Gregg, Emma: Great-Grandfather Jacob Dick Rode Across the Steppes of Russia, with Robbers in Hot Pursuit


by Emma Gregg

Across The Steppes of Russia

I grew up hearing tales of life in Imperial Russia, the revolution of 1917 and the early years of Stalin’s reign of terror. As I have very little documented proof of these events I have called them family myths.

Great-grandfather Jacob Dick was born in 1855, in the village of Nikolaidorf, in the Mennonite colony of Molotchna, Russia. In 1878 at the age of 23 he married Aganeta Goertzen, of the same village. Most young couples started out married life living with the bride’s parents, usually until land became available for them to farm. According to my mother, four of their twelve children were born in Nikolaidorf. Through a type of tax system money was saved to buy land for landless couples like my great grandparents.

In 1890, Neu-Samara, a daughter colony to Molotchna was established in the province of Samara, about 1,500 km north east of Molotchna. Several families made plans to move. Great-grandfather owned the fastest horse in the village, so he was nominated to take the cash payment to Neu-Samara. With saddlebags full of Russian rubles, he set off. Somewhere along the way he noticed a group of riders following him. Robbers of course!! He urged his horse on and when a bridge appeared ahead he and his mount hid under the bridge. The riders thundered past and when all was quiet Great-grandfather carried on to his destination.

Gt Grampa Dick

Now, to be realistic I don’t think Great-grandfather took the long ride to Neu-Samara, but rode to another village in the Molotchna Colony, where there was a government office and the purchase of land was finalized there. I would think the ride took him the better part of a day or even one night’s rest in a village along the way.

The family moved to Pleshanova, a village in the Neu-Samara Colony, where Jacob and Aganeta lived for the rest of their lives. Like most Mennonite men, Great-grandfather had two occupations, carpenter/cabinetmaker and farmer. A young man, Johann Warkentin, would apprentice as a cabinetmaker with Great-grandfather. This young man would marry the boss’s eldest daughter, Aganeta, and they would become my maternal grand-parents.