‘It’s our ways’: The Amish arrive in southeast South DakotaMore than 50 Amish people have come to the Tripp area this year. So far, six families have bought 720 acres of land and planted crops and roots in southeast South Dakota.
By: Tom Lawrence, Forum Communications Co.
TRIPP, S.D. — Dan Borntreger is like a lot of South Dakota farmers.
He works long hours outside, wears a hat to protect himself from the sun and works with his sons to complete the daily chores.
But in other ways, Borntreger is very different from his fellow farmers in rural Tripp, a small Hutchinson County town. He doesn’t drive a tractor, can’t make a quick call to check in with his wife and doesn’t watch the noon news on TV.
Borntreger, like a few dozen other new Tripp-area residents, is Amish.
More than 50 Amish people have come to the area this year. So far, six families have bought 720 acres of land and planted crops and roots in southeast South Dakota.
They came here from Wisconsin after looking for affordable farmland. The Amish bought 320 acres initially and have since bought 400 more.
According to a recent report by The Associated Press, a westward expansion of Amish people is under way because of their population growth and their desire for affordable farmland.
Farmland in Lancaster County, Pa., for example, can cost $15,000 an acre compared with $2,000 or $3,000 per acre elsewhere.
The Amish don’t live communally like the Hutterites and Mennonites of this area, with whom they share distant religious and cultural histories dating back to the 17th century in German-speaking areas of Switzerland.
They are a traditional people who eschew most modern conveniences. They rely on old-fashioned horsepower — horses — for their field work and travel.
They dress in dark clothing, with the men wearing broad-brimmed hats, and the children are often barefoot.
“This is the way we’ve been brought up,” said Chris Borntreger, another of the new arrivals. “It’s our ways.”
Chris, 64, was working with his son-in-law, Jonas Miller, 32, and Miller’s brother, Eli, 28, on Wednesday.
Jonas and his wife, Alma, 33, just arrived in South Dakota last week with their 10 children. The men were digging a foundation for a building on a farm two miles west of Tripp.
When a reporter and photographer stopped by, they were greeted in English, but the men switched to German to discuss what they should say and how they should respond to questions.
The language they speak is often called Pennsylvania Dutch, since the Amish have long have roots in that state and Dutch was once a term used for Germanic culture.
Chris Borntreger and the Miller brothers agreed to take a brief break from work to answer a few questions and allowed a few photographs to be taken from a distance.
“We won’t pose,” Chris Borntreger said.
The Amish aren’t unfriendly; indeed, they are friendly and pleasant people. The children are intensely curious and kept a close eye on the reporter and photographer during visits to three farms.
They value modesty and don’t seek attention. Standing out from the crowd is not an Amish value.
David Yoder, 41, didn’t have much time for an interview.
Yoder and his wife, Lena, 43, and their nine children moved to rural Tripp in the middle of May. He said he had several appointments to meet and a lot of work to do, so he couldn’t pause for long.
“We like it OK,” Yoder said of South Dakota. “There’s a little bit of high water.”
Local residents said they enjoy spending time with their new neighbors and seem protective of them.
“They’ve accepted us very well,” Dan Borntreger said.
Loren Buchholz owns Prairie Pumper, a convenience store in Tripp where Amish people stop by to pick up diesel fuel, candy and some other items.
Buchholz said they are “real friendly” and people in town have grown used to seeing them ride into town in their black, horse-drawn buggies.
“At first, everybody was kind of scared of them,” he said. “They weren’t sure of them.”
But Buchholz said locals have come to admire the Amish for their friendliness, honesty and hard-working nature.
“Like I said, they’re friendly and will talk,” he said.
Chris Borntreger said the Amish want to maintain good relations with their neighbors. “We hope we can keep that,” he said when told of the kind words said about them.
“We’re all human,” Borntreger said. “We hope to maintain that.”
Mike and Annie Reiner live near Dan and Mary Borntreger and said they are good neighbors and friendly people.
“They’re really nice,” Annie Reiner said. “It’s amazing. They’re happy people, and they don’t have any technology. I really enjoy them.”
She said while most Americans are surrounded by modern devices, they don’t seem as satisfied and content as the Amish. Reiner said they are “religious, kind and gentle” people.
She stopped at an Amish bake sale and bought some food; it was very tasty, she said. One of the Borntregers’ sons broke his wrist, and she drove him to the hospital for treatment.
Dan Borntreger said the Amish accept modern medicine and use such services as they are needed. He didn’t mind answering questions about his culture and family, although a thin smile played across his face during much of the interview.
He and his wife, Mary, both 54, and their two sons and two daughters arrived in the Tripp area on April 28. They came from Tomah, Wis., he said, and were looking for land in an area with a similar climate.
“The land was too high-priced in Minnesota,” Borntreger said. “And we looked at Nebraska and North Dakota. We thought North Dakota is harsher.”
They couldn’t find land for sale in Nebraska but did so near Tripp. “It suited us pretty good,” Borntreger said.
He said more families may join them, and they may buy more land. The Amish use traditional farming methods, including putting their corn up in shocks, instead of combining.
Borntreger said they grow corn, wheat, oats and alfalfa. They have a few dairy cows and some other livestock and will acquire more.
Some of the Amish sell their milk to the Dimock Dairy.
They rely on large draft horses such as Belgians and Percherons to do their field work and rely on smaller, swifter horses to pull their buggies.
Borntreger showed one of his buggies to a reporter and explained how a backseat had been removed to make room for more storage. He’s built a buggy or two from scratch in his life, but said most Amish buy the wheels pre-made.
Clasps hold a canvas cover in place to protect the riders from the wind. Borntreger, who was born and grew up in Missouri, said they are used to cold and snow from their years in Wisconsin.
The near-constant wind in South Dakota has taken some time to get used to, he admitted, although they lived on a prominent point in Wisconsin and dealt with it there.
His sons Ezra and Danny Jr. did chores as he talked with the reporters. Borntreger sent them to tie down one of the corn shocks, and they hurried to complete the task.
The people who moved here are all related, some closely, Borntreger said. They gather in a house every other Sunday to worship.
Religion is a crucial part of their lives, he said. The Amish are part of the Anabaptist group and practice baptism in the late teens or early 20s.
The children attend schools on their farms, similar to how home-schooled children or students in a parochial school are educated, he said. They have worked with school officials to ensure that is acceptable here.
The children learn English in the schools, Borntreger said, since German is spoken in the homes. He said the kids learn the language in classrooms and while playing so they can live in a culture so foreign to them.
Borntreger said the Amish pay federal, state and local taxes and follow all laws.
Local agencies have also made some adjustments. A pair of yellow highway signs show a buggy and horse to alert drivers to the presence of Amish travelers.
The Amish don’t believe in confrontation or fights and have declined to serve in the military. Borntreger said his wife’s grandfather was drafted into the military during World War I and when he refused to serve, he was held as a prisoner of war.
They are conscientious objectors, he said, and are now treated that way by the American government.
While the Amish try to maintain a simple life that has changed very little over the centuries, they have made some accommodations. Borntreger said when he came to South Dakota, they placed their possessions in a semi and drove here.
Once here, they returned to their normal mode of travel: by buggy.
Tom Lawrence is a reporter with The Daily Republic of Mitchell, S.D., which is owned by Forum Communications Co.