: STORIES FROM PHYSICS
: 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
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.
"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."
"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
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.