A week before the term ended. Dr. Torrey received a request from a Baptist Church in
Coldwater, Michigan, for a student minister to assist in revival meetings that would begin
on the tenth of January.
Mullen had proven an exceptional student; having mastered the King James Version of the
scriptures as no one else could have without his phenomenal memory. He tried hard to lose
his characteristic manner of speaking, trying hard to drop his brogue, but still retaining
the quaint Gaelic sayings that gave color to his speech.
When he was asked to consider the assignment, Bill told Dr. Torrey, "It is a
little out of line, but I would like to try it for Annie's sake. She was raised in the
church and I think it would mean a lot to her to see me preach in a regular pulpit. After
all, you can't imagine her going horseback from ranch to ranch or standing among a group
of miners in Colorado the way I have done, can you?"
"She might surprise you," Dr. Torrey offered.
"It is better to start this way," he concluded.
"There won't be much money in it," Torrey warned. "Perhaps only five
dollars a week. Do you think you two could get along on that?"
"Oh, I wouldn't take any money for preaching," Bill said with considerable
surprise. "Purse strings would tie my mouth."
"I hope God will help you keep your independence," Torrey said. "But how
are you going to support you wife?"
"The same way I support myself. I plan to keep on contributing to the Horse Review
and shall conduct classes on how both men and women can handle unmanageable mounts. I
might even give riding lessons if there aren't enough broncos for me to gentle in
Then Dr. Torrey added, "I'm sure you'll do for the job, but we'll make a binding
decision after you've preached your trial sermon."
Both William and Annie looked forward to the evening of the trial sermon with almost as
much expectancy as the wedding ceremony itself. And like the latter event, it also took
place in the Moody Church.
Annie was tempted to wear her going away suit to the services but didn't. She did feel
the Astrakhan cape she had bought with her last earnings gave her the look of importance
the wife of a young minister should have, and her wide-brimmed velvet hat nodded gayly
with plumes as she alighted from the street car in front of Moody's Church. Barbara
accompanied her, for it had been decided William would need every minute for polishing up
on his first important sermon that would determine his immediate future.
Annie sat erect in her pew, anxiously waiting for her William to make his entrance. She
was sure he would be wearing the black broadcloth English walking suit she had helped him
pick out for the wedding. It was cut away enough to give him an air of dignity. She could
close her eyes and fairly see him standing before her in that ramrod erectness, his coal
black hair waving about his broad forehead, his neat four-in-hand tie, the shirt cuffs
stiffly edging the somber suit in dramatic black and white. Annie did so love to see a
person neatly dressed. William had the physique and countenance to create a total look of
importance. It was difficult not to notice him.
There was a quick rustle stir through the crowd as Dr. Torrey entered the pulpit and
William behind him, his powerful shoulders clothed in a brown corduroy jacket worn over -
not, not the tan roughneck sweater he always wore of a morning when he was stable bound to
train his wild horses? Brown corduroy trousers and high-heeled cowboy boots completed his
Annie turned to Barbara, grasped her hand and in a quiet frenzied tone muttered
"No, no, he couldn't have!" Then realizing she was being critical of this man
she was to wed within forty-eight hours, she smiled slowly, bravely, and sat straight in
her pew and listened with concentrated attentiveness.
The explanation was obvious when William announced his sermon topic, "Going to
Hell at a Two-Twenty Gait."
It would not have taken much imagination to see how such a sermon could be delivered
from the back of a wild horse, but in the austere Moody Church, before an elect and solemn
group, it was lost. But the way he delivered his talk left no doubt as to his ability to
arouse and sustain the attentions of his congregation.
Two days later, on December 16, they were married by Dr. R. A. Torrey - the tumultuous
William and Annie with the quietness inside. They went to Niagara Falls for a honeymoon
and ten days later arrived at Coldwater, Michigan on Saturday, the day after Christmas.
William gave the landlady his last five-dollar gold piece to pay one week's rent for
their new one-room home. The landlady handed him two dollars in change.
Annie's eyes grew large and luminous when she saw the almost empty purse. She had
always managed the family finances ever since her parents had died. Never once had she
been so perilously close to being penniless. Her brother, George, a teamster for Amour's,
had been a good provider, too, leaving his sisters nine thousand dollars in insurance
after he was accidentally killed. Under her guidance, the quartette of sisters did
uncommonly well, what with their weekly salaries that went into the family purse, coupled
with Annie's astute ability inherited from a father who enjoyed the reputation of being
one of the shrewdest cattle buyers in the business. It was said of John Hepp that no one
in this country, with the exception of William Morris, knew more about cattle buying in
America and few in Germany from where he had come. On her mother's side, the Millers
(Muellers) had been prosperous distillers in Munich, thus business management was part of
the Hepps' make-up. But William never thought of trusting the family purse to the careful
Annie. His method was simple. He spent money freely and when it was gone he hunted up new
wild horses to tame for a fee. He put his silver and gold coins in the right pants pocket,
the keys and such in his left pocket. When the right pocket only had a big hand inside, it
was time to line up more wild horses to be gentled and readied for the road.
"Spend you last dollar, Annie my darling," he would advise, "as though
you had a million."
"But when they're all gone?" his wife asked, perplexed and startled.
His answer came quickly: "Take, therefore, no thought for the morrow, for the
morrow shall take thought of the things itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil
"Maybe so," she agreed, but remained puzzled, almost frightened at the
prospect of so uncertain a future. It was a wonderful thing this faith of William's, but
how was Annie to keep from worrying?
"Now give those big, black eyes some rest," he said. "I'm going down to
the stables to see what's going on."
He set up headquarters in the feed barns that afternoon of the first meeting and
arranged to break a wild colt. The paper published an account of it on the following
"Professor William Mullen of Chicago gave an interesting exhibition of colt
breaking last Saturday afternoon opposite the Reporter office, taking a green colt and
breaking it to harness in forty minutes' time, bring the youngster under such perfect
control that this trainer could lift both the animal's hind feet with his hands at once
without a protest form the horse and drive it about the yard a little later as he pleased.
He is evidently an expert in the horse training line."
When he came home, he tossed two gold pieces on the dresser: "My Father will
supply all my needs in Christ Jesus," he quoted, smiling and with absolute
How wonderfully happy life was with William! Unpredictable - but happy!
On the tenth of January, William preached his first sermon in Coldwater. The text was,
"Jesus answered: 'Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water
and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God"
His subject was regeneration, preached from a full heart, out of a full life of
experiences. He preached with earnestness, sincerity and the wisdom that draws upon one's
own hidden resources. He called into dramatic play illustration upon illustration, from
the kaleidoscopic events of his incredible life that had always been lived just a little
space from death. He had a passion of his race for evangelism, and the talent for taking a
tiny thread of interest and weaving it into the warp and woof of a colorful, solid carpet
upon which one could walk with grace.
The "services" the first week in Coldwater were an instant success. Crowds of
men flocked to hear the young cowboy evangelist, sitting on the corral railing, on
barrels, tree limbs - whatever - to listen to what the strange preacher had to say.
"God be praised," he told Annie, " I am to conduct the meetings all by
myself. Reverend Ather is going out of town for a week."
He prayed to God for more energy. Then charged with a new vigor that was unusual even
for the dynamo he was, he set about to train horses every morning. He not only needed this
work for money to live on and to take care of Annie, but he had need also for the
advertising fund to invite all the townspeople to come to his nightly gatherings. The two
newspapers rallied to his support and wrote long accounts of his skill as a trainer. But
he needed a drawing card to lure the people inside. One of the Coldwater papers wrote:
William Mullen, who advertises to tame and break a colt on the streets Saturday,
combines the professions of horse tamer and evangelist, and, strange to say, makes a
success of both. It is his intention to form a class in horse training, the proceeds of
which will support him when he conducts nightly revival meetings so all can attend. Mr.
Mullen's home is in California and his reputation as a trainer and tamer of unmanageable
horses is well known. He is a regular contributor to the National Horse Review, published
He called on the Coldwater newspaper offices and ordered small, paid, running
announcements of the meetings, paying them out of his horse training funds. Then he had
large posters printed inviting all the townspeople to attend the meetings in the church.
He advertised free horse training exhibitions in the town square on Saturday afternoon,
done purely as an advertisement for the revival meetings.
When the posters were ready, he took a hammer and a few nails and went about from
saloon to saloon asking permission of the bar keeper to put up his signs. Flattered that
he asked their cooperation, they were more than happy to make any concession to this
likeable fellow who was on fire for God.
One saloon keeper asked him "What would you do, Professor, if our customers took
your invitation at your word and came to your church and sat down in your pews beside your
nice church people and listened to you preach?"
"Why, I would thank God for the privilege of speaking to them," he said,
hardly daring hope for such good fortune.
Then he had an idea. "I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll gentle the most vicious
animal you can find in Coldwater, in front of the church steps tomorrow evening, if all
those who watch the outside horse-taming exhibition in front of the church will come
inside to listen to the sermon that follows; and I'll divide my time equally between the
"Oh, ho," they laughed. "With the horse we'll bring you, there won't be
any church service."
"Don't you worry about that," William replied. "You get the colt and
leave the rest to God."
"We sure will find you a bronco, Parson, that will reach for the sky and bust it
wide open," one shouted.
"Hallelujah," William shouted back, joining in their good-natured ribbing!
Mirth filled him for he knew if the story would go the rounds of the saloons that they
were going to try to best the preacher, there would be a record crowd.
"Great guy, the preacher," one of the town's most notorious drunks said.
"Best man with a horse you ever seen. Wouldn't miss this tonight for anything."
They all liked him. No one had come to their town in many a day who had been as well
received. Hadn't he proven that to follow the Cross one had to have something more than a
call, be something more than a scholar? He had to be close to the people.
William could hardly wait to get home to tell Annie to prepare for the biggest meeting
of the engagement. She was pressing his trousers and joyously singing her favorite hymn,
"I Know My Redeemer Liveth."
His coat was laid out on the bed, his vest, too, the tie, the stiff-bosomed shirt, the
big handkerchief. It was all ready. Her eyes shone with pride as she thought of him
dressed neatly for the pulpit, as fine a looking minister as there could be found in the
entire Midwest. She smiled, pleased that she had so handsome a husband. Everyone spoke of
his good looks.
When he told her of his plans for the horse-taming exhibition, she frowned. "But
don't you think it's a bully idea?" he asked anxiously.
"Yes, but you look so nice in your black suit."
"Oh," and his shoulders shook with laughter. "So that's what's bothering
your pretty little head. Well, now I can break a fractious colt in my Sunday-go-to-meeting
clothers, that I can, my sweetheart if it'll make you happy. I'll wear my leather puttees
outside when I'm handling the animal and when I go inside, I'll take them off. If it's
dressed up dandy you want, I can be that, I can."
"It isn't that, William," she said, trying to cover up any hurt her pride
might have caused him, "but I know these church people and I know they want their
minister to be as 'tony' as possible."
True to expectations, there was a large crowd gathered in the lot next to the church.
One could imagine from the group assembled the saloons must be empty.
William roped off a ring where he could gentle the wild bronco, the most vicious that
could be rounded up. Every small boy in town was present, as well as a good crowd of eager
men, but only a sprinkling of women.
William removed his hat, raised his hand and offered a prayer. He then motioned for a
small boy to take his hat and hand it to Annie.
"So that was how he could train a horse in his broadcloth," Annie thought,
knowing it would have been more appropriate to have let him wear his corduroy suit, his
chaps and his high-heeled boots as he had for the trial sermon.
She could feel the acceptance of the townspeople who had assembled, as well as the
immense popularity of her husband with this crowd who pushed around the rope corral to
watch every fascinating move as he captivated the wild horse through the sheer magnetism
of his strong personality and calm will.
"They respect him for his fearlessness," she thought. "They can't help
but respect him for his courage either."
When he prayed, he talked to God in an intimate style that was all his own, asking Him
to save every sinner in Coldwater, thanking Him for opening up the hearts of the saloon
keepers in assembling this event for Him, praying that all the men, women and children in
the town be brought together to work for God's kingdom. There was no doubt about his
earnestness, no doubt about what turn the meeting would take.
"Before I proceed," he began, "I want it understood that if I tame this
hither-to-now unmanageable horse, the wildest one you could find in the city, you will
agree to come inside the church after and listen until the service is ended."
"We agree," they shouted. "It's a bargain."
Then, according to a clipping pasted in Annie's scrapbook:
The evangelist took a rope with which he lassoed the tail of the bronco and wrapped the
other end of the rope around the horse's nose, then fastened a piece of rope to the nose
band, going behind the ears and coming down the other side of the head to tie again the
rope bridle. Now he was ready for the match of the horse's strength, against the
intelligence and skill of his tamer.
The bronco was ready, too. As soon as the man mounted, the bronco proceeded to raise
his back high up in the heavens and jumped stiff-legged. The wild animal, however, could
not dislodge the preacher. Around and around the horse went, with the preacher sitting a
firm seat. Up and down the horse leaped sideways, finally it whirled round like a top. The
evangelist, however, was still in the saddle. Finally, the horse became pacified.
That's just what you have to do with the devil, Mullen exclaimed. Break him. The devil
gets pretty stubborn and he gets a hold of you and he wants you to do as he says. what
you've got to do though, is to hold to him, master him. You've got to stay with him until
you've downed him. That's what you've got to do with these wild horses, too. I have
mastered the bronco and I have mastered the devil. I've got him in control and I've got
sin in control. You've got to be with God, if you expect to be saved. He alone can save
He dismounted from the horse and the owner came up and offered his sincere thanks and
paid him a five dollar gold piece for his work. Then the owner drove away with the tamed
He's the only one who gets off without going inside, the horse-taming preached joked.
After wiping the sweat from his brow with his large linen handkerchief, he was ready
for the second event. There was no one who had the hardihood to walk away. But just to be
sure, he walked behind them, smiling broadly, fairly shoving them into the church,
spreading his hands out wide as much to say, Not one of you will be permitted to slip
through my arms now that I have you within reaching distance of my voice.
They laughed good naturedly. They liked the humor of the big man.
When he got inside, he opened his big black leather Bible, and announced his text would
be: Hell Without Bottom.
His sermon was a well-organized flow of fire that called upon Bible verse after verse
to clinch the importance of what he had to say. It took his hearers to what he called the
hell that he had seen himself as he described the fiery crater of Hawaii. He told of the
hell on earth he had known that hugged the waterfront, the hell of the coal mines where
little children worked underground, down to the thid and fourth generations without ever
being able to better their lives.
All listened spellbound to this strange preacher who went from busting broncos to the
devil within one second and two motions! When the sermon was over, they streamed down the
aisle to shake his hand and beg to be shown a better way of living.
When he and Annie walked home, arm in arm in the moonlight, their hearts thanking God
for this wonderful miracle that had come into their lives. He was now an evangelist.
"You are going to be the world's greatest preacher," Annie told him. "I
just know it. I never heard such interesting preaching. And my, how they did listen to
your every word!"
He could hardly wait for the church pastor to return to tell him of the enthusiasm the
town felt for the revival.6667
The next night, William talked to a packed house again, and every night afterwards.
When the week was over, the church listed forty new converts. What he said was on the lips
of everyone on the street. When he walked around, everyone greeted him as a friend.
"Hi, Professor," they'd call out.
"Hi, Sky Pilot."
It didn't seem natural to say Reverend. Besides, he wasn't a reverend.
Then the pastor of the church returned!
Some of the self-styled 'Church pillars' lost no time in telling him how the church had
been defiled by the presence of the bar keepers, how the saloons had been scanned for his
congregation, and how theatrical devices such as Wild West circus exhibits had been used
to draw the obnoxious crowds of sinners into the righteous pews of the elect.
"Who put all those posters in every saloon in town?" the pastor thundered!
"Who but I?" William answered proudly. "And isn't it a fine thing to
have the church filled with sinners?"
"And why did you take it upon yourself to do such a thing without my
permission?" the church pastor went on, ignoring the young man's fervor.
William was speechless. He couldn't believe the minister objected to his canvassing the
saloons. "But I wanted to reach every man, woman and child with the glory of the
gospel," he stammered.
"We don't want to offend our own church people," the pastor said.
"There's a time and a place for everything, and our church is not the best place for
"Offend?" William was aghast. "The only one I'm concerned about
offending is God for neglecting man, who was made in His image."
"You have preached your last sermon here," the minister informed him, and his
face was white with anger. "Leave this instant. Go," he screamed, "before I
lose my self-control."
William found it difficult to restrain himself, too. "His temper," he
thought. "How I'd like to punch his two eyes together." The old way of settling
an argument had been so much easier. "Help me, God. Help me now. Help, with that soft
answer that turneth away wrath."
Annie could not believe her eyes when she saw him coming down the street, his head
intent upon the ground, the old erectness gone form his shoulders, sagging in the way an
old man's will with the discouragement of bitter years.
"Heavens, what can the matter be?" she asked impatiently, taking his hat away
form him and hanging it on the peg as he entered.
He didn't say a word as he took off his coat and vest, and hung them on a hanger in the
closet. He had removed the gold watch from his vest pocket, and put this on the dresser.
Then he removed his shoes, unlacing them slowly as though it were an impossible task.
Annie stood silent, knowing his grave face indicated some awful thing had transpired.
Annie laid back the covers on the bed, and William flopped his body heavily on the bed
as though it were too much to speak standing up. "He had broken up the meeting,"
he said, choking on the words. "There will be no more sermons. I am through."
"But he couldn't!" Annie cried. She fell on her knees beside him, great tears
wetting her face. She touched her soft hands gently on his cheek. It was pitiful to see
this big man of hers so broken and filled with grief. "How did it ever happen?
Whatever fault could they have found with you?" she questioned.
"Ather said he should never have chosen me. He should have chosen a seminary man.
I wasn't cut out to be a preacher. That's what he said."
"Well, who calls men to preach?" Annie wanted to know, "God or that old
It was a term of opprobrium that William frequently used. She tried to think of
something worse to say but couldn't, so she repeated it. "That horrid old
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