The Meek did not Cringe

“He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.”

Luke 22:36

If my versification of the FEAR seemed craven and cringing, you may be heartened by this story of swift and righteous retribution in 1838.  It took place in the town of Washington, now abandoned, about twenty miles south of where I sit.  The narrator is Zachariah “Wildcat” Morrell, an itinerant Baptist preacher on the Texas frontier.  If the Fear does not prompt you to sell your garment for a sword, it should perhaps prompt you to sell it for a hickory walking stick with a buckhorn handle.  The conspiracy of “fiends and mockers” strikes me as a vivid metaphor, the chicken and its choker not excepted.

“This was the first meeting of days ever held in the town, and it was rather more than the fiends and mockers could willingly submit to.  The house in which they proposed to hold the meeting was a vacated billiard-room on Main Street, with a long gallery in front.  On the second night of the meeting, there was a general attendance of the citizens, loafers and gamblers of the place.  We soon discovered that the disturbers of our peace on former occasions were present, with the intention of interfering with the worship of the congregation, without the fear of God or man before their eyes.  A man was stationed outside of the house, just behind where the preacher stood, with a hen in his arms.  While the preacher was lining out his hymn, he would hold the chicken by the neck. When the congregation would sing, he would make it squall.  A large copper-colored negro man was stationed on the gallery in front, with some twenty or more of these lewd fellows around him, partly intoxicated.  When the congregation sang and the hen squalled, the negro, acting under orders, would put his head in at the window and shout at the top of his voice, ‘Glory to God!’  The response from outside was given, ‘Amen and amen!’

I was sitting near by the window from whence the disturbance came; my wife and daughter were nearby me.  I arose and stood by the window with the walking-cane in my hand that I had brought from Tennessee, made of hickory, with a buckhorn head.  My bosom heaved with holy indignation, and as the negro put his head into the window the second time, as the congregation sang and the hen squalled, I struck him just above the left eye, making a scar that he carried to his grave . . . . After the stroke with my cane, they were peremptorily ordered away, with the statement that there were more dangerous weapons than the stick behind.  It had been customary with us, since the Indians killed two of our men during religious service at Nashville [Texas] the year before, to take our weapons with us to church, as well as to other places. Some usually stood guard while others worshipped. There was no further disturbance of consequence until the services were over.”

Z. N. Morrell, Fruits and Flowers from the Wilderness: Or Thirty-Six Years in Texas and Two Winters in Honduras(Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1873), pp. 82-83.

19 thoughts on “The Meek did not Cringe

  1. I wonder how many towns across the US (abandoned or otherwise) other than DC are named Washington. I know there is a Washington, GA, and now I know there is, or was, a Washington, TX. I might look into that just out of curiosity.

    The description of that scene reminded me of the opening scene from Sgt. York.

  2. Terry Morris,

    I’m familiar as well with a Washington, MS where the state constitutional convention was once held. A quick check confirmed it too was named after George Washington – which I did find interesting given the animosity towards nearly all things yankee (founders included I suppose) I grew up around.

    I hope the proprietors of the Orthosphere don’t mind a personal message, but I was thinking recently I had not seen you comment in some time and hoped all was well. Hope y’all have a nice Christmas and New Year.

    • Washington was a Virginian, so…

      All is as well as can be here, Wood. In fact, my home town Ringling Blue Devils just won their fifth State football championship (eleventh championship appearance) this past Saturday. But thanks for asking, sir. Hope everything is well with you.

      • Mr Morris, I rarely see Ringling mentioned 🙂 I’m from Ardmore. My grandfather was born there when the town was still called Cornish (before they moved it a mile or two to get next to the planned railroad site & changed the name). His father, grandmother, and great grandfather are buried at the Cornish cemetery (Gilstrap and Ewing). He’d be thrilled that Ringling is still raising football champs! 🙂

      • Tina, Cornish is still there and so-named and populated by maybe 100 people. Although it is considered these days as part of Ringling proper and the residents “Mudcreekers” like the rest of Ringling folk. Is the Cornish cemetery the old cemetery next to the “new” Ringling cemetery NW of Ringling? I think that is probably the cemetery you are talking about. Next time I’m out there I’ll see if I can find your great grandparents’ graves among those old headstones.

        Ringling has always been kind of a “football town” as you intimate. It is the one thing we “Mudcreekers” have always been pretty good at as far back as I can remember. Better to be good at something than to be good at nothing, right? And it remains “in the blood.” It gets the town a lot of attention around the state we wouldn’t otherwise get. The only other kind of attention we get is mostly negative such as that wreck that killed the man Tuesday night. 😦

      • Yes sir, the old cemetery. I try to visit all the family graveyards every few years, but it has been 3 or 4 years since I last stopped there. Their graves are under some trees. I can walk straight to them but can’t tell directions. My grandfather put a marker on his father’s grave – “Papa” – when my son was old enough to help set it. We need to do something about my great great grandfather’s marker – it was lovely, a cousin made it out of cement and told his story on it, but it has weathered so that I don’t know how much longer it will be readable.

        I didn’t realize there was still anything to Cornish. Nandy always said the businesses picked up and moved. His family moved from there to Ardmore in a covered wagon when he was small. The trip took two or three days, the roads were so muddy and rutted! Probably could have walked it faster! LOL! Although she never went to school there, my mother had a beautiful western belt tooled & painted with “Mudcreek” on it when I was a child – she used to wear it when we went to the rodeo.

        So sorry to hear there was a fatal accident in town, and sad for a family whose Christmas will be spent in grief. Ringling and Waurika are pleasant to drive through, because they change only slightly from one trip to the next. I can still see old landmarks and notice new ones. Lone Grove, not so much: modernization by the local “boosters” has made it bland and annoying: their ridiculously strung out ‘city limits’ and inch-worm speed limits, coupled with putting the new school square on the highway so they could add a school zone to the misery.

        Thank you for the chat. Here’s to “old stomping grounds” and family memories. Merry Christmas and many happy new years to you. 🙂

      • Hello, Tina.

        Just wanted to let you know that my wife and I visited Cornish Cemetery earlier today, and that I found your ancestors’ grave markers while there. I took pictures with my cell phone if you’d like to see them. Unfortunately you are right about your great great grandfather’s marker; parts of the inscription are barely legible, but most not legible at all. I poured a little water over it and let it begin to evaporate, which helped a bit, but not much. Anyway, let me know if you want to see the pictures I took and I will get them to you one way or the other.


        -Terry Morris

        P.S. One of my cousins and his son now take care of the grounds in the cemetery, so it is not “grown over” these days like you may remember it from the not too distant past.

      • Thanks, Tina. I too have enjoyed chatting with you and sharing old family memories. Incidentally, our current conversation brought back to memory one of Dr. Bertonneau’s old posts relevant to our conversation. See here:

        In my comment to the post I mentioned the old T.F. Morris and Sons family business. The original photo of that business that I mentioned (which I saw for the first time only a few years ago) was taken in Cornish, where the original business was located before relocating on what is now Main Street in Ringling, near the old train depot you mentioned before. When I was growing up in Ringling that depot (the building) was still there. It is gone now, and has been for many years, as I’m sure you know. I’m sure our great and great great grandparents knew each other.

        The Ringling Rodeo – which was kind of a big event when I was growing up and was held in conjunction with the old “Western Days” celebration – was brought back this past August, incidentally, after a long departure. It was impressive the number of people it attracted after such a long hiatus. I think the plan, based on this year’s success, is to continue having it annually like old times.

  3. Pingback: The Meek did not Cringe | Reaction Times

  4. Terry,

    Ha! I’m from that annoying part of the Deep South that looks askance beginning north of Nashville. Alas, I just heard my little high school – built out of cinder blocks and tin by my grandparents – is possibly closing at years end. I imagine the rest of the town will fold from there. Sad news.

    • Wood:

      That is sad news. Very sad. I’ve written elsewhere of ‘men of the South’ whom I truly admire. Matthew Fontaine Maury (a Virginian, and adopted Tennesseean) being one. I wrote a book about him actually, just for the historical edification of my younger kids and my grandchildren. The “old field schools” of the old South in which Maury was first educated are actually the main subject of one whole chapter of that book. We cook and eat “cornfield peas” on New Years in commemoration of our Southron forbears who lost so much in the WBTS.

      As I have mentioned to Tina above, I have ‘stood by’ and watched as lots of the old was replaced by the new in my home town, Ringling, OK. I keep saying this, but when I was growing up in Ringling there was an old abandoned cotton gin on the far west end of what is now Main Street that my friends and I would often go to and play in. I wish it were still there and memorialized. But it isn’t. And that is sad too.

      • MFM can be classed as a geographer, using the standards of his day. Oceanography wasn’t yet a separate discipline. I just had a student finish a master’s degree, studying the spatial distribution of common schools in this county. He had been working as a school teacher, and so started with the prejudice that there were no schools in the old South, and there were even less than no Schools for Blacks. I knew this wasn’t true, but he ended up making some very interesting maps that showed no student, Black or White, had to walk more than two or three miles to school, and that non-attendance was almost always due to parents putting their children to work.

        One can say that the decline of America’s small towns was inevitable, given changes in technology and the economy. But technology and economics are deterministic only if the people are pre-programed to always put efficiency and gain before everything else. So most of the smart kids leave for the city right after high school, and everyone drives 30 miles to save $20 on groceries in the the big town down the highway. Most Americans are too responsive to market signals, and too indifferent to local loyalties. I’m as guilty as the next, so this is more of an observation than a condemnation. Of course official “conservatism” argues that we should have even less local loyalty–that we should basically live in an RV and be ready to move at the drop of a hat, and that we should be overjoyed by rapid, radical demographic change in our town (since that means it isn’t dying). The only thing such people can conserve is maximal economic efficiency, while everything else goes to hell.

      • It’s funny in retrospect, but the “necessity” of walking a couple miles to (and from) school was, until my friends and I got into HS and got our driver licenses, actually something we looked forward to every single day. I lived furthest away, followed by my friend, Rodney and our mutual friend, Luther (or, Bubba, as we called him), and we three walked the (two miles from my house, a little less from theirs respectively) route to school together every day. Those walks dang sure beat sitting in boring classroom after boring classroom for hours on end, I’ll tell you that. But that was back when kids still generally hated school; they seem to love it now by contrast, and I ain’t sure that is a good thing.

        I remember your mention of your student and his findings from one of your Orthosphere articles published awhile back. I don’t know whether or not that prejudice against the Old South and its “non-existent” system of education can ever be broken on a broader scale, but your student certainly got his eyes opened on the subject via your influence. It does my heart good to know all is not yet lost, even if most everything is in fact lost.

        I think Humbolt was the main inspiration for the “Oceanography” distinction. It was he who first referred to MFM’s seminal work as the “Physical Geography of the Seas and its Meteorology.” But, yes, Maury was a Geographer, first and foremost. Some years back I had four-inch thick three-ring binders of Maury’s Geography text books reprinted on high quality paper for all of my kids. This cost me a bunch of money since I have a bunch of kids and each binder cost something like $150. each to put together. But I’ll tell you this – not one of my kids would take a million dollars for his/her copy of that binder.

  5. Terry and JMSmith,

    I don’t think of my parents as old, but for some reason my dad always wants to talk to me about what he advises I do after he’s “dead and gone.” It’s very important to him – obviously in the context of taking care of my mom and family – to whom I sell our land. I’ve thought about this a lot and am considering not selling. At all. Even the family house. I know it doesn’t make financial “sense” and I’m probably being naive but I just don’t want to give away our chunk of that small town.

    • I can understand the sentiment, but think it may be a mistake if there is no prospect of occupying or placing kin on the land sometime. I like to look up rural properties on the website of our county appraisal district, and I’m amazed how many relatively small parcels are held by family trusts. After just a few generations the rent check is being split into very small fractions and there is a rancher who would probably prefer owning over renting.

  6. JMSmith,

    It reminds me of those old “Reason” and “Cato” articles that assured me my town was humming along nicely when the Walmart opened 20 miles away and brought so many jobs. I had at one time some inside baseball of Walmart (this isn’t some criticism of Walmart necessarily, many examples are there). They planned expansion in the South by searching for central hubs (re: highways) connecting many small needful (re: vulnerable) towns. The highways were the downfall. Few things were dreaded, feared in my small town than a building of another convenient “bypass” if anyone here is aware of the term. My uncle’s “4-Way Quick Stop” was a casualty of an earlier bypass.

    • Absolutely. We geographers use the phrase “friction of distance” to describe the cost of movement, and the landscape of small towns and hamlets was a product of a higher friction of distance. When you drive through a derelict town, its the blacktop you’re driving on that killed it.

  7. To add to this: the town I now live in has had a stable population of ~400 for its entire history since 1875. Its boundaries cover less than a mile, and it serves maybe about the same number of people living in the country around us. It is about 15 miles to each next nearest town, both of which are larger.

    The only businesses now are the school, a part-time post office, a convenience store/gas station/cafe, a cabinet shop, and an RV park & repair center. Outside the town are various ranches, one dairy, many converted for hunting leases or absentee-owned for hunting.

    Yet, until and throughout the 1970s, it had a lumber yard, two standard grocery stores, a pharmacy, a doctor, a bank, a motel, a cafe, two gas stations, up to three cotton gins at one point, full time post office with 5 employees, the school, and an RV construction factory (the remains are now the RV park & repair center). And surrounding it were a dozen dairy farms, several turkey farms, and a glove factory.

    All casualties of this “friction of distance” (and thanks for the term, Mr Smith, I had not heard it before). But, anyone who hasn’t lived here always would never know the kind of local shopping and business that happened here consistently until very recently. (They also would not know that the heavily wooded rolling hills surrounding for miles were, until the same ‘recently’, not wooded at all, but plowed farm land that grew cotton, peanuts, and feed. It has been allowed to revert to woodland and those trees are mostly only 30 to 40 years old. )


    PS to Mr Morris: thanks for the extra info and the link in your reply above. Acknowledging here to avoid running up my post count on this thread 🙂


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