Prairieleut Hutterian Brethren

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The term "Prairieleut" (also written as Prairie-Leut) refers to Hutterites, also called Hutterian Brethren, who immigrated in the 1870s to the Dakota Territory of the United States from Imperial Russia. These are the Hutterites who decided not to reform or reestablish communal agricultural colonies. In the 1880 U.S.A. census 443 persons were identified as communal Hutterites and 823 were noncommunal Hutterites or who became known as Prairieleut. In coming to the United States those Hutterites wishing to reestablish a communal lifestyle bought large acreages and settled in river-bottom land but those who established individual homes and farms chose to live on the open prairie and thus came to be called Prairieleut. The term "Prairieleut" is German for "Prairie People" and the syllable "leut" in German is pronounced "loit." Though settling on their own farms these Prairieleut settled in tightly knit farm communities and maintained Hutterite cultural, social and theological traditions as did their relatives in communal agricultural colonies. Prairieleut maintained the Hutterite belief that a component of salvation was done in a community and this was accomplished by organizing their own church congregations most of which later joined either the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren or General Conference Mennonites.

Though Hutterites have a long tradition from the sixteenth century of communal colonies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Imperial Russia most Hutterites had given up communal agricultural settlements for significant periods of time and chose to farm individually though they continued to live in their own separate villages and held their farm lands adjacent to each other. Thus settling on individual farms in the Dakota Territory was thought by most Hutterites to be a similar form of Anabaptist Christianity that they knew from Russia and further a valid form of Hutterite Christianity. The two Hutterite delegates, Paul Tschetter and his uncle Lohrentz Tschetter, who accompanied the ten Mennonite delegates from Imperial Russia to investigate the possibilities of emigration to the American and Canadian frontiers both became Prairieleut on settling in the Dakota Territory.

In settling in the Dakota Territory the Prairieleut immigrants first established their Hutterite churches in what later became South Dakota. These were the Hutterthal Church near Freeman, the New Hutterthaler Church near Bridgewater, a small church that met in house or school near Olivet, and the Hutterdorf Church also near Freeman. In 1900 the Hope Church was established near Chasely, North Dakota. Then in 1901 a considerable number of Prairieleut homesteaded near Langham, Saskatchewan and established what became the Emmanuel Mennonite Church. Some Prairieleut moved to the San Joaquin Valley in California in 1911 and also into the village of Stirling in southern Alberta in 1922 and established churches there.

The immigration to America, the pioneering needed to establish new homes and communities, the new freedoms in religious choices and expression, compounded by the lack of government interferences created both opportunities and uncertainties in establishing their Hutterite communities. These novel American conditions resulted in many Hutterites having difficulties in choosing between communal life and private ownership. Some of the immigrants and the next generation experimented with both forms by moving between communal and private farms and by trying to find the most valid form of spiritual, social and economic practices. Eventually the Prairieleut associated with Mennonites as they had in Russia and in time their churches joined Mennonite conferences and this also created further identity uncertainties. Though many Prairieleut congregations retained distinctive Hutterite ideology, church practices and social patterns by the 1950s most had a Mennonite denominational affiliation and a more American outlook and culture.

In the nineteenth century the Prairieleut had a sincere vision of preserving authentic historic Hutterite way of life which they had learned and practiced in Russia and where they did not live communally. Their leaders were chosen in the normal Hutterite custom, they read the same sermons as their communal brothers, sang from the same Hutterite Gesangbuch, and their way of life included service to others, a life of suffering, and personal humility. However, American land ownership practices made connected land purchases often difficult as did the possibility of developing their own isolated villages. Prairieleut children attended public schools. Further, they had to contend with the seductive attraction of an individualistic American way of life and be challenged by their brethren in communal communities that their choice was spiritually incomplete.

In the post First World War era Prairieleut sought more social acceptance from non-Hutterite neighbours and became estranged from their communal relatives who retained old fashion modes of dress and spoke English poorly. Prairieleut also moved in the direction of evangelical Protestantism. One marker that Rod Janzen points out was that many turned their back on the historic Anabaptist peace position by volunteering for military service in the Second World War. Janzen also provides this assessment of the Prairieleut's choice: "Ultimately, the Prairieleut's choice in favor of private ownership of property turned out to be an endorsement of a slow but progressive movement away from other Hutterian traditions, as well (p.10)."

Communal Hutterites have received considerable public attention, study and scholarly analysis unfortunately the Prairieleut Hutterites have been almost completely ignored and overlooked and are relatively unknown even to contemporary Anabaptist and Mennonite scholars.

Note: Hutterites speak a German dialect which is often termed in German as: "Hutterisch." It is a Southern Bavarian dialect which some call Tyrolean. In Hutterisch the term Prairieleut is written as: "Prairieleit" with the ending "leit" pronounced as: "light."


Hofer, Arnold M., Norman Hofer and Wesley Tschetter. History of the Hutterite Mennonites. Freeman, South Dakota, Hutterian Centennial Committee. 1975.

Janzen, Rod. The Prairie People : forgotten Anabaptists. Hanover, New Hampshire, University Press of New England. 1999. Note: This is the standard work on Prairieleut.

Mendel, Jacob J. A History of the People of East Freeman, Silver Lake and West Freeman. Freeman, South Dakota, Pine Hill Press, 1961.

Author(s) Victor G Wiebe
Date Published September 2019

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Wiebe, Victor G. "Prairieleut Hutterian Brethren." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. September 2019. Web. 15 May 2021.

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Wiebe, Victor G. (September 2019). Prairieleut Hutterian Brethren. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 15 May 2021, from

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