THE CONQUEST OF SIBERIA
 IN the year 1558 a family of wealthy merchants, Stroganof by name, began to barter with the Tartar
tribes dwelling east of the Ural Mountains. Ivan IV. had granted to this family the desert districts
of the Kama, with great privileges in trade, and the power to levy troops and build forts—at
their own expense—as a security against the robbers who crossed the Urals to prey upon their
settled neighbors to the west. In return the Stroganofs were privileged to follow their example in a
more legal manner, by the brigandage of trade between civilization and barbarism.
These robbers came from the region now known as Siberia, which extends to-day through thousands of
miles of width, from the Urals to the Pacific. Before this time we know little about this great
expanse of land. It seems to have been peopled by a succession of races, immigrants from the south,
each new wave of people driving the older tribes deeper into the frozen regions of the north. Early
in the Christian era there came hither a people destitute of iron, but expert in the working of
bronze, silver, and gold. They had wide regions of irrigated fields, and a higher civilization than
that of those who in time took their place.
People of Turkish origin succeeded these tribes
 about the eleventh century. They brought with them weapons of iron and made fine pottery. In the
thirteenth century, when the great Mongol outbreak took place under Genghis Khan, the Turkish
kingdom in Siberia was destroyed and Tartars took their place. Civilization went decidedly down
hill. Such was the state of affairs when Russia began to turn eyes of longing towards Siberia.
The busy traders of Novgorod had made their way into Siberia as early as the eleventh century. But
this republic fell, and the trade came to an end. In 1555, Khan Ediger, who had made himself a
kingdom in Siberia, and whose people had crossed swords with the Russians beyond the Urals, sent
envoys to Moscow, who consented to pay to Russia a yearly tribute of a thousand sables, thus
acknowledging Russian supremacy.
This tribute showed that there were riches beyond the mountains. The Stroganofs made their way to
the barrier of the hills, and it was not long before the trader was followed by the soldier. The
invasion of Siberia was due to an event which for the time threatened the total overthrow of the
Russian government. A Cossack brigand, Stepan Rozni by name, had long defied the forces of the czar,
and gradually gained in strength until he had an army of three hundred thousand men under his
command. If he had been a soldier of ability he might have made himself lord of the empire. Being a
brigand in grain, he was soon overturned and his forces dispersed.
Among his followers was one Yermak, a chief of
 the Cossacks of the Don, whom the czar sentenced to death for his love of plunder, but afterwards
pardoned. Yermak and his followers soon found the rule of Moscow too stringent for their ideas of
personal liberty, and he led a Cossack band to the Stroganof settlements in Perm.
Tradition tells us that the Stroganof of that date did not relish the presence of his unruly guests,
with their free ideas of property rights, and suggested to Yermak that Siberia offered a promising
field for a ready sword. He would supply him with food and arms if he saw fit to lead an expedition
The suggestion accorded well with Yermak's humor. He at once began to enlist volunteers for the
enterprise, adding to his own Cossack band a reinforcement of Russians and Tartars and of German and
Polish prisoners of war, until he had sixteen hundred and thirty-six men under his command. With
these he crossed the mountains in 1580, and terrified the natives to submission with his fire-arms,
a form of weapon new to them. Making their way down the Tura and Taghil Rivers, the adventurers
crossed the immense untrodden forests of Tobol, and Kutchum, the Tartar khan, was assailed in his
capital town of Ister, near where Tobolsk now stands.
Many battles with the Tartars were fought, Ister was taken, the khan fled to the steppes, and his
cousin was made prisoner by the adventurers. Yermak now, having added by his valor a great domain to
the Russian empire, purchased the favor of Ivan IV by the present of this new kingdom. He made
 his way to the Irtish and Obi, opened trade with the rich khanato of Bokbara, south of the desert,
and in various ways sought to consolidate the conquest he had made. But misfortune came to the
conqueror. One day, being surprised by the Tartars when unprepared, he leaped into the Irtish in
full armor and tried to swim its rapid current. The armor he wore had been sent him by the czar, and
had served him well in war. It proved too heavy for his powers of swimming, bore him beneath the
hungry waters, and brought the career of the victorious brigand to an end. After his death his
dismayed followers fled from Siberia, yielding it to Tartar hands again.
Yermak—in his way a rival of Cortez and Pizarro—gained by his conquest the highest fame
among the Russian people. They exalted him to the level of a hero, and their church has raised him
to the rank of a saint, at whose tomb miracles are performed. As regards the Russian saints, it may
here be remarked that they have been constructed, as a rule, from very unsanctified timber, as may
be seen from the examples we have heretofore given. Not only the people and the priests but the
poets have paid their tribute to Yermak's fame, epic poems having been written about his exploits
and his deeds made familiar in popular song.
Though the Cossacks withdrew after Yermak's death, others soon succeeded them. The furs of Siberia
formed a rich prize whose allurement could not be ignored, and new bands of hunters and adventurers
poured into the country, sustained by regular
 troops from Moscow. The advance was made through the northern districts to avoid the denser
populations of the south. New detachments of troops were sent, who built forts and settled laborers
around them, with the duty of supplying the garrisons with food, powder, and arms. By 1650 the Amur
was reached and followed to the Pacific Ocean.
It was a brief period in which to conquer a country of such vast extent. But no organized resistance
was met, and the land lay almost at the mercy of the invaders. There was vigorous opposition by the
tribes, but they were soon subdued. The only effective resistance they met was that of the Chinese,
who obliged the Cossacks to quit the Amur, which river they claimed. In 1855 the advance here began
again, and the whole course of the river was occupied, with much territory to its south. Siberia,
thus conquered by arms, is being made secure for Russia by a trans-continental railroad and hosts of
new settlers, and promises in the future to become a land of the greatest prosperity and wealth.
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