When Carl Clifton Booth (1882-1970) of Taylor, Texas, was a boy – that would have been in the early 1890s – times were hard, and his family’s Protestant congregation fell behind in salary payments to their pastor. The congregation began a campaign to raise the amount due, and little C.C. wanted to do his part. He scoured back alleys and found eight empty whiskey bottles in perfect condition, called on saloon keeper Patrick Moriarty, and sold the bottles to him for a penny each. He tied his pennies carefully in a knot in his handkerchief, and proudly carried them with him to church on the day designated for the special collection.
C.C. forever remembered the pastor’s sermon that day. “The church was far behind on its contract, he said. You pay your rent or get thrown out, you pay your grocery bill or don’t eat, and you pay your pastor – or else. He added that he worshiped no nickel and dime Lord, and he didn’t want nickels and dimes,” C.C. remembered. “He didn’t even mention pennies.” The little boy stood up, fled from the chapel, and threw his knotted handkerchief away. He vowed that someday he would find a church where no collections were made.
The boy grew into a young man, and enlisted in the U.S. Army, 9th Infantry, Company D, which saw action in the Philippines. C.C. lost part of his nose in a knife fight with a native, and was shot through his chest and in one ankle. When that war was over, he went to China and fought in the Boxer Rebellion. Then he became a mercenary, fighting elsewhere in China, and then joining the Russians in their war with the Japanese. Eventually he made his way back to Texas and joined the police force, and got a face full of buckshot for his troubles when a prisoner’s relative objected to an arrest. When he left the police force, he moved to Dallas and became a successful lumber and refrigeration dealer, and a landlord. He became president of the Texas Society for the Friendless, providing support to released prison inmates, and a member of the state’s parole board. Somewhere along the line, he met the Mormons – a church where no collections were made – and he was baptized in 1927. C.C. was a tough man, with a tender, tender heart.
In the mid-1930s, he crossed the Trinity River every week to make collections of rents from the black families who lived in small houses he owned there. He watched as the “bad side of town,” West Dallas, grew larger and more squalid, as first dozens, then a few hundred, people who had been displaced by blowing dust, crop failure, and bank foreclosures built a squatters’ camp along the river. Their hovels were pieced together from odds scraps of lumber and metal scavenged from the dumps, with cardboard or canvas roofs, and bare dirt floors. Entire families lived in single rooms, sleeping on the dirt floors. When cold weather came and it was too cold to lie down, they slept sitting up on chairs and boxes.
On one of his weekly trips into the squatters’ camp, C.C. saw a crying child, stopped to see what was the matter, and discovered the little one was hungry. C.C. took what money he had with him and went to a grocery store, returning with food for that family. From then on, he never went on a collection trip without food in his car; he always found someone who needed it.
C.C. and another Latter-day Saint of Dallas, Roy Fraim Pool (1893-1980), talked about what they had both seen in West Dallas. They were especially concerned for the children who were living there without religion or schooling of any kind, on top of their deep poverty, and both felt they needed to do something. One night they went to a meeting of the unofficial West Dallas camp council, which met in a ragged circus tent that served as a sort of community center, and C.C. proposed organizing a Sunday School for the children. Another pastor objected, saying that he was thinking of doing the same thing, and the camp couldn’t support two preachers. Two of the squatters – “camp councilmen” – supported the preacher. Then another man, Dave Guttery, stood. “Religion is good for kids and women,” he said, “and if these men want to bring it we oughta let ’em. I can whip any damn man in camp. I’ve whipped you before, Uncle Rich” [starting toward one of the objectors], “an’ I guess I better do it again.” The same Dave Guttery thereafter attended many Sunday School meetings, sitting in the back and whittling, and occasionally telling rowdies, “Now be quiet in church – or have I got to throw you out?”
The Dallas West Branch was born that night in the circus tent, where it met as its first chapel. C.C. was Sunday School superintendent, assisted by Dallas Relief Society President Ora S. Brown. The neatly kept minutes of the Sunday School, preserved in LDS Archives, show an ever-increasing weekly attendance of 40 – or 50 – or 80 – or 150 children and adults. Workers from the Dallas Branch on the east side of the river taught the children songs, and taught them how to pray, and taught them stories from the Bible and the Book of Mormon.
The weekly minutes show one regular line that is not often present in other sets of minutes: “Distributed 4 bundles of clothing” – “Gave away 20 Prs of shoes. Shoes were donated by Sr. Vera Allen and Sr. Sirilda Lukins.” – “Distributed 4 new blankets and one new quilt which was donated by Mrs. Wayne K. Williams Sunday School class of the First Baptist church” – and on and on.
The West Dallas Branch met in that ragged circus tent for about a year; then the tent was shredded in a windstorm. C.C. purchased a tin shack for $4, and the Sunday School moved there. He hadn’t bought the ground under the shack, though, and their makeshift “chapel” was sold out from under them. So they moved to the tin kitchen of a member, and when they couldn’t fit there, they convened under a pecan tree in the open air. Then the members of the Sunday School and their parents pieced together a 12′ x 20′ building from discarded packing boxes and an old tarpaulin. One Sunday C.C. and Sister Brown came to the chapel to find it had been wallpapered inside by the women of the camp, using their hands in place of the brushes and rollers they didn’t have. One Sunday, Apostle Charles A. Callis came to preach in that shack by the river.
All the while he was helping to care for the bodies and teach the souls of the poor of West Dallas, C.C. worked on another project, one that was completed in October, 1942. It was an $18,000 chapel – fully paid for, a real building, with solid foundation and sturdy walls and a real roof, with doors and windows, an organ and benches and a pulpit, and 12′ x 12′ painting of the River Jordan … and a small sign which read, “No collection in this chapel to pay any preacher for his services.” C.C. called it the “Avva Booth Memorial Chapel,” after his sister-in-law, not a Mormon but a woman as philanthropic as C.C. himself who had supported his work with her heart and her pocketbook, and who had recently died. The chapel was dedicated in 1943, and C.C. was officially called as the branch president of the new West Dallas Branch.
The chapel was expanded in 1946 by the addition of some classrooms and a kitchen. At that date, C.C. estimated that the branch had conducted 160 baptisms, and blessed more than 800 babies. A reporter for the Dallas Morning News interviewed C.C., the mercenary who had wandered the globe and had come home to minister to the poor of his own neighborhood, who told him, “The last twelve years of my life have been the happiest. I have found peace.”