There once was a staunch, crusty, old circuit-riding preacher by the name of Jedediah Combs, who was called upon to take on a new section of the county. Although there had been many a preacher-man before him, it seemed no one could last any amount of time at all. When Jedediah received his commission, the elder warned him of the main reason for the others’ early exit: Big Jack. “Don’t you worry none, brother elder,” said the Preacher. “As the Good Book says, ‘The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man gets the job done, every time’.”
As the preacher headed up into the hills, he began to hear one horror story after another about Big Jack. Not only was Big Jack a moonshiner, he was just plain mean. The further the preacher trudged on up into the hills, the worse the stories got from those who’d had run-ins, or knew someone who’d had an unfortunate ‘crossing of the ways’ with Big Jack. Each time, the preacher would saddle up and ‘fare ye well’ the worried tale-teller with his favorite phrase, “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man gets the job done, every time.” Finally, one day, while Jedediah was sitting on the ground lunching on a raw turnip, out from behind a blackberry thicket stepped a big, burly, nasty-looking mountain man. The preacher knew immediately who it must be. “Air you Big Jack?” said the preacher. “And whut if I am?” said the mountain man, stepping up so close the preacher could smell the hard liquor on his breath and see the tobacco stains in the corner of his lips. “I’m a lookin’ to pray for his soul,” said the preacher. “For the effectual, fervent pra…”
Just then the mountain man whipped out a butcher knife the size of a small machete, waved it in the preacher’s face, and said, “Then ye’d better start prayin’ for yer own soul, for I’m Big Jack, and I carve up nosy preachers.”
The preacher quickly rolled to his knees, folded his hands underneath his chin and said, “Big Jack. I’m an unarmed man. You won’t mind me taking a couple minutes in prayer before you begin, will ya?”
Big Jack was so surprised the preacher didn’t take off and run like the other ones, he just laughed a big, sleazy belly-laugh, started cleaning his fingernails with the butcher-knife, and snorted, “Yeah, go ahead. I kin wait.”
With that, the preacher began to pray. “Oh, Lord. Why Thou hast chosen me to be the ‘messenger of grace’ and the ‘angel of Death,’ Thou knowest. Thou knowest that when I was set upon by Jake Gibbons, the fiercest wrassler and bear-hunter in the county, that upon him laying his hands on me, Your Spirit came upon me mightily, and lo, these many years, I have regretted paralyzing him from the neck down for the rest of his miserable days. And Thou knowest also that when I was forced to defend myself against Murderin’ Bill Henry and Snake Oil Simpson, with only my bare hands and a rusted railroad spike, that I promised ye, upon their broken and mangled bodies, I would never again put another man to such a slow, agonizing demise, but be sure to get it over with, quick-like.” About this time, Jedediah slipped out from underneath his overcoat a long, rusty, railroad spike, which he held high above his head, and then he continued.
“O Lord! if it must be your irresistible, divine will that this be the day that Big Jack’s bloated, disemboweled body be fed to the maggots and vermin of this wild and untamed land, so be it.”
Without so much as an “amen” the preacher suddenly bolted up into the air, hollering a wild, bloodcurdling scream that echoed up and down the hills, and hit the ground slashing the air back and forth with that railroad spike. Then he crouched down like a she-bear on the kill, and snarled, “All right, Big Jack. Let’s get it on!” But when he looked around, Big Jack was nowhere to be seen. As a matter of fact, for the rest of his circuit-riding days, that preacher never laid eyes on Big Jack again - which just goes to show you what Jedediah Combs knew all along: “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man (armed with a rusty railroad spike) gets the job done, every time.”
Traditional tale retold by C. Keith Young, 2002.