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Wright_Digby_Settling Siberia

Wright_Digby_Settling Siberia - v A THROUGH SIBERIA AN...

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Unformatted text preview: v , A THROUGH SIBERIA AN EMPIRE IN THE MAKING BY RICHARDSON L. WRIGHT AND BASSETT DIGBY ibe1ian laborers A photograph in which the d1fferent types 5 of faces me of remmkable 'mttrest ) 1 NEW YORK MCBRIDE, NAST & COMPANY 1913 / I CHAPTER VII SETTLING SIBERIA E were walking one day with some of our Datski friends past the freight yard of the Irkutsk sta- — tion, which is across the river from the city. Just as We left the pontoon bridge that the Irkutskians throw over the Angarar when all the Baikal ice has gone down, we found our way blocked by a long draft of freight cars being shunted off to a siding. “ There are some new Siberians,” observed Shonebeck. “.Do you see the stencil on the side of the car —‘ Twenty- srx men or six horses ’ ? ” Squaring the station guard at the gate of the freight yard with some small change, we sauntered along the tracks by the train that was now pouring forth its occu- pants. In that long line of box cars you could read the story of Russia’s settling of Siberia. On the immigrant train you see what purports to be civilized humanity at its lowest level. You may not quail at the housing and surroundings of the black races, but you will be unprepared for this degree of degradation among whites. The first car behind the engine had a sinister aspect. Its windows were heavily barred and a Cossack with a bayoneted rifle stood on the platform at each end. There were hands held out to us from the windows of that car, hands that did not reach far because they were manacled. And the faces behind them — some were young and hope- 98 SETTLING SIBERIA 99 ful, some were hard and dead. It was an arrestante wagon. One cannot travel a day on the railroads of the King- dom of the Little Father without encountering these prisons on wheels. Sometimes they form entire trains. This is not to be wondered at since thousands of prisoners are shifted about each day. According to conservative official data, these in transportation in all parts of the empire on one day, February 1, 1909, numbered 30,000. Before the coming of the railroad the exiles to Siberia were obliged to tramp the entire distance. They and their women folk toiled wearily along the post road. The journey from Tcheliabinsk to Irkutsk and beyond Baikal took, in those days, all of two years. N ow it is only a matter of a week or so before they reach their destination. It was not pleasant to linger beside the arrestante. Moreover, the guards were growing uneasy at our presence. On this immigrant train there were cars for families and cars for single men. The former were simply stables on wheels. In them, three human generations— grand- parents, the man and his wife in their prime, the children —and the population of their little farmyard back in Russia. Three cows and half-a—dozen sheep lie in straw and knee-deep filth, munching hay and green stuff. Bales of hay and straw are stacked to the roof, the home of the wandering fowls and turkeys and ducks. A couple of big lean dogs crouch in a corner. A Russian log hut has not much furniture. All there is fits comfortably into a box car, even when cows and sheep, backed by a small haystack, swell the family circle. Goods and chattels are disposed here and there, chairs are placed around the rude table, a lamp and even a pair of religious prints hang on the wall. Baby is installed in her swinging cradle at the end of a spring. The peasant 100 THROUGH SIBERIA cradle in Siberia is like a meat scales and bounces up and down. The single men’s quarters were populated by an intimi- dating band of ruffians, bare-headed, bare-footed, shagg - bearded creatures with flat animal faces and wild, blood- shot eyes, one’s conception of a shipwrecked crew after ten years on the desert island. Toward the tail of the immigrant train was a coach of dazzling white—the hospital, a very necessary adjunct to a journey taken under the conditions and lasting from one to three weeks. Through the open door we caught a glimpse of a brass and white enameled bed, a spotless white counterpane across it, and surrounded by all the dainty fittings of a private room in a good metropolitan hospital. The uniformed nurse sat by the window embroidering. The clean, white, little room; the bleeding, shaggy brutes among their cattle in the filth of the dark, mias- matic box cars next door! The first people who went out to settle Siberia did not " go of their own accord. They came from the town of Uglitch, and against them was the charge of having en- raged the Tsar by testifying to the murder of Tsarevitch Dmitri. With them was exiled a bell that had persisted in ringing when the Tsar demanded silence. It was ordered to be flogged, its ears chipped off, and thus muti- lated, it was banished to Tobolsk to “ do time ” with the talkative inhabitants of Uglitch. That was in 1593. There is significance in the incident because it is typical of one of the methods Russia has employed in settling her territory in Asia. For three hundred years Siberia has been a great prison. For three hundred years it has been the darkest blot on the escutcheon of Christianity and civilization. Tales of Russia’s exile system in the past are only too well known. --<~—w —_—4~ —':,... ~—————.o ‘—r‘:’——‘a ' 1 SETTLING SIBERIA 101 And though the revelations of Kennan, of Prince Kro- potkin and of Leo Deutsch have done much to readjust the conditions in the jails and awake public sympathy, Siberia is still a great prison. Since 1900 the exiles to Siberia have been restricted to political offenders and those who dissent with violence from the Orthodox Faith. The remaining bulk of those in prisons east of the Urals are the local miscreants, the thieves, murderers, forgers, etc. Yet with this new ruling in force, the body of prisoners is very great. Between 1823 and 1898, according to figures given in Wirt Gerrare’s “ Greater Russia,” 700,000 exiles accom- panied by 216,000 voluntary companions were sent into Siberia. In the same period 187,000 criminal convicts with. 107,000 companions went out. Since that time, be- tween 1898 and 1912, 157,000 were exiled to penal settle- ments in North Russia and Siberia. Thishof course, in- cludes the host of politicals banished for participating in the Revolution of 1905, though it does not include those who served their sentences in jails. The total number of exiles in 1909 to all parts of the kingdom amounted to 74,000. These are the figures of the Russian police. Ninety per cent. of this aggregate went to Siberia. Those in exile in Siberia at this writing number about 40,000. Four thousand were sent into banishment in 1911—12. Alien supporters of the bureaucracy and those who see the country from the windows of the Trans-Siberian ex- press will be apt to dispute these figures. The fact remains, however, that political exiles by the hundreds are to-day being shipped out to a living death. YQJLCQHQQE go down the rivers, the Irtish, the Angarar, th‘e Yenisei, the Kmur'or/therlena, without seeing barges crowded with exiles en. route to the prison settlements in the Tobolsk and Yakutsk Governments on the verge of the Arctic circle. / t l l 102 THROUGH SIBERIA Active colonization was begun in the Seventeenth Cen- tury. The first immigrants who were not exiles were Cossacks of the Don sent out to make settlements along the line of the pioneers. These Cossacks, the Government hoped, would serve a two-fold purpose—provide a mili- tary population and till the soil. Unfortunately, the Cossack is nomadic and, so long as he is soldiering, does not prove a good husbandman. On the other hand, when he settles dOWn to plow and sow his fields and reap the crops, he ceases to be a soldier. As a colonizer, the Cos~ sack did not fulfill all that was expected of him, but he accomplished a feat of more value. He carried the Rus- sian eagle to the Pacific and established posts between the Urals and the “ great ocean.” Aflgntheflessegk ,sazee.th9ss_wh9_rhas dissented from the POrthodox Faith, the Raskolihks, the Puritans and Quakers of Siberia to'whom"'Russia ofiered no peaceful habitation. In those early days thousands of Jews, Finns and Poles poured into what is now the Government of Tobolsk. These together with the exiles populated Siberia. Russia is ofl’ering, at present, great inducements to those of her peasants who will settle in Siberia. It costs nothing to emigrate thither though you do not journey as a convict. Upwards of some quarter of a million peasants come out evéiy"'yéar‘, in consequence, an annual immi~ gration bulking many times largerthan that to Canada from England, yet passing unremarked by the rest of the world. A Russian peasant to-day can receive free transporta- tion for himself and family, his flocks and his herds and everything that he hath, from his native village to a settle- ment in faraway Siberia. And there he will be given land and loaned a grant for a year’s farming expenses. ....-____—_.‘___~.__ Mm .. __ Wm“ : W‘Wva-WW Siberian SETTLING SIBERIA 103 Each male is given forty and one-half acres, ca1e being taken that the region to which he is sent compares favor- ably in general characteristics with the land he had known in Russia. No taxes are levied for the first three years, and only one—half of the taxes for the second three. Serv- ice in the army is not compulsory among immigrants [until the end of the first three years, that is to say, until they have cleared their fields and built their houses. More- over, the Government sees that there is to each family at least one man. Should the older son die while the younger is in the ranks, for example, the younger son is dismissed from active service and sent back to the farm. If the peasant is absolutely destitute, the Government will help in furnishing farm utensils, payment being set for a later date and on tthe instalment plan; will give himgseped, and, should the first crop be poor, piovide him with the cash equivalent. He is allowed as much timber as he needs for the construction of his house and barn. More- over, in order that the new farmers may learn the methods of modern agricultural and dairy methods, the/govern- ment has set up dairy schools and agricultural instruc- tion stations and offers series of prizes to be competed for. Nearly the whole of the region in Southern and Central Siberia capable of sustaining settlements has been sur— veyed and plotted by the Government inspectors who assist the local authorities in the distribution of the land. Therg/re some thirty distributing stations, the largest of which islet Tcheliabinsk. Under this paternal system, the tide of immigration has been giowing. Between 1870 and 1890 only half a mil- lion went out. Then came the raihoad. Between 1893 and 1901, 1,318, 000 went out. In 1908 the figures reached 758,000. There was then a falling off in the H...._ .9.“ -_—.... «.‘K‘ 104: THROUGH SIBERIA number because the land had been visited with great droughts and poor crops had resulted. 1910 saw only 352,950, and 1911, 226,000. Not all of the immigrants reach the station for which they set out. This is due either to the lack of personal funds or the temptation to squat in some section that pleases their fancy as they journey by. Thus 100,000 are registered each year at Tiumen, three—fifths of whom never get any farther than the Government of Tobolsk. The average peasant does not favor going east of Baikal though the Government is trying to direct immigration thither. According to officials, the arable zone along the railroad is crowded, and the central steppes, tilled as they are at present, visited with periodic droughts and famine, do not justify more settlers. Of those who go out, a certain percentage returns, either unsatisfied with the section allotted them or else unable to cope with the exigencies of the climate and the roughness of the soil. Thus, of those who went out in 1911, 80,000 have returned. Siberia’s present population amounts to about 10,000,- 000, a large portion of which are convicts or exiles and their descendants; a dwindling portion the native tribes. There are about 90,000 Tartars in Western and Central Siberia. The Kirghis and the Cossacks and the Siberiaks, the last the descendants of the first settlers who married the natives, are occupied with most of the grazing. Large tracts of land for that purpose are granted them. The Tartars are Mohammedans; their mosques are to be found in every town of size in Western Siberia. The Kirghis are the remnants of the old Turko-Mon- golian hordes that at one time threatened to overrun Eu- rope, but which, as the Cossacks came farther and farther into the new territory, receded and were beaten into sub- SETTLIN G SIBERIA 105 jection. The present tribes live in ymtas or felt tents, and raise sheep, horses, camels, goats and cattle. In the neighborhood of Lake Baikal one meets with the Booriats, and in the neighborhood of Barnaoul and Min- usinsk, the Kalmucks. The Government is making great efl’ort to induce these natives to settle down to farming. The establishment of a governmental instruction farm on the edge of the Gobi Desert has not as yet met with much success as these tribes are inherently nomadic and do not prove good husbandmen. According to the latest reports, the management of this farm is said to have been taken over by an American harvester manufacturing company, a concern which practically monopolizes the business of farm machinery in Siberia. North of Baikal in the Government of Yakutsk are the Tunguses, the Ostiaks and the Samoiedes, all of them liv- ing by hunting and fishing much after the manner of the American Indian. The Cossacks “offer a diflerent story than do these native tribes. From the very beginning the pet soldiers of the Tsar, these fearless troopers have been given more advan— tages than the ordinary settlers. Iii/Central fiSQeria/pthfley are granted psixty acres of land per man, and in the Mari- time Regions, 100 acres. In Western Siberia they, form about ten per cent. or the population. The Cossack government is a thing apart from the local administration of affairs. There is a hetmtm or chief and three under hetmen who form a Military Board and com- mand all the Cossack troops in Siberia. The little Tsare~ vitch has been made Chief Hetman of all the Cossacks in the empire. There are three classes, those boys enrolled for three years’ service at the age of eighteen; those who enroll at twenty-one to serve for twelve years; and the reservists, or those who have seen five years’ active service. 106 THROUGH SIBERIA There is much talk in Siberia of the disbanding of the Cossack army in order to encourage them to take up farm- ing more seriously. From a picturesque point of view, at least, this will be a loss, for no body of men in the world ride with such reckless abandon or such endurance. The weekly drills of the Cossack force on the city square in Irkutsk are revelations to the foreigner. Russia has been populating Siberia now for over 300 years, with results that do not compare favorably with the settling of other colonies; certainly her success is not relative to the opportunities the country offers. There are three reasons. The country itself is to blame. The winters are severe, with. a temperature falling often to 50° below (Fah) in many spots of the arable zone, and the summers extremely hot, sometimes the thermometer reading as high as 114:0 (Fah.) in the same district. There are next to no spring and autumn. Moreover, the PEQPlS aremlower , in the scalemof civilizationmthan“those who have settled in the western parts of America. And the exile system, that scheme whereby Russia has tried to fill up her new land with bad men or with political offenders, and expects to get thereby a healthy, loyal, hard- working people, has much to do with the present state of afl’airs. The Siberians themselves realized this position. In 1898 they protested so violently against their country being a dumping ground for criminals, that two years later a law was passed abolishing banishment to Siberia for criminal offense. Those exiled now are only the political and religious offenders, so the officials assert. If this is true, then Siberia’s list of murderers and thieves must rival Russia’s crop of malcontents, for the jails are crowded, arrestante wagons are seen at all times on the rail- roads, and the prison barges are kept busy as soon as the rivers are free of ice. A group of Mongols, showing their strangely fantastic headgear SETTLING SIBERIA 107- Stories of prison abuse in Siberia are still related. Of course, the treatment of prisoners depends much on the personal equation of the warder and his assistants, so that abuse to a greater or less extent exists in every prison of the world. That men are flogged, that those condemned to death are abused and beaten before execution, that women politicals are outraged, that devastating contagious disease, torture, suicide and murder are rife in the prisons and exile settlements is as true today as when Kennan crossed Siberia. The Russian Government, with tactful hospitality, has removed these eyesores from the View of the squeamish foreign traveler. There are etapes, or exchange stations in each city (these also serve as city and county jails) where prisoners are distributed and allotted their places of confinement. They are not conspicuous for the excel- lence of their sanitation. Classification of prisoners is made only between the criminal and the political, so that the petty thief and the murderer rest side by side on the same sleeping bench. In transportation, however, there is no distinction. Thus a university professor and his pupils, exiled for their ideals, may have to travel for weeks with the forger and the thug; and young girls, hardly out of their ’teens, have to ride in the same arrestante with prostitutes and degen- erates and are obliged not only to watch scenes too revolting even to think of, but, as is recorded in several authentic cases, they themselves to suffer pollution and disease. When they reach the place of final detention, the politicals are kept apart. Women politicals, by the way, average about one to every twenty men. Each prison maintains a workshop, a crude infirmary and a domed, cross-topped chapel. One marks, not with— out the temptation to be cynical, that the shimmering 108 THROUGH SIBERIA‘ gilded cross of the Irkutsk prison chapel is on a line with the sentry boxes above the stockade where stand armed sentinels ever on the alert to shoot down their unfortunate fellow men, on the slightest provocation. Since the war, when Japan was ceded the southern half of the Island of Saghalien, the northern parts of the Gov— ernments of Tobolsk and Yakutsk have been used as the spots for exile. In this region where the temperature hangs all winter at forty degrees below zero (Fah), where, in summer, perpetual cold fogs enshroud the land, and in winter the air is dull with snowfall — snow as fine as salt——up there in little hamlets along the rivers, the politicals live out their sentences. Those with only short terms ~— four or five years —— are given $6 a month by the Government for their support; the life termers, however, are not given one kopeck. Both classes are permitted to work if they are fortunate enough to be able to find it; but, as one who lived a time in an exile village describes the situation, “ I have seen nothing but worn faces of men vainly going about in search of work.” The life termer, after having served ten years of his sentence, may come south from the exile settlement and live in a town. This liberty applies to all but capital cities. Those with short terms can go back to European Russia at the expiration of their sentences. In the past year many of those who were exiled for participation in the Revolution of 1905 finished their time and came back to their homes. Despite an army of spies, of troops, and the rigid ex- amination of passports at the frontiers, many politicals, as well as m...
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