The Reverend Roswell Graves(1)

By his daughter, Mrs. B. M. Sealock

My great-grandfather was a Congregational minister for many years; my grandfather was a lay minister of the Methodist Protestant church; and my father was converted in a Methodist prayer meeting at the age of 15. From the first, my father, the Rev. Roswell Graves, showed his gift for leadership and public speaking, and at 19 was recognized as an unusual "boy preacher." He was ordained at 21 years of age.

He was two weeks younger than Dwight L. Moody and their lives paralleled each other's in many ways. Neither had any special training; both took an active part in the great revival which took place just preceding the Civil War; both were especially evangelistic.

Sometimes my father's prepared message, even his text, would be entirely forgotten and a different text would flash into his mind. Ella (Mrs. Ella Graves Oldham, the eldest daughter)  said that his best sermons were preached under those conditions.

The Rev. Roswell Graves was born in 1837 in Pennsylvania and married to Miss Eujane Clapp in Wyocena, Wisconsin. Two children, Ella and Edward, were born there and then the family went to Fayette county, Iowa, where Lily was born in 1862. It was there that they joined an emigrant train in 1864, headed for California.

They ended their journey near Dixon, California, and there Bert was born in 1865. There was a Congregational church there without a pastor, so the congregation asked the Rev. Graves to preach for them until they could find a pastor.  Alice was born in 1867.

He presided over the first Methodist Protestant conference ever held in California. When preaching for Congregationalists, he naturally studied their system of church government, liked it and united with them. He wrote the Manual which the Congregationalists used for many years. Bert inherited my father's books, among them the Manual referred to, and it was burned when his house burned.

The Rev. Graves and his family were forced from Walnut Grove by a great flood, and went to Contra Costa county near Antioch where Agnes was born on October 22, 1868, the day following the great earthquake. They also lived in Eden Plain in Calaveras county.

He was employed by the Home Mission Board of the Congregational Church and sent to places where there were no churches. His work was to start a church and then be moved to another place - pioneer work, for which he was admirably adapted. Then they went to Tehama county on the south bank of Battle Creek, where I arrived in 1872.

The family all had ague there and when I was six weeks old went to Trinity county for a time, and then took up work in Shasta City, now only a ghost town. Next we lived in Redding, and from there went to Little Shasta in 1875, a rich farming area in Siskiyou county. For several months Father conducted revival meetings, and on March 5, 1876 the congregation was formed and the first board of trustees elected. The church building, still standing, was dedicated July 28, 1878.

One of my father's closest friends there was Andrew Soulé. When my father died, Mr. Soulé begged my mother to permit him to take the body back to Little Shasta for burial, but she wouldn't consent, so he had the name of Roswell Graves enshrined on the pulpit of the church he had started there.

After five years in Little Shasta, my father, in November, 1880, was transferred to Susanville, where a work had been started but failed. There were only two churches in town, Catholic and Methodist, and none anywhere in the county for many miles around. The work prospered, and he built up work in three other places and acted as pastor to them all - Milford, Jamesvillle, and Willow Creek.

In 1883 he was sent to Alturas, where there was no work of any kind, except a Catholic priest who came once a month and part of a foundation had been laid for a Catholic church.

He held meetings and got a church organized and a building started before he went to San Francisco for an operation in September. He had been suffering but never complained; only showed it by his looks. He died November 9, 1883.


by Rev. Karl Olson, pastor of the Alturas church 1954-1964,  October 1996

When in 1958 the Federated Church of Alturas prepared to celebrate its 75th anniversary, there was available absolutely no history of the church, nor ancient records; simply a list of pastors who had served down through the years.

As to the Reverend Roswell Graves, we discovered, in a November or December 1883 issue of The Pacific, a story probably written by Dr. Warren (the equivalent of today's Conference Minister), telling of Graves' death and of the circumstances surrounding the Alturas Church's founding. To the best of my memory, these were the circumstances:

In the early summer of 1883 Graves was given two weeks of vacation by his church in Susanville, and used them to travel (by horseback or stagecoach?) to Alturas, county seat of the newly-established Modoc County. He found no church building, nor organized religious fellowship at all. Using the courthouse as his venue, he held religious services for several days, and discovered 7 persons willing to found a Protestant church.

He then contacted Dr. Warren in San Francisco, and in July Graves again travelled to Alturas, meeting Warren, who had gone up by stagecoach. Together they met with the seven Alturas residents, and took official action to found the Congregational Church of Alturas.

During the succeeding weeks Dr. Warren was unable to find a pastor willing to serve at such a distant outpost with so few members and no church building. Whereupon Roswell Graves resigned his established church in Susanville and moved to Alturas to serve that church as its firs pastor. Not having attended an annual meeting of the Conference (then called the "California Association") for several years, he journeyed to San Francisco for that purpose in the fall of 1883; and, not being in good health, used that occasion  to get medical attention. He never returned to Alturas, dying in San Francisco on Nov. 9, 1883, as the author of the article mentions.

(1) The Siskiyou Pioneer and Yearbook, Vol 3, No 1, 1958, Siskiyou County Historical Society, 909 Main Street, Yreka, CA 96098