In Jeff Davis County, there’s a gray oak that’s come to symbolize religious freedom. Picture this. It’s October 10, 1890. A man stands on an Arbuckle coffee box. He’s using it as his pulpit. There are rough planks across sawhorses for pews. The oak serves as a tabernacle for the congregation. It’s a “cowboy” camp meeting. The Reverend William J. Bloys is a Presbyterian home missionary. He’s devoted himself to the camp idea for nearly 30 years, and he’s here, conducting a three-day meeting.
The site of this camp meeting was Skillman’s Grove, which is about 17 miles southwest of Fort Davis on Highway 166. The meeting may have come about because at an earlier worship service at the John Z. Means Ranch, Mrs. Means had a wish that ranch neighbors could meet at least once a year and worship together. Later that year, 21 children and 27 adults assembled under this ancient oak tree for that first camp meeting.
In subsequent years, the meetings would be held in a gospel tent and, after 1912, in a wooden building. Today, the week-long assembly has an average daily attendance of 1500 men, women and children. The camp meetings became ecumenical shortly after the first meeting. By 1904, the Bloys Campmeeting Association was formed. It was comprised of four religious denominations – Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist and Disciple. At the chartering meeting, the hat was passed around and over $1500 was collected. That money was used to purchase the 640 acres of land including Skillman’s Grove. This includes the tree under which the first service was held. It became known as the Bloys Symbolic Oak.
The tree itself is structured in a beautiful way. About two feet above ground, its four main limbs unite to form a single stout trunk. Some believe those four limbs symbolize the four different churches that have come together for the meetings these many years. Each of the four denominational ministers preaches once each day in a planned rotation. In addition to the preaching, special music by great musicians and congregational singing makes for a truly inspirational seven day experience. The continuation of this religious meeting is in honor of John and Exa Means as well as Reverend Bloys who made it happen under the old oak tree so many years ago. Please respect the tree, as its on private property. It’s best to view it from the road.
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