The close of the Civil war was followed by a large emigration from the middle and western states to the then new state of Kansas. The great abundance of cheap land, and the great possibilities in the southeastern portion, including a large tract formerly owned by the Osage and Cherokee Indians, became widely known, and soon attracted many thousand settlers. There were many choice and beautiful valleys, varying in width from a few rods to a mile or more, watered by running streams and skirted with a variety of growing timber.
Settlements were first made in these valleys because of their proximity to timber, and the prevailing opinion that the soil was superior to that of the uplands. Box houses, log cabins, and plain cottages marked the dwelling places of these early, hardy pioneers.
After the home came the school house filled with children of school age. Later on these rural temples of learning were constructed in every school district in the county, and in each one was opened a school for several months during the year. Often times, as the claims of the Gospel were being felt, church and Sabbath school services were conducted in these school houses by devout men and women.
But few regularly ordained ministers had come as yet to the country. Truly "the harvest was great but the laborers were few." The Methodists had a working force in numerous places, and often conducted camp meetings in the groves along the streams. The Baptists, Christians, and other denominations had a limited following. The call for more ministers and more preaching was long and loud. Presbyterians were like the lost sheep of the House of Israel. They were very few and often very far apart. Our home was then in the central part of Kansas, over two hundred miles from the Cherokee lands. Letters written by ministers well acquainted with the destitute condition of this promising country, had a strong influence in bringing us at once in touch with the work.
Our first experience began at a meeting of the Presbytery of Neosho, held in April, 1868 at Fort Scott. Here every delegate was enthused with the magnitude and importance of the Master's work. The educational interest as represented in the Presbyterian Academy, at Geneva, Allen county, consumed much time and attention. Petitions for the organization of new churches called for immediate action, and laid a weight of great responsibility on the Presbytery. The amount of business transacted and the spirit in which it was done showed the wisdom and zeal of these consecrated men.
Forty miles across a rolling prairie, and twenty miles north of the Indian Territory, was a rural settlement composed of a large number of families with many kinds of religious faith without a Presbyterian organization. Here our first sermon was delivered in a log cabin, the home of David Calhoun and family, in the presence of a large and interested audience. The text was taken from the sixth chapter of Hebrews, Saint Paul's searching question, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" The congregation filled the room to overflowing, and was intensely interested in all that was said and done. Our pulpit was a plain stand, placed near the center of the room, from which the speaker could best be seen and heard. This we were afterwards informed was the first Presbyterian sermon ever preached in Crawford county.
A few weeks later Rev. E. K. Lynn and Elder Daniel Covert, by appointment of Presbytery, organized the first church of the Presbyterian denomination. The services were held in the cabin home of Thomas I. Coffland, two miles south of Monmouth. Mr. Coffland was a man of pronounced Christian virtues, and was extremely desirous that his own household and those of his neighbors should enjoy church privileges. Associated with him in the office of ruling elder was John McLaughlin, a man of eminent piety and a great worker in the Master's cause.
Handicapped as we were in many ways, the church grew in spiritual interest and power. Baxter Springs, a thriving town in Cherokee county, was at this time calling for an organization of the Presbyterian church. Rev. I. L. Hawkins, an aged minister from southern Illinois, was conducting services in a public hall. Our attention had been called previously to the place, and to the necessity of locating there as a home missionary, but finding it already occupied, the plan was abandoned. Jacksonville, a small village of Crawford county, having a small organization, was grouped with the Monmouth church, and placed under our care. Here on alternate Sabbaths, services were held in a schoolhouse, and sometimes in a neighboring grove and public hall. Shaking with a chill on one occasion, we attempted to preach a sermon in this village hall. The effect upon the audience remains to the present day a matter of serious conjecture. In the fall of the year often whole families were prostrated with chills and fever. At Monmouth, in addition to preaching the Gospel, we conducted for several months a district school, and were thus brought in contact with all of the children of school age in the entire neighborhood. Some of these, we are pleased to mention, afterwards became successful business men.
Girard had now become the county seat and was enjoying the luxury of a special boom. In the month of October, 1869, after a number of preaching services had been conducted in the district court room, we organized the Third Presbyterian Church in Crawford county. Hugh Lee was chosen ruling elder, and Joseph Marsh, deacon. In all, the roll showed the names of seven members, nearly all of which were ladies. Using various places for holding public services during the following fall and winter, the time came in the spring when the congregation decided to build a church for its own use.
The matter of its financial ability to undertake a work of such magnitude was a grave question. The ladies, who are always ready and willing to lend a helping hand on such occasions, met with good success in their efforts to start a building fund. To supplement their labors, we decided to make an eastern trip, stopping at numerous places along the way. Calling at the home of Mr. Sherwood in Indianapolis, we were taken into a side room and asked how much we were expecting to raise in the city. To this we answered we did not know what we would raise. Again we were asked the question, "How much do you think I ought to give you?" Again we replied that we did not know. "Then," said Mr. Sherwood, "I'll tell you what I shall do. I will give you a reaper and mower combined. Come down in the morning at nine o'clock, and I will give you an order. They are now in Kansas City." The order was given and the reaper and mower were sold later to a Crawford county farmer for one hundred and seventy-five dollars. Through Mr. Joy, of Detroit, on personal application, we obtained a deed of a church lot valued at two hundred and fifty dollars. By a number of lumber dealers in Chicago, handsome donations were made, and reduced prices freely given. Railroad companies, over whose lines our shipments were to be made, generously lowered their rates, and thus saved the church many needed dollars. A church dining hall, conducted on the State Fair grounds at Fort Scott, after all outstanding claimswere met and canceled, netted the church the sum of three hundred dollars. A festival held at Girard by the ladies of the congregation contributed a large sum to the building fund.
Thus, after long and persistent effort, a church building costing over three thousand dollars was completed and dedicated. Rev. James B. McClure, of Chicago, a brother of the writer, delivered the dedicatory sermon, taking for his text the words of the Psalmist, "Thy righteousness is like the great mountains." Having now a home we could call our own, the congregation began to increase and the roll of membership to steadily advance. The original number seven has grown to thirty-six times that number, making it the seventh largest church on the roll of the presbytery. On the Sabbath following the dedication of the church at Girard, the new church at Monmouth was dedicated also by Rev. McClure of Chicago. The congregation here were profoundly grateful for the advanced step which they had steadily and successfully made. This was a rural congregation largely composed of industrious, thrifty farmers, who were willing to share their earnings in the support of the gospel. We would gladly place on record the names of many of these men and woman[sic] did time and space permit.
Cherokee, eight miles east of Monmouth, had developed into a thriving business town. A few faithful Presbyterians had settled in the community and were anxious to have a church organized in their midst. After looking over the field and conducting a few preliminary services, an organization was effected in the public school house. Henry Heimer and Milton Baird were chosen and ordained as ruling elders, and Harlan Emerson, deacon.
For several years we preached to this congregation in connection with Girard and Monmouth, involving an aggregate of many hundreds of miles of travel. For this laborious service we purchased an active, wiry mustang pony and paid a good Methodist brother five dollars to train him to the use of bridle and saddle. It was, to say the least, a hazardous undertaking, for Jack, as he was called, was exceedingly treacherous. When turned over for future service after several weeks of training, we could see the demon of mischief flashing from his keen black eyes. We knew that eternal vigilance was the price of our security. On one occasion Jack "got the drop," and in an instant hurled us swiftly to the ground, made a semi-circle in the open prairie, turned the saddle half way on his side, and suddenly stopped, as if to see what had happened to the little preacher. We cautiously approached him, adjusted the half-turned saddle, mounted him, and resumed our journey homeward. Later on Jack was placed on the market, and for a sum quite satisfactory to our estimation of his value, passed forever out of our control and ownership.
Privations and hardships incident to living along the border line were nearly of every degree and order. At first provisions of every kind were very dear and scarce. Sugar, flour, tea and coffee were in many homes considered as luxuries. The dwellings of the poorer class were exceedingly plain in all lines of furniture. Many a time have we approached our garret bed room by means of a common ladder. The board floor was loose and dangerous, not a window light was anywhere to be seendarkness and gloom reigned supreme. Stopping over night with some faithful elder, whose family comprised a goodly number, was sure to involve the use of the pallet, spread on the main floor after the junior members had retired.
As a solace to all these scenes of poverty and self-denial, we have the sure promise, "He that goeth forth weeping, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." Ten years of home mission work in a new country is sure to abound in a variety of interesting scenes and incidents. Many funerals, often involving many hours of wearisome travel across the prairies, must be attended. Calls, clerical service at the marriage altar by day and night demand a favorable response regardless of consequences. Think of attending a wedding at four o'clock in the morning, seven miles from the minister's home, facing a Kansas blizzard all the way. We took precaution on one occasion and made the trip the night before, lodging comfortably at the bride's home. At the appointed hour, in a storm of wind and blinding snow, the wedding party arrived and the marriage vows were taken. Think again of a marriage scene enacted in a sparsely settled community, where the guests, so far from home, were entertained over night by friendly neighbors; where in the darkness of the stormy night, and the obscurity of the prairie roads, the greatest danger of losing the way was a constant menace. Fortunately for wife and myself, we were assigned quarters at the bride's home. Others, not so fortunate, started out in rain, sleet and darkness to reach their destination. All were successful but one couple, who, becoming confused and bewildered, wandered over the prairie until nearly morning. As the gray light began to appear, they saw where they were, and much relieved, though weak from exposure and loss of sleep, they soon reached the bride's home and were tenderly and affectionately welcomed.
By a large majority of the voters of Crawford county, we were called to fill the office of county superintendent of public instruction, with a salary of twelve hundred dollars a year. This new responsibility brought with it a sense of obligation that led to the holding of the Normal School for teachersthe first of its kind in the state of Kansas. We were ably assisted by a corps of teachers which we were enabled to secure at Girard and other neighboring towns. The school continued in session for four weeks and the following summer was renewed, resulting in a higher standard of qualification and an enlarged degree of scholarship. District schools claimed and received our closest attention. Township associations were also organized and conducted with much profit to those engaged in teaching. In every possible way the cause of education was made to assume a degree of importance corresponding with the nature and dignity of its claims.
The limited number of ministers in those early days, and the many places where whole communities were destitute of gospel privileges required at our hand a large amount of itinerary work. Walnut, a small village in the northwestern part of the county; Mulberry Grove, in the eastern portion; Cato neighborhood on the north, McCune on the south, and Pittsburg on the southeast, all places of prospective importance, demanded and received our time and service. At Pittsburg, our first sermon was delivered in a public hall above the postoffice, where two country roads crossed. This was the first preaching service ever held in the village by a Presbyterian minister. At McCune, long before the town was organized, we preached in the public school house in the afternoon. At many times and places we presided at Sabbath school associations and assisted in making out an interesting and successful program.
The County Sunday School Association was organized in the summer of 1869, on the banks of Lightning Creek, near the village of Crawfordsville. Here the writer was chosen president and retained in office during his ten years' residence in the county. The annual conventions of this association never failed to elicit the deepest interest on the part of every township in the county. Public addresses of a high order by speakers from home and abroad, reports of the different schools, discussions of practical subjects having a bearing upon the work, interspersed with music often by the children of different neighborhoods, all served to arouse a deeper interest and lead to better results.
At the close of our educational work as county superintendent, the church at Girard, then without a pastor, extended a unanimous call for our service during the coming year. This was now the tenth and last year of our missionary work in southeastern Kansas. We had in this time become thoroughly acquainted with all parts of Crawford county, knew personally a large number of its citizens, had preached the gospel or made Sabbath school addresses in their school houses, had visited many of them in their homes, had presided at their educational and religious assemblies, had pronounced the marriage benedictions at their weddings, and had performed the sad rites of burial at their graves. We had seen the fruits of our humble labors in the organization of three churches and the promise of many more in the development of outstations under our care. Places where the gospel had won its first converts and reared its first temples were then evidencing what they have since become, important centers of commerce, education and religion. The first normal school held in the state, with its strong corps of teachers and liberal roll of attendance, we have since seen multiplied on every hand, patronized on the largest scale and upheld by legislative enactment and public favor.
For all these achievements along material, educational and spiritual lines to which our labors may have served in any way to contribute, we give the praise and honor to Him whose name alone is worthy. Profoundly grateful are we, that our lot was cast among a people whose chief joy was the glory of the Lord in the advancement of his kingdom. But for their communion and fellowship, their counsel and admonitions, and above all the sustaining and guiding hand of Providence, such results never could have been attained.
S. T. McCLURE,
| Tom & Carolyn Ward
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