Progress Notes



Joe Pryor - News Tribune Article Monday, June 04, 2007


Monday, January 7, 2008

Progress Notes

As the next presidential election approaches heralded by this week's Iowa caucus meetings and candidate selections, it is interesting that religion, as it sometimes occurs, is one of the topics of discussion. In the current election cycle one of the candidates for president has a Muslim father, one is a Baptist preacher, and another is a Mormon. The part of the First Amendment having to do with religion ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof……") once again becomes a subject for debate. This revisitation of the original intent of the First Amendment inspired me to review the history of the development and establishment of religious organizations in Miller County. By the way, one of the most interesting sites on our webpage is that devoted to the historical churches of Miller County: http://www.millercountymuseum.org/churches.html

Take a look at the site as you read this week's discussion of the religious awakening in our county, and in particular, the life of one of the county's most well known and respected evangelists, Charles Marriot Sooter (photo 01). However, first let's review some of the religious history of the county in general.

01 Charles Marriot Sooter
01 Charles Marriot Sooter

The coming of organized religion to Miller County began slowly in the early 1800's. Before that the area was too wild and unsettled, mostly inhabited by hunters and trappers who had no families. According to Vol. I of Clyde Lee Jenkins "History of Miller County" p. 253, the following quote is presented from an early explorer named Schoolcraft:

"The Sabbath is not known by a cessation of the usual avocations of the hunter in this region. To him all days are equally unhallowed, and the first and last days of the week find him alike, sunk in unconcerned sloth and stupid ignorance. He neither thinks for himself nor reads the thoughts of others; and if he ever acknowledges his dependence upon the Supreme Being, it must be in that silent awe produced by the furious tempest, when the earth trembles with concussive thunders, and lightning shatters the oaks around his cottage---that cottage which certainly never echoed the voice of human prayer."

As Clyde Lee says, "So it was in this area afterward known as Miller County. For the first three decades of the new Century, the few local inhabitants were laboriously wresting a rugged domain from the wild woods, prairies, and wilder beasts." According to Schultz's "History of Miller County" p. 83, before the Civil War in the census of 1860, only eight churches could be found in the county: "Three Baptist churches, two Christian, two Methodist, and one Union church." Schultz comments that informal services may have been held at school houses, in homes or in brush arbors. The few pioneer preachers present were volunteers without formal training. According to Clyde Lee Jenkins, the very first church building built in Miller Territory (just before the county was officially recognized) was the Smyrna log building, raised in 1834 by Methodists in the Big Richwoods (Iberia). The very first record of a church organized in Miller Territory was the United Baptist Church of Christ at Gilgal located where Little Gravois Creek empties into the Osage River just above present day Bagnell (Jenkins; "History of Miller County" Vol I, p. 254).

One of the forces bringing organized religion to Miller County as well as other areas of the country west of the original thirteen colonies had to do with questions of religious freedom among the first churches built by the earliest arrivals to our shores from England. In those years before the Constitution and later the First Amendment were created, many churches were established in the eastern U.S., almost all Protestant, by settlers who came here expressly for the purpose to enjoy a religious freedom impossible in the lands of their birth. However, paradoxically, eventually (except in the Puritan colonies), the Episcopal Church became the established church, supported by a general tax. The old orthodox English national faith, in spite of the earlier settlers having come to this country for religious freedom, now sought domination and control of all churches. According to Clyde Lee Jenkins (History of Miller County Vol I p. 264) by 1750, the monopoly of the Puritans in New England, and the Episcopal Church in the central and southern colonies, was being challenged. To escape the entrenched orthodoxy and taxes imposed by the established church, the Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians commenced moving out. Entire congregations, with their pastors, followed the buffalo paths and Indian trails westward, moving into Kentucky and Tennessee. Even the Quakers, due to the rigid discipline of the church, commenced losing members. The flight westward of the common people seeking religious freedom only increased after the Revolutionary War. In no one grand, distinctive Christian practice, or characteristic doctrine, did the churches differ; the appreciable difference being over baptism by immersion or sprinkling, although tactics, economics, and ecclesiastical politics caused religious ferment. Gradually, these differences led, as Clyde Lee says "to dissension among the dissenters". Most of the major denominations, Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian began to develop splinter groups, all full of devout missionary zeal and energy, who sent their representatives on horseback, most of whom were uneducated by seminary training, to the vast Midwest to establish their various churches. But religious ferment continued even as these dedicated representatives of the church labored tirelessly to "spread the gospel" to the unchurched of the frontier. Later, as it regards Charles M. Sooter, I will discuss one of the major efforts combating denominationalism which had to do with discarding old ideas regarding denominations, creeds, church government and hierarchy as presented by the followers of Alexander Campbell and the formation of the Christian Church.

After the Civil War for ten years Miller County suffered the ravages of anarchy due to continuing feuds between northern and southern sympathizers, and ambushes and fighting were not uncommon. Mothers were afraid to let their children walk alone to school, and because of the feuding and quarreling people stayed at home without socializing much. However, gradually the intense feelings of loneliness and isolation along with the great sadness that accompanied the loss of property and loved ones due to the war evoked a spontaneous revival in divine worship. Again quoting Clyde Lee (volume 2 p. 98):

"It was at church, and church alone, inhabitants could find joy and pleasure in being together. Since the inhabitants were laboriously wrestling with the rugged domain to eke out a bare existence, there was no time for social life and pleasurable moments together except on Sundays, and then, perhaps, only once a month, on preaching day. And, perhaps, it was not altogether delight in the sermons which made them willingly sit on their hard wooden benches through three or four hours of earnest and painfully solemn services. It was because every inhabitant craved company. The people wanted to be together. Church services were social meetings. The human mind was delighted by the driest discourse in the absence of nothing better being offered, so everyone in that era went to church, both saint and sinner."

So it was into this milieu that Charles Marriot Sooter began his missionary efforts in Miller County. Why was he considered one of the most well known evangelists in the county? First, he was accorded great honor and distinction by those two gentlemen who recorded the history of Miller County and from whom I quote frequently: Gerald Schultz and Clyde Lee Jenkins.

On page 90 of his book, Schultz writes the following:
"Reverend C.M. Sooter has been the outstanding minister of the Christian Church known as the "New Lights". Although he was a man without education, he became one of the most effective preachers of his day."

Clyde Lee has more to say (Judge Jenkin's History of Miller county volume 2 p. 103):

"One of the more remarkable developments in the decade of the 1880's, was the organization of the New Light Christian Churches in Miller County. This was done by a young man who early in his lifetime was much admired by many inhabitants for his great abilities as a minister. This celebrated ecclesiastic, Reverend Charles M. Sooter, was the son of Dr. Harvey V. Sooter, a pioneer physician in the Brays' community and postmaster at Alberta, Miller County, a number of years. Reverend Charles M. Sooter commenced espousing the cause of the New Lights, a particular sect organized in Kentucky in 1828, by Reverend James O'Kelly (photo 02), first known as the "Kellyites."

02 James O'Kelly
02 Rev. James O'Kelly

In 1889 while preaching at old No.4 school house in the 8th school district, he organized the Mount Zion Christian Church. Soon after a new house of worship was erected by the congregation.

(The following photo (photo 03) of the Mt. Zion Christian Church was taken soon after it began holding services. Unfortunately, the quality is poor; otherwise some of the early attendees might have been recognized.)

03 Mt. Zion Christian Church - 1889
03 Mt. Zion Christian Church - 1889

In the same year, while preaching at the schoolhouse by Humphrey's Creek, he organized the Humphrey's Creek Christian Church.

He held a protracted meeting at the Gott Cemetery, while preaching there with Rev. Simon Cox, and organized the Gott Graveyard Christian Church.

He preached at the house of Susan Lawson; at Daniel Boone Robbins saw and grist mill west of Capps; to the Methodist congregation at the Curry schoolhouse; in homes around Faith, then a post office and store in Glaze township; in homes around Needmore (Ulman); at many places along the Big Tavern creek; in Maries and Pulaski counties; even making a number of trips, as a missionary, into Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.

He preached at the Union Church, northeast, across from Iberia, organizing a church at that place; and at the Mount Gilead Christian Church near Brays. By early 1890 he was preaching at the Iberia Christian Church; the Mount Zion Christian Church; the Mount Gilead Christian Church; the Mount Etna, and little Tavern Christian Churches in Maries county, and the Gott Graveyard Church.

Few men ever touched the lives of more people in Miller County than Reverend Charles M. Sooter. Gentle in his disposition, he possessed extraordinary talents for reasoning and argument. He could act as wisely as he was able to talk, and the morality and regularity of his conduct set a good example to his followers."

The following information was summarized from a book about the Sooter family (A Genealogy and History of the Sooter Family) by Mabel Sooter Riddle, a niece of Charles Sooter. This book was donated to our library by the Sooter family. It is interesting regarding the family history as well as some information about Charles Sooter's father Harvey, who was a well known physician in Iberia in the late 1800's. According to the genealogical study by Mabel Sooter Riddle Charles M. Sooter was a direct descendent of George Sooteur who sailed in 1737 from London for Philadelphia aboard the Adventure . Ms. Riddle states that the Sooteur family name dates far back in history and belongs to a line of Franco-German freedmen descended from the Romans, and more specifically from Charlemagne's armor bearer, La Sooteur, who served the king of the Franks from A.D. 800 to 814. Descendents of George Sooteur (who was the great great great grandfather of Charles Marriot Sooter) gradually migrated westward through the Carolinas and Tennessee ending up in Southern Missouri where Charles's father, Harvey, was born. Harvey, like his ancestors before him, originally was a slave owner. However, he disliked slavery and gave his slaves their freedom at the same time he moved to Miller County near Iberia. One of the slaves, named George, decided to stay with the family, which as it turned out was a very fortunate decision. Harvey had decided to join up with the Union forces at the beginning of the Civil War, and while he was gone, some southern sympathizers decided to make a raid on his home near Iberia. Because George had decided to stay and help the family, he was outside when the raiders approached and recognizing immediately the danger, gathered the family into the cellar while the raiders savaged the farm and stole the livestock and many possessions. George had promised Harvey he would protect the family and he kept his promise. Charles Marriot Sooter was about seven years old at the time of the raid and it was something he always remembered.

Upon returning from the war, Harvey farmed and ran a sawmill. However, he felt the need to become something more. He had been injured during the war and during his hospitalization had developed a deep respect for his care givers and the selfless manner they displayed while caring for their patients. So Harvey decided to become a doctor. No medical school was even reasonably close to Iberia so Harvey ordered all the medical books he could afford and began studying. In those days no state licensure body was established to ensure the competency of physicians and in the rural areas most doctors were self taught or had apprenticed themselves to an older practitioner to learn the art. Some of these practitioners were serious students but many were not but instead were the typical traveling "medicine man" selling various concoctions of doubtful value. However, Harvey was a serious student and learned his profession well; he is listed as one of the established physicians in Iberia by Clyde Lee Jenkins in Volume 2 of his History of Miller County. According to Mrs. Riddle, mentioned above, Harvey's medical books are still in the family. Harvey practiced in the Iberia area until his death. He was also postmaster there.

Several biographies of Charles Marriot Sooter are available. The one I found most interesting was written by a man about whom little now is remembered, Charles C. Burger. I received my copy of a pamphlet containing this biography from Reba Sooter/Martin/Graham, a great granddaughter of Charles Sooter. Reba's mother, Ellie (Abbett) Sooter, was a sister to my grandmother, Sadie (Abbett) Bear. Reba told me that Mr. Burger visited the home of Charles Marriot Sooter a few years before he died, probably in the early 1930's. Mr. Burger lived with Reverend Sooter for several weeks while writing his booklet. I found it very interesting and quaintly written so I will present it here:

A BRIEF BIOGRAHY OF THE REVEREND C.M. SOOTER

BY CHARLES C. BURGER

The parents of Reverend C. M. Sooter took him to Miller County at about the age when the parents of Jesus took him to Jerusalem. Here he was to play an important role in the religious life of that section of the Ozarks. He was born in Newton County, Missouri, August 24, 1857 of Irish parents who belonged to that migration which started from North Ireland many years before.

(Note: this country of origin conflicts with the family history well studied as presented above by Margaret Sooter Riddle)

His immediate ancestors settled in the Carolinas and later became a part of that migratory drift which, after stopping a while in the mountains of West Tennessee, stopped in the Ozarks. These are the people who are known today as "The Natives." They are the direct descendents of an adventurous, hardy race.

His father was a physician who found his religious satisfactions in healing the bodies of men so that he never joined the church until he became an old man. His mother was a member of the Methodist Church. In his earlier boyhood days the Methodist Church was quite strong in the Ozarks. The enthusiasm of the Wesley-Whitfield Revival reached as far as the Ozarks, where notable missionary work was carried on. This was at one time a stronghold of "shouting" Methodists. They have left a permanent influence in the religious life of this entire region.

In these days there were few schools in this region. They were taught by poorly prepared teachers and lasted not to exceed three months, usually beginning the latter part of the summer when seed-ticks and chiggers were at their worst, the weather the hottest and the swimming hole most allurring. When Iberia Academy was founded by Professor G. Byron Smith in 1890 it was the only high school in twenty counties. As a boy Reverend Sooter did not take to learning, or at least the learning of books. His school was the great outdoors. He became a keen observer of nature. But even more than his knowledge of nature was his knowledge of people. This gave him leadership early in life. He was easily a leader in any group whatever might be the group en- terprise, whether serious or merely pranks. And, speaking of pranks, he was not only fond of fun but noted for his practical jokes. It was always a matter of conjecture when he was going to "pull off" something. This sometimes got him into trouble as in one case where he brought a live "possum" into a revival meeting. He was arrested for bring- ing a "coon" into meeting. The trial turned out to be an amusing affair as he was able to prove that he did not bring a "coon" into the meeting as charged in the court document. No indeed, it was a "'possum" that he had turned loose!! The judge dismissed the complaint.

After his marriage in the early twenties (to Harriet Pankney) he took up farming and saw-milling. When he was twenty-seven years of age while operating a saw mill, an itinerate Christian minister of the "New Light" movement by the name of Mapes came down from Iowa to hold some revival services in the community. Mr. Sooter attended one of these meetings and became at first interested, then under conviction. His latter state of mind he kept to himself. As he went about his days' work watching the saw eat through the logs he came to the conclusion that it was time for him to make a definite decision. His state of mind was first noticed by his wife. In the past he had loved his old fiddle and played it until he almost drove her frantic. She knew something dramatic had happened when she noticed that he had lost his taste for the violin.

After his confession the two were baptized together. As days passed by and he thought the matter over he began to feel an inner urge to live a definite public Christian life. He felt that in order to do so he must learn to pray in public. This he found exceedingly difficult. He made a start by returning Thanks at the table which later led to the establishing of a family alter. Gradually the conviction grew upon him that he must dedicate his life to the ministry. Then began the second great conflict of his life, more severe than that which caused him to surrender his will to the Divine and dedicate his life to Christ. The struggle was hard and long. There were many reasons why he could not enter the ministry. For one thing he was unlearned; he had never spoken in public; he had to work to earn a livelihood. One day while he was walking through the woods with his father in regular Ozark style, single file with the father leading, he spoke to him of his conviction. The father gave him no answer as if he had not heard. When they came to a rail fence, the father stopped and placing his foot on a rail of convenient height turned to the son and spoke words of encouragement and advice. Thus, the first hard battle was over. The chief advice which was given was this: that he could not expect to be a big preacher but he could so gain the confidence of the people that they would hear him gladly.

The next thing was to actually make a beginning. There was to be an "all-day-meeting" in a near by school house and he consented to have it given out that he would preach. These all-day-meetings are still an important factor in the religious and social life of the Ozarks. People come for miles around arriving by ten o'clock Sunday morning with well filled baskets. There is usually a sermon or two before dinner. The lunch is served out of doors when the weather permits. Whether indoors or out the method is the same. The seats are placed together front to front and end to end, forming a table. Then the food is placed on these and the people help themselves. This is a notable social occasion. People visit until about two o'clock when they again assemble for more preaching. In the evening people go home to attend to their "chores" if they do not live too far away. Those who live too far often go home with those who live nearer or remain at the Church for the night service and the final meeting of the day. This service is often the best as it is the climax of the day's services. At the close the people all come forward to shake hands with the ministers and one another.

Word went around quickly that Charley Sooter was going to preach and the crowd which was normally large was greatly increased. He used the text, "For I am determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." To his great surprise he found it easy to talk. He says he has never found it difficult since although sometimes when he first starts he has to "trail" awhile before he gets warmed up. Besides his gift of speech which he believes a Providential gift, and so it is; but probably through his Irish Ancestors he was a great singer. He loved to sing. He sang his way into the hearts of the people as a preparation for receiving his message.

He has always been a serious man with a tremendous spiritual appeal which rose at the close of his sermon to great heights; but he has also a Celtic sense of humor. He is a real entertainer as well as preacher. He has always had a keen sense of humor. Sometimes during his revival services he has seen such funny incidents occur that when he got up to preach he had to do a good deal of "trailing" before he could get hold of himself.

There were no church buildings in the Ozarks in his early days. Preaching was done at school houses, in homes, the out of doors, under the trees and in brush arbors. After his ordination at the age of thirty it became his custom to preach at least three times on Sunday and often during the week. He also spent a good many weeks of the year in Evangelistic work. He says that he never found it difficult to influence people. He always had large crowds to preach to. It was not uncommon to be greeted by anywhere from five hundred to fifteen hundred people.

But Reverend Sooter was something more than an itinerant Evangelist. He had a genius for organization. During the thirty-five years of his ministry he organized the following churches: Union, Mt. Zion, High Knob, Camp Ground, Humphrey's Creek, Little Tavern, Liberty, Atwell, Cranford, Edyth, Ketchum (Oklahoma), Iberia, Fairview, Gott's Graveyard, and Meta. At many of these places he led in the erection of church buildings. Many of these are still standing today and have prosperous congregations. Almost all of them are well located and close enough so they can have fellowship together.

His method on going to a new place was to start in a tent if another building was not available. He bought one hundred and forty-four yards of heavy canvass out of which he made a tent. Under this canvass revivals took place and if they were successful a church was organized and later a building erected. It became his custom to hold revival services at least once a year in each church. As a result he preached some 5250 sermons, had 4500 conversions and baptized 3,000 people (photo 04). And by the way, Mr. Sooter, although practicing immersion, has never refused to baptize people by some other method if they so desired it.

04 Baptism at Campground Christian Church
04 Baptism at Campground Christian Church

In his early work he traveled by horse-back averaging some two thousand miles per year. Later he used a two-wheeled cart and buggy. For forty-five year's this bearer of "The Good News" traveled roads which often were little better than dim trails, sometimes following rocky ridges; sometimes skirting steep hillsides and sometimes following the valleys where they forded the creeks lengthwise. Now in his old age he drives a car (photo 05).

05 Charles Sooter and daughter Opal
05 Charles Sooter and daughter Opal

He has held baptisms in the following streams. Grand River, Osage, Big Tavern, Little Tavern, Sugar Creek, Little Maries, Cat Tail, Dog, Coon, Hannah's Branch, Morrow Creek, Humphrey's Creek, Niangua, Barn Fork, Brush Fork and others. The greatest number ever baptized at one time was seventy-two immersed and four sprinkled. This was in Little Tavern Creek. The greatest number ever accepted into membership at one time was ninety-one.

He says the most amusing incident of his revival career occured at Gott's Graveyard. After holding a revival he organized a church of nineteen members, only two of whom were men. These two were made deacons but being new converts they were limited in their ability to "deek". The names of these men are purposely omitted but suffice to say neither one was Alex Gott. With a perfectly sober face and apparently serious intent, Mr. Gott suggested that one of the deacons, a neighbor, should be called upon for prayer. This was done at one of the evening services without first consulting the deacon. After getting down on his knees the deacon started out with, "Oh Lord!," which was first said as an exclamation, followed by a long silence; then repeated as a groan, and another long pause; and then repeated in despair, followed by "Some of you brothers will have to take it. I'm choking." The whole congregation almost choked in trying to conceal their amusement. Of course, the most amused person in the audience was Mr. Gott. When the preacher later asked the deacon why he did not say" Amen" and quit, his answer was that he thought he had not said enough yet to say "Amen."

Another amusing incident was in connection with another revival. The wife of Mr. B. who belonged to another denomination opposed to the Christian Church, responded to the call at the close of the sermon to come forward to unite with the Church. At this the husband came forward also and glowering at his wife said, "Hattie, I will never live with you again." Groaning he said aloud, "This is the hard- est blow ever struck me." But Mr. B. did live with his wife and later united with the Christian Church.

These forty-five years of devoted, consecrated service meant years of sacrifice. The chief creed of the Ozark religion has been that salvation is free, and in the case of Brother Sooter, it has been well practiced. It seemed never to occur to anyone that the preacher ought to be paid for his service. He tells of one incident where he rode sixty miles during cold weather over poor roads and having to sleep in a school house on the way to conduct a funeral. (And by the way, he has probably conducted more funerals than any living preacher in the Ozarks) for which he was paid the sum of one dollar. He often held revival services without receiving any compensation other than occasionally yarn for a pair of socks or something of that kind. At one place which necessitated a trip of forty miles he preached for one whole year and was paid $12.50 for his services. Part of the pay was a load of corn. This was not delivered. He had to drive the whole distance after it. It was not unusual for him to ride twenty miles on horseback after his night services over the worst roads imaginable and during all kinds of weather. It was only his marvelous physique and strong constitution developed in outdoor life and accustomed to hardships that made it possible for him to stand it. One time he was water bound for eleven days. After swimming his horse across the Niangua he was stopped again by the Glaize. He finally reached home at midnight on the thirteenth day.

If one only heard Brother Sooter read the Bible he would not suspect that he was an unlearned man. He has never used commentaries and his reading has been confined almost wholly to the Bible, much of which he can quote from memory. The Bible has been his great text book. He has been a Bible preacher as well as a Bible student. The New Testament has interested him most and from it he has drawn his great inspiration. In the days when religion in this section was marked by controversies which sometimes became so bitter that the result was neighborhood feuds, he preached the Gospel devoid of controversy. Of him it might be said as Paul says of himself "that he became all things to all men that he might win some." But religious controversies were not the only strife. Drinking and fighting at public services were not an uncommon thing. He was held in such respect and esteem even by the rough element that he had very little trouble with misconduct at his services. When asked whether religious conditions were improving, he answered that they were not as good as in his day. However, he says that moral conditions are much better.

Brother Sooter has been married three times. His present wife (Lucy Stark), somewhat younger than himself, is keenly interested in his past and makes for him an excellent companion. They have known each other for fifty years. He is the father of nine children, seven of whom are living. Three of his four boys have followed him in the ministry and are preaching in the churches which their father organized. Although this shepherd of the hills has reached the age of seventy-five and is feeling the infirmities of the flesh, he is still able to drive a car and his mind is clear and vigorous. Of course, his active days are over although he still preaches regularly, but his influence is as extensive and benign as ever. His place will soon be taken by a new generation of men, but his influence will never die and the memory of him will ever remain green in that section of the Ozarks. Indeed, he has been a "Sky Pilot" who has lifted so many hearts Heavenward, and started so many lives in the way of right living, that the whole character of this region is different for his having lived in it. He has built for himself a living monument that will reach forward in waves of influence that deepen and widen until they reach the Eternal Shores.


To the above sympathetically written biography of Charles Sooter by Charles C. Burger some more formal detail about Sooter's family history is provided by Peggy Hake:

"Charles Sooter was born 24 Aug 1857 and was one of five children born to Harvey Van Buren Sooter and his wife, Sarah Ann (Smith). His brother and sisters were: William M. 'Ned' Sooter, Louisa Sooter Shelton, Geretta/Nettie Sooter Renfrow, and Margaret/Maggie Sooter Hensley. Charles' father, Harvey, was a physician who did not go in a church until he was an old man. His mother, Sarah (Smith), was a Methodist.

In 1873, Charles married Harriett Pankey who died a short time later after giving birth to two children: Nettie Sooter Wiles and Leona Sooter Shelton. In 1876, he married Jane Alice Carson (photo 06) and they had seven children: Menzo E. Sooter, Charles W. Sooter, Mark Sooter, W. M. Sooter, Elizabeth Sooter Hodgden, and Lena Sooter.

06 Charles and Jane Alice Carson Sooter
06 Charles and Jane Alice Carson Sooter

In 1929, his second wife, Jane Alice, died and he was married a third time to Mrs. Lucy (Levina Burton) Stark, widow of William Stark. Rev. Charles M. Sooter died at his home five miles south of Tuscumbia in the summer of 1938 at the age of 81 years. His funeral services were held at the Iberia Academy by Rev. A. L. Alexander of the Eldon Christian Church. He was assisted by Rev. J. Merle Bandy of the Iberia Baptist Church and Rev. Deweese of the Iberia Newlight Church. The Jones brothers, old friends of Brother Sooter, had a beautiful and inspirational song service. He was laid to rest at the Brays Union Cemetery, northeast of Iberia. His descendants have carried on in his tradition. Four of his sons became ministers and the musical talent continues to be heard in his grandchildren and the newer generations of the Sooter family."

One of the more interesting aspects of Charles Sooter's ministry has to do with him being known as a "New Light Christian." As Clyde Lee Jenkins stated near the beginning of this narrative, Reverend Sooter was significantly influenced by a Reverend Mapes from Iowa who was said to be a follower of James O'Kelly who was a "New Lighter." James O'Kelly (see photo 02 above) was a Methodist minister of the late 1700's who left the Methodist church and joined with other ministers of the Presbyterian and Baptist faiths all of whom were seeking relief from the ecclesiastical authority of their various denominations. The climactic amalgamation of these groups of dissenters occurred at a huge meeting of thousands of ministers of various denominations at Cane Ridge, Kentucky in 1801. Basically, they were dissenting against denominationalism, creeds, and ecclesiastical authority and sought to base their belief solely on biblical scripture only. Out of this meeting in Kentucky, several leaders emerged all espousing the same ideas, basically desiring to return to the worship forms and practice of the first century Christians. For that reason sometimes they were referred to as leaders of the "Restoration Movement". Foremost among these leaders was Alexander Campbell whose adherents were called "Campbellites". Those who followed James O'Kelly and Barton Stone were called "New Lights". These ministers themselves, however, preferred to be known only as "Christians" or "Disciples of Christ". So the churches started by Charles Sooter, sometimes called "New Light" churches, basically followed the same beliefs and method of worship as other Christian churches started by the followers of Alexander Campbell. All of them came out of the same origin which was the great camp revival experienced during those few months in 1801 at Cane Ridge, Kentucky.

You can read more about the Christian Church denomination as well as James O'Kelly at the following website:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restoration_Movement#Pioneers_of_the_movement

The first church started by Charles Sooter was the Mt. Zion Christian church as was noted above in the quote from Clyde Lee Jenkins regarding Charles Sooter. My great grandfather, David C. Bear, was one of those who worked with Sooter to organize the church and my mother and her siblings were regular attendees of the church in their youth. You can read more about the Mt. Zion Christian Church as well as a summary of some of my mother's memories of the church on our own website at: http://www.millercountymuseum.org/christian.html

You will have to scroll half way down the page to reach the section on Mt. Zion.

I asked a couple of people who knew Charles Sooter if they would provide a memory or anecdote about him:

My mother remembers that once in a great while Reverend Sooter would come to her parents' house for Sunday Dinner after church services. He was a Godly man always wearing a black suit, usually with vest, and had a prominent beard and mustache which over the years turned a very distinctive white color. It was a serious affair when Reverend Sooter came for Dinner and mom's mother spared nothing while preparing the fried chicken and all the "fixin's". One of those Sundays, when mom was about five years old, she remembers with a certain degree of mixed emotions. Naturally, the plate of chicken reached the children's places at the table last and by the time it reached her all that was left was the neck. Picking up the neck and slowly inspecting it she then raised her head looking at the group around the table and asked, "Is this the Holy Ghost piece?" Mom remembers that everyone looked at her without any evidence of amusement on their faces and not a word was spoken. Her mother, mom remembers, had a quizzical look on her face accompanied by a twinge of anguish as well. Mom says she doesn't really know what in the world she was meaning by the question. Somehow or other she associated that skinny neck of chicken with the preacher's calling on the Holy Ghost that morning. But one thing is for sure: thereafter she followed the rule that children were made to be seen, not heard; especially when the preacher comes to dine.

I asked my mother to describe Charles Sooter's preaching style. This is what she wrote:

"I've gone to church somewhere all my life but I can't remember hearing a preacher like Charley Sooter. I told you if you remember that Mr. Sooter raised his voice and could give one a spiritual feeling inside. You asked me what style Mr. Sooter used and I told you he was loud, really exciting the audience and then you knew he was about to end when he dropped his voice. He never thought of using notes, the words just rolled out. I liked it. He was very popular around all these parts. You don't hear that kind of preaching anymore. As you get a little older it takes more than just talking and I've noticed that it takes giving you a little fire and brimstone. He had good talks though, making a lot of sense. I say I've never heard anybody as years go by that preached like that and I think it was good for me."

Gene Edwards of Ulman was the third preacher to minister to the Mt. Zion Church being called after Charles Sooter and later Charles' son Mark finished their preaching ministries there. Gene knew the Sooters well and remembers Charles Sooter as being a true "old time preacher" possessed with the ability to maintain the audience's attention throughout the sermon with a God given gift of speaking skills rarely observed. But Gene says Charles also had the gift of a musical ear and a wonderful tenor singing voice which could mesmerize those who attended his services and revivals. Gene says Charles Sooter was known as the "Song bird of the Ozarks". Many times people came to hear him sing as much as to hear him preach. Even though he was a master violin player he usually sang "a cappella." Most of the Sooters were good musicians and often Charles' sons would sing and play musical instruments as part of a song service for the congregation.


Those of us at the museum were saddened to learn of the recent death of Gaylord Strange of Eldon. Gaylord, who was part of the department of maintenance at School of the Osage for many years, spent most of his life outside of work collecting newspaper articles from the local periodicals which recorded historical events and obituaries. He had shelf after shelf filled with three ring notebooks which contained photo copies of the many articles he preserved. Also, Gaylord made many censuses of Miller County cemeteries. He had almost a photographic memory of long ago events, in particular having to do with the area around Old Bagnell where he was born and raised. I and Nancy Thompson, museum director, as well as others visited Gaylord several times to obtain important records for our research room at the museum. He was always very eager to share with us information he had accumulated. Not long ago, he donated to the museum many of the files he had saved through the years.

That's all for this week.

Joe Pryor



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Here We "GROW"




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