"Farther Along"

Posted on July 1, 2020.

     "Farther Along" is an American Southern gospel song of disputed authorship. The song deals with a Christian's dismay at the apparent prosperity of the wicked, when contrasted with the suffering of the righteous. On Dave Hymn Blog on the net had quite a few possible authors, none with absolute proof of authorship.  I choose this article because I was listing to it one night on YouTube while working on the newsletter. As I was reading some of the comments about it I came across this one comment, which read.                                                    “My grandfather, the Rev. W. A. Fletcher, wrote the lyrics to this song in 1911 while riding a train back from Texas to Oklahoma where he preached on the Indian reservations as an evangelist. He had left my maternal grandmother with her Texas family in Cleburne to have their first child. He was moved to write these lyrics. Sitting next to him was a song promoter who asked to buy them. The story goes that he gave my grandfather $2 for his poem. He was a wonderful man who loved God and baptized many until the day he died.”                                                                                                                                                                                                          I have no idea of the authenticity  of this comment but thought it an interesting coincidence.                                  .A. Fletcher: Strangers on a Train?                            David's Hymn Blog by David Russell Hamrick
    “But what of the other candidates for authorship? There is a story endlessly repeated on the Internet that "Farther along" was written by a different preacher, W.A. Fletcher. The fullest version of this account is found in the Wikipedia article for "Farther along," which has been marked by another Wikipedia editor as desperately in need of citations. Fletcher is said to have written the song in 1911 while traveling between gospel meetings in Indian Territory. He was supposedly inspired by his frustration at having to leave his pregnant wife Catherine back in Texas. Because of his preaching engagements, Fletcher would miss the birth of his first child.
    The popular form of this story is problematic. There was no "Indian Territory" in 1911, four years after Oklahoma was admitted to statehood. I am also suspicious of the story of Fletcher meeting J.R. Baxter and selling him "Farther along" at that time. Baxter, a native of Alabama, was still working for A.J. Showalter in the Southeastern U.S., and did not move West until the 1940s (Tribe). Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but I can find no reference to Baxter or the Showalter Music Company in Oklahoma during that era. And can anyone believe that Baxter, who was such a shrewd judge of songs, would have waited more than 25 years to publish "Farther along"?
    But even a story that has become garbled and embellished (thanks again, Internet!) may be founded on real events. There was, in fact, a Holiness preacher named William A. Fletcher, who lived in Sulphur, Oklahoma, in 1910 (U.S. Census, 1910, Oklahoma). He was single at that time, but later census records reveal the following events: 1) Fletcher married a woman named Catherine, a native of Texas, and, 2) the couple had their first child in 1911 (January 1912 at the latest). This was a daughter named Willamine, born in Oklahoma (U.S. Census, 1920, Nebraska). So at least this much of the story is proved: there was a Holiness preacher named W.A. Fletcher in Oklahoma during the early 1910s, with a wife named Catherine who very likely would have spent time with her family in Texas if she were pregnant and he was on the road, and they were expecting a child in 1911. It doesn't prove that he wrote the song, of course, but it shows the story cannot be dismissed as legend.”                                                                                                                                                                                               As a side note to this article about no Indian Territory in 1911, I looked up Indian reservations  in Oklahoma, and found there was at that time, the Osage Nation which was historically parts of Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas, but is now only  in  Oklahoma. As of 2018 they had a population of 20,000, their language is listed as English and Osage and their religion is listed as Christian.