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Cheap land draws Amish people to Missouri

The abundance of cheap land is drawing Amish people to rural northern Missouri.

About 10,000 Amish now call Missouri home, with many of them relocating to Schuyler County in a sparsely populated area at the Iowa border.

The majority of the nation’s 250,000 Amish still live in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana. But among states with more than 1,000 Amish, Missouri trailed only New York and Minnesota in the rate of population growth in the last year, according to a study by the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.

The influx hasn’t always been an easy one, and the Amish remain culturally isolated.

“People didn’t think too much of them the first few years,” said Robert Aldridge, Schuyler County’s presiding commissioner.

Slowly, things have changed. While many residents say they enjoy cordial relations with their Amish neighbors, others have been slower to warm to the newcomers.

Conflict between the Amish and locals is not unusual, said Karen Johnson-Weiner, professor of anthropology at State University of New York at Potsdam, who has studied Amish migration.

The Amish practice a Christian faith and are known for a reluctance to adopt many modern conveniences. Community rules vary on technology, but many Amish groups forbid owning automobiles, tapping electricity from public utility lines, using self-propelled farm machinery or owning a television, computer or radio. They value separation from the wider world.

Often, those who move to new areas are among the most conservative, anxious to preserve their agrarian way of life, Johnson-Weiner said. Once in a new location, those Amish tend to remain isolated, focused on their own church community rather than building relations with neighbors.

Henry Miller was one of the first Amish to move to Schuyler County 11 years ago.

He and his wife and their nine children live on 17 acres outside of Downing. On a recent day, two fresh deer carcasses hung from an outbuilding on Miller’s land. Inside, Miller and two of his sons operated a sawmill.

Miller, 43, said he moved to escape Wisconsin’s winters. He never felt animosity from locals.

Longtime resident Maudie Oliver, 74, earns thousands of dollars each year driving Amish to weddings, funerals, shopping and elsewhere, and has gotten to know many members of the community. Still, she had concerns about Amish children being left alone when their parents leave town, the burden placed on Amish wives. And she took exception to the Amish being pacifists.

“They do not honor the flag or go to the military,” she said, echoing criticisms by several county residents. “We’re protecting them and all their kids, and that’s not fair.”

It’s a complaint that Johnson-Weiner dismisses.

“That’s the problem when you enshrine religious freedom in the Constitution: Some people take you up on it,” she said.

Some locals also object to intermarriage. The Amish face great pressure to marry within their community. Marriages between first cousins are taboo, but sometimes second and third cousins marry.

Though some disagree with their ways, Lorraine Austin, editor of the weekly Schuyler County Times, said complaints about the Amish have quieted.

“They’re here. They’re good people,” Austin said. “They’re just accepted.”

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