written by Rev. Cornie B. Loewen (1926-1994)and Lorilee Scharfenberg
Copyright © 2000 - 2001 Lorilee Scharfenberg - All Rights Reserved
I have been working on genealogy since my Dad passed away in 1994. The following article was written by him and published by our family after his death. Enjoy his prose.
Jacob Barkman was married to Elizabeth Giesbrecht: According to orig. Barkman Book Feb 20, 1849 or March 5, 1849? Neither according to p. 452 Leaders Delbert Plett their banns were read March 13, 1849 which would mean they were married one or two weeks later on March 20th or Mar 27th. She died on March 21, 1858. Leaders p. 483 states she was buried on the 25th. Yet John G. Barkman was born March 26, 1858...It would indicate she died in childbirth, however the dates are slightly off - Is one the Julian calendar? On Jan 20, 1873 Jacob was elected as minister and he was ordained on Feb 14. He was married for the 2nd time to Widow Warkentin Dec. 2, 1829-Aug 5, 1889 (nee Katherina Thiessen) June 5, 1858. S.S. Austrian Aug 31, 1874 with 9 children and 2nd wife Katherina ((1829-1889). 6 letters to Peter Toews written by Rev. Jacob R. Barkman two of which contain detailed description of journey from Russia to Manitoba. See Pioneers and Pilgrims D. Plett.
The wind that was blowing in from the Baltic Sea over the little village of Furstenweide was chilly and snowflakes were threatening to make their appearance soon. It was November 15th of the year 1796. Jacob Baergman was anxiously waiting outside of his home, rubbing his hands together and stamping his feet to keep warm. The midwife was inside with his wife, Katharina, who was very busy giving birth. Would it be another little girl?
Jacob was thirty-one years of age. He reflected on the changes in the world around. Because of the numerous wars that had plagued western Europe, he had been pressured to join the Prussian military when he had reached the age of 21. Somehow, with the guarantee of religious liberty still in place, he had managed to avoid this. He may have been a farmer or perhaps of the landless class of day-laborers, craftsmen or artisans. A law passed by the government in 1789, when he was twenty-four, did not allow the Prussian Mennonites to buy more land. This was frustrating to the growing number of youth in the Mennonite communities. That same year, Jacob and Katherina witnessed two hundred and twenty-eight families leaving Prussia for land and religious freedom in Russia. Sometimes he wondered if it would be better to emigrate as well. It is possible that Katherina and Jacob were members in the Flemish church of Tiegenhagen or perhaps Frisian Mennonites. Both of these groups practiced non-resistance and would not serve in the military. Jacob and his wife planned to teach their children this as well. In 1791, the rural Flemish churches had gained some independence and were allowed to have services within their homes rather than travelling to the city of Danzig or waiting to have ministers come to the country to meet their spiritual needs. They became known as a more conservative branch of Mennonites, the "Kleine Gemeinde". Despite the various pressures of the government and the reforms of the church, Jacob felt life was treating him well. He shrugged his shoulders and sauntered over to the porch. Just then the midwife stepped outside. She was all smiles as she told him that he had a brand new son.
He eagerly went inside to be with his wife and their newborn child. Katharina looked tired and her hair was damp with perspiration but to Jacob she always looked beautiful. His son lay cuddled in her arms. He was red and wrinkled and had a thin covering of dark fuzz on his head. They named him Martin.
Martin had at least one older brother and one older sister, of that we are sure. Jacob Jr. was two and a half years old when Martin was born. He probably wondered what all the fuss was about when he heard the screams of the newborn baby. It is not difficult to imagine that Jacob was a little jealous of the attention given to little Martin. The rough and tumble adventures that these two brothers would experience had only just begun.
From 1803-1805 more than 400 Prussian Flemish families emigrated to Russia. Many of these joined the Kleinegemeinde Church on the Molotschna Colony. Jacob and Katherina and their children probably watched and wondered what would happen next.
Somewhere in the midst of all this excitement Martin learned the art of tailoring. He was baptized upon his confession of faith as an adult at the age of eighteen. During this time in his youth the Prussian Mennonites experienced much of the tumult after the Napoleonic Wars. The Prussian army sent out gangs to trap young men and force them them into the military. The farmers had to surrender their supplies to the various invading armies. New land was unavailable for purchase and life was chaotic.
Martin and Jacob had reached the age of military conscription at an inconvenient time. They sought to avoid serving in the Prussian army because they firmly believed it was wrong to take another man's life. The only way out, it seems, was to emigrate to another country - Russia.
It must have been difficult for the boys and their parents to part. Jacob Senior had probably tried to figure out a way to keep them out of the army. Upon finding no other options he squared his shoulders, and putting on a brave front, gave his blessing to his sons. History tells us that their mother, Katharina, treated them to a glass of buttermilk when they began their journey. Isn't it typical of a mother to give her children a special nourishment at least one last time. After all, she had been making sure her boys had enough to eat since they'd been placed in her arms at birth. It was a mother's natural instinct. How her heart must have ached watching her sons walk into the depths of the night, headed into an uncertain future. It was probably all she could do not to run after them and beg them to stay. Her and Jacob probably went inside and wept that night; praying for the safety of their sons; hoping that they would meet them again face to face; knowing that in all probability they would never see them again until they were safe within Heaven's gates.
The two young lads set off on their journey in 1818. Although parting with loved ones was painful, they were young and coveted adventure. And they had each other. They travelled during the night to avoid detection by the military and hid in stooks of grain during the day. It was over 1000 miles to their destination and it is easy to imagine that they must have had many moments of fear as they travelled. The Prussian army wanted to capture them and force them to join ranks, while in the countrysides through which they travelled there were many roving bandits waiting for some poor passerbys. The land that they travelled through was also covered with swamps and insects and wild animals. The journey was long and arduous but they were Barkmans, persistent and stubborn and refused to give in to the elements.
Whatever their adventures of travelling were, they had a few upon arriving in Rueckenau, South Russia as well. Shortly after the young men settled on the Molotschna Colony joining the "Kleinegemeinde" of Russia, they also found some beautiful young women who agreed to become their wives. Jacob exchanged vows with Gertrude Klassen in April, while Martin was joined in marriage to Katherina Epp Regier in August of that same year, 1819.
Martin was twenty-two years of age and his bride was only nineteen. Martin and Katherina purchased a farmyard in Rueckenau and they were blessed and successful in their chosen vocation. Together, they had nine healthy children: six sons and three daughters. Martin and his brother Jacob both served terms as mayors of their new village during the years that followed. It was most likely during this time as the Schultz that the Imperial Czar of Russia visited and ate a meal at Martin and Katharina's home.
Katherina must have been all a-flutter at the news that they were entertaining the King of Russia himself! She and her daughter Katherine probably cleaned the house from top to bottom and up again. We can almost picture Katherina and her daughters and perhaps a maid or two mixing up a dough to make delicious "zweibach" and brown bread. And of course they would dig up some carrots and some fresh potatoes from the garden and serve them with "schmaunt fat" (cream gravy). What would a Mennonite lady prepare for such a guest? "Heina Zupp" or "Kommst Borscht"? "Hauns-broda" (roast chicken) or "schinkje-fleisch" (ham)? Katherina finally decided on the Kommst Borscht and chicken and sent one of her sons to kill a couple of young roosters. It would all be served up with a heaping helping of steamy bubbat, many kinds of preserves and homemade butter and jam. Young Jacob was sent to get some crisp, red apples from the neighbour's orchard to make "Platz" for dessert. Martin, in the meanwhile, had his oldest sons sweeping out the barn, grooming the horses and making sure there wouldn't be anything near the house that the Czar would be able to soil his shoes on. After all it wasn't everyday that the monarch of Russia would make an appearance at the home of a Mennonite farmer, mayor or not.
They continued to farm together after this adventure and their children grew up and met and married their own life's partners. Katherina passed away at the age of sixty-six after being married to Martin for forty-eight prosperous years. Martin remarried a widow, Maria (Kornelsen) Hiebert one year later, but he died shortly thereafter in 1872, just before the big migration to Canada. Little did he realize that his second son, Jacob, would be elected as a minister of the Kleinegemeinde church and be given a leadership role in the move. It was a move that would change the history of future Barkman generations forever.
The boat finally anchored near shore. All was quiet and children waited expectantly. Thick brush covered the eastern shore of the Red River. Birds were everywhere welcoming the settlers to the newly created Province of Manitoba. Rain was falling intermittently.
Gradually the movement increased and excitement filled the air. Young people were anxious to touch the soil of their new home and children whooped for joy at the prospect of leaving the crowded boat for freedom. Mothers looked with apprehension. Fathers doggedly moved to finish their jobs of getting all and everyone off and in.
Jacob Barkman well knew that this was not going to be an easy venture. He had been elected into the ministry in Russia and almost immediately had been thrust into the leadership role in emigration. Responsibility weighed heavily on his shoulders. What if things went wrong? What would they do if sickness haunted the new group of adventurers? He was a man of faith and realized that some things had to be left in the capable supervision of the Lord.
Soon they would be home. They knew all about hard work and disappointments and opposition. Theirs was a venture of faith. They might fail but only after giving it their very best. There would be time enough to worry about the lesser things later on. At least Russia was behind them. They were now under the umbrella of the British Empire and its beloved Queen - Victoria. They were now exempt from military service and the political manipulations of people they had never really learned to trust.
There was now no turning back. They had put their hand to the plow and now it meant simply looking forward and not regretting the decisions they had made. The future waited and they were ready to enter in and give it their very best and as soon as possible.
The rough gangplanks were laid and one by one they filed off the ship to not so solid ground, soaked with the constant rains. To greet these people with high hopes and calloused hands were hordes of mosquitoes, trying their best to get their first taste of Mennonite blood. A shelter had been erected by the government and so grunting and groaning the boxes and bags were carried off and deposited in a dry place for storage. No restaurants were waiting to take these wanderers in and give them food. It was all wilderness.
Could they or did they peer into the future and see a modern paved highway running past this place in a hundred years or more? Could they have dreamed that within a certain stretch of time Niverville would be established just east of the landing place? Probably not. These were people from the soil and not suburbanites and city dwellers. They had tried to disembark at the forks of the Assiniboine and the Red but had been turned away for lack of lodging facilities. Fort Garry did not need them nor want them. The Scots and Metis and Cree were busy with their own struggle for survival.
Some day that would be a great metropolis with modern hotels and businesses, even skyscrapers, but right now the simple shacks and tents were not open for immigrants. There was no room in the inn now. Someday there would be.
With Jacob Barkman was his family. Katharina (just recently married to Cornie Goossen), 21 year old Martin (the "man" of the family), Jacob, 18 and stretching; followed by John, now 16; Cornelius, 14; Aganeta, 11 years old; Anna, 9; Maria, 6; and the baby of the family, Margaretha, just four years old. This was his little flock. His first wife Elizabeth Giesbrecht had passed away after nine years of matrimony and four children: Katarina, Martin, Jakob and Johann. In 1858 he had remarried with a widow, Mrs. Katherina (Thiessen) Warkentin and had six more children with her, only three of whom grew up to have families of their own.
It was September 16, 1874. Some were fetched immediately for the ox-trip to Gruenfeld, about 12 miles southeast. It continued to rain copiously. The trip took all day and when they were ready to retire in the tents their clothes were wet and soggy. Manitoba could have been kinder to these pioneers who only looked for a home that would be safe from the intrusion of government authorities.
The ground they passed over or through with the ox-carts was thoroughly soaked. The carts creaked and groaned and the stubborn animals did their very best to move slowly in the right direction but at an agonizingly slow pace. Little did these bedraggled occupants know that in a few decades they would be able to move rapidly and cover the same distance in a few minutes drive in air-conditioned vehicles.
They arrived. They settled in. They tried to rest and recuperate from the long journey from the Russian Steppes. We wonder what their conversation consisted of as the boys listened to the haunting cry of the coyotes that night as the rain continued to drip through their sparse shelter. We may never know. We can well imagine that the matrons of the families wondered why they had come.
The "Barkman" group was not the first to arrive in the new country of Canada. Already a smaller group had left Russia on June 3, 1874 and had arrived in Winnipeg on the 31st of July. Eight families on the river boat "International had disembarked and moved to the present village of Blumenort north of Steinbach.
Other Kleingemeinde families arrived with the Bergthaler group which reached its destination towards the end of August. And more were on their way.
The third group of families arrived at the juncture of the Rat and Red Rivers on September 13th and also moved to Blumenort and Gruenfeld.
The minister Jacob Barkman arrived in the fourth group in Blumenort on September 17th, four days later than the third.
The first group that arrived on July 31st actually split into two groups: the one settling on the east side of the river and the other choosing the more arable land on the West Side close to the Scratching River.
The Jakob Barkman family moved from Gruenfeld to the new settlement of Blumenort, but soon decided to settle a few miles to the south where the Town of Steinbach now is located. Approximately 20 families followed them.
So during the first year of immigration the Kleingemeinde had established 4 distinct settlements: Gruenfeld, Blumenort, Steinbach and Rosenort.
Next year more settlers arrived. These concluded the mass emigration of practically the 200 family Kleingemeinde of Russia. Now the work of opening up virgin territory lay before them. Poplars and oaks and elm and maple dotted the countryside. The Eastern Reserve also was fairly rocky in nature and required a lot of work for clearing.
The Kleingemeinde Church had a stormy beginning in the Molotschna. They had separated from the "Big" Church because of internal strife and worldliness. Their first Bishop was Klaas Reimer, ordained in 1812.
Their philosophy of the ministry was simple and quite scriptural. They chose their spiritual leaders from the local church. They looked for depth and solidity in their candidates. If ministers were not consistent in conduct they were readily removed from office.
On January 20, 1873 a ministerial election was held in the Blumenhof congregation. Two deacons were elected to supplement the two already in office. One of the deacons elected was Jacob Barkman of Friedensfeld together with Heinrich Wiebe. Then out of the candidate slate of deacons two ministers were chosen. They were Peter Kroeker and the newly elected Jacob Barkman.
Due to the suddenness of the change of events a delay for ordination was requested. Then on February 14th, both men were ordained for the solemn office of the ministry in the church at Blumenhof.
Already 10 days previous the church had reached a decision to send a delegate to America to look for a new homeland. The delegates left on April 15th. The ministry took on a new dimension since it would now involve the turbulence of emigration. The delegates arrived back from the New World on August 7th. The report was positive. The die was cast.
In his new role Jakob Barkman had to enter the double task of ministering in the local church and also trying to finalize preparations for the Great Adventure.
So it was in the summer of 1874 that the new minister and his family with many others left their comfortable homes in the Russian steppes and set their faces to America. It was an arduous journey and beset with many perils. Yet a strong faith in God prevailed.
Soon after their arrival on September 17th, Rev. Barkman preached the Word regularly to different groups of believers. His first text was Deuteronomy 27:6,7. Then he ministered some Sundays in Blumenort and also in the village of Gruenfeld which was eight miles away.
As Jacob Barkman trudged through brush and bush from Steinbach, his heart was heavy. Again and again he broke out into weeping. How could all of this have happened? Here they had just settled down on a new homestead. That morning his nine year old daughter Anna had suddenly passed away.
It was November 22nd. They had arrived in this new country on September 15th. He had been faithful in ministry since then, having ministered the Word in Blumenort now three Sundays in a row. What was the Lord trying to say to him and his family? Had they done wrong in coming here? How was he to know?
He arrived late at the Kleefeld meeting house and had to explain his tardiness. What overwhelming emotions hung over the congregations as he shared his sorrow. It had been only a week after arrival, a bare four weeks ago, that their little daughter Margaretha had left them at four years of age.
After the service and a light lunch, he plodded homeward again to try and bring some solace to his grieving life's partner. What DO you say to a mother who has lost two children, two daughters in one month? What will the other family members feel? No doubt they will bear the heart-rending pain with a certain stoicism.
But life had to go on. Little Anna was laid to rest in a simple grave on the homestead. The home was so much emptier now with the two boisterous little girls gone. What could be next on the agenda? Especially six year old Maria was almost devastated by the sudden turn of events as an older and younger sister were gone.
Quickly preparations progressed for the winter. The simple sod home had to be sealed off. A closed corral had to be prepared for the cattle. So the boys and dad got going in earnest. And winter set in too quickly. It was almost unbearably cold. Food was scarce for man and beast.
They managed to weather the storms. When spring arrived the snow melted and the aspens soon were fluttering with new leaves. Flowers began popping up out of the ground and the soon lush grass covered the meadows. Manitoba was beautiful when at last winter took its farewell.
The Barkmans managed to put some seed into the ground and planted a small garden. But everything was so primitive and difficult. April and May passed more or less quietly and the family began to enjoy their new home and friendships were developed with other immigrants.
Jacob Barkman was chosen by the immigrants to go to Winnipeg in the beginning of June to purchase supplies for the villages. With him was also Jakob Friesen. They arrived in St. Boniface after the thirty-eight mile trip with oxen. It had been a hard journey and very tiresome. And the men's patience was tested to the limit.
A storm blew up. As they arrived at the river they waited for the ferry to come across to pick them up, but the ferry man was not all that accommodating. So the men hired a man by the name of Lindolph to take them across on a boat. The river was still high from spring waters. It was June 3, 1875.
About twenty yards from their destination the men encountered difficulties due to the high winds and the boat drifted across the guy wires of the ferry. The men grabbed the wire but the boat slipped away from under them. Their calls for help were in vain. Mr. Lindolph managed to drop into the water and swim to shore. The others were not so lucky. They could not swim. As their hands slipped form the cables, they simply sank and drowned.
In spite of help from the shore, the bodies could not be recovered with out hastily made grappling hooks. Soon Mr. Barkman's body was found and dragged to shore. The oxcart was readied and the next day his son Jacob took the lifeless body home to the family. What a tragedy for the pioneer family!
The burial plot received another resident. The Barkman family was now fatherless and the mother a widow in a foreign and strange country. Where could she go but to the Lord?
Little do we realize the hardships of the pioneers and especially a family of this size and with their diverse responsibilities both material and spiritual.
Son Martin Barkman