Monday, August 10, 2015

A Land of Strangers and the Possibility of Another Book

It has been two years since I published A Land of Strangers: Cane Creek Tennessee's Mormon Massacre And its Tragic Effects on the People Who Lived There. I have a few mixed emotions about what I would do differently if had it to do all over, but for the most part I have been pretty satisfied with the approach and the results.

Ever since I have been asked again and again if and when I am going to write another book. The answer is a bit complicated. But to boil it down as much as possible I haven't found a subject which has grabbed me and refuses to let go.

I originally wrote A Land of Strangers because I felt I had a viewpoint that was not being represented. I found opinions to be sure. Most fell on one of two sides which were diametrically opposed viewpoints. Both were represented on the internet, or published in one form or another.

On the one side were people who believed that the massacre and the events related to it were the machinations of the devil; that the perpetrators were "fiends in human form" working to destroy the work of the gospel and stop it from rolling forth through out the world. Specifically in this case, ministers and the local elite, fearing a loss of power responded with lies and violence. Ultimately their efforts failed and the Church continues to grow.

On the other side were people who saw the late 19th century LDS missionary work in Tennessee as an effort to seduce weak minded people to move to Mormon communities in the west - even if it broke up families - in order to prop up a financial system reliant on the constant influx of low wage workers and to provide ever younger women for polygamous marriages. These missionaries hid behind the veil of religious freedom, making the law powerless to stop them, and leaving violence as the only remedy.

The truth as I saw it was at neither end of the spectrum. The world is not split between just evil and good. no one is wholly one or the other. All of us, no matter how good, have some sin. I assume that that the opposite is also true. With that said, to understand why someone does something that we think of as evil, we must first understand how they justified their actions.

As a lifeguard I learned that person drowning will grab on to anything within reach. Their actions appear irrational, and can actually cause the drowning they are so desperately trying to avoid. But if we know how a drowning person thinks we can devise a method to save them without putting our selves at risk. Instead of reaching out with a hand, and risk being pulled under water, give them something to grab on which you are holding: a stick, a towel, or a ring buoy. The same is true of those who oppose the church's missionary work. If we know how they think we can devise ways to live together peacefully.

That is what I tried to do in A Land of Strangers, and it drove me to research, to write and to see the book through to completion. Will I find another book to write that drives me as much? ......


Monday, July 27, 2015

Preaching under fire; first rocks then guns. Britt's Landing Branch Conference

Britt's Landing was little more than a general store, a warehouse and a loading dock on the east side of the Tennessee River. It is about four miles south of where Interstate 40 crosses the river today. Active before and after the Civil War, it was abandoned with the arrival of the railroad. Today nothing of the historic buildings remain.

The branch at Britt's Landing was also short lived. It centered around the family of Columbus and Lillie Fuller. The two had married in 1895 in Houston, Wayne county, Tennessee but were living in Tipton county when the met the missionaries. Columbus was baptized, along with his sisters Cora and Carrie. But it would be almost another year before his wife too joined the Church. By then they were living at Britt's Landing in Perry county. It was the Fuller family that brought the missionaries to preach at this out of the way place. I have no first hand records of the missionaries who preached there, only a quick historical note.


Last year [1907] the elders were forbidden to tract in Britts Landing. They are now meeting with success in that city.


The two missionaries who were having success had arranged for a branch conference at the home of Mr Brigg. I've not found a Brigg family living at Britt's Landing, but there was a Britt family who had a magnificent white home with a large curved stairway and lavish furnishings. They owned the warehouse and a general store.


A branch conference was held at Britt's Landing [Perry County, Tenn] June 27 and 28, [1908] Four elders were present on the first day and two Elders D. S. Dorrity and George Shaw, on the last. Everything went smoothly until the night of the 28th. A meeting was held at the home of a Mr. Brigg. While it was in progress, some of the neighbors with more bigotry than religion, threw rocks through the windows in the hope of breaking up the meeting. The people were plucky and not easily disturbed. A little later guns were fired on the outside, but the meeting went on, and no harm was done. The honorable people of the community were indignant over the mobocratic outbreak and are determined to bring the offenders to justice.


Four were baptized that day by Elders Dorrity and Shaw
-Mavis Pearl Beasley, a niece of Columbus Fuller
-Reginald Buchanan, a brother of Lillie Fuller
-Walter Brown Bell, probably a nephew of Columbus Fuller
-Harmin Duglas Fuller, a son of Columbus & Lillie

Missionaries returned a couple weeks later and baptized two more: Benjamin Harrison Bell and Sam Bell and the following year Monroe Harrison Branch. By 1910, however, the Fuller family had moved to Utah, and Britt's Landing fell off the radar. The branch quietly faded into history.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Who Were These Elders?

Recently I received some great biographical and autobiographical information on Elder John L Bench. who served a mission to Tennessee from 1896 to 1898. There is a great deal to sort through, and I'm just getting started, but I wanted to share some of the process I am going through. One part of that process is to place Elder Bench in context with his contemporaries. Today that involves a photograph that includes him and two other missionaries.


I love the Prince Albert suits and the white bow ties are cool. The setting is typical of photography studios for the period. Elder Bench is on the right. But who were the other two Elders? If I could identify them perhaps I could learn a little more about Elder Bench's mission.

As was customary at the time the location of the studio is right on the photo; Chattanooga, Tennessee. It is a good place to start. As far as I know there were two times Elder Bench was in Chattanooga, he may also have visited white he was organizing Sunday Schools for the mission, but for now we'll ignore that.

The first was in 1896, when he started his mission. He arrived and received his assignment from  Elders John Wesley Chipman and St. Joseph White. Afterwards the whole group visited lookout mountain, had their photo taken at Umbrella Rock with the new missionaries and left for Paris Tennessee with Elder Barker.

The missionaries who arrived with him from Utah were, William Malden Dye, Theodore Wilford Turley, George Arthur Parkinson, Franklin William Andrus, Newton Andrus, James Nutter Stanworth, Charles Robert Spencer, Allen Burt Snowball, Frederick Thomas Ballam, Alma Swenson, Leon Brigham Hampton, William Marcellus Woolley, Joseph Albert Manning Williams, Benjamin Wilcox Dansie, Calvin Fife, George Hubbard Lytle, and James John Barker.

It is a long list of names to sort through. But since there are only three in the photo I doubt it was taken at the beginning of his mission. They had already had their photo taken at the top of Lookout Mountain. So I think this photo was more likely at a later date.

During the last part of his mission, Elder Bench was assigned to work in the office in Chattanooga as the commissary clerk. He was there for several months, so it could have been at any point during his stay. The other missionaries working in the office, besides President Ben E Rich, were, Nels Peter Nelson, Lewis Robert Anderson, George Aird MacDonald, and George Elbridge Hill Jr.

With this shorter list I took the time to look up a photo of each one. The internet is wonderful so I was quickly able to find a time appropriate photo for all but one: Elder Nelson. His only photo was from when he was much older. But even with the ease of finding photos none of them were a match.

Not really looking forward to looking up each person on the first list, and justifying my reluctance by saying it probably isn't two of them anyway, I was left to my third option. Elder Bench could have been in Chattanooga during his stint setting up Sunday Schools. And it is possible that these were missionaries visiting Chattanooga with whom he spent a day-off.  My list of candidates is getting way too big. So I thought, how about a different approach? I started looking through the photos I already had. That's when I started thinking I should take the advice I got online and start using photo recognition software. Maybe I will.

In the meantime I found these two photos. I put them together for comparison. The both served at the same time as Bench but in different conferences. I haven't found how they might have cross paths.

The first is Lehi Aldridge Thorley. Most people (80%) I have asked agree this is probably the same person.

 The second is James William Funk. Only 20% so far agree this is the same person, so I probably have more searching to do.
What do you think? Have I found my missionaries? Do I keep looking?