On our way to Lancaster County recently, we stopped to see our Indiana Amish friends. One of them said to us, “Have you heard of the yellow buggy Amish?” We were intrigued! So on the way to Pennsylvania, I researched the topic on my ipad, and we discovered that we’d have to go to Mifflin County to find them… So, we made a detour.
The Amish settled in Mifflin County in the late 1700s, when some Lancaster County Amish purchased land in the Kishacoquillas Valley—otherwise known as the Big Valley (pictured here). The Big Valley Amish now come in three distinct varieties: Renno (black buggy), Byler (yellow buggy), and Nebraska (white buggy). Altogether there are about 30 Amish church districts in the 30-mile-long valley.
Its remote location keeps it off the tourist trail. Indeed—once we got there, the black buggy Rennos weren’t hard to find—but it took two hours, and three inquiries of locals, to find the other two groups.
The Renno (black buggy) Amish are similar to the Lancaster County Amish in how they live, but the other two groups are more conservative. There are about 12 Renno Amish districts in the Big Valley. Men wear one suspender and women wear black bonnets. Homes are painted white and barns are painted red. Indoor plumbing is permitted, as are things like carpets and curtains. As with the other groups, tractors are used for belt power only—not for field work, which is done with draft horses (as is done in Ohio and Indiana).
To learn more about the Byler (yellow buggy) Amish, I turned to three sources: old favorite wikipedia, John Hostetler’s excellent book “Amish Society,” and the University of Pennsylvania’s “Center for the Book” website.
I found out that the Byler Amish and their leader, Samuel B. King, broke from the main Big Valley Amish group in 1849 over the King group wanting to be more conservative. They have only about three church districts in the Big Valley, and none anywhere else. They dress very conservatively even by Amish standards, although the men are allowed to wear colored shirts, especially favoring blue. The men’s hair covers their ears. The women wear brown bonnets. Curtains are allowed in their homes (lower half of the window), and window blinds are permitted, but not carpets or rugs. Their buildings are painted. In the photo below, one can see a church “bench wagon”—which is also yellow.
One source said that it’s possible the early buggy tops in this community were made from a type of yellow oilcloth once used for raincoats. But now, they’re just “how it’s done.”
The buggies are two-seaters—they have no regular back seat—but my Amish friend Ruth has ridden in one, and she says there’s a sort of a “back seat” that you can climb into over the top of the front seat—but it has no windows and is very tight! The Byler Amish also allow “spring wagons”—a type of buggy with an open platform in the back, somewhat like a pickup truck. The young unmarried men have single-seated buggies.
But there’s an even more conservative Amish group in Mifflin County, and they were even harder to find: The white buggy Nebraska Amish. More on them in another post.