How Mennonites Came to Cottonwood County, Minnesota

By Kroeker, Elaine E. | MinnPost.com, October 30, 2017 | Go to article overview

How Mennonites Came to Cottonwood County, Minnesota


Kroeker, Elaine E., MinnPost.com


Believing that war and violence are inconsistent with Jesus's teachings to love one's enemies, a group of people from Molotschna Colony, Russia -- Mennonites of Dutch descent -- searched for a permanent home in the early 1870s. They found such a place, where they could follow their faith without persecution, in Minnesota's Cottonwood County.

Menno Simon, a Dutch Catholic priest born in 1496 in Witmarsum, Friesland, Holland, was part of the Anabaptist Reformation of the sixteenth century. Simons taught nonresistance, advocated a Christ-centered lifestyle, and claimed that the teachings of Jesus held the most importance in the Bible. He also taught that baptism should follow (rather than precede) a person's commitment to Jesus Christ. People who followed the teachings of Simons were called Mennonites.

To escape persecution, the original Mennonites immigrated from Western Europe to Prussia in the 1600s. From there, they moved to Russia in the 1700s. By 1789, 228 Mennonite families had settled in the village of Chortiza, the first Russian Mennonite colony. Other colonies formed as Mennonites migrated to Russia to avoid persecution in Prussia. In 1810, 400 families lived in the Molotschna Colony, which was made up of sixty villages. It is from this group that the Carson Mennonite Brethren Church founders came.

Czar Alexander II reformed the Russian military after losing the Crimean War in 1856. He terminated many of the privileges given to Mennonites by Catherine the Great, including military exemption. Mennonites, believing that participating in war compromised their faith, sent delegations to explore emigrating to North America.

The first Mennonites from Russia to arrive in Cottonwood County came in 1873, when thirteen families immigrated to Mt. Lake from the Crimea. In April 1874, Minnesota senator William Windom introduced a bill (S. No. 655) in the U.S. Senate which urged the United States to establish permanent settlements for Mennonites. He emphasized their integrity, work ethic, and need for a place to live out their religious tenets peaceably.

Mennonites from Russia began migrating to southwest Minnesota as this bill, which ultimately failed in a series of very close votes, was being debated. …

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