Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick

The Old Church Tree

I remember the "Old Church Tree" as it was called, located north of Pittsburg near the river road.  Waneta Gwinnup took all of us to see it as a school project  "field trip." 

She had an old Plymouth from the 1930s.  I think it was a 1934 coupe.  The old car was dark in color, beginning to rust in spots, and had a rumble seat, or "mother-in-law" seat, as some called it.  What appeared to be a large trunk opened into a padded seat area for passengers who didn't mind braving the elements. 

It was during the 1952-53 school year that Mrs. Gwinnup decided to acquaint us with the object of this writing.  The tree was dead, a large branch had already broken off, and the remains hung out precariously over the bank.  Fear that a windstorm might bring the demise of the landmark prompted her to take us to see it up close, before something happened and it was too late. 

I don't know the age of the tree, but in 1837 a group of white settlers had gathered under the branches of the mighty elm for the first religious service in that part of the country west of the river.  Legend has it that many Indians also attended the service out of respect for their white neighbors.  Included in this outing were the deposed Chief Black Hawk and his wife, Singing Bird Black Hawk.  A Baptist circuit rider named Hill preached a hell-fire sermon that made some collars warm. 

The landmark elm served another purpose.  People often forded the river nearby, using the elm as a focal point for the crossing.  It had once been located on the Duffield farm, and was now on Cecil Ridgeway's property.

From a point on the opposite side of the river road, back to Chequest Creek, the Indians had once gathered for racing events to show off their athletic prowess.  Ancient campfires were found along the creek by archaeologists in 1878 indicating that this area was probably inhabited by an ancient tribe 3,000 years ago. 

All 24 of us who attended Pittsburg #4 climbed aboard Gwinnup's vehicle.  There was a narrow space behind the carseat where kids could stand; the front was as full as possible; the mother-in-law seat was spilling over with children and several stood on both runningboards.  She drove very slowly, but insisted that nobody run alongside the automobile.  Everyone was to ride in (or on) the car "for safety purposes."   

Fortunately, the church tree was only a mile or so up the river road from our school.  After she parked, we waded through tall weeds to a grassy spot around the tree and I remember how amazed we were at the size of the trunk.  It was probably six feet thick.  From the roadway, the tree did not look so large and imposing.  After the tree's demise, a plaque was put up as an historical monument commemorating the religious service held there in 1837.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick