When people think about the Amish they tend to think about communities in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania or in Ohio or Michigan or even in Florida. But the Amish, like the pioneers of the mid-19th century, have pushed westward both in the United States and Canada. So if I drive west through the Rockies along Highway 3 in Alberta and BC, I come to a place called Elko. There I can take a right and soon reach Montana using the Number 93, a road that extends into the United States. The border crossing is at Roosville. Once past the cheerful customs folk, you cruise towards Eureka and are on your way south to Whitefish, Kalispell, and eventually Missoula.
The area around Eureka is a lonely and rugged one. The Rocky Mountains are to the east off your left shoulder and to the right are plenty of trees and bushes and rough terrain that extend through Montana and into Idaho. You don’t see a thing when it comes to people or houses and you certainly don’t see the green pastures of Lancaster County. But what you will see is a big sign announcing there is handcrafted wood and log furniture for sale. If you turn east onto Highway 2 and head for Libby the lonely stretch of road will bring you to Rexford and the oldest Amish community in Montana. Amish have been there since 1974.
So what do you see if not rolling Pennsylvania fields? Beautiful views of mountains and epic vistas of the American West. You will also see Amish men and women and boys and girls riding mountain bikes and, in lieu of the famous Lancaster buggy, the Montana Amish use strong and long and wide wagons reminiscent of the Old West (the kind 19th century Amish would have used all the time).
Quilts are for sale just like back east but so are log homes and furniture, in particular furniture made from cedar, carvings from wood, gazebos, and all sorts of other handcrafted items. I found it interesting that the women and girls wear the same kind of black summer bonnet I purchased from the Amish in Ontario, a very deep one where the female face is tucked far away to the back. My daughter wore the bonnet for the cover for a book on the Amish entitled A Road Called Love. (I have tried to get local Amish and Holdeman Mennonite to pose for me but, alas, I have never been successful. Yet you can buy pictures of Amish that were taken in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond, before the ban against photos went into effect.)
Although the Rexford community is small it is lively and friendly and well worth a trip along US Highway 2 in the direction of Libby. Rexford is not the only Amish community in Montana, there are several more, but it is the closet one to me and the easiest one for me to access. Some day I may buy a log cabin from them. That would be a strong and sturdy writer’s retreat I could place under the trees in my large back yard in Alberta.
Murray Andrew Pura was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and has traveled extensively throughout Canada, the United States, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Ordained as a Baptist minister in 1986, Pura has served five churches in Canada and headlined numerous speaking engagements in Canada and the United States. He has published over a dozen books, was a contributor to the Life With God Bible, has been a finalist for The Paraclete Fiction Award, The Dartmouth Book Award, and The John Spencer Hill Literary Award, and has been shortlisted for the prestigious 2010 Kobzar Literary Award of Canada.