Friday, August 08, 2014

Joe S. Warlick Encounters R. W. Officer in Arkansas, 1926

Joe S. Warlick (1866-1941), editor and publisher of the Gospel Guide, often included an "Editorials" section in his paper. These occasional pieces told of Warlick's travels, speaking engagements, debates, etc. To anyone interested in Restoration History, they are a must read.

In the June 1926 issue, Warlick tells of a recent trip from his home in Dallas, Texas to Arkansas and to other states north and east. Along the way, he preached wherever he could and delivered at least one school commencement address. His report includes the following:

"Saturday night we began [preaching] at Center Point, the old county seat of Howard County.  . . .

"We had dinner on the ground Sunday, which all enjoyed greatly. Among those who were with us was the venerable R. W. Officer, who now resides in Nashville [Arkansas], not far away."

"Editorials," Gospel Guide, Volume XI, No. 6, (June 1926), p. 4.

What is the significance of this for people interested in the life and times of R. W. Officer (1845-1930)?  Here we have one of the very few references to him in any church paper between about 1906 and his death in 1930. Up until the first few years of the twentieth century, R. W. had been a long-time and prolific contributor to a large array of Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement journals, especially the Gospel Advocate and Octographic Review.

Why he ceased sending notices to the journals and magazines is a puzzle. Shortly before, Officer did complain in print about his rheumatism. It's been some time since I've seen it, but there was also reference to a wagon accident that may have injured his hand. But these obstacles, it seems to me, would not be enough to stop an inveterate writer with the grit of R. W. Officer. Not to mention that during most of that time he had a second wife, several years younger than him, and also a son, Leon V., who lived close to his father.

Although brief, Warlick's notice includes more than one piece of important information. First, it locates Officer in Nashville, Arkansas in the spring of 1926. This is especially interesting because according to the U.S. Federal Census of 1930, Officer, by then 85 years old, was still living in Nashville. He is listed as a "boarder" in home of a "farmer" named Parker Russell (age 66); Russell's wife, Gillie (who was 59); and their son, Garner (19). Also according to the 1930 Census, Officer's occupation was "minister" of the Christian Church. It appears, then, that R. W. Officer spent at least the last four years of his life preaching for the Christian Church in Nashville, Arkansas, while residing with a farmer and his family who were presumably members of that congregation.

Second, Warlick's notice indicates that Officer (a veteran of the Civil War who was then 80 years old) was still vigorous enough to get out and around. Center Point, where Warlick shared lunch with Officer, is about 9 miles from Nashville, where he resided.

Third, it seems to indicate that Officer had not moved away from his convictions in previous years. In the time leading up to his silence in the papers, Officer had been suspected of all sorts of "isms" and heresies. Some people probably imagined that he stopped sending notices to the papers because he had indeed "gone off the deep end" religiously. But Officer's appearance at the Sunday gathering and dinner at Center Point, Arkansas in 1926 suggests otherwise. Officer's "heresy trial" in Alabama in the 1870s includes much the same rhetorical tone and tough stance as one would find in the pages of Warlick's Gospel Guide. If by 1926 Officer had long since changed his thinking in a radical way, then why would he want to venture out to see and hear the likes of Joe S. Warlick, a staunch preacher and debater?

All of this suggests two basic conclusions regarding Officer between the ages of 60 and 85. First, he did not stop publishing in the papers because he was no longer able. Second, it does not seem that Officer had significantly changed his views. Even if he had, he was still willing to go hear and visit with Joe Warlick, a preacher who certainly had not.

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