- Historic Sites
The Mennonites Come To Kansas
Their religion and customs were strange, but these master farmers from the Russian steppes turned a treeless prairie into America’s granary
August 1959 | Volume 10, Issue 5
And yet, in other ways, Prentis' prophecy has come true. Today the descendants of the Russian Mennonites have become Americanized to a considerable extent. The German language has gone out of general use, and with the advent of English many American ideas have also been accepted.
Yet the Mennonite land still retains its special flavor. Though the people have discarded their somber clothing and many of the special peculiarities that once set them apart from their neighbors, simplicity remains the cardinal virtue of their lives. Every Sunday they pack their churches, retaining the faith of their fathers and the pacifism for which they and their ancestors have sacrificed so much.
And they have exerted a tremendous influence upon their adopted country. It was their example of industry and toil which proved to the dispirited homesteaders that, despite grasshoppers and drought, the Great Plains could be cultivated and could produce rich harvests of corn and wheat. When the Mennonite farmers first planted the tiny red grains that they had so carefully transported all the way from Russia, their act went completely unnoticed. It was only when vast green fields began to yellow and ripen that their American neighbors inquired about their success with wheat. The Mennonites replied modestly that it was a variety that grew abundantly in the Ukraine, a type they called Turkey Red. As year after year the harvests of Turkey Red increased, Kansas became the nation’s largest producer of wheat. Agricultural experts turned their attention to Russian wheat and even made trips to South Russia to bring back various types. For many years Turkey Red remained the principal variety, but it was gradually replaced with hybrids that reflected only the hardier traits of the original strain.
Elder Jacob Wiebe, arriving in the little Kansas town in 1874, need not have wept for the future: his people have transformed their barren surroundings into a national asset, and have found here a lasting home.