by: Katie Crocker
Henry Weston Smith is not a name you probably recognize. If you Google him, you will only find about 4 lines of information. Yet he was one of the heroes of early Methodism. Rev. Smith (1827-1876) was born in Connecticut and would die near Deadwood, South Dakota about 2 months after Custer’s Last Stand. He was licensed to preach at the age of 23 and ordained into the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church. During the Civil War, he served in the 52nd Massachusetts Infantry and for a few years after the Civil War he practiced Medicine. In the spring of 1876 he felt a call to take the message of the gospel to the West. “Preacher Smith” entered the Black Hills of South Dakota (remember this is a dangerous time – the Little Big Horn Battle is not too far from occurring).
According to Google and Methodist History, HE WAS THE FIRST PREACHER OF ANY DENOMINATION to bring the gospel to the Black Hills and into the rough and tough Black Hills Gold Rush Camps. The great gold rush was happening and the area that Rev. Smith was taking the gospel into bore the stamp of frontier gold mining, from its evils of gambling, prostitution, violence, and murder, to just the harshness of life in the 1870’s. It was reported that “Preacher Smith” preached the good news regularly on the streets of Deadwood and at least on one occasion in a saloon. By late summer he was intent on reaching out to other mining camps as well. On August 20th, 1876, after conducting services in Deadwood, Rev. Smith tacked a note to the door of his Cabin: “Gone to Crook City, and if God is willing, be back at 2:00PM.” Smith never returned. About 5 miles from Deadwood he was ambushed and murdered. To this day, the identity of his killer(s) remain a mystery. The story ends with the discovery of his Bible and blood-stained sermon notes on Romans 1:5 found near his body.
Do you wonder what Romans 5:1 says? To save you looking it up, here is a translation from the “Living New Testament Bible”.
“And now, through Christ, all the kindness of God has been poured out upon us undeserving sinners; and now he is sending us out around the world to tell all people everywhere the great things God has done for them, so that they, too, will believe and obey him.”
While I have never seen Rev. Smith’s sermon notes, I think we understand what he was going to say to the “sinners” in Crook City (wild names these mining towns had – gives you a sense of what a Christian was dealing with in the 1870s Wild West). These early circuit riders had a passion to share Jesus. In their hearts they felt a burning desire to save every person from Hell. One could almost argue that Rev. Smith set up his “rescue station” right at the gate to Hell trying to save every soul he encountered. The ridicule, verbal and perhaps physical abuse he must have endured to preach the gospel should make us ponder our own feeble attempts and hesitation about sharing the Good news because we don’t want to be politically incorrect or offend anyone. So what do we do? Well…….Romans 1:5 says it all. God loves the sinner. He is sending out His disciples to share the God News. He is doing that so, “they too will believe and obey him”. I think we need to pick up Rev. Henry Weston Smith’s prophetic mantle and carry on the gospel to our world. A world filled with many of the same problems he faced in 1876. But that is just me - what do you think?
Amen & Amen.