The Amish represent the most conservative segment of the Anabaptist/Mennonite religious tradition that dates to the sixteenth century. The word Amish comes from Jakob Ammann, who separated from the Mennonite branch of Anabaptism. Today the Amish are found in some thirty-three states.
Two of the four major branches, Old Order and Beachy, are found in Oklahoma. The first Old Order settlement in Oklahoma was established in the 1890s at Thomas, in Custer County. That Amish community no longer exists. The largest Old Order Amish concentration in the state is found in Mayes County near Chouteau, where members of this group have resided since 1910. Most of the early settlers came from Ohio. In 2004 there were ninety-one Old Order households in the county, with a total population of 351. Thirty-nine of the households had the surname Yoder. The widespread Amish settlement is divided into four church districts. In 1978 four Old Order families from Ohio settled near Clarita, in Coal County. Soon additional settlers arrived, and a stable community of twenty to thirty families emerged. In 2005 their population was 105. Since 1988 the Clarita Amish have sponsored an annual festival and consignment sale to raise funds to support their school. Featuring Amish and Mennonite quilts, this event has grown into a major tourist attraction and a supplementary source of income for the members. Oklahoma's lone Beachy Amish community is found near Thomas in Custer County. The name Beachy comes from an early leader who branched off from the Old Order in Pennsylvania. Organized in 1957, the Thomas congregation had thirty-seven members in 2005, with a total population of seventy.
Unlike the mainstream culture, the Amish emphasize the welfare of the community over the individual. They stress humility, modesty, obedience, and the importance of the family. Submission to the collective will of the church and "separation from the world" are also stressed. Generally, the Amish share the beliefs held by Mennonites concerning believers baptism, nonresistance, and basic Bible doctrines. A bishop, chosen by lot, exercises leadership over a church district. Ministers and deacons are also chosen by lot. Life and practice are regulated by the Ordnung, a set of rules established by each congregation. Occasionally the Ordnung is revised to address new situations or new forms of technology. If a new technology does not assist in keeping their lives simple and their families together, they probably will reject it. Congregational autonomy has led to endless and complex variations in Amish practices at the local level.
The Clarita and Chouteau Amish are identified by the typical Old Order markers of buggies, beards, and bonnets. They speak Pennsylvania German, are schooled through the eighth grade, wear plain attire, worship in homes, and do not use electricity. Unlike most Old Orders elsewhere, the Chouteau and Clarita church districts have modified their Ordnung to allow the use of tractors for field work. For families to make a living in the hard-scrabble hills of Oklahoma with horse-drawn implements proved virtually impossible. Amish minister Raymond Miller explained, "The reason we agreed to use the tractor was so that more of our young people can stay on the farm and raise the family at home." By comparison, the Beachy Amish are less conservative than the Old Order. They install electricity, drive cars, own computers and cell phones, use church buildings, allow secondary schooling, and have less stringent dress codes. They engage in evangelistic outreach. More than any other European ethnic group in Oklahoma, the Amish have retained a distinct cultural identity by consciously drawing symbolic boundaries between themselves and the society around them.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Donald B. Kraybill and C. Nelson Hostetterm, Anabaptist World USA (Scottsdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2001). Kevin Kroeker, "Amish Families Continue Traditional Life Near Olney," Ada (Oklahoma) Sunday News, 15 May 1983. Ralph Marsh, "The Simple Life," Oklahoma Today 46 (August-September 1996). Enos and Freda Yoder, Oklahoma-Kansas Directory, 2004 (Topeka, Ind.: Marianne's Typesetting, 2004).
Marvin E. Kroeker
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