Prairie Churches of Bon Homme County, Dakota Territory: A Varicolored Tunic

By Maxine Schuurmans Kinsley

Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo, North Dakota, 2005, 142 pages, softcover

The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection is pleased to publish this most important work of Maxine Schuurmans Kinsley, Springfield, South Dakota. Kinsley's work presents a valuable contribution to the historical publications of the era of Dakota Territory especially relating to the importance of churches and religion in southeastern South Dakota. Bon Homme County is important in the history and culture of the first Germans from Russia settlements in Dakota Territory.

The Dedication by the author reads: "I dedicate this endeavor to the Czech, Dutch, and German ancestors whose legacy my children and I share. Their courage and faith sustained them on this capricious prairie, as ours must today."

This new history of southeastern South Dakota focuses on the ethnic backgrounds of immigrants in Bon Homme County and particularly the churches the newcomers established at first opportunity.

Prairie Churches of Bon Homme County, Dakota Territory; a Varicolored Tunic presents a well-illustrated detailed description of sixty pioneer churches in fourteen denominations which once flourished in the county. The text is complemented by a fourteen-page detailed index which lists titles, places, names, and surnames sure to be helpful in genealogical research.

Bon Homme County historian Maxine Schuurmans Kinsley became "hooked" on the subject while researching abandoned and isolated cemeteries which once lay alongside rural churches. A retired librarian, Kinsley continues to indulge in her hobby of writing local history.

Kinsley notes that the first settlers in Bon Homme County included American English, Germans, and Irish from the East, some of whom were Civil War Veterans. They established English-speaking church societies, both Protestant and Catholic, near Bon Homme Village, Springfield, Running Water and Scotland.

However, the majority of church societies were founded in the 1870s by Germans from Russia with Reformed, Congregational, Baptist, and Lutheran backgrounds. During that decade, Czech immigrants brought to the prairie their Old-Country Catholic and Evangelical faiths as did Norwegians their Lutheran Church and the Dutch their Reformed.

Of the once many pioneer rural churches, only three remain, all with German heritage: Danzig Baptist Church northeast of Avon, Freidensberg Mennonite Church (now Bible Church) south of Avon, and the Hutterite Colony Anabaptist Church in southeast Bon Homme County.

Pioneer missionaries in every denomination helped to organize churches. Among them were Episcopalian Bishops Wm. Hobart Hare and Melanchton Hoyt and Catholic Bishop Martin Marty. The Catholic Church survived, the Episcopalian did not. Others that disappeared were the German Reformed, once numerous, and the German Evangelical Church. Mergers between churches and even denominations became necessary, both because of scarcity of pastors and cost of supporting church and salary.

Kinsley admits that her research is incomplete, that it sometimes depends on faulty records and hearsay information. However, it also has raised perplexing questions that, she hopes, someone, someday may be able to answer.

Yankton Sioux Indian Agency at Greenwood, Charles Mix County. From Kingsbury, History of Dakota Territory.
Tyndall Congregational Church, sold to Baptists in 1926.
St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church Today.
First St. Wensceslaus Catholic Church, Tabor.
Bethany Evangelical and Reformed Church, Scotland.

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