Texas Conference Organized
By Mary Ann Hadley
Published: March 28, 2011
James White writes to his son, Willie, the evening of Nov. 13, ". . . it has begun to rain, and comes down good. . . It rained so last night that my tracks made by rubbers over boots as I walked out, grew larger as I lifted the mud and gathered more as I walked — became two-legged elephant tracks."
White continues, "We went to the post office this morning in Elder Kilgore's carriage drawn by a long-eared mule and a pony with both ears cut off. The cutting was a mistake. If they had left the pony's ears as they grew, and had cut the mule's down one-half, they would have been nearer alike."
Arriving on the campground on Job Huguley's farm at Plano, the church founders inspected their accommodations. The following morning, Ellen wrote to Willie and Mary, describing the tent they would share with Elder Kilgore. " . . .tent pitched with fly, a good large tent with good solid floor and covered with carpeting, two good bedsteads with mattresses and feather bed covered with cotton mattresses, just as nice and better than in any camp meeting we have ever attended. A good stove, two tables, two rocking chairs. We are just as comfortably situated as we can well be. Food is brought in to us. Our dishes are washed, and everything is done that can be done to make us happy."
In the same letter, Ellen reveals something of the anticipation of the campers as they waited to meet the author, teacher, and prophetess they had heard so much about. She writes, "We have come on the ground only last night and I have not been in meeting yet. Shall speak this afternoon, as the people are on the tiptoe of expectation. Might just as well let them feel at once that they have expected too much, that I am nothing but a weak, frail, imperfect woman at best, looking to and trusting in God alone to accomplish the work."
She spoke that afternoon on the beatitudes, afterward inviting "all who had not the evidence of their acceptance with God, all who were backslidden from God, and those who wished to leave a life of sin and be Christians, to come forward. Seventy-five promptly responded, many who had been indulging tobacco, and one who was a drinking man." Candidates for baptism that week, both men and women, were "examined on the matter of their using tobacco." Thirteen were baptized.
During that week, according to Ellen, there were about 100 campers, but by weekend about 200 were wading through the rain and "deep mud." Many were sick, and one man died on the campground, "dear brother J.S. Vandeman," leaving a wife and several children. Nine families had traveled by wagon from Peoria. The meetings had begun the evening of Nov. 11, and would break up the morning of Nov. 19.
Commenting on the campers, James wrote to the Review and Herald, "And for intelligence, thorough conversion, and consecration to the cause of God, they have not been excelled by those in any State where the cause was not more than two years old. Texas is doubtless the best field of all the Southern States.
"Since the great rebellion which resulted in the freedom of the slaves, Northern people have been pouring into the State . . . . Public opinion changes slowly in Texas, still it moves and improves. The growth of the large State is rapid, and it promises to be as good a field of labor as exists anywhere."
Numerous business meetings were held during the camp meeting, resulting in the organization of the Texas Conference as well as a state Sabbath School Association and the organization of a state "Tract and Missionary Society." (The T & M Society was a forerunner of Adventist Book Centers and the colporteur work, a name still used to designate individual door-to-door book salesmen.)
Adventists today contribute "tithes and offerings" to the church, but in that day, 125 years ago, a much less organized offering plan was encouraged, called "Systematic Benevolence."
Elder R. M. Kilgore, who had worked in Texas at his own expense for a year and a half, was elected president of the new Texas Conference. Kilgore had organized in Dallas and Terrell, in district No.1 and in Cleburne and Peoria in district No. 2. At this camp meeting, two districts were organized, No. 1 embracing Dallas, Kaufman, Rockwall and Colin counties, and district No. 2, Johnson and Hill counties.
All in all, the camp meeting was a joyous occasion, except for financial concerns. James wrote to the Review and Herald that although Kilgore had used his own means, and blind brother J.F. Bahler and others had "acted the noble part," the conference was in debt. James White and S.N. Haskell, who comprised two thirds of the General Conference committee, voted to pay $400 of that debt with General Conference monies.
Worse, James blasted those who had incurred indebtedness, saying, "Bad management by some who had come to the State from Michigan and who had more selfishness and self-confidence than sanctified common sense and religion, had plunged the Tract society into debt . . ." At the camp meeting, $1,250 was pledged against that indebtedness, and the campers decided to purchase two tents for the coming season, one 60, the other 50 feet in diameter. These would cost $400.
James ends his report, "God bless the Texas Conference."
Nov. 19 found the Whites traveling to Denison to take up residence in the home of blind brother J.F. Bahler.
Read on for a look into how this couple gets down to the most interesting day-to-day business of "wintering in Texas."
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.