[p. 82]

The Alligator Circuit

FOLLOWING closely after the settlement and leading lives as romantic as they were useful, came the pioneer ministers of the little village on the Neches. Long before there were any church buildings, these faithful servants of the people were at work, their fields of service extending far beyond the confines of the home or building, where they held meetings, for they were physicians, newspapers and lawyers, offering advice on the myriad problems that confronted the pioneer family. T he parishes were measured in leagues, and the visits of the ministers were real events in the lives of every member of the family.

As early as 1824 the spiritual welfare of the people of this section was being planned. In the Mexican decrees of colonization of January, 1824, under which de Zavalla's colony was organized, one of the provisions made was that the government should take care that the new towns formed "be provided with a sufficient number of spiritual pastors for their support."

Beaumont was served early in its history by missionaries and circuit riders. The Catholic missionaries were sent out from Galveston, and the first circuit for ministers was called the Alligator circuit.

Riding from Nacogdoches south to the coast, east to the boundary line of the state, and west as far as the Trinity, Rev. Daniel Morse, a native Tennessean, in 1877 was named Methodist minister for the Alligator district. With so boundless an area to cover; Rev. Morse reached his charges only once in three months, and even then he rode ceaselessly, in winter on horseback over country where in many instances there were no roads, and in summer with his wife in a two-horse rig specially fitted for camping.

Salaries were an uncertain quantity for these early ministers, and as he threaded his way through the marshes of the coastal country, Rev. Morse's thoughts were divided between things spiritual and material, pondering on how he might add to his income, and not neglect the needs of his parishioners. An alligator floating like a sodden log in nearby water arrested his attention, and suddenly he saw his problem solved. Out came his gun, and the alligator was killed and skinned. Continuing on his way, he killed a number of the reptiles, carrying the skins to the nearest pioneer home, where they were dried. On his return trip through the section Rev. Morse would collect the skins, take them to the nearest market and trade for supplies to carry to his home in Nacogdoches. The practice became a general one with the ministers, and the circuit was named the Alligator circuit. In like manner during the winter other wild animals were killed as the ministers rode through the country, and the skins dried and sold in the same manner.

These early circuit riders held services in homes, in grog shops, and at cross roads, and throughout the four years of Rev. Morse's service there were no regular church buildings.

Before the building of the first Catholic church in 1881, the community was served by a missionary priest coming out of Galveston, who made the town about once in four weeks. One of these early missionaries, Rev. P. F. Parisot, in a journal kept in 1853-54, writes of a trip from Galveston.

"In the month of February, 1853,I was sent by Bishop Odin to visit Eastern Texas. I had just $2 in my pocket and a heavy saddle bag containing all articles necessary for the mass and my wardrobe. I went on board a steamer, crossed Galveston bay and paid my fare $2, landing at Anahuac penniless. I entered the town which contained three houses, the most conspicuous of which was General Chambers's residence. I directed my steps thereto with my heavy saddle bags on my shoulders an d met General Chambers on the door steps. `Good morning, General', said I, 'I am sent by Bishop Odin to visit Eastern Texas. I have no, horse, no money and do not know the roads. Can you help me out?' The general advised me to go back to Galveston for better equipment and money, saying he would pay my fare. 'Much obliged, General, but 1 think I will take my saddle bag on my shoulders and go ahead,' I answered.

"The general seeing my obstinacy, lent me a big American horse and a colored man to accompany me. We reached a settlement six miles ahead, called Turtle Bayou, where I spent three days. Here they lent me a donkey. It took a whole day to reach the next settlement, fifteen miles distant, En route from there to Beaumont I saw a board stuck in the mud, bearing the following inscription, 'Sour Lake.'

"A few miles below Beaumont I found a Mr. Chiasson, with his numerous family and his father, aged 103 years, who was as deaf as a post. I had to hear the old man's confession half a mile from the house behind a bush he was so deaf. One day I wanted to cross the Neches river, but had spent my last penny for an old horse. I told the ferryman to choose between prayer and preaching for his fee. `Well, pray for my family,' he answered and invited me to take dinner with him."

Early church meetings in the town of Beaumont were held in the court house, in a school house which was located at the corner of Pearl and Forsythe streets, and many times arbors built of sweet gum boughs in a gum thicket where Hotel Beaumont now stands, and in a clump of oak trees that stood on the square at the corner of Park and Emmett.

People came from miles around to listen to the sermon in those days. After the services had ended friends and neighbors gathered in groups to discuss the news of the day. At this time invitations were given to weddings, missionary meetings, and family gatherings of all kinds. If a man intended to build a new barn he invited his friends to assist at the "raising" and to remain after the work for a feast and frolic; or perhaps his wife invited friends for a quilting, which was always followed by a general good time.

While the men discussed the affairs of the nation and predicted the result of the next election, the women exchanged cooking recipes and talked over household topics. After the morning sermon there was a basket luncheon spread near by and the people remained for the afternoon service.

In those early days the people were not divided into so many denominations, and the Baptists and Methodists together built the first church building in the town, where the T. S. Reed grocery company is located, and combined their services until they had buildings of their own, the Methodists retaining the same location for some time.

Rev. John F. Pipkin was the first resident minister of which there is a record for the town of Beaumont. Rev. Pipkin came to southeast Texas in 1852, and stopped for a short time at Wiess Bluff, then settled in Duncan's Woods in Orange county. From that place he came over to Beaumont to hold services in the old courthouse building that stood on the same square where the present courthouse is.

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Where Early Methodists Worshipped
(click here for a larger image)

Rev. Pipkin moved to Beaumont about 1859 and continued to hold services at the old courthouse for several years. He married and buried Methodist, Baptist and Catholic couples in those days, and whenever a priest came through the Catholics would have their marriages blessed to conform to the rites of their own church.

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