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Mobeetie Preachers

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

In 1887 newly married John M. Barcus filled the pulpit of the Methodist Church in Graham, then one of only a handful of towns in Northwest Texas.

The 27-year-old, Arkansas-born preacher belonged to the Weatherford District of his denomination’s Northwest Texas Conference. That district included all of the South Plains and the Panhandle as well as a chunk of what is now Oklahoma.

That spring, the district’s presiding elder, Jerome Haralson, asked Barcus to join him on a swing through the barely settled portion of his territory. He also recruited two other preachers for the trip.

On May 23, traveling in two hacks, the four clergymen left Graham. Fortunately for posterity, Barcus later set his experiences down in an article for the Methodist Historical Quarterly in 1909.

From Graham, they went to Seymour and then Vernon. After crossing the Red River into Greer County, Texas (given to Oklahoma by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896) their next stop was Mangum, the county seat. After traveling across Indian Territory, they reached Mobeetie, the Panhandle’s oldest community.

“We found about 500 people,” Barcus wrote, “mostly from the North. The U.S. Army post [Fort Elliott] with about 200 soldiers was located here. Among the soldiers were a number of Indians used as scouts.”

After setting up camp on Sweetwater Creek, Elder Haralson and one of the preachers left for an outlying camp meeting, leaving Barcus and the remaining preacher in Mobeetie.

The two preachers “wrote out some notices announcing preaching at night at the school house and tacked them up around town. The saloon men tore them down and got a boy with a cowbell to go around with a banner on which they had written: ‘Haymakers in town! Come out to the school house tonight.’”

Thanks to the extra effort on the part of the whiskey sellers, nine people showed up.

Mobeetie eventually got its own Methodist Church and Barcus returned to his congregation in Graham before moving on to another in a long string of other churches. He and his wife had seven children who lived to adulthood, and one of them may have eventually moved to the Panhandle.

That’s just a guess, based on the fact that in a collection of cow country tales published in 1950, a character identified as “Dad Barkus” tells a couple of fun tales about a Methodist circuit rider who lived in Mobeetie not long after Barcus and the other preachers had been there. It could be that the author misspelled “Barcus” or it might just be a coincidence.

Whatever the facts, “Dad” had a couple of good stories to tell. Both had to do with someone he called Parson Brown. (A book on Mobeetie doesn’t mention any old-time Methodist preachers by that name, so Brown may not have been his real name.)

The preacher stood tall and thin, almost always wearing a black Prince Albert coat and a high hat. As “Dad” recalled, Brown could “preach funeral sermons that would take an outlaw right up to Saint Peter’s gate. Don’t reckon he ever said a harm[ful] word about anybody.”

On top of that, the circuit rider had a good sense of humor.

Parson Brown’s wife ran a boarding house in Mobeetie. One time when Brown returned after a horseback trip just in time for supper, he placed his long coat on the back of his chair and set down to some home-cooking. But then he remembered he hadn’t washed his hands and got up to do that.

As soon as he was gone, the town barber, one of the boarding house residents, excused himself saying he needed to go to his room. He got back downstairs before the parson had finished up in the washroom.

Standing with his back to the others, the barber placed something in the pockets of the preacher’s coat. Then he returned to his place and was busy chowing down when the parson returned to the table.

When the parson pulled his coat off the chair to put it back on, he noticed its pockets were bulging. Reaching inside, he pulled out a long red stocking, a deck of cards and a half pint of whiskey.

As soon as the boarders saw those decidedly un-ministerial objects coming from his pockets, they commenced razzing the preacher.

“Well, how much money did you win?” asked one.

“Why be selfish with that bottle?” asked another.

“So what’s her name?” asked the third.

Fortunately, Mrs. Brown took the gag good-naturedly, as did her husband.

Long before Mobeetie had a chamber of commerce, Parson Brown decided the town might get some favorable publicity because of its water. The preacher believed it had curative powers.

One day he filled a jug and announced that he intended to send it off to be analyzed. Placing the jug on his front porch, he said he would get it to the post office in time for the 2 p.m. mail.

The same border who had earlier stuffed the preacher’s pockets with icons of earthly pleasure happened to be walking out of the boarding house when Brown made his pronouncement. Quickly formulating an idea, the barber hurried to the drug store and made a purchase. Back at the boarding house well before 2 p.m., he poured out some of the water and emptied a small packet into the jug.

Brown shipped it off on schedule. When the report came back from the chemist, the preacher learned the water was indeed medicinal. In fact, it would do wonders as a laxative.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
October 22, 2009 column

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