Lonesome Dove Baptist Church

In the July 3, 1941 issue of the Llano News, Llano, Texas, an article recounted a recent reunion of the Hallford family. The writer quoted a church historian named J. N. Raysor in telling the history of an early North Texas congregation, the Lonesome Dove Baptist Church.

Mr. Raysor said that in the spring of 1846, a group of people, all members of the same congregation in Missouri, decided to come to Texas. They loaded their personal assets into covered wagons and began the trip to Texas, traveling during the day and camping together at night. As they traveled, they had religious meetings at night and stopped for actual church services on Sundays. The trip took a number of weeks and when they arrived in early 1846 at a location west of the Trinity River, they settled there. They are sometimes referred to as the Missouri Colony.

One of the families was that of James Powel Hallford and some of the land, now part of Grapevine was called Hallford Prairie. The group soon met to organize a new church naming it Lonesome Dove Baptist Church. At the time, it was believed to be the first such congregation in north Texas. Names of the charter members included Hallford, Medlin, Foster, Anderson, Leonard, Gibson and others. One of the Hallford sons, Andy J. Hallford, later went on to serve as pastor of the congregation. (In other accounts, the names Throop, Freeman, Mullikan, Suggs and Atkinson were added.)

The 1846 group had followed the recommendations of a number of Missouri individuals who had come to the area as early as 1844, returning to tell the others about the farmland that was available in the still new Republic of Texas, particularly in the area that eventually became Grapevine and Southlake. The area was not without risk. Hazards included unpredictable and sometimes inhospitable Texas weather, the streams and rivers they had to cross, occasional flooding, raids from the native tribes and the general wilderness conditions of an unsettled area.

The settlers first met in private homes for a while before a simple church building was constructed. The congregation recorded its founding date to be “the third Saturday in February, 1846” (February 21, 1846) at the residence of Charlie Troop. As for the name of the church, one of the stories told that the name was chosen because theirs was thought to be the only Baptist congregation in the area and due to the loneliness of the members. Another more colorful one says that while the future members were meeting, a dove flew into a nearby tree and continued to make its cooing sound as they met, leading to the name Lonesome Dove being chosen for the group.

The Denton Record-Chronicle referred to this congregation over the years, mentioning the church’s name in obituaries, wedding announcements and other articles. One such article published on July 28, 1963 adds more history to the congregation’s story as the writer credited a book “William Lee McCormick, A Study in Tolerance with Genealogy” by Edna Haynes McCormick (1889 – 1975). The book was a biography of the life of her father, William Lee McCormick (1863 – 1945). Citing Ms. McCormick’s book, the newspaper writer affirmed the February, 1846 founding date. The writer of the article was reluctant to call it the first Baptist congregation in North Texas and added that though they may not have been formally organized, some Protestant religious groups had met in the area prior to the 1846 date. Ms. McCormick’s book referred to minutes of the Lonesome Dove congregation and cited many early members’ names, the writer of the article said.

From the newspaper article, the first pastor was named Josiah Hodges. He was followed by John A. Freeman, A. Dobkins, C. W. Pierce, James W. Terrell, Isaac Newton, V. J. Hutton, Isaac Newton again, J. W. Mitchell and Andy J. Hallford. Hallford was said to be the tenth pastor and served until 1870.

The first building is believed to have been a simple rectangular wood frame structure. The congregation outgrew it and it was replaced by a more extensive structure, still a wood frame building which lasted until it was destroyed by fire in March of 1930. Image credit: Portal to Texas History

Author Larry McMurtry (1836 – 2021) wrote a novel released in 1985 called “Lonesome Dove” in which he told the story of a cattle drive from a fictional Texas town to Montana. McMurtry was born in North Texas and grew up around Archer City. In the book McMurtry wove real and fictional events, some of which were loosely based on actual historical characters. The book inspired a miniseries and several more television projects and won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1986. McMurtry added several more books to the series.

As for the Lonesome Dove name, McMurtry said he made note of the name while he was eating at a restaurant in Ponder, Texas. A van from Lonesome Dove Baptist Church had either passed by or pulled into the restaurant parking lot. However, other than having been used for the name of the book, there is no other obvious connection to this early North Texas congregation.

Lonesome Dove Baptist Church has been in existence now for over 177 years. The congregation still meets in its buildings located in Southlake, Tarrant County,Texas, roughly between Highway 114 and Grapevine Lake. Adjacent to the church, there is also Lonesome Dove Cemetery in which descendants of some of the founding families are buried.

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