1. Early Years
IN THE BEGINNING
I was born early in the morning of May 10, 1908, in a little two-room miner's cabin in a poverty-stricken village called Cantwell, nestled in the eastern foothills of the Missouri Ozarks. My advent was at a very inauspicious time during the presidential tenure of Theodore Roosevelt, for I made my debut on the heels of the great financial panic of 1907, a matter to which I gave little thought at the time. My father was William Ketcherside and he had married Anna Marguerite Hansen some eighteen months before I entered the scene as "a howling success." There were five other children to follow to compose a family circle of three boys and three girls. All of us are still alive as I write these words.
All of the Ketchersides (or Ketchersids, for some dropped the final "e" about the year 1800) are descended from one progenitor, Thomas Ketcherside, who came over from Scotland shortly before the time of the American Revolution. His family settled in Virginia and North Carolina. Our branch of the clan emigrated to Missouri after it became United States territory as part of the Louisiana Purchase, and took up land in the then wild country called the "Black River region." The third highest peak of the Missouri Ozarks appears on our state map as Ketcherside Mountain.
Like a lot of pioneers, the men were hard and tough. They prided themselves on the amount of raw whiskey, called rot-gut, which they could gulp down and upon their ability to settle brawls with their fists in bare-knuckle fighting. My great grandfather deserted his family and "shacked up" with a Cherokee Indian woman who had been abandoned when her family died on the frightful "Trail of Tears" march in which many thousands perished while crossing Illinois and Missouri enroute to the Oklahoma Territory.
My great-grandmother was, so I am told, a gentle Scotswoman who still retained the dialect of "Auld Scotia." She kept the family together, and although none of them ever went to school, or learned to read or write, she invested them with a degree of integrity and a reasonable sense of respect. My own grandfather, Woodson Ketcherside, even as a lad, demonstrated qualities which later endeared him to all who knew him. When he first saw my grandmother, Lavina Moses, she was a mere girl, working barefoot in a rocky hill field and wielding a heavy hoe.
As an orphan, she had been indentured to a man for whom she was required by law to work for her "board and keep" until she became eighteen. The lot of such "bound children" in the days before orphan homes was often a difficult one. Taking compassion upon her when she was fifteen, my grandfather-to-be paid off the sum assessed for the final three years and obtained her release. He bought her a pair of shoes and a simple dress and they were married when he was seventeen and she was still but fifteen. I think their union was one of the happiest and most contented I have ever seen. With the opening of the deep-shaft lead mines near Bonne Terre, they moved to a rugged hill farm some three miles from that struggling town, built a log cabin and began to rear their growing family in a kind of wilderness setting where hardship was a way of life and the wolf of hunger was seldom far from the rude door swung on leather hinges.
There was but little chance for an education and the Coonville school, a couple of miles distant, was in session only sporadically as a wandering teacher came through and arranged to teach a few weeks for a meager pittance while "boarding around" a week at a time in the homes of the scholars in the area. Since the chief aim of the community rowdies was to "run the teacher off" and they felt a sense of abject failure if one remained more than six weeks, opportunities for intellectual development were decidedly limited. The rustic homes were utterly devoid of reading materials. There were no newspapers, magazines or books. Only an occasional Bible was to be found and it was regarded with superstitious awe, as containing a passage which would instantaneously stop nosebleed when read by someone who knew its location in the sacred text.
There were no churches and no regular meetings for religious devotion or instruction. Only when an itinerant Methodist or Baptist preacher rode in along one of the trails and announced "preaching in the schoolhouse" did the folk gather to be exhorted to flee from the wrath to come. A boy was sent on a mule to inform the dwellers in remote cabins about the great event and all came, more for the diversion than for the spiritual uplift. The preachers were hardy, with faces deeply tanned and hands that were calloused. They worked in the fields or in the timber side by side with those who "put them up for the night" and prided themselves that they could lay out a row in the field or hew a beam as straight as "the best of them." They were also fearless and had no qualm about stepping off the platform to walk back and grab a disturbing ruffian by "the nape of the neck and the seat of his breeches" and throw him unceremoniously into the schoolyard. Then dusting off their hands they would invite anyone else who wanted "some of the same" to step forward and request it before they resumed preaching.
As a little lad I used to listen spellbound as my grandfather, who was a master story teller, recounted incidents related to school and church in the backwoods. Always reverential, while being as courageous as a wildcat, he told about the times he had pitched in to help the preacher, and with the aid of a stick of stove wood or a window-prop had converted a lot of toughs from an upright to a prone position. He liked best to tell of a Methodist preacher who was very small in stature and who rode his jaded horse into the community after the last three meetings had been "busted up" by a gang of roughnecks.
The wiser heads tried to dissuade the short, thin man from announcing a meeting but "he allowed as how he could handle it with the help of the Lord." The schoolhouse was crowded to capacity the first night with the better element in fear and trembling, while the boorish louts were scuffling with and pawing at each other in the back. The little preacher stepped behind the teacher's desk and called for silence in order to begin a song to the praise of God. The noise in the rear became louder and more raucous. Nervous tension filled the air.
The preacher calmly said, "We will adjourn to the schoolyard. Follow me, please!" As he walked down the aisle, he was followed by the wondering audience, some of whom whispered that he was scared out and giving up. Without saying another word, when he reached the schoolyard, the preacher stooped down and picked up three walnuts from under a tree, and then yanked a six-shooter out of his hip pocket. One by one he threw the walnuts in the air and without a miss shot them to bits. Then he picked up three more and threw them high into the air at once and cracked all three. The fragments of the walnut shells rained down on the heads of the gaping crowd.
Taking six bullets out of his side pocket the preacher again loaded his gun. His fingers did not tremble. He looked up and said, "We will return to the house. Follow me, please!" The awe-stricken rustics all trooped in behind him. It was still as a morgue when the preacher took his place again. Not a sound disturbed the deathly quiet. Laying his trusty six-shooter on top of the Bible he announced, "I propose to discourse with you tonight about the Prince of peace and I will tolerate no interruption." There was no interruption to tolerate. If someone shuffled his feet the preacher merely glanced at the gun and the shuffling stopped. The meeting lasted three weeks and "the mourners" were all over the place when "the altar call" was made.
In this kind of rural environment my father finished the third McGuffey Reader and mastered the first part of Ray's Practical Arithmetic. It had to be done "in hitches" as someone later explained it. While still a child he contracted smallpox during an epidemic, and due to lack of proper care, since there were no doctors to summon for advice, one of his eyes was permanently impaired and the muscle in one leg shriveled away and left that limb shorter than the other. This did not interfere with his hunting or "frolicking" as the old-timers referred to almost any activity except hard work. He became a crack-shot with a gun and regularly carried off every prize from the shooting-matches. He also became a fiddle-player of note and this made him extremely popular at the hoe-downs which generally continued all night or until someone got "likkered up" and started a "knock-down-and-drag-out."
He got a job underground when he was not yet sixteen years old and this meant working ten hours per day, six days per week, for eleven cents an hour. Every day, at a time depending upon which shift he worked, he went to the changing-room where he took off his street-clothes, hung them up on hooks, and then put on his wet, dirty, slimy miner's garb. He went to the large can of carbide, filled his lamp, hooked it on the front of his cap, stepped on the cage and made his descent into the bowels of the earth.
Perhaps because he was so young, and felt the need to prove himself among the older hard-bitten miners, he developed a vocabulary of profanity which would have shocked people in almost any other part of the world. When I was grown and returned to "the Lead Belt" as the area came to be called, grizzled old-timers would search me out and say, "I knowed your Pap when he first went to work underground. He could out-cuss a mule skinner." They said it with a note of envy such as one uses when he speaks of another who has achieved a degree of proficiency in a coveted art which the speaker has not been able to reach.
The young William Ketcherside, if one may judge by the posed photographs taken by wandering photographers, was a rather handsome swaggering young specimen of manhood. When he was "on top" he smoked a pipe filled with Bull Durham, always allowing the string of the tobacco sack to hang from his shirt-pocket in the latest style. When he was underground he could not smoke because of the danger from powder and dynamite, so he took up chewing Brown Mule, and practiced spitting through his front teeth. He was a foul-mouthed and obscene product of a place and a time where you had to be as tough as a hickory sapling to survive.
When the Spirit of God got through to him and transformed him it was one of the most thorough and traumatic changes I have ever known. It is also one of the first things I remember and, of course, it affected my whole future on earth. I must tell you about it, but before I do I want to tell you about my mother, whose parents came to this land as immigrants from the "Old World" as Europe was then designated.
MOTHER AND HER DANISH KIN
My mother's grandfather was Lars Hansen. He was born of peasant stock in Denmark on February 28, 1829, the year that Hans Christian Andersen gained recognition for his first stage play after he came to Copenhagen from a boyhood of poverty and persecution at Odense. We never knew the original family names of the women our ancestor married in Denmark. Our only existing records show that the first was Mary and she bore him four children — Lars Peter, Christina, John and Nelson. The first became my own maternal grandfather and after he began to grow up, his father became known as "Old Lars" to distinguish him from his son.
After the death of Mary, "Old Lars" married a woman whose name was Karen, and who was eleven years younger than himself. They had a little girl and boy, and it was while the latter was still quite young the lure of this New World became too great for them to resist. The stories of emigrants who found breathing space and living room among the hills and on the wide expanses of prairie and plain sounded a clarion call in a world which had been bled white by the Napoleonic Wars. The Hansens saved what they could and sold what they had and purchased steerage tickets for the family.
My grandmother often told me of the hardships encountered on the six-weeks trip. All food had to be brought along and in their case it consisted mostly of hard-tack rye bread and cheese. The latter became so moldy it had to be scraped before it could be eaten. All became ill and were so sick and nauseated they could hardly minister to one another for weakness. The little boy died and had to be buried at sea. The emaciated little body was sewn up in sailcloth by a sail-mender. At dusk the little knot of emigrants ascended to the deck where the master of the ship read the Lutheran burial service, at the close of which the weighted body was gently eased overboard and sank from sight in the rolling waves.
On the long journey the Hansens became friends of another emigrating family bearing the name of Mabuce, and learning that they were coming to a place called Missouri, they resolved to stick with them. They eventually settled near Bessville, halfway between Marble Hill and Marquand, a land of rolling hills and spring-fed streams. Three more children, all girls, were borne by Karen, who died on November 14, 1877, still only thirty-seven years of age. "Old Lars" lived on for eleven more years, before he passed away on his fifty-ninth birthday. He was regarded as an aged patriarch in those days when the life-span was much shorter than it is now.
Young Lars Peter had gone to school in Denmark and in the new knowledge conveyed in the village school. He readily learned English but never lapsed in his usage of the tongue he first knew. All of his life he subscribed for newspapers published in Denmark and though they arrived months after they were printed he devoured their contents greedily. He became an adept penman and his letters were models of Spencerian neatness.
When he married Sophia Christensen he found himself with a companion of "the old school." She thought it was a sin to teach children to speak English. She wanted life to be exactly as it was in the towns and villages of Germany and Denmark. To be a Dane in those days was to be a Lutheran, and as the Hansen children were born and grew old enough they were sent to the parochial school where all recitations were in German and the catechism was the most important class of all. On Sunday the ritual was conducted in German by stern pastors who tolerated no questioning of their authority. The colony in which my mother grew up was a little island in an alien sea of humanity. It was a culture transplanted and imposed upon another culture.
At the age of twelve Anna and her sisters were in the field following the plow in the spring, and in the harvest they were shocking wheat. In the fall and winter the girls hired out in the homes of the wealthy where they were sometimes treated as drudges, arising before daybreak and working until long after darkness fell. The pay was two dollars per week and board. The two dollar wage was dutifully turned over to the parents at the end of every seven days.
One of the older girls, Hulda, met and married a man who worked in the mines and they established a modest home in a "company house" in Cantwell. It was while Anna was visiting for a few days in the home of this sister that William Ketcherside first saw her, a lovely, rosy-cheeked German Fraulein who spoke a delightful dialect which she never completely lost during her lifetime. He courted her with the same zest with which he went at everything else and she agreed to marry him only upon condition that he got the full consent of her father.
That was not easy. A good deal of correspondence must have ensued for the general attitude of people in the German colony was simply stated, "I'd rather follow a girl of mine to her grave than to see her married to a man who is not a Lutheran." The idea of allowing Anna to marry a young agnostic must have produced a great deal of furor, but finally the parents had to give in. Many years later I read the final letter of consent written by my grandfather to the man who was destined to beget me and give me life. It was couched in formal verbiage and was dignified, and almost stately.
It required that the young man who wanted to marry Anna respect her Lutheran faith and never ask her to forsake it or exchange it for something else. It bound him by a solemn covenant to have all the children properly christened by an ordained Lutheran minister, duly instructed in the catechism and confirmed in the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church "as God has instructed in his holy word."
It was probably no great issue with the ardent swain. He knew very little about God, less about the Bible and nothing at all about the Missouri Synod Church. Eighteen months after the wedding when I was born, he made no objection to my being christened. Later my mother told me about it. One of my aunts made my long white christening dress and my mother carried me in her arms almost three miles on a hot day to the Lutheran Church where I was christened by the Reverend Mr. Peterson. The christening certificate is now quite yellow with age. More than fifty years later I went to visit a Lutheran clergyman in a little Arkansas village only to find out that he was the assistant who helped out in the service. It probably took two of them to hold me still and keep me quiet.
I was born in our humble home. There was no hospital anywhere near the area and even if there had been no woman would have gone to it to deliver a child. Many years after the event my grandmother told me about my arrival. When my mother began to feel the pains signifying that her time had come, my father went to get my grandmother who had herself delivered several hundred babes in cabins in the woods. Every woman felt safe if "Aunt Viney" was present during the ordeal. An uncle was dispatched to get Dr. McClellan who was delayed somewhat because his horse had unhooked the stable door and headed for the pasture. Fortunately, with my usual good spirit of cooperation I postponed the happening until the principals were present and we got the signal, "All systems go!"
My mother had prepared a homemade cradle out of an I.E. Dupont de Nemours powder box which my father had carried home from the mine, and she told me later that I was the loveliest child she had ever seen. She also told the other five the same thing in turn. Nine months after I was born she learned she was again pregnant, and when her second son was born she named him Larsen Rudolph in true Danish fashion as she had named me William Carl in honor of my father and the crown prince of Germany.
Ours must have been a typical home in a mining community. My parents loved each other although I have a faint recollection of my mother weeping as she rocked one of us, because of some misunderstanding which had caused my father to "fly off the handle " and use profanity. Sometimes she shed tears because of her yearning for a sight of the faces of those whom she loved in the community where she was reared, and especially because she was homesick for her father and mother. I wonder now if she missed regular attendance at the Lutheran Church, and if there was a pang in her generous heart because she saw us growing up with no catechetical instruction.
Christmastime must have been especially depressing to her. It was a great season in the German community. For days before there was baking and preparation of all kinds. The house was filled with the pungent odor of spices. There was always a huge tree cut down in the forest and hauled home to be erected in a corner of the living room close to the fireplace. It was strung with popcorn and cranberries for there were no commercial hangings. Christmas brought good feelings and mellowness, helped no little by frequently imbibing homemade wine and brandy brought up from the cellar.
Compared to all this Christmas in a mining village was a drab affair. The decorations consisted of drawings by the children on ruled tablet paper. There was hardly room for a tree but we managed a little one. It was not easy for our parents to select something for us because the company store did not feature a variety. Each child received an orange and a peppermint candy cane. To make it really Christmas there was a little book or a ten cent toy, a jumping-jack or a set of blocks.
The thing that really topped it off was the box that came from down on the farm of our grandfather. It always contained a dressed goose. No one in the German community ate turkey for Christmas. There was smoked sausage, stuffed and prepared by grandfather himself, for he was a sausage maker of wide reputation. When the box was delivered from the railway station we could hardly wait to open it and see the things which had been selected from the farm and included. Our mother laughed and cried in turn as she took the things out and laid them on the oilcloth-covered table.
Perhaps I recall her times of melancholy more than her moments of joy. There must not have been too much time to devote to the luxury of feeling sorry for herself. There was washing to do on Monday while she bent over the grooved board in the big tub, a board well-rubbed with pungent homemade soap. There was ironing to do on Tuesday with the flatirons heating on the cookstove out in the smokehouse. There was always sewing and mending. The garden had to be tended and fruit and vegetables had to be canned in Mason jars, or sometimes dried in the sun. I can recall mother's frequent repetition of the old homely proverb, "Man works from sun to sun, but woman's work is never done." Yet she always found time to show her love for us and when we were hurt we could go to her with full confidence that she would stop whatever she was doing and gather us into her arms.
It is difficult to describe a mining town in the early part of the twentieth century to those who live in our present urbanized culture. The village in which I was born, Cantwell, was one of a string of towns on the surface of the earth loosely following the vein of lead hundreds of feet below. There were no city limit markers for there were no city limits. Cantwell, Desloge, Flat River, Elvins, Esther, Rivermines, and others were flung down in a heap as if some giant hand had deposited them with no attempt to gather them into orderly units. Six miles from Cantwell, in the other direction than the towns mentioned, lay Bonne Terre, which means "good earth," so called by the French because of the richness of the ore deposits.
Most of the villages were not incorporated. There was no city government and "every man did that which was right in his own sight." Families tended to huddle together in the same village and Cantwell was sometimes called "Ketcherside town" because some dozen or more frame shacks were occupied by members of our clan. The land was known as "company ground" because it was owned by the mining interests out of New York. There was a row of company houses, all built exactly alike, and anyone who rented them had the five dollars per month extracted from his check on payday.
One could build his own house by leasing a piece of ground from the company for ninety-nine years, with a carefully spelled out notation in the lease that the right to all minerals below the surface belonged to the company. The company also retained the right to set up a diamond drill anywhere for the purpose of prospecting for ore. A diamond drill had a bit which was set with diamonds and which, by rotating, could cut through the hardest rock, sending a one-inch core to the surface which could be analyzed in the laboratory to determine the direction in which the underground tunnel for taking out the ore should be directed. When a drill was set up it operated night and day and nearby residents did not sleep soundly until they became adjusted to the jarring noise.
There was a company store in our village where all of the miners traded “on time” as credit was designated. Each family had its own account book, and when the storekeeper assembled your purchases on the counter he entered the amounts on a ticket in your book and gave you a duplicate to take home and keep in the spring clip which hung on the wall by the comb case above the wash pan. Everyone used the same towel and comb, and no one used a toothbrush.
On payday the miners lined up at the store to cash their checks and make a payment on the grocery bill. When such a payment was made each miner received a little striped sack of candy called "a treat." It was rumored that if you paid in full you received a double portion, but I cannot testify as to the truthfulness of the rumor because we never paid in full. The company store created a way of life for many people and made of them economic slaves as long as they existed. The idea that you could "buy now and pay later" was dangerous for families like ours which were always on the brink of poverty. The first thing I did when my father was killed was to take the meager amount of insurance remaining and pay off his obligations. It may have been the first time my mother was completely free from debt.
One of my earliest recollections of my boyhood is that of the saloons and the vice associated with them. The saloons were tough joints. They bore such exotic names as "The Blue Goose" and "Klondike" although the one which stood in full sight of our house was called "The Star." Every payday was characterized by a drunken brawl. Frequently the men staggered outside and we saw them crack the skulls of one another with beer or whiskey bottles, the foaming contents mingling with blood and gore flowing from gaping lacerations.
There were always prostitutes hanging around outside the saloon although no one called them that. The men called them "chippies" while the women called them "painted hussies." I used to look through a crack in the fence and watch them take half-soused men into the woods and while I did not know what it was all about I was aware, from what the adults said about them, that it was not "nice."
I remember two occasions which caused those who were referred to as "decent women" to rejoice. One occurred when a little tiny woman got fed up with the "goings-on" and took an axe-handle and laid in wait for the woman who had solicited her husband. Although the chippy was about twice her size and hard as nails, she "worked her over and beat the tar out of her" as I learned by lying on the floor with my ear glued to the crack under the door. This source of information almost proved my undoing, for one day when the gossip was not especially interesting I fell asleep, and someone threw the door open and flattened me against the wall.
The other time of gladness occurred early on a Christmas morning when the village was awakened with the yell of "Fire!" The Star saloon was aflame. A goodly number of neighbors gathered in front of our gate to watch the welcome sight. Bottles burst like machine-gun fire and bottle caps whined through the air like bullets. The women alternately cried and laughed for joy, hugging one another and saying it was a divine judgment and the greatest gift God could have given on Christmas. The saloon was never rebuilt and the chippies all left except for the two who continued to receive customers after dark at the third house up the street from us, the one next to the chat dump, as the massive tailing-pile composed of crushed rock from underground was called.
Life was not unpleasant for us although we were under stern instructions never to step a foot outside the yard without permission. Every yard had a wire fence around it because the area surrounding the village was "open range." This meant that anyone could turn his cows and hogs out to roam at will. Animals were not fenced in, but fenced out. Each family had its own earmark, which meant that all of its animals had pieces cut out of their ears for identification. One man might say to another, "If you see a sow with a bit on the front side of the right ear and a swallow-fork in the left, please tell me, as it is my hog, and I want to put her up."
Sometimes in the middle of the night a family of razorback hogs would put their snouts under the fence and pry up the wire and creep in under it. They would literally clean out a garden before daybreak. Most of the houses were built up off the ground and set on rock pillars at the corners. This was to avoid damp rot and termites, but it also provided a shady place for the dogs to lie and scratch fleas. One morning our neighbor arose to see that her garden had been devastated during the night. As she looked out of the kitchen window she saw the north end of a southbound lanky sow protruding from under her house. She carefully heated a dishpan of water to the boiling point and poured it on the rear half of the razorback but was wholly unprepared for the cataclysmic result. As the sow departed for fairer regions she knocked the back porch off the house and took with her the underpinning from one corner, leaving the bedroom aslant and the furniture slowly slipping down toward the outside wall. Life in the village was not always drab and unexciting.
Although we could not go outside our yard we could always play with the children on either side "through the fence." There were two girls on one side and a boy and girl on the other. Their mothers "took in washing" and worked hard over the scrub-board every day. We were never allowed to mention their fathers because both men were in "the state pen." One was doing time for murder and the other for stealing stuff from the lead company. This last was not regarded as a crime by anyone except the lead company.
Every day we made mud pies and other articles and played store. We cut "money" out of the pages of a Sears-Roebuck catalog hanging in the toilet, and used bottle-caps for "change." The situation was complicated due to the fact that everyone wanted to be the storekeeper and take in the cash. We settled the question by putting a counter on each side of the fence and the storekeepers sold to each other. As my little sisters began to grow up they always wanted to play house, and wanted their brothers to be the papas and come home with their dinner buckets and kiss the dolls like our father kissed us. It was years later that I realized the neighbor children never wanted to play house. They had no father to come home and kiss them.
As I think back upon my childhood I recall one woman who said to my mother, "All children are different, but Carl's differenter than any youngun' I've ever seed." That was because of my utter fascination with printed words. It became an obsession with me. I carried the mail order catalog around with me and every time someone came who could read, and there were not that many of them, I'd thrust the catalog into their hands, point to a description of an article and ask, "What does that say?" In my innocence, bred of ignorance, I sometimes pointed to something embarrassing, and they would quickly flip the pages over to the farm machinery. I soon learned which pages were off limits although I did not then know why they were.
I had to do the buying at the company store by the time I was five because my mother could not read English. When I bought something, if there was no other customer in the store, I'd ask Mr. Watson to read the labels on the cans and boxes. He not only did so but taught me to read on Clabber Girl baking powder cans, Arm and Hammer bicarbonate of soda boxes, and Old Dutch Cleanser and Bon Ami containers. He saved reading material which was undeliverable in the little post office, and apparently told others about me because they brought their Horatio Alger books to pass along to me. If there were too many to carry home with the groceries I'd leave the groceries at the store and take the books home first. I knew my mother would make me go back after the groceries but might not let me go back for the books.
One of the proudest days of my life was the one on which I started to school in the little two-room village educational plant. The folk had managed to save and secure my first pair of new store-bought knickerbockers, as knee-length pants were called. My blouse, as boys' shirts with a puckering string at the waist were then called, was home-made. So was my underwear which bore the bold label across the seat, "Gold Medal Flour — Eventually, Why Not Now?" I took my lunchbox in one hand, and my slate and Elson-Runkel first reader in the other and marched off bravely. I stopped at the corner and looked back. Mother was standing in the door. The early morning September sunshine bathed her presence. She was drying her tears with her apron. She knew life would never be the same. And she was right!
UNCLE L.E. AND THE SAND-HILLERS
The great change in our lives, one which was destined eventually to affect almost the entire Ketcherside clan, actually began with one man. My father's brother, Lewis, always called by his initials L.E., was very close to him. He was less than two years younger, and in their boyhood days they had been inseparable. My uncle was married the year that I was born. Even before he was married he had begun to sense a yearning deep inside himself for some relationship with the power to provide hope and assurance by enabling him to overcome tendencies and temptations which troubled his sensitive soul. The new responsibility as a very young husband drove him to talk to my father about his feelings. My father laughed in his face and made crude jokes about it.
The Baptist Church was the only one in our village. In the period between revivals it was always in the doldrums, but twice per year, in the spring and autumn, a fire-eating preacher was imported and all of the members were infused with new life and got on a spiritual high. Backsliders wept over their lapses. Alcoholics vowed to renounce liquor. Sinners were exhorted to flee from the wrath to come. The night L.E. went to the tent which had been erected on a lot adjacent to "the church," the preacher happened to be a rough-looking specimen from the backwoods, who chewed tobacco and murdered the King's English. But he knew the Bible!
As he reeled off verse after verse from memory, L.E. was fascinated, and then captivated by the fact that God had spoken, and that we had access to His words, written down in plain English so every man could read them for himself. It was the first time in his life he had ever known what the Bible really was. That night, sitting in an audience of perspiring villagers, under a hot canvas, he resolved that, if God spared him, he would learn the divine will for his life.
He did not sleep that night, but lay awake thinking, meditating and praying. The next day underground he went about his tasks mechanically, and as soon as the whistle blew he ascended on the cage, and left the changing-room to go straight to the home where the revivalist was staying. Years afterward, when we worked together very closely, he told me all about it more than once, and always with the smile for which he was noted. He told the preacher he had already prayed all night and day. The preacher asked him what he felt and he said that he felt like he wanted to do what Jesus said and do it at once. After about an hour, the backwoods evangelist said it wasn't much of an experience, as experiences generally went, but he reckoned it would have to do. That night the Baptists voted to accept his experience and qualify him for baptism. The community was dumbfounded. To convert a Ketcherside was like the bringing of Saul of Tarsus to bay. And at the end of the revival the converts were all baptized in the swimming-hole in the small river. L.E. went straight home, changed into dry clothing and started in on the Bible.
Two weeks later he announced to the local Baptist preacher that he wanted to preach the gospel he had obeyed. At a district meeting of Baptist preachers it was agreed that he was an unlikely candidate, but there was no way of discouraging him short of shooting him. It was decided that, since he was too poor to go away to college, and did not have the entrance requirements anyway, not having finished the fifth-reader, he should study for a year at home, at the end of which time he would stand for examination before three ordained Baptist ministers, and if he met their approbation he would be licensed as a supply preacher for the unstaffed rural churches.
During that year L.E. became a real problem to all of his friends and relatives. Some of his former cronies were convinced that he was "touched in the head." He gave up going to shooting-matches, which gave the other contestants a chance to win. He wouldn't play cards. He quit drinking beer. My father said he was making "a damned nuisance" out of himself and if he didn't quit spouting the Bible at everyone he met he would lose the only worthwhile friends he ever had and end up with no one to talk to but a bunch of sickly, white-livered Christians. My father considered this a fate to which death should be readily preferred.
At the end of the year L.E. put on the suit he had worn at his wedding, the only dress-up clothing he owned, and met with the Baptist tribunal. They questioned him for three hours and it soon became apparent that he knew far more about the Bible than did his questioners. For every query his reply was "The Bible says." When one of the preachers said about one quotation, "I don't remember ever seeing that in the Bible," he picked up the man's book from the table and read it to him. At the end of the examination his questioners retired to a room for consultation. They left L.E. sitting at the table awaiting their decision about his future course.
When they returned the spokesman said, "We cannot approve of you to do supply work or recommend you to the churches. In fact, we are convinced you would kill every Baptist Church in the district if you advanced the ideas you have set forth today. You are not a Baptist at all but a Sand-hiller." L.E. had never heard of a Sand-hiller, so he asked what one was. The reply was unhesitating. "A Sand-hiller is a special brand of Campbellite, and the worst enemy the church has, and you sound just like one." The answer did not mean much to L.E. He did not know what a Campbellite was either, but he left the place with a firm resolution to find out.
The following Tuesday he was assigned a new man to help carry the tripod and set up the drill which rested on it, and with which holes were drilled in the face of the underground wall for tamping in explosives. While they were eating lunch from their dinner-pails at noon, L.E. said to the man, "Did you ever hear of a religious bunch called Sand-hillers?" "I sure have," answered the man, "I'm one of them myself." He then proceeded to tell him this was a nickname given to them by the Baptists because they had originated down in the sand-hills about thirty miles south, and some of them had moved into the mining area to find work. He arranged for L.E. to meet a merchant who was an elder of the Church of Christ, and the first evening they talked together they continued their speech until midnight. L.E. walked the three miles to his home and arose early to work all day in the mines.
He was hungry for the word, and began to attend the meetings in Flat River, a five-mile round trip each time. There was no preacher but anyone of the men in the congregation could teach, exhort and admonish. Sometimes as many as three would take turns speaking briefly. They convinced L.E. that one could be just a Christian and a Christian only. He became convinced of their plea to be simply the church mentioned in the scriptures. But when he expressed a desire to be affiliated with the little group a lengthy interrogation ensued, led by some who insisted he would have to be baptized again. He resisted on the basis that he had obeyed the Lord. Most of the members were ready to accept him, but two or three became very belligerent, and to avoid further friction he finally consented to be immersed. In later years he always said, "I was baptized twice. The first time was to obey Jesus Christ, the second time to placate and appease the Church of Christ."
Almost single-handedly he changed the village of Cantwell. He visited every house in town, including the one occupied by the saloon-keeper and his fashionable wife. He invited everyone to gather in his front yard each evening to hear the Bible explained. It was somewhere to go and relieve the tedium and the people came. Many of them carried hickory splint-bottom chairs on which to sit. Others sat on the ground or leaned on the picket fence. With a kerosene lantern hanging on the porch post and casting its sickly gleam upon the printed page, while moths and other insects flitted about, L.E. read and expounded. He was one with his audience. Many of them had known him from the time he was a lad. He went down into the mines with them everyday. He had helped them all with any task that was too great for them. Now he shared with them every night what he learned during the day.
When his shift underground was finished he took time to talk with men and women about their souls before he slept. He baptized his brothers and their wives. He baptized his two sisters. The day he baptized "Blind Emmy," his cousin who had been born sightless, the whole community walked down to the creek for the occasion. When the poor blind woman was brought up from the water she raised her hands toward heaven and began to shout for joy. Caught up in the emotional excitement of the moment they led her up the road toward the village, shouting as she went. Some tried to quiet her, thinking she was "going out of her mind." But it was as if she had not heard them. Other women began to weep, and men began to cry out to God to have mercy upon them. Years later, when I led "Blind Emmy" from door to door to sell "products" she told me that she saw Jesus "as plain as day." I wondered how one who had never seen the form of a man and had never even seen her own face in a mirror, could see Jesus. But I didn't say anything or ask any questions. I am glad now I did not.
An electrifying current swept over the community with the exception of one home — ours! Being a Lutheran, my mother could not attend the studies in the front-yard up the street. She would like to have gone because she loved people and the socialization before and after the study would have meant a lot to her. Women used such occasions to trade seeds for flowers that others admired, or to tell what they were eating out of their gardens, and all of this would have meant much to mother. But it would also have caused her to "go back on her raising" and she couldn't do that.
When my father went and sat outside the circle of light across the dusty street, he returned home aggravated and angry. He told my mother that his favorite brother had somehow allowed bats to occupy his belfry and to observe it was a crying shame that an otherwise good man would permit himself to be ruined by religion and waste time in which he could be doing something useful for people, by standing on his front porch talking like an idiot.
Years later when we were all one in Christ, mother told me that she knew even then that L.E. was having an effect on my father. He became too angry and fumed around too much. Moreover, he poured a pipe full of tobacco out of the Bull Durham sack, lighted it, took one draw on it, and then absent-mindedly knocked it out against the heel of his hand. That had never happened before. My father became short-tempered and snapped at my mother when she spoke to him. He had never done that before either. The Spirit was moving in for the kill!
THE DAY MY FATHER WAS BAPTIZED
It was early evening and the sun was only beginning to slant toward the west when my father came out of our little house to sit down on the top step and smoke his pipe. My brother and I sat down on the bottom step on opposite sides so each of us could lean against his legs. This was almost a ritual. Miners who worked the day shift always ate an early supper and then sat out in the front yard to relax and try to cool off before time to go to bed and get some rest as a preparation for going underground the next morning. In the curious jargon of the miners, who had their own word for everything, this was called "hog-eying" but I do not know why.
I only recall that my brother and I were always glad when our father came out to "hog-eye" and it made us feel proud to sit down and lean against him. Miners did not tell people they loved them, but our father did not need to do that. It would have seemed a little silly to say something you already knew. While we were sitting there, not saying anything, but just glad to be together, our uncle L.E. came by and stopped at the front gate. We all liked him a lot! He never became angry and he knew how to treat folks. He even talked to us boys as if we were grown-up men. That is why we felt kind of sad inside that he had "gone nuts over religion" and started "going to church every time someone jerked the bell-rope" as our father said.
We knew he was on his way to another meeting in Flat River and that he would climb the huge chat dump and cross the high railroad trestle which had been haunted ever since a miner slipped from it one night and was killed when he landed on the rocks below. Some of our neighbors heard his ghost shriek as it was falling again on dark nights. Uncle L.E. leaned on the gate and talked a little about veins and stopes and levels and other underground stuff, and then said, "Well, I'd better be shoving off. I dare you to come and go along with me."
The two of us on the bottom step looked at each other and grinned. We knew what our father would say even though we hated to see him cut our favorite uncle down. We couldn't believe what happened. Our father knocked his pipe out against the edge of the top step. He got up and we thought maybe he was going to fight our uncle. But he said, "I never took a dare in my life, and by God, I don't intend to take one now. Wait till I get my hat." We watched the two of them walk off together toward the chat dump and we were hurt and angry. We felt betrayed and sold out. Tears came to my eyes. I hated religion which broke up good times that were quiet and peaceful and which took a father away from his boys.
The next evening we were just playing around in the yard waiting for our father to come out and "hog-eye" so we could sit beside him and lean against him. But he didn't come out very soon and when he did he had his hat on. We watched with foreboding as L.E. came again. We walked to the gate with our father. He patted both of us on the head. We could feel the roughness of his palm with the hard callouses from the pick and shovel. I watched until the two of them climbed the chat dump where they were momentarily silhouetted against the evening sky and then they disappeared from sight. I ran blubbering to the backyard. I jerked a bean-pole out of the garden and began to savagely beat the rear wall of the summer-kitchen. The neighbor kids were on their knees looking through the fence. One of them yelled, "Whatcha doin'?" I acted as if I did not hear. I wanted to die.
It was about a week later, and we were sitting at the supper table when my father said to my mother, "Annie, I am going to be baptized." My mother did not become angry. She spoke softly but firmly, "I knew you would be, but please do not ask me to go and see it. And don't ever ask me to change from what I grew up in. Never!" My father said, "I'll take the boys to see it." Mother replied, "I can't keep you from doing that, but don't forget you signed your word to rear them in the Lutheran Church, and please remember what you've said about this religion that L.E. has talked you into."
It was about a mile over to the company pond and when we got there on Sunday afternoon a crowd of strange people had already gathered and were waiting. They stood around talking until one of the men took out his watch, looked at it, and then held up his hand to get attention. He began to speak about how my father had repented of his sins. I didn't like that because I did not know my father had any sins. The man continued that he had made the good confession and was going to be buried in baptism. I didn't like the word "buried" either, because when people were buried you didn't see them again. The crowd began to sing a song called "Happy Day" and my father walked out into the water with a man. When they got to the right place they stopped, the man raised his hand and said something and then buried my father out of sight. It was years later I realized that I never again saw the father who was buried.
All of the Cantwell people who had gone to the pond walked back with us, and they all talked to my father whose wet clothes clung to him as he walked. We turned in at our gate and my father went in and changed into a dry outfit. When he came into our other room, he lifted the lid on the cookstove and threw his pipe into the glowing embers. He threw his plug of chewing tobacco and his sack of chewing tobacco and his sack of Bull Durham into the trash sack by the woodbox. One of his nephews dropped by and my father gave him his fiddle together with an extra supply of resin for the bow. "I'll not be needing it again," he said. Two days later when he gave away his treasured Marlin shotgun, my mother became convinced he had lost his mind.
On Monday evening my brother and I were out in the yard again. We did not know if our father would come out or not. Our fears were relieved, for he came and sat down on the top step. We sat down on the lower one as usual. He did not have his pipe but he had a book which L.E. had given him. "Boys," he said, "this is a Bible and it is the word of God. God lives up in heaven and he loves us, and because he does, he gave us this book to tell us how he wants us to live. I don't know much about it yet but I intend to learn what's in it, and I want you to know also. I'm going to read it out loud and that way we will all learn."
We leaned against him and listened as he read. He took it slowly, like one treading unfamiliar ground and that was good. After awhile he closed the book and said, "That's enough for this evening." He began to ask us simple questions about what he had read and when we knew an answer he patted us on the head and made us feel good. I knew then that my fears had been premature. I still had my father and this was the best way to "hog-eye" in the world, with someone you loved reading to you. I wished that our mother could share with us but she couldn't. She said she didn't trust the Bible written in English, and she wished we could understand it in German like Herr Luther had fixed it up. When she talked about other men she called them "Mister" but she always spoke of her favorite hero as "Herr Luther."
Almost every day L.E. stopped by and he and my father talked about the Bible and turned to it to read things they had found in it. My brother was too young to care, but I lay on the grass between them when they brought their chairs out under the cherry tree and listened to every word. They were always explaining to one another what they thought something meant and you could tell they loved it. I loved it too, although I didn't know all it was saying. And every day our father read to us. God came to mean about everything to us and nothing else really mattered.
L.E. and my father wanted to start a church in our village. They said it was too far for everyone to walk to Flat River. They decided to start meeting in a grove of trees, and they made seats which were just planks laid across two-by-fours. The two men went to every house and invited everyone to come for the first Sunday. I had never really been to a church because my father had promised before I was born that I would be raised in the Lutheran church. But now he said to my mother, "I'd like to take the boys with me when Sunday rolls around." We added our pleas and mother said, "All right, go on. It isn't really a church anyhow when a bunch of people meet in the woods."
It was hot and dry and dusty when Sunday morning came, but when we got to the grove it was cool in the shade. The Ketchersides whom L.E. had baptized were all there. Some others he had baptized were there also. The songbooks which had been loaned by Flat River were passed out to the grown folks, but L.E. said, "Give the boys books also." It made us feel big to have our own books with the name Voices for Jesus on the front. A man had come from Flat River with the books to lead the singing and when he had finished, my father read a chapter and then prayed. L.E. gave a little talk, my father following by telling about a verse he had read and what he thought God was saying in it.
An old man got up to "wait on the table" but he started to cry and couldn't say anything, so L.E. got up and said the tears were nothing to be ashamed of for the old man had been baptized when he was a boy but had not seen the table of the Lord set for years. He called on my aunt to give thanks and she prayed better than any of them. Later, my father told me it was because she was in practice, that she had prayed every day for him for ten years. Before we finished we all got up and walked to the table and put money on the white cloth. My brother and I marched up with the others and put the pennies on the table which our father had passed on to us. I looked longingly at mine lying there by the dimes and the one quarter. I wished I could have kept it and gone with it to the company store but there was no way I could do it.
After everyone had shaken hands and hugged one another and cried and laughed we all went home with grandfather and grandmother. My father let us walk with them while he went home to help our mother carry the baby. I heard one of the men say that my grandfather was in "hog heaven" because so much company was going to his place. He loved company. While the women were busy in the kitchen the men sat out on the front porch which was shaded by a clematis vine filled with flowers. They talked about getting a place to meet before the rains set in. L.E. was an excellent carpenter and he suggested buying an old saloon building, cutting it in two, and moving it to a lot in the village and joining it together again. No one had ever seen this done, but he was convincing. They agreed to borrow the hundred dollars for purchase of the saloon. L.E. said that we would give those who came a different sort of drink than they had ever been served across the bar.
LIFE IN OUR FIRST MEETINGHOUSE
It makes a difference when a congregation gets a meetinghouse of its own. There are some things about it that are good, and there are others that are not. The plan to purchase the old saloon building and move it to a new location worked like a charm. Even though it was before the days of chain saws, the men cut it in two and then fitted it back together on the lot which was a few hundred feet from the location of the Baptist building. To make it look more like a "church building," a bell-tower was erected on the front which never housed a bell. It was a luxury which could not be afforded.
The very first meeting in the new location was noticeably different. It was more formal and "churchy." We had been meeting in the grove on good days, and in the little living-room in our grandfather's home on cold and rainy days. The grove was the best place. Sometimes while we were singing grandfather's favorite song, "My latest sun is sinking fast, my race is nearly run," you could look up at the fleecy white clouds and imagine that they were "the angel band" ready to bear you away on their snowy wings to your immortal home. Occasionally, one of the dogs would chase a squirrel right down among the benches and up a hickory tree behind the Lord's Table. There is only one other thing on earth that can equal a dog in enlivening an open air meeting, and that is a three foot blacksnake.
Even on bad days it always was interesting. The children sat on the old rag carpet which "Aunt Peggy" had made on a loom. If they got tired they could stretch out and take a nap and no one cared. Aunt Peggy was a half-Cherokee Indian who had befriended our grandmother when she was an orphan girl and later on came to live with my grandparents. The deep wrinkles in her brown face bore mute testimony to a life of toil and privation. Aunt Peggy didn't "go to church" but when the church came to her on rainy days she did not budge from her splint-bottom chair in front of the fireplace. She smoked a little clay pipe "during meeting" the same as at any other time, and it was interesting to see her make a "V" out of her fingers and put them to her mouth and spit. She never missed, and if a stray fly was unfortunate enough to walk into range along the hearth, she neatly picked him off with an amber jet, regardless of what the worshipers around her were doing at the moment. I remember that during prayer we children always kept one eye closed for God's sake, and the other one open and focused on Aunt Peggy who seemed almost as old and even more interesting to us than God at the time.
When we moved into the "church building" we children felt "boxed in" and things might have seemed very dry if it had not been for our grandfather who sometimes enlivened the scene because he was so deadly serious about everything that pertained to God. He had been crippled by a premature blast underground which had injured his spine when rocks rained down upon him, and although he surprised the company doctors after they had predicted his death, he was doomed to walk quite stooped and bent over the remainder of his life. The company gave him token employment in the warehouse where one of his tasks was to reduce the rodent population. On Wednesday he moved sacks of cattle feed and boxes of other commodities all day long and killed whatever rats he could with a long stick.
The old man was dog-tired when he came to meeting and almost as soon as he sat down in the corner of the front seat he fell into a deep sleep. It was while our uncle L.E. was on the platform that grandfather suddenly jumped to his feet and began poking under the seats and flailing about with his cane while shouting, "Get him! Get him! There he goes! Hit him! Hit him!" Uncle L.E. called out to him but he did not hear. He was having a "rat-killing" good time in his sleep and took a healthy swipe at our bare feet which we hastily drew up in the seat. After my father had captured him and shaken him back to the world of reality and sat him down in his accustomed place, the proceedings seemed quite dull by comparison and we watched him anxiously, hoping he would fall asleep again. But he did not and the fun was over for that night.
Even when he was awake our grandfather often got things gloriously mixed up or said them backwards. It was the idea of L.E. that the whole congregation should be taught the whole word, and to achieve this objective he would read and explain a chapter while the audience followed along with open Bibles. Of course our grandfather could not read, but he always listened intently with his hand cupped behind his ear. Once when the subject matter was Judges 15, which records how Samson slew a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, L.E. finished the text and asked that the books be closed while he questioned the hearers. When he got to my grandfather, he asked, "Pap, can you tell me how Samson slew the thousand men?" The old man was happy that he knew the answer. "He hit 'em over the ass with a jawbone, son, yes sir, that's the way he killed the whole passel of 'em," was the reply.
I could write all day and not exhaust the fascinating things that took place in this little gathering of humble and sincere people, but I must not tarry that long. Even the lives of us children were changed by the religious emphasis which now involved us seven days a week. We turned from playing house or store to "playing church." Each morning we saved the left-over biscuits which were generally thrown over the fence to the pig, and these, together with a glass of water formed the emblems of our memorial service. The grape arbor was our "church house" and the congregation consisted of my younger brother and sister, two dolls (one of which was losing sawdust from a gaping wound in the lower abdomen), and myself. Our pup came to the first service, lying on the ground with his head between his paws, and seemingly enjoying it. But after we baptized him in the galvanized tub under the rain spout he forsook the church and returned to the world. Our father told us not to feel badly about it because the Bible said, "Without are dogs."
Our meetings were held every thirty minutes and began with snatches of songs sung from imaginary books and led by my little brother. Sometimes he forgot the words and would have to improvise but that did not matter. We made a joyful noise unto the Lord. I was the preacher and I laid it on loud and heavy with such phrases as I could recall, and when I ran out of the remembered phrases, pounding the box in front of me and exhorting the two dolls to repent and be baptized. Regardless of their repentance, they were baptized several times daily, while we stood around the tub and sang, "O happy day that fixed my choice." The neighbor children next door watched through the fence, feeling left out and not knowing what we were doing. With their father in the "state pen" they had never seen a religious gathering.
The acquisition of "our own place of worship" as folks phrased it, made it possible for us to have "protracted meetings," and start seriously to separate the chaff from the grain in the village, so that the chaff could be burned with unquenchable fire, while we stood by and watched from the golden portals. The first "evangelist" I ever heard was Daniel Sommer. He was booked for a meeting at Flat River and the brethren there "loaned him" to Cantwell to help our little group "get started off on the right foot." He was an imposing figure, sixty-five years old, and priding himself upon his physical strength and endurance. He wore a knee-length double-breasted alpaca clerical-style coat, and when he took his stand on the platform he thrust his right foot forward and placed his hand in the front of his coat in a Napoleonic pose and his voice boomed out with authority.
Although I was but a mere lad when I first heard him I can recall lying on the grass under the shade of a tree and listening to him as he talked to men during the daytime. He felt he had saved the church from complete apostasy by reading his composition "An Address and Declaration" at Sand Creek, a rural congregation near Windsor, Illinois. In it he called for withdrawal from those who endorsed and condoned the church holding festivals to raise money, select choirs to do the singing, man-made societies for missionary work, and the one-man imported preacher-pastor system. He could quote from memory his closing sentence, "If they do not turn away from such abominations, we can not and will not regard them as brethren."
The church had split before I came along and instrumental music had received the blame since it was visible to the eye. Now, Brother Sommer was preparing to "arraign the new digressives" on a hundred items. The "new digressives" were those who opposed instrumental music and missionary societies but who were "aping the sects" by creating a salaried ministry, or hireling pastor system. Brother Sommer envisioned the "so-called Christian colleges" as posing the greatest threat to the simple faith. He referred to them as "preacher factories" and warned that they would some day control the church through their alumni groups. One of his favorite words was "arraign" and he seldom finished an article in opposition to someone without formally "arraigning" him for a long list of items.
I suspect it gave us an ego trip to have someone come from as far away as Indiana to speak for us. In a day when a lot of people had never even been to the county seat, Indiana seemed as far away as the North Pole. When you added to it the fact that the speaker had been to college and was the author of several books as well as being an editor of a religious journal, it was enough to make your head swim. Even the Baptists couldn't top that so they stayed away from our meetings as we did from theirs. They stayed away because they couldn't stand the truth; we stayed away because we couldn't stand to hear error advocated.
The second preacher who came was William Grant Roberts. He had studied to be a debater and had gained a reputation as a "bold challenger of the sects" and as being "rough on rats." Sectarians and rats were in the same category. In every public discourse, Brother Roberts debated with an imaginary adversary, carrying both sides of the controversy. He never lost such a discussion. Secure in the truth and standing firm on the rock he constantly rebuked denominational pastors who were not present for "spewing out their flopdoodle gush" as he referred to false doctrine.
He specialized in debating Mormons and Baptists, but took on anyone, sometimes having to study up to see what some group believed after having signed a proposition. If anyone asked him if he was hesitant about mixing with a formidable opponent, he assured them he would "tack his hide on the barn door with the bloody side out." His debate in Flat River with a Methodist preacher by the name of Mothershead was characterized by such sharpness and sarcasm, that a complete generation had to pass before the hostility was alleviated. We won the debate and lost the world!
DURING WORLD WAR I
DURING WORLD WAR I
The little congregation made its greatest progress under the efforts of the men who constituted it. No other argument for the power of the gospel was as strong as that of the lives of men who had been completely transformed. Rude miners, listening to a man imported from afar to convert them, had little hope of ever becoming like such a well-dressed professional who harangued them nightly, but they could identify with those who daily descended into the shaft on the same cage with them. So effective did L.E. become that when he was assigned a new partner on his drill the rest of the miners said, "Well there goes another future member of the Campbellites." And they were more often correct than not.
L.E. and my father were not content to keep the gospel in our village. They thought it should be sounded out and not sounded in. They lived for the study of the Word and wherever they could band together a few saints in some backwoods schoolhouse they "set them to keeping house for the Lord." On Sunday one of them would go and instruct the people and I can recall that, as a lad of less than seven years, I walked six miles with my father to a schoolhouse out in the timber, and I walked back home again in the hot afternoon sun. I was so tired I fell asleep on the floor just inside the front door and never knew who transferred me to the pallet on which we children slept in the summertime.
It appeared that God was smiling upon the little group when catastrophe struck for us, and the whole course of life was suddenly and rudely changed. We had moved out of the shack in which I was born, into a four-room house closer to the company store. My father, in a moment of reckless abandon, had made an offer of six hundred dollars for the house, and his bid was accepted. My mother was unquestionably proud of it. She moved in, with the fond hope of sometime purchasing a Congoleum floor covering for our living-room, and by dint of saving and hoarding nickels and dimes she was able to accumulate the six dollars required in a few months. When the rug was unrolled, smelling new and fresh like linseed oil, we were not allowed to walk across it, but had to step carefully around and walk on that portion of the floor which was not covered.
My father had always been troubled with a cough. Sometimes at night he would have to get up and sit in a chair, but no one thought much about it for all of the miners, with few exceptions, coughed hard and long. But when my father could no longer get his rest, regardless of the shift he worked, my mother persuaded him to go see Dr. McClellan. He was reluctant to do so, thinking it was both foolish and an unnecessary expense. But he finally consented to go and when he returned home we knew something was seriously wrong. Our mother went about her work crying, and we could hear her talk to my father about "making a move." Years later I learned that our family physician had diagnosed "Miner's consumption," since no one used "silicosis" in those days. My father was told that his only chance to survive was to get out of mines and go to a colder climate.
It must have been a frightening experience since there were now six children and one of them a babe in arms. Somehow they broke the news to us and it seemed incredible. My father had written to the Apostolic Review, edited by Daniel Sommer, and had stated in its columns the need to make a change. He expressed a desire to locate where there was a "loyal congregation" in which he could assist by taking his turn in teaching and doing personal work. He received a reply from Marshalltown, Iowa and after several letters were exchanged it was decided we should go there. The congregation offered to help my father find a job and a house in which to live.
Only one who lived in a tightly-knit village at the beginning of the twentieth century can understand the unforgettable shock created when a family was forced to leave for another area. In our present mobile society it is absolutely impossible to portray.
For days before we left, relatives and friends gathered to help pack and weep, and generally get in the way. The women clung to our mother and tears flowed freely as they wailed and expressed the thought they would never meet again.
Mother took all six of us on the train to see her immediate family and our grandfather Hansen met us at McBride's Station with the big wagon drawn by a span of skittish mules. It was great fun sitting on the old quilt placed over the bed of straw in the back and riding the six miles to the farm. Our grandmother, who was very heavy, came waddling out of the house, speaking German with such rapidity that even our mother could not keep up. She had cooked every Danish and German recipe she had ever known and we ate to repletion. I drew the biscuit with the fly in it. There were no screens for the doors and windows and I never recall eating at that grandmother's home without having a fly in one of the biscuits.
All the folk from the transplanted old world colony came to bid us farewell. My mother was always one of their favorites. Grandfather, who was a great wine maker, freely handed around samples of his handiwork and as the night wore on and tongues became more lubricated it sounded like a wedding celebration in a Bavarian bierstube. The next day we left, but as we looked back we could see all the members of the family standing on the front porch and waving.
When we left the village of Cantwell it was as if someone had died. We went on the local train to Saint Louis where we changed to the Wabash line at Union Station. I had never seen such a throng as filled this great structure and how our parents managed to get six wide-eyed children through the shoving mob I shall never know. As we passed through the great midway, a newsboy was standing at the top of the stairs hawking his papers. I have never forgotten the words he was yelling, "Saint Louis Globe-Democrat, telling of the allies' great victory in France!" The British troops under Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig had made a breakthrough.
I must spare you further details of the journey, vivid as they are to me. One of the leaders, S.M. Brees, met us at the Marshalltown station in a huge Velie touring car and took us to the home of another elder, Alexander Campbell Blake, with whose family we were to lodge until our furniture arrived by train and could be unpacked. The people were all good to us, but we were out of place, like strangers in a strange land. Even the polite formality seemed cold to us. We were hill-folk, villagers and country people, wholly unsuited to a city existence in the north. We were glad when we could move into the humble place we had rented on the outskirts of the city.
There were some things we had never had before, such as electric lights, running water in the house, and a bathroom. At first it seemed awkward and inappropriate to have "a privy" inside the same house in which you lived, but we soon became accustomed to it and were especially thankful for it on days when the rain came down in torrents or an Iowa blizzard swept across the land. I suspect that my parents sensed from the start that it was an untimely move, but it was too late to do anything about it then. We were broke, and we suffered as only the poor can suffer during wartime.
Our father secured employment scraping or fleshing hides at the H. Willard Son and Company tannery. It was a dirty, stinking job and his cough was intensified by the dampness of the place and the vats in which he had to labor. Crippled though he was, he took a job with a moving and storage firm and stuck with it through a cold winter. We could barely make ends meet. The wartime economy had driven sugar up to the incredible level of twenty-five cents per pound. Flour was rationed and government stamps issued for other commodities. And, right in the midst of our other woes, the influenza pandemic struck us all down. Each day the paper told us of hundreds of deaths. In many areas there was no one strong enough to dig graves and the corpses accumulated. We were sure that some of us would die but we survived, although we were so weak and anemic we could hardly stand.
Through it all we never failed to study the Word daily and to cling to our faith in God as our only hope. My father attended every meeting of the saints, taking the two of us boys with him when we were able to walk the long distance on the crunchy snow. There was never a meeting that prayers were not offered for the war to cease and our men to return home. On every side people could be heard referring to the Kaiser as "the antichrist." It was freely predicted that these were the last days and that World War I was the battle of Armageddon. It was believed that the conflict would be terminated with the coming of Jesus. I shall never forget the celebration of the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918, four years, three months and fourteen days after Austria-Hungary began it all by a declaration of war upon Serbia. In those four years there were a total of 37,494,186 casualties, men killed, wounded and missing.
I was ten years old when it ended, and already it had been decided we could not make it in the city. For a year we had survived on an unvarying diet of pork neckbones and potatoes, with only an occasional dish of kraut to relieve the monotony. It was all we could afford. We would have to admit defeat and go to a smaller town.
It was not all a loss, for in Marshalltown I was introduced to the first Carnegie Library I had ever seen. I read a book per day and sometimes more. A free library opened up for me a great new world in which I stuffed my mind like a hungry urchin would his stomach at a picnic.
We moved to Gilman City, a little north Missouri town, where the only dwelling we could rent was an abandoned railroad section house. When we moved in, the weeds were higher than the windows and our first task was to clean the debris and trash out of the house and cut the high growth in the yard. The place never really became fit for human habitation and was so close to the railway tracks that the trains at night sounded as if they were coming through the side of the building. The house was infested with rats and the yard with snakes. The job my father expected did not materialize and the help we received from congregations which he was invited to visit on the weekends was not sufficient to sustain us.
Once again, we took up our trek, seeking for a solution to the rugged problem of life. This time we settled in Chillicothe, Missouri. There are two things which stand out in my mind. One is the gathering of coal which fell off railroad cars as they swayed along the tracks. Our success meant the difference between being cold or warm in the old rattletrap house. We did not have the money for fuel. Another, is the fact that the congregation, which was in trouble when we went, divided soon afterwards. A little group of us met in an old upstairs room above a store. Division brought sadness and disillusionment. A number of people simply dropped out.
MEETIN' HOUSE RELIGION
It has long been a thesis of mine that those who are not formally educated tend to preserve the wisdom gained by experience in easily-remembered proverbs. When any situation arises which demands comment, one of these capsules can be prescribed, and it will quickly put life into proper perspective. Our mother, having grown up in an immigrant colony, had a "saying" for every behavioral problem. She even made us clean up food on our plates by quoting, "Willful waste makes woeful want."
Sometimes her proverbs were contradictory, a fact which did not trouble her in the least. If someone we knew moved around from pillar to post and did not hold a job she was ready with "A rolling stone gathers no moss." But if another was too content to toil away interminably at the same ill-paying task she nailed him with, "A setting hen grows no feathers." In spite of our poverty and the difficulty of survival she maintained our morale and boosted her own hope by constant repetition of the old cliche, "It's a long road that has no turn in it." We had been on the road of life going from bad to worse long enough. So a slight bend in the road came in sight.
Our father, who had tried everything that was honest to eke out a living in Chillicothe, including becoming a "Watkin's man," selling household products, had meanwhile been helping rural and village congregations everywhere within range. He received a letter from Pike County, Illinois, asking him to come and conduct a couple of brief meetings and, imbued with a desire to preach the gospel, he went, after arranging with a good storekeeper to supply our needs "on time." We received enthusiastic letters from him. The meetings were going well. He was baptizing a number of people. He wanted us to see the area.
That is how we happened to move into the rural area in Illinois, called Old Pearl, where I was privileged to attend a one-room country school for a few months. It must have been a growing settlement at one time, but when the railroad went through almost three miles away, a new Pearl sprang up on the Illinois River, and the old one was stopped "dead in its tracks." We bought a ten acre orchard and our place was in full view of the schoolhouse and the "church building." The two of them stood side by side. In every direction, along roads which were dusty in dry weather and "shoemouth deep" in rainy weather, stretched larger farms. The pastures were watered by gently-flowing creeks and the timbered portions were the shelters for every kind of native wild animals.
It was evident, from the very outset, that we were "back home" again. The friendly, helpful and humble people were our kind of folk. In an earlier day, this broad sweep of prairie leading toward the steep bluffs which stood like a frowning fortress above the Illinois River bottom-land, had been inhabited by sturdy Anglo-Saxons with names like Willard, Jackson, Johnson and Calvin, and others betokening the trades of original ancestors, such as Miller, Wheeler, Draper and Waggoner. Generally hard-working, frugal and neighborly they received us with open arms. At the very outset, they had a homemade ice cream party for us to which they brought not only well-filled freezers, but all kinds of food staples — sugar, flour, home-canned vegetables and fruits, smokehouse hams and bacon. We had never seen such a supply of food, and when they all left our mother cried unashamedly, while the rest of us stood and looked at the huge stockpile while still shivering from the ice cream with which they had regaled us.
Every school district in the area had a "Church of Christ." A few congregations met in the local schoolhouse, but most of them had erected plain structures in which to meet. Older preachers like "Uncle Henry Maynard" and "Uncle George Williams" had taken the plea that one could be a "Christian only" into the region round about, until there was a group of saints meeting about every three to five miles in every direction. Many of the people did not know there was any other kind of "a church." They supposed that all who were not unbelievers "spoke where the Bible spoke and remained silent where the Bible was silent." There was no apparent rivalry. When one congregation had a "big meeting" all attended it and the house was filled to overflowing, many of the men having to remain out in the yard and listen to the message through the open windows.
No congregation had a "hired preacher." The term "local minister" was not in their vocabulary. The "one-man imported pastor system" was regarded as an innovation. It was a departure from the simplicity of the faith. It was not according to the ancient order. Each congregation had elders and no one was appointed to this function who was not "apt to teach." These men were not ambitious for power or glory. They shared the public edification with any man who was gifted at all. Each Lord's day, as Sunday was invariably designated, after the study of the lesson, one of the elders would say, "Is there any brother who has a word of exhortation? If so, an opportunity will now be given for it." Sometimes three men would speak briefly in turn. If a visiting brother was present he was specifically invited to speak. If no one arose to speak one of the elders was prepared to teach and admonish.
As I look back upon those days there comes to my mind the mental image of toil-worn men sitting on the front porch at dusk, reading the sacred volume. I recall being in homes on cold wintry days where men who had spent hours feeding and doing the chores, now sat down close to the heating-stove to study the Bible, until the warmth stole over the bodies and lulled them to sleep while the book slid gently to the floor. Since I had been completely through the Bible at least twice, when some remote point was "brought up in the meeting" the teacher might refer it to me. Frequently I knew the answer. This did two things. It drew the commendation of the older folk and strengthened the resolution of the males who were my age to beat me up, the age-old and effective recourse of country boys to a "smart city kid."
A passage from the Roman letter keeps coming to my mind. "I myself am satisfied about you, my brethren, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another." I think that may describe the way we were. No one threw his weight around. The brethren were tolerant of one another. When old "Pappy Davis" decided it was not "scriptural" to stand for prayer, no one was upset if he kneeled while we stood. When he was called upon to lead in prayer, the one who was presiding asked us all to kneel.
There was a cooperative spirit. The sisters took a month each in preparing the loaf for the Lord's Supper, and shared their recipe for making unleavened bread. We used two glasses to pass the fruit of the vine, and during a protracted meeting when a lot of visitors were present we added two more. Near the close of the service, while a hymn was being sung, everyone marched up and "laid by in store" by putting his money on the white linen cloth on the table. Before returning to their seats they shook hands with everyone on the front seat. There was a lack of pride and affection which contributed to the idea that it was a family reunion of the saints of God.
Because we had moved in the middle of the term I finished the year in the little schoolhouse where eight grades were crowded together in one room. There was a "recitation bench" in front and the teacher called each class to come in turn and occupy that seat while its members recited whatever lesson was scheduled. By the time one reached the eighth grade he had heard every textbook reviewed eight times. Although I was destined to attend but a few months, that little school, taught by Lee Carter Maynard, made an indelible impression upon my mind.
Two significant things happened soon after we moved into the new community. The first was that my mother began to attend the meetings of the congregation. I am sure she had been lonely, but here she was accepted, and the genuine concern of the other women made her want to be with them. She told us it represented no change upon her part and that she simply went to be with the rest of the family, but she was talking to herself as much as to us.
The second thing was my decision one Sunday to be baptized into Christ. I was sitting in my accustomed place with the other boys of the community. Nothing unusual was occurring. The songs were not more exciting. The short talk by one of the elders was a routine one. But there came to me, out of nowhere a feeling of deep depression and remorse that I had not audibly confessed before men my faith in Jesus. Suddenly I knew that he had not just died for sin, but for my sins. There was a tugging at my inward being to enroll in His service. It was as if I were receiving a clear summons to follow His leading.
After the meeting was over I hurried away home. I did not want to talk to anyone. I felt miserable. I could not eat luncheon and as soon as I could steal away I went to one of my favorite spots for meditating, under the shade of one of the apple trees in a remote corner of the orchard. All afternoon I sat there, inwardly presenting the consequences of acceptance or rejection. It was as if two forces inside me were locked in violent struggle. Two voices were calling out of the depths. Finally, I surrendered to the urging of the Spirit, and at once felt an inner peace and quiet I had never before known. It was as if a heavy rock had been lifted off my being. That night, unaware that I was bare foot and dressed in bib overalls, I confessed to the little group of humble farm-folk that I believed with all my heart that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.
One week from that time, on a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon, we gathered at the old swimming-hole in the creek which flowed through John Willard's pasture. The cows which were lying in the shade of the sycamore trees continued to chew their cuds placidly, undisturbed by this unusual intrusion. The little group of onlookers who had assembled sang the words "Shall we gather at the river?" One of the elders, a neighbor whom all of us loved, Jesse Jackson, led me into the stream with the silvery minnows darting this way and that, and immersed me into that glorious relationship involving the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
My mother was there, and I suspect her mind went back to the time when she dressed my baby form in the long white christening-dress and carried me so far to have me christened by the Missouri Synod Lutheran clergyman. But she merely wiped away her tears, and hugged my wet body without saying anything. We climbed into the big wagon in which we were to ride back home, and my wet clothing felt good as the sun's rays beat down upon us. But it was the cool, refreshing feeling inside of me which meant the most. What a thrill to be one spirit with the Lord!
MY DAYS AS A BOY PREACHER
My surrender to the claims of Jesus over my life launched me almost at once into a round of new experiences. On the Sunday following my baptism I publicly read the scripture lesson which was a regular feature of our assembly. A week later I led in public prayer. The autumn "protracted meeting" was conducted by J.C. Bunn, an esteemed evangelist who was born in our general region and who was in demand among the congregations. On the final night of his series he announced that I would speak one month from that night. Apparently he had consulted with the elders but the announcement came as a complete surprise to me.
By this time I had graduated from the rural school and was attending classes in town, a distance of some three miles. I was barely twelve years of age. Since I knew of no effective way of getting out of speaking I decided to use the theme "Counting the Cost" and after outlining what I wanted to say I began rehearsing on my walk through the woods and fields each morning and evening as I went to school and returned home. Interest began to grow as word was noised abroad and on the Sunday evening I was to speak the house was completely crowded out and many had to remain outside and listen through the open windows.
When I ascended the platform, dressed in knee trousers, I was so short my head could hardly be seen above the reading stand by the seated audience. One rural wag told me later the only way he knew I was back there was by seeing my hair moving back and forth above the stand. He said it was standing on end. I was afraid of but one thing, that I might run out of material and have to dismiss the audience prematurely. There was no danger! I spoke almost an hour, and later when one farmer was asked what he thought about my preaching he said, "It is the most exhausting experience I have ever had. You can't sleep worth shucks while he is talking and you don't get home in time to catch up on it before morning."
As soon as I had finished, an elder from the Green Pond congregation came up and asked me if I would speak there the following Sunday, and another from Bee Creek arranged for me to speak there two weeks from that date. Soon I was busy every Sunday of each month, and people came from far and near to see a "boy preacher" with the same curiosity which would have attracted them to a carnival sideshow to see a two-headed calf.
One week my father was conducting a series of meetings in a rural location far out in the bottom area of the snake-infested region close to the Mississippi River. Word was conveyed that the humble farm-folk wanted to close with a basket dinner followed with an afternoon meeting with both my father and myself as speakers. It was the first time my father had heard me make a public address and it was a blessing indeed for me to be thus associated with him, knowing as I did the zeal he had for Christ and the sacrifices he had made for the cause which he loved more than life.
One afternoon when I arrived home from school, I found my mother sitting on the front porch visiting with Sister Schlieper, whose husband was an elder of the congregation at Bee Creek. Anna Schlieper was a remarkable person. Her father, Klaus Martens, a carpenter in Germany, brought his family to America when Anna was five years of age. The immigrants settled in a region known as Mozier Hollow, in Illinois. Nominally members of the Lutheran Church in Germany, they did not actively identify with any religious group in the new world. In the little colony of people whose roots still reached back to "The Fatherland" Anna married Edward Schlieper and they began their home under extremely modest circumstances.
"Uncle Tom" Roady, a plain country-type preacher came into "the Hollow" to conduct a series of meetings, and because every such gathering was a social event, the Schliepers went. Although the preacher was far from being a "ball of fire" the simple message made an impression upon the shrewd mind of Anna Schlieper and she and her husband were immersed in the nearby stream. The wife immediately began to plunge into the revelation of God, and although her husband was not as interested as herself, she bombarded him with her findings until he became an apt student of the Word. By the time we moved to Illinois the entire Schlieper family was in the faith and pillars in both the community and the little congregation which met in a building occupying a plot of ground carved out of their farm.
I shall always believe it was an act of divine providence which caused us to move to that region of Illinois. No one else on earth was as well adapted to reach my mother as Anna Schlieper. Two days after the latter had read to her from the German Translation of Martin Luther, I was summoned to the classroom of the high school principal, G.B. Garrison, who informed me that my mother was to be baptized at two o'clock that afternoon and I was free to attend if I wished. I walked the more than two miles out the railroad track to the bridge over the creek and turned up the country road to the "baptizing hole." I was alternately weeping and praying as I went. In my childish inexperience I had no vocabulary with which to express my profound gratitude unto God. I still do not.
After my mother had been immersed, and we returned home so she could change from her wet garments, I wanted to tell her how much I rejoiced inwardly, but all I could get out was a stammering "Mom, I'm glad!" Both of us started crying and continued until it seemed silly to go on, and then we started laughing, almost hysterically. After that we both understood and did not need to talk about it any more. Our family was one in Christ Jesus. When my grandfather heard about it, he revised his will without my mother's knowledge. He never wrote to us again and when his will was read after his death, my mother's name was not even mentioned. She had been a favorite child, loving and obedient, but once she obeyed the call of Jesus it was as if she had never been born. The sectarian spirit crushed out parental affection as it destroys all love and makes those who would kill you think they are doing God a service.
Occasionally I am asked by those who have created institutional handmaidens to suckle, rear and train the children of God, how we made out before men created these special agencies and auxiliary bodies as functional nursemaids. The answer is simple. Each congregation was regarded as a school of Christ and a college of the Bible. All of the soldiers were given the same identical training. All were taught the use of the various portions of the sword. No one was sent as a recruit to an "officer's training school" to come back and wield the weapon and wear the shield for the whole company. Benjamin Franklin had taught the brethren to "teach the whole truth to the whole church and those with leadership ability will rise to the top as cream rises on the milk."
Intensive studies of the Bible were conducted in many congregations during the winter. Brethren within driving distance attended with eagerness. Classes were held morning, afternoon and night. Training was afforded boys and young men in the public presentation of the Word. Stiff tests were given to see if the message was getting through. These studies often lasted for weeks and provided a welcome respite in long winter months. Brethren who were apt to teach were in constant demand.
In this number was A.M. Morris, whose studies at Hale, Missouri, and Winfield, Kansas, are still mentioned by old-timers. Brother Morris wrote the books Prophecies Unveiled and Reason and Revelation. They were widely read in all religious circles. Once when he was on a train, William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic candidate for president came through the coaches meeting and shaking hands with the passengers. When he learned the identity of Morris he publicly introduced him as the man whose books had taught him more about the Bible than any other volumes he had read. He urged the passengers to secure a copy of Reason and Revelation and read about it.
Daniel Sommer, J.C. Bunn, Stephen and Silas Settle, and D. Austen Sommer were all recognized as teachers. The latter, like his father, produced a number of books, among them one called "How to Read the Bible for Pleasure and Profit." It was cleverly done and he used this as a guide in his four-week study which I attended at night the winter after I was baptized. He was not as adept in teaching as some of the others, but one does not criticize the serving when he is starving for the food.
I learned a great deal, as a mere lad, sitting with older farm-folk who marked and underlined the Bibles so they could recall the things they had learned. They were often slow readers and had to point to each word in turn. Sometimes they mistook the meaning of a passage as did the dear old sister who was reading the passage which declares that "Jacob stole away from Laban unawares," and read it with emphasis, "And Jacob stole away from Laban in his underwear." But I doubt there has ever been a substitute quite as effective as the training of the whole community of saints to function by the use of every gift. As Peter put it, "Each one should use whatever spiritual gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms."
As the months went by I was called upon to go farther and farther from home to speak at congregations, some of which I had scarcely heard about. Each Saturday I would walk to town and board the train for some destination where I was scheduled to address the brethren on Saturday night and Sunday morning, returning home again on Sunday evening. Frequently, after taking my ticket, a conductor would come back and question me to see if I was running away from home. On occasion a brother would come to meet me at the railway station and return home without me, telling his wife that no one got off the train but a little boy and he did not see "hide or hair" of anyone who even looked like a preacher.
Our uncle, L.E. Ketcherside, arranged for me to come and speak there each night during the Christmas vacation. I stayed in his home and we talked long and often about the cause we loved. He was a master at relating his experiences and also at personal work. We developed a closeness which was never strained through the years. Several decades later he died of a massive brain hemorrhage as he was going from door to door distributing faith-building material he had printed on his trusty mimeograph the day before. As I spoke words of tribute in his honor at the funeral service my mind drifted back to the wintry nights when the two of us walked through the crunching snow at Centralia.
I recalled that the speaker's stand was so high that I had to stand on a box to see the audience. There were not more than thirty persons present but it was a great meeting because I was with those whom I loved.