For people living in the East, Montana is one of those romantic Western states that make many of us think of big skies and freedom. Perhaps for similar reasons, the state has attracted some Amish. The first permanent Amish settlers came to the Treasure State in the 1970s. Drawn by the scenery and hunting opportunities, Amish living back East visit Montana fairly frequently.
The Montana Amish population has never exploded, yet they maintain a steady foothold, with at least 4 communities there today. I’ve never visited any Amish settlements in Montana. However I spent some time with a directory over the weekend containing a number of accounts of Amish life in Big Sky Country, in particular the community at Rexford (Lincoln County).
The community at Rexford is the oldest Amish settlement in Montana. It lies in an area known as the West Kootenai, part of a region once populated by the Kootenai Indian tribe. The Canadian border is a stone’s throw away. The area is remote, rugged, and by all accounts very beautiful.
Here’s more on the Amish community at Rexford (from the Wisconsin, Minnesota, Montana & Colorado Amish Directory: 2006):
- The settlement dwindled in size in the late 1980s, and for three years no minister lived here. Things seemed to revive in the early 1990s when a number of ministers arrived.
- Rexford seems to be a “revolving door” Amish community. One writer observes that “Many a person has been attracted to the area by visions of hunting, fishing, or camping in Montana’s great outdoors, sort of like taking a year-round vacation among the mountains.” However, Rexford is “not a farmer’s paradise”, maintaining a steady income can be hard, the cost of living is probably higher, and eventually “cabin fever and homesickness for the home folks over a thousand miles away” leads many families to move elsewhere. Retired couples seem to stay around longest.
- That noted, Rexford receives lots of visiting Amish from the East. Though Amish hospitality prevails, one writer notes that “The heavy influx of summer visitors on the Kootenai has at times placed a strain on the daily routine of family duties…” Many residents have thus built cabins where guests may stay without interrupting family life.
- The annual West Kootenai school benefit auction, happening the second Saturday in June, is a highlight, with visitors from as far away as Washington and California. The auction has featured “Quilts, local crafts, and rustic furniture as wall as consignments of used items…” Another draw is the good home-cooked food available.
- Woodworking seems to be the predominant occupation here, or at least was at the time of this directory’s publication. Over half the households listed engage in some form of woodworking. Timber and beef cattle ranching were once important trades, but it seems few to no Amish are involved in this type of work anymore.
- Surprisingly, the Rexford area winter is described by one writer as “usually milder here than in the Midwest where we came from, with less wind, but it lasts longer”. The area has just a “90-100 day growing season” but long days, with 16 to 18 hours of light.
Readers familiar with this community have added their own accounts on this site from time to time. Mary notes that horseback riding is common among Montana Amish, while Primitive Christianity observes that bikes were more common than buggies when he lived in the area. Rosie visited the Kootenai Store this summer and described the area as a “ghost town”, but “the food is still good”.
I hope I’ll get a chance to visit the Rexford community one day, though I think you have to be pretty determined to get there (it’d be a hard detour stop going from, say PA to Ohio ). If you’re interested, here is some more on Amish in Montana.
Montana Amish Photo: James Anderson/flickr