Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cooper Skelton Manuscript

In the 1930's, the Work's Progress Administration (WPA) in something called the "Historical Record Project" set about collecting local records of historic value. Cemeteries were catalogued, family Bibles were collected and indexed and older residents were interviewed with the intent of documenting their memories of local history. The Cooper Skelton Manuscript (official project no. 465-44-3-115) was one of these.

The manuscript is a typed copy (I've held the original in my hands) of a newspaper clipping saved by Katie Cooper who lived "15 miles east of Hohenwald," Tennessee. It was hand copied by Mrs. Lillie L. Skelton and later typed by Mrs Josie Smith. I have found many documents quoting this newspaper clipping, but not the original.

The manuscript quotes selections from a history of Lewis County originally written by W. L. Pinkerton in 1909. Pinkerton claims that living witnesses will attest to the truth of his stories. He then provides a lurid claim of sexual assault without giving names of victims, witnesses, or perpetrators. He describes all three in only the most general terms, a young southern girl, her boyfriend, and two Mormon missionaries, leaving the reader to mentally associate these people with ones he already knows. He does not even give a date or place. The crime, if it happened at all, is referenced nowhere else in written form.

The most appalling selection sounds a little like the infamous missing newspaper article. It makes me wonder if Pinkerton found the newspaper article. Pinkerton's version reads…

Big meetings were held, and baptisings were conducted the followers becoming imbued with the new religion. In their zeal, husbands who had hitherto been devoted in attention to their wives now were resigned in their natures and with indifference silently sat by listening to the elders affectionately address the wife of a brother as his wife and other endearing terms. To even be plainer it is asserted that when one's wife would be baptized in to the church, the Elder would then say: Sister you are now as much my wife as you are your husbands’ ", A significant fact worth recording here was the manner in which the HOLY GHOST would be bestowed. If a woman joined the church and was baptized it is said she would be then carried to some nearby house in order that she could receive the HOLY GHOST. Men folks, however, could have it bestowed on the creek bank, as well as anywhere else. Why this difference? Can hellish reasons not be inferred from what has been said already. If any man doubt for one moment these statements there are still living witnesses in this vicinity who can testify to them. If any man doubt a moment that this was a rotten and corrupt deception by which simple excited women were attempted to be seduced then let him visit this immediate neighborhood and hear the story from the lips of a pure woman who was at that time a girl of tender years.

Hear her statement then say whether or not the citizens who banded themselves together for the purpose of driving the "Elders" out of the community acted rashly or without just cause.

The young girl, though uneducated, and while little versed in what the world would term refinement and culture, at the same time possessed a virtuous soul and indignantly rebelled against the hypocrisy and sin they sought to palm off on her as a part of Mormon worship.

It is further narrated that the "Elders", not satisfied with having failed to deceive this innocent young woman, and not content with finding she would not yield to their infamous persuasion, they even went so far as to lay hold of her with violent hands.

Think of such designing hypocrisy. Think of preachers in the guise of the church and in the name of religion entering our homes for the purpose of seducing our wives and daughters: and then think of the stupid father who under the sway and influence of these scoundrels become so blinded as to look upon them as saints and who could not realized what was being done before his own eyes.

Think of the bashful, timid country boy who stood by as a witness and saw the girl he loved, nay the sweet innocent country girl he had worshipped from early boyhood ensnared and captivated, dethroned of all reason, excited and entranced and lured off under the bewilderment that he has discovered a new religion which will allow her to commit fornication and where adultery is no longer a sin.; and you ask if his was done on Cane Creek in LEWIS COUNTY did the saints and Elders practice anything like this?

Yes, all this and even worse things were done, if possible and that is why good citizens rose up against it with a determination to put an end to the corruption that was then becoming so notorious among certain families in the neighborhood. These were the causes which led to the subsequent killing of the preachers and three other parties and which resulted in running the others out of the country.

This passage is pure fiction. This did not happen on Cane Creek, though I cannot speak for anywhere else. This article was designed to incite animosity against all Mormon missionaries on behalf of all young southern girls and their boyfriends. The article could not have be more specific, or else the writer would not get the desired result. If, as I suspect, this is taken from the missing newspaper article, this was read by many before August 10, 1884, and the actual result was 5 deaths and one wounding.

As a foot note, when other websites have quoted the Lewis County version of the Massacre from Pinkerton’s history, this selection is usually edited out. Even people with an axe to grind against the LDS Church recognized this is so obviously false that it would damage their own credibility.


In The Doghouse said...

This is utterly shocking. I suppose nothing should shock me anymore when it comes to accusations against the Church, but this still seemed to do it! This is about as good as those still claiming that Mormons consummate their marriage on the altars of the Temple. Utter rubbish!

BTW I hope you don't mind. I featured your Blog in one of my Hubs at Hubpages... I love your writing and wanted to share.

BruceCrow said...

I don't mind if you feature my blog elsewhere. Maybe I'll grow from 7 people reading my blog to 8 or 9.

It is rubbish, but it gives you a flavor of what made the people of Lewis County so mad. It is just sad they were so easily deceived.