Saturday, February 27, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History February 28

James T. Hosmer Becomes Robbery Victim Near Vernon March 1, 1881. lists 297 affiliated cowboy churches in Texas. They are widely distributed across the state and have some very interesting ministries. They often meet in rodeo arenas, barns, and commercial buildings. I cannot speak from personal knowledge, but perhaps they are carrying on in the tradition of James T. Hosmer. His whole ministry was to cowboys on the Texas plains.

Hosmer was born in Alabama in 1848. He entered the ministry in 1874 and admitted on trial as a local preacher in the North West Texas Conference in 1879. Bishop McTyeire sent him to the Colorado Mission, a frontier region along the Colorado River. At the next conference he reported receiving 32 new converts, 22 transfers by letter, and baptizing 42 babies. For this year’s work he had been paid $71. The next year Bishop Pierce appointed him to the Hardeman Mission, 40,000 square miles without railroads, wagon roads, or bridges. Most of the inhabitants lived in dugouts or tents. The region was subject to sand storms. The Pease, Wichita, Red, the Brazos Rivers and their tributaries often had quicksand in their beds. The heat of summer and cold of winter made this circuit a dangerous and difficult one.

Hosmer developed a special bond with the cowboys to whom he preached.
John Barcus wrote of him

And how he loved those cow-boys! What cared he for a high steeple church with polished pews and carpeted aisles! He had the green grass for a carpet, God's stars for a chandelier and earnest, honest men, hungry for the bread of life as his audience. As he talked to them around their camp fires of God and mother and home and heaven, while the tears chased each other down his rugged face, their hearts were strangely warmed. Then they would sing together those grand gospel melodies they had heard their mothers sing in the old home back in the States

On March 1, 1881 Hosmer fell victim to one of the scoundrels of the West. Here it is in his words

On the night of March 1, I stayed all night with a Mr. Chounning about 1 ½ miles from a little village called Vernon, containing two family groceries and a beer saloon. On that night some evil minded person came to where I had put up and robbed me. They stole two revolvers worth $35, one overcoat, one heavy shawl, one pair of gloves, forty feet of stake rope, besides some of my daughter’s clothing.

The rigors of travel wore Hosmer down. He settled on land he pre-empted in Greer County. It was there that he died and was buried in August 1893 at the age of 45.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History February 21

Travis Park Cornerstone Laid at Travis Park Methodist Church in San Antonio February 25, 1883

During the middle years of the 19th century San Antonio was among the most difficult cities for Methodist evangelization. John Wesley Devilbiss had established a church on Soledad Street in 1846, but as Macum Phelan said, “Methodism was of slow growth there.” As compared to other Texas cities such as Marshall, Houston, and Dallas, the population was more ethnically diverse and also unsettled. San Antonio was a military center, the starting point for cattle drives to the north and for routes to the west. It was a distribution center for a vast area of south and west Texas, but not particularly fertile ground for church building.

The situation changed in the early 1880’s. On January 12, 1883, Thomas Pierce of the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway drove the silver spike signifying the completion of the railroad between San Antonio and El Paso. The Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean were now connected by rail, eventually called the Southern Pacific system. Although the Union Pacific had been the first intercontinental rail link, the Southern Pacific offered gentler grades and fewer delays due to ice and snow. It soon became one of North America’s most important transportation links.

San Antonio was transformed. Its economy added industry and tourism to the existing military and agricultural foundations. It boomed. By 1900 it was the largest city in Texas, boasting a population of over 50,000.

One of the great churches of Texas Methodism grew up with San Antonio. On February 25, 1883, just five weeks after the completion of the railroad, Methodists laid a cornerstone for a new church on Travis Street, diagonally across from Travis Park in downtown San Antonio. The new church, now named Travis Park Methodist Episcopal Church South prospered along with San Antonio. From 1900 to 1960 it was always one of the ten largest Methodist churches in Texas and always the largest church in its annual conference.

Some of the most famous preachers filled its pulpit. Travis Park preachers including John M. Moore, Arthur Moore, Paul Kern, Edwin Mouzon, and Kenneth Copeland were later elected bishops.

In recent years Travis Park UMC has embraced a wide range of ministries including those to homeless persons. A particularly innovative program is its electric vehicle recharging station. Travis Park UMC—Unconditional Love and Justice in Action

Saturday, February 13, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History February 14

William Dewees Writes First Person account of Camp Meeting on Red River, Feb. 15, 1820 (Oldest such record of Texas Methodist activity? Probably not.)

In 1852 a book was published, Letters from an Early Settler in Texas which purported to be a series of letters William Dewees wrote to his niece, Cara Cardelle, about his travels in Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico beginning in 1819. The second letter in the collection is dated February 15, 1820 and describes a camp meeting held “eight miles below Jonesborough, on the other side of the river.” That would put the location on the north side of the Red River in present day Oklahoma and would certainly have included settlers from south of the river in present day Texas among the camp meeting participants. Although Dewees does not name the three preachers or identify them as Methodists, they almost certainly would have been Methodists. The capable historian, Rex Strickland, provides tentative identification for them. He says

Although Dewees does not mention the ministers' names, very likely two of the three were William Stevenson and Thomas Tennant. Stevenson was the presiding elder of the Black River District of the Missouri Conference of the Methodist Church in 1820, and Thomas Tennant had been assigned to the Pecan Point circuit in the fall of 1819. Horace Jewell, History of Methodism in Arkansas, 47. Either James Lowry or Washington Orr would be a logical surmise for the third preacher; each served the Pecan Point circuit—Lowry preceded Tennant and Orr succeeded him.

The letter describes the camp meeting and includes an episode of scoffers who come to the meeting to drink and disrupt the religious activities. That episode is consistent with other contemporary accounts.

Unfortunately the letter is not authentic. Although the account is probably accurate, it was not composed at the time. There was no Cara Cardelle. There were no letters. Letters From an Early Settler was a collaboration between Dewees and Emmaretta Cara Kimball in which Kimball recast Dewees’s memories into epistolary form—a common literary convention of the era.

The presence of William Dewees along the Red River as early as 1819 can be documented, and although the letters are based on recollection rather than contemporaneous materials, they undoubtedly contain much factual information. Unfortunately their usefulness is compromised by not being what they purport to be. You may read a digitized version at Google Books.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History February 7

John Haynie Preaches His First Sermon in Corpus Christi Feb. 8, 1846

John Haynie’s ministry is so closely tied to his work in Bastrop and Travis Counties, that we sometimes forget that he also served briefly as missionary to Corpus Christi—and what a mission field it was!

Haynie had been a preacher in Tennessee and Alabama when he followed his daughter’s family to Texas in 1838. He settled near her and her husband, John Caldwell, in Bastrop County. The government of the Republic of Texas was in the process of establishing Austin as its new capital on the western edge of settlement, and Haynie soon became friends with and minister to Methodists in Austin. He participated in the organization of the Texas Conference at Rutersville in Dec. 1840, organized Methodist churches in Austin and Webberville, and in 1841 moved to Rutersville.

1845 found him back in Austin where he was elected chaplain of the convention that approved annexation to the United States. He asked Bishop Soule for an appointment at the January, 1846 annual conference, and was sent as a missionary to Corpus Christi.

The previous September Zachary Taylor’s army had encamped near Corpus Christi, and the sleepy little trading post and post office became a boom town. In the 1840’s when the army moved, so did an accompanying horde of cooks, laundry workers, merchants, prostitutes, gamblers, con men, and other assorted hangers-on.

Haynie arrived on Feb. 4, preached his first sermon on Feb. 8, and on the 15th wrote a letter to the Southwestern Christian Advocate. Here are some excerpts

There is no law here; as the courts have not been organized as yet, and I must say, for a place where there is no law that can be brought to bear on crime, it is not as bad as I expected to find it. True, a few fellows get knocked down once and awhile, or shot or cut with a knife; but it is generally an unruly, drunken fellow, and there it ends, until he gets sober and knocks down some other drunken man, and so on to the end of the chapter. As it was when there was no king in Israel, every man walks in his own way or in the way of somebody else.
As to population I suppose soldiers and citizens, there must be somewhere between 5 and 7000 souls; and as to the character, of every hue ; the object of the citizens would seem to be to make money, and they seem to be of almost all nations ; some in houses, and some in cloth camps or cloth houses ; there are said to be some 50 groceries, two Theatres, and I am told some 500 gamblers here. In fact it is the world in miniature, and must be seen to know anything about it satisfactorily.

The Union Theatre was obtained for me to preach in, and on the Sabbath, the 8th, I preached my first sermon, to a very attractive and well behaved congregation. After preaching, I explained the object of my mission, and that if a house could be obtained, I should like to preach twice on Sabbath and on Thurs- day night; when Major Brion, the manager of the Theatre, politely stepped forward and offered the use of the Theatre, when not otherwise occupied, which I as politely accepted, as no other house could be obtained, and notified the congregation that they might expect preaching there every Sabbath unless otherwise advised. So you see I have attacked the enemy on his own ground; what will be the result, God only knows

John Haynie’s mission to Corpus Christi didn’t last. President Polk issued orders commanding General Taylor to proceed to the Rio Grande. On April 25 there was a skirmish between American and Mexican troops. Polk went to Congress with his famous request for a declaration of war, “American blood has been shed on American soil.” The Mexican War began.

After the troops and their camp followers left Corpus Christi, so did John Haynie. He returned to Rutersville where he died in 1860.