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Neal Cheetham
Pioneer Northwest Gospel Preacher
By Charles Dailey - February 2002

(Cornelius) Neal Cheetham at a Glance:
Born: Near Pittsburg, PA 1845
Moved:Iowa in 1854
Married:Mary Jordan about 1872
Emigrated:To Washington State in 1879
Settled 1st: Walla Walla County
NW Ministries: 1879 -- Waitsburg, WA
1881 -- Salem, Oregon
1884 -- Walla Walla (circuit)
1884 -- Dixie (circuit)
1887 -- Athena, OR
1889 -- Oaksdale, WA
1892 -- St. John, WA
1893 -- Palouse, WA
Sumner, WA
Dayton, WA
Public Service:1894 -- Legislature
1897 -- State Auditor

Mr. Cheetham has been difficult to trace because of the frequent misspelling of his name. In the 1880 census, it is Chatham. It is frequently spelled Cheatham and sometimes Cheatum. Our spelling is the official one.

According to an official biographical sketch of Neal Cheetham from the Washington State Archives, he was born in Western Pennsylvania near Pittsburg on February 10, 1845. He moved to Iowa in 1854 where he spent 12 years farming.

Without the consent of his English-born parents, he joined the Union Army, serving all through the war. Through his own efforts, he worked his way through Oskaloose College in Iowa. After completing college, he taught school for several years and in 1872 became a member of the Christian Church.

Mary Jordan entered the picture during these years and they were married about 1872. A son, Thomas Neal, was born in Iowa about 1873. They relocated to Walla Walla County in 1879, and ten years later moved to Whitman County, Washington.
Neal Cheetham - 4.8 K
Neal Cheetham
Photo courtesy of
Washington State

Writing in the Christian Standard of February 18, 1888, Freeman M. Walden reports,

Waitsburg has been without a preacher for some months. Bro. Neal Cheatham (sic), one of the ablest men we have in the Northwest, preached for the church there for six years and built it up to be the strongest church in the Territory. He refused to preach there longer, thinking a change would be better, and is now preaching for the church at Centerville, Oregon. His home is still in Waitsburg.

He evidently commuted by train. The railroad passed close to Centerville, now called Athena. While he was there, Lizzie Ely wrote:

The people speak highly of Bro. C(heetham) as a man and a preacher. We know now that Bro. Hedricks was right when he said that Bro. C. was a "worker who works."

About 1889, Mr. Cheetham moved to Whitman County, WA. He settled into a ministry at at Oaksdale and in 1894 he was elected to the Washington State Legislature from the 6th District.

Mr. Cheetham was elected as Auditor of Washington State and held office from 1897 to 1901. He did not campaign, but let his reputation and record speak for itself. He was a forceful and convincing speaker.

The family was residing in Olympia at the time of the 1900 census with two teenage sons still at home, George, age 17 and Elmore, age 15.

An interesting entry in Churches of Christ by John Brown reads:

In 1879 Neal Cheetham came from Iowa to Washington and located in Waitsburg. He is an able minister of the gospel and has done much to give stability to the churches in Eastern Washington. He has served in the State Legislature (in 1895) and was for four years State Auditor (beginning in 1897). He has remained faithful to the cause of Christ, an incorruptible Christian Statesman, and still preaches the gospel (1904).
Historian Orval D. Peterson reports that Neal Cheetham returned to evangelism following his government service. He worked as state evangelist for the Disciples organization from 1900 to 1903.

To DOCHS 3/02

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