News & Events

Christmas In Bethel

We hope you'll join us in Bethel, Missouri on Sunday, December 8th, for the annual "Christmas in Bethel" celebration. The colonists observed many "fete" days such as Easter, Christmas, New Years, harvest feasts, Independence Day and others with music, singing, dancing...

Bethel German Colony 175th Anniversary

Bethel is celebrating 175 years on October 4-5, 2019. Everyone is invited to attend to make new friends, revive old acquaintances, learn new information about an age-old tradition, shop for a one of a kind gift, eat German food, or simply relax and enjoy the day....

16th Annual Youth Big Buck Hunt

The 16th annual Bethel Colony "Youth Hunt" competition will take place the youth weekend only, November 2-3, 2019. The buck with the most points (minimum size of 1" point to qualify) wins 50% of the entry pool, along with other prizes. Bethel Colony retains the...

Our History

Bethel, in North River Valley, five miles from Shelbyville, was founded in 1844 as a religious communal colony by Wilhelm Keil and his German-American followers. Keil (1812-1877), an independent preacher, called his adherents “Christians.” Without a written agreement, they shared their property and labor, though private earnings were allowed. Bethel community was early noted for its handicrafts and musical band.

Membership was about 650 in 1855 when Keil, fearing Bethel too subject to outside influence, led a group west and established Aurora Colony in Oregon. Their expedition over the Oregon Trail is unique for it was conducted as a funeral cortege. Keil’s son, Willie, died before he realized his father’s promise to lead the group and was carried instead in the head wagon in a metal box, alcohol-filled. After six months and over 2000 miles, he was buried at Willapa, Washington.

Keil never returned to Bethel, directing affairs there by letter. When the colonies disbanded, 1879-1881, they held property in common valued at $109,806. Bethel supplied $64,328 of this and owned 4267 acres.