excerpt – Autobiography of B. H. Roberts
President Morgan represented to the people of my home town my faith and devotion in the work and suggested the raising of means for properly returning me home, a request heartily responded to by my friends of Centerville. My first work on arriving home was a sheep-shearing job for the Ford brothers, carried on where their flocks were assembled for early summer shearing near the Marsh Basin in Idaho. Changing from preaching to sheep shearing was a radical change in work. In the fall of that year, I returned to school teaching. This was done in the town of Bountiful, Davis County, where part of my boyhood days had been spent. It was before the time of the organization of county high schools, but the trustees of the district assembled in the central schoolhouse the advanced students of grade schools, so in a way it became the forerunner of the subsequent high schools.
During the winter President John Morgan came to visit me, a returned traveling elder in Tennessee. He spoke of my confining my labors within four walls and intimated that he thought the sphere too limited, and thus he conceded in an indirect way what was really afterwards materialized—a suggestion that I return to the mission field. Elder Morgan had presided in the Southern States Mission about thirteen years and really was preparing to retire from that service and had already suggested my name as his successor. In the spring of 1884 this plan was consummated by my being appointed to succeed my late president. Owing doubtless to my extreme youth for such a responsibility, it was understood that I would labor under the direction of President Morgan and therefore was set apart only as the assistant president of the mission with instructions to report to and receive directions from President Morgan. But I was expected to occupy the position of field man in the aforesaid eleven states and would be presiding elder over eleven states of the south with more than one hundred traveling elders and a large number of members of the church, with the responsibility of conducting the occasional emigration of the Saints of that region to San Luis Valley in Colorado.
I arrived in the mission in the month of March 1884, being accompanied into the field by twenty-four new elders from Utah. Among the first activities after arriving in Chattanooga as the acting president of the mission, I paid a visit to Shady Grove District, which had been so central to my activities when president of the Tennessee conference. I crossed Duck River on a flatboat and climbed the steep bluff cutting across the lawn to the spacious log plantation home of Uncle Robert Church. The inmates of the home hailed me from the flatboat and were standing on the crown of the lawn bluff of the river with outstretched hands to welcome me, and an informal social greeting took place on the lawn. As we stood overlooking the river with our backs to the house, I felt the persistent pushing and pushing of someone to the rear of me. Turning, there was old Traveler who had come across the lawn to join the group in the greeting. It was an affectionate embrace around his neck that he received from me, as all the journeys and adventures thronged my memory. Old Traveler was an institution in the Southern States Mission and claimed his place.
Returning to Chattanooga I began my tour of the states comprising the mission by visiting the conferences in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. By this time midsummer had arrived, and I was prepared to visit the next conference in Tennessee which had been appointed in what was known as Kane Creek District in Lewis County. In the early summer I had appointed Elder John H. Gibbs and William H. Jones to a special mission to visit prominent cities and capitals of counties in east and middle Tennessee.
Here let it be explained that Tennessee like Caesar’s Gaul was divided into three parts by the Tennessee River. The Tennessee rises in the Cumberland mountains in the eastern part of Kentucky and flows thence southwesterly past Knoxville through the entire state of Tennessee, sweeping through the north end of Alabama and then almost directly northward into the Ohio, which at Cairo flows into the Mississippi. This course of the river cuts off the eastern part of Tennessee into east Tennessee. The southwestern movement of the river past Knoxville into Alabama and then northward makes the section of the state between the north-flowing Tennessee and the southwest-flowing portion known as middle Tennessee. Between the northern course of the river and the Mississippi is the section of west Tennessee. It is one of the noblest states of the south and one of the most historic states of the entire union.
In the course of their directed mission through prominent cities and capitals of counties in the state, Elder Gibbs and Jones were to distribute large quantities of congressional speeches made in the senate of the United States, chiefly by southern senators on the Rights of Religious Liberty. This was a commentary upon the constitutional legislation in congress against the marriage system of the Latter-day Saints. These men ably defended the rights of Utah territory in the exercise of the freedom of religion, and incidentally they bore splendid testimonies to the character of the “Mormon” people in Utah. These senators, chiefly from the South, were notably Senator Morgan of Alabama, Senator Call of Florida, Senator De Lamar of Mississippi, Senator Pendleton of Ohio, and Senator West of Missouri. These with others had nobly defended the rights of the people of Utah on the floor of the senate. The delegate from Utah, John T. Caine, had these speeches printed and sent large quantities of them to the headquarters of the mission at Chattanooga. With these speeches Elders Gibbs and Jones were supplied and requested to distribute them among prominent people in the parts of the states they visited.
They had completed their special mission and had gone to the branch of the church on Kane Creek to await the forthcoming conference. When I arrived in Chattanooga, I found Elder Jonathan G. Kimball in a precarious state of health. Jaundice and malaria has fastened upon him, and it was quite evident that he needed a respite from the strenuous work of correspondence, etc., at the mission headquarters. Thus I, instead of going to join the elders at Kane Creek with a passing visit to Shady Grove, concluded that Elder Kimball must have a vacation and directed him to go to the home of the Church family on Duck River, there to recuperate for a few weeks. I then undertook the secretarial work at Chattanooga. So time drifted on to the important date of August 20, 1884, reaching a climax in the south of what has become known in our church annals as the Tennessee massacre.
For a number of years there had been brewing in the South a very bitter spirit against Mormon missionary work. There had been pending before Congress numerous propositions of national legislation against the people of Utah, based largely upon their marriage system. Some bills had become law, and the Supreme Court had passed upon the constitutionality. All this gave rise to mobocracy in many instances, resulting in some whippings and driving elders from their fields of labor. In the state of Georgia some two years previously Joseph Standing and Rudger Clawson were taken by a mob and Joseph Standing brutally killed, while Rudger Clawson narrowly escaped with his life. This fatal action had prompted attempts in other localities having the same objectives.
The Sunday previous to August the 10th some baptisms had taken place in Kane Creek District under the direction of Elder John H. Gibbs. This was the baptism of two young ladies, whose parents had consented to their joining the church, and a great throng had assembled at the river’s edge to witness the ceremony, Elder Gibbs performing the ordinance. As the candidates for baptism were led into the water and turning to look at the crowd before performing the ordinance, Elder Gibbs observed that many heads were covered. Noting this, he called their attention to the sacredness of the ordinance to be performed and plainly suggested that it would be becoming for all heads to be bared on such an occasion. All heads were uncovered, and he proceeded to the baptism of the young ladies.
Meantime the opposition was strenuously at work. There had been received from anti-Mormon sources in Utah a copy of an alleged address by one Bishop West at a small town in Juab County, Utah, which was represented as hostile and defiant of the United States government. It supposedly called for the vengeance of God to fall upon it and its representatives in Utah holding a federal office and altogether was violently sensational and altogether untrue, a faked canard, for it proved that there was no Bishop West and no such speech ever delivered. However, it was held as the truth by the anti-Mormon press in Utah and was widely scattered throughout the United States, but more especially in the South. The county papers in Lewis County reproduced it, and it started a wave of baseless opposition to the work of the elders. It was numerously circulated in the Kane Creek district and began the savage wounding of one. The circumstances in outline are as follows:
A meeting had been appointed by Elder Gibbs and his associate elders, five or six in number, at the home of Condor, whose home was on the bluff above the little stream of Kane Creek that winds through the valley of that name. It was a beautifully bright day in August and the brethren seated in the main living room of the Condor home had been singing hymns, one of which was:
When shall we all meet again,
When shall we our rest obtain
When our pilgrimage be o’er
Parting sighs be known no more.
And so followed several stanzas. The singing closed at about ten o’clock, the time at which the meeting was to be called. Elder Gibbs reached across the table for his Bible, saying as he did so, “That hymn suggests a text.” He began looking through the Bible for it. At that instant there was a rush across the narrow roadway from the elevated banks of Kane Creek opposite the house of masked men in Ku Klux Klan garb. This was a white sheet drawn together in a peeked hood, the sheet covering the entire body; in the hood were cut eye holes and space for breathing. It appears that the mob of some fifteen or eighteen persons had been concealed in the underbrush of the woods which lined Kane Creek at that point, and they apparently had timed their assault about the time the meeting was to begin.
The first man who rushed over the threshold of the Condor home turned to the elders seated at the table and shot down Elder Gibbs, and apparently he was instantly killed. The person who seemed to be the leader of the mob crossed the room to the fireplace, over which a Kentucky hunting rifle quite common in that hunting section of the South hung upon deer antlers. The people who had gathered to attend the meeting had not yet assembled in their capacity as a congregation but were out in the Condor orchard, where they were pleasantly visiting with each other and partaking of the ripening fruit at the invitation of the Condors. Others were out in the front of the house. The elderly Brother Condor was passing between the roadway and the doorstep at the front of the house and was leaning over the gate. As soon as the masked mobbets rushed from the underbrush to come through the gate to the house, he shouted at the top of his voice to the two sons of the family back in the orchard to come to the rescue of the elders. These two boys were both the sons of Sister Condor, one of them (Hudson, the older) was the son of a former husband, the other the son of Mr. Condor. A night or two before this event occurred, Sister Condor had dreamed of such an attack and Saturday afternoon had related the dream to the family. She had directed the two young men to be prepared to defend the elders if possible. Accordingly they had loaded their guns. One was the aforesaid hunting rifle above the fireplace. The leader of the mob had gone direct to secure it before either of the young Condors could obtain it. Hudson’s gun was up in the left of the dwelling room, and when they heard the shouting of their father that the mob was upon them, they rushed to the rear door of the house. Hudson, the older son, climbed the open stairway into the loft to get his gun, and the younger Condor tried to secure the gun hung over the fireplace, but he met face to face the leader of the mob with the gun already in his hands. Instantly the lad seized it. He was not yet twenty and began a struggle for its possession. Apparently he must have been getting the better of the struggle, which the mob leader recognized, and he drew from his waistband a pistol and shot the lad dead.
Meantime Hudson, having secured his gun from the loft, came down the open stairway with it in hand just as the mob leader had shot his brother. He then apparently rushed to leave the house by the front doorway, whereupon Hudson drew his gun in place and shot him, and he fell dead in the doorway. At this the cry was raised outside, “Hinson has been killed,” and the mob lingering around the house immediately rushed through the doors and drove their guns through the windows and began shooting indiscriminately. One of these shots was aimed at Elder Thompson, who was making his way to the rear door. Elder Berry was standing in the middle of the floor amidst this melee. A gun from behind him was thrust in, but with both hands he pushed it aside so that the shot entered the logs at the side of the door. Elder Thompson made his escape through the door and out into the wood-covered hills behind the house. In the promiscuous shooting into the house that followed the killing of Hinson, Brother Berry was shot down. Hudson was killed as he came down the open stairway right after he had shot Hinson, and old Sister Condor was savagely wounded in the hips.
Four of the elders, namely William S. Berry, Elder Thompson, John H. Gibbs, and William H. Jones, had spent the night at the home of Mr. Tom Garrett some two miles above Kane Creek from the Condor residence. Early on that fated Sabbath morning, Elders Gibbs, Berry, and Thompson walked down the little valley to the Condor residence, while Elder Jones remained at the Garrett home to finish reading a copy of the Deseret News, which during the week had arrived in the mail. Thus he did not make his way towards the Condor residence until an hour or two after the other brethren had gone. Just below the bluff on which the Condor residence stood, Kane Creek was crossed, a stream that usually was clear and between three and four feet deep at the crossing. The elders had gone through the trees and underbrush lining the creek about 100 yards, and there a Brother Michael Garn had cut down, leaving a high stump, a large cottonwood tree and felled it across the creek about one-half way up the bluff to the Condor residence. He had then trimmed it and flattened it as a foot bridge across the creek to the Condor side of the stream. This log bridge was considered quite wonderful by the people, and its constant use had made a pathway through the underbrush and the trees along the creek. Coming to where this path reached the road, Elder Jones started towards the log foot bridge. About half way down he was suddenly rushed upon by the Ku Klux mob who had been concealed along the footpath by the river and in a close adjoining cornfield running down close to the pathway on the right. They commanded his silence as to any outcry for help that would reveal their presence, and they demanded of him to know where the elders were and if they too were coming down from the Garrett home.
All of this leads to the conclusion that this mob had early in the morning concealed themselves along the pathway and doubtless intended killing the elders as they moved in single file between the road crossing of Kane Creek and the log foot bridge. But finding Elder Jones coming alone, they captured him and through him tried to locate his brethren, surmising rather than being told that the other three elders had passed down the pathway and over to the Condor residence before they had concealed themselves along the pathway. They relegated Jones to be guarded by one of their numbers with orders to shoot him if he intended to escape.
They made their way to the Condor side of Kane Creek and attacked the home as already described. When the shooting began Jones’s guard became very excited, and the screaming of women and children, as well as the shooting of the men, filled him with alarm, for he exclaimed “My God, they are shooting the women and children.” Whereupon Jones began to plead for his guard to allow him to escape. To this the guard consented and followed him through the aforesaid cornfield across the clearing to the woods beyond. Jones was afraid to run lest his guard would shoot him down under the plea that he was making an effort to escape, but once in the woods Jones received instructions from the guard how to proceed to get out of the neighborhood and then himself turned back to join his companions about the Condor residence. Thus the Kane Creek massacre became history.
While these transactions were going on in Kane Creek, I was at the mission headquarters in Chattanooga, attending to my secretarial duties, answering mail, etc., etc. On Sunday night I worked rather late on an article that I was preparing for the Juvenile Instructor, telling a mission story of a mother’s influence, which happened a few weeks before in northern Alabama. The article finished and made ready for mailing, I prepared for retiring and extinguished the lamp. To my astonishment there was no diminution of light in the room. Every object was vividly seen as before the lamp was extinguished. This, of course, was something of a mystery to me, and instead of immediately retiring, I walked about the room trying to account for the strange phenomenon. I thought perhaps it was an unusual afterglow of the lamplight, and with the thought of correcting my sight I threw myself upon the bed with my face in the pillow, hoping in this way to exclude the light until my eyes became properly adjusted. After a time on raising my head, I still found the light undiminished and lay wondering at it for some hours, nearly through the night in fact. With the breaking of the day, I fell into a restless sleep, and when I awoke the sunshine was brightly slanting in the room from the east.
The mission headquarters was made up of an office room and sleeping apartments, and we had been taking our meals at the Florentine Hotel in the heart of Chattanooga. I arose and dressed preparatory to going to breakfast. As I entered the foyer of the hotel, I found the inmates regarding me unusually, but none spoke. When the morning paper was brought to me, I was astonished to see in flaring headlines an account of Mormon elders being massacred on Kane Creek in Lewis County. The thing was too horrible to believe as true, and I, neglecting breakfast, returned to headquarters that I might ask in prayer if these terrible things had occurred. While on my knees in the office of the mission engaged in prayer, the voice which had so frequently spoken to me in times of crisis told me to return to the hotel and I would receive a message on the subject.
Accordingly I immediately went back to the hotel and found awaiting me a telegram from Jonathan Golden Kimball, the secretary resting up at the church’s home near Shady Grove. The telegram confirmed in general the newspaper account of the killing of the elders and the Condor boys on Kane Creek. I at once wired Elder Kimball as soon as possible to gather the elders who had escaped at the town of Columbia, to locate them there, where I thought they would be at least temporarily safe, and to keep me informed of his movements. Meantime I would reach Columbia myself as soon as possible. This done the thought occurred to me to secure the bodies and send them to their friends in Utah. But there was no money at the headquarters, and it would take some time to obtain it from Salt Lake. I wired for funds necessary to this project, about $1,000.
Meantime it was impossible for me to remain inactive while these means were arriving. Accordingly I went to Mr. Bernard Moses and his brothers and presented the case to them and stated my own anxiety to be on the way to secure the bodies and send them home. I needed steel caskets in which the bodies could be hermetically sealed, as the railroad would accept no other. Mr. Moses kindly consented to leave security at the undertakers for the caskets and in addition withdrew several hundred dollars from his own bank account and loaned it without security or even a note certifying such a loan. The caskets were sent to a friend, Mr. Sam Hoover, a member of the church, living part way between Shady Grove and the point on Kane Creek where the tragedy had occurred.
My first move was to start for Columbia by way of Nashville. I went to the latter place, the capital of the state, hoping to see the governor and secure assistance through him for going under guard to Kane Creek to secure the bodies. Governor Bates was absent from the city. In fact, he was conducting his campaign for reelection in an adjoining county to Lewis County. I then called upon the lieutenant governor, but he was unable to make any move in the direction of giving assistance because the governor was still in the state, and he could not act unless the governor was absent from the state. I then asked if the lieutenant governor would give me a letter to the state sheriff of Lewis County saying at least that it would not be contrary to the law for him to render me such assistance as he could and to go with me to Kane Creek as a protection against the mob forces. The mob when they heard of these several moves on my part to get legal assistance in securing the bodies expressed their determination to so guard the roads entering the county from the north and the east that the bodies could not be obtained. I personally knew the sheriff of Lewis County, a Mr. Carrol, at whose home I had several times stayed over night, and the sheriff was very favorable to the Mormon elders and inclined to receive their message.
Finding that this letter was likely to be all the assistance I could obtain, I started for Columbia over the railroad and arrived about midnight. My first anxiety was to locate Elder Kimball and such elders as he had brought into the city. This took some time. At last, however, I found them in a fourth-rate rooming house in the south edge of the city and learned from the proprietor of the establishment that they were much alarmed on account of threats of a mob coming to drag them for their rooms to do them violence. I immediately had the elders transferred to the principal hotel of the town, where I myself had registered, and while the elders, including Elder Kimball, slept, I wrote the authorities in Utah a statement of what had happened.
When morning came I began making preparations for the journey to Kane Creek, the first fifteen or twenty miles of which would have to be covered by a livery and buggy as there was no other way of reaching Shady Grove enroute to the fateful Kane Creek. I secured a livery outfit from one of the chief livery stables of Columbia, owned by a Mr. Dobson, whom I had before patronized in making journeys about the country in company with President Morgan. A single horse and buggy was secured. While the horse was being harnessed and attached to the buggy, a company of rough looking men gathered near the entrance of the livery stable and seated on the grass began an animated conversation in which the word Mormon was frequently used. I drew as near to this group as I could without seeming to do so, if possible to catch the drift of the rather excited conversation.
While in this position I felt the sharp cut of a whip across my arm and turned towards the door of the livery stable in time to catch a glimpse of Mr. Dobson dodging into the door of the office of the livery stable with whip in hand and beckoning me to come in to him. This was done, and Mr. Dobson apprised me of the fact that this group of men seated outside the stables were the men who had been trying for a day or two to arouse a mob in Columbia to drive from the city the several elders who had arrived there under the direction of Elder Kimball. Mr. Dobson was much moved emotionally and taking me by the shoulders gently shook me saying, “Notwithstanding your pretense to send other parties after those bodies, I know it is your intention to go yourself, and now Mr. Roberts let me tell you. You are a young man. You have only one life, and if you go into that Kane Creek section of Lewis County, you will be killed. Dave Hinson the leader of the mob down there had a large number of friends and a political pull that will make things go hard for you if his following are once aware that you are in their midst. So now let me beg of you not to go.” At this caution, however, I laughed and assured Mr. Dobson that I would take care of myself and avoid all the danger I could.
By this time the horse and buggy were ready, and Elder Kimball and I climbed into it and drove off for the first stage of our journey to the Shady Grove district. By this time it was afternoon, and it required all the time until nearly dusk to reach the Church residence on Duck River. Here we raised the necessary two teams in order to make the journey with the caskets. It was not an easy matter to secure teams and wagons at that time in this part of Tennessee, for wagons were little used except the running gears of them in hauling timber, and travel was made chiefly on horseback. However, during the night the teams were assembled, and a friend, not a member of the church, a Mr. Harlow, volunteered to drive one wagon on the expedition with one of the members.
It was true what Mr. Dobson had said about my intention to go myself after the bodies. While making the journey from Nashville down to Columbia, sitting alone on the train, I heard the familiar voice whisper to me quite clearly, “You will go to secure those bodies and all will be well with you, but you must go.” From that time, of course, I had no other intention than to go myself on this expedition, but whereas I got one pair to drive one of the wagons, I thought I would like a companion to be with me on my wagon.
Along about midnight it occurred to me to ask a young fellow not a member of the church but very friendly to me, Rufus Coleman, about eighteen years of age. On inquiry, however, I learned that he was a number of miles distant at a road camp making a turn pike and impossible to communicate with at once as the expedition was to start in the morning. A Sister Phoebe Church, daughter of Emmos Church, whose homestead adjoined that of his brother Robert Church, was mounted and sent to the road camp to bring Rufus back to the Robert Church residence where the journey was being planned.
Sometime before daylight, while making all the arrangements, Brother Kimball was much concerned as to who would be the man to go with the second team. I revealed to him that I was to go with the second wagon. Brother Kimball thinking that he was the one nominated said: “All right, President Roberts, if you think I should go I am willing.” “No, No,” I said, “it is not you, but I myself am going.” Brother Kimball raised a lusty protest, saying that I was so well known in the Kane Creek district of the country that my being there would raise the mob and they would kill me. However, I assured him that that would not be the case and that it was the proper thing for me to go. But Elder Kimball continued to protest. Then I said to him, “I know, and if you are in doubt about it, go and ask our Father.” Up to this point I had said nothing to him about my whispered voice on the train. I observed that Brother Kimball made several trips out into the corn field, coming up close to Brother Robert Church’s house, and I knew that Elder Kimball went there to pray, but apparently he received no impression confirming the wisdom or rightfulness of me to go on this journey.
Meantime Sister Phoebe Church had returned with Rufus Coleman, who came up into the loft chamber where I had donned an old suit of clothing, a hat and rough cowhide boots belonging to one of Robert Church’s hired help. I was now trying to hide the indoor complexion of my face and hands from the soot and grease accumulated on the walls, for the loft room had been used as a smokehouse by the family. As Rufus came into the chamber, I said to him, “Rufy, I am going down to Kane Creek with two teams to secure the bodies of the elders who have been murdered. Brothers Church and Harlow have consented to take one wagon. Will you go with me and drive the other wagon?” He stood apparently relaxed before me with his hands in his pockets, but as the request was made he straightened up and said in a delightful southern drawl, “Why yes, Mr. Roberts. I’ll go anywhere with you, sir.” The simple answer shook me with emotion at this symbol of trust and fidelity.
With this, the teams having been hitched to the wagon and the separation with Elder Kimball given, lunch was provided by Sister Laura Church. Rufy and the other two brethren started with their teams, purposely going a little out of the way to drive through Shady Grove that it might be seen that I was not in the company. I, in company with Robert Church, cut through the cornfield of the church plantation, intending to intersect the teams several miles beyond Shady Grow, where they were headed to pick up the steel caskets at the home of Samuel Hoover. The teams were intersected some half mile from Hoover’s residence, and I joined Rufus and drove to the Hoover home, where happily I learned the caskets had been delivered safely. They were loaded into the wagons brought from the starting point of the expedition.
I moved freely about the Hoover home, meeting the inmates thereof and some neighbors from surrounding homes who had gathered in their curiosity about the activities going on. It created assurance in my mind that my disguise was sufficient, as none of these people with whom I had mingled in former years recognized me. The caskets secured, the journey was continued. Learning at the Hoover home that the roads leading into Kane Creek country from the east were being watched by members of the mob who had done the killing, a swing to the south was made, and the mob-guarded roads both on the north and on the east were avoided. The wagon expedition arrived at the home of Mr. Garrett, a friend of the elders, who lived near the Condors.
There had been two elders laboring in Hickman County, directly north adjoining Lewis County. Their names were Willie Robinson and W. B. Robinson. The wildest rumors had permeated the district where they were laboring, and how many had been killed and whether any of the elders had escaped or not was unknown to them. Nor could they find any reliable account of the wild rumors that were passed from mouth to mouth in that sparsely settled country. This determined Elder Robinson to make a journey into Lewis County to Kane Creek itself to ascertain what there was to the wild rumors. Elder Robinson at this point did a very remarkable thing. Of course it was generally known that these Mormon elders wore their endowment garments received in the temple ceremonies. It is quite generally regarded as a protection, morally, spiritually, and even physically. But unfortunately if Elder Robinson should fall into the hands of enemies, it would be a betrayal of him as to his being a Mormon elder. He therefore retired to a densely wooded section of the country and, stripping off these garments, rolled them up and climbed a tree and tied them securely.
This time he started out alone and went directly into the enemies’ country, Lewis County. He had resolved upon the plan of representing himself as something of a special cotton picker hunting a job. This was in order to satisfy those who might intercept his journey and ask awkward questions. Truly enough he met with such an experience. There was a narrow-gauged road extending from Hickman County into Lewis County. This he used as his line of travel, thinking that he would likely not meet so many on this journey. But approaching the neighborhood of Kane Creek where the elders were reported to be killed, the railroad passes over a bit of trestle work over a very deep and quite large ravine, and near the middle of this trestle work he observed three men approaching from the other side, guns in hand. There was nothing left to do than to go right on.
These men proved to be members of the mountain guard watching for me. On meeting Elder Robinson they questioned him as to where he came from and what his purpose was, and when he told them that he was looking for a job cotton picking they laughed saying, “A damn fine cotton picker you would be. Look at your hands.” And, of course, as Elder Robinson had not engaged in physical labor, his hands were white and soft, not at all characteristic of cotton pickers. He then told them of having been sick for sometime, and that accounted for his pallor in his face and hands and that he was just now beginning to get about and was now strong enough to begin cotton picking. Hence he was in search of that job. They invited him to sit down while they thought things over. No sooner did he do that when one of the three grabbed his shirt by the collar and tore it so as to expose his body, but they found no garments incriminating him as to his Mormonism and finally allowed him to pass.
He did not arrive at Condor residence till about midnight. Knowing that the Condors would doubtless be on guard against surprises especially from the threatening mobocrats, he remained concealed in the underbrush and threw gravel at the door and windows. Presently the door was cautiously opened, and he called softly to Brother Condor who was opening the door, telling him who he was and the inquiries he wanted to make about the report of the killing of the elders. At this the door was thrown open, and he was made welcome into the stricken home and the true account given to him. He stayed with them about two hours, during which time they provided food for him.
Then remembering his experience on the railroad trestle and what would likely follow if he went that way again, he decided to take an easterly route and then circle northward until he should reach his point of starting on the journey. Going eastward he met another group of the mob watching the entrance into Kane Creek district from the east, and again he was challenged. Again his shirt was torn open in search for the identification which his garments would give, but, of course, no garments being found his captors consented to let him pass. By this time he met with instructions sent out from Nashville to elders in this central part of Tennessee for them to repair to Nashville and obtain lodgings, where they could be more likely to find safety than remaining in the country. The heroism of Elder Robinson required no commentary. His action in going into the danger zone will be sufficient to all that.
Mr. Garrett for some years had been a great friend of the elders. His daughter, a school teacher, was already a member of the church, and Mr. Garrett was kindly disposed towards that organization. I handed to him a letter signed “President B. H. Roberts” and ostensibly given to me, a strange rough-looking man, who had been employed by the president to come and get the bodies in his behalf. The letter asked Mr. Garrett to render this stranger all the assistance he could in taking the bodies from the graves and preparing them for shipment over the railroad. Mr. Garrett attentively read the letter and not recognizing me, who through a number of years occasionally had been his guest, said he would render the stranger all the help he could and asked what he could do.
I suggested that we walk on ahead of the teams down the road until we came to the Condor residence. As we walked along ahead of the teams Mr. Garrett replied to the questions that were asked as to the manner of the killing at the Condors’ residence on the previous Sunday and about the location of the graves and other things connected with my mission. Where the road dips down into the Kane Creek crossing, after entering upon this path through the woods lining Kane Creek, I dropped the use of the southern accent, which I had assumed thus far in the conversation. The log foot bridge was reached, and as the underbrush and trees were dense at this point, I ventured to say to Mr. Garrett, since changing my accent had not revealed my identity, “Mr. Garrett, you don’t know me?” With that Mr. Garrett started and looked at me more narrowly and then raising his hands he said, “My God, are you here?” And this in his excitement he repeated twice more. Then, of course, there was joy between us two friends, and Mr. Garrett was noticeably more eager to render the assistance he had promised to give.
We crossed the log foot bridge and moved along the steep path to the roadway running by the gate of the Condors. Mr. Garrett led the way to a point beside the road, where under the directions of the county coroner the elders had been buried. Already several wagon tracks had passed over the graves, and were they not to be moved the resting place of the elders would doubtless have been obliterated by the road travel. The two Condor brothers had been buried back of the Condor residence in the orchard on the plantation.
By this time quite a number of people had arrived upon the scene, men and women and some children. Among others had come members of the mob, whom Mr. Garrett whispered to me were known to have participated in the killing only a few days previously. They came armed and were on the alert for my reported coming. Nine of them assembled in all and stood in a group about twenty yards from where the work of exhuming the body was going on. Opening the graves was completed, and the task of drawing the coffins out of the graves was next. This was not an easy accomplishment, for, of course, the members of the mob would render no assistance, and the church members who were assembled there were reluctant apparently to give much assistance. But finally at my demand and after sharp reproves had been given to their backwardness, finally the ropes were passed under the ends of the coffins, and they were drawn up and each placed beside the open grave.
With an ax the plain board coffin lids and sides were pried open, and the bodies lifted into the caskets. I had supplied myself at the church home with two clean white sheets, and these were now spread over the bodies and carefully tucked under the shoulders and hips and feet and head so that they had the appearance of being completely swathed in the pure white sheets. The bodies having been in the warm earth for several days had become much swollen, and the face of Elder Gibbs had pressed up against the cover of the coffin in a manner to a little disfigure the face by the pressure. The necessary putty or oil paste was spread over the lower flange of the caskets, the covers were adjusted with bolts running through the upper and lower flanges, and the small bolts about one to every two inches were screwed down so that no fumes could escape. While performing the rather tedious task of screwing on the lids of the caskets, Mr. Garrett followed with a burning rag in which tobacco was wrapped and kept it burning under my nostrils to disguise the odor arising from the dead bodies. However, I was well nigh overcome with the fumes rising from the dead. A bucket of water had been brought up from the creek and set between the caskets, and as I felt myself being overcome, I so fell as to drive my head into the bucket of water, which saved me from what might have been a faint. Revived I continued the task.
Meantime the mob was receiving additions by new arrivals and there was some manifestation of uneasiness among them and the people. The task of screwing down the lids on the caskets was completed as the sun went down. The caskets were loaded into the wagons, and start was made for the residence of Mr. Garrett.
During the time of fastening down the casket cover, I explained to Mr. Garrett that it would be necessary to obtain the certificate from a physician that the men had not died of disease. Perhaps accomplishing this would necessitate a visit of someone of official standing to Hohenwald, the capital of Lewis County, some twenty miles distant. Mr. Garrett expressed a willingness to go himself. As the company of rescuers and the wagons arrived at his gate and were preparing to drive into the barn, who should come along but the very physician who had given the certificate of burial at the coroner’s inquest and who only had to dismount and go into the house of Mr. Garrett and sign the certificate which had been previously secured.
All things considered it was rather a bold move, this going to the graves, exhuming the bodies, and taking them away. It was done without any official action or permit at all, and I at the time and since marveled that there was no legal objection urged against my summary proceedings. However, it is doubtful if the county or state officials would have given any such permit, so to go and get the bodies was doubtless the only way in which it would be done, and the doctor’s certificate was made all the more necessary for the express and railroad companies to receive the bodies.
The wagons containing the coffins were driven into Mr. Garrett’s barn and the barn door securely fastened against intrusion. The little company gathered into the home of Mr. Garrett, where supper had been provided. Of course there was more or less suppressed excitement, as it was not known but that at any moment the mob might arouse their courage to the point of making an attack upon the Garrett home. However, Mr. Garrett under the stress of the excitement could contain himself no longer, and as the company was seated around the table, to the astonishment of all, he said, “Elder Roberts, will you say grace?” Whereupon before the grace could be said, his daughter, clapping her hands and jumping about, said, “I knew it, I knew it from the time he came to our gate. I knew it was Elder Roberts.” But she had said nothing to her mother about the identification and only spoke when her father had so unexpectedly spoken my name and revealed that the rough ill-clad person was the president of the mission.
Grace said, supper was enjoyed, and shortly afterwards Mr. Garrett placed a living room stand in front of the stairway leading to the sleeping room above. On it he laid two heavy dragoon pistols and placed a rifle leaning against the wall within easy reach of the stand on which the pistols were placed. He then said, “Elder Roberts, you look worn out. Now go up to the loft, and we will stand guard down here, and there is no company of men in this neck of the woods that will get by me in this stairway.” The invitation was welcomed, for I had had no sleep during the three previous nights and days and was, as Mr. Garrett stated, worn out.
I slept soundly. Only a small incident happened during the night. Mr. Garrett had the bars leading to his barnyard doors down, and a single horseman led his horse around the barn and inspected the front doors, which he found locked, and therefore he failed to open the doors. After spending some five or ten minutes in this inspection, he mounted his horse and rode away. Mr. Garrett had watched him, gun in hand, from the window and intended to resist any violent effort.
In the morning, Mr. Garrett notified me of the incident, whereupon I joined the man who had been keeping guard with Mr. Garrett during the night and prepared for starting the day’s journey. The teams were grained, early breakfast was had, and as the day dawned the wagons were in front of Mr. Garrett’s gate ready to start for a station on the railroad some twenty or twenty-five miles distant. This was supposed to be the station of Carpenter on the Louisville and the Nashville Railroad. But checking up later, it was discovered that I had given out three probable destinations where I would take the train, and this without designing it so. One was Naper and the other Carpenter and another Sandyhook station, and finally the one I arrived at was none of the three, but Mount Pleasant in the county adjoining Lewis on the east.
Leaving the Garrett residence a rough road led up a steep ravine out to the flat woods of the district, and I surmised that if an attack was made upon my expedition, it would likely be while going up this deep cut ravine to the flat woods. So after turning from the Kane Creek road up this wood road to the flats beyond, I cautioned Rufus whatever happened to pay strict attention to keeping his team in the road. The same caution was given to the other two men driving the other wagon, as the road was rough and any departure from it might lead to disaster for the caskets encased in the outer boxes.
When I took my leave of Mr. Bernard Moses of Chattanooga, the latter persuaded me to take a gun with me which he provided and really insisted upon my taking it, saying, “You are going among a lot of heathens down there. No telling what might happen. You had better take my gun.” He had thrust it in the inside pocket of my coat, and hence when the journey began up this heavily wooded ravine, I took the gun in my hand and threw my coat over it. The other members of the party were not armed, as I had dissuaded them from arming lest they might begin in excitement to start shooting before a crisis might come. I told Rufus that if we were attacked that I would take care of the mob, while Rufus was to look solely after the team. The flat woods reached, the wood road disappeared, and for miles and miles we wandered about in the flats unable to determine the direction we were following. As nearly as we could judge, we moved in the direction, as we supposed, of Carpenter station. But it had to be confessed that we were wholly lost.
Toward four in the afternoon, however, we emerged from the flats into another rather well defined wood road turning sharply to the east and passing a solitary uninhabited log cabin. We followed this road for several miles. Meantime two or three men on horseback rode up and examined the caskets, on the outside boxes of which was written the name of the occupant. In the wagon in which I rode was contained the body of Elder John H. Gibbs, and his name was written on the outside of the box. Having read these names, the horsemen seemed satisfied and, without passing a word, turned back and rode rapidly away. A fourth horseman overtook the wagons, and he asked what station we were headed for and was told the Carpenter station. The horseman said that we had long since passed east of Carpenter, and the best thing to do to reach Carpenter station would be to turn back on the road, and we would doubtless come to the station before dark. This suggestion, however, was silently refuted, and we announced that we would follow the course eastward until we came to some station upon the railroad.
Shortly after this incident the road, which was stony and stumpy and hence rough, circled ahead of a ravine down which a small stream of water trickled. Some distance below, a rough-looking character was squatted beside a tiny stream throwing up the water with his hand into his mouth, and I noted that he was about as mean-looking a person as I had ever seen. At the head of the ravine, however, where the road became a dugway, I stopped the teams and went down to speak to this man, inquired the distance to the nearest station eastward, and passed the time of day. I tried to be a little agreeable but without success, for the man was not only vicious-looking and vicious of speech, but he urged me as the other horsemen had done some distance back that I turn about and go to Carpenter’s station. This station was nearer than any other point of the railroad, where I could intercept the train for Nashville. The more the man argued for this course, however, the more determined I became to continue eastward. Asking the nature of the road, the man told me that it was very rough and that I would scarcely make any station before nightfall. When I made my decision to go on eastward, the man with smothered cursing dipped down the ravine. Just why, I did not know.
Within a mile or so, the wood road ended, and we came upon a well built turnpike, running somewhat parallel with the railroad, and within two or three miles from the man who had urged me to turn back, we came to Mount Pleasant. There an express company took charge of the bodies and would ship the bodies to Nashville by way of Columbia. The teams were turned over to the drivers, and lodging was secured at the hotel. When I asked a number of colored men at the station to assist in the unloading of the caskets and putting them in care of the express company, the Negroes refused to move and demanded what there would be in it for them. Whereupon I said that I did not ask for service which I would not pay for. There was a rush both of white men and colored men to render the assistance called for, and each received a tip which more than compensated him for the assistance rendered. A comfortable night was spent at the hotel, and early the next morning I boarded the train on which the caskets were loaded, and the journey to Nashville was completed by ten o’clock. So that made the journey in less time than I had calculated it would take me to secure the bodies and reach the railroad and so to Nashville.
Elder Kimball was to have returned from Shady Grove by way of Nashville to Chattanooga, obtain the money that had been telegraphed for from Salt Lake City, pay the indebtedness to Mr. Moses for the money he had loaned me, and return with the balance to Nashville. From there the bodies would be shipped to Salt Lake City in care of some elder. On my part I was to secure the bodies and get them back to Nashville, probably by the evening of Monday. But I had managed to reach Nashville at ten o’clock in the morning and put the caskets in charge of the railroad express company to be shipped on a late train that night for the west. Elder Kimball did not return to Nashville until between nine and ten o’clock that Monday evening.
There was nothing for me to do but await the arrival of Elder Kimball from Chattanooga, and being without suitable clothing into which to change, I was compelled to wear the rough-looking garb I had worn during my journey for the bodies. This was not quite suitable apparel in which to meet newspaper reporters, mayors, and governors that I had contacted a few days before my adventure. My appearance doubtless drew upon me the attention of the police about the station, and I soon discovered that I was being followed by them. Of course, I was anxious to know what was being said about the recent massacre in the newspapers, and therefore I went to the newspaper stand and inquired when trains from St. Louis, Louisville, and Cincinnati arrived in the central depot of Nashville. Soon I observed that the two policemen evidently following me up made a halt at the news stand and engaged in conversation with the news agent. I surmised that the newsman had been told to ask why it was that this rough-looking man was so eager to have the papers from the cities above named.
On my next passing the news stand and inquiring for papers, the news man asked me what I was keeping track of by buying up all the papers that came in with the trains. It so happened that one of the papers that came in from Louisville contained an account of some man who had visited and had entered the hole at the North Pole and had performed something like a three-year journey on the interior of the earth. There he found a salubrious climate and a fertile country within the earth, which received its light chiefly through the North Pole opening. After three years of wandering this man had seen what he at first took for a star way off in the distance, and as he made his journey southward, the star seemed to grow brighter. He was climbing an ascent from the interior of the earth and found the star to be the mouth of a cave opening up way down in Texas and thus came out of the earth’s interior to the surface of the earth again.
So when asked what was interesting me in the papers, I told the newsman in a stupid way by asking him if he had read the account of the man who went into the interior of the earth at the north pole and had emerged from a cave in Texas. The newsman roared with amusement at this silly circumstance and expressed his unbelief in the correctness of it. But I said that I was mighty interested in that thing, and I wanted to see if the other papers besides the one from Louisville had anything more to say about it. Then retiring to the open-ended station I watched for the coming of the police to the news stand to get what had passed between the newsdealer and me, and as they were told the story, they doubled up with laughter and concluded that it was some fool following up this raw incident of alleged adventure.
Relieved from the spying tactics of the policemen and realizing that Elder Kimball could not return from Chattanooga until night and desiring to avoid meeting the reporters and city and state officials that I had contacted a few days before, I wandered out to the outskirts of Nashville and walked about on the heights overlooking the river. While doing so I chanced to pass a colored man’s tin type photograph gallery and thought perhaps it might be a family interest if I could show them the outfit in which I made the trip. Accordingly I walked inside and seeing that the photographer was looking out of the window preoccupied, I took a seat on an imitation stump in front of a screen of an outdoor scene and waited until the photographer should turn and discover me, which presently he did, and he gave a jump at being in the presence of so hard a looking character. He asked if I wanted my photograph taken and was answered in the affirmative. After shifting about for a few minutes, he rather timidly suggested that there was a wash room in which I could make myself ready for the picture if I chose to, but he was answered that it was not desirable for me to do so. I wanted my picture as I sat there and told him to get his machine ready and shoot. This the photographer did. This photograph without my wish was reproduced widely and published in Utah.
At nine o’clock Elder Kimball came up from Chattanooga, and I met him in the Union Depot of Nashville. Although Elder Kimball had been present when I started my journey in the disguise I assumed, nevertheless he was startled when confronted by his erstwhile companion. Elder Kimball had to report that no money had yet arrived from Salt Lake, and he had been under the necessity of further testing the kindness of Mr. Moses, who had advanced him several hundred dollars more to carry out the plans of sending home the bodies of the dead elders. Elder Kimball had brought the ordinary suit of clothing, which I had been wearing, and I immediately repaired to the hotel, where I could change my clothing.
I hurried to do this in order that I might meet representatives of the press and correct the accumulated misrepresentations that had taken place during my absence from Nashville. I especially wanted to contradict the reported statements of Governor Bates, who had represented that the elders had been killed because of alleged improper relations in the families of the people where they had labored. This gave me an opportunity not only to correct these misstatements but to tell of my adventure in securing the bodies of my brethren. These statements were published at the time in the Nashville papers. Also I decided that I myself would not return with the bodies to Utah but would place them in the care of Elder Willie E. Robinson, who had been the first to visit the Condor residence on Kane Creek and found out the extent of the massacre. The bodies were started westward by train, which left Nashville at midnight for St. Louis and the west.
In due time Elder Robinson arrived in Salt Lake with the bodies, and relatives from the south where Elder Berry lived and from Cache Valley where Elder Gibbs had lived took charge of the bodies, and memorial services were held by the mourning people. General services were held at the same time in Salt Lake City, and the martyrs were eulogized by prominent church officials residing in Salt Lake City. Other leading brethren had also gone to the respective homes of these families to manifest their respect for these brethren. The services were impressive, and the eulogy praised highly the fidelity of these recent martyrs to the cause of the New Dispensation. Steps were also taken to raise the necessary funds for aiding the members of the church in the Kane Creek district to migrate to the settlements of the Saints in Utah and Colorado. This resulted in most of them accepting the aid to their migration.
Mr. Garrett and his family, who had so prominently aided me in this undertaking of moving the elders’ bodies to Utah, also found it necessary to move because of threats of violence made against him and destruction of his property. He settled in Bond County, Illinois, where it was necessary to forward to him some assistance in surviving his forced departure from Kane Creek to a place of security. The Condor family received assistance from the church, and while they removed from the scene of their sorrow, they nevertheless elected to remain in Tennessee and lived for a number of years in the western part of that state on the Buffalo, a tributary to the Tennessee River.