The Arkansas Democrat does
me the honor to ask that I write for the Centennial Edition a brief
sketch concerning the churches of our great state. It happened that I
wrote several years ago, at the request of Dr. D.Y. Thomas, of the
University of Arkansas,, the chapter on the churches found in “Arkansas
and Its People,” a history published by the American Historical Society,
New York, of which Dr. Thomas was chief editor. The publishers of this
work have given us permission to use whatever material we desire from
that chapter. The facts down to a very recent date are necessarily the
same, and so for this sketch we are drawing freely upon that work.
A history of a people must
take account of the personalities and of the various influences that
have made that people. In the last analysis nothing is so powerful in
shaping the destiny of a people as is the religions professed by them,
for, after all, this is their ultimate philosophy of the meaning of
life, furnishing always the basic ideals of a people. There was never a
state without a religion, and the progress and prosperity of any people
have always been directly proportioned to the vitality of their
religious faith. Their strictly sectarian differences have had little
to do with it; all the sects have been of moral value, making for good.
The reader does not need to
be told that the religious faith of the people of Arkansas is the
Christian faith, organized as several churches. Of these we must give a
brief account. No detailed histories of each particular church can be
attempted in the space at our command. The reader can find such details
in the special histories of the several denominations. We must content
ourselves here with a rather bare statement of the beginnings, the chief
personalities and the outstanding events of each of the churches in this
state, with a brief glance at the present status of each.
Catholics Here First
The Catholic Church – First
in the order of time is the Roman Catholic Church. The first white men
ever to set foot upon the soil of Arkansas were Hernando de Soto and his
men. It is recorded that priests accompanying DeSoto set up a cross on
the St. Francis river. In July 1673, Father Jacques Marquette visited
the Quapaw villages near the mouth of the Arkansas River. Father Zwnobe
Mebre, a Franciscan priest, accompanied LaSalle on his expedition down
the Mississippi and celebrated mass March 13, 1682. This may be
considered as the beginning of organized Christian work in Arkansas.
Arkansas Post was
established in 1686, under French authority, and Henri de Tonti,
Catholic commandant of Fort St. Louis, granted in 1689 a site for a
mission near Arkansas Post, the grantee in this deed being Father Claude
Deblon, the superior of the Jesuits in Canada. With the settlement of
the gulf coast by the French, the Mississippi became the highway
connecting all French interests from Canada to the gulf. Jesuit
missionaries from Canada regularly visited the Osage and the Quapaw
tribes on the west bank of the Mississippi. The names of several of
them have been preserved, such as Fathers Davion, Montigny, and Foucault
all of whom were at the Arkansas Post before the year 1700. The Post
was visited in 1721 by Jesuit historian Father Charlevois. Fathers
Gibault and De St. Piere, were missionaries among the Indians in the
last decade of the eighteenth century.
The Treaty of 1803, by which
the United States acquired Louisiana, including Arkansas, provided that
the inhabitants should be “protected in the religion which they
profess.” In 1805 Bishop Carroll of Baltimore was given oversight by
Pope Pius VII. Ten years later, Rev. William Douberg was consecrated
bishop, and in 1818 took up his residence at St. Louis, where two years
later still he was joined by Rev. John Rosati, as coadjutor, and to
Bishop Rosati fell the superintendency of Arkansas.
In 1843 the diocese of
Little Rock was created, embracing Arkansas and Indian Territory. The
following year, Rt. Rev. Andrew Byrne assumed control, bringing him
Fathers Corry and Donahue, for a time the only priests in the state.
Bishop Byrne, after 18 years
of labor, died in Helena, 1862. During the war years that followed
there was no bishop at Little Rock, but in 1867 Bishop Edward Fitzgerald
took charge. . His episcopate lasted 40 years – and these were years
Colonies Brought Here
The St. Andrew’s cathedral at
Little Rock, important buildings at Fort Smith, and church buildings at
many points in the state, together with a large monastery at Subiaco and
school properties at many points, were all the outcome of his
administration. He was greatly aided by Catholic colonies brought to
Arkansas, and settled mainly upon lands derived from the railroad land
grants, in the counties of Pulaski, Faulkner, Conway, Franklin, and
Logan. These colonists are Poles, French, and Germans. There is also a
colony of Bohemians in Yell county, Bishop Fitzgerald was one of two
bishops who stood out to the last papal infallibility at the ecumenical
council in 1870. He was succeeded by Bishop John B. Morris, who was his
coadjutor before he died, and who carries on the work of the Catholic
Church at this writing.
The Methodist Church – The
Methodist Church is a connectional organization, governed by a system of
conferences, under whose authority all preachers who belong to “the
traveling connection” are appointed annually to their work. It has also
a class of preachers who do not belong to the traveling connection,
known technically as “local” preachers, not subject to appointment, as
are itinerant preachers. Both classes of preachers have had much to do
with planting Methodism in Arkansas.
The first Protestant
Christian known to have set foot on the soil of Arkansas was William
Patterson, who in 1800 came down the Mississippi and cut the cane where
Helena now stands. His son John was the first white child known to have
been born of American parents on our soil. William Patterson was at
this time presumably a local preacher, for we find him four years later
under appointment as an itinerant. If he was a preacher, to him must
belong the honor of the first Protestant sermon in Arkansas. Yet, so
far as actual historic knowledge is concerned, that honor belongs to
another, of a different church.
First Methodist Congregation
Amongst the early settlers of
Arkansas at many widely scattered points were Methodist local
preachers. These men took seriously their ministerial calling and
proceeded to organize congregations. One such was Eli Lindsay, a heroic
man, living on Strawberry river, who ranged the wilderness from White
river to the Missouri line, organizing the first Methodist congregations
known to Arkansas. This was in 1815 and the years following. Another
of these local preachers, John Henry, who came with a small colony from
Missouri, settled in Hempstead county in 1818, and did for southern
Arkansas what Eli Lindsay did for the northern part of the state. While
en route there he spent Sabbath in the village of Little Rock, where,
contrary to what all our former histories have said, he preached the
first sermon ever heard in that village.
Others were Charles Seay,
Bradley county; John M. Carr, Drew county; Dr. Biggs, in southwest
Arkansas, and G.W. Sorrells in the central west part, Scott, Logan, and
Sebastian counties. As early as 1818 Harrison Bailey organized the
congregation at Helena, while as early as 1816 Eli Lindsay had organized
at Batesville, Henry Stevenson, another noted local preacher, was
preaching along our western border in 1817.
In 1816 the Methodist
General Conference organized the Missouri Annual Conference, with two of
its circuits lying in Arkansas, known as Spring River Circuit and Hot
Springs Circuit. These two circuits embraced the whole state. To them
were assigned, respectively, Philip Davis and William Stephenson – and
the march of the Methodist itinerancy began. The names of William
Stephenson and that of John Harris, who followed a year later, became
famous in the years that followed.
The work in Arkansas took
form as a presiding elder’s district, known as Black River District with
four circuits in 1818, William Stephenson being the presiding elder.
The reader may form some idea of the arduous labors of Stephenson and
his men when it is remembered that at this time the whole state was a
wilderness, with a settlement here and there, no roads, no bridges, few
ferries, with wild beasts in plenty.
W.W. Redman on White River
Circuit in 1821 traveled some 500 miles, mostly through wilderness, to
reach his charge, and mostly through wilderness also as he went from one
appointment to another, often sleeping in the unbroken forest being
sometimes startled out of his sleep by the screams of a panther.
Along with such facts, let
us remember that the annual salary of these itinerants, as fixed by law
of the church in these days was $100. Surely they were stripped of
early motives. It was after this fashion that the Methodist Church was
planted in Arkansas. One would suppose these preachers would die early;
but Thomas Tennant died in Washington county at 114; George Brinsfield
in Izard county at 108. Investigation in the United States and in Great
Britain has left us the conclusion that these were the two oldest
Methodist preachers that ever lived in any land, which is at least one
noteworthy fact for Arkansas.
First Arkansas Conference
The General Conference of
1836 organized the work in this state into a separate annual conference,
known as the Arkansas Conference, which held its first session in
Batesville, in the fall of that year. It embraced all of Arkansas,
Indian Territory and northern Louisiana. In 1840, Indian Territory and
northern Louisiana. In 1840 Indian Territory and northern Louisiana
passed to other jurisdiction. In 1854 the conference was divided into
Arkansas and Ouachita Conferences, covering respectively, the north half
and the south half of the state. In 1866 the Ouachita Conference took
the name of Little Rock Conference. In 1870 the Arkansas Conference was
again divided into Arkansas and White River Conferences, but these were
again united in 1914 under the name North Arkansas Conference – and so
stands the case at this time.
Our space does not admit of
details, but there are in connection with Methodist history names
already mentioned, there occur in 1830 in the conference minutes the
names of Jerome C. Berryman and Rucker Tanner; in 1831, the names of
Mahlon Bewley and Nelson R. Bewley; in 1832, Fountain Brown and John
Harrell; in 1833, Burwell Lee; in 1834, L.B. Stateler; in 1835, William
P. Ratcliffe. Every one of these deeply impressed himself upon this
history for years to come, and left his influence for all time.
Following the organization of the conference in 1836, the outstanding
men for the next generation were Burwell Lee, W. P, Ratcliffe, C.T.
Ramsey, Andrew Hunter, J.W.P. McKenzie, Jerome B. Annis, Jacob
Whitesides, J.C. Parker, John M. Steele, Juba Easterbrook, Stephen
Carlisle. Among these the most eminent were Andrew Hunter and W.P.
Ratcliffe. Nothing of great importance was done in Arkansas Methodism
for a full generation without their counsel; yet all of these men
profoundly influenced the life of the Methodist Church of Arkansas. The
history of this church in Arkansas could not be written without the
mention of the name of A.R. Winfield, who began his ministry in this
state at Batesville in 1849. He was till his death in 1888 an
outstanding man, filling every sort of responsible place that comes to
the life of a Methodist Minister. The work of the Methodist Church in
Arkansas now represented by two large annual conferences, with 450
preachers, 145,000 members, housed in church and parsonage buildings of
more than $7,000,000 valuation, not counting what it has invested in
schools, hospitals, and orphanage properties, carrying on its work at an
outlay of $2,000,000 per year. The church has published for many years
a weekly paper, “The Arkansas Methodist.”
Limit on our space forbids a
detailed account of the institutional history of any of our churches.
But that history is not discreditable. Especially is this true as
respects their education history, a history that has been sacrificial to
the point of heroism, on the part of each denomination. This history,
for the Methodist Church has culminated in Hendrix College, at Conway,
an A grade institution with $600,000 worth of buildings and equipment
and $1,000,000 endowment. This church has also a splendid orphanage at
Little Rock and a joint interest in a fine hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
Up to the year 1844 there
was but one Episcopal Methodism in America. When the division came the
Methodism of Arkansas fell into the Southern division or jurisdiction.
The Civil War brought disturbances, in all the churches, as elsewhere,
and since that time there has been in Arkansas a few thousand Methodists
who belong to the Northern jurisdiction.
Somewhat more than 50 years
ago the Methodist Protestant Church organized work in this state, 1929
being the semi-centennial of the organization of their Arkansas
conference, of which Rev. M.R. Clower was then president and Rev. J.A.
Wade was secretary. They now have 5,500 members and church property
valued at $175,000. These congregations are mainly in the counties of
Columbia, Union, Nevada, Ouachita, Drew, Hempstead, Bradley, Calhoun,
Ashley, in the south; and in Clay, Greene, and Independence, in the
northern part of the state. Among the Negroes of Arkansas all the
branches are represented. . We do not have their figures.
The Presbyterian Church
Presbyterians – There are
several branches of the Presbyterian Church in Arkansas, all deserving
honor. The first Protestant sermon preached in this state, so far as we
have historic knowledge, was a by a Cumberland Presbyterian, Rev. John
Carnahan, at Arkansas Post in 1811. The man deserves to rank as one of
the heroes of our early history. His labors extended across the state,
into Washington county, where at Cane Hill, along with others of his
faith, he was influential in establishing one our earliest institutions
of learning. His descendants may be found now in Washington and Benton
counties. This branch of the Presbyterians furnished the state with no
inconsiderable number of staunch men who in their generation did a good
work. In the early years of the present century the main body of them
fell into the union with the Presbyterian Church, United States of
America. The church has three presbyteries, 75 churches, 56 ministers,
and 6,000 members. Its benevolence account, excluding salaries, runs
around $5,000 a year. It owns and operates successfully the College of
the Ozarks at Clarksville.
The most numerous branch of
Presbyterians in Arkansas is the Presbyterian Church of the United
States, commonly known as the Southern Presbyterian Church, a
designation applicable since the rift produced by the disturbances of
the Civil War. They were never as numerous as the Baptists and
Methodists, but they have furnished some of our very finest citizens,
clerical and lay.
Take in the order of time,
the first notable name is that of Rev. Cephas Washburn, a heroic and
devoted young graduate of the University of Vermont, who had take a
course of theology in Andover. He was sent as a missionary to the
Cherokees in 1820. On July 4 of the year he preached in Little Rock, as
he was proceeding to his post, which became known as Dwight Mission,
near where Russellville now stands. He was at this time a minister of
the Congregational Church, and his labors were among the Indians till
after they were settled in their new home still west of us, when he
connected himself with the Presbyterian Church, in which communion,
after some years of devoted service, he died. Washburn Presbytery is
named for him, and his name is still a precious memory among his
First Church Here
Meantime, Rev. James Wilson
Moore, “The Father of Presbyterianism in Arkansas,” had in 1828
organized the First Presbyterian church in Little Rock, and this became
the mother church. Little Rock had at that time about 150 inhabitants,
and Mr. Moore has the honor of being the first Presbyterian Minister of
the name to enter Arkansas. For 45 years he was a leading factor in his
church. Outstanding pastors who followed Rev. Mr. Moore, have been Rev.
Aaron Williams 1840-44; Rev. Joshua F. Green, 1847-53; Dr. Thomas R.
Welch, 1860-65; and it was chiefly through his influences that the
Second Presbyterian Church of Little Rock was organized.
In the meantime, Rev. Dr.
Daniel L. Gray had been instrumental in organizing a second church at
Jacksonport, though both the town and the church are now off the map.
The third Presbyterian minister to come to Arkansas was Rev. A.R. Banks,
from South Carolina, who organized the third church in the state, in
Hempstead county in 1836, perhaps in 1838. Other churches were
organized, such as Batesville, and Sylvania, 1842; Van Buren and Fort
Smith, 1847; Fayetteville, 1851; Pine Bluff, Monticello, Helena, Searcy,
and Shiloh, 1852; Dardanelle, and Union, 1856; Cotton Plant, Mt. Hope
and Pocahontas, 1860.
In the synod of Arkansas
there are four presbyteries. The original presbytery of Arkansas,
organized in 1835, has been divided into: Ouachita, organized in 1849;
Pine Bluff, organized in 1883; and Washburn, organized in 1884. This
church has therefore four presbyteries; 118 churches, 86 ministers, and
approximately 15,000 members. Their annual budget, salaries,
benevolences, etc., is a little better than a quarter million dollars.
They have through the years built up a first-class college, Arkansas
College, at Batesville, with a most honorable history.
This sketch should not be
closed without honorable mention of the names of several other
ministers, and also the names of certain ruling elders. Prominent among
the ministers are the names of Revs. S.W. Davies, W.A. Sample, H.S.P.
Willis, D.C. Boggs, I.J. Long, and R.B. Willis, not to mention names of
a number still living. As for ruling elders, we should put first the
name of Dr. R.L. Dodge, a man worth his weight in fine gold in any
country. He came from Vermont in 1834, a graduate of the medical school
of Dartmouth, a missionary to the Indians, riding horseback 2,000 miles
to Forts Coffee, Towson, Gibson, and to Dwight Mission, settling in
Little Rock in 1842, where he was ruling elder from 1848 to 1893, the
year of his death, a true servant in God’s house, a great Mason and a
magnificent citizen. The name of Dr. James A. Dibrell, Van Buren, and
that of Mr. A.W. Dinsmore, Bentonville deserve to live. So do the names
of S.W. Williams, Little Rock and J.B. Speers, Pine Bluff, and still
there are others.
First Baptist Church
The Baptists – There is good
reason to believe that the first Baptist Church in Arkansas was
organized at Randolph County towards the close of the Eighteenth
century, but the first detailed report of Baptist churches is as
follows: Bethel Association in Missouri, in 1822, appointed three
preachers to visit Lawrence County, Arkansas Territory, and constitute
therein two churches. As a result Union and Little Flock churches were
organized and joined the Missouri Association in 1823.
The next year, 1824,
Baptists were found in central Arkansas, were in July, 1824, the first
Baptist Church in Little Rock was organized at the home of Isaac
Watkins, with Watkins as clerk and Rev. Silas T. Toncray as moderator.
Little Rock Baptist Association, the first in the state, was organized
at the “Statehouse” in Little Rock in November following with the same
officers as the Little Rock church. Besides the Little Rock church, the
association was at first composed of Salem church on Alum Fork of Saline
River, Saline County; Pecannerie church, now Morrilton, on the Arkansas
river in Conway county. In 1825, new churches came into the association
as follows: Little Flock, on Terre Noire Creek, in Clark County;
Arkansas, in Cadron Township, then Conway, now Faulkner county, and
Little Flock, somewhere in the then vast area of Crawford County. The
eight churches in 1828 reported 88 members scattered through Clark,
Saline, Pulaski, Faulkner, Conway, Perry, and Crawford Counties.
In 1827, David Orr was
appointed a missionary of Bethel Association in Missouri. In the spring
of 1829, Orr moved to Arkansas and in November, following, organized the
five churches which he had previously established into the Spring River
Baptist Association. By 1835, the association had grown to 10 churches,
with 292 members. Rev. George Gill of Batesville was the first known
clerk of this body. Later, Spring River Association disbanded and in
1840 its churches formed Rocky Bayou and White River Association.
In northwest Arkansas it
seems that Baptist Ford Church, in Washington county dates from before
1830, and in 1837 Washington county association was organized with 12
churches. James Brewton was moderator and J.E. Mayfield, clerk. Salem
Association was organized in 1840 to the east of Washington county and
from its churches. The Saline Association, the oldest existing
association in Arkansas, was organized at Spring Creek church, now
Benton, Saline county, October 1836. It constituent churches were
Spring Creek, Saline and Union churches of Saline county, Mt. Bethel of
Clark county, Mt. Gilead of Hot Springs county, and Mt. Olive of
Hempstead county; total membership, 73.
Mark W. Izard, an ordained
Baptist preacher, came to St. Francis county from Alabama in about 1825,
under a contract to build the Military Road from the St. Francis to the
White River. He seems to have been the first Baptist Preacher to locate
on Crowley’s Ridge. He served six sessions in the Arkansas legislature,
and was twice president of the Senate. From 1855 to 1857 he was
territorial governor of Nebraska.
Spring Creek, now Benton
church was organized in 1836, under a shade tree at the home of David
Dodd, grandfather of David O. Dodd, the Arkansas hero martyr. The
Lindsey Family of Saline county were pioneer Baptists, coming to
Randolph county, Ark., in 1815, where Caleb Lindsey taught his famous
free school in a cave. John Young Lindsey gave the church site, which
is still occupied by Kentucky church, on the Hot Springs pike seven
miles west of Benton. He was ordained a preacher in 1836, and
afterwards served the church 28 years as pastor. Jacob Wolf of Izard
county was pioneer Baptist and legislator.
First Convention in 1848
The Arkansas Baptist State
Convention was organized at Brownsville church, Tulip, Dallas county, in
1848, with Isaac Perkins as president and Samuel Stevenson as
secretary. The convention meets annually and has had 20-odd
presidents. Ex-Governor James P. Eagle presided over the Baptist State
Convention at 21 sessions, and was president of the Southern Baptist
Convention when he died.
The Baptist State Convention
operates the Bottoms Orphans Home at Monticello, and two hospitals, the
Davis Hospital at Pine Bluff and the Baptist State hospital at Little
Rock. It has one senior college, Ouachita, at Arkadelphia, and one
junior college, Central at Conway. Jonesboro College, at Jonesboro is a
junior college owned and controlled by by the Baptist Home Mission Board
of Atlanta, Ga. The “Baptist Advance” is owned by the convention, and a
Baptist book house is maintained in Little Rock.
In 1902, a division over
methods of work came among Arkansas Baptists, and was first called the
“General Association” or “Landmark” body was organized. Though
maintaining a different organization, they are the same in doctrine as
the Convention Baptists. The body is now known as the State
Association, with some 68,000 members. It maintains an Orphans’ Home at
Texarkana, a college at Sheridan, and the “Baptist and Commoner” at
The Negro Baptists own a
college in Little Rock, besides some high schools, as at Dermott and
The Convention Baptists
reported 103,348 members; Association Baptists, 41,281; Negro Baptists
134,720; total 279,349. Three other Baptist denominations reported
10,708, make a grand total of 290,057.
The Convention Baptists also
report 860 churches. Their gifts to benevolences in 1935 amounted to
$768,392. Their church property, churches, schools, and hospitals have
a total value of $8,252,581. Association Baptists in 1926 reported 500
churches; gifts to benevolences of $32,305, and to local work of
$132,852. The value of church buildings is $504,560.00.
The Negro Baptists reported
1,375 churches; gifts to benevolences of $97,067, and total gifts of
$784,781. The value of their church property is $3,077,081.
The Episcopal Church
The Episcopal Church – The
work of the Episcopal Church in Arkansas was opened by Bishop Leonidas
Polk in 1839, a heroic soul who had recently been made missionary bishop
for Arkansas and Louisiana. The first church he established was Christ
Church, Little Rock. There were about 20 families represented in this
church, embracing the names of families well known in after years, the
family of Governor Fulton, the Ashleys, the Waits, the Peays, the
The Episcopal Bishops of the
diocese of Arkansas have been: Leonidas Polk, who became a general in
the Confederate army; J.H. Otey, George W. Freeman, H.C. Lay, H.N.
Pierce, W.M. Brown, James Winchester, and E.W. Saphore. Among these is
but just to say that Bishop Polk was the heroic figure that pioneered
the way in the wilderness, for he traversed not only the states just
named, but also Alabama, Mississippi, and Indian Territory and Texas at
a time when it meant something.
Trinity church, Van Buren
was organized in 1841 or 1842 by Bishop George W. Freeman. The
cornerstone of the first building was laid in 1844, under the rectorship
of Rev. D. McManus. A mission was established in Fort Smith about 1845,
and was placed under the care of Rev. Charles Townsend, a chaplain of
the United States Army, then stationed at Fort Gibson. He was succeeded
by Rev. I. Sandels, who became its first rector, serving till 1863, when
the Civil war forced a suspension. He was again in charge after the war
and until 1870.
St. Paul’s church,
Fayetteville, was organized by Rev. W.C. Stout in 1848. St. James’
church, Eureka Springs, was organized in 1887, through the influence of
Rev. J.J. Vaulx, of Fayetteville.
There are parishes in other
centers, such as Helena, Forrest City, Batesville, Camden, Jonesboro,
and Marianna. At this time there are 34 churches, 18 ministers, and
4,350 communicants, the figures for other members not available. Its
property values amount to $953,000, and its annual total budget,
including salaries, benevolences amount to $75,671.
The Disciples of Christ, or
Christian Church – The First Christian church in Little Rock is the
oldest congregation of the Disciples of Christ in Arkansas. It was
founded as a Baptist congregation July 24, 1824. Following a revival
service held by Rev. Ben F. Fall of Kentucky in May 1833, this
congregation unanimously adopted a resolution to the effect that they
should “regard the name ‘Christian’ as the only legitimate and lawful
name for the Disciples of Christ, and by that name we wish to be known
in law and parlance.” Mr. Hall was chosen first pastor, but he soon
baptized W.W. Stevenson, a Cumberland Presbyterian minister, and he
became the first regular pastor of the church serving from July 21, 1833
until 1849. The second church was organized at West Fork in Washington
county in 1837 by Rev. Stephen Strickland, William Robertson, Alfred
Arrington, and others. Rev. Mr. Robertson, Rev. Elijah Norham, and Rev.
Eli Baker were among the early pastors.
Quits Politics for Church
At this period there came
into northwest Arkansas two ministers who left a deep impress upon the
country, the Rev. John J. Johnson and Rev. Robert Graham. The first was
a brother of Richard M. Johnson, vice president of the United States,
and had been a member of Congress, but he had come in contact with Rev.
Alexander Campbell, the recognized head of this branch of the church,
was converted and gave up his political career to become a missionary in
the West. He organized the church at Fayetteville, which was for many
years the leading church of this denomination in the state and quite
successful in his work in this part of Arkansas. The Rev. Robert Graham
was preacher and educator, a man of ability, and did much to consolidate
the work started by Johnson. He was an Englishman by birth, a graduate
of Bethany College, of which Alexander Campbell was president. At
Fayetteville, he founded Arkansas College, the first institution of the
kind to receive a charter in Arkansas and the first to give the Bachelor
of Arts degree. The first class was graduated July 4, 1854, and
consisted of William M. Cravens, Elias Duval, Mark Evans, John M.
Pettigrew, R.B. Rutherford, Arkansas Wilson, and John Wilson, several of
whom left their mark on the later history of the state. The Christian
Churches of Benton county owe their existence chiefly to Elder Larkin
Scott, who settled in that county in 1856 and labored there for about 30
years. After the Civil war the most influential man of this church and
in this region for many years was Rev. N.M. Ragland, who was pastor of
the church at Fayetteville for a long time.
In 1935, there were 162
congregations with a total membership of 18,000. The total budget was
$125,000; there were estimated 75 ministers, and the property was valued
This church operates Harding
College at Searcy, a somewhat recent venture, doing good work with what
appears to be a good future.
The Lutherans – The first
Lutheran Church in Arkansas was organized at Fort Smith by the Rev. Wyne
Kew shortly before the Civil War. In 1868, the second congregation was
formed in Little Rock and a church was built at Eighth and Rock
streets. Since then numerous congregations have been organized at
various places. They now have 23 congregations with a membership of
2,251 and church property valued at $387,300. These are our latest
available figures, and they are now several years old.
The foregoing are the
leading churches of Arkansas. There are others, of course, just about
all the denominations to be found the country over. The Church of the
Nazarene, the Christadelhians, the Church of God, and various branches
of “holiness” people. Of an entirely different character is the
Christian Science Church, which has several organizations in the state.
The honest verdict of a candid historian must be that each and all of
these has made some real contributions to the better life of the people
of Arkansas, for they are all, each in its own way, practicing and
teaching religion and religion is, in its last analysis, a sincere
effort to maintain right relations with God and one’s fellow man. No
state in the Union has been more directly and more potently influenced
by Christian principles that has the state of Arkansas.