PLANTING THE CHURCH IN THE NORTH-WEST.
IOWA AND OTHER FIELDS.
[pg 336] The beginnings of
the work of Cumberland Presbyterians in Iowa before the close
of the third period (1842) were so small that it has seemed
best to reserve the history of the origin of the church in
that State for this chapter.
When David Lowry, in 1834, planted his mission in Iowa, the
whole of that country except some small settlements was
occupied by Indians, though treaties for its cession had been
agreed upon. There were no Protestant churches on Iowa soil.
At the points where Indian agents were stationed there were
United States troops and some French families.
Mr. Lowry organized the first church of our people, and the
first Protestant church in Iowa, in 1834. It was composed of
soldiers, officers of the United States army, government
employees, and a few Indians. When the Indians and soldiers
were removed that was the end of the organization.
Iowa was organized as a separate Territory with its own
Territorial government in 1838. Three years before this a
Cumberland Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Joseph Howard,
settled among the emigrants in Iowa. The next year, May, 1836,
the Rev. Cyrus Haynes traveled in this country and organized a
church in Mr. Howard's house. Counting Mr. Lowry's
organization at the mission, this church in Mr. Howard's house
was the second Cumberland Presbyterian congregation in Iowa.
At the organization of
[pg 337] this church Mr. Haynes baptized Mr. Howard's infant
son. That son is now the Rev. J.S. Howard, of Oxford,
In 1853 the Rev. J.G. White was laboring in Iowa as an
independent evangelist, that is independent of any salary from
church boards. The first camp-meeting of which mention is made
was held by him and B.B. Bonham, August 1843, at Mount
Pleasant. Thirteen professions were reported.
Like all the pioneer congregations in the new Territories,
each of these Iowa Cumberland Presbyterian Churches embraced a
large area, requiring several preaching places. In 1844 the
Sangamon Synod ordered J.G. White, B.B. Bonham, Joseph Howard,
and J.M. Stockton to constitute the Iowa Presbytery. In 1846
there were nine congregations represented in this presbytery.
In 1848 the Rev. Neil Johnson rode the circuit in Iowa, and
received from the settlers two hundred and fifteen dollars for
his services. There were then six ordained ministers (one had
been deposed), and twelve congregations in Iowa Presbytery.
All through this early period there were in Iowa many Mormons
and Catholics. Ruffianism was everywhere. Whisky and pistols,
outlaws and murderers, mingled with the heterogeneous mass of
emigrants. It required preachers with sterling courage to make
their way in the midst of such a population. Men like J.G.
White seemed to enjoy such hardships and perils. The Rev. John
Cameron and the Rev. Wm. Lynn are also mentioned among the
pioneers of Iowa,(7) but no facts or
incidents connected with their work have been secured. The Rev
Benjamin Hall was among the successful laborers in that field.
It was a favorite scheme of David Lowry to concentrate in
Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota a strong home missionary force.
One of the warmest debates ever heard in the rooms of the
Missionary Board at Lebanon, Tennessee, was on that question.
That debate is mentioned in Dr. Richard Beard's diary, and he
speaks in terms of the. deepest mortification and regret about
the failure of Mr. Lowry's plans. Several of his letters,
written to Lowry, on this subject are preserved.
[pg 338] In 1856 the board commissioned the Rev. J.C.
Armstrong to go as missionary to the North-west. It was Mr.
Lowry's wish that the missionary should begin his work at
Prairie du Chien. Taking letters of Introduction, this young
man, just out of the theological school, set out for his first
field of labor. The Rev. J.M.B. Roach, who was appointed to
accompany him, failed in health, and Armstrong went alone. On
his arrival at Prairie du Chien, he found little but ruins.
The town and Fort Crawford were gone. The church where General
Zachary Taylor had regularly attended Mr. Lowry's preaching
was gone. Only a few settlers remained.
A citizen of Iowa, named P.C. Balsinger, was a sporting
gentleman, who kept race-horses, and who was wealthy.
Armstrong had a letter of introduction to C.C. Balsinger, and,
supposing this person to be the one intended, he presented his
letter. Mr. Balsinger read it with a look of scorn and wrath,
then tossed it back to Armstrong, saying: "Sir, I am not the
man; this man lives away down on Turkey River." Armstrong,
after some further conversation with him, set out for Turkey
River. He found the right Balsinger this time, and met a most
cordial welcome. This man was the father of the horse-racer,
and was a Pennsylvanian who had been converted at one of John
The missionary appointed a camp-meeting at Mr. Balsinger's.
When this meeting began the races at Colesburg were going on.
Great crowds of people passed the encampment, going to the
races. Armstrong, though without ministerial assistance, went
bravely on with the daily services. Monday, the fourth day of
the meeting, a strange scene was witnessed. Loaded wagons
began coming in from Colesburg, and kept coming. All these
wagons brought tents, provisions, and families, coming to
attend the camp-meeting. Among others who came was the
sporting gentleman, P.C. Balsinger, with his family. When the
call for mourners was made, Mr. Balsinger, the horse-racer,
rose and made a talk. He said he had been under conviction
ever since he read Armstrong's letter of introduction, and was
now determined to seek his soul's salvation. Then, turning to
his seven sons who had come with him to the camp-meeting, he
asked the people to pray for him and his boys. He found the
Savior that day, and his conversion gave new life to [pg 339]
the meetings. A great revival followed. The converted
horse-racer was a man of great liberality. Each day he would
mount the pulpit and invite everybody to come and eat with him
at his tent.
Out of this meeting grew the Hopewell church, which Armstrong
organized, making P.C. Balsinger an elder therein. This elder
made a large-hearted and faithful worker for Jesus. At this
meeting the wife, daughter, and two sons of a Roman Catholic
were converted. Almost at the risk of their lives by the
enraged drunken husband and father, they joined the Cumberland
On an Indian pathway, at some springs in the prairie, there
had grown up a little village called Waukon. Thither Armstrong
next directed his steps. His work there was owned of Heaven,
and many souls were converted. In September, 1856, he
organized the Waukon church with thirty-one members. When the
missionary left this field in 1859, Waukon congregation had
built a house of worship, and paid for it.
In July, 1857, through Armstrong's importunities, the Rev. P.H.
Crider was sent by the Missionary Board to his assistance,
Armstrong guaranteeing missionary money enough from Iowa to
meet the salary. In this arrangement his trust in the pioneers
was not disappointed. The following letter gives a glimpse of
Mr. Armstrong's labors in this field:
Waukon, Iowa, September, 15th, 1856.
The prospects are still bright here. My strength failed after
I wrote last, and I closed the meetings. But as the interest
was still great in the town, I afterward resumed the work, and
we had meetings four nights, resulting in five conversions,
making in all twenty-nine. Our little band, organized the 21st
of August, now numbers forty-four members. Owing to the want
of a house, we have not had our meetings regularly, but will
resume them again tonight.
On Thursday next I will start again for Colesburg, sixty miles
distant, and will hold a meeting in that
town. ... Waukon is improving very rapidly. Our Sabbath School
is ably conducted. The number in attendance yesterday was 114,
with increasing interest. The Maine Law is enforced to the
letter in town. The Temperance Association has 200 members. We
have a joint stock of seven thousand dollars to enforce the
Liquor Law. Nearly sixty houses were built in all in 1856. [pg
340] Colesburg is a larger town than Waukon, and much older,
but Satan has had almost supreme dominion in that community.
The Protestant churches there are not much mole than a name.
They have been daubed with untempered mortar. The truth
startles them, enraging some, and breaking down many. Members
of the different churches were seen crowding to the anxious
seat, and crying for mercy at our late revival. Pray for us,
for we are a needy few, often assailed and persecuted.
In 1857, Armstrong and Crider, and the Rev. Joshua Loughran,
of Wisconsin, organized the Colesburg Presbytery, extending
from forty degrees north latitude to the North Pole. In 1858
the Rev. D.A. Houghton came into the Cumberland Presbyterian
Church from the Congregationalists, and took charge of the
upper Iowa mission.
In these missions the pioneer preachers suffered many
privations, and were often exposed to danger. Once Armstrong
was shot at while in the pulpit preaching. At a camp-meeting a
mob came to kill him, but others gathered to his defense and
he was unhurt. He says he often went where there was danger of
being killed, but God took care of him. He was never harmed.
The pioneers contributed liberally to his support.
In Iowa at this time (1886) there is one small Cumberland
Presbyterian synod composed of three small Presbyteries, with
an aggregate of seventeen ordained ministers and six
licentiates, but no candidates. In that field, and everywhere,
the perpetuation and growth of the church demand that the
money and the prayers of our people be devoted to raising up a
home supply of preachers.