A Pioneer Decision

(As told nearly one hundred years later by a descendant, Mrs. Zorah Dell Sitton Teeter)

A group of Texas neighbors and friends were preparing to start on a covered wagon journey to California. The year was 1857. Thirty wagons made up the "train," all to be drawn by oxen. Some twenty families were represented; and about fifty additional men. There were also an extra band of cattle, horses, and oxen being driven as part of their train--to fill in, should any oxen become exhausted.

Some in the company were not entirely new to untried trails. My grandfather Harris, born in North Carolina, had come to Texas from Missouri with his bride in 1848. There were then few roads for wagons, so they rode the distance on horse back, much of the time picking out their own trail. Rev. Freeman, also in the group, had made the same trip in 1845.

It was the month of May that the venturing company left Texas. They selected a Captain of the Train; also appointed a Corporal of the Guard. Everything was arranged with careful orders, and strict regulations were observed.

Included in this company were the writer's grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew S. Harris; his two sisters...Nancy, married to Elder John A. Freeman; and Rachel, married to Richard Eads. Each "prairie schooner" contained a few small children. (My grandmother had two.)

The Captain of the Company was a Christian; so, after the group had started traveling and were approach the end of the first week, he began talking with different men and discussed what the Company would do about Sunday. Most of the Christians in the group were in favor of stopping for the day, making it a time of rest for the oxen, the men and women could "stretch themselves" the children could exercise and play. But he also met some strong opposition. They said "they were on serious business, and had no time to be dallying along on such foolishness. Besides, the food would not last; they had packed their wagons with the idea of traveling seven days a week, not six, and they would find themselves in the middle of the desert, with food exhausted, and no way to procure more." There was much heated discussion on both sides. So on Saturday the Captain rode up and down along the Train on his saddle horse and announced a meeting of the entire group, to be held that evening around the camp fire after supper, "to discuss the important matter." Not a person was absent when Captain Hazelton called the meeting to order that evening. He presented the matter from the Christian angle; also made a plea for the oxen that were drawing the heavy loads day after day, often over newly-made rough road. But the other side presented strong opposition. There was much heated discussion before the Captain finally put the question...to a vote. The Sunday observers carried by a healthy majority. The Captain then made the formal announcement that the Train would remain where it was until Monday morning; and that a Sunday morning worship service would be held, that Elder Freeman would conduct the meeting and preach; "meeting dismissed." But the opposition was seriously disgruntled, and called a meeting of all those of their persuasion. As a result the Train was divided. At dawn the next morning the opposers to Sunday-rest hitched their oxen to wagons and went on alone; not nearly half the thirty wagons, but a goodly company. Those remaining felt badly about it indeed, and felt their neighbors were taking a great risk in going on alone in such a small group. But those who waited over felt they had right on their side...and God's blessing. The preaching service was held...and continued throughout the entire trip of seven months; the cattle rested, and every person in the group felt helped by the physical and spiritual life.

The sequel to this story of division on a matter of conscience and conviction proved most interesting. Months later, as they were crossing the bleak desert sands of New Mexico, they spied through their glasses, a group up ahead, beside the trail. Their first thought of course was of Indians, but soon the Captain announced, as they drew nearer, that it was the other part of their original company. There was much conjecture, of course. From constant travel the oxen had developed sore hooves...some so tender that the feet were bleeding; and of course none of them could travel. They had been at a standstill for weeks; much of their food supply was already exhausted, and they had felt they might be facing star vation. They could not help rejoicing over the arrival of their neighbors, but were chagrined over the great mistake they had made. God has honored His obedient children, and it was to the others a great rebuke. He who created the oxen had also given a law concerning them. "Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy...the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou shalt do no work, thou... nor thy cattle." The Christian group divided their rations with their former neighbors, but had to drive on and leave them until their oxen were ready to travel.

"Them that honor me will I honor." This group of Christian men and women later had much to do with building of the Lord's work in Southern California. Grandfather Harris, Uncle John Freeman and Uncle Dick Eads helped in the organization of many Baptist churches...among them San Bernadino, Pomona, Downey, and Santa Ana. Grandfather and Uncle Dick were Deacons in their churches to the end of their days. Uncle John Freeman was paster at El Monte (where Elnora Dell Harris was born at the end of the long overland trail) at San Bernadino, Downey, and several other churches. (The church at El Monte had already been organized before they were arrived but were without a pastor at the time they reached California, so immediately called him as their pastor.) While in San Bernadino Rev. Freeman was also Superintendent of Schools for San Bernadino County. Later was Superintendent of Schools in Kern County, while doing missionary work in that area. He lived to a ripe age of 98, going to his reward in 1910. (Many of his descendents now have settled in the Inglewood area.)

These three godly men passed on to their children and other relatives a blessed heritage, and left many cherished memories in the hearts of their brethren in the churches.

Written March, 1954
209 No. Princeton Ave.
Fullerton, California
by Zorah Teeter

Re-copied by Mildred Lemon Hansen
April 5, 1969
Lancaster, California

Recopied into LaTex and HTML format by Paul Heiney
January 18, 1997
Upper Merion, PA

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