Monday, June 4, 2012

Eagle Creek Branch

Eagle Creek wasn't the first branch of the LDS Church in Tennessee, but it is close. The first was in Paris, Henry County formed in October 1834. Eagle Creek was formed sometime between November 1834 and January 1835. But the first reference wasn't until Wilford Woodruff arrived in April 1835 and preached in the meeting house for the Eagle Creek Branch on April 6th and 7th. It is unlikely the branch had built their meeting house already. They might have borrowed a meeting house belonging to another church, a common practice. Later on they are meeting in the Eagle Creek Academy, probably a school house.

On 28 Jun 1835, as Elder Warren Parrish was preparing to leave for Kirtland, he re-organized the Eagle Creek Branch, ordaining John "Caswell" Matlock to the office of a Deacon to preside over the branch. In addition Wilford Woodruff was ordained an Elder, and was given the responsibility to preside over the whole conference. In addition to the two missionaries already named was a mysterious figure noted only here: Elder Calvin H. Nicholson. It is unlikely he was a local member, since as an Elder he would have presided over the branch instead of Deacon Matlock. He does not show up in other missionary journals, nor in other church records.

On 2 Aug 1835, Elder Woodruff returned to Eagle Creek to preach again. This time he baptized two converts as well, though he did not name them.

On the 24th of December 1835, tragedy struck the nascent branch. Deacon J. Caswell Matlock unexpectedly died. His obituary was printed in the Messenger and Advocate published in Kirtland, Ohio on February 1836.

-At Eagle Creek, Benton co. Ten. Dec. 24, Deacon Caswell Matlock, Aged 27 years. He was a worthy member, and died in the hope of a glorious immortality. "Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord."

At the first meeting of the Tennessee Conference on 26 Feb 1836 (held in Kentucky which was part of the Tennessee Conference at the time) there were 15 members in good standing of the Eagle Creek Branch. I have only been able to identify seven names, but it is likely the others were relatives of these seven.

Br. Crawley (Grawley?)
Br. Joseph Frey
Br. Caswell Matlock (died in 1835)
Br. William Miles Malin
Br. Michael David Fry
Sis. Rachel Matlock Frey
Br. Bird B. Barnett

The second meeting of the Tennessee Conference was held at the Chalk Level Branch in Benton County Tennessee on 28-29 May 1836. This was only a short distance from Eagle Creek, less than one days ride. There were reported again 15 members in the Eagle Creek Branch in good standing.

There were notes Abraham O. Smoot's journal indicating four others were also members, but without baptism dates:

Br. Cutler
Sis. Mary Amanda Utley (1821- )
Sis. Lucy Ann Fry (1809- )
Sis. Barnett

From there Eagle Creek is quiet. Missionaries focus their energies elsewhere and as a result mission news is about other places. But eight years later, in preparation for Joseph Smith's campaign for U. S. President, a handful of meetings were scheduled in branches across the south and east, including one at Eagle Creek for 8-9 June 1844. The conference did not actually happen until 22 June 1844. At the meeting it was noted that there were 17 members of the branch. It appears that the nearby Chalk Level Branch (as well as probably every other branch in Benton County) had dissolved. Robert C. Petty was placed as Eagle Creek Branch President and Seth Utley (1789-1866) was ordained a priest. Both of them had been in the old Chalk Level Branch. Bird B. Barnett was ordained a teacher. Four were baptized at the conference: Samuel Little, Burwell L. Utley (1827-), Nancy Elizabeth Utley (1827-), and Adeline Utley (1831-).

Following the death of Joseph Smith, the remaining organization of the church in Tennessee began to dissolve. Some members probably left to join the saints. Others, like the Utleys, gave up on the Church and moved west to restart their lives.  Still others, like William M. Malin, drifted away to other churches. One we know remained true to the church even without any organized branch.  When missionaries finally returned in the 1870's, Michael Fry was still there and showed his treasured 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. Though the Eagle Creek Branch was not formed again, missionaries stilled used Eagle Creek as a point of reference.

Today, Eagle Creek and all of Benton County is part of the Paris, Tennessee Branch in neighboring Henry County.


Edje said...


Dustin said...

Paris and Eagle Creek were the first branches in TN and there's still only a branch there to this day (it is fairly rural though). I'm sure the boundaries have been redrawn a few times as well.

BruceCrow said...

Glad you liked it, Edje.

Yes, Dustin, the boundries have changed many times. At one time there were several branches in what is now the Paris Tennessee Branch.

I met a couple at a church conference a few months back who live there today. They remarked that it was so rural that when they moved there no one bothered to lock the church, let alone their homes.