Circuit Rider Elijah Pilcher
held his Bible, his volume of Shakespeare, and his only change of clothes. The horse struggled up the bank--and sank into a marsh. "Stripping up to my sleeves," Pilcher recalled in his memoirs many years later, "I thrust my hand into the mire and raised his feet and placed them upon new turf." Muddy and cold, he started for Ann Arbor at sundown, with 10 cents in his pocket.
Michigan in 1830 was a severe test for anyone, let alone a twenty-year-old preacher. But in an era when half of all Methodist circuit riders died, exhausted, before age thirty, Pilcher's cast-iron stamina and vinegary humor would take him from a boyhood on a small Ohio pioneer farm to the U-M Board of Regents and Michigan's state legislature.
Ann Arbor, settled only six years before Pilcher's October drenching, was the linchpin of his 400-mile circuit. Traveling on horseback, he completed a circuit every four weeks, preaching twenty-eight times in Ann Arbor, Jackson, Marshall, Coldwater, Clinton, Tecumseh, Adrian, Manchester, and Saline.
The sparsely settled region had few roads. Pilcher followed Indian trails and crossed marshes, oak openings, and forests. He once spent four days near Marshall blazing trees with an ax from horseback, to mark his way back. For days afterwards, his right arm was crippled.