8 Wonders of Kansas people

An 8 Wonder of Kansas People

Bernhard Warkentin, Newton, Halstead

Address: 211 E. 1st, Newton, KS 67117
Phone: 316.283.3113
Website: skyways.lib.ks.us/genweb/archives/1918ks/biow/warkenb.html

Bernhard Warkentin, miller and banker, encouraged thousands of Mennonites from Russia to settle in South Central Kansas in the mid-1870s.  He imported and promoted the planting of Turkey red winter wheat, helping make Kansas the breadbasket of the world.  1847-1908. 

Bernhard Warkentin. Photo courtesy Bernhard Warkentin

Bernhard Warkentin was born June 18, 1847, in the village of Altonau, Molotschna Colony, S. Russia (Ukraine). He arrived in the United States on June 5, 1872, the very first of Russian Mennonites to arrive on U.S. soil.

Within six months, Bernhard had traveled over 1,500 miles throughout the mid-United States and Canada. He reported in letters to David Goerz that he would recommend his people come to Kansas, if they were to immigrate, as the soil and climate were like theirs in Ukraine, where the Turkey red hard winter wheat would grow.

Having gone back to the Ukraine to visit family in 1885, Bernhard commissioned his nephew, Bernhard Enns, to purchase and ship several thousand bushels of Turkey red wheat seed to Newton, seed that Bernhard later distributed to local farmers at cost. With this move, Turkey red wheat was suddenly available in large quantities for farmers, a significant step in the history of Kansas agriculture.

Grist mill at Halstead.  Photo courtesy Bernhard Warkentin Home
At a conference at Carey Hotel in Wichita in the spring of 1900, Warkentin suggested having large amounts of Turkey red hard winter wheat seed imported from the Crimea (15,000 bushels). Kansas millers agreed. Mark A. Carelton made a trip to the Crimea and the seed was imported for the 1901 fall planting season. A box car was set in each county that planted wheat for availability for local farmers.

Newton Mill, 1900. Photo courtesy Bernhard Warkentin House
In 1870, Kansas raised less than 2.5 million bushels of spring wheat. In 1880, Kansas raised 17.3 million bushels of wheat. In 1890, 30.3 million bushels. In 1908, the year of Mr. Warkentin's death, 100 million bushels.

He died a tragic death when he and his wife went on a trip to Europe and the Middle East with a touring company. Upon leaving Jerusalem April 1, 1908 he was accidentally shot by a young prince, the grandson of the Emir of the Arab tribes in Algeria. Mr. Warkentin died in a hospital in Beirut, Syria the same day.

The funeral was held at the Warkentin House on May 5, 1908. Bernhard was eulogized as a man who had a more substantial part in the development of Harvey County and the State of Kansas than any other. He was depicted as a modest and quiet man, whose integrity was unquestioned.

Warkentin owned mills in Halstead, Newton, and Oklahoma. He also established banks in Halstead and Newton to make it easier for farmers to get loans. He helped found Bethel College in North Newton and Bethel Deaconess Hospital in Newton. He was inducted into the Kansas Business Hall of Fame in 1989.

Click here for a more detailed chronology of Bernhard Warkentin and his mission to get Turkey

Bethel College Administration Building. Photo courtesy Bernhard Warkentin House.
red wheat to Kansas.



  • The Warkentin House, 211 E. 1st. 316.283.3113. Open September-December and April-May, Saturday-Sunday 1-4:30 p.m and June-August Tuesday-Sunday 1-4:30 p.m. Built in Newton in 1886-87, it is on the National Register of Historical Places and on the Kansas Historical Register.
  • Former Newton Milling and Elevator Co., 3rd and Main, is also on the National and State Registers and has been remodeled to house a restaurant and many offices
  • The Mennonite Settler Statue, Athletic Park, 600 block of W. 5th.  The 17-foot memorial was part of a 1942 Government Stimulus Program designed to honor Bernhard Warkentin as the importer of wheat from Russia, the Santa Fe Railroad for transporting the wheat and the Mennonite farmers for growing the wheat.
  • Warkentin mausoleum in Greenwood Cemetery located just west side of I-135 at the Broadway/First Street exit.  Warkentin is interred in this mausoleum that he had built just a few months before leaving on their final trip.

  • Halstead Museum, 116 E. First.  316.835.2475.  Open Saturday-Sunday 2-5 p.m.  See display about Warkentin, Mennonites coming to the area, and early harvest artifacts.