It was King David who wrote, “We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work Thou didst in their days, in the times of old,” and this can certainly be applied to today.
It is fascinating to hear of those evangelists and pastors who barnstormed through El Dorado, whether it was in a tent or tabernacle, and the impression that they left upon the churches in Union County.
Historically, those revivals and evangelistic meetings are more than stories from the past, collected old faded photographs and bleary newspaper microfilm found among archives in the area churches and in the public library. They are really a part of the very fiber and moral of the community, for the saint and for the sinner, and for all of the families that not only help to found El Dorado, but also to help grow it.
Ever since Evangelist L. G. Tomlinson was called in 1924 to preach at a revival meeting for the First Christian Church, El Dorado has been an important stop on the circuit by leading evangelists. The great and the near great have all made their presence felt in El Dorado, and the memories of many of them live on in the minds of those who sat spellbound during those revivals.
Several of those meetings made religious history in Union County. They caused thousands to “hit the sawdust trail,” and unquestionably the good they did was tremendous.
But today, many of the established churches are dwindling down in the sizes of their congregations because of the lack of spirituality in our city.
During the 1920s, the city had witnessed preaching and performers that were well known in that era, such as the famous baseball evangelist, “Billy” Sunday, along with two members of his team, Bob Matthews and Walter Jenkins, who came to the Methodist Tabernacle to sing and preach at the end of March, after their revival was over in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Not much was described in the El Dorado News-Times after the meeting, but it can be sure that “Billy” would not let people down. Everywhere he went he would get so wound up that he would “shadowbox” the devil, break kitchen chairs, stand on the pulpit and shout.
No one could really outdo him as far as theatrics go, but he believed in his calling and carried it out to the best of his ability.
It was by 1917, when “Billy” preached in New York City, that some say he reached the pinnacle of his fame, but when he came to El Dorado, his was still a household name in revivals.
It was also in March of 1924, that two other names in evangelistic circles came to Union County.
Homer Hammontree, who worked with Mel Trotter, famous rescue missioner in Michigan, came to the First Presbyterian Church to conduct a Christian concert, with his accompanist, L. A. Mermensen.
Also, Colonel J.C. Addie of the Salvation Army in Chicago came to the Salvation Army in El Dorado to hold a two-day meeting and give his famous speech, “Modern Day Miracles” and speak about the mission of the Salvation Army worldwide.
What is interesting is that Colonel Addie was converted in Scotland under the preaching of British Evangelist, Gipsy Smith Sr. But it was between Oct. 20 to Nov. 10, 1929, when a tent was put up between Champagnolle and North Madison for the evangelist Gipsy Smith, Jr. here in El Dorado.
Even though his father, Gipsy Smith, Sr., had preached on five continents, Gipsy, Jr. stayed in America and preached many times in the South and in Arkansas, especially when his son, Rev. G. Wilbur Smith became the pastor of the Presbyterian Churches in Dermott and Stuttgart for a short time.
Looking more like a business man than an evangelist, Gipsy preached to reach the person’s soul, not their emotions.
As his father once told him, “You’ve got the most important message in the world — clothe it in its purest language” — and that is what he did. He would “feel” the spiritual pulse of the people and preach “off the cuff” to the needs of those in the pews.
He certainly was not a fly-by-night evangelist or a theologian, but was sane, rational and reasonable as he gave the Good News from the pulpit.
One of his most well-known sermons was titled, “From the Gipsy Tent to the Pulpit” and was a discourse of the history of his people — the gypsies — and the conversion of his father.
When he left Union County on Nov. 10, he left 6,000 people with sawdust in their eyes. It was between September and October of 1930 when Gipsy returned to south Arkansas to preach in a tent next to the High School in Camden.
It was not until 1938 that Gipsy would return and preached a two-week revival at the First Baptist Church of El Dorado, April 24-May 7, 1938.
Two of the most colorful characters that came to Union County in the 1930’s were Cowboy Crimm and Dr. F. Crossley Morgan.
Cowboy Crimm, who came from Marshall, Texas, actually wore a cowboy hat and had in his holster a pistol that he would use to get his point across.
From looking at the articles from his meetings, it seems no church really sponsored him, but he had a tent set up right outside of town.
If a crowd would get rowdy he would pull his pistol out, aim at the sky and shoot a couple of holes in his tent. On July 15, 1932, the headlines stated that, “Over 100 unite with El Dorado Churches at Revival Meeting” in which Cowboy Crimm, “warned his audience to heed the promptings of the Holy Spirit and to act now while they feel His power and presence.” According to archivist friend of mine, Jim Lutzweiler, “Crimm could preach on hell and because it sounded like he was born and raised there.”
The Cowboy evangelist also held a revival in Magnolia, but different from him was Dr. F Crossley Morgan, which came to the First Presbyterian Church to hold Bible conferences during the four different times that he visited the city.
The first time he was here Oct. 1, 1933, when he held a six-day Bible conference under the direction of then-pastor David Shepperson.
The article made mention that, “Filling engagements in more than 20 cities in a number of states during the past year, Dr. Morgan has earned the reputation of being one of the most universally appreciated Bible teachers in the English speaking world. He was born and educated in London, England, and completed his studies for the ministry under the direct supervision of his illustrious father, Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, who worked directly with D. L. Moody.”
The last time that Dr. Morgan came to El Dorado was October 1948.
When Southern Territorial Evangelists Brigadier Sidney Cox and his wife came from Atlanta, Georgia to hold a three-day meeting between Nov. 6 and Nov. 8, 1942 for the Salvation Army (located at 216 South Washington) it made headlines.
Having conducted many revival services and Bible conferences in the South, they were to be here to revive the saint and reclaim the sinner. According to the El Dorado News-Times, “the Brigadier is said to be one of the best known Salvation Army song writers in the United States, and original songs and choruses will be featured in every meeting.”
Among those songs written by him was the gospel hymn, “Deep and Wide.” He was to address the student body at the High School Friday morning, conduct a city-wide service at the First Presbyterian Church on Nov. 7 and he was also heard in a daily broadcast from station KELD Friday and Saturday, 9:45 a.m.
It was during the 1940’s when local pastors began to call on other local pastors to conduct revivals from their pulpits.
On Oct. 1, 1946, Dr. Mordecai F. Ham preached from the steps of the Union County Courthouse. He was to speak about “The Palestine Crisis and World War III in the Light of Bible Prophecy” at 2:30 p.m. and “When the Atoms Burst and the World Is On Fire.” at 8:00 p.m.
Included on this one-day event was a schedule of when to hear Ham locally on the radio and the caption at the bottom of the article made mention that, “For a solution to your personal problem as found in the Bible and for Dr. Ham’s printed messages, write Mordecai F Ham, Evangelistic Association Box 2008 Louisville, Ky.”
The fascinating thing about Dr. Ham is he had travelled extensively throughout the South and preached several times in New York City, he was known to find the biggest sinner in a town and tell them “to get right with God” or they would pay for their sins immediately. A later known fact is that internationally known evangelist Billy Graham was converted under Dr. Ham’s preaching in North Carolina.
In the 1950’s, El Dorado experienced the divine healing meetings of William Branham at the Memorial Stadium on March 1 and 2, 1950, in which Branham, would have individuals be brought to him for healing on the platform that was built for him in the middle of the stadium.
Branham is widely regarded as the pacesetter of the modern day healing revival. Branham was the source of inspiration for T.L. Osborn, Jack Coe and A. A. Allen.
Branham’s first revival began in June 1946 in St. Louis.
It was April 3 of 1950, when Dr. Robert Green Lee, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., came and held a one-day meeting at Memorial Stadium. He preached his most well-known sermon, “Payday Someday,” in which he tells the story of King Ahab and Jezebel and their plot to steal Naboth’s vineyard. That sermon has been published worldwide and a video of Dr. Lee preaching it can be found today on the internet.
Since El Dorado built the Memorial Stadium, the city agreed to have more revivals and evangelists to preach from its field. By June 8 1958, Dr. Angel Martinez, of Fort Smith preached here for two weeks.
Dr. Martinez, preached without opening the Bible. He had memorized all of the New Testament as well as the Greek New Testament and preached all his sermons without notes.
Standing only at 5-foot-6, Angel wore bright colored suits as he would preach to the crowds. Even though he preached at the stadium, he had previously held meetings at Second Baptist Church, First Baptist Church and Immanuel Baptist Church.
The Bellevue pastor, Dr. R. G. Lee was a personal friend of Angel and promoted him as a great evangelist. Every time that Angel preached there was always a convert. Not only being a great preacher, he was also a great author and penned eight books of his sermons for those that enjoyed his sermons. Angel’s brother, Dr. Homer Martinez, was also an evangelist and also had memorized the entire New Testament. He at one time was a golden glove boxer, but gave that up, when he was called to be an evangelist.
Homer held two meetings at the Second Baptist Church Feb. 25 to March 8, 1962 and he returned April 25, 1963.
Into the 1970’s and 1980’s were the last times that a revival was held on a large scale at the Memorial Stadium.
Dr. James Robinson came here from July 16 to July 23, 1972 and Dr. Bailey Smith was at the Stadium from June 24 to June 29, 1984.
On the first night of the Robinson Crusade, approximately 5,000 persons appeared at the Memorial Stadium. Robinson, being only 28 years old had been preaching since he was 18 and had preached 375 crusades nationwide, before he came to El Dorado.
Both meetings, according to several eyewitnesses, said that the meetings were quite effective.
According to the El Dorado News-Times there were 35 area churches that were gearing up for El Dorado’s biggest crusade in 12 years — since the James Robinson meeting.
Dr. Bailey Smith, was pastor at First Southern Church in Del City, Okla., and on the first night of his meeting 3,000 people showed up.
One of the interesting facts about both of these meetings is that John McKay, was the vocalist for both men. McKay had recorded 15 albums and was known as an effective gospel singer.
Among all these meetings the presence of God was experienced and lives were changed, as we look across El Dorado in 2017, I believe Union County is ripe for another revival — not because I want to see some well-known evangelist, like Franklin Graham, Nicky Cruz or Luis Palau to come and preach, but because our city needs to be stirred from center to circumference with the power of God to see men, women, boys and girls to repent of their sins and be saved.
Do you as residents of El Dorado, Union County, desire that as well?
If so, join me in prayer to see a great move of God come to our city.
Lt. Charles Smith is the commanding officer of the Salvation Army in El Dorado.