JOHN JASPER METHVIN
By Sidney H. Babcock
Reprinted from The Chronicles of Oklahoma (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1994)
In September of the year 1885 a man came to the Indian Territory, now the state of Oklahoma. His one increasing purpose was to preach and teach the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Indians. That man was John Jasper Methvin.
He was the son of John and Mourning Glover Methvin. He was bom December 17, 1846, near Jeffersonville, Georgia. The days of his youth were spent on the farm. He attended the rural schools and later Auburn and Talmadge Institutes.
In his sixteenth year, he joined the Confederate army and served two years. These years were the most horrible years of the war and he engaged in some of the hottest battles. However, he seldom referred to the war. When he did he characterized it as "that senseless war."
After the war he finished his studies in college and studied law. He was admitted to the bar at Milledgeville, then the capitol, of Georgia. He spent only a short while as an attorney at law. Being called to preach he turned his attention to preaching and teaching. For about twelve years he was alternately principal of the Nachoochee and Cleveland High Schools and at the same time was Superintendent of Public Instruction of White County, Georgia.
He was licensed to preach in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in 1870 and ordained a local deacon in 1874.
During the college terms of 1880-1883 he was President of Gainsville College in Georgia, and of Butler Female College, Georgia, in 1883-1885. He was re-elected President of Butler College in 1885, but resigned to answer an appeal from Bishop Robert K. Hargrove, a Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, to go to the Indian Territory as Superintendent of the New Hope Seminary, a Mission School for girls under the joint supervision of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South and the Council of the Choctaw Indian Nation.
In the late summer of 1885 he turned his footsteps westward, On May 6, 1873 he married Miss Emma Louise Beall. To them was born before they left Georgia three sons-Thomas Mabry, John Jasper, and W.G.-and one daughter, now Mrs. J.P. Blackmon. These came with him to the Indian Territory. Another son, H.A. was born shortly after they arrived at New Hope.
The Fall term of New Hope Seminary opened September 7, 1885. A good faculty had been employed. A dormitory large enough to accommodate one hundred students had been erected. They made commendable progress in their studies. Eighty-two of the students were converted and joined the church. However, during the previous year serious differences had arisen between the Church and the Council about the management of the school. The Choctaw Council voted to rescind the contract they had with the church effective at the end of the school year in 1886. Therefore Methvin had to "shape his course toward the closing of the school rather than the development of it." After so successful a year many of the leading members of the Choctaw Council regretted their action in rescinding the contract with the Church. Nevertheless after forty years of service to the Nation the school closed. The last year was the best year.
The year 1885 also marked the beginning of Methvin's career as an itinerate Methodist Preacher. He was admitted on trial into the Indian Mission Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South at the Annual Conference which met at old Skullyville, September 17-20, 1885. Bishop John C. Granberry resided. He was also elected and ordained an elder at that Conference.
Bishop Charles B. Galloway presided over the Indian Mission Conference which met at Eufaula, October 20, 1886. He appointed Methvin Superintendent of Seminole Academy. This school was operated by the Church under a contract with the Seminole Nation. There were forty students in the school. All of them came from Baptist families. When Methvin discovered that the gospel was being supplied to the Seminole Indians by the Baptists, he recommended that the contract which the Seminole nation had with the Methodist church be terminated. The Seminole Council readily agreed and the school passed from under the care of the Methodist Church.During that year, Methvin made a reconnoitering trip among the Western Tribes of Indians in the Oklahoma Territory. Until then the work of the Methodist Church had been confined to the Five Civilized Tribes which inhabited the eastern part of the Indian Territory. Farther to the West were the Arapaho, Comanche, Cheyenne, Caddo, Sac and Fox, Osage, Ponca, Otoe, Kiowa, Apache, Wichita and other Indian Tribes. He found that no permanent Christian work had been established among any of them. Savagery, ignorance, superstition, hatred for the White man, dislike for schools, weird funeral customs, fear of medicine men and religious fetish prevailed. Peyote, a most degrading form of worship, was the most prevalent religion. He wrote a letter to Bishop Galloway and to the Board of Missions appealing for young men without marital obligations but who could endure hardships to be sent as missionaries to these Indian Tribes.
The forty-second Indian Mission Conference met at Vinita, Indian Territory, October 12,1887. Methvin rode horseback, from Seminole Academy to Eufaula, the trip requiring two days' riding. From Eufaula to Vinita he enjoyed the luxury of train travel. Bishop Galloway presided over the Conference. Early in the Conference session he told the Conference of the letters of Brother Methvin concerning the western tribes and of his intention to send missionaries to them. Those were the days of secret cabinet sessions in the Methodist Church. The appointments of the preachers were kept secret until the closing of the Conference. No one knew what his appointment would be until the close of the Conference when the appointments were read- On August 5, 1931, Brother Methvin wrote to me, of that tense moment in that Conference of the long ago as follows:
"I did not anticipate that I was one of the missionaries to be sent. Inasmuch as I had a wife and five young children I did not judge myself eligible for so difficult but glorious task. So I was startled into quickened heart beats when I heard Bishop Galloway in his clear, musical voice read,
Missionary to the Western Tribes, J.J. Methvin.'
After adjournment, I went to him and thanked him for the appointment. He put his arm around me, gave me his blessing and promised to follow me with his prayers and reinforcements as the work developed. He advised me to put my family in some border town in Kansas or Texas, but determined to go with me and endure whatever might come to us. As it seems now that was a daring thing to do, but we did not think much of it at the time. The mission we were to undertake, the romance of the movement, and the thrill of new things opening constantly before us, broke the force of the trials endured."
Methvin lost no time in getting home after Conference. He broke the news of his appointment to his wife and children. Immediately they began preparations for the long and perilous journey. It was a clear, cool October morning when they left Seminole Academy. A hack for the family and a wagon for the baggage and household effects formed the caravan. Methvin's stout heart and heroic missionary spirit inspired confidence. Mrs. Methvin was calm, pensive, but no less determined to "see all nor be afraid." The children, unmindful of the dangers and hardships, were full of glee. They went neither knowing the way nor the end of the way. The road was rough, at times a very uncertain trail. It led through swamps, across bridge-less creeks with difficult approaches, over hills and across the South Canadian and other streams with their ever treacherous quicksands. When nearly across the South Canadian, horses and hack began sinking in the sand, so deep the horses could go no further. Two Negroes came to the rescue. Knowing the stream, they rode out on their Indian ponies and carried Mrs. Methvin and the children to safety. Then the horses rid of part of their burden and, with the aid of a lariat and the pulling of the other horses and the men, the hack and Methvin were brought out of the river. They went on to White Bead Hill. There they camped for a few days to rest, to repair the hack and to await the arrival of the baggage wagon. After this stop they proceeded to the United States Agency located at Anadarko. The trip took five actual traveling days, but it was well into November before they finally reached their destination, They had suffered many reverses, privations and hardships.
It was a wild scene that greeted them at Anadarko, with no place to lay their weary heads. A trader, having compassion upon them, moved out of a little, shack he had used as a kitchen in order to accommodate them. For two years they occupied that doubtful shelter. In it they spent one of the most severe winters that ever visited Oklahoma. In the spring, after their arrival in November, another daughter, Lillian (Mrs. Lillian Gassaway now of Carnegie, Oklahoma) was born.
During those two years while Mrs. Methvin struggled to make habitable the humble dwelling place, Methvin surveyed his new mission field from the Cherokee Strip on the North to Texas on the south and west. He decided to centralize his work among the Kiowas, Comanches and Apaches. They were the three most numerous and perhaps the most warlike of the western tribes. He visited them in their tepees in the winter and under their arbors during the summer. At first the mission seems hopeless. The Indians were stolid. They appeared listless. Some would leave him in an angry mood. He had difficulty getting an interpreter. Those who could understand English would rarely let it be known to a stranger. He overcame that difficulty by inquiring beforehand the name of some one who could interpret. He would then visit a group of Indians, begin talking to them and asking them if any one in the group could speak English. No one would answer. He then would call a person by name, who being surprised that he, a stranger knew him by name would quickly ask, Who told you my name? With that person he readily made contact. Thus he discovered Virginia Stumbling Bear at Mt. Scott. She proved to be very helpful to him in all of his work.
Slowly by surely, the kindly heart, the quite demeanor, the simple earnestness, the patient constant toil of this man of God in the interest of the Indians won his way into their hearts. Enough interest began to be shown to justify a building program.
He first built a parsonage with an annex which he used as a place of worship. He continued his visits to them in their tepees, but invited them to come and join in the "New Worship". Only a few answered the first call. Among the first of the Kiowas converted was their Chief, To-hau-sin. To-hau-sin was the son of a great warrior and had followed his father on the warpath. Soon after Methvin came to the Agency, Chief To-hou-sin came to him and said, "Why you come set down here?" Methvin explained that he had come not to make money, nor engage in business, nor to defraud the Indians, but to bring a message of love from the great Father of us all and his Son Jesus Christ, and to be as helpful as he could to all of the Indian Tribes. To-hou-sin listened with interest and gave his approval. He became a constant attendant at the worship services. In due time he was converted and joined the church. Many Indians who joined their Chief in war followed him into the Church. Brother Methvin's friends among the Indian multiplied. The Kiowas elected him to citizenship in their nation and granted him an allotment of land. The Christian work progressed among other tribes and churches and Sunday schools were organized.Methvin's next building program was a school. He needed a school to conserve the work of evangelism. He applied to the government for a plot of land to build a school. This was readily granted. He applied to the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South for aid. He was granted $2,500.00 to start with. Other donations followed. The Women's Board of Missions took over the enterprise. It was named Methvin Institute in honor of its founder. The first building was erected in the Spring of 1890. The school opened with fifteen pupils. The number increased as provision was made for their care. More than one hundred pupils were soon enrolled. The life of the school was about twenty years. Many of the students became leaders not only among the Indians but also in the affairs of Oklahoma and the United States.
Many personal sorrows were added to the heavy burdens of Methvin. Two of his sons, Thomas Mabry and John Jasper, died and in 1904 his wife.
Four years after her death, Methvin married Miss Ida May Swanson. In this wedlock four boys were born, Marvin, Clark, Paul and Lee. Marvin, Paul and Lee survive. Ida May Swanson Methvin spent twenty years of her life teaching and superintending in Methvin Institute. She survives him.
Methvin received his last appointment as an active minister at the Annual Conference which met at South McAlester, Indian Territory, October 26-November 1, 1904. He was re-appointed President of Methvin Institute. At the Conference of 1905 he was granted a supernumerary relation. At the conference which met in Oklahoma City, November 6-11, 1908 he retired from active service.
Although his long, faithful service entitled him to superannuation and retirement, he only officially retired and that with great grace. He was yet strong in body and mind. He continues to work. He was much in demand for sermons and addresses. He always attended the Annual Conferences. No Conference was quite complete without him and his friend, Andres Martinez. He was also an attendant and active participant in the affairs of the Indian Mission Conference after its separation from the White Conferences. Methvin was a ready writer. He was a frequent contributor to the Conference organ of the Indian Mission Conference, Our Brother in Red, and to the Christian Advocate, the general organ of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, as well as to other periodicals. His published works include: Andele, a Story of the Kiowa-Mexican Captive; In the Lime Light -- a Story of Anadarko; Fig Leaves and Else and The Lone Cedar and Else, a small volume containing some of his poems.
Brother Methvin's poetic soul was full of humor, sound philosophy and inspiring religion. His mental powers were preserved even down to old age. Men the roll of superannuates was called at Conference his name was reserved until the last. The presiding Bishop would call him forward and give him more than the ordinary time to make his report. He was always present and always enlivened the session of the Conferences with his sparkling wit. His kindly sarcasm cut clean because it was kindly. His flashes of humor, his stories from his rich experience, his poetry, his philosophy of life, his Biblical lore, his example of pure, godly living was an inspiration to all, He finished his journey on this planet on the seventeenth day of January, 1941.