Historical Sketch of the Des Moines Conference
of the Methodist Episcopal Church 1832 - 1860

by R. E. Harvey

The Annals of Iowa
Iowa State Historical Society
Volume 25, No. 3, 1944, Pages 202.


. . . By some peculiar administrative quirk, the four fields whose rise we have noted, Fort Des Moines, Three Rivers, Boone and Council Bluffs, were in 1850 attached to Iowa City District, stretched like a shoe string across the state; but wiser counsels in 1851 created the Fort Des Moines District, comprising almost exactly the Annual Conference bounds later so named, saving that it included Newton, Knoxville, Oskaloosa and Albia on the east along with the four circuits named above and three new mission fields whose beginnings we trace.

The first of these was the Red Rock Mission, made up evidently of portions taken from Knoxville and Three Rivers charges. The name appeared but this one year, during which it enjoyed the ministrations of the Rev. Richard Swearingen, just elected and ordained an elder, and destined to become a legendary figure in the Upper Iowa Conference as possessor of a voice of such pitch and compass that an outdoor sermon delivered at Le Claire, on the banks of the Mississippi, was distinctly heard by a large and appreciative audience on the Illinois side, a mile distant1

South of Red Rock Mission lay Chariton Mission, comprising whatever church work had developed in Lucas county. Elias L. Briggs was appointed to this field, who with aggressiveness appropriate to one bearing his Christian name, over-ran both Clarke and Decatur counties, and the north part of Wayne; laying out a circuit of fourteen preaching places, Chariton itself being easily the most difficult of all, for his first sermon drew a congregation of but ten, and the clamor of a shooting match on an adjacent lot almost drowned out the voice of prayer and praise. One young lady alone responded to the invitation for professed Christians to unite with the church, and she was claimed in marriage a week later by her fiancée from back East, leaving Chariton church memberless once more; and only three or four others were gained during the year.

Then the tide turned, and in 1854 the congregation was able to move from the court house to a modest frame chapel costing $1,000.00. This humble sanctuary has been replaced more than once by increasingly pretentious structures, none of which probably have called for a tithe of the self denying sacrifice that went into that primitive tabemacle.2

Early in Mr. Briggs' pastorate he received instructions to include Leon in his circuit, where a class had been organized on February 14, 1851, in the home of John Jordan, with Mr. and Mrs. John Brittain, Mr. and Mrs. William Burke, Abner Barbour, Ishmael Barnes and Levi Clark as charter members. These were afterward joined by Mr. and Mrs. Patterson who had located there in November 1850, and who sometime in the summer of 1851 went to a quarterly meeting in Missouri with a request that the presiding elder send them a preacher.

In response "The elder told a young preacher by the name of Clepper to come here and organize a church and he would write the Iowa Conference to send us a missionary.2

En route to Leon the first time Mr. Briggs received an invitation to preach in Garden Grove on his return trip, but found a dance in progress in the home of the inviter, and pushed on although assured that he might preach after the ball. Subsequently regular preaching was taken up at the Slyvanus Arnold home, a mile east of Garden Grove, where a local preacher named Cary organized a class, which after some years moved into the town and became the Garden Grove M. E. Church.3


In a letter to the Rev. E. H. Waring, written years after the events, Mr. Briggs gave a lively account of his first services in Wayne county, at the residence of "Bro. Barclay, on South Chariton," where he arrived late one bleak November night in 1851, to find the family on such short rations pending the return of some grown sons with supplies from Missouri, that supper consisted of "bean meal and bran bread," a well nigh meatless pork rind, and parched wheat coffee. Early morning borrowings from the nearer neighbors mended the breakfast menu considerably, and the cabin was packed with hearers for a forenoon sermon, followed by a rousing class meeting, in the midst of which the long awaited food supplies appeared, so that the visit concluded with a "dinner fit for a king." The letter ends with a list of the Chariton Mission preaching places, covering four counties and lapping into two others:

1. Chariton; 2. West's, fourteen miles southeast of Chariton; 3. Prather's, fourteen miles east, in the edge of Monroe county; 4. Jenkins, fourteen miles northeast; 5. Ragsdale's, four miles southeast; 6. Mount Carmel, fifteen miles north, on Knoxville road in Marion county; 7. Webster's, eighteen miles west, in Clarke county; 8. Arnold's, just south of Osceola, in Clarke county; 9. Hopeville, Clarke county; 10. Patterson's (now Leon) Decatur county; 11. South Chariton, near Corydon; 12. Barclay's, six miles west of Corydon; 13. Wolf Creek, nine miles south of Chariton; 14. Garden Grove. These appointments filled once in four weeks.

The Chariton charge carried the title in the 1853 appointments of "Chariton and Decatur," indicating the growing importance of the latter part of the field. John Darrah was pastor for the year 1853-4, with a helper whose name appears to have been Davis, but of whom we know no more. The Osceola M. E. Church was founded that year with fifteen charter members, and the work so enlarged that in 1854 Decatur Mission became a separate charge, with regular class organizations at Leon, Decatur City, Garden Grove, and at Hopeville in Clarke county, of which more later. D. T. Sweem was the pastor for 1854-5, who three years earlier, while traveling Three Rivers Mission, had delivered the first Methodist sermon in Union county, at Pisgah, in the log cabin residence of Norman Dunn. This must have been soon after the Mormons withdrew from this way station of theirs at Pisgah.


1. History of Taylor County" Section "The M. E. Church In Taylor Co.," pp. 461-2, Western Historical Society, pub. 1881. "For legend of "Dick" Swearinger's voice and sermon see "History of Upper Iowa Conference," by S, N. Fellows.

2. History of Lucas County," Des Moines State Historical Co.. pub. 1891.

3. The account of Leon Methodism and Garden Grove is partly from "Biographical and Historical Record of Ringgold and Decatur Counties," pub. 1886; and partly from "Early Recollections of Aunty Patterson." given in 1891 at the Fortieth Anniversary of the Leon M. E. Church, and printed in the Decatur Journal of April 23rd of that year. Found among the Armstrong papers. "From Whittaker's "Early Methodism in Wayne County and Corydon."

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, April of 2015


Of the Chariton District
Held an Interesting and Instructive Session the the City This Week.
The 67th, semi-annual session of the Chariton District Conference of the M. E. church was held at the M. E. church in this city on Monday and Tuesday. The Chariton District is composed of thirty-six pastoral charges, but a few of them have not yet been supplied with pastors for this year, there being nineteen of the pastors in attendance.

The purpose of the district conference was mainly to evangelistic. Usually not much business is transacted at the fall district conference, and the time is spent mostly in consideration of special themes, the bulk of the business being transacted at the spring meeting.

At the afternoon session Monday, after the devotional services, there was a fine sermon by Rev. J. A. ROSS, of Humeston, followed by the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The various committees were also appointed at this session. In the evening there was a sermon by Rev. J. F. DAVIS, of Osceola, and Dr. J. P. BRUSHINGHAM, of Chicago, secretary of the general conference commission on aggressive evangelism, who has a great record as a successful evangelist, made a strong, earnest and practical address which was greatly enjoyed.

Tuesday morning after the first business session, Dr. G. W. L. BROWN, formerly pastor at Indianola, but now is his first year as presiding elder of the Des Moines district, discussed the subjects of Benevolence and Evangelism in the home, and was very helpful both in ideas and the earnest spirit shown. Presiding Elder W. G. HOBANSHELT, years ago pastor of the Leon church, now presiding elder of the Creston district, ably addressed the conferences on the subjects of “The Pastor and Church Literature,” and “Evangelism in the Sunday School,” and everyone who knows him knew that his practical suggestions came from the experiences of an effective ministry.

At the afternoon session Rev. FLETCHER BROWN, D. D., OF Indianola, agent for the Preachers’ Aid Society, and Rev. L. K. BILLINGSY, financial agent for the Iowa Methodist hospital at Des Moines, addressed the conference on their respective interests, and took most helpful part in the discussions of the conference, as did also the visiting presiding elders. President CHAS. ELDRED SHELTON, of Simpson College, Indianola, spoken on “Evangelism and Simpson College” and showed the peculiar opportunity that lay with the college to be a spiritual as well as intellectual influence. S. H. AMOS, of Garden Grove, spoke on “Evangelism and the Layman.”

The next conference will be held at Chariton next spring, an invitation having been extended through their pastor Rev. NATHAN EVANS.

RILEY BUCHANAN, of Leon, was granted a license to preach by the conference.

On account of several of the pastors having other engagements the conference was brought to a close on Tuesday evening with the business session.

The visiting pastors were entertained at private homes during their stay in Leon, and Rev. J. L. BOYD, throne whose efforts the conferences was secured for this city, worked untiringly to make their stay in the city a pleasant one, and they were all loud in the praise for him.

Following the conference Rev. BOYD commenced a series of evangelist meetings at the church which will be continued each evening indefinitely. At earnest invitation is extended to all the attended the meetings.

The following pastors were in attendance:
E. S. MENCHER, Afton. W. C. SMITH, Columbia.
A. W. ARMSTRONG, Derby. J. W. GOODELL, Garden Grove.
J. A. ROSS, Humeston. JASPER WEBER, Lineville.
R. J. TENNANT, Milo. A. A. THOMPSON, Murray.
A. E. FLICKINGER, Van Wert.   H. P. DUDLEY, Corydon.
A. L. BATES, Diagonal. W. B. COX, Decatur.
W. E. HARDAWAY, Mt. Ayer. J. F. DAVIS, Osceola.
G. T. ROBERTS, Redding. ALFRED KNOLL, Tingley.
O. F. HOWARD, Davis City. NATHAN EVANS, Chariton.
J. L. BOYD, Leon.
The layman delegates in attendance were:

B. T. NIX, Afton. NIXON WLFORD, Chariton. C. F. WRIGHT, Leon.

Publication and date unknown.
Transcription and Submission by Sara LeFleur, Decatur County Historical Society Museum, January of 2014
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