Thursday 17 January 2013

The Prairie People - Guest Blogger, Norman Hofer

 Sometime we're  asked, "Who are the Prairie People?" Who better to explain that then someone from that group. Thus, I invited Norman Hofer, from Freeman South Dakota to be a guest blogger and he kindly agreed. I've known Norman and his wife, Darlene for a few years and always enjoy listening to  him enthusiastically talk about Hutterite history or just to visit with him. A number of times I've called on him to help me figure out some genealogical puzzles I was trying to solve out and he's always willing and able to help me.

Norman and Darlene Hofer, when we visited them in July

Joe Wipf, is another friend, who's from the Prairie People. He's a retired German Professor from Purdue University in Indiana, but now spends most of his time in Texas. A few years ago I asked Norman if he knew how Joe is related/connected to the Wipf's among the Hutterites. Imagine my surprise when he wrote back telling, "Linda, you will not believe this, but you, Joe and I are related." And he could prove that with our Hutterite Records Book, telling me the page and the family that connect us.

Last July, while at a conference in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, some family members and I were invited to have supper at the home of Norman and Darlene. What a lovely evening! After a delicious supper, they took us on a tour of the area, pointing out various historical or interesting sites. 

Thank you Norman, for agreeing to give us your Prairie People history in a nutshell!

Linda, for most of us Prairieleut the last time our forefathers lived in a colony was 1819 in the village of Raditschewa in Russia. The village burned to the ground in 1819 when a red hot steel wheel was taken out of the blacksmith shop and it touched the straw thatched roof, started to burn and on a windy day, the whole village burned. The Hutterites decided to rebuild the village, but each family was responsible for their own building and their own money to rebuild and communal living was abandoned for over 40 years until 1859 when Schromet was started as a communal living arrangement in south Russia.

That would mean it has been 194 years since we lived in a colony setting. When the colonies were started again, some simply did not choose to rejoin the colony setting. Today we really are not considered "run aways" because our forefathers didn't leave the colony, they just didn't rejoin the colony when it was started again.Of course, we kept the language, customs, recipes, church service style, dress code, etc. The original Prairieleut churches used the old colony sermons, guess we just didn't read those that pertained to communal living.
When the 1250 Hutterites came to America in 1874-1879, about 450 formed three colonies, Bon Homme (Schmeidleut), Wolf Creek (Dariusleut) and Old Elm spring (Lehrerleut). The 800 that chose not to live in colonies formed three Prairieleut churches, Hutterdorf, (1874) about two miles west of Freeman, South Dakota, Hutterthal (1879) about three miles north of Freeman, South Dakota, and Neu Hutterthal (1875) about 12 miles northwest of Freeman, South Dakota.

In 1886 there was a split among the Prairieleut people (a little like the Schmeidleut split happening today). Some Krimmer Mennonite Brethren evangelists came among the Prairieleut people and formed a new church, called Salem Krimmer Mennonite Brethren Church. This church was only one half mile from Neu Hutterthal Church. This new church drew members from all three of the Prairieleut churches, but especially from the Neu Hutterthal Church group.

This new group was more evangelistic, did things in a more modern way, (evening church services, Christian Endeavor programs. Fellowship meals together after Sunday morning church services, did mission work overseas, had music with pianos and musical instruments. The biggest difference was they insisted in rebaptism if people left the other Prairieleut and joined them. This baptism had to be by immersion in a river, stream or lake, completely under the water. That rebaptism rule caused much strife among the Prairieleut people over the years. The were often slanderously called "Die Baptisten". That split took generations to heal completely, and today is only talked about in history books.

There's a book about this group written by Rod Janzen:  The Prairie People: Forgotten Anabaptists available on Amazon.


  1. Linda, I am so excited to read about Norman and the history he has shared. Once again, I am learning so much. Michael Hofer's daughter, my grandmother, died when I was 13. Had I been older, I would have asked so many more questions. I am so pleased to be learning so much more now. I hope you will keep asking Norman for more bits to share. Danke. Susan

  2. Hi, I was about to tell you about the book by Rod Janzen, then saw that you had actually posted about it in the last sentence. A very informative book.
    I would say that the reason so few people know about the Prairieleut is because they failed to maintain a strict separation from the surrounding culture. I mean, can someone walk around Freeman, SD today and pick out the Prairieleut just by the way they dress or by their houses?
    I have never been to Freeman, but from what I read the descendants today are for the most part indiscernible from the surrounding community. Contrast this with an Amish, Conservative Mennonite, or communal Hutterite.
    I enjoy your historical posts! Mike

  3. Great post because I have never heard of this group and really like learning about how different religions (and the off-shoots thereof) do things. Thanks for sharing and would also like to learn more as well.

  4. I'm curious if Norman Hofer is still alive in 2024... I'm a descendant of Jacob "Bear Yop" N. Hofer and Rebecca Stahl, who migrated with Jacob's father Peter Hofer and other family on the last trip of the Mosel and landed in New York on July 21, 1879, from where they eventually made it to the Dakota Territory. My 3x great grandfather, Oeter Hoferm died in 1901 in the New Elm Spring Hutterite Colony in South Dakota and was burried there. My 2x great grandfather homesteaded with his family on land between Freeman and Bridgewater. I'm just learning about all these Hofer connections and would love to find more about the people who led the way for me.


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