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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


Missionary and ethnographer Heinrich Voth, born on April 15, 1855, in Alexanderwohl, emigrated in 1874 from southern Russia along with his family's German Mennonite congregation to a colony near Newton, Kansas. Voth served as an early interpreter for the colony, having studied English before the exodus. In 1877 he studied at the Christian Educational Institute of the Mennonite Community in Ohio, and he later attended the Theological Seminary of the Evangelical Synod of North America in Missouri. To prepare further for his missionary work he briefly attended St. Louis Medical College.

Circa 1882 he began his first assignment, serving at the Darlington Mission, near Fort Reno, for the Cheyenne and Arapaho. Although his ability to learn languages served him well, he required his Indian pupils to speak English and believed that the American Indians would not progress without rejecting native culture. During his years at Darlington he developed into an ethnographer, but his interest in culture often conflicted with his missionary goals. He saw dissolving the "heathenish culture" as his task, but he studied the language, dances, and customs with zeal, publishing accounts in educational journals. In 1884 he married Barbara Baer, and they had one daughter. Barbara Voth died in 1889. In 1892 a weary Voth took a leave of absence and toured his native Russia.

On his return he and his new wife, Martha Moser, founded the first Mennonite mission for the Hopi at Oraibi, in Arizona. There he earned a controversial reputation for forcing his way into Hopi sacred rituals and preaching loudly in the Hopi language. Again, although he focused on ending native customs, Voth carefully recorded Hopi rituals and daily life, collecting an impressive array of artifacts later loaned to the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago. Interestingly, in 1912 lightning struck the church he had finished in 1902, and many Hopi claimed that supernatural powers had cursed the building.

In 1901 Voth retired after his second wife died. He later published accounts of the Hopi, reconstructed Hopi altars for the Field Museum and a Hopi house for the Fred Harvey Company at the Grand Canyon, and collected artifacts later displayed in the Henry R. Voth Hopi Indian Collection at Grand Canyon, Arizona. In 1914 he served as the resident minister of the Zoar Mennonite Church in Goltry, Oklahoma, retiring again in 1927. From 1914 until his death on June 2, 1931, he held the position of chair of the Mennonite Historical Association of North America.

Larry O'Dell


Fred Eggan, "H. R. Voth, Ethnologist," in Hopi Material Culture: Artifacts Gathered by H. R. Voth in the Fred Harvey Collection, by Barton Wright (Flagstaff, Ariz.: Northland Press, 1979).

Douglas Hale, The Germans from Russia in Oklahoma (Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1980).

John F. Schmidt, ed., "The Autobiography of Heinrich R. Voth," Mennonite Quarterly Review (1966).

Cathy Ann Trotta, "Crossing Cultural Boundaries: Heinrich and Martha Moser Voth in the Hopi Pueblos, 1893–1906" (Ph.D. diss., Northern Arizona University, 1997).

Heinrich Voth, Arapaho Tales (Philadelphia, Penn.: American Folklore Society, 1912).

Heinrich Voth, "Funeral Customs among the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians," Folk-lorist 1 (1893).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Larry O'Dell, “Voth, Heinrich Richert,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=VO001.

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