Out in a broad fertile valley of Nebraska stands a Seventh Day Baptist church. It is one of the largest of churches in membership, and stands in a pretty, pleasant village where there are two other churches, neither of them as large as ours.
In this lesson we wish to study about the man who was the first Pastor of this church. The North Loup church was not always strong and prosperous; it was once small and struggling, and needed a brave hand to hold it up. That hand was Elder Oscar Babcock's.
Oscar Babcock was born in Persia, N.Y., in 1835. Persia was then a pioneer settlement, away back in the pine forests. Many of our boys and girls know Rev. William L. Burdick. His grandfather was the first man to build for himself a log cabin there, some seven years before Oscar Babcock was born. There were only a few of these pioneers, but they were true Christians and faithful Seventh Day Baptists, and built a log church, where they held services, even when without any minister.
When Oscar was eleven years old, his parents, with several other people from Persia, moved to Wisconsin. This was also a pioneer country. In fact, Oscar Babcock spent most of his life in pioneer settlements.
Here it was that he gained most of his education - not in a little red schoolhouse, but in Albion Academy, a school which our Seventh Day Baptist people maintained at Albion, Wisconsin, because there were then very few public high schools, such as we have now. Oscar Babcock's people were not wealth, and were having a hard time with pioneer life on the plains; so Oscar could not complete his course at the Academy, and never went to College at all; but he felt that he work God had for him to do was in the ministry. He knew that while a minister needs an education, still God could use him if he did not have one. So, at a quarterly meeting held by the churches of Wisconsin, when Oscar Babcock was 23 years old, he was given a license to preach. He served for several years as Pastor of the little church at Dakota, Wisconsin.
The Babcocks and other people who has settled at Dakota liked pioneer life. They had spent their childhood in log cabins at Persia and other backwoods settlements, and had come to Dakota in the days when Wisconsin was almost a wilderness, with only a few white people here and there, and Indians roving over the plains. Now Wisconsin was becoming settled, and some of these people felt a longing for the pioneer life again. So they decided to go further West , and if possible, build up new and better homes.
Too often, nowadays, when some of our people decide to move into a new country or into a city where there are better opportunities, they go off alone into some place where there are no Seventh Day Baptists, and finally forget about God's Sabbath, and His holy religion. There are many who remain true; but it is harder for them; and our churches need them besides.
But these Dakota people realized that they would be a loss to our cause if they did that. So they planned to settle together, and formed an Association, whose purpose was to "give such of our people as observe the Seventh day of the week as the Sabbath, the opportunity of settling together, and to secure the immediate advantages of good schools, good morals in society, and church privileges, as well as to mutually assist each other." Wasn't that a splendid ideal for a band of pioneers?
So they sent out four men to find a place to settle. These men came into Nebraska, and camped in the North Loup valley, and then returned to Wisconsin with their report. The people decided that this valley was where they wanted to go; so in the spring of 1872, several families, not only from Dakota, but from several other churches, set out for Nebraska. Oscar Babcock was in this company.
He had served as pastor of the little church at Dakota for several years, but had never been ordained to the ministry. But now the people felt that he must be the religious leader of this new colony. He would be the only Seventh Day Baptist minister in all that country. And so they ordained him to the ministry before he left Wisconsin.
The settlers had a hard struggle during the first years in Nebraska. The country was a wide, treeless, prairie, and there were no people living within many miles. The first houses which they built were dugouts. Perhaps some of our boys and girls do not know what a dugout it; but it is just what the name sounds like. It is a place that is dugout in the ground, while their front walls are built up of sods. We would not think such a house very pleasant to live in, but these early settlers were hardy men and women, who could stand such a life. Later they built log cabins; but their were no trees within thirty miles, and so it was hard to get the logs. Elder Babcock was the first man to build a log cabin, and it is still standing, looking strange now, surrounded by the modern houses and the beautiful brick church of our people at North Loup.
The pioneers had other hardships to face. The next spring there came a terrible blizzard, which laster for three days; some people lost their lives in the storm, and many of their cattle were killed.
The next year the grasshoppers came in swarms and destroyed the grain; and a few years later a terrible prairie fire swept over the country. In the days of their misfortunes Elder S. R. Wheeler came to our eastern churches to get help for them.
But among all these hardships the settlers stood firm and true, and held on the land they had taken, and the religion they had brought with them. Elder Babcock was, as was natural, the religious leader of the community. On the Sabbath Day after they arrived, he conducted an outdoor service. We read in the Bible that the apostle Paul held a service on the Sabbath at a place by the river, "where prayer was wont to be made." These people, too, held their first service by the bank of the river.
A Seventh Day Baptist church was organized soon after, in a dugout. The services were held later in a log schoolhouse, and it was not until fifteen years afterward, that the church had become large enough and strong enough to build a house of worship of its own. It was through Elder Babcock's constant, whole-hearted work that the church grew to that position.
Elder Babcock was the leader of the community in other ways. He was the first postmaster, and the first representative in the legislature from Valley County. The first school was held in his dugout.
In time he retired from the active ministry, but not from active service for his Master. He served for seventeen years as Superintendent of the North Loup Sabbath School. When the Christian people were called to fight against saloons, Elder Babcock was the leader; so it was due to his efforts, that North Loup became a clean town where people enjoyed living.
Elder Babcock lived to an old age, being called home to his heavenly Father about six years ago, at the age of eighty. He saw the little church which he had helped to struggle to its feet, grow to be one of the largest in the country; he died poor, but he was rich in those things which count with God.
Year Book, 1915, p. 57; Bulletin of the North Loup Church, Vol. 2, No. 4, Historical Vol. pp. 751-752