J D. Tant, Texas Preacher

(Book Review)

Gordon J. Pennock
Brookfield, Ill.

(The above caption is the title of an interesting biography written by Fanning Yater Tant, son of J. D. Tant, and recently published by The Gospel Guardian Company. The price is $4.00 and may be ordered from Truth Magazine.)

Jefferson Davis Tant was a familiar name among churches of Christ for more than a half-century. He was well known from Nashville to New Mexico and was quoted by brethren everywhere, He was possibly the most unique and colorful gospel preached since the days of "Raccoon" John Smith.

J D. Tant as born in the State of Georgia in 1861. His earliest memory of life was the shooting of his pet dog and the burning of his home by Sherman's soldiers while he peered from behind his mother's skirts. Having lost all of their earthly possessions in the Civil War, his family eventually moved to the great southwest frontier of Texas in search of a new home.

By this time, young Tant was nearly fifteen years of age, but had little or no schooling. Although he now lived close to a high school, his parents had no money with which to buy school books. The resourcefulness which was later to characterize him now came to the front. By dodging about among the other children while they studied he managed to get his lessons from their books. The teacher finally helped to solve his problem by arranging to leave a window unfastened each night so that young Tant could come in, get the necessary books, prepare his lessons for the next day, and have the books back in place before the next morning. Relating this experience, Tant wrote: "This I kept as a profound secret, and the news soon spread that I was an idiot. As this seemed to be so near my nature, I acted my part well. People often visited the school, anxious to see 'old man Tant's idiot boy that learned his lessons without studying'."

Tant was reared a Methodist and when but nineteen years of age was ordained and became a Circuit Rider in North Texas. Of the Methodist ministry at that time, he wrote: "The demand was more for lung power and the ability to get up an excitement than for brain power to teach the people." But his Methodist ministry was destined to be short. He soon came in contact with W.H.D. Carrington who taught him "more perfectly the way of the Lord," resulting in his eventual obedience to the gospel. Immediately he threw himself unstintingly into the preaching of "the ancient order of things" as revealed in the New Testament.

Tant loved to preach and made that the constant purpose of his life. But, he certainly did not preach to live. He insisted on preaching the gospel whether brethren supported him or not. There was no hardship nor sacrifice that he was unwilling to make for the cause of Christ. Because of this disposition much of his life was spent in poverty. It was not till the third year of his preaching that he received any money for it. And then, he received the amazing sum of $9.75-$5.00 of which was a wedding fee. In order to live he taught music, farmed and saddle-broke broncs at $5.00 a head. The latter task was not easy -in one day he was thrown from the same horse nine times.

Because of a lack of funds he suffered many hardships in traveling from place to place, He once walked 28 miles down the railroad track to save some time and $3.00 fare-and beat the train in. When his feet became blistered he walked in his bare feet and carried his shoes. He frequently rode a borrowed horse and once when none was available he asked to borrow a bull. En route to one meeting he nearly drowned while riding a swimming horse across a rain-swollen creek. After removing his clothing to wring out the water, a shrunken shoe refused to go back on a swollen foot, so he reached his appointment, walked down the aisle with one shoe on and the other in his hand, set it on the pulpit and preached a fine sermon.

During his preaching career Tant held more than three hundred debates, meeting many kinds and shades of religious error. His keen wit and quick repartee frequently stimulated unusual interest in these affairs. Perhaps his most notable encounter was with R.H. Pigue at the Oldfield Methodist Church in Crockett County, Tenn. in 1910. "Pigue was there, dressed to perfection, in elegance and style. As the time drew near for the discussion to open, Tant was nowhere in evidence. After a delay of some little time, waiting for Tant to make his appearance, Pigue got into the pulpit and made a short speech about the 'Campbellites.' He said that they were long on boasting, but short on everything else; and since Tant was obviously too scared to make his appearance, the debate would have to be called off.

"Just at that moment a figure arose from the back seat of the assembly. . . . dressed in the ragged overalls and dirty sweat-stained shirt of a field hand . . . The farmer then spoke up: 'My name is J.D. Tant, and I am ready for the debate to start.'

"Pigue commented with some disgust on the 'uncouth and sloven' appearance of his opponent, and opined that the dignity and importance of the occasion demanded a more respectable presence than Tant offered.

"'I grew up on a farm,' Tant responded with his nasal twang even more pronounced than usual, 'and my old pappy always told us boys to dress for the kind of work we had to do, I come down here to do a hog-killen' job on a fat, over-grown, over-stuffed 'pigue,' and I dressed for the occasion. Let's get on with the job!"

The crude-if not vulgar-expressions and illustrations sometimes employed by Tant when pressing a point occasionally drew criticism from his brethren. Because of such he was for ten years barred from the pages of the Gospel Advocate. But those who knew him best stood by him. They knew that his heart was sincere and his motives pure. The earnestness and fervency with which he preached revealed too plainly his passionate love for God, His word, and the souls of men. They understood what his critics failed to consider; that Tant had lived and labored mostly with "common folk"-pioneering farmers, ranchers and cow-hands, the majority of whom were limited in culture and education, and that he therefore spoke to them in language which they best understood.

This book is more than the biography of unique and dynamic individual. It is an important history of the troublesome and tragic years when churches in Texas were rent asunder by the innovation of the Missionary Society and the use of the organ in worship. For the most part this record is unfolded by numerous and lengthy quotations from the pages of the Firm Foundation and the Gospel Advocate-most of them being reports and articles which were written by Tant himself.

You will certainly want to read this book.

Truth Magazine III:9, pp. 16-17
June 1959