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Part 1 - 1887 Drought Fells County - The Lemley Letters I Send Help Now
By Jeff Clark

We're still looking for the old hermit out in the woods southeast of Cheaney. He was there in the late 1920s - 30s. 'Lived in a rough wooden shack with a German Shepherd who never left his side. 'Had a sense of humor, I've been told. We still don't know his name.

The hermit's cabin was just east of the Salt Branch on the Lemley Place, in the family since they came to this country. Some may recall that the Lemley Family suffered greatly from a Comanche attack in February 1860. We contacted a relative out in California, Dr. Steve Lemley. Dr. Lemley has a friend at Pepperdine, Jerry Rush who has an interest in the history of the Church of Christ in California. As Rush was researching, he began finding letters from Smith Lemley and his mother Amy Lemley in a periodical called the American Christian Review, published in Cincinnati from 1856 on. The Lemleys' letters were all written between January - August 1887, the height of a severe drought that covered the Midwest.

John McClung is another historian friend of Dr. Lemley's. McClung believes this drought broke the range cattle business and made cattlemen back then decide that the only way to make cattle pay was to feed large numbers in fenced off, controlled areas. Fences cutting the rangeland would have certainly changed the nature of Eastland County in a fundamental way.

Smith Lemley was born May 27, 1867 in Corsicana and died July 4, 1935 in Eastland County. He was a Church of Christ preacher. He married Mary J. Thurman. He preached at the Cheaney Church of Christ, and probably other places in the area. Smith is buried at the Lemley/Russell Creek Cemetery east of Ranger. His mother Amy Alatha Lemley was born December 3, 1837 near Nashville and died at ninety in April 1927. She married Sam Lemley in Stephenville in 1864. She was 27; he 41. Sam was born in 1823 in Illinois and died January 10, 1889 and is with his wife also buried at Russell Creek. Smith Lemley writes:

Dear Bro. Treat: Will you please allow me space in the Review to report the condition of the brethren here at this place? We are in a sad condition. We have not made anything this year, except some few have made some cotton, and we will have to suffer before crops are made again, if we don't get help. So, dear brethren, please do not let this pass without noticing.

There are not many of us that will have bread for very long. When it is gone we do not know how we will get any more; and we are very scarce of clothing. Brethren, will you not lend us a helping hand? Send all money by registered letter.

Smith Lemley
Ranger, Eastland County, Texas

Lemley's neighbors in Eastland County were barely holding on, each day harder than the last. Smith Lemley's plea to the nation was answered. More next time…

Special thanks to Dr. Steve Lemley.

Jeff Clark

Part 2 - Nation Answers Eastland County 1887 Drought - Lemley Letters II
By Jeff Clark

Last week, we read about Smith Lemley, a Church of Christ preacher writing to the nation for help for his starving neighbors in Russell Creek, southeast of Ranger. Though it was 1887, Lemley was apparently doing all he could think of to save his flock. The saga continues

"Bro Treat: We have received for the relief of the brethren of this place since December 24 (this was before the date of the first letter, so Lemley must have been writing multiple publications) the following sums: The church at Dawson, Fayette Co., Pa., $5; A Sister, Paxton, Ind., $5; H. S. Powell, Superior, Neb, $5; the church at Beeber's Station, West Va., $5.15; the church at Oaktown, Sullivan Co., Ind. $10; the church at Fayette City, Fayette Co., Pa., $25; A Brother, Leona, Brown Co., Kan., $10; Ben Rosenberg, Lisbon, Ottawa Co., Mich., $5. Total $70.15.

We are very thankful to these kind brethren and sisters for what they have aided us with, in our destitute condition. We have divided it equally according to the family, there being $1.25 for each adult and 65 cents for each of the children. If we had divided it by the members, some eight families with but two or three children and four members, would have got more than some families with but one or two members and five or six little children to divide with.

We are very needy yet, and will other brethren that are able please lend us a helping hand, as perhaps these brethren have done all for us that they can?

Dear brethren, if we did not need help we would not call on you to help us; we would rather give than to receive if we were able.

Done by the order of the church this 20th day of January, 1887.

Smith Lemley"

Special thanks to Dr. Steve Lemley.

Jeff Clark