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Life in Brushy Creek, Texas

OLD BRUSHY CREEK ARBOR, WHERE THOUSANDS HIT SAWDUST TRAIL, IS CRADLE OF OLD TIME RELIGION, The Sunday Herald Press, Palestine Texas 26 Sept., 1937

Old Brushy Creek ArborBeneath a historic log-hewn arbor, built in 1873 at Brushy Creek by a group of hardy pioneers from South Carolina, is one of the cradles of old time religion in East Texas.

This rugged old arbor, thrown up in a grove of beautiful native trees within a few steps of an over flowing spring from which four generations have drunk, has been the "sawdust trail" to thousands of Texans, many of them distinguished in various walks of life. Many who marched down the big aisle of the 64-year-old meeting house and consecrated their lives to Christianity, are dead; many more are living.  The original beams and rafters, cut from giant sweet gum trees that abound in the Brushy Creek area, still support the rustic arbor roof, which in recent years has been re-covered with sheet iron.

The Brushy Creek arbor is a site of early camp meetings in Texas. People came from miles around in covered wagons and on horseback. Usually, the meetings lasted from a week to ten days. If they started on Friday night, the closing service would be held the second Sunday following.

A. W. Elrod, present street commissioner of Palestine and son of John Elrod, who helped build the old arbor, can recall vividly early camp meetings at Brushy Creek, both from his personal attendance and from the accounts handed down by his father. The arbor was built by Methodists and still belongs to that church. But it has been used through the years by all denominations and for public meetings of all kinds.

"People used to come and bring their tents," Mr. Elrod recalls. "I think at the time there were about 30 tents-wooden and canvas-pitched on the camp grounds. Each family brought a cook stove and just set up homestead while the meeting was being held. They came from all around-Palestine, Neches, Frankston and many other communities throughout this area."

Meeting attendants usually brought along a coop well filled with frying- sized chickens, which were killed and served by the wives during the tenure of the services. About every other day, someone would kill a beef. The meat would be kept fresh in the cold water flowing from the nearby spring.

One thing was certain-nobody ever went hungry at these old-time camp meetings.

It was the custom for years to hold four services each day, Mr. Elrod recalled. The first service opened at 9 a.m. It was devoted to prayer and lasted only about forty minutes. Morning preaching started at 11 o'clock and lasted more than one hour. Worshippers had time for a short siesta in the early afternoon, but another service usually got under way at 3 p.m. Then there was the regular night sermon, starting soon after supper.

For the night services, flaming pine knots placed upon dirt-laden scaffolds around the arbor furnished light. There were no lanterns or wick burners during the early years of the arbor.

Men who left cows and horses at home would ride back every day and see that the animals were properly cared for. Hound dogs, which were plentiful in those days, were tied on behind covered wagons and taken to the camp meetings, so they could be fed without inconvenience.

The story is told that some of the young men of the Brushy Creek neighborhood once played a rich joke on their pastor. The preacher possessed a very fine horse with a bushy tail. One night the boys slipped out, sheared the horse's tail and then shaved the stub.  Undismayed by the trick, the preacher continued to ride the stubby tail horse, just as if nothing had happened.

The original settlers at Brushy Creek migrated from Anderson County, South Carolina. Only by coincidence did they settle in Anderson County, Texas. They named the community in which they settled Brushy Creek for the name of a stream that flowed near their homes in South Carolina.

Mr. Elrod recalls that his father once told him it was "wood and water" that caused the Carolinians to settle at what is now known as Brushy Creek.

"The first time I ever crossed the Trinity River and saw the open lands I asked by father why he didn't settle west of the river," the city commissioner recalled. "He said it was 'wood and water' that caused him to set up homestead at Brushy Creek." His father bought a farm from a man named Fain, who had secured the land by patent from the state. Then, there was no way of fencing the flat lands west of the Trinity, and no facilities for plowing. At Brushy Creek there was fine water, plenty of wood, plenty of wild game and enough open land for farming.

Some of the early settlers who helped construct the old Methodist arbor, Mr. Elrod recalled, included:  Jim Elrod, Ben Elrod, John Elrod, George Elrod, M. H. Addington, Abner Carroll, Billy Bell, Daniel Henderson, Billy Herrington, Chesley Murphy, Dr. Charles Murphy, John Evans, Tom Brown, Will Brown, Lusk Evans, Sam Evans and a man named Webb.

From the Mount Vernon community, which was always closely aligned with Brushy Creek residents there were:  members of the Thornal and Rhodes families; Captain James Eastland, a Baptist; Lishey Holland and Chess Pickle, (Elisha Holland and Chesley Pickle) Christians, and John A. Davis, father of Charlie Davis. There were possibly several others who actually helped build the famous outdoor church.

The arbor was not the first church ever built at Brushy Creek. Before 1873 the people had built a church at Olive Branch, a mile east of the community center. It was a union affair, however, used by all denominations. In Olive Branch cemetery today lie the remains of most of the early settlers of the community.

Even after the arbor was erected, the Methodists and Baptists built churches at Brushy Creek. They stand in the woods, both within a few hundred yards of the sheltered altar.

Dozens of pastors have extolled the words of the Gospel from the historic altar. Among them were:  L. M. Fowler, Cullen Booth, Dawson Helpinstill, J. M. Mills, Luker and many others. Rev. Mills died in 1932. Brushy Creek Methodists were long time members of the Kickapoo circuit, which comprised Kickapoo, Brushy Creek, Montalba and Neches churches.  Later, it was a member of the Neches district and Mount Vernon was added to the circuit.

The Brushy Creek arbor today is in excellent state of preservation (1984). While erosion through the years has cut out gullies surrounding it, the old camp meeting site is dear to the memories of thousands.

This Anderson County campground now has a State Historical Marker and is listed on the National Register.


Originally published in The Tracings, Volume 3, No. 2, Fall 1984, Pages 76- 78 by the Anderson County Genealogical Society, copyright assigned to the East Texas Genealogical Society.


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