Spurning many modern conveniences, the Chouteau Amish, with their strict beliefs, traditional dress and giving nature, are living and enjoying life side by side with modern Oklahomans.
One of the hidden communities in Oklahoma is the Chouteau Amish, a population comprised of approximately 600 that enjoys a very simple, hardworking way of life. While much of the Amish community is very private, preferring to separate themselves from the English (non- Amish), there are things you can see and do to experience a taste of the Amish lifestyle.
The Amish of Chouteau originally migrated from Ohio during the early part of Oklahoma’s statehood, its members searching for cheaper farmland to homestead. The Christian culture is one of simplicity and nonconformity, leading to a life separate from the world. Women wear cape dresses fastened with pins instead of buttons and reaching down to the ankles, as well as mesh or linen prayer veils atop their head. Some wear scarves in cold weather, but not many. The men are clean-shaven until marriage, at which time they stop shaving and allow their beards to grow. Their haircuts are long and they usually wear straight collars.
This fascinating culture is peaceful and generous, with several organizations designed to bring aid and sustenance to other cultures and areas of the world. They participate in the Oklahoma Mennonite Relief Sale, a yearly event selling homemade quilts, apple butter, pies and more to raise funds for locations like Syria and Iraq. Every year they raise an average of $165,000.
Even those who are not Amish are subject to the generosity of the Amish community. Bill Chupp, born and raised Amish, recalled when an English woman’s roof was torn off by a tornado in Mazie, Okla. “Fifty people showed up to replace the whole roof at no cost to her,” he says.
Other charity efforts include the Mennonite Central Committee, which distributes books and food to international locations, especially war-ravaged areas.
The Amish also don’t believe in holding a grudge. “There was that shooting out in Nickel Mines [Pa.], where those Amish girls were killed,” Chupp says. “The parents of those girls attended the killer’s funeral to show their forgiveness.”
They do not believe in commercial health insurance, and so the community has an insurance fund that raises money for hospital and doctor bills for all members. They travel by train, bus or by arranged car transportation, as they do not own their own cars. Chupp says that around town, buggies are only used on the weekends and travel is typically done by tractor. “Go around the back of the Amish Cheese House, and you’ll see the tractors lined up from the girls who work there,” he says.
Despite the private nature of the Amish community, there are places to go and things to see and experience the Amish way of life.
The Amish Cheese House, owned and operated by Wes and Leah Miller, is one of the most prominent businesses in Chouteau. Opened in 2000 and expanded in 2012, it hosts a full-service deli with over 50 kinds of cheese, a large grocery and bulk foods area with spices, candies, jarred goods, baked items, ice cream, fudge and snacks, and a café serving homemade sandwiches, wraps, salads and paninis. Nettie Ann’s Bakery, located inside the building, bakes all the bread used. “Leah is from Ohio Amish country. We patterned the store from what they have there,” says Wes, adding that, “all the cheese comes from Leah’s home area.” He urges customers to come hungry, as there are free samples of everything available.
The Dutch Pantry is another great place to eat. As an Amish all-you-can-eat buffet, it serves country-style homemade dishes served straight from old family recipes right up to a delicious variety of fresh pies for dessert. Owned by Eugene and Louise Detweiler, this Chouteau treasure has cooked for both locals and out-of-towners such as the truckers and travelers cruising by on the highway for more than 20 years.
Black Buggy Days is a large Amish heritage event held on the second weekend of September each year. Young boys spend the day vying for prizes in barrel racing, foot penning and other rodeo contests. Food, both homemade and carnival, can be enjoyed while listening to bluegrass music and watching the children’s games.
There are some houses, like the ones belonging to Fanny’s Country Cookin’ and the Millers, scattered through the area that open up their homes to the English and host group dinners so that outsiders can get a glimpse of the lifestyle and, of course, the amazing food. Always call in advance and make reservations for events like this.
In short, the Mayes County Amish community is small but incredible. Their devotion to living a simple and hardworking life and doing good for those around them is something the world needs more of. Everyone should take a moment out of their busy schedules to go visit, take in the fresh country air, and visit some long-standing places known for their quality traditional food.
Amish Cheese House
101 S. Chouteau Ave. | Chouteau
10 W. Main St. | Chouteau
Fanny's Country Cookin'
15842 S. 428 | Chouteau
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