BLOYS CAMP MEETING
BLOYS CAMP MEETING. Since 1890 the Bloys Camp Meeting (or Bloys Cowboy Campmeeting) has met annually at Skillman's Grove in the Davis Mountains of the western Big Bend area. The encampment is sixteen miles southwest of Fort Davis, Jeff Davis County. It comes alive for only five days of the year, usually from the second Tuesday of August to the following Sunday. All religious denominations are welcomed, but the event is sponsored by the Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, and Disciples of Christ, each of which participates in the five-day meeting. Four religious services are held each day in addition to children's Bible classes, youth meetings, Bible studies, and prayer meetings. The camp is organized and operated by the Bloys Campmeeting Association, the members of which are either descendents of the founding families or elected by members. The camp is on a section of land bought by the association in 1902 and is supplied with electricity and running water. Nothing can be bought or sold on the grounds; all food, water, and amenities are free to the guests, who may make contributions to help cover expenses. Costs not covered by the generosity of guests are assumed by the members.
The camp meetings were begun in 1890 by William Benjamin Bloys, a Presbyterian home missionary serving in Fort Davis. Because the ranches of the region were widely separated by vast, uninhabited areas, it was virtually impossible for frontier families to worship with their neighbors and friends. Bloys rode to many of the outlying ranches from Fort Davis, but he was rarely able to minister to the whole community at one time. In October 1890, while visiting the family of John Z. Means, Bloys devised a plan to bring local families together annually for religious services. An old-style camp meeting was organized, and on October 10, 1890, forty-three people gathered in Skillman's Grove for the first time. The two-day meeting included Bible instruction and sermons as well as a great deal of socializing. The meetings were first held under a brush arbor and then for many years in a canvas tent. A permanent tabernacle was built in 1912 and expanded as attendance grew. It still serves as the central meeting place. As more people attended the camp meetings, the camp was divided into six areas where families gathered and ate. These evolved into the six eating sheds that now feed the entire camp. Cooking is still done ranch-style on open fires. The average number attending was more than 3,000 by 1988.
Joe Evans, one of the original members, in conjunction with Everett King, Ralph Hall, and Roger Sherman, started a chain of camp meetings at sites in New Mexico and other western cattle states, including Nogala Mesa, New Mexico, Valentine, Nebraska, Willcox and Prescott, Arizona, and Elko, Nevada. The Hill Country Cowboy Campmeeting near Ingram, Texas, was also patterned after the Bloys encampment and still meets each August during the week following the Bloys meeting.
Minnie D. Clifton, "A History of the Bloys Camp Meeting," Sul Ross Teachers College Bulletin 27 (June 1, 1947). William F. Evans, Border Skylines: Fifty Years of "Tallying Out" on the Bloys Round-up Ground (Dallas: Baugh, 1940). Carlysle Graham Raht, The Romance of the Davis Mountains and Big Bend Country (Odessa, Texas: Rahtbooks, 1963). Inez Dudley Rogers, "Not Made with Hands": The Story of the First Bloys Cowboy Camp Meeting (Barstow, Texas, 1952). Cecilia Thompson, History of Marfa and Presidio County, 1535–1946 (2 vols., Austin: Nortex, 1985). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin (W. B. Bloys).