Saturday, August 29, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 30

Reverend John McGee’s Son Killed by Indians August 31, 1855

The Texas Conference appointments for 1855 show that John McGee was appointed to San Antonio. On August 31 of that year tragedy struck when his son was killed by Indians. McGee wrote the following letter to the editor of the Texas Christian Advocate:

MR. EDITOR : Our home is filled with sorrow ; grief, sad, heart-rending grief, such as we never before experienced, has fallen upon us like a dark cloud, shutting out, almost, the light of heaven.
My second son, Jouette Fletcher McGee, aged 14 years and 11 days, was killed by the Indians, on Friday morning, the 31st of August, 1855, about 9 o'clock a.m.
On the evening before (Thursday) I had sent him down the river (Cíbolo) about ten miles, to Bro. Pendleton Rector’s to bring home a cow and calf. On the morning of Friday, after breakfast, Bro. R. started with him to help drive the cow a short distance; when about a mile from Bro. R.'s and about halt a mile from Mr. Applewhite's house, on the stage road from San Antonio via Sulphur Springs to Victoria, my son discovered some men in the distance driving stock, and called Bro. R.'a attention to it; but they supposed they were Mexicans with a caballado. After passing some two hundred yards further on the road, some six or seven warriors, that had covered their advance with some musquitte bushes, came out suddenly upon them. Bro. R. at once discovered that they were Indians, and remarked to my son that they must save themselves by flight; my son was on a small Mexican mule, and remarked to Bro. R. that he would be killed. Bro. R. told him no, they would not kill him : he was still urging his mule, and crying to Bro. R. not to leave him, but could not get the mule ten steps from the place. Three warriors took after Bro. R., and the other three or four came upon my son ; they threw a lasso upon him, and jerked him to the ground ; he freed himself from it, and sprang to his feet; they threw it upon him again, and again he threw it off, and ran in the direction that Bro. R. had gone ; this party then left him and took his mule. My son ran some two or three hundred yards up a sloping ridge, and had reached the top, when he was met by the Indian who had followed^ Bro. R., who, as he passed him, struck him with a spear at the lower edge of the right shoulder-blade, ranging down, and came out just above his left hip.
Bro. R. after crossing the ridge, in looking back reined his horse out of the road ; his horse bogged and fell with him ; he sprang to his feet and ran, hallooing and motioning as though there was help at hand. The Indian came up to his horse and took him and turned back, and murdered my child.
I suppose the reason why the other party left him, was because of his expertness in freeing himself from the lasso; he had learned this from a Mexican that I have had in my employ for some time. I gather these facts from Bro. R., and a young man, who at the time was sitting on his horse a few hundred yards distant, and witnessed the whole scene.
The Indians had commenced their operations the night before, in the neighborhood of Hillsborough, at the foot of the mountains, passing down the valley of the Cibolo, stealing horses all the way down. After passing some four miles below me, they came across a negro girl of Mr. Elam s, going out to work, and killed her.
Our community was wholly unprepared for a thing of this kind ; in fact we supposed that we were as safe from Indian depredations as you are at Galveston. Our men hastily gathered up their rifles and started in hot pursuit. The Indians passed down near the Sulphur Springs ; there they run Mr. Irvin in, who was out looking for horses. Some five or six men hastily gathered up some guns in the store of Mr. Irvin, and started in pursuit ; they overtook the Indians in about three miles; they had just passed through a bog, and were changing saddles. Col. Wyatt attempted to shoot, but found that he could not without getting off his horse. When he dismounted, the Indian that was on my son's mule jumped off and ran back some fifty yards—shot four or five arrows at him. Mr. Irvin came up and shot twice at another Indian that was coming to the rescue of the one on foot, but with what effect is not known. The party of whites who were behind, coming upon the trail, turned off to intercept them at the crossing of the San Antonio river ; but the Indians crossed some distance below,
Capt. McCollouch (sic) and a party of men from Seguin, started in pursuit ; after crossing the San Antonio river, they got on a trail of some white men, going into Mexico, and followed it for a considerable distance before they discovered their mistake : then it was too late, with broken-down horses and hungry men, to attempt any further pursuit.
The party of Col. Wyatt brought back some twenty or twenty-five horses, and my son’s mule and saddle. I did not learn the sad news until about 3 o'clock P.M., having been out in pursuit of the Indians. Mrs. McGee was some twenty miles from home at the time. I arrived at the house of Mr. Applewhite about sun-down, and found my poor boy cold in death. Kind friends had spared me the affliction of seeing him all bathed in his blood ; he was neatly shrouded, and his bloody clothes washed : but when I knelt by the side of my poor child, and put my hand on his cold brow, and called his name, and no response—may kind Heaven spare the parent from such awful anguish as I then experienced. He was the idol of his mother. At the still hour of midnight a messenger broke the sad intelligence to her, which was like the pouring in of the cold waters of death. This world is clothed in drapery to us it never wore before. He was a kind-hearted, dutiful child—loved his mother most fondly. Under other circumstances it would be afflicting to part with a child ; but to think of the awful excitement and agony of my poor child in the bands of savage brutes, is almost more than I can bear. God alone can sustain us. He alone can make the darkness light about us ; " He doeth all things well." May we have grace to say, " Thy will be done."
I can not close this article without a reflection or two. There is an awful responsibility resting some place with our governmental affairs. Here we have a General and Staff, Depots of Ordnance and Subsistence, hundreds of government horses, forts, stations, and soldiers, agents with tens of thousands of dollars to feed the poor Indians, hundreds of thousands of dollars spent annually by our government for the defense of the frontier; and yet, from the Gaudaloupe to the Rio Grande, the country is overrun with murderous bands of thieving savages, and no security of either life or property. My case is not the first and only one: poor Forest's family, Judge Jones' overseer, strangers found here and there, besides many more carried into captivity; and many that the light of eternity alone will discover. They come within four or five miles of the sleeping cannon of the Alamo, and steal horses; penetrate the interior, rob and murder, go back untouched and unscathed. Things are in a worse condition now than when Texas stood alone. Who is to blame? People and press of Texas, speak, and speak boldly; who is to blame? Where and with whom does this blood rest?
In deep affliction, your brother, JOHN S. MCGEE

Saturday, August 22, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 23

James C. Wilson born Aug 26, 1816
One of the reasons for the success of Methodism in the first half of the 19th century was its ability to recruit enough circuit riding preachers to keep up with population as it moved west. One factor in that recruitment was its willingness to accept relatively uneducated men into the clergy ranks and then put them in a course of study that consisted of reading Wesleyan literature and theology. Your TWITMH editor is in the middle of reading Texas Presbyterian history, and is struck by the contrast. The Presbyterian missionaries to Texas tended to be well-educated—often Princeton graduates.

The willingness to accept uneducated clergy seemed to contradict its roots. Methodism started at Oxford, one of the most venerable universities in the English-speaking world. The Wesley brothers were both highly educated. The genius of having lax educational standards meant that Methodists could mobilize an army, and the Presbyterians were constantly understaffed on the mission field.

James C. Wilson was an interesting exception to the rule. He was the only pre-Civil War Texas Methodist preacher I have been able to find who studied at Oxford. Born in 1816, he migrated to Brazoria County from England in 1837—too late for the Texas Revolution, but not too late to volunteer for the Mier Expedition and be captured. Refusing to parlay his British citizenship into a release by his Mexican captors, Wilson stayed in prison until he could make an escape. He returned to Brazoria and served in the 3rd and 4th Legislatures of the Republic of Texas. He later served in other government offices.

In 1857 he began a brief career as a Methodist preacher. He was admitted to the Texas Conference and was appointed to Gonzales. He died in 1861 but is not forgotten. Wilson County is named in his honor.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

this Week in Texas Methodist History August 16

Robert Alexander Enters Texas, Preaches First Sermon in Texas August 19, 1837

Robert Alexander, the first of the three official Methodist missionaries to reach the Republic of Texas, crossed Gaines’ Ferry on the Sabine on August 19, 1837. His biographer states that it was late in the day. He heard dogs in the distance and, following their cries, made his way to a log cabin where he asked to spend the night. That cabin was the home of the Walker family. A Walker grandson, Seth Ward, became the first native-born Texan elected a Methodist bishop.

Alexander was only twenty-six years old at the time, but had experience that proved useful in establishing Methodism in the Republic. He had most recently been the preacher at Natchez, Mississippi, which must have been one of the most difficult appointments in Methodism. It was a river port, and the southwestern terminus of the Natchez Trace, a historic American transportation route. It had developed a reputation for vice, murder, and theft unmatched by any other U.S. city of the 1830s. Its reputation was so great that Martin Ruter, the head of the missionary delegation, wrote to Littleton Fowler, the third member, warning him to avoid Natchez. The following November, Ruter and his travelling companion, David Ayres, disembarked thirty miles upstream at Rodney, Mississippi, so they could avoid Natchez.

Before his Natchez appointment, Alexander had served the Chickasaw Mission District. That may sound like a Native American mission, but it was not. The Chickasaws had been uprooted from their eastern lands, and Anglo settlers and their slaves were pouring in to occupy their homes, farms, and towns. The Chickasaw Mission was directed at these new arrivals. In his capacity as head of mission the twenty-four year old Alexander supervised the work of Reverends Samuel Spear, Joseph Sneed, and William Craig. All three would later serve in Texas.

When Walker discovered Alexander was a preacher, he asked if he would preach a sermon that night of August 19. Alexander agreed, and Walker sent one of the children to alert that neighbors that they would have preaching that night. A congregation assembled in that cabin, and Alexander preached his first sermon on Texas soil.

Alexander spent about a month in the vicinity and then went on to “Western” Texas (present day Austin and Washington Counties) from whence the call for missionaries had originated. He worked there until November when he returned via the same Gaines’ Ferry Route to attend the Mississippi Annual Conference. In another coincidence, he met Ruter and Ayres at Gaines’ Ferry as they were entering Texas.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 9

First Issue of “New” Texas Christian Advocate Appears August 12, 1854

The first decade of Texas Methodist journalism was marked by fits and starts, hopes and disappointments, both lay and clergy participation, and several relocations.

The first effort of at a Texas Methodist newspaper appears to be the Texas Christian Advocate and Brenham Advertiser which was published by Robert B. Wells, the Brenham preacher in 1847. The next year the paper was moved to Houston and taken over by Wells’ father-in-law, Orceneth Fisher. The “Brenham Advertiser” phrase was struck from the title, and the publication became the Texas Christian Advocate.

In September, 1848, at a camp meeting in Rutersville, the preachers there assembled agreed to make the newspaper a joint venture of the Texas and East Texas Conferences. They hired the former Rutersville College president Chauncey Richardson as editor and agreed to a very generous $800 per annum salary. They also changed the name to the Texas Wesleyan Banner. Richardson was an able editor and soon began production of the Banner at the Houston printing house of James Cruger and Francis Moore. Circulation increased to about 1,500. At the 1850 General Conference of the MECS, the paper received official denominatinoal endorsement.

Unfortunately debts increased. Charles Shearn, a devoted lay man with considerable business ability, took over the business side of the newspaper. It became obvious that expenses would have to be cut, and the $800 salary was on the chopping block. The board reduced it $300. Richardson couldn’t stand that so he resigned. The newspaper limped along with caretaker editors for a few years including Charles Rottenstein (see post for May 10, 2009). The real power at the paper was Shearn who continued to run the business affairs without a salary and brought the paper back to financial solvency.

Bad luck plagued the newspaper. S. B. Cameron was named editor in July 1852 and died of yellow fever the following October. J. A. Hancock took his place.
Meanwhile the Texas effort had gained the attention of the denomination. It was serving a useful purpose. There were several editions of the Advocate—both MEC and MECS. They routinely reprinted items lifted from other editions. That was completely acceptable according to contemporary journalistic standards. The Texas newspaper thus provided a valuable service by keeping the entire denomination informed about the Methodist immigrants to Texas from the “older states.” The 1854 MECS General Conference authorized a $5000 loan from the Publishing House to the Texas newspaper, move its operations to Galveston, and hire C. C. Gillespie as editor.

The Publishing House loaned the newspaper $1024 of the expected $5000.. The Advocate sold the Houston office, put out the last issue of the”old” Advocate in July, moved to Galveston, and on August 12, published the first issue from Galveston.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 2

Advocate Reports on Progress at Bell Plains (sic) College August 2, 1884

One of the many short-lived educational efforts of 19th century Texas Methodism was Belle Plain College in Callahan County established by the North West Texas Conference in 1881. As was typical of the era, the trustees received land and monetary donations from local boosters. The prospects grew brighter when it obtained a state charter in 1882. At one time Belle Plain College enrolled 122 students.
The college specialized in music. It owned fifteen pianos and had both a brass band and an orchestra. It also offered instruction in arts, sciences, languages, and mathematics.

:Like many other colleges, Belle Plain was a story of “wrong place, wrong time.” The railroad surveyors bypassed Belle Plain, and in 1883 the Callahan County seat was moved to Baird, six miles away. The loss of trade and county offices devastated the town. Then the drought of 1886-87 dealt economic disaster to the whole region. The mortgage holders foreclosed but allowed the president to operate a private school not connected with the church until his death in 1892.

Here’s what the Advocate said about the school on August 2, 1884.

Bell Plains College, founded in the summer of 1881, and under the superintendency of F. W. Chatfield, A. M., entered upon its first session in June (?) of the same year with 22 pupils.
In the spring of the following year it was duly chartered and fully empowered to confer degrees and grant diplomas and certificates, medals, etc. Numbered at close of first year 85 pupils. At close of second 122, and during this year just closed 115. It has property of stone buildings and town lots valued at $8,000. The trustees have contracted to erect an additional ten thousand dollar building.