Try 1 month for 99¢

A separate peace

ST. IGNATIUS - It's 9:30 on a Saturday morning, and the Hochstetler family is hard at work inside and outside their rambling farmhouse one mile east of St. Ignatius, on Watson Road.

Two Hochstetler children feed the chickens while an older sister sweeps the floor in the entrance hall. One boy mows the lawn with a gas-powered mower. PollyAnna Hochstetler, the mother of this brood of seven industrious children, bustles from the kitchen to the laundry room, doing household chores on the fly. Like her daughters, she wears a "veiling," or head covering, and a pale blue, ankle-length frock. Smiling, she offers a visitor coffee. But otherwise she remains quiet.

Her husband, Glen Hochstetler, emerges from an outbuilding. His body is thin and muscular, and he sports homemade jeans, black suspenders and a full beard. His handshake is firm, his smile open.

They call themselves the Plain People. They're members of a community that works hard at staying rooted in the relatively safe and sane ways of the 19th century rather than embracing the brave, new 21st.

"This is the Plain People's philosophy," Hochstetler says. "The Bible says you must earn your bread by the sweat of your brow."

The Hochstetlers are among a dozen Amish families who over the past two years have settled in the Mission Valley from as far away as Indiana and Ohio and from as near as western Montana's other Amish community, in Lincoln County. They're drawn here to the heart of the Flathead Indian Reservation, they say, because it's a nice place to raise a family and to work, and the natural resources they need - water, good soil, timber - are readily available.

Two years ago, a core group of three families moved to the Mission Valley from Rexford, north of Eureka, where a sizable Amish settlement has existed for more than 20 years. They came here to start a more traditional community. Others visited and followed. Now 75 Amish live on farms or acreages near St. Ignatius. Another family just moved in last month.

"We were looking for a new place to settle," says Hochstetler, who arrived about a year ago from an Amish village in Salem, Ind.

"We visited many areas before we decided to come here," he says. "One of our biggest reasons is because I am a minister, and they needed a minister. There was also available land and plenty of business opportunities."

Amish settlers especially like the sleepy little town of St. Ignatius, some 45 miles from Missoula. The town is situated off the main highway, and several roads leading into it are relatively safe for the buggies and bicycles the Amish use for daily transportation.

"St. Ignatius is one of the best little horse-and-buggy towns we've seen," Steve Kauffman says.

He and his wife, Linda, run a modern dairy, Amish-style, a couple of miles east of the Hochstetler farm.

Kauffman uses a team of horses to feed his cows in the winter. But he also owns and uses an old tractor, valuable for its "power take-off" feature, which gives him portable power in the field.

"I grew up milking by hand," he says. "This is definitely a long ways from that. But it is also a long ways from the machinery in a large, modern dairy."

Some Amish still refuse to use tractors or modern milking machinery. But competitive pressures and government regulations have forced others, such as the Kauffmans, to adapt and adopt.

And the Amish do adapt to change. They just do it more slowly and more carefully than almost anybody else.

Kauffman's dairy, for example, is licensed by the state, and he sells the milk commercially. So it must be refrigerated, something more conservative Amish dairymen resist. He needs lots of hot water to clean the milking machines, so he has a propane water heater. He also uses diesel power or propane to run compressors, heaters and vacuums that cool his milk-storage vat, operate the automated milkers and heat the water in the water tank.

Back down the road, inside the Hochstetler kitchen, gas lamps purr overhead, hanging from the ceiling. Otherwise, despite all the activity inside and out, the home is quiet. The walls are bare of decoration except for calendars hanging near the two wall clocks, both of which seem to be set 10 minutes fast.

Indoor plants are everywhere, providing color and decorative relief in the otherwise sparsely decorated home. The kitchen floors are devoid of carpets and rugs, free also of toys, shoes or any other disorder. Kitchen countertops are remarkably free of clutter. There's no toaster, so no crumbs. No microwave, so no microwave hutch. No radio, no breadmaker, no mixer - no electric appliance, period.

The Hochstetlers, like most Amish, use no electricity in their home and use electricity as little as possible elsewhere. When electricity is vital for competitive or other reasons, to run power tools or industrial machines at the job site, for example, they use diesel-powered generators or banks of batteries to run tools and machines.

Although they don't drive automobiles on public highways (Amish don't own personal vehicles or buy insurance) the men will operate vehicular machinery as needed for their work.

In the small sawmill where Hochstetler works, for example, he drives a Bobcat tractor to lift logs to the head saw. A diesel engine drives the saw. Contractors - not Amish - bring in the logs from the woods on trucks and cart away the finished lumber for sale.

If Amish men work far from home, as many must to earn a living, they may catch rides with non-Amish co-workers. Sometimes they hire neighbors to drive them to and from their job sites.

Children ride horses, ride bikes or walk to their one-room Amish school. Obesity isn't a problem for them or adults in the Mission Valley congregation.

Members of the Amish community say they have no bones to pick with modern science or technology and there's no biblical law against useful new inventions. The choice of what technology to allow and what to prohibit is based on practical considerations - namely, what will maintain family unity and a life centered on God and home.

"We have to adapt some technology in order to get along in this world," Hochstetler says. "But the technology we refuse to accept are the ones we see as drastically changing our lifestyle."

Take the telephone. Only about a century old, it's now in virtually every Amish home in the Mission Valley and in most Amish communities elsewhere.

"Over the years, here and there, a church decided to accept it and then a few more churches, and slowly it was adopted in most homes," Hochstetler says. This is how Amish life evolves - slowly, deliberately and only after much community discussion.

Why is the telephone OK but not the radio?

"We believe it is not much danger of the telephone changing our lifestyle or bringing evil influences into our home," Hochstetler explains. "With radio, TV, the Internet, you have access to all kinds of evils."

In the Hochstetler kitchen, no morning paper litters the table; news from the outside world isn't a vital part of traditional Amish life. But there's no restriction on reading newspapers or magazines, and some homes have them, as they do secular books. Each home has a German Bible and a hymnbook. The children learn German before they learn English, and all religious services are in German dialect.

Many of the Amish women make and sell the famous Amish quilts, and they make almost all the clothing the family wears. Instead of using the old-fashioned Singer treadle machines, they've adapted treadles to run modern Bernina machines. Some even have powered the Berninas with batteries charged by solar power fed to the machines through power inverters. But they never use the latest Berninas, which have computer chips.

The Amish generally welcome indoor plumbing and water heaters because, they say, experience has shown they don't threaten family unity, disrupt their culture of thrift and hard work, or lessen devotion to God. In a room beyond the Hochstetler's kitchen, though, laundry hangs drying on a temporary clothesline. Like TV and radio, the modern tumble dryer isn't an appliance yet adopted in their household.

Too many labor-saving appliances in the home might give women too much leisure, some of the Amish confide. For the Plain People, too much leisure isn't a desirable state of affairs.

"Doing without all that stuff, my wife can stay home and be a homebody," says Mike Yoder, a carpenter, home builder and close neighbor of the Hochstetlers. "That is her position in life, to be a housewife."

Like many conservative Christian groups, the Amish follow what they believe to be a divinely inspired social order based on biblical principles. Leadership flows from God the Father to the males in the community. The men do most of the talking around outsiders.

Besides becoming husbands and fathers, men alone can become breadwinners and school board members. And only men may become ministers. Any married man may be a minister, but the Amish choose their ministers by lot, not by election or appointment.

"Men see what is before the eye, but God knows what is in the heart," one Amish minister explains. "So, we leave it up to God to make the final choice of a minister."

In general, only men may leave home to work for wages in the outside world. But a few women and older girls in this community do some housecleaning in St. Ignatius. Amish women travel freely alone, however, hitching up the buggies or wagons to visit one another's homes or shop in St. Ignatius.

In a well-ordered Amish community, wives willingly defer to their husbands' leadership. They are modest in dress and demeanor and don't wear makeup or use other beauty products.

An Amish woman's duty "is to reserve all her beauty for the eyes of her husband, rather than advertise herself to attract others," an Amish tract explains.

In return for loyalty and obedience from his wife and children, a husband and father must be kind, loving, faithful, hardworking and careful not to act arbitrarily or unfairly, lest he provoke anger or resentment in other family members. Marriage is for life.

The children, especially, lead active lives filled with work and play. When they're not pitching in on family chores, you might see them racing down the gravel road on their bikes, bouncing on a backyard trampoline, playing volleyball or joining friends and neighbors in a spirited game of softball. The teen-agers aren't ever glued to a television or computer screen, and they don't "cruise Main" in cars or pickup trucks in town.

"We love doing things together as a family, things outdoors - camping, hiking, bird-watching," Mike Yoder says. "We also feel it's important to have fellowship with the brethren in the church and community. That's an important part of our lives."

Visit St. Ignatius this summer, and you may meet the Hochstetlers or other members of the Amish community while they're out for a drive in their buggies, shopping at a local store or selling produce from their gardens. They're easily recognizable by their distinctive dress. The adult men - those over 15 or so who have confessed their belief in the Amish faith and have been confirmed in it - grow full beards. The boys and younger teen-agers are clean-shaven. Sometimes the men wear flat-brimmed straw hats with a simple black headband. But usually they're bare-headed, unlike the women, who never are bareheaded in public.

Amish families who've settled in the Mission Valley earn their living at a variety of occupations, although they prefer farming, animal husbandry or other jobs close to the land and nature to other lines of work.

Among the families in this Amish community, one man builds mini-barns for a living, selling them all over the Mission Valley. Two families operate small sawmills, cutting dimension lumber or posts and poles. Another man has a custom butcher shop under construction. One is a mason, another a carpenter. The Hochstetlers take in visitors on Thursday nights, offering them a country dinner with all the trimmings, including two kinds of home-baked pie, for a free-will offering.

Every family has a garden, and most families have enough acreage to grow at least some hay for their livestock. The livestock always include a couple of high-stepping horses to pull a buggy, and often larger work horses to skid logs or pull hay wagons.

Many of the families sell fresh corn or other produce at Rod's Harvest Foods or roadside stands along Airport Road, leading into town.

The Amish worship together on Sundays, taking turns hosting worship services in their homes. Like Hutterites and Mennonites, the Amish trace their roots to the Anabaptist movement of the early Reformation. But unlike the Hutterites, they don't live communally. Their conservative religious practices and the intensity of separation from secular culture distinguishes the Amish from members of the Mennonite Church.

They take out bank loans, and some may even use credit cards. Last year, the Mission Valley Amish community took out a loan to build a small, one-room school. Two Amish women, one 19 and one 20, are the teachers. No formal education is allowed in the Amish community past the eighth grade, not for teachers or even ministers of the Gospel. Further education would serve no desirable purpose, Amish leaders say: Reading, writing and arithmetic are all the skills needed to earn an honest living. Thus there are no Amish lawyers, accountants, architects or marketing executives. Such professionals, when needed, are hired from the outside world.

The novelty of the Amish in St. Ignatius has worn off for their neighbors. Local folks say they respect the Amish for fair dealing, hard work and self-reliance. Tourists sometimes gawk, but most respect the Amish's desire not to be treated like roadside attractions or photographed like national monuments.

Local folks accept them and welcome them with open arms.

A gathering place for the Amish is the Malt Shop in St. Ignatius. Whole families stop in, ordering burgers with all the trimmings or just ice cream cones. The younger children are quite outgoing, local folks say; Amish teen-agers seem more reserved.

There's a hitching post out back of the restaurant, reserved for their horse-drawn wagons and buggies, courtesy of Malt Shop owners Mike and Amy Miller.

"They are just normal people who bring the little ones in for ice cream," says Kelly Glover, a cook at the shop.

"They are very friendly people, very polite," adds Shauna Koyle, the shop's manager.

"The kids are so quiet and well-behaved, a lot of times you don't even know they are in the store," agrees Gambles assistant manager Arleta Long. Gambles is the town's hardware store, and the Amish are frequent visitors.

They also have community spirit, she says. Last year, Amish families contributed lumber and other merchandise to the volunteer firefighters' benefit, she says.

The Amish don't actively encourage Amish from other areas to come to join the Mission Valley congregation. Nor do they encourage outsiders to become members of their church.

But occasionally, sincere outsiders who agree to live by the rules of the community and learn the German dialect in which worship is held are baptized as Amish believers.

The Amish don't participate much in outside community life. They don't vote in elections, for example, and they steadfastly refuse military service. But they obey other laws; pay property taxes; and contribute to Social Security, as the federal government requires.

They don't have private insurance, relying instead on community and family help in cases of sickness - even for disability and life-threatening illnesses. If the local community's strapped for resources, the call goes out to other Amish communities across the country for free-will offerings. The bills get paid.

And they never take government handouts, be it in the form of food stamps, welfare payments or farm subsidies.

In fact, back in the 16th century, the Amish virtually invented the constitutional concept of separation of church and state. They're fiercely independent of secular government.

They're nonviolent and pacifists, for example, and refuse to take up arms to defend themselves or to make war.

"In the First World War, Amish men went to prison rather than serve in the Army," Hochstetler says. The U.S. Supreme Court later upheld the right of the Amish to be conscientious objectors when drafted in World War II, and the Amish who were drafted were allowed to work in nonviolent service jobs.

More recently, a Wisconsin Amish community refused to send its children to high school, as the state demanded. In a landmark 1972 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Amish right to religious freedom, saying Wisconsin's demand for compulsory schooling after the eighth grade was an impermissible intrusion of the state into the Amish's deeply held religious beliefs.

"We try to keep ourselves uninvolved in politics or government," Hochstetler says. "Voting would involve us."

Besides, says one member of the congregation, there have been few if any candidates for high office in recent years who meet the standards Amish would require.

Politics and secular life in general are too distracting for the Amish, whose sights are set on salvation in the next world while working hard in this one.

"Love God, and love your neighbor is the Amish view," Mike Yoder says.

The Amish don't, however, push their views on outsiders. "We realize that not everyone is cut out to be one of the Plain People," Yoder says.

But he and other members of the Mission Valley congregation say outsiders could learn a thing or two about living a happy, healthy and energetic life by adopting some of the Amish ways.

"If you admire our faith, strengthen yours," Yoder says. "If you admire our sense of commitment, deepen yours. If you admire our community spirit, build one. If you admire the simple life, cut back."

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.
You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.