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A Week with the McDearmon Family

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By Mary Ann Hadley
Published: March 28, 2011

In 1878, Grand Prairie, 13 miles due west of Dallas and previously known as Deckman, was a rural community of less than 200 residents. Several families were of the Seventh-day Adventist faith, or at least they professed to be.

Early Adventists in Grand Prairie

Alfred B. Rust had moved his family from Battle Creek, Mich., to Deckman in 1875. Rust had begun to grow wheat on his farm, but his great burden was to share the Advent message with freedmen living in the area. Eventually he met with three communities of former slaves, first in Deckman, Dallas County, then in Mansfield, Ellis County, and finally in Johnson County. Later that year Rust had been joined by his older brother, John Ethan Rust, and family. John E. Rust was a carpenter, specializing in wagon construction. Another brother, Elbridge G., a printer, had moved his family to Dallas that same year.

At that time, Deckman had a post office, and a stage coach stopped there daily on its Dallas to Fort Worth run. A log building in the community served as a nondenominational church and as a school, but the Adventists worshiped at first in homes.

Soon letters of enthusiasm from the Rust brothers found their way to Battle Creek and were published in the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, the denomination's news magazine. These letters carried promises of paradise to those Adventists who would bravely venture southward to Texas. Reports of wonderful climate, fertile ground and golden opportunities enticed several families. The Joseph Clarke family moved from Ohio, determined to work with Rust to educate and convert the freedmen. An Eddie Capman had earlier begun conducting night classes for these individuals. Another family who had arrived in 1876 was the McDearmon family.

The McDearmons

The McDearmons, solid, faithful Adventists, had lived in Wright, Mich. Because they were susceptible to respiratory problems in Michigan, they had responded to the invitation to move to Texas, a warmer, more ideal climate.

That same year, the Texas and Pacific Railway was built to Deckman, and a depot opened, facilitating travel to the area. By 1877, the Deckman post office had changed the name to Grand Prairie, according to the Handbook of Texas Online. The town grew, but the winter and spring of 1877-78 were unusually wet, and the damp heat of early summer provided a perfect climate for disease.

Yellow Fever

Fearing Yellow Fever, by 1878 the governor of Texas had forbidden postal service from other states in a futile attempt to prevent a nationwide epidemic from entering the Lone Star State. Because of this quarantine, for some time, Seventh-day Adventists in Texas did not receive the Sabbath Review and Advent Herald, from Battle Creek, nor any correspondence. All mail bound for Texas was burned in St. Louis.

Mail was allowed to leave Texas, but incoming communication was limited to personal visit or telegraph messages.

Nevertheless, the deadly yellow fever worked its way into the state, striking the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It was no respecter of religion. R. M Kilgore contracted the bilious sickness, but recovered. The McDearmon family did not fare so well. Their son, John, age 19, was the first to contract the disease. He died within three weeks. Then the mother succumbed, having watched and anxiously cared for her dying son. It is reported that no one, even among the healthy Adventists in the area (some other Adventist families had also contracted the illness), had shared with the McDearmon family in their grief.

Fearing that the mother was also at the point of death, the family had sent a telegram to the married daughter, Emma McDearmon White, Ellen White's daughter-in-law. So James and Ellen White set out to accompany Emma (whose hold on life was also frail) to Texas to the bedside of Emma's mother. The mother did not die, but before she could recover, another daughter in the Grand Prairie home became ill, and then the oldest son, (the younger son and daughter were also ill) and finally the father. With no one in the home to care for them, to purchase or prepare food, the entire family, pale yellow and literally starving, were greeted on Thursday, Nov. 7, by daughter, Emma, and James and Ellen White.

Caring for the Sick

The Whites had purchased provisions in Dallas before traveling to the McDearmon home. They arrived bearing presents of apples, meat, potatoes, codfish, sugar, and other foods. Seeing the McDearmons' condition (according to James, it would take two of Mr. McDearmon to make one shadow), the Whites returned to Dallas the next day for more provisions for the family — graham flour, meat, butter, eggs, a cotton mattress, a husk mattress with two inches of cotton on the right side, lemons, oranges, and nuts. That week James gave Mr. McDearmon his fur coat, and "lifted the mortgage" on their home so they would not have that to worry about.

With hearts cheered from the visit from Emma and with proper nourishment and the care and love of sympathetic believers, the McDearmon family rallied, and within a few days, James and Ellen White were able to turn their attention to their "official" reason for their journey to Texas.

Read on to catch up with James and Ellen who on Nov. 14, 1878, having traveled by carriage through rain and black mud to Plano, teamed up with S.N. Haskell at Texas and attended the first Seventh-day Adventist Campmeeting in Texas.

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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.