In the early days of Jackson County, small communities grew up anywhere people congregated, maybe a cross-road or a grain mill. Travel was difficult in those days so each community formed their own church congregations and their own one-room schoolhouses. Sometimes open-air religious services were held under a shade tree until they could afford to build a church building. They might have met in the old schoolhouse or a saloon. Primarily those early settlers were Baptist, Methodist or Presbyterians and some even shared the same facilities. If they couldn’t afford their own preacher, they would share one with other congregations.
Sometimes – for the really isolated families –a traveling preacher had to come to them about once a month. One of the earliest traveling preachers was the Reverend Joab Powell, a Baptist minister. He was a big man, and his simple, unassuming manner won the hearts and confidence of all he came in contact with. However, this God-fearing man could hardly read or write. He never did master Roman numerals. He gave his text from the two-eyed chapter of the one-eyed John.
The Reverend Martin Smith, a very pious man, was preaching to three congregations – the Methodist Church in Pink Hill, at Blue Bottoms and the Combs Schoolhouse. Reverend Smith was what was known as a circuit rider. He made his circuit on the back of his trusty ol’ mule, and he preached with fire and brimstone.
One day while riding on his mule he met a member who was slightly inebriated on homemade “peach and honey brandy.” The circuit rider voiced his scorn by announcing loudly, “I would rather smell the fiery breath of the devil anytime, than the breath of a drunken Methodist.”
One bright spring Sunday morning on his trip to the Blue Bottoms, he found the Little Blue swollen from recent rains. He was running a little late as it was, and the nearest ferry crossing was all the way downstream near Salem Church. He didn’t have time to go that far out of his way, so Smith decided to simply ford the swollen river.
He didn’t want to get his Sunday go-to-meetin’ clothes all wet. Since no one was around, he proceeded to remove his clothes and tie them to the saddle horn of his ole’ mule. The reverend then coaxed his mule into the swollen stream and grasped the critter’s tail.
All went well until the mule started to wade out of the water on the opposite side of the riverbank. With something tugging on its tail the mule turned around to see what was going on. Considering that the mule had never seen the preacher with his hat off, and considering Smiths head was very bald, the mule took fright, let out an awful noise, snorted and then proceeded to stampede, dropping the circuit rider face down in the mud.
The embarrassed preacher quickly got up and waded back into the river to wash off the mud. He then took refuge in a sycamore tree with heavy foliage and proceeded to yell for assistance. Wouldn’t you know, a woman was the first to appear to see what was going on? She was admonished by the preacher to keep her distance and would she “please send over some of her menfolks.” In due time the men finally arrived. One of them caught up with the mule and retrieved his clothing, giving Smith the opportunity to return to a state of dignity. After all of that, the church services started on time.
Reference: “Jackson County Pioneers,” by Pearl Wilcox.
To contact Ted W. Stillwell. Send e-mail to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.