Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Burned Down Chapel

In May 1884, on the morning of a Sunday meeting, the Elders arrived at the location of a log meeting house recently built by the saints to find it had been burned down. Near the smoking remains of the chapel a note was found. It was signed the Shiloh Men. The author claimed responsibility for the arson and warned the missionaries to leave the area or face worse consequences. Elder Gibbs ignored the warning, preaching a sermon under a nearby tree and with some of the arsonists listening in. After preaching some asked to be baptized immediately. His brash disregard for the demands of the Shiloh Men, most likely added fuel to the building resentment directed at the Mormon missionaries in general and at Elder Gibbs specifically. It also added to his success.

The incident is recorded in an undated entry in Elder Gibbs journal. Elder Gibbs appears to have copied the account from a letter he wrote to his brother George.

"Just returned from a trip to Lewis County, Tenn. Had quite an interesting time. The ball opened by my receiving a notice from what is known as the Ku Klux or Shiloh Band, to the effect that I must leave in 30 days or die; that they would give me timely warning by burning the meeting-house, after which if I was found preaching 'death was my doom.' On Sunday morning I made for the meeting-house expecting to hold services, but found the building and contents in ashes.

Not allowing such vandalism to affect the performance of my duty, I immediately notified the people that I would hold the meeting under the shade of an immense old elm tree, whose shade covered a large stretch of ground.

The people responded to my invitation, coming from all quarters, some to hear me preach, others to see the shooting, and others again to ascertain our intentions. It is very evident that I have friends here in the shape of fair-minded and honorable men, for the sheriff of the county was present prepared to see "fair play." while others came armed, and took pains to let people see they were "heeled," and other had shotguns hid away close at hand in the event of an outbreak. This was entirely unknown to me until after the meeting was over; but I tell you, it was very gratifying information, not so much because my person was in danger out because the evidence it bore of men's willingness to risk their lives in the cause of right. Such men are worthy the blessing and admiration of all good people, irrespective of religious belief.

The meeting was largely attended. The people seated themselves on the grass, while I stood among them speaking for two and a half hours. The peculiar and unusual character of the occasion is the only apology I can offer for the length of my sermon. It seemed as though I could not stop, and the people listened with patience and interest to the close. The supposed leader of the "Shiloh band" and burner of the house was present. I learn from old veterans of the late war that if it was intended to arouse a man's feelings beyond control, all one had to do was to tell him to "go to Shiloh!"[6] In comparison hell is supposed to be a sweet-scented place compared with Shiloh.

To my utter astonishment after the close of the meeting, three converts straightway demanded baptism, and, I guess, to the astonishment of others, I baptized them there and then, there being "much water" nearby. This proved a shock to the members of the Shiloh Band; it changed, or as we say sometimes, it corrected the atmosphere. The situation was ours, and the honest in heart present felt it as well as I. We held a second meeting, and five more applied for baptism. I baptized them on the Monday, when I held another meeting when I was favored with another application for baptism. Thus the Lord overruled in our favor by pouring out His Spirit so abundantly upon the honest in heart as to convince them of the truth, and to give them holy boldness sufficient to demand baptism under such alarming circumstances. Thus were the efforts of a band of wicked men frustrated. It may be that this will only tend to incite them to persist in their bold plans. I have strictly cautioned the Saints, numbering now 27, who are united to a man, to be cool and patient, to seek to the Lord in humility of spirit for wisdom and power to suffer wrong rather than do wrong. It is hard, very hard indeed to hold a Southerner when his rights are infringed upon. Threats and notices of leave are now the order of the day."

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