say in Bullard if you stand beneath the pecan
trees south of Bullard and turn your head slightly to the north wind, you can
almost hear the hallelujahs of an old-fashioned church revival. The
organization gained momentum when two wealthy businessmen, Chicago broker D. M.
Farson and Hotelman Edwin Harvey, joined the venture. With their backing, the
Society soon established additional colonies in Louisiana, Virginia, and West
Virginia. A real estate firm told Farson that 1,520 acres were available near
here, on a rich piece of black East Texas
ground straddling the Cherokee and Smith County border, that men and women of
another era fashioned a community unlike anything we’ve seen since the early 1900s.
Burning Bush is gone today, remembered only by a grove of nut and fruit trees
and a few old wells, but in 1913 it was the dream of 375 members of a dissident
Methodist church sect. It lasted less than a decade.
In 1913, a year of
revolution in the ranks of Methodism, Bullard’s farmers watched from their front
porches as a procession of strangers moved down a dirt road leading to cotton
planter William Pitt Douglas’ old mansion.
They came to East
Texas to form a new colony, the Society of the Burning Bush, a Chicago-based
group formed a few months earlier to protest the increasing formality of the Methodist
The Society offered to trade
for the plantation a section of land in Idaho, a tract of additional land only
12 miles from Chicago, and a hotel and brickyard in Las Vegas, New Mexico. The
trade was made in February of 1912.
Several representatives of the Free
Methodists soon arrived in Bullard and a year
later a chartered train brought the 375 initial colonists to Bullard.
The newcomers were strange, agreed Bullard’s farm
families. They stayed on the farm, labored quietly among themselves, and seldom
mixed with the townspeople.
L. B. Lynch of Bullard
remembered attending services at the Burning Bush tabernacle as a young boy. “They
rolled on the floor, they hollered a lot, and they stood on the benches when they
got religion,” he said. Some of their special song books used in the services
may be seen today in Bullard’s community library.
Every person who joined the sect surrendered his or her earthly possessions
to a community storehouse. Everyone ate in the same dining hall and liquor and
tobacco were banned.
The colony existed largely through the sale of truck
crops and fruits from the orchards on the old plantation. But many members were
from the north and were unfamiliar with southern farming methods.
though they used advanced tractors, and equipment, Burning Bush’s harvests were
The colony tried to drill for oil before 1915, but abandoned
the project when a drilling stem broke underground.
Farson’s bond business
went bad and in 1916, with its membership standing at nearly 500, the colony found
itself immersed in debts. The Society had to purchase groceries on credit from
Bullard merchant J.L. Vanderver. Vanderver’s patience, however grew thin and when
the Society’s bill reached more than $12,000, he filed a lawsuit against the colony
The Sheriff of Smith County seized the lands and sold them at
auction on the steps of the courthouse
in Tyler on April
15, 1919. Vanderver bought the lands for $1000,00.
Most of the colonists
quietly left the community, returning to the north, many with soured memories
of their experiences in East Texas.
A handfull, however, chose to remain in East
Texas, where they rented farms and later bought their own homes. The last
principal building on the old Burning Bush townsite was torn down in 1957, leaving
only the pecan orchard and a few foundations as reminders of the Methodist experiment.
Excerpted from "The 25 Best Ghost Towns of East Texas"
Mr. Bowman's books from The
Best of East Texas Publishers
Mr. Bowman’s fascination with ghost
towns stems from his childhood when his father would take the family to the site
of an abandoned logging camp where he used to work. These excerpts were from Mr.
Bowman’s 12th book on East Texas. It was also his third on Ghost Towns. In his
introduction he points out that East Texas has such a large number of ghost towns
because East Texas was once the most populated part of the state. “Most of them,”
he says; “only lasted as long as the timber.” - Editor
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