Potter, Andrew Jackson (1830–1895)

By: C. Robert Haywood

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: January 2, 2020

Andrew Jackson Potter, Methodist circuit rider, was born in Chariton County, Missouri, on April 3, 1830, the son of Joshua and Martha Potter. His father died in 1840, and Andrew, left on his own resources, became a jockey with a rough, undisciplined horseracing crowd. With the coming of the Mexican War, he enlisted in Captain Mack's company of Gen. Sterling Price's command. His service in the army over the next five years included driving ox teams to Santa Fe, fighting Indians and Mexicans, acting as a scout, and serving as a nurse at Santa Fe and Fort Leavenworth. In 1851 he made a trip to California and spent some time prospecting for gold in the Santa Rita mines. The following year he returned to San Antonio, where he worked as a freighter.

On August 23, 1853, he married Emily C. Guin, who was credited by the family with the major responsibility for raising their fourteen children, since Potter was frequently away from home. In 1856, while hauling lumber from Bastrop County to San Marcos, he attended a camp meeting and was converted at Croft's Prairie. Since his formal schooling had been brief, he had to study diligently in order to be licensed to preach by the Methodist Church.

In February 1862 Potter enlisted as a private in Capt. Stokely M. Homes's Company of Col. Peter C. Woods's Thirty-sixth Texas Cavalry of the Confederate Army. He took part in the battles of the Red River campaign of 1864 and was made chaplain of Col. Xavier B. DeBray's Twenty-seventh Texas cavalry. In 1866 he was received into the West Texas Conference of the Methodist Church. He was appointed pastor of the Prairie Lea circuit and continued as a frontier minister and circuit rider until his death. At various times he headquartered at Bandera, Kerrville, Uvalde, Mason, Brady, and Boerne. The twelve years spent on the Kerrville circuit found him preaching in homes, churches, camp meetings, saloons, and fort chapels. Potter frequently carried a gun, which was occasionally propped against the pulpit and was a useful symbol as he faced down drunken crowds of hecklers. He established a circuit at Fort Concho in 1880 and preached the first Methodist sermon at the site of future San Angelo. As a circuit rider, Potter rode an estimated 2,500 miles annually. He preached with great enthusiasm and made special appeals to the rougher elements. He earned the sobriquet "fighting parson," according to his son, T. W. Potter, "because he stayed when other preachers had been scared away." Benjamin F. Fry, a Baptist minister, bore the same nickname.

Potter was also a trail-herd driver of some distinction who made his first drive to Kansas in 1861. He was appointed by the sheriff of Kendall County to escort the traildrivers through the county. In 1883, according to another son, Col. Jack Potter, who shared the responsibility, they laid out the Potter-Blocker Trail, a variant of the Western Trail. That same year he moved his family to San Angelo but continued riding the circuit. Potter transferred his membership to the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in 1886. In 1894 he was sent to preach the Lockhart circuit. He died in the pulpit while delivering a sermon at Tilman Chapel in Caldwell County on October 21, 1895. He was buried at the nearby Walnut Creek Cemetery (now known as Bunton Cemetery) near Lockhart in Caldwell County.

Jean M. Burroughs, On the Trail: The Life and Tales of "Lead Steer" Potter (Santa Fe: Museum of the New Mexico Press, 1980). J. Marvin Hunter, Trail Drivers of Texas (2 vols., San Antonio: Jackson Printing, 1920, 1923; 4th ed., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Exploration
  • Explorers (American)
  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen
  • Religion
  • Methodist

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

C. Robert Haywood, “Potter, Andrew Jackson,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 06, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/potter-andrew-jackson.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 2, 2020