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A two-day historiography session on the 1880 Mennonite Great Trek to Turkistan was held on November 14-15, 2008, at Bethany Manor Fellowship Centre in Saskatoon. Albertine Speiser gave some delightful readings about her own life and memories of her grandmother, Elisabeth Unruh Schultz, who had been on that Great Trek, and whose memories are recorded in a book yet to be published called, What a Heritage. This book has been a source for much information on the Trek, used by those doing research.
Mrs. Speiser generously granted permission to put her readings here on the website.
She began with some family history;
In looking back - remembering - growing up in the house, where I was born - my grandparents' house, I remember getting to know my grandparents, Henry and Agatha Nikkel. Grandpa was seven when their family came to Canada, grandma was one year old. They arrived in the Altona, Manitoba area.
My father was born in Gretna, Manitoba. He was six years old when they homesteaded 16 miles west of Rosthern. My great-grandparents, grandma's parents, Frank and Elizabeth Sawatsky and more family members came with them. I learned to know them.
I remember playing the old pump organ and great grandpa Sawatksy played the violin. They moved closer to Laird later. But the homesteads were all in the general area of Snowbird School District. John Speiser and I were married on the same homestead of my grandparents Nikkel.
The Speisers lived east of Laird. Father Speiser and other family members homesteaded in the Eigenheim area in 1893 and 1894. He was a hardworking man, thrifty and forward-looking. The house on the Speiser place was built in 1913 - and is still standing with Rudy and Barb Speiser still living there. The house and farm have been well-kept. Father Speiser died December 1938, and Mother Speiser in June 1946.
Katie, Mrs. Jake Spieser, and I are the only ones of the family remaining. Katie is 98 and I'm 93.
After re-reading Grandma Schultz's book, What a Heritage, translated from the German script into English by my cousin Annie (Schultz, Loewen) Keyes, it brought back many memories of the times I spent with her. Family gatherings were always special - many instruments, great singing enjoyed by everyone. Grandma was a great storyteller - and kept us spellbound with incident after incident.
I can also recall great-grandma Unruh - who was a gifted bone-setter - not chiropractor - but setting broken bones - sprains, dislocations. She was a small energetic lady.
Remembering as various scenes come to mind, it is with thanksgiving for having had our God-fearing, God-honouring parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. May our lives leave such an imprint on our families.
My husband, John Speiser, died March 12, 1969. We were blessed with four sons and a daughter. I am rich in having 9 grandchildren, 8 are married and 12 great-grandchildren - 11 boys and 2 girls. My prayer too - is to see them all in eternity I have chosen to read an incident from Grandma's book, as well as a writing from 1930.
To All My Dear Children:
I would like to record some events, things that happened to me. I was born October 7th, 1866, in the village of Heinrichsdorf in southern Russia. It was an isolated village, in the middle of a big forest in what is now the Ukraine. I was the oldest daughter.
When I was eight years old, a lot of folks moved to America and others farther into Russia, to Molotschna, among whom were my parents. We lived for a while at Hierschau. A big fire burnt a lot of homes, also our home, we lost nearly everything. We then moved to Gnadenheim. Father bought a small farm. We enjoyed it here and lived there about five years. Then began the emigranting to Asia, into Turkestan at first, then to Buchara. In Buchara, in the Himalayan mountains, I accepted Jesus as my personal Saviour, at the age of sixteen years.
Our whole family moved. We were in middle Asia over four years. I was nearly eighteen years old when we were among those that were going to America. In our wanderings in Asia, we trekked eighteen weeks by wagon until we came to Tashkent, a big city in Kasakhstan. As we couldn't stay here, we moved on for another five weeks until we were stopped by sand. Then we traveled by camels for five days, and also a few weeks on paddle wheeler boat called kujaks on the Amurdarja River until we reached Luwa. We stayed there for two years. Robbing and murdering were all around us, so finally we left for America.
We arrived in Nebraska first, then to South Dakota, where many of our friends from Russia lived. We found temporary homes. This is where I met my dear departed husband, Abraham H. Schultz. We were also married here on the 17th of June 1886. We loved each other dearly. Elder Benjamin Schmidt of the General Conference Mennonites officiated. We all belonged to his Church. We lived nearly a year with his dear Mother, then made a modest home for ourselves. We lived here about three years. We had a hard time of it as it was very dry. Very little was received in crops. So my dear husband worked at whatever job was available. This was a hard time for me. The Indians lived a mile away, across a little creek, and made a path across our yard. I lived in danger as the Indians often rioted.
That caused to us to leave our lovely home and we moved to Nebraska near the town of Jansen where we found work at a big farmer's place - they were called Janzen - we worked here for six years. Then we moved to Saskatchewan.
Our parents and some of the family had been living here for two years. We also took a homestead near our parents. We were happy and hoped for a good future. To have our own home again, with our big family of nine children - the 10th one came after our first harvest. It was a big responsibility and a lof of hard work. The Lord blessed our labors with good crops. It would have been great, if only my husband wouldn't have had such a bad stomach ailment, which the Doctors seemingly couldn't help. It was usually the worst during harvest time.
We arrived march 1901 and my husband died August 265, 1904. We had another son the fall before. So we had four (4) sons and seven (7) daughters. My dear husband had a big battle to yield to the Lord's will, to leave his family. It was a bad time for me and the children. It can hardly be described, how difficult it was - a new home, new land, so much not finished - but the wonderful part of all was - he went home to be with the Lord. I was a 38 year old widow with eleven (11) children, the oldest 17 and the youngest 10 months. Had been married 18 years, 2 months and 9 days. It seems like a dream - we had many joys and sorrows.
It was a severe battle, to work through those hard times with the children, only the Lord knows. I was often misunderstood, but found love and comfort from dear family members and fellow Christians. Often pleaded and prayed when the rivers wanted to wash over me. The Lord was my Rock, Comfort and Joy. If the river hills could repeat what they heard, they could tell of my anguish, sorrow and lonesomeness. It is only God's wonderful grace that kept my faith strong in Him. I could believe He took care of widows and orphans and would guide to the very end. That He will see [me] through to my heavenly home is my longing and prayer. It is also my prayer for my dear children. A daughter has also gone on before.
I need the Lord's presence and help in my bodily sufferings - the rheumatism is especially bad in winter, so that I am literally house bound. It makes me feel forsaken and forgotten. We are such imperfect human beings - have excuses - are not willing to bear our cross - so that we do not see the need of others - to bring joy to others with a visit.
I suppose I can truthfully say that I have been a wanderer. From my early childhood, I have traveled far and it is always with striving and much labour. The 26th of August it will be 26 years since my dear husband died. We had a happy home, in spite of poverty, hard times, a lot of sickness and a lot of moving. We had only 18 short years of a blessed married life. Have had a much longer life alone - a lonely life.
My time to depart will eventually come, and I pray for wisdom, great faith and a great love for Him. Also, for all of the family of God - yes to all people.I have so many faults, imperfections, fail so often to serve my Saviour as I would like to. I need the forgiving love of my Father so often and of my children and God's family. Seems to me, earthly things are more important than that daily life should be committed to the Lord. One forgets our physical strength is slowly ebbing away.
Everything is fleeting, passing and perishable. Only the Lord is unchangeable and His way with us seems often veiled in secrecy. We often do not know which way to turn. That has been my experience. My earnest prayer is that He will hold my hand, carry me in my old age and weakness as He has promised in His Word, and give grace and joy, if that is His will. Also, pray for all my loved ones, that all will come to the faith and that they serve Him. Would like to be debt free, if possible, so that I could do for Him in my declining years, even in my weakness. I pray that I walk worthily for Him, so no one should stumble because of me. I am a sinner saved by grace, totally dependent on His love, and faithfulness to me.
Albertine concluded with this;
Must It Be So
To experience the depths of suffering
The way so steep, the door so narrow
At the end of the last session, Albertine was invited to share more memories and she chose to read an exciting passage from her grandmother's book, What a Heritage that vividly described the part of the trek when they broke up their wagons to rig riding contraptions on about 300 camels, and trekked across a desert. It was a five day trip and came to a dramatic climax.
Listeners were enthralled with Albertine's reading style, and now look forward to the promise of the publishing of that book.
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