[Editors note: This post represents my current understanding of the events on the day of the Cane Creek Massacre. As my research reveals more I will update this page]
It was a disturbing morning at the home of William James Conder. His wife, Malinda Conder, awoke from a fitful sleep. She had dreamed that today there would be violence and gunshots. Perhaps she had been subject to the power of suggestion as a dinner guest from Friday night had warned the family that there might be trouble today. Regardless, Malinda told her boys that morning they should load their guns and be prepared for trouble. The boys consented. Riley put his loaded double barrel shot gun in the loft, probably thinking he wouldn't really need it. The younger Martin set his gun over the back door on a set of deer antlers so it would be close at hand. Elder William S. Berry woke as well and spent the morning preparing for his day. I have no record of his feelings about the day.
At the home of Isaac Thomas Garrett, the other three Elders, John H. Gibbs, William H. Jones, and Henry B. Thompson, woke without concern. They took the opportunity to wash and otherwise prepare themselves for the mornings meeting.
At about 8:00AM, Elders Gibbs and Thompson left to walk the mile down the creek to the Conder home where the Sunday services were going to be held. They wanted to arrive early to set up, meet those who came early and apparently sing hymns. Elder Jones remained at the Garrett home to finish reading a discourse from a Church leader written in the Deseret News to a small group there. Elder Berry was to meet them there.
The vigilantes had a meeting of their own, of about twelve men. Originally a much larger group was anticipated, probably 40 or more. But on account of the others either being late, drunk or both, the group already assembled agreed to proceed without them. One said "What's holdin us, come on boys, we've got enough here to do the job"
According to testimony from Willard Washington Bean, two local residents identified only as Uncle Billy and Uncle Jake, upon hearing about the vigilantes plan, decided to find a spot in the woods to "witness the goings on". They figured they were probably not invited because they were too old. So they secreted themselves in the woods between the Conder home and the creek. But as chance would have it, the mob left the road before they arrived at the farm and walked right up to their hiding spot. When they were discovered they were told at gun point to stand where they were, but instead they ran off up the creek before the attack began.
Another witness, John F. Henschen, was intercepted by the vigilantes while they were still on the road. Riding near the Conder home, he was stopped and held at gunpoint as the events unfolded. From his horse he could see the wagon the mob had brought along holding the tar and feathers which were never used. He claimed to also be able to see the Conder home, though no one at the home noted the wagon.
The mob anticipated the direction from which the missionaries would come, probably because they believed they knew where they were staying. They crossed the creek on foot and then hid themselves along the trail on the north side of Cane Creek. But because of their hesitation in getting started, or perhaps because of Elders’ Gibbs and Thompson’s desire to arrive early to set up, the vigilantes arrived too late to intercept the first two Elders.
At about 9:15 AM, about 45 minutes before the scheduled meeting was to start, Elder Jones left the Garrett home and started down stream. Just below the bluff on which the Conder farm sat, was a bridge made from a tree which Martin Garn fell across the creek a few years earlier. To cross this log foot bridge, one would follow the creek about 100 yards from the main road along a narrow trail flanked by tall brush, trees, and at one point a cornfield. The trail was well defined due to the popularity of the bridge. Elder Jones was about halfway along this path (near the cornfield) when he was “rushed upon” by a large number of men in masks and “horrid costumes”. The men were hidden in the brush and in the cornfield that ran part of the way beside the trail. At gun point they commanded his silence to prevent him from calling for help and demanded to know where the other missionaries were.
Elder Jones immediately raised his hands above his head, saying he was unarmed. But after gaining his composure, he placed his hands on his hips, “akimbo” fashion. He was told to raise them again which he did.
Seeing that the other missionaries were not nearby, the vigilantes searched him quickly – Jones later said one of them took his watch - and forced him to cross the fence into the cornfield. The vigilantes then took him to the far side of the cornfield, over the brow of the hill and down into a ravine. Along the way, he was periodically – three times, Jones would later say - punched with the barrel of the guns pointed at him. Finally they told him to stop and he was permitted to sit down in the shade as the sun was getting to be uncomfortable.
They proceeded to ask him about his companions and their whereabouts. Elder Jones told them about Elder Gibbs and Thompson, but not where they were other than they were further along the creek. He consciously did not tell them about Elder Berry, thinking if they knew that he was alone, they would hunt him down. Jones apparently thought Berry was not at the Conder home. They asked Jones where he was from, why he was in Tennessee.
After being satisfied that the other Elders had indeed already passed, the mob left Elder Jones under the guard of four men while the others went off in the direction of the Conder home. But after a short while they returned and asked more questions
During this second interrogation, his captors seemed to warm up to him. One said “This is young fellow. I don’t know if we want to hurt him.” They asked his age - he was 25 - and if he would leave if they told him to. To which Jones replied if they could prove to him his religion was false he would leave with no argument.
At this the mob began to converse amongst themselves. Soon, one of the said “Time is flying. Let us get Gibbs” Elder Jones interrupted asking what they have against Gibbs and if they had broken any law. “By God you will have to obey our law! You have by your preaching made trouble among the neighbors, and we will have you answer to us.” Another said “Gibbs boasts that he is not afraid of us, and is not afraid to die. Would you be afraid if it came to the test?” Jones replied that he didn’t know and didn’t want to find out.
After conversing amongst themselves again, they left, leaving only one of their own, Ruben Mathis, though his identity was not revealed at the time. Mathis’ first words to Jones were that he would shoot if he tried anything unfair, but that otherwise he would be treated like a brother.
The two began to talk and Mathis admitted that he intended to let him escape. At this Mathis directed Jones through some trees and over a hill away from the Conder home. As they walked Mathis confided that the other vigilantes intended murder, that they were the meanest men in the county, and were old guerrillas “who had killed their dozen men.”
Elders Gibbs and Elder Thompson had long ago reached the Conder home where they met Elder Berry. After some pleasantries they had begun singing hymns prior to the meeting, a common Mormon practice both to set the tone for worship and to pass the time while waiting for the rest to arrive. Sister Malinda Conder was inside along with Betty Webb (a niece of Malinda’s but not a Mormon), Eliza Talley and others. Sister Conder was holding her niece’s infant son, William Kess Webb. With them was Rachel Conder. Rachel’s younger sister, Vicie Conder, was in the kitchen.
The congregation had just finished singing a hymn and Elder Gibbs had picked up a bible with the words “That hymn suggests a good text to preach from” While he was looking the congregation took a break. Some people walked outside to the orchard. Elder Thompson spoke with Elder Berry, telling him how pleasant it was visiting with Elders Gibbs and Jones at the Garrett home the night before and that Elder Berry should have been there.
Outside the home some of the guests were in the orchard sampling the ripening fruit with the older boys, Riley and Martin. Their father, William James Conder, was around the front of the house near the gate. He may have been there to welcome guests or perhaps he was there to keep an eye out for trouble on account of his wife’s dream. Other guests were outside the home having just arrived and were still in front of the house. Just then the vigilantes approached the home presumably having crossed at the log foot bridge. Brother Conder was immediately seized by some of the vigilantes while the rest continued (by most accounts they simply walked up to the house) on to the house. Brother Conder had just enough time to call out to his sons, telling them to get their guns.
While the boys ran to the house, others in front the house, including James “Poole” Talley, who was still in his wagon, were forced to wait outside the home at gunpoint as three or four of the vigilantes went in the front door. Inside Elder Gibbs was still looking through the pages of his bible, with his back to the door the vigilantes came through.
One of the vigilantes, David Hinson, went for the gun hanging on deer antlers above the back door. Riley arrived at the house and went straight to the loft to get his gun. Martin went for his gun but found David Hinson either already in possession of it or about to get it. Either way the two struggled for control of the gun. In the fight Hinson pulled out his revolver and shot at Martin, but it misfired with just a snap. Still, it startled the younger Martin allowing Hinson to gain control of the larger gun. At about this time someone shot Elder Gibbs. Most accounts claim it was David Hinson, who had used the gun he had just taken from Martin. Other accounts say it was Lindsey “Babe” Hinson, David’s brother, who shot Gibbs just before or as David and Martin struggled with Martin's gun. Regardless Gibbs was wounded under his arm, fell to the floor dead.
At the same time another vigilante, or perhaps two or three in other versions, pointed his gun at Elder Thompson. He was saved by Elder Berry’s quick efforts to deflect the gun - or guns - by either pushing it aside or grabbing it with both hands. This gave Thompson time to escape out the back door. Two guns were pointed at Elder Berry who was shot in the waist.
Thompson ran off the back porch and into the woods behind the house. As he ran one of the mob pointed his gun to shoot him. Before he fired, however, a child ran into the line of fire quickly followed by the child’s mother. As the mother scooped up her child, the vigilante held his fire out of fear for hitting the mother or the child. By the time he could get a clear shot Elder Thompson was out of sight.
Martin, who had regained his composure, got up and tried once more to get his gun from David Hinson. But during the struggle, another vigilante shot him dead. David, either having had enough or was finished with what he came to do, then turned to leave.
As Hinson was leaving, Riley came down from the loft with his gun. Two of the vigilantes rushed him trying to get his gun but he shook them off. He saw David Hinson leaving. Probably believing David Hinson had shot his brother, Riley shot him as he moved through the doorway. David fell down outside the house mortally wounded.
A voice cried out the “Hinson has been shot”. Another voice, probably Babe, said “I’ll have my revenge” at which point Riley was shot in the gut, presumably by Babe. Riley would live for another hour or two before dying.
Babe Hinson then called for help retrieving his brother. In a couple accounts Babe had to threaten his fellow vigilantes at gunpoint to get the help he needed. Kudge Sisco, an older black man, and a second unidentified man, grabbed David by the arms and dragged him back toward the Creek. According to one account David Hinson lingered on for a little while before he passed away too. One historian claimed that David said very little before he died, though he did ask for some water.
As the vigilantes left with Hinson’s body one or more of them fired at Berry’s body through the window. Stray buckshot hit Malinda Conder the hip, still holding her niece’s infant son, William Kess Webb, in her arms. The child was unharmed but the buckshot broke Malinda's hip bone.
It is worthwhile to note that a couple of the accounts say that the vigilantes rode horses as they left. None of these accounts were made by eyewitnesses. And because they would have had to cross Cane Creek on the log bridge, it is unlikely they brought their horses with them to the Conder farm. It is more likely the horses were held at some distance further along the road, and out of sight of the house, probably with the wagon one witness saw.
Back on the north side of the Creek, Jones and Ruben Mathis had just crossed the brow of the hill when they heard a gun fire from the direction of the Conder home [the shot the killed Gibbs]. After a short pause there were more gunshots [the two or three that killed Berry and Martin] another pause and then several more [Riley shooting David Hinson and in turn being shot]. Ruben exclaimed “My God! It’s as I told you. They are shooting among the women and children! Don’t you hear them scream? Run! They will come back and take revenge on you.” They ran thought the trees until they came to a road. Before they parted, Ruben gave Elder Jones directions to Shady Grove, and headed back towards the Conder home.
Ruben got back to the creek where he was met by two other vigilantes asking him where Jones was. After telling him that he let him go, one of the drew his pistol, apparently to shoot Ruben, The other vigilante, who Ruben identified as his brother, drew his gun as well, but pointed it at the other. Speaking quickly he said “If you shoot Rube, I’ll kill you.” Thinking better of his idea, the other man put his gun away.
After the vigilantes left, friends and family rushed to the house to see who was hurt and to try to help. Riley was still alive, though he would be so for long. He was helped to a shed out back of the home. But knowing his fate was sealed he urged them to do what they could for his mother instead.
Someone was sent to get a doctor, and Dr. Hugh Plummer being the closest, they took a horse and buggy toward his house immediately. Dr. Plummer was found at home but his horse was sweaty and tired and pieces of his colorful vigilante disguise were still in plain view. It was obvious Dr. Plummer was a member of the mob. Regardless, he came as he was asked and did what he could for Malinda. The bone had to be set as the shot had broken her upper thigh. Unfortunately the set was off by nearly an inch and although she would recover, she would walk with a cane for the rest of her life.
One member of the mob made it back to the Conder home and made an attempt to apologize for the shooting. It had never been their intention to hurt Malinda or her two sons. But Riley would offer no consolation. Bitterly, he told him to leave as there nothing he could now do.
A physician, probably Dr Plummer, since he was already there, made the proper determination of death required by the law.
Poplar lumber was used to make coffins. Martin and Riley were buried side by side in a single grave in the family cemetery on the hill near the Conder home. The coroner indicated a spot down close to the road, where the Elders were to be buried at. They were each placed in a coffin and buried in their own graves.
Meanwhile, Elder Jones, who had not served in Cane Creek very long, and did not know the area well, tried to make his way to Shady Grove. He stopped at two or three different houses along the way. At each stop he was given food and directions to Shady Grove, yet he did not follow them and ultimately got lost. He later heard that it was good that he was lost. Three of the vigilantes were tracking him, and had he taken to most logical path he would perhaps have been found.
Elder Thompson had hid himself in the underbrush not too far from the Conder home. He kept out of sight for the rest of the day, thinking he would be safer travelling at night. After dark he wandered lost without food and water.
1 month ago