Galka Adventure

This page was begun 26 June 2001 -- rak.

As we were leaving Galka, we asked how one got to Schwab, the next German village north up the river bank and one which Ed planned to visit.  We were told that you just went down to the end of the badly rutted street to the machine shed, turned right and proceeded through the pasture until you got to Schwab.  "Couldn't miss it!"

So off we went.  Front-wheel drive, but not four-wheel.  After some little distance we came to a very large ravine with water in it.  The down-stream end of it was where the river dredge was working.  So we proceeded upstream until we found a log low-water bridge built mostly of logs.  After some study, our driver concluded that it was passable.  And over we went, passing, on the other side, people fishing.

Then back up into more pasture land until we came to a really huge ravine.  We drove along it east down almost to the river where, across a large backwater or pond, people were camped and fishing.  We turned around and drove back up the ravine until we saw a vehicle track down the fairly steep side.  We also could see it going up the other fairly steep side about a quarter of a mile away.

I got out and went down a ways.  There were fairly bad wash outs so I had the driver come down to look.  He concluded he could make it, so down we went.  Roller coaster city!  Towards the bottom the track leveled out.  The local folk had but about an eighth of a mile of fill in the ravine which fill was slightly wider than a car or truck.  At the mid-point its top was about 20 sheer feet up above the ravine bottom.  We ventured out on that.  About half way, we came to an abrupt halt!

On the right-hand side there was a huge washout.  The driver got out to inspect.  He concluded that there was about 2 feet to spare.  If he centered it, he would have a foot more than was needed for the tires on both the left and right sides of the car.  We all got out!

Despite urging to the contrary, he kept closer to the left side than to the wash out on the right.  A pretty natural tendency under the circumstances!  But it turned out that the left side was very soft.  He lost his traction and stopped.  Then he tried to rock it back and forth.  One series of that and his left front tire was digging its way down the side of the fill.  The car was tilting into the ravine.  He want to keep trying, but we convinced him he did not want to roll his car into that ravine.  That it would be far better to walk back the 6 km. or so to Galka, find a tractor and have a farmer pull him out.  Here is the picture of the car at that point.  galkaravine.JPG (128323 bytes) 

A couple of hours later a tractor had pulled the car up and back out of the ravine, the same way we had come in.  While he was off getting the tractor we had found that the track up the other side was washed out and completely impassable. 

It got so late we had to cancel plans to visit other villages and head back to Saratov for the night.

Unknowingly, we had come across a important bit of German history.

Two weeks later while attending the AHSGR convention in Denver, I purchased the Gottlieb Beratz book, The German Colonies on the Lower Volga -- Their Origin and Early Development.  He writes:

"The origin of the many robber bands on the lower Volga, from whom the German settlements had to suffer so much in the first decades after their founding, was for the most part connected with serfdom ... this 'untamed land' ... was a place of refuge for all malcontents or bad elements, including escaped or discharged serfs (p.189)."

These elements had thrived in this area for almost 200 years prior to the arrival of the Germans (pp.190-92).

"After the founding of the German settlements ... the robber economy thrived more and more, because the bands now had ... richer booty ... in a territory familiar to them (p.192).  The great insecurity and danger from the robbers was an especially heavy burden for the colonists during the necessary trips to the city or to other places.... It was not a rare occurrence during such trips that colonists were murdered and robbed by highwaymen.... On the Bergseite the roobers were a much worse menace [than on the Wiesensite], because there the great ASstrakhan highway ran through the colonies and the terrain in some places was as if created for them,  particularly the deep gorges at Tscherbakovka, Bannovka, Solotoye and Mordovoye [emphasis added by rak].  As thoese were covered with forest alongside the hihway, the robbers lay in wait here for travellers to rob, which was often done in broad daylight (p.193)."

One robber chieftan in the 1780's named "Degtyarenko had his hiding place in the gorge Rashtshepny Buyerak [is that where we were???] ... and disposed of his stolen goods among his acquaintances in Dreispitz, Kraft, Tcherbakovka, in Danilovka, and with the miller in Rybushka (p.197)."

The robber bands steadily lost ground in the 1800's and were finally put totally out of commission by the 1860's (p.199).

Guess we should have noticed the ghosts of robbers past as we waited on the tractor!

To go on to reports on other villages, click here.

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