The Early Years

The beginnings of First Baptist Church are hard to pinpoint exactly, but some facts basic to its establishment tell us that sometime in 1904, Levi Johnson moved to Craig, and in February 1905, his wife and children joined him. They homesteaded at Illinois Park, at the foot of Black Mountain near Craig. Mrs. Amy Johnson taught in various schools around the county, so they kept a home in Craig during the winter and returned to the ranch each spring. Their town residence is located in the 500 block of Breeze Street, and is still in use.

Rev W.C. Lindsey, a Baptist minister from Missouri, moved to Northwest Colorado in 1909. He filed on a homestead near Cedar Mt. Ernest Kline became his neighbor in 1910, when he established his homestead also near Cedar Mt.

Ernest Kline and Amy Johnson were both from Methodist backgrounds, but since there was no Methodist church, they decided to work with Mr. Johnson and Mr. Lindsey to organize a Baptist Church. Since membership in the church required baptism, on April 23,1911 Rev. Lindsey baptized Ernest Kline, Francis Johnson, David Johnson and Amy Jane (Wyatt) Johnson in the icy waters of the Yampa river.

Northern Baptist Missionary Bertha Smith was sent to help organize the church. The small group of believers met on April 9, 1911 at the home of Mr. & Mrs. Johnson. In addition to those mentioned, Mrs. Wyatt, mother of Mrs. Johnson was also present.

The petition for charter was signed by: Ernest Kline, David Johnson, Amy Johnson, Levi Johnson,  Francis Johnson, Mrs. Isabinda Wyatt,  Rev & Mrs. William Lindsey.

On May 7, 1911, the first organized meeting of the First Baptist Church was held at the Johnson home. A canvas as made of the people present, and the following were found eligible for membership. Rev WC Lindsey, Mrs. Lindsey, Mrs. Wyatt, Ernest S Kline, Levi Johnson, Amy Jane Johnson, and David Johnson. The church covenant was received by the above named persons, and the Articles of Faith as set forth in Brown’s Manual were adopted by the church.

The following officers were elected—Deacons, Levi M Johnson who was already ordained and Ernest Kline, to be ordained. Clerk, Mrs. Johnson, Asst. Clerk E S Kline, Treasurer L M Johnson. It was voted to defer the election of trustees to a later date. Brother Lindsey was asked to act as Pastor till other arrangements could be made, and he kindly accepted, without salary.

It was then voted that the regular time for church meeting be on the first Sunday of each month. A committee was appointed to arrange the meeting place. Soon after, a building was rented for dollar a meeting. The property is located at the intersection of Highway 40 and Washington streets, just south of City Park, and was used for a Cork and Bottle shop. Abby Carpets is located there now.

On Sunday , July 9, 1911, the following persons were named as trustees: James Cicero Herod, Levi M Johnson, and Ernest S. Kline. They were instructed to take out articles of incorporation from the state. It was also voted to appeal to the State Baptist Board to send an evangelist with a tent for 3 months of meetings.

Sunday August 5, 1911: It was voted to approve sister Lindsay’s action and purchase the organ at Pacific MO. Brother J C Herod said he would buy the organ, and turn it over to the church, as soon as the church had a place for it.

In the next few years, the church met in several different places. Elkhead was a favorite place, meeting in homes, including the Davidson Cabin and meetings were held at the Johnson Ranch in Illinois Park, located on the present Black Mountain Road just below Freeman Reservoir. Since the roads were poor and the distances far, frequently the entire congregation would spend the weekend camping at the ranch. There was food and fellowship, not to mention the brisk fresh air to be enjoyed. In later years this was still a favorite place for an occasional church picnic. And in the 1990’s a new tradition of Family Camping on the last week-end before school starts, was begun at Sherman Youth Camp, just a few miles away.

June 29, 1912: Special business meeting was opened by song and prayer by Brother King, after which Brother King outlined Brother Barn’s ideas of building a church at Elkhead, him thinking it not advisable to build in Craig yet. The church thought different and decided to build a small house in Craig, suitable for a meeting place and parsonage, and to postpone the erecting of the main building until later.

June 30th 1912: It was voted to go with the original plans and build in Craig, and Rev Lindsey would make out a plan showing that Craig was the natural Center and in great need of a Baptist Church edifice.

About 1910, Mr. and Mrs. James Cicero Herod took a homestead at the fork of the Elkhead road at what is now highway 40, about nine miles east of Craig. Winfield Pankey now owns the property. The Herods were Baptists, and became aquatinted with Rev. Lindsey through a death in the family. Rev. Lindsey had charge of the funeral and through that contact, the Herods became interested in the church. Soon Elkhead became the headquarters of the church because most of the members lived in that area. They met at the Davidson Cabin or the J. C. Herod home until the Elkhead schoolhouse was built.

Ernest Kline was interested in the Herod home in another way. He worked during the summer at the Mike Smith ranch, (now the Van Tassel Ranch) which adjoined the Herod place. There he met Miss Elizabeth Herod, who soon became Mrs. Ernest Kline.

On July 22, 1917 Ernest Kline, Jasper Clouser and Bertram Welch were ordained a Baptist ministers. They were unanimously elected as assistant pastors of the church.

As a true circuit-riding preacher, Ernest traveled all of the area on horseback with his Bible in his saddle pocket. He preached to groups of people who were too far out to participate in any other church services. For many years he continued his faithful preaching of the word without salary or mileage for compensation. Souls were saved and hearts were challenged to serve God. Ernest took his wife, and children as they came along, by sled, wagon or car as time went on. In the cold winter months, rocks heated on the wood stove and wrapped in blankets made the long drives almost bearable, and baked potatoes in the coat pockets provided not only warm hands, but a filling lunch after the sermon.

When the church was meeting at Elkhead, there was a membership of about 60 to 80 people. Services in the more rural areas were conducted once or twice a month, and several laymen took charge of those meetings as the Lord led them. In addition to Rev. Kline, Bertram Welch, Frank Daggett, Lerch Couvert and others helped in this way. They called them Sagebrush preachers, and though they might not have been as polished as some, God used them to touch hearts and win souls in a place where a City Preacher would have failed miserably.

After the Elkhead School was built, regular services were held there. For a time the First Baptist Church of Craig met in town on Sunday mornings, and then drove out to Elkhead for Sunday School in the afternoon. That made for some very long days, especially for the younger children.

After WWII, the Elkhead branch of the church was discontinued altogether. Many of the smaller ranchers were forced to move away after the depression years of the 1930’s and the increased mechanization of the ranching business. With progress, better roads, and cars becoming more available, people were no longer tied to their small community churches. More and more people were able to drive in to town and the church became focused in Craig. Members of the Elkhead branch were also members of the Craig branch of the church, and no distinction was made in the church records.