Former Religious Communal Colony in Missouri | Bethel, Missouri
Bethel, in North River Valley, five miles from Shelbyville, was founded in 1844 as a religious communal colony by Dr. 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 by whiskey brewed in Bethel. 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. Many buildings from the time of Keil and his followers are still present in Bethel, Missouri including Elim, which was the personal residence of Dr. Wilhelm Keil.  

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