Gosper County, Nebraska Amish
The windmill is a lone sentinel
of an extinct Old Order Amish settlement in south-central Nebraska.
It turns in the wind on the former property of Bishop Yost H.
Yoder, whose death in 1901 closed the door on this 24-year dream
to establish a church "without spot or wrinkle" on
the Great Plains.
The first settlers were nine
Yoder families from Juniata County, Pennsylvania, led by
Bishop Yost H. Yoder. Others came and some left, but the settlement
never grew much larger than a dozen families. There were years
of sufficient rainfall and good harvests, but drought and a depressed
economy had a devastating effect on the transplanted Pennsylvania
farmers. Eventually the community scattered to various other
settlements, including Mifflin County, Pennsylvania.
I visited here, camera in hand, in September 1999. The homesteads
of the Amish were gone.
In their place were acres of lush irrigated corn. Corn like this
grew only in the hopes and dreams of the former Amish farmers.
The only structure left to mark a homestead was the windmill.
The cemetery was well hidden by the tall corn and weeds, though
it was marked by a weathered wooden sign made some years ago
by a boy from a neighboring farm who earned his Eagle Boy Scout
Award by caring for the cemetery. Now the half dozen gravestones
were nearly lost in the uncut grass.
I found the gravestone of
Bishop Yost H. Yoder. I remembered that it was he for whom the
in my home community of Mifflin County had been named. In 1881
Yoder had been called to the Kishacoquillas Valley of central
Pennsylvania to help organize a conservative splinter group.
Because Yoder was living in Nebraska at the time, the group was
nicknamed the "Nebraska Amish," a name still used to
designate this most conservative of all Old Order Amish groups.
whether anyone here still remembered that this Amish settlement
had existed. I was pleasantly surprised to discover neighbors
who did, indeed, remember. I found Janet Renken, a schoolteacher,
who has a deep interest in this community's history. From her
files she retrieved a hand-drawn map of
the former Amish landowners, a number of them on land within
the square mile that she and her husband owned and farmed. She
had newspaper accounts of the Amish settlement and the names
of various Amish families from Mifflin County, Pennsylvania,
who had visited the cemetery in recent years. They sometimes
left a bit of money for the upkeep of the cemetery. She also
pointed me to another neighbor, Caroline Langenberg, who had
also, on occasion, received Pennsylvania
pilgrims, looking for the cemetery of their ancestors. And I
recognized the names,
some of whom had been my neighbors in the Kishacoquillas Valley.
Behind Caroline's house stood a schoolhouse that had been used
by the Amish, and since had been moved to her farm to shelter,
not scholars, but farm tools.
I drank coffee in Bertrand, the little village of 300 across
the Phelps County line. Bertrand was the post office that served
the Amish after the coming of the railroad. I thought of Abe
Yoder, Sr., a neighbor and friend of my grandfather, who wrote
about growing up in the Gosper County settlement. He wrote about
their sod house, prairie fires, drought, grasshoppers, unselfish
sharing with strangers--even a last sack of flour, leaving home,
riding the train to Mifflin County to marry and raise his family,
and a later visit with former neighbors in Gosper County. They
were all good years, even the tough times. But then, Abe Yoder
would think so. I remember him as congenial and optimistic. He
would admit that the settlement failed, but I doubt he would
think of it as futile. Of course, they had discovered some spots
and wrinkles of their own. Perhaps the most contentious wrinkle
was the marriage of two young people despite of the disapproval
of the bride's parents. This flaunting of the parents' authority
and the resulting dissension was more than the small community
could bear. At least that's how a descendant of the disapproving
parents remembered it. But of course, the Gosper County settlement
was not unique in discovering its spots and wrinkles. Nor was
this the only short-lived settlement, as David Luthy makes apparent
in his volume on extinct Amish communities.
Despite the demise of this settlement, I'm sure Abe Yoder,
who died in 1968, would be well pleased to know that the rather
tenacious Amish impulse to create visible spiritual communities
continues in many places beyond Gosper County, Nebraska.
Photos and text
by John E. Sharp, 12 January
For more see:
Hostetler, John A., "The Amish in Gosper County, Nebraska,"
Mennonite Historical Bulletin, October 1949, p. 1-2; Kauffman,
S. Duane, Mifflin County Amish and Mennonite Story, 1791-1991,
1991, pp.157-159; Luthy, David, The Amish in America:
Settlements that Failed, (Aylmer, Ont. and LaGrange, Ind.,
1986), pp. 271-276; and Yoder, Abraham S., My Life Story,