Robert W. Lind, Brother Van: Montana Pioneer Circuit Rider (Helena, Mt: Falcon Press, 1992)
I grew up with Brother Van stories. Although we belonged to the Congregational Church, it was well known in our family that our mother had come from Methodist roots and we would be Methodist if there was a Methodist church in our town. As it was, we were happy in our church home and we had a lot of Methodist relatives. My mother came from a Montana pioneer family and the Russell and Lewis families were prominent members of the Fort Benton Methodist Church. I had met Robert Lind in my journeys to my home state and knew a bit of his work at re-writing the older Brother Van book, which I had read years ago. Somehow, however, I never got around to reading his book until recently.
The book is a kind of a hybrid. Lind attempts to tell the story of Brother Van complete with Brother Van’s feelings, thoughts and intentions. While I think Lind was striving to tell a true story, there are details in the book that he simply could not have known - so I know that he was speculating. Furthermore, there were a couple of details about my relatives that I knew of which Lind was unaware. Fore example, The Russells not only lived in Fort Benton, but also lived for a time in Virginia City when Roy Russell was court recorder at the territorial capitol. They certainly crossed paths with Brother Van much earlier than Lind knew. And there are some details about the mudpie story that I know from family lore.
It is too bad that Lind din’t know about the Russell journals. Roy Russell was an avid journal writer and our family has all of his journals, which contain details and information that is missing from Lind’s book.
All in all, it is a good read and a strong effort by a Methodist Bishop to capture some important history of Montana and one of that state’s most beloved preachers.