Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Background on the Novel, Universal Man: I. Visits with the Hutterites

In Charles Frazier’s “award winning” Civil War novel, Cold Mountain, the main character, Inman, walks from a field hospital in Raleigh to Waynesville in an arching route that takes him near Boone. Along the way he encounters a variety of people, both evil and noble.  It’s been a long time since I read the book, but I remember he spent time with an elderly goat herder lady where he was able to rest and recover from his wound.

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This fictional, modestly-epic journey was an influence on my novel, Universal Man.  I won’t say what parts, or characters in the novel, but I’d like to tell you something of the novel’s background--personal experiences that I used as resources.

The Hutterites are spiritual and historical cousins to the Amish.  Both groups grew out of the Anabaptist movement of the Protestant Reformation.  Both are somewhat insular and “non-resistant” that is they keep separate from the larger culture and they are pacifistic, and generally not involved in political matters.  Hutterites differ from Amish in that, not believing in holding private property, they live in small “colonies” on large farms, they are located primarily in the western states and provinces, and they use modern farming practices.  They understand their communal lifestyle as imitating the early Christians.

I have visited Hutterite colonies on a few occasions, the first time when I was an Agriculture Education student at Washington State University in Pullman. I had heard there was a colony near Spokane and I asked around campus and found a professor that knew approximately where they were.  One Saturday I found it and spent the day there.  I used the visit to fulfill an Educational Psychology assignment.

A couple years later, for our wedding trip, Edie and I spent a few days on a colony of the Hutterian Society of Brothers (the Woodcrest Bruderhof) near Rifton, New York.  The Bruderhof (I call them the Arnoldleut), whose origin was the during the 1930s in Germany, has had a rocky off-and-on-again relationship with the Old Hutterites, as I call them, but they both are communal and they both look to the same historical antecedents. 

Last then, on a trip to the West Coast and back in our green 12-passenger van pulling a small cargo trailer, we with our six children stopped at two Hutterite colonies in Canada, one in the Schmiedeleut branch and the other a Dariusleut, I believe.* The first was welcoming and gave us a tour.  They seemed enchanted with our singing of rounds, because they never used harmony in their music, which was vocal only.  The second colony was in the middle of a vast, open prairie.   The minister, the colony leader, was standoffish, though to give him excuse, we did drop in on a Sunday, their rest day.  As we were leaving, we found some children outdoors visiting with an older brother, a young man who had come for the afternoon. He apparently had left the colony to live a more independent life and he was happy to talk with us. 

All this experience is background for my novel.  I’ll reveal only that Hutterites occupy several chapters.  I wish I could have included photographs of them in the book, but since Hutterites prefer in principle not to have their pictures taken, I don’t have any of my own at all.  In my library, however, is the stunning book of photographs (and informative, sympathetic text), The Hutterites of Montana, by Laura Wilson.

Post Script: I must say as an afterthought that I hated the book Cold Mountain.  The movie was even worse, having been filmed in Romania and not here in Western NC.  I do love the real Cold Mountain, itself, having spent a lot of time exploring in the Shining Rock Wilderness.

*The fourth branch is the Lehrerleut.  The “leut’s or “peoples” are named for their founders.  Hutterites who emigrated to North America and did not resume the communal lifestyle are called Praireleut.


  1. I bought the clothbound book The Hutterite Way in 1980 from the author on my visit to the Hutterite colony west of Spokane. The book describes itself as "The inside story of the life, custom, religion, and traditions of the Hutterites. With over 100 illustrations." It was published by Freeman Publishing Company in 1965.

  2. The dedication of the book says, "I pray, and may the Lord grant, that this book may not fall into the hands of mockers and scoffers. But unto all sincere Christians and truth-seeking parties, this book is affectionately dedicated."