Saturday, July 28, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History  July 29

Canadian Crescent Reports on Church Activities, August 2, 1888

Few of us have not been thrilled by the exciting stories of the “Wild West,” of cattle drives from Texas to northern points, range wars, of gun fighters and outlaws, of the “taming of the West.”  The Texas cowboy is perhaps the most enduring mythic hero of our nation.  The Western was certainly the dominant genre on television during my formative years. 

This writer, however, has always been more than a little puzzled by how events that occupied such a small slice of our history became so deeply embedded in  our national (and Texan) consciousness. The mythic era lasted about twenty years in the late 19th century.  Cotton farmers always exceeded cowboys in terms of Texas population and added much more to the state’s economic output, but it was the cowboy rather than the farmer who became adopted as the symbol for Texas.

Certainly the Wild West was romantic, but let us not be dazzled by that romance.  Another story that needs to be told beside the Wild West is the development of communities and the role of churches in building those communities..  In the case of the Texas Panhandle, that process occurred very rapidly.  We may use the county seat of Hemphill County, Canadian, as an example.

The town site of Canadian, like many other Panhandle towns, was laid out by a railroad company in 1887.  The post office was opened in August of that year.  On the 4th of July, 1888, one of the first commercial rodeos in Texas occurred.  It was named a Cowboy Reunion.  On August 2, 1888, just one year after the opening of the Post Office, the Canadian Crescent, reported on religious activities.

Even at this early stage in its development, Canadian had both Southern and Northern Methodist Churches.  The presence of the MEC members is explained by the fact that the Panhandle was closely tied to Kansas via the rail lines.  There were also Presbyterian and Baptist churches.  How could there be enough population to support four churches in such a new town?  They did so by alternating services.  The MECS offered services on the first Sunday of each month, the MEC on the second, the Presbyterian on the third Sunday, and the Baptists on the fourth Sunday.  There was a union Sunday School class every Sunday.  The townsfolk of Canadian could attend church and Sunday School every Sunday—and listen to four different preachers every month. .  The arrangement was typical.  Preachers rode circuits and visited other towns when it was not their Sunday to have services.  Publishing houses by this time had developed non-denominational Sunday School literature so that such union Sunday Schools could avoid disputes over which church’s literature should be used. 

In addition to the churches, there was also a temperance organization, the Band of Hope, which met every Saturday.  The Band of Hope had been organized in England and concentrated on educating youth on the evils of alcohol.  Although not as famous as the Anti Saloon League or the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the Band of Hope had its followers. 

Churches, a newspaper, two railroads each direction every day, civic and commercial institutions firmly implanted—Year-old Canadian seems like a civilized place.


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