No definite data exists on the origin of the Russian Cossacks, but from the fifteenth century they are mentioned with increasing frequency in Russian chronicles and official documents.
Russia's territory was then small and did not extend very far south of Moscow. Between the Russian frontier and those Tartars who lived on the shores of the Caspian and the Black Seas lay large, almost uninhabited steppes (in what is now southern Russia); this was no-man's land. Exiles and outlaws from Muscovy came to this free territory, gradually establishing little colonies; they were called Cossacks. The name Cossack is of Turko-Tartaric origin, from Qussaq meaning adventurer, vagabond, or predatory horseman. In popular Russian it acquired the meaning of free man, and later specifically of a warrior or a soldier.
Occasionally, Cossack bands attacked and plundered Russian towns, but most of the time they fought Russia's enemies, the Tartars, Turks, and Poles. Because of this the Moscow government considered them outposts of the Russian realm even before they formally entered the Russian service.
In the middle of the seventeenth century a large group of Cossacks in difficulties with Poland left their homes on the lower Dnieper and moved north-east towards the Russian border. They founded many settlements and took service under the Russian crown as border guards. Several settlements joined forces to furnish a cavalry regiment. The district of the town of Surny furnished the Suinsky Cossack regiment. When this territory was incorporated into Russia some of the irregular Cossack regiments were turned into regular cavalry.
The gradual growth of Russia eventually overstepped all Cossack regions, and in my day the majority of Cossacks were farmers far inside Russia, with an upper and middle class of their own. But they still preserved some of their ancient privileges, one of which was the right to form their own regiments (mostly mounted) with their own officers.
The first major groups of Cossacks inhabited the regions of the Don and Dnieper rivers; later, other Cossack districts were founded in the Caucasus, south of the Ural mountains, and in Siberia; these, although outposts at one time or another, had different histories."