the pulpit of an East Texas country church, far from the saddle-sloped
mountains of his beloved Kentucky, Littleton Fowler lies at rest.
He has been dead since 1846, the martyr of an exacting era, but
his spirit and works still course through the bloodstream of Texas
Fowler was a circuit rider, missionary, marksman, chaplain of the
Texas Senate and a brilliant pulpiteer who rode and walked thousands
of miles between the Sabine
River and San Antonio
to found many of Texas’ Methodist churches.
Licensed to preach in 1826, he volunteered for service in the Republic
of Texas in 1836, but illness delayed his departure.
He arrived in time to help build the first church building at McMahan’s
Chapel near San
Augustine. Founded in 1833, and acknowledged as the birthplace
of Texas Methodism, the church became Fowler’s headquarters as he
carried the faith throughout Texas,
including what he called “pagan Houston.”
In 1833 at San
Augustine, he stood with a Republic military hero, Thomas J.
Rusk, to dedicate the town’s First Methodist Church. He wrote in
his diary that the church was the first Protestant church ever laid
west of the Sabine,
where Texans were lately under a government of religious and civil
He said since the birth of time, no cornerstone of a Protestant
church had been laid between this and the Isthmus of Panama, the
Pacific Ocean, and the southern extremities of South America.
Fowler enthusiastically labeled the event as “the beginning of Protestantism
west of the Sabine...and
she will march on westward with blessings for our race.” The same
year, however, Fowler’s evangelistic zeal dimmed when, as the chaplain
for the Texas Senate, he accompanied a band of politicians on a
steamboat trip from Houston
In his journal, he described the trip:
“I saw men in high life...if what I saw and heard were a fair representation,
my God, keep me from such scenes in the future....”
On the ship’s return on Sunday afternoon, he said “about half of
the men on board got wildly drunk and stripped themselves to their
linen and pantaloons...their bacchanalian revels and bloodcurdling
profanity made the pleasure boat a living hell. I was relapsed from
the trip and brought nearly to the valley of death.”
In 1846, Fowler became seriously ill while preaching at Douglas
County. He was carried to his home at McMahan’s
Chapel and on January 29, he died from an acute infection.
But he retained his fervency to the very end.
As his wife
leaned over to his deathbed, he asked, “Who’s there?”
“Your unhappy wife,” she said.
“Ah,” he sighed just before he died, “I thought it was an angel.”
Bob Bowman's East Texas
11, 2010 Column
A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers