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

Review by Edna Boardman, Bismarck, North Dakota

Kinsley, Maxine Shuurmans. Prairie Churches of Bon Homme County, Dakota Territory: A Varicolored Tunic. North Dakota State University Libraries, Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, Fargo, North Dakota, 2005.

Of 60 churches that once opened their doors in Bon Homme County in southeastern South Dakota, five remain, three of them dating to the county’s settlement period. Some of the persons who built the original churches came from the eastern United States in the wake of the Civil War. Others, including families who came directly from the Old Country, were Norwegians, Hollanders, Czechs, Irish, English, Scots, and Poles. A large contingent was made up of Germans whose families had lived in Russia for about a century, now known as Germans from Russia. The area had a scattering of Indians, most of whom had been obliged to move to reservations, blacks, and Jews.

The denominations were as varied as the ethnic roots of the settlers: Reformed, Congregational, Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, Dutch Reformed, Mennonite, and Hutterite Anabaptist. A few others came and went, leaving barely a trace.

When Kinsley identified Bon Homme County’s churches and located information about them, she faced the dilemma of what to include. She opted for brevity. She clusters them by denomination, provides black and white pictures where possible, tells a bit about their founding and life span, and gives the names of the charter members and earliest ministers. For a very few churches, she lists all of the ministers. In the case of lesser-known denominations, such as Hutterites, she includes a thumbnail history of the group. She tells a bit more than the names of the persons involved in the creation of some of the churches. Many of the churches themselves were made of a local material called chalkrock, which may not have been as easy to work as the name suggests.

Persons with an interest in prairie churches or who had family who settled in eastern South Dakota will enjoy this book and thank Kinsley for her considerable work in putting it together. For their convenience, she has even indexed the names.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller