Eli Stutzman, convicted murderer and father of ‘Little Boy Blue’, was an exile from the ultraconservative Swartzentruber Amish group.
When you read words like ‘secretive’, ‘closed’, and ‘backward’ in the same sentence as ‘Amish’, the writer, rightly or wrongly, is often referring to this sect.
Wayne County, Ohio, where Stutzman originated, has a high number of Swartzentruber members, with quite a few spilling over into adjacent Holmes County. This is the heart of America’s largest and arguably most diverse Amish and Mennonite area.
Swartzentrubers actually make up a very small percentage of America’s 200,000 Amish, but get a disproportionate share of attention.
This is largely due to Swartzentruber custom.
The more mainstream Amish are actually quite dynamic, definitely not ‘frozen in time’ as often portrayed. They read thepaper. They shop at Wal-Mart. Some of them even follow pro sports.
They also accept certain technologies.
Solar panels, cell phones, flashlights, Rollerblades, even hand held videogame systems can all be seen in modern Amish homes, depending on the congregation. Sometimes computers even sneak in under the radar to find their way into Amish hands.
In fact, one enthusiastic horse-and-buggy Amishman showed Amish America some photos of a bear attack he had recently downloaded.
The Swartzentrubers, however, are stubbornly resistant to change–most famously in a number of disputes over the slow-moving vehicle sign, which almost all Amish use. The group earned the right in court to go without these orange triangles, using less-visible reflectorized tape instead.
With a little practice, it’s pretty easy to pick out the Swartzentrubers as you drive through Holmes and other settlements.
Swartzentruber front lawns are typically less well-kept than those of Old Order Amish homes.
An OldOrder fellow joked about his Swartzentruber neighbor being ‘more laid back’ when it came to yardwork. He pointed out the lack of hot water in the typical Swartzentruber home, as well as the outside toilets.
Shiny tin roofs and scrabbly dirt drives are also pretty typical.
The group’s style of dress stands out as well. A calling card of the group is the quirky bob-style haircut worn by males. In Abandoned Prayers, Gregg Olsen calls it the ‘Prince Valiant’ look, an apt description.
One scholar attributes the often unkempt Swartzentruber appearance to the group’s spiritual ideals, which downplay aesthetics and neatness in comparison with more mainstream Old Order churches.
Are the Swartzentrubers worthy of admiration for holding out so staunchly against the world, for carrying the vanguard of Amish practice? Or is there something insidiously destructive within this insular culture, as some believe?
The group has gotten national attention in some notorious cases of abuse. Some anti-Amish activists focus their disdain solely on the Swartzentruber faction.
Do elements of the Swartzentruber lifestyle really promote asocial behavior?
Or does the fact that they are so oddly reclusive and reluctant to change, combined with a few high-profile cases, make them particularly easy to paint as deviant?
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Hi Erik, thanks for mentioning my book in this most interesting post. I’ll be watching your site for more info. I posted a picture of Stutzman taken last year on www.crimerant.com.
Thanks Gregg, I appreciate it–will keep it coming. And thanks for the great coverage on crimerant.com. I just checked out the photos and the letter you posted from Stutzman’s friend Charles–powerful.
Erik Wesner/Amish America
Are the Amish in Ethridge Tennessee Swartzentruber Amish?
Or are the people here in Ethridge ‘Mennonites’?
karla, off the top of my head I am not 100% sure but I think so, or are at least of a related group. In any case as I understand the Ethridge Amish maintain a pretty conservative Ordnung.
I had never heard of ‘Swartzentruber’ Amish. I had, of course, heard the tern ‘Old Order’ and assumed that the Amish here in Ethridge were Old Order.
The name Swartzentruber rang a bell for me because when we moved here I checked the state’s sex offender regsitry (I have kids and wondered who my new neighbors were going to be) and the nearest offender to our home turned out to be an Amish man whose last name was Swartzentruber, who was convicted of incest. There is nothing sadder looking than an Amish mug shot!
I am sometimes bothered by the way the Amish are treated as a tourist attraction, especially the little children.
Some people say that the lifestyle itself is child abuse…to make the children wear dark clothing in the heat of summer work so hard from a young age, and to be deprived of basic modern comforts. These things don’t worry me that much because these kids are basically having the same upbringing my Daddy did, and he has a good work ethic.
I do worry about the lack of schooling, and the seeming lack of real accountability for the Amish outside of their community when it comes to child welfare.
Plugging holes in Amish education
On the lack of schooling issue, I think the Amish system has worked well, considering what their occupations and lifestyle have traditionally been like. Eight grades will usually suffice, though some Amish business people complain of a lack of certain skills that would aid them in running their businesses, and either have to take supplementary courses or rely on people from outside to take care of certain aspects (ie accounting).
I think the Amish have a hard time when they leave, or choose not to become Amish. Eight grades may be enough in the Amish community but is not very much out of it. Some Amish parents send their kids to high school but that is very rare.
I always thought the Amish in Orange County, Indiana were Old Order, but after reading about the Swartzentruber Amish, I think ours are more like them. On my Flickr site I have a set called “The Amish Community” with quite a few pics of the Orange County, IN Amish. I just found your site and will look forward to exploring it further.
The Amish of Ethridge are, in fact, Schwartzentruber Amish. There is one small (15-20 family) group of a new group called “Miller Amish” which appear as Schwartzentruber to most.
Thanks for the info and pics, Von Wolfen and Cindy.
I am English. We have been friends from the Schwartzentruber group. We write letters to each other on a regular basis. We have spent 8 days with them on their farm. My comment: Leave them alone! We love them as if they were family. We do not discuss religion, and have learned how to respect their religious feelings.
the amish at ethridge tn are indeed of the swartzentruber demoniniation. they also have a splionter group called the abe group, but they are much the same in practice.
It’s a sad story all the way around. The Amish I’ve been in contact with were all good people. They actually left me in “awe” of their strict lifestyles. Eli is explaining his side of the story to his maker about now.
I have been in the homes of Swartzentruber Amish, and Old Order Amish, in MN and WI as part of business, and have been welcomed. I have also worked in sexual assault as a victim advocate. I think that like other groups of people who isolate themselves, the lifestyle makes it easy for an offender to hide his actions. But there are good and bad in every community, every people, regardless of religion. I think the Swartzentruber Amish have probably not fully earned the bad reputation they’ve been given.
Susan, well said.
Advice worth heeding | Amish America Comment on Eli Stutzman and the Swartzentruber Amish (February 12th, 2010 at 13:51)
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