Molokane – Russian Immigrants – 1906


Newsflash from the Past:


Deluded Los Angeles Molokane Will Move Tomorrow for Fear of Quake.

Los Angeles Times (October 14, 1906)

There will be an exodus of the Molokane from Los Angeles tomorrow. The 2000 or more [Russian] colonists will begin their trek from the city early in the morning. They will take to the hills.

Two days they have fasted, sitting in sackcloth and ashes around their humble homes. No food has touched their lips since Friday morning. They fear the destruction of Los Angeles by earthquake.

This morning will begin the weirdest service ever held in this city. Weeping and wailing, the Molokane will prostrate themselves, beseeching God’s protections, and asking forgiveness for their sins.

With their loins girded, their bundles packed, and as much of their household goods as they can conveniently carry, the Russians will march without the city gates, and will await the expected destruction.

Should the foolish prophecy of their leaders come true, and Los Angeles be shaken, they would continue their journey to another country, to which they believe a divine power will guide them.

Simple, credulous and trustful, the people have placed entire confidence in the men who have foretold the dire disaster. They believe it must come because their priests have declared the danger imminent.

Without question they have accepted the words of a fanatical crank who has for the past week been exciting them with outlandish antics.

Nightly services have been held, and the worshipers have worked themselves into throes of excitement which has culminated in their determination to leave the city.

Despite the efforts of others to counteract the influence of the fanatics, who are playing upon the superstitions of the ignorant Molokane, the belief in the prophecies of the strangely garbed priests is gaining among the colonists, and, almost to a man, it is said, they are determined to go.

Unreasoning, blind belief in their leaders is said to be responsible for their sudden plan to move. Doubts are expressed as to the number which will really begin the trek when the hour arrives. Never has there been such excitement among the Caucasians as has been aroused by this latest religious wave.

That they will return as soon as the sun sets on Monday, provided there is no seismic disturbance, is admitted by those in close touch with the leaders.

The Rest of the Story

The earthquake did not occur as prophesied. Nevertheless, the Molokane (or Molokanes) are an interesting minority group that settled in Los Angeles in the early 1900s. They were religious outcasts, having fled persecution from the Russian Orthodox Church and the czar for refusing to fight in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904. Their religious leaders saw the United States as the Promised Land and the Molokane settled in California, believing that their move was prophesied.

In 1905, the Los Angeles Herald romanticized them by publishing the following:

“Like the pilgrims of old, fleeing from a land of oppression to land of liberty, Russian Protestant peasants of Transcaucasia, near the Turkish border and known as Molokane, or Brotherhood of Spiritual Christians, are coming to the sunny clime of California in large numbers from the land of the great white czar, but unlike the Pilgrim fathers, they find a land of plenty and prosperity greet them.”

The Herald went on to report that in 1905, the Molokane population consisted of 100 families in the Los Angeles area, and that they were “sober, industrious people, abstaining from intoxicants, tobacco and other common vices.” Within a couple of years, the population doubled.

In the beginning, their community leader was Capt. C.P. de Blumenthal, a native Russian, who tried to organize an agricultural colony in Mexico “in what is known as the ex-mission Guadalupe Rancho, situated in the Guadalupe valley, northeast of Ensenada de Todos Santos.” After the settlement was established, de Blumenthal and his wife mysteriously disappeared, fleecing their creditors. Rumors soon spread that the de Blumenthals had been murdered by another Russian, but the LAPD didn’t believe them.

Following Capt. de Blumenthal’s disappearance, the Molokane chose a new leader. The Molokane then spent their time between Ensanada and Los Angeles. According to one newspaper article, the Molokane pooled their money together into an $800,000 community chest for the purpose of building future colonies. However, this figure may be exaggerated.

In the early 1900s, Angelenos didn’t quite know what to think about the Molokane. While the Russians were praised for being very hard workers and non-violent people, outsiders viewed their religion as charismatic. The Molokane were also accused of celebrating Jewish holidays and customs even though their main book was the Bible.

The Molokane dress code was also out of sync with Southern California’s climate. According to the New York Sun in 1909:

“The Molokanes are so peculiar in their dress that they attract attention. The men, great, tall, big boned, long bearded Russians, still wear in sunshiny Los Angeles the fur lined caps, top boots and long overcoats that they wore in Russia, and the same shirts with the same flaps outside the trousers. The women, like the men, brought their fashions with them from the banks of the Volga.”

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