Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Missing Newspaper Article that Started it all

While some historians have claimed the Red Hot Address was largely responsible for the anti Mormon feeling in Lewis County in 1884, I believe more credit should be given to a Newspaper article that has since been lost. There are significant differences between the lost article and the Red Hot Address. I have previously reprinted the text of the Red Hot Address. Since I do not have the missing newspaper article I will quote what I do know.

Jack Wells, who confessed to having been in the mob, said “the whole thing was a big mistake.” He went on…

I believe that damn newspaper started the whole thing. Some fellers from the village rode up the creek here letting all read it as could read. And them that couldn’t read, they read for them, and got us all excited.

Another man known only as Bill, who was working for his cousin on the field near where Elder Jones was captured, said this about the newspaper article.

But the worst was a nasty newspaper article that was circulated among the people. I reckon you could find copies of that paper around yit (sic). It stirred up the people something terrible, and most of ‘em believed it, but some of us believed it was mostly lies. I never here’d of no women bothered by the Mormons.

W. W. Bean wrote about a conversion in 1895 with Mr. Simpson who lived in Lewis County. He told Bean that…

The fact is much of the prejudice against the Mormons is the result of a vicious newspaper article that was extensively circulated throughout the country. I don’t recall where the article was originally printed, but our little country paper at Lawrenceburg copied it and it spread like a forest fire all over the country.

After being asked to tell some of the details included in the article Mr. Simpson went on.

Among other things the article said: ‘The Mormons are after your women, and when they are converted to Mormonism, and an Elder has a woman in the water ready for baptism he stoops over and whispers to her, saying, after you are baptized and become sanctified, you become as much my wife as you are now your husband’s, and what-so-ever thou doest ye sinneth not.’ I didn’t believe the article. And I think it was published with evil design. I had many conversations with the Mormon Missionaries while they were in our county and we even entertained them at our home, and we learned to know the as perfect Christian gentlemen. That contemptible newspaper article was circulated from one family to another, until the whole county seemed agitated over the Mormons. That article was largely responsible for the mobbing of the Mormons. It was sensational and a majority believed it, and the few of us who did not believe it were helpless. We played safe by not expressing our views.

Others used words similar enough to Mr. Simpson to imply they probably had the same source. A storekeep in Mannie Station said…

The Mormons are the best bible preachers we’ve had around here, and if they’d leave that damn secret sanctification stuff out, and quit telling the women that it don’t matter what they do after they are sanctified they can’t sin.

Mr. Simpson's description of the newspaper article's content are different from the contents of the Red Hot Address, and so could not be the same document; though the two could have been printed together. I suppose the article may even have been intended as commentary on the Red Hot Address. But even if they were printed together, it was not the contents of the Red Hot Address that appears to have inflamed the local resident, but the text that had been added before it made it to Lewis County, Tennessee.

Regardless, while the newspaper article appears to have made no specific accusations about the Elders working at Cane Creek, the possibility enraged a large number of the local non-Mormons; enough for it to erupt into the violence now known as the Cane Creek Massacre.

[The above quotes come from an account written by W.W. Bean in 1895 about his visit to Lewis County and quotes from those he interviewed there. You can find a copy at the Salt Lake City Church History Library and Archives. Manuscript MS624.]


In The Doghouse said...

It is interesting to me that we suffer from the same problem today. Bad press spread in the form of Internet spam and such can really do some damage to the work. Just look at how fast the issue of Obama's mothers temple work has enraged so many. Gotta love the media!

BruceCrow said...

I hadn't thought of it that way. But now that you mention it, I think you're right.

Anonymous said...

Snap! The Jack Wells referenced in the posting could be a distant relative. My Wellses come from just across the border in Kentucky.

But then again, he could be from the unrelated Wellses in Alabama since Cane Creek is about equidistant between the two unrelated Wells enclaves.

Anonymous said...

Since we have been the victims of hate speech in the past, we of all people should be reluctant to support it today, whether it is forwarding anti-Islamic emails or listening to extremist talk show hosts. Unfortunately, our church, through its Bonneville stations, airs many of the worst of the latter. I think it is inexcusable.