Where Ellen White
Attended Church in Texas
By Mary Ann Hadley
Published: March 28, 2011
Although James and Ellen White lived in Denison for a half-year, there is little or no information in their correspondence regarding their Sabbath observance during those months. At the time the Texas Conference was organized there were four established Seventh-day Adventist churches in Texas: Dallas, Cleburne, Peoria, and Terrell. There is no solid evidence that Ellen ever traveled to any of the latter three. [NOTE: Certainly, Ellen White never visited Keene, as this town was not established until 15 years after the Whites left Texas. Their son, Willie, often visited the school here, and preached at the Keene Church when he was in town, particularly in the earliest years of the 20th century when his daughter, Ella, lived in Keene.
In addition to the four first Adventist churches in Texas, there is some indication that the Baptist church in Plano was taken over by Adventists when most of that church's members converted from Sunday keeping to Sabbath keeping in the fall of 1878. It seems the church had been built on land which was owned by the leading Baptist deacon, who turned Adventist, and that the meetinghouse had been built largely with funding provided by the turncoat faction of the membership. Plano, the northernmost of the five churches, is some 60 miles south of Denison, so it is not likely that the families in Denison would have often traveled southward to church, considering the rate of wagon travel would have been at 20 miles per day. (Even for the Whites traveling in their new super-speed phaeton, the trip would have been too time consuming. And traveling by train on the Sabbath would have been unthinkable, as a rule.) We can assume that Denison's early Sabbath worship services were held in the Bahler home in inclement weather and outdoors in fair weather.
In one instance Ellen mentions holding a meeting for the neighbors in the Bahler home. During that winter, and in the spring of 1879, James and Ellen were invited to hold meetings in country school houses or community churches within 20 miles east and southeast of Denison. They took turns speaking, always to capacity crowds — on Sundays — at country school houses or churches several miles from Denison and Sherman — Cherry Mound, Hebron, Shiloh, and Virginia Point. At these meetings the Whites routinely underestimated the attendance, and ran out of Adventist literature, which they handed out at no charge.
In February Ellen wrote, "Last Sunday we rode over bad roads to Cherry Mound, to fill our appointment there at 11 o'clock. When we arrived, found the people waiting, and ready to hear the words of truth. The house was literally packed. It had barely standing room. Many were standing by the door and windows. Hymns were sung from Song Anchor, which interested the audience. I had freedom in speaking.
"After the close of this meeting we partook of our lunch, then rode on to Hebron to fill our appointment at 3 p.m. The people here had had preaching in the forenoon and we did not expect many would be out to hear us. Yet they came, gentlemen and ladies, on horseback, and whole families in lumber wagons, and the house was well filled.
"As we looked over the sparsely settled country on our way to the place we queried where the people would come from to make a congregation. But about one hundred and sixty came together. My husband addressed them while they listened with eager attention. I spoke about thirty minutes with great freedom; many were in tears. As soon as the meeting closed persons from different points came to us and urged us to hold meetings with them."
Ellen marveled at the spiritual ignorance of the people, yet she admired their desire to learn. These "appointments" prepared the way for a brief evangelistic meeting that would be held in Denison late that spring, and for a number of tent meetings that would be conducted by R. M. Kilgore's brother, Scott, and by A.G. Daniells, and other preachers who would remain in Texas after the Whites' departure in May, 1879.
At the organizational Texas Campmeeting in November, 1878, one of the items of business had been the replacement of the camp meeting tent.
In the previous year and a half, the camp meeting tent, which had been used by R.M. Kilgore in his evangelism, and which seated about 300, had sustained a 40-plus foot gash from a tornado in Terrell. That was after it had been through high winds at Peoria and a flood in Cleburne. During the latter, the tent had collapsed on top of the seats, and the next day it was found to be covered in mud, sticks, and little fish.
Kilgore, living with his family in a much smaller family tent, had escaped with the lives of all of his family members — wife Asenath and three children. The tent was well worn. It was replaced during the winter of 1878-79 with two tents, the larger called "Texas Tent #1" and the smaller, "Texas Tent #2." Those tents were used for continuing evangelism in Texas for quite some time.
In January, James reported to his son, Willie, "The enclosed statement shows how our calendar is prized. Send me 200 by mail or express as soon as possible. I shall put them in the book stores here and at Dallas." He encloses a newspaper notice which says, "The combination Almanac-Calendar for 1879 has been placed on our table. It is printed by the Review and Herald Publishing Association of Battle Creek, Michigan, of which Elder James White, now temporarily sojourning in Denison, is president. The almanac-calendar is the most complete work of the kind we have ever seen. It is full of information, compact and handy as to size and shape, and very pretty indeed as to appearance and quality of the work."
Two weeks later James writes, "I gave one to the banker and asked him to hang it outside. He did so and asked for one for the inside. I gave him that. I put one in each of the book stores, one to my blacksmith, and the man where I purchased my carriage. This will all come back to me, bring more with it. I gave one to the Herald editor who calls for articles on Temperance."
In late spring, 1879, Ellen held a one-week series of meetings in Dallas, followed by a similar "revival meeting" in Forest Park, six blocks from the Bahler home in Denison. Read on to see how the leading men of Dallas arranged to hear Ellen speak, consider a couple of proposed Adventist enterprises for Dallas, and examine Volume 1, Number 1 of the "Forest Park Reporter."
About this Article Series
The complete story of the Whites' Texas sojourn had never before been published before this series of articles appeared in the Keene Star newspaper (Dec 2003-Apr 2004). The series touches on the highlights, and presents little known facts about the Whites' stay in Texas.