My great great Grandfather, John Newton Standerfer, was born in October of 1842 near Jonesville in Lee County, Virginia. He was the son of a farmer and Grist Mill owner. John was 19, in 1861 when he enlisted in the Army of Western Virginia. His military records list him as a Private in Company B, 15 Regiment, Virginia Infantry. John shared with his grandchildren many stories from his time in the war. About fighting under General Joseph E. Johnston until his wounding in 1862, then under General Robert E. Lee, and General Thomas J. Jackson, in the “Foot Cavalry” until his wounding and death at Chancellorsville, finally, again under General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg.
John told about when en route to his first command post in 1861, he and others paid 50 cents to see a live show of patriotic music. For the first time in his life, John recalled, he heard a real life band play “Dixie.” John remembered being so moved and so proud. He related the fighting at Chancellorsville as the bloodiest he had been involved in and how he remembered seeing General Jackson shortly after his wounding. He described that day as the saddest day in the life of General Jackson’s men.
He was captured 3 times during the war. The first time while in the prison camp he and other confederates dug 14 tunnels under fences and walls and made their escape under the hail of bullets. He and many others made it to the safety of a nearby river and finally freedom. The second time he recalled being held near the front lines and at some point seeing a fellow prisoner, a “big Irishman,” move slowly toward freedom. John kept his eyes on him, very casually and very scared they walked right out of the enemy camp, and escaped to their lines.
The last time he was captured at Snicker’s Gap, Virginia. It appears he was involved in the Battle of Cool Spring, one of many contests for control of the gap. On July 18, 1864 he was captured and sent to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, DC. He was transfered to Elmira Prison on Aug 12, 1864 where he spent almost an entire year. John remembered the living situation at Elmira being a sad state. Often times food was so scarce that at one point his food was limited to 9 grains of parched corn for each meal. John was released from Elmira Prison on July 30, 1865. His oldest grandson described John’s view of his service in the war. “Pa was never sure he killed a man. He never wanted to kill anyone, but there was a war to be fought and did what he felt was his obligation.”
Upon his release from Elmira Prison in 1865, John returned home to farm with his father Joseph. He married in 1866 to a neighbor girl. It was upon returning home from the war John felt God calling him and he made his profession of Faith in Lee County, Virginia. He was baptized in the winter in the ice covered Powell River. He was ordained as a Deacon and served as Deacon until he and his family moved to Texas in 1875. To my knowledge there are no written accounts of the family’s life during Reconstruction. But I would imagine life during reconstruction helped lead to a decision to move west. But that is only my speculation.
In 1875, the family cut timber from their land and made rafts, packed all their belongings and some animals and floated down the rivers to somewhere near Memphis or Nashville. They moved with several other large families that were related by marriage. There they sold the timber and bought wagons and travelled overland to settle in North Texas. Present day McKinney, Texas.
While settling in John realized that there were no churches in the area, and proceeded to hold Sunday services in his home. His wife taught sunday school. Over time all of the families joined them on Sunday until the group became so large that they had to hold the Sunday services outside, in “Brush Arbor” meetings. As life moved forward, John felt the Lord calling him deeper into serving his community. At the age of 48, John was ordained as a Baptist Preacher and commenced traveling by horseback throughout the surrounding counties to preach and organize churches.
During his time in Texas, John felt the Lord turning his attention Towards the Indian Territory north of the Red River. It is said that John made a vow that if God would take his mistakes and make them right, he would go to Indian Territory as a missionary. He saw the opportunity open for him in 1894, and made preparations to move in to Oklahoma. It was not until 1896, when more land was opened for settlement that the family made the move. John was part of a “land run” in 1896 and obtained 160 acres of land.
The families traveled 160 miles from Texas to Oklahoma to settle, running into hostile indians along the route, but faith lead them on. It is said that John was a first rate carpenter, and that the first dwelling built on the new homestead was a one room, half dug-out built from green cottonwood lumber hauled from El Reno, OK, the closest railroad station. Later he built a two story farmhouse on the 160 acre farm and built a two story house for his son Jim. He also helped build the house for the Rudd family who were related by marriage.
John commenced his work for the Lord as a circuit preacher. He would organize churches and serve as their preacher until the congregation would vote someone as pastor. He was known to be pastor of more than one church at a time and in 1903 was pastor of three churches at one time. He established over a dozen churches in Kiowa and Custer counties and preached on Saturday, Saturday nights, Sunday and Sunday nights all year round. He would take a buggy in good weather, but in inclement or freezing weather he rode his horse, often times having to lead his horse on foot.
He drove many miles to a school house, church, or home to deliver a sermon, perform baptisms in a creek or lake, perform weddings or to officiate a death and burial, and it is said that he always knelt to pray before preaching God’s word. He did all of this while still being a devoted husband and father of 11 children and grandfather to many grandchildren. He was not only a preacher, but he was a farmer as well. John planted and harvested cotton and cut and sold wood by the cord. John and his family were certainly not wealthy folk, and farmed to provide what income they could.
From his daughter-in-law, my great Grandmother, a paper was found among her things with this written account of John’s death.
“On August 2, 1920, Rev. J.N. Standerfer passed away, so far as we can judge, instantly, and according to his expressed wish. With his passing the world lost an upright citizen; Christianity lost a faithful upholder, and his family lost a kindly counselor.
How well I remember my last visit with him the latter part of January 1920. The children and I spent several days in his home where I so often sat and listened to him recount his past; his Civil War days and pioneer days in Texas. Also he talked much of his old home in Lee County, Virginia. His Grandfather was one of 20 children, 10 boys and 10 girls. On the last evening there with him, I played on the pump organ “The Rock That Is Higher Than I” and he joined in singing.
I can see how he looked sitting in his chair between the stove and the window in their living room when I went to tell him goodby. His manner told me that he knew his time with us was short, tho at that time he was enjoying very good health and he said, “Goodby, I wish you well,” and I felt him for the last time.”
Personal accounts of friends and relatives reveal how they all remembered John’s shining eyes which sparkled when he looked at you. He is described by his grandchildren and grandchildren of his neighbors as being patient, kindly, honest, pleasant, neat, strong, quiet, gentle, soft-spoken, stalwart, fatherly and grandfatherly, and always immaculate including his long white beard, which no one ever remembers being unkempt and shaggy.
Each year from 1945, the descendants of John Newton Standerfer held large annual reunions in Oklahoma the weekend following Thanksgiving. In the 1960’s consistently attendance was well over 100 people. Over time, since the 1980’s attendance dwindled as the families moved away again, in search for better careers and lives.
John Newton Standerfer’s desire to provide a good life for his family, is example of his duty to ones home and hearth. His Faith in God, love for his friends, family, neighbors, and greater community speak volumes of who he was. All of those attributes help me to see that his life, although interrupted by a bloody war, was ultimately strengthened by it. And that he established those family traditions, morals, and devout faith in God, to be a way of life that influenced his family all the way down the line to myself, some 144 years later.
-Thanks go to Ruby L. Ledbetter, author of “HE STANDS EVER,” THE STANDERFER FAMILY. With her research, John Newton’s life story has been kept alive.