Fremont County, Iowa

Circuit Preachers
by Sherry Perkins
View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
January 25, 2016

In the early days of Fremont County, most communities were served by Circuit Rider preachers who traveled from place to place by horseback or horse and wagon. Some just used their two feet to get from one community to another.

One such man was my great-great grandfather, Simeon Wright. He conducted church services, baptisms, weddings and funerals over a wide area from about 1870 to early 1900’s. He was also a farmer by most accounts of perhaps as much as eighty acres in the Loess Hills east of Bartlett, Iowa. He raised merger crops of corn and oats along with a vegetable garden and fruit trees on what area folks called Yellow Bird Hill. It was the custom back then to name every hill and hollow so folks knew how to find you. Roads hadn’t been given names and numbers at that time. Simeon’s Hill was so named because of the many, many yellow birds (finches perhaps?) that lived there.

His traveling to preach the gospel took him away from his wife and large family for several days at a time. His family had the responsibility of caring for the cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens and ducks; chopping the wood; planting and harvesting crops.

He preached at the old Bartlett Church, which is still in existence. Also King’s crossing north of Thurman, along the Bluff Road (it burnt in 1991). Lastly at the Wildwood which was a few miles northeast of his home. Plus he preached wherever he was called.

Funerals (they called them “buryings”) were often in the house of the deceased and baptisms were held near or in the waters of the creek. My grandmother remembered going to Wildwood area for several baptisms which were followed by a picnic. She remarked on the girls long, white dresses floating in the creek as they were immersed one by one. This would have been the early 1900’s.

Preaching in the winter was difficult as traveling through snow, ice and extreme cold by horseback was a trial. The pay received was little or nothing. Simeon lost his wife Martha in1882. It became harder to travel very far because of young children. So he remarried and resumed his ministry. He and his wife Martha are buried in unmarked graves in the Rhodes Cemetery west of Tabor, IA. His bible, dated 1823, was handed down to me when my grandmother was still living, along with the stories she could tell of his life.

Simeon never knew when word would reach him that he was needed because of deaths or sickness. He had to be ready to ride when asked to come to an area. When he left, his family never knew when to expect him home. There were dangers in traveling alone. He could be thrown from his horse, injured in some way, meet up with wild animals or unsavory characters. He stayed with folks along the way but at times slept on the ground or in a drafty barn.

I can only imagine the things his Bible could tell me. It saw the county in its early days from the saddle bags of a Circuit Rider Preacher. Today the Bible is fragile and stained probably from creek or rain water, insects have used it for a meal or two but it still carries the history of a time long gone.

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