."Religious meetings were frequently held in the Mathewson home, but in 1871 it was decided to organize a church and erect a church building. When this was known in Pomfret, $200 was forwarded from the friends there as a greeting to the Norfolk organization. I have the names of the donors in my possession--thirty-four in number. All but five have joined the Church Triumphant. Of the five, two are now living in Norfolk, enjoying the benefit of that early benevolence.
."In all $900 was raised for the church building. The Congregational Union added $500 more. In May, 1871, a church was organized with ten members: Rev. J. W. Kidder, from Michigan, was called to the work. He continued his services until 1878, when he was succeeded by Rev. M. H. Mead, who in turn resigned May, 1881. In February, 1882, Mr. Spencer was called as pastor and remained three years. During these pastorates, a period of fifteen years, the church was fostered by the Home Missionary Society.
."At its organization and for several years afterward this was the extreme frontier church in northern Nebraska of any English speaking denomination, and the only Congregational church west and north of Fremont, except the one at Columbus.
."In 1885 the town had grown so much that our little church seemed about to be crowded out by the business blocks, which were approaching very near, and the building was too small for the growing audiences, so a beautiful church was erected upon new lots in the residence part of town.
"Rev. J. J. Parker of New York was called to the work. His coming had almost the touch of romance. Some one had heard of Mr. Parker in a roundabout way. The clerk of the church wrote, inviting him to come and preach four Sundays, and if there was mutual satisfaction he was to
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become the pastor of the church; otherwise he was to return to New York, A distance of 1,000 miles to travel, unacquainted with a single person in the town, $30 for remuneration--it took a brave man to accept such conditions, but it was done to the lasting satisfaction of all parties. Some men are born preachers. This was Mr. Parker's good fortune. Sixteen years this pastorate continued, with strengthening affection between pastor and people. It has many times been said that during this period Mr. Parker never preached a poor sermon.
"A temperament capable of preaching with great earnestness and fire must sometimes flame. If this was so with Mr. Parker, we must recall the words of President Roosevelt, 'The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.' Norfolk Church and the name Parker will go down the years together.
"August 5, 1899, a great grief came to Mr. Parker and the church in the death of Mrs. Parker. The mother of ten children, she was of necessity a home keeper, but no 'servant question' troubled her, for she took care of her own family, yet found time and strength for all the devotional meetings. Mrs. Parker was a woman of calm, sweet nature and great spirituality. The uplifting power of her prayers will always remain as a benediction upon this church.
"I think every one present at a State Association in Norfolk will recall Mrs. Parker's coming forward, holding her baby boy, and saying, 'I have not silver nor gold, but I give this baby boy to the Lord, and to His service.' Who can estimate the meaning of such a gift? Perhaps the sainted mother can.
"Rev. W. J. Turner was called to the church in 1902 and is still the pastor. He preaches good sermons, is of sweet spirit and fine social nature. The church prospers under his influence in all departments of its activity. The mem-
bership now numbers more than two hundred. The church has had its vicissitudes, but out of small numbers and weakness and poverty it has arisen, strong and vigorous, to do valiant service for the Master.
"Every little town in the Elkhorn valley wanted a church. It was needed as a check to lawlessness, and as an inducement for respectable citizens to settle. This idea was illustrated in a neighboring town. The citizens wanted a church. There was not a church member among them. Not one had attended church enough to be interested in any particular organization. They decided to take bids from the different societies. The Congregationalists offered the most inducements.
"In the early times home missionaries often passed through Norfolk, as it was a railroad center. Many times it was convenient for them to stay over a day or two. A large corner room was always ready for them in our home, and one of our greatest privileges was the entertainment of these heroic pioneers.
"Chief among them, and counselor for them all, was the Rev. Dr. Bross, General Missionary, and afterward Superintendent of Home Missions. He was many times an honored guest in our home, but never for long. It was always 'move on.' I well remember one Sabbath. The Doctor told a most eloquent story of his work in our church in the morning. He was due at Pierce in the evening. At noon a blizzard began. Snow falling fast; wind blowing faster still. Unavailing were all entreaties to prevent his venturing on the perilous drive of twelve miles. His faithful wife insisted on keeping him company. The Lord needed them for future work, and they arrived safely. Where is the romance to home missions?
"Many interesting experiences were related by these visitors in our homes. One missionary said, 'I shall never
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forget the day that fixed our choice on this work. My husband came in with two letters. One contained an offer of a home missionary church in Nebraska with a salary of $700; the other an invitation to a church in a pleasant eastern town with $1,400 salary. He looked at me, "Which shall it be?" he questioned. I answered, "You say," and he did. It was to go to the frontier on $700 a year.' Then she spoke of some of their hardships. One winter the roads were all blocked, and very little fuel could be bought. They shared what they had stored with others. When all was exhausted, the mother and two children went to bed to keep from freezing. They stayed there one week, not knowing but it might be a month; then relief came. One day, she said, her husband dug down eight feet and hauled out five sticks. She said, 'I cried when he gave a neighbor two.'
"Another missionary told of work in a little mountain town, where even the saloon-keepers closed up and attended church. In the same town were men living in tents, who baked cakes and sent them to a children's entertainment.
"A pleasing incident comes to mind in connection with Green Island (now Aten) Church. In 1879 a niece of Colonel Mathewson was teaching in the Pomfret, Connecticut, Sunday school. She had a class of well-grown boys, restless, eager, young fellows, and, anxious to interest them in home missions, she conceived the idea to have them raise money to buy a bell for the little church at Green Island. The boys entered with enthusiasm into the plan, and soon the bell was pealing forth on the little mission church. Later the Lord called this teacher into His higher service. The boys scattered and entered life's work. In 1882, the year of great floods, I one day read in the paper that Green Island was entirely swept away by an ice gorge in the Missouri. The church was seen floating down the river, the bell ringing. Instantly there came to mind the bright class of
boys, the devoted teacher, the ringing of their bell drowned by the roaring water of the Missouri. Was its mission ended? Or will its tones echo down the ages, kept in tune by those who know the story-by the seed sown in the hearts of young manhood in their first effort for home missions?
"Do we not sow sometimes better than we know? A little seed dropped here and there. Only the Master Gardener can tell of the harvest. What encouragement for weary workers! If the outcome of their working, watching, waiting was only what their eyes could see, they might well be fainthearted. But with the Master's touch upon it all, and all effort is in vain without it, how can these heroic workers he cast down?
"The work grows so gradually. Its magnitude can hardly be realized except as we pause and take in the retrospect. Thirty years ago, how few the churches in all this region of country! How bare and unadorned they were! How small the congregations! With what struggling they maintained the preaching! Now, dotting the landscape everywhere, are beautiful houses of worship, with earnest and increasing memberships.
"And let it not for one moment be forgotten that the home missionary, and the church building societies are the parents of them all. They have all been helped into existence, and sustained until strong enough to stand alone, by these societies.
"The dear little church on the prairie! If all the boards could speak, what a story they would tell of the dollars that nailed them there! But the record is not lost. God has the story written down in His own book. All the consecration, all the self-denial that has planted His houses is put down in letters that time can never blot out."
Colonel Cotton in this attractive story of church life speaks as a pioneer who has witnessed the development from the beginning. One riding to-day through the Elkhorn valley thickly covered with beautiful and productive farms, with good houses and barns, thriving towns here and there, can hardly realize that a little more than a generation ago this was virgin soil, the home of the Indian and hunter, where occasionally the buffalo might be seen. Now it is one of the richest portions of the state, and in these prosperous towns and settlements Congregationalism has taken deep root, has already a history which is the prophecy of a bright future of service in the Kingdom.
The Republican valley is known for its rich alfalfa fields. It is a veritable garden spot. A good alfalfa farm in this valley is a fortune. The towns are not large, but are well located to accommodate the settlers. In this valley Franklin Academy, which is doing such noble service, is located. Congregationalism, as well as alfalfa, has here found congenial soil. Two men, Rev. W. S. Hampton and Rev. George E. Taylor, commissioned as general missionaries, had a large share in laying the foundations of Congregationalism in southwestern Nebraska. They have kindly consented to tell in brief something of their work.
Rev. W. S. Hampton writes:
"In April, 1880, I was commissioned as General Missionary for southwest Nebraska. West of Franklin county there were very few people who had been resident more than two years except along the streams. The country was filling rapidly with homesteaders and small tradesmen in the growing towns. The railroad was just completed to Indianola. The Texas cattle trail entered the state near where the Driftwood creek crosses the state line. Culbert-
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son was the objective point for all cattlemen for that region. Thousands of cattle were driven across the valley annually on their way to the ranches of the big cattlemen of Nebraska, Wyoming, and the regions farther north. A church organized on the Driftwood not far from the trail was scattered to the four winds by the severe drouth and the sharp hoofs of the cattle. I have seen a large herd turned aside from the old trail to trample out the scant crop of a poor homesteader. The homesteaders would ruin the business of the cattle king. The prairies were covered with cattle. At the spring round-up a large number of cowboys were in town. A stranger just arrived with broadcloth suit, polished boots, a gold headed cane, and a shining silk hat. Offended at the conduct of some of the cowboys he rebuked them. Soon after, when crossing the street, he was surprised by the crack of a revolver, the whiz of a bullet and a little cloud of dust at his feet. This was followed by another, and still others from different directions, keeping him jumping to escape the bullet striking at his feet, until almost breathless, hatless, and covered with perspiration and dust he was given a rest. He purchased a new hat, hired a livery team to drive to Indianola, vowing that he had enough of the cattle business.
"Better listeners I never had than those same cowboys. I preached the first sermon ever preached in the village of Cambridge in early May, 1880. The only building available was an unfinished store building. I obtained permission to use it for Sunday services. Saturday evening after the men had finished their day's work with coat off and broom in hand, I was doing my best to get it ready for next morning. I was reinforced by a young man engaged in Sunday school missionary work who was also looking for a place to hold service and organize a Sunday school. He introduced himself as N. D. Hillis, and wished to secure