Pictures I Like: “Mary Greyeyes”, photographer unknown 1942


The Story: This photo is in the Library and Archives of Canada with the following untrue caption: “Mary Greyeyes being blessed by her native Chief prior to leaving for service in the CWAC “. Other places have Mary as an “Indian princess” being blessed by her father and chief. Also untrue.

The Facts: Here is the true story as related by her daughter-in-law, Melanie Fahlman Reid. Mary Greyeyes, aka Mary Reid, enlisted in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps  in 1942. Her brother David had joined the Army not long before, so Mary decided to give it a go as well. She was living on the Cree reserve at Muskeg Lake, north of Saskatoon, at the time. She wrote to the War Department and eventually got a letter telling her to travel to Regina and take a test. Mary had gone to a residential school and, in those days, there was no education for Indians beyond Grade 8, so she was apprehensive. But she passed with flying colors and became the first native to join the Canadian Women’s Army Corps.

Lt. David Greyeyes, 1943. [Department of National Defence]

Lt. David Greyeyes, 1943. [Department of National Defence]

The white women didn’t want her in the barracks and so Mary boarded outside the barracks. One day, her sergeant and two Mounties came by the boarding house and told Mary that, if she came with them and had her picture taken, they would give her a new uniform and a really good lunch. So they drove out to the Piapot Reserve, which is northeast of Regina, and there Mary knelt in the grass before band councillor (later chief) Harry Bull and had her picture taken. She remembered that there were a lot of bugs in the grass and it was uncomfortable. She and Harry had a conversation:

Harry says, “God it’s hot. What did you get for this?”
Mary says, “I get a good lunch.”
Harry says, “I got 20 bucks.”
Mary says, “So what are you bitching about? You get 20 bucks and I’m down here with bugs.”

Harry was a World War I vet and probably the original notion was to show an elder blessing the youth going to war or some such. The photographer went to local houses and found some stuff — pipe, bonnet, blanket, a knot of sweetgrass –that was cobbled together into a costume for Harry. He wasn’t Mary’s chief — they’d never met — and she wasn’t an Indian princess, whatever that was supposed to be.

Anyway, after the picture was taken, Mary was shipped out to England where she mostly worked in a laundry, which she hated. She asked for a transfer and her sergeant wrote on her application “Does Not Speak English”. But she did get reassigned to a kitchen. Whenever there was a need for a bit of colonial color to brighten up the news, they called on Mary who became “The Indian”. “She’s A Full-Blooded Indian But Now She Cooks For Palefaces” was one headline. It wasn’t all bad. She met Princess Elizabeth and the Queen Mother and sometimes enjoyed her status. Later she said that these were some of the best years of her life.

In 1946, Mary shipped back to Canada and was discharged. She returned to the Muskeg Lake reserve. One day, during a federal election, her old sergeant and a couple of Mounties showed up. They said, “Mary, you’ve got to come and vote.” The deal was, Indians who had served in the war could vote, if they gave up their treaty rights:

So Mary says to them, she says, “Can my mom vote?”
And they said, “No, she didn’t fight in the war.”
She said, “Well, what about my cousins over there, can they vote?”
And they said no. They said, “C’mon Mary, you gotta come, we’ve got the photographer.”
And she said, “All those years, I said nothing. Now I’m saying no.”

And that’s the real story of Mary Greyeyes.

[for a more complete version of the above, see Melanie Fahlman Reid’s account in The Tyee]


Meet the 1%: Stan Kroenke

Stan Kroenke, 57, is one of the 400 richest people in the world according to Forbes. He began with a real estate development company that builds shopping malls. He married Ann Walton who is an heiress to the Wal-Mart fortune.  Although Kroenke denies that any kind of special agreement exists, Wal-Mart tends to be a tenant in his malls. One reason may be that Kroenke tends to split the tax incentives with the store. For instance, of the $117 Million in tax write-offs given by local governments to build ten malls between 1994 and 2006, $54 M went to Wal-Mart. And of course, Wal-Mart has paid a great deal in rent to Kroenke’s malls. One hand washes the other and, by the way, Wal-Mart’s good fortune is also Kroenke’s since he holds more than $3 Billion in Wal-Mart stock.

Stan Kroenke

But Stan has other interests. He has a couple of premium Napa Valley wineries, for example, but his big interest is sports. Kroenke owns the NHL Colorado Avalanche, the NFL St. Louis Rams,the MLS Colorado Rapids, the NBA Denver Nuggets, and a host of minor-league teams playing everything from indoor soccer to lacrosse. He has a controlling interest in the Arsenal (UK) football team and has a bid in to buy the bankrupt Los Angeles Dodgers. He owns stadiums including the Pepsi Center in Denver and has a fledgling cable sports network that will showcase his teams.

Stan enjoys playing with his sports franchises. He is supposed to be very involved in even small personnel changes. He plans on bringing the Rams and another NFL team to Wembley Stadium and introduce the English to American football. That should be fun.

Kroenke in the Arsenal dresing room

Another sport that appeals to Kroenke is fishing. Some years ago he bought the Douglas Lake Ranch in British Columbia. The ranch had belonged to billionaire Bernie Ebbers of Worldcom who went bust in the biggest personal bankruptcy ever — $11 Billion of debt. Kroenke bought the ranch at a distress sale in 2003 for $68 Million which is far less than Ebbers paid for it. The ranch includes a timber mill, a townsite, houses for twenty-five employees, four heavy duty equipment dealerships, and of course, cattle, twenty thousand or so head. It also contains an 8000 square foot stone mansion that Ebbers built and Kroenke now enjoys.

Kroenke owns at least four very large ranches including one in Wyoming and two in Montana. The Douglas Lake Ranch sits on a half milion acres of land. Some of this land, including a couple of lakes, is public or Crown property. In B.C. you can’t buy or sell a lake; it belongs to the people. What you apparently can do though, is fence off all the access to the lake so that no one else can use it even if that means closing public roads which is also not legal in B.C.

So little Minnie Lake, a prime fishing hole, is located on the Douglas Ranch and Kroenke has shut down the road that locals used to drive down to go fishing. Also, Kroenke has flooded a great deal of land, enlarging the lake — does that mean that the new lake area belongs to Kroenke as he claims leaving only a tiny bit of Crown property in the middle which can only be reached by trespass? Or is it still Crown property? (I kind of think that he should have been stopped from changing the lake but that’s a matter for the Ministry of the Environment which has very little presence in the current B.C. government.)

Douglas Lake Ranch from their webcam, 5:37 PM, April 6, 2012.

Kroenke has stocked Minnie Lake with trout and he has said that the locals who fish there are thieves, stealing his fish. They could, if they wished to be honest, pay $550 a night to stay at the lodge Kroenke has built on the lake. The locals say that they have fished there for generations, that they have proof that the access road is public, and are scraping together the cost of a legal battle they expect to fight very soon.

The province did acknowledge that the road to Minnie Lake was public up until a few years ago. But lately they have told locals that Kroenke is in the right. Now you shouldn’t leap to the conclusion that Kroenke has bribed anyone, at least not with big bucks; all it takes is a little schmoozing. More politicians have been bought with a steak dinner and a ticket to tonight’s game than with barrels of cash. Anyway, one way or another, the current government is on Kroenke’s side, which is the way with these one-percenters.

The Minnie Lake business has a medieval ring to it, like being forbidden to hunt the King’s deer in Sherwood Forest. But Kroenke has a lot more force on his side than the Sheriff of Nottingham and, unless the locals can find a crackerjack lawyer, they are going to be shut out of the public lands of B.C. by one of our new feudal lords, Stan Kroenke.

Louis Riel: Community Organizer

Today, February 21, is Louis Riel Day, a statutory holiday in Manitoba. Riel was not quite 25 years old in 1869 when he stopped surveyors mapping out settlement plots. The land belonged to the people of Red River, he said, and not to the Dominion of Canada. The people had to give their permission before land could be taken up by settlers and speculators.

Louis Riel (center) and members of the Provisional Council

The Dominion of Canada was brand new of course, and the Red River territory had been turned over to it by the Hudson’s Bay Company when the beaver trade collapsed. The Red River settlers were a diverse group. There were retired ex-employees of the Honourable Company, there were Métis, both English and French speaking, there were Indians — Cree, Assiniboine, Ojibway, and Sioux refugees from the United States,  there were Catholic Green Irish and Protestant Orange Irish, there were Catholic and Protestant clergy, both claiming to speak for their congregations, there were Americans hoping to annex the territory into the United States, and there were the Canadians who wanted it to be part of their new nation. When the Hudson’s Bay Company gave up its sway over the territory, all these groups began assessing their own future.

Riel spoke for the French Métis. He had allies amongst the English Métis, the Catholic clergy, and the Green Irish. He also had enemies among these groups as well as opposition within the French Métis camp. But he had a single purpose, a just settlement for the people of the Red River, which made him a much-heeded man.

Chester Brown, Louis Riel: A Comic Book Biography

A hundred years later, young community organizers were signing up voters in Mississippi, union members in Rochester, and creating citizen groups in Toronto and Vancouver. These, like Riel, were largely untested human beings. They had the energy of youth but lacked the perspective of age. Still, they did pretty well. So did Louis Riel up until he committed the error that would haunt him for the remainder of his life: the execution of Thomas Scott.

Thomas Scott

Scott was a troublesome Orangeman and member of the Canadian party. He had been involved in an attempt at armed uprising by the group  at Portage la Prarie and was arrested and jailed by Riel’s Provisional Council. Scott was a mouthy fool who had little sense of the danger he faced. He hurled insults and epithets at Riel and his Council every chance he got. One day, it all became too much for Riel who ordered a trial that found Scott guilty of insurrection and sentenced him to death.

Riel was a young man, sensitive about his Indian ancestry, who made a rash decision. When people tried to dissuade him from the execution, Riel replied that it was necessary to win respect. Youthful vanity and insecurity got in the way of what had been, to that point, a fairly successful venture.

John A. MacDonald could not ignore the Orangemen, a huge voting bloc in Ontario, when they demanded vengeance for Scott. He sent troops to the Red River, but he also agreed to the Manitoba Act, which set aside territory for the Métis and guaranteed their rights. Riel had argued for provincial status early on and, when he rode into exile, said, “No matter what happens now, the rights of the Métis are assured… My mission is finished.” Whether he was correct or not is a moot point that deserves a little thought, especially today, Louis Riel Day.


“Louis Riel”, Dictionary of Canadian Biography
Louis Riel by George F. G. Stanley
Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester Brown

The Doukhobors of B.C.: Final Thoughts and A Few Notes

[Part One][Part Two][Part Three][Part Four]

The long (far longer than I originally planned) set of posts on this topic was intended to give some background to the current case being considered by the Human Rights Tribunal, brought before them by the New Denver Survivors, representing those who were children taken into care during the Freedomite troubles. The Survivors group has demanded an apology, compensation, and an explanation.

Here is the core of the story presented in the previous four posts: Doukhobor immigrants were invited to Canada, where the holdings that they built up over six or seven years were stolen from them. Some then moved to British Columbia where they ran into nativist locals who persuaded the provincial government to make their lives uncomfortable. The government used the pretense of requiring various official registrations to harass these people. Their leader, Peter the Lordly Verigin, pushed back by turning the schools into a battleground. When the government was uncooperative, children were taken from school. Eventually, the school buildings became arson targets. This phase was interrupted by World War I, when the province and the Doukhobors found cooperation mutually satisfying.

After the War, there was more friction, but it seemed as though the two parties might accommodate one another over time. The schools, however, were the continuing battlefield between the two factions. Verigin was indifferent to education but utilized school attendance as a weapon whenever he was displeased with the provincial government. This period ended with Verigin’s unexplained death in an explosion.

The new leader, Peter Chistiakoff, did not arrive in B.C. until three years later. In the meantime, the leaderless Doukhobors obligated themselves to certain large creditors. Chistiakoff spent years trying to pay off the debt incurred before his arrival. This was complicated by the onset of the Great Depression. Further, Chistiakoff was an erratic leader, a drunkard with a nasty temper who spent three of his ten years in B.C. in jail — a year and a half in a Saskatchewan prison, the rest made up of thirty and ninety day sentences mostly served in Nelson — and was incapacitated with illness in his final year. The property of the Community Doukhobors was seized for non-payment of debts and came into the hands of the provincial government.

The Freedomites, an extreme group of mystic believers, rose to prominence. Both Peter Lordly and Chistiakoff used this faction when they needed it and publicly rejected it when they didn’t. The Freedomites began using dynamite under Chistiakoff’s leadership. His absence during periods of incarceration left the group free to its own devices.

When Chistiakoff died, his successor was in a prison camp in the Soviet Union. The Freedomites therefore rejected the young John J. Verigin who assumed leadership of the moderate Doukhobor factions in B.C. The Freedomites fell under the control of various charlatans and con men, particularly Stefan Sorokin who took up residence in Uruguay. Freedomite actions were met with foolish countermeasures by both federal and provincial authorities, but the initiative fell to the arsonists and bombers who refused attempts at settling the disputes. By now protesting and bombing had become a way of life for many Freedomites, though there was nothing to be gained from such tactics except personal martyrdom.

Mass arrests in the early 1950s were followed by forcible seizing of children who were not in school — these were incarcerated at New Denver. Finally, in 1959, parents gave their promise that the children would attend school and the New Denver children came home. Bombings increased though, and became much worse. Police arrested and incarcerated all of the Freedomite leadership. Demonstrations against their imprisonment, including the Great March, drained energy away from other activities and the Freedomites were essentially broken. Since 1962, B.C. Doukhobors have lived peaceable lives of much the same quality as their non-Doukhobor neighbors.

An apology for some government actions — such as the theft of the Doukhobor settled lands in Saskatchewan — seems so belated that it lacks usefulness. Neither those who committed the deed nor those who suffered are still around. The provincial government has formally tendered its regrets over the New Denver incarceration of children, but not an apology. I suppose the difference is this: regret says we wished it had been done another way, but an apology (such as that given Japanese-Canadians interned during World War II) says we were totally wrong, you were right. But, in fact, it was the Freedomites themselves who made their children pawns in this power game. There are apologies due those taken from their families, but they are due from a number of people, beginning with Peter Lordly, who started this game. Compensation may be awarded by the Tribunal. It isn’t clear to me how much, if anything, should be paid and who it should go to, but I’ll go along with whatever the Tribunal says.

Some Notes:

Spelling: I have used various spelling of Doukhobor names that are very variable in practice. “Popoff”, “Popov”, “Poppoff” are all locally used variants of the same family name (though the first seems to have become preferred). Usually I have opted for “-off” rather than “-ov” endings except where it seemed the great weight of common usage was against me. I used the name Anastasia Golubova, because that is the most frequent occurence of that name on the Internet, but Anastasia’s last name is probably more correctly anglicized as Holuboff. I wrote “John Lebedeff” rather than “Lebedov” because that was, if I recall correctly (and I may not,) the spelling he gave to a community television crew who videotaped an interview with him in Wynndel in 1982.

Bread and Salt: Apparently there are states in the U.S. where witnesses in a trial must swear an oath on the Bible. In Canada, witnesses may “solemnly affirm”. “Eat bread and salt and speak the truth” is a Doukhobor saying that encapsulates certain beliefs.

Bread, a wooden salt keeper, and water on a Doukhobor table

At a 1974 trial that I witnessed, a Doukhobor man accused a woman, a relative by marriage and his next-door neighbor, of attacking him with an iron bar. When the man came to give testimony, he swore on the Bible. The Defense immediately objected on the grounds that the man did not believe in the Bible. Magistrate William Evans waved a hand. “He has taken the oath,” he said. When the man’s wife appeared to testify, she turned her head away from the Bible and Evans quietly asked for bread and salt. A pitcher of water was already present. A wire basket, like those used to hold papers on a desktop, was produced with slices of store-bought white bread and a shaker of salt like that you might find on a diner countertop. This was nothing like the great loaves of Doukhobor bread and the carved wooden salt receptacles that stood on every table, but the woman affirmed on them anyway. In the event, Evans’ decision, when he dismissed the charges, showed that he did not accept the testimony of either witness, though he did not ever mention perjury. I had some dealings with the alleged victim in the case and regarded him as untruthful — certainly he gave no evidence of having been beaten with an iron bar, though I did consider that he might have been slapped or punched. At any rate, I thought Magistrate Evans’ decision was just.

“White People” vs. “English”: As late as the mid-seventies, there was at least one loud-mouthed individual in the Slocan Valley who claimed to belong to the “White People’s Party” which he defined as, “non-Hippie, non-Indian, and non-Doukhobor”. He later was convicted of assault against someone he probably considered a hippy and moved from the area. The usage of the term “non-White” by 19th and early 20th Century English immigrants to describe Russians does not surprise. Nor should it be surprising that non-Doukhobors are referred to as “English” by these Russians.

The Doukhobors of B.C.,Part Three: British Columbia

[Part One, Part Two]

In Saskatchewan, the federal government re-claimed all of the Doukhobor land allotment that had not been developed as Homestead laws required. Much of this was swamp or land non-usable as farming anyway and it probably amounted to less than 10000 acres out of a total allotment of 400000. But Interior Minister Oliver also explicitly reversed the policy of his predecessor Clifford Sifton on communal lands. If someone was not living on the land that he was working, then it was subject to seizure. Since the Doukhobors were living communally in scattered villages, this meant that much of their land was up for grabs. That seems to have been the plan. The government was now less anxious to populate the prairies — a great many people had moved out there already — and there was money to be made by turning over developed property. Doukhobors claim that their land was stolen from them and that seems exactly the case.

Speculators outside the Yorkton, Saskatchewan land office looking to buy up Doukhobor lands, 1899. (Koozma Tarasoff Collection)

It might have been that these lands could have been held if Doukhobors had been willing to swear oaths of allegiance. Certainly many individual Doukhobors did so and kept their property. But the federal government was beyond any bargaining. Anti-Doukhobor feeling was rising.

Not all the land was lost. Independent Doukhobors who left the community kept their farms. Various places where villages were located managed to escape. And there was the property of Verigin, purchased by Peter the Lordly and not subject to the Homestead Act. Later, some of the seized property was repurchased by Doukhobors who gave it back to the Community of Universal Christian Brotherhood, as Peter Verigin called his group. After the First World War the Community probably held about 50000 acres in Saskatchewan.

But a great deal had been lost: flour mills, saw mills, smithys, brick works were taken away as well as farm land. Machinery was removed and reused or sold but Verigin’s Community had gone deep into debt to finance its venture and still owed a great deal of money. The Community members in Saskatchewan and sympathetic Independents contributed as did Verigin’s new British Columbia holdings and all the debt was paid off.

In British Columbia, Verigin bought a deserted mining camp called Waterloo near the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers. The military battle name was dropped and the place re-named Brilliant, for the way that the sun shone on the water. The land cost $150000. Verigin wished to avoid a bank-held mortgage so the title was put into escrow while the debt was paid off. Doukhobor men went out and worked, cutting railroad ties and clearing forest. They gave their wages back to Verigin and the purchase price was paid out in a year and a half.

Verigin also bought land around Grand Forks and, later, in the Slocan Valley and other places. He bought land that might be farmed for vegetables or planted with fruit orchards. Orchard farming had recently been introduced in the area by British immigrants. Table apples — eating apples — were still something of a novelty since most varieties had been developed only a decade or so before and there was a large market for this fruit. By 1920, the Community held more than 20000 acres in B.C.

The Jam Factory at Brilliant.

Verigin was a shrewd businessman with a long term vision. The Community would be internally self-sufficient. B.C. farms would trade produce and lumber to Saskatchewan in exchange for flour. Sawmills were established in B.C. A jam factory was purchased in Nelson and, after the Community got the hang of it, a new modern facility was built at Brilliant. A brick works near Grand Forks produced building materials. On the prairies, there were grain elevators and flour mills. Excess was sold outside the community. The government buildings in Grand Forks and other places were built from Doukhobor bricks. K-C (Kootenay Columbia) jam was known for its high quality and demand always exceeded supply (about sixty railcars full each season). And, always, there was a supply of young men sent out of the community to work and bring back pay cheques. Between the B.C. and Sakatchewan settlements there were about 20000 Community Doukhobors by 1918.

Verigin put all the land holdings in his own name rather than that of the Community of Universal Christian Brotherhood, but this was simply because he did not trust any other kind of official arrangement. At one point, when relations with the province were difficult, the Attorney-General considered bringing various suits against the Community, only to discover that it had, officially, no assets. In 1917, Peter the Lordly took all the Community assets and formed a corporation to be run by a Board of Directors. Each director was given a portion of the stock issued by the corporation and signed, on the back, a declaration that the property actually belonged to the Community. By the end of the First World War, the Community probably held $7 Milion in assets but it also owed more than a million dollars to banks and other lenders. Verigin was recognized as a capable businessman and a good credit risk. Deficit financing had helped boost the Community’s fortunes, but it would later prove its downfall.

With prosperity, many Doukhobors drifted from the Community. The Society of Independent Doukhobors formed in Saskatchewan and there were others, on the prairie and in B.C., who were superficially Doukhobor but who weren’t too invested in the idea that Peter Lordly was the living Christ. Meanwhile, the Freedomite group in Saskatchewan still held occasional marches and prepared for the new Paradise that was immanent on Earth. Verigin worked hard to keep the various elements in hand.

Peter Veregin and Anastasia Golubova

Peter the Lordly had driven about the Sakatchewan community in a coach. He had worn a top hat and operated out of a grand house in Verigin. In B.C. he wore a  farmer’s overalls and went about in a simple buggy. Austerity was the message he was preaching to his followers. After the failure of Peter Verigin’s first wife to reconcile, he began introducing Anastasia Golubova as his wife. She was with Peter Lordly for twenty years and was highly respected by the other Doukhobors. Anastasia was one of three female directors on the corporation board.

The Community was now spread over a wide area, from Grand Forks, B.C. in the west to Verigin, Saskatchewan in the east. Further, it was cut up into small communities within its territory. The model community now consisted of two blocky two-story buildings that housed the families and a row of smaller structures behind the buildings that might include an oven, a bath house, an area for invalids and those recovering from illness, and so on. Downstairs in each building was a communal dining room and living space. Upstairs was divided into eight bedrooms separated by curtains. A family — husband, wife, small children — occupied each bedroom. Children reaching the age of ten or so were moved into another bedroom. At first there might be fifty people per house but with prosperity, that number shrank to thirty-five or a little less.

Remains of Doukhobor houses near Grand Forks.

Supplies were distributed on a regular basis from the Community store rooms. Food, clothing, tools, livestock and equipment, were doled out as people required. So, Peter Lordly decreed, no one needed money. Everything earned outside the community was supposed to be returned to it. There was no need for fripperies such as musical instruments, which many Doukhobors thought Satanic.

Noon meal for farm workers at Brilliant.

Community members got together in sobranie, meetings that were part religious, part political, part social in nature. Community problems might be discussed there and solutions sought. There was prayer and, above all, singing. Doukhobor hymns are atonal, droning music that is stirring and compelling. These hymns are the record of the Living Book, the Doukhobor’s history of their quest to realize the spirit within and bring it forth upon the Earth. Continue reading

The Doukhobors of B.C., Part Two: From Cyprus to Saskatchewan

[continued from Part One]

Conditions for the Doukhobors in Russia had deteriorated to the point where some observers wondered if they might not all die out. Russian authorities clamped down on any news reports but they could not stop the foreign press from reporting atrocity. And atrocities there were. Elderly Doukhobors interviewed in 1975 could remember terrible things:

The whipping began. A grave-like hole is dug so one can lay down even with the ground. As soon as it was dug they took him and laid him down full length with his back facing up. Fine. And then they started flogging, one, two, three, and so on, one after another. The rods were such, with thorns. [Branches of acacia]. The rods had such big thorns. And then when he strikes he doesn’t lift it right away. He strikes and then he drags it down the whole back, these thorns. He drags it it down and the blood runs out after. Then he is lifted out and they start flogging another. And so they would continue whipping, by so many lashes, fifteen at first, then by twenty and then thirty lashes. And then when they have finished flogging… They lift him up: “Get up and walk,” but he already can’t walk. His legs won’t hold him up.     [Marfoonya Pavlovna Osochoff, b. 1882]

That was punishment for refusing to serve in the Army. The whipping would last days. About three hundred men were being treated so or had been sent into prison. Meanwhile, the main group of Doukhobors had been herded into several villages in the mountains of Georgia. They were not allowed to buy land nor to work, though sympathetic locals did pay small amounts for jobs done and even assigned some garden patches to the Doukhobors. People began dying in the mountains, of malnutrition, of cold, of disease. Mass murder may not have been official policy but it was the practical result of czarist practice.

Leo Tolstoy, 1900

Although the authorities tried to keep outsiders away, Tolstoyan Russians and foreign Quakers managed to witness the terrible conditions in Georgia and publicized them in the foreign press. Meanwhile, other Russians were appalled at the spectacle. One man, a landowning minor noble, came under the spell of the Doukhobors and became a pacifist and gave away his land to his tenants. He was sent into exile in the Caucasus but managed to contact Tolstoy who took up his case. There were other sympathetic Russians sent into penal exile, enough so that the authorities thought the place they were incarcerated was too close to the Doukhobors and removed them to Latvia, at the other end of Russia.

During this time Peter Verigin was still imprisoned in Siberia. He wrote directly to the Czarina, appealing on the basis of Christianity and the suffering of women and children. In his letter, Verigin said that the Doukhobors were willing to pay taxes to the Czar but not to serve in the Army. He asked that they be settled on the Russian frontier, all together, where they would work for Russia. Or, he said, let us emigrate.

Tolstoy had written a letter to the London Times describing the Doukhobor difficulties that attracted a great deal of attention. Articles and pamphlets describing the persecution of Russian Christians were written and distributed by Quakers and other groups. Suddenly, surprisingly, Czar Nicholas II announced that the Doukhobors could not remain in Russia if they would not serve in the Army, but that he would allow them to emigrate.

Now those who had wanted to assist the group had to find a destination and gather financing for this exodus. Funds were raised among the Quakers and the Doukhobors contributed what they could. Tolstoy, who had renounced fiction, wrote his first novel in twenty-five years, Resurrection, and dedicated the proceeds to the Doukhobors. But there was still the question of where to send these people.  Manchuria was suggested, and Sinjiang, and Texas, but the place that was immediately available was Cyprus. So, in early 1898, an advance group of about 1100 Doukhobors arrived on that island, which was under British rule.

Cyprus. Athlassa farm, 1899

The place allotted the Doukhobors in Cyprus was hot, dry, and full of thistles except where it was marshy and full of mosquitoes. Initial enthusiasm gave way to despair as the group found farming difficult and malaria decimated the settlers. It was obvious that Cyprus wasn’t working out but where else could they go?

The anarchist Peter Kropotkin had visited Canada in1897 and been favorably impressed by the farm settlements of Mennonites in Saskatchewan. He was familiar with the Doukhobor situation and had visited the Caucasus villages. Now Kropotkin went to the Tolstoyan group that was handling emigration and gave them glowing reports of Canada.

Aylmer Maude, circa 1930 (

A group of Doukhobors accompanied by Tolstoyan Aylmer Maude set out to investigate. Talks were held with Clifford Sifton, Minister for the Interior, and executives of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Both Sifton and the CPR wished to settle the vast Canadian prairie and were quite open to Doukhobor immigration. Aylmer and the others stressed three conditions on behalf of the Doukhobors: no compulsory military service, land to be granted in large blocs so that the Doukhobors could live as a community, no interference with internal Doukhobor affairs particularly in terms of religious instruction and education. This last condition is particularly worth noting in light of the later difficulties of Doukhobors in Canada. Sifton replied that the Doukhobors would fall under the provisions of the Militia Act that exempted Mennonites and other groups from military service, that land would be granted in blocs, and that there should be no difficulty on the rest since religious instruction was not compulsory in Canada nor was education of children required on the frontier. Marriages had to be registered but, otherwise, there was to be no interference with community custom. Aylmer Maude was enthused: “Canada is as free as any country in the world,” he wrote Tolstoy. The CPR promised free rail travel and everything seemed set. There was only one point that was overlooked: the homestead provisions required that those taking up land had to give an oath of allegiance to Canada. At the time, the Canadians did not understand the importance of this provision and the Russians were unaware of it. Aylmer Maude either ignored or was ignorant of this thorn among the roses. Continue reading

John Tanner Between Two Worlds

In 1790, the Tanner family left Virginia and headed west to farm on the Kentucky frontier. They took three flatboats down the Ohio River, one with the family and household effects, one with the livestock, and one with two slaves and farming tools. This was a perilous journey into country that was contested by Shawnee Indians. One of the flatboats purchased by the Tanners was marked with bullet holes and stained by blood from an attack on the previous owner. The Tanner family set up farming on the Kentucky shore of the Ohio, across from the confluence of the Big Miami River, just west of present-day Cincinatti. The farm was smack in the middle of the Shawnee trail to the south. Place names today on the Ohio side include Indian Look-Out and Shawnee State Park.

John Tanner in 1828, forty-seven years of age.

The Tanners were well aware that they were in danger of Indian attack. Rev.Tanner stood guard as his slaves and eldest son planted the first corn crop on their new farm. Nine-year-old John had been told to stay in the house and help look after his baby sister but he became bored and sneaked out through a window. He was playing in the woods when two Shawnee men seized him and carried him away.

The Indians took John across the Ohio and made their way north. At first the boy tried to memorize landmarks so that he could find his way back but there was no chance to escape. After they crossed the Mad River, young John realized that he could never make his way back to Kentucky by himself.

The Shawnee were father and son. The older man kicked and hit John and once started to kill him with a tomahawk but was stopped by his son. Eventually they reached the Indian camp near Saginaw, Michigan where John was turned over to the older man’s wife who had asked him to bring her a child to replace her own son who had been killed. A year after his capture, John’s foster father set out south to re-visit the Tanner farm. He returned with a hat that had belonged to John’s brother and told the boy that he had killed his family. John gave up any hope of rescue. For two years John Tanner lived with this family, enduring beatings from his foster father that included being struck in the head by a tomahawk. Only the kindness of his foster mother saved him from starvation.

The family travelled north and met with a group of other Indians from various bands. An Ottawa Ojibway woman, Netnokwa, took a liking to John. She, too, had lost a child and wished a replacement. She bartered with the Shawnee and manged to buy John for a price that included two casks of rum.

Netnokwa was a prominent person among the Ottawa and some authorities call her a chief, though it is not at all clear what exactly they mean by that. At any rate, when Netnokwa paddled past the fur forts, she flew her own flag that was recognized by the traders. The Ottawa were split up into small hunting bands at this point in their history. Netnokwa led a group of ten or a dozen people that included her husband, seventeen years her junior, and his other two wives.

Ojibway woman painted by George Catlin, 1832

Life with Netnokwa was very different than that among the Shawnee. John met with kindness from his new mother (his birth mother had died when he was two) and his new foster-father taught him to hunt. After he had been with the group for a year he received a new name, Shawshawnebase, the Falcon, and was adopted into the Rattlesnake clan.

The Ojibway, like the Shawnee, had been displaced from their traditional lands by the Iroquois in the 17th Century. But now the Iroquois expansion had ceased and the Shawnee were attempting to regain their territory in the Ohio. The Ojibway had broken up into several groups. The Ottawa were also called Saulteaux after Sault Ste. Marie, where they lived on both sides of the Soo. Some of this band had crossed the Grand Portage into the Red River country of Manitoba where the Assiniboine, decimated by disease, had offered them land. These two tribes allied with the Cree, also moving west to escape European settlement, and made a common cause against the Sioux whose own journey west included a complete transition from woodland hunter and fur trapper to plains horseman and buffalo chasing.

Ojibway wigwams along the Red River, photo by H.L. Hime, 1858

Netnokwa decided to take her family to the Red River country. This was to be John Tanner’s home for the next quarter-century. Along the way, at the annual Rendezvous at Grand Portage, Netnokwa’s husband suffered a mortal injury in a drunken brawl. One of his sons was hurt in an accident and died before the family could pass over the Grand Portage. An outbreak of measles added to Netnokwa’s misfortunes. Much of the responsibility for looking after the group now fell to thirteen-year-old John.

In the narrative that John Tanner later dictated, he described many hunts in great detail, so much so that Dr. James, who was taking the dictation, edited out a great deal of these accounts. Even so, we can grasp that obtaining food was a primary concern for these people. When Tanner speaks of starvation, he means it literally; people do not just go hungry, they starve to death. Tanner hunts bear, buffalo, moose, but also eats muskrat, rabbit, beaver, porcupine, otter and other animals trapped for their fur, and, when game is not available, his dogs, horses, and scraps of leather. He eats ducks, geese, blackbirds, and swan. He fishes for sturgeon, dory, and unnamed small fish that are eaten by the handful. He consumes corn, wild rice, and berries.  As Louise Erdich remarks in the forward to her edition of Tanner’s Narrative, this book is about Food.

Ojibway woman and children

Tanner learned to be an effective hunter and trapper. He was fond of Netnokwa but had a somewhat troubled relationship with his foster-brother. He married, around the age of twenty, a woman named Red Sky At Dawn and they had children. In Manitoba, the Ottawa avoided the conflict when the Shawnee and other tribes joined the English against the Americans in the War of 1812. Tecumseh’s brother, the Shawnee Prophet, sent to all the outlying tribes for assistance. He sent an effigy, supposedly his own body or some other vessel for his spirit, under a blanket to the Red River Indians. Strings of grain were laid on the blanket and those who touched them were said to have shaken hands with the prophet. Tanner was disdainful of the Shawnee Prophet, as he was later of those that sprang up among the Ojibway. He refused to follow the dictates that included giving up certain foods and not lighting fires even though doing so made him uneasy. A few years later, after the Prophet’s injunctions had caused a great deal of hunger and misery, most of the Indians who had followed his way rejected him.

The Fur Wars between the Hudson Bay Company and rival groups began to heat up during this period and, in 1812, erupted in the Pemmican War. The Hudson’s Bay Company supported an attempt by Lord Selkirk to start a farm colony in the Red River area. The North West Company paid Métis in the country to burn it down. Attempts were made to enlist the Indians in this struggle but most were disturbed by the conflict and remained aloof. Tanner, who had been trading pretty much exclusively with the Nor’Westers, was drawn in and helped guide an HBC force that took several North West Company forts. Together with the Métis Louison Nolin, he himself captured one of the forts from the Company. For this deed, Lord Selkirk gave him a small pension and wrote to authorities in the States seeking word of John Tanner’s family.

By 1817 the Fur Wars quieted a bit — most of the action now taking place in the courts of Canada and the boardrooms of London — and Tanner found himself in a difficult situation. He had alienated the North West Company, his first wife had left him when their marriage turned sour, and he had incurred the enmity of a local prophet that he disdained. Tanner had travelled on several expeditions south against the Sioux but these were unsuccessful and left him feeling that these ventures were futile. But during these invasions he had also made enemies among among the Assiniboine and also his own people, including one man who tried to kill him by hitting him on the head with a hatchet. This was only one of several injuries sustained by Tanner over the years — broken ribs in a fall, damage from a horse stepping on his chest, and the general wear and tear of a hard life. Now in his thirties, Tanner felt his body’s strength leaving him.

Meanwhile, Lord Selkirk’s inquiries had discovered that the Shawnee had lied about killing the Tanner family. They did capture John’s brother who managed to escape, leaving behind the hat used to bolster the Shawnee story. The people in Kentucky expressed a desire to see John, so he undertook to hunt enough food to last his family a year, then headed south. It was his intent to make contact with his family, then bring down his Indian wife and the children of his two marriages. Tanner had nine children by two Indian wives; one of these died in childhood and some had taken up adult life as Indians but six remained.

Ojibway woman with child painted by Charles Bird King, circa 1836

But almost immediately Tanner fell ill. He traveled on, aided by letters written for him by Lord Selkirk, Lewis Cass, Governor of Michigan Territory, William Clark (of the Lewis and Clark expedition that had passed just south of Tanner and Netnokwa at one point), now governor of the Missouri Territory, and other notables. Finally, he reached his relatives in Kentucky, but he was in a bad way; his body could no longer stand up to the harsh rigors of travel. His family was happy to see John though he had forgotten most of his English and found it difficult to communicate with them. John’s father had died a few years before and, believing John to be dead, had left him nothing in his will. His relatives resolved to help John: they cut off his long hair, strung with silver ornaments, gave him the clothes of a white man, and raised $500 for his use. John found the clothes uncomfortable and developed the idea that sleeping indoors made him sick, nevertheless he headed back north to fetch his children.

John’s second wife (never named) and his three children by her travelled with him back toward Kentucky, but his wife deserted at Makinac and went back north. One of the children died. John was still suffering bouts of illness and found his family not so eager to welcome him this time. He quarrelled with his step-mother over part of the price of the two slaves, who had been sold to Cuba after his father’s death. Finally, in 1822, John gave up on Kentucky and headed north. His new plan was to settle in Mackinac, a white community where Indians were numerous, and try to live between the two worlds. Continue reading