Bloys Camp Meeting
You may have grown up watching Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Hopalong Cassidy. While those characters were popular, they were nothing like the real 1860s West Texas cowboys.
The Davis Mountains were surrounded by many large historic ranches including the Longfellow Ranch, the Four Sixes Ranch, and the Kokernot 06 Ranch. Hundreds of cowboys were needed to manage the cattle business that was becoming a nation-wide industry.
Texas cowboys worked in unified groups trying to manage enormous herds of livestock. Most wore wide-brimmed hats for protection from the sun, and bandanas over their nose and mouth to keep trail dust out of their lungs. Stiff leather chaps protected their legs from cacti and thornbushes. And each stockman became an expert in using the lariat and rifle.
It was a dangerous occupation with the constant threat of severe weather, hostile Indians, and sudden stampedes. A cowboy might earn around $30 per month and spent most of his time on the range. After a trail ride to sell cattle, the cowboy could celebrate his brief “vacation” in town. But for the most part, it was a lonely life “where the deer and the antelope play.”
The life of the cowboy did not go unnoticed by those who knew that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).” The mission field of the isolated cattle ranches became a priority of such great preachers as George W. Baines II, L. R “Sky Pilot” Millican, and William Benjamin Bloys. Each one would go and preach to the cowboys and bring them the Good News of the Gospel.
In January 1888, William Bloys became chaplain to the soldiers at Fort Davis as a result of his new assignment by the national Mission Board of the Presbyterian church. He was called to serve “all territory west of the Pecos River.” Apparently, they didn’t realize that this was a vast and treacherous region.
Bloys began to visit the ranches and cow camps that were scattered all around the Big Bend country. Further, he began to organize churches and brush arbors wherever he found supportive Believers.
Seeing the need for getting people together in larger groups for worship and fellowship, Bloys solicited funds from several ranchers and purchased a section of land, known as Skillman Grove, for $1,280.
It was at Skillman Grove in 1890 that he started the annual nondenominational Bloys Camp Meeting which continues to this day. There were 43 people attending the first meeting. Now, each year in early August, more than 3,000 people attend the week-long event that features hymn singing, preaching, Bible teaching, and ranch-style cooking over open fires.
William Bloys fulfilled the intent of Philippians 2:4 ESV, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” He determined to reach out beyond his comfort zone to touch the lives of many lonely and lost people. May we all do the same.