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Mariental (Tonkoschurovka), Russia
(Mary's Valley)

Village Coordinators - 

Denise Grau

Kevin Rupp

Colony Movement

Mariental (Tonkoschurovka), was among the first villages which were settled on the Wiesenseite (Meadowland) of the great Volga River of Russia.  The village was founded on 16 June 1766 by LeRoy and Pictet as a Roman Catholic colony.

The colony of Mariental was located in the district of Saratov, 50 versts (each being two-thirds of a mile) from the city, on the meadowside (weisenseite) of the Volga river. It lies near the Bollshoi Karaman River, and along the Orenburg summer road, which was used by the villagers to drive their livestock to market. The land allocated to Mariental, was bordered on one side by the Colony of Herzog (Susly), one side by Graf (Krutoyarovka), one side by Louis (Ostrogovka), and on the fourth side by vacant crown land. Because they lacked enough pasture land within their borders, they had to share vacated crown land with the other colonies.

A Broken Promise

The immigrants had to settle where they were sent, and were told that they would have to be farmers. It did not matter to the authorities that many had no knowledge of farming and had never used any kind of implements. There were no houses for the immigrants, and no lumber to build with. Domestic animals were scarce, as was food and clothing. The immigrants were taught how to make mud huts, called semlinka's. Each house was planned 28' long and 16' wide. The inside walls were 6' high with two half windows in each wall, and one door. The ground was excavated 3' deep and then that 3' of sod was put up around the excavation. This formed the 6' walls. The roof was then covered with boards and sod. The inside was dark and dreary and many women plastered the walls with clay and used "Lebaster", a plaster of Paris, to whitewash the walls. It was very nice until it rained, when it became so streaked that the walls had to be re-done after each heavy rain.

Learning to Farm

The tradesmen learning how to be farmers had struggles beyond imagination. The tall grass had never seen a plow and was almost impenetrable. Even the knowledgeable farmers had difficulties with the grasslands and the crude implements they had to work with. Their fields were out beyond the village, sometimes quite a distance. They were told how many acres to plow, when and what to plant, and when to harvest, even needing permission to sell livestock An even greater menace to them were the nomad tribes of Kirghiz and Kalmucks. Sometimes whole villages were in ruins, and many murdered or kidnapped and carried off to the slave markets in the East. From MARIENTAL alone, two or three hundred villagers were carried off into slavery. Some 150 colonists from KATHARINENSTADT set off in pursuit, hoping to free the captives, but were themselves captured, tortured, and killed. In September, 1774, a large force of 600 men, under Russian officers, followed the Kirghiz, and managed to liberate 800 or more of the captured colonists. Some of the others were later ransomed back, yet others were not heard from again. Guards had to be on watch night and day in the villages, and weapons were carried along to the fields for protection. My father remembered that they had cattle taken away from them at the time he lived in Mariental as a youth.

Things Changed

In the 1780's, life in the colonies became more peaceful. Wheat and tobacco were successfully grown, and a trade business developed. The village cattle were all taken out to the pasture each morning, by the local herder, and brought back in the evening, where each knew to turn into their own courtyard as they were herded through the village. In the 1800's when the promises of the manifesto began to change drastically, the colonists grew frustrated and concerned. Their self-governing rights were taken away. The draft was to be re-instated, and would include all of the colonists. They had heard stories about the cruelty an strictness of the military, the inability to practice your religion while in the service, and with many having to stay in the military more than twenty years, possibly never seeing their families again, or if they did come home, came as broken men. My grandfather had to serve from 1888 at the age of 24, until the age of 43, with full service being one year, and as a reservist until 1906. He would have 5 days to report to Novouzensk if called back. He applied for a passport in 1908, and received it on March 4th, issued by the city of Libau, signed by the Governor of Kurlindia, allowing he and his family to leave the country. They sailed in April on the SS Monfort, from the port of Antwerp, Belgium, and arriving at St. John, New Brunswick, their destination being Battleford, Saskatchewan. My father's 9 month old brother died on route and is buried at St John. My grandfather, Joseph, my father, Anton, another brother, Joseph, and their sister, Clementina, along with their mother Rosa, eventually came down from Canada, in May 1908 through Portal, North Dakota, arriving in Ellis, Kansas, where Joseph's brother Peter was living at the time.

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