VERDE HERITAGE 1875: "OLD TREE MEETING" TRADITION
The wagon trains from Missouri brought many settlers to the Verde Valley during August of 1875. The first Sunday meeting was held in the shade of the largest cottonwood tree near the home of Parson James C. Bristow, on October 3, 1875. It became his habit to preach to his old congregation a number of times each year and always on the first Sunday in October.
1917: "Each year Parson Bristow called his flock together and blessed them and thanked God that they were still left, and showed the way for them to follow in the bad times that came. After a few years the annual ceremony came to be known as the 'tree meeting' and people came from all over the valley to be present. Youngsters whose parents were children at the first meeting came until their own children too attended. Yesterday as the old man stood beneath his old cottonwood tree with the wind blowing his gray hair about, his children and grandchildren all around him ... he preached once more and blessed them all." (The Jerome Sun; Monday, October 15, 1917; page 3.)
1919: PIONEER PASTOR RECALLS EARLY DAYS OF THE VALLEY
"Just 44 years from when he delivered his first sermon in the Verde Valley, Reverend James C. Bristow, 84 years old, preached at Middle Verde yesterday. Times have changed. Yesterday, Mr. Bristow preached to 400 friends and neighbors who ... were dressed in holiday attire. ... Lined up under the cottonwoods were nearly three score modern automobiles."
"First Tree Burned: Mr. Bristow did not preach yesterday under the same tree that sheltered him 44 years before. That tree caught fire several years ago and its branches are mostly dead; only a few green shoots are struggling bravely to live."
"A Wonderful Sermon: That a man 84 years old should not only preach but should carry a definite theme through 30 minutes of clear, simple, discourse, sounds almost incredible. Yet that is what James C. Bristow did yesterday. His voice isn't as strong as it was. His frame is bent, though very slightly."
"Only 7 persons were present yesterday who heard James Bristow preach on that memorable day in 1875. Several of them were so young at the time that they remember nothing of the occasion. Ed Dickinson, for instance, was only 2 years old. His brother Frank, was 9, and their sister, now Mrs. William Back, was only a little girl. Two tiny daughters of the minister were there; they are now Mrs. John Halston and Mrs. James Wingfield. ... The oldest person in attendance who was one of the Bristow assemblage in 1975, was Captain Hance, Camp Verde pioneer."
"Shortly after noon a basket dinner was spread beneath the trees. It was such a picnic dinner as set only by the good wives and cooks of the Verde Valley."
(Verde Daily Copper News; Jerome; October 6, 1919; page 1.)
Rev. James C. Bristow preached his last sermon on October 3, 1920. About 200 friends and relatives were there.
1954: OLD TREE MEETING MARKS FIRST SERMON
"Rev. Perry L. Jackson will preside Sunday at an annual 'Old Tree Meeting' to be held at Middle Verde Bethany Indian Church. The meeting, to start at 10 a.m., commemorates the 79th anniversary of the first sermon. The morning speaker is Rev. Wallace Woods of the Navajo Children's Home [at Cottonwood]. A basket lunch will follow. Dr. Carlton Saywell, of Phoenix, American Baptist state secretary, will speak at the afternoon session."
(The Verde Independent; Thursday, October 7, 1954; page 4.)
See: The Verde Independent; "Baptist 'Old Tree' Meetings Began October 3, 1875;" October 3, 2012; and "1875-1955: Baptist 'Old Tree' Meetings, October 3;" October 3, 2014.