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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"

Preacher Freeman

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Religious beliefs aside, all of us owe a debt to the early-day Baptist and Methodist preachers who made their way to Texas to try to make a dent in all its sinners. Those Bible-toters not only saved souls, being literate in an era when many were not, they saved a lot of history in their written recollections.

One of those men who left us an account of early Texas was John A. Freeman, who wrote a piece published in the February 1892 issue of Texas History and Biography, a short-lived 19th century magazine devoted to Baptist history.

Born in South Carolina, he grew up in Tennessee. When he was 20, his family moved to Missouri. In October 1844 he got married and 11 months later “after much anxious thought and prayer decided to go to Texas and preach the gospel.”

Freeman and his wife Nancy crossed the Red River in November 1845 north of Bonham. As he wrote, he was 25, “full of life and full of hope, and an earnest desire to preach…in this new and strange land.

Soon he took what he called the “direct route” to the Three Forks of the Trinity.

“Not far from the East Fork of the Trinity,” he wrote, “we passed Col. Geary’s place, where there was a company of rangers stationed.”

The young man clearly saw much spiritual work to be done in regard to these jagged-edged frontier protectors. Here’s what Freeman had to say about the rangers he encountered:

“At that time they were a wild, rough looking set of men, some of them were dressed in buckskin, and some of them wore coon-skin caps; some of them were drinking bad whiskey [Freeman didn’t explain how a Baptist would know the difference between good and bad whiskey] and some of them were playing cards. In this way they spent their time when not in pursuit of the Indians, who came in every now and then to commit depredations on the settlers.”

From the ranger camp, Freeman and his wife traveled from Rowellet’s Creek in present Collin County to the Elm Fork of the Trinity with “nothing to be seen but bands of wild horses and droves of deer and antelope.”

They crossed the Elm Fork about November 15, 1845. Six miles west of the river, they stopped at the Tarrant County cabin of James Gibson, deacon of the Baptist congregation that used his house as its meeting place.

In February 1846, Rev. J. Hodges, with help from Gibson, organized the Lonesome Dove Baptist Church with 12 members, two of them being Freeman and his wife. Lonesome Dove, a name later made famous by novelist Larry McMurtry, was the first church of any denomination west of the Trinity River and people are still attending services there.

Though still a lay person, Freeman preached his first sermon at this church shortly after he and his wife settled in the area. In July 1846, he was ordained and preached at four different churches in the area of what years in the future would come to be known as the Metroplex.

In his reminiscence, Freeman also recalled a “difficulty” that arose between Elder V.J. Hutton and a younger man named Pleasant Smith.

“Every one was expecting one or the other to be killed,” Freeman wrote.

When both men showed up at a revival-like prayer meeting “in the Crowley settlement,” the preacher feared the worst.

At the meeting, Freeman continued, both men “were…convicted of sin.” They came forward for prayer “and in a short time were both converted, and embraced each other and wept liked children. They were friends ever after.”

Freeman didn’t give a date for this event, but a sketch of Hutton published in a history of Grayson County (where he spent some of his later years) says it happened in 1849.

Eight years later, in the spring of 1857, Freeman, his wife and 6 or the 13 children they would have, traveled by oxen-drawn wagon from Texas to California, where he spent the rest of his life.

Hutton stayed in Texas and went on to become a preacher, though it was said he usually kept a pistol behind his pulpit as an alternative to divine intervention in the event of an Indian attack. On the theory that if he couldn’t preach the Gospel into someone, he stood ready to shoot the Hell out of them, Hutton also rode for a time in 1860-1861 as a Texas Ranger. Presumably, unlike the rangers Freeman had described, he didn’t drink bad whiskey.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
October 29, 2009 column

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