by Paul Goddard
Since few permanent records exist, it is difficult to research the methods used in evangelizing Indian Territory. However, the work of Robert Wallace Officer is an exception. R.W. Officer was born to Alexander and Francis Officer in Murray County, Georgia, on August 18, 1845./1 Little of Officer’s early life is known except for the fact that as a teenager he served as a private in the Confederate Army and was wounded in battle./2
At the age of twenty-five, he was living in Winchester, Tennessee, where he heard a sermon by a Methodist minister on the resurrection./3 Standing at the close of the sermon, he said, “I believe with all my heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and I want to be baptized.” Bringing out the Methodist manual of discipline, the preacher intended to teach Methodist doctrine, but Officer refused, insisting that the example he wished to follow was the conversion of the Ethiopian in the book of Acts. The minister denied his request, and six months later Officer was immersed by Dr. Barris./4
After his conversion, Officer preached for the Liberty Baptist Association of Tennessee. Because of his conviction to the New Testament and his preaching, he was charged with heresy. It is not known at what point Officer transitioned to the Restoration Movement, but Michael Slate describes it this way, “It is probably true that Officer’s transition to the disciples occurred not so much because he came to stand behind the Restoration Movement as because many people appreciative of the Restoration ideal came to stand behind him, due to his influential and strong character.”./5
G.H.P. Showalter gives the following description of Officer in 1905:
“Bro. Officer is of rough build and possesses a sturdy constitution. He has light blue eyes, fair complexion and dark hair, just turning slightly grey. He is about six feet in height, and would, in my judgment, weigh one hundred and eighty pounds. There is no doubt that nature has gifted him with more than ordinary powers of endurance. He has traveled much, preached much, endured much. He has worked hard, studied closely and labored successfully. He is an independent thinker, and is little affected by positions taken by men, unless they can be shown to be reasonable or scriptural.”/6
1/ Interview with James Marvin Cluff, Genealogical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah. (March 5, 1982). 1850 census of Murray County, Georgia.
2/ Tennesseans in the Civil War (Nashville, Tennessee: Civil War Centennial Commission, 1965), 307.
3/ Michael D. Slate, “R.W. Officer: An Example of Frontier Individualism,” Restoration Quarterly 22 (Third Quarter 1979), 144.
4/ F.D. Srygley, Srygley’s Biographies and Sermons (Nashville: Srygley, 1898), 309, and Laurence W. Scott, Texas Pulpit (St. Louis: Christian Publishing Company, 1888), 384-385.
5/ Slate, 146.
6/ G.H.P. Showalter, “Tidings From Texas,” Octographic Review 48 (January 17, 1905), 8.
Robert Wallace Officer