Charlie Alexander Wheeler
Biographical Sketch Of Charlie A. Wheeler
(Editor's note: We are grateful to The Gospel Advocate for permission to reprint from H. Leo Boles' BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES OF GOSPEL PREACHERS some glimpses of some of the 'pioneer preachers' who blazed the trail in north Alabama. T.B. Larimore established Mars Hill school where he taught the Bible and trained others to preach. One of his students, Joseph H. Holbrook, lived in Fayette County, and preached a great deal in Walker County, of which Jasper is the county seat. "Joe" Holbrook baptized C.A. Wheeler, the subject of this current sketch, who in turn baptized my father, the late Gus Nichols. Brother Wheeler was not included in brother Boles' book, and I know of no written biography of him. In this journal I have requested such materials as our readers may know, but very little has been sent to me. From his descendants I have compiled the following. – Flavil H. Nichols)
Charlie Alexander Wheeler was born near Vernon (in what is now Lamar
County), Alabama, January 2, 1851. He was reared on a farm a few miles east of
Vernon, near Crossville. His family worshipped at the Bethel Church of Christ,
where a loyal congregation still thrives.
Little is known of his ancestors, or of his early life. He had at least
three brothers: Tom, John, and Jesse; and he had at least three sisters: Maggie
(who married a Mr. Lawrence and remained near Vernon), and Rachel, (who lived in
Birmingham where she was employed, but never married); and Georgie who married
Dude Hollingsworth of Fayette County.
C.A. (Charlie) Wheeler's early years were spent in Lamar County, where
he obtained very little formal education. After he married, Charlie became
interested in learning to read the Bible; so at home his wife used the Bible as
her textbook to teach him to read. When his own children were old enough
to go to school, he enrolled in school with them so he could improve his reading
skills in order to learn more of God's will so he could better preach it.
Although he did learn well to read what was printed, he never learned
"script" (or "Handwriting"), and could barely write his own
name. Words in the newspaper were not in his vocabulary; but he could read
fluently the words in the Bible!
Brother Wheeler married Adeline Dotson, whose family home site is now
occupied by a telephone company tower across Alabama Highway 69 from the Midway
Church of Christ church building, south of Jasper. He was a farmer, and was
never very prosperous; but his industry and toil provided food aplenty for his
large family, and for the countless guests who came to visit him, often spending
the night. In 1924, when he was 73, his wife preceded him in death. Here is a
brief note of the Wheeler's seven children:
1. Mollie married John Hyde, of Blount County, Alabama. They had 11
children, one of whom (Joe S.) preached the gospel of Christ.
2. Reuben married Hester Rose, of
Lynn, Alabama. They had 7 children.
3. Belle married Bud Hyde, also of Lynn (but no kin to John, who married
Mollie). They had 5 children.
4. Ora married E.R. Morris, of
Oakman; and they also had 5 children.
5. Della and her husband, Columbus
Deason, of Jasper, had only one daughter.
6. Minnie married Jack Clark, of
Jasper; and they had 7 children.
7. Joe Alexander married Pearl Ellis, of Jasper. Brother Wheeler gave them a Bible on their wedding day, which is in the hands of their son, Joe B. They had 13 children, eleven of whom were born in the same house, where they all grew up. (I am indebted to their daughter, Inez Trice, a member of Sixth Avenue, for much of this biographical data.) Three of their sons (Charley, Joe B., and Tommy) preached the gospel; and one granddaughter (Peggy) is the wife of minister Charles Crump. (She also has supplied information for this sketch.) A great-grandson, Kelly Joe Wheeler, also is preaching near Montgomery while attending Alabama Christian College.
At least in later life, all his family called him "Grandpa
Wheeler." One characteristic remembered by the family was his strict
discipline. They all knew to be on their 'best behavior' when
"Grandpa" was around!
Those with whom I have conferred do not know the religious convictions of his parents, nor if the Dotsons were members of the Lord's church when C.A. Wheeler married into that family. It is known that he was baptized by Joseph H. Holbrook, who studied under T.B. Larimore at Mars Hill Bible School. Studying his Bible at nights by a kerosene (or, "coal oil") lamp, he learned much about it; and at the age of 24 he began to preach what he learned. Being a farmer himself, many of his meetings were only on weekends, or in the summer after his crop was "laid by." He never owned an automobile, but rode the train to almost all his meetings. In later life brethren who owned cars would 'haul' him to his appointments. His sermons were clear, and well documented with Bible quotations, for he stressed Bible authority for all that we do in religion. He taught many, baptizing 6,000 people -- one of whom was my father (the late Gus Nichols), and started about 100 congregations.
When he was 83 (which would have been in 1934) the following article about him, written (I believe) by G.C. Brewer, appeared in The Gospel Advocate:
A Gospel Veteran
On this page we present a picture of C.A. Wheeler, of Jasper, Alabama.
Although this is a recent picture and shows brother Wheeler as he looks now,
one might suppose that this picture was made when he was not more than fifty
years old. He is now in his eighty-fourth year, and is still preaching the
gospel with almost unbelievable vigor. He does not just preach on Lord's days
only; he is still doing evangelistic work, and preaches every day and often
twice a day during his meetings. He also does his own baptizing when there is
no one else available to do it for him.
Brother Wheeler is a remarkable man in many respects. Born in Lamar County, Alabama, January 2, 1851, he knew all of the hardships of life in a primitive and rugged country. He, in his own language, was "a considerable chunk of a plowboy" when the Civil War came on, and took the men away to the army and left the country in a practical state of starvation. Under these conditions, he, of course, had no chance to go to school. Schools were almost nonexistent in that country in that day. But in some way brother Wheeler managed to acquire the elements of an education, and he even yet reads and speaks with an accuracy, and an inflection, that would put to shame many preachers who have been to college.
He possesses a logical and an analytical mind, and his sermons are models of clear thinking and concise arrangement. He has read and loved God's book all his life, and he preaches it to his fellow men just as he reads it from the sacred page.
Brother Wheeler had a number of debates in his early preaching life, and it was in his debates that he made some of his converts who afterwards became stalwart contenders for the faith. Some of these converts tell of seeing brother Wheeler go into debate with denominational giants, who brought ponderous volumes with them, and who were surrounded by confident and admiring friends; and brother Wheeler had only a small pocket Bible, and no brethren to encourage and help him. This made the other man's defeat the more full of meaning. The people were ready to listen to the humble man who relied wholly on God's word to refute the other man's claims.
Brother Wheeler has preached in some 8 or 10 states, but the greater part of his labor has been within a radius of a hundred miles of his present home at Jasper, Alabama. He has converted hundreds of people from denominational error, and he often relates that the first man he baptized was a Baptist preacher. More than a dozen men who are now preaching the gospel were baptized by brother Wheeler. He has received practically no financial support for his work. When he began preaching, there were no churches and very few members in his country. He recently remarked that we have more congregations and meetinghouses now than we had members in his early day. He worked on the farm to support himself and his family, and preached the gospel for naught. It was no unusual thing for him to walk twenty-five miles to an appointment and preach Saturday night, Sunday, and Sunday night -- and then walk back home and spend the rest of the week working in the field.
Brother Wheeler is now not able to work, and still gets little support for his preaching. If any of the readers of the Gospel Advocate would like to cheer the heart of this veteran of the cross and help to supply his necessities, they could not do anything that would more surely abound to their account than to send a contribution to C.A. Wheeler, Jasper, Alabama. Come, let us give him a shower. -- The Gospel Advocate.
issue of The Mountain Eagle, a weekly paper at Jasper, said:
"For fifty-five years, Rev. (sic) Wheeler has preached, covering Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, and Alabama. He was married to Miss Adeline Dodson (sic), who died about six years ago. It is said of Rev. (sic) Wheeler that he has preached more discourses, baptized more people, and built up more congregations than any other preacher of the Church of Christ that is now living in North Alabama. He has added between 40 and 50 additions to the (local) Church of Christ in the past few months. He now resides about three miles west of Jasper with his son, Joe Wheeler, and has made his home in and around Jasper about 20 years. "
As a boy I heard the following story of brother Wheeler's first meeting,
which was (I believe) at Mount Pleasant in Lamar County. He went down to
preach from Sunday through Friday night. By midweek the interest was so great
that the brethren insisted he stay on and continue the meeting another week.
He refused, saying that it simply MUST close Friday night. By midweek the
interest was so great that the brethren insisted he stay on and continue the
meeting another week. He refused, saying that it simply MUST close Friday
night. Upon learning that he did not have another engagement for the next
week, and knowing that his crop was already "laid by, " they rather
pressed him to continue. He insisted that he HAD to go home Saturday! They
inquired if his wife, or one of the children, might be sick, -- and were
relieved to find this was not the case. He did NEED to get home to pull fodder
-- but the brethren told him they would pull him some fodder and give it to
him -- if he would stay another week. As Friday night approached, he finally
explained to one of the brethren why the meeting MUST close that night: He had
only seven sermons -- and he would preach the last one of them that night! But
about 33 had been baptized, and others were almost converted! So, he yielded
to their pleas that he stay longer! He preached the same sermons again -- and
37 more were baptized! However, he did not carry their fodder home with him --
for he did not have train fare, but had to walk home -- about 60 miles!
Brother Wheeler was a firm believer in the power of the word of God,
both spoken and written. He utilized the printed page to spread the truth. At
least three of his sermons were printed in individual tract form: Proper
Division of the Word of God, The Conversion of an Honest Gentile, and What
Must I Do To Be Saved? In his writing he refers (see below) to a tract on
"Walking By Faith," and I am almost certain a fifth one was
entitled, "Reconciliation." In addition, a booklet, The Heavenly
Guide, contains his picture standing in his familiar stance, with four of his
sermons: The New and Living Way, The New Testament Church, Walking By Faith,
and Handling Aright the Word of Truth.
In the preface to this booklet, he wrote: "As long as time lasts it
will be necessary to preach the gospel, "for it is the power of God unto
salvation to every one that believes" it. But "how shall they
believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a
preacher?" Paul foresaw that "perilous times" would come, and
that men would "turn away their ears from the truth and turn aside unto
fables." In view of this he gave the most solemn charge to Timothy that
mortal man ever delivered: 'I charge thee,' said Paul, 'IN THE SIGHT OF GOD
AND CHRIST JESUS ... PREACH THE WORD.'
Brother Wheeler continued: "A few days ago a noted woman evangelist
was preaching in Washington City, and she asked which the audience had rather
preach on: 'Christ's Coming?' or 'Her Life Story?' The latter subject was
chosen by a majority of 2,000 votes. There is no power in a subject like that
to ‘save’ people. Since therefore we are now living in 'perilous times,'
when many people had rather hear anything than the gospel, and a majority of
preachers had rather preach on anything else than the gospel, it makes the
obligation all the more important that the 'Word' be preached. For this reason
I feel the great weight of the responsibility pressing heavier and heavier as
the flood of years swiftly rolls upon me.
"For almost half a century it has been my constant endeavor to
fulfill the charge delivered by Paul -- to 'preach the Word' -- both by tongue
and pen. But since no man can stay the hand of Time, these will, in all
probability, be the last sermons I shall ever publish. And while my pen and
tongue shall both be forever stilled in a little while, my message of His
Truth will live on."
Soon after he began preaching, brother Wheeler visited the home of a
brother Holley who inquired if he had ever preached a funeral. Upon learning
that he had not, brother Holley sent his son for the gun, and told him to go
kill the first bird he saw. Strolling down toward the hollow, he scarcely was
out of sight when they heard a shot, and he presented a dead bird to his
father. Laying it on a nearby stump, brother Holley said: "Brother
Wheeler, meet Mr. Jay Bird. He is dead, and we want YOU to preach his
funeral." Pretending that 'Mr. Bird' was a person, brother Wheeler got
some practical experience before a sympathetic brother Holley, and this helped
him be at ease in real-life situations later.
In my boyhood days my father would bring Brother Wheeler to spend the
most severe weeks of the winter with us. Although our home had no central
heating system, but a coal-burning fireplace in each of the four bedrooms,
plus one in the parlor, it had some advantages over the farmhouse where he
lived: -- it was underpinned; and we did have running water and indoor
plumbing. While he was staying with us, mother at dinner passed him a dish of
beans which she had just taken up. The dish was 'piping hot!' Aged brother
Wheeler, with his tender, shaky (palsied) hands trembling, managed to set it
down without spilling any of the contents and exclaimed: "Sister Nichols,
this is STILL A COOKING!" We laughed heartily! -- and have related this
story numerous times when a hot dish has been passed to us!
When he died, I had been preaching for three years, and was honored to be one of the preachers who served as his pall-bearers. After the service in the old Fifth Avenue church building, his body was buried at the Dutton Cemetery, near where he lived, and not far from the Midway Church of Christ just south of Jasper. My father helped raise funds to erect a suitable marker for his grave, on which is brother Wheeler's portrait, perfectly preserved (shown here). The inscription reads:
Apr. 29, 1937
Church of Christ 63 years
Baptized 6,000 souls, and
established about 100
congregations. His influence
abides with us while his
spirit is at rest.
Webmaster's Note: This Sketch is from a little book called, "Sermons Of C.A. Wheeler, Jasper, Alabama" It was edited by Flavil H. Nichols, eldest son of the late beloved Gus Nichols. The book also contains a number of Bro. Wheeler's sermons.
Family History Info
I recently received an update from Raymond T. "Bud" Mason, a descendant relation of C.A. Wheeler that updated some family history. We extend our appreciation to Bud for providing this information on this great champion of truth.
From Birmingham take I-22 (Corridor X) to Jasper. Take exit 61, the Jasper/Tuscaloosa Exit, and head south 1.4 miles and Hwy 69 will turn to the left. Go 1.4 miles and you will see Midway Church of Christ on your left. At the corner of the property, just past the church building is Dutton Hill Rd. Head down Dutton Hill Rd. all the way to the end (about 6/10 miles). Park in front of the the Dutton Hill Missionary Baptist Church and go up the hill in the cemetery. At the tope of the hill you will see Brother Wheeler's Grave.
Recent Photos - 2011 by Scott Harp