It was into this vast and beautiful land that the first Texas Christadelphians came in 1850. But at that time they weren’t even known as Christadelphians, because John Thomas hadn’t coined that special name yet.
It is their story that I now remember.
John Oatman was born in Kentucky in 1787, and moved first to Indiana, where he married. Later he and his family moved to Illinois, finally settling in the community of Dundee. It was in Illinois that he would meet and have discussions with Dr. John Thomas about the truth of the gospel as expounded in his book Elpis Israel, “the Hope of Israel”. Soon he committed himself to the gospel of Christ, and was baptized.
The Oatman family moved to Texas in 1850, stopping first in Bastrop County, in the more settled land just east of the Hill Country. John and his sons were very soon preaching the gospel to all who would listen, often holding debates with ministers who challenged their teachings. In those days, entertainment of any sort was in short supply in small Texas towns, and such Bible discussions were assured of large turnouts. Over the years many families in central Texas learned the Truth in that way.
While some members of the Oatman family stayed in Bastrop County, most of them moved on to Llano County, 100 miles further west, in the center of the Hill Country. Their preaching extended to much of the surrounding areas. They reported their progress to John Thomas and their letters appeared in his monthly magazine, The Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come.
Notable among the sons of John Oatman was Clement Oatman, a very effective debater and teacher.
The Civil War (1861-1865) and the resulting unrest on the frontier impeded preaching. People in the Texas Hill Country were divided in their allegiance -– leading to some violence between political factions –- and the Indians took advantage of the situation by staging a number of raids. It was a dangerous time, and gospel proclamation was not very effective; in fact, a number of converts fell away. But after the war’s end the brothers’ efforts resumed, and there was much fruit.
Citizens of Llano, Texas, honor the memory of John Oatman and the Oatman family as early settlers of the county, but their biography of “Elder” John fails to mention anything about his teachings. It simply states that “John Oatman, Sr., was an active minister of the gospel for 40 years, always refusing remuneration for his services.” John Oatman was already of advanced years when he arrived in Texas, and he fell asleep in 1875. During his last years, he was able to witness the beginnings of the Christadelphian community in Texas.
Then there were the Johnsons. Alan Eyre, in his book The Protestors, has this paragraph:
The brothers Oatman, rugged individualists both, rode the range on the Texas frontier years before the cowboys and Indians had finished scuffling, “traveled the length and breadth of the state”, held debates and camp meetings, and are reported to have baptized “a hundred men and women with their own hands”, including forebears [ancestors] and relatives of former President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Soon these Oatman pioneers and preachers were ably assisted by some of their converts. Among the earliest converts were members of the Banta family, and several of this first generation of Bantas worked alongside the Oatmans in their proclamation work. Both these names (and especially the Banta name) survive today among Texas Christadelphians. In fact, with some of the earliest families of Oatmans and Bantas producing many children, and with the inclination of Christadelphians to marry other Christadelphians, it is possible that practically every Texas Christadelphian with long roots in the Truth is actually related by blood to these faithful men and women.
At least one of these Oatman brothers was a doctor. In the 1870s, the rugged Hill Country of southwest Texas was so under-populated that it was served rather haphazardly by traveling doctors. What one did if he or she needed a doctor quickly probably doesn’t bear thinking about. Of course, those medical procedures considered “simple”, like childbirth, were often handled by local midwives.
My grandmother, Jessie Johnson Hatcher, was present at the birth of the future President, Lyndon Johnson, in 1908. She said that her nephew was actually delivered by a neighbor who was a midwife, since the nearest doctor couldn’t get across the Pedernales River, in flood stage after heavy Hill Country rains. She said further that, when the doctor finally arrived only to be told that he was too late and the baby had already been delivered by Mrs. Lindig, the doctor just laughed and said, “Why, she’s just as fine a doctor as I am!” Which may actually have been true.
To be continued.
This post is part of a series authored by brother George Booker. Click here to see all previous posts in the series.