SISTERS AND BROTHERS, I am pledged not to preach today --- a big concession from someone who spent 43 years in pulpits across this great land and whose voice has been stilled by death for a century.
My name is Johnston McGaughey and I have been asked instead to tell you how a pair of Presbyterian vagabonds --- my wife, Emma, and myself --- came to rest here to await the Resurrection on a pleasant hillside half way between our old homes in the East and the deserts of New Mexico, where our most productive years were spent.
I WAS BORN during 1836 into a Scots-Irish farm family in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, northeast of Pittsburgh, but did not inherit a desire to make my living off the land. We were pious Presbyterians and at the age of 23, in 1859, I made public profession of my faith at Concord Presbyterian Church at nearby New Bethlehem, but experienced no call to preach at the time.
Instead, it was my desire to learn and to teach and for a number of years I became what you might call today a professional student, supporting my studious habits by accepting teaching jobs in private academies, most affiliated with Presbyterian churches, as they became available.
I graduated from, then taught at, the Glade Run Academy near home, taught at the Conneaut Academy, too, and attended both Washington & Jefferson College and Lafayette College, all in Pennsylvania.
During the late 1860s, I enrolled at New Jersey’s Princeton University, graduating in 1871. Having by now experienced a call, I enrolled that fall in the Princeton Theological Seminary and graduated with the Class of 1875 in my 39th year.
MY CALLING WAS NOT to serve settled congregations, however, but to engage in mission work. Licensed by the Presbytery of New Brunswick during April of 1875, I was ordained by the Presbytery of Westminster, Synod of Pennsylvania, in November and installed immediately as pastor of two mission congregations where I served until April of 1879. The mark of my success was the fact both were able to call full-time pastors when I was called to the West.
It was while serving these two congregations that I met Miss Emma Ann Thompson, at 27 some years my junior and native to Rising Sun, Maryland. She found me acceptable and on the 15th of September 1877 we were wed at Washington, Delaware, and came immediately to Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, to establish the first of our many homes. I wonder to this day if she would have accepted my hand had she known just our far our mission work would take us from those pleasant fields of Pennsylvania and Maryland.
OUR FIRST CALL together was a dramatic departure for both --- to Laramie city, Territory of Wyoming, then part of the Synod of Colorado. Just 10 years earlier, this had been a city of tents and crude cabins at the western terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad, renowned for its lawlessness. The edges still were rough.
Presbyterians were few and far between --- even today there are only about 30 Presbyterian churches in the entire state. But we had our successes and when we departed for the Southwest two years later, our congregants called a full-time pastor. In Laramie, I also established, edited and published an eight-page monthly newspaper devoted to religious topics, but it was not continued after my departure.
Emma enjoyed a privilege here that she would never enjoy again. Wyoming’s first territorial legislature had extended equal rights, including the right to vote, to women in 1869. Our first two sons, Charles and Ralph, also were born in Laramie.
FROM WYOMING, we were called to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to pastor that territory’s oldest Presbyterian congregation and also to superintend its educational work. Membership was small, but increased 500 percent during my two and a half years there. A church was built and paid for at a cost of $6,400. Our Mexican mission school was reorganized and steps taken which led to a boarding school for Mexican girls. In addition, the Santa Fe Academy, founded by Presbyterians in 1867 but now in private hands, was returned fully to Presbyterian Church control.
In March, 1883, I was named synodical missionary for New Mexico and Arizona, serving for a year during which I organized two churches and secured pastors for them, then organized an academy at Silver City, New Mexico, where I raised money and secured a lot for an academy building, with a chapel for church services and a minister in charge of it.
During 1884, I was placed in charge of mission work in Raton, New Mexico, and during the next 10 years organized two churches, one Spanish language and the other English, as well as a day school for Mexican children; served the English church as pastor and the Mexican church as superintendent; and built two church buildings.
During In 1893-4 I also had charge of mission work in San Juan County, New Mexico, preaching regularly at four points and building a church in Farmington.
In addition, I served as stated clerk, 1883-1891, of the Presbytery of Santa Fe; formulated the action taken by the Assembly and the Synod of Colorado that resulted in erecting the Presbyteries of Arizona and Rio Grande from the territory of Santa Fe Presbytery, and for the organization of the Synod of New Mexico. I also resurrected and published again the monthly newspaper I’d begun in Wyoming. Needless to say, I was by this time fluent in Spanish.
AS MY 60TH BIRTHDAY neared during 1895, Emma and I decided that it was time to consider our own health and well-being and also the educational opportunities more settled places offered to our children. We had become the parents of Ralph, Albert and Helen during those New Mexico years.
As a result, we accepted a call from the Kossuth Presbyterian congregation located near Mediapolis in southeast Iowa. Founded in 1839, this was Iowa’s second-oldest Presbyterian church.
I served as pastor here for seven years and in my spare time, organized two other congregation and built a church at one of them, Oakville. During 1897-99, I also served as principal of the Kossuth Classical and Normal Academy.
My final call, during 1902, was to the Presbyterian church in Russell which I served until Christmas day, 1905, when I retired from the full-time ministry.
Emma and I then followed the advice generally given to clerics --- to avoid intimate involvement in congregations once served --- and bought the first home we ever had owned on South 15th Street in nearby Chariton. After so many years, our roots were in each other and our work rather than in a specific place, so all we needed was a congenial neighborhood, and we found it.
We joined the congregation of that Chariton’s First Church and I continued to preach many each Sundays each year --- whenever a substitute pastor was needed anywhere in southern Iowa. Our children came to value Chariton as a hometown and some of them lived and worked here for a time.
EMMA AND I HAD 10 happy years together in Chariton, but during early 1917 her health began to fail and on June 13, she died and was buried here. I chose the spot and wrote at the time, “We lay thee to rest our best beloved, to gather strength and beauty for the coming morn.” She was only 66.
My own end came suddenly a year later, on Feb. 13, 1918, at the age of 82.
Our three younger children all were living in Chariton at the time, but scattered soon after, so no one visits our graves now.