REX NELSON: Old-time religion

September has arrived, and it's ghostly at the Davidson Campground near the Southwest Arkansas community of Hollywood in Clark County. I'm with a group of historians and we're searching for the site of a Civil War skirmish that took place along Terre Noire Creek. The dozens of wooden cabins at the campground are empty, giving the place the look of an abandoned mining town.

I know better. I had been there in early August when hundreds of people filled the grounds for the 133rd annual Davidson Camp Meeting, one of this state's most historic gatherings. It was like stepping back in time. Children rode bikes and waded in the creek rather than staring at phones (cell-phone reception is bad in these woods). Adults gathered under a pavilion to listen to a Methodist minister named Carlton Cross from the Salem community in Saline County. People lined up at what's known as the commissary to buy ice cream. The ladies from the First Methodist Church in Arkadelphia brought dinner for a group of us. I sat down with the minister and devoured fried chicken, sliced tomatoes fresh from the garden, deviled eggs and more.

Austin Wingfield, who has been a State Farm Insurance agent in Arkadelphia for 60 years, greeted me that August afternoon. I've had my automobile insurance with him since I began to drive, meaning I've been a customer for 42 of those 60 years. We were joined by the local prosecuting attorney, Blake Batson, for a golf cart tour of the grounds.

Wingfield and Batson are the chairman and vice chairman respectively of the Davidson Campground board. Their families have been involved with the campground for decades. Batson's father, Dick, was my scoutmaster in the 1970s in Arkadelphia's Troop 24.

"Not everyone stays for the entire 10-day meeting," Wingfield said. "We have about 600 spend one or more nights. On the first Sunday, we have between 800 and 1,000 people out here."

Many of the cabins lack air conditioning. The oldest is almost 80 years old. The Batson family cabin is 54 years old.

"The first campers stayed in tents," Batson said. "We still refer to cabin owners as tentholders. Cabins are inherited and passed down from one generation to the next."

There are almost 100 wooden cabins along with 28 commodes and 22 showers. Recreational vehicles are allowed. The location was chosen, according to Wingfield, because of the clear creek and natural springs in the area.

"The crops were not yet ready for harvest," Wingfield said. "So people could get away from the farm and come out here. Services first were held under a brush arbor. It burned and was replaced by a wooden structure, which also burned. Our current structure was built in 1910."

The person selected to preach must prepare 21 sermons. Services are held daily at 11 a.m. and 7:45 p.m. There's a special singing each day beginning at 6:45 p.m. The campground bears the name of the site's donor, Jerry Davidson. The first worship pavilion was built by W.B. Pullen and his wife. The Pullen Camp was the name of a well-known hunting camp in the area, which hosted an annual gathering for squirrel season when I was growing up. Lighting initially was provided by pine knots that were set on fire atop towers at each of the four corners. That later gave way to oil lamps and then to electric generators.

An 1888 story in the Southern Standard at Arkadelphia described the camp this way: "Mr J.J. Davidson donated five acres of land to be used exclusively for a Methodist campground, and anyone has a privilege of building a tent on the grounds. It was named Davidson's Camp Ground as a compliment to the generous donor, Uncle Jerry Davidson. It is a beautiful place for a campground, situated in a lovely grove of trees and surrounded by 15 to 20 mineral springs consisting of sulfur, iron and calybeate."

Campers once obtained their drinking water from a spring 50 yards from the worship pavilion. The spring still produces cool water. An electric pump was installed at the spring in the 1950s. In the 1960s, wells were dug.

The largest of the yearly gatherings was believed to have been the 1925 camp meeting when an estimated 8,000 people showed up on a Sunday to hear W.G. Hogg from Texas preach. The only time the camp meeting was called off was in 1905 when Terre Noire Creek overflowed its banks and inundated the campground.

The camp-meeting movement began in Kentucky in the early 1800s. Those first meetings had some of the same features as the current meeting at Davidson--family camps, nightly services, bathing in creeks. The camp-meeting tradition in Arkansas dates back to 1821, 15 years before Arkansas became a state. That's when a meeting was held near the community of Cadron in central Arkansas.

Documents at the Old State House describe camp meetings this way: "A camp meeting is a one- or two-week period of preaching, testimony, bible study and fellowship. ... The whole family comes and camps out. ... As camp meetings continued year after year at the same place, there would be a frame tabernacle and family cabins. Camp meetings also became famous for music and food--lots of food."

"My family has been coming out here my entire life," Wingfield said. "We now have 21 acres. It started as a Methodist meeting, but we now consider it nondenominational. We have Baptist preachers who have cabins. There was a baptism in the creek just this morning."


Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.

Editorial on 09/13/2017


DoubleBlind says...

All of Nelson's pieces read like odes to white supremacy and christofascism written from under a rock.

Posted 13 September 2017, 6:44 a.m. Suggest removal

Jfish says...

Well DB, nobody is making you read them. Most of your comments read like someone needing anger management counseling.

Posted 13 September 2017, 7:51 a.m. Suggest removal

PopulistMom says...

LOL. Doubleblind. While I enjoy some of Rex's columns, I agree with Doubleblind that the ADG is severely lacking in diversity. Would it kill them to hire a black columnist or even a female?

Posted 13 September 2017, 9:48 a.m. Suggest removal

Pobucker says...

Who needs that with all the WaPo and NYT pieces clogging the paper?

Posted 13 September 2017, 10:26 a.m. Suggest removal

DoubleBlind says...

I don't consider myself 'angry' per se so, sorry if that's how I come across to those who might disagree with my position. I do subscribe to the concept of 'If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention,' so I know that seeps into some comments. I try to limit any outright insults to those who blatantly invite them. My comments in this case were based on the aggregate of several recent columns depicting Nelson's rosy portrayal of AR's confederate history in the absence of any recognition of its negative consequences.

Posted 13 September 2017, 10:34 a.m. Suggest removal

Packman says...

Hey DoubleBlind - Playing by your rules, I'm outraged that you would make such an outlandish statement about Rex Nelson and request you SHUT. THE. F. UP. about it. Does that fit with your concept about being outraged and paying attention?
So, DoubleBlind, why do you feel the need to proclaim views with which you disagree as "white supremacy"?
Hey Pop - In what way is the ADG lacking in diversity? You do know the ADG regularly features black and female columnists. You do know that, right?

Posted 13 September 2017, 11:49 a.m. Suggest removal

RBear says...

Okay DB, maybe for you but not for me. Loved this piece today. It's what I grew up knowing. Christofascism? Really? I guess you can't stand me because I'm a Christian and love those camp meetings. BTW, ever been to a camp meeting? They're actually kinda cool.
With regards to your comments about his review of the Confederate historical sites, this piece doesn't even address that. They were just in the area visiting sites and went to a camp meeting. How did you connect those dots?
But, with regards to his series of columns on the historical views that's all he and the others are doing is tracing the history. I'm one of the first to say the Confederacy was a bad thing and you've seen my comments on that. But I'm also the first to say the historical exploration of Confederacy is fascinating. Nelson is not trying to make an ideological point about the Confederacy, good or bad. He and the group he's with are just exploring these sites and the roles they played during that period and since.
If you want to present an alternative perspective, write a blog. The barriers to entry are almost non-existent. Write a column and submit it to the D-G. I do think you went overboard with the "white supremacy and christofascism" POV.

Posted 13 September 2017, 12:47 p.m. Suggest removal

Delta2 says...

Interesting, Rex, but no thank you. If I want preaching outside of my own church, I'll just go to the State Capitol and listen to Rapert.

Posted 13 September 2017, 12:50 p.m. Suggest removal

DoubleBlind says...

Pack - Your response falls firmly in the bucket of those who invite insults but I'll refrain in this case since you've proven time and again you're impervious to logic, developmental feedback or insults.
RBear - While I am not religious myself (raised Catholic and parochial schools) I completely respect everyone's right to worship as they wish as long as they don't inflict their beliefs on or persecute others for believing differently. You missed my point that my comments re this article were actually in response to an aggregate of many of his recent articles.

Posted 13 September 2017, 1:50 p.m. Suggest removal

Delta123 says...

Very interesting article Mr. Nelson. Kind of makes you harken back to a simpler, gentler time. But also good to know that this event continues on. I'm sorry that's the way you took this DB and sorry you felt compelled to add your rather hate filled comment. PopMom, I'm sure Walter Williams and Brenda Looper would beg to disagree.

Posted 13 September 2017, 2:38 p.m. Suggest removal

3WorldState1 says...

Simpler and gentler is certainly subjective. In some ways yes. And in someways very much no, it wasn't.

Posted 13 September 2017, 2:44 p.m. Suggest removal

Delta123 says...

I can't really imagine anything much gentler or simpler than an old fashioned Methodist Camp Meeting in the woods of Arkansas. Sounds pretty good to me.

Posted 13 September 2017, 2:49 p.m. Suggest removal

PopulistMom says...

Any gathering that does not serve alcohol after 5:00 pm is not my idea of a good time. I suspect that Rex Nelson secretly feels the same way. My apologies to Ms. Looper who does comment on politics sometimes in a rather restrained way--as if the conservatives above her on the totem poll are editing her work. Walter Williams does not work for the ADG and is not frequently quoted in the ADG. The paper suffers from too much whiteness and lack of critical thought with the exception of Brummett who is the closest thing to a feminist or black on the paper. I would like to read more pieces on poverty in the Delta and about the origins of young gang members in Little Rock. The paper is just too male, too conservative, and too white. There simply is a lack of diversity of thought.

Posted 13 September 2017, 4:52 p.m. Suggest removal

mrcharles says...

I hereby apologize before all and the deities that live in the mountains, trees, thunder and lightening and the old mouintain war deity that the jews can write its name fully . Though Rex was just a folkksy old time narrator, yet he is of the ADG agenda of old times they should be forgotten instead of being honored of those who rebelled in treasonous ways , killed USA soldiers to continue , though Ok in the ancient book that most have no idea of what is in it, a sad tradition of man's inhumanity to man, including death, rape, beatings, disrespect, and to be treated as an animal that could be killed just like a chicken and , So What!

Now the deity groups feel the land is hallowed, or holy due to the bible injunctions on slave etiquette..........shame eternal shame to think that in the 21st century.

Kind of makes you harken back to a simpler, gentler time-- was that when lynching took place, segregated toilets - cant crap where other crap?, separate schools, die cause only whites go to that hospital , or the deluded thoughts of the southern heritage types.

Old time religion is just what it is , outdated beliefs not backed up by rational thinking. Now wanting a pony is the substance of things hoped for, while the evidence of things not seen is the pony I didnt get. Childish thinking , but as an adult , perhaps mental health professionals need to be seen.

Regardless my shame in accepting rex as a folksy writer instead of the proponent of the ride of the Valkyries is profound.

I do give him credit to throwing out red meat to the red voters who eat this supernatural stuff up compounded by southern ways that were barbaric in the whole.

And see bass, you of the 2 shots, 1 shot , telling people to STFU, as they say I'm your huckleberry! Back at you, with no remorse. I remember what uncle Joe said, a liar is a liar.

Posted 13 September 2017, 5:11 p.m. Suggest removal

Packman says...

Hey DoubleBlind - Your juvenile personal attack in lieu of reasoned response is quite telling. Point, game, set, match, I win.
Hey a Pop - I literally never read the Arkansas Times but as an exercise checked out its "diversity" of opinion as it's a known liberal rag. Brantley, Dumas, Lyons, The Observer, the college professor......all lily white males. Does lack of gender and race diversity automatically equate to lack of diversity of thought?

Posted 13 September 2017, 5:13 p.m. Suggest removal

PopulistMom says...


Yes. It's a problem over there as well, and it is a problem in much of Arkansas in business, law, politics etc. Some of the so-called liberals can be as guilty as well. As of a year ago when I checked, the Washington Post Editorial Board had only one black and one female. When a black, female congresswoman, Donna Edwards, was ahead of a white male friend of the editorial board of the Post, Chris Van Hollen, the Post issued not one but two separate editorials endorsing Van Hollen. The Post just trashed Edwards over and over again in the paper with vague criticisms of being "unresponsive" to constituents. It was the good old boys network at work. As to the guys at the Ark Times, I suspect that they don't pay that much over there, and those older semi-retired guys write as a public service to get the news out there. The newspaper business in the 70s etc. was a white man's world, and young black and female writers probably can't afford to write for the Ark. Times. I'm sure that the ADG could find people who are more representative if they tried, but they are more comfortable in their white conservative world.

Posted 13 September 2017, 5:29 p.m. Suggest removal

Delta2 says...

Fair point by Packman, although I'm with Popmom as far as what should go down after 5pm, if not earlier.

Posted 13 September 2017, 5:32 p.m. Suggest removal

mrcharles says...

A little wine for thy stomach sake. Ancient books are not all bad.

And for you Pauline worshipers it is pretty clear Paul didn't write tim. So there.

Posted 13 September 2017, 7:55 p.m. Suggest removal

Packman says...

Hey Pop - It's just a fact that women and blacks are under represented in many career fields for a variety of reasons, not all good. That's why I support incentive based affirmative action.

Posted 13 September 2017, 9:45 p.m. Suggest removal

PopulistMom says...


I tend to be against affirmative action as it lends credence to the alleged superiority of the white male and taints the careers of successful women and blacks. The solution is for white males to attempt to go out of their comfort zone and hire people who were not their fraternity brothers in college. Many of the most successful women I know own their own businesses--thereby not having to worry about the fairness of promotions. As to women, much of the lags in career success are self-imposed. Men are more likely to place more importance on a business meeting than attending their kid's school event. Women are more likely to view child rearing as more important than career. I must say that I was horrified by Sheryl Sandburg in her book Lean-In describing how she had to ignore her daughter's tears when she pled for Mommie to spend more time with her. There really is no job as important as your children. I admire the people who juggle jobs and raising kids, and most people have to do so financially. However, it is sad to see people just ignore the kids in pursuit of career success or great wealth.

Posted 14 September 2017, 6:18 a.m. Suggest removal

Packman says...

Hey Pop - Damn, you sound a lot like that poor guy that got fired by Google for stating the fact about differences between men and women, which is only to say you are right. Just to be clear I support affirmative action in the manner you suggest and not via government mandated quotas as it does tend to taint accomplishments of blacks and women. I also practice what I preach. One of my best managers is a black man who made some bad decisions in his youth and spent some time incarcerated. I took a chance on him and he ran with it. I've done similar with women and other minorities but the women have in almost every case either kindly refused to accept additional responsibility or quit to raise kids.

Posted 14 September 2017, 10:13 a.m. Suggest removal

mrcharles says...

Oh sea bass don't you understand good deeds done by a non Christian don't count. What you are telling us is that your good workers are GOOD workers. Seems self evident goid business practices.

And septic, the woman, I told you about sea bass. WHERE is your outrage instead of picking on me.

Posted 15 September 2017, 11:17 a.m. Suggest removal

gohogs17 says...

He talks in riddles with crazy scenes, he thinks he settles quarrels.
He has no idea of what he means, his name is mrcharles.

Posted 15 September 2017, 8:19 p.m. Suggest removal

Log in to comment