Glen Owen Burnett was among the first wave of Gospel preachers coming over the Oregon Trail, although the first saints
arrived in the Great Migration of 1843. While John Burris
Smith was coming up the Applegate Trail from the south,
Glen was bringing his family over the usual Oregon Trail
through The Dalles. Another preacher in the wagon train of
1846 was Dr. James McBride and his family - old friends
John Burris Smith and Dr. James McBride are the focus of separate profiles.
It might help the memory to be aware that Glen's brother
Peter had come to Oregon as the wagon master of the 1843
train, then moved on to California where he became the
first governor. He had been converted to the ancient
gospel in Missouri, but embraced Catholicism while in
Oregon. Dr. John McLoughlin became his god-father.
Glen Owen Burnett
Glen Owen Burnett married Sarah Rogers (Peter had married
her sister) and they had 11-year-old Horace and
four-year-old Peter Rogers Burnett and five other children
as they traveled the Oregon Trail. Eventually there were
11 Burnett children. Glen was 37 and Sarah was 28 on the
trip. They were pioneering untouched land at the northern
edge of present day Polk County, a few miles north and
west of Salem. Like other married settlers, he was able
to claim 640 acres or one square mile of grass and timber.
Looking on a map, the land was about two miles east of
present-day McCoy on Highway 99W.
There is a profile of Peter Rogers Burnett.
The Burnetts settled on the north side of Amos Harvey's
property. There was a tiny cabin on the land and this is
where they camped for the winter.
There is a profile of Amos Harvey.
Years later, Glen
Burnett reminisced about their arrival:
"As the wagons neared the lonely spot, the wife and mother
of the seven children belonging to the family, gazed with
intense interest upon all the surroundings visible at that
hour of the evening. Many long months of patient toil, and
hardships had marked her journey across the wide plains,
in quest of a little spot on earth she could call a home.
We stopped in front of the opening, in the side of the
rude hut; and for the first time, began to take what
little of this earth s goods we had, from the wagons, and
place those tattered fragments in our little house. This
finished, and our frugal supper partaken of, we layed our
weary bodies upon the floor to rest.
Sweet was that night
of sleep to us all. The morning came, and with it new
responsibilities. I will never forget the sensations of
that eventful period of my ministerial life."
--From "Christian on the
Oregon Trail," by Jerry Rushford. Page 70, second
edition. College Press. The spelling and grammar of his original have
Burnett organized the Bethel Church which flourished due
largely to his strong, yet reverent and tender appeal and
his scathing denunciation of sin. Burnett chose the name
"Bethel" because it was the name of the last church he had
served in Missouri, a town north of Jefferson City,
Missouri on State Route 15. It must have been a pleasant
ministry. He gave the name "Bethel Hills" to the heights
north and east of Bethel, Oregon. The name is still in
use. In 1846, the nearest U.S. Post Office was Weston,
Missouri. These pioneers were isolated!
Glen Burnett immediately became a circuit-riding preacher.
Perhaps at first, he was a circuit-walking preacher. He
preached in a school house at Rickreall, several miles to
the south of his property. He preached in many developing
villages, primarily in Polk County. After arriving in the
fall of 1846, he walked north into Yamhill County, fording
the Yamhill River at Elbridge Edson's place. His aim was
to join Dr. James McBride on a preaching tour that would
take them to the home of John Foster, another preacher-
farmer near present-day Carver, in Clackamas County.
Absalom Hembree (pioneer of 1843), a Christian farmer in
Yamhill County, showed his support for both the Lord's
cause and Glen Burnett by providing a horse for the rest
of the journey to John Foster's home near the end of the
Oregon Trail. While there, the two preachers met old
friends from Missouri who became part of the developing
church at Carver. (John Foster must be distinguished from
Philip Foster of Barlow Road fame.)
The Harveys and the Burnetts shared a dream of building a
Christian College in the newly opened Oregon Territory.
Each donated a portion of their land to the project and
the new town of Bethel was platted. They financed Bethel
College by selling homesites at $100 for 2.25 acres each.
This was about 10 times the going price for land outside
See a close-up photo of the Bethel College Building and
to read more about Bethel College.
To see the building from the slopes of the Bethel Hills, scroll down from the College building pictue.
The college came into being, and most of the work of raising
the structure was done in a single day by a huge crew that
came from all over central Oregon. W. L. Adams had
advertised the event in his Oregon Argus newspaper. That
was July 4, 1855. The Harveys and the Burnetts had reached
Oregon in 1845 and 1846 respectively. By the end of a
decade, they had a school for grades one through high
school and had launched a Christian College, all at
In 1855 the first store at Bethel was constructed. The town
flourished with blacksmith shop, carpenter shop, wagon
shop, and a general store. One of the stores was opened by
John D. Kelty after he married Sarah, daughter of Amos and
The College closed in a few years and merged with the new -
and better financed - college at Monmouth. The building
was eventually dismantled.
When it is possible, I take my history classes at Northwest
College of the Bible to the site of Bethel and we have
prayer at the monument that commemorates the College. We
pray that God will give us the kind of vision that these
men had for proclaiming the gospel of the Lord in the
Glen Owen Burnett is a name inseparably linked with the
opening days of Gospel preaching in Oregon. God used his vision, his hard work and the sacrifices of Sarah and the children, for progress of the church in the Polk-Yamhill
In the Fall of 1861 the Burnett family moved to California so Peter R. could attend the new college that was opening at Woodland. While Peter R. returned to Oregon and married, Glen Burnett stayed in California.
During 1877 the masthead of the Pacific Christian Messenger from Monmouth, Oregon began including G. O. Burnett as an associate editor along with T. F. Campbell and L. L. Rowland. From that point onward, the news of the churches was heavily weighted toward news of churches in Northern California.
There is a profile of T. F. Campbell. There is also one of L. L. Rowland.
The family lived and worked in California for the final 29 years of Glen Owen Burnett's earthly sojourn. In a letter to his good friend James W. Webb, he wrote:
I do hope, by the blessing of God, that you may accomplish great and lasting good in the land I lived in long ago, when I sometimes had to walk eight to ten miles to get the privilege to preach Christ to the poor. I have always esteemed it a great favor from God to permit me to preach HIS SON to the people. Some two or three years ago I made the effort to ascertain in how many places in Oregon I had preached. I ran up the number until it reached, if I remember, about 150 different school-houses, churches, barns, groves and in many places, for years.
They are buried in Santa Rosa, California.
But my preaching days are over, and I am ready, I trust, to depart and be with Christ. Blessed thought! I want you to present my Christian affection to all the true and faithful in Christ Jesus, wherever you go preaching. And if it be God's will to turn your steps this way, I would like to see your face once more before I put off this mortal tabernacle. I would like to have you by my side when I am called to pass the deep, silent river, and to hear your cheers in the hour of triumph.
Christian Standard, February 1885
The very best source of information about the glory years of
Bethel College is the out-of-print 70 page book entitled
"Bethel, Polk County, Oregon" by John E. Smith and
privately published in 1941. There is one copy in the
Salem Public Library and one or two copies in other
libraries of Chemeketa Cooperative Library System.
Mr. Smith writes as an eye-witness to much of Bethel's
development. It was his matter-of-fact story of Bethel
that piqued my own interest in the nearly untold story of
the Ancient Gospel in Oregon.