John Henry Gibbs was born on July 28th 1853 in Havorford, West Pembrook, Wales. His parents, George Duggan Gibbs and Ellen Phillips and his 5 siblings joined the LDS Church on August 28, 1862 when John was nine. Four years later, in a desire to gather to Zion, his family boarded a ship bound for America.
His sister recorded an amazing story about a game of marbles played on the ship. You can read about it here.
John’s family settled at Paradise, Cache County, Utah. He was ordained an Elder in March 1871 and married Louisa Obray in November 2, 1874. They had three children: Martha (b. 1875), John (b. 1877), and Louisa (b. 1879).
He was Elders' Quorum secretary, of Paradise, for several years, and then YMMIA President for two years. He also taught school in Richmond, Utah, until he left on his mission on February 23, 1883, at the age of 29.
When Gibbs arrived in Cane Creek, a number (20-30 by some accounts) of local citizens had joined the church. But Elder Gibbs pushed that success up. In the months he was there he baptized 22 new members including Brother James Condor’s wife and children. His success was one of the contributing factors that drove the vigilantes to violence.
Elder Gibbs was also known to play a prank on occasion. You can read about one he hatched to play on Brother Condor which was recorded by his companion and told here. On another occasion he visited an Elder Charles L. Flake, pretending to be a local prosecuting Attorney and charged Elder Flake with preaching polygamy and false doctrine. Gibbs went as far as to convince Elder Flake that he was being arrested. Elder Flake did not know Elder Gibbs and didn't discover the deception until Gibbs' companion, Elder Jones, arrived.
Elder Gibbs' work took him to many areas of Middle Tennessee. In addition to Lewis County, Gibbs worked in the counties of Humphreys, Houston, Hickman, Wayne and Maury.
In May 1884, the log chapel at Cane Creek was burned to the ground, and a threatening note left next to the ashes. Elder Gibbs saved the note, and many like it. They are kept in the John H Gibbs Collection at BYU. But Elder Gibbs refused to be intimidated. Despite the threat, he preached that day next to a big tree and baptized eight more converts. It has been reported that some of those who wrote the note listened as he preached. Again it was Gibbs disregard of their attempts at intimidation that contributed to vigilantes' anger at him.
In June 1884, Elder Gibbs was assigned to visit the county seat of several places outside his regular preaching area. In the company of Elder Jones, he would make themselves known to the local authorities and get a license to preach. By early August they had run out of money and returned to middle Tennessee. Their first stop, on August 8th, was Cane Creek.
In an interview with a convert from Cane Creek, John D. Westbrook, the Utah Journal learned the following about Elder Gibbs. “He was a young man of unsurpassed courage, moral and physical: staunch and true; a warm friend; a genial, jovial and boon companion; a youth of spotless life and irreproachable habits, and a saint having convictions of the truth as immovable as adamant.”
Gibbs was the first killed on Sunday, August 10th 1884, probably by David Hinson, though some accounts claim it was Babe Hinson who killed him. Regardless of who fired the shot, Elder Gibbs appears to be the main target in most versions of the massacre. While interrogating Elder Jones one of the vigilantes said "Time is flying; Let us get Gibbs!"
Determined to preach the Gospel as he knew it, Elder Gibbs died with the scriptures in his hand, looking up a verse in the bible "suggested" to him by the song the congregation had just finished singing. The shot entered under his arm killing him instantly.
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