Colorado, admitted to the union in 1876 as the 38th state of the United States of America, encompasses most of the southern Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains. Colorado is the 8th most extensive (104,094 sq. mi./269,837 sq. km.) and 22nd most populous (est. 5,116,796 – July 2011) of the 50 states of the United States. Colorado is nicknamed the "Centennial State" because it was admitted to the union in 1876, the centennial year of the United States Declaration of Independence.
Colorado is bordered by the northwest state of Wyoming to the north, the mid-west states of Nebraska and Kansas to the northeast and east, on the south by New Mexico and a small portion of the southern state of Oklahoma, and on the west by Utah. The four states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah meet at one common point known as the Four Corners, which is known as the heart of the American Southwest. Colorado is one of only three American states with no natural borders, the others being neighboring Wyoming and Utah.
The region that is now the State of Colorado has been inhabited by Native Americans for some 13,000 years, including Ancient Pueblo Peoples and members of the Ute, Arapaho, and Cheyenne nations. The discovery of gold in the Pikes Peak region in 1858 led to the first important settlements of English-speaking people. An Act of Congress established the Colorado Territory in 1861, and 15 years later Colorado was admitted to the union as a state.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Colorado’s racial and ethnic composition was: 81.3% White (70.0% Non-Hispanic White Alone); 4.0% Black or African American; 1.1% American Indian and Alaska Native; 2.8% Asian; 0.1% Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander; 7.2% Other Race; and 3.4% from Two or More Races. Hispanics and Latinos of any race made up 20.7% of the population. According to the 2000 Census, the largest ancestry groups in Colorado were German (22%) including Swiss and Austrian nationalities, Mexican (18%), Irish (12%), and English (12%).
The religious affiliation of Colorado’s population in 2010 was (approximate percentages): Christian – 64 % (Protestant – 44% [Evangelical – 23%; Mainline – 19%; Other – 2 %], Roman Catholic – 19%, Mormon – 2%, and Orthodox – 1%), Jewish – 2%, Muslim – 1%, Other Religions – 5%, and Unaffiliated – 25%.
History of Mennonites/Anabaptists to World War II
Among the chief attractions for Mennonite colonization and settlement in Colorado during the late 19th and early 20th centuries were its agricultural resources and inexpensive land. The wide arid eastern plains of the state were adapted for stock raising and the production of grain and feed crops. The Arkansas and Platte River valleys furnished extensive areas for potential irrigation projects which were developed through the years. Additionally, there were smaller valleys between the mountain ranges on the western slope which were well adapted to a varied agricultural program.
During the late 1880s Mennonite Brethren (MB) families from Nebraska and Elbing, Kansas, homesteaded near Kirk and what would later become Joes in present-day Yuma County, Colorado. The fledgling congregation, known as Kirk Mennonite Brethren Church until 1922 when it took the name Joes, dedicated a new church structure in 1894 under the pastoral leadership of David Dyck. Other early Colorado MB congregations were established at Pueblo, Loveland, Johnstown, Keensburg, Denver, and Brighton, but all were small and were closed by 1950.
Agricultural opportunities attracted General Conference Mennonites (GCM) from South Dakota to Colorado’s Eastern Plains beginning ca. 1907. Although a Sunday school was established at Shelton, some 6-7 miles north-northwest of La Junta, in 1910, the only early Eastern Colorado settlement to have a congregation that would join the GCM’s Western District Conference was the New Friedensberg Mennonite Church in Kit Carson County, nine miles southeast of Vona. Officially established in 1910, the congregation dedicated a church building in 1912, and its membership grew under the pastoral leadership of H. U. Schmidt who served as minister from 1909 to 1920. By 1954, the congregation’s membership had dwindled to 20, and the congregation stopped meeting together on several occasions during subsequent years, although it was represented regularly at the annual meetings of the Western District until 1969.
The promising agricultural opportunities of Colorado led the Old Order Amish to establish three settlements in the state during 1909-10. These settlements were located near Matheson in Elbert County, Wild Horse in Cheyenne County, and Ordway in Crowley County. Lack of financial resources, poor crops, and internal disunity were major factors that led to the failure of all three communities between 1914 and 1920.
A variety of early pioneering and colonizing efforts in Colorado by Mennonites met failure and did not result in the organization of churches. These included an abortive experiment in Gibson, a prospective town site eight miles north of Hooper and west of the Great Sand Dunes in the San Luis Valley, during 1912-13 by some 15-20 Mennonites from Central Kansas. During the late 1920s Mennonites from Hillsboro, Kansas, attempted to establish a settlement in the San Luis Valley, some 125 miles southeast of Pueblo, under the leadership of David E. Harder, a professor at Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas. During the 1930s several Mennonite families from the Kleine Gemeinde Mennonite settlement in Meade, Kansas, attempted to settle in Monte Vista, some 25 miles southwest of the earlier Gibson settlement.
Agricultural potential also attracted Mennonite Church (MC) settlers to several areas of the state where churches were established. One of the earliest was established at Thurman in Washington County, some 35 air miles east of Limon, during the late 1880s by Amish Mennonites from Milford and Shickley, Nebraska, Wayland, Iowa, and Woodford County, Illinois. In 1914 a small group of Mennonite farmers who had left the Amish established a settlement at Limon. In June 1896 the Christian Rich family moved from Cambridge, Nebraska, to the East Holbrook Valley to farm. During the early 1900s the Holbrook Valley irrigation project was developed some 12 miles northeast of La Junta, the most populous city in Otero County, and Mennonite settlers under the leadership of John M. Nunemaker, Jacob A. Heatwole, R. J. Heatwole, George R. Brunk, David Garber, and others established rural homes and the La Junta (1903) and East Holbrook (1908) Mennonite churches (the latter in Cheraw) which affiliated with the Kansas-Nebraska Mennonite Conference.
Colorado’s arid climate was a significant factor in attracting health seekers, including Mennonites, to the state. Following the Trudeau experiment in tuberculosis treatment, many sanatoria were established in the state. Mennonite health seekers centered around La Junta. As a result in 1908 Mennonite Church leaders opened a Mennonite Sanitarium in Swink, some five miles west of La Junta. In 1920 the City of La Junta deeded the City Hospital along with other endowment properties to the Mennonite Hospital and Sanitarium Association, and the association contracted to administer the City Hospital. In 1928 a new 70-bed Mennonite Hospital and Sanitarium was opened in La Junta, and sanitarium patients were moved from the old sanitarium to the new facility. The Sanitarium Board established what came to be known as the La Junta Mennonite School of Nursing in 1914, and some 450 graduates received degrees from the school’s registered nurses’ program between 1918 and 1958. Thereafter, a Practical Nursing Program was commenced which continued until 1973. A new La Junta Medical Center was completed in 1971, and the facility was administered by the Mennonite Board of Missions until 1998.
As the administrator of the Mennonite Sanitarium and later the Mennonite Hospital and Sanitarium (1916-1952) in La Junta, Allen H. Erb played a significant role in the expansion of Mennonite hospital work in Colorado. During the 1950s-1970s the Mennonite Board of Missions negotiated contracts to administer acute care hospitals in five other cities/towns in Colorado -- Rocky Ford, Glenwood Springs, Aspen, La Jara, and Walsenburg. The hospitals brought many Mennonites to Colorado, many of whom became permanent residents and formed the nucleus of new Mennonite Churches. Through these activities the Colorado Mennonite program was publicized throughout the Mennonite Church, and the work served to strengthen the Mennonite Church program throughout the state.
With few exceptions, such as that at Thurman, the pattern of Mennonite Church settlement in Colorado flowed generally from the La Junta/East Holbrook (Cheraw) area outward. In a sense the congregations that emerged in the La Junta-Cheraw area became the "mother churches" for the majority of the congregations that would later form the Rocky Mountain Mennonite Conference of the Mennonite Church. Through the efforts of the La Junta and East Holbrook churches Mennonite congregations were eventually established at Limon (1922), Manitou Springs (1922), Denver (1941), and Pueblo (1949).
During the post-World War I years Mennonites began settling and vacationing in the Manitou Springs/Colorado Springs area, while others traveled to the area for summer employment in the rush tourist season. This led to the establishment of a mission and later a congregation (1922) in Manitou Springs, both to conserve Mennonites who lived there and to reach the tourist group for Christ. In 1948 the congregation moved to Colorado Springs where most of its members were living.
The Pueblo Mennonite Church was also begun in 1949 as a mission venture in part to provide a spiritual home for Mennonite nursing trainees who began receiving specialized training at the Pueblo State Mental Hospital beginning in the late 1930s.
A missionary outreach to Hispanics was started by the East Holbrook and La Junta Mennonite churches during the early 1920s. During the early 1940s this mission outreach grew into a Spanish mission church at La Junta – La Junta Spanish Mennonite Church -- under the auspices of the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities with David Castillo as pastor.
Thus, through agricultural colonization, hospital institutional administration, and mission outreach endeavors an active Mennonite Church program developed in Colorado.
World War II and the Postwar Years
Mennonite migration to Colorado increased during World War II as large numbers of conscientious objectors arrived to participate in the state’s five Civilian Public Service camps in Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Fort Collins, Denver, and Mancos. Mennonite migration to Colorado continued to increase after World War II with the largest concentrations arriving during the early 1950s and the mid-1960s-early 1970s when hundreds of conscientious objectors were assigned to hospital work under the 1-W Program during the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War. Many of these men would later settle in Colorado, establish families, and join Mennonite churches. In 1950 the total number of baptized Mennonites in Colorado was approximately 550.
By the late 1950s-early 1960s the General Conference Mennonite Church (Arvada Mennonite Church) and the Mennonite Brethren (Garden Park Mennonite Brethren Church) had established new congregations in the Denver metropolitan area. During subsequent decades the two denominations, as well as the Mennonite Church, established a number of new congregations in Colorado, particularly in the growing urban/suburban areas along the state’s Front Range corridor.
Inter-Mennonite cooperative efforts in Colorado during the postwar decades included Voluntary Service units in La Junta, Walsenburg, La Jara, Alamosa, Boulder, and Denver, the largest of which was associated with the Mennonite Hospital in La Junta. During its years of operation from 1949 to 1982, 248 men and women served in the La Junta unit. In 1965 the Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) of Colorado was organized with Ken Kuhns as coordinator, and in 1990 the MDS was reorganized in the Rocky Mountain area with Olen Hershberger of Denver as chair. Since 1976 Mennonites in Colorado have supported annual Rocky Mountain Mennonite Central Committee Relief Sales (held in Rocky Ford) to raise funds for support of MCC program. A Service Adventure Unit administered by MCUSA’s Mennonite Mission Network began operating at Beth-El Mennonite Church in Colorado Springs in 2010. A cooperative Mennonite effort resulted in the construction of the first building of a retirement center in La Junta in 1992; by 2012 the center, known as Casa Del Sol Retirement Community, consisted of 60 units. As of 2012 Mennonites and Anabaptist-related churches sponsor Ten Thousand Villages stores in Denver and Fort Collins and three affiliated stores in La Junta, Boulder, and Grand Junction.
Led by E. M. Yost the Rocky Mountain Mennonite Conference was established as a district conference of the Mennonite Church in 1961. Comprising almost 1,000 members, 11 of the 14 congregations of the conference were located in Colorado.
In 1987 there were nearly 1,800 baptized members of Mennonite Church (MC) congregations in Colorado. There were 17 MC congregations with more than 1,100 members; 6 General Conference (GCM) congregations with some 300 members (several of the MC and GCM congregations were dually affiliated); and 4 Mennonite Brethren congregations with some 370 members.
An historical study of Mennonites in the Mountain States Region in 2007 found that MC USA’s 19 Colorado congregations had an average Sunday morning attendance of slightly over 1,300. The 19 congregations were located at: Arvada, Colorado Springs (2), Boulder, Cheraw, La Junta, Denver, Fort Collins, Lakewood, Glenwood Springs, Greeley, Westminster, La Jara, Palmer Lake, Aurora, Pueblo, Rocky Ford, Walsenburg, and Julesburg. The study also noted the following statistics for other Mennonite denominations/groups in the state:
On 19 October 2009, the Mennonite Weekly Review reported that Colorado ranked 22nd among the 50 states in the United States in terms of Mennonite population with 34 churches and 2,706 members.
According to the Young Center, Colorado Amish statistics in 2011 included 4 settlements, 6 church districts, and an estimated population of 810. According to the August 15, 2010, issue of the Denver Post, much of the recent Amish settlement in Colorado occurred between 2004 and 2009 in the vicinities of Monte Vista, Manassa-Romeo, and Westcliffe in the San Luis Valley.
A survey conducted in 2010 by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies reported the following data for Colorado Mennonites (adherents included members, children, and others who regularly attended):
"Amish Settle in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, Diversifying to Support Families." Denver Post (15 August 2010). Web. 19 May 2010. http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_15782765.
ARDA: The Association of Religion Data Archives. "State Membership Report - Colorado: Religious Traditions, 2010." Web. 19 May 2012. http://www.thearda.com/rcms2010/r/s/08/rcms2010_08_state_name_2010.asp.
Erb, Paul. History of the South Central Mennonite Conference. Scottdale, PA; Kitchener, ON: Herald Press, 1974.
Harms, Orlando. A Conference in Pilgrimage: The Story of the Southern District Mennonite Brethren Conference and Its Churches. Hillsboro, KS: The Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, 1992.
Haury, David A. Prairie People: A History of the Western District Conference. Newton, KS: Faith and Life Press, 1981.
Lohrenz, John H. The Mennonite Brethren Church. Hillsboro, KS: The Board of Foreign Missions of the Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Church of North America, 1950.
Luthy, David. The Amish in America: Settlements that Failed, 1840-1960. 2nd ed. Aylmer, ON; Lagrange, IN: Pathway Publishers, 1991.
Mennonite Yearbook and Directory (1988-89): 19.
"Mennonites in the United States." Mennonite Weekly Review (October 19, 2009): 12.
Swartzendruber, Maude. The Lamp in the West. Newton, KS: La Junta Mennonite School of Nursing Alumnae Association, 1975.
Unrau, Harlan D. In Pursuit of Land, Health and Mission: A History of Mennonites in the Mountain States Region. Printed in Canada by Blitzprint Inc., 2007.
Wikipedia. "Colorado." Web. 19 May 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colorado.
Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, Elizabethtown College. "Amish Population by State (2011)." Web. 19 May 20112. http://www2.etown.edu/amishstudies/Population_by_State_2011.asp.
1955 Mennonite Encyclopedia Article, Vol. 1, p. 646
Colorado (population of 1.1. million in 1950), a state known for its Pikes Peak among the 200 or more peaks over 13,000 feet high. The discovery of gold in the Pikes Peak region in 1858 led to the first important settlements of English-speaking people. In 1950 mining was an important industry in the state.
The chief attraction for Mennonite colonization was its agricultural resources. There is a wide arid plain on the eastern slope of the mountains which was adapted for stock raising and the production of grain and feed crops. The Arkansas and Platte River valleys furnished large areas of potential irrigation projects which through the years have been developed. Besides this eastern slope, there were the smaller rich valleys between the mountain ranges on the western slope which were well adapted to a varied agricultural program.
The promising agricultural opportunities led the Old Order Amish to establish three settlements in Colorado during 1909-1910 -- in Elbert, Cheyenne and Crowley counties. Lack of resources, poor crops, and internal disunity were factors that led to the failure of all three communities by 1920.
Agricultural possibilities also attracted Mennonite (MC) colonization to several areas of the state, where churches were established. One of the earliest of these was established near the close of the 19th century at Thurman, about 80 miles east of Denver. A few years later the colony at Limon was established. About 1900 the Holbrook irrigation project was developed near La Junta. Mennonite settlers under the leadership of J. M. Nunemaker, R. J. Heatwole, and others established rural homes here and the East Holbrook and La Junta Mennonite churches.
Another factor that contributed largely in the making of the Colorado Mennonite churches was the attraction of climate for health seekers. Following the Trudeau experiment in tuberculosis treatment, many sanatoria were established in the arid climate of the Rocky Mountains. Some Mennonites were thus induced to move west. These health seekers centered around La Junta. From the need created by this movement there was born the idea of a sanatorium built by the Mennonite Church. From this grew the Mennonite Sanitarium west of La Junta, and later the Mennonite Hospital and Sanitarium, and the La Junta Mennonite School of Nursing in La Junta.
In Rocky Ford another hospital was built in 1953, to be operated by the Mennonite Church (MC) as an integral part of the Mennonite Hospital and Sanitarium of La Junta. The Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities also negotiated a contract to operate a hospital to be built by the Glenwood Springs community. These two additions would add much to the resources of the church in taking care of the sick in Colorado.
Through these activities the Colorado Mennonite program was publicized throughout the Mennonite Church as a whole. This work also served to strengthen the Mennonite church program throughout the state.
Another factor aiding the growth of the church was the missionary activity of the Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa Mennonite (MC) churches. Some Mennonites were settled in Colorado Springs. Others came out for the summer for employment in the rush tourist season. This led to the suggestion that the church should establish a mission in Manitou Springs, both to conserve Mennonites who were there and to reach the tourist group for Christ. In the 1950s there was a well-established congregation in Manitou Springs.
The Denver Mennonite Church was the outgrowth of missionary suggestions prompted by the affiliated nurses in Denver, sent there by the home school of nursing in La Junta. From a small mission effort, this work grew to an established congregation.
The Pueblo church was also begun as a missionary venture sponsored through the La Junta Mennonite congregation. This was organized as a congregation in 1949. The work was not large, but was active as a missionary center with some support from the South Central Mennonite Conference Mission Board.
Thus through agricultural colonization, hospital institutional work, and missionary endeavor a quite virile Mennonite program developed in Colorado.
Likewise a missionary program was started by the East Holbrook Mennonite Church among the Spanish people. This grew into a Spanish mission church at La Junta under the auspices of the General Mission Board, Elkhart, Indiana.
In 1954 the General Conference Mennonites had one congregation in Colorado, located at Vona. Its membership in 1954 was 20. A Mennonite Brethren congregation reported 50 members in 1948. In 1950 the total number of baptized Mennonites in Colorado was therefore approximately 550. -- Allan H. Erb
Clear evidence of Mennonite settlement in Colorado dates from ca. 1900. However, since Dunkers (Church of the Brethren) were there by the early 1870s, it is likely that small groups of Mennonites had entered the state by the 1880s.
Mennonite migration to Colorado continued to increase after World War II, with the largest concentrations arriving in the early 1950s and the late 1960s when hundreds of conscientious objectors were assigned to hospital work during the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War. By the late 1950s the General Conference Mennonite Church (GCM) and the Mennonite Brethren (MB) had established congregations in the Denver metropolitan area.
In 1987 there were nearly 1,800 baptized members of Mennonite congregations in the state. There were 17 Mennonite Church (MC) congregations with more than 1,100 members, 2 of which were dually affiliated with the General Conference Mennonite Church; 6 General Conference congregations with 300 members; and 4 Mennonite Brethren congregations with 370 members.
Mennonites are active in a variety of outreach ministries in Colorado. In 1987 Mennonite Board of Missions (MC) and Mennonite Health Resources administered or sponsored hospitals, medical centers, and nursing homes in La Junta, La Jara, Walsenburg, and Rocky Ford. A Voluntary Service (VS) unit was located at La Jara. Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp (established in 1951) is located near Divide. The General Conference Mennonite Church operated three VS units in the Denver area. Mennonite (MC, GCM, MB) congregations in Denver cooperated in sponsoring Mennonite Urban Ministries and an Mennonite Central Committee Thrift Shop and Ten Thousands Villages store in Lakewood. -- Harlan D. Unrau
The Brethren Encyclopedia. 3 vols. Philadelphia and Oak Brook, IL: Brethren Encyclopedia, Inc., 1983: 324.
Mennonite Yearbook and Directory (1988-89): 19.
Wittlinger, Carlton O. Quest for Piety and Obedience: The Story of the Brethren in Christ. Nappanee, IN: Evangel Press, 1978 : 147-148.
©1996-2013 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.
To cite this page:
MLA style: Unrau, Harlan D. "Colorado (USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. June 2012. Web. 22 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/C6532.html.
APA style: Unrau, Harlan D. (June 2012). Colorado (USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/C6532.html.