Meet the Hutterites on National Geographic

The Hutterites of Montana’s King Colony

The National Geographic Channel is on a roll with programs about Anabaptist groups.  The popular Amish: Out of Order program is entering its final weeks, while last week a new series called American Colony: Meet the Hutterites premiered on the network.  This series examines the lesser-known communal group found in Canada and the United States.

The Hutterites are a unique people who are in some ways plain and in others quite progressive. They generally use high levels of farm technology, drive vehicles, and even make limited use of computers. Yet they wear plain clothing, speak a German dialect, and, perhaps their most distinctive feature, practice communal possession of goods.

Hutterite Christianity originated in 1528 under leader Jakob Hutter. Over the years divisions occurred resulting in distinct Hutterite groups. Today there are three main groups of Hutterites–known as the Lehrerleut, Dariusleut, and Schmiedeleut–which vary in their degrees of traditionalism. Here is a video of a Hutterite man explaining the differences between the three groups:

This series will no doubt bring the Hutterite people to a wide audience.   There are a number of reasons Hutterites aren’t as well known as Amish.

First, they are a smaller population.  There are about 50,000 Hutterites compared with over 250,000 Amish.  Secondly the places they live are more remote.  Where the Amish live in rural areas in highly-populated states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, Hutterites occupy the more sparsely-settled central Canadian provinces (Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan) as well as the states of the Upper Midwest (mainly Montana and South Dakota).

Finally, the way their communities are structured means they are more isolated than Amish. While Amish may have many English neighbors, Hutterites live on large colonies which are physically apart from the surrounding community. Hutterite colonies may comprise several thousand acres and be located in remote areas.

An Amish visit to the Hutterites

Coincidentally I was speaking with an Amish friend yesterday who described visiting a Hutterite colony while on a cross-country trip during his Rumspringa years. He and his group of friends happened upon a colony in South Dakota. I found it amusing that they knew no one there but made their connection, he explained, in the same way many English connect with Amish–by patronizing a roadside stand.

They were invited to visit the colony and were warmly received, and even invited to stay the night, but had to decline as it was time to get back to Pennsylvania.

As you’d guess there is an interest and affinity between different Anabaptist peoples. For both the Hutterites and Amish this situation was a rare chance to interact in person, since the two groups live in geographically separate areas with little if any overlap.

American Colony: Meet the Hutterites

Back to the Nat Geo special. American Colony: Meet the Hutterites was filmed at King Colony in Montana. The Hutterites at King Colony belong to the Dariusleudt group, considered the “middle” group of the three. As Hutterite colonies go, it’s on the small side, with just 59 people.

Below you can view a few clips (now unavailable).  What do you think?

This first one features a Hutterite mother and the worries she has as her children dabble in the world:

This second clip shows a father teaching his son about slaughtering ducks. WARNING- Do not watch if you are squeamish about ducks getting their heads chopped off:

Finally, three Hutterite women and one man discuss Hutterite food traditions:

More on the Hutterites

To learn more about Hutterite life, you can try this interview with Manitoba Hutterite Linda Maendel.

Mary-Ann Kirkby shared her growing-up experience in this interview on her book I Am Hutterite.

You can also watch an interesting black-and-white documentary on the Hutterite people shot in the 1960s.

Episode 2 of American Colony: Meet the Hutterites airs tonight on National Geographic at 10 pm.

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    1. Richard from Amish Stories

      I myself know just a tiny bit about the Hutterites, and I can very easily see why this group is of a much smaller profile since they seem to live in more remote places and away from the really heavy population centers like New York and Philadelphia . And from a tourist stand point its really the Amish/old order Mennonites that will always get the most attention because of the use of horse and buggy, and its that difference I think that really helps to make those 2 groups stand out from the crowd. So to me the Hutterites are more like being new order Mennonite except preferring to live together in a commune style setting. But I do find them interesting people for sure and I hope to learn more about them and how they live, a very good post Erik. Richard

      1. Renee

        Richard, I never heard about them until the show came out…

    2. Juanita Cook

      I would like to learn more about the Hutterites. These three video’s were very interesting. This is the first I have heard about them.

    3. Lisa Decker

      The Nat Geo episodes are causing quite a stir among the Hutterite ppl. On the website there is an blog article on ppl’s thoughts about the series. Very interesting!

    4. Melissa H

      Watched the first episode...

      Erik, as I watched the first episode with my husband (who had no backround knowledge of the Hutterites) I was utter amazed…and disappointed…at the language and drinking coming from people who claim a strong God-centered life. I realize there are many Christ-centered people out there who drink and use language that might be questionable…I was just taken by surprise.

      Watching the show also makes one realize, that no matter how you live your life-as Amish, Hutterite, Mennonite, or ‘English’, the difficulties of raising children are universal. Our worries, and desires for our children, are the same.

      1. Drink and language

        That’s interesting Melissa, and rather a contrast to what you get, at least publicly, with most Amish, though some Amish do use alcohol and bad language, though I doubt they would do so near a camera.

        I haven’t had firsthand experience of a Hutterite colony, but my impression is that it’s perhaps a rougher culture in that sense. However I’ll refrain from generalizing as I don’t know enough, and I know how risky that can be based on the Amish example.

        I’m also curious as to how this group ended up in a television series? Is King colony typical, wayward, “looser”? Anyone that can add info is appreciated.

        I should add I haven’t seen a full episode yet, just some of the clips made available on the National Geographic site.

        1. More info on the colony at

          Lisa, thanks for the link above; I followed it and came to an interesting post about the series:

          It included the following on the drink and other issues in King colony. The writer feels the colony is not a good representation of what a Hutterite colony should be, though it sounds like troublesome issues are present in other colonies too:

          “Many of the things you see in the series, such as the rough language by some members, drinking, cursing, defiance by students and others, wearing make-up, and so forth, are all issues that many colonies deal with. Most colonies take those issues seriously and encourage their young people to avoid these issues, humble themselves, and participate in the colony as part of a Christian team.

          Living in Christian community does not eliminate our humanness and thankfully it appears that various members of King Ranch Colony are attempting to deal with some of these issues too, as they well should be.

          We have no desire to sit in judgement of any person or the King Ranch Community, but we feel compelled to express our disappointment regarding American Colony. We acknowledge that all Hutterites are imperfect human beings and constantly strive to address some of our failings. Yet the depiction of King Ranch must not be taken to represent a typical Hutterite Colony.

          Hutterite and non-Hutterite viewers will find the series to be entertaining and interesting, yet lacking in the essence of what it means to be a true Christian Hutterite. For viewers who are following this particular series, please recognize that it represents the scripted experiences of one particular colony. King Ranch Colony, while sharing many cultural traditions with other Hutterite colonies, ultimately represents only King Ranch Colony and its members as seen through the eyes of the National Geographic American Colony directors.”

    5. Mona (Kentucky Lady).

      Great articles you’ve given us on this….really enjoyed it and looking forward to watching the Hutterites tonite at 10:00 on the Nat. Geo. station…..also the Amish is on at 9:00…..

    6. Lisa Decker

      Melissa, I was born and raised in a Hutterite colony. And while we don’t pretend to be without our own set of struggles, problems and trials, I was shocked and even fascinated with the content in the video clips of King Ranch colony. Believe me they do not protray the Hutterite colony I live in or the colonies I frequent. I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more of what’s going on with this King Ranch Colony…

      I welcome any questions you may have about the hutterite ppl.

    7. Carolyn B

      Enjoyed every minute of the short videos (thanks for the warning to avoid the duck slaughter). Even went to the link of the 28 minute 1960s video–loved it too.

      Erik, your human sources and you are to be commended for all your hard work. The Amish America community is to be commended for viewing all that research, previous blogs, links, & videos.

      God bless you all this week.

    8. Lee

      I have known Hutterite people all my life though a diffn’t sect from the ones in the NG program.

      These people at King Ranch are appalling. I can not believe the foul language, open disregard for the eleders, etc.. I know this is atypical and not the norm.

      It appears this colony is really in a spiritual crisis and what is the matter with the ministers for even allowing them to film this. It can only tarnish the reputation of Hutterites everywhere.

      Hutterites do drink alcohol and frequently but drunkeness is a sin along with promiscuity and cursing. Most Hutterites would not approve of TV’s, public school high school and sports and cell phones used for texting and courtship outside the Hutterian faith.

      The colony in the film is a disgrace and people should know they are definately not all like this.

      While they have problems like anyone else, this simply is not the way most of them are. The King Ranch Colony people should be ashamed of themselves and repent.

      1. Carrie Lampert

        I can't believe what I saw!

        I agree! After watching this show, I wondered if this was a Christian group or not, I really couldn’t tell from how they acted and what was said in front of millions of viewers. I can’t believe they would allow themselves to be filmed and then acting with the behaviors that they did. I think that they need some spiritial guidance and uplifting from someone. It appears that they should be more concerned about the moral behaviors of their children then whether they attend school or not. If God and Jesus is the foundation of their belief system, it sure didn’t look like they raised their kids accordingly. I do agree that the pubic school system is the devils playground and homeschooling is the way to go. I would be interested in seeing, learning what a “real” Hutterite community is about. One thats got it together! Another thing, if people that are in this group do not agree with the religious beliefs, the standard or norm of the culture and community of this group or the rules. Why are they there and not committed to it. It really looked like a messed up, crazy cult. So if N.G. gets wind of this letter, how about filming a different Hutterite group so we in TV land get a better impression and can learn about how the Hutterites really live and what they are about. N.G. you are not being responsible by filming this group. You are feeding/breeding ignorance at its worst. I can’t believe you did this. How tacky and cheap! Carrie from MN.

    9. Sandra Houtz

      I do not like the show

      I found the show quite distasteful and really tacky … if they are really like this … how sad … I’m wondering how much is ‘put on’ for the show’s sake 🙁

    10. Casey

      This is a mess!

      All I can think is that the filming is done to make these folks look awful. Yelling at one another, swearing, drinking, complaining, constantly criticizing everyone, how can this be a Christian group? I read that the Hutterite Bishops have come out strongly against this show. It makes them seem like a sad cult.

      1. Renee
    11. Renee

      I told my Friend paula about it LOL Now she is hooked on the show

    12. Kentucky Lady 717

      Yes, you will get hooked on this show…..but the only thing that they probably are doing is letting people see what they do and not doing it on the sly !!!! You can tell that some of the things they are doing, is for the camera….someone is directing them what to do and say… can tell by their expressions when they know the camera is on them….
      I enjoy watching them and wondering what they will get into next….hooray for the women who are speaking out and not taking all the BS……even if it is for the camera…’s still fun to watch…..
      I know people who go to church and they drink, smoke,swear,etc. just not in front of their congregation…..and the hutterites doesn’t seem to care… I guess they are tired of the men making all the rules….so I say GO GIRLS……even if this isn’t really what you would do, it’s like all the other reality shows, they tell you what to do…..and I’m supposing they get paid for it too…..sure beats working on the farm :)I have injoyed this show more than the Amish one, but love MOSE…..he is doing a great job helping the kids when they leave the Amish….keep up the good work Mose…..

    13. Renee

      I agree, it is much better then the Amish, seem to get more in dept with this show ,and not so deep into the Amish show.

    14. Kim Tagert

      Could not believe what I saw!!

      I am 50 years old and not a real religious person, but I think everyone should have something to believe in. I watched the show for the first time and was very offended at what I saw. This colony seem to be away for the men to drink, cuse, fight and keep there women under control. The young man had health issues, NONE of his “brothers” were there to support him at dinner and on the hike they go off and leave him. Jerky contest, one young man sprays air freshener on someone elses jerky, just to try to win. I thought at first what a wonderful idea people living together in this community depending on each other and getting through life with the support of family and community. This show was way far from that, these people were horrible to each other. They were all more concerned with being the best and worrying about appearances than anything else. My heart went out to the young girl (who went out and find a job) she was the only one honest enough to show her true feelings and wanting a better life for herself. I wish them all the best of everything!!!!

    15. Jack

      This is not a typical colony

      I deliver for a major package company to two colonies in Turner and Harlem MT. I think this colony is a little more liberal than most but I will say the Harlem colony is very nice! and very well organized. The Turner colony is an older colony but are very nice people especially Annie Hoffer who loves to make dresses for the women. One thing people have to understand is this is not a cult. The people on both colonies I deliver to can go to collage if they would like, they have TV’s and computers. They believe in what they believe in and I have never seen anyone complain or look like they are jailed up. In fact everyone I’ve met are very happy unless I’m missing something. Love to deliver to the kitchen in the Harlem colony and ask the women “How are you lovely ladies doing today?” and listen to them giggle. BTW the Harlem colony has some of the best looking cattle I have ever seen. Honestly.

      1. stan

        Television Hutterites

        Very good comment Jack, i am not hutterite never been to a colony but i have read alot concerning the hutterites and right away i could tell myself they werent the norm i watched one show and that done it for me and the breaking amish show, i dont even bother, i dont believe it is real. stan

    16. Kentucky Lady 717

      I have a question on here…..if they only go to the 8th. grade, then how are they ready for college ????? And how are they able to go ????? Where I come from, it takes 8 yrs. of grade school and 4 yrs. of high school, before you can even think about going to college !!!!! Am I missing something here ?????

      The Hutterite’s program is very interesting……I think it ended with Tues. show tho….. sure hope it will be on again …guess I will just have to watch the THE GYPSY’S ……boy is that ever a show !!!!!

      1. Sandy

        Meeting the Hutterites on National Geographic

        I teach at 2 Hutterite colonies. (I am not Hutterite) While certain elements vary from colony to colony, the people and some events portrayed on the National Geographic program are NOT the “norm.” I could tell right away that a lot of what was said was scripted. That colony got a lot of criticism from other colonies across the US and Canada.
        As for only going to the 8th grade, usually they do not go on to any kind of further education. Basically they go to school because the law requires it. But once they’ve graduated from the 8th grade, their life is at the colony. When a young woman marries, she goes to her husband’s colony. There are a few colonies where students take some high school courses through a special program. This is set up specifically for them to do on the computer – however it is not actually “on-line” because many colonies do not allow the internet.

    17. Camista Dukat

      The Hutterittes in King County, Montana

      This is the United States of America. Or at least it is suppose to be. I watched all the Hutterite shows on Natgeo and I loved them. Nobody wants people in their business but the minute a person or group of people are shown on tv, then everyone has an opinion on their business. Who cares what they do or how they live as long as they are not stock piling weapons or letting off bombs to hurt the rest of us. They are not doing to anything to hurt anyone else so let them do and believe as they wish. I thought they were wonderful people. They all appear to love each other very much and will do anything for each other. Isn’t that what it’s all suppose to be about. As far as drinking and bad language, where else does that happen in the US? Most households that I know it does. They are competitive people but most people are. Who out there has been hurt by one single thing these people have done? Watch the show for entertainment and if you don’t like it, turn the channel, for heaven’s sake. They aren’t the Manson family.

    18. Kaylee

      How Innocent People are Framed

      It is sad really in my opinion, that people would disturb a colony like this. They want to be secluded from the world. A documentary is fine by me, but actually making a documentary into a REALITY TV SHOW, is just not ok! I’ve never actually met a Hutterite I admit, but they are not blood-thirsty Christians. They treat each one another with respect. Then, SOME BIG TV CHANNEL (NAT GEO), comes along and goes “Oh! This is a nice place. They really are interesting! Let’s make a series about them!” And then they realize that making it drama and reality would get more views and better ratings. They do that, and the Hutterite Colony gets “bullied” if you will, by the other colonies. When in fact, they have been following orders from Nat Geo! Innocence is taken away from these people, when the guilty ones are Nat Geo.