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     "In the fall of 1878 I made application for admission into the Columbus Association of Congregational Churches. After due and strict examination I was accepted.
     "The Rev. Hiram Gates, who was then Superintendent of Home Missions, asked me what I intended to do and where I expected to preach. My answer was that I did not come to the Congregational church for financial considerations, nor to step into work commenced by others, but intended to go to West Point and Wisner to organize two Congregational churches and bring them with me into this fellowship. And under God's leadership and blessing this was accomplished. The church building which now stands in West Point was erected during that pastorate. After serving three other churches I am back again at Wisner, one of my first Congregational fields."


     Rev. John Gray represents still another type of pioneer life and work. From a lengthy communication, for all of which there is not place, the following extracts are taken:

     "At the suggestion of Superintendent Gates I went to Sutton and preached for them on Sunday, and then visited Kearney, where I invested in land. Coming back to Sutton, 1 returned to my home in Lyndon, Illinois, and there decided to accept my call to Sutton. 'Grasshoppers or no grasshoppers. I would go there.'
     "I preached my farewell sermon if Lyndon from the text, 'The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.' The next day, riding with Simeon Gilbert, the axle of the buggy broke, and stepping out on a rolling stone, 1 broke my ankle, and was laid up seven weeks. 'How about that step?' said one of the facetious. 'Oh, it is all right,' I replied. The saints collected $75 for me to help me in this calamity. The sinners said, 'We have never done anything for Mr.


Gray; let us do as well as the saints,' and so they brought me $75 also.
     "After seven weeks of inaction I thought I was well enough to travel. The people said, 'Do not go out West where you will have to feed your children on grasshopper soup.' But I said, 'I must go to those poor people as I promised.' 'Well then,' they said, 'we will put vegetables and provisions on your car to provide some living for you.' So they brought potatoes, squashes, and other vegetables to supply our needs. Alas! they were all frozen. During the grasshopper winter friends from Illini, Illinois, sent barrels of wheat, oats, corn, and potatoes as their contribution to Congregationalists in Nebraska.
     "When I reached Sutton there was no decent house to be obtained, so I had to pack my wife and six children and furniture into an unpleasant shack 12 x 14 feet which had been used for a stable. I began to preach in the courthouse and afterward we hired the Odd Fellows' hall. People came to the services.
     "That winter, after New Year's, was three days' storm, three days finer weather. The week of prayer I began meetings and continued them every fine night for seven weeks. There was quite a revival, and the membership of the church was increased from about thirteen to thirty.
     "During December we had a series of fellowship meetings, Brothers Bross and Platt traveling on train, Brother French and I by team. We held one all-night meeting at each town from Ashland to the first station beyond Hastings encouraging the people and doing good.
     "As soon as spring came we started to build a church at Sutton, though impoverished by the grasshoppers. I said, 'We can build. The C. C. B. S. will help us $500.' This enthused them so that saint and sinner started into the work. One man opposed. A profane man with an oath


replied, 'Go home; little Gray has started into building a church, and we are going to help him, and don't you talk against it.'
     "One told me several years afterward, 'Gray, you came to me about the third one for a subscription for the church building. I put down a liberal sum, but I never expected to pay it. You were so smart in earnest, that I did not dare to discourage you, but I thought when you got further along you would get discouraged and give it up.' 'But you found,' I said, 'I was not that kind of man, but went through with the thing, till it was done and paid for, and you remember that the lumberman in Omaha said that he had never been paid as promptly by any church as he had by the church at Sutton.'
     "Having finished the church at Sutton I raised a subscription of $1,000 for a church at Harvard. During all this time I had not neglected preaching in every schoolhouse about four miles apart in all the northern part of Clay county. North and south, east and west of Harvard I established Sabbath schools and preaching stations, and had I had more experience I would have organized churches. But I was new to the West, and simply wanted to preach the Gospel to all the people I could reach. Sometimes I preached five times on Sabbath. My good team got the schoolhouse habit and would stop of their own accord at every schoolhouse, supposing of course that their master would hold a service.
     "While at Sutton the grasshoppers had so impoverished the people that times were hard. The merchants could give no credit. I was refused trust for a bag of flour. A wealthy Russian loaned me $100. There was no bank at Sutton in those days. A great many of the farmers suffered severely. I went to see the sick, and as long as my pocket would stand it, I would take a parcel of meat and


groceries with me, and while I was praying with the sick my boy would manage to convey the parcel into the house where they would find it after we were gone. In many cases sickness was caused by lack of nourishing food.
     Then my own pocket gave out I wrote eastern friends who furnished me with clothing and money, so that I could supply the needs of the people. Men came to church with their feet tied up in rags to keep them warm. It was hard times indeed.
     "Later on I preached at Wahoo, Cedar Bluff, Weston, and other places, and sometimes I would cover forty miles Saturday and Sunday riding to my appointments, but I never failed, blizzard or no blizzard. I encountered storms of wind and dust, rain and snow. I have been so cold that I had to be lifted from the buggy almost frozen. A brother said to me once, 'Brother Gray, if I keep on preaching and give up farming I shall be as poor ten years from now as I am to-day, but if I give up preaching and go on farming in ten years I will be worth $10,000.' I said, 'Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel, I shall go on with preaching.' 'Well,' he said, 'I shall farm.' I saw him later on at York, and reminded him of what he said. 'I don't remember saying that,' he replied, 'but I have the $10,000.' 'All right,' I said, 'I am still preaching.'
     "When pastor at Columbus I often went to Neligh as one of the trustees of Gates College, and heard a great deal about the country west of Neligh, and that we were doing nothing there. So when I took in my vacation, I went up to the country reputed to be in the hands of Doc Middleton and Kidd Wades band of horse thieves. Leaving the team at Atkinson I took the train to Ainsworth, where I found a student who had preached during the summer, and had gathered a few members ready to join a church. The pastor at Neligh came up for a Sunday and we formed a


council and organized a Congregational church. Monday I went on to Valentine, saw Indians, and looked over the prospects for work. I wrote to New York concerning the needs of the field. The next year Brother Bross was appointed to take up that work which he so ably did. As I was returning from Valentine information came to me that led me, when I reached Atkinson, to write back to the student at Ainsworth and tell him to go out on the street and talk Congregational church building next morning, and that I could get $400 from New York to help erect the meeting-house. This he did. The result was that I received a letter at Columbus, asking me to come up and advise them how to proceed. So at a personal expense of $35 to $40 I went up and drew plan of building, wrote out specifications for workmen, and started the deacon out with subscription paper. They went on and built the church, and a year later were able to pay $400 toward the support of a pastor.
     "I remember some of our early financial struggles. At one time I could not buy a postage stamp, but going to the post-office I took out a letter containing $3 which the writer said I should use. Then I had to go out eight miles to marry a couple New Year's day. It was grasshopper time, and the man gave me $20 for a fee, the largest I ever received anywhere, and I never wanted it worse, as I had to feed my horse on straw, the rains having washed away my hay, some thirty tons. In some way the Lord provided for our wants.


     Rev. A. F. Ricker is one of our younger men in the prime of strong manhood, and the pastor of the Congregational church at Aurora. The following pages from his pen are like the fresh breezes from the northwest--full of life:


     "It was in the year 1886 that I was directed to go to Crawford and begin work under the auspices of the Congregational Home Missionary Society. I was young and inexperienced, although the summer before, as a seminary student, 1 had preached the first sermon and organized the first Sunday school in Julesburg, Colorado.
     "Taking the train at Chicago for Sidney, Nebraska, where I paid a short visit to my parents, I started by stage from Sidney to Ft. Robinson, 125 miles north. I think I shall never forget that ride. The stage was not a stage, but a stiff buckboard, with two seats, capable of carrying three passengers besides the driver. The company made two or three trips a week, and the principal business was the carrying of the United States mail.
     "It was about 9:00 o'clock of a bright, cool morning in early May that our buckboard started for the long trip. It was twenty-four hours later when we rode down into the White river bottom, and finally stopped at the station near Ft. Robinson and Crawford. And that twenty-four hours! The horses and drivers were changed at intervals during the journey, but the passengers sat through steadily from first to last. Didn't they stop? Yes, to feed the horses and get meals at the stage stations, perhaps pauses of an hour, and then on we went another weary expanse of prairie and along the interminable road. But such meals as those were at the stage stations! The best thing about them was the price, fifty cents--quite metropolitan; but the meals!
     "We came into one station just as the gray streaks of morning struggled feebly up the eastern horizon. The family--it was the home of our driver--were just beginning to stir. It was a lone log house, meanly built, with various sheds and pens round about. On one side the timbers that supported the roof projected four or five feet from the eaves, and were covered with brush and earth, as was

© 2002 for the NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, Ted & Carole Miller