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The Lone Tree

A young immigrant girl longs for a new life in Kansas. Instead, she faces cold rejection. Can her faith survive as she struggles to live through the horrors awaiting in Florence, Kansas, in the winter of 1875?

To keep their faith, Lusanna Becker, her family, and entire congregation leave Polish-Russia in 1874. When they arrive in Hutchinson, Kansas, they are met with rejection and must travel by boxcar to Florence, Kansas, in fourteen below zero temperature. Over 600 are shoved into a warehouse where smallpox breaks out. Facing the deaths of hundreds, Lusanna remembers that a Christian is like a tree planted by the rivers of water. She sacrifices herself by nursing the sick. When spring arrives, she marries Carl Jantz and settles on land near Canton, Kansas. Here she discovers a gigantic cottonwood tree, which reminds her of her homeland and her Christian faith. Today, The Lone Tree Church, stands nearby.

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The Lone Tree

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September, 1872

Lusanna Becker crouched on the worn brick floor of their thatched house and barn in Polish Russia.

Though she was fifteen, she could not completely control the twitching in her arms as she clutched her four-year-old brother, Benjamin, close to her. She heard a rustle as her mother, Catherine, slipped into the room from her bedroom, "God help us, we are alone and an outlaw band descends upon us in this darkness. Keep your heads low." She drew her nightgown close to her thin body as she slid to the floor.

Lusanna's mother was named after Catherine the Great of Mother Russia, who had welcomed their people onto her lands a century ago, granting them freedom to establish their German villages, schools, and peaceful churches.

Responding eagerly, her people were scattered in villages throughout south Russia and here in the Poland province called Wohlynien; land snatched up by greedy Russia.

Lusanna felt the warmth of Benjamin's small frame and his heart thumping as he snuggled against her. The boy, disturbed from his sleep and in his nightdress, lifted his head in the darkness, pierced only by dim coals showing through the grate of the large brick Russian oven behind them in the hallway. Odors of smoked sausages and ham drifted from the wide chimney.

"Will Father and Andrias be safe, Lusanna?" the boy asked.

"They surely reached safety in Ostrog by now. Hush, Benjamin. We have to be quiet."

Neighs of horses and fast-clopping hooves echoed in spite of the foggy darkness. Lusanna ran a thin hand through Benjamin's tousled hair, hoping to calm him.

The Russian wall clock, her mother's wedding present, with its pendulum big as a pancake, and its hanging brass weights, struck midnight. But there was another sound which worried Lusanna even more, the nervous clanking of a cow bell coming from inside the barn adjoining their house.

"Don't give yourself away, Basha," she whispered. Basha, their source of milk for morning porridge of ground millet or rye, butter and cheese. Lusanna could smell the loaf of rye bread on a cupbord, baked late yesterday, coarse, but quite nourishing.

The increasing wind outside carried and chilling sounds.

"I wish Basha would stand still." Mother Catherine's voice quivered. Lusanna could faintly see her hunched form on the floor before the chair Father Joseph had made for her, bending its arms and rockers after he had soaked them. He had taken pride in his work.

"I'll sneak out and try to calm her," Lusanna whispered. If I stay with her, I can hold her bell.

"No. Lusanna, I forbid it. You know Cornelius Wedel stayed out too long in the night air. He is still not over the fever," her mother rasped. The frame of a loom squeaked as her body nudged it.

Lusanna realized the desperation of their situation. Strange riders and horses stomping and neighing in the rutted street. Coarse yells of Tartar-like ruffians catching in the wind, their voices muffled by the heavy fog. She knew that they were bent on thievery. She could see in her mind their wool brimless hats pulled low, shoulder capes or worn blankets extending in the wind, faces hard-set as they raised their long wooden lances, weighted at each end. She heard the crash of glass, no doubt vodka bottles shattering on their gate post.

She realized that the drunken thieves were raiding their village as much for fun as for the opportunity to steal a cow or two, a horse or even, should they be bold enough to break down the door, scoop up what pantry goods, woolens and linens they could snatch..

Lusanna dared not focus her mind on other kinds of violence. What if they stole their small supply of ham and sausage? What if the thieves shoved their way in, crashing the wooden looms and her spinning wheel?

Lusanna realized that they, the Beckers, by being thrifty, had enough. Just enough, little excess. Neither were they highly educated as they had all attended their own school until each had passed level four. She knew quite well that they endured hardships under government officials who raised their land lease dues yearly without pity for the brethren's petitions.

The yells and stomping horse feet drew nearer.

"Mother, I am going to slip out to the barn, Basha keeps..."

"Stay in the room, Lusanna. Whatever you do don't go outside, the night air is foul, filled with sickness:" Her mother's voice wobbled in a hoarse whisper.

Lusanna recalled her father's words. "One-half of all we make goes to the Russian government. If only we could own our own pieces of land like our brethren in other villages are allowed."

Even Lusanna knew that was not possible. Russian noblemen refused to sell the Crown land to Mennonites in this part of the empire. Nor did they sell it to the small Jewish villages to their east, whose people were even poorer than they. She had fleeting thoughts of Esther and Laban Hershkovitch, teenagers like Andrias and herself. She swallowed a lump in her throat, remembering that their people were bullied, their villages sacked, sometimes even burned.

And what about the poor peasant Musicks adrift in this lonely world? They suffered even more than the Jews or the Mennonites. No wonder so many of them staggered on the road to Ostrog in drunkenness and despair.

Now father and Andrias were on their way to the city of Ostrog, their green and red Russian wagon loaded with a half-dozen sacks of grain and a twenty-foot roll of the linen cloth. She had spun the carded flax. The shuttles flew and clanked when she and Andrias were at the looms. They hoped to sell both linen and grain for a few more rubles than the village miller and merchants in Waldheim were allowed to pay.

"It's against the law to sell our grain to mills in Ostrog, but we will risk the two-day journey," Father had said last evening at candlelight as his dark brown eyes stared straight at Mother's drawn face, his shock of graying hair raked back by his work-worn fingers. The candle light had flickered as if shuddering at his words.

Lusanna worried, knowing why her father risked such a law and could be fined. Didn't the Bible say "obey those who rule over you?"

What if the law was an unjust law?

ISBN Number: 0-7414-4922-6 (softcover)

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