Manitoba Colony (Chihuahua, Mexico)
The Manitoba Mennonite settlement, the largest Old Colony Mennonite settlement in Mexico, located on the outskirts of Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua, 70 miles west of the city of Chihuahua, was established in 1922 by Old Colony Mennonites from Manitoba, Canada. The land consisted of 23,000 acres and was purchased from Zuloaga in the San Antonio Valley in 1921 for $8.25 per acre by two companies founded for this purpose (Heide-Neufeld und Reinlander Waisenamt and Rempel-Wall und Reinländer Waisenamt). Charles Newman and J. F. Wiebe were the mediators in the purchase. The settlement occupied a strip about 75 miles long (north-south) and several miles wide. The Manitoba Mennonite settlement formed a civic and ecclesiastical entity. The civic leader was the Oberschulze and the spiritual leader was the elder (Isaac M. Dyck). The affairs of this settlement were handled independently of the Swift Current Mennonite settlement located to the north, and the Durango Mennonite settlement located in the neighboring state. In 1926 the Manitoba settlement consisted of 3,340 persons; in 1949 the number had grown to 7,706, and in 1953 the number was 8,768. The settlement consisted of some 45 villages stretching from Cuauhtemoc to Rubio. Very few of the settlers live in Cuauhtemoc. -- Cornelius Krahn
In March of 1922 the first Old Colony Mennonites, then known as Reinländer Mennonitengemeinde, arrived at the railroad station San Antonio de los Arenales, later known as Cuauhtémoc, in the State of Chihuahua. They established 47 villages to the north and south of the railroad station on a tract of land (plan) located on a plateau well over 2,000 meters (6,500 ft.) above sea level. The region has a semiarid climate and an interior drainage system, draining into Lake Bustillos, east of the settlement. They bought 60,000 hectares (150,000 acres) of land from Don Carlos Zuloaga in 1921 at $8.25 (U.S.) an acre.
By December 1922 more than 2,000 Mennonites peopled the plains where ranch cattle had roamed before. By 1926 well over 16,000 colonists were settled on the Manitoba Plan (Tract). The land titles were made out to Klaas Heide, Peter Neufeld, Johann W. Rempel, Kornelius Wall, and the Reinländer Weisenamt. The villages were similar in plan and settlement to the Mennonite villages in the Ukraine (Russia) a century earlier. The Privilegium (privileges) assured the colonists of self-government, and their own educational system. Although lack of roads and modern communication technology isolated them from the rest of the world at first, in the course of the years these isolation barriers crumbled.
In 1924 several families from Meade, KS, settled on 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of land, also in the Bustillos valley. They were of Kleine Gemeinde background and left the United States for reasons similar to those that convinced the Old Colonists to leave Canada. Eventually they lost their Kleine Gemeinde identity and became part of the larger Reinländer or Old Colony group of the Manitoba colony. After the Russian Revolution some Mennonites from the Soviet Union found their way to the Mennonite colonies in Durango and later in Chihuahua. Instead of settling on the Manitoba Tract they located in the small town of Cuauhtémoc, where they established businesses. They remained in close communication with other Mennonites, especially with those of the Manitoba Colony.
The severe drought in the early 1950s caused the Old Colonists to look for material aid. Upon suggestion and invitation of the Rußländer Mennonites, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) came to the rescue. This eventually resulted in the formation of a General Conference Mennonite congregation and school.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s the influence from the Kleine Gemeinde colony at Los Jagüeyes, some 100 km. (60 mi.) north of the Manitoba Tract Colony, became very noticeable. By 1987 they had established three schools and one church on the Manitoba Tract drawing their membership from the Old Colony.
The Paul Landis fellowship group (Conservative Mennonite) from the United States came in the early 1980s and several of their families settled on the Manitoba Tract ca. 6 km. north of Cuauhtémoc. They built a school, printery, and bookstore, but until 1987 failed to gain an appreciable number of church members from the Old Colony. A German Pentecostal group, also from the United States, built a church and school at Lowe Farm (Campo 6.5) in the early 1980s. The German Seventh Day Adventists built a meeting house in Cuauhtémoc, trying to attract the Mennonites. Their effort to establish themselves on the Manitoba Tract had been unsuccessful until 1987. The German Church of God, with headquarters in the Swift Current settlement, met with more success, since many members of the Swift Current settlement had migrated to Belize, Bolivia, and Paraguay, leaving the colony without strong leadership. The Church of God also drew members from Manitoba and Nord colonies. The new Reinländer Mennonite Church (a division from the Sommerfeld Mennonites in Manitoba) also came to Mexico and helped to speed the process of a changeover to motor vehicles.
A highway built in the early 1960s, passing through the Manitoba Tract, a power line in the 1980s, the constant interchange with Old Colony Mennonites in Canada and Texas, the motor vehicles, the apple industry, the proximity of the rapidly growing city of Cuauhtémoc, and rapid industrialization have helped to break down isolation barriers.
The organization of the Hilfskomitee in 1983 has been a unifying factor. This committee draws its members from the various colonies and churches. They have helped with refugees in Chiapas, reconstruction work in Jalisco after the September 1985 earthquake, and with housing and feeding illegal transients in Juárez. The senior citizens home at Kilometer 14 was built and is run by this inter-Mennonite Hilfskomitee.
Because of the different church groups present in the Manitoba Tract Colony, exact population figures are hard to come by. The Old Colony Mennonites numbered 11,854 at the beginning of 1987. Together with all the groups the total population of the Manitoba Tract Colony could be 12,500. -- Helen Ens
Mennonite world handbook (1978), 277.
Cite This Article
Krahn, Cornelius and Helen Ens. "Manitoba Colony (Chihuahua, Mexico)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 14 Apr 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Manitoba_Colony_(Chihuahua,_Mexico)&oldid=135029.
Krahn, Cornelius and Helen Ens. (1989). Manitoba Colony (Chihuahua, Mexico). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 14 April 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Manitoba_Colony_(Chihuahua,_Mexico)&oldid=135029.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 466-467, v. 5, pp. 536-537. All rights reserved.
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