Monday, December 27, 2010

A mobbing in Putnam County

In Putnam county, Tennessee. February 14th, 1885, Elders Joseph Franklin Miller and George Wilson were at the Rutledge home helping them prepare for emigration to Zion, and had just finished nailing the last packing box shut. Elder Miller decided to go to the Samples home for “some pop corn and a popper to help pass the night away.” As he left he heard the neighbors’ dog barking and thought it odd that the dog would see him a such a distance. Turns out the dog was barking at a mob of about 22 men. They had just left the Sample home looking for the Mormon missionaries, and were on their way to the Rutledge home. As luck would have it, they missed Elder Miller in the dark. Elder Miller didn’t see them and so continued on unaware to the Samples home.

Meanwhile the mob arrived at the Rutledge home where they convinced Elder Wilson to accompany them, with a promise that he not be hurt. As they left towards the woods they asked for Elder Miller and was told truthfully that he was back towards the other home. When Brother Rutledge tried to come along, however, was refused permission to join them.

While in the woods, the mob searched Elder Wilson. He freely offered that he had nothing but a knife on him, which he gave to them when he was asked. But then an argument broke out among the men saying that “neither his money nor any of his things should be taken from him.” Someone obviously in authority ordered that his knife be returned to him, which it promptly was.

The mob led him back to their horses and they rode him off about a hundred yards. There he was left with two guards while the other returned to the Samples house to look for Elder Miller. One mobber said that he didn’t “give a damn to get any of them but Miller.” “Miller came out to preach” said another snarlingly. “Yes” said a third “he’s a real hellcat.”

Meanwhile Elder Miller arrived at the Sample home where several sisters were popping corn. While he waited in the other room, Sister Rutledge’s baby awoke and started crying. For some reason only Elder Miller could comfort the child. She even preferred him to her own mother. After finally calming the child back to sleep, Elder Miller started back to the Rutledge home with pop corn and a popper. But found no one there. Confused and still unaware of the mob, Elder Miller was startled by voices outside the home. But for some reason he felt prompted not to investigate. Instead he knelt and said a prayer. Immediately he felt calm, and settled down to stoke up the fire. It wasn’t long before sister Lambert and sister Rutledge came to the house and warned him of the mob. Thinking the mob was right behind the sisters, Elder Miller quickly went into the woods and hid.

At the same time Elder Wilson was being questioned by the two left to guard him. They would sometimes step away to converse with each other privately. Elder Wilson thought he heard them arguing about whether to kill him or not. But before either one had the chance to try it, the rest of the mob returned empty handed from searching for Elder Miller.

While the mob was considering their next course of action, a pistol fired quite by accident by one guard and hit the other guard ( a local bailiff) in the foot. Several members of the mob took the injured man aside and tended to his wound.

The mob insisted that the Elder Wilson take his companion and leave by Monday (two days later) but insisting they did not have money to travel, they granted him thirty days to get the money together but that was the “extreme limit of [their] grace.”

They then secured Elder Wilson fast, administered twenty lashes upon his back with beech limbs, and turned him loose. Elder Wilson was not seriously injured by the blows he had received, and in a short time was able to join Elder Miller. The names of these mobbers were never learned. But one local man said it was “constables, ex-constables and Methodist preachers.”


Anonymous said...


You keep coming up with these incidents. In some ways they're very similar to each other, but in other ways each is completely unique. It's one thing to talk about generic mobs in Mormon history, and quite another to read about specific incidents and see names and dates and know that an elder just like the elders I've known was lashed.

Thanks for the work you do to document and share these stories.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous" this time is Ardis -- I'm having trouble with your comment form for some reason.

BruceCrow said...

Thanks Ardis,

Of course most of my stories have been in Tennessee (and one from New Zealand). I wonder how similar the mob phenomenon is from other areas of the country or the world.

This particular event has a more personal meaning to me. J. F. Miller is my grandfather's father. It took me a while to put two and two together and say "Hey, that happened in Tennessee"

Ardis E. Parshall said...

I'm glad I came back to this one to see that JFMiller was your grandfather! Not only is that connection interesting on a friendship level, but it's also an example that shows it's possible to write about family history as history and not as typical ancestor glorification. I did wonder how you had access to Elder Miller's thoughts and feelings -- I just guessed that you were drawing on a diary or letter.