The Itinerary of Katerina, Gregory and Elenche Tsilka in America (1903)





City and State

Source of Information



16 Apr 1903

New York, NY

Passenger Manifest of SS Patricia (may be seen at

SS Patricia sailed from Cuxhaven on April 4, 1903; landed in NYC on April 16, 1903;  Gregory Tsilka, 31, merchant, Catharine, 31, wife, Ellen, 1, daughter; all Turkish subjects; carrying $800; contact in America, Mrs. Bell Judd, Summit, N. J.


20 Apr 1903

Summit, NJ

Trenton Times, Trenton, NJ, 20 Apr 1903, p. 7  Ellen Stone’s Companion Visiting in New Jersey

Summit, April 20.  Mme. Tsilka, the heroic companion of Miss Ellen Stone, when she was held captive by the Bulgarian brigands, slipped into this country quietly Friday on one of the Hamburg steamers and came directly to the residence of two of her girlhood friends here, and will be their guest for several weeks at least.

She is accompanied by her husband and the little bright-eyed baby born while she was in custody of the brigands.  Mme. Tsilka says they made a hasty flight from their troubled native country to prevent her husband being killed by the Turks or Albanian revolutionists, and would not have succeeded had it not been for timely assistance rendered by the Austrian consul.


20 Apr 1903

Summit, NJ

Syracuse Evening Herald, 20 Apr 1903, p. 3


Dangerous to Stay in Macedonia, She Says


Army in Sympathy With the Brigands, Miss Stone’s Companion Says – Turks Suspicious of Men With Books


Mme. Tsilka, the companion of Miss Ellen Stone during their captivity of 172 days in the hands of the Bulgarian brigands, is the guess of Miss Judd, a former schoolmate, at Summit, N.J.  This is Mme. Tsilka’s visit to America since her release from captivity.


“We came to America because of the conditions that prevail in Macedonia, which render it extremely dangerous for a person of intelligence to remain in that country.” Said Mme. Tsilka yesterday.  “The Turks have a perfect horror of all persons known to have in their possession any considerable number of books.  We have a large library in our home in the city of Kortche, and this fact directed suspicion against my husband, and we were satisfied that the Turks would arrest him without reason at the first opportunity.


“My brother Constantin Stephanov, who is a graduate of Ylae college, went to Turkey from America last fall for the purpose of visiting his parents, and while there the Turkish government ordered his arrest because they were informed he had been seen examining some maps.  He is still in jail and will possibly be held a prisoner indefinitely.


“Miss Stone and myself would not, I think, have been released by the brigands but for the fact that they were afraid that a stronger band would come along at any minute and take us and secure the ransom that had been offered for us.  The government made no serious attempt to stop the work of  outlaws.


“A large proportion of the army is in sympathy with the brigands, and I know of instances where soldiers sent to capture the outlaws have instead held meetings with them in the mountains, enjoyed their feasts and divided with them the money paid as ransom for captives.”


26 Apr 1903


New York Tribune, Sunday, 26 April 1903 (illustrated supplement)

Photo inscription:  “Mr. And Mrs. Tsilka and their famous baby.  It was born when Miss Stone and its mother were the captives of the Bulgarians.  Now coming with its parents to America.”


3 May 1903

Jersey City, NJ

The Evening Journal, Jersey City, NJ, 2 May 1903

“At the First Presbyterian Church, Emory Street, there will be public services at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.  Dr. Herr will preach in the morning.  In the evening Mme. Tsilka will speak of her experiences in captivity.”


3 May 1903

Jersey City, NJ

New York Daily Tribune, 4 May 1903, p. 12 “Mme. Tsilka Talks at a Church”

“Mme. Tsilka, who shared with Miss Ellen Stone a six months' captivity among Macedonian brigands, told the story of her experience to a large congregation at the First Presbyterian church, Jersey City, last night. After the usual religious exercises, the Rev. Dr. Charles Herr, the pastor, introduced Mme Tsilka. She said she had not come so much to tell the story of her captivity as to thank personally those of Dr. Herr's congregation who had contributed to the fund that paid the ransom of Miss Stone and herself and finally set them free.

She said that when she and Miss Stone were seized by the brigands they were imprisoned in a house without explanation for several days. Then they were told that they must write letters to the missionaries saying that they would be set free on the payment of 10,000 pounds in Turkish money. They were kept in their first prison about four days and then were hurried over the mountains, traveling seven days in alternative snow, rain and sleet They suffered greatly. Their captors did not ill treat them, but on several occasions told them that unless the ransom was paid they would both be killed. Their subsequent experiences were a repetition of those of the first week. The brigands would halt at some convenient place until the scouts brought news of the approach of government troops.


Then they would hurry to some other place. Once the brigands came into conflict with the pursuing troops, but beyond hearing several shots the two women knew nothing of the affair. They had begun to despair when deliverance came.


At the end of the address Mme. Tsilka showed to the congregation her baby, born in her captivity.


May 1903

Summit, NJ

New York Times, 3 May 1903, p. 17


Brigands’ Ransomed Prisoner Visiting School Friends in Summit


Mr. and Mrs. Tsilka and there are fifteen months’ old baby have arrived in Summit N. J., and will remain there for some weeks as the guests of Miss Judd and Miss Chambers, with the former of whom Mrs. Tsilka was a classmate in Northfield Seminary some years ago.


This is the first visit to this country by Mr. and Mrs. Tsilka since the latter’s release by the Bulgarian brigands, by whom she was captured and held a prisoner with Miss Ellen M. Stone, the American missionary, nearly two years ago.  Mme. Tsilka Has completely recovered from the effects of that trying ordeal, except for a slight nervousness that still affects her.  The baby, born during that fearful period, is lusty and is growing finally.


Mme. Tsilka is an Armenian by birth, and came to this country to be educated for the missionary field.  The chief part of her time here was spent in West Hoboken, and it was there that she met her husband, likewise an Armenian, being educated for the same field.  Soon after their marriage they became identified with the work of Miss Ellen Stone in the East.


She was a member of Miss Stone’s little party of missionary teachers who were ambushed by a band of brigands on the main road between Bansko and Djumia, in Macedonia, September 8, 1901, when Miss Stone and Mme. Tsilka were captured and held for ransom.  The two women were clad only in light summer clothing.  An umbrella and a water-proof  completed their wardrobe.  Throughout the Fall and Winter they were hurried from one mountain fastness to another, subjected to almost arctic cold and all kinds of appalling hardships until they were released by payment of the stipulated ransom Mr. and Mrs. Tsilka were not permitted by the Turkish government to return to this country with Miss Stone, although, it is said and they desired very much to do so.


They have no immediate plans for their stay in America, but expect to return to Bulgaria after a vacation here.


May 1903

New York, NY

American Journal of Nursing, Vol. 3, #10 (July 1903), p. 796

This year’s demonstration [early May 1903] at the Presbyterian Hospital had three or four novel features…Mrs. Tsilka, with her little daughter, who was born in captivity, told of her thrilling experiences among the brigands.


24 May 1903

New York, NY

New York Tribune, 25 May 1903, p. 3 “Mme. Tsilka at Y.M.C.A.”

Mme. Tsilka, who spent six months in captivity among the brigands in Macedonia with Miss Ellen M. Stone, told of her experiences yesterday at the West Side Young Men's Christian Association. Mme. Tsilka excused the existence of brigandage in Macedonia by giving examples of the way the Turkish rulers were treating the Christians of that country. She said that men, when they found they could get no redress from the Turkish Government for wrongs, fled to the mountains, where they planned revenge. A few years in the mountains made them savage brigands. She gave details of the hardships of herself and Miss Stone. Her daughter, born in captivity, and dressed in native Macedonian costume of white, was placed on a table where all could see her.”


Spring 1903

Various places

Chicago Record-Herald, May 16, 1903, p. 1 & 6, “Romance of the Balkans” article by William E. Curtis

Article was heavily drawn upon for producing the Tsilka’s lecture notes.


June 27, 1903

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago Daily Tribune, 28 Jun 1903, “Baby Born Among Brigands is Here with Its Mother.  Mme Tsilka, Who Was A Captive with Ellen Stone, Comes to Chicago with Her Little One.”

Baby Tsilka, born in captivity among Turkish brigands, arrived in Chicago yesterday with her parents and during the afternoon held a reception at the Slayton bureau, in Steinway hall.  Mme. Tsilka, the baby’s mother, is about to start on a lecturing tour of the western country and is here completing arrangements with her managers.


While “Present Conditions in Turkey” will be Mme. Tsilka’s subject, she will tell the story of the capture of herself and Miss Ellen Stone, and will exhibit Ellenchia, the baby which was born while its mother was a captive.  Ellenchia will be a year and 6 months old on July 4, and is a strong and seemingly intelligent child.


“She speaks a few words in four languages – Bulgarian, Albanian, Turkish, and English,” said her father.


“And has never been sick a day,” added the mother.”


“The brigands were as kind to me after baby was born as they knew how to be,” said Mme. Tsilka, “but I suffered from a fever, and for three weeks was dreadfully ill.  The wonder is that we survived at all.  It was a dreadful experience.  We had no comforts and little food.  Often I had only one cup of water a day.  They would give us some stuff they called bread, but it did not taste like bread.  We were released three weeks after the brigands got their money.  O, no; we did not see the money paid to them.  The men who went away to get it never came back to the camp while we were there.


“All we knew about the transaction was one day whn two of the brigands took us out to the highway from our hiding place and said: ‘You can go to the village over there, where you will meet a man who will show you to a city a long way from here.  Go to that city,’ – they meant Strumnitsa – ‘and there you will be met by your friends.’  Of course, we did as they told us and had little trouble reaching our friends.”


Mme. Tsilka said that the brigands had been persecuted by the government and became outlaws originally for the purpose of seeking revenge.


Jul 1903

Racine, Wisc.

Marshfield (Wisc.) Times, 10 Jul 1903, p. 7

The attraction at the Racine Chautauqua this week, has been Madam Tsilka and baby, who with Miss Stone were captured by brigands in Turkey last year.


July 1903

Ottawa, Ohio

Lima (Ohio) Times Democrat, 23 Jul 1903, p. 4

“We did not go to the Ottawa Chautauqua to hear Madame Tsilka lecture.  We find such delight in anticipating a treat that we decided to wait and go when Madam Tsilka’s baby has grown up, and is going around lecturing.”


Summer 1903

[Midwest, USA?]

Humeston (Iowa) New Era, 2 Sep 1903, “Missionary Prisoners” letter by W. H. Helt



 [note, he was probably the William H. Helt, living in Richman Twp., Wayne Co., Iowa, at the time the 1900 census was taken; Enumeration District 151, Superintendent District 8, Sheet 12a, 15 June 1900]

Ed. New Era:  Most of your readers remember well the story of Miss Stone and her missionary companion, Madam Tsilka and her baby Elentcha, captured by the Macedonian brigands.  Having the pleasure of hearing the Macedonian lady tell her experience, I thought a brief recital of a part of it in her own language might be of interest to your readers.  Speaking in good English with a slight brogue, she said: 


“Wherever I go I am asked many questions. What is your native country: how did you come to be captured; how did they treat you, how did you escape and why are there more brigands in Macedonia than in any other country? One day Miss Stone said to me, 'Tomorrow we are going over to another town some miles distant to see the missionaries, and we want you to go with us.' The next morning the weather was delightful and we were a happy company, all on horseback, going single file through the timber. All at once, without warning, we were surrounded by eighteen or twenty brigands, great rough men with long hair reaching to their shoulders, faces unshaved and their clothes stained with blood. We were ordered to dismount and not to speak. The men of our party were disarmed and our leader commanded to lie down on his face, and at a signal from their leader six brigands plunged their daggers into him. A horse was led up to Miss Stone and myself: we were ordered to mount and rudely seized by the arms and lifted to our saddles. As we started off I turned and looked back; the rest of the party were standing there with two guns pointed at my husband, telling him not to speak, and we were gone. We rode on through the timber, the mountain gorges with the sun pouring down upon us, mile after mile, not knowing where we were going or what would become of us. Half crazed. I said to myself this must be a dream, it can’t be real. At last night came on and we camped between two mountains. In the morning we resumed our journey, and night found us in a dirty little hut. I plucked up courage and asked the man guarding me why then had taken us. He said, for ransom money: we sent word to your friends if they would give us $'25,000 in twenty days we would deliver you back safe, but if not, we would deal with you as all other prisoners. So days and weeks passed by. Often other bands of brigands would try and capture us and then there would be dreadful fighting. At night the captain would count his men to see how many had been lost Then they would march all night to some other hut. The most we had to eat was meal boiled thick. One of the men would roll out a ball of it with his dirty hands and give each of us a ball. My poor little babe cried as long as it could; I thought it would starve to death. Sometimes I became despondent and said, `Miss Stone I will die, I’ll go crazy, I cannot stand it." She would console me by quoting scripture and said that maybe God will answer the prayers of the good people of America. Then perhaps she would cry, 'Child I will die,' and I would try to console her and said to her, `His

strong arms are around about thee and under thee.'


One day they told us the money had not been raised, but they had extended the time. One evening we saw they were very busy and excited, and I asked one of the men if the ransom money had been raised.  He said yes, and you will both be freed. I cried; `Miss Stone, the ransom money has been raised and we will be freed.' We hugged and kissed each other, then kissed the baby, cried and laughed and prayed. But the man said, `Hold on girls, it may be some time yet: the Turks have every highway guarded and other bands are trying to capture you.' But one evening just after dark they put us on the horses and said. `Don't speak and we will try and get you out, so after a long ride we came to a river. Here we dismounted and after a while some men came across the river with horses, put us on them and told us to balance ourselves while they led the horses. I thought I would fall off but clung to the horse. When about halfway across the front horses fell into a hole, but my leader being the last one sheared around it and I reached the shore and slid to the ground exhausted. I supposed Miss Stone and the baby were in the bottom

of the river, but presently I heard something crawling through the grass and said, Miss Stone is that you? She said yes. Where is our baby?  I have it. Is it alive? Yes, praise the Lord. I took the poor wet; cold child and warmed it the best I could for this was the 25tth of October. [February!]  They then brought the horses, set us on them and in a short time was at the foot of a hill with lights of a village in sight. They told us they would leave us here and in the morning we could walk into town and then would take us to another town about five miles distant where there were missionaries; English and American, that would take care of us. When we went into the village at first they thought we were crazy women,

but we finally got them to take us to the next town where we were an object of curiosity. When for the first time in six months we looked in the mirror we were startled at our horrible appearance. That night we had the first clean bed we had seen for six months and oh, how we slept. The next morning Miss Stone woke me up laughing. I asked what she was laughing about. 'Why, I got into bed with my old rubber boots on.' `Well so did I.'


My dear friends, our train will soon be here. All I can do now is to show baby Elentcha and my husband, and the clothes we made for it in the mountains. God bless the good people of America. Your prayers have been answered. “




Jul-Aug 1903

Bloomington, Illinois

The Chautauquan, July 1903, p. 409

“The Chautauqua Assembly at Bloomington…The third annual session will be from July 30 to August 10, 1903.  Among the lecturers will be…Madam Tsilka.


August 1903

Ottawa, Illinois

Kansas City (Mo.) Star, 11 Jul 1903, p. 4

“Mme. Tsilka is to speak at the Ottawa Chautauqua on her experience with the Macedonian brigands.  The baby is the only person concerned who is still to be heard from.”


August 1903

Ottawa, Illinois

The Chautauquan, July 1903, p. 420

“The assembly at Ottawa, Illinois, was organized in 1901, and the third annual session will be held from August 14 to 24, 1903…The chief speakers are W. E. Curtis…[and] Madam Tsilka…”


6 Sep 1903

Richmond, Va.


“Madame Tsilka and The Baby at Richmond Chautauqua, Sunday September 6th at 2: 00 pm.  Madam Tsilka was with Miss Stone in captivity among Turkish Brigands during which time the baby was born.”



17 Sep 1903

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago Daily Tribune, 18 Sep 1903, p. 2 “Says Members of Militia Offered to Aid Macedonia.  Local Revolutionary Committee Reports That Some Illinois Soldiers Have Volunteered Services.”

Many members of the Illinois militia have volunteered their services to Macedonia in the war against the Turks, according to a statement made yesterday by the local Macedonian committee.  The committee, however, refused to give names, on the ground that the soldiers are obligated to the service of the state.


There was a lively meeting of Macedonians last night in the Second Baptist church, Morgan and Monroe streets.  The presence of G. M. Tsilka, whose wife was kidnapped with Miss Ellen M. Stone, and the unfurling of a Macedonian flag were events which caused great enthusiasm.


Christopher M. Nedelkoff, president of the local committee, emphasized the necessity of sympathizers with the revolutionary movement assisting either by going in person to fight, or by making contributions toward the support of the men in the field.


J. E. Northrup, an attorney, likened the chances of success for the Macedonian revolutionists to the chances of the American colonists had at the outbreak of the war for independence.  He said that had some natural force of destruction caused such havoc in the Balkans the nations of Europe would be stirred to send relief.


Mr. Tsilka stirred the audience with an account of the barbaric practices of the Turks, and he related instances of unprovoked cruelty of which he had been a witness.  He denied the reports that the brigands who captured Miss Stone and Mme. Tsilka were allied to or acting under the direction of the Macedonian revolutionary party.


When the meeting adjourned those present dropped their contributions into the folds of the Macedonian flag as it lay half furled at the door.


Nov 1903

Winona, Wisc.

Madison, Wisc. Our Church Life, Vol. 10, #1, Nov 1903, p. 9

Wisconsin Branch W.B.M.I.


Never warmer welcome, kinder hosts, more charming hostesses nor hospital homes than greeted the W. B. M. I. When it came to its 35th annual meeting at Winona


The presence of Madam Tsilka was a surprise and delight.  Here was a living illustration of the fruit of missionary work, and the story of her conversion, struggle for an education, capture and release told in quaintly beautiful language, held the rapt attention of every audience.