Tales and Trails of Wakarusa,  by A. M. Harvey

The Conversion of Cartmill

     THE Berry Creek Methodist church was a religious institution. It didn't pretend to have any other purpose nor function than to promote the getting of religion. There was no attempt to provide amusements or recreation, nor to make the church organization a club or a cult of any kind or character. The preachers and the members simply preached the old-time religion and insisted that every human being must get religion or go to hell. They were not so particular as to whether you joined the church, although it was usually urged that persons having got religion would do so. However, as a protection to the church and to prevent cluttering up their records, it was always provided that no matter how earnestly one professed religion, he must remain on probation for six months before being taken into the church. Experience showed that this was a wise provision, since many who professed religion did not remain stead-fast long enough to become members of the church, and therefore the church officials were not compelled to carry them upon their books (if they kept books) as members, nor to indulge in the humiliating process of putting them out of the church because they had become backsliders.

     It must be recorded that its ministers did not temporize with sin in any form, and that drinking, card-playing, dancing and other indulgences of worldly men and women were not classified as one being more sinful than the other, but all were condemned; and the person seeking religion was urged to put the devil behind him, which meant that he must abandon all self-indulgence and worldly pleasure and dedicate his life to service and sacrifice for good. Their ministers were sometimes embarrassed when called to preach the funeral of some person who had died in sin according to the doctrines of the church; but they were usually more or less resourceful at such times, and without giving way one jot or one little, and without indulging in elasticity of faith, they would manage to give comfort to bereaved friends and relatives, at the same time warning all of the uncertainty of life and the necessity of preparation for death.

     The principal activity of the church consisted in holding a revival meeting once a year in the Berry Creek school-house, and during the winter of which this is written the meeting commenced early. Crops had ripened early in the fall, so that the corn was practically all shucked and in the crib by Thanksgiving time; potatoes and other vegetables had been gathered and cared for, and apples stored away in cellars or sealed up in great holes made in the ground. The meeting started off well. For some reason a good attendance was present the first night, and the preacher clustered his sermon and exhortation around the inquiry, "Where will you spend eternity?"

     It is not an exaggeration to say that during the next day hundreds of people, either directly or by grapevine-method, told others of the eloquence of the minister and of his earnestness, and of the fact that there seemed to be in the atmosphere of the meeting the presence of the Holy Spirit that stirred them all in a wonderful way.

     The weather was pleasant and the attendance at the meetings increased, as night after night the revival spirit animated those in attendance. After some days of good weather a rainy period set in, and this continued more than two weeks; but this did not halt the attendance nor dampen the fire that had been kindled at the meetings. Early in the evening the roads and trails would be full of persons afoot, on horseback, or in wagons, all happy and more or less noisy, making their way through the mud to the little school-house. The building would be crowded, and the windows thrown up so that persons standing on the outside under the eaves could hear and see all that was going on, and occasionally take part in the songs or exclamations which made up more or less of the service.

     John MacDonald was trying to teach school during the daytime in the building, but he was having a hard time of it. He was his own janitor, and when he would come to build a fire in the morning and find two or three inches of mud on the floor, and all of his kindling and ready fuel burned up, he would sometimes be exasperated. In fact, one evening at the meeting, among those who stood outside, it was reported that MacDonald had complained to the board, and a new convert expressed the sentiment of those present when he said:

     "Hell, John's all right; but he's a damn Presbyterian, and can't be expected to know much about getting religion."

     Someone rebuked the speaker for using profanity, since he was one of the converts; and modifying his language, he said: "I'm durned if it ain't purty hard to quit swearing, but I'm doing the best I can, and I think if this meeting runs on another week I'll be all right."

     The meetings continued, and finally the rainy weather suddenly terminated, and the temperature went down lower and lower, until by Christmas time the thermometer showed zero weather, and day after day it was cold enough that sun-dogs followed the sun all day long.

     As the weather grew colder the meetings grew warmer. Practically everyone for miles around attended, and the most of them got around attended, and the most of them got religion. It was no unusual thing for awkward country lads who had never made award country lads who had never made a public address, to stand up and in eloquent though trembling voice profess their change though trembling voice profess their change of heart and their desire to do right, and without embarrassment exhort their friends to join them. Modest women who scorned unseemly conduct or notoriety would go up and down the little room urging those whom they knew to take advantage of the promises of God; and if they did at times shout and cry out, or jump up and down, or throw themselves upon the floor or the bench used for an altar, it was all because of the exaltation of the hour and a part of their good intent and good purpose. A dance in the neighborhood was simply out of the question, and it would have been hard to find a playing-card left unburned; and in their efforts to put away worldly things, tobacco-soaked men gave up the use of the weed. One night a convert told of his experience in this behalf, and said he had had experience in this behalf, and said he had had some awful dreams, and one was that he was sitting on a hill north of the Wakarusa Valley, and that there was a terrible drouth, on account of which the river was dry, and that the devil came to him with a plug of tobacco that reached from him clear over to Carbondale, and that in his weakness he had chewed, and spit in the river, and that he had chewed the entire plug and had spit in the river until it run off as though there had been a terrible rain.

     The meeting kept going, and finally Dr. Taylor, who had been counted as an unbeliever, came and got religion and helped in the exhortations. One night in urging the benefits of religion upon an audience, he pointed to George Franks, and said:

     "Look, what the religion of Christ has done for Brother Franks. He was a wife-beater and a drunkard."

     Just there Brother Franks interrupted him, and half arising from his seat, he said:

     "Brother, not a wife-beater."

     The Doctor corrected himself and went on with his illustration, which was just as good without the charge which was denied.

     John MacDonald, notwithstanding the incident hereinbefore related, became an attendant at the meeting, and more than once, in his conservative and humorous way, took part and showed his full appreciation of the spirit of reform and revival that pervaded the neighborhood, and his full sympathy with every honest effort to do good and make men lead better lives. And so they came from up and down the valley and everywhere, the rich and the poor, the good and the bad, the conservative and the excitable, and all were melted together in religious effort. It is true that there was sometimes confusion because different persons would insist upon singing their favorite hymn at the same time; but it did not seem out of the way when Mrs. Hughes, in recollection of earlier days in Wales, would sing, "I've Reached the Land of Corn and Wine;" and an old Scotchman would start up "I'm Far Frae My Hame, and I'm Weary Aften Whiles;" and another would sing "How Firm a Foundation Ye Saints of the Lord;" and another, "Shall We Gather at the River;" and all liable to be interrupted by a grand old chap who would yell, rather than sing, "It's the Old Time Religion and It's Good Enough for Me."

     It is not passing strange that many of the youngsters who attended the meeting simply considered the services as entertainment, although in later life in thinking it over hey were able to understand that when men and women make up their minds to abandon selfish purposes and do right at all times and in all places they naturally become possessed of the spirit of happiness, of exaltation and praise that easily accounted for the wonderful services held during such a revival.

     One day little Tommy Cartmill went to the teacher and said:

     "I have lost my revolver somewhere about the school grounds, and if you are at church tonight I wish you would announce it so that if anyone finds it they will return it to me."

     MacDonald was amazed that a little chap of thirteen years would be carrying a revolver, and after telling him what he thought about such practice, he said that he would undertake to find the lost weapon by making the announcement requested. That night the teacher made the announcement which he had promised, and this reminded those present that the old man Cartmill had not attended the meeting and was still out in the cold world of sin; and immediately many voices plead with the Lord that Cartmill might see the error of his ways, and that the Spirit might come down upon him, and that he might be saved. Whether because of the power of prayer or of the fact that his name had been mentioned at the meeting, it soon came about that Cartmill attended the services. He was a tall, strong, lanky Irishman, with a bushy head that looked as though it never had been combed, and his quarrels with Franks and other neighbors had made him more or less of a terror. He was entirely too large to use the ordinary school pupil's seat, and he therefore stood up near the door. He gave no indication of his attitude toward the meeting except to make a few scornful remarks now and then on the outside, but about the third night in the midst of a glorious period of exhortation and song he came bolting up the aisle like a mad buffalo; but as he turned around it was seen that tears streamed down his face, and commencing in a broken way, he implored the forgiveness of all whom he had wronged, and begged the prayers and help of all that he might get religion and be saved. Many crowded around him as he talked, and prayed for him, when he finally threw himself over the altar. George Franks and others whom he had terrorized put their arms around him and held to him and prayed for him as though he were the most precious mortal on earth. Finally he announced that the light had come to him, and he stood up to testify. Among other things he confessed that he had wronged Brother Franks, and he said:

     "I have done more than any of yez know. I stole his plow, a new one, that he left in the field; and I didn't stale it to kape it, but I stole it because of the civil that was in me; and I threw it in the Wakarusa in the cape hole by the big sycamore tree."

     This and many other confessions he made. The meeting held till far in the night, and after it had broken up one could hear people on their way home talking loud of what a glorious meeting it had been, and an occasional voice would praise the Lord for his power to forgive and wipe out sin. The next day some sturdy youngsters cut the ice in the deep hole, where it was more than a foot thick, and hooked and grappled around in the water until they found the lost plow, and they pulled it out and carried it home to Franks. So it was that the confession was verified, and a real loss restored and made good by the influence of religion.

     It matters not whether the church books ever showed that Cartmill remained steadfast until he became a member, but it must be recorded that he did get religion, and that his religion changed, influenced and made better his life, and that from that time forward no man in the whole community was less to be feared or was more helpful or considerate in his dealings or contact with his neighbors.

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