Church History in Cass County, Missouri
From: History of Cass County, Missouri
By: Allen Glenn
Publisher: Historical Publishing Co.
Topeka Cleveland 1917


Little do we realize what we sing when we sing that good old hymn, "Old Time Religion Is Good Enough for Me." The early Spanish authorities, the rulers of forest and prairie, of that great empire west of the Mississippi River, strenuously objected to the introduction of the Protestant religion in the vast domain of the west. The ordinance issued by those in authority in 1797, granting "the privilege of enjoying liberty of conscience," was carefully construed so that settlers of the Protestant faith might come and own property, but should abstain from all intercourse with their brethren of like faith elsewhere. Particular care was taken that no Protestant preacher or one of any other sect other than the Catholic should introduce himself into the province. The anxiety to secure settlers induced liberal concessions to all parties relative to property rights, after a vague and general examination on the subject of their faith. It is not surprising that the French settlers entertained no exalted opinion of the American settlers' religion, saying they had no religion at all. Nor did the conduct of the early Protestant settler give an exalted idea of their piety.

The first Protestant ministers to cross the "great water" were probably Rev. John Clark, a Methodist, who came in 1796, and Rev. Josiah Dodge, a Baptist minister, who came in 1794. Clerk is described as a man of "singular simplicity of manners and unaffected piety." Dodge was a bold aggressive preacher, and probably preached the first Protestant sermon ever preached west of the "great river." It is related of him he took his four first converts across the "great river" and baptized them in order not to violate any Spanish ordinance. In 1799 Rev. Thomas Johnson, a Baptist preacher from Georgia, arrived. This Johnson baptized Agnes Ballew in a small stream in Cape Girardeau district. This was the first Protestant baptism administered west of the Mississippi River.

Deprived of religious influences it is not strange the people retrograded morally. Sunday became a day of festivity, instead of worship. In 1810 Hempstead, an early adventurer, writes of the American settlers as being "depraved, possessing little or no religion."

In 1803 Rev. Samuel Weyberg, a preacher of the German reformed church, a highly educated minister, came to the territory. It is said in praise of this young man's patriotism, that during the Revolutionary War, when the English soldiers marched through the streets of Philadelphia, yelled loudly, "Hurrah for General Washington," and came near causing serious trouble. He was educated classically for the law, but gave up the law for the ministry. It was well understood at this time, 1803, that this part of Louisiana was about to be ceded to the United States, and this young minister, with other Protestant peoples, became bolder in their utterances. He preached with great power and became instrumental in building up a strong Protestant following in the present limits of Missouri.

Almost immediately after the cession of Louisiana to the United States, in 1805, there came another Baptist minister, Rev. Daniel Green, a native of Virginia, following some of his former parishioners to this wilderness of the West. Green preached with power and effectiveness. Green organized the Bethel Baptist church in 1806, the first protestant church west of the Mississippi River, with a possible exception of the German Reformed church organized about the same date. In 1807, a Mr. William Mathews was elected "singing clerk."

In 1806 Bethel church erected a church building, a small log structure, the first Protestant church erected in upper Louisiana. Bethel church was received into "Red River Association," at its meeting in 1809 at Red River church, near Clarksville, Tennessee. Thus did the Protestant church secure a foothold in the great west.

Some singular incidents occurred, worthy of repeating here. One brother was expelled from the church "for holding Armenian views," another was expelled "for joining the Masonic lodge." A resolution was passed allowing a sister "to wear gold earrings for the benefit of her health." At a conference of the church the question was discussed and voted upon, "If a member is constrained to shout, shall the church bear with it?" The church voted "yes."

Rev. Benjamin Thompson held a revival at Bethel church in which some four or five hundred converts were made. It happened that Thompson was not, then, an ordained minister, and could not administer the ordinance of baptism. A messenger was sent to call an ordained minister residing some forty miles distant to come and officiate. This old minister came as suited his leisure. He was jealous of this young licentiate. He seemed distant and gruff and unwilling to baptise the people. His reasons were that "He had been afflicted sometime before with ague, and going into the water might bring on a relapse, and that he was to weak to perform the labor." These many excuses he made, such as perhaps no Baptist had been known to make before. Thus early do we find jealousy in the ministry. The question came up of ordaining Brother Thompson, the Tennessee Association to which Bethel church belonged had a rule that ordination could only take place under the official direction of "two regularly ordained ministers in good and regular standing in the denomination." So Rev. Thompson had to secure another ordained minister besides this brother. The messenger found the man at some distance, but he too was jealous of Thompson, "he was crusty and distant" and absolutely refused to accompany the messengers, nor could he be persuaded to do so.

Thompson continued to preach religious fervor, "the work of the Lord was progressing gloriously," "Saints were happy, rejoicing in the display of God's power and grace," the "young converts were singing the praises of their Savior." These ordained ministers were there during these exciting times, and finally they ordained Rev. Thompson "to the gospel ministry." One of these ministers preached the ordination sermon from the text "Simon, Son of Jonas, Lovest Thou Me?" As was the hardships, privations, vexations and jealousies in the eastern part of the State, so did such move west across prairie, forest and wilderness with advancing civilization.

A common idea among the members and even the ministry of the Protestant churches, which made the work of the early preacher unusually laborious and often humiliating, was that the minister ought to preach without hope or promise of compensation from the congregation. Pioneer preachers thought the gospel should be free, "Without money and without price." Too often the members considered they were entitled to the time and talent of the minister, thus "robbing of the support due from him to his family." Some have not advanced beyond this idea to this day. The families of these faithful servants were frequently neglected, often poorly fed and still more poorly clothed. The families of the early preacher in order to subsist cultivated small crops and truck patches. Venison, bear meat and sometimes hog meat with baked corn bread in form of a pone, frequently hard as a brick-bat, constituted their living. They saw coffee and tea only on special occasions. Their children, in common with the early settlers grew up without the advantage of the rudest elements of schools.

The preacher was generally the best educated man of the community and when not preaching devoted himself to teaching, all without charge or expectations of remuneration in any manner. A conspicuous example of this class of ministers was Rev. Luke Williams, who in 1820 had pushed his way far up the Missouri River. He had traveled to the western part of the territory, possibly in this neighborhood, at his own expense and sacrifice receiving nothing for his valuable spiritual work. No one aided him, he died in poverty in 1824. After his death his followers attempted to redeem his lands for his destitute family, but many failed to pay their pledges to this benevolent cause. This picture does not prove the early settlers were "bad" or "even indisposed to religion," nor that the people were degenerate, but rather that evil is found in human nature under abject circumstances.

These early ministers and Christians did what they could; they bore with meekness, patience and Christian fortitude the burden which was theirs to carry. Comforts were few, money scarce, yet in all these disadvantages the faithful were ever ready to lend aid when in their power. The latchstring of the home of such hung on the outside and the wayfarer was welcome to share their frugal belongings. We refer to the pioneer Baptist as they seemed to be among the foremost to penetrate the west. Other denominations had like privations for His glory.

Sometimes, but not as frequently as in after years, there would a "wolf in sheep's clothing," pretending to be a preacher of the gospel when in reality he was nothing more nor less than a would be "clerical swindler." In 1820 somewhere near the present western boundary of Missouri was organized a Sunday school. At this place there were small congregations of Baptist, Presbyterian and Methodists. We are unable to ascertain whether this was a denomination or union school. These early ministers, you are to understand, are not a lot of illiterate men. Not at all. The story is related of an eloquent young Presbyterian divine named Blackburn. A French lady of culture listened to him and wept freely. A few days after the priest of the parish met her and said, "Ah, madam, I hear that you have been to hear the heretic priest, and that you cry whenever you hear him. Why is it that you never cry when I preach?" She answered, "If you will preach like him I will cry all the time."

Prior to 1819 the churches had gone further westward on the north side of the Missouri River than on the south side. In that year Mount Pisgah church was organized, south of the river, in the present boundaries of Cooper County, about twenty five miles south of Boonville. The rapid increase of immigrant churches began to multiply. The central control and official directors of the churches remained for a time north of the river, as did the home associations. Presbyteries and conferences existed in Tennessee and in eastern Missouri in earlier days. Ministers and delegates to the church assemblies would go horse back, traveling hundreds of miles to the places of meeting. People then as now were stiff necked, self opinioned, yet religious devotedly so. It is told of one of the faithful and forceful ministers at one of the assemblies, preaching was generally the case, in a private dwelling, on the subject, "The ample restoration of the church," took his text from Isaiah, chapter 49, verse 20, "The children which thou shalt have, after thou hast lost the other, shall say again in thine ears, the place is too straight for me; give place to me that I may dwell." The sermon did not edify his associates, "A set of crude and erroneous opinions had been stereotyped into their minds about gospel doctrines and moral obligations and were fixedly resolved to learn nothing else." The cold shoulder was turned to the brother by his fellow ministers, and he moved further west where he "was kindly and hospitably entertained."

In an early day the Baptist denomination organized a society for "spreading the gospel" and for "promoting common schools in Western Missouri, both for whites and Indians." All "persons of good moral character by paying five dollars annually" were eligible, but in order to be equipped as a missionary of the society, it was requisite that the applicant "be in full standing in the Baptist churches, and give satisfactory evidence of genuine piety, good talents and fervent zeal in the Redeemer's cause." It was expressly provided no person of immoral habits should be employed as a school teacher. It is written that this enterprise, after three years, established many useful and influential schools to take the place of preexisting nuisances with drunken teachers.

The history and appearance on the frontier of any protestant denomination is practically a fair statement of all others, only changing the personnel - the names of its early ministers. As far back as the early eighteen twenties the Baptists of this part of the country were members of the "Old Fishing River Association," the strongest part of which was north of the Missouri River. In 1832 the "Fishing River Association" met at the Big Shoals meeting house in Clay, Missouri. At that meeting, or perhaps the following year, steps were taken to form a new association, composed of the churches south of the Missouri River. Letters of dismissal were granted to ten churches south of the river. In 1834 at Little Sniabar Meeting House, in. October, could be seen faithful clergy and laymen coming horse back for hundreds of miles. On this occasion that venerable parson, Moses A. Stayton, preached the introductory sermon from Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 2, verse 8, "For by grace ye are saved." It was resolved at this meeting that at future meetings of the association each church should be entitled to four delegates and no more. It is interesting to recall the names of some of these early worthies who were delegates to the meeting in 1834. John Warder, Enoch Finch, John Fielden and Ellis B. Wilson were delegates from Big Sinabar church, Robert Fristoe, Jackson Tandy and H. Holman from Little Sniabar church. Jeremiah Harrelson, Thos. Potts and Abraham Brown from Six Mile church. Gabriel Fitzhugh, Richard Fristoe, James Shepard, John Sanders, Daniel King and John Davis from Pleasant Grove church. Thomas Stayton and John B. Flannary from Salem. Moses A. Stayton, Arthur Stayton, William Brown and Thomas A. Stayton from Round Grove church. Nathaniel Teague and John Robeson from Little Blue church. William Savage, James Savage, Hiram Savage and Wm. B. Savage from Pleasant Garden church. William Simpson, John Ricketts and Henry Avery from High Point church and Joseph White, John Kitchens, William Adams and Urial Murry from Blackwater church. These ten churches were located along the south side of the Missouri River, in the present boundaries of Jackson, Lafayette and Saline Counties, and most of them have passed out of memory of the oldest, and yet there is a sweet memory in the mention of their names and the names of their devoted adherents.

It would be quite interesting today if we could give the accurate history of such pioneer churches. Such churches thus early planted in the wilderness formed as they were of the hardy pioneer composed and established the vanguard of civilization and christianity in this the great west and then and here laid deep and firm the foundation of the religious liberties we enjoy today.

It is written, the Big Sniabar church referred to was formed on Tabo Creek a few miles west of Lexington, Missouri, in 1820 with Robert Smith and wife, Violet Wallace, Sally Ewing as some of the constituent members. Rev. William Thorp and Luke Williams organized the church. Little Sniabar near the east line of the present Jackson County was the next church in order of time organized in this western part of Missouri. These faithful servants of the Master, Thorp and Williams, with Robert Fristoe, constituted this church in 1825. In quick succession Protestant churches sprung up around Lexington and Independence and outlying tributary territory. Tradition gives us the information that two Baptist ministers, Rev. James Savage and Joel Powell, held services in 1831 at Thomas Hamlin's house near Pleasant Hill and next year, 1832, organized Pleasant Garden church with Rev. James Savage as pastor. Possibly this church was within the boundary of Cass County. We have like information that Rev. John Jackson, a Baptist, and Rev. William Johnson, a Methodist, preached in 1830 at the McClellan house, four miles northwest of Harrisonville.

Camp meetings were common in these early days. The nearby Indians attended in great numbers. In 1834 Rev. William Ferrell, Rev. McKinney and N. E. Harrelson, all Methodist preachers, preached throughout the county with great power and success. At the same time the Farmers were preaching in this county for the Baptists. Joshua Page, a Christian minister, preached in 1840 at Knob Creek in the southeast part of the county. These faithful servants served practically without remuneration. And so devoted were they to their holy calling that when one of their number was appointed to a county office, declined the office, that he might devote his time and talent to the ministry.

In 1835 the Baptist denomination held its annual meeting with the Six Mile church in Jackson County. At this early date we find a church, Elk Fork, in Henry County, was received into the association. It had a membership of eleven. A great missionary move was made at this meeting for work among the Indians. In 1836 "Hopewell," now Harrisonville, was received into the association. This church was formed about two miles southwest of Harrisonville, probably in 1833 and afterwards erected a meeting house and moved to Harrisonville. The pleasant Garden church was most probably organized prior to the Hopewell church. At a point near the present site of Lonejack. It is not certain whether within the limits of Cass or Jackson Counties. In 1838 we find Union church was admitted to this association. This church was located north of Pleasant Hill, Missouri, near the county line.

As early as 1839 we find the names of early faithful ministers, John Farmer, Henry Farmer, Jeremiah Farmer, Luke Williams, John Warden and A. P. Williams. Some of these are still remembered by a few very old settlers of the county. It is not uncommon to find in the county now old men and women bearing the name of some of these servants of the Lord,evidencing their parents had been admiring members of flocks once presided over by these preachers. In 1841 New Hope church was organized in the western part of this county, in the neighborhood of "Old West Union."

As early as 1840 discord arose here in this sparsely settled country among professed Christians. Earnest efforts were made, and His race freely sought, to bring about reconciliation of the discordant elements, but to no avail. Strange to say one of the bones of contention in the churches was the violent opposition on the part of some to "those new institutions, commonly called benevolent or missionary practices." Some said "When the triumvirate of unhallowed spirits combine their wily influences, then we see coldness in religion." But a short time following we see these same parties the most ardent of supporters of all benevolences and missionary movements.

Probably the first general church meeting of any Protestant denominations held in the limits of Cass County was the Blue River Baptist Association. This was held at Hopewell - the present Harrisonville Baptist church - on September 17, 1842. Rev. Jeremiah Farmer preached the introductory sermon. Fifteen churches were represented, some of them more than a hundred miles distant. These delegates did not come in aeroplanes nor automobiles, but some walked, while the more opulent came horse back. The ordained ministers at this meeting were besides the three Farmers and A. P. Williams, Rev. Joab Powell, John Jackson, Joseph White, William White, Benjamine White and Lewis Franklin, all of sainted memory. At the meeting of this body in 1851, we find great change relative missionary work was wrought. These faithful ministers and laymen reported as follows: "We have reviewed our past labors in the missionary cause with devout thanks to God for success with which our efforts have been crowned. But while our present system has done much in stirring up to a sense of our duty in sending the gospel to the destitute, it does not fully provide for their supply." It was recommended and adopted that a committee constituted of one from each church to carry into effect the expressed will of the body. The names on this committee suggest memories of many faithful of the clergy and laymen, among the very earliest settlers of our country, many who gave their lives to the upbuilding of church and State. Such devotion and loyalty to His cause deserves the admiration of all and profound honor of all Christ loving peoples.

In the advance of our country, religion has had much to do. Actuated by divine impulses thousands of our early settlers enrolled themselves upon the records of the churches and pledged to obey the gospel and live according to higher admonitions of the human soul. Moving westward the mantle of Christianity fell upon our ancestors and predecessors. The seeds of that divine principal were transplanted here and grew in the hearts of our people. Like the central orb of day, which rises in glory over the plains of Bethlehem, and sends his shining light onward over the continents, the oceans, and the isles of the sea, heralding the eternal will of all creatures; so does the Savior of mankind, the great moral light of the world, stand in history, back of the dim ages of the past, from his effulgent soul shine forth, over the ages and the continents, the divine light of the eternal Father of the race. These faithful of the early ministry, who planted among us the glad tidings, from this Jesus of Nazarath, the loftiest spirit humanity ever reared upon earth, "Who spake as never man spake," through whom and to whom we trace the religion of our country. These men have wrought an exceedingly great work and on which the moral and religious advancement of our people have kept pace with the material and intellectual development of any country.

Churches have multiplied with all denominations, and vast numbers of communicants stand in place of this mere handful at the beginning. These pioneer preachers were not possessed of classical or theological education, nor gifted in oratory, few preachers since have been more successful in winning converts for the Master. They generally were possessed of good native talent, strange reasoning powers, with fair self education and held the confidence of the peoples among whom they wrought. Plain, faithful, earnest and unpretentious, these men labored on until called up higher. As their bones rest in the soil they redeemed, and in the hallowed memory of those who enjoy the blessings they left, we are reminded of the prophesy of Ezekiel, "And he said unto me, son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O! Lord God, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, 0, ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones: Behold I will cause breath to enter into you and ye shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord. So I prophesied as I was commanded, and as I prophesied there was a noise and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up, upon them, the skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, prophesy unto the wind, prophesy son of man, and say to the wind, thus saith the Lord God; come from the four winds, 0, breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came unto them and they lived, and stood up, upon their feet, an exceeding great army." So these dead patriots to God and country will rise and we will see them as they are.

One writing of the country church in poetic language has said:

"Far from the splendor and grandeur of things,
The roar of the cities, the throngs of the street;
Under the trees where the glad robin sings,
It sits like a mother whose smile is so sweet,
There's a yard all around it with carpet of green,
And groves in the rear, and a willow and oak,
And the peace of God's love seems to hallow the scene,
The old country church where faith lifted our yoke.

"They built it of frame, the brave fathers of old,
A structure so plain and so simple and straight;
But it glows in our dreams like a temple of gold,
With no watchman to guard it at door or at gate;
For it stood at the cross roads, a haven of rest,
A refuge from sin and the care of this life,
For all who came by, on whatever strange quest,
The old country church, far away from all strife.

"Ah, generations have passed through its door,
And the moss on the flagstone is deep as 'tis soft,
And the ivy clings close where the house martens soar,
And the old bell is swinging up there in the loft;
So quiet and gentle in its far green retreat,
The old country church where our fathers received
The oracles sent on love's message sweet
In the days when none doubted and all men believed.

"There's a song through the windows, an old mission tune,
And the queer organ rattles a bit as they play-
But the old country church by its cross-road of
Is guiding the old and the young the right way;
It is clasping them all to its bosom again,
The weary that wander to seek the world's prize,
The evil and good of the earth's brood of men-
The old country church, with its tender sweet ties."


The above named church was organized in the spring of 1866 by the following members: J. C. Kenagy (bishop), Solomon Yoder, C. P. Yoder and Jacob King.

Those moving here later in 1866 were Abraham Yoder, David Sharp and Stephen Kauffman. In 1867 came Reuben Yoder, John Kenagy, Peter Troyer and Isaac King. In 1868 Solomon King, Isaac M. Yoder, J. K. Zook, M. K. Zook and J. B. Schrock came. All the above came with their families from the States of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.

More members came from time to time, until at the time of Bishop J. C. Kenagy's death, March 6, 1894, and later, there were three hundred and fifty members, but at the present time (1917) there are about two hundred and ninety members, caused by wanting cheaper homes and other causes.

This congregation held their meetings for about two years in private houses, then for several years in the Smith school house. In the year 1870 they built the church known as the Clear Fork church, where they worshipped until 1883, when the Sycamore church was built, and it is their present place of worship.

There are at present two bishops, J. J. Hartzler and I. G. Hartzler, who, also, have the oversight of other churches in Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma. There are two ministers, L J. Miller and S. S. Hershberger, the former has done considerable evangelical work in other fields.

Let us hope that this church may not have been in vain, in the moral and spiritual uplift of humanity, in this community, for what would Cass County be without her churches?

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