Nebraska was first settled by Amish in 1880. Settlement since then has been sporadic and sparse, with just a relative handful of Amish living in the state today (less than 500 total).
However, recent years have seen an uptick in Amish interest in the Cornhusker State, with the addition of several new Amish communities. As of 2023, Amish can be found in six locations in Nebraska. For the ultraconservative Pennsylvania group also known as “Nebraska Amish”, go here.
Amish Communities in Nebraska
As of 2023, Amish communities are found in several locations in Nebraska:
- Ewing/Orchard (Holt/Antelope County)
- Pawnee City (Pawnee County)
- Verdigre (Knox County)
- Crawford (Dawes County)
- Curtis (Frontier County)
- A new settlement was started in 2023 in Kilgore (Cherry County) in the Sandhills region
The Antelope County settlement was started in 2005 by Amish from Wisconsin, attracted to the area by its sparse population and cheaper farmland. “The tar road not far from us had a steady stream of traffic all day long,” explained one of the first settlers, in an article on the community. “We were looking for a place with less people.”
Amish in Antelope County farm and supplement their income in other ways, including by making quilts and raising animals (“Amish family finds peace and quiet in Nebraska”, Lisa Wuebben, Omaha World-Herald, August 8, 2010). The community was one church district in size as of 2023, with around 140 people, making it the largest Amish presence in the state.
A second community was founded near Pawnee City in Pawnee County in 2007. Like the Antelope County community, the Pawnee City community was started by Wisconsin Amish in search of cheaper land.
Amish had previously lived in the area, before leaving in the early 1980s, due to restrictive laws over schooling (“Old Ways Return to Pawnee City; Amish Moving Back In”, Paul Hammel, Omaha World-Herald, April 19, 2008). The Pawnee City community is also a single congregation in size.
The Verdigre area (Knox County) was home to another Amish settlement founded by Amish from Michigan in 2003. The pioneer couple, Eddie and Mattie Petersheim, were profiled in a newspaper article shortly after arriving in Nebraska. The Petersheims sought land in a less-populated area, as their home community of Marlette, Michigan, had experienced crowding due to its proximity to the city of Detroit.
A number of newspaper articles written about the couple note their unusual occupation of running a restaurant over an hour’s drive from their home. Other Amish, including relatives, joined the Petersheims in Nebraska. The Verdigre community survived five years, and was reported extinct in 2008 (Amish Settlements Across America: 2008, David Luthy, p.4).
However, there were indications of some Amish currently living in the area, either remnants of the original settlement or a new group that started a fresh settlement following the first community’s extinction. As of 2023, a single Amish church exists here, of about 90 people.
Other Amish locations in Nebraska
In addition to the three well-established Amish settlements above, the Cornhusker State has seen several young communities arise since 2020. In that year, Amish planted roots in two new locations – at Crawford in Dawes County,
and at Curtis in Frontier County. These two communities have remained relatively small in size, with perhaps 5-10 households each.
In 2023, Amish made news for a new settlement arising in Cherry County, in the sparsely-populated Sandhills region. Amish settlers to this community hail from states including Michigan, Kentucky, and Montana.
Former Amish settlements in Nebraska
Amish first moved to Nebraska in 1880. A group led by Bishop Yost H. Yoder (arriving from Juniata County, PA) settled near the town of Bertrand in the south-central Nebraska county. This community never grew large, with historian David Luthy noting that it never totaled more than about a dozen families in its near-quarter-century existence.
The settlement battled drought and poverty. A number of the settlers built sod houses before later building frame ones. With Bishop Yoder’s death in 1901, the extinction of the community was hastened, and the last Gosper County settlers moved away in 1904 (The Amish in America: Settlements That Failed 1840-1960, David Luthy pp. 270-6).
As noted above, today’s Pawnee City settlement is not the first Amish community to exist in the area. The original Pawnee City Amish settlement was founded in 1977.
At the time, local officials required the Amish to employ a college-educated and certified teacher at their school. Rather than become involved in a court dispute, Amish from this settlement disbanded, with the families having all moved to other states by 1982 (“Appendix: Amish Migration Patterns”, The Amish Struggle with Modernity, David Luthy, p. 246).
The term “Nebraska Amish” is in fact more commonly used to describe a group living well outside the Cornhusker State. The term came to be applied to an ultraconservative affiliation of Amish which formed in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania in 1881.
A fledgling conservative-minded group wrote to Yost H. Yoder, an Amish bishop living in the Gosper County, NE settlement. Yoder responded to their request for help, traveling to Pennsylvania to help organize the new church.
Later, members of Yoder’s own Gosper County church joined the Pennsylvania group, which took the nickname “Nebraska Amish” due to their Nebraska ties (A History of the Amish, Steven M. Nolt, p. 243-6).
Nebraska Amish are today found in at least two communities in Pennsylvania – the largest, by far, being the settlement in Kischacoquillas Valley, more commonly known as Big Valley – as well as in one small settlement in Ohio.
Today, the Nebraska Amish are known as being among the most conservative of all Amish. Nebraska Amish use characteristic white-topped buggies and relatively minimal technology (though some Nebraska churches have increasingly accepted change in recent years). Read more here on the Nebraska Amish affiliation.
Amish in the Cornhusker State
For many years, the term “Nebraska Amish” has more readily meant the conservative affiliation found mainly in Pennsylvania’s Big Valley (detailed above).
But with renewed Amish interest in the Cornhusker State in recent years, expect to see more attention paid to the state’s small but growing Amish population.
The Amish population in Nebraska remains low. But with the tendency of Amish to migrate for various reasons – including overcrowding, economic betterment, and church issues – it’s quite possible more Amish, like the recent arrivals in Cherry County, will hear the call of the breadbasket state, with its vast tracts of relatively empty, inexpensive land.
For further information, see:
- “Amish finding warm welcome in northeast Nebraska”, High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal, September 9, 2004
- “Amish family finds peace and quiet in Nebraska”, Lisa Wuebben, Omaha World-Herald, August 8 2010
- “Old Ways Return to Pawnee City; Amish Moving Back In”, Paul Hammel, Omaha World-Herald, April 19, 2008
- A History of the Amish, Steven M. Nolt
- The Amish in America: Settlements That Failed 1840-1960, David Luthy
- “Amish Population, 2023” Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, Elizabethtown College
- “Amish Population in the United States by State, County, and Settlement, 2023” – compiled by Edsel Burdge, Joseph F. Donnermeyer, and Adam Hershberger
- The New American Almanac, Raber’s Bookstore (Baltic, Ohio), Ben J. Raber
- “Amish finding a home well off the beaten path in Nebraska’s Sandhills”, Paul Hammel, Nebraska Examiner, November 22, 2023
Photo credit: all Nebraska Amish photos (except PA Nebraska buggy) by Lindsay O’Brien