Joseph William "Joe" Crumley
The Life of Joe Crumley
Joe W. Crumley was, undoubtedly, one of the most unusual of our preachers in this century. He was reared in a denominational environment, became a “lay” Methodist preacher, yet finally became a gospel preacher who is still remembered and held in the highest esteem in those areas where he worked, though he has been gone since 1918. His life as a preacher did not cover more than twelve or fifteen years, yet he left an unusual influence. Just a short time ago I heard one of our best known preachers mention him in a sermon and describe him as the best debater he had ever heard. After such a short span of preaching and so long after his death, such influence is truly remarkable.
Brother Crumley was born in Yellville, Arkansas in October, 1880, the son of the local Blacksmith, John Crumley and his wife, Mary. His children were so small when he died (one had not been born) that there are many things that cannot now be known about him with certainty, but he did manage to get a better than average education, for he had a teaching certificate and taught school in Arkansas, and later in the Indian Territory. He was always interested in scholarship and was quite active in his early years in the founding and fostering of literary societies.
Early in life he moved with his parents to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and later to the Indian Territory. They settled either at Weleetka or Wetumka, and later moved to Yeager. He was by this time working as a “lay” preacher for the Methodists. In Yeager he worked in a general merchandise store for W.W. Willingham, an active Christian. With a desire to teach Joe “the way of the Lord more perfectly,” Willingham began to talk with him about the Bible. Brother Crumley took his Methodist Disciple to the store with him, honestly thinking that it contained “The Way.” Brother Willingham told him that if he would discard the discipline and read the Bible he would quit the Methodist church. He proved to be a true prophet!
The late Brother Will M. Thompson, of Lawton, probably knew him better than any man now living, thinks he was baptized during a meeting conducted by J.H. Lawson, but it was Brother Willingham who actually buried him in baptism in the usual “baptistry” of that period, a convenient farm pond. We do not know the exact date of this event, but do know it was in the early years of this century.
As he came up out of the water, he announced (the whole town was there) that he would preach it the school house that night, and invited all to hear him preach his first “full gospel sermon.” One asked him if the Methodists who had been sprinkled would go to hell. He replied, “No, for I am going to convert them.” He continued his serious study of the Bible and soon was called for meetings by the largest churches in the area. In just a short time he was very busy in a work that kept him completely involved for the rest of his life, and may have indirectly contributed to his early death.
In a meeting in Shawnee, Oklahoma, he met Miss Jennie Arnold, daughter of an elder in the near-by Tecumseh church. In 1908 they were married. Five children were born to them. They were: Harold Vaughn, Zela (now deceased) Angle, Joe, Jr., and Maxwell, who was born about six months after his father’s death. Vaughn has spent most of his life preaching, but poor health has just about stopped that. Joe, Jr. and Maxwell also have given most of their lives to the preaching of The Word.
After their marriage Joe and Jennie moved to Texas where he did local work in Bagwell, Detroit and Denison. He was in Denison at a very difficult time for that church and helped significantly to bring it safely through the dangers then threatening. While in Texas he signed an agreement to debate Charles T. Russell, founder of the Jehovah Witness sect. Russell backed out. From Denison he moved to Stuart, Oklahoma, where he worked about 1912-13. From Stuart he moved to Sentinel in Washita county in the Southwest part of Oklahoma, and from there to Cordell, where he worked until his death on Oct. 15, 1918.
He was one of the most capable of preacher in every respect, whether preaching, debating, or whatever the situation. He loved people, the outdoors, and was a very capable “personal worker”— in every respect a very useful man. He lived in a time when most gospel preachers simply had to debate. His debates included the whole range of religious thought of his time and place. He met Ben M. Bogard, thought by many to be the Baptists best debater, a number of times and had another debate scheduled to begin with him on the day of his death. Will M. Thompson later filled the appointment. I.W. Yandell, the greatest of the Freewill Baptists, was another opponent in a number of debates. He met the Methodists, Adventists (of all kinds), Millenial Dawn (Jehovah Witness) and other sects, dealing faithfully with all they had to offer to the advantage of The Truth. He was also involved in the “re-baptism question” among our people and helped to bring that to a satisfactory conclusion. He was always interested in younger men, and contributed much to the early work of Will M. Thompson, John Allen Hudson, Roy Lanier (whom he baptized) and others. He often kept them in his home for weeks helping them prepare for a debate or some other special problem. Will M. Thompson spent five weeks in his home as Thompson was preparing for his first debate with W.J. Pinkerton, a Baptist. (After their second debate Pinkerton obeyed the gospel and faithfully preached it to the end of his life. But, of course, “debates do no good”!) Roy Lanier, Sr. told me of hearing him in a debate at Combs school house, four miles West of Sentinel, with a Baptist. This debate made a profound impression on Brother Lanier for good. Brother Lanier said: “He was very earnest, sincere, fiery in delivery, very effective in debate, quoting the scriptures for he knew them.”
He was a very serious student of the Bible, and accumulated a good library. He often worked late into the night, and to stay awake would put his feet in a pan of cold water. When he died, brethren (preachers in the main) “borrowed” much of his library. When his own sons began to need it, most of it was gone. (What a wonderful thing if any of you happen to know where any of those books are and would return them to his children!)
His mother lived to a great age, passing away about 1940. She obeyed the gospel, but Joe did not live to see it. She was baptized by E.M. Borden. When Joe first began to try to teach her the way of The Lord, she would walk away. He finally began to sit on her lap so she couldn’t leave. Will M. Thompson said: “He fit perfectly into every situation, debating, meeting work, local work, or whatever the situation.” Another said of him: “He could walk with kings and not lose the common touch, and was able to retain the friendship of those with whom he differed, even the debaters.
He was a fearless defender of The Truth.” After Vaughn began to preach, he met Ben M. Bogard with whom his father had had so many debates. With tears in his eyes, Mr. Bogard said: “I loved him like a brother.”
After his death his companion and children continued to live in Cordell, but like most widows with a family of five children, she was unprepared to support them, and they had a difficult time. The brethren helped some but not enough. After her untimely death, her children suffered even more. On April 8, 1928 Sister Crumley took her Model T Ford to meet Zela who was coming into a nearby town on the train. They had a car wreck a few miles South of Cordell, and Sister Crumley lost her life. By Joe’s side she sleeps with him in the Lawnview Cemetery at Cordell. I have been close to most of the Crumley children all the years, and cannot help reflecting on the glorious meeting that will some day take place when this good family, so sadly shattered in this life, meets again.
He had appendicitis but was “too busy” for an operation. (Perhaps he was not fully convinced he really needed it.) Finally, he was seriously stricken in Cordell and was taken by train to Mangum, about forty five miles away to Dr. Fowler Border, one of the best known surgeons in that section. It was too late! Though I was just a child I remember the terrible impact this news made upon our brethren in that area. Brethren gathered from far and near for the funeral, which was conducted by A.E. Freeman, a beloved gospel preacher who lived near Cordell. Our family attended the funeral and I remember that just about all the gospel preachers we knew were there.
Truly, “he being dead yet speaketh” . . . and will for ages to come, for such is the influence of such men.
-Loyd L. Smith, Gospel Preachers of Yesteryear, pages 119-122. First Published in The Christian Worker, September, 1975. Note: This is a timed piece. Some of those enlisted as living may be now deceased.
The Life of Joseph William Crumley, II
Joseph William Crumley II was born in Sentinel, Oklahoma, June 15, 1916. His parents were Joe and Jennie Jenny Arnold Crumley. Joe, Sr. was a gospel preacher, and preached in Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma. However, at the young age of 38, the senior Crumley passed away as a result of an serious attack of appendiicitis. Joe, Jr. was only 2 years old. Life was hard being one of five siblings with only a young mother to provide parental guidance. Things were made even worse when the young lad was left and orphan at the age of twelve, his motehr dying as a result of a car accident. The same year of his mother's death the young Joe Crumley was baptized by a Brother Musgraves in 1928. He married Ruthelma Smith, and to them were born two children, Joe, III, and Cynthia K.
Joe received his college training at Freed-Hardeman College, Abilene Christian College, and at North Texas State Teachers College in Denton, Texas. He began preaching in Stratford, Oklahoma in 1933, supporting his family by teaching school. Other churches he served included the church in Blackwell, Oklahoma from 1938 to 1941, the Port Arthur, Texas church from 1941 to 1945, and the El Reno, Oklahoma church from 1951. He, like his father, held religious discussions from time to time. Most noted were the Crumley-Miller debate on Class, Teachers, and One-Cup in 1951. Again in 1952 he debated Miller on the same issues. He preached on the radio while at Port Arthur on KPAC, and at Pecos, Texas on WBBZ, then while in Dallas, Texas he was on KXIL. He preached about six gospel meetings per year. Two of his brothers, May R. and H.V. Crumley were both gospel preachers as well. His son, Joe, III, also preached.
Find-A-Grave notes that Cynthia lives in Langley, Washington. Perhaps more info is available to fill in the life picture of Joe Crumley, Jr. All that is available at the moment is that he died November 18, 1996. His body was returned to Cordell, Oklahoma where he was laid to rest next to his mother and father in the Longview Cemetery, there to await the coming of the Lord. Someone reading this sketch with more information on the life of this Christian man would be welcome to contact your web editor to share further information.
-Scott Harp, Source: Preachers of Today, Vol. 1, p. 91
Directions To The Crumley Family Plot
West of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on I-40, go to Clinton and take Exit #66/Hwy.183 and head south 25.4 miles into the city of Cordell, and turn left on E. 14th Street. In less than a mile turn into the Cordell Cemetery. If you can stop in and get directions, it might be helpful. Otherwise, follow the road around until you see a plaque in front of some trees. Behind the trees will be the large oval section in the center of the cemetery. The Crumley plot will be toward the middle. Be sure to see GPS and photos below to pinpoint exact location. Plot Info: Lot 249: Block 4
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Photos Taken February, 2012
Courtesy of Scott Harp
Web editor note: In February, 2012, it was my privilege to visit the grave of J.W. Crumley. I was invited to take part in the annual Affirming The Faith Lectureship in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Getting into the area early, I was afforded the opportunity to put about 2000 miles on a rental car in order to locate graves of gospel preachers and church leaders of yesteryear in a wide area. My second day I was able to visit the grave of J.W. Crumley.