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History-Mexico: Electricity Spells Triumph for Russ Colony in Mexico (1949)

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History-Mexico: Electricity Spells Triumph for Russ Colony in Mexico (1949)

Posted: 1213636742000
Classification: Query
There are four families mentioned in this article, Mohoff, Rogoff, Kachirsky, and Buckroff/Bucaroff.

Mohoff: Vassily Ivanovich Mohoff and Eloisa Timofeevna Kazeyev Kozeev (The article calls her 'Alice')

Rogoff: Basilio and Maria; two daughters mentioned are Margarita and Catalina

Kachirsky and Buckroff/Bucaroff: families names are not mentioned

Los Angeles Times, dated May 30, 1949, pg. 2

Electricity Spells Triumph for Russ Colony in Mexico

"Religious Refugees in Baja California Overcame Many Difficulties for Freedom
By Bill Dredge, Times Starr Representative

COLONIA GUADALUPE, Baja California, May 29 – A fat Mexican sun plopped behind the ridge pole of farmer William Mehoff’s (Mohoff) white-walled adobe barn.

The stalks of William’s 65,000 thriving grape vines cast long shadows on the loamy soil of his 450 acres.

Now, kerosene lamps will light the rooms of the 35 adobe dwellings that house the 300 or more Russian colonists in this round valley 80 miles south of the border.

Cook stoves fed with oily roots of chaparral will heat bubbling pots of strong Mexican coffee. It will be sipped Russian fashion from shallow dishes. Hard black bread will plunk out on table tops polished by years of wear and scrubbing. The heavy odor of borscht and cooking cabbage will steam from the kitchens.

But in the whitewashed adobe of bearded William and his beshawled wife Alice, the lights will be by electricity. And perhaps the radio will play with music from the Mexican station at Rosarito Beach. So it will be in a few of the other houses in this colony of Molokan religious refugees.

It is as though the electricity was a sign of the future for which these children of far-off Kars in the Russian Ukraine have been working and waiting since they came into Mexico back in 1906.

With William and Alice, the promise is more than the current which comes from their own little power plant.

There is the fine car, only 8 years old; parked I the spacious barn. There is the tractor, even finer and newer, parked beside it. And too, the truck. It pulls big loads along the 15 miles of rutted dirt road out to the Ensenada-Tijuana highway, even in the worst of weather. It hauls the crops of William and his neighbors to whichever town offers the highest price.

But to understand this mechanized victory of William, Alice and their tiny community of hardy neighbors, to know their triumph over the rugged land they chose, you must know their story from the start.

Told here in the wilderness of Mexico, the story may reflect hope for others across the world. For today many face the decision made by the Molokan sect nearly 50 years ago, as they staggered under punishment meted to them by the Tsar of all the Russia.

“Our sect,” explains William “was founded 300 years ago. We are something like Quakers. Our beliefs are simple. We broke from the Russian Orthodox Church. We have no images, no altar. Our church, as you saw today, is simply a house. At one end of a big room is the square table with a white lace cloth. On it rests our Bible. We go there and hear our minister. And each of us have a similar table and Bible in our homes for constant worship.”

“First,” continued William, “we are against war. For this, among other things, we were not tolerated in Russia. We were driven from place to place. The Russian War with Japan decided our fathers.

“Guided by a Holy Spirit, they came to America. Hundreds came, through the port of New York. Most came west. Some went to Portland. Others found San Francisco, still others, Los Angeles. That was just after 1900. Today we are the same-only our faith is greater. We eat no pork, we have few pleasures. To work is pleasure, we believe. We believe life must be simple. Here we have it so.

“To this place of 7000 fertile acres came our group in 1906, to buy 13,700 acres in all for $72,000-little more than $5 an acre. We divided it among us according to our ability. We are not, nor were we ever, communal in thought or action. But we had big families. We still do. A man must have help to run a farm.”

“And children are good,” Alice chimed in. “We have six. All are grown now. And,” she spoke it sadly, “all but one are gone to the United States. But I suppose children must move away. We were children when we came here from Russia. We were first in Los Angeles. Then William came here when he was 12. I came later. We were married in 1916. Then times were hard, and back into the States we went to earn money to return here to our farm. But here it is better than the city. Here we live our way. It is perhaps the Mexican way too. But it is the way of the soil-a good way.”

It was quite a speech for Alice, who sat at the white-clothed table, her hands folded in her lap. William went on. It had been a hard time. There was the drought. The government suspected them. It interfered with their church practices. That was painful for it was because of the church that they came here. Then the government school would not teach Russian to the young. It teaches only Spanish. But the parents teach the Russian and often the English. Most youngsters are tri-lingual.

During its early years the colony swelled with new converts to the prospect of cheap and rich Mexican farm land. Then the loneliness of primitive life rushed in to sit beside the knot-fed fireplaces. During the 20s, shattered window panes of deserted houses multiplied even faster than the stair step families of children. During the grim depression years, people left in increasing numbers as the water table sank and crops, worth only a little at best, perished in the hot, dry fields.

The grim battle of the Molokans against the hard forces of nature is not won yet. Although crops are good and prices high now, there is trouble in the little paradise with the greatest crop of all-the bountiful crop of children.

The young ones are hard to convince that Guadalupe holds for them the treasure of peace of mind. Many flee the labor of the soil. Some go to the town of Ensenada. There, blonde and auburn-haired Russo-Mexicans are the proof. Others go back to the States. They return to the crowded east Side of Los Angeles.

But now with machine farming a reality, the Russians hope that prosperity will hold their children on the land. For prices were good last year. In Ensenada, at the Bodega de Tocos Santos, the great winery, grapes were bought for 230 pesos a ton. The peso is worth about 1/7th of a dollar now. And the grain too, was high. The mill paid 420 pesos a ton for good wheat.

It will take more than the new prosperity to hold youngsters, however. Almost everyone in the Colonia are cousins by now. Marriage with Mexicans is usually frowned on. It is not, the Molokans explain, that they dislike the brothers of their adopted nation. But the ways of the two peoples differ just as their religions differ. And somehow it does not seem wise to the village elders.

On down the road, another family has dark thoughts on the future of their children. They are the Rogoffs, Maria and Basilio. They are called the ones with the beautiful daughters.

Basilio says little of it. But to Maria, it is best not to speak of the eldest, Margarita. In Ensenada, the loungers tell of a great general-a politico-so enamored of Margarita that he sent military airplanes to fetch her to Mexico City. But the daughter of Basilio and Maria refused him. Others tell of an American, a great one from Hollywood, who came here to Guadalupe with offers to sponsor a career in the cinema. But Margarita only laughed.

Then she ran off with a black-eyed Mexican lad. They fled back into the wild country.

In Ensenada they say it was an elopement-how romantic. But Momma Rogoff says it was bad. Margarita was held prisoner by the young man and now is ashamed to come home. She is too far to be fetched. She must be miserable.

And she worries of the younger one, the one with hair of gold, with a face and figure to match. That one-Catalina-knows a policeman from Ensenada. She plays cards with him in the Rogoff soda pop stand. She has the carefree smile of her 16 years and no burning desire for a future. “I suppose I shall marry,” she says in the Spanish all Russians use equally with their native tongue. She takes no bother to learn English. She is not going to the United States.

To solve this problem of the children the Molokans turn to the faith that brought them here, across the sea. That faith has solved, for now at least, the problem of prosperity on the land. The wells are good, prices high. They guy things-little extra things-when they go into Ensenada.

Perhaps this prosperity and the new development all over Baja California will bring more Molokans here from the cities in the States. There is ample room for them in the Valley of San Antonio just over the hill. There, 3000 acres that once felt the plows of 20 families are fallow and deserted. And a little further along are the ruins of Real del Castillo.

There too, is a place to think upon. Once it was the capital city of all Baja California. Once in mid-19th century, it saw a stampede of men for gold in its hillsides. The big strike was never made. Somewhere the lode is hidden. Perhaps gold, if not crops may bring newcomers to Guadalupe’s lonely countryside.

But of some solution, William and Alice Mohoff, Basilio and Maria Rogoff, the Bukcroff (Buckroff/ Bucaroff) family and the Kachirisky (Kachirsky) family are confident.

For nearly 50 years, dire predictions of final failure have been made of the future of Colonia Guadalupe, peopled by men who work hard, love peace, prize their freedom and their homes.

And today this faith in the future shines as brightly as the new electric lights."
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