Monday, April 15, 2013

Four Missionaries Beaten in West Tennessee...in 1888.

Today we have a guest post by Dale Topham. Dale's great grandfather, Asahel L. Fuller, served a mission in Tennessee, from 1887-1888. Elder Fuller and his companions were the victims of a savage beating. We have heard of this event on AMH before, but I think Dale's retelling is worth sharing.

The Manuscript History of the SSM, compiled by Andrew Jenson, and located in the Church Historical Department, recorded the following: "Sunday September 2  On this day Elders Elias S. Wright, Asahel L. Fuller, Thomas M. Holt, and James H. Douglas were taken by a mob and very badly beaten while visiting friends in the eastern part of Crockett County, Tenn." The Deseret News printed two different accounts of this incident and I have combined them to create a complete account.


During the week of  August 12 to 19, 1888, Elders Fuller and Douglas were laboring in the eastern part of Crockett County, Tennessee. While there, James Terrell Brooks "expressed a desire to be baptized" and the service was set for the 19th. The missionaries then contacted the conference president, Elias S. Wright, and invited him to participate in the baptism. At the services, onlookers sneered and hurled insults like, "He didn't receive the Holy Ghost, I saw him go by on a butterfly." After the baptism Elders Fuller and Douglas returned to the Brook's home and retired for the night, leaving their doors open because of the heat.


At about 11 p.m. they were awakened by an armed mob of twelve to fifteen men, who ordered the Elders to accompany them to the woods. "Elder Fuller  commenced counting them, stating at the same time, 'you are a pretty looking lot of fellows.'"  James Douglas then sat up and repeated what Elder Fuller had said, then added, "What do you think Christ would think of you if he were here? Why do you disturb the quiet of peaceable citizens at this time of night with those hideous masks. If we have any transgressed any of your laws we are amenable; take us before your magistrates and we will answer any charge you may prefer."


The men told the missionaries they did not want them to preach in the area any longer. At this point Mr. and Mrs. Brooks came in and examined the masked men. Someone outside said, "enough said! enough said!"  and the men left the house, firing their guns in the air once they were outside, which according to Elder Douglas, made "the former scenes more hideous."


After this the missionaries went northwest to Dyer County for two weeks until they were informed that Elder Thomas Holt would be arriving soon. They returned to Bell's Station to pick him up, but in order to avoid publicity Elder Wright went through town alone while the other two skirted around it and waited in the woods for Wright and Holt. After Holt's arrival, they pumped him for news from home and shared some "delicious Utah fruit" along with bread and plum preserves. They took the round about way to Brook's house six miles east of town to avoid the townspeople and retired for the night.


This was on the first of September, and at 2 a.m. they heard someone yell "surrender" and were immediately surrounded by "a horde of demons in human form." The mob was armed with pistols, shotguns, rifles, and clubs, and "using the most blasphemous language," ordered the Elders to get up. The Elders were dragged from their beds, and when Mr. Brooks entered the room to see what was going on he was clubbed across the forehead. Two men held on to each of the four missionaries and took them through the mud an eighth of a mile, "using the blackest oaths that mortals can utter." With the exception of Elder Holt, who had managed to pull his pants on, the missionaries were wearing their "summer night clothing, which was exceedingly thin."


Upon arriving at their destination, the men began cutting branches six feet long and trimmed off the smaller branches, leaving "ugly knots." The four missionaries were then bent over a log, with their knees on one side and heads on the other. While some men held the elders down, six others began whipping their backs with the branches and whenever one would raise his head to speak, he was struck with a gun butt. With each lashing a "ridge was made in the flesh of the elders and a streak of blood would stain their clothing." After 35 lashes the mob asked them to leave the country. The elders did not respond and were whipped again by "a demon weighing probably two hundred pounds - filled with a legion of devils, at the end of a six foot knotty beech limb." After receiving another 15 lashes and threats of hanging, Elder Wright promised they would leave the county. Several more lashes were dished out and the missionaries were set free after being instructed not to leave Brooks' house until 6 a.m. Upon returning to Brooks' the elders rubbed turpentine on each others' backs as a remedy. They were treated in order of most severely wounded, and Elder Wright was first. Asahel was third in line behind Elder Douglas.


The next day Elders Fuller and Holt left for another county, while Wright and Douglas remained for a few days. The Deseret News reported afterwards that the men were "suffering considerably" but were able to "attend to some of their duties." Elder Douglas was satisfied that their groans were "still ringing in the mob's ears".

Dale confirmed for me what I suspected, that Elder Fuller was eventually sent home because of his injuries. Another version of this beating is recorded here.


5 comments:

Amy said...

Great! I recognize Dale's name; he's the son of the author of the biography of Susanna Mehitable Rogers Sangiovanni Pickett Keate.

And, funny coincidence: I recently resumed posting the history of the Southern States Mission from the Southern Star to fill in random empty days on my blog and posted this story under the title "President Spry's Baptism By Fire." Evidently it's time to resume working on all these history projects that have had to be set aside for awhile.

Thank you, Dale and Bruce. I'll add links to this post and the one noted at the bottom to the mission history.

BruceCrow said...

So Dale's interest in LDS history runs in the family. Not surprising.

Thanks for the links. I am embarrassed to admit I get over to your site often enough, or I would have seen that post earlier.

Dale said...

Amy and Bruce,

I have an MA in history from BYU and am currently working on a Ph.D. in history at SMU. An interest in LDS history is something my mother and I share.

When I was an undergrad at BYU I discovered that two of my great grandfathers had served missions in the Southern States. I even wrote a term paper on the SSM for one of my history classes. It's been ages since I've done anything with the history of the SSM, but it is definitely a standing interest. I'll have to go read your blog, Amy, and catch up on the history of the SSM that you are posting. (I read the Southern Star as part of my term paper research, but have since forgotten what I read.

Amy said...

That's great, Dale, and if you do have interest in the Southern States Mission, we could really use a comprehensive history. (Wouldn't you like to write one? :)

Seriously, though, it has all the elements of a great story. Larger-than-life characters, fascinating stories, awful tragedies, slavery, mobs, hardships, joys, etc.

BruceCrow said...

I agree with Amy. Wouldn't you like to write a history of the Southern States? We really need one done well.