Hutterites and the Germans from Russia

The Hutterite Brethren, often known as Hutterites, represent a traditional Christian community that emerged as a distinct sect during the Anabaptist movement. While they exhibit variations in traditions, religious beliefs, and culture, Hutterites share historical and geographical connections with the German-Russians and play a significant role as an immigrant group in the Dakotas.

Hutterites share a common ancestry with Mennonites and Amish, all of whom adhere to Anabaptist principles that reject infant baptism in favor of considering baptism as a personal commitment to their faith and the church as adults. However, what distinguishes the Hutterites from other Anabaptist groups is their resolute dedication to communal living, wherein all colony members collectively share their material possessions. Hutterites take the biblical evidence for communal living very seriously and see it as the ultimate expression of love for their fellow community members.


Hutterites trace their origins to the Anabaptist movement, which emerged in Zurich, Switzerland, in the early 16th century. The Hutterite movement itself began in 1528 when some two hundred Anabaptists, led by Jacob Wiedemann, left Nicholsburg, Moravia, and embraced communal living. Symbolizing their commitment, Wiedemann spread a blanket on the ground, and all members relinquished their possessions for the collective survival of the group. Wiedemann's group embarked on a journey to Austerlitz, where pastor Jakob Hutter later joined them. Over time, Hutter assumed the role of the chief elder within the community and devoted himself to consolidating the scattered Anabaptist groups that spanned the Roman Empire. The Anabaptists encountered relentless persecution and were confronted with the constant threat of violence and death due to their unorthodox beliefs. In 1536, the Anabaptist elder Jakob Hutter was captured, tortured, and publicly burned at the stake in Innsbruck, Austria. As a gesture of reverence and remembrance for Hutter's sacrifice, the community of Anabaptists adopted the name “Hutterites” soon after his execution.

Hutterites in Ukraine

Hutterites persevered through numerous centuries of persecution interspersed with periods of relative prosperity. In their pursuit of safety, security, and the preservation of their beliefs, they often migrated from one place to another. A community of Hutterites had settled near Wallachia in modern-day Romania around 1767. Unfortunately, the land they had settled on was under dispute between Turkish and Russian leaders. The outbreak of the Russo-Turkish war only a year after they had settled caused great fear amongst the Hutterites, who were under constant fear of plunder and assault from the Turks.

In 1771, sixty Hutterites embarked on an arduous journey seeking refuge in more secure lands in modern-day Ukraine. The group walked over eight hundred miles to settle near Vishenka and Radichev. There, they found some solace for generations, though they continued to face numerous challenges, including land scarcity, economic decline, and a temporary abandonment of communal living. Despite these hardships, the Hutterite communities in Ukraine endured, displaying their resilience and adaptation over time.

Beginning in the 1870s, the Russian Empire made military conscription mandatory and forced the Russian language on settlers. Hutterites, like German-Russians, had deep, generational ties to their language, culture, and heritage. Fearing the loss of their culture and their religious protections, approximately 1,200 Hutterites left their colonies in Russia to establish colonies in the Great Plains in North America.

Hutterites in the Dakotas

Approximately four hundred Hutterites founded colonies in the Dakotas, primarily in what is today, South Dakota. These settlers belonged to the Schmiedeleut, who, under the leadership of Reverend Michael Waldner, established a colony at Bon Homme, near Yankton in South Dakota, in 1874.

The Hutterites thrived in their communal colonies for nearly half a century, enjoying a peaceful existence. During World War I, however, suspicion and hostility arose among locals towards Hutterite communities due to their German heritage, their refusal to enlist their children in the military, and for not contributing financially to the war efforts. Hutterites vowed to live a pacifistic life and had historically refused to fight or help pay for warfare and violence. Hutterite men faced prison sentences, physical and verbal assault, and even death when they refused to fight in the war. Having fled southern Russia due to safety concerns in the 1870s, the Hutterites were confronted with a similar situation in the United States during World War I. Consequently, many Hutterites decided to immigrate to Canada, seeking refuge and the freedom to adhere to their pacifist principles without persecution.

Despite the migration of a considerable number of Hutterite communities during World War I, several colonies endured in the Dakotas, while others eventually returned after the war's conclusion. Presently, North Dakota hosts nine Schmiedeleut colonies, many bordering South Dakota. Like their German-Russian counterparts, these resilient Hutterite communities have profoundly influenced the Dakotas, leaving an indelible imprint on the region. Across generations marked by adversity and geographical transitions, they have preserved their distinct language, religious traditions, and cultural heritage, demonstrating remarkable continuity and resilience.

Additional Sources

The Hutterite Brethren website.   

Hofer, John. The History of the Hutterites Revised Edition. Manitoba: Friesens Corporation,

Kraybill, Donald B. Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2010. (Purchase)

Kant, Joanita M. Gentle People: A Case Study of Rockport Colony Hutterites. Brookings: Prairie View Press, 2011. (Purchase)

Hofer, Samuel. The Hutterite Community Cookbook. Saskatoon: Hofer Publications, 1992. (Purchase)

Wipf, Joseph. Hutterite COs in World War I. Hawley: Spring Prairie Printing, 1999. (Purchase)

Hostetler, John A. Hutterite Society. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1997. (Purchase)

Capp, Kristin, Rod Slemmons and Sieglinde Geisel. Hutterite: A World of Grace. New York: Stemle, 1998. (Purchase)

Wilson, Laura. Hutterites of Montana. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000. (Purchase)

Kirkby, Mary-Ann. I Am Hutterite: The Fascinating True Story of a Young Woman's Journey to Reclaim her Heritage. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007. (Purchase)

Katz, Yossi and John Lehr. Inside the Ark: The Hutterites in Canada and the United States. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center Press at the University of Regina, 2012. (Purchase)

Stahl, Lisa Marie. Photography by Michael Crummett. My Hutterite Life. Helena: Farcountry Press, 2003. (Purchase)