Bloys Symbolic Oak

Historical Period: Frontier Texas (1865-1900)
Historical Topic: Religious Freedom
Species: Gray Oak (Quercus grisea)
County: Jeff Davis
Public Access: Yes

An arbuckle coffee box for a pulpit, rough planks across sawhorses for pews, and this large gray oak for a tabernacle was the setting for the first “cowboy” camp meeting, October 10, 1890. The Reverend William Benjamin Bloys, a Presbyterian home missionary who had devoted himself to the camp meeting idea for nearly 30 years, conducted the three-day meeting.

Site of this first camp meeting was Skillman's Grove, about 17 miles southwest of Fort Davis, along State Highway 166.

At an earlier worship service at the John Z. Means Ranch, Mrs. Means had expressed a wish that ranch neighbors could meet at least once a year and worship together. Later that year, a group of 21 children and 27 adults assembled under this ancient oak tree for that first camp meeting. In subsequent years, the meetings were held in a gospel tent and, after 1912, in a wooden building. Today, the week-long assembly has an average daily attendance of 1500 men, women, and children.

Camp meetings became ecumenical shortly after the first meeting, and by 1904, when the organization was chartered as Bloys Campmeeting Association, it was composed of four religious denominations—Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, and Disciple. At the chartering meeting, the hat was passed, and with the $1,500 collected a section of land (640 acres) containing historic Skillman's Grove was purchased for the exclusive use of camp meetings. The grove derived its name from a veteran frontiersman who in the mid-1800s constantly braved the danger of attacks by Indians to carry the mail between San Antonio and El Paso.

The venerable oak under which the first service was conducted is sometimes referred to as the Symbolic Oak. About two feet above ground its four main limbs are united to form a single stout trunk, one which symbolizes the union of the four Protestant churches which have participated in the camp meetings these many years. Each of four denominational ministers preaches once each day in planned rotation. In addition to the preaching, special music by outstanding musicians and congregational singing makes for seven days of inspirational experiences for the campers.

The perpetuation of this religious assembly is a splendid monument to Bloys, the “Little Shepherd of the Hills,” and to John and Exa Means, who made a wish come true.

The Bloys Meeting Camp is located at Skillman’s Grove, along State Highway 166 near Fort Davis. Please respect private property by viewing the tree from the road.