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.
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
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
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
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
In his reminiscence, Freeman also recalled a “difficulty” that
arose between Elder V.J. Hutton and a younger man named Pleasant Smith.
one was expecting one or the other to be killed,” Freeman wrote.
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
29, 2009 column