By Larry Clark
On April 9, 1865 the American Civil War came to a close and the job of reconciliation began. For Missouri and Kansas the war began in 1855 long before the official beginning of the War Between the States. The history of Missouri and Kansas was shaped by events surrounding John Brown’s raids into Missouri and those of the Border Ruffians into Kansas. In some respects the war has never really ended but is relived every winter when the Missouri Tigers and the Kansas Jay hawks meet on the basketball courts.
On August 25, 1863 Union Brigadier General Thomas Ewing issued General Order No. 11, requiring all people living in Jackson, Cass, Bates, and northern Vernon counties to vacate the area unless their loyalty to the Union could be proven. Those who were forced out had their houses and barns burned and this area became known as the Burnt District.
At the close of the war, western Missouri, which had been repeatedly ravaged by both armies, retained but few of its former inhabitants and scarcely any churches. At the request of Dr. Henry Kendall the Presbyterian Church commissioned Reverend Seth Gold Clark to assist in reorganizing Presbyterian work on the Missouri/Kansas border. What a daunting task the Presbyterian leadership was asking of Mr. Clark, who served as a Union Chaplain, who was captured by the Confederates in the siege of Atlanta and spent time in the Andersonville prison. He was schooled at the Western Reserve College, which was a hot bed for the anti-slavery movement. Could he gain the trust of a people who had suffered so much at the hands of fellow Americans who were anti-slave and who experienced the results of the order by a Union General Ewing? I believe we can by looking at his record reach the conclusion that Mr. Clark let God be the one who guided him and not his life experiences.
Of his beginnings in Missouri he once wrote: " The Board, by my request, made full provision for my salary the first year. I told them that if I went to such a burned-over country I did not want to intimate to any man, woman or child that a missionary needed anything to eat, drink or wear. I did not say money for a year, except when I paid my bills. The people were just as modest as I was—they never said money to me.
I obtained a hardy mustang pony, and went in all directions, preaching the gospel wherever I found an opening." Does that seem a haphazard method, not to be reasonably expected to produce good results?
In less than three years he organized churches at Holden in Johnson county: Greenwood in Jackson county; Harrisonville and Austin in Cass county; Butler, Lone Oak and Papinsville in Bates county; Hudson (now Appleton City) in 8t. Clair county, and Lamar in Barton county. Each of these churches he supplied until they were able to obtain regular services otherwise. Some years later two of these towns, unable to obtain expected railroads, died a natural death, as did their churches. Two other churches were outstripped by later organizations by other Presbyterian denominations. There remain today five good churches organized before 1870 by that one missionary " settled on horseback."
From 1871-76 Mr. Clark was financial agent for Highland University. The last two summers of that time were spent with a missionary tent outfit, furnished by Sunday schools in the East. He traveled through northern Kansas and southern Nebraska, preaching daily to congregations averaging 100 on weeknights and from 150 to 300 on Sundays. This was strictly pioneer work in regions beyond ministers and churches.
He was everywhere gladly welcomed. This tent work he was accustomed to regard as the most successful work of his life. During 1877-78 he supplied the churches of Iola and Carlyle, Kans.; 1879-80, Baxter Springs, Galena and Empire, Kans.; 1881-5, Rich Hill, Rockville and Hume, Mo., all three of which he organized.
He then spent ten years in southwestern Kansas, where he found nine counties adjoining, in neither of which was an organized church. During those years he organized eight churches, seven of which, in spite of drought and consequent depopulation of large districts, are still on our " Minutes."
The year 1895 was spent with the Church of Raymore, Mo., which under his labors was much revived, and built a beautiful house of worship.
At last, when nearly eighty, with mind and voice unimpaired, he was forced by physical infirmities to give up his active ministry. It was an affecting scene, when by vote of Presbytery he was " honorably retired," and recommended to the Board of Relief. All knew of his active life, and realized that it was not boastfulness, which led him to rise and say that, able as he then supposed to preach better than ever before, he would gladly sacrifice his right arm rather than go onto the Board, if only he were physically able to continue in the ministry. No service did he ever shirk as too hard, no field as too unattractive. Always and everywhere he loved to proclaim salvation to the uttermost through Jesus Christ. Like every other true missionary, he recognized no bounds of race or clime, but worked and prayed for the universal spread of the gospel. No wonder Miss Mary Clark, the daughter of such a home missionary, should be found today a foreign missionary in distant Persia.
What a record! It will never be fully written on earth. His mission work in at least five states, the organization of 31 churches, most of which during the time of his ministry erected houses of worship, his army chaplaincy, his evangelistic work in prisons, battle fields, mining camps, frontier settlements, and in well-established communities east and west, his vigorous advocacy of education at home and abroad—these are a few reasons why he will be long held in grateful remembrance. A few months ago he modestly wrote of himself that his had been “a very busy, checkered life; possibly some good may result.”
This is the story of my great, great grandfather who was a son of a small farmer. It is very interesting to me because today I am an ordained pastor who is getting ready to become a small farmer. This is a true legacy of faith.
I hope the above story has inspired just one person to take the time to trace their family tree and find out what nugget of interesting history they might uncover.