Religion in Family History
There are currently Amish settlements in Oklahoma, but there have also been a couple of failed settlements.
In 1892 several Amish families took part in a land run in Oklahoma. This was not the famous Cherokee Strip run, but was one of the followup openings of land for settlement in Oklahoma. I have also found out that there have been similar land runs in other parts of the country where Indian land was opened up for settlement, including Wapello County in Iowa.
This land run resulted in a small settlement in Custer County, Oklahoma. The settlement started small and was without a minister for many years. There were also two distinct groups within the settlement. In the beginning the more liberal Amish-Mennonites and the more conservative Old Order Amish would join together for worship, especially if they would have a visiting minister. Eventually they separated into distinct settlements.
The settlement was north of Weatherford, Oklahoma near Thomas, Oklahoma. The settlement is usually referred to as the Thomas, Oklahoma settlement. The pin on the map does not define the location of the settlement. It is only the placement pin for Custer County on Google Maps.
The first Amish ministers came to Thomas in about 1898 and by 1906 the settlement had divided into two church districts with each one having a Bishop overseeing them. At about the same time my great, great grandfather John A. Miller moved to the area from Illinois and served as a minister in one of the church districts. You may have seen his name before in my Amish in Oregon? post. He had been in Oregon from 1890 – 1894 before moving to Illinois to help a new settlement.
John A. Miller – Amish Minister
I am still researching, but John A. Miller lived in at least six different states. The Amish definitely did not stay put in one place. Maybe this is where some of my wandering comes from.
I am not sure when John A. Miller left Thomas, Oklahoma, but he died in Kalona, Iowa in 1944 at the age of 89.
The Amish in Thomas, Oklahoma had many challenges to deal with. They had frequent dealings with Indians and also had problems with the weather.
The Amish had a hard time adapting to the varied weather conditions. Sometimes they would have good weather and other times it would be bad. In 1949 the settlement was hit by a large tornado and they often had huge prairie thunderstorms to deal with.
The end of the Old Order Amish settlement in Thomas came in 1960. The settlement started using tractors in the fields in 1937 and there were many controversies about whether to use steel or rubber tires. The tractors were soon being used on the roads as well which led to even more problems. In the late fifties barns and homes started to be wired for electricity and the more conservative Old Order Amish starting moving away to other settlements. In 1959 car ownership was allowed and the settlement aligned with the Beachy Amish in 1960. The Beachy Amish congregation was still in existence in 1984 when David Luthy wrote the chapter on Thomas, Oklahoma in his book: The Amish in America: Settlements that Failed, 1840-1960. Some of the content of this post comes from this book.
Today, there are four Amish settlements in Oklahoma with a total of seven church districts. The largest settlement is known as Chouteau and is in Mayes County in the northeast corner of the state. The Chouteau settlement has four church districts with about 600 people. The remaining settlements each have one church district.
There are still many challenges in Oklahoma for the Amish and their growth rate reflects this. The Young Center for Anabaptist & Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College lists Oklahoma as one of the states that has the lowest growth rates for the Amish. There are currently Amish settlements in 30 of the 50 states.
This post is part of a series on Religion in Family History. See also:
Religion in Family History
Amish in California?
The Light in the Forest
Stephen Jenks – Singing Master
Amish in Oregon
Gallup Poll Connection I – Amish
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
First Amish Settlements