NOTE: The following letters were written to the J.A. Land Chapter of the Highland Park Baptist Church, Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Joseph Alexander Land (J.A.) was a Cole porter missionary to New Mexico during the early 1900's. He was the father of Joseph Ray Land and the Grandfather of Marian Elisabeth Land Laster, John Robert Land, and David Ray Land. I'm not sure when the letters were written, but Joseph Ray Land was pastor at Highland Park from 1952-January 1959. I have not changed any wording, punctuation, or spelling. Any editorial notes are in script. This is letter #1.
Note at the top of page 1 - son, if you think it sounds to familiar to call him Larry, just write his surname instead.
Dear Larry (Dobelbower - the R.A. leader)
In response to your request, and at the request of my son, who is your pastor, I take this opportunity to write a few things about my life.
First I want to thank you and the J.A. Land Chapter of the R.A.s in the Highland Baptist Church, for the honor you bestowed on me when you named the Chapter as you did. I do not feel worthy of this high honor. But I do pray that nothing will ever come in my life to discourage these young men or that will cause one of them to stumble.
According to my birth certificate, I was born Feb. 11, 1881. My parents lived in Texas at the time. The first school I attended was in Arkansas where my grandmother Newman lived, she was my mother's mother. This was a short summer school, as I remember. (we were visiting her) Most of my early schooling was of this sort. Until I was about grown.
Soon after my conversion, which took place when I was about 11 1/2 years of age, I began to have impressions that I should preach, but did not take it very seriously for some years. Then, a sad experience came into my Christian life. This was occasioned when I was about seventeen or eighteen years of age. A Sunday School teacher who was a member of the Country Church where I was a member, taught the class of which I was a member, that if a Christian committed a sin, that he fell from grace and had to be (converted or saved) again.
I knew I had not live as a Christian should so I thought I was lost. As I read the Bible I saw in the 6th Chapter of Hebrews, where it says "if one should fall away it is impossible to renew them again unto repentence; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame" Read Heb. 6: 4-6. All I could see was that is impossible to renew them again unto repentance. This brought great sorrow and doubts to me. I could see no hope, not being able to understand the context and not knowing the other scriptures on the way of salvation. For several years, I prayed and sought some way to get back into favor with God.
Often I would slip out in the middle of the night to some place where I would be alone and pray. One night about 2 a.m. I, out in the cotton field, down on my knees pleading with God to have mercy when I heard a voice saying, "You did not do what I wanted you to do." I knew it was the Lord speaking and that he was refering to my call to the ministery. There on my knees I promised him I would preach even if I went to hell, I would go there preaching. When my grandfather Land heard of my surrender to preach. He wrote inviting to his home to begin making preperation for service. I accepted his invitation and spent one year with him, attending grade school.
Due to an accident about which I will write in my next letter, I moved to Indian Territory and enrolled in another school. Once again I thank you for your confidence and the honor you have confered on me.
May the blessings of God be upon you and that fine group of R.A.s.
This is letter #2.
Get your Bibles and turn to Romans 8:28. We do not always understand why; but this we do "know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose."
Some times we are called upon to endure sorrow, sickness, disappointments and many unpleasent things: And we do not understand why they should happen to us. The answer in found in our scripture reference. Rom. 8:28.
The accident I refered to before was the death of my oldest brother Jesse. He was a deaf mute. (His deafness was caused by a severe case of scarlet fever when he was about a year old. His loss of hearing was total.
When I was away in school, father moved with the family to Sapulpa. He lived on a farm between Sapulpa and Tulsa. Jesse went to town one day and attempted to catch a freight train enroute to Tulsa and beyond. Something happened that caused him to fall under the wheels of the train. His body was ground to peices. The shock of his death to mother was so great that father wired me to "Come mother is ill. Not expected to live." I went immediately not knowing the cause of her illness. When I arrived in Sapulpa it was about midnight. I expected Jesse to meet me. But he was not there neither was any one else. I had never been there before. So the night watchman told me that one of father's brothers, Uncle Mart Land lived there and took me to his home. It was then I was told of Jesse's death. Mother lingered between life and death for several days but finally recovered her health.
As a result of this tragedy, I did not return to Texas. I got a job hauling coal from coal pits near Glen Pool in to Sapulpa. I worked here until near Christmas. Then it was that a preacher names King who loved young people persuaded me with several others about my age to go to Bacone College. This school was founded by Drs. Bacone & Morrow, primarily for Indians. However, because opportunities for an education in Indian Territory were so poor, whites were admitted. There were about twice as many whites as Indians enrolled at that time. We enrolled at the beginning of the second semester in January 1903. In May 1904 I was graduated from High School. It took a great deal of hard work and many late hours to accomplish this. But by God's help it was done. In the fall of 1903, I saw my first football game. Left tackle was my position. There was another school in Muskogee, which was finally moved to Tulsa and became famous as Tulsa University. We had the pleasure of defeating them
23-0. The students at Bacone were so happy they carried us on their shoulders as we returned to the school.
Next time I will tell you how I became a school teacher.
Blessings on you. Remember our text.
This is letter #4. (Letter #3 is missing.)
When school was "out" I had opportunity to visit some relatives down in Central West Texas. While visiting there I met a man (a farmer) who was moving to the high plains in the western part of the state. His wife was ill and not able to move just then so he employed me to take two of his sons with two wagons loaded with household goods and go to his new home and make ready for the family to come later. There were no railroads and few towns enroute. We were on the road about ten days. It was quite interesting camping out nights cooking our own meals and sleeping on pallets made on the ground. But after the days trip and caring for the teams we did not lose much time looking at the stars. We were disturbed several times by howling coyotes. But we not afraid because we knew they were afraid of human beings and would not attack us.
Mr. Mobley, my boss, had intended to keep me with him so he could send his sons to school, but they didn't care for school, so I had to find other work. There was a rancher names Frank Norris who lived about ten miles away who hired me to work for him. It was while working for him that the way was opened for me to begin my life's work.
There was a school house about seven miles from the ranch. Occasionally some preacher would preach there. Every body attended these services. One Sunday in January the preacher failed to come. After waiting a long while for him, the teacher of the school called me out side and talked quite a while urging me to go in and preach. I tried to get out of it not having a sermon ready. Finally I agreed to let him announce that I would preach there in February. From then on I preached for them once a month until summer time. The people wanted me to conduct a revival meeting which I consented to do. Mr. Norris refused to give me time off for the meeting. So I quit and told him to find another man to take my place.
The Lord was very gracious to us by saving seven or eight young men and women about my age. At the close of this meeting a committee from a country church about fifteen miles a way, invited me to "hold" a meeting for them. The church had no pastor and extended me a call to serve and called for my ordination to the gospel ministery. The church was split over the mission question and was represented in two associations. I accepted the call on condition they would unite and work with one association. This was done. And the Lord blessed us very much. My church membership was still in Muskogee at the time. I asked for a letter so I could unite with the church at Floydada, Texas. Then this church ordained me and it has been my joy to serve the Lord through many years. Part of the time I served as pastor of frontier churches, part of the time I travelled as a missionary.
A very important person came into my life while I was working for Mr. Norris. A beautiful young lady lived on an ajoining ranch whom it was my joy to marry. And she has shared my life for almost forty eight years. She is the mother of your pastor, Rev. Joe Ray Land. In my next letter I hope to tell about a "Powder Can Church," that was built in New Mexico when I was Missionary.
May the Lord continue to bless you.
P.S. Remember our memory verse. Rom. 8:28. Read Psa. 32:8.
This is letter #5.
The American Baptist Publication Society through one of its agents in New Mexico sent me an urgent call with rail road tickets and money for expenses to go to New Mexico and do Colportage and Missionary work in that needy territory. This was before statehood for both Oklahoma and New Mexico. Feeling this to be the working out of God's will in my life I accepted the call and moved to Mountain Air. It was November 1909 when we made that move. When we arrived in Mt. Air, there was a light spring wagon with a buggy top attached to the seat. Behind the seat were two large trunks filled with Bibles and other books, and a large supply of tracts. Bibles and the other books were to be sold. The tracks were for free distribution. There was a small tent, a cot and other necessary camping equipment. There was a team of beautiful black horses to pull the wagon. Their names were Luke and Timothy. My business was to travel from one place to another, sell books and Bibles and give away tracts, Spanish Bibles and New Testaments.
When we were able to establish a new Sunday School the Society furnished the first quarter's literature and Bibles free. And it was my joy to present them. On one of my trips I went to Vaughn, N.M. intending to remain there but a few days. The days lengthened in to a week then into three weeks. There were two reasons for the length of time spent there. First it was God's way of working out his plan. Taking them in order of time. 2nd Timothy stepped on a nail and became very lame as a result. The other reason I conducted two revivals while there. First lasted a week with three or four conversions. This was in what is known as Old Vaughn. The people were not taking much interest. But there was a construction camp out about two or three miles. Several of the men became interested and desired a meeting in the camp. "Where shall we meet. You have no meeting house of any kind," I asked. "We will remove the beds from one of the bunk houses and meet there." Once again I felt this to be God's will. So the invitation was accepted. There were not more than six or eight women in the camp wives of some of the workmen. However, there were about three hundred
men. They were blasting out rock to use as balast on a new railroad the Santa Fee was building across N.M. The Lord poured out his blessings upon us. More than twenty men were saved. These included two foremen who were very hard wicked men. The weather was cold. The large room was full of men. Near the stove sat one of these foremen. I was trying to explain Isiah 53:5. I noticed this man was deeply interested, forgetting the others. I said "Don't you see it?" He jumped to his feet and said, "Yes, preacher. I do see it." That was all he said but that was enough. From that time on he was a changed man. No more cursing and swearing at his men. No more filthy talk.
It was here that the Powder Can Church was built so the people could have a place to worship. The people wanted a Sunday School but had no money to buy materials with. Then it would not have been practical because it was not many months until the camp would be closed. So the Superentent of the camp offered empty powder cans for the walls. These were filled with crushed rock and dirt. Windows Doors were found. Some body furnished a cottage organ. I furnished a supply of Bibles and S.S. literature. Oh! But it is wonderful how God leads and bless when we submit to his will. Remember our text.
Blessings on you and your sponser.
Next time I want to tell you about a beautiful sunset seen from the Rio Grande Valley.
This is letter #6.
Read Acts 8:26-40. Note vs. 29.
Due to a division among Baptists in New Mexico I was sent as missionary to Southwestern New Mexico. This change made it necessary to move from Mountain Air to Deming. It was January and very cold so leaving my family in Mt. Air until warmer weather. I took a team and buggy with camping equipment and drove down the valley between mountains to the east and the Rio Grande to the west. This was a long lonesome trip. There were no roads. Just headed south down the wide valley. There were only three ranch houses that I saw. At one of these ranches there were several men shearing sheep. No one was at home at the other two ranches. Did not see any one else until I arrived in Hatch. This was a small railroad town with but few inhabitants.
The next place of importance was Las Cruces. Mr. B. T. Link, president of the newly organized Baptist convention and also moderator of the Southwestern Baptist Association lived there. He owned and operated a livery stable. He invited me to his home and kept my team in the livery stable. The team was very tired from the long trip. So he insisted on my spending several days at his expense until the team had time to rest. It was a very pleasant time we had visiting an planning the work together.
After the team was well rested, I left Las Cruces one afternoon still going south to a bridge over the river. The Oregon Mountains were on the east and the Rio Grande to the west. The mountains are composed of red looking rock and resemble giant cathedrals with their spires piercing the sky. As the sun was setting I became facinated with the beautiful changing colors on the mountains. They reminded me of a kaleidoscope. I was so interested watching its changing beauty that I forgot every thing else. The team was jogging quietly along the trail when I heard a man's voice hailing me saying "Hi stranger. Why don't you stop and camp with me." Looking away from the beautiful mountains, I saw a man by the side of the road making camp for the night. When he saw I was equipped for camping, he hailed me.
"My team is thirsty, I replied, I must go on to the river so they can drink." "The river is up and you will have to go further south to a bridge then you will be in a Mexican village. It will be after dark when you get there. So you had better camp here." The Holy Spirit must have led me, for the thought came, "This is an opportunity to render some service to Christ." So I said "Al right!" and drove to one side and prepared to camp. By the time I had taken care of the team, he had supper ready. He had a covered wagon with a chuck box in the rear end. The lid when lowered had a leg and formed a table. I brought my lunch to the table while he brought the coffee from the fire and filled the cups. "Help your self while I set the pot back on the fire," he said. I waited until he returned to the table. "Why don't you help yourself?" He asked. "I am used to being thankful for what I eat," I answered. He took off his hat and said "Go ahead." At the conclusion of the prayer, he said "Amen. My parents were good Christians, members of a Baptist church. I am not a Christian. I wandered away from home, and have been gone a long time. A letter from my father informed of my mother's illness. And I am on my way home. I hope to see her before she dies."
Then we began to talk about Jesus and how to be saved all through the meal and while the dishes were being washed. It was dark by this time and quite cold. I brought my Bible from the buggy. While he kept the fire going I read by the firelight about God's way of saving people through Jesus Christ. After a season of prayer he was happily converted. We rejoiced together for a while, then unrolled our beds and retired. The next thing I knew I heard him stirring around building a fire and it was almost sun up. "How did you sleep last night." I asked. "I did not sleep. I was so happy I lay there and praised and thanked God all night long." After breakfast as we were warming our feet over the campfire, he took my hand while big tears rolled down his cheeks, he said, "I thank God you came this way and that you camped here with me" As we parted we shook hands and promised to meet in the heaven. I have never seen him since. But am sure to meet him over there where Jesus is.
This is one incident in the life of a pioneer missionary. Blessed be the name of our God and Savior Jesus Christ for this great experience and the beautiful sunset as seen from the Rio Grande Valley.
Next time I may tell you about the raid on Columbus, N.M., by about one thousand Mexicans and Indians.
Remember our text. Rom. 8:28.
This is letter #7.
After a long delay I wish to tell you about the raid on Columbus, N.M. led by Francisco Villa, a Mexican bandit. At one time he was a friend Medaro who led a successful revolution in Mexico. But for some reason they failed to agree; so Villa rebeled and started a counter revolution which was finally crushed by Caranza who had made himself President of Mexico.
Villa gathered about 1000 Mexicans and Yaki (you spell it) indians. Under his leadership they made a great deal of trouble for the Mexican government. He attacked a number of towns along the Mexican border. At Douglas Ariz. he was forcing the Mexican army back so close to the American side that the commander of our troops ordered him to stop firing because of the danger to American lives and property. This made him very angry. So he swore vengance against America. In a few weeks he led a sneek attack on Columbus, N.M. This was a small town located about three miles north of the international boundry.
This was the headquarters for the Thirteenth Cavalry. All but three troops were scattered over a long thin line making it easy for him to slip through the line with his small army. The country was full of Misquite and sage brush. Just west of the town was a small hill behind which he hid his horses. He then deployed his troops on three sides of the army camp. The guard were killed and the camp over run in a very short time. The U.S. soldiers were asleep when the Mexicans entered their barracks. But instead of surrendering, the American sprang from their beds and began to fight. They were rallied by the non commissioned officers. The commissioned officers had rooms and houses in the town. But being well trained the American soon dove the invaders from the camp. But not before the Mexicans had set fire to the business section. The Americans turned their rifles and machine guns on the enemey looting the stores. The fire light made a clear target of the Mexicans causing them to loose a large number of dead and wounded. Soon the enemey were driven from the town and camp. The enemey were driven across the border. This incident caused Pres. Wilson to order the invasion of Mexico in persuit of Villa and his men.
General Pershing was put in command, they followed Villa several miles into Mexico, then returned. The Mexican Gov. took over and eventual Villa was killed and his men were soon under controll.
There were some civialans killed one woman, and they wanted a funeral service there in Columbus before the passenger train came through that night. So with a rifel at my side a belt of amunition and my Bible conducted the funeral it had to be brief. No man was allowed out with out a rifle and belt of amunition.
I was in El Paso Texas visiting Dr. E. B. Atwood who was our state secretary. he was very ill in a Hospital there early that morning (Monday) in March 1916 the news came Poncho Vila had raided Columbus. This little town was one of my mission points so natuarly I wanted to catch the first train out. I tryed to catch a freight but was refused saying a passenger would be through soon--and it was--but seemed like hours. I left the train in a run for the U.S. offices. I was personaly acquainted with the comanding officer and other personal. I was at once issued a rifle and a belt of amunition--and assigned a poast which was the second floor of the Hotel where as many women and children had been sent for safty.
They were all histerical--and imediately I began to talk to them. Then ask them to be quiet for a prayer--then I begun to quote Gods promises to them a soon they were all quite and comforted. Then the call came for me to conduct this funeral I mentioned earlier.
One good man and his wife and daughter had a small two bedroom home. They were loyal Baptist--as ever one in those days lived in very small houses so this man and his good wife and daughter (Their names were Page--decided to build a Profits Chamber to their house. The furniture was crude a good bed but the women made a very nice dressing table from orange crates and put a pretty curtain around it and a mirro above it and a comfortable rocking chair, just about complited the furniture this was my home as long as I was Mission Pastor there.
They were well educated people. Mary the daughter was a music graduate--from some school in the east before they moved west--they had nice furniture in their living room. Piano etc. the Mexicans tryed to burn the house down several times each time Bro. Page who was in side managed to put the fire out each time finaly help came and drove the Mexicans away. They shot in to the house several times not once did a bullet penetrate any of the furniture would go into the wall cose some times.
All this time Mrs. page and Mary were out in a small building at the back that had several bales of hay so they were protected with the hay.
As we all said later Truely God watches over and cares for his own.
(This is the end of the letters. There was no signature on the last page, so I believe there is a page missing.)