The Popstefanov Family
of Bansko, Bulgaria

Katerina Dimitrova Stephanova


 Katerina Stephanova Tsilka

Early Life - Pt 1
Early Life - Pt 2 Education - Pt 1
Education - Pt 2
1st Trip to USA-1
1st Trip to USA- 2
Return to Europe
Abduction 1901-2

Touring the USA
Return to Albania
Katerina Alone


Liberation, and Flight

With the ransom paid and the time and place of release negotiated, the ordeal was nearing an end.  As dawn broke after a final hard night march through the wilderness on the morning of February 23, 1902, Miss Stone and Katerina Tsilka found themselves on the outskirts of a village not far from the town of Strumitsa.  After attending to baby Elencha, the two women gloried in a long bath, and began the process of recuperating their strength and well-being.

Both women were subjected to close questioning and interrogation, but as Turkish subjects, the Tsilkas were naturally under greater threat of reprisal by Ottoman authorities.  Both Tsilkas prepared depositions with their recollection of events, and Katerina's transmittal of a copy for the American embassy revealed some of her frustration:

Salonique, Turkey, March 29, 1902

Dear Sir,

Your letter of March 21st, is at hand.  In the enclosed statement I have tried to write all I can remember of our captivity which may assist in the discovery of the villains, but in case I have failed to answer points you may desire, I shall be glad to answer any questions you may choose to ask me.

Mr. Leishman, excuse, if I ask you a personal favor.  Is there any possibility in shortening our case with the government here?  They keep us here apparently without doing anything.  Both my husband and myself have been thoroughly examined, and now I do not see what they are waiting for.  My husband has been without work for the last seven months, and now we are spending all the means we have.  It is very hard on us.

Respectfully yours,

Katerina Tsilka

The Tsilkas and Miss Stone, 1902,  after the Ordeal

The following month, James H. Ross, writing in Leslie's Weekly, of April 10, 1902, p. 348, summarized some of the difficulties the Tsilkas faced with the Turkish authorities:

Strange Sequel of the Capture of Miss Stone
By James H. Ross

Immmediately preceding the release of Miss Stone by the Bulgarian brigands who captured her, a cablegram announced that the husband of Mme. Tsilka had been arrested charged with being a conspirator who had aided in selling his wife into captivity. Since then, the public has heard but little as to the sequel. The case is not ended. Neither is it settled. Turkey never hurries. Neither Mr. Tsilka nor the friends of Miss Stone know what Turkey will do. Technically Mr. Tsilka was not arrested, but was detained and is under surveillance. When, on February 23d he knew by telegraphic message from Serres to Salonica that the captives were released, he planned to leave at once, to meet his wife. But the police would not allow him to go. The Turks seemed to be very suspicious of him. Such restraint as there was on their part was due to the fear that foreign correspondents of the European and American press would make it hot for them.

Mr. Tsilka. on February 25th, was finally allowed to leave Salonica. Consular Agent Lazzaro conferred with the missionaries and with Vali Pasha concerning his case. On Friday, February 27th, he boarded the train in Salonica for Sofia and was called out before the train started and detained. The police mudir said that he might go anywhere he pleased in the Vilayet, but not out of the country. February 24th he was permitted to leave Salonica by rail, to meet his wife and return with her. The Vali showed Mr. Lazzaro an order from the Minister of the Interior telling him not to let Mr. Tsilka go out of sight, and adding: "I think this is its accordance with the wishes of the American legation." But he may have misinterpreted the wishes of the legation. Mr. Tsilka repeatedly said: "All I want is a fair trial without torture. If they can prove anything against me, I am ready to suffer." It was possible that letters had been forwarded to him from America, excoriating the Turks, and that they had been intercepted. But he said, with truth, that he should not he held for what another had written who was not under his control.

Assuming that he had been deceptive while living in Salonica with the missionaries for six weeks they would have condemned him in severest terms. Such baseness as was charged against him. viz.: Selling his wife and causing so much anguish to so many hearts, in many lands for six months, would have deserved heavy judgment in speech and judicial punishment. But if he has been an innocent sufferer, like the missionaries themselves and the kindred and friends of Miss Stone, any addition to his sufferings by false charges and imprisonment is intolerable. If charges against him are pressed, the civilized world will wait with wonder for the proofs.

If sound proofs are not forthcoming, his arrest will be regarded its an act of cruelty, and Turkey will lose that much in the world's estimation. Moreover, Miss Stone wields the pen of a ready writer, and if she is convinced of his innocence, she will he unsparing in her denunciations through the press. Her character and courage are well known.

As Mr. Tsilka himself has no objections to testifying, no one else will object to his being examined by the authorities. For that purpose arrest and imprisonment are not necessary. American influence can he exerted to aid in securing him judicial and fair treatment. The commander in Serres has persistently hindered the work of liberation and broken his promises not to chase the band who held the captives, thereby imperiling their lives. He is known to be hostile to Mr. Tsilka. The American principle is to believe a man innocent until proven guilty. If innocent, Mr. Tsilka is suffering for being associated with an American citizen. The Americans in Salonica will turn every stone to help him, until he is proved guilty. Nothing yet heard would be regarded by a grand jury in this country as warranting an indictment. What Turkey will continue to do, time alone can tell. It may do nothing more: it might do much more. For ways that are dark and tricks that are vain, Turkey is peculiar.

LESLIE'S WEEKLY has special facilities for keeping its readers informed of the political agitation through which Bulgaria and Macedonia are now passing, and of the quality of the leaders who are the agitators, and there are reasons for believing that the ransom of Miss Stone, the captured missionary, may only lead to new and more serious troubles. The Bulgarians, among themselves, before they obtained their freedom from Turkey, in 1878, were a comparatively pure people. Now licentiousness is bold and often brings no disgrace. The use of intoxicating liquors, aside front the twines of the country, is probably tenfold what it was in 1860, and the use of wine has greatly increased. Infidelity, bold and aggressive, was scarcely known in 1860. Now many teachers, probably the larger part of the influential men and a very large proportion of the students, are said to be boldly godless. During the past ten years, students have been expelled from the missionary schools for unmentionable vices. Infidelity, rank socialism, and all forms of godlessness have greatly increased. It seems probable that some of the ransom money paid for the release of Miss Stone and Mrs. Tsilka has been supplied to be used in preparation for incursions from Samokov into Macedonia.

Macedonia ought to be free. The only doubt is whether the resort, to arms should be made. But the leaders of the Macedonian committee are men of no principle and their followers become like them. Plans for various inroads into Macedonia are being made. An American resident in Samokov writes as follows:

When Servia fell upon Bulgaria, I went to see five student volunteers take their summer night departure about 11 p. m. I respected them and my heart was with them. As yet I have seen no one engaged to this Macedonian movement whom I have respected, and whatever shall he done it will be done chiefly under the guidance of those who hate God, at least so far as those in Bulgaria are in this movement. All Macedonia wants freedom and will do what will seem to lead to freedom, yet I fear that all the efforts will result in much needless bloodshed, and I also fear that, in the end, no real benefit will be gained.

There is apprehension among the American missionaries in Bulgaria lest Miss Stone may not be the only captive by brigands. Fears are expressed that other plotters may plan again to show that "little Bulgaria could outwit great America and make her pay another ransom." One missionary has been accustomed to travel alone on horseback, not infrequently from five to twenty miles over old roads and mountain paths and often without any path and through tangled bushes, striking for known landmarks miles away. Twice, by anonymous letters, he has been threatened with death if he did not pay money. He has disregarded the threats, and acted essentially as though he had not received the letters. On the range of mountains among which the Turkish troops chased the brigands who had Miss Stone, there is scarcely any habitation. Hence the brigands are comparatively safe in such a region with their captives. Some of the missionaries have notified their associates and the official boards in this country, that if they are captured they do not wish any ransom to be paid. They deem it wise that no premium should he put on capturing missionaries.

On the 4th of March, thirty persons were brought to Monastir, Macedonia, 100 miles northwest of Salonica, and put in prison. Their friends are not allowed to see them. Arrests of suspected persons are made continually. The prisons are full. The state of the country is very bad and there is great suffering, and many of the sufferers are innocent. All the teachers at Racine, four hours' distant from Monastir, have been brought to jail in Monastir. There is great need that the European Powers should take up the matter of reforms in Macedonia. An autonomy would solve many problems. Macedonia is honeycombed with Bulgarian "committee" work. It was a political mistake to make captives of Miss Stone and Mrs. Tsilka. Much sympathy for the Bulgarian has been lost thereby. All Bulgarians do not approve of that step, however much they may desire liberty in Macedonia.

Exchanges of correspondence between Albania and the United States continued through 1902, and several letters found their way into print.  

A letter from Mrs. Tsilka, dated Kortcha, Albania, May 21, reports her again busily engaged in her missionary work, which is in a prosperous condition.  The school at Korcha, which is in its boarding school department, had five girls last year, now has eight.  With abounding gratitude to God and to the friends who have aided her rescue from the brigands, she and her husband are devoting themselves with new energy to the work of evangelizing their people.  It may be also said of Miss Stone, that though her labors are in another line, she is accomplishing much for missions, for through her numerous addresses she is reaching a multitude heretofore but partially, if at all, interested in missionary work, and it is leading them to new conceptions of what this work is, and of the character and abilities of those who are engaged in it. [Missionary Herald, July 1902, p. 272].

The following extracts from a private letter from Mrs. Tsilka...give some details not mentioned in the magazine articles:  "Yes, we two women, Miss Stone and myself, and the wee little woman who joined us later, went through fearful suffering while in bondage.  I have wondered at the capacity of the human being for enduring misery...

"As for nursing, I lost no chance, even among the brigands.  The chief brigand fell one night and injured his ankle, so that he had to be carried.  When I offered to give him all the help I could I never saw a brigand look so embarrassed and remorseful as did he.  While I was douching the sprained ankle with hot and cold water, and especially when massageing it, he never looked once at me.  In a week, with this treatment, he was able to walk a whole night with comfort.  Though he never said 'thank you' to me (for that is not a brigand's way), I knew he was grateful, for he saved the life of my baby and me on more than one occasion...

Many of the brigands brought to me their wounded and pus fingers to treat and cure.  I am sure that if they had been obliged to kill me they would have found it very hard work to do so, for they 'had learned to love me,' as a young fellow expressed himself.  He was one for whom I treated four pus fingers..."
[American Journal of Nursing, vol. 3, no. 3 (Dec 1902), p. 236-237]

Another Word from Mrs. Tsilka

Mrs. Tsilka writes to Miss Maxwell, from Kortcha:

"My adventures with the brigands were so very dreadful -- very fearful; but, thank God! that is all past, and to-day I am sitting down in a very bright cheerful room, with my husband playing with Ellenchin, and I comfortably writing this.  You know. sometimes it seems so hard for anybody to live in this country that many times we have been about ready to run to America.  This autumn some money was sent us from America to build a dormitory for the girls.  The necessary permit for the building was obtained.  Afterwards, when about half through, the government stopped us.  All the material was left exposed to the weather.  It was done just to give us trouble, for the government does not want improvements.  Besides that, the Greek Catholic Bishop persecuted us; they do not wish to see Protestantism triumph.  Besides these troubles, brigands are all around us, and I can't help shiver at any gunshot in the night.  If we ever come to America, it won't be until next summer.  I am afraid to expose my darling any more dangers."  [American Journal of Nursing, vol. 3, no. 5 (Feb 1903), p. 399 ]

next section Richard M. Cochran, Ph.D. |
Copyright 2009 | All Rights Reserved