Previous | Next

Fall 2000 · Vol. 29 No. 2 · pp. 195–96 

Book Review

Faith's Harvest: Mennonite Identity in Northwest Oklahoma

Sharon Hartin Iorio. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma, 1999. xv + 320 pages.

Reviewed by Gary R. Entz

Faith’s Harvest offers interested readers an engaging perspective on social change over time in northwest Oklahoma’s Mennonite communities. Author Sharon Hartin Iorio’s goal in this work is to present a model for “an interactive approach to study communication and change in group life” (3). Accordingly, this is not a traditional historical or sociological study. Rather it is an individual examination of the Mennonite collective sense of identity and how the group outlook has changed over the generations.

Iorio serves as an associate professor and graduate coordinator at the Eliot School of Communication at Wichita State University. She is native to Oklahoma but not a member of the Mennonite community in the northwest portion of what had been the Cherokee Outlet. Her inherent appreciation for the land lends her narrative a sympathetic perspective, but Iorio’s standing as an outsider among the Mennonites allows her to remain dispassionate toward her subjects. Accordingly, she mindfully points out the economic factors that have influenced Mennonites in Oklahoma and other places while still giving voice to traditional stories of religious persecution.

The book is divided into three sections, with the first part covering the 1870s migration of Russian Mennonites to America, settlement on the prairie, and the draw of affordable land in the Oklahoma Territory. The second part covers the upheaval of World War I and the changes it wrought in the Mennonite communities, while the third and final section addresses the forces that have shaped Mennonite identity in the twentieth century.

The 1893 land rush is central to the first and most definitive portion of the book. The reason for this is that the celebrated land-grab that defined Oklahoma settlement also disrupted traditional patterns of Mennonite community formation as much as earlier migrations from Europe. Rather than settling as extended family or village groups, the Mennonites in Oklahoma were compelled to take individual claims in competition with other land hungry settlers. Most Mennonites were attracted to less expensive acreage in the center of the outlet and still formed a significant portion of the regional population. However, since most families found themselves grouped with individuals from different congregations, the overall result was that the new churches they founded were based upon a similar religious belief rather than a common genealogical heritage. {196}

Most of the historical ground that Iorio covers has been trod before. Nevertheless, what makes this study interesting and unique is her method of dividing each chapter between scholarly analysis and individual reflections of Mennonites who lived on the land. Their comments are candid and insightful, and when combined with Iorio’s narrative, paint a vivid portrait of Mennonite life on the Oklahoma plains that will have wide appeal among scholars and general readers.

Gary R. Entz
Asst. Prof. of History
McPherson College, McPherson, Kansas

Previous | Next