Make no mistake – Hutterites are not Mennonites

Make no mistake – Hutterites are not Mennonites
We have a little identity problem in South Dakota which can easily be solved with a bit of information. It's the difference between Hutterites and Mennonites.

Being one-half German from Russia, I had it instilled in me from the beginning, but I have noticed that too many folks still make the same mistake.

The people we generally call Mennonites are really Hutterites!


I tried to solve the problem when I wrote the history of the state (Challenge: the South Dakota Story), but again I must have missed the boat, because it continues to happen.

The Hutterian Brethren live in communal colonies, and the Mennonites mostly are like Lutherans, Methodists and Catholics who reside in places like Freeman and Menno.

The Hutterites take their name from Jakob Hutter, the 16th-century Anabaptist preacher who was burned at the state in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1536.

The Hutterites – as they were called ��developed their communal style of living based on the Acts of the Apostles (chapters 2, 4 and 5), which calls for "having all things in common." They believe in adult baptism and are absolute pacifists, which has gotten them in trouble everywhere they have gone.

They are a much-traveled people to avoid persecution. Starting in the Tyrol region of Austria, where Hutter was a hat maker by profession, they were in Moravia, Transylvania, Ukraine, and ended up in the Crimea, where they learned to farm from their fellow pacifistic Mennonites, who were led by Menno Simon about the same time and were similarly persecuted.

Then the Russians reneged on their provision to the Hutterites, Mennonites and other Germans serving in the Crimea, and they required military service, a no-no among Anabaptists. Scouts were then sent to North America to find a place where they wouldn't be put upon. They somehow found Dakota Territory.

So in 1874 the first group of Hutterites came to Dakota, after stopping first in Lincoln, NE, where three dozen of their children died in an epidemic of dysentery. Maybe this move wasn't so good either!

But they persisted and bought the land for the establishment of the first Hutterite community in the world���the Bon Homme Colony along the Missouri River in the vicinity of Springfield. They didn't want to take up homestead land���even though it was cheaper ��because they felt it would obligate them to the government and compromise their stand against military violence.

A second party ��the Wolf Creek Colony ��bought land near the Jim River, and a final unit established the Old Elm Springs Colony farther north along the James.

These three bands ��numbering less than 400 in all ��constituted the original contingent of God-fearing, often misunderstood Hutterites who were to increase and prosper in South Dakota through the years ��except for the World War I era.

At that time their livestock was confiscated by super patriots to buy war bonds, which was against their religion, and they moved once more. This time to Canada.

When the war ended, some of them came back ��and that's when I became acquainted with them. They re-established their original sites, and when they grew too large, they founded "daughter colonies," so they could increase their numbers.

Hutterite communities in South Dakota are all rural and many depend largely upon agriculture. However, more and more colonies are turning to manufacturing (their original calling) because it gets harder to make a living on farming alone.

There is much, much more I could tell you about Hutterites – their religion, their language, their clothes, etc.�� but suffice to say, with this information you'll never make the mistake again.

Hutterites are not Mennonites!

© 2007 Robert F. Karolevitz

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