Laughter and murmurs of surprise came from a crowd of more than 50 people who came to the Newton Public Library to hear John Burchill speak on "Cowboys and Clerics."

 

Burchill, a criminal justice historian who teaches at Kansas Wesleyan University, told tales of early Kansas preachers who stood up to unruly intruders into their church services.

 

The town of Mulvane had more ruffians than religious folk in its early years.

 

"Things were getting a little tough in the town at the time," Burchill said. "They had plenty of saloons."

 

People realized that to civilize a town, a school and a church were needed.

 

"The founding fathers from the United Brethren faith sent out for a preacher," Burchill said.

 

Pastor John Gay was asked to go to Mulvane in 1872.

 

"He said he would do a series of revival meetings and, if there was enough response, stay there and build a church," Burchill said.

 

A gunman named McKinney ran a saloon in Mulvane.

 

"McKinney was a tough," Burchill said. "People were afraid of him."

 

Hearing that a preacher was coming to create a church, McKinney determined to scare him off. Gay was warned about McKinney's plan, but went ahead with the revival meetings.

 

"The second night of revival meetings, in walks McKinney," Burchill said.

 

McKinney sat in the back and stared at Gay all through the service. The next night, McKinney had moved to the front row.

 

"Pastor Gay preached like he never preached before and when it came time for the altar call, asked people to come up and turn their lives over to God," Burchill said. "McKinney jumped up, pulled out both guns, flipped them over, and handed them to the preacher, saying, 'Do you think God would forgive a sinner as big as I?'"

 

The next day, McKinney started preaching to people in the streets — grabbing them by the collar and shaking them if they would not stop to listen.

 

When McKinney moved to preach in his hometown of Winfield, he was arrested and thrown in jail for disturbing the peace. Since his jail cell faced the street, he went right on preaching and converted 300 people.

 

"Yes, God does work in mysterious ways," Burchill said.

 

Wild Bill Hickok came into the open doors a Presbyterian church in Junction City after getting drunk and deciding to ride in search of some excitement.

 

"He could hear singing and so he rode into the Presbyterian church just as they were sitting down," Burchill related.

 

Hickok then asked Pastor John Anderson, who had been a chaplain in the Army, where the dancing was to go along with the singing.

 

Pastor Anderson told Hickok to leave the church. Hickok refused and told Anderson he wanted to see him dance. Pulling out his gun, Hickok started shooting at the pastor's feet.

 

"In Junction City, we saw the first church dance," Burchill quipped.

 

Hickok's friends finally arrived to remove him and his horse from the church. Hickok returned to apologize after he had sobered up.

 

Preaching did not pay well, if it paid at all. In some cases, preachers were given clothes, wood or pound parties in exchange for their work.

 

"In 1895 in Wabaunsee County, they were trying to build a church and asked every family to contribute $20," Burchill said. "One farmer stood up and said, 'I will donate two rows of my potato crops. And if the good Lord wants you to have more than $20, he's going to water those potatoes really well."

 

Trains brought church members from the East to the West to settle areas and build towns, sometimes even bringing a place of worship as well. Chapel cars were used between 1890 and 1930 to hold church services in places that had no church building yet.

 

"They would have services until they could build their church, then the chapel car would move on to another community," Burchill explained.

 

Several Kansas preachers also published newspapers. Former Methodist minister Moses Harman's "Lucifer the Light Bearer" advocated for the abolition of slavery and free love.

 

"He also said that women should have a say in who they should marry — a real radical," Burchill said. "But the free love was what got him in trouble."

 

Pardee Butler, a preacher for the Disciples of Christ, came to Atchison to preach against slavery and support the temperance movement. Beaten nearly to death and set adrift on a raft in the Missouri River, Butler was not deterred. When he returned to Kansas, he was tarred and feathered.

 

"He continued to preach and never left," Burchill said. "This is a preacher who had sand."