B. Bloys by
C. F. Eckhardt
and Bloys Camp Meeting
1878 a rather slightly built man with blue-gray eyes came to Fort
Davis, Texas. He was a native of Tennessee and an ordained Presbyterian minister.
He came to Fort Davis
for two reasons. |
First, he came to establish a Presbyterian congregation.
Second, he came for his health. He’d had some early symptoms of what might have
been the beginnings of what was known, in those days, as ‘consumption.’ Today
it’s called tuberculosis.
The man’s name was William B. Bloys. While a
lot of folks have heard about another denizen of the trans-Pecos, Roy
Bean, William B. Bloys was far more influential, though far less widely known.
As scattered as the people were in the Big
Bend country, organizing a church
was difficult. Rev. Bloys, instead, became a traveling preacher. Driving his buckboard,
he visited every ranch in the area.
It didn’t matter to Rev. Bloys what denomination a family held to, as far as he
was concerned they were all God’s children and he would minister to them—and minister
he did. Nobody knows how many children he baptized, how many marriages he performed,
or how many funerals he preached.
In 1880 ‘Brother’ Bloys, as he was known
by then, stopped at the ranch home of John Means. He and Means talked about getting
the far-flung people together. Means mentioned a grove of trees that was pretty
centrally located in Jeff Davis County. Bloys was a Presbyterian, Means a Baptist,
and there were Methodists and Christian Church members in the area. Rev. Bloys
insisted that any meeting should be interdenominational, with ministers or members
from any church being accepted.
The idea spread. The grove, known as Skillman’s
Grove, was approximately one square mile in extent—640 acres or, as it would
be called in the area, a section. The proprietor agreed to sell it for $2 per
acre. The money was raised and the grove bought. Brush was cleared and a brush
arbor erected. In October of 1880 the very first Cowboy Camp Meeting was
held. People camped out in the grove. Nothing was sold on the grounds. All food
was free, furnished by local people.
The meeting lasted five days.
the years a wooden tabernacle was erected—Rev. Bloys turned out to be a first-class
carpenter, as well as an outstanding preacher. A number of wooden sheds for eating
were built, each one manned by a local family. Today there is a permanent structure
on the site, but cooking is still done over open fires at all sites, each site
named for the family or families who began cooking there.
date was shifted to the first Tuesday through Sunday of August. August, 2010 marked
the 130th Bloys Camp Meeting—the oldest continually-held Cowboy Camp Meeting in
the country. And yes, the food is still free to all comers, though contributions
are appreciated. Although there are something on the order of a dozen annual cowboy
camp meetings scattered across the American West, all of them were either started
by Bloys Camp Meeting Association members or were patterned after the Bloys Camp
On March 22, 1917, Brother Bloys sat down in his chair ‘to rest
a minute’—and never got up. He was 70 years old. For 37 of those 70 years, he
had been the best-known gospel minister west of the Pecos.
The next year the Bloys Camp Meeting Association erected a monument to him at
Skillman Grove. It’s a four-sided shaft of blue-gray granite, said to be the same
color as his eyes. Though Roy
Bean is much more widely known, William B. Bloys was far more influential.
His influence continues to this day, in the annual religious service that bears
© C. F. Eckhardt
Eckhardt's Texas" >
October 6, 2010 column