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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"
Racing Parson

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
The little collection of cabins in the pines could hardly be called Sodom and Gomorrah, but when the circuit riding preacher arrived he definitely saw potential for spiritual growth in the community.

As someone familiar with the area later recalled, "The people there, as a general thing were not much given to religion."

That must have made the challenge all the more appealing to a traveling preacher. Someone who was there at the time later wrote about it for a publication called The Spirit of the Times. That, in turn, got picked up by other newspapers and published in August 1851.

Soon, the preacher "set about repairing the walls of Zion in good earnest." But his enthusiasm for spreading the word did not match his success. He did well to attract six people to his well-said sermons.

When the reverend rode off one day, the people thought they were through with him and vice versa. They placed particular emphasis on the vice part.

The preacher, however, had ridden no farther than the closest printing office, perhaps Nacogdoches. When he showed up again in the community of doubters, he was seen riding around posting a handbill "in every conspicuous place in the district."


The flyer read:
"Religious Notice.-The Rev. Mr. Blamey will preach next Sunday, in Dempsey's Grove, at 10 o'clock, A.M.. And 4 o'clock P.M., Providence permitting! Between the services, the preacher will run his sorrel mare, Julia, against any nag that can be trotted out in this region, for a purse of five hundred dollars!"



Dempsey's Grove was slightly east of the Texas border in Louisiana, but it's hard to believe many Texans of the era would have missed a horse race. The following Sunday, families came out of the pines from every direction to attend the services.

The reverend "preached an elegant sermon in the morning, and after dinner [Texas talk for lunch] he brought out his mare for the race. The purse was made up by five or six of the planters, and an opposing nag produced."

The preacher laid down his Bible, stuck a boot in the stirrup and swung into the saddle. At the discharge of a pistol, the reverend and his opponent kicked their horses in the flanks and galloped off, dirt clods flying.

"Amid the deafening shouts, screams and yells of the delighted people," the preacher "won the day."

Having seen a miracle of semi-Biblical proportions - the defeat of the fastest horse in that neck of the woods - everyone stayed around for the evening service. By the end of the day, 200 people had vowed to join the racing parson's church - "some from motives of sincerity, some for the novelty of the thing, some from excitement, and some because the preacher was a good fellow!"

Thanks to a fast horse, a new church soon rose in what had been a literal as well as spiritual wilderness.

Mike Cox
May 1, 2004
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