Mennonites and Empire

Every Mennonite in the small town of Goessel, Kansas knows the date 1874. It is emblazoned on the “Turkey Red Wheat Palace,” erected on the centennial of Mennonites’ migration to the Great Plains from Imperial Russia. Having spent the first years of my life in Goessel, I happen to take 1874 as a historical benchmark. When I recently was back in the area to give a talk on religion and race, I did some reading on the Kaw (or Kanza) people, for whom my home state is named. White settlement pushed the Kaws south into Oklahoma, where their Nation is located today. The story of the Kaws’ removal from Kansas seemed a bit darker for having occurred in 1873.1

Image 1

“Turkey Red Wheat Palace 1874-1974,” Goessel, Kansas.

There a common belief among the Mennonites with whom I grew up that our faith has a particular affinity with liberal democracy. This idea owes much to a still-influential 1942 essay, The Anabaptist Vision, by the churchman Harold Bender. “There can be no question,” Bender claimed, “but that the great principles of freedom of conscience, separation of church and state, and voluntarism in religion, so basic in American Protestantism and so essential to democracy, ultimately are derived from the Anabaptists of the Reformation period.”2

It would be hard to write a more misleading sentence about Mennonites. In the centuries prior to the Second World War, which was raging when The Anabaptist Vision appeared, the global Mennonite Church was by far a greater beneficiary and product of empire than of democracy. Bender wrote his landmark essay at a time when he and other peace church leaders were seeking to maintain alternative service options for conscientious objectors.3 Aligning Anabaptism with democracy made strategic sense at a time when the United States was at war with fascism.

But part of the context driving The Anabaptist Vision—Bender’s desire to ensure Mennonites’ exemption from military service—was itself a legacy of the Church’s long entanglement with imperial states. Beginning in the late sixteenth century, Mennonite communities found tolerance in European empires, often guaranteed in formal documents known as Privilegia. These enumerated special rights and duties available to Mennonites, including certain financial and judicial freedoms as well as non-participation in armed conflict.

Image-2-smaller

Mennonites immigrants from Imperial Russia in Goessel, Kansas, 1896. Source: Mennonite Library and Archives, North Newton, Kansas.

In the 1870s, when 18,000 Mennonites emigrated from the Russian Empire to Canada and the United States, they were largely responding to the institution—contrary to their Privilegium—of universal military conscription. While this has been remembered in places like Kansas as the dictate of an autocratic regime, nineteenth-century drafts were often democratizing events, intended to remove social inequalities by consistently mandating national service. Many Mennonites grasped this dynamic. In Germany, some offered to renounce voting rights to keep the old system.

What drew Mennonite migrants from European empires to North America in the 1870s was not an affinity for democracy, but a desire to settle in new, expanding imperial states. Indeed, some settlers explicitly identified democracy as a draw-back of coming to the United States. What they sought was cheap land, relative freedom from legal strictures, and state protection from indigenous Americans. Records show that some migrants fleeing military conscription were willing to use weapons against natives.4 Today, narratives of dangerous Indians still suffuse white Mennonite memory.

Scholars have recently engaged in ambitious efforts to retell Anabaptist history from beyond single nations. These accounts have made impressive use of “global” and “transnational” analysis. Indicative of the former is the wonderful Global Mennonite History Series, which outlines the story of the Church in five volumes: Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and North America. This series has shed key light on the world-wide reach of Anabaptism. But with the subject divided by continent, readers miss specificity regarding exactly how Mennonites globalized.5

The outstanding new history of Mennonites from a transnational perspective is Roy Loewen’s Village among Nations, about the hundreds of thousands of conservative Low German-speaking Mennonites scattered from Argentina to Canada. Loewen’s book stresses the separatism of these groups, explaining how they live in states “without pursuing either social or cultural citizenship in them.” For Loewen, “They were thus not Mexican Mennonites or Paraguayan Mennonites as much as Mexico Mennonites and Paraguay Mennonites, a subtle, but significant, difference.”6

But here, too, a transnational approach can elide exactly how these Mennonites have moved through the world—or what citizenship they did hold. The answer in many cases: British. This may seem surprising unless one considers Anabaptist history from an imperial standpoint. It was to the British Empire that most “Swiss” Mennonites moved when they came to colonial America. The founding of the United States led some to relocate to British Canada as “liberty’s exiles.”7 And across the twentieth century, British bureaucrats kept tabs on their Majesties’ Mennonite subjects.8

Image 3

Part of a letter to Australia from G.D. Klassen of Mexico, 1927. Source: National Archives of Australia, Canberra.

Why did migrants arrive at certain destinations? The archives of empire are revealing. In 1916, Mennonites in Imperial Russia, unhappy with restrictions imposed during the First World War, considered moving to the British dominion of South Africa. Holding affinity for the Afrikaans-speaking Boer settlers, some Mennonites described themselves as “Russian Boers.”9 Although South African officials ruled that “no obstacle will be placed in the way of these people,” war hindered migration.10 When it finally commenced in 1923, settlers went to the British dominion of Canada.

Australia, another dominion, was less accepting. Mennonites in North America approached Australia in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1960s, often responding to calls for white settlers. In 1927, G.D. Klassen of Mexico wrote to Australian officials after reading a propaganda pamphlet entitled “Australia: The Land of the Better Chance.” He inquired about the quality of available land, and whether Mennonites would be given military exemption and educational freedom. Klassen also wanted to know “if there are many niggers living in your Country.”11 Australian officials, however, consistently opposed group settlement.

Empire mattered. It seized land for settlement. It provided a global set of destinations. It enabled communication and transportation. It said yes, sometimes no. And it persisted. In the late 1950s, British Honduras (later renamed Belize) offered Mennonites a Privilegium and moved 1,700 individuals from Mexico.12 Empire also changed the ethnic and cultural composition of the Church. The first Mennonite mission fields were all located in colonies or territories opened by imperialism: the Dutch East Indies, Indian reservations in the American West, British India, China, and the Belgian Congo.13

Image-4-smaller

Mennonite missionaries—including my great-great-great uncle Peter Penner (center)—at a leper station in British India, ca. 1903. Source: Mennonite Library and Archives, North Newton, Kansas.

From the Reformation to today, Anabaptist history is inconceivable without robust consideration of empires and imperialism. Even those of us, like Harold Bender, who prefer to think of the Church as a bastion of democratic principles must come to terms with the deep imbrication of Anabaptism and imperialism. You, too, are shaped by empire. This may take on innumerable different forms—whether as someone who inhabits stolen land, or as someone whose own land was taken, or perhaps both. Acknowledging and reckoning with these histories is a task for us all.

Ben Goossen is a historian at Harvard University and the author of Chosen Nation: Mennonites and Germany in a Global Era, published in 2017 by Princeton University Press.


  1. On the history of the Kaw Nation until 1873, see William Unrau, The Kansa Indians: A History of the Wind People, 1673-1873 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971). A brief history of Mennonite-Indian relations is available here
  2. On Bender and the Anabaptist Vision, see Albert N. Keim, Harold S. Bender, 1897-1962 (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1998), 306-331. 
  3. On Mennonites’ navigation of the tensions between Christian pacifism and US nationalism in the mid-twentieth century, see Perry Bush, Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties: Mennonite Pacifism in Modern America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998). 
  4. For example, John Gering, After Fifty Years: A Brief Discussion of the History and Activities of the Swiss-German Mennonites from Russia who Settled in South Dakota in 1874 (Freeman, SD: Pine Hill Printery), 1924, 42-43. 
  5. Consider the critique of “globalization” as a historical analytic in Frederick Cooper, Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 91-112. For a full-length study of world history through an imperial lens, see Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper, Empires in World History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010). 
  6. Royden Loewen, Village among Nations: “Canadian” Mennonites in a Transnational World, 1916-2006 (Buffalo, NY: University of Toronto Press, 2013), 5. 
  7. This was part of a much larger exodus of British loyalists in the wake of the American Revolution. See Maya Jasanoff, Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (New York: Vintage Books, 2011). 
  8. For example, see correspondence regarding Mennonites of British citizenship in Mexico during the 1930s: FO 723/271, The National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom, hereafter TNA. 
  9. See James Urry, “Russian Mennonites and the Boers of South Africa: A Forgotten Connection,” Mennonite Historian 20, no. 3 (1994): 1-2, 9. 
  10. Acting Under Secretary for the Interior to Principle Immigration Officer, June 2, 1916, BNS 1/2/19 A629, National Archives and Records Service of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa. 
  11. G.D. Klassen to Development and Migration Commission, August 26, 1927, CP211/2 53/61, National Archives of Australia, Canberra, Australia. For an earlier discussion of possible Mennonite migration to Australia, see James Urry, “Bishop Bugnion, the Mennonites and Australia: The Immigration-That-Never-Was, 1873-1880,” Journal of Mennonite Studies 32 (2014): 175-209. 
  12. “Note on Mennonite Communities in British Honduras,” July 30, 1959, CO 1031/2769, TNA. 
  13. Here, too, colonial-era archives provide insight into the mechanics of missionary expansion. For example: “Grant of land to Revd. J.A. Ressler of the American Mennonite Mission at Dhamtari in the Raipur District, Central Provinces,” 1902, Revenue & Agriculture, Land Revenue, 39-40, National Archives of India, New Delhi, India. 

The Mausts at Stone Mountain

Over the last year, as my grandmother, Evelyn Brunk Maust, neared the end of her life and then passed away, I started looking at family pictures. At Christmas, I looked through scrapbooks as she slept in her chair. In May, as we prepared to bury her, we looked through many more. And last week, as most of the family gathered at a beach house for a vacation, we looked at a couple hundred slides.

Petrified_Forest[1]

Evelyn, Dennis, and Robert Maust pose in the Petrified Forest National Park.

David Thelen and Roy Rosenzweig included looking at family photos as one way of engaging with the past in their landmark study The Presence of the Past, and now I understand why. I was able to see past editions of these people I love, versions I will never meet. I was able to catch glimpses of their world: to see how my grandparents’ house evolved and how the neighboring campus of Eastern Mennonite University has changed and remained constant.

There were flashes of the present too. Nearly every photo of my dad and my uncle was accompanied by an outburst of “He looks like [my cousin/me/my cousin’s children]!” The boys in the slides, now in their seventh decade of life, retained fresh memories too: of people, places, and sartorial choices.

IMG-3213 (1)

I believe those folks facing the camera are members of the Brunk family. Photo by unknown photographer, circa 1940.

Because of my interest in public history, I paid special attention to the photos of relatives at historic sites. In the scrapbook, for instance, I found a photo of my grandmother’s family visiting Mount Vernon. In the slideshow, there were many more history sites.

When my father was a boy, his family spent many of their summers in Pigeon, Michigan, with his father Earl’s extended family. Several summers, however, they embarked on massive road trips. On these odysseys, the Mausts made stops at various national parks and tourist attractions.

Ship[1]

Dennis and Robert Maust in front of one of the ships they visited.

Historic ships have their own special appeal, and the Maust family visited at least two of them. They visited Plymouth Rock too. The rock, inscribed with the year “1620,” was identified as the landing place of the first Pilgrim immigrants by a ninety-five year-old man in 1741 and moved multiple times over the last centuries.1

Indian[1]

An unnamed interpreter in American Indian dress poses for a photo, location and date unknown.

The western trips included stops at the St. Louis Arch, giant redwoods, at least one spot that had a person in American Indian ceremonial costume, and Mount Rushmore. Perhaps more surprisingly, on a trip through Georgia, the Mausts visited Stone Mountain. Their visit was probably soon after the site—which features carvings of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson—opened to the public as a state park on the centenary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

General_Sherman[1]

Dennis, Earl, and RobertMaust sit in front of the tree named “General Sherman” in Sequoia National Park.

What were the lessons at all of these sites in the 1960s? Despite Denise Meringolo’s uncovering of radical precedents of public history, the historic sites and monuments of the mid-twentieth century were overwhelmingly nationalistic and concerned with privileged Americans. Many of these sites, both private and public, explicitly aimed to teach visitors how to be American; that is, how to assimilate to a specific strand of American culture. House museums and period rooms, for instance, were used to display idealized American homes and teach the values which informed the décor choices.

The sites visited by my family probably saw themselves fulfilling the same purpose to varying degrees. The messages at historic ships and Plymouth Rock likely centered around eighteenth century European immigration. Across the American west, history sites largely told the story of Manifest Destiny. Did the Mausts hear anything about the “Six Grandfathers” on the South Dakotan mountain which were replaced by four white presidents? Surely the word “genocide” did not appear on any plaques or on any tour guide’s tongue.

Mt._Rushmore[1]

A Maust photo of Mount Rushmore, undated.

Evelyn and Earl Maust were mainstream Mennonites for their time. Earl achieved several degrees in music and education and Evelyn was a nurse. Earl served in Puerto Rico in Civilian Public Service. Together they had traveled through Europe. So what did they take away from any of these places? Did they feel patriotic fervor at Mount Rushmore? Or alienation? Did they feel American? Did they settle for awe at the size and and skill evident in the carving?

Perhaps more intriguingly, what did they take away from Stone Mountain? To what extent had the nurse from Harrisonburg, Virginia, and the choral director from Pigeon, Michigan, internalized the Lost Cause narrative? Did they know that Stone Mountain was the site of the re-founding of the KKK in 1915? Earl participated in a march led by Martin Luther King Jr. in Nashville just a few years before. How do we square these events in one family’s life? What was the Mausts’ racial consciousness in the mid 1960s? Were Earl and Evelyn just attracted by the novelty of the new state park?

Stone_Mt[1]

Dennis and Robert Maust pose in front of Stone Mountain.

These are questions I suspect I’ll never have answers to. My grandmother left behind some diaries and correspondence which might shed light on her tourist experience, but knowing her, any observations would likely be enigmatic and brief. My grandfather, who passed away fifty years ago this fall, left these slides and little else, I think.

Why do I pose these questions? By the late 1960s, over a million and a half Americans visited Mount Rushmore each year. I suspect that the Mausts were not the only Mennonites among that number. Considering how Mennonites and other Anabaptist groups engaged with American public history sites at the high tide of their nationalist focus could provide an important data point in the story of twentieth century Anabaptist life and these communities’ relationship with the state. Perhaps more importantly, considering Anabaptist reactions to sites such as Mount Rushmore and Stone Mountain which directly or indirectly commemorate white supremacy and genocide might provide important context for those working to dismantle racial injustice in the present. For those of my parents’ generation, understanding their parents’ engagement or disassociation with mainstream American culture through this lens might be enlightening as they consider their own identity as American Anabaptists.

What messages conveyed by these sites were comfortable to mid-century Anabaptists? Which ones were uncomfortable? Even glimpses into the answers to these questions might be illuminating as contemporary Anabaptists confront an uncomfortable present.

Special thanks to Robert Maust for digitizing these slides on short notice. 

 


  1. James Thacher, History of the Town of Plymouth: From Its First Settlement in 1620 to the Year 1832 (Boston: Marsh, Capen & Lyon, 1832), 29-30: http://books.google.com/books?id=IWWLjiaEs2AC. Also, here’s a great home video of Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock ca. 1960: https://vimeo.com/32595596. 

Some Clarity on an Old Mystery

John D. Thiesen

Samuel S. Haury (1847-1929) was the first missionary sent out by a North American Mennonite denomination, working among Arapaho and Cheyenne people in what is now Oklahoma starting in 1880. His mission career lasted only seven years, however, ending in scandal in 1887. The end of Haury’s career has only been publicly known in vague generalities. The most specific explanation is found in Lois Barrett’s 1983 history of General Conference home missions, where she says Haury resigned because of “his sexual indiscretion with another missionary at Cantonment.”1

Darlington school children and teachers;

Darlington school children and teachers; left to right at top, Dian Luginbuel (m. Jacob Meschberger), Maria Lehrman (m. Jacob Warkentin), Susie Richert (m. C. H. Wedel), S. S. Haury, Barbara Baer Voth and baby Frieda, H. R. Voth (top of head cut off). Mennonite Library and Archives Photo Collection 2003-0081

The archival record does actually allow for a bit fuller explanation. Haury was located at Cantonment, Indian Territory, where the General Conference had a school for Cheyenne and Arapaho children. Haury was in charge of all of the Cheyenne-Arapaho mission activities. Another missionary, Heinrich R. Voth, was located at Darlington, where Haury had started the first Mennonite mission school several years earlier. In a letter on May 14, 1887, from Haury to Voth, Haury says, “C. Krehbiel [chair of the mission board] has already informed you of my approaching departure from the mission, and of the sad cause, brought about by my own conduct and fault. The consequences are terrible. My heart is shattered. Pray for a deeply fallen one.”2

A week later, May 21, there is another letter to Voth: “Our departure is not yet specified. I expected to get my dismissal in today’s mail but it did not come. I hope that it will come soon. It would be best under these circumstances to leave tomorrow. But we will hardly be able to get away by the first of June.”3

The timeline of events seems a little muddied, however, since a letter also dated May 21, 1887, from Haury to the mission board, says: “I write these lines in deep shame and humiliation. I have already given the president of the board verbally and the secretary in written form my confession of my deep fall. . . . My deep fall consists of marital infidelity with Christina Hirschler, sister of my dear wife, so that she is already about 6 months pregnant.”4 This letter circulated among the members of the mission board, scattered from Kansas to Pennsylvania, through at least June 10.

A week later we find the sole surviving voice from one of the women concerned, Susie Hirschler Haury writing to H. R. Voth on May 28, in English (most of the other correspondence is in German): “We will go away soon, & it will be no more than natural that everybody at the Agency & at the schools will want to know why we have. Please tell them that we felt we could not remain or something to that effect. I would not ask you to tell an untruth, Never, but there is no need of having it spread among outsiders. It is not on my or our account I ask this, but on account of the Mission work & Christianity’s sake. For such people as live in the Agency & in this country generally, hearing anything of that kind, would call ‘the whole thing a fraud.’ Having had no Christian experience, they cannot know of the hearts-anguish such a person that has fallen, has in his own chamber & in the silent nightwatches.”5 Voth reassured her the next day that he would comply with her wishes.6

Samuel Schmidt Haury (1847-1929) and Susanna Hirschler Haury (1861-1944)

Samuel Schmidt Haury (1847-1929) and Susanna Hirschler Haury (1861-1944). Mennonite Library and Archives Photo Collection 2006-0096

Susie Hirschler Haury gave birth to a son Paul on Jan. 28, 1887.7 This means that if her sister Christina was 6 months pregnant in mid-May, then that event must have occurred in mid- December 1886 when Susie was about 8 months pregnant. Presumably her sister Christina had come out to help with household tasks before and after the birth. Paul died on June 14, 1887. “This morning at about 5:00 the Lord took our little son Paul to himself, after several days of severe suffering and a 2 hour hard death struggle. The burial will be tomorrow afternoon about 2:00, Lord willing, and would like to ask you sincerely and urgently to lead this service. The service should be in English.”8

The Haurys must have finally left Indian Territory sometime around the end of June. A letter from G. D. Williams, the Indian agent for the Cheyenne and Arapaho, to J. D. C. Atkins, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC, on Aug. 12, 1887, gives a perspective from outside of Mennonite circles:

In accordance with instructions of Office letter of the 9th ult. [July 9] I have the honor to report that in the latter part of May last there were rumors about Cantonment, involving the moral character of Mr. Haury. As he had the entire confidence of this community as well as my own, and standing so high in his Church I gave them no credence. June 4th Mr. Haury advised me, by letter, of his resignation as Missionary among these Indians, without alleging any cause. On the 22nd day of June last, in company with Inspector Gardner, I visited Cantonment and learned beyond question that the charges were true.

During the second day of inspection of Indian houses, a number of the head men of the Cheyenne talked with Inspector Gardner about the matter, saying that they did not wish any more such men sent among then and that they desired Mr. Haury sent away. They were assured that he was about to depart, which he did in a few days thereafter.

These Indians do not entertain the highest sentiment regarding chastity, and while I do not believe the unfortunate act within itself would deter them from sending their children to the school, they will use it as an incontrovertible argument against a mission school under the same patronage and decline to support it. This applies more particularly to the Cheyennes who are largely in the majority at Cantonment and who have no earnest desire for the education of their children.

They grasp any excuse for withholding their children; for two years past they have given as a reason that the buildings were old, damp and unhealthful, but as soon as a new building was erected they would fill it.

In view of this I submit that they will use the late unfortunate occurrence with great effect among their people. I do not believe the scandal will in the least injure the mission school located at the Agency and in charge of the Rev. Mr. Voth, as for several years past Mr. Haury has not, in the Indian mind, been identified with it, and I am constrained to believe that the Cantonment Mission will not soon recover from the recent blow and that its success for the next year or two is in the gravest doubt.

The present “picket” structures at Cantonment will serve another year with some few repairs – but a new building is needed and I believe it should be conducted solely by the Government to insure [sic] its success.9

The leading historian of the Arapaho, Loretta Fowler, offers some further explanation of Williams’ comments.

When Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs directly challenged officials, they often did so by appropriating elements of the dominant ideology. For example, in the delegates’ attempt to counter Agent Woodson’s disparaging description of Cheyennes and Arapahos, they turned his own discourse against him: Woodson was lazy, neglected his work, was fiscally imprudent, and fell short of the ideals of monogamy and sobriety. He spent idle hours dancing while trying to prevent the Cheyennes and Arapahos from having dances. This same tactic was used in regard to local boarding school superintendents and even to missionary Haury, who was caught in an adulterous relationship.10

Fowler gives no sources for her comment about Haury’s “adulterous relationship.”

On Aug. 16, 1887, H. R. Voth wrote to a Captain J. M. Lee, who had apparently had some previous role in the Cheyenne-Arapaho area and remained friends with Voth.

Mr. H. has fallen very deeply. He had had unlawful intercourse with his sister in law, the sinful deed bearing bitter fruit. Mr. H. acknowledged his guilt voluntarily to the Mission Board, was of course promptly discharged, & had to leave. Although covered with shame & disgrace, yet accompanied by the deep sympathy & genuine regret of thousands of friends, his field of faithful labor and is now living in obscurity. The child was born a few weeks ago, but did not live long. That is, in a few words, the deplorable history which ended in such an extremely tragical manner, Mr. Haury’s evidently successful career as an Indian Educator and missionary.11

Haury moved to St. Louis to attend medical school.12 There is one major postscript to the 1887 scandal. At a meeting of the Kansas Conference (predecessor to today’s Western District area conference) at First Mennonite Church in Newton, Kansas, Nov. 5-6, 1889, there is this resolution:

  1. At the request of the brother, S. S. Haury, that the Conference use its influence in favor of his admission into the Mennonite denomination, the Conference resolves that as such it is ready to offer him the hand gladly and to let his reception take place in a public meeting to which all of the conference churches are herewith invited, on the 13t h inst. in the Alexanderwohl Church by Elder Chr. Krehbiel with the assistance of Elder Jak. Buller, as commissioners of the Conference.13

Two persons recorded the actual event at Alexanderwohl. Johann Jantzen, a Mennonite minister from Beatrice, Nebraska, who was attending a ministers’ meeting, noted the event in his diary:

In the Alexanderwohl church, the former missionary Haury, who had been separated from the church, was re-accepted. He seemed very repentant. Elder Balzer read Psalm 51 and had the opening prayer. Elder Gaeddert preached on John 10:12, a very nice exposition. Elder Christian Krehbiel carried out the acceptance and Elder Stucky closed with prayer. It was a large gathering and a very large church, recently built. On the way back [to Newton] we had very nice weather and better roads; we stopped at the Bethel College foundation [construction site], it is around 15 feet high now, with 3 feet in the ground.14

Then, H. R. Voth’s father Cornelius described the event in a letter to his son, mixed in with news about the farm and crops, in a Nov. 17, 1889, letter:

We still have 20 acres of corn to [cut?] and also so much work to prepare the cattle for winter. Now dear son, I must write to you a little about the acceptance of S. S. Haury into the community [Gemeinschaft] on the 13th last Wednesday in our church (it was a nice day), there were quite many people present, especially many elders and preachers because the day before in our school was the preachers’ conference, it was really a sad sight how deeply humiliated Haury was, an evil picture of how sin can bring a person down, it was too bad that you could not be present and also at the conference, since there is always something to learn for our life, I certainly believe Haury has genuine repentance, he cried many tears and was very broken down, there were also many tears from the assembly with him, it was a moving performance, to begin Elder Buller read Psalm 51, how we are kept, then Elder Gaeddert preached very seriously and Christian Krehbiel did the actual acceptance, Elders Buller, Gaeddert and Newton elder Toews stood around him and greeted him with hand and mouth [holy kiss?] and with moving words of encouragement, may the dear Lord protect everyone from such a heavy burden since one sees what serious sins bring about. They are again gathering potatoes which will be brought to Newton on Tuesday and sent to you.15

It is completely unclear what kind of reconciliation service took place on Nov. 13, 1889. It was not an Alexanderwohl congregational matter but something more general, Kansas/Western District conference or General Conference. There is no evidence that Haury was ever a member of Alexanderwohl church. He joined First Mennonite in Halstead on Mar. 30, 189016 and then transferred to First Mennonite in Newton on Nov. 21, 1897.17 These record books do not indicate where he was a member before 1890, but it was probably Summerfield, Illinois. The Summerfield membership records have been lost.

The Hirschler family was fairly prominent in General Conference Mennonite circles. The father of Christina and Susanna, Daniel A. Hirschler (1821-1888), was a minister at Summerfield, Illinois.  Their brother John S. Hirschler (1847-1915) was also a widely-known minister. A brother, Daniel B. Hirschler was an Oklahoma missionary. A niece (daughter of John S. Hirschler), Anna, married Gustav A. Linscheid and they were later Cheyenne missionaries. Another sister, Anna (1854-1896), was married to Peter S. Haury, brother of Samuel S.18

Two additional pieces of misinformation about the Haury incident deserve to be clarified. One rumor that apparently circulated in the Berne, Indiana, Mennonite community tied Haury to another sister-in-law, Elisabeth Welty Hirschler, wife of Daniel B. Hirschler. The rumor claims that Haury fathered the child Dorothea Hirschler born Nov. 20, 1885. Daniel and Elisabeth Hirschler were mission workers in Cantonment.19 But obviously this does not fit the chronology of Haury’s departure almost two years later nor the contents of the Haury and Voth correspondence. Presumably someone in the community knew, well after the event, that Haury had had a sexual relationship with his “sister-in-law” and extrapolated to the wrong sister-in-law.

The second piece of misinformation appears in Donald Berthrong’s 1976 The Cheyenne and Arapaho Ordeal. Berthrong stated that Haury “had been involved with school-girls at Cantonment.” But the only source he cites for this is the letter from Williams to Atkins of August 12, 1887, quoted above, which makes no mention of school girls.20 Obviously Berthrong had not seen Haury’s letter of resignation or the other mission-related correspondence, so he was reading into the Williams letter assumptions that were unsupported by his evidence.

Jim Juhnke also references this student-involvement rumor but footnotes Berthrong so apparently he did not have an independent source for it.21

Christina Hirschler (1865-1941) married Louis M. Ledig in 1891, and they moved from Summerfield to Upland, California, in 1895. They had one son. Samuel and Susie Haury also moved to Upland when he retired in 1913. 22


  1.  Lois Barrett, The Vision and the Reality: The Story of Home Missions in the General Conference Mennonite Church (Newton, Kans.: Faith and Life Press, 1983), 22. 
  2.  H. R. Voth papers, MS.21, folder 63, Mennonite Library and Archives, North Newton, Kans. 
  3.  H. R. Voth papers, MS.21, folder 63. 
  4.  General Conference Mennonite Church, Board of Missions records, I.A.1.a, folder 29 “Correspondence 1887 Jan-June.” 
  5.  H. R. Voth papers, MS.21, folder 63. 
  6.  H. R. Voth papers, MS.21, copy book 2, p. 675. 
  7.  GRANDMA database 
  8.  Haury to Voth, June 16, 1887, H. R. Voth papers, MS.21, folder 24. 
  9.  Oklahoma Historical Society, Cheyenne Arapaho Agency microfilms, reel 17, vol. 20, 236-239. 
  10.  Loretta Fowler, Tribal Sovereignty and the Historical Imagination: Cheyenne-Arapaho Politics (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 46. 
  11.  H. R. Voth papers, MS.21, copy book 2, p. 763-764. 
  12.  Haury to Voth, Sept. 13, 1887, H. R. Voth papers, MS.21, folder 63. 
  13.  Minutes of the Kansas Conference, Nov. 5-6, 1889, English translation. 
  14.     Jantzen, Johann (1823-1903) Collection, MS.549 
  15.  H. R. Voth papers, MS.21, folder 2. 
  16.  Halstead Kirchenbuch, 90 (Mennonite Library and Archives). 
  17.  First Mennonite Stammbuch (Mennonite Library and Archives). 
  18.  See Melvin J. Voigt, From Whence We Came ([Del Mar, California: Voigt, 1989), esp. p. 12. Voigt is aware of the Samuel S. Haury scandal but seems to have no indication that it involved anyone else in the Hirschler family. 
  19.  Email from David Habegger to John D. Thiesen, 15 Sep 2006. Printed copy in S. S. Haury papers, MS.76, folder 1. 
  20.  Donald J. Berthrong, The Cheyenne and Arapaho Ordeal: Reservation and Agency Life in the Indian Territory, 1875-1907 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976), 144. 
  21.  James C. Juhnke, “General Conference Mennonite Missions to the American Indians in the Late Nineteenth Century,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 54 (April 1980): 126. 
  22.  Voigt, From Whence We Came. It seems like that would have been awkward situation. 

Mennonites and the Doctrine of Discovery: A Report from “Indiana Indian Day”

Indiana Indian Day event program 4-22-2017_Page_1Jason B. Kauffman

On September 5, 1838, members of the Potawatomi nation—859 men, women, and children—were marched at gunpoint through the main street of Rochester, Indiana. It was the beginning of a two-month forced march of over six hundred miles that ended in remote eastern Kansas along a tributary of the Osage River. Almost 180 years later, at an “Indiana Indian Day” event on April 22, 2017, Father Mike McKinney of St. Joseph Catholic Church walked to the middle of that same street in Rochester. With police cars stopping traffic and those in attendance looking on, Father McKinney blessed Main Street, “reclaiming it for peace.” It was a powerful and moving gesture of reconciliation between the descendants of the Potawatomi and those who benefited from their removal. After the blessing, Father McKinney left the road and the idling cars continued on their way.

Along with Denominational Minister Nancy Kauffmann, I represented Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) at the April 22 event at the invitation of co-organizers Shirley Willard, retired Fulton County historian and founding officer of the Potawatomi Trail of Death Association, and Adam Friesen Miller, a fourth grade teacher at Bethany Christian Schools in Goshen, Indiana. Over the past school year, Adam has been teaching his students about the history of the Potawatomi people and their forced removal from Indiana in 1838, using a curriculum developed by Char Mast, an Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary alumna.

DSC01880 Bethany 4th graders

Students from Bethany Christian Schools present on the erasure of Potawatomi experiences in Indiana history textbooks. Photo by Annette Brill Bergstresser, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary

I had little prior knowledge of Potawatomi history or the confluence of historical circumstances and events that led to their removal from Indiana, but I was excited to participate in support of Adam and his students. I certainly don’t remember learning as a fourth grader about the violence and injustice that Native Americans faced as colonists and settlers moved west in search of land. I was impressed that Adam exposed his students to these tough questions and that they, in turn, wanted to do something to make a difference.

Shirley and Adam requested MC USA participation in the event because many early Mennonite settlers to northern Indiana gained title to land previously occupied by the Potawatomi, thus benefiting at their expense. Nancy and I agreed to offer a formal statement of apology to the Potawatomi and Miami people on behalf of Mennonite Church USA. As the date approached, however, we modified our statement at the request of the event organizers to include more information about the Doctrine of Discovery1 and the work that Mennonites are doing to address the legacies of injustice that Native American communities continue to face. After some last minute changes, we finalized our Statement of Confession and Commitment and read it publicly on April 22.2

DSC01911 Bob Pearl

Bob Pearl, a Potawatomi descendant, speaking during Indiana Indian Day. Photo by Annette Brill Bergstresser, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary

The event itself went well and was a meaningful time to publicly confess the ways that Mennonites—and the rest of North American society—have profited from the marginalization of the Potawatomi and other Native American communities. It was also a great opportunity to meet and begin building relationships with members of the Potawatomi and Miami nations and to stand with members of the broader northern Indiana community in support of justice for Native Americans.

But the event and the statement we produced also left me with lingering questions about the relationship between words and action and what it takes to bridge the divide that often separates them. In particular, the following quote from Sarah Augustine on the Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition website has continued to challenge me since the event: “Until individuals representing committed institutions stand together with indigenous and vulnerable peoples, our words and gestures too are rendered hollow and symbolic.”3 In other words, it’s one thing to acknowledge and lament this history of injustice and another thing entirely to do something about it. This is why the image of Father McKinney’s blessing and the stopped cars on Main Street in Rochester has stuck with me. After the powerful moment of reclaiming that space for peace the idling cars continued on their way, consuming a resource that our society continues to privilege ahead of justice for indigenous and other marginalized people.

These patterns of exploitation and injustice against indigenous people have deep historical roots which took hold with a series of papal bulls dating to the fifteenth century. These papal bulls established the legal and theological framework for the Doctrine of Discovery and played an early and enduring role during the period of Spanish and Portuguese colonization in the Americas.4 Under the encomienda system, for example, indigenous populations in the central valley of Mexico and the Andean highlands were forced to provide tribute—in the form of labor or goods—to colonial title holders. In return, encomenderos were supposed to instruct indigenous people in the Christian faith.5 In some regions, such as the Andean highlands, the system later evolved into a forced labor draft through which indigenous communities provided an annual quota of laborers to the Spanish colonial government.6 Many of these workers ended up toiling in mines to produce the silver that fueled Spain’s colonial empire. In one notorious case, untold numbers of indigenous people died from prolonged exposure to mercury, the toxic mineral used by colonists to extract silver from mined ore.7

These injustices have taken on new forms over time. Across the Americas, indigenous people continue to struggle against unjust systems. In South America, indigenous communities are fighting to maintain their livelihoods and access to communal lands in the face of multinational corporations seeking to profit from the production of oil and hydroelectric power. Similar dynamics are playing out in North America between the Standing Rock Sioux and developers of the Dakota Access Pipeline. At the heart of both colonial, pre-capitalist economic systems and the current globalized, neoliberal order is the desire to maximize profit through the control of natural resources and the labor of others. And, as history shows, those in power—including governments and corporations—are not above using violence and repression to protect those interests.

As people who care about peace and social justice, what responsibility do Mennonite and other members of the Anabaptist community have to right the wrongs of history? In our statement on April 22, I said that Mennonite Church USA affirms the current efforts among Mennonites and people of Anabaptist faith to “actively dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery at every level of society—in our laws and policies, in our states, in our communities, in our church institutions and in our congregations.” What can we do as individuals and as a denomination to make good on this commitment? This seems like a daunting (even impossible) goal to accomplish in light of over 500 years of injustice and a global economic system that continues to favor the interests of the powerful few at the expense of millions. But I think it is important to think about what it would look like to put these convictions into practice.

Education and consciousness-raising are clearly two of the best places to start. We can’t address injustice without first taking the time to understand how it has functioned in both its historical and present contexts. The Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition has already done much work in this regard. The coalition recently produced a documentary that explains the historical context and theological basis of the Doctrine of Discovery and has also published study guides and reflections that help establish a biblical foundation to expose the misinterpretation of God’s word that the fifteenth century Church used to justify colonization.

It’s also important to open dialogue and build relationships with indigenous brothers and sisters in our local communities and across the country. For example, Ervin Stutzman, executive director of MC USA, and Jess McPherson, an educator and multidisciplinary artist of Susquehanna descent, have engaged in conversation about Stutzman’s work in historical fiction and how identities (as Amish, Native American, etc.) influence our ability to “tell history with integrity.” In northern Indiana, people like Rich Meyer have spent years researching the history of the Potawatomi and building relationships with members of the Potawatomi community. More recently, students and faculty at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary have worked to plan and lead a nine-day Trail of Death Pilgrimage from Indiana to Kansas. The course provides opportunities for participants to learn from members of the Potawatomi community about their history and the challenges they continue to face.

How do we get from education and relationship-building to the “actively dismantling” part? What would justice look like for Native American communities today and how can Mennonites best work in solidarity with them to achieve it? Would justice involve returning land, as the Jesuit order recently did to the Rosebud Sioux? Should Mennonite Church USA or member conferences and congregations establish a tithe paid to descendants of indigenous communities expelled from their lands? Or would dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery require a more radical restructuring of society and the legal, economic, and philosophical frameworks that underpin it? I don’t have answers to these questions. But the examples of people like Adam Friesen Miller and his students give me hope that God is at work in the relationships that Mennonites are building with Native American brothers and sisters, and that justice is possible.


  1.  The Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition defines the Doctrine of Discovery as a “philosophical and legal framework dating to the 15th century that gave Christian governments moral and legal rights to invade and seize indigenous lands and dominate indigenous peoples.” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History website contains a brief synopsis of its historical evolution as a concept. 
  2. The statement benefited greatly from feedback and phrasing suggestions given by Rich Meyer, Sarah Augustine, Katerina Friesen, and David B. Miller. 
  3. Augustine is co-director of Suriname Indigenous Health Fund, a private international charity, and Professor of Sociology at Heritage University. She is also actively involved in Mennonite efforts to work towards justice for indigenous communities in North America through the Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition. 
  4. I’m most familiar with the case of Latin America but these dynamics played out in the context of British, French, and Dutch colonialism as well. 
  5. The encomienda was not initially a land grant. In the early years of colonization land held little inherent value without access to indigenous laborers to make it productive. This is one reason why the encomienda system became so entrenched in the highly populated regions of central Mexico and highland Peru. For a classic essay on the subject, see James Lockhart, “Encomienda and Hacienda: The Evolution of the Great Estate in the Spanish Indies,” Hispanic American Historical Review 49:3 (Aug. 1969), 411-429. 
  6. Many indigenous “elites” and middlemen actually profited from such colonial labor systems. 
  7. Nicholas A. Robins, Mercury, Mining, and Empire: The Human and Ecological Cost of Colonial Silver Mining in the Andes (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2011).