: Fables For Children, Stories For Children, Natural Science Stori

In the reign of Ivan Vasilevich the Terrible there were the rich

merchants, the Stroganovs, and they lived in Perm, on the river Kama.

They heard that along the river Kama, in a circle of 140 versts, there

was good land: the soil had not been ploughed for centuries, the forests

had not been cut down for centuries. In the forests were many wild

animals, and along the river fish lakes, and no one was living on that

but only Tartars passed through it.

The Stroganovs wrote a letter to the Tsar:

"Give us this land, and we will ourselves build towns there and gather

people and settle them there, and will not allow the Tartars to pass

through it."

The Tsar agreed to it, and gave them the land. The Stroganovs sent out

clerks to gather people. And there came to them a large number of roving

people. Whoever came received from the Stroganovs land, forest, and

cattle, and no tenant pay was collected. All they had to do was to live

and, in case of need, to go out in mass to fight the Tartars. Thus the

land was settled by the Russian people.

About twenty years passed. The Stroganovs grew richer yet, and that

land, 140 versts around, was not enough for them. They wanted to have

more land still. About one hundred versts from them were high mountains,

the Ural Mountains, and beyond them, they had heard, there was good

land, and to that land there was no end. This land was ruled by a small

Siberian prince, Kuchum by name. In former days Kuchum had sworn

allegiance to the Russian Tsar, but later he began to rebel, and he

threatened to destroy Stroganov's towns.

So the Stroganovs wrote to the Tsar:

"You have given us land, and we have conquered it and turned it over to

you; now the thievish Tsarling Kuchum is rebelling against you, and

wants to take that land away and ruin us. Command us to take possession

of the land beyond the Ural Mountains; we will conquer Kuchum, and will

bring all his land under your rule."

The Tsar assented, and wrote back:

"If you have sufficient force, take the land away from Kuchum. Only do

not entice many people away from Russia."

When the Stroganovs got that letter from the Tsar, they sent out clerks

to collect more people. And they ordered them to persuade mostly the

Cossacks from the Volga and the Don to come. At that time many Cossacks

were roving along the Volga and the Don. They used to gather in bands of

two, three, or six hundred men, and to select an ataman, and to row down

in barges, to capture ships and rob them, and for the winter they stayed

in little towns on the shore.

The clerks arrived at the Volga, and there they asked who the famous

Cossacks of that region were. They were told:

"There are many Cossacks. It is impossible to live for them. There is

Mishka Cherkashenin, and Sary-Azman; but there is no fiercer one than

Ermak Timofeich, the ataman. He has a thousand men, and not only the

merchants and the people are afraid of him, but even the Tsarian army

does not dare to cope with him."

And the clerks went to Ermak the ataman, and began to persuade him to go

to the Stroganovs. Ermak received the clerks, listened to their

speeches, and promised to come with his people about the time of the

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.

Near the holiday of the Assumption there came to the Stroganovs six

hundred Cossacks, with their ataman, Ermak Timofeich. At first Stroganov

sent them against the neighbouring Tartars. The Cossacks annihilated

them. Then, when nothing was doing, the Cossacks roved in the

neighbourhood and robbed.

So Stroganov sent for Ermak, and said:

"I will not keep you any longer, if you are going to be so wanton."

But Ermak said:

"I do not like it myself, but I cannot control my people, they are

spoiled. Give us work to do!"

So Stroganov said:

"Go beyond the Ural and fight Kuchum, and take possession of his land.

The Tsar will reward you for it."

And he showed the Tsar's letter to Ermak. Ermak rejoiced, and collected

his men, and said:

"You are shaming me before my master,--you are robbing without reason.

If you do not stop, he will drive you away, and where will you go then?

At the Volga there is a large Tsarian army; we shall be caught, and then

we shall suffer for our old misdeeds. But if you feel lonesome, here is

work for you."

And he showed them the Tsar's letter, in which it said that Stroganov

had been permitted to conquer land beyond the Ural. The Cossacks had a

consultation, and agreed to go. Ermak went to Stroganov, and they began

to deliberate how they had best go.

They discussed how many barges they needed, how much grain, cattle,

guns, powder, lead, how many captive Tartar interpreters, and how many

foreigners as masters of gunnery.

Stroganov thought:

"Though it may cost me much, I must give them everything or else they

will stay here and will ruin me."

Stroganov agreed to everything, gathered what was needed, and fitted out

Ermak and the Cossacks.

On the 1st of September the Cossacks rowed with Ermak up the river

Chusovaya on thirty-two barges, with twelve men in each. For four days

they rowed up the river, and then they turned into Serebryanaya River.

Beyond that point it was impossible to navigate. They asked the guides,

and learned that from there they had to cross the mountains and walk

overland about two hundred versts, and then the rivers would begin

again. The Cossacks stopped, built a town, and unloaded all their

equipment; they abandoned the boats, made carts, put everything upon

them, and started overland, across the mountains. All those places were

covered with forest, and nobody was living there. They marched for about

ten days, and struck the river Zharovnya. Here they stopped again, and

made themselves boats. They loaded them, and rowed down the river. They

rowed five days, and then came more cheerful places,--meadows, forests,

lakes. There was a plenty of fish and of animals, and animals that had

not been scared by hunters. They rowed another day, and sailed into the

river Tura. Along the Tura they came on Tartar people and towns.

Ermak sent some Cossacks to take a look at a town, to see what it was

like, and whether there was any considerable force in it. Twenty

Cossacks went there, and they frightened all the Tartars, and seized the

whole town, and captured all the cattle. Some of the Tartars they

killed, and others they brought back alive.

Ermak asked the Tartars through his interpreters what kind of people

they were, and under whose rule they were living. The Tartars said that

they were in the Siberian kingdom, and that their king was Kuchum.

Ermak let the Tartars go, but three of the more intelligent he took with

him, to show him the road.

They rowed on. The farther they rowed, the larger did the river grow;

and the farther they went, the better did the places become.

They met more and more people; only they were not strong men. And all

the towns that were near the river the Cossacks conquered.

In one town they captured a large number of Tartars and one old man who

was held in respect. They asked him what kind of a man he was. He said:

"I am Tauzik, a servant of my king, Kuchum, who has made me a commander

in this town."

Ermak asked Tauzik about his king; how far his city of Sibir was;

whether Kuchum had a large force; whether he had much wealth. Tauzik

told him everything. He said:

"Kuchum is the first king in the world. His city of Sibir is the largest

city in the world. In that city," he said, "there are as many people and

as many cattle as there are stars in the heaven. There is no counting

his force, and not all the kings of the world can conquer him."

But Ermak said:

"We Russians have come here to conquer your king and to take his city,

and to put it into the hands of the Russian Tsar. We have a large force.

Those who have come with me are only the advance-guard; those that are

rowing down behind us in barges are numberless, and all of them have

guns. Our guns pierce trees, not like your bows and arrows. Just look!"

And Ermak fired at a tree, and pierced it, and the Cossacks began to

shoot on all sides. Tauzik in fright fell on his knees. Ermak said to


"Go to your King Kuchum and tell him what you have seen! Let him

surrender, and if he does not, we will destroy him."

And he dismissed Tauzik.

The Cossacks rowed on. They sailed into the river Tobol, and were

getting nearer to the city of Sibir. They sailed up to the small river

Babasan, and there they saw a small town on its bank, and around the

town a large number of Tartars.

They sent an interpreter to the Tartars, to find out what kind of people

they were. The interpreter returned, and said:

"That is Kuchum's army that has gathered there. The leader of that army

is Kuchum's own son-in-law, Mametkul. He has commanded me to tell you

that you must return, or else he will destroy you."

Ermak gathered his Cossacks, landed on the bank, and began to shoot at

the Tartars. The moment the Tartars heard the shooting, they began to

run. The Cossacks ran after them, and killed some, and captured others.

Mametkul barely escaped.

The Cossacks sailed on. They sailed into a broad, rapid river, the

Irtysh. Down Irtysh River they sailed for a day, and came to a fair

town, and there they stopped. The Cossacks went to the town. As they

were coming near, the Tartars began to shoot their arrows, and they

wounded three Cossacks. Then Ermak sent an interpreter to tell the

Tartars that they must surrender the town, or else they would all be

killed. The interpreter went, and he returned, and said:

"Here lives Kuchum's servant, Atik Murza Kachara. He has a large force,

and he says that he will not surrender the town."

Ermak gathered the Cossacks, and said:

"Boys, if we do not take this town, the Tartars will rejoice, and will

not let us pass on. The more we strike them with terror, the easier will

it be. Land all, and attack them all at once!"

So they did. There were many Tartars there, and they were brave.

When the Cossacks rushed at them, the Tartars began to shoot their

arrows. They covered the Cossacks with them. Some were killed, and some


The Cossacks became enraged, and when they got to the Tartars, they

killed all they could lay their hands on.

In this town the Cossacks found much property,--cattle, rugs, furs, and

honey. They buried the dead, rested themselves, took away much property,

and sailed on. They did not sail far, when they saw on the shore, like a

city, an endless number of troops, and the whole army surrounded by a

ditch and the ditch protected by timber. The Cossacks stopped. They

deliberated. Ermak gathered a circle about him.

"Well, boys, what shall we do?"

The Cossacks were frightened. Some said that they ought to sail past,

while others said that they ought to go back.

And they looked gloomy and began to scold Ermak. They said:

"Why did you bring us here? Already a few of ours have been killed, and

many have been wounded; and all of us will perish here."

They began to weep.

But Ermak said to his sub-ataman, Ivan Koltso:

"Well, Vanya, what do you think?"

And Koltso said:

"What do I think? If they do not kill us to-day, they will to-morrow;

and if not to-morrow, we shall die anyway on the oven. In my opinion, we

ought to go out on the shore and rush in a body against the Tartars.

Maybe God will give us victory."

Ermak said:

"You are a brave man, Vanya! That is what must be done. Oh, you boys!

You are not Cossacks, but old women. All you are good for is to catch

sturgeon and frighten Tartar women. Can't you see for yourselves? If we

turn back we shall be destroyed; and if we stay here, they will destroy

us. How can we go back? After a little work, it will come easier.

Listen, boys! My father had a strong mare. Down-hill she would pull and

on an even place she would pull. But when it came to going up-hill, she

became stubborn and turned back, thinking that it would be easier. But

my father took a club and belaboured her with it. She twisted and tugged

and broke the whole cart. My father unhitched her from the cart and gave

her a terrible whacking. If she had pulled the cart, she would have

suffered no torment. So it is with us, boys. There is only one thing

left for us to do, and that is to make straight for the Tartars."

The Cossacks laughed, and said:

"Timofeich, you are evidently more clever than we are. You have no

business to ask us fools. Take us where you please. A man does not die

twice, and one death cannot be escaped."

And Ermak said:

"Listen, boys! This is what we shall do. They have not yet seen us all.

Let us divide into three parts. Those in the middle will march straight

against them, and the other two divisions will surround them on the

right and on the left. When the middle detachment begins to walk toward

them, they will think that we are all there, and so they will leap

forward. Then we will strike them from the sides. That's the way, boys!

If we beat these, we shall not have to be afraid of anybody. We shall

ourselves be kings."

And so they did. When the middle detachment with Ermak advanced, the

Tartars screamed and leaped forward; then they were attacked by Ivan

Koltso on the right, and by Meshcheryakov the ataman on the left. The

Tartars were frightened, and ran. The Cossacks killed a great many of

them. After that nobody dared to oppose Ermak. And thus he entered the

very city of Sibir. And there Ermak settled down as though he were a


Then kinglets came to see Ermak, to bow to him. Tartars began to settle

down in Sibir, and Kuchum and his son-in-law Mametkul were afraid to go

straight at him, but kept going around in a circle, wondering how they

might destroy him.

In the spring, during high water, the Tartars came running to Ermak, and


"Mametkul is again going against you: he has gathered a large army, and

is making a stand near the river Vagay."

Ermak made his way over rivers, swamps, brooks, and forests, stole up

with his Cossacks, rushed against Mametkul, killed a large number of

Tartars, and took Mametkul alive and brought him to Sibir. After that

there were only a few unruly Tartars left, and Ermak went that summer

against those that had not yet surrendered; and along the Irtysh and the

Ob Ermak conquered so much land that one could not march around it in

two months.

When Ermak had conquered all that land, he sent a messenger to the

Stroganovs, and a letter:

"I have taken Kuchum's city," he said, "and have captured Mametkul, and

have brought all the people here under my rule. Only I have lost many

Cossacks. Send people to us that we may feel more cheerful. There is no

end to the wealth in this country."

He sent to them many costly furs,--fox, marten, and sable furs.

Two years passed after that. Ermak was still holding Sibir, but no aid

came from Russia, and few Russians were left with Ermak.

One day the Tartar Karacha sent a messenger to Ermak, saying:

"We have surrendered to you, but now the Nogays are oppressing us. Send

your brave men to aid us! We shall together conquer the Nogays. And we

swear to you that we shall not insult your brave men."

Ermak believed their oath, and sent forty men under Ivan Koltso. When

these forty men came there, the Tartars rushed against them and killed

them, so there were still fewer Cossacks left.

Another time some Bukhara merchants sent word to Ermak that they were on

their way to the city of Sibir with goods, but that Kuchum had taken his

stand with an army and would not let them pass through.

Ermak took with him fifty men and went out to clear the road for the

Bukhara merchants. He came to the Irtysh River, but did not find the

Bukharans. He remained there over night. It was a dark night, and it

rained. The Cossacks had just lain down to sleep, when suddenly the

Tartars rushed out and threw themselves on the sleepy men and began to

strike them down. Ermak jumped up and began to fight. He was wounded in

the hand. He ran toward the river. The Tartars after him. He threw

himself into the river. That was the last time he was seen. His body was

not recovered, and no one found out how he died.

The following year came the Tsar's army, and the Tartars were pacified.