Burton Holmes on the Trans-Siberian Railroad

Chapter 5: Emigrants

A Tea-Party

We first encounter crowds of emigrants, at the town of Cheliabinsk, which may be called a sort of clearing-house for colonists, where the worthless "human documents" are canceled, and the stamp of government approval is set upon such migratory paper as may appear of value, even if it be composed chiefly of rags.

Friendly Offices

But rags make good stout paper, and we cannot but admire the good wearing-qualities of the material that Russia sends out to people her Siberian wilderness.

 Going to Grow Up with the Country

Significant indeed the little silver cross hung by a chain about the neck of a bearded giant, who fills one of the forty places in a fourth-class car.

A Venerable Visage
That little cross means much. It means that this man, like nine tenths of those who precede and follow him, is carrying into Asia the beliefs of the Russian Church, the tradition of the Slavonic race, and the national spirit of submission to authority, which is the strength and might of Russia as an Empire.

These are our thoughts until we learn something that will appear to spoil my point. This train of third- and fourth-class cars, that is packed full of mujiks with their wives and their children, is not proceeding to Siberia; it is going back to European Russia, with its load of disappointed peasants, who have had enough of the big new land and are returning to their hopeless villages in Russia proper, not because they have made fortunes warranting this return, but for the unique reason given by every one we questioned— "home is better."


 Returning Emigrants

But we are reassured by the knowledge that for every one emigrant who fails or who fears to thrive on this new soil, four or five sturdier and braver peasants come to till it. Crowds of them, awaiting shipment on the station platform at Cheliabinsk, watched our fast train as it rolled away toward the broad land that is to be the empire of their children's children.

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