In the course of the nineteenth century, military service became so widely accepted in Germany that those who refused to serve were no longer considered proper Germans. This new understanding of citizenship was due in part to a powerful linkage between a commitment to defend the nation and a claim to be part of the nation. Universal military conscription and universal manhood suffrage were the primary expressions of defending and belonging to the nation, a linkage that remains a crucial aspect of modern nationalism.1 At the same time, however, it made the continued existence of traditional Mennonite communities in Germany impossible, forcing Mennonites to change their religion or emigrate.

The roughly twelve thousand Mennonites near Danzig/Gdansk in the Vistula Delta comprised both the largest and the most conservative settlement of the twenty thousand Mennonites in Germany. The Vistula Delta community was organized into roughly twenty congregations, each led by an elder and preachers who had been elected for life. Until the end of the nineteenth century Mennonites constituted Germany's largest Free-Church minority.2

The linkage between belonging to the nation and serving in its army found its first widespread application in Germany in the aftermath of the Austro-Prussian war of 1866.3 The resulting shift in domestic politics created a Germany in which for the first time it became illegal for Mennonites to avoid military service. This pressure split the Mennonite community of the Vistula Delta into pro and anti-military service camps, making this story an important early case study of the adaptation of a pacifist religious minority to the stresses of modern nationalism. Most Mennonites chose to stay in Germany and to adapt their religious commitments to the new requirements. The minority of Mennonites who decided to maintain their religious traditions found themselves compelled to emigrate before they had time to consider all the ramifications of selecting a final destination. They quickly discovered problems with the traditional solution of resettlement in Russia. Forced to seek alternatives, they found new opportunities in Gage and Jefferson counties in Nebraska and in Harvey, Butler, and Marion counties in Kansas.

The Imposition of Military Service

Following the Partitions of Poland in the late eighteenth century, the Prussian government exempted the Mennonites of the Vistula Delta from military service in return for a collective annual fee. This exemption came with an additional price. Starting with a royal Edict of 1789, a number of laws restricted Mennonites' legal rights. They needed special permission from Berlin in order to buy property from non-Mennonites, which was rarely granted. Males from outside were not allowed to join the Mennonite church, since those who were not born with the military exemption were not allowed to gain it by converting. These hardships resulted in significant emigration of Mennonites from the Vistula Delta to southern Russia throughout the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century.4

In the aftermath of the 1848 revolution in Prussia, King Frederick William IV confirmed the Mennonites' exemption over the objections of the newly constituted Parliament (Landtag). Discussion of Mennonite policy in the areas of church taxes, military service, or land purchases came up in the Prussian Parliament in several sessions of the 1850s. Parliamentary impatience over an often-promised but never-delivered governmental initiative on Mennonites led to a law being introduced from the floor in 1861 that would have granted Mennonites most civil rights in exchange for requiring them to serve in the military, placing the debate over the Mennonites' exemption squarely alongside the most contentious issue of Prussian politics.5

The early 1860s marked Prussia's deepest political crisis since 1848. The crown and the parliament deadlocked over the limits of royal power, a conflict centered on the question of who ultimately controlled the army. That debate was colored by a long-standing tension between liberals who looked to a militia based on universal military service as a bulwark against absolutist royal power and the crown and conservatives who favored a standing army with longer terms of service that could reliably be turned against internal enemies.6 Parliamentary and societal debates about military service in this decade were therefore always arguments about the future identity of Germany as well.

The Prussian victory in 1866 over Austria stunned Europeans and ended Prussia's political stalemate in favor of the monarchy. Even more shocking were Bismarck's revolutionary policies of annexing the northern German kingdoms that had fought against Prussia and introducing universal manhood suffrage. These events triggered important changes in German domestic politics. Many liberals abandoned the principle of parliamentary oversight over the army in light of its success in achieving German unification. In the hopes of sharing in political power, some liberals split off to form a new party in 1867, the National Liberal Party, which supported Bismarck's policies.7

The same year Bismarck created a North German Confederation, which consisted of a much enlarged Prussia and its north and central German allies. Bismarck himself drafted the constitution for this new state, which included both the provision that all North Germans were liable for conscription and universal suffrage for males.8 Prussia's victory and subsequent hegemony in Germany cast the Prussian military as the role model for the army of the North German Confederation that emerged in 1867 and for the Imperial army after 1871. Prussia's style of universal conscription was therefore extended throughout Germany.

In October 1867 the new Confederation Parliament debated the government's proposed military service law. Among other provisions, the government proposed to reinstate military exemptions for three classes of North Germans: the ruling Hohenzollern family of Prussia, the ruling families of formerly sovereign German states, and Mennonites.9

Representatives from both the left and the right in the Parliament vehemently attacked the suggestion that some Germans should be exempted from military service. The left liberal Franz Duncker argued that conscription's political importance was connected to its universality, for only an army based on universal conscription emphasized the people's sovereignty over the king's. Conscription, he claimed, was "only a great and holy principle if it really allows no exceptions at all."10 The constitution, he continued, must be a law for all and both Mennonite and noble exemptions therefore must not be allowed.

On the right, National Liberals emphasized the threat to the principles of nationalism that such an arrangement entailed. Adolf Weber made the argument most succinctly when he exclaimed, "Whoever will not defend his homeland (Heimath) should leave it! Whoever will not defend his fatherland does not have one!"11 Julius von Hennig, a member of the National Liberal leadership, detailed for the Parliament in great length what he saw as the shameful history of Mennonite exemption. He lamented the status quo in the Vistula Delta, which allowed Mennonites to get out of military service at the price of only one half Reichsthaler per person per year.12 Both Henning and Weber, however, supported the nobles' exemption from military service. They considered it to be based on state treaties, which could only be revised with the consent of those involved.13

The proposal of the government to maintain the Mennonites' exemption was easily voted down. The nobles' military exemption in contrast passed by a large majority.14 In upholding the noble exemption while voting down the Mennonite exemption, the National Liberals could both signal their support for the government's military proposals and move the liberal project of equal laws for all forward on a smaller - and politically safer - front. Likewise left liberals could at least salvage one small victory by extending universal conscription to an additional group. The North German Parliament had full knowledge of Mennonites' religious scruples and explicitly ruled out exceptions for them when it codified the link between membership in the German nation and service in the German military.

Much of the Mennonite leadership did not see the situation as hopeless. They expected that the king would be willing and able to intervene on their behalf as he had in the past. The first step, taken on October 23, 1867, was to dispatch a deputation of five Elders to Berlin.15 The key leader was Elder Gerhard Penner of Heubuden, the largest Mennonite congregation in the Vistula Delta. He subsequently became the main champion of Mennonite emigration to the United States. Upon arrival the delegation spent time observing the Confederation Parliament.16 They were unable, however, to affect the outcome of the debate.

Mennonite church at Heubuden, West Prussia
Mennonite church at Ladekopp, West Prussia, 1930
Mennonite church at Fürstenwerder, West Prussia

To the Mennonites' dismay, the king signed the military service law on November 9, 1867. In response, the collective Mennonite leadership of the Vistula Delta sent numerous petitions to Berlin. The petitioners acknowledged the tension between the demands of citizenship and their religious scruples, but gave religious convictions the higher priority, claiming "We are willing to lay down our lives for our brothers, but we can not kill them. Our Lord and Savior commanded 'Love your enemies,' and we wish to obey."17

Mennonites also followed up with another deputation of the same five elders, who on February 25, 1868, met with King William I. They requested either continued exemption or at a minimum an extension to provide them time to emigrate. Clearly some Mennonites were already making plans to leave Prussia. The king assured them that provisions were in the works to take their religious scruples into account.18

King/Kaiser William I

The provision the king had in mind was a suggestion forwarded by Bismarck that Mennonites be allowed to serve in non-combatant roles. On March 3, 1868, a cabinet order to this effect was signed.19 Mennonites who did not volunteer for active duty were to be drafted into non-combatant positions and would serve as clerks, medics, artisans, or wagoners. Soon afterward the Prussian parliament voted to abolish the special tax the Mennonites had paid for their group exemption. A directive by the Minister of the Interior lifted all restrictions on buying property. Mennonites, however, still paid special church taxes to the Protestant state church and their congregations were not recognized as legal entities.

The Fracturing of the Mennonite Community

The new legal possibility of non-combatant service meant that Mennonites no longer only had to choose between regular military service or emigration. Instead they were forced to consider again where the limits of conscience lay. The different answers to that question split the Vistula River Mennonite community into bitterly squabbling factions. The fact that the leadership was more conservative than the laity led some lay members to initiate a petition drive in the fall of 1868.

This lay-led petition sought the revocation of the 1789 Mennonite Edict and the right to incorporate their congregations, a status otherwise reserved for Protestants and Catholics. The effort eventually garnered almost 1,300 signatures.20 Especially striking in this context of demanding full civil rights was the absence of female signatures on the petition. Earlier Mennonite petitions to local officials that had dealt with local village affairs typically had been signed by all property owners, including widows.21 Women's signatures, however, were completely missing from this petition bound for Berlin from potential Prussian soldiers. Perhaps the leaders of the petition drive were uneasy about having women sign a document that called for greater civil rights based on military service. The lack of widows' signatures certainly highlights the masculine basis for Mennonite civil rights. Property rights no longer factored into the debate, since Mennonites no longer faced those restrictions. The petition signers argued for civil rights on the basis of what was due all male Germans who agreed to defend the state.

Mennonite demands for civil rights were finally taken into account in 1874 with the passage of the Law Concerning the Circumstances of the Mennonites. That law recognized their congregations as legal entities that could own property. The law fudged on the issue of church taxes, however, and some Mennonites continued to pay taxes to the Protestant church until the 1920s.22 Nonetheless, the 1874 Mennonite law marked the formal emancipation of the Mennonites, five years after Jewish emancipation in the North German Confederation.23

At the same time as some lay leaders were petitioning for their civil rights, the leadership of the conservatives mounted a petition drive with exactly the opposite intention. In March 1869 their effort collected over 1,800 signatures, five hundred more than the lay-led petition.24 The main demand of these petitioners was reinstatement of the Mennonite exemption. The traditionalists' petition did acknowledge a tension between citizens' rights and duties. The conservative leadership, however, felt the liberals in Parliament were most responsible for their plight and had singled out Mennonites for punishment because they tended to vote conservative. If Mennonite voting patterns were the problem, the petitioners proposed a simple solution: "Why allow us to vote? We do not demand it and would be more than happy to give it up at any time."25

Thus in early 1869 over eighteen hundred Mennonites petitioned for reinstatement of their exemption at the cost of civil rights, while at the end of the year almost thirteen hundred men signed a petition demanding the exact opposite. Yet the conservatives' petition had no effect on public policy. There was to be no place in the new Germany for male citizens who would not serve in the military. Having failed to influence the Parliament or the government, Mennonites sought relief from the Prussian court system.

Mennonites in Court

The plans of even a few Mennonite families to emigrate immediately over the issue of military service forced the government to consider the issue of allowing draft-age males to emigrate. For example, in September 1868 Abraham Bergman of Bröske wanted to emigrate with three sons of or approaching draft age; Abraham, age twenty; Peter age eighteen; and Jacob, age sixteen.26 As a result of this and other cases, the State Ministry on November 28 ordered the army to grant Mennonites in the Vistula Delta a two-year reprieve from military service if they so desired. In addition, exit visas that included dismissal from Prussian citizenship were to be given to these Mennonites.27

Gerhard Penner and his allies in leadership put great pressure on their congregations to emigrate, applying church discipline to members who opted for military service in any form. This practice sparked conflict in several congregations. For example, the Elbing-Ellerwald congregation experienced a sharp conflict in late 1869 between its elder, Johann Andreas, and his flock. This congregation maintained two meeting houses, one in the city of Elbing and the other in the rural area of Ellerwald to the west of town. Especially the urban members insisted on accepting non-combatant military service since they did not want to emigrate and claimed that "no suitable emigration option" was available.28 Elder Andreas considered those unwilling to emigrate not to be Mennonites anymore and refused to serve communion to or baptize members of families holding such views. The Elbing members in return barred him from the city pulpit.

Elder Johann Andreas and his wife Anna (Fast), ca. 1870

The Ellerwald group could not reach a consensus to depose Andreas as Elbing members insisted. A stalemate ensued. Since Andreas' sons were past draft age, he could afford to wait out the government. Ellerwald members who had sons being registered for the draft, however, could not wait. In the spring of 1870 they took the unprecedented step of electing a co-elder to serve alongside Andreas, in effect de facto deposing Andreas without having to take the painful step of actually throwing him out of office. When Andreas left for the United States in 1876, he took the church membership book with him as a symbol of his authority over the remnant of what he considered the true Mennonite church.29

After several additional petitions to the government brought no response, more families, especially those with draft-age sons, turned to emigration as the only viable option to avoid military service.30 Legal emigration required the permission of the military bureaucracy. Officials were readily issuing the exit passes needed, revoking the Mennonites' Prussian citizenship at the same time. Since pass bearers had become non-Prussians they were of course exempt from military service.31 The Mennonite regulations issued in November of 1868 made these passes easy to obtain, and in 1869 interest in them increased. Allowing emigration in this fashion in fact contradicted state policy. In 1863 Bismarck had ordered his Minister of Commerce to discourage it since "to emigrate was to betray the fatherland."32 Mennonites, however, had little trouble getting exit passes, a sign they were not wanted in Germany if they would not serve in the army.

The government granted such exit passes to allow emigrants time to settle their affairs before departing. According to the Danzig District Government, some Mennonites, having secured these passes for their sons, were taking far too long to depart. Local officials argued that Mennonites were avoiding military service by renouncing their citizenship yet staying in the country.33 One of them, David van Riesen, was drafted as a medic in 1871 despite holding a valid exit permit. Penner and the Heubuden church board protested on his behalf. An investigation revealed that since the exit pass revoked van Riesen's citizenship, he could not be drafted. Count Friedrich zu Eulenburg, Prussian Minister of the Interior, ordered Danzig officials to drop the case because a new law had recently closed this loophole by putting a six-month expiration date on new exit passes.34 The news of van Riesen's official release from military service created a minor stir in Mennonite circles. Some Mennonites in other congregations gained the impression that Penner was able to protect individuals from military service and sought to join the Heubuden congregation on this account.35

Once the exit pass loophole was closed, individual cases became more acute, pushing conservative royalist Mennonites to break the law. By 1873 the Danzig District Government reported to Berlin a need to use "energetic coercion (energische Zwangsmaßregeln)" to get recalcitrant Mennonites to bring their sons in for mustering.36

Johann Dyck's case followed immediately on the heels of David van Riesen's and provided an example of the "energetic coercion" that the District Government was now using. Dyck was still in Prussia when his exit pass expired under the new six-month deadline.37 Attempts to secure an extension yielded only a draft notice to serve as a wagoner.38 As the April 22, 1872, induction date approached, Dyck went into hiding, but the police found him. He was delivered to the military office in Marienburg. Since he refused to accept the train ticket to Berlin, where he was to be stationed, he was kept overnight under military arrest. The next morning a military detachment escorted him to Berlin on the train. Once there he refused to put on his uniform. It was put on him by force. He refused to swear the oath of induction and loyalty to the emperor. For these offenses he received multiple sentences of several days in confinement. After they had been served, he was asked once more to swear the oath. He refused and was confined again. This cycle repeated itself numerous times with the length of confinement after each refusal reaching seven days. In September the military admitted that no progress had been made in breaking Dyck's will.39 Penner and Elder Wilhelm Ewert of the tiny Obernessau congregation up the Vistula River near Thorn traveled in November to Berlin on Dyck's behalf. They petitioned the emperor at least to let Dyck emigrate if he could not be exempted. All their efforts were to no avail.40

Elder Wilhelm Ewert, ca. 1880

The Dyck case made the futility of depending on the emperor excruciatingly clear to Penner and his dwindling base of support. In their June 1872 petition to the Ministers of War, the Interior, Justice, and Culture, the Penner group admitted their faith "in the emperor was sorely tested by the coercion the military employs against our brother to force him to swear an oath and to deny his faith."41 The government notified the traditionalists in September 1873 that exit passes would no longer be granted.42 Mennonites who did not emigrate before their sons turned twenty could expect those boys to receive the same treatment that Johann Dyck had experienced.

To the very end Penner continued to appeal to the Prussian tradition of religious freedom. In the 1870s this rhetorical device had lost all its appeal. The Prussian state was engaged in a struggle, the Kulturkampf, to deprive the Catholic church of political power.43 The Prussian government cooperated with a wide spectrum of anti-clerical liberals to pursue its new policy. Their horror at the idea that Catholicism might be more important to German Catholics than national unity found its parallel in liberals' rejection of any special pleading by Mennonites.44

Gerhard Penner experienced the government's willingness to apply one of these anti-Catholic laws to Mennonites. A May 13, 1874, law on church discipline forbade the excommunication of members for obeying state laws. By 1874 Penner had banned at least three young men from his congregation because they had agreed to serve in the military. He attempted to block one of the three, Johann Reimer of Gross Lichtenau, from getting married in the Heubuden church. Reimer's complaints to the government resulted in energetic calls from Berlin to the Danzig District Government to investigate this case.45

On June 7, 1874, Bernhard Fieguth, a young man from the Heubuden congregation, appeared at church. It was communion Sunday, which Mennonite congregations celebrated only once or twice a year. Fieguth had joined the army in 1873 and been excommunicated for this transgression. Fieguth's father boasted to other members during the previous week that Penner would have to give his son communion, pay a fine, or go to jail. Elder Penner's son Heinrich stopped Fieguth as he entered the church and asked if he really would seek to partake in communion. Fieguth replied he wished to determine if Elder Penner would give him communion or not. Penner refused him. A week later the county prosecutor filed charges against Penner for violating the May 13, 1873 law concerning the limits of church discipline.46

The Marienburg county court on September 1, 1874, sentenced Penner to pay a fine of 25 Reichsthaler or serve a week in jail.47 Penner appealed the case all the way to Berlin. In upholding Penner's conviction in June 1875 the High Court in Berlin concluded that as long as Mennonites lived in Germany they would have to obey the May 13 law. The court's ruling delineated the official view of the proper relationship between Mennonites and the state. Penner had accused the state of legislating changes to the Mennonites' confession of faith by requiring military service. The High Court disagreed: "The state does not demand that religious communities adjust their confessions according to the law, the state demands only that all citizens regardless of confession obey the laws."48

Settling in the Great Plains

Once all legal and political avenues to avoid military service had been exhausted, emigration remained the only escape from the Prussian army. Opposition to the draft had created a small, but highly committed Mennonite community in the Vistula Delta that refused even to take communion with those Mennonites who accepted military service. Even though they wanted to settle together, differences over what constituted the best location on the Great Plains broke up traditionalist Mennonites' solidarity where German government pressure had failed. No solid figures exist on the extent of Mennonite migration out of the Vistula River basin in the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s. Government figures cited twelve thousand Mennonites in the province of Prussia in 1864 and only ten thousand in 1874, suggesting migration of two thousand or 16 percent.49 The record of arrival in America, however, suggests that fewer than half this number crossed the Atlantic.50 Others clearly moved to Russia throughout the 1860s, but how many is not known.51

After 1867 the stream of emigration to the Mennonite colonies in Russia picked up. For example, in 1869 alone 2 percent of the Mennonite population of the Danzig district emigrated to Russia.52 In 1870 Elder Wilhelm Ewert of Obernessau together with one other person went to Russia to investigate possibilities of further settlement.53 Other sources, however, warned the Mennonites that Russia would also institute conscription. For example, the Mennonite delegation to Berlin in 1868 requested Crown Prince Frederick's intervention on their behalf so that they would not have to emigrate. Frederick asked where they planned to go. When he heard that they intended to go to southern Russia, he replied "Then keep the door open for your children to return to Prussia, for Russia will soon have what we have here and then you will regret your decision."54 By 1870 the plans of the Russian government to institute the draft were well known, and emigration plans shifted to the United States.55

Emigration to the United States was a riskier undertaking than going to Russia. Prussian Mennonites had a well-established family and church network to ease the way to the east. Some Mennonites, however, considered the United States a refuge for criminals.56 Nonetheless, already in February 1870 Elder Abraham Esau of Tiegenhagen started collecting money to send a deputation to investigate America.57 German territory east of the Elbe was the main source of German emigrants to America after 1880, so the Vistula Delta Mennonites were not alone in their endeavor.58 Mennonites did have a few family ties to the new world, including Gerhard Wiebe in Ohio, a half-brother of the emigration proponent and Elder, Johann Wiebe.59 Elder Penner was also interested in the possibility of emigrating to America. He wrote to the American Embassy seeking information in April 1872, the month that Johann Dyck was drafted. Alexander Blass's reply on behalf of the embassy in December was promising, if somewhat vague on assurances of freedom from military service.60

As it appeared likely that the Mennonite exemption in Russia would also be revoked, Russian Mennonites likewise started looking toward America. Cornelius Jansen, who had lived for a while as a boy in Elder Gerhard Penner's home, became a leader of the emigration drive in Russia. He had moved in 1850 from Schidlitz/Siedlce, a suburb of Danzig, to Berdyansk, Russia, a port on the Black Sea. There he learned English from Quaker neighbors. In 1871 he contacted the American consulate in Odessa about immigration possibilities. He kept Penner and others in Prussia informed of his findings, adding important encouragement to the push to emigrate.61 When some Russian Mennonites in 1873 organized a deputation to America, Elder Wilhelm Ewert joined them.62

Cornelius Jansen, 1873

One-third of Russia's Mennonites, roughly 17,000 people, ended up emigrating to the United States and Canada in the 1870s. Their representatives spoke with President Grant and other national politicians seeking military exemption, but in the end were satisfied with rather uncertain promises. Mennonites who remained in Russia accepted the alternative finally allowed by the Russian government, which placed Mennonite young men in a civilian forestry service. Thus the several hundred Prussian Mennonites who ended up emigrating were less than 10% of the 10,000 Mennonites who arrived in the US in the 1870s.63

Following favorable reports from the deputation, Mennonite emigration from Prussia to the United States began in 1874.64 Cornelius Jansen had been expelled from Russia the year before for promoting emigration. During the family's stopover in the Vistula Delta on their way to America, his son Peter fell in love with seventeen-year old Gertrude Penner, a niece of Elder Penner. The Jansen family eventually settled in Nebraska, founding the town of Jansen with other Mennonites from Russia. In the interval, Gertrude became an emigration advocate in the Vistula Delta, threatening to cross the Atlantic alone if the others were not yet ready to go.65

Peter Jansen (left, standing) and Gertrude Penner Jansen (left, sitting), with other family members, ca. 1900

Elder Wilhelm Ewert started the move of Prussian Mennonites to Kansas. In April 1874 his family, plus two another families and a single woman, Anna Janz, left the Vistula River valley.66 They were joined by Mennonites families from Russian Poland and settled in Marion County. Ewert had selected this area himself on his 1873 trip to North America and was joined by other Mennonites from Russia to whom he had recommended it. He became the founding Elder of a new congregation, Bruderthal Mennonite Church, which was mostly comprised of Russian Mennonites.67

On June 15, 1876 Elder Johann Andreas of Elbing-Ellerwald led a group of over one hundred people through pouring rain to the train station in Simonsdorf, the closest station to the village of Heubuden. Gertrude Penner was among them. The train took them to Bremen, where they embarked for New York City.68 Several families from the urban Danzig congregation, led by Deacon Ludwig Eduard Zimmermann left as well.69 They arrived in New York on July 1, 1876. Seven families left for Halstead, Kansas, where friends were expecting them. The larger group spent two days on the train and arrived in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, on the evening of the third. Their first day of leisure to explore their new homeland was thus America's centennial.70 In Mount Pleasant they were the guests of Cornelius Jansen, who had taken up temporary residence there while his son Peter worked to establish their new home in Nebraska.71

Deacon Ludwig Eduard Zimmermann

The Heubuden group had been determined to settle together in the new country. Some families, however, had personal ties to various groups of Russian Mennonites who had already settled in different areas of the Great Plains. Opinions of the relative value of Kansas and Nebraska diverged as well. Cornelius Jansen, for example, had purchased 20,000 acres in Jefferson County, Nebraska, on behalf of Russian Mennonite immigrants. He thought the climate was ideal for raising sheep and making money from wool. The free wells provided by the Burlington and Missouri Railroad, which had sold Jansen the land, had clinched this deal.72 Others, however, thought the available land in Nebraska was too hilly and that the climate there might only be suited to spring wheat.73

One part of the group ended up founding two sister congregations in Butler County, Kansas. Six of the seven families who originally went to stay with friends in Kansas ended up purchasing property in the Whitewater area and were soon joined by some families from Mount Pleasant. In 1878 they founded the Emmaus Mennonite Church, which was led by Elder Leonhard Sudermann. Sudermann had been the elder of Cornelius Jansen's congregation in Russia and worked closely with Jansen to promote emigration among Russian Mennonites. Like Jansen, he had been born and raised in Prussia, in his case in the Heubuden congregation itself.74 Subsequent arrivals from Prussia purchased land further away from the church, resulting in Zion Mennonite Church being chartered in 1887. That same year the Chicago, Kansas, and Nebraska Railroad built a line through the area of Mennonite settlement. After consulting with the Mennonite settlers, the railroad named the new town they founded Elbing in honor of the Vistula Delta origins of this immigrant group.75

Emmaus Mennonite Church, near Elbing, Kansas. In front are Leonhard Sudermann, his wife Marie (Sudermann) Sudermann, and an unidentified child, ca. 1880

The larger part of the Mount Pleasant group settled in Nebraska on land in Gage County close to Jansen's Jefferson county settlement.76 Their arrival in Beatrice merited attention in the local press. The Beatrice Express praised the wealth of the new Prussian immigrants, estimating their collective worth at various times from $50,000 to $500,000.77 Elder Penner joined the group in 1877, having waited out the results of his trial in Prussia. He brought the Heubuden communion set with him as a symbol of his authority and of his conviction that only Mennonites who refused to join the army had remained true to their faith.78 His followers in Prussia had formed their own congregation to avoid further troubles over the issue of communion. The group was known colloquially as the "immigrants congregation." Penner's son Heinrich led this group until 1884 when he himself left for Beatrice. Immigration from Prussia to the Great Plains continued in a trickle until at least 1892.79

Original building of First Mennonite Church, Beatrice, Nebraska

In 1876 a third group of three families from the Heubuden area, apparently traveling independently, arrived in the area of Newton, Kansas. In 1878 other families from Heubuden joined them. One of the newcomers was a preacher, Peter Claassen, who organized First Mennonite Church in Newton. The congregation grew steadily from immigration over the next decade, reaching 126 members by 1889.80

Goldschar village near Newton, Kansas (a village name transferred from Prussia)
Preacher Peter Claassen and his wife Anna (Andres), ca. 1880

Thus Mennonites who tenaciously clung together in their opposition to the draft in Prussia and Germany in the 1860s and 1870s found themselves scattered between five counties and five congregations on the Great Plains in the 1880s. The vision of maintaining congregations that rejected any participation in war also developed unevenly in the New World. A few members from these churches served in World War I and many more did so in World War II.81 Despite the partial failure of the original vision, remnants of a dramatic confrontation with German militarism in the 1860s can still be seen in some of the Mennonite settlements of the Great Plains.