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Cherokee County / Smith County, East Texas

An excerpt from
"The 25 Best Ghost Towns of East Texas"

by Bob Bowman

They say in Bullard if you stand beneath the pecan trees south of Bullard and turn your head slightly to the north wind, you can almost hear the hallelujahs of an old-fashioned church revival.

It was here, on a rich piece of black East Texas ground straddling the Cherokee and Smith County border, that men and women of another era fashioned a community unlike anything we’ve seen since the early 1900s.

Burning Bush is gone today, remembered only by a grove of nut and fruit trees and a few old wells, but in 1913 it was the dream of 375 members of a dissident Methodist church sect. It lasted less than a decade.

In 1913, a year of revolution in the ranks of Methodism, Bullard’s farmers watched from their front porches as a procession of strangers moved down a dirt road leading to cotton planter William Pitt Douglas’ old mansion.

They came to East Texas to form a new colony, the Society of the Burning Bush, a Chicago-based group formed a few months earlier to protest the increasing formality of the Methodist Church.

The organization gained momentum when two wealthy businessmen, Chicago broker D. M. Farson and Hotelman Edwin Harvey, joined the venture. With their backing, the Society soon established additional colonies in Louisiana, Virginia, and West Virginia. A real estate firm told Farson that 1,520 acres were available near Bullard.

The Society offered to trade for the plantation a section of land in Idaho, a tract of additional land only 12 miles from Chicago, and a hotel and brickyard in Las Vegas, New Mexico. The trade was made in February of 1912.

Several representatives of the Free Methodists soon arrived in Bullard and a year later a chartered train brought the 375 initial colonists to Bullard.

The newcomers were strange, agreed Bullard’s farm families. They stayed on the farm, labored quietly among themselves, and seldom mixed with the townspeople.

L. B. Lynch of Bullard remembered attending services at the Burning Bush tabernacle as a young boy. “They rolled on the floor, they hollered a lot, and they stood on the benches when they got religion,” he said. Some of their special song books used in the services may be seen today in Bullard’s community library.

Every person who joined the sect surrendered his or her earthly possessions to a community storehouse. Everyone ate in the same dining hall and liquor and tobacco were banned.

The colony existed largely through the sale of truck crops and fruits from the orchards on the old plantation. But many members were from the north and were unfamiliar with southern farming methods.

Even though they used advanced tractors, and equipment, Burning Bush’s harvests were usually poor.

The colony tried to drill for oil before 1915, but abandoned the project when a drilling stem broke underground.

Farson’s bond business went bad and in 1916, with its membership standing at nearly 500, the colony found itself immersed in debts. The Society had to purchase groceries on credit from Bullard merchant J.L. Vanderver. Vanderver’s patience, however grew thin and when the Society’s bill reached more than $12,000, he filed a lawsuit against the colony and won.

The Sheriff of Smith County seized the lands and sold them at auction on the steps of the courthouse in Tyler on April 15, 1919. Vanderver bought the lands for $1000,00.

Most of the colonists quietly left the community, returning to the north, many with soured memories of their experiences in East Texas. A handfull, however, chose to remain in East Texas, where they rented farms and later bought their own homes. The last principal building on the old Burning Bush townsite was torn down in 1957, leaving only the pecan orchard and a few foundations as reminders of the Methodist experiment.

Copyright Bob Bowman
Excerpted from "The 25 Best Ghost Towns of East Texas"

Mr. Bowman’s fascination with ghost towns stems from his childhood when his father would take the family to the site of an abandoned logging camp where he used to work. These excerpts were from Mr. Bowman’s 12th book on East Texas. It was also his third on Ghost Towns. In his introduction he points out that East Texas has such a large number of ghost towns because East Texas was once the most populated part of the state. “Most of them,” he says; “only lasted as long as the timber.” - Editor

Smith County Texas 1920s map
Smith County 1920s map showing Bullard
near Cherokee County line
From Texas state map #10749
Courtesy Texas General Land Office

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Burning Bush, Texas Nearby Towns:

See Cherokee County | Smith County

East Texas

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