By R. L. Williams
Reverend Erskine Brantly (1850-1936) was born at Brick Church, Giles County, Tennessee, February 1, 1850. He was the son of Reverend Edward Theodore Brantly, whose father was Captain Jack Brantly, of Dutch descent a former citizen of Holland who served on the side of the Colonies as a soldier in the Revolutionary War and received for his service a bounty of land in Dallas County, Alabama. The mother of Doctor Brantly was Eliza Brown Brantly, the sister of Neil S. Brown,1 who was born in Giles County, Tennessee in 1810. He went to Texas in 1835 but returned to his native state of which he was elected Governor on the Whig ticket in 1847. After the Civil War he aligned himself with the Democratic Party. John C. Brown, another brother of Mrs. Brantly,2 was born January 6, 1827, also in Giles County, Tennessee. Their father was Duncan Brown, and their mother, Margaret Smith Brown, both of Scotch descent, who came to Tennessee from North Carolina in 1808.
John C. Brown, in 1860 an elector on the Bell and Everett ticket, presided at the Constitutional Convention of Tennessee in 1870. Running on the Democrat ticket at the first election held after the adoption of the Constitution framed by this Convention, he was elected and served as Governor from 1871 to 1875. During the Civil War both John C. and Neil S. Brown were active in the cause of the Confederacy and held important places in its service.
1Caldwell's Sketches of the Bench and Bar of Tennessee, page 362. Speer's Sketches of Prominent Tennesseans.
2Caldwell's Sketches of the Bench and Bar of Tennessee, page 291; Speer's Sketches of Prominent Tennesseans.
During his young manhood Doctor Brantly's brother, Judge Theodore Brantly, removed from Tennessee to Illinois where he filled the chair of Ancient Languages in Illinois College. He subsequently removed from there to Montana about the time of the admission of that state into the Union and there he engaged in the practice of law at Deer Lodge, in Powell County, until he was elected District Judge about four years later.
On January 3, 1899, Judge Brantly was promoted by the people to the office of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the state, in which station he was continued by reelection until near the time of his death, on September 16, 1922, shortly after he had been obliged by ill health to resign. His tenure as Chief Justice on the Supreme Court covered a period of nearly 24 years and his opinions were published in 42 volumes of the Montana Reports beginning with No. 22 and ending with No. 64.3 A half-brother, William P. Brantly, resides in Nashville, Tennessee. Two half-sisters, Mrs. E. T. Fleming and Miss Allie Brantly, live on the old Brantly farm near Milton in Rutherford County, Tennessee.
After preparation for college at his father's private school on the Brantly farm in Rutherford County, Tennessee, young Erskine Brantly entered Stewart College, at Clarksville, Tennessee, afterwards Southwestern Presbyterian College, and later removed to Memphis, Tennessee, from which he was graduated in June, 1873, with the degree of Bachelor of Arts. In 1874 he entered Union Theological Seminary, Hampden-Sidney, Virginia. In 1913 he received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from Austin College, Sherman, Texas.
Dr. Brantly was twice married, first to Miss Charlotte E. Foster, of Wilson County, Tennessee, in June, 1877. From this period he served two churches in South Carolina, Zion Church in Chester County and Olivet Church in York County, until 1880.
From 1880 to 1882, he served Woodberry, Nashville Presbytery in Tennessee. In the latter part of 1882 he came to Collinsville, Grayson County, Texas, where he remained until January, 1885. During this period he organized churches at Collinsville and Whitesboro, in Grayson County, Texas, while he was teaching school at Collinsville. In 1885 he became supply-pastor of the First Presbyterian Church at Waxahachie, Texas, and served in this capacity until 1892. By his first wife he had two children, Mrs. J. K. Gililland, of Tipton, Oklahoma, and Robert Theodore Brantly, of Grandfield, Oklahoma. Their mother died August 19, 1891, whilst he was pastor at Waxachachie, Texas, where she is buried. Dr. Brantly was again married January 6, 1896, to Miss Mary McMillan, by whom he had no children. She died in Dallas, Texas, July 15, 1924, and is buried at Waxahachie, Texas.
Dr. Brantly was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Decatur, Texas, from 1892 until 1895, while serving Chico, in Wise County, and West Fork, in Tarrant County. In 1895 he moved to Eddy (now Carlsbad), New Mexico, continuing there until the spring of 1897, also serving the churches at Pecos and Barstow, Texas, and organizing a church at Roswell, New Mexico. In the spring of 1897 he returned to Waxahachie, Ellis County, Texas, whence he served churches at Midlothian, Palmer, Lone Elm, and Grove Creek. In 1902, as a missionary representative of the Southern Presbyterian Church, he came to Antlers, Indian Territory, where he organized a church and established a school. There he continued his school work and his ministry until the erection of the State of Oklahoma on November 16, 1907, when he was elected County Superintendent of Schools of Pushmataha County, at the same time continuing his church work. As School Superintendent of this large mountainous county his work consisted in laying off, and organizing school districts and establishing schools under unusual difficulties incident to educational work in such new and unorganized territory. These difficulties were increased by the fact
that little of the land area of that county at that time was taxable. He continued as pastor of his church at Antlers until his death.
During the World War, Dr. Brantly was a member of the selective service draft board of that county and chairman of the Red Cross Chapter at Antlers. He served as trustee of the Oklahoma Presbyterian College for Girls at Durant from its founding, and continued in this capacity until a short time before his death. He was also trustee of Austin Theological Seminary at Austin, Texas, for many years. He served on committees appointed by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the United States (Southern Branch) in efforts to settle questions concerning the organic union of all Presbyterian bodies in the United States.
Dr. Brantly died December 26, 1936, at Antlers, Oklahoma, where he is buried. A few months before his death a beautiful stone building was completed on the lot where he established the Antlers school in 1902, which during the intervening years prior to the erection of the state was managed and taught by him. Though a private school, no child was ever turned away because its parents were unable to pay tuition. To those who were unable to pay it was a public school. Upon the walls of this building when dedicated as the Brantly School in enduring letters it was so inscribed.
A local poet composed the following lines relative to him:
It was mid day in his lifetime,
In those days, they had no taxes,
Dr. Brantly was consistent in all the walks of life. An old School Presbyterian, he was wedded to the fundamental teachings of his ancestors, and not only believed in but practiced the keeping of the Sabbath holy. He carried out this precept by performing none but necessary labor; nor would he read his mail or newspapers on that day, this illustrating the faithful and holy man and good citizen that he was. At the same time, he was not only a good, but a great leader, faithful to his country in time of war. Minister, Missionary, Educator, and Statesman—he illustrated these callings in a high degree.
Soon after his arrival in Indian Territory I fortunately became acquainted with him and from that early period until the day of his death he and I were constant friends. One a follower of John Knox; the other of John Wesley.
All during his adult life politically he was identified with the Democratic Party, as were his two distinguished uncles after the Civil War, though prior to that time they were Whig leaders in Tennessee. For all of the state-wide political offices to which I ever aspired I was so fortunate as to have his support. During the years before I was appointed to the United States District Bench I was active in politics. As a rule about a week before the date of the State General Election I would cover the southeast part of the state in behalf of the State and local tickets and make an address at Antlers. Dr. Brantly invariably introduced me. Whilst I was Governor I knew if I had done anything officially not meriting his approval he would not continue to introduce me, such was the consistency of his character and convictions.
It was a matter of consolation to me to know that this able, common sense, rugged, devoted, fearless man of God and statesman approved my administration. When my name was urged for consideration as United States District Judge a persistent fight was made against me. It so happened that he and the Attorney General of the United States were long time friends, years before
both having served at the same time as trustees of Austin Theological Seminary, at Austin, Texas. He voluntarily stood sponsor for me and unsolicited wrote a letter to the Attorney General, a copy of which he sent me.
When I was appointed United States District judge he was in his seventy-third year. Supposing he would be planning at that age to relax his ministerial activities, I wrote him a letter tendering him appointment as United States Commissioner at Hugo, Oklahoma. The emoluments and fees of that office at that time were as compensatory as any other commissionership in the district, and I assumed he would accept the appointment. I did not hear from him for about three weeks, when I received a letter in which he said he appreciated the offer very much, and as far as material matters were concerned he needed it, but he had decided he couldn't accept it; that his duty was to continue his work in the ministry; that whilst he only received $600.00 per annum for his little church at Antlers which was near Hugo, yet he had his own home there and by living frugally and economically he could live on that salary and save a part of it; with thanks and appreciation he declined such appointment.
After the election in 1928 I was discussing with him the Presidential election, with a view of finding out whether he voted for Governor Al Smith for President. He very frankly told me he did. He said that if he had been a member of the nominating convention he would not have there voted for him, but that after he was nominated, realizing he was a man of high character there was no moral reason to refuse to support him; that he believed there should be no religious qualification for public office, and for that reason he voted for him. A great, good and true man—among the greatest, best and truest has passed away.
After the preparation of this article I submitted it to Professor E. L. Rodman, Superintendent Antlers Public Schools, a long time
friend and member of Dr. Brantly's church, who wrote me as follows:
"It is a very fine, fitting tribute and just the type he would appreciate as coming from you. I cannot think of any change or addition to this paper unless reference should be made to his original and continuing unalterable opposition to woman suffrage. In his last years he deplored what he considered an unerring trend to an increasing national centralization of power and consequent restriction of the sovereign rights of the states. He was strong in his conscientious convictions against national prohibition from the date of the submission of the 18th Amendment to the end of his life."
I had not made reference to the matters mentioned by Professor Rodman for the reason that I thought probably the public would not understand. Dr. Brantly was ever an advocate of temperance and prior to the agitation of the question of national prohibition an unfailing supporter of local option and state-wide prohibition. Though a minister unceasing in his work, he was a statesman and thought along fundamental lines and fundamentally he believed the proposal of national prohibition to be a mistake. As to woman suffrage he believed it was contrary to the teachings of the Bible and not in harmony with the unit of the home, which he believed was the central post of our civilization. I have ever believed that in recording history all should be told and recorded, and for that reason I have set out this communication from Superintendent Rodman. I close this article with reverence to the memory of one of the greatest men with whom it has been my lot to come in contact.