My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The White Buggy Amish

In my last post I talked about the conservative yellow buggy (Byler) Amish of the Big Valley area in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania.  This time, I’ll focus on their even-more-conservative neighbors—the Nebraska or white buggy Amish.  They weren’t easy to find, but it was worth the effort!  We asked around, and drove further and further out from the town of Belleville, Pennsylvania, before we found the area where they live.  It’s both beautiful and remote.

Experts say that the Nebraska Amish, along with the Schwartzentruber Amish, are the most conservative Amish groups in America.  The Nebraska Amish are found mainly in the Kishacoquillas or Big Valley, with a smaller group in northeastern Ohio.  They broke from the Byler Amish in 1880, desiring to live more conservatively than their Byler brethren.

For more information on the white buggy or Nebraska Amish, I found two online resources to be very helpful:  Erik Wesner’s excellent Amish America website and the University of Pennsylvania’s “Center for the Book.”


The most obvious difference to the outsider is in their buggies.  The Nebraska Amish (named after their original bishop, Yost Yoder, who was from Nebraska) drive white-topped buggies (undyed fabric) which are simpler than the buggies of other groups.  There is no front to the buggy, either below or above. 

The men wear longer hair than other groups—it has been called “William Penn style” in that it is closer to shoulder-length and long on the sides.  Their hats have a wider brim.  The men do not wear suspenders or belts.  Their normal attire is brown denim pants and vests and white shirts, with gray coats.   

Unlike other Amish groups, the Nebraska Amish women are not allowed to wear bonnets, opting instead for black or white kerchiefs.  When working in the fields, they wear a flat straw hat which resembles those worn by Alsatian peasant women.  Their dresses are longer than other Amish groups.

In the fields, the Nebraska Amish, like other Amish groups, don’t use tractors. 

In their homes, certain things which my Amish friends in Indiana take for granted, are not allowed here.  There are no curtains, no carpets, and no screens on the windows.  Motorized lawn mowers are forbidden.  Barns are normally left unpainted.  Houses used to be unpainted as well, but this seems to be changing.  Projecting roof gables are not allowed—and this issue is so important to the Nebraska Amish that they split over it in 1933!

Is such an ultra-conservative group dying out in modern times?  On the contrary.  In Mifflin County, there are three distinct Amish groups (black buggy, yellow buggy, and white buggy)—and the white buggy (Nebraska) Amish, who number perhaps 2,000 altogether, are the largest and fastest-growing of the three.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Yellow Buggy Amish of Mifflin County

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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

More About Pretzels

So—once again, my husband has found his way into one of my blog posts—and as usual, he has food in his hand and a smile on his face.  The reason this time is a hand-rolled, fresh-baked, yeasty, buttery, warm, soft pretzel.  These are a common treat in both Amish Indiana and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and we’ve been known to grab a beverage make a meal out of them!  I’ve written about these pretzels before, but this time, I decided to find out more about them.

The recipe for soft pretzels is available all over the internet and in “Pennsylvania Dutch” or Amish cookbooks.  The ingredients are simple:  flour, sugar, salt, yeast, warm water, egg, butter, and coarse salt for sprinkling on top.  When they are bought at a pretzel place, dipping sauces are usually available.  The traditional ones are sweet or spicy mustard, but offerings these days include such choices as cheddar cheese, cream cheese, marinara, nacho cheese, vanilla icing, caramel, or hot fudge.  (But we like them plain!  You can’t improve on perfection.) 

But where did soft pretzels come from?

The website for the oldest pretzel factory in the United States,, says that the Palatine Germans—known on our side of the pond as the “Pennsylvania Dutch”—brought pretzels with them when they came to the United States in the 1800s.   (Other sites say it was the 1700s.)  

I learned on that the Sturgis Pretzel Factory was founded in 1861 in Lititz, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The soft pretzel came first; the hard pretzel was a later development.  This website says, “It’s believed that Sturgis’ factory was the first to develop hard pretzels.  These crunchy, salty snacks lasted longer in an airtight environment than soft pretzels did, allowing them to be sold in stores far away from the bakery and kept on shelves much longer.”  Even today, 80% of American pretzels are made in Pennsylvania.

One more thing:  If you can’t just drop everything and head to Amish Indiana or Pennsylvania for a pretzel, here’s the next best thing—head to the mall and purchase a pretzel from Auntie Anne’s.  Quoting from the website    

“Perhaps the most well-known Amish pretzel baker is Anne Beiler, founder of the Auntie Anne’s Pretzel chain…  She was born into an Old Order Amish home in Pennsylvania, but the family switched to the Amish Mennonite faith when she was a young child.  Anne Beiler started selling pretzels from a farmers market stand years ago and now sits atop a pretzel empire with outlets all over the world.”  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Harvesting the Corn in Lancaster County

Our recent visit to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania happened to coincide with the corn harvest.  As I have mentioned before, a city girl like me didn’t know until recently that most corn grown (by the Amish, anyway) isn’t grown to eat, or grind, or even for seed…  Most corn is grown to make silage for the cattle.  (Google defines “silage” this way:  “Grass or other green fodder compacted and stored in airtight conditions, typically in a silo, without first being dried, and used as animal feed in the winter.”)

I’ve helped my Indiana friends with this process quite a few years ago, back when I was younger and had good knees, and here is how it goes:  First the corn is cut near the base and loaded onto flatbed wagons.  Sometimes this is done entirely by hand, especially in places where the corn grows near a fence or other obstacle.  But when there’s room, it is done by a specialized machine which is powered by a gasoline engine.  You can see this machine in the middle of the first picture.  It cuts a dozen or so stalks, bundles them, and discharges the bundle onto a flatbed wagon which drives along behind it—in this case, at the right of the picture.  Another empty flatbed wagon sits nearby, on the left.

The wagons are quite heavy and are pulled by two or three draft horses.  Usually the farmer has three or four wagons and teams going, so that as one wagon is filled, another is ready to take its place.  The filled wagon is taken to the silage chopper, where someone throws the bundles of cornstalks onto the belt that sends it through the chopper.  (This machine, also, is powered by a gas engine.)  In Indiana, my Amish friends pile the silage in a long mound down the edge of the cornfield and cover it with plastic; but in Lancaster County, the silage is taken upwards and dropped into great, tall silos.   

I saw this pair of horses under a tree, taking a well-earned rest from their autumn corn harvesting duties.

My main and original Amish friends in Indiana were doing the same task as we drove back through Indiana on our way home from Pennsylvania later that week, and twelve men were gathered at their farm to pitch in and help—including some of the young men who work in the factories during the week.  As Glenn directed the teams of workers, Ruth was on kitchen duty, feeding all those hungry men a huge lunch—with enough leftovers to send us home with platefuls of homemade cookies!

It’s hard work, but it feeds the cattle through the winter—and although in this case I wouldn’t say that many hands make light work, it’s still an example of how the Amish work together as a community to get the big jobs done. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Getting Around in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

When visiting Lancaster County, Pennsylvania recently, we were struck by the various ways the local Amish citizens manage to get around without cars.

The most familiar and most iconic means of Amish transportation is, of course, the classic Amish buggy.  In Lancaster County they are gray in color, and more boxy than the black buggies found in Ohio and Indiana.  One horse will pull a buggy, and as my Amish friends have told me, about 8 miles away from home is as far as a buggy horse wants to go. 

Although most buggies are enclosed, we also saw open-back buggies—the Amish equivalent of the pickup truck!

Buggies can also be entirely open—a nice option in the summer to stay cool and see the sights.  This type of buggy is also seen in Amish Indiana, but only recently has it become commonplace there.

We also saw these small, fast little two-wheel open buggies.  These, too, are common in Amish Indiana, especially with young boys and men.  They also come in a smaller size which is pulled by a pony.

We noticed right away that there were no regular bicycles in Lancaster County.  Rather, the locals got around on these no-seat, no-pedal push bikes.  We saw mostly children using these, but not always.  They were faster than walking, but didn’t look as efficient as a regular bicycle.  Our Indiana Amish friends, who nearly all own regular bicycles, confirmed that regular pedal bikes aren’t allowed in Lancaster County.

As we sat on the lawn in front of our hotel in Bird-in-Hand one evening, taking photos and videos of the locals (zoom is very useful for this task!)—I saw the most unusual means of transportation of the week—this Amishman zipping along in the buggy lane on his inline skates!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Growing Tobacco

While vacationing in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania recently, we were surprised to see that the Pennsylvania Amish grow tobacco. 

I’d never seen tobacco growing in the fields before. says this: “Tobacco, a labor-intensive crop which is ideal for large families, has always been part of the agricultural scene in Lancaster.  While prices vary from year to year, it tends to be an excellent cash crop.”  One local told us that they grow a green-leaved tobacco and a more yellow-leaved tobacco, but even though the practice isn’t prohibited, very few Amishmen smoke these days, “because of the health risks.” 

John Hostetler, author of Amish Society, says, “The Amish in Lancaster County started raising tobacco soon after the tobacco industry was established there, probably about 1838.  They, along with a group in Saint Mary’s County, Maryland, are the only Amish in the nation who grow tobacco.”  He goes on to say that for those Amishmen who do smoke, pipe or cigar smoking is the accepted practice, with cigarettes frowned upon.   

I looked online to find out more about growing tobacco. told me that tobacco grows just about anywhere with well-drained, slightly acidic soil, 3 to 4 months of frost-free weather, moderate rainfall, and plenty of sun., in their excellent article about Amish tobacco growers, explains what happens next:  “By harvest time in August and September, entire Amish families can be seen in the fields, cutting the stalks with shears, one at a time, down a row of plants. The leaves are allowed to lie in the sun to soften, but not for too long because the leaves can burn. The wilted plants are then speared onto a four-foot-long lath. Amish parents and their barefooted youngsters stack the laths, which carry about five plants each, onto a horse-drawn cart. They then haul the plants to the tobacco shed for curing.” said that the best curing happens in a building that is hot, humid, and well-ventilated—exactly like the conditions in the barns we saw.  It was easy to spot the tobacco barns, because of the side slats propped open to let the air circulate properly. outlines what happens in the barns:  “After about two months of letting the tobacco cure, around Thanksgiving the farmers take down the laths of tobacco, its leaves turned to a deep copper.  The crop is then moved to an earthen cellar for dampening.  A few days later, the laths are taken to a stripping room where the leaf is pulled from the stalk and packaged.  It takes one person about a week to strip an acre of tobacco.”

What is the future of tobacco farming in Amish Pennsylvania?  That's not entirely clear... says that one big advantage the Amish have had is their low labor costs by using their families to work the fields.  But many Amish youth are turning their backs on farming and starting up all kinds of entrepreneurial micro-enterprises instead.

“Tobacco farming among the Amish is clearly declining.  You see mostly the conservative Amish raising it, clinging to traditions,” says Donald B. Kraybill, who has authored six books on the Amish.  Kraybill believes the more progressive Amish have greater religious concerns about tobacco farming because of the health issues with smoking. “The more the Amish move into the world,” says Kraybill, “the less likely they will be to raise tobacco.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Fly Catcher

As my husband and I drove around the countryside in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania last week, at one point we slowed down to wait for an Amish farmer’s dairy herd to cross the road.  We didn’t mind the delay—it was the kind of thing we like best about country drives. 

Then we noticed that the cows were moving single file through a strange white box before crossing the road.  So after the cattle had all safely crossed over, we pulled over to talk to the farmer—and he seemed glad to take a few minutes to answer our questions.

It turns out that the box is something that this farmer had seen on another farm, and it worked so well that he made his own.  As the cows walk through the box, the strips of heavy plastic suspended inside slide over the cows and whisk the flies off their backs and sides.  And after the cows pass through the other end, most of the flies are trapped inside the box to die.

The farmer said the cows were more than willing to walk through the box and get rid of the pests that torment them so much, particularly in hot weather.  The strips couldn’t reach upwards to clear the flies off their stomachs, but no system is perfect!

He said that there are chemicals and soaps available to treat dairy cattle for flies, but either they don’t work very well, or they are prohibitively expensive.  But this simple, organic, low-cost contraption does a great job at keeping some of God’s creatures a little more comfortable on at least one dairy farm in Amish Pennsylvania.

One more thing—we asked him a last question before we got back in our car:  “Are those camels we see in your field?!”  And he said that yes, he has a small herd of camels, which he actually milks!  Fancy that!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Visit to Lancaster County

My husband and I just got home from a trip to Amish Pennsylvania.  We wanted to compare it to the Amish Indiana that we visit so often, and where we plan to retire.  I took lots of photos (zoom is my friend when it comes to being unobtrusive!) and I think I’ll have lots to write about.  We explored both Mifflin County and Lancaster County while we were there.  I’ll write about the more-familiar Lancaster County first.

In many ways the Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania are similar to those in Northern Indiana.  Their beliefs are similar, coming from the same roots in 17th-century Europe.

There were lots of cottage industries on the Amish farms.  As we drove through the countryside slowly enough to watch for homemade signs, we saw advertisements for soap, honey, cheese, all kinds of produce, baked goods, goat’s milk, quilts, furniture, and preserves, just to name a few.

The clothing styles were similar to norther Indiana—“plain,” as the Amish would describe it.  Sturdy, solid clothing, mostly black except for shirts and dresses, and both men and women kept their heads covered.  One difference was the women’s white prayer caps – they were heart-shaped, not square-ish like those in northern Indiana.

As in northern Indiana, farming is done without tractors.  The machinery is designed to be drawn by draft horses.  The horses were beautiful, and fascinating to watch as they worked in the fields. 

But there were differences that we noticed right away.

As my husband observed as soon as we began driving around—things looked older in Lancaster County!  The Indiana Amish arrived there from Ohio in the 1840s—but the Lancaster County Amish have been in these valleys since the mid-1700s, when William Penn invited them to come to Pennsylvania to find religious freedom instead of the persecution they suffered in Europe.  In the towns (especially Strasburg) and in the country, things looked like they have been there for a very long time.  Some of the cemeteries looked ancient compared to ours, and there were plaques for “bicentennial farms”—something you don’t see in the Midwest.

Unlike the black buggies found in northern Indiana, the buggies here are gray.  Some are closed, some are open, some have a flat bed in the back like a pickup truck.  But all the tops are the same shade of gray.

Other differences that I will write about another time: 

Firstly, the Amish here grow tobacco.  We talked to a local resident about it, and she said that although they grow tobacco as a cash crop, very few Amishmen smoke anymore, “because of the health risks.”

Although we saw lots of buggies, there were some differences in how the Amish in Lancaster County get around.  Bicycles are prohibited, but they have found alternatives that work for them that I haven’t seen in Northern Indiana.   

One more difference was the presence of lots of tall silos and the huge amounts of corn being grown to fill them.  Farms are large here, and nearly every farm is Amish.  In Northern Indiana, the presence of the RV factories means that many Amishmen live on small two- or three-acre plots, just big enough to have room to feed and house their buggy horses.  But in Lancaster County, I never saw so much corn—huge farms with cornfields stretching to the horizon!  As I’ve learned in recent years, only small amounts of Amish corn is grown to eat, or grind, or for seed—the rest becomes silage (winter feed) for the cattle.  We watched this process and talked to a farmer or two, and I’ll get back to that topic also.

More posts on our Lancaster County trip:

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Just Back

Just back from a trip to Amish Pennsylvania - both Mifflin County and the better-known Lancaster County.  Lots of blogs coming up soon on this trip...

Fresh-baked hot pretzels are a specialty here, as are whoopie pies, both of which are also popular in Amish Indiana, and both of which I've written about before...

They grow corn here - endless huge fields of it, stretching to the horizon.  A lot of it is this type of corn - it's so tall!

The buggies are gray in Lancaster County, and one of three colors (black, yellow, white) in Mifflin County.

More soon...  I need to sit down and write some blog posts.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Going Organic

I’ve become a big fan of organic milk in recent years…  I like the taste.  And due to its higher purity and lower bacteria count, the “sell by date” is often six to eight weeks in the future—very convenient.

Several of my Amish friends who are dairy farmers have “gone organic” in the last couple of years.  One is on the board of a local co-op, and when we attended an open house at the co-op recently, I got curious about the story behind this farmer-owned organic feed mill.

Going organic doesn’t happen overnight.  The farmer has to rid his farm of any kind of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides for at least three years.  But organic milk can be sold for more money.  (And organic milk can always be sold as regular milk if the organic market is saturated.)   

Once a farm is “clean,” it has to stay clean.  One part of that is avoiding the weed killer that is sprayed alongside the roads by the local government.  Signs by the road saying “do not spray” are one sign of a farm that is organic, or going organic. 

 Many of the Amish dairy farms in Northeastern Indiana, typically with 20 to 50 dairy cows, sell their milk to Organic Valley in La Farge, Wisconsin, one of the biggest organic cooperatives in the United States. 

Going organic also means using organic feed for the cattle.  For years, organic farmers in the Lagrange County area have depended on a small, 120-year-old feed mill located in Wolcottville, Indiana.  When the Wolcottville Organic Feed Mill was set to close in 2011, Organic Valley wanted to help its 80 small dairy farmers in Northern Indiana (most of whom are Amish) stay in business, so it contacted an organization called the Indiana Cooperative Development Center (ICDC) to assist the local farmers in buying the mill themselves and running it as a cooperative.  

According to the ICDC website (, a committee was formed, and then a board.  In a few short weeks, the farmers had already raised half the $250,000 needed to buy the mill.  The purchase was made in 2013, and the Wolcottville Organic Feed Mill was renamed the W.O.L.F. (Wolcottville Organic Livestock Feed) Co-Op.  The old feed mill had a new beginning. 

The board of five local Amish dairy farmers meets monthly with the manager and bookkeeper to go over the finances and conduct other business.  The old manager of the mill stayed on to run it, and in spite of a huge fire that destroyed one of the buildings in May 2013, the mill is still humming along, producing tons of quality livestock feed every week, and helping the local Amish farmers who are "going organic."

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Making Amish Buggies

Recently Gary and I were able to spend some time at an Amish buggy maker’s shop.  We saw buggies in all stages of production.

The supporting frame, shown in the first photo, is made of ash wood; Gary had asked if it was maple, and the proprietor said that maple isn’t as strong.  Gary grabbed the poles in the front to see where it swiveled.  (Answer: behind the front axle.)

The box is made of thick plywood.  Amish buggies come in three sizes:  Single, with just one seat; double, with two seats as shown here; and Queen, which has one seat with extra storage area behind the seat.  But the shape and black exterior is the same for all; that must follow the local church custom.   

The customer can choose the upholstery (various fabrics or textured vinyl) from a book of samples,  There are various upgrades to the basic buggy available, such as a heater (propane), LED lights, fold-down back seats, upgraded windshield glass, and brakes (mechanical or hydraulic drum brakes).  Prices vary according to size of buggy and upgrades—the range is around $3,500 to $7,500. 
(2023 upgrade:  more like $12,000 to $15,00 now!)

The finish on the buggies I saw were amazing—similar in look to an automotive finish.  I asked how they turned plywood into something so hard and shiny.  They told me that it takes three coats of primer, followed by three coats of black paint.

This particular shop, one of several in the Shipshewana area, makes about 2 buggies per week, and each one takes about 100 hours of labor to produce.  He told us that most of his buggies are sold locally, but some are sent to nearby states such as Michigan, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Missouri.  There is such a demand for their buggies that this shop’s waiting list now reaches into 2017!  (Those who are in more of a hurry can go to other local shops with higher prices and shorter waiting lists.)

More on Amish buggies in northeastern Indiana here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Sixteen: M. Y. Miller General Merchandise

For the last of my series on the sixteen murals painted by the Shipshe Walldogs in summer 2014, I took a closer look at the M.Y. Miller General Merchandise mural.  This one can be found on the north side of the Forks Grocery building on State Road 5, and it is the northernmost of the murals.

Who was M.Y. Miller?  I thought I might have trouble with this one, since “Miller” is such a common name in the area.  But since the mural showed the year “1925” on the calendar, I went to and started with the 1930 census.  And there he was, Mahlon Y. Miller.  (And with a first name like “Mahlon,” it’s no wonder he used initials!)

In 1930 Mahlon Y. Miller, age 42, and wife Bessie lived with 7-year-old son Robert on Morton Street in a home they owned valued at $1000.  His occupation was “proprietor, general store.”  He is listed as a World War One veteran, which led me to look for his draft card.

Mahlon’s 1917 draft card says he is 30 years old and medium in height and build, with brown eyes and dark brown hair.  He was born in Lagrange County, Indiana in 1887.  His occupation was clerk in the general store of J.E. Sunthimer, who was the subject of another post in this series.  He claimed exemption from the draft due to a dependent, his wife.  But he was drafted anyway, as the May 18, 1918 issue of the Fort Wayne News & Sentinel reported that he and seventeen other local boys were headed for Camp Zachary Taylor, Kentucky for training.  So, when was he married?

I next found an Indiana marriage record.  Mahlon was married to Miss Bessie Alberta Nelson in November 1910.  So, Mahlon should be on his own in the 1910 census and married in the 1920 census.

Sure enough, the 1910 census shows Mahlon living with his parents, Yost and Elizabeth, and his younger siblings.  He is 23 and works as a clerk in an unnamed grocery store.  It appears Mahlon was destined for the retail trade from his youth.

The 1920 census shows Mahlon working as a clerk in the Sunthimer store, now being run by J.E.’s son Charles after his father’s death.  Mahlon and Bessie own a house on Middlebury Street, right next door to Mahlon’s boss, Charles Sunthimer.  So, Mahlon opened his own store some time between the 1920 census and the date of 1925 shown on the mural. 

The 1940 census tells us that he is still the operator of his own general store, where his wife Bessie is the clerk.  It’s not an easy life; the week before the census, Bessie put in 30 hours, but Mahlon put in 78.  And in 1939 he worked 52 weeks, so there were no vacations. But he and Bessie and son Robert, now 17 and still in school, had a good life; they owned a home worth $1,600 on Morton Street and lived in the same neighborhood as such entrepreneurs as W.L. Reifsnider and Edward Wolfe.  Not bad for a man with (according to the census) only an 8th grade education.

Mahlon appears in one more record—his World War Two draft card in 1942.  At age 55 he still has a store in Shipshewana.  He is 5’10”, weighs 185 pounds, and has brown eyes and gray hair.  His nearest relative is his wife Bessie. tells us that Mahlon lived to a ripe old age, passing away at age 88 in 1975.  He is buried at Scott Cemetery with his wife Bessie, who predeceased him.

Thank you, Walldogs, for your beautiful work in Shipshewana.  I’m glad I was able to be there to watch you at work.  Your sixteen murals are a wonderful addition to one of my favorite places in the entire world.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

H.E. Bucklen, Medicine Man and Real Estate Tycoon

In my last post, I talked about the Shipshewana Indians baseball team of the early 1900s, which is pictured on one of the Shipshewana Walldogs murals.  The founder of the team, Mr. H.E. Bucklen, had such an intriguing story that I decided not to skimp on it, but save it for another day—so here it is.  It’s my longest post ever, but there’s a lot to tell—and I’m just hitting the highlights!

Bucklen’s full name was Herbert Elijah Bucklen, Sr.  I searched for details about Herbert and his family on, and there was plenty to discover!  Articles from supplied even more details.  This man had a huge paper trail.

Herbert was born in Herkimer County, New York in 1848, but the family relocated to Coldwater, Michigan in the 1850s.  By late 1860 they lived in Elkhart, Indiana and at the time of the 1870 census, Herbert, age 22, was a druggist alongside his father, Isaac Bucklen. 

A biography of Bucklen appeared in The Indianapolis News (8/16/1902).  In it, Bucklen says that he began buying real estate and building small homes when he was a teen, reinvesting the profits in real estate—and by the time he was twenty, he owned 32 houses in Elkhart.  At the same time, he says, he worked in the back room of his father’s pharmacy developing his own special patent medicine—“Bucklen’s Arnica Salve.”  Herbert married a Michigan girl named Bertha Redfield in 1877, and obtained a patent for his salve in 1878.  He and Bertha then moved to Chicago, where he sunk his patent medicine earnings into real estate in the growing city.

The newspaper ads for Bucklen’s Arnica Salve were really something!  I went to and found at eight of them which ran between 1908 and 1911 in various Indiana papers.  Set up like little newspaper articles, they contained such headlines as “Best Healer in the World”—“Frightful Fate Averted”—“It Does the Business”—and “Suffering and Dollars Saved.”

The ads claimed the salve would cure cuts, corns, bruises, burns, boils, ulcers, eczema, old sores, cold sores, fever sores, scalds, scars, cracked lips, chapped hands, chilblains, sore eyes, skin eruptions, salt rheum, gangrene, pimples, and let’s not forget “piles” (hemorrhoids)!  And for the ladies—“Women desiring beauty get wonderful help from Bucklen’s Arnica Salve… It makes the skin soft and velvety.  It glorifies the face.”  Well worth the 25 cents!

Happy users gave testimonials like this one from Frank Disberry of Kelliber, Minnesota:  “I would have been a cripple for life from a terrible cut on my knee cap without Bucklen’s Arnica Salve, which soon cured me.”  Or this one, from Rev. F. Starbird of East Raymond, Maine:  “I have used Bucklen’s Arnica Salve for several years on my old army wound… and find it the best healer in the world.  I use it too with great success in my veterinary business.”  Piles sufferer L.S. Napier of Rugless, Kentucky reported that “when all doctors and other remedies failed, Bucklen’s Arnica Salve cured me.” 

By the 1900 census, Herbert lived at 265 Michigan Avenue in Chicago with his wife and three children.  No occupation is listed.  In 1910, he lives at 281 Wabash with his wife, younger son, and a maid.  Again, no occupation.  But that area of North Michigan and Wabash Avenues was a very wealthy neighborhood, both then and now.  This building (pictured below) was both his home and laboratory facility.

By then Bucklen owned real estate in Chicago, zinc mines in Missouri, gold mines in Colorado, and a great deal of land in northern Indiana—especially Elkhart, where he built a grand opera house in 1884 (shown in this photo) and remodeled a magnificent hotel in 1889.  (Neither building still stands.)  Although Bucklen’s primary residence remained in Chicago, he had a strong presence in Elkhart.  He considered it his true home, and he was listed in its city directories—“occupation, capitalist.”  He sent his son Herbert Jr. to nearby Howe Military School.

 Another of his pet projects was the St. Joseph Valley Line Railroad, built in 1904-1905.  (This was a different railroad line than the more famous Pumpkin Vine Railroad, which ran north from Shipshewana into Michigan.)  The St. Joseph Valley Line was a “traction line” that started in Elkhart and ran east through Bristol, Middlebury, and Shipshewana to Lagrange.  Later a “railway line” extended the Valley Line east from Lagrange through Mongo, Orland, Inverness, Angola, and Berlin to Columbia, Ohio—a total of 70 miles in all.  The section from Elkhart to Bristol operated on electricity; from Bristol to Lagrange by gasoline engine; and from Lagrange to Columbia by steam engine.

When Bucklen was extending his railroad line eastwards from Lagrange to Ohio in 1905, he suggested to the residents of Angola, Indiana, that this would be a boon to their small community.  The millionaire asked the residents for $50,000 to help him with the project.  When they didn’t come up with the money, he was so offended that he decided to build a rival town.  An article in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette (11/24/1912) said that the “Arnica Salve King” was planning to “build a city in Steuben County with the express purpose of injuring Angola, against which town he has conceived a grievance.”  But the railroad line did run through Angola, and the rival town (eight miles east of Angola) evidently was never built.

The railroad line was not nearly as profitable as Bucklen hoped—in fact, it lost a lot of money.   Running three kinds of power was complicated and expensive.  Business at the west end was very slow.  Bucklen poured large amounts of his own money into the project to keep it alive, but it was estimated by the Indianapolis News (4/4/1918) that he lost $1,750,000 on the project.  

Out of this interest, he was involved in the area baseball league which included the Shipshewana Indians, who played at a stadium he built on the south side of Shipshewana Lake.  An article in the Indianapolis News (5/30/1905) says, “Mr. Bucklen has prepared a plat for a summer resort at Shipshewana Lake, with streets and avenues and winding drives through the woods.  The resort is expected to attract many Elkhart people who have heretofore spent much time in Michigan.”  Special railroad cars brought fans to the baseball games on Sundays.

At one point Bucklen’s assets were thought to be worth $7,000,000, but when he died in 1917, he left his widow an estate which the Chicago Daily Tribune valued at $1,000,000.  (That would be equal to $17,000,000 today—still a nice chunk of change!)  Due to the popularity of his Arnica Salve, his death was reported in newspapers as far away as Honolulu. 

His wife Clara inherited her husband’s assets—but the Valley Line, managed by their son Herbert Jr., was already in financial trouble which only got worse as 1917-1918 progressed.  A severe winter, a drop of freight traffic, and a wreck in Inverness which produced serious injuries and fatalities were the final blows.  (The advent of the automobile probably didn’t help, either.)  The rail line soon went into receivership in preparation for being both legally and literally dismantled and sold for scrap.    

Bucklen’s funeral was held in Elkhart, and he was buried at Half Acre Cemetery in Cass County, Michigan, along with his wife Bertha.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Shipshe Walldogs, Part Fifteen: The Shipshewana Indians

This wonderful mural, “Shipshewana Indians,” is found on the side of the Mishler building, in downtown Shipshewana on Morton Street.  Words on the left side say “Every Sunday Afternoon at 2 p.m.” and on the right, “St. Joseph Valley Line – Take the Train to the Game!”  It also says “Est. 1906.”  But even with these clues, I was unable to find any information about the baseball team online.  Luckily, I was able to contact Al Yoder of the Shipshewana Area Historical Society for help.

Mr. Yoder told me that the baseball team was formed from all local players by an Elkhart businessman, a millionaire named H.E. Bucklen.  Mr. Bucklen owned a hotel in Elkhart as well as having investments in Chicago.  He built a railway (the St. Joseph Valley Line) which started in Elkhart, ran east through Shipshewana (south of Shipshewana Lake), and then onwards east to the Ohio state line.  Near Shipshewana Lake, Bucklen built a resort—with a baseball field and stands.

The Shipshewana Indians played their games on Sunday afternoons, as the mural says, and fans came from Elkhart, Lagrange, and all points east.  The Valley Line Railroad ran special cars to accommodate the crowds.  During the games, the railroad cars would sit on a side track near the sawmill in Shipshewana, and then after the game, they would go back to pick up the fans.

The teams of 1907-1909 were especially talented, Al told me.  Fans came from all over northern Indiana and southern Michigan to see them play.  They played teams from neighboring towns like Goshen, Elkhart, and nearby Sturgis, Michigan.  All the players were local lads.  Some of the best were Pete Fahrer and Harry Eash (pitchers); Claude Lupold (catcher); Vern Butts (1st base); James Beecher (2nd base); Leo Hersberger (shortstop); Samuel Curtis  (3rd base); and lastly, Burns Summey, Clifford Sixby, and Jim Lemerck (fielders).

With this information from Mr. Yoder, I was able to do a little more digging.  First of all, I wondered about H.E. Bucklen and his railroad.  (This was a different railroad line than the Pumpkin Vine Railroad, pictured in another Walldogs Mural and written about in another of my posts.)  There was so much to H.E. Bucklen’s story, that I’m saving it for another day. 

Who were these young men on the 1907-1909 Indians baseball team?  I decided to check the 1910 census records and the 1917 WWI draft records to find out.

·       Pete Fahrer (pitcher):  His name was really Clarence.  In 1910 he was 20 and was a baker in a restaurant.  By 1917 he was a farmer in Newaygo County, Michigan.

·       Harry S. Eash (pitcher):  I couldn’t find him in 1910, but in 1900 he was 12 and a farmer’s son, so in 1910 he would have been 22.  By 1917 he was a theatrical manager in Dodge City, Kansas.

·       Claude Lupold (catcher):  His first name was actually “Cloid”!  In 1910 he was 26 and a farm laborer on the home farm.  In 1917 he was a farmer, still in the Shipshe area.

·       Vernon R. Butts (1st base):  In 1910 he was 26, separated from his first wife, and living with his parents; he was a carpenter.  By 1917 he was remarried and worked in the Shipshe area as a locomotive fireman.

·       James A. Beecher (2nd base):  In 1910 he was 24 and worked as a miller at a flour and feed mill.  He was married with a 5-year-old son.  By 1917 he was a salesman for the Anthony Wayne Institute in Fort Wayne.  He was sent to Fort Benjamin Harrison Officer Training Camp that year, but failed the physical.

·       Leo D. Hershberger (shortstop):  In 1910 he was a 20-year-old public school teacher, having graduated from the local high school in 1907.  By 1917 he was a Methodist minister in a nearby town.

·       Samuel P. Curtis  (3rd base):  In 1910 Samuel, age 25, lived with his brother and they both worked in a meat market.  By 1917 he was a farmer in the area.

·       Burns H. Summey (fielder):  He graduated from the local high school in 1907.  In the 1910 census he was 21 and worked in a butcher shop.  In 1917 he was still working locally as a butcher.

·       Clifford F. Sixby (fielder):  In the 1910 census Clifford was the manager of a restaurant and 27 years old.  By 1917 he was a farmer in Newaygo County, Michigan.

·       Jim Lemerck (fielder):  His name was actually James G. Limric.  In 1910 he was 30 years old, married, and a plumber.  By 1917 he worked at the Smith Brothers Hardware Store in Shipshewana, in the plumbing/tinning department.

A look at didn’t turn up much, but I was able to find out that their home field was called “Lakeside Park.”  An article from Shipshewana in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette (7/11/1911) said, “A large number of fans from here gathered at Lakeside Park yesterday to witness the game between the Lagrange and Shipshewana teams.  The game was one of the best seen on the local lot this season but at no time was the outcome in doubt as Fahrer, pitching for the local team, had the visitors at his mercy throughout the game.”  I also learned that in September 1909, Goshen had won the independent baseball championship of northern Indiana and southern Michigan by beating Shipshewana 18-3 (Indianapolis News, 9/20/1909).

The Walldogs mural says that the team was established in 1906, which makes sense, given that Mr. Bucklen laid plans for his lakeside resort in 1905.  I was unable to find out when the team stopped playing, but perhaps World War I put an end to it.  Or maybe the fact that the railroad line that brought the fans was sold and scrapped in 1918 had something to do with it.  I would love to know more about the team and the baseball field and the resort on the south side of Shipshewana Lake.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Fourteen: Amish Heritage

One of the sixteen murals painted by the Walldogs in Shipshewana during June 2014 was this one, with the simple message “Amish Heritage.”  It can be seen on the north wall of Spector’s, a fabric store on State Road 5 which is frequented by the Amish.

The mural says that the Amish “first settled in this area 1841.”  Having done a lot of genealogy research for my Amish friends and written about it on mygenealogy blog, I’m familiar with the history of the Amish in this area of Indiana.  But I looked into the subject a little further to be sure I had my facts straight.

Indeed, as the mural says, the Amish first came to Lagrange and Elkhart Counties in the 1840s, mostly from Somerset County, Pennsylvania.  (These were the “Dutch Amish” who had come to Pennsylvania from Europe in the 1700s to escape persecution, and then moved westward into Ohio and then Indiana in the early 1800s.) 

For more details, I turned to the book History of Lagrange County by F.A. Battey & Company, published in 1882.  I liked having history from the viewpoint of those who might have been alive when the first Amish came.  And this book would have been written at a time when the non-Amish were just as “horse and buggy” as the Amish, so the differences would have been more subtle.

The first Amish settlers in the Newbury Township (later Shipshewana) area, according to the book, came to Newbury Township in 1844.  Brothers Daniel and Joseph Miller came on a scouting tour from Somerset County.  They liked it and immediately purchased farms.  Soon they were joined by Christian and Joseph Bontrager.  More German “Dutch Amish” followed, along with some of their brethren from Holmes County, Ohio.  John C. Yoder was another early Amish settler and patriarch.  The book says he was called “the doctor”—“on account of his skill in healing some of the human ills.” 

The book goes on to say that “This branch of the church [the Amish], which is distinguished by a strict observance of all the old customs, has a large membership among the Germans, who now occupy almost the whole of Newbury [Township]...  each district has its Bishop and two ministers.  The Bishop alone can perform the rites of baptism and marriage.”   The book also says this: 

“The peculiar characteristic of the church is a literal observance of every injunction of the Scriptures…  There are no meeting-houses, but they meet in the homes of the members; no written creed is used by the church; the apostolic rite of feet-washing is observed…  But the most obvious characteristic is that no ornament of any kind is tolerated on the person, nor in the way of paint or plaster in the houses, nor any brilliant coloring about the buildings…  As no conformity to the world is allowed, something like a German peasant costume is still used, and as buttons are under the ban, hooks and eyes supply the necessary fastenings…  German is also spoken continually in their home life, and this is another ‘tie’ and distinction from ‘the world.’”

The authors (members of the Lagrange County Historical Society) seemed to have a high respect for their Amish neighbors, as distinctive as they were even in 1882.  They go on to say, “A marked degree of morality pervades these people…  Financially they are prudent, frugal, and successful.”

The Amish thrived in Lagrange and Elkhart Counties, and today their settlement there is the third largest Amish settlement in the United States.  (There are no Amish settlements in Europe in modern times—only North America.)  Their numbers in have risen to over 14,000 in Lagrange County alone, as of the 2010 census—and although they mainly keep to themselves, they are good neighbors, good businessmen, and good citizens, and—for my husband and I—good friends.