Thursday, July 3, 2008

Cane Creek Massacre

One of the biggest events in LDS History in Tennesse was the Cane Creek Massacre, also known as Tennessee's Mormon Massacre. Cane Creek is a remote section of Lewis County, Tennessee. Missionaries of the period focused on rural communities because of the opposition they received in the larger cities.

The two missionaries serving in the area which included Cane Creek, were Elder Henry Thompson and Elder William S. Berry. A meeting was planned for Sunday morning at the home of "Jim" Conder. They were joined earlier in the week by two other Elders; John H. Gibbs and William H. Jones. Elder Gibbs had previously served at Cane Creek and was very well known. He had recently been given a supervisory role for LDS missionary activities in western Tennessee and as part of his duties had completed a tour of western Tennessee and parts of Mississippi.

Sunday morning while three of the Elders met at the Conder home, Elder Jones was at the home of Tom Garrett where he, Elder Gibbs and Elder Thompson had spent the night. He was reading a discourse by a “prominent elder of the church” to a small group meeting there. When he was finished, he started to make his way to the main Sunday meeting when he was surrounded by a mob of armed men in masks and "outlandish colorful" disguises. After questioning him, they left him under the guard of one of their number. The mob seemed mostly interested in the whereabouts of Elder Gibbs. "Time is flying. Let us get Gibbs" one of the vigilantes said.

The mob proceeded to the Conder home. They seized "Jim" Conder at the gate, who called to his two sons for help. One of the sons, J. Riley Hutson (his stepson) ran up to the loft to get his gun. The other, W. Martin Conder, ran to the back door to get his. The apparent mob leader, David Hinson, and few others entered the house where and Hinson and Martin struggled over the gun. At some point Hinson pulled a pistol to shoot Martin. The gun misfired but it allowed Hinson to gain the upper hand and he knocked Martin to the ground. He then turned and shot Elder Gibbs. Another member of the mob, then attempted to shoot Elder Thompson. Elder Berry grabbed the gun barrel with both hands and pushed it out of the way while Elder Thompson escaped out the back door. Elder Berry was then shot and died instantly. Martin regaining his composure went after the gun again. But he was shot by a different assailant and died instantly. Martin’s half brother, Riley, came down from the loft and shot and killed David Hinson but was in turn shot himself. Another shot fired from outside the Conder house hit Mrs. Conder in the hip. Her story is continued by Ardis Parshall here. The mob then left taking the body of David Hinson with them.

During the gunfight Elder Jones, left under guard less than a mile away, heard the shots and was allowed to escape by his guard. He immediately headed for Shady Grove in the next county.

Elder Willis E Robison and his companion in McEwen, Tennessee heard rumors of a shooting, but they varied from a single Elder being wounded and left to die in the woods to everyone at the meeting being killed. Not being able to determine the truth from the rumors, Elder Robison disguised himself as an itinerant cotton picker, he made his way to the Conder home. After learning from the Conder's what had happened he left in time to receive instructions to rendezvous with B. H. Roberts in Nashville.

Elder J. Golden Kimball, who was the Mission Secretary, by chance met one of the escaping missionaries (Elder Jones) in Shady Grove, Tennessee, the nearest community to Cane Creek with a Mormon congregation. The next day Thompson makes it to Shady Grove. With details from both Elders, Kimball sent news to Elder B. H. Roberts, who was an acting Mission President under John Morgan. Roberts sent instructions for all the missionaries to gather in Nashville.

Roberts, after meeting with Jones and Thompson, disguised himself, and went to Lewis county to secure the remains of the two Elders. He then had them sent to Utah in the care of Elder Robison.

For most of this my source has been Tennessee’s Mormon Massacre by Marshall Wingfield. And the two surviving missionaries published their accounts in the Deseret News. B. H. Roberts published an account based on interviews with unnamed witnesses. But there are other accounts which disagree on the specifics. One is published on the Lewis county website (the domain registration has expired for this link. I'm hoping the admin will fix that soon. Try this site instead). It is un-cited but quotes the work of W. L. Pinkerton. Pinkerton was a lawyer from Centerville, TN, and a local amateur historian. He would have had (in 1907) access to oral testimonies of several eyewitnesses from both sides. But unfortunately he did not document any of his research. It differs on many details, but not significantly.

[Addendum: updated October 1, 2013. This is only a brief summary of the events. Far more is known about what happened that day and I have published a book on it called A Land of Strangers. But in order to make the blog short enough to be readable, I've had to exclude much of the detail. If you want to read more of what I have written, click on the Cane Creek label to the left or if you want a more detailed summary of Aug 10, 1884 click here. For the hardcore historian take a look at my book for almost 300 pages of detail about the massacre and the lives of the Tennesseans involved. I am always finding more details so if you want even more, you can also email me at at with specific questions]


tenngran said...

I own the property that this massacre occurred. I would like to
know what happened to the daughters
Rachel and lavina.

BruceC said...

I haven't explored that yet, though I might know someone who has. I'll look into it and let you know.

BruceC said...

Ardis Parshall wrote this post about Melinda. It includes a reference to Rachel and Lavina taking care of their mother until she died and remaining faithful members of the Mormon Church. There is even a picture. I'll ask Ardis if she knows any more.

BruceC said...

Joan - I have some information. It seems that both girls stayed in Lewis county. At least one, Lavina, married and had children. I see several spellings on her name including Lavinia, Lavica, Vicia, Vicie, and Vica. She and her husband, William Haley, lived in Lewis county too.

Just what kind of infomation and how much detail were you looking for?

BruceC said...

Joan - I posted this article I found that I think will answer most of your questions.

sandytoo said...

Bruce C, I'm curious about early Mormon history in Stewart,Houston and Humphries County TN. Have found so little on the Net. Do the names Ross or Knight ring any bells?

Bruce Crow said...

Sandy, Thanks for posting. I can't think of any off the top of my head. Part of the problem of doing Mormon research in Tennessee, and in the US South in general, is that much of the early activity was distinctly rural. This was deliberate on the LDS church's part, mostly in an effort to avoid persecution (it didn't work). But one result is that since there were fewer newspapers in rural areas, there were fewer records with which to work. Most of what we have are based on Journals, Mission reports, and a few sensational events that did make it into the news. Very little of this is available online.

There are some records available at the State Archives in Nashville. And some of the local libraries have good resources. But unless you have a clue to start with, it can be like sifting sand at the beach. Of course, the memory of an older resident is always a good place for clues. Do you live in Tennessee? If you would like you could contact me directly at bruce_crow at yahoo dot com.

Anonymous said...

It seems like the link to the Lewis, Tennessee website does not function.

It was ref #6 in the wiki article on B.H. Roberts (led me to do a google search and find this blog!).

Good post.

BruceCrow said...

Thank you, and thanks for the heads up on the link. It seems the domain registration has expired, so I'm hoping the administrator will pay the bill and have the site back up soon.

Anonymous said...

We are researching the Condor's of Decatur County. We know the names of Jane (per her death cert father was Martin).
Other family members were Nelly, Caroline, Parthenia, Richmond, Jennete, Morgan, Martha and John.

Jane death cert shows she was born in Hickman County and died in Perry County. I do show a Jane Condor in Decatur County along with all the other names above.

Just wondering if any of these name were familiar.


tenngran said...


Do you have the "Hickman Pioneer" account August 15, 1884?

Joan Talley

BruceCrow said...

The one titled "Terrible Tragedy"? I do. I have two different copies, but both are faded and difficult to read. In some places it is illegible. Do you have a better copy?

tenngran said...

Some of the words are not plain, but I still can read them

Anonymous said...

The article from the Hickman Pioneer, August 15, 1884 can be found at

This was transcribed from the microfilm.

Deila Taylor said...

thank you for this information. I had used a ref from site, an Ensign, and it was wrong. So thanks so much.

BruceCrow said...

Thank you. Some professional historians repeat what others have written about Cane Creek instead of doing the research themselves. I understand why, but it is still frustrating.

Anonymous said...

JOHN H Gibbs was my great-great grandfather.I hope someday to travel to Tennessee and visit this area.
John Gibbs.

Becky Clement said...

John Henry William James Harris and his father Henry Harris were baptized on Dec. 18, 1883 and are listed in your Reed Patch article. It looks like Henry Harris was the first Reed Patch Branch President. Do you know which missionaries were there during that time?
Becky Clement

BruceCrow said...

Jesse J. Fuller and Geo. J. Woodbury were the missionaries who officiated at the Dec 18, 1883 baptism.

Unknown said...

William Berry is my GGG grandmother's brother. On our cross country trip next summer I am hoping to visit this site. Is there a marker or at least an address for us to visit?

Unknown said...

Do you still own this property? Is there a marker or something commemorating this event?

tenngran said...

There is a marker but someone damaged it and the marker was broken off the metal pole.
We will try out best to get it fixed and place this marker where it was originally.

Unknown said...



Unknown said...

The lds church put a commemorating sign in the 1980s but someone keep take it. The try 3 or 4 time to keep a sign up but people would steel it.

Unknown said...

You are right, the sign had been stolen for metal (we think) and later found in the Buffalo River. It was turned in to the lewis county state dept. Right now it is at the Tennessee State Technology Center in Hohenwald being repaired so we can put the sign back on the base where it originally was.