Print
Category: Personal Recollections of Pardee Butler
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
 

From Ripley I went to Mt. Sterling, the county-seat of Brown County. This church had fallen into decay for want of the care of a competent evangelist. Here I remained some weeks; and the church was very much revived, and there was a large ingathering. This was originally the home of Bro. Archie Glenn, now conspicuous in building up the University at Wichita. From the first Bro. Glenn, though modest and unobtrusive, was known as a solid and helpful member of the church. He always had the confidence of the people of Brown County, and was by them elected to various public offices, at last becoming Lieutenant-Governor of the State. But his business not prospering to suit him, he removed to Wichita, which was at that time a straggling village of uncertain fortunes, situated on a river of doubtful reputation, and located in a country concerning which the public were debating whether it should be called "The Great American Desert," or a decent place, where civilized men could live and thrive.

 

But Bro. Glenn did not lose faith in the Lord nor in his country. He went to his new home to be a live man. Wichita has decided to be a city, and not a straggling village of doubtful and cow-boy reputation; the Arkansas River has agreed to behave itself and to co-operate with human hands in giving fertility to its valley, and the geographers have unanimously agreed to strike the "Great American Desert" from the map of the United States. Sister Shields has grown up since these old days to be a woman, then a widow, and now a true yoke-fellow with her father in these great undertakings.

Bro. Lewis Brockman was pointed out to me, when first I came to Mt. Sterling, as a disaffected member; but, on a better acquaintance, it became apparent that his disaffection was that the church members had made a solemn vow to keep the ordinances of the Lord's house, and did not do it. When better order was obtained, he was once more in harmony with the church; came to Atchison County, Kansas, and died, a pattern of fidelity to his conscience and to every known duty.

During the period of three years in which I remained preaching in the Military Tract, I visited almost all its churches. The number of disciples was large. They had a large amount of wealth at their disposal, and were not averse to using it to promote the advancement of the cause. But the children of this world are, in their generation, wiser than the children of light, and there is a certain practical wisdom that has been abundantly learned by other religious communities that has only come to our churches through a sore and bitter experience; and it was through the fire of this experience they were passing at the time of which we write. "Billy Brown" had been a notable evangelist among them. Indeed, he had been the father in the gospel of the churches in Brown and Schuyler Counties. He was popularly described as having a head "as big as a half bushel," surmounted by a great shock of hair. He was an iconoclast, and devoted his life to the business of image-breaking, and, of course, the breaking in pieces of the idols of the people created a great tumult. There was this difference, and only this difference, between the work of Billy Brown and Sam Jones; Sam Jones declaims against sins already condemned by the popular conscience, but Billy Brown assailed convictions enshrined in the innermost sanctuary of the hearts of the people. He did so because these popular superstitions stood in the way of the acceptance by the people of the apostolic gospel. Of course, the work of such a man carried with it an inconceivable excitement. At Mt. Sterling a man in the audience made some objection.

"What is your name?" said Billy Brown.

"My name, sir, is Trotter."

"Well, come forward, and I will knock your _trotters_ out from under you."

But Billy himself sometimes found his match. At Ripley he had been preaching after his accustomed style, and riding away from the place of meeting--it was in the spring of the year when the mud was deep--he saw an old man painfully and with difficulty making his way through the mud. Knowing that he was a preacher from his white cravat, his broad-brimmed hat and single-breasted coat, he said to him:

"Well, old Daddy, how did you like the preaching?"

"Haven't heard any," stiffly replied the old gentleman.

But when the tumult and excitement of this conflict had passed away, and his converts were brought face to face with the grave duties of a religious life, and with the serious work of keeping the ordinances of the Lord's house, they did not know how; they had been born in a whirlwind and could only live in a tempest. Notwithstanding, they loved the Lord's cause, and they trembled for themselves and their children, if they should not be found faithful.

If these churches are not able at the present time to exhibit a growth adequate to their opportunities, it must be remembered, on their behalf, that they have sent to the West an incredibly large number of disciples to serve as the nuclei for other churches throughout that mighty empire that within the past thirty years has grown up between the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean.

The days I spent in these churches are the golden days of my life. There has been no field in which my labor as an evangelist has yielded a richer harvest; none in which there have been bestowed on me more flattering or more kindly attentions. It was the bright and joyous sunshine of a spring morning, before the bursting of the storm.

Though each year increased my attachment to the people, and apparently added their good-will to myself, there had been coming to the front a difficulty that could not any longer be thrust aside or disregarded. I was one hundred and fifty miles away from home, and from my wife and children. On holding a council of war to consider our future tactics, in which Mrs. Butler, was commander-in-chief, and myself, second in command, she said to me, "Pardee, I am willing to go wherever you say, only when we go there we must go to stay. We must not put our house on wheels. We must not leave our children without settled employment, exposed to all the hazards of a city life, or a life without a permanent habitation."

Under such circumstances the settling on a home in reference to which it could be said, "Here we are to stay," was not an easy matter. The people of the Military Tract were, almost all of them, Kentuckians. There were evidently impending storms in the political horizon. I could not bend my sails to suit every favoring gale; and if, in the future, there should come a time that my conscience should lie in one direction, and my popularity and pecuniary interest in the other, I did not like to invite such a temptation. At any rate, I did not like to place myself in such a position that to bring down on my head popular odium would be to invite pecuniary ruin. These counties in the Military Tract were old settled counties, and land was high; and I was not rich. At this time the Kansas-Nebraska bill had been adopted by Congress, and Kansas had been opened for settlement. It was certain that Eastern Kansas, in the matter of fertility of soil, and all the elements of agricultural wealth, would be a desirable location.

"But there might be a political and social conflict." Yes, and there might be a political and social conflict in Illinois; or, for the matter of that, it might cover the West as with a blanket. It was certain that Eastern Kansas would be early settled from Missouri; and in no State was there a larger percentage of the people known as Disciples. I would, therefore, be among my brethren; and, if I had kept the peace for three years with Kentuckians in Illinois, could I not do the same thing with Missourians in Kansas? In any case, there was a fair prospect of gaining in Kansas a position of pecuniary independence; and any man can see that such a position was worth all the world to Alexander Campbell, when he was constrained by his conscience to bring down on his own head the utmost wrath of his Baptist brethren.

I started in the spring of 1855 to ride on horseback through Missouri; but was soon made to feel that there were more things in this world than were known in my philosophy. I had determined to remain over Sunday in Linnville, Linn County, Missouri, the county-seat of the county, as here was a congregation of Disciples; and called on a merchant of the place, who had been mentioned as one of the leading members. He remarked that he had become acquainted with me through the _Christian Evangelist_, published by Bro. Bates, in Iowa; but, on learning my destination, seemed strangely oblivious that anything more should be due from him to me. And so, having waited patiently about for a goodly time, I mounted my horse and rode on till dark; then seeing a light, and having called at the house, I found an old man who kindly received and lodged me. In the morning it appeared that his house was surrounded by negro cabins. Having inquired my destination, he began to talk to me concerning the subject that seemed to be in every man's heart. I replied, submitting to him such views as were held by a majority of Northern men. To my surprise he flared up in anger, and said:

"If you talk that way when you get to Kansas you will never come back again; they will hang you."

The thing was so absurd I only laughed in the old man's face, and said to him:

"Well, you can not teach an old dog new tricks. I have spoken my mind so long that I shall continue to do it if they do hang me," and so bade him good-bye.

It was Sunday morning, and it was eighteen miles to Chillicothe. Arriving at the hotel, the people were getting ready for meeting. On questioning them where they were going, the landlord replied:

"To the Christian Church. Will you not go along with us?"

On asking my name he said:

"O yes; I have seen your name in the _Christian Evangelist._ You have been preaching in Illinois. I will introduce you to our preacher, and we will make an appointment for you this afternoon."

This landlord was a brother to that Congressman Graves that shot Cilley, a member of Congress from Maine, in a duel with rifles, at Washington. The people described "mine host" as one of "fighting stock "; and spoke of him as being as thoughtful of the comfort, health and welfare of his slaves as of his own children. To me he seemed simply a genial, jovial, friendly and traditional "Boniface," chiefly intent on furnishing comfortable fare and an enjoyable place for his guest.

By the members of the Christian Church I was kindly received, and was invited to take dinner with the preacher. After dinner two brethren came in, to whom I had been introduced at the meeting-house. After some desultory talk, they asked me:

"_Are you an abolitionist_?"

I was both angry and confounded. I had never in my life made myself conspicuous in this controversy that was going on between North and South, and why should I be insulted with such a question. I did not answer yes or no, but proceeded to give my views on the subject in general. They listened and remarked that they did not see anything offensive in such views; then made this apology for their seeming rudeness: An old man, a preacher, whom they called Father Clark, had come from Pennsylvania to Chillicothe to live with a married daughter, and had said something concerning slavery offensive to the people, and they had called a meeting of the citizens, and he had been driven out of town and ordered never to return. They had, furthermore, resolved that no abolitionist should thereafter be allowed to preach in the city. These brethren explained that, as I would be called on and interrogated by a committee, they thought it would be better that this should be done by friends, than that I should be questioned by strangers.

"_Are You an Abolitionist_?"

I was angry with myself for having consented to preach a sermon after being met with such a question. But by mine host, Bro. Graves, I was treated with the most frank and manly courtesy, albeit that he was brother to the man that shot a brother congressman in a duel with rifles. He seemed to feel like the town clerk at Ephesus: "What man is there that knoweth not that the city of the Ephesians is a worshiper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image that fell down from Jupiter? Seeing then that these things can not be spoken against, ye ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly."

The Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad was just being located through the city, yet the town was a dead town, though it was surrounded by a fertile and prosperous country. Bro. Graves seemed awake to all its advantages, and pressed me to remain, pointing out the rapid advance that must take place in the value of its property. But I kept thinking of the question: "Are you an abolitionist?" and bade him farewell.

At nightfall I found myself beyond Gallatin, on the road to St. Joseph. As there were no hotels I called at a private house and was hospitably received. This man, on whom I had called, had come from the State of Pennsylvania, and had grown to a prosperous farmer. There seemed to be no books or newspapers about the house; but he was shrewd and sagacious to a proverb, and was eager to hear from the land of his fathers, and of what was the cause of all this din and clamor and excitement of the people about him. What was the meaning of the Kansas-Nebraska bill? What were the intentions of the Black Republicans? What was the _New York Tribune_ doing, that it should raise such a tumult? And what were the purposes of the Emigrant Aid Society that it should be such an offense to the people in Missouri?

On my own part, I also had much to learn from this man, so shrewd and well-informed, and yet so ignorant. What did it mean that citizens of Missouri should go over in force and vote in the Territory of Kansas? We had heard something of this in Illinois, but supposed it was something done by that turbulent and somewhat lawless element that gathers along the borders of civilization; but now it was apparent that this movement was under control of leading citizens of Missouri, and had been participated in by conscientious men, members of the various churches of Missouri, who would in no wise knowingly do anything wrong. What did it mean?

The reader will not be surprised that we should sit up to a late hour of the night, nor that we should renew the subject again in the morning. When I had got ready to leave this man, who had so hospitably entertained me, he explained that he had business on the road on which I was traveling, and that he would accompany me a number of miles.

This emigrant from Pennsylvania, now a citizen of Missouri, who carried his library in his brain and read his books when he conversed with men, and kept his own counsel and lived in peace with his neighbors, was now about to say farewell. With some hesitation he said: "Mr. Butler, I thank you for all you have told me. I feel just as you do; but I must advise you to be careful how you talk to other men as you have talked to me. There are many in this country that would shoot such a man as you are. Good-bye."

powered by social2s