by Gene Owens
James Lutzweiler of Jamestown, N. C., is on the trail of B. D. Crimm, the gun-totin' evangelist. He's looking for yarns to flesh out his account of the colorful preacher's life.
Lutz, who is an archivist and rare book collector at Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., told what he knew about Crimm in a presentation to the Texas State Historical Association in Austin.
I asked Lutz to let me reproduce some of his findings, because Southern religious leaders, like Southern politicians, military leaders and liars, are frequently larger than life and their stories make good reading, even if they are laden with Dixie exactitudes, which I define as the truth allowing for windage.
Crimm, according to Lutz, was born in Marshall, Texas, which is also famous for its annual Fire Ant Festival. That event features the hottest chili this side of Perdition which is, I think, a town in West Texas. His mama and daddy named him Birdie Bridges Crimm, which he understandably shortened to B. B. Crimm. He later gratefully accepted the sobriquet "Cowboy Crimm." The nickname probably was acquired during his careers as a rodeo performer and a cattle rustler before he lit out down the Sawdust Trail.
A third-grade dropout, Crimm nevertheless graduated in 1912 from Howard Payne College in Brownwood, Texas, after lettering in four sports. He did post-graduate work at Baylor University in Waco.
Crimm came out of his rodeo and rustling careers with a fine sense
of crowd-pleasing theatrics. It's said that he once mounted a pulpit in
Paducah, Ky., the way a cowboy mounts a horse from behind.
Crimm did not believe in conversion by the sword. His tool of choice was the six-gun.
Lutz tells of an incident in Nacogdoches, Texas, in which someone walked up to the pulpit in mid-sermon and handed Cowboy a note. The intrepid preacher read it aloud. Its author expressed his desire to kill the evangelist.
Without breaking rhythm, Cowboy opined that the next morning at 10 would be a good time to try it, since he intended to be walking down Main Street in Nacogdoches with his pistols strapped to his hips.
Crimm was as good as his word. The would-be assassin failed to show up, but the tent that night was packed with sinners eager to hear the cowboy's message.
Lutz says a number of people have confirmed the story, but nobody bothered to compare the handwriting on the note with Cowboy's own handwriting. I'm guessing that the note, at least, was a Dixie exactitude.
Being a Southern Baptist, of course, Cowboy taught that eternal and excruciating torment was the destiny of all those who ignored his message.
To quote Lutzweiler, Cowboy could "preach on Hell as if he'd been
born there," but he could also get theatrical on other topics.
Among those in the crowd was a boy named Jack Hyles. He turned to his mother and asked, "Did he come? Did he come?"
He didn't, but the experience was enough to prod the boy into seeking a career in the pulpit, and by the 1960s, he was pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Ind., which claimed to have the largest Sunday school in the world.
Crimm preferred tents on small-town vacant lots to the lofty coliseums of Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and Memphis. But he was hard on tents. He liked to preface a sermon by firing his pistol into the air, just to show that this was serious business. This kept his tent repairman busy patching up the bullet holes in the canvas.
Crimm had his own way of dealing with hecklers. To one of them, he said: "Inside this tent I am Brother Crimm, but outside it I'm just plain old B.B. Would you like to settle this in here or out there?"
On another occasion, somebody put a drunk up to heckling the preacher. The 6-foot-two Crimm walked away from the pulpit, gave the lush a Sunday punch, and walked back to announce, "The next one who comes in like that is going out on a stretcher."
The cowboy once was summoned by his father's church to pray for an end to a drought that had West Texas simmering. Before praying for a cloudburst, Crimm asked how many people in the congregation were willing to remember the Lord with their tithes once he had answered the prayer.
The response didn't please Cowboy Crimm at all. He told the congregation that he wasn't going to pray for the benefit of a bunch of tightwads, and proceeded to crawl out the nearest window.
The draught continued without let-up.
Lutzweiler suspects that Cowboy Crimm consulted a meteorologist and decided that since the Lord had already made up his mind it would be presumptuous to ask him to turn around and change it.
I think the whole yarn is a Dixie exactitude.
Gene Owens has been around the Southern journalistic scene for 48 years. He has been senior associate editor of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., and editorial-page editor of the Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Va.
As senior editor for Creative Services, a management consulting firm in High Point, N. C., he ghosted more than a dozen published books for professional clients. For the past nine years he has been assistant managing editor, political editor and columnist for the Mobile Register. Register readers named him their favorite local columnist, and readers of the independent regional magazine, Bay Weekly, agreed. He was runner-up in the regional Green Eyeshades competition among writers of humor columns.
He has been on the board of directors of the National Conference of Editorial Writers and was editor of The Masthead, the NCEW’s national quarterly. He is in semi-retirement in Anderson, S. C.
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Write Gene Owens at 317 Braeburn Drive, Anderson SC 29621 or e-mail him at WadesDixieCo@aol.com
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