Sunday, July 12, 2009

B. H. Roberts

I have put off writing about B. H. Roberts. There is so much already written about him, I could scarcely cover his life in this medium in the manner he deserves. And so I will cover just the portions of his life connected to the Cane Creek Massacre.

If any story has a prelude this is one. It needs not be read prior to the rest of this post, but it certainly should be read. You can read it here.

Of course, much of what we know about the massacre comes from the various accounts he has written. Some historians have criticized how his version of his involvement have been embellished over time. That is probably unfair. Certainly as I retell events in my life, there will be slight changes simply based on what I think is important at the time. But the more I research the Massacre, the more issues I find.

Elder Roberts spent part of his mission acting as President of the Middle Tennessee Conference. He served at Cane Creek and came to know and love the saints there personally. He also was well known outside the church. Which was a factor in his decision to disguise himself when he returned after the massacre. I suspect his familiarity with the people and the area had much to do with his decision to go there himself rather than sending another.

Starting in March 1884, Elders Roberts was the acting Mission President under Elder John Morgan. Actually, Elder Morgan has designated Roberts as his successor and was ready to put him in charge. But others in the Church hierarchy felt Roberts was too young to take on so much responsibility. So he was given the position under the remote direction of John Morgan.

The first news he heard of the massacre was from J. Golden Kimball. Kimball had been sick and was sent to Shady Grove, Tennessee to recuperate. While there, Kimball met the escaping missionaries: Jones on Monday morning and Thompson Tuesday morning. He immediately sent word to Roberts.

And here I run into my most recent problem with Roberts' autobiography. Roberts writes in so much detail in creates the sense that his account is accurate. But the details are sometimes wrong. Not in ways that make a great deal of difference, but still obviously wrong. Kimball didn't get the details about the Massacre until Tuesday morning when he met Elder Thompson and Tom Garrett when they arrived at Shady Grove. Immediately after they met on the road outside Shady Grove, Elder Kimball returned to town and telegraphs Roberts with the news of the death of Gibbs and Berry and that the other two Elders are alive and safe. But in his autobiography Roberts claimed this all happened Monday morning. Critical detail? Not really, but I spent more time than I should have trying to sort out the timeline based on Roberts lack of attention to detail.

President Roberts, upon hearing the news jumped into action as though he had been prepared for just such an event. He sent a request to Salt Lake to wire him funds to retrieve to bodies, arranged to borrow money from a friend of the Church, purchased two steel coffins to be sent ahead and got on a train to Nashville.

In Nashville he met with reporters announcing his intent to retrieve the bodies of the Elders. Because he is unable to secure protection from the governor on his trip into Lewis County, he dons his famous disguise. He shaved his beard, put on old dirty clothing and smeared grease and dirt on his face and hands. His disguise was so effective, even those who knew him well did not recognize him.

While in Lewis County he reveals himself to only one person: Isaac "Tom" Garrett, a friend of the church but not a member. Fortunately his trip was accomplished without serious problems.

After his return to Nashville, he had photograph taken of himself in his disguise and sent it home. He would later say that he did not want it spread outside his family; but that he wasn't given any say in the matter.


In The Doghouse said...

I first came to know of the Cane Creek Massacre by studying the life of Elder B.H. Roberts. I think that he is an amazing man. I loved the story about the fight over the marbles too! Thanks for all your attention to details.

Amy said...

Interesting post. I realized recently that I don't know as much about BH Roberts as I thought I did. I've read bits and pieces from his time in the Southern States and from his later years and a few of the many things he wrote. And of course, what you've written about him here and what Ardis has written on her blog.

Is there a good biography that you would recommend?

BruceCrow said...

I think Truman Madsen wrote a good biography of B H Roberts. It's called "Defender of the Faith" or something like that. I haven't read it yet [so many books so little time]

Amanda said...

Thank you for writing about B.H. Roberts. He's my great-great-grandfather and any info on him is so fun to read!