Civil War & Stephens County, OK (26)


William Billy Mitchell (1840-1909)

I currently know virtually nothing of this man’s life except for the fact that he lived in Texas for a time prior to the Civil War, served with the Confederacy during the Civil War, survived the war, married, had children, and that he is buried in Stephens County, Oklahoma.

What I do know a bit about is the regiment in which William served as a Private during the Civil War, the CSA, 35th Texas Cavalry (Brown’s) Regiment (Company D). The 35th Texas Cavalry (Brown’s) Regiment was organized in the fall of 1863. The company of which William was a part was comprised primarily of men from Navarro and Colorado counties in Texas. The Texas Handbook Online summarizes, in part, the history of the 35th with these words:

“… first duty was to challenge the Federal encampment at Fort Esperanza, located in Matagorda Bay. This fort, which had been recaptured by the Union earlier that year, was a direct threat to Indianola, one of Texas’s largest seaports. Although an action was made, on December 29, 1863, the defenses of the fort proved too strong. Through desertion and casualties, Brown found his Thirty-fifth reduced to only twenty-nine officers and 409 men after the affair at Indianola [far less than half their original strength]. On February 22, 1864, it fell into the position of sentinel of the coast. Although Brown’s Thirty-fifth officially surrendered with the other Trans-Mississippi units at Galveston on June 2, 1865, many of its units had unofficially disbanded in mid-May.”

The 35th’s field officers were Colonel Reuben R. Brown, Lieutenant Colonel Samuel W. Perkins, and Major Lee C. Roundtree. The 35th’s commander, Col. Brown, had barely survived Texas’ fight for Independence in decades past. An interesting biographical sketch of him can be seen on the Handbook of Texas Online.

William is buried, along with other family members (including a son, John Paton Mitchell [b. 1860; d. 1939]), in the Mountain Grove Cemetery in Stephens County, OK. His grave is marked with VA headstone with a Southern Cross etched near the top of the stone.

If you can tell me more about this veteran, William Billy Mitchell, I’d like to hear from you.

war stories: the hidden cross

For years I’ve been dogging a friend of mine to make a written record of some of his “stories with impact.” And then, the light bulb turned on for me today: (a) perhaps I should stop asking others to do what I am not willing to do myself and (b) perhaps I should lead by example.

And so, this is the first post in a series of random recollections from across my years thus far in preaching ministry. Some might make you smile, some will likely cause you to sigh, and some will simply just be stories. But all of these stories will have these two things in common: (a) they’re absolutely true and (b) none of the events come from any of my experiences with my current church family.

Place: a Church of Christ in a small town in Oklahoma
Time: about 1963

There were three Churches of Christ in this small town, two of them having a Sunday morning attendance average of between 150-200 members each. One day, one of these two larger church buildings burnt to the ground. Instead of rebuilding the one that was destroyed, the two larger churches decided to merge and construct a new building. And so they did.

During the course of construction, the question arose among them as to whether or not a cross would be placed in, or on, the building. Some passionately wanted one. Some passionately did not. The latter prevailed. Or so they thought …

Place: the same Church of Christ in the same small town in Oklahoma
Time: 1984

I was preaching with this congregation and I was standing in the church parking lot talking with one of the members. This brother had served as an elder for years in that church back in the 1960’s and 1970’s. His house was located across the street from the back of the church building. The front of his house had a large, unobstructed view of the back of the church building.

As we stood in the parking lot, this brother was telling me the story of “the fight over the cross” in/on the church building. He noted with a wee bit satisfaction that no cross had been placed there. That’s when I pointed to the massive brick wall that made up the back of the church building and asked, “Well then, what do you call that? How’d that get there?”

Understand that in the top third of the center of the huge back wall of the building, a large number of bricks had been set so that they slightly protruded, forming a subtle, but very distinct – and quite large! – cross.

Following my eyes and extended finger toward the top of the wall, I thought his jaw was going to fall off and his eyes would bug out! After a long pause, he said he had never noticed such before. Do recall, the wall had been erected over twenty years prior. Add to that the fact my friend had lived in his house for many years and still served as the church’s custodian and grounds keeper. Though his house faced the wall (and the cross in bold relief therein) – though his house had a large picture window and kitchen window facing it – though he walked daily from his house to the church building – and though he had served as an elder when the building was constructed – the cross had gone completely unnoticed by him.

Our conversation continued briefly, and let’s just say that he was not happy with what the contractor had deliberately done, clearly doing what he had explicitly been told to make sure didn’t happen!

That “hidden cross” provided the spark for, and something of “the punch” in, a sermon I preached that next Sunday morning. The sermon was about how we Christians often keep the cross of Christ hidden from our friends by refusing to mount it ourselves with Christ. When I got to the part about the cross in our building’s most prominent wall, there were quite a few dropped jaws and unbelievers … until they raced outside into the parking lot, and looking up to the cross, believed! By the account of all, it appeared I was the first member there to have ever even notice it!

I never heard a negative word about crosses and church buildings again there. And from that day forward, I rarely saw the former-elder/custodian & grounds-keeper walk across the street and up the parking lot to the church building without seeing him cast a glance up toward that cross. I’m left to wonder what went through his mind.