Circuit riding preachers were challenged and determined

Jadon Gibson

The state of Virginia acquired the Natural Tunnel and 100 surrounding acres in Scott County in 1967. In 1971 an additional 850 adjoining acreage was acquired and the Natural Tunnel State Park was opened.

Called the Eighth Wonder of the World by 4-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, Natural Tunnel has attracted thousands of visitors to the area for over a century. Natural Tunnel was thousands of years in the making as groundwater dissolved limestone and other material. Stock Creek took the path of least resistance, through the cave on its way to the Clinch River, after the tunnel was formed.

Rev. H. C. Neal was a circuit-riding preacher who was sent to Scott County in the 1860’s. His circuit included the area around Natural Tunnel State Park. Some of the horse-riding preachers had circuits of three or four churches while others had much larger areas. Circuit rider Francis Asbury said he was kept so busy, his only spare time to study God’s word was while riding in the saddle, at times tied upright thereon during times of illness or injury. John Brooks became so ill during a revival he had to lay in bed. “Members of the flock rousted me from bed and made me preach,” Brooks later wrote.

Circuit riding preachers spent substantially more time in the saddle than preachers in the modern era.

“Every day I travel I have to pass creeks or swamps, wet from head to feet,” another traveling preacher explained. “My horse’s legs are skinned and rough up to his hock joints and I have rheumatism in all my joints. What I have suffered in body and mind, my pen is not able to communicate but this I can say, while my body is wet with water and chilled with cold, my soul is filled with Heavenly fire.”

The life expectancy of the circuit riders in pioneer times was short with nearly half dying by age 33. On one occasion near Natural Tunnel, Rev. H. C. Neal feared he would be one of those early casualties.

He was returning by way of Natural Tunnel after preaching the prior day. The trail passed near the summit that had a breath-taking view of Natural Tunnel, from atop a vertical rock-face nearly 450feet high. Turning off the trail the area was covered by bushes and trees. The preacher rode his horse through the bushes when all at once he felt the horse sink down in front. The vegetation had prevented him from seeing the deep chasm immediately ahead. He was peering over the front of the horse where he discovered they were precariously on the edge of the abyss when, all at once, the horse slipped forward again. The soil was damp from a rain that morning and the hooves of the horse kept slipping, putting them in imminent danger of plunging to their deaths. The horse trembled in fear.

Rev. Neal was also mortified by the likelihood of his life and that of his horse ending with a horrific fall. He said he felt the draw of the chasm like invisible hands pulling them down.

“Good Lord Jesus in Heaven, help get us out of this fix,” he prayed softly so as not to stress the horse any more than he was already.

He drew back on the reins and began talking to the horse in a quiet reassuring tone.

“Easy Samson,” he whispered as the horse sank to his haunches, putting them at the edge of eternity. “I’m gonna slide off your back and then we’ll turn and carefully walk out of here.”

Rev. Neal slowly slipped off the saddle. He grabbed hold of a stout bush nearby, holding it with a firm clasp. He grabbed hold of one bush after another, then another as he pulled and crawled upward. The reins were in his free hand as he pulled gently while encouraging Samson. The horse turned his head toward the preacher as he struggled to his feet. He then slowly followed his owner to the summit and level ground.

Once they were back on safe ground, Samson stood panting while Rev. Neal lay prostrate, giving thanks to God for sparing them. copyright2017 jadon gibson

*Jadon Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate, TN. His writings are both historical and nostalgic in nature and can be read periodically at Don’t miss a single posting

A Voice for God, A Voice for Good

I was working on our property outside of Rolla, Missouri in 1981 when I hurt my right shoulder blade. My blade seemed to be extended outward slightly and the pain was excruciating.

My wife drove me to the Phelps County Hospital Emergency Room but they couldn’t do much for me. My regular doctor, Dr. E. A. Stricker, who I saw within two days thereafter, couldn’t either.

The pain was incessant initially. An aged friend of mine, Ben Ponzer, who co-owned a nursery, recommended that I see a doctor that he knew. She was an older lady who lived in the country. I had a difficult time finding her and when I did she almost killed me.

She had me stand in a corner, leaning slightly forward with one hand on each wall. She proceeded to press as hard as she could on the point of my right shoulder blade with both of her thumbs. I already had been experiencing immense pain and this made it seem doubly so but I didn’t rebel at her method. I assumed she knew what she was doing. She paused at times and then seemed to apply even more pressure. It was like she expected my shoulder blade to snap back into place. Either the doctor or I, one of us gave up. I left her in worse shape than when I arrived.

My shoulder blade seemed to do better in a few days but whenever I used it or leaned on it, the pain would resume. It improved with each year but then, out of the clear blue, I would do something to cause the pain to return. Whenever it would come back it was always hard to get it to stop.

About four years ago we visited my wife’s son and three daughters at Dyess Air Force Base at Abilene, Texas. Something happened while we were there to cause the pain to return. Perhaps it was due to me picking up Anna, our youngest granddaughter.

The girls always refer to me as Grandpa Jadon and their mother, after hearing that, did so as well even though she is my daughter-in-law.

Remo and his wife Mahalla and family are Christians. Mahalla saw that I was in pain and placed her left hand gently on my shoulder blade and her right hand on my upper chest.

“We pray to Jesus…. the divine healer. Glory be to God! Jesus said if you trust me you will be healed. I have no power to heal but Jesus is the Divine Healer. He can and will heal you Jadon. Do you trust Jesus to heal you Grandpa Jadon? Yes, I do I answered. God sees the goodness in our hearts. Through Jesus, the Divine Healer you will be healed. Glory be to God!”

I believed I would be healed. Shortly thereafter the pain in my shoulder blade went away, turning down slowly like the sound on a TV. It has never returned.

My good Lord in Heaven has been so good to me and he will be to you too. Keep Him in your heart and thank Him for your blessings…. And remember Jesus is the Divine Healer.

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