beliefs aside, all of us owe a debt to the early-day Baptist and
Methodist preachers who made their way to Texas
to try to make a dent in all its sinners. Those Bible-toters not
only saved souls, being literate in an era when many were not, they
saved a lot of history in their written recollections.
One of those men who left us an account of early Texas was John
A. Freeman, who wrote a piece published in the February 1892 issue
of Texas History and Biography, a short-lived 19th century magazine
devoted to Baptist history.
Born in South
Carolina, he grew up in Tennessee.
When he was 20, his family moved to Missouri.
In October 1844 he got married and 11 months later “after much anxious
thought and prayer decided to go to Texas
and preach the gospel.”
Freeman and his wife Nancy crossed the Red River in November 1845
north of Bonham. As he
wrote, he was 25, “full of life and full of hope, and an earnest
desire to preach…in this new and strange land.
Soon he took what he called the “direct route” to the Three Forks
of the Trinity.
“Not far from the East Fork of the Trinity,” he wrote, “we passed
Col. Geary’s place, where there was a company of rangers stationed.”
The young man clearly saw much spiritual work to be done in regard
to these jagged-edged frontier protectors. Here’s what Freeman had
to say about the rangers he encountered:
“At that time they were a wild, rough looking set of men, some of
them were dressed in buckskin, and some of them wore coon-skin caps;
some of them were drinking bad whiskey [Freeman didn’t explain how
a Baptist would know the difference between good and bad whiskey]
and some of them were playing cards. In this way they spent their
time when not in pursuit of the Indians, who came in every now and
then to commit depredations on the settlers.”
From the ranger camp, Freeman and his wife traveled from Rowellet’s
Creek in present Collin
County to the Elm Fork of the Trinity with “nothing to be seen
but bands of wild horses and droves of deer and antelope.”
They crossed the Elm Fork about November 15, 1845. Six miles west
of the river, they stopped at the Tarrant
County cabin of James Gibson, deacon of the Baptist congregation
that used his house as its meeting place.
In February 1846, Rev. J. Hodges, with help from Gibson, organized
the Lonesome Dove Baptist Church with 12 members, two of them being
Freeman and his wife. Lonesome Dove, a name later made famous
by novelist Larry McMurtry, was the first church of any denomination
west of the Trinity River and people are still attending services
still a lay person, Freeman preached his first sermon at this church
shortly after he and his wife settled in the area. In July 1846,
he was ordained and preached at four different churches in the area
of what years in the future would come to be known as the Metroplex.
In his reminiscence, Freeman also recalled a “difficulty” that arose
between Elder V.J. Hutton and a younger man named Pleasant Smith.
“Every one was expecting one or the other to be killed,” Freeman
When both men showed up at a revival-like prayer meeting “in the
Crowley settlement,” the preacher feared the worst.
At the meeting, Freeman continued, both men “were…convicted of sin.”
They came forward for prayer “and in a short time were both converted,
and embraced each other and wept liked children. They were friends
Freeman didn’t give a date for this event, but a sketch of Hutton
published in a history of Grayson
County (where he spent some of his later years) says it happened
Eight years later, in the spring of 1857, Freeman, his wife and
6 or the 13 children they would have, traveled by oxen-drawn wagon
from Texas to California, where he
spent the rest of his life.
Hutton stayed in Texas and went on
to become a preacher, though it was said he usually kept a pistol
behind his pulpit as an alternative to divine intervention in the
event of an Indian attack. On the theory that if he couldn’t preach
the Gospel into someone, he stood ready to shoot the Hell out of
them, Hutton also rode for a time in 1860-1861 as a Texas Ranger.
Presumably, unlike the rangers Freeman had described, he didn’t
drink bad whiskey.
"Texas Tales" October
29, 2009 column