John Martin Harrel
Martin Harrel was born at Decatur, Illinois January 11, 1868 of Albert
G. and Sarah Jane Harrel. At the age of thirteen he moved with his
family to Texas, settling near Vernon. This move seems to have been a
part of the great Westward migration then in progress. Good schools were
scarce in Texas, but he did attend the ones available until he was
eighteen years old, at which time he went to Whiteright, Texas to attend
Grayson College. (Whiteright is almost two hundred miles east of
Vernon.) At Grayson College he did two years of college work, which made
him an exceptionally well educated man for that time and country. In
1887 he moved from Texas to Oklahoma Territory, getting a claim of an
excellent quarter section of land two miles east of Rocky. Here he
farmed and began a teaching career that lasted for about twelve years,
and also began preaching at the age of nineteen. His first school was a
"subscription school" at Orange Blossom, a half mile south of
where Rocky is now located. He taught in several places in Washita
County, including Foss. At Foss his school was conducted in a "half
dugout" near where the Foss cemetery is now located. A year or so
before going to Grayson College he became interested in vocal music and
prepared himself to teach it. We have no details of where he got the
formal training for music, but he did teach vocal music for some years,
mostly in the summers. The whole family was a "singing family"
and with three of his sisters he prepared and published a song book for
church use, probably one of the very first in that section.
a few years he sold his claim to John Ashby and moved to Cordell. His
brother, Jim, had also gone to Oklahoma and filed on a quarter section
of land. In 1900 when the county seat was moved from Cloud Chief to
Cordell, he owned the land on which much of Cordell was built. Jim
subdivided his farm and sold lots, both residential and business. In
order to help get the town started, he gave a number of good lots to
people that he felt would be an asset to the community. When John sold
his farm at Rocky, he bought a lot from Jim on North College Street,
across the street from the College Street meeting house, and built a
good residence. John had begun preaching by this time (so had Jim) and
he built several other houses in the northwest part of Cordell and sold
them. He also bought two farms northwest of Cordell and retained these
until he moved from Cordell in 1922.
Harrel sold the lot where the College Street church now stands to the
church on January 5, 1905. The following restrictive clause in the deed
is of interest: "To have and to hold for the use of the said church
of Christ and upon the express conditions that no organ or other musical
instrument be used or kept and that no fair, festival or other practices
unauthorized in the New Testament be held had or conducted in upon or
about said premises or in any of the buildings constructed thereon and
in case any such conduct act or unauthorized practices are committed
or performed in upon or about such premises or any organ or musical
instrument be introduced into any house or edifice erected on said
premises then the management and control of said house and premises
shall be vested in the persons of said church of Christ who may be
opposed to the organ or other musical instruments festivals or other
things herein before named being used in said house said edifice or house
erected on said lot." Of course students of church history know the
history of and reasons for these restrictive clauses in church deeds.
The copy I have of this was made by someone in the Cordell court house,
and evidently they did not copy the punctuation marks, but one can see
the problem these brethren were dealing with.The "digressives"
had "stolen" most of the property from our brethren in the
division over the instrument and missionary society. There has never
been a successful "digressive church" in Cordell, nor a
successful "anti" church.
John Harrel obeyed the gospel in Texas at the age of sixteen, but we have no direct information about who baptized him. Sister Ivan Ashby of Edmond, a daughter, thinks it may have been F. L. Young. His first sermon was preached in his brother Jim's "dug out" on the claim at Cordell. It was here that the Cordell church started. In addition to the two Harrel brothers, other early-day members were the Grogans, Cooks, Parmans, Frank and Ben Young and their sister, Locky. There were others, but Sister Ashby could not recall them. After all, this happened before she was born. John M. held the first meeting for the Cordell church, and continued to preach for it from time to time as well as all over the area. He was instrumental in the establishment of a number of congregations, but we have no detailed information about this. Churches were established early in Rocky, Sentinel, Dill City, Burns Flat (Then known as North Burns) and possibly other places. No doubt he had a hand in all of these. He never did what we call "local work," but traveled and preached extensively in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, and Arizona. This work began in 1887 and continued into the forties when the ravages of time took their inevitable toll.
Preachers of his time were often forced to defend their cause in public debates, and this he did well when so called upon. His first debate was with a Methodist preacher when he had been a Christian only a year. (The denominational preachers delighted to get some boy just starting to preach into a debate. However, this must not have worked so well for them, for by the time I began preaching in 1926 most of them "did not believe in debates.") His kind, gentle spirit made him an effective teacher of the Word. When he first went to Oklahoma territory, many Indians lived there, and he often came in contact with them. He always carried something to give them, and they often shared their things with him, such as meat and corn.
He published no books, but did leave a very large
collection of sermon outlines, many of which he had illustrated and made
into chart sermons. (Audio-visual teaching is not new!) He was a good
artist and used this ability well in his presentation of the gospel.
Along with his brother Jim, he was the first preacher of the gospel in
Washita County so far as we have been able to determine. Both of these
men were active in locating and building Cordell Christian College, Jim
donating the land for it, and serving on the first board. Both of them
taught in the school. Along with all of this, he constantly preached,
going back again and again for meetings. For instance, Sister Ashby has
notices of a meeting he held in Okeene in 1905, then again in 1908 and
1909. His last meeting was in Douglas, Arizona.
1894 he met Miss Ada S. Stevens, whose parents, James W. and Sally
Stevens, had moved to Boggy Creek. (near North Burns - now Burns Flat)
John M. was preaching some at North Burns and he met and converted this
family. On January 9, 1895 he and Miss Ada were married. John M. was
teaching a rural school north of Bessie, and in this school building his
brother Jim performed the marriage ceremony for John and Ada, then John
did the same for Jim and his lady.
children were born to John and Ada Harrel, five of whom are still living
(Jan., 1977). They are: Foy W., Daisy Ashby, Otis C., James 0., and
1922 he sold out at Cordell and moved to Edmond so his children could
attend Central State College. He spent the rest of his long life in
Edmond and the last of many congregations he helped establish was the
church in Edmond. Along with his whole family, he enjoyed good health
throughout life. In 1949, when he was eighty-one years old, he lay
down on Sunday afternoon for a short nap. He did not awaken. His
companion continued for ten more years. What is mortal of these good
people sleeps at Edmond.
John M. Harrel was truly one of the pioneer preachers. He worked in a new country under hardships we cannot now imagine, but he worked and built well. The many people he led to their Lord, his good family, the many congregations he helped establish, the Christian College he helped build all speak of this very useful and dedicated life. Only eternity will reveal the extent of it. One of his favorite sayings was, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman . . .” God will always bless the memory of such men!
-Gospel Preachers of Yesteryear, Loyd L. Smith, pages 166-169. This Article First Appeared In The Christian Worker, January , 1977
J.M. Harrel is buried in Edmond, Oklahoma In
Note: Special Thanks Is Extended To Jeff & Annette Smith. Jeff Is The Great Great Grandson Of J.M. Harrel. The Smiths Made The Pictures Of The Grave Of J.M. Harrel Available In July, 2003