Pastor John Jacob Trinklein, a Frankenmuth native, was fresh out of the seminary when he received his first call in 1881 to serve as a “circuit rider” missionary in Texas. His assignment was to seek out the scattered German Lutherans in Texas and try to gather them together to form congregations. His travels were mostly by train. But in more isolated places where there was no train, he either had to walk or go by horseback. In later years, he told of a strange experience on one of these trips by horseback. His young grand-daughter who heard this story later wrote it up and sent it in to have it published in the Guidepost magazine. This is her story.
Twenty-one-year-old John Jacob Trinklein rode his quarter horse across the dusty, lonely north Texas prairie. “C’mon boy!” Trinklein urged, digging his spurs into the animal’s flank. “Giddap!” The early afternoon sun was strong. Sweat rolled of the young man’s forehead and dried his throat. He had miles to go before reaching Honey Grove. Folks there were waiting.
It was 1881, and Trinklein, a Lutheran preacher, had volunteered to become one of the area’s first circuit riders for his church. “Preacher Jake,” as he was known, was assigned to keep watch over seven widely separated parishes, a territory covering 3,600 square miles.
Trinklein’s horse’s pace quickened and thick clouds of dust rose from the parched earth. When the preacher finally reached Honey Grove, he headed toward an open field where a dozen or so people had assembled under the shade of a big sycamore for Sunday worship. The preacher dismounted, wiped his brow with a bandana and unwrapped his silver communion cup from the velvet pouch he kept it in. “We gather here on God’s great land to give thanks,” he began. The sound of hoof beats interrupted his words. A man on horseback appeared on the horizon. He rode up to the pastor, waving a piece of paper.
“Preacher, you’re needed right quick in Choctaw Creek,” the man said. Preacher Jake unfolded the note: “George Schultz fell from his horse. Dying. Wants last communion.” The Schultz homestead was almost 30 miles away. It would take at least seven hours to get there. “I’m sorry, friends, but I must leave now,” he told the congregation, and hastily packed up the communion cup. He jumped back in his saddle and was off for yet another long lonely ride across the prairie. Dusk slipped into darkness and the full moon lit his path through the mesquite. But for the small storm of dust kicked up by horse’s hooves, nothing stirred the night air.
When he arrived at the Schultz homestead, the cabin was dark. Fearing that George had already passed away, Preacher Jake tapped gently on the door. A dog yapped, and seconds later the rancher’s wife, Rose, answered. “Landsakes, Preacher Jake!” “I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said, removing his hat. “I only hope I’m not too late.” “Late?” the wife asked, clutching a shawl around the shoulders of her night dress. “For what?” The preacher heard footsteps, and out walked George Schultz, healthy as a mule. “What’s all the racket?” “Praise God, man!” the preacher exclaimed. “You’re not dying?” “Dyin’? Why I ain’t been sick a day in my life,” the rancher declared. But the note I got…” The preacher handed the worn piece of paper to the couple. “Who could play such a hoax?” Rose asked. “I don’t know, ma’am. But all that matters is your husband’s fine,” the preacher said. That night he slept in the Schultze’s barn. Up at the crack of dawn he set out to recruit volunteers to help build a church in his parishes. With so much to do Preacher Jake soon forgot about the bogus note.
Days later the preacher got a note that one of his parishioners had been jailed for a shooting during a dispute over cattle. In the next few months he made periodic visits to the man in prison, where he found a whole new congregation. Preacher Jake began leading services there. During one of his visits he was asked to see the men on death’s row individually, since they were not allowed to attend the group worship. Preacher Jake followed the sheriff to the cell of Juan Garcia, who was about to be hanged for murder.
“Juan Garcia, the padre is here to see you,” the sheriff said. “Is there anyone you would like us to notify?” the preacher asked Juan stared at him intently, but did not respond. “Do you have any special requests?” the preacher tried again. Still no answer. He told the prisoner about the thief on the cross next to Jesus and entered paradise with him. “God’s merciful love is for everyone,” he said. “His forgiveness is there for you too.” “But what if I had killed you?” Juan blurted out. “Would you still believe that?” “Yes,” the preacher said, “God’s forgiveness is unconditional.”
“Well, Preacher Jake, it would have been you – if someone had not tipped you off.” The preacher looked at Juan. What was he talking about? “My partner and I lured you to the Schultz ranch with a fake note. We were going to kill you and steal your horse and the silver communion cup. But we couldn’t because of the two men riding with you.” Juan told how the brilliant moon that night gave him a clear view of the two riders with shotguns flanking the preacher. But he was confused about one thing. “Your horse kicked up clouds of dust, but the dirt underneath the other riders was undisturbed. It didn’t make any sense.”
The grand-daughter said it didn’t make any sense to her either when she first heard the story. So she asked her grandpa, “Who do you think those riders were?” Grandpa answered, “I was riding solo that night. I know that for sure. I also know that I had God’s protection. Men facing the gallows don’t have reason to lie.”
Contributed by Edward H. Bernthal, Waupun, Wisconsin.