Monday, February 13, 2012

Brother Van’s Love Story

Here's a love story to tug your heartstrings.

Montana’s famous itinerant Methodist minister, William Wesley Van Orsdel, known to most as “Brother Van,” never married. And this is the story of why that was. As Brother Van traveled across Montana territory in the 1870s, he stopped at the sheep ranch of Richard Reynolds in the Beaverhead valley. The family invited him to stay, and there he met Reynolds’ stepdaughter, 13-year-old Jennie Johnston. She and Brother Van became fast friends. When Jennie turned 18, Brother Van was 31. Jennie’s mother wanted her to go to college, and so in September, 1879, she and brother Van postponed their plans and Jennie headed off for Northwest University in Evanston, Illinois. But Jennie became ill with tuberculosis. In the summer of 1880, she returned home to Montana. The next February, 1881, Jennie caught the measles but recovered and helped nurse other family members through what was then a very dangerous illness. But by summer, 1881, Jennie’s health began to fail and she died in October. As she lay in state in the Reynolds’ parlor, Brother Van slipped the wedding ring he would have given her onto her finger. He wore the ring she would have given him for the rest of his life. Jennie, whose mother was a Poindexter, was buried in the Poindexter family cemetery that today is in a cow pasture. Jennie’s grave was moved to Mountain View Cemetery northeast of Dillon and is marked with only a small nameplate. Brother Van lived a long, full, useful life and died in 1919. He is buried in Helena, far from his beloved Jennie.
Brother Van (with hand inside his coat) officiated at many weddings around the state, including Helena newspaperman Charles Greenfield's marriage to Elizabeth Nelson in 1913, probably in her home in Vandalia, northwest of Glasgow. But Brother Van himself never married. Photo from I Do: A Cultural History of Montana Weddings by Martha Kohl. Original in Montana Historical Society photograph archives, Helena, 942-477

No comments:

Post a Comment