is a thing than can quickly get out of hand.
The Rev. John Wesley DeVilbiss found that out in 1846 in San
DeVilbiss, born in Maryland in 1818 and raised in Ohio, came to
Texas in December 1842. A circuit-riding
Methodist preacher, he figured the new republic offered him ample
opportunity for work. While the desire for salvation was not unheard
of in Texas, sinfulness abounded. In fact, someone had warned him
not to drink any water from the Sabine
when he crossed into Texas "as it gave a person an inclination to
Like other pioneer Texas preachers, DeVilbiss traveled from one
community to another, dodging hostile Indians and bandits while
striving to redirect the inclinations of Texans who had, at least
in the figurative sense, drunk from the Sabine.
When DeVilbiss conducted a camp meeting on McCoy's Creek, a tributary
of the Guadalupe
near present day Cuero
in South Texas, a detachment of Capt.
Jack Hay's Texas Rangers stood guard. The rough and tumble rangers
impressed the preacher.
Like most of the early men of the cloth who came to Texas, DeVilbiss
was a writer as well as an orator. He sent letters to the Western
Christian Advocate from time to time with observations on his new
home country. In one of those dispatches, he wrote about the Rangers.
By this time he had settled near San
Antonio, where he preached and started a Sunday school.
Though some San Antonioans were pleased at the opportunity to learn
more about the Bible, Sunday school started at the same time of
day as the Sunday cockfight. Large crowds gathered for these violent
rooster matches, and in addition to reducing the attendance of his
missionary efforts, they made a lot of noise. Beyond that, the drinking,
wagering and cursing attendant to the bloody sport conflicted totally
with the Christian view of the Sabbath.
As if that were not enough for a preacher to worry about, a rumor
got out that DeVilbiss had written some unflattering things about
Some of Hay's
men, having stood guard while DeVilbiss sought converts, found it
annoying that the preacher would write something unfavorable about
them. Of course, they hadn't read the story. They were merely depending
Word reached the preacher that a group of six rangers planned to
"duck" him on Saturday night. (Accounts of this incident don't explain
exactly what "duck" meant in this particular context, but it might
have had something to do with involuntary immersion in the San
DeVilbiss sent a messenger to tell the offended rangers that if
they would delay their planned visit with him until Sunday morning,
when they were welcome at his service, he would explain the perceived
Evidently willing to turn the other cheek at least on the short
term, the rangers postponed the ducking, came to hear him preach,
and left satisfied with his explanation of the writing in question.
It turned out that a number of the rangers had previously been regulars
at the weekly cockfight, but were so impressed by DeVilbiss' sermons,
they started coming to his church instead.
eventually dropped off so much the chicken fighting stopped.
After nearly four decades of spreading the Gospel in Texas, DeVilbiss
retired in 1880. He had a ranch on the Medina River near Oak Island,
where he died on Jan. 31, 1885. `
© Mike Cox
December 1, 2016
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