called it the Lord's Acre.|
In addition to whatever they might put in the
collection plate each week, many farmers used to give the proceeds from one acre
of their crop land to their church each year. Though not as common as it used
to be, the tradition has endured in some corners of Texas, particularly Taylor
But like most customs, it has evolved over the years. Farmers no
longer earmark the bounty of an acre of their land to give away, but once a year
the farmers, ranchers and local merchants in the southern part of Taylor County
donate food, crafts and other items to be sold at auction to benefit their church
and its benevolent fund.
In 11-mile wide, 17-mile deep Mulberry Canyon,
about 20 miles west of Abilene,
the Lord's Acre concept can be traced to a charitable act on the part of one man
in the late 19th century.
Butman, whose sprawling ranch covered much of the canyon, in 1894 donated some
of his land for a school. That marked the beginning of Taylor County's School
District No. 28, better known as the Butman School. Butman and other ranchers
and farmers in the area ponied up enough money to build a one-room, 20 by 30 foot
school house on the land the rancher had conveyed for public use. Then they hired
a teacher from Kansas for $65 a month.
By 1918, the school had enough
students to justify a larger building, which the trustees paid for with the issuance
of $1,250 in bonds. A year later, the school qualified for state support for the
In 1928, the community built a wooden, open-air tabernacle
on the property. It became a gathering place for social events, political "stump"
speeches and musical and dramatic performances. The Butnam family also threw a
rodeo and picnic at the tabernacle each year until World War II.
the Butman School and 15 other small districts in Taylor County got folded into
the Merkel Independent School District. Butman bought the land back from the Merkel
ISD, but the family later deeded it to the Pioneer Memorial United Methodist Church,
which opened in early 1951.
Two years later, pastor E.H. Phillips and one
of his congregants, Tom Russom, heard about a church that had a yearly Lord's
Acre sale. They investigated the fund-raiser and returned full of enthusiasm.
"They came back and got it all started," recalls 82-year-old Nell Butman
Brnovak, granddaughter of the man who gave the land for public use. "Used to be
they auctioned hay, corn or pigs, but now it's mostly homemade food and crafts."
sale takes place each year in the old tabernacle, which has since been walled
in for greater creature comfort. As many as 150 people turn out for the pot luck
dinner and the auction that follows it, hands down the biggest social event of
the year in Mulberry Canyon.
"Aunt" Nell and her husband, Frank, have
not missed a Lord's Acre sale since the event started in 1953. "And there's not
much of anybody here to contest it," she says. "We're the only old-timers left."
held the Saturday night before Thanksgiving, the event makes for a double November
holiday for folks who live in and around Mulberry Canyon and its nearest town,
"I used to start
baking every Thursday," Nell continues. "I usually bring an Italian cream cake
and a Bohemian coffee cake, but this year my back's been bothering me so I just
did the coffee cake. It's an old recipe from my husband's family."
church's most recent sale raised $9,154 - a record. The biggest part of that was
$1,300 for a quilt made by some of the women in the congregation, but Judy Wilson's
German chocolate cake fetched $180, and 10 limited edition Bona Fide Original
Real Texas calendars by Beaumont-born, but Merkel-raised cartoonist
Roger T. Moore brought $100 each. Nell's coffee cake went for $25, the lowest
price anyone recalls it ever selling for.
"This Lord's Acre deal is a part
of Texas most people don't know about," Moore says. "It's the real Texas, but
now you have to hunt for things like this. West Texas people like to depend on
themselves, but they have fun doing it."
Mike Cox |
23 , 2006 column
by Mike Cox|
Texas Ranger Tales II