Caleb Wallace Chambers and his wife, Mary Emma Chambers, served as missionary and missionary-teacher, respectively, among the Alabama-Coushatta Indians in Polk County from 1899 until their retirement in 1936. The work of this husband-wife team among the Alabama-Coushattas went far beyond the usual responsibilities of a pastor and teacher and contributed substantially to the progress of these Indians during their thirty-seven years of service.
Caleb Wallace Chambers was born in Dover, Lafayette County, Missouri, on November 13, 1854. When he was thirteen, his family moved to Lexington in the same county, and Caleb grew up there. After attending private and public schools in Dover and Lexington, he entered Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, in his twenty-second year. In the fall of 1878 he decided to devote his life as a minister in the Presbyterian Church. Under the auspices of the Lafayette Presbytery, he reentered college that fall to begin his ministerial studies. In 1884 he began his seminary course at McCormack Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois. Later, he spent a year in Clarksville, Tennessee, in the Divinity Department of Southwestern Presbyterian University. There he graduated in 1887 with the degree of B.D., after which he spent two years preaching as a licentiate under the care of the Lafayette Presbytery. Chambers came to Texas in September 1890 and, in Sherman, conferred with John L. Moore, then pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Sherman and president of home missions in the Dallas Presbytery. Chambers spent his first year in Texas at Henderson as stated supply of the Presbyterian church there, where he was ordained as a minister in November 1890. In the spring of 1892 he moved to Tyler and subsequently preached for a group of churches around Tyler, including the church at Troup, where he served until January 1899.
Mary Emma Daniel was born on June 9, 1868, at Rockwall, Texas. Her father, Rev. J. B. Daniel, was an organizer and first pastor of the First Baptist Church at Terrell. She was reared at Terrell and was a member of the first graduating class at Terrell High School (1886). She taught for three years in the public schools of Rockwall before entering Sam Houston Normal Institute (now Sam Houston State University) and graduating in a class of ten in 1890. After teaching one year in a private school in Willis, she became a member of the public school faculty in Troup. There she met Caleb Wallace Chambers, then pastor of the Presbyterian church. They were married in Terrell on December 28, 1892, and made their home in Troup for seven years.
Chambers began his missionary activities at the Alabama-Coushatta reservation in May 1899 and preached for more than a year before he and his family moved there in July 1900. At the reservation they found many obstacles. The church was a one-room frame building constructed a few years before they arrived. The school was a dilapidated structure with no desks, books, or blackboards. In warm weather classes were frequently held outside the building in a brush arbor. Many of the Indians could not speak English, and the Chambers did not know the Indians' language.
Devotedly the missionaries worked among their charges. Mrs. Chambers became the public school teacher, and Reverend Chambers served as pastor of the Presbyterian mission on the reservation. In addition to church and school work, the missionaries' duties included serving as advisors to the Indians in all sorts of situations and comforters in time of trouble, nursing the sick, holding deathbed vigils, and helping to provide food and clothing to destitute tribal members. Over the years the couple worked with others to interest government and social-welfare groups in improving conditions on the reservation. During their tenure a new school and a hospital were built, and federal and state funds were appropriated to purchase more land. Chambers took courses in nursing to fill the need for medical attention, as the Indians suffered from malaria and tuberculosis, as well as other diseases. He was very successful with this part of his work and became so efficient in his medical activities that it was seldom necessary to summon a physician to the reservation.
Many honors came to these missionaries in recognition of their service among the Alabama-Coushattas. In 1929, at the age of seventy-six, Reverend Chambers received a doctorate of divinity from Austin College in Sherman. Mrs. Chambers's outstanding work as teacher of the Alabama-Coushatta children was recognized by her invitation to charter membership in the East Texas chapter of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society, a women's national honor fraternity in education. This missionary couple retired in 1936 and moved to Livingston, seventeen miles west of the reservation. Chambers died on April 16, 1950, and was buried in Forest Hill Cemetery in Livingston. His wife died on August 29, 1956, and was also buried at Forest Hill.
The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.