wagon], and all climbed up by noon; only traveled 8 verst [5 miles] this day.
Then four Volga brothers, who had traveled before us, met us and told us with great joy that our apartments in Tashkent were already ready.
Fine weather on Sunday the 30th. The family of Kornelius Ekk from Friedensdorf buried a young son.
On Dec. 1, very nice, the children were running around barefoot.
On Tuesday, Dec. 2, by God's gracious guidance, we arrived at our new home in Tashkent an hour before evening. Now we are where we often wished to be on our arduous journey. You dear brothers and sisters will probably sympathize with how we feel now, and we thank our Father in heaven through Jesus Christ that He has allowed us all to reach our new home in good health.
It rained on the 3rd. On the 4th, we moved into our new dwelling, and were sitting in the warm apartment by the fireplace drinking tea at our table.
See dear brothers and sisters, the Lord our God has done this through General Kaufmann, that we have found 56 apartments ready, as well as a large house for a school and where we can hold church services. School is already in session, our brother-in-law Jakob Janzen is the teacher.
Now you will also be curious to know what the trip cost. It was 220 rubles [$110] from Waldheim to here. In four months, we travelled 3,900 verst [2,600 miles or 4,200 km]. Many things happened on the trip, including difficult places, and we don't want to go back, we really don't want to. However, when I look at the whole thing from the outside, we have no idea when we will be able to harvest and eat our own bread. Barley costs 65 kopeks [33¢] per pood here, clover 3 ½ [2¢] per sheaf. We had wood at first to heat the stove, but that was too expensive. Now we heat with Rohr [reed/cane/bamboo], which costs 5-6-8 kopeks [3-4¢] per bundle, but it is much longer than we are used to from the old homeland.
We can already earn something here. I have transported six wagon loads of gravel for the Crown highway. I also made three pairs of shoes for the holidays. Now we are facing the holidays and it is still very mild weather, it only froze a little for one night on the lowest window panes.
On Dec. 20, our daughter Anna [#1451454] got sick. It is probably [typhoid] fever. From last Friday to last Sunday, she was sick in bed most of the time.
In the old country, we were told that the people we would meet were cruel; we would have to provide ourselves with guns, etc.; but it turned out quite differently. The people are so friendly towards us, it's just a pity that we can't talk to them. We have never been afraid of bad people on the route.
Dear brothers and sisters, how is it there in the old homeland, and how are you all? We are already quite curious to receive news from you, but we have to wait a long time because we are very far away from each other. Should it be the Lord's will not to see us again in this life? Or has our departure perhaps already made somewhat clear to you that we are close to the future of the Lord? Examine the present time.... I’ll report another time with more about how it is here, and about receiving land, how and where. We are free from everything [military service] for fifteen years.
Now I ask you to accept this letter with love and heartfelt greetings from us. Greetings to all uncles, aunts, nieces and cousins. You know them all, because time does not permit us to write to all of them, but our daily request is that the Lord may make us all worthy and skillful to stand before Him. Greetings again from your brethren,
Family notes: Kornelius (#37047) and his wife Anna Neufeld (born 1912, #37048) from Lindenau, Molotschna, have four children listed in GRANDMA. Information is lacking about Peter #1324999 and Anna #1451454, who were both ill in their father's diary. They may be two of over 30 members of the group, mostly young people, who died in Tashkent. The hard-working youth had ignored warnings of locals not to work during the intense heat between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (Schultz, p. 22).
But two children survived. Daughter Helena Gossen (born 1879, #407285) married Peter Isaak Penner (1876-1943, #286251), and became founding settlers of Alexeyevka, Aulie-Ata. Three daughters are listed in GRANDMA.
Son Cornelius Gossen (1867-1941, #37049) married Margaretha Wedel (1873-1938, #37050). Margaretha lost both of her parents and a brother in Tashkent. The couple settled in Nikolaipol, Aulie-Ata, and had eleven children. In 1910, they migrated to Corn, Oklahoma, where both are buried in the Mennonite Brethren cemetery with ten children and many grandchildren. - IUP
Heinrich Funk: Train 3 has arrived (1880)
The author, who was in the third wagon train (by arrival date), provides another perspective on the journey, along with advice for others travelling from Molotschna: “Go to the Volga by water, take an undercarriage with you, and there make a wagon body. Wood is very cheap there and horses too, because the road there is just the worst.” But first, “only with God's help, set out on the journey. He helped us and will also help you, if you only rely on Him.”
The author identifies himself as H. Funk in this letter. He is likely Heinrich Funk #277721 (1839-), whose family of six moved from Tashkent to Aulie-Ata in 1882. After the birth of another child, in 1885 they migrated to America on the S. S. Elbe with many other migrants from Asia. - IUP
published in the Mennonitische Rundschau 15 Apr. 1881 p. 2-3.
Tashkent, December 22, 1880.
Godly greetings from afar! Dear brother-in-law, having arrived here in Tashkent after an 18-week journey, I would like to tell you a bit about our trip…
So I’ll now go from Orenburg to the sandy desert, which you probably imagine is the most difficult. We thought so at first too, but not now. The desert begins at Irgiz, and Kazalinsk is about 300 verst [200 miles] away. I bought another horse, an old chestnut for 25 rubles [$12.50]. We loaded the oats onto camels, which we always had with us, because there is no fodder to be had in the desert; there are stations, but they do not sell fodder. We took as much hay with us as we could, which we bought at 10 Kopeks [5¢] per pood [36.11 lb.].
The water is in places 2 to 3 verst [1.3 to 2 miles] from the station. Often the wells were empty when we went there, because many caravans with camels go there; but the water comes quickly, and is also quite good water. Only one day we had not paid attention and had passed a well; there we had to drive for the day without water.
In general, driving has gone very well, because there are only short stretches of sand, the longest are 7 verst [4.6 miles], then 1 ½ [1.3 mi.], otherwise 3-4 [2-2.7 mi.] of good road, yes long stretches better except for the desert.
The weather was also favorable for us, it was tranquil and had recently rained. When we were in the middle of the 7 verst [4.6 mi.] long sandy area, we came to a corner of the Caspian Sea. We watered our horses there, but because the water was bad, I lost my best gelding. So I had only two again, the mare and the old skinny chestnut, but always went away without vorgelegt. You may already know that the desert is not the most difficult; I always imagined it to be much more difficult. Therefore, do not be deterred, whoever wants to come here. But I do not want to advise you to come to the desert too early, in the great heat, then it would be riskier; but also not too late, so that you do not have to endure such cold as we have.
Fortunately, in the greatest cold, we drove in genuine brush and woods, where we burned many a piece of wood. There is a kind of wood that is very hard and heats very well, it is also used to heat the steam boilers on ships on the Syr Darya River. We ate and overnighted mostly by rivers and almost always had good water.
We also drove along the Ural River for a long stretch, also over the Ural Mountains, which was very remarkable to me. It was very high, but we weren’t within it much, always following the canyons with large stone cliffs on their sides. In between there were also beautiful valleys and water sources, where we often ate and spent the night.
Yes, on such a route, one must admire the omnipotence of God, and if I should describe everything that we encountered, I would need a lot of paper. But there will be many letters, just see for yourselves; what one person does not write, perhaps the other will. And then only with God's help, set out on the journey. He helped us and will also help you, if you only rely on Him. Go to the Volga by water, take an undercarriage with you, and there make a wagon body. Wood is very cheap there and horses too, because the road there is just the worst. Fodder and food is available everywhere, but expensive in some places.
The trip cost us 250 rubles [$125], but we also bought several items of clothing. I must say that I imagined the trip would be much more expensive and difficult. Furthermore, there is a lot of talk about rough people and yet there is nothing to fear; here are Kyrgyz and Tartars, but there is little to distinguish them. The language is probably similar, but it's a pity that you can't speak much with them; they don't know Russian. If you speak to them they say: "Belmes," that's as much as I don't understand, and then he goes on. But I have already bought a lot from them, fodder and fuel. They bring it all to the city on camels; you would be astonished to see that.
Also there [in the old homeland] they talk about wild animals, and I have not yet seen a wild animal. Quite tame animals are very common here, namely the donkeys. I always feel sorry when I see a big guy riding on the little animal. Sheep here are none other than thick-tailed, are very large and fat, the meat and suet taste very good....
Now I must go back a little. We drove almost 2,000 verst [1,300 mi.], where in my opinion the land was very bad, at least it looked that way to me. But when we got to the city, everything was available, such coarse grain that I have not seen in the old homeland. I first started to like it about 150 verst [100 mi.] before Tashkent....
As far as I know, nothing was stolen in our whole travel party, although we met different ethnic groups.
So on December 2, we arrived here in Tashkent, and had been on the journey for 18 weeks. Here we could unload our things, and had a room with a stove in it, also a stable.
Yes, dear brothers and sisters, you will probably think that 18 weeks is a very long time, and it is also to some extent. But when you are on the journey, you are always in a hurry, there are always new things to see, and then time passes quickly. We also covered almost 4,000 verst [2,700 mi], but also had a lot of stops because of births and deaths. If the group had not been so large, there would have been fewer stops and the trip would have been cheaper, I think; because when there was an incident somewhere, then immediately 60 wagons had to sit idle, and that gets expensive.
Well as I mentioned, we live in the city, and that also becomes more expensive. I think that it will be cheaper for those following us, because we think but still that in the spring we will move to the country and plough something. The government is already trying quite hard to keep us close to the city, but here it is already very occupied, i.e. very close to the city. There is enough land here, but not all of it is suitable for irrigation. There is only one water stream, in which there are many fish, but it will probably not be enough for the authority. They ask very much how many more families will come. They also want to take care of them equally, that we can all be together.
Another 100 or 200 verst [66 to 133 miles] to the side, there is supposed to be very beautiful land, and it may be even better for cattle breeding than here; we will soon receive news. We will be shown several pieces of land where we can then choose....
I can already see that there will be enough to live on here, because when I look at the farming of the local inhabitants and see what grain they bring into the city, then we will already have our bread, even if it is in a different manner than we are used to. I am in the firm hope that the Lord has helped so far, and He will also help in the future….
I want to tell you a little about the weather. Today is January 6 and it is very nice and warm. In general, the winter here is not severe; if it does not become otherwise, then the difference is still very large compared to there. Now it is a summer day, and if we only had our land first, then we could already accomplish a lot.
We have already also completed our registered mail [Einschreiben], handed in the passports and submitted a family directory.
We do not know more about freedom [from military conscription] than we knew there, and have not yet asked for more. As long as Turkestan is free, so are we, and [Gov.-Gen.] Kaufmann had said at that time that it would be worth it, and we see that they are not averse to us....
It is said that many will come from Prussia in the spring.
Franz Bartsch (1854-1931) and wife Lisette Woelke (1859-1938)
Photo received from Robert Friesen
Franz Bartsch: We prayed for them and the Lord helped
The writer was identified as F.B. in the original, but his mention of the child who died identified him as the author of the memoir, Our Trek to Central Asia (#1377858). His daughter’s severe illness delayed the journey of the first wagon train from Hahnsau, Am Trakt. She died on July 1, 1880, and was buried early on the morning of July 3, 1880. The trek set out at 10 a.m. the same day (p. 32-33). Here Franz writes from Kaplanbek, near Tashkent. - IUP
published in the Mennonitische Rundschau 15 Apr. 1881 p. 2 (excerpt from Zur Heimath 7 Apr 1881 p 4-6).
We learn the following from an interesting letter in "Zur Heimath":
We’re 20 verst [13 miles] from Tashkent and have to drive there a lot. I can describe Tashkent but won’t this time. We had various things to do, to set up our homes and those of other people, to bring fodder and fuel, and so on.
Now the local people told us that winter will soon begin. Here it is rain and snow mixed up with frost and warmth, the result of which must be mud, which would hinder our work.
But the other brothers from the Volga were still six weeks behind us, and the Molotschna brothers were nine weeks behind us — how were they supposed to get here? And how anxious we were for the health of those following us! We had lost 11 children on the journey, with our little one 12, and we wondered how many they would have to give up?
Well, we prayed for them and the Lord helped. We received news from them from Karmaktchi, where they had already suffered cold temperatures of -10° [Ré, -9.5° F or -12.5° C]. Then we heard from them from Turkestan [city] through a Jewish man. Now we calculated the days. The Lord let it rain and snow, but also freeze and dry again, and so they [train 2] arrived here on Monday, November 24. I was not at home, but had gone with a conveyance for Patzen (clay bricks) and found them already there.
The joy! And not a sick person among them, although they got cold temperatures of -13° Ré [-3° F or -16° C], had to walk through snow almost a foot deep, were soaked by rain and frozen by frost. They buried only one pair of twins on the way, in the same place where they saw the light of day. [The twins born to Sister Schmidt in Turkestan were stillborn on Oct. 12, 1880: Martin Klaassen diary.]
And now the Molotschna brothers! On Monday, December 2, they [train 3] entered Tashkent, where the governor-general had made apartments for them. Think of it, they, the largest train of 63 wagons, covered the distance it took us 15 weeks to cover [the part of the journey from Am Trakt] in 13 weeks! Through the deepest sand, the Lord had prepared the way by rain and frost so that they could pass through without putting each other ahead [adding teams of horses to the first wagons, then returning the horses for the remaining wagons; others say they did this on difficult stretches].
Both they and the second group travelled via Orsk, where they actually had a difficult road, but better fodder. At the wells of the desert, where our 43 horses were hardly satisfied, their 150 were filled! The Lord has done this and it is a miracle before our eyes! Yes, on eagles' wings the Lord has led the firstfruits of His people 2,600 and 3,600 verst (about 1,700 and 2,400 English miles).
One more thing, beloved friends! I still remember the warning: "Do not rely on princes!” [Psalm 146:3] Now listen to what Governor-General Kaufmann told our deputies when they thanked him for his kindness: "God will continue to help you!" That was the conclusion of the conversation from his side. Thus, the authority of God’s handmaid toward us is too good! We do not expect more from him. May God grant it.
Tomorrow on Sunday, God willing, we will go to Tashkent to celebrate the Lord's Supper and foot washing, in union with the Molotschna brethren. We have recognized their elder [leading minister], Abraham Peters [#2336, see below], as our elder. After that we will join them in a Love Feast.
F. B. [Franz Bartsch]
Abraham Peters, Isaak Penner: News from train 3
Abraham Peters (1833-1882, #2336) was the spiritual and temporal leader of the group mainly from Molotschna who finally settled in Aulie-Ata, now in Kazakhstan. He was elected elder in Tashkent, but died there at only 48 years of age. Descendants of his first marriage to Agatha Wiebe (1833-1877, #2337), who died before the trek, are found in the USA today. There were no surviving children of his second marriage to Elisabeth Kroeker (d 1914, #1446791).
Isaak Penner (1844-1925, #284545) lived in Alexanderwohl, Molotschna, before joining train 3. He became the patriarch of a large family. His first wife, Helena Boese (1845-1872, #32317), died before the trek; he then married her younger sister Elisabeth (1854-1887, #282364), and after her death, Maria Wedel (1864-1930, #407272). We know of 20 children of these marriages, with descendants found in Germany. - IUP
published in the Mennonitische Rundschau 1 May 1881 p. 1-2.
Tashkent, Asia, Jan. 9, 1881.
Abraham Peters [1833-1882, #2336] (as we understand, he is the elder, formerly living in Friedensruh) writes a long travel report to his friends in the old homeland. Talking about the burdens of the mothers, he expresses himself in the following way:
"It has often become quite difficult for the dear mothers with their little ones or even newborns, and when I kept watch at night, I have often been an ear-witness of how lullabies turned into songs of lamentation. But it was neither grumbling nor accusing, but sighing and calling to God, which often brought tears of sympathy to my eyes and moved me to intercede."
He also gives the exact number of deaths that occurred in this third train from Molotschna: "Nine deaths have occurred: an old man, 72 years of age (we believe here is meant the elderly disappeared Mr. Wedel, whose name was mentioned in the previous issue of the Rundschau) [Johann Wedel, 1786-1880, #56526]. A 19-year-old youth [Dietrich Wiens, 1861-1880, #343775]; a 7-year-old boy [his brother Aaron Wiens, abt 1873-1880]; the rest were one and a half years and under.”
About the occupation of the resettlers in Tashkent, he says: "Everyone is busy as before: the blacksmith master at the anvil, the carpenter at his workbench, the shoemaker with the laths, the plumber with his zinc and sheet metal, etc. Those who are not craftsmen have enough other work, and those who are healthy can earn their bread twofold."
Another excerpt from a travel report by brother Isaak Penner of Tashkent, Asia, was sent to us by a dear friend. However, since much of the report’s content was already published in earlier issues, we will only share these notes: Six children were born on the trip (in the Molotschna wagon train). The travelers sometimes experienced temperatures as low as -13° Ré. [-16°C or -3°F]. Their dwellings, furnished to them by [Governor-General von] Kaufmann, are 18 feet [548 cm] long and 16 feet [487 cm] wide, the cattle sheds half that size. The settlement site is expected to be 280 verst [186 miles or 299 km] from Tashkent (probably east of it). It will be settled in villages, with 30 households in one village. [This site became the Aulie-Ata settlement.]
Anna Martens: Shopping in Tashkent
Anna and her husband Johann Martens were in the third wagon train (in order of arrival date), which included a large group of settlers from Molotschna. Anna gives an interesting picture of daily life in Tashkent, and some of the tragic losses of life their community had suffered to date. Price conversions are calculated from values given by Rundschau editors in 5 Mar. 1881 p. 1:3 (see Gerhard Janzen letter above). - IUP
published in the Mennonitische Rundschau 15 Sept. 1881 p. 1-2.
Copy of a letter from Tashkent dated April 23, 1881.
Dear friends and brothers and sisters,
I don’t need to write how the journey went, as you already know from other letters from here.
Our household here is almost in the same condition as we had there, of course not as fancy. We sleep in a bed that we nailed together from boards. At the wall I have a basin bench made from the ceiling boards that we had in the wagon.
My husband has already acquired a workbench for the winter and some equipment, which is made here of walnut wood. The wood for work is mostly poplar wood that is cut into boards 7 ½ - 10 feet long [2.28 - 3 m] and 6 ½ - 10 inches [16.5 - 25.4 cm] wide, and costs from 10 to 50 kopeks [5-25¢] per piece. The wheelwright wood is significantly worse here than it is at your place. The handles of the wagon are bent from a piece of freshly grown elm wood, and are priced at 75 kopeks to 1 ruble [38-50¢]. The spokes are cut from elm boards and cost 6 kopeks [3¢] each. The middle wood for the carriages must also be made from planks or round timber. We have a cross-footed table, a long bench and two short benches, all painted.
Our cow and calf cost us 20 rubles [$10]. She gives about 7 quarts [6.6 L] of milk every day. The cows here are of a Russian breed, but smaller in size than the ones you know. Our cow is black in color. We slaughtered the calf. Our cow gives milk even without a calf, but some don’t want to give milk without a calf. There are sometimes nice cows here, but they lack German care.
We have horses and wagons, too. Some of the brothers have earned up to 200 rubles [$100] transporting gravel and stone during our stay here. In good weather, two men with a wagon earn up to 12 rubles [$6] and even more per week.
We still always have food; we have eaten fish quite often. I can say that no one has suffered any lack among us yet, for which we cannot thank the Lord enough. The food here is not very expensive either:
Clothing is available here at different prices. The clothes from the Sarts, from whom we buy the most, are cheaper than those in the old homeland. The people here engage in trade and handicrafts and profess Mohammedanism. But the goods in the Russian trading houses are more expensive.
The Kyrgyz look a lot like the Sarts, but are more like the Tartars and are more apathetic than the Sarts; they are mostly employed in leading caravans. They tie their camels to each other in the following way: a rope is pulled through the animal's nasal cavity and one is tied to the other, and up to 50 camels are driven one after the other. The caravan leader (a Kyrgyz) sits on the first camel and in that way he travels with his caravan from place to place.
Finally I have to report what it looks like in and outside the city. In the city of Tashkent, almost all the alleys are adorned with avenues of willows standing on water channels. These willows stand at an unusual height and have their branches full of green foliage so that we can walk and ride in their shade when the sun is hot. The irrigation canals, which are sometimes made of wooden tubes up to 3 fathoms [18 feet or 5.5 m] high above the valleys that cut through this city, roll through the city in many places.
As for the grain in the fields, I can report that the grain fields here are all irrigated. It is different here with us than it is there with you, for when the heat starts there the rivers dry up; but here the water in the rivers rises when the snow melts in the mountains. From these rivers, irrigation canals of up to 50 verst [33 miles or 53 km] are led into the fields to irrigate the grain. The barley has already thrown the ears and in some places it is already white for harvesting. The wheat here is now at the height of an arskin [28 inches or 71 cm].
We have already fed our horses fresh clover for a month. The fodder here used to be expensive. The clover is tied in bundles of about 10 inches [25.4 cm] in diameter and one arskin [28 inches or 71 cm] long. When we came here, the price was 4 rubles [$2] per hundred, but it is now available for 2 rubles [$1] per hundred; but old clover costs 3 rubles [$1.50] per hundred. Two horses need 7-10 bundles of old clover each day, but twice as much for fresh clover. We fed our horses mostly such clover and only 3 poods [108 lb. or 49 kg] of barley, while we lent out the gelding to transport stones. They are considerably better now than when we left you.
Fuel is also expensive, but the Lord made sure that it did not cause us much expense, because from before Christmas until quite some time after the holidays the weather was so fine that we sat in the apartment with open doors. The main source of fuel here is cane; it used to cost 4-8 kopeks [2-4¢] per bundle. Split firewood costs from 5-7 rubles [$2.50-3.50] per fathom [6 feet or 1.8 m]. One fathom yields about 1 ½ of a German wagon full.
The cold was insignificant for us this winter, the windows only got a little frosty a few times. On the other hand, it was mostly dirty because it rained very often. At the beginning of March it got quite warm, up to 25 degrees Ré [31°C or 88°F]. The apricot trees were already in full bloom in the middle of February. Now, from a week before Easter to a week after Easter, April 23 [date of letter], it rained at night, if not during the day.
I want to add that my husband now produces brick molds for the local brick factory; he gets 1 ruble [50¢] each. He has already finished 10 pieces and should make another 10; the expenses come to 20 kopeks [10¢] each. I've also made some money sewing for the brothers and sisters.
I will also add that on the way here, nine of our people died. They were:
On the way, 5 of our company’s horses died, and 5 had to be sold because of weakness of age and physical damage. We travelled 18 weeks less one day in total, and the whole distance is 3550 verst [2,400 miles]. We missed 26 days, not including Sundays, owing to buying food and animal feed, deaths, childbirth, rain, etc.
The sand desert extends for 325 verst [215 miles]. We travelled in it from 32-49 verst [21-32 miles] a day. My husband became sick with a fever during the journey and became one pood [36.11 lb.] lighter, but he was still able to take care of nearly everything. I was also ill on the way and suffered greatly; however, during this time I had to cross the mountains, which stretch across 150 verst [100 miles] and were quite rocky.
From the time that we arrived here, in total twelve died, including:
On the journey 6 children were born, and here in Tashkent, 9 children.
The wife of Joh. Wiebe of Wernersdorf, is badly laid up, but everything is in the hands of God the Almighty.
We are still living in Tashkent, and we do not know when we will move to the countryside or further away, although our deputies have already looked at land 300 verst [200 miles] from Tashkent. But since our dear emperor died at this time [Alexander II was assassinated on 13 March 1881], and our General [Konstantin Petrovich von] Kaufmann lies afflicted by a stroke, and is represented by another who must first find his way in his office, our cause remains unfulfilled. But the Lord will make all things well; we ask that you remember us before God; and so I will close my letter and greet all my friends and acquaintances.
Anna Martens, formerly from Wernersdorf [Molotschna]
Our address is best written in Russian and with Russian characters:*
Tscheres Orenburg [через Orenburg - through Orenburg, per Elena Klassen]
w. gorod Tashkent [в город Ташкент, per Elena Klassen]
Via Europe to Asiatic Russia.
* Unfortunately, we do not have the Russian font in our printing house, otherwise we would have used it for the first three lines of the address. — The Rundschau editorial office.
Photo received from Robert Friesen
Jacob and Agatha Janzen: A special report on deaths
Jakob Janzen (1844-1917, #109399) and Agatha Neufeld Janzen (1842-1916, #109401) were in the third wagon train (by order of arrival) from Molotschna. After a long wait in Tashkent, they settled in Aulie-Ata in 1882. Jakob and Agatha migrated with nine children, one of whom died in Tashkent; then had three more sons in Aulie-Ata. He became the settlement’s elder after the passing of Abraham Peters, and was a frequent correspondent to Mennonite magazines. - IUP
published in the Mennonitische Rundschau 1 Feb. 1882 p. 2:1.
Tashkent, Nov. 5, 1881
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, what could be nicer and what could be more joyful than dedicating our lives to the Lord in faith?
With no less joy, last Saturday, October 31st,* I was allowed to read your valued letter, according to our style [Julian calendar] on Sept. 3rd. Now beloved brother, as you invited us to share in your feelings, I must also ask you to share in our feelings. But I feel peculiar. I don’t know if it’s joy or sorrow that you should take part in. We aren’t without deep sighs and many tears.
We have changed our place of residence many times since we celebrated our wedding. We have lived in as many places as the number of our [living] children, and that is six sons and three daughters. We have never made a burial mound anywhere else, but here in Tashkent, one of the 28 graves that we have made hides the shell of our eldest son. I might be clear that I would ask you to cry with me, but the Lord did it, and praise God, we know our Jakob is with Jesus. With his last breath he assured us that he would go to Jesus. So on the one hand we can be happy, he has overcome his body, but on the other hand, we miss him very much.
He helped in the school last winter, but now Heinrich Janzens’ son Kornelius [1861-1907, #12913] is taking his place. This also answers your question as to whether Janzens are here. Jakob Funk [1851-1921, #36008] is also here, he is still single.
On October 9th we were allowed to welcome them with another three families from Molotschna and six families from Kuban. Their journey here was a happy one. They suffered very little from illness, nobody died, except at Am Trakt (Volga), a small child died while they were getting the vehicles ready there. Until then, they had travelled by steam[ship]. No horses died either. You can also expect letters from the family of H. Janzen [1835-1904, #11925] and their children, everyone sends greetings. Anna is sick, Heinrich is also ailing.
J. Funk also sends his best regards. He is very stressed right now here, precisely because he has all sorts of things at his fingertips. He is now setting up a workshop, intending to earn his living with carpentry and painting.
I received the Rundschau a few days before your letter, so I got to know it. I really like the paper. I would like to thank the person through whom I receive it. I am happy to be able to write to so many dear friends and acquaintances at the same time through this paper. In this way I can also give the many loved ones in America a sign of life and love, which I couldn’t do if I had to write to each one.
Today in the Rundschau I noticed Heinrich Schmidt, my former student in Gnadenthal. I still owe him an answer to a letter I received from him in Kuban. Back then I was delighted that one of my students was writing so kindly. Answering immediately was not to be and so it remained; I’d like to make up somewhat for this omission. I lost his address.
On November 7th, the day before yesterday evening, snow was falling here, although the leaves haven’t completely fallen from the trees. Today the sun is shining; it’s doubtful whether the snow will last until evening.
The summer heat was more bearable than we’d have thought. Indeed, it was often up to 49 degrees Ré [61°C or 142°F]., but our people have always been able to continue their work: driving stones, gravel, bricks and soil, in short what is available to transport for cartage.
This year, the rain has not disappeared as early in the spring as we are used to, and it started to rain earlier in the autumn than expected. The last early rain came at Pentecost, and the first late rain on the 16th Sunday after Trinity Sunday [first Sunday after Pentecost - E.K.], and there are 17 weeks in between where it has not rained, which is unusually little locally. The laws of nature are also decreed by the Lord our God.
To the astonishment of our relatives and friends, we have to say that we still don't have a place to settle. Those young men who were 15 to 20 years old when they moved here, are already legally obliged to serve [in the military]. And no matter how much we like it here, we have doubts about this matter; God knows how they will finally be freed. Otherwise the other immigrants are granted free rides and the crown gladly gives us land. Also I can't leave it unmentioned that here in the city we’ve been given accommodation free of charge for the second winter already, including locations for school and church services.
We are held in high esteem for our worship; in fact, we enjoy respect here that reminds us of that "Hosanna" in Jerusalem, God knows whether the "Crucifixion" will soon be remembered too. As far as this respect is concerned, of course, the Russian people say this superbly, but the locals also deserve our praise in this respect.
They are mostly Mohammedans, and their customs and practices are still quite old-fashioned. Many sights remind one of various expressions in the Bible. When you look at the local architecture, you think of the four who dug up the roof to leave the paralytic before Jesus [Mark 2:4]. Because they simply laid beams on the wall, then covered them from one beam to the other with split willow branches the thickness of a child's arm (sometimes quite dense). Then comes a bordan, a man-made mat woven from dry cane rods, half bigger and half smaller, the size of a lid of a German box; these are then made from split cane, quite beautiful, up to the size of a small double barn door rsp. cir., 4 arskin [9’4”] long and just as wide. These bordans, which are also used for various other purposes, have soil poured on top of them, which is then trodden on and smeared with good clay. With some effort it is then possible to get a bed with a sick person through it [as in the Bible story]. No nail, whether wooden or of iron, is needed for such construction.
Again, if one sees a camel striding along, loaded with butter, clover or alfalfa, tied together one behind the other, often the following one at the tail of the preceding one — and they either have their mouths tied shut with a rope around the lower jaw and muzzle, or as we do for cattle or a pig to be slaughtered, they have a specially made net over their mouths — then that scripture comes to mind: "You shall not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain.” [Deut. 25:4]
I am also reminded of the negotiations regarding Elimelech’s inheritance and the marriage of Ruth [Ruth 4] by the peculiar construction of local gates, often under a rather large, carefully constructed roof. Under such gates there is room for quite a gathering. When friends meet who rarely meet, or who love and honour each other, the greeting is so ceremonial that one thinks that this is why the Saviour forbade greetings when He sent His disciples out on special missions.
But I must be brief so that my letter will get mailed. Enclosed you will find a letter from brother Johannes Penner [#342334, see below], former district teacher of Koeppenthal [Am Trakt] (Volga). He came with us from there as a parish teacher, and as such went with us to Bukhara, where the brothers from the Volga went to seek there what has not yet been promised to us here, freedom also for the young men in question. For one of them had been hit by the Loos, and the authorities made demands of him. Later news from Bukhara does not bring anything more pleasing than the said letter from brother [in Christ] Penner. If you think it is suitable, give it a place in the Rundschau. Otherwise you may insert what seems suitable to you. Your brethren,
Jakob and Agatha Janzen
P.S. A special report on deaths: since New Year’s Day , three husbands have died here from among our people:
Four young men have died:
The total number of deaths since New Year’s Day amounts to 27.
The family of Dietrich Braun [1831-1900, #2358] from Blumenort long for news about their dear children in America; they greet them warmly.
A warm greeting to all who remember me.
* The letter from Elkhart, America, to Tashkent, Asia took about two months, which is a long time, but at least it makes it possible to have a correspondence with loved ones far away. At the request of several of our readers, we will give the address again, and even more completely than in issue No. 8, Volume 11. One writes in Russian:
Tscheres Gorod Orenburg
Mennonite ... (Name) - ....
Via Europe to Asiatic Russia
(The last line is written in English.) -—The editorial office.
Johann & Helena Regehr: Onwards to Bukhara
The writer is likely Johann Regehr #529856 and his wife Helena #529855, from Hamberg, Molotschna. They ended up settling in Aulie-Ata after failed attempts to settle in Bukhara. I appreciated their account of those who had died, and Helene’s reluctance to part with the three horses who had carried them so far. - IUP
published in the Mennonitische Rundschau 15 Dec. 1881 p. 1-2.
Copy of a letter from Tashkent dated Sept. 16, 1881.
The peace of the Lord be with you! It is 10 o'clock in the evening and I am sitting down now to write a letter to you. I cannot refrain from telling you about our present situation. The Lord leads wonderfully, yet finally gloriously, that is also my faith, therefore I am confident and thank God for His grace, which we are still allowed to experience.
We and our children are still, thank God, quite healthy, however, God has afflicted our company very much with illness and death. Currently ill are the following: Abr. Peters [1833-1882, #2336], his brother-in-law Abr. Koop [1850-1923, #991401] and several children.
Passed through death into eternity: Mr. and Mrs. Korn. Wedel [1830-1881, #341860 and wife Elisabet Pankratz 1837-1881, #274419] and their son Johann [1862-1881, #276823], who preceded his father home by one week. They leave behind 6 poor orphans. Last Monday [Sept 14] we buried the wife of Peter Wiebe, née Dueck [1859-1881, Maria Dueck #1996]. In total, 6 wives, several young men and children have already died here.
The Lord has mercifully spared us so far, but my dear wife and our daughter Kornelia were also seriously ill; I and the other children were also a little sickly, but they remained on their feet.
We have now loaded our wagon again, as we did a year ago, in order to travel further, namely to Bukhara. With us 9 more wagons are going there and another 9 wagons have already gone there before us, with the Volga brothers. The remaining brothers who are still behind will probably stay here until the future spring or until the brothers who left you last summer arrive here in Tashkent. We believe that the Lord has prepared our place there, for how long only He knows to whom all things are known. Because our freedom of faith is not granted here, we have to go to Bukhara, which is currently under Russian protection, but in some respects stands more on its own, even though its inhabitants pay tribute to Russia.
When we tell the people here that we cannot do anything about military [conscription], they tell us: "Go to Bukhara.” We are allowed to leave with our children, nevertheless, some of them are getting red passports. I consider this a miracle and special guidance from God. There it is again, what God says to John through his Spirit about the church in Philadelphia: "I have set before you an open door, and no one will shut it.” [Rev. 3:8]
It still weighs heavily on my heart when I think of how I often talked about taking over your service duties when we were together with you; there was indeed one and the other who believed that this takeover was not right, but one was left with the question: Where to? Nevertheless, we saw how it had become so dark among our people, that one could no longer believe that the Lord would not continue to preserve a church which He had hitherto preserved through much hardship and misery, and give it a place on earth where it could live according to its Fathers' ways. But even there the Lord will keep His own, but who knows how many will remain when temptation becomes so great that faith is no longer carried under the law of freedom, but under the law of the world.
Who can serve two masters? [Matt. 6:24] Or who is the one who belongs to the Lord Jehovah and is animated by his spirit? Answer: One who, when it comes down to it, is willing to give his all, even if it means his life. Although there are often quite difficult hours for a Christian and it sometimes seems as if God has abandoned him, the light must nevertheless always rise again for the righteous. The heart must be comforted, for the Lord tests hearts.
Dear brothers, write to me how you are doing in all respects, we do not want to forget each other, also now, when we are going to Bukhara. Remember us in your prayers, because we need to encourage each other while we are still alive. Even though we are far away from each other, your letters will reach us in a month. We still have 600 verst [400 miles] from here to Bukhara, but your letters will find us there as well, since our brothers here want to deliver them to us. If you write, please use the address of brother Peters, who will remain here.
Well I will close now, it is already midnight and I want to go to bed. Tomorrow I want to load another cart. Because I have only one wagon, I have taken on another cart, which will be loaded with 32 pood [100 lb.] and costs 20 rubles [$10]. I still have my two mares and a foal, which I bought from brother Duerksen, and I could get 500 rubles [$250] for these three horses, but my wife said I shouldn't; these horses have brought us this far, and if they stay alive, they should bring us further.
Well, greetings to all, and greetings also to the brothers at Blumenheim, from your brethren
Johann and Helena Regehr, formerly of Hamberg.
(Copied by Joh. Toews)
Johannes Penner: Evictions in Bukhara
For more about minister Johannes K. Penner (1850-1924, #342334), see his letter above, and family notes following this letter. - IUP
published in the Mennonitische Rundschau 1 Feb. 1882 p. 2:3.
The following letter from one suffering person to another was made available to us by brother [Jakob] Janzen [above]. We consider it an important contribution to the history of the migrants. It is also interesting that it looks into the inner community relations and expresses the mutual friendly attitudes. It reads as follows:
Written at the Bukharian border on Oct. 11, 1881.
My dear brother Jakob Janzen, firstly, I wish the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ to you, yours and all our brothers! I had resolved not to write to you until we had settled. But now that such a fitting opportunity has been offered through the brothers from your midst, who have brought us our things left behind in Kaplanbek [near Tashkent], I will not keep my resolution.
We have not yet come to rest; the state of our affairs is this: About five weeks ago we were expelled from Bukhara after we had waited a week for the Emir's decision. Indeed, the departure had to happen quickly. Two wagons were broken. The Fast family’s little Agnete [1881-1881, #814358] should have been buried, the grave was already completed, but no delay was granted. Mr. Fast had to take his child with him as a corpse, and the wagons with the broken wheels had to be dragged along. But nevertheless we cannot complain about bad treatment; one of the commanding officers even gave sugar to several children.
We were accompanied for several verst into Russian territory, and we were finished with Bukhara for the time being. We found a fatherly friend in the head of the government of Kattakurgan (Natchalnik). He disclosed to us that on both sides of the Russian-Bukharan border, there was a rather large piece of arable land (without irrigation), suitable for wheat cultivation. It was about 16 verst [10.6 miles or 17 km] long and just as wide, and was owned by two mosques in Samarkand. We were told that it was leased land, and that the lease price for one year was a thirteenth of the yield. We were advised to finalize the settlement in Samarkand with the people who controlled the mosque land, about six mullahs and one merchant.
We sent Herman Janzen, Gerhard Esau and Cornelius W. Penner. After they had been there for 1 ½ weeks, they came back empty-handed. The mullahs liked it and were glad that we wanted to settle on their land, but this required not only the permission of the Samarkand Natchalnik but also that of the Bukharian Emir. The former gave it right away, but the latter had undertaken a journey to southern regions, so it would take some time before his reply would arrive. That was the result of the trip to Samarkand.
Then the previous Monday, we received an order from the Governor General through the Kattakurgan Natschalnik that C. [Cornelius] Quiring had to enlist. So we set out for the second time to cross the border, which the Natchalnik reported to his authorities, also that we took C. Quiring with us. We had been shown the mosque land already before that, so we now knew where we had to turn. Twelve verst south of the Ssaraffshan valley, a rather high mountain rises, on the northern slopes of which we had been shown a spring; we moved there.
That was on Tuesday. On the following Thursday, Bukharian officials appeared again and ordered us to leave Bukhara. The land we were on was not mosque land. We replied that we could not return to Russia under any circumstances, that we were subject to laws there that we could not accept. Then we were allowed to drive on to the mosque land, where we were to await further orders.
Later, October 13th.
Yesterday I did not get to write; during the night from Sunday to Monday, I sat up with elderly Dietrich Wiens [1883-1881, #25820] from Blumstein, who arrived here very ill. While we held the evening service, the suffering brother was freed from this life of pilgrimage and misery. May God in grace give him the inheritance that has been prepared for us from the beginning of the world….
I have briefly told you our state of affairs. The Saviour says: "In the world you have fear;” we experience this abundantly. He continues: "But be comforted, for I have overcome the world" [John 16:33]. There one learns to seize our calling in faith for eternity. The earth denies us everything. How dark it becomes so often before our eyes, but for the righteous the light must always rise again in the darkness, and through the blood of Christ we are righteous.
My dear, I would probably have a lot to say to you, but how can a quill and ink substitute for live conversation! I was very glad to hear, as I learned from a letter from brother Cornelius Dyck and brother P. Quiring, that you intend to join us. Where to?
Well, God can't leave his promises unfulfilled. Let us cry out day and night that He will save us soon.
Today I spoke to uncle Klaassen (he was really suffering, is now somewhat better) about your situation. He said, "The day that we are united with the Molotschna brethren will be a day of celebration, a day of great joy for me.” His voice quavered with emotion.
Oh brothers, God has indeed admitted that He came to divide, but He cannot allow us to remain separated. Can God then be silent when you and we bring one request before His throne, the request for unity in Him? And if He rejects our poor stammering, He cannot ignore the request of His Son, our representative, John 17:11. [“... Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” NIV] Unity in spirit, encircled by the bonds of holy and sanctifying peace, becomes our common property. The congregation of Jesus must become united in Him. Let us not ask, “But how shall it be?” I am also at the end of my thoughts, but let’s call out and believe that it shall be. If God and we want it, what should then hinder us?
Dear brother, do write sometime. I heard that you’re teaching school again. God bless you and strengthen you with His love and patience. It pains me that brother Abr. Peters (#2336) is still suffering so much; may God preserve him. Brothers, I love you, oh how I loved you more. Greet brother Peter dearly from me, and especially from Uncle M. Kl., who also sends you his greetings. Greetings to all dear brothers in office, brother Abraham Wiebe and Braun. The family of Cornelius Wall is right in your area; my warmest greetings to the whole dear family, also from my wife, who also greets your dear wife. Are you all healthy?
May God strengthen us in the sorrowful days of the cursed earth. Oh how much anxious longing, sighing of the creature and the children of God. May God help us in our homes through Jesus. Jerusalem that is above, she is the mother of us all. Oh dear brother, what will it be like when we enter the pearly gates of Salem and move into the homes that Jesus has prepared for us? There our hallelujahs will still echo so many "Kyrie Eleisons" [calls of “Lord, have mercy”] toward the throne of God and the Lamb with strong shouts of victory. “In a little while.” [John 16:16] Who knows how soon that will be?
With sincere love, your brother and fellow pilgrim to Jerusalem in heaven,
Tragedy followed this letter after Johannes’ infant son, Peter Penner #387893, born 3 June 1880 in Am Trakt, died on 26 Nov. 1881 in Bukhara. The Penner family continued the wanderings of the group until 1884, when they embarked on another arduous trip over the desert and mountains to Orenburg, then by train to Germany, by ship to New York, and finally by train to Beatrice, Nebraska. Johannes continued in his work of ministry and they had eight more children there. - IUP
H.E.: Waiting with trepidation
In this report to the Rundschau, H.E. describes the difficulties of two groups in finding places to settle in Central Asia. Several wagon trains joined in Tashkent and then split in two directions. One group, mostly from Am Trakt, experienced the most upheaval and several false starts. The other group, mostly from Molotschna, settled in Aulie-Ata, now in Kazakhstan, after over a year in Tashkent. - IUP
published in the Mennonitische Rundschau 15 Jan 1882 p. 1:3.
Prangenau [in Molotschna], Nov. 22, 1881.
As I have been asked several times to report various things from the old homeland, I feel compelled to write a few lines for the Rundschau. From a letter dated Sept. 13th of this year, I have learned that the brothers [mainly] from the Volga, have wandered from Tashkent, Asia, to Bukhara. When they were 15 verst [10 miles or 16 km] in the country, they were driven back, and were now waiting at the border between Russia and Bukhara to learn what would happen to them.
A second letter says that they were harshly rejected and could not even have their noon meal there. They are now waiting at the Russian side for a decision about their situation. A certain gentleman has given them 40 dessiatine [108 acres] of land in total at the border, which they can lease for the time being. However, the border has not been confirmed yet, because the territory fell to Russia only in the last war.
The brothers [mainly from] Molotschna are still sitting in Tashkent, waiting with trepidation for the decision about their freedom [from military service]. The writer says this is because the March 1 assassination attempt on the Tsar, and Gov. General von Kaufmann’s stroke, have had alarming consequences for them. Nevertheless, he says that the government is making great efforts to ease the military question for them [mandatory conscription] and has their welfare very much in mind. Moreover, 60 verst [40 miles or 64 km] from Tashkent, the so-called Hunger Steppe has been offered to them for settlement; whether they will settle there is not yet decided. Coffee costs 1 ruble [50¢], sugar up to 80 rubles [$40] per pound. Many earn their living by transporting stones, sand and earth….
Emil Riesen ca. 1896; photo received from Robert Friesen
Emil Riesen: Letter from train 5
Emil Riesen (1856-after 1934, #81413) reports from the fifth wagon train, which included Claas Epp Jr. (1838-1913, #4738), an end-times preacher who became increasingly radical. Spiritual leadership was, however, provided by Johann Jantzen (1823-1903, #343731), who also wrote a diary of the trek.
Riesen, a teacher, also became a well-known interpreter in Khiva. He married Maria Kleeberg on the trek, and their son Hermann (1885-1943) had many descendants. Later Emil married Anna Nachtigal (1873-) and had no further children.
This letter provides fascinating details about the daily routine of the trek, as well as its length (72 wagons, growing to 75) and population of 277 souls. Changes in population on the road until then were helpfully noted. Up to Karabutak, 3 were born and 1 had died, now identified as Kornelius Neumann (1840-1881, #907531). - IUP
published in the Gemeindeblatt Dec. 1881 p 92 (Note: excerpt published in the Mennonitische Rundschau 15 Jan 1882 p. 1-2, with an error about children having died on the way.)
Correspondence from brother Riesen.
Karabutak (Asiatic Russia), Oct 18, 1881.
Praise the Lord with me and let us exalt his name together! This is what I must exclaim when I reflect on how graciously the Lord has led us so far.
I promised you in my last postcard that I would soon let you hear something about our exodus. However much I wanted to keep this promise, all the work and various hindrances made it quite impossible. The route itself I will not describe to you, as you have heard about it in many reports of those who left before us; so I will share a bit about the departure, the travelling party, the facilities and the weather, and also, if time permits, about our hopes.
Ever since the departure of the last train of last year, it was our wish to leave earlier — if at all possible — so that we would not have to come in the cold season. The preparations began early enough, but the Lord had other plans for us: there were so many obstacles and delays that, despite all our haste, we could not leave our gathering place until the evening of September 1. That was late! Many of our brothers who stayed behind even doubted that our departure would actually happen. But the Lord does not leave his work unfinished, does not allow the disgrace of his weak children, who in simple faith trust him firmly! In his time, he removed the greatest obstacles with a mighty hand; for much had been done to hold us back.
Thus on September 1, the members of the exodus congregation gathered at the assembly point. Many others accompanied us up to that point. At the farewell, one of our brothers, a servant of the Word, gave an address about Psalm 121 to those leaving and those staying behind, after singing and prayer while standing. It was concluded with a prayer on our knees and more singing and blessings. Brother Claas Epp then read Jeremiah 50 as a farewell and said a prayer.
Now came the moment of parting! How heartfelt it becomes, when it might be the last time in this life! I probably left behind no relatives, no friends, in the flesh. But the children I had around me at school for eight years or less, who loved me and whom I loved dearly, were they not as close to my heart as children can be to their father? And the parents with whom I was able to work hand in hand in the education of their children, yes, they were my friends from whom it was difficult for me to say goodbye. They will therefore understand the many mutual good wishes. I will never forget the farewell hours, especially those in the Fresenheim schoolhouse, which had become so dear to me! Some of my friends also continued with us on the journey.
It was the largest train that had left for the far, far East until then: there were 72 mostly two-horse, but also three-horse — large wagons. A bit further on another wagon was added; the 74th in Orenburg, and recently the 75th was also bought. The whole travelling party now numbers 277 souls, as far as I know. Three were born on the way, and on the other hand, one brother has died [Kornelius Neumann, 1840-1881].
Isn't that a big train? We have often been told that this would complicate and delay the journey. But so far I would not agree. Our equipment allows us to move ahead faster than previous trains; but our wickedness and hardness of heart has caused the Lord to often slow us down when we would have liked to hurry forward. Such a journey shows one the depravity of one's own heart! The Lord must punish for this until one finally begins to admit: the Lord is doing this because of your own will! You will understand, when one broken axle after another stops the train — so far 18 — where others have broken none, that most people would wonder about the reason for such words.
Now something about the rules and travel provisions.
Driving is only on working days. The night watch has to wake up at 3 a.m. The night is divided into two watches. Three men are on watch each time. First of all, each man sets up the tea machine, i.e. builds a fire in it. By the time the water boils, the horses — 130 in all — have been cleaned, harnessed and fed. Then everything is quickly loaded, and we have breakfast with coffee or tea.
When the bell rings, not everyone has finished yet; whoever wants to, goes to morning devotions. Brother Johann Jantzen, the only minister in our train until now, recites a hymn, which is sung. Then he reads a passage from the holy scriptures and says a prayer. People kneel to pray if that’s workable.
Between five and six a.m., as daylight permits, we set off. It takes about half an hour until the whole train starts to move. At first, there was some disorder, as there was a lot of pressure to push ahead. With the Lord's help, that has already changed. Depending on the availability of water and food, a longer or shorter distance is covered until noon. Everyone then hurries to prepare a midday meal if possible; because in about two hours we again go forward, again depending on conditions, often into the dark night.
Then there is much to do: attend to the horses, fetch water, cook, repack everything in the wagon to make room for the night’s lodging. Meanwhile, the little bell calls for the evening service. The songs are usually recited from the new Mennonite hymnal, and prayer concludes with the Lord's Prayer and a blessing.
On Sunday, we rest and wake up later in the morning. A while after morning devotions, after everyone has performed their work and has put on their Sunday best, all who are able then gather for the forenoon service. After singing, and praying on our knees, brother J. Jantzen discusses the Bible passage that was read, and closes with prayer and singing. In good weather, there is a children's lesson from 2-3 p.m., then an afternoon service. For that, brother Claas Epp usually gives a lecture on a Bible passage. If the weather is nice, song lovers gather in the evening. Harmonium, flute and violins are played and sung to. This often attracts foreign listeners from towns and villages.
You should see the friendly faces of the people, whether Russian, Tartar or Kyrghyz. We can’t yet complain about the behaviour of the people towards us, except that now and then they let themselves be paid quite well for their things, but they have also given us unselfish favours that have astonished us.
The people in this place are also very accommodating. We have had severe cold weather here since yesterday. They then invited us to come with our children into their very warm houses to spend the night with them. We were more than willing to accept. This morning, the thermometer showed [negative] 11 ½° Ré [-14°C or -6°F] with an icy north wind blowing. Yesterday it was quite beautiful in the early morning, then some freezing rain, hail, and finally around noon driving snow, which increased towards evening to become a proper blizzard.
Soon after our departure, where it was hot and extraordinarily dusty during the day, we also had several weeks of cold weather — once as low as [minus] 7° Ré [-9°C or -12°F] — now and then even wet weather, so that we finally really appreciated the beautiful weather from Orenburg onwards and learned to thank the Lord for it, but this was far more penetrating. But the Lord allowed no one to despair; this morning I saw only happy, contented faces, even if some of the wagons were quite white inside from the frost. The wagons are, of course, much warmer this year than those of the previous year, indeed some are very warm; but there are still no heated rooms, which I would wish at least for the sick.
Almost the whole time, we have had few serious illnesses, but they have increased in the last few days. Now we have four seriously sick people. But to those who love God — and love him rightly, even to be able to love, is our deepest wish and striving — all things must serve for the best [Rom. 8:28].
To be able to grow ever more in His love, we often hold Holy Communion on the road as at home, so far every four weeks. Foot washing has fallen by the wayside on the journey. Bread and wine are distributed by the aforementioned Brother Jantzen. Until now, he has also taken care of baptism and reception [of new members] for our part of the congregation.
Our preliminary destination is Bukhara. Our people from Am Trakt, Volga, have already crossed the Russian border. Yesterday we received the most delightful news from them from the border town of Kattakurgan. More about that later.
Emil Riesen: Train 5 reaches Turkestan city
In this letter from Kazalinsk and Turkestan city, Emil Riesen notes that 3 children died in quick succession on the journey, and were buried in one grave (in a Russian cemetery in Lohuteck, Turkestan). They have been identified as Franz Franz Abrahams (abt. 1876-1881), Barbara Hermann Bartsch (1881-1881), and Herman Abraham Jantzen (1880-1881). We also learn about the bitterly cold winter and how this group ended up stuck in Turkestan city for several months. - IUP
published in Gemeindeblatt May 1882 p 37-38
Correspondence from the exodus society in Asia, by brother R. [Riesen]
Kazalinsk, Nov. 15, 1881.
Dearest brother Hege, Again we have come further by the grace of the Lord, and I will report to you briefly about this stretch. It is 180 verst [119 miles or 192 km] (7 verst=2 hours) from Karabutak, where I last wrote to you, to Irgis, where the desert begins; then it is another 360 verst [239 miles or 384 km] through the desert to here. From Karabutak on, the harsh winter was our constant companion. Its severity sometimes felt oppressive, sometimes less so. One night, the temperature was -18° Ré [-22.5°C or 8.5°F].
Turkestan [city], Feb. 8, 1882.
I will now continue the report I started in Kazalinsk. In the desert, snow and frost were extremely helpful. Snow replaced the lack of water in some places. Frost turned the sandy road almost into a highway.
Even if we nearly froze from time to time, our spirits were far less depressed than by the muddy weather that had come in Kazalinsk. The sky was constantly cloudy, the loamy soil completely soaked, and in addition there was snow and occasionally some rain; so our company spent a full week there. We also had to drive to several stations in the deep mud. You can easily understand how grateful we were for the frost that came, which made a paved road for us again.
The farther south we came, where people had said it should become ever warmer, the stronger the winter laid its icy hand upon us. A few days' journey before Turkestan, it was -23° Ré [-29°C or -20°F] in the morning a few times, and once even -25° Ré [-31°C or -24°F]. But the Lord graciously helped us through it. Think of it, even in the coldest days, children could still be heard singing cheerfully in the morning in some wagons. Of course, the wagons were made as leakproof and as warm as possible. Even seriously ill people got well on such days, got up and tottered around outside.
Apart from the brother of whose death I wrote to you in the previous letter, only three children died on the whole way to here, and they died in such quick succession that they could be buried together in one grave. It left a peculiar impression to see the three black coffins with the tender children’s bodies, which were quite nicely dressed given the circumstances, set out on the snow under a bright sky.
We arrived here at noon [or lunchtime] on December 17 of last year. The snow was deep where we gathered our wagons. But since it had fallen loosely, it could easily be removed. As the contents of some of the wagons, beds and so on, inevitably needed to be dried out, part of the company immediately moved into quarters received partly through the kind solicitude of the local Natchalnik.
The snow increased enormously while we were staying here. Although it was the wish of some brothers to be able to continue our journey before Christmas, it was the Monday after Christmas before everything was ready (but barely ready) for our departure. For after the first wagons had advanced a bit more than half a mile [.8 km] in the deep snow, they were forced to turn back, and we were forced to spend the winter here in Turkestan — 266 verst [176 miles or 284 km] from Tashkent. The peace and quiet here does us a lot of good, especially in very good apartments.
Who knows what kind of struggle will follow, what the still quite dark future will bring us. The government seems to be very engaged with our situation again at the moment. Yesterday, when I came out of the prayer house, I met the Natchalnik, who told me approximately the following: "I spoke with General Sch. for your sake. He told me that they will assign you land near Tashkent or Aulie-Ata. They all want to stay together. They will try to make it possible. If that is not possible, you will be divided." Whether they also want to give us freedom [from military service] with it, I don't know. By the time we will be able to leave here, it will doubtless become apparent.
We will probably have to stay here for quite some time. In other years, the snow would have long since thawed away, but this time it is only disappearing here slowly; yesterday it was still -16° Ré [-20°C or -4°F], on February 1 it was even -22° Ré [-27.5°C or -17.5°F].
Food and horse feed is not very expensive here, raisins and yellow plums are cheap at 5-10 kopeks [3-5¢] (for 3 pounds [1.4 kg]) and rice. Except for two Russian merchants, all traders are Tartars, local residents (Sarts) and Bukharians, the latter mostly dealing only in sweet fruits, and Israelites (not Jews) from Bukhara. They are from the ten tribes and have the five books of Moses [Genesis to Deuteronomy] and the Psalms. The Sarts belong to the Caucasian race.
Now you can make do with this little [report] for now ....
Abraham Peters: Pray for our little house
Elder Abraham Peters (1833-1882, #2336) was the leader of the group mainly from Molotschna who eventually settled in Aulie-Ata, now Kazakhstan. But he was not well when he wrote this letter, and died on 4 February 1882, before the group settled in April. In this letter he expresses his deep faith, and also mentions one of the new arrivals in the fourth wagon train, who tragically died after only a few weeks in Tashkent. - IUP
published in the Mennonitische Rundschau 1 Feb. 1882 p. 1-2.
In a letter dated Nov. 6  from elder A. Peters to the editor of this paper, we find, among other things, the following:
I rejoice with you, and glory in the grace of God, yes, which we may have universally through faith, for the apostle Paul teaches us thus when saying, "All things are yours." [1 Cor. 3:21] God grants that we children of God will be preserved as we endure all the temptations and trials for the proving of faith in these last days.
Now, my dear brother, I am leaving. We will not see each other here, but certainly there in blessed eternity, where we will continue the conversation about the miracle of God's grace. My run will soon be over, it seems to me, for I have been suffering for a long time, as I judge for myself, I am suffering from consumption. But God knows everything, a thousand times better than we do. All things are possible for Him. Life and death are in His hands; I will go where He leads me, as He allows me to surrender.
Last night at 2 a.m., Peter Wiens died here after 14 days of severe suffering at the age of 33 years, 5 months, and 22 days. He had recently arrived from Molotschna, and was a son of the widow of Dietrich Peters in Wernersdorf. He stayed here only three weeks; leaves behind his wife with four children. The most gratifying thing with Wiens is that at the end, he was saved as a brand from the fire [Zech. 3:2] by the miraculous grace of God.
Also I commend to you the warmest greetings to very dear acquaintances, brethren and brothers in office, elder J. Peters of Nebraska, elder Buller of Alexanderwohl, Heinrich Richert, Geddert, Wiebe from Krim, Franz Ediger from Gnadenfeld, Peter Harms, Abr. Harms, Jakob Harms. There are also the Ratzlaffs from Franzthal, Jak. Regehr from Pastwa, Joh. Regehr from Rudnerweide, Peter Kliewer, Prangenau, Peter Funk from Friedensruh; yes, all who love Jesus, and wait for His future: for our future is eternity, and we believe in the near future of the Lord.
Yes, dear brothers, the personal, blessed hours that we cultivated at one time have long since disappeared, but they will return once more, especially that of which we spoke in faith and cultivated for God's glory. One day, O blessed day! In the kingdom of God, all of us will be enlightened through and through and have the same mind and opinion, namely the pure mind of Christ. There we will experience in the full sense of the word, what I have already mentioned: "All is yours.”
O brothers, I greet you with the desire of my heart: let us join hands to work for the kingdom of God, the Lord will bless it. Pray for me, I am weak in body and soul. Pray for our little house here in Tashkent; there are sometimes quite difficult days. Romans 3:21-22 [“But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who they are.” NLT], is worth thinking about and taking to heart in these last days, so that the work for the kingdom of God is not impaired.
Notes from Tashkent
The Rundschau helped to connect people in Tashkent with family and friends elsewhere, as seen in these brief undated messages, sorted by last name. Especially moving is the obituary of the young newly married wife, Anna Pauls Peters [1862-1881, #1448691]. - IUP
published in the Mennonitische Rundschau 1 Feb. 1882 p. 3:2.
City of Tashkent, Asiatic Russia.
Peter Dahlke [1838-1897, #3502], formerly in Friedensruh, has read with heartfelt joy the lines written by Peter Funk, formerly in Friedensruh, now Newton, Kansas, in issue No. 3, Volume 2, of the Rundschau. He sends him and his children his warmest greetings. He and his family are happy and well, except for the eldest (step-) daughter in Tashkent.
Johann Doerksen from Wernersdorf (single, blind), wants to ask through the Rundschau for the address of the sons of Jakob Doerksen (doctor), formerly in Bergthal, now in Manitoba. He, D., is currently quite well here.
Kornelius Dueck, formerly in Wernersdorf, (completely paralyzed/crippled) would like to know how his cousin Kornelius Wiens is doing in Minnesota and asks for his address.
The family of Martin Janzen [1839-1891, #328863] informs their mother, the widow of Ar. Reimer from Fuerstenwerder, that the letters are lost at the address sent to her, if any were sent, because we are still in Tashkent. Best regards to mother and siblings. The Janzens are healthy.
Thomas Koop [1836-1908, #328864] from Tiegerweide would like to learn anything about the brothers of his wife [Maria Boese, 1829-1905, #10923], Abraham Boese [1827-, #67900], formerly of Sagradovka, and Heinrich Boese [1819-1879, #51164], formerly of Blumenort.
His wife and children are healthy, praise God. His daughter Anna [1859-1941, #2036] is married to Jakob Wiebe [1858-1914, #2008], the son of Peter Wiebe [1831-1898, #1994] from Wernersdorf.
Note: The Koops migrated from Asia to the USA in 1894, where they lived in Corn, Oklahoma. Maria’s brother Abraham had migrated from Sagradovka in 1878 and lived in Henderson, Nebraska. Heinrich migrated from Molotschna in 1879, and lived in Alexanderwohl, Marion County, Kansas. - IUP
Peter Pauls [1837-1881, #586039], formerly of Friedensruh, read with interest in the “Rundschau” the news from the daughter of his brother Heinrich Pauls [1822-1888, #34153], formerly of Fuerstenwerder. Since he does not have the address of H.P., he would like to find it out through the “Rundschau”. At the same time, he wishes to inform all of his friends and acquaintances about the most important happenings for his family.
This is especially the fate of their daughter Anna [1862-1881, #1448691], which is very close to their hearts. She was baptized after our arrival in Tashkent on December 17 of last year  with some other young people, namely Dietrich Peters [1859-1932, #2339], son of our brother and elder A. Peters [1833-1882, #2336], and Helena Wiebe [1862-, #1451845], daughter of Abraham Wiebe [1836-1896, #1417404] from Wernersdorf.
On April 19th of this year , she [Anna] entered into marriage with D. Peters, and after a period of only 11 weeks, death called her away from here. She was severely ill for 25 days, most of the time unable to speak. She died on July 6 at the age of 19 years and 3 weeks. What a series of experiences in such a short time.
Note: Anna’s husband, Dietrich Peters, later married Susanna Braun (1865-1932 #2345). They lived in Nikolaipol, Aulie-Ata before migrating to the U.S. in 1903, where they lived in Corn, Oklahoma and Lodi, California. Thirteen children are listed in GRANDMA.
In addition to the GRANDMA genealogical database of the California Mennonite Historical Society, other sources include:
7/29/2020 03:46:21 pm
Thank you for making the effort to post your translations Irene. I found the letters compelling and they evoked the hardships of the times very clearly. They should make all of us more appreciative of the times we live in, no matter the current situation.
8/1/2020 08:59:14 am
Jacob and Agatha Janzen are my 3 great uncle and his wife.
8/1/2020 10:14:49 am
That's so cool! Did I guess right about who they were in GRANDMA?
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Irene Plett is a writer, poet and animal lover living in South Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.