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James Blaine Bevell: Providing for His Family

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 29, 2008

The family of James Riley Bevell (1854-1940) and Alice Virginia Appleton (1859-1939) was another of those Latter-day Saint families who joined the Church in the 19th century Southern States who did not migrate west, but who stayed at home to form the nucleus of today’s wards and stakes. The Bevells were baptized in Panola County, Mississippi, in 1882. Traces of their ongoing commitment to their religion can be found in the names of sons Parley Pratt (1891-1973) and perhaps Golden Ross (1899-1969).

Son James Blaine Bevell (1892-1968) was baptized in 1901. He lived in Panola County most of his life, working as a hired laborer and later as a farmer. He married Annie Belle Wilson (1893-1977) in 1911; she joined the Church by 1917, and the couple raised their children as Latter-day Saints.


The Depression hit hard in places like Panola County, and in 1936 Blaine Bevell found himself out of work, with a wife and seven children to support. He took every opportunity that presented itself to earn a few dollars, no matter how difficult or even dangerous the work was. It was never more than enough to scrape by.

In 1937, a traveling carnival came to Batesville, Mississippi. Blaine sought temporary work there; none was available. Then he learned that the carnival had a huge black bear, and that if any local man were willing to wrestle that bear, he would earn a small percentage of the price of tickets sold to those who wanted to watch the wrestling match. Blaine took the challenge.

Blaine entered the ring, cheered on by the whistles and shouts of the crowd, and circled the bear, who sniffed at the man, then charged him. Blaine was knocked to the ground but jumped back to his feet. The bear rose on his hind legs, then swatted at the man with one of his enormous paws, and Blaine was again knocked to the ground. He rose a little more slowly that time.

When he approached the bear the third time, the animal seized him around the chest, nearly crushing his ribcage as he threw the man to the ground again.

Blaine kept staggering to his feet; the bear kept knocking him down. Four times.

Five times.

Six times.

Seven times

Eight times.

Nine times.

Finally, after nine brutal bear hugs or knockdowns that left him bruised, winded, and in pain, Blaine fulfilled the terms of his contract, and the “wrestling match” was ended. The battered man collected his share of the gate – one dollar and eighty cents.

We know about this event because a missionary thought it worthwhile to note the details when he recorded that Blaine Bevell paid 18 cents tithing, and bore his testimony that when he paid his tithing he had “never been without money or the necessities of life. Nor is this their only blessing, for he has raised a large family in the ways of the Gospel. The law of tithing is a vital part of their religion.”



31 Comments »

  1. Wow, that makes me feel pretty much like a coward…

    I can handle even pretty big dogs, but a bear?

    Comment by Velska — October 29, 2008 @ 5:34 am

  2. I think if I ever find myself in a similar situation I’ll find a different way to earn money.

    I really enjoy hearing the stories of those who built up the church in the far-flung areas of the world.

    Comment by Steve C. — October 29, 2008 @ 7:42 am

  3. Living in one of the “far-flung areas of the world“, I too enjoy hearing about them. Thank you for your hard work.

    I know what bears, even black bears, can do. He was lucky to get out alive.

    Comment by BruceC — October 29, 2008 @ 8:10 am

  4. Yeah, I don’t advocate bear wrestling (and notice how I avoided titling this something like “bearing his testimony”?) — or even wrestling stray country music stars, Bruce — but I couldn’t resist a story that was as different as this one is. I get tired of how we tell the same stories in church talks (from GAs on down to ward level) and like to throw new ones into the pot. Let me know, please, if you ever hear this one told to illustrate a talk about tithing, or any of the other Keepa posts used, won’t you?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 29, 2008 @ 8:29 am

  5. I do have a slightly different faith-promoting story–one that’s unlikely to make it into the pages of the Ensign any time soon.

    This is more of a “bare” your testimony story.

    A man in our ward was having trouble finding and keeping a job. He and his wife had talked with the bishop several times, asking for help to pay the rent or the grocery bill. The bishop kept encouraging the man in his search for work, but nothing seemed to help.

    Finally one Sunday morning the man came into the bishop’s office and happily announced that he had found a job. The bishop’s encouragement and advice had been successful.

    After congratulating him on his success, the bishop asked, “So, what’s your new job?”

    “I’m a bouncer at a topless bar.”

    Comment by Mark B. — October 29, 2008 @ 9:02 am

  6. Naw, I don’t hear Elder Holland using that one in General Conference, either. Nope. I don’t. {g}

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 29, 2008 @ 9:10 am

  7. This is a story about my great grandfather. I have heard this story many times growing up. It takes a great man to follow the commandments of the Lord even if it is just paying tithing and what you will do to get the money to pay it.

    Comment by Mary Bevell — October 29, 2008 @ 10:27 am

  8. Br. Bevell was a better man than I am, and I don’t mind admitting that. If I had to rassle a bear in order to feed my family, my kids would be very skinny.

    This story also illustrates how our expectations have shifted over the past two or three generations. For instance, During the construction of the Hoover dam, 112 workers lost their lives. That would be unacceptable to us today. Accounts from the time of Br. Bevell also include men being charged or gored by bulls and run over by horses, and that was all considered to be part of a day’s work.

    Comment by Mark Brown — October 29, 2008 @ 11:29 am

  9. This probably wouldn’t be a good time to complain about how much my teaching assistantship pays, eh?

    I’m with Mark on the probability of skinny kids if I were in Brother Bevell’s situation–first because I think I would be unlikely to sign up for this sort of thing and second because I don’t think I’d be able to get up enough times to get paid for a whole match.

    Comment by Edje — October 29, 2008 @ 11:59 am

  10. When I saw “Mary Bevell” in the list of recent commenters, I had a moment of panic hoping that I had told the story in the way a family member would approve. I’m glad to know that the story has been passed along as part of a family’s heritage.

    I spoke in my ward’s sacrament meeting last week, assigned the chapter about commandments from Preach My Gospel. There wasn’t time in the 12 minutes given me to teach the commandments or do much more than talk about why the Lord has given them to us, but I did squeeze in stories to illustrate the faithfulness of some Saints in living up to their covenants — including this one when I talked about tithing.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 29, 2008 @ 12:57 pm

  11. Ardis:

    Have you ever thought of putting together a “resource book” with this stories in it for talks and so forth?

    Comment by Steve C. — October 29, 2008 @ 4:06 pm

  12. I’m hoping Keepa turns into that, when there’s enough material posted and when I figure out the best way to index it (see “Topical Guide” at the top of the sidebar — right now that’s the roughest sort. I’m not sure a straight index is the best way to refine it, and I haven’t hit on the right variation yet).

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 29, 2008 @ 4:27 pm

  13. Yeah, I work with Mary, so when I read the story this morning I printed it out and took it to work. I asked her where her family was from. When she said Mississippi, I handed her the printout. We had fun talking about it.

    Comment by Earl — October 29, 2008 @ 10:09 pm

  14. It’s pretty cool that Mary was able to read this post and respond to it. I read all of these faith promoting stories you send, Ardis, and wonder where I fit in. Much of what I do seems just ordinary plodding along day to day.

    Comment by Maurine — October 29, 2008 @ 10:22 pm

  15. It was nice to hear from a family member. Could she tell us about the family after this incident? I always want to know “the rest of the story.”

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — October 30, 2008 @ 1:49 pm

  16. I’ve only recently become aware how visceral the fear of death is. This guy would have been combatting every natural hardwired biological instinct to flee,and I now know something of the strength required to do this find it hard to imagine the courage that this man exhibited in the efforts to provide for his family.What a hero.Respect, brethren.

    Comment by wayfarer — November 1, 2008 @ 8:02 am

  17. This is also my great-grandfather, although I do not know Mary. We are cousins, I suppose! If Bevell is your last name, you must have been Baxter’s grandchild, right? Our grandfathers were brothers – Alton was my grandfather.

    I only recently heard this story – like within the last week – from a cousin. It was published in the Liahona several years ago.

    These folks are the sort of pioneers you hardly ever hear about in the church. The ones who stayed even though there were few of them, and they helped build up the kingdom in more remote places.

    Comment by Kristal — February 15, 2009 @ 10:25 pm

  18. I just found this article. He was my grandfather. I am one of the many daughters of Lucile Stroupe, the daughter of Blaine Bevell. The fondest memories of my childhood are the times I spent at my Grandparents’ home. I am so blessed today because of his great love for his family and for the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have a lot of our genaology and many accounts of this story.
    Thanks for putting it out there.

    Hi Kristal.

    Comment by Patricia Stevens — July 27, 2009 @ 6:33 pm

  19. So nice to hear from you, Patricia — and I must have missed Kristal’s comment earlier, too. It’s always a lot of fun for me to hear from family members, and to hear that I’ve gotten the story right, or close enough to right, for you to be glad to see it. I didn’t know his story had appeared in the Liahona — I found it in an old Church News.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 27, 2009 @ 10:40 pm

  20. My records tell me that it was printed in the Liahona July 22, 1941.
    Could you please tell me which Church News you got it from? You are welcome to send it to my email address if you’d like.

    Comment by Patricia Stevens — July 28, 2009 @ 11:10 am

  21. Patricia, it appeared about the same time in the Church News; I’ll have to check the date on my photocopy when I get home rather than page through the books looking for it again. The wording of the Liahona article is so familiar that it’s possible that the missionary who wrote the story sent it to both places for publication.

    Do you have a photocopy of the story, or just a note of the date? If you don’t have the story itself, I’ll be glad to scan and send it to you.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — July 28, 2009 @ 11:34 am

  22. This is why I keep coming back to Keepa. Excellent find Ardis!!!! You may want to publish many of these stories somehow.

    Comment by bbell — July 28, 2009 @ 11:41 am

  23. That would be great! I do have a paper with the story on it, but I’m not sure if it’s the story that was from the Liahona. It’s not as detailed as the story you posted. I think that one is great.

    Comment by Patricia Stevens — July 28, 2009 @ 3:28 pm

  24. I visited his and Annie’s grave in October out in the Blackjack Community. It is always inspirational to visit this cemetary with its collection of Panola County Saints from the past 100 years.

    [Paul, I hope you don't mind, but I edited your name slightly. We have a regular reader named Paul who commented on another post almost simultaneously to yours and I wanted to avoid confusion. -- AEP]

    Comment by Paul [P] — November 8, 2011 @ 8:36 am

  25. Paul, are you a relative of the Bevells? It’s good to hear from you, especially with a reminder that there have been Latter-day Saints in that neighborhood all these years.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 8, 2011 @ 9:02 am

  26. I am not a Bevell, but we moved here about 25 years ago (about the time WVS from BOAP moved away), and have been out to the Blackjack cemetery for several funerals/interments and have known several Bevells, Stroupes, and Spencers from Panola and Lafayette Counties, including Patricia.

    Comment by Paul [P] — November 9, 2011 @ 8:50 pm

  27. I was curious one day and looked up my name. To my surprise, I find this story. I also am
    Mary Bevell. However, Parley Pratt is my grandfather, brother to James Blaine Bevell. I love the internet!

    Comment by Mary Bevell Matusky — February 25, 2012 @ 11:48 am

  28. Ha! Glad to hear from you Mary. I love the internet too, if for no other reason than these unexpected connections.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 25, 2012 @ 11:55 am

  29. Hi, everyone!

    I am Mary Bevell Matusky’s sister, also a granddaughter of Parley Pratt Bevell. Same thing…I just happened to google our last name, and this article appeared. Wish I had the opportunity to meet all of you. I visited the Blackjack cemetery when I was a kid. Nice to see the area where my dad grew up. Our family grew up in Chicago. I’m still just outside of there. Best wishes to all of you!

    Comment by Patricia Bevell — October 7, 2012 @ 11:06 pm

  30. I’m a great grandson of Blaine Bevell, my grandmother is Bessie Purser, Blaines oldest child. It was exciting to see this posting on the bear story. I have a typed up copy, but would love to see a copy of the original. Blaine passed away shortly after I was born, but remember his wife, who we all called Big Mamma. This story has truly been an inspiration for many of his descendants and his family has been greatly blessed by his example and faithfullness to the commandments of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Comment by William Purser — February 8, 2014 @ 9:15 pm

  31. There is a fairly recently retelling in the Church News in 2003 — it is in error in reporting that Bro. Bevell was paid 80 cents instead of $1.80.

    An article also appeared in a 1937 issue of the Deseret News church page — I do not have the exact date handy, and the papers from that decade have not yet been digitized. That is probably what you mean by “the original” because it was probably the first account to appear in print.

    It needs to be understood, however, that this post *is* an original article, written by me, in my own words, drawing on facts researched from the Church News, Family Search, and other sources. Your “typed up copy” would not resemble this article except in its basic facts. Asking for “a copy of the original” implies that I have plagiarized this article by posting it under my own name and not giving credit to some other author whose words I appropriated. Please understand that such is NOT the case.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 8, 2014 @ 9:36 pm

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