I have been reading old Texas newspapers for the past few days, and my perusing has stumbled on three items that were not to my purpose but repay study and reflection. The first appeared in the reminiscences of one Edward T. English, published in the Cameron Herald in 1916. Mr. English recalls an incident from 1870 in which his friend, one T. M. Kolb, remarked on something that I have sometimes wondered about. Does Christian charity require us to hope that a man in a state of grace will suddenly die, perhaps of apoplexy, before he sinks back into sin?
Here is the incident recalled by Mr. English:
“At that time we had men and women who would get religion in the summer time at these meetings and back-slide in the winter. I call to mind a man who drifted into our community, and at every meeting would get religion. One night I was going to church in company with Capt. T. M. Kolb, when this young man, at an evening prayer meeting, had professed religion again, and was making the welkin ring with his shouts. Upon being informed as to the nature of the disturbance and who it was, Capt. Kolb remarked that the only way to get him to Heaven would be to kill him right now.”*
I like that old word welkin. It is usually said that it means “the heavens,” although the word comes from the Old Engish wolcen, which means clouds. Nowadays, it is the hectoring ululations of broadcasters that ring from the clouds and din our ears. One thing they have dinned of late is the old story of Emmet Till, the black gallant who got on the wrong side of a jealous husband in Mississippi in 1955. Because that old story was ringing in my ears, I took a special interest in this older story of C. B. Hoadly, a passionate pedagogue who was teaching in a nearby school in the 1870’s.
“Last Friday night C. B. Hoadly, a white teacher of a negro school in Wallace Prairie, was taken from his home and severely whipped by a band of disguised men. We learn from very good authority that the mob was composed of colored men who were incensed at Hoadly’s intimacy with the wife of the colored man with whom he was boarding.”**
We must suppose that the welkin of Wallace Prairie rang with the shouts of Mr. Hoadly that Friday night, but I daresay Mr. Hoadly’s shouts were mere squeaks when compared to the howl that later issued from Mr. Edward T. Manning. Manning was a New Orleans businessman who had an extraordinary knack for cashing out too soon. When he cashed out for good, in 1904, the Houston Post tells us,
“He made fortunes for other people, but could never keep one for himself. He and associates once owned Sour Lake, Texas, but unfortunately got out just before the discovery of oil made it worth millions.”***
Manning did live long enough to see that first gusher at Sour Lake, in 1903, and the production of nine million barrels of oil before the close of that year. If that did not cause Manning to make the welkin ring with a howl of thwarted cupidity, it was perhaps because he was by then resigned to making beds in which other men would sleep.
“He brought the first Alabama coal to this market [New Orleans] as a commercial commodity and owned the Corona mines, and shortly after he got out the Pittsburg coal trust discovered they were worth $2,000,000.”
That would be $53,000,000 in today’s dollars, and from the Corona mines! Although I deplore cupidity, I would excuse a little welkin ringing from a businessman through whose fingers both Sour Lake and the Corona mines had slipped.
So, take a moment to reflect on these three men. Would the anonymous holy-roller have been better off if he had fallen down the chapel steps and broken his neck? Why has no broadcaster dinned our ears with the cautionary tale of C. B. Hoadly? Which of us has not, like Edward Manning, spent our life in hungry pursuit of a mirage or will-o’-the-wisp?
*) The Cameron Herald, (Dec. 15, 1916), p. 8.
**) Galveston Daily News (Oct. 8, 1878), p. 3.
***) The Houston Post (Feb. 19, 1904), p. 2.