Public speaking was an important part of life in 19th century America. Whether you wanted to win an election, win support for a reform movement, or become a successful minister, you needed to learn how to deliver crowd-pleasing speeches. Candidates for office debated one another. Evangelical ministers hoping to win people to their denominations could often use rousing sermons to attract large crowds to their revival meetings. In the same period, the local lyceums and other organizations provided an important source of education and entertainment for people of all classes by bringing national celebrities into cities and small towns across America. (E Pluribus Unum Project)
They cite Gilman Ostrander who writes in his book, Republic of Letters: The American Intellectual Community, 1775-1865:
Oratory was a lawyerly skill that boasted a tradition as venerable as the law itself, extending from Demosthenes to Daniel Webster. From medieval universities to nineteenth-century liberal arts colleges, orations remained an essential part of higher education, and forensic eloquence remained the mark of a cultivated man. Patrick Henry rose to the head of the Virginia bar chiefly on the basis of his forensic ability, being admittedly unqualified for practice so far as his technical knowledge of the law was concerned. The Olympian prestige and appeal of oratory in the ages of Patrick Henry and Daniel Webster is hard to appreciate in our present age of mass media, but in mid-nineteenth century America, Emerson observed that “The highest bribes of society are all at the feet of the successful orator. . . . All other fame must hush before his. He is the true potentate.” (p. 104).
The ability to play an effective role in discussions of local importance (such as whether to build a town library) or to speak persuasively in debates over national issues (such as the dispute over slavery) could even contribute to the standing of a private citizen in his or her community. Along with print, oratory was an essential part of public life. It was how the business of public life got done.
We have heard there were some great orators during the the Boomtown era in Southeast Colorado. It seems each town in the county seat fights leading up to the 1889 Colorado legislature had a lead orator who could make the case for their town to be the county seat. For Boston it was Judge J.D.F.Jennings, while in Minneapolis it was a preacher named Evans. In 1918 Sam Konkel told us,
“As a speaker the judge was without peer in the southwest, unless an exception be made in the case of preacher Evans, who lived somewhere in the neighborhood of present Konantz and whose sympathies by reason of his location were with Minneapolis – in the fight for the county seat. As an aside, as we shall not have occasion to again refer to Evans, it will suffice here to say that he was a speaker of the first water, and we believe a thoroughly upright man.
Living in the neighborhood of Minneapolis, he naturally cast his fortunes with that town, and had he lived no doubt would have wielded a strong influence in the fight for the county seat honors.
He was diplomatic and fearless in what he championed and in his public addresses along the lines of his convictions and the cause he championed.
On one occasion at Boston he bearded the lion in his den in a speech favoring Minneapolis for the county seat — that speech made all those Bostonians sit up and take notice.
We believe it was not more than a week or two after this that Evans was instantly killed by being hooked in the eye by a vicious cow.
When the news reached Boston of the fatality, it was Judge Jennings who said it was the best thing that could have happened to Boston which was a compliment in line with what the North said when Stonewall Jackson was accidentally killed by his own troops”
I believe the following news clipping I found this past week reports that visit to Boston by the Minneapolis contingent in August of 1888, when preacher Evans gave the speech that made the Bostonians pay attention to rival Minneapolis.
Let’s see what else we can learn about the Minneapolis orator, the Reverend William Evans.
The short letter below provide another glimpse of the gifted orator of Minneapolis, Colorado.
Colony Free Press (Colony, Kansas) · 30 Aug 1888. NOTE: This I believe is an error. Evans is reported to have lived in Stevenson, Colo. in all other references . I believed the editor of this paper just assumed it was Stevens County Kansas.
The LeRoy Reporter (LeRoy, Kansas) · 22 Sep 1888. Reprints the story as follows,
Death of Rev. Wm- Evans -This entire community was startled on Saturday morning by news of the death of our pastor, which occurred at his home in Stevenson Thursday evening. He had recently bought a cow which proved to be vicious, and while tending her she attacked and gored him in the throat, severing the carotid artery. He had strength to run to the house, but bled to death almost instantly. He was in many respects a most remarkable man. In early life apprenticed to the trade of molder and machinist, he served his time, and continued in the business thirty-five years before he began preaching. Earnest, energetic, enterprising, he made his marks in the walks of life through which his way led him. He was an earnest christian and an able preacher, and was doing the Master’s work with all his will when called to serve him in a higher capacity. He leaves a wife, one daughter and four sons to mourn his loss. Minneapolis, (Colo.”) Republican.
The Richfield Republican has the following: The body of Rev. Wm. Evans was brought here on Sunday last from Stevenson, Colo., and buried in Grand View Cemetery. Mr. Evans’ death was sad one and somewhat tragical. He recently purchased some Texas cows which like the greater part of the Texas stock are wild and vicious. One of the cows had long sharp horns which it seems Mr. Evans feared might cause injury to somebody, and he attempted to draw the animal up to a wagon and tie her for the purpose of sawing off the horns. During the effort the animal plunged at and knocked him down and on his attempting to regain his feet made a second attack upon him and plunged the point of her horn into his neck severing the jugular vein. With the assistance of his two boys, who were with him, Mr. Evans started for and got into the house just in time to escape a third attack from the infuriated animal, which became exceedingly furious. He was cared for as well as could be but bled to death in a few minutes. Mr. Evans was a Baptist minister and preached alternately at Boston, Vilas and Minneapolis. He was postmaster at Stevenson, some eight or ten miles north of Plymouth, Colo. He came from eastern Kansas to this country. He was a member of the A. 0. U. W., a benevolent insurance association, from which his family will get $2,000. He left a wife and several children, some of them grown. He was about fifty years of age.
Wichita Star (Wichita Kansas) 4 Sep 1888
Garden City Sentinel (Garden City, Kansas) 6 Sep 1888
The Wichita Weekly Journal (Wichita, Kansas) · 6 Sep 1888
Rev. Wm. Evans, was gored to death by a vicious cow 011 Thursday of last week at his home in Stevenson. He was gored in the throat the horn severing the carotid artery. Rev. Evans for years was an employee in the Missouri Pacific foundry, but since leaving here has been devoting his time to the ministry. – The Parsons Weekly Eclipse (Parsons, Kansas) · 4 Oct 1888
Mrs. Evans, widow of the late Rev. Wm. Evans well known in this city, came in from Colorado Saturday last and was the guest of the Rev. P. C. Brown and family over Sunday. She took the Gulf train Monday morning for Persons (Parsons?) where she will visit her son and collect the amount of $2,000 due her on a life insurance policy left her. Cherryvale Bulletin (Cherryvale, Kansas) · 3 Nov 1888
Mrs. Evans, widow of the late Rev. Wm Evans, of Colorado, Sundayed with Rev, P. C. Bowen and family, and on Monday went over to visit her son at Parson. – The Weekly Clarion (Cherryvale, Kansas) · 8 Nov 1888
Cherryvale Champion (Cherryvale, Kansas) · 3 Nov 1888
Could Evans have made a difference for Minneapolis in the County Seat Fights? We’ll never know! Stay Tuned for more.
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