After too long away, I've returned.
Today, with tomorrow being Good Friday, followed by Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, the Easter Triduum as the Roman Catholic Church calls it, I thought I'd give a very bried, hardly in dpeth overview of religion in the frontier West.
Of course, religion is one of the main reasons the so-called New World was settled. While the native peoples had their own forms of worship, bringing Christianity to new lands was a mission for many faiths. The Spanish wanted to bring Catholicism to the so-called New World. Others fled England, the Netherlands, and France to flee religious persecution. The Spanish missionaries brought their beliefs to the West first, followed by others, one notable group being the Mormons.
Unfortunately, like so many other professions and callings of the West, clergy have also been much stereotyped in Western movies, books, and television shows. Too often, a clergyman will be portrayed as a pistol packing preacher, a hellfire and brimstone Bible thumper, a zealous reformer, or a sissy who gets trampled by the outlaws and ingrained powers of a town. Clergy women are treated no better, if nuns portrayed as heroic, too good to be true,or else sadistic knuckle-rappers, female preachers radical anti-liquor and gambling zealots, who are always ugly, and always frowning.
The truth is, of course, that religion was very important to the people of the West, just like to the rest of the world, and most clergy were merely good people doing their job. And unlike in the typical portrayals, every faith was represented, not just the Protestant preacher trying to reform the town nor the Mexican priest ministering to the peons. Jews were well represented in the West, particularly in Texas. Many early Texas Rangers were Jewish, and several counties in Texas are named after an early Jewish settler who joined the Rangers. Corsicana, Texas was a center of Jewish society. An historic synagogue still stands in the town, now used as a recreation center.
So, when you think of, or write about, religion and clergy in the West, yes, you can have your character anything you want. Just keep in mind that most of them went about their daily business just like the other settlers of the land west of the Mississippi.
Until next month,