"THINGS HUTTERITE" DECEMBER, 2004
Newsletter of HUTTERITE STUDIES CENTRE (Manitoba and S.Dakota)
ACT OF KINDNESS: A true story from Wolf Creek:
by Tarryl (Terry) Miller, Fax 204.466.2950
In the Spirit of Christmas, I share with you a true story about Christian kindness. The setting was old Wolf Creek, a Dariusleut colony of the Hutterian Brethren whose descendants are now scattered in the hundreds throughout Alberta, Montana, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Washington.
THE NEIGHBOUR IN NEED
Not long after the Hutterites moved from Ukraine to Dakota Territory, well before the First World War, a neighbour "down on his luck" visited Wolf Creek Colony on the Jim River near Freeman. His wife had just given birth to a new baby boy, and the poor fella was in great poverty, and really needed some help. Times were hard, not just for the neighbour, but for the colony people too.
"Well, let's see what we can do for you," said Darius Vetter, the preacher. They went over to the colony kitchen and got some fresh baked Hutterite buns from the bake house, and in the root cellar they gathered a large basket of vegetables and loaded everything into the neighbour's buggy.
"Wait a minute," Darius Vetter said. By now several of the brothers and sisters were gathered around and he spoke with them in Hutterische (the Hutterite dialect) about the dire needs of their neighbour. At first some said there isn't anything else they could do because the colony itself was in great need, for times were indeed hard, but in the end all agreed the Christian thing to do is to share with your neighbour in times of difficulty, and to be generous.
"Let's go over to the milkhouse", said the preacher to the neighbour, "and see what we can find there." Several colony members went along and children were in tow everywhere. From the dairy barn they took a milk cow that had recently calved and brought her over to the buggy, and tied her up to the back. "Here you go", said Darius Vetter, "she's all yours." The neighbour graciously thanked them all, and went happily on his way home. The need had been ministered to, and had been generously met.
That's a wonderful story, but the end is not yet. Many years later, during the First World War, when there was no legal provision for conscientious objectors, fifty-six young Hutterites, single and married, were conscripted. Since the taking of human life was contrary to Scripture, and the clear teachings of Jesus, as pacifist Christians they refused to carry a weapon or even put on the uniform, although they were more than willing to do hard, even dangerous, work in civilian service. This was not acceptable to the government of that time. Hutterite young men were terribly abused and mistreated and even thrown into cells in places like Alcatraz Island and Leavenworth. Two young married brothers from Rockport Colony who'd been held in solitary confinement died as martyrs because of their mistreatment. Joseph Hofer was only 24, and Michael Hofer was 25. Although they refused to put on a military uniform, the last time Joseph's wife saw him, he was in a government-issued coffin, dressed in a military uniform! They had made him in death what he refused to be in life, a soldier! These were terrible times, and these things happened right here in North America. They could happen again.
The Wolf Creek boys were also called up for service, but when they went before the Draft Board, one of the men on the board asked who they were, and what colony they were from? When they said, "We're from Wolf Creek", he asked if they knew who he was? When they said, "no", he asked if they remembered the neighbour who years earlier was given a milk cow? They were only kids back then, but "yes" they knew all about it. "Well, I was that baby in need of milk. Now I'm working for the government as a member of this Draft Board. It's my job to decide who is supposed to go into the military, and when. Although I am only one member of the board, because of that act of kindness by your people, I will do everything I can to help you. Because I respect you and your belief, I will try to keep as many of you out of the military for as long as I possibly can." He kept his word, and according to the records, only two men from Wolf Creek were ever conscripted, and then only when the war was nearly over.
When Joseph and Michael Hofer, the martyrs from Rockport, died because of their abuse in detention, almost all of the colonies sold out and abandoned the old home places, fleeing to Manitoba and Alberta where the Canadian government assured them their beliefs would be respected. That is how the Hutterites came to Canada. By the end of the war in 1918, most South Dakota colonies were deserted and looked like ghost towns. Where once children laughed and played all that could be heard were cold howling winds blowing through hastily abandoned buildings. Only their dead were left behind.
Although most Hutterites had left for Canada by the end of 1918, Wolf Creek managed to hold on until the Great Depression of the 1930s. "All because of that one act of kindness to a neighbour in need", some would say. Think about it.
- A true story by Tarryl (Terry) Miller
(who grew up next to old Wolf Creek Colony)
HUTTERITE STUDIES CENTRE