Saturday, April 27, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 28

Ignatz Scholl, German Methodist from Rose Hill Dies, April 29, 1943

When Bishop Charles Mead came to San Antonio in October, 1939 to hold the final session of the Southern Conference of the MEC, participants recognized one of their laity who had been present at the organizing session of the conference at Industry in 1874, Ignatz Scholl of Rose Hill MEC.    All those in attendance believed that Scholl was the only Methodist still alive who had attended the 1874 session.

The Southern Conference was about to be dissolved.  The Uniting Conference of 1939 in Kansas City which merged the MP, MEC, and MECS assigned the churches and pastors of the Southern Conference to the conferences of the various MC conferences in the South Central Jurisdiction.  

The Southern Conference was created by the MEC to serve German speaking congregations in Texas and Louisiana in 1872.   Its original name was the Southern German Conference, and at one time was one of 10 German speaking annual conferences in the MEC.  Over time the Southern German Conference added English speaking European American churches and Swedish speaking churches.  So “German” was dropped from its name.  

The 1939 session was the last session of the annual conference so several legal issues had to be considered.  The main one was the disposition of Texas Wesleyan College---no not the one in Fort Worth—the one in Austin which had been founded by the Southern Swedish Conference.  The will of the conference was to transfer the assets to Texas Wesleyan in Fort Worth, but the will of the conference was not completely fulfilled because of competing claims.  Blinn Memorial College in Brenham had already been lost to the conference and was operating as a public junior college.  Alvin College had also been lost, but Port Arthur College was still a conference institution.  

In addition to these Texas colleges, the conference also had trustees on the board of Southwestern College in Kansas (Not Southwestern University in Georgetown). 

The reading of the appointments was always a highlight of Annual Conference, but at this session Bishop Mead did not read appointments.  Instead a list of the conferences to which the members of the conference were being transferred was printed in the Journal.   

West Texas (Southwest Texas, today Rio Texas)
19 fully ordained elders
6 retirees
1 on trial

Louisiana Conference
13 elders
3 retirees
Texas Conference
15 Elders 
4 retirees
Central Texas Conference
9 Elders
3 retirees
1 On Trial
North Texas Conference
2 Elders
1 retiree
Mississippi, Central New York, and Colorado
1 elder to each conference

Readers of this blog will recognize some of the clergy names of men who had originally been ordained in the Southern Conference:  Deschner, Bohmfalk, Leifeste, Beckendorf,  Lehmberg, Faulk, Heirholzer—just to name a few. 

Ignatz Scholl, the only attendee at the organizing conference in 1874, still alive in 1939 lived another 4 years.  He is buried at Rose Hill in Harris County.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History   April 21

F. Y. Vail, Colporteur for American Tract Society Offers Wares in Houston, April 1845.

Several blog posts have noted the activity of the agents of the American Bible Society in the Republic of Texas.     The American Bible Society was an interdenominational organization in which Methodists participated with much enthusiasm.  The ABS was founded in 1816 in New York City.    David Ayres picked up a shipment on English and Spanish Testaments on his voyage to Texas, and Shuyler  Hoes of the New York  Conference of the MEC organized a Texas Chapter of the ABS in November 1838.
There was a similar organization with parallel history which also operated in Texas.  That was the American Tract Society or ATS founded in New York City in 1825.   The use of the word “tract” has fallen into disuse, having been replaced by “brochure” or “pamphlet”.   The distribution of tracts rather than fully bound books made a great deal of sense in frontier regions such as the Republic of Texas which were hundreds of miles away from the heart of the publishing industry in New York City.     It is also possible that tracts were preferred to book because of different tariff rates placed on the different items.   

Both the ABS and the ATS used agents called colporteurs, probably from the Latin by way of French  comportare “carry with one.”   The first recorded colporteur in Texas was Sumner Bacon a Cumberland Presbyterian.    The ATS colporteur  who brought tracts to Texas in 1845 was F. Y. Vail, already a veteran of the organization.  His name appears in the ATS reports as early as 1824 and in 1826 was the agent for Mississippi and Louisiana.  In 1830 he was in Cincinnati as Secretary of the American Educational Society. 

Vail brought a veritable library of tracts to Houston in April 1845.   Titles were in English, German, and French and included devotional literature, spiritual memoir, adolescent literature, apologetics, and biography of religious figures. 

Both the ABS and the ATS still exist—the ATS’s offices are now in Garland, Texas.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History  April 14

William Fletcher Cummings Preacher Turned Geologist with Darwin in One Saddlebag and the Bible in the Other, Surveys San Saba County, April  1889

Of all the colorful characters in Texas Methodist history, few can match William Fletcher Cummings (1840-1931).  He was a preacher, soldier, journalist, and finally a geologist who contributed to scientific knowledge about the Permian Basin, the main focus of U. S. Petroleum activity today.

Cummings was born  into a parsonage family in Springfield, Missouri, in 1840.  He attended St. Charles College, and over the objections of his father, studied geology.  That interest led his joining a scientific expedition to Texas in 1859.   The next year he was admitted on trial in the East Texas Conference but also served in the Texas Conference.  His appointments took him far and wide to the following counties, Liberty, Van Zandt, Llano, Ellis, Liberty, Chambers, Bell, and Lampasas.   

He served in the Confederate army in Arkansas and in 1868 bought an interest in the Waxahachie Argus.  For a short time he served as editor.  He also became involved in acquiring land for rail right of ways and real estate.  He never forgot his collegiate interest in geology, and in 1889 joined the State Bureau of Geology.  In that capacity he worked with the famous R. T. Hill, the “Father of Texas Geology.” 

Geology in the late 19th century in Texas was mainly survey work with the hope that the surveys would discover valuable ores.   Survey work meant spending almost as much time in the saddle as a circuit rider so the two careers meshed.   His work took him mainly to the western parts of Texas, usually packing his instruments and supplies on mules—it was said that he kept a copy of Darwin in one saddle bag and the Bible in another.  The surveys were published by the state of Texas and added immensely to the store of knowledge of the state. 

When the occasion arose, he would deliver a sermon in one of the remote communities he was visiting for a geologic survey. 

Not all of his work was for the state.  He also worked with the famous Edward Drinker Cope in fossil collecting and went to Mexico in the search of artesian wells.

He died in El Paso and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery there.  His papers are in the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at UT.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History  April 7

P. E. Gregory Holds Quarterly Conference Near Site of Clarksville, April 8, 1837

The northeastern corner of Texas  was evangelized from Arkansas.  Many Methodists, including several local preachers, settled in Miller County, Arkansas and ignored the international boundary to come on the other side of the Red River to preach.  In the fall of 1835 the Arkansas Conference appointed John Carr to the Sulfur Fork Mission which composed manly of today’s Red River and Lamar Counties.   Carr arrived at his new appointment about the first of December 1835 and began organizing the Methodists who had previously been served by the Reverends Overby, Ramsey, and Denton, all of whom came from Arkansas on an irregular basis. 

Evidently the population was fairly dense because in a matter of weeks, Carr was able to establish 12 preaching points on his circuit.  At the Conference of 1836, Carr was not reappointed so the Sulfur River Circuit was listed “To Be Supplied.”
The Presiding Elder, Gregory supplied it by moving E.B. Duncan from the Washington (Arkansas) Circuit to the Sulfur River Circuit.  Duncan arrived about the first of February, 1837.  About the same time the Rev. William G. Duke, who had been a member of the Arkansas Conference, moved to Lamar County near the Sulfur River.  

The enhanced Methodist population made a quarterly conference possible.  On April 8, 1837, P. E. Gregory held a quarterly conference near the site where Clarksville stands today.  Duke was secretary of this meeting.    Continued Methodist migration to the area swelled the 12 appointments.  One of the new comers was Green Orr who was a local preacher.  Among the laity of whom we have a record was the Claiborne Wright family who had already been in the area for about twenty years.  Mrs. Clara Wright was Littleton Fowler’s aunt.  

Bowie County was brought into the work when Methodist settlers stopped there, and DeKalb UMC traces its origins to this era.

The churches along the Sulfur River remained a part of the Arkansas Conference even after the Texas Conference was organized in 1840, but when the Texas Conference was split into eastern and western conferences at the General Conference of 1844, northeastern Texas was placed within the bounds of the newly created Eastern (later East) Texas Conference.