Sunday, May 2, 2010

Elder Robert E. Neilson Re-opens Cane Creek

The following was sent to me in an email by one reader named Trudy. The photos were later sent by her sister. Beginning in February 1947, their father, Robert E. Neilson, a recent veteran of WWII, served in the East Central States mission. At the time the mission included North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Maryland and was based in Louisville, Kentucky. He spent part of his mission in North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland. But it is his time in Tennessee I am interested in. His recollections place him in the first companionship, along with Clifford E Carter, to be assigned to where the Cane Creek Massacre happened. Others may have visited, but these two elders had a place to stay in Hohenwald 4 miles south of Cane Creek. They arrived in December 1947 and met with many people who were there or knew people who were there. Because of illness, Elder Carter was transfered first and replaced with Elder Wirig. Elder Neilson stayed until he was transfered in March 1948 to Kentucky.

My dad, Robert, related how he met a lot of nice people on his mission. He met some nice people in Tennessee. He and an elderly companion, Elder [Clifford E.] Carter, were chosen to serve together and open up an area that had been closed to missionaries for 60 years. They were assigned to Hohenwald, Tennesee which is located in Lewis County. They had taken missionaries out of the area because of the two Elders who had been shot and killed in that area. He said that they were the first Elders to return after this incident. Elder Henry D. Moyle [the newest member of the Twelve] came and looked around the area and told them it was time to go back. Their Zone Leader [Elder Orr?] went in and found them a place where they could stay [at Floyds Cafe. Once there they arranged to] live in an elderly woman's home [Mrs. John Stockard]. When they got there, she realized they were Mormons and told them they would have to leave. She was afraid there was going to be trouble if they stayed. She helped them find a new place to live [with Mrs. Loveless]. They went through the whole town knocking on doors, leaving literature and talking with people. They had no resistance. They went to the door of one man and talked with him for a while. He wasn't looking very well to them at all. Dad remembers that he looked very sickly in the face. They learned later in the afternoon that the man had died two hours after they had left.

One day Elder Neilson and Elder Carter were walking out of town to go and see the place where the two Elders had been shot. As they were leaving town, this fellow was in his yard on the edge of town and realized that they were the Mormon missionaries. He commented that they ought to be horse whipped. My dad, Elder Neilson, responded that the people who had caused all the problems for the Mormon Elders in the past were dead and gone and each to his own reward. They didn't want any trouble. He commented that they never argued with the man and just went on their way. They never even got scared. He felt the Lord was really with them.

While they served in Hohenwald, they met members of the church who had known Elder Gibbs and Elder Berry. My dad especially remembered this one elderly woman in her 70's [possibly Fannie Willis Allen] at the time who had known the two Elders who had been killed. She said that we just loved those Elders. They always wondered as members there why it had to happen. He and his companion also met two sisters [Rachel Conder and Visey Conder Haley] who claimed their sibling [Martin Conder as well as their half sibling Riley Hudson] was a member who lived there at the time and was also killed with the Elders. Robert has a photo of the two girls. The girls allowed them to take the photo but did not want anything to do with him and Elder Carter after that. They were too afraid of trouble so they left them alone.

He tells that when they went to the massacre [site] he thought it was called "Short Creek" [instead of Cane Creek. Short Creek, in Arizona, was in the news a few years later, but for a different reason]. He related [that] the stories they were told were that the Elders had been holding a Sunday School meeting. Elder Neilson and Carter where shown right where the building they met in was. [The home was destroyed by fire before 1895, but visitors still go to the site periodically] It sat on the creek as you would go down to the bend on the road. They were told that some guys came in and just started shooting. Those who escaped ran out of the door after the shooting and up the hill. They thought that a posse of horses were after them. They came to find out it was their own hearts beating so fast and hard it sounded like something else to them. Robert responded that the two Elders who had died had gone to their reward.You can just bet on that.

Along with the photos, Trudy's sister added a note her father wrote in his journal. He had just read an article about the massacre in the Church News Jan. 8, 2000, entitled '1884 slayings recall bitter time; today is more peaceful' by David F. Boone Associate professor of Church history and doctrine BYU.


The Church News paper had an entry in it this week about the Elders and members in the South East section of Tennessee who were killed by a mob. After 63 years of having no Elders in that area, my companion (Clifford Carter) and I were assigned to go in and open the area up again for the preaching of the gospel. Elder Henry D. Moyle was made an apostle in Nov. of 1947 and he went in and travelled through the area conversing with who ever, and came to the convition that it was time to put the Elders in again. This took place in the first part of 1948. So he was getting practice as an apostle real soon. I had been out about a yr. and a half. Elder Carter was pretty nervous about going into Hohenwald so I sent him into the mission home and requested they send me a strong missionary to replace him. Elder Wirig from Evanston, Wyoming came. He was sure a good Elder

Bruce E. Belnap wrote in 1949 that the area had been re-opened in 1947, which matches where and when Elder Neilson, Carter, and Wirig would have served. It would be two years before the first convert baptism of a Cane Creek resident. You can read about that here and here.

1 comment:

Amy said...

Wonderful! How kind of Trudy to send this information. That's quite an experience!