As early as 1889, the foreign journals began to tell us of the apprehension caused by an unusual failure of the crops in Central Russia, extending from Moscow north and south, and east beyond the Ural Mountains and into Siberia—embracing an era of a million square miles. This failure was followed by another in 1890.
Eighteen hundred and ninety-one found the old-time granaries empty, and a total failure of the crops, and a population of thirty-five millions of people, paralyzed with the dread of approaching famine.
The American Red Cross had placed itself in communication with the Secretary of State, Hon. James G. Blaine, whose name and memory it treasures with reverence, and Mr. Alexander Gregor, the accomplished Russian Chargé d'Affaires at Washington, and ascertained that Russia would gladly receive donations of relief from America. She would even send her ships for any food that might be offered. This, America would not permit and Congress was appealed to for ocean transportation. The Senate voted a liberal appropriation, which was defeated in the House.
Then the Red Cross, with the aid of the citizens of Washington, took up the matter. They were joined by the Order of Elks, which contributed a sum of seven hundred dollars, than which perhaps that liberal Order never made a more timely gift. Funds were raised to charter a steamship for the Red Cross. The spirit spread generally over the country. Philadelphia sent a messenger to learn what Washington was doing, and was advised to charter one of its own ships, which was done, and two consignments were finally made by them.
Minnesota had already acted, and later, by the advice and aid of the extra provision of the Red Cross, the Christian Herald sent out its ship cargo, under convoy of Rev. Dr. Talmage.
But the State of Iowa led all others in active generosity.
Under the supervision of Mr. B. F. Tillinghast of Davenport, aided by the able pen of Miss Alice French, that State alone raised, and sent in trains across the country from Iowa to New York, one hundred and seventeen thousand bushels of corn and one hundred thousand pounds of flour, which was loaded onto the "Tynehead," a staunch British ship, and consigned to the port of Riga.
That year we had been notified of an International Conference to be held in Rome. The customary appropriation was made by Congress, and again I was appointed delegate. Too much occupied by the relief at home, Dr. Hubbell, also a delegate, went in my place to Rome, and from there reached Riga in time to receive and direct the distribution of the immense cargo of grain throughout Russia.
When Dr. Hubbell reached Riga he learned that two hundred and forty peasants had been waiting on the dock two days, watching and waiting for the ship from America. Not waiting for food, for Riga was not in a famine province, but waiting that they might not miss the opportunity and the honor of unloading the American ship that had brought food to their unfortunate brothers in the interior. As soon as they could get into the hold of the ship, one hundred and forty of them began the unloading. They worked night and day, without rest, determined to unload the entire cargo themselves, without help. But on the third night our Consul, Mr. Bornholdt, insisted on their having a relief of twelve hours, and when the twelve hours were up they were all in their places again, and remained until the cargo was out, declining to take any pay for their labor. Twelve women worked along with them in the same spirit, in the ship and on the dock, with needles, sewing up the rents in the bags, to prevent waste in handling, and cooking meals for the men.
The Mayor of St. Petersburg, in an address on behalf of that city to American donors, declared:
"The Russian people know how to be grateful. If up to this day these two great countries, Russia and the United States, have not only never quarreled, but on the contrary wished each other prosperity and strength always, these feelings of sympathy can grow only stronger in the future, both countries being conscious that in the season of trial for either it will find in the other cordial succor and support. And can true friendship be tested if not in the hour of misfortune?"
A peasant of Samara sent to a Russian editor, together with three colored eggs, a letter which he asked to have forwarded to America. The following is an extract from the letter:
"Christ is risen! To the merciful benefactors, the protectors of the poor, the feeders of the starving, the guardians of the orphans—Christ is risen.
"North Americans! May the Lord grant you a peaceful and long life and prosperity to your land, and may your fields be filled with abundant harvest—Christ is risen. Your mercifulness gives us a helping hand. Through your charity you have satisfied the starving. And for your magnificent alms accept from me this humble gift, which I send to the entire American people for your great beneficence, from all the hearts of the poor filled with feelings of joy."
In the gratitude manifested by the Russian Government and people we were glad to feel that a slight return had been made to Russia for past favors in our own peril, and a friendship never broken.
The Department of State at Washington, under date of January 11, 1894, forwarded the following:
"I have to inform you that on November 7, 1893, the American Minister at St. Petersburg received from the nobility of that city, through their Marshal, Count Alexis Bobrinskoy, an address to the people of the United States. This address, which is in the English language, embodies in terms fitly chosen the thanks of the Russian people to the American for the aid sent to their country from our own during the famine period of the past two years. It is beautifully engrossed and its illumination embraces water-color drawings which render it a most attractive work of art.
"The document, which is superbly bound and enclosed in a fine case, was duly forwarded to this city by the American Minister at St. Petersburg, and will be given a conspicuous place in the library of this department."
In so general an uprising of relief no great sum in contributions could be expected from any one source. The Red Cross felt that, if no more, it was glad to be able to pay, by the generous help of the city of Washington, the charter of a ship that conveyed its corn—$12,500—besides several thousands distributed in Russia through Tolstoi and American agents there.
We paid the cost of loading, superintended by Mr. Tillinghast in person, whose financial record shows the exact cost of transportation. All this was done in connection with the State of Iowa. Our home record showed, when all was finished, a field closed with a small balance in our favor, which we had no active call for. By the advice of one of the best personal advisers, bankers, and friends that the Red Cross has ever had, this small sum was placed in bank, in readiness for the next call.