Protracted, Brush Arbor and Camp Meeting

In the rural areas of Crittenden County, Kentucky in the 1920s the Church was the hub of social life.   Protracted meetings or revivals were held every summer.   Almost every church in the area held one.   There was Bible school for children in the morning, singing for adults in the afternoon and every night the visiting minister preached to a packed house.   He spent the week with one of the families of the Church, but was invited to different homes for noon and night meals.   Almost everyone in the community attended these services no matter what their denomination.   Mama, a Baptist, invited visiting ministers from all denominations to eat at our house during their meetings.  As she was an excellent cook, everyone enjoyed eating at her table.

Mama told us the story about a visiting minister and my brother, John, when he was about eight years old.   Back then, when we had company, guests and adults got to eat at the first table.   Children had to wait to eat at the second table and sometimes the third.   John knew this so he hated it when she invited preachers to eat at our house.   She always had delicious, Whitt cured, country hams, vegetables of all kinds, pies, her wonderful "Lady Baltimore" cake and fried chicken.   John's favorite piece of chicken was, what we called, the pully bone or wishbone.  He wanted to take it off the platter before she took it to the dining room, but she wouldn't let him.   He stood by the door, peeping around it, keeping his eyes on the pully bone.   Sure enough the preacher took it.   John went back to the kitchen and told Mama, "I knew it! I knew it!  that old son-of-a-bitch got my pully bone." 
                                                                                                                                                   Every summer traveling ministers or evangelists held meetings in a brush arbor.   The brush arbor was made, by cutting down tall trees, which were small in circumference.  The tall posts were set in the ground and long poles were fastened to the tops of the posts.  Cross poles were placed close together, then the freshly cut brush with thick foliage was piled on top of the cross poles, to give the congregation protection from the sun.  A pump organ was hauled by wagon to the arbor, to furnish music.  Pews were crudely made benches with no backs.    I hated those benches.  I wanted a back on my pew so I could hang over it, to see what was going on in the pews behind me. I didn't like to sit up straight, the bench hurt my back and my bottom.  Looking at the backs of people's heads in the pews in front of me was no fun at all.  Sermons preached by these ministers were loud and long.
                                                                                                                                                 In front of the pulpit was a long mourner's bench, on one end of it sat a bucket of water with a dipper.  During the sermon some people, women in particular, would shout and faint.  Aunt Kitty Starnes always fainted.  I didn't know whether it was from the heat or from getting the Holy Spirit.  Someone would carry her to the mourner's bench and fan her until she was revived.  As a child, this was very confusing to me.  After Aunt "Bit" Stone and Uncle Ed Lindsey and others gave testimonials and the preacher's long sermon, other little children and I, a four year old, were getting rather testy.   I usually ended up under the bench, tugging at Mama's legs and begging to go home.   The last day of the meeting, people brought their dinner in covered baskets and set them on the end of the mourner's bench with the bucket of water.  After the morning service, bowls and platters of food were put on sheets and tablecloths, which had been spread on the ground.  Thus, the phrase, "All day meetin' with dinner on the ground," was coined

Going to Camp Meetings at Kuttawa Springs and Hurricane Camp Ground were highlights of the season.  Kuttawa, was just across the Crittenden County line in Lyon County, Kentucky.  Camp Meeting lasted two weeks.   It was held in a big pavilion near Kuttawa Springs.   It was built on the same principle as the brush arbor, but was built with lumber and had a tin roof.  The feature I liked best about the pavilion was that some of the pews had backs on them.  When it rained, rain hitting the tin roof was so loud the preacher had to wait until it "slacked up" to finish the sermon.

Aside from being a religious event, camp meeting was a homecoming.  People came from all over the country staying in the two-story hotel or in the small cabins strewn along the hillside behind the pavilion.  People who didn't stay on site came in cars, wagons or buggies to spend the day.   Quilts or lap robes were brought along to sit on while eating a picnic lunch near the spring.  Children played in a branch, which was fed by cool clear water coming from the spring.  Adults socialized with friends and relatives they hadn't seen since the year before.

Mama always visited with Cousin Suzie from Indiana who stayed in the hotel.  She came every year to attend Camp Meeting at Kuttawa Springs.  I remember going with Mama, to Cousin Suzie's room to join several other ladies who were visiting with her.  The heat was almost unbearable.  Women, at that time, wore dresses with long sleeves and long skirts, all year.   I remember watching them fan themselves with, what I called, "undertaker fans', fans with mortician's advertising on them and fan the skirt of their dress to cool their legs.   My family went to Kuttawa Springs every year.    We never stayed on site and didn't go every day, but Mama always wanted to go on the second Sunday, of Camp Meeting, as that was the big day.  Despite the flies, bugs and long sermons, my recollections of going to Camp Meeting are pleasant ones.

The other big Camp Meeting was held at the Hurricane Campground in North Western, Crittenden County.  Like Kuttawa Springs, it had an open-air shelter, but instead of being called a pavilion it was called the Tabernacle.  There was a church on the Hurricane Campground, but it couldn't begin to accommodate the crowds of people who attended Camp Meeting.   The tabernacle was built behind the church, with cabins built in the woods behind it.   We didn't go to Hurricane camp meeting very often, but I do remember and will never forget one happening during a camp meeting.

While adults were serious about the religious aspects of camp meetings most of the young people were there for an altogether different reason.   The girls were there for the sole purpose of catching a beau and the boys were there, in hopes of being caught.   However, there was one group of obnoxious boys that the girls didn't choose to chase.   Enoch Ainsley, two of the Smith boys and Delmar Kenton had to find pleasure by other means.   Playing practical jokes on people was their choice.

On the last night of Camp Meeting women, who had been camping, loaded their belongings in their wagons.   The men hitched their horses or mules to their wagons and pulled them alongside the tabernacle.   Small children and babies were put to bed on pallets in the backs of the wagons.   It would be dark when the service was over, they would light the lantern on the wagon and would be ready to go home.

While some of the young people were holding hands during the service in the tabernacle and others were courting in the Church- yard, Enoch and his buddies were looking for mischief and they found it.   While the congregation was singing to the top of their lungs, the boys sneaked around to the wagons with sleeping babies and switched them from one wagon to another.   Imagine their horrifying surprise, when they got home and discovered they had someone else's baby.   There were several babies involved and some were being breast-fed.   Some of the parents didn't know each other.   With few telephones or other means of communication, it took two days to get the displaced babies back to their anxious parents.

The baby swapping, pranksters made themselves scarce until long after the excitement in the community had died down.   It was years before their faces were seen at a Hurricane Camp Meeting.   

Millie Wilson