Thomas Cosmades



Dr. Daniel Morrison Benonia Thom

(1844 Aberdeenshire, Scotland—1915 Sivas, Turkey)

    Copy of speech by Dr. Daniel Thom


Origin: Probably about 1907 while he was still a Medical Missionary in Turkey.

 The original of this speech was found In the Steele County Library in Owatonna, Minnesota by Darrell Beldon Thompson, June 1990.


 It is frequently said, “It takes all kinds of people to make a world” and then add “I am glad I am not one of them.” I say it takes all kinds of people to make Mis­sionaries, and I am glad I am one of them. I would not exchange my place as a despised Medical Missionary for all of King Edward’s throne of England.

 You will say of course, that is very easy said as there is not the slightest danger of my ever having an offer for the ex­change. True, but what is the real joy of being King of an Empire on which the sun never sets, to being an Ambassador of the King of Kings?

 Yes, it takes all kinds of people to be Missionaries. They are almost all cranks, for if they were not cranks, they would never become Missionaries. And yet, I have seen some of the best and noblest of men and women too, in the Missionary ranks, and I have seen those of the other class, but the less said about those, the better. And you all have your notions about Missionaries and some of them I know, no doubt, are queer. Like a young lady I called upon in 1885 who had made ap­plication to the American Board for a position in the Foreign Fields. As Mardin was in need of a lady teacher at the time, I was delegated to see her and find out if possible, if she would fit into the niche that was vacant there. She had been brought up with the ideas that Missionaries only needed wings to fit them for their inheritance among the Saints. She thought, of course, a Mis­sionary should never be without his Bi­ble in his hand, an excellent idea, and that his knees should always show marked evidence of frequent contact with the cold, damp, earth. And should he, so far forget himself as to deign to laugh, It must be in a moment of great forgetfulness, and must at once be atoned for by severe knee drill.

 You can imagine the shock her feelings received and the change that came over, what to me was her benighted mind—before I left her. For unfortu­nately even after a ten years’ campaign in the mission field, my laugh had not deserted me and I laughed even in her presence and she was so overcome by my seeming frivolity that she had to then and there confess to her notions in regards to Missionaries. And that was not the last time she heard me laugh either, for she became a member of our station and was there for several years and one has not to be long with me be­fore they find out I laugh. Then I only had ten years’ experience as a Mission­ary but now I have had thirty-three years and I am yet able to laugh and I am going to continue to laugh until I pass through the pearly gates of the New Jerusalem and I am sure I shall laugh there.

 Laughing is the best of all medicine. It is often the only medicine accompanied by a little “Aqua Cura” I give to my pa­tients. I have often had it said to me when calling on the sick, “Why, he talks and laughs with you; we have not been able to get him to say a word all day.” And it was simply because I laughed a little with them.

 Now it may be, some of you have the same notion about Missionaries and if so, I will come far short of your ideal of a Missionary. I have an associate whose laugh is characteristic of him. I should know him by that laugh just as far as I could hear it. And it is often heard a great distance. And I know he is a Simon-pure Missionary, the same I cannot say of myself. So laugh, dear friends, if you are Archbishops, Bish­ops, Priests, Preachers or even only a Missionary. Laugh; it is the sign of a healthy soul, or a peaceful soul, of a happy soul, and really you are not an exception unless you can laugh.

 On the 14th of November 1874, we had our first sight of Mardin, that city which is set upon a hill. A city which cannot be hidden for it is built upon a high hill or rather upon a mountain, Mount Ma­sius, (Merde is the Turkish name) facing the great Mesopotamian plain, a plain that has no equal as to size and beauty. Think of the eye being able to look away for a distance of over a hundred miles, with nothing to ob­struct the view all the way to the horizon. As I said, we had our first sight of Mardin. We had been riding horseback for fifteen weary days, and the day be­fore we reached it, we had galloped our horses a good part of the afternoon to escape imaginary robbers. This part of the country at this particular time was more or less infested by Circassians, who had no hesitancy in intercepting anyone they chanced to meet. And our servant, who was better at running away than at fighting any day, saw in­dications of the presence of the GenK­ary. And as we were too green for any use, we allowed him to keep us in pretty active motion until we reached the shelter of the Khan (inn), where we spent the last night of that long and weary jour­ney. Could any of you imagine a Khan? A Turkish Khan?

 There remained eight hours, or twenty four miles of road to reach our journey’s end. You can imagine us as being more-or-less excited at the antici­pation of seeing that new home so soon. What kind of a home that was to be we had not the slightest Idea. We had often talked it over on the way inland, but could never determine just what it was to be like. And so we resumed the trip the fol­lowing morning still smarting from the previous night’s equestrian ex­cess—moving on, every hour lessening the distance. The excitement within us was becoming more and more tense, until about noon, while still some eight miles from our journey’s end, our excitement reached its climax—when in turning a corner on the road, we saw some “Ala Frank” people coming at breakneck speed toward us.

 Now we were surely nearing home, for these were the Missionaries and they were coming to bid us welcome. Oh! How glad we were to see them! What joy and thankfulness filled our hearts! God had led us throughout that long journey over eight thousand miles by land and by sea, over hill and through valley, 365 miles of it on horseback. Putting up or rather down every night, in every imagi­nable and a great many unimaginable places. Eating often where you would not feed your pigs but it was that or nothing. And so it was, day after day, the same thing over and over, again and again for the full fifteen days. In the morning we pick up our bedding, pack them away in bags, put those into Khoorges, fold up our bedsteads, pack them away and thus putting every thing into large leather bags which we called Khoorges to be tied on the animal’s back, which was to carry them all day, until we came to our next stopping place. There they are all to be unpacked again, the beds to be made up and thus get ready for the night. In the mean­time, our cook is preparing our dinner, supper or whatever you may call it. With his primitive arrangements for cooking, i.e., a hole is first dug in the ground; two stones are brought and placed one on either side of the hole. Between the stones, placed in the hole, sticks, fine wood or any other combus­tibles are put together. When a bit of rag where none is to be found else­where, is torn from the skirt of his own coat, wrapping a bit of candle inside, a match is lit and applied and this is placed under the wood and the fire is started. When a kettle of water is set on the stones and a be­ginning is thus made, you would be surprised to see how soon they can get a meal ready in this way. Of course, it is not a dinner of soup, fish, etc., but it is enough, such as it is.

 The meal is always brought in just at dusk. There was wisdom in this mad­ness as when the light is shading into dusk, there is less likelihood of detect­ing with a ‘critic’s eye’ all there might be in the dish before you and if perchance a speck should be seen just add a little more black pepper and call the specks pepper, and sometimes it would be quite peppery. Supper over, the dishes removed, prayers said, we were always ready for bed. The early morning again finds us going over the same routine. A bit of something to eat, a prepared lunch for noon-day, our goods stowed away and we are ready for another day and so it was, day after day. Was it to be won­dered at that tears came to the eyes of some of us, as those good Missionaries spread before us out there by the road side, a bountiful meal on a beautiful white cloth, which we ate with relish and enjoyment. It did seem too good to be real but it was real and the hearty welcome was real. And as the native brethren came out to meet us from miles around each one rushing up with a smile, grasping our hands, saying something which was all ‘Arabic’ to us, yet we knew by the grasp of the hand and the smile on the face that their welcome was real too.

 By the time we reached the house, some three or four hundred had shaken hands with us, and we had in a great meas­ure forgotten our fifteen days of weary riding in the hot, dusty, tiresome way. Oh! The luxury of a hot bath! A clean spring bed, all of which you cannot ap­preciate until you have spent two or three weeks touring in Turkey, put­ting up every night in a dark, dirty, smoky, dismal ‘Khan’—calling it a “Hotel De Lux”. But enough of this. You all know what the skirmish line is? What it means—a few picked men, sent out in front, or on the flanks of an advancing army. They are always a good ways apart, but at the same time meant to keep in touch with the whole body. In those days, we were out, away out on the skirmish line. I say ‘we’; I mean the Medical Missionaries. We were so far apart during those first years, that even our beacon lights could not be seen by each other, and by the coming of myself and the Dr. to Aintab, we doubled the force now and there were but four of us American doctors for all the Turkish Empire east of Caustan temple. Not of course including Beirut; one at Sivas, one at Van, one at Aintab, and the one at Mardin. Look at what magnificent distances we were from each other giving us ample elbow room, not treading on one another’s toes, as they are doing here.

 The second spring I was there in the month of March, I was called by tele­graph to go to Sivas to attend Doctor West who was ill with typhoid fever. The distance in good weather is 300 miles and what would it be in mud, snow, and water? The road would be im­passable. I at once ordered horses from the postal department so that I could ride night and day as far as my strength would endure. The horses were changed every twenty or twenty-five miles and even then it took me six days. I have ridden 216 miles in less than two and a half days, but my legs were rather use­less for awhile after I dismounted. But I got here too late to be of any service to him for he passed away that same day, thus reducing our number by one-fourth. His death was a great loss to the mission, as well as to the medical force for he was a man of great ability, much beloved by all who knew him. Many were the tears shed at his grave by those he had been the instrument of healing. It was while attending a little child, ill with typhoid fever that he con­tracted the disease which took him from us. I of necessity had to further lengthen my tent cords as I had to in­clude his large field with my already too large one, extending my field from Mo­sul on the South to the Black Sea on the North and from Van on the East, to Caesarea on the West — a territory covering 166,000 square miles.

 There would be times when I would be away from home three and four months at a time making my way around from station to station. At these times I would be accompanied by my servant only who acted as my surgeon assis­tant, my apothecary, my butler and my cook. Those were the days of safety and no fear, my hat being sufficient protec­tion. But now, hats are at a discount and we are not allowed to travel without government protection, and must have six good men with us wherever we go. Speaking of protection brings to mind an incident which happened in 1891. Having been on a visit to Erzurum, spending a month or more there, I de­cided to return by way of Erzincan. It was a distance of four days’ journey.

This place is the headquarters of the Fourth Army Corps of the Turkish Army and of course there would be no end of doctors — such as they were, but for all of that, I had all I could do from morn­ing till evening for two weeks. At the end of that time I was ready to continue my journey homeward. It had become gen­erally noised abroad that I was carrying a large quantity of gold with me. There were two roads leading from this city of soldiers, either of which I could take. One of them, a long roundabout way, would take me six to seven days to reach Harput and was considered in a measure, safe. The other was over a mountain through country that was most of the time in open rebellion against His Imperial Highness Abdul­hamid and no one could go over that road unless they were accompanied by certain ‘holy men’ who lived in those mountains and acted as your guide and protector. Anyone presuming to go alone would find themselves minus their belongings and possibly their life before he had trespassed far. So with these facts known to us and objecting to the very long road, I ordered arrange­ments to be made with one of these ‘holy men’ to take me and my servant under their protection. Of course it was understood this was done for com­pensation, so the preliminaries were all made and the time set for our exit. We also understood there was a large party going at the same time. The more the better, we thought. We were to start out on an afternoon about four o’clock and travel so as to reach Harput on Satur­day evening. But oriental-like, every­thing was not ready that afternoon, so it was put off until the following morning when one of the ‘Saids’ (holy men) came and or­dered us to load up and start. Someone would go with us as a guide and that he would ‘ere long over-take us, we were soon mounted and on our way. We rode over a strip of plain for two or three miles when we reached a plateau where others who had preceded us had dismounted and were waiting the coming of the ‘holy man’. We, of course, thought he would be right along so sat down to wait. It was about nine o’clock in the AM.

 At noon we were still waiting. At three o’clock, the same. These were the long summer days, and It was just as the sun was sinking in the west, that our ‘holy’ man, or as we by that time had concluded he was very unholy, came into camp and you may be sure, he was thoroughly taken to task for his treating us so. But what did he care? He was master of the situation. If you did not care to wait for him, go without him. Our party was made up of about sixty people and about seventy-five animals. There were ten soldiers in the party. The two privates, one sergeant − colored, one captain and one major. The two latter ones had nothing to do with the other eight but were going along like ourselves under the protection of these holy men, for without them the soldiers could never have gone through there without having their arms taken from them. The rest were travelers like us. While waiting all day for our man to come along, our soldiers and others who were not supplied with food, found it necessary to hunt up some­thing to eat. We thought we were away from all living beings. But they found some tents still higher up on the mountain and they bought some milk, cheese, and bread from them, bringing it down in their dishes. Then, those peo­ple had to come down and get their dishes. When they saw me, they at once knew I was the doctor who was making such a lot of money. And that I had all those soldiers with me to protect me and that having so many they knew the half had not been told about me and my wealth. So on their return to their tents, a meeting was called and it was decided it would be worth their while to capture this caravan, even at considerable cost.

 They knew we would not leave our camp until about midnight -- so they organized a party of thirty-six, all armed men, and started on a journey of twenty-seven miles -- in order to reach our next camping ground, which was just the place suited for their work. All these acts of course came out as the plot de­veloped.  At midnight our train was on the move but no ‘fiery pillar’ went be­fore us to show us the way, but it was up, up, until we were in the snow drifts — in July — and still up until we could shake hands with the clouds when at last we reached the turning point and began descending. It was down, down, down until about 9 o’clock in the forenoon when we reached a valley that was both beautiful and luxuriant -- grass in abundance, and water plentiful. Who would not wish to rest here after traveling nine hours? We all rejoiced at the prospect for rest and rejoiced that our animals could have such a feast after such a long fast. 

The loads were taken down, saddles off, arms stacked, animals turned loose, the people, everyone after his or her notion, lying down, sitting up, cooking break­fast, washing in the cold snow water that was hurrying by to add its flow to the mighty ocean. This was our condi­tion when everyone was brought to their feet by the crack of a gun nearby. The close proximity of a bullet to our heads made the soldiers jump to their arms and to quickly prepare our defense. From where did this unexpected interruption to our sweet repose and rest come? While thus meditating another gun, and another bullet, and with it a man’s voice rang out from a high bluff, away up the valley, “Send us fifty pounds sterling or we will come down and rob the caravan.” By this time they began to show themselves, coming out one by one and as they came out, each one sending a bullet uncannily near our heads. Everyone who had a gun or a pistol among us prepared for war.

 But the ‘holy man’, where was he? He was making all speed to get up to where they were — to learn the reason for this breach of tribal etiquette. In the mean­time our soldier captain ordered in the animals and told the owners to load up and to get away from there as soon as possible. It was the quickest move I ever saw done in the orient. Only a few mo­ments had passed and we were all on the march moving in the opposite direction from where the highway robbers were. We were all highly elated at our quick getaway, but we had not been over the road be­fore so imagine our disappointment when on reaching the top of the hill we had just come up to find our road turned directly around to pass under where our would-be robbers were! Our soldiers had been deployed below the road to fight the fellows if they came down. But our ‘Said’ came down begging them for God’s sake not to shoot for if they hit any of them not one of us would be left alive. He said he had labored with them and had got them to accept 25 pounds sterling. But we sent them word that we would fight them to the last man before we would pay any such sum, so they sent word that the soldiers and caravan could go — all they wanted was the man with the hat. Well, there was but one hat there. There was no need of throw­ing pennies to decide who it should be. But the holy man’s word was at stake. He had agreed to get me through safe, so back he goes and after another half hour’s labor he came back saying, “Give them a pound and a half and some bread and they will let us go.” So the major, the one most frightened of any, took a pound from his pocket saying, “Give them that, I can get it out of them.” So the other half pound was made up from the rest of the party — “the man with the hat” giving about forty cents. Some bread was taken from some of those in the caravan and we were allowed to go on our way. The man with the hat thanked Him who even in these wild mountains was able to care for him.

  Before reaching Harput which I did the third morning, they had stolen from me a heavy blanket ­ shawl. But I considered myself for­tunate in getting off with so slight a loss as that. On reaching Harput, I took one of Said’s animals and put it in the stable and told him when he brought the shawl, he could have the horse. Of course on the trip I could say nothing to him but here, he was passenger and I was guide. And the one on the road from Dorodokia. (Dorodokia is the act of giving or taking a bribe. He was no doubt referring to the bribes given to the bandits who had wanted to extract a large amount of money out of the caravan.) This was only four or five years ago. Often In those days, when I would overtake a caravan they would beg of me for the love of God not to leave them until they had passed a certain place in the road and when the time came to allow us to pass on, again they would express such gratitude it was ample pay for all my delay.

 On one of my journeys I was hastening along as fast as my good Arab horse could take me, in answer to a time-lim­ited call. After a hard day’s ride, we drew up at a village towards the evening and I decided to put up for the night, as both horse and rider were tired. The day had been fine, the village was on one side of a valley while the mountains I had to cross the following day were on the other side and they were covered with snow but what of that, you will say, just so the evening was beauti­ful... Nothing to indicate what was so soon to take place. I went to bed with the joyful feeling that all was well. But alas! How little we know what even a night will bring forth. Along about mid­night I was awakened by a downpour of rain. Now what did there exist between me and the mountains on the other side but a valley that would be a rolling rushing torrent, a stream impassable, and my time was limited. No more sleep that night and as soon as there was any light I was out looking over the ground, or rather the water—for that was what interested me. I found the valley a roll­ing sea and my nearest bridge fifteen miles away. And after reaching the bridge, I should simply have to retrace my steps on the other side so that at night I would only have been on the op­posite side, having gained nothing by marching all day. So I decided to sit down and watch the river run by.

 There was a spot of quite high ground near the village where I could sit and watch the water. So I took my seat there and kept my eyes on it seeing it gradually recede until noon, when a man came along. I got into conversation with him, ven­turing to suggest the possibility of his being able to cross the stream. He at first had no use for such business but after awhile and an offer of gold which seemed to make the matter more plausible, he decided to try it. As he entered that water, first to the ankles then to the knees, then to the limbs, it seemed like a river that could not be passed. But I saw him reach the other side and return to report that he had been able to keep his feet on ground all the way. He thought he could get me over if I was willing to try. I would go any­where anyone else had gone! So we at once set about getting ready and we went into that cold icy water with a prayer for a safe passage and it was vouched safe to us.  And we were on the other side happier than I could ex­press! Yet I hardly knew how we did it for the water was up to my knees on the saddle.

 I paid the man his well-earned wages—two and a half dollars, and started on our way up the mountain. On its side there were patches of snow and bare ground alternating, so my horse kept me and himself amused, by refusing to go on whenever he would come to one or the other. But due amount of persuasion got him along until we came to where it was all snow. After reaching the top and we were de­scending the other side, we passed down a valley where under our feet we heard the rushing water, whose depth we knew nothing of, nor the thickness of the snow between us and it. It was rather nervous business and yet there was no escaping it. We had to travel here, so putting our trust in Him who had brought us thus far in safety, at least we came out of the valley and came to the brow of what seemed a precipice and down this we must go. Snow to our horses’ knees. By brilliant engineering I got my saddle horse safely to the bottom but as I looked around to see how the others were prospering, just at that moment, one of the loaded ani­mals fell and came rolling down the precipice. Where I was standing there was a narrow path, hard and clear of snow but not more than two or three feet in width and below there was an­other precipice which led down into a boiling cataract. The horse came on, he and his load.

 The load consisted of two large bags tied securely to him. As he struck this bit of bare road the concussion was so great that it threw both bags on the upper side acting as an anchor, saving the brute from a watery grave which would surely have been his fate, had he not stopped as he did. The other horse came down safely. Getting the first one reloaded and starting on our way again, we had gone but a short distance, our road leading along the face of a very steep hill and right by the side of the foot path was a tree. I was able to get around it with my horse but when the loaded animals came along it was an­other thing. And it was plain there was going to be trouble. In stepping off the path he went into deep snow. So floun­dering to get around the tree, he fell again rolling to the bottom, landing on a piece of ice, but scattering his load all the way down. That too had to be gathered up and reloaded. Then we again went our way without further incident the remainder of our journey which we accomplished within the limited time. At least I was on hand when needed. 

 This may not seem to you an orthodox missionary talk but then it refers to in­cidents that came into the life of an American medical missionary and for that reason I have given them to you.


Dr. Daniel Morrison Benonia Thom













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