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.  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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