Funeral Sermon of David L. Payne

Rev, Samuel Price was not only an observer of early Southern Kansas history, but was himself a loyal participator in its making. One unusual event was his preaching the funeral sermon of the noted land agitator, David L. Payne. Mr. Price’s account of this event, taken from his carefully written historical manuscripts, is as follows:

“The death, funeral and burial of David L. Payne, was perhaps, the most noted event in the daily life of the people that transpired during my three years’ stay with the church at Wellington, 1882 to 1885. Lying along the southern border of Kansas was a most valuable strip of land many miles in width, known in the common talk of the times as ‘The Cherokee Strip.’ Concerning the real ownership of this land there was a great diversity of opinion. Did it belong to the United States as a part of the great commonwealth, or was it an unceded portion of the vast Indian reservation! Was it open to settlement by white people or was it solely the property of the Cherokee tribe of Ludians! Numerous treaties with these tribes and numberless surveys and limitations of territory had been made in the years past, so that it was difficult to fix the title in the minds of the common people, Many of them contended that the proper interpretation of some of these treaties placed the ownership in the possession of the United States government, and consequently citizens of said government were entitled to enter up, own and cultivate a portion of the coveted territory. Acting on this belief man of the more determined and reckless fellows, in spite of all reasonable protests, actually located in various parts of the disputed territory. Companies of various members were organized and attempted settlements of large colonies in the most desirable spots in the strip. The greatest of the leaders of these colonizers was David L. Payne. He organized a large body of resolute men, each paying him a certain fee as their membership, and at different times and places they would enter upon their hazardous enterprises.

“On the other hand, the Government disclaimed a rightful ownership of the lands, and by various methods, chiefly by the aid of a small military force, it would remove these ‘squatters,’ as they were familiarly called, beyond the limits of the strip, and counsel them to remain away until the ownership should be definitely settled, the lands surveyed, and a proper government title be secured. This see-saw work, entering in and being led or driven out, had continued for several years. Many of the land seekers settled along the border of Kansas, living in desultory style for years, awaiting the long hoped for time when ‘Uncle Sam would give them all a farm.’ During the years of my stay with the church in Wellington, this ardent wish seemed to be more and more likely of a nearby fulfillment. A large army of home-seeking men, strugglers, and adventurers of various kinds, were settled and watched along the border, awaiting the order of their beloved chief and leader for making an extended and final rush for the promised land.

“One day it became known that Payne and his band were in the city and stopping at the only little hotel there was in the place. The report that he was on the way to lead the final rush, and would soon give the word of command so to do, caused no little stir and absorbing interest among our people.

“But ‘Man proposes but God disposes,’ was a proverb startlingly true in this case. Early next morning, Captain David L. Payne was lying dead in the hotel dining room. With his apparently usual robust health, he had eaten his breakfast, and while yet seated at the table, conversing with his followers as to the object they had in view, without a moment’s warning his mind ceased to act, his tongue no longer uttered a sound, and his heart quit its pulsations, and falling to the floor he breathed not again. This was a startling event to the citizens of Wellington and a stunning blow to his numberless followers in all parts of the country, for the result was that the end came at once almost completely to all further efforts to force the possession of the ‘Cherokee Strip’ –now a very rich portion of the state of Oklahoma–until it was legally declared open for settlement in the later years of the ’80s.

“The funeral was set for the early hours of the afternoon of the following Sabbath, and I was to preach a straight gospel sermon to the people who could get within hearing of my voice. It was to be expected that the event would attract a large convocation of people. But the most extravagant anticipation of the number coming were far from estimating the number of those who were actually present. It was beyond all doubt the greatest number of people ever assembled in Wellington on a funeral occasion. From near and far the crowds of citizens as well as his own immediate followers came to see and hear the end of the great secular Crusader. At the appointed hour for the ceremony the church was crowded to its limits and the streets west and south of the church packed with interested and quietly behaved people of all classes of society. The assembly of people, the services in the church with the literal report of the sermon proper, were all published in the old Sumner County Press, and have become a matter of recorded history in the files of that paper for that week, where they may be still seen and read.

“In the funeral discourse I spoke of the fact that along all the stages of human progress there were frequently arising reat and powerful men of strange and fascinating influence over their fellows; with ideals of civilization, of social economy, of political advantages far in advance of the ordinary course of events of their times. Their thoughts and actions were not in accord with the general trend of events of their times. The consequences were that they met often with stubborn and violent opposition, with persecution, even with martyrdom for their advance reforms, and discoveries; such were Galileo, Columbus, and many others in physical research. Such were St. Paul, Moses, Luther, Wesley, and thousands of religious the moral teachers of the world. Such were Emerson, Phillips, Garrison, Sumner, Lincoln, and the great moral reformers of our own time. Many of these gave their lives for the sacredness of the cause they had at heart. But the generations following adopted their ideals, honored their memory, and erected memorial monuments to celebrate the praise of their noble deeds and their daring enterprises.

“So may it be, I said, in the case of David L. Payne, thwarted and broken his purposes, so far as himself is concerned, yet is it not the vision of a prophet to see the time when the desirable lands he so ardently sought for himself and followers shall be dotted with peaceful and happy homes, rich and valuable farms, and great and prosperous cities and towns, and the owners and occupants thereof will be building monuments to his memory.

“The procession was nearly a mile in length. The crowd was extremely quiet and a solemnity of the deepest character seemed to possess the entire community.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top