Rev. William Butler (B. 1859), pastor of St. Paul Presbyterian Church at Eagletown, and of Forest Church near Red River south of Millerton, is a native of the community in which he still lives. His parents, Abraham and Nellie Butler, were the slaves of Pitchlyn and Howell, Choctaws; and William was about seven, when freedom was accorded the family in 1866. His home and work as a minister until recently have been in localities remote from the railway and good schools. The short period of one and a half months was all the time he ever went to school. He learned to read by a regular attendance at Sabbath school, and by private study at the fireside. The Bible and the Shorter Catechism were the books that occupied his spare time and attention. As a natural result, he became a Christian and united with the Church at an early age.
In 1885, at the age of twenty-six, he was ordained an elder in the St. Paul Presbyterian Church. He then began to read the Bible to the congregation and to hold religious meetings. While preparing himself for the work then in hand, he was led to see the great need of more teachers and preachers for the colored people, and, believing he could render efficient service as a minister, he undertook a special course of reading and instruction under Rev. John Sleeper, his pastor, and later of Rev. E. G. Haymaker, superintendent of Oak Hill Academy, instructors who lived 12 and 35 miles distant, respectively.
In 1894 he was enrolled as a candidate for the ministry under the Presbytery of Choctaw, Three years later he was licensed by the Presbytery of Kiamichi and appointed the stated supply of St. Paul and Forest Churches. He has continued to serve these two congregations, faithfully and acceptably ever since that date, a period now of sixteen years. His ordination occurred in 1902. Other fields, that he developed and served for short periods are, Bethany, two years; Mount Gilead, one year; and Mount Pleasant, one year.
Mr. Butler is a man, who experienced a hard struggle in early life, in the effort to train himself for his life’s work, as a minister and farmer. He has overcome many of these difficulties in a manner, that is very praiseworthy and commendable.
He is a man, who carries with him a happy, hopeful spirit, and a countenance full of good cheer. Seeing the need of a religious leader among the people of his home community, he decided to fit himself to supply that need, and has done so hitherto in an efficient and admirable manner. To win souls to Christ and instruct them aright from the word of God, have been his aims during his ministry. He has been to the people an example in righteousness, and has labored with faith and zeal in the vineyard of the Lord.
His annual visits to Oak Hill Academy during term time were always anticipated with considerable interest. They were made the occasion for special evangelistic services, followed with an opportunity for decisions; and many times his heart was gladdened at the close of the sermon, by seeing more than a dozen of the young people manifest their decision to live a Christian life.
The people, whom he serves regularly, have shown their appreciation of his efficient and long continued work among them, by according to him a loyal and constant support. He has always lived in the wilderness far removed from the railway, notwithstanding the fact the Frisco railway in 1902 passed through the country, lying between Eagletown on the north and Forest Church on the south. He has always had a pony circuit, of two or more rural Churches, widely separated. The faithful and acceptable service rendered these widely distant Churches, makes him a good representative of the itinerant work of Parson Stewart, his pioneer predecessor.
The following lines by Hastings, are an appropriate prayer for all, who like Bro. Butler faithfully and patiently minister to those, who dwell in the wilderness.
“O thou, who in the wilderness
The sheep, without a shepherd, didst bless,
Oh, bless thy servants, who proclaim
In every place thy wondrous name.
May voices in the wilderness,
Still with glad news the nations bless;
And, as of old, in deserts cry,
‘Repent’, God’s kingdom draweth nigh.”