Dakota Panorama

Chapter 6: A Recipe for Nationality Stew: The German Russians, pages 125-135

By Douglas Chittick

Dakota Panorama, Dakota Territory Centennial Commission, published by Pine Hill Press, Freeman, South Dakota, 1961, 468 pages, hardcover.

The German Russians
While immigrants engaged primarily in agriculture, they required a center in which to buy and sell and this prompted the small towns which dot the Territory. Ipswich, above, filled the need for the German-Russians in the Edmunds County region.

The group we refer to as German Russians in South Dakota are people of German stock who were an ethnic group in Russia for about 100 years before they began coming to the United States. Because of their isolation, government policies, and the superiority of their culture over that of their Russian neighbors, the German Russians became a very closely knit group in Russia and, therefore, did not acquire much of the Russian culture. They have become assimilated much more rapidly in this country.

A brief, interesting and well documented account of the history of the German people who migrated to Russia and then to the United States is given in the book, Pietism and the Russian Germans in the United States, by George J. Eisenach. We are indebted also to a student, John G. Gross, who summarized in a term paper the early history of these people from the above source, as well as from a number of other books and articles.

The lower classes lived at a bare subsistence level in Germany before the migration to Russia. The youth of military age had been drafted, leaving the older men to produce the food on farms. Taxes were exorbitant and the political situation gave them little hope for the future. Frequent wars had drained the economy and manpower. There was little loyalty to the state because insurrections by the lower classes had failed. The Seven Years' War ended in 1763 leaving widespread poverty. The German people began to think of emigration involuntarily. Many of them went to Hungary, Poland, and America. It was at this time (1763) that Catherine II (the Great) of Russia (1762 to 1796), a former German, issued her manifesto inviting people of other nationalities to settle in Russia.

Before Catherine II's reign, attempts had been made to settle the lower Volga area by Russians from other areas of that country, but this had failed because of the ravages of nomadic tribes. The failure of these Russian colonists may also be attributed to the fact that they knew they could return to their former homes where conditions were better. At least they knew how to live there. The colonizing Russians lacked the ingenuity to adapt themselves to the physical environment as well as to the turbulent raiding bands. It was Catherine's design to introduce a higher type of culture into this area to "disseminate industry and agricultural science among her subjects." The Germans had skill making good quality powder, in glass making, cannon and bell making. The German settlement, she felt, would serve as a buffer against these nomads for the more developed parts of Russia.

Sources differ as to the inducements offered by Catherine II, but concessions included agreements concerning land, religious freedom, exemption from military service, financial aid, and almost complete autonomy in local government. As a result thousands of Germans established themselves on the Steppes on both sides of the Volga River south of Saratov some distance north of the Caspian Sea. It is said that in spite of suffering, sacrifices and struggles this population increased from 23,019 in 1768 to 668,896 by 1914.

Most of the German Russian settlers we have in South Dakota, however, are descendants of the German people who settled in the northern Black Sea region of Russia. The invitation for this group of Germans was encouraged especially by Alexander I (1801-1825). Germans began migrating to this region as early as 1781 but particularly after 1804. The inducements by the Russians at this time were about the same as they were under Catherine II. By 1859, there was a total of 153 German colonies in this region with a total of 106,123 people. This total increased to 526,795 by 1914, making a total of more than a million German people in the two Russian areas by 1914.

The German colonists lived in small farm villages in both the Volga and Black Sea regions with about twenty to eighty families in each village. Houses, barns and stables were generally under one roof and were located on both sides of a long wide street. The land was divided into long narrow strips, so distributed that farmers would share both the good and bad land equally. The strips were redistributed periodically according to the Russian Mir system.

Disease and famine were frequent occurrences. Many colonies were destroyed by nomad raids especially during the rebellions of the Russian peasants (especially that of Pugochev between 1773 and 1775). There was no assimilation between the Germans and the Russians because of the language barrier, separate churches, and the aggressive feelings Russian neighbors developed against the German colonies because of the exemptions the government had given these immigrants. A symbiotic relationship between the colonists and the local Russians developed, according to respondents interviewed by Gross in 1960. The local Russian peasants were often treated like slaves by the colonists. In spite of this, population pressure became a serious problem by 1830; so daughter colonies were formed rather than assimilate as individuals with the local Russians.

Russia made little progress between 1815 and 1855. The Crimean War in 1853 left Russia helplessly defeated. As a "come-back" measure, the Russians began their policy of assimilation in 1866 by gradually assuming control of education. Compulsory military training was put into effect in 1871, German control of their local government was abolished in 1876 and Russian was declared the official language in 1897. A number of poor crops occurred between 1884 to 1897.

All of these adverse circumstances served as "push" factors for migration with the added "pull" factors of letters and newspaper articles from former residents who had left and settled in America earlier. The Germans began to leave Russia in large numbers. The major migration was to the United States from 1872 to the First World War in 1914.

The migration of the German Russians from the two regions was quite distinct. The Volga group settled from the eastern border of Montana to the Pacific Coast and in Colorado. A few settled in Perkins and Butte Counties in western South Dakota. The South or Black Sea Russians (German Russians) settled mainly in South Dakota and North Dakota. Others moved to Canada from the Dakotas.

John P. Johansen gives a brief and interesting account of the settlement of the German Russians in South Dakota in Experiment Station Bulletin No.313, "Immigrant Settlements and Social Organization in South Dakota." He relates the settlement pattern more or less to various religious groups of which there were many among the German Russians. As a background, Eisenach points out that conditions in Russia among the German colonists, just before their migration to America, were especially favorable to the spread of Pietism. Economic burdens and social ills made the message of the revivalist "all the more convincing." The settlers in Russia had experienced famine and disease. They were cut off from the world at the eastern border of civilization, isolated during the long winter nights. In some places there was a shortage of wood. There were crop failures, attacks by wolf packs, and privations of many kinds. In addition, during the first fifty years colonists were subject to the attacks of semi-savage tribes of Tartars, Bashikirs, and others.

The second condition which contributed to Pietism and a religious lay movement was the scarcity of professional religious leaders.

The Lutheran Church was the predominant religious denomination among the Protestant colonies in Russia. The Russian government had promised to provide and support clergymen for the German colonists according to Eisenach, but the Russian governor refused to support any by 1769. By 1820, the need for Protestant ministers was so urgent that the Roman Catholic priests were secured to minister to the spiritual needs of Protestants, Eisenach continues. Groups of laymen who tired of the increasing formalism of religion as exemplified in all the churches such as the Lutheran, Reformed and others at the time, sought a religion that would assure them of salvation.

Johansen points out that the Evangelical Protestant German Russians left the Black Sea region in considerable numbers in 1872. They settled northwest of Yankton the following year when they could not find suitable land in Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin or Nebraska. Their experience had been that of living in farm villages in the old country but the land had all been taken in the eastern states so that colonies could not be established. The first settlement in Yankton County, where sufficient land could be obtained for a compact settlement, was called Odessa, where the township still bears the name. Additional families came later by way of Lincoln, Nebraska. A number of settlements were established between 1874 and 1880 in Yankton, Hutchinson, Bon Homme, and Douglas Counties "in the vicinity of Menno, Freeman, Tripp, Avon and Delmont."

Johansen continues, "In the 1870's immigrants from Kassel, near Cherson in Russia, settled in the present Kassel township in Hutchinson County. Kulm Township, southwest of Parkston, became the home of immigrants from Kulm in Bessarabia. The province of Bessarabia is now part of Rumania. It is adjacent to the Black Sea region whence so many of these immigrants came. The 1930 census credited South Dakota with 410 Rumanians. It showed also that 98 of them are found in Hutchinson County, 34 in Douglas County, 35 in Edmunds County, and smaller numbers elsewhere. The mother tongue of at least three-fourths of these 'Rumanians' is German."

The first Evangelical-Protestant settlement in the northern part of the state began in the vicinity of Roscoe, Hosmer, Eureka in Edmunds and McPherson Counties. These were the "Schwarzmeerdeutschen" or Black Sea Germans. From these points the German Russian settlements spread to Walworth and Campbell Counties, and northwest across the state boundary line into North Dakota. They moved west of the Missouri River into Corson and Dewey Counties in South Dakota when the Standing Rock and Cheyenne Indian Reservations were opened up to settlement in 1909 and 1910. The names of some of the townships in McPherson County indicate the early German Russian influence; such township names as Kassel, Moscow, Bauer, Steckel, Odessa, Glucksthol, Detmold and Bergdorf.

In an unpublished paper, Daniel Opp, tells about leaving Russia with his parents when he was twelve years old. They came by way of Menno in southern Dakota in 1884, taking the train to Frederick and then making their way across the hills in northern McPherson County by oxen to the vicinity of Eureka. He gives a good picture of the hardships and problems the early settlers endured.

The German-Russian Protestants are divided into several denominations according to Johansen: the Baptist, Congregational, Evangelical, Lutheran, and Reformed. It is difficult to identify them specifically, says Johansen, because some of the parishes and memberships are partly of German Empire origins; however German Russian memberships identify some.

The Baptists grew in number rapidly in Eureka during the 1880's and 1890's. Large numbers of these Baptists had taken part in a religious movement in Russia called the "Stundists," according to Johansen. Their name, as well as their doctrine, is German.

Eureka was for some years located at the end of the railroad, at a time when it is said there were twenty-one elevators doing business there, making it the largest wheat terminal in the world.

German Congregationalism had its origin in the Swiss and German settlements in Iowa. German Congregationalists later founded settlements in Nebraska from where the first ministers came to Dakota "to work among the newly arrived German Evangelical immigrants from Russia." The first congregations were established near Scotland, Parkston, and Tyndall in 1884, according to Johansen. These were largely rural churches. The German Congregational churches maintained a liberal arts college and academy at Redfield, for about twenty-seven years. A theological seminary had been maintained at the same place since 1916. The college and seminary were merged with the Congregational college in Yankton in 1932-1933.

A book published by Eureka's Golden Jubilee organization in 1937, has a wealth of information concerning the early history of the settlement by German Russians in the northern part of the state.

The German Catholic immigration from the Black Sea region came to Yankton in 1875. Some of the initial settlements were located at Scotland. This group migrated to the vicinity of Ipswich in Edmunds County in large numbers about 1885. Ipswich seems to be the center or mother colony from which the area northeast of Ipswich was settled. The town has a candle factory that supplies many churches in the United States. The urban settlement of Catholic German Russians began in Aberdeen in 1887. They are also to be found in the vicinities of Bowdle, Hosmer, Hillsview, Loyalton, Roscoe, and Onaka. The last mentioned settlement, according to Johansen, was originally called New-Russland from 1910 until 1915. There are also Catholic settlements at Trail City, Glencross, and Isabel, west of the Missouri River.

There are ethnic groups in South Dakota such as Germans and Norwegians which are numerically larger than the German Russians, but they live in fewer compact settlements. In contrast, the German Russians have fewer, compact settlements but these few are much larger which has tended to slow down processes of assimilation for them.

The German Russians place a high value on land ownership. They work hard, are thrifty, and compete effectively. For example, the early settlement in McPherson was in the western half of the county. Now they own or operate most of the land in the whole county.

Many interesting stories can be told about the early political activity and contributions made by the German Russians in this state, but space does not permit. Here is an interesting account that the author heard when he was a boy which he cannot document, but which serves as an example of culture change:

It is said that when the early German Russian farmers in the northern tier of counties in South Dakota went to town they left their homes in a caravan of wagons. (This was the way they traveled to bazaars in the old country – to protect themselves from roving bands of nomadic thieves.) The farmer who lived the greatest distance from town would start early on the appointed day. Hay was put in the wagon for the children to sit on and to be used as feed for the horses during the time they shopped in town. The farmer down the road and his family were ready to join the first wagon when it arrived. Down the road further one wagon after another fell in line until twenty or thirty wagons, single file, advanced slowly in the early morning to the "city."

Towns, like people, are born; likewise, towns die. Evarts was prominent for many years in the early 1900’s as a shipping point to the West River Country. It was located on the Missouri below the present Mobridge. Extension of the railroad to the north of Evarts prompted the demise of the community.

They had lived in villages in Russia, but here they lived on isolated homesteads. Transportation was such that they did not see each other, except for neighbors, often. They went to town only occasionally. The older folks craved "company" and visiting. Even though the wagon train moved slowly the time did not drag. A trip like this started out more or less as a formal occasion especially for the children for they did not see other children often. The husbands and wives would exchange wagons so that the husbands could visit as they drove along the dusty road. The girls stayed with their mothers while the sons moved to the wagons selected by the men. It was not long until the formalities were broken down by the children and gossip shortened the time for the oldsters as they moved along the winding prairie road over the hills. No doubt marriage possibilities for their children took some of the conversational time. Through the indirect interview they elicited the size of the dowry, cooking abilities of the young ladies, and the farming interests of the late teen age males. Economic factors counted large in arranging a marriage – love would follow.

When they got to town in the middle of the forenoon they unhitched the horses and "watered” them at the town’s watering trough. The horses were then tied to the wagons so they could eat the hay and oats brought for them. Time was limited so the men and women went individually about their shopping. The country kids soon learned to wander around town in groups to protect themselves from the town kids. This was a town-country form of conflict, for both groups were largely of the same nationality.

There were no restaurants in the early 1900's so at noon various families got together to eat in a grocery store. There were saloons and the hotels which served family style at meal time, but these people were conservative and preferred their own food. At this time many of the stores in this area had a large room in the rear equipped only with tables and chairs. The women brought large fresh loaves of bread and homemade wurst highly seasoned with garlic with them in empty flour sacks. This served as a basis of their meal and was sometimes supplemented with some commercial foods purchased during the morning. The visiting continued.

The shopping was completed about the middle of the afternoon at which time the groceries and supplies were loaded into the wagons. The horses were watered again and shortly afterward these farmers started their long journey homeward. The mothers made a quick check on the younger children before they left. The wagons began to file out of town one by one. The children ate candy and often fought over it and upon such occasions they were sent to their own wagons. As each family approached the crossroad that would take them home they got into their wagon. Husbands and wives could hardly wait to exchange the bits of gossip they had heard. This exchange, and the surmising implications of it, would continue until the next trip to town. As each wagon turned to the right or left to leave the caravan there was a hearty wave from all within distance and an exchange of good will until the last wagon disappeared in the setting sun.

There were, of course, no bandits or thieves on the Dakota prairies, but the old custom provided a very good social and economic adjustment in a strange new land.

Mennonites and Hutterites

There seems to be much misunderstanding about the Mennonites and the Hutterites. It is not uncommon for their names to be used interchangeably. This misunderstanding also relates to the customs and religious beliefs of the two groups. Both groups are quite similar in that they originated in the Reformation period of the sixteenth century in Europe; they are both Anabaptists. The Mennonites are the followers of Menno Simons and the Hutterites are followers of Jacob Hutter. In addition to some differences in Scriptural interpretations, the basic difference between them from the viewpoint of outsiders is that the Mennonites live on separate, individual farmsteads which is characteristic of land settlement in our country, while the Hutterites own their own property in common and live together in Christian communal colonies.

The Mennonites

The Mennonites are religious groups that developed out of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century in Friesland – the low land in and near Holland. Their leader was Menno Simons who was influenced by the Anabaptist movement originating near Zurich, Switzerland. Historically, they have stood for Scriptural authority, nonresistance, plainness of dress, rejection of oaths, adult baptism, aloofness from the state, and restriction of marriage to members of the group. There has, however, been some deviation from some of these beliefs since their early beginnings as exemplified by the groups now located in South Dakota.

The Mennonites and their beliefs developed during the time feudal estates were being consolidated into small kingdoms through local wars in Europe. The earliest persecutions resulted from their stand on adult baptism, i.e., church membership, rather than opposition to war. It was initiated by church leaders rather than political leaders. Persecution due to their stand on participation in war came to the forefront after the practice of conscription following Napoleonic Wars. Because of these beliefs and especially their opposition to war, they were persecuted and driven from place to place in various parts of Europe. Differences developed among them so a number of sects were established. Many fled to Prussia where, in their isolation, they became very proficient in agriculture. However, certain restrictions were placed on them gradually which aggravated increasing discontent. Catherine the Great of Russia recognized their knowledge of agriculture and invited them to Russia with the hope that it would stimulate progress in her country. Their culture was far in advance of the Russians'. Religious freedom, exemption from military service, and other concessions such as minimal taxes, induced many to migrate to Russia from 1789 to 1840.

The Mennonites were able to live peacefully in Russia for about eighty years during which time they established prosperous farms. However, new Russian leadership under Czar Alexander II and pressing international affairs brought increasing demands upon the Mennonites. They were required to serve in the Russian Army and learn the Russian language. There were also tax demands. They were ready to migrate again.

Some Mennonite groups were already established in the United States. The first settlement was established in Germantown, Pennsylvania, in 1683. By 1869 there were settlements in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Maryland, Illinois, Indiana, as well as Ontario, Canada.

Both the Mennonites and the Hutterites sent delegations to the United States in 1872 and 1873 to investigate the possibilities of settling in the new world. They visited Minnesota and North and South Dakota and even held an interview with President U. S. Grant concerning concessions such as exemptions from military service. Although not all their requests could be granted, they migrated to America and settled in Kansas, the Dakotas, Nebraska and Minnesota. Whole villages migrated. Some remained in Russia through a compromise by which the Mennonites offered their services in the forestry department in lieu of military service.

The first group of Mennonites from the Crimea in Russia arrived in South Dakota in 1873 under the direction of Daniel Unruh. They came by way of Yankton on the railroad from Sioux City. A number of groups settled in South Dakota. Those coming originally from the low countries settled primarily around Marion in Turner County. Those who migrated from the Province of Volgania in Russian Poland settled east of Freeman. Their background is Swiss and they belong to the General Conference Mennonites. Eleven families arrived in Yankton in 1874 from the villages of Wolkham and Hvrodisch. The Hutterite Mennonites settled west and north of Freeman. Their background is the same as the Hutterite Brethren but they broke away from communal living long before they came to America. Some of these were formerly associated with the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren and are now members of the Mennonite Brethren Church. The majority, however, have affiliated with the General Conference Mennonite Church.

Since the initial settlements in South Dakota they have established themselves in other areas of the state, primarily in Yankton, Hutchinson, Hanson, Sanborn, Beadle and Spink Counties.

The Mennonites are characterized by well improved farms. Their families are closely knit religious groups. They participate in government and community affairs.

The fact that they are well represented in the teaching profession and that they established the Freeman Junior College (originally the South Dakota Mennonite College) indicates their interest in education. This school has had an average enrollment of about 100 in the academy and fifty in college. It is not managed directly by the Mennonite Church now but operates under a board of trustees elected to form a corporation largely of members of the various Mennonite Churches in South Dakota and surrounding states.

The Hutterites

Professor Marvin P. Riley, Rural Sociology Department, South Dakota State College, is currently doing research on the Hutterites in South Dakota. His article, "Communal Farmers: The Hutterite Brethren" in November, 1956, issue of South Dakota Farm and Home Research, is perhaps the most up-to-date and accurate information available on these people. The following excerpts from this article are used with his permission:

South Dakota is the home of part of a small religious group known as Hutterites...Present-day members of this group live on communal farms located in eastern South Dakota, Montana, Washington, and Canada.

A survey of the South Dakota colonies showed that in 1957 there were 1,870 Hutterites living in 17 colonies. These persons comprised 270 families with an average size of seven persons. Farmland operated by the South Dakota colonies in 1957 totaled approximately 79,000 acres. Nearly 68,000 acres were owned, and about 11,000 acres were rented or leased from non-Hutterite land owners.

Data from the 1957 survey show that the "average" colony had about 16 families with a total of 110 persons. This average colony operated 4,640 acres, 660 of which were rented. Similar to most other farms in South Dakota, all of the land which the colonies operated was not cropland. Only about 57% of the total land they operated in 1957 was in crops. One-third of the land was pasture and 10% was hay-land.

...As a religious group the Hutterites are not a new sect but a very old one. They originated in Moravia in 1528. An offshoot of the Swiss Brethren, they are one of the many Anabaptist groups that arose directly out of the Protestant Reformation struggles of Sixteenth Century Europe.

The founders of the Hutterian Brotherhood subscribed to the Anabaptist belief of adult baptism and the separation of church and state. Like the Swiss Brethren, they were strongly opposed to war. In addition, the Hutterites interpreted the New Testament literally, insisting on the complete sharing of worldly possessions. Many of these beliefs ran counter to those held by the established churches of that day; and, as Europe was in an almost constant state of war the rulers were not tolerant of pacifists. Consequently, the Hutterites as well as other Anabaptist groups were often the object of severe persecution.

Jacob Hutter. In 1533, Jacob Hutter, the Anabaptist preacher from whom the sect derives its name, joined the group and became their pastor. Through the efforts of Hutter and his assistants a well defined communal pattern was established which has continued to the present. Hutter was burned at the stake in 1536 for his convictions.

Hutterites in Europe. The history of the Hutterites in Europe includes three periods: almost a century was spent in Moravia, approximately a century and a half in Hungary, Transylvania, and Wallachie, and a little more than a century in Russia.

In Moravia the nobles considered the Hutterites good tenants and protected them from attacks by the Catholic Church and the Emperor as long as possible. However, the power of the nobles was broken in 1620, and the Hutterites were forced to flee Moravia. For more than 150 years they wandered through Hungary and neighboring countries. Although often close to extinction a small group always managed to carry on the faith.

Finally upon invitation of Catherine the Great, the surviving Hutterites moved to Russia in 1770 to settle the Ukraine frontier. There they were given refuge and allowed to practice pacifism. An edict nullifying their grant of exemption from military service was issued in 1871. After an appeal to the crown failed, their non-resistance policy demanded they emigrate.

Where They Live

Settlement in Dakota Territory
. Approximately one hundred Hutterite families arrived in Yankton from Russia between 1874 and 1879. These families divided about equally, one group choosing to establish colonies, while the other families chose to settle on private farms. Many of the latter group have become affiliated with the Mennonite Church.

The Hutterites established their first colony in Dakota Territory about 18 miles west of Yankton. The colony was named Bon Homme. Because the leader of this colony, Michael Waldner, was a blacksmith (Schmied) by trade, these people and their descendants are called Schmieden Leut (the smith's people).

Later in 1874 another group of Hutterites arrived and settled about 12 miles west of Freeman. Under the leadership of Darius Walter, they established Wolf Creek colony. Their descendants are called Darius Leut (Darius' people). New Elm Springs colony was founded by the third group coming in 1877. Led by two teachers, this group settled northeast of Parkston. Descendants of this group are referred to as Lehrer Leut (teacher's people).

Early Daughter Colonies. The period from 1878 to 1913 was a time of increase in the number of colonies in South Dakota. By the process of branch colonization, the three mother colonies established daughter colonies along the James River. Branch colonization takes place when the population of a colony reaches 100 to 150 persons, the membership is divided approximately in half – one-half remains at the colony site, the other half (the daughter colony) is assisted in setting up a colony at a new location.

By 1913, Bon Homme had placed three daughter colonies – Milltown, old Maxwell, and Old Huron (see Table 5). Milltown colony had two daughters of her own – old Rosedale and James Valley. Wolf Creek (mother colony of the Darius Leut) had produced five daughters by this time – old Jamesville, old Tschetter, old Spink, old Lake Byron and Yale. Old Jamesville, had a daughter of her own – Richards colony. Branch colonies of old Elm Springs (Lehrer Leut) included old Rockport, New Elm Springs, and Milford. Thus, in 1913, there were 17 Hutterite colonies in South Dakota – 6 were Schmieden Leut; 7, Darius Leut; and 4, Lehrer Leut.

Migration to Canada. Strong sentiment against the Hutterites' German culture and conscientious objection to war along with proceedings to annul their corporation charters created a difficult situation for the Hutterites in South Dakota during World War I. As a result, 12 colonies left the state for Canada in 1918. Four more colonies had followed by 1934. Only Bon Homme colony remained.

Present Colonies. In 1934 Bon Homme started Rockport colony near Alexandria on the site of a vacated colony (see map). The 1935 Legislature passed a law allowing communal societies to incorporate, and in 1936 a colony returned to South Dakota from Canada.

Contrary to a common conception, only six of the present South Dakota colonies have come from Canada. The first one to come was New Elm Springs, a granddaughter of Bon Homme, which settled near Ethan. Another granddaughter, Jamesville, returned from Canada in 1937 to its present site near Utica. Tschetter, founded in 1941, is a great granddaughter of Bon Homme which reoccupied an old colony site near Olivet when it came from Canada. Spink, from Bon Homme, and Huron, from Jamesville, were started in 1944 on old colony sites near Frankfort and Huron, respectively.

In 1945, Rosedale was established near the Rockport colony from which it came. During 1948, Glendale, a third Bon Homme granddaughter, came from Canada to locate near Frankfort, Pearl Creek came from Jamesville and settled near Iroquois, and Maxwell, from New Elm Springs, located near Scotland.

Four colonies began in 1949 – Bon Homme started the Platte colony near Academy; Rockport began Riverside north of Huron; Tschetter started Gracevale near Winfred; and Millerdale, a granddaughter of Bon Homme, came from Canada to a site southwest of Miller. Blumengart, a great-granddaughter of Bon Homme from Canada, settled north of Wecota the following year. The most recent colony was started in 1955 when Jamesville bought land near Raymond to begin the Clark colony. All of the present 17 South Dakota colonies belong to the Schmieden Leut group.

Wagon trains were responsible for the transportation of both people and goods in Dakota until the railroad completed its network. This is the western end of the Fort Pierre-Rapid City road in 1887. The building at left is a blacksmith shop.

What They Believe

The Hutterites are readily distinguished from their rural neighbors by their garb and mode of life. The men have full beards and black denim clothes; the women wear dark full skirts and headscarves; the colony has a machine shop, communal dining hall, and plain church. All these attest to a people living an unusual life. Why do these people live as they do? To understand the Hutterian way of life it is necessary to know what they believe.

Central Beliefs. Dr. Lee Deets, in his study of Hutterite Communities in the 1930's, found that all sanctioned activity within the community is ordered around central beliefs. Any consideration of their central beliefs would undoubtedly include the following:
The Hutterian way of life is God-sanctioned and God-commanded. Relation to the Deity is governed by the belief that God is the creator, the supreme all-powerful being to whom above all else one should give obedience. For them, the Hutterian way of life is sanctioned by an infinitely wise Deity who must be obeyed even to martyrdom. Their beliefs are regarded as expressions of the Scriptures.

The principle of communal living. The Hutterites believe in and practice communal living, holding their goods and property in common. Basic to their principle of communal living is the concept of Christian love. They believe that the highest expression of the Christian ideal of brotherly love is possible only though the self-denial and sacrifice that is involved in communal living.

The principle of nonresistance. Their interpretation of Christianity is that Christians are not to serve in war nor are they to take revenge. The principle of nonresistance is not unique to the Hutterites as it is practiced by other religious sects such as the Quakers and the Amish. Biblical admonitions cited to support the belief in nonresistance include: Luke 2:8-20; Isaiah 2:1-4; Micah 4:1-4; and Romans 12:14-21.

Avoidance and nonconformity. Hutterites desire, as is also true of such groups as the Amish, to remain as far as possible from the influences of the outside world. Worldly pleasures are to be avoided, the plain, simple life preferred. Christians, according to their belief, should not be conformed to the world (Romans 12:2). Nonconformity is expected in those things in which standards of the world conflict with Bible standards. Their occupation of farming and the location of their communities in relatively isolated rural areas help to maintain their principles of avoidance and nonconformity.

Other Related Beliefs. The preceding enumerated beliefs of the Hutterians are not to be considered all-inclusive. Growing out of and in many ways supporting the central beliefs are many other doctrines which help cement their religious and social structure. Among these are admonitions against pride, patterns of discipline, and restrictions on apparel and ornamentation. These more specific teachings also have Scriptural basis and are just as binding as the central beliefs. They help to translate the central beliefs into rules for practical living.

Table on Page 133:

Table 5. Hutterite Colonies, Their Origins, Location, and Year of Establishment
in South Dakota as of 1961


*Colony Number
Origin Parent- Colony
Near Town of
Bon Homme
Bon Homme
Bon Homme
Bon Homme
Bon Homme
New Elm Springs
Bon Homme
Pearl Creek
Bon Homme
Charles Mix


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