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10552wyoming/montana - some background information

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  • W. Aardsma
    Jul 1 9:29 PM
      Dear Webmaster:

      Please see if this is helpful for the those on the list.

      The most recent post had an entry for the Westra family, some of which emigrated to "Montana/Wyoming". "Wyoming/Montana" sounds odd to me, we don't normally link those two states together. I have heard of Idaho/Montana, those states are similar. Montana is mountainous and forested, its name comes from the Spanish word for mountains. Wyoming is a traditional western state. Its name comes from the Wyoming Valley in northeast Pennsylvania, where settlers were massacred by the Indians (urged on by the British) during our war for independence. Wyoming, Michigan, a community bordering Grand Rapids, is named for the state of Wyoming.

      In the hope that this will narrow down the search for Westras to certain communities with a Netherlandic presence, I checked the directories from the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church for congregations in Wyoming and Montana. Neither had a congregation in Wyoming. The earliest church in Montana was in Wormser City (RCA) in 1896 and it lasted until 1903. Other Montana communities with Netherlandic congregations: Columbus (CRC 1916-1939), Shepherd (1908-1943), Conrad (1 RCA in 1908 and 1 CRC in 1911), Big Timber (1911-1925), and Stanford (1914-1921).

      Bozeman, Gallatin Gateway, and Helena have congregations but these were started after World War II

      Regretfully the Reformed Church lists congregations by city and not by state so I could have missed some. I used their timeline of when congregations were organized to find congregations in Montana. In the process I became aware of several in Nebraska and Kansas that I was not familiar with.

      I also consulted Frisians to America by Gallema. She has a section entitled "Big Sky Country and westward". After mentioning agricultural and industrial problems she writes "...Frisians turned their hopes westward to Montana, Washington, and later California, and fresh immigrants from theh Netherlands followed in their wake.
      In the land of the Crow Indians in Montana, or the Big Sky Country as it is now called, Frisian immigrants in the 1890's and 1900's settled in the villages of Manhattan, Amsterdam, Belgrade, and Church Hill."

      A few lines later she writes "Frisians from settlements in Michigan and Iowa were the first Dutch settlers who came around the 1890s. The Weidenaar family, for example, originally from Ee in Oostdongeradeel, came via New Jersey and Michigan to the Gallatin Valley, attracted by the glowing advertisements of Rev. Andreas J. Wormser, who worked for the Board of Domestic Missions of the Presbyterian Church...and who was an agent for the West Gallatin Irrigation Company with the task to recruit Dutch farmers from the Netherlands as well as from other parts of America" (pages 217-218).

      She goes on to mention some of the settlements and family names. No Westras were mentioned. Westras were mentioned in Wisconsin and other states to the east, however.

      Throughout her book she mentioned several families from Ie/Ee, somehow missing mine.

      Someone who researches Netherlandic-American history in Minnesota told me that the Presbyterians aggressively pushed forsaking your old heritage in favor of Americanism. There were a few East Frisian (Duitser) Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota and Iowa. I was going to research them but they are dying out as is the farm economy in those states.

      One last thing. The first Methodist biskop of Wyoming was nicknamed "Brother Van". His last name was Van something-or-other so presumably he had a Netherlandic ancestry. Regretfully I cannot find the magazine article which I thought I had saved. There is a famous painting of him in western art, "Brother Van Shooting Buffalo", depicted when an Indian tribe honored him by letting him lead their annual buffalo hunt.

      Walter Aardsma
      Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.




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