Monday, March 24, 2014

Violence at Wolf Creek

On September 17th & 18th, 1887, a conference was held at the Stutts schoolhouse in Wolf Creek, Lawrence Co., Tenn. About mid day on the 18th, John Morgan got up to speak. During his talk a young man named Wep Gilbert “jumped from a side desk upon which he was sitting, seized a crutch nearby, raised it above his head and rushed forward to strike the speaker exclaiming ‘G-d d--m your old heart, that’s what you said when you were here before. I have had enough of your trying to induce my relatives to go to that country. Now they are there and want to come back but cannot get money to return. Just as if you knew what was coming to pass in the future.’”

One missionary (Elias S. Wright) intercepted the assailant and was able to get the crutch away from him. He then pulled out a knife, but he was prevented from getting close to President Morgan by other missionaries in what would best be described as a stand off. For several minutes he brandished the knife yelling threats, but being able to reach his target.  Friends of his tried to reason with him, but he was inconsolable. When the husband of one woman was nearly cut while trying to talk him down, the woman fainted. Quickly other women at the service began to “wail” which so disconcerted the young man that he ran from the schoolhouse. A mob began to gather outside and President Morgan thought it best to disperse quietly, and ended the meeting.

Wep Gilbert did indeed have relatives that had joined the Church. Wep was, of course, a nickname, in this case for Webster Gilbert (1863-1938). He was a nephew of the previous branch president Thomas Jefferson Gilbert (1840-1907). A story handed down in the Thomas Gilbert family was that Thomas had given "refuge to two Mormon missionaries that were being pursued by a mob. When the mob asked Gilbert to hand over the missionaries, at shotgun point he told them they would have to kill him first and that some of them would be dead in the road before they armed the missionaries." The family story isn't clear whether this was before of after his baptism.

Thomas joined the Church on February 9th, 1884, baptized and confirmed by E. R. Miles. The family story doesn't say who the missionaries were whose lives he saved, but it might have been Miles, and one of his companions J. J. Fuller, James A Taylor, or George A. Woodbury. Or perhaps two of the missionaries who replaced them after his baptism; Leo A. Bean, John Linton, James A. Ross, A. J. McCuistion, John W. Hart, Elias S. Wright, or Andrew Peterson. If anyone descended from these missionaries knows about theis story, I'm all ears. 

Not long after baptism (on May 31st, 1884) a branch was formed at Wolf Creek just a couple miles north of the border with Alabama. Members came from both sides of the state line. Thomas was ordained a Priest and set apart as Branch President. 

A note on his Church record indicates he emigrated to Utah in March 1887. Uncle Thomas wasn't the only one. Aunt Martha Jane Gilbert, Cousin Ada M. Gilbert, and Francis Adeline McMurtry went with him.  A group also emigrated on August 25th 1886 which included Cousin Mary Catherine Gilbert, Cousin David Samuel Chambers, Cousin Julie Isabel Chambers, Aunt Martha Ann Barnett, and Cousin Leander Jackson Gilbert. And that doesn't include unbaptized children who went along. Nearly all of them were related to Wep. In a little over a year close to a dozen of his relatives had left for Utah.

But did they want to return and were lacking the funds to do so. Hearsay is poor evidence, it is unlikely Wep knew first hand how his relatives felt, since he wasn't in Utah. Without something back it up it would be difficult to draw a conclusion. Besides with so many relatives who went west, it would be easy for some of them to be unhappy with the move while others were perfectly satisfied. The Gilberts who went to Utah stayed there and stayed in the Church. Other branches of the family went to Idaho and Washington. One family from Wolf Creek which went to Colorado eventually returned to Tennessee and left the Church, though I have not yet been able to connect them to the Gilberts. Regardless of whether the specifics of Wep's concerns were true, they were real to him. His opposition wasn't about doctrine or avarice. It was fear of change; of losing the people he knew and loved. And although I would never condone what he tried to do I can certainly understand it.


Amy said...

What a story! Can't recall hearing this one before!

BruceCrow said...

I thought this might interest you.

Dale said...

This is very interesting! My great-grandfather recorded an account of this event in his journal, but what you have here offers a lot of interesting background and context obviously not found in the journal.

For whatever it's worth, here's what my great-grandfather had to say:

Sunday September 18 I take horse and buggy and go over to Jas. Gilberts to bring sister Rhoda to meeting and again meet in the woods at half past nine in council at 11 a.m. commence our meeting in the [Wolf Creek] school house about one hundred present bro Saunders, Shipp and myself occupy a short time each and bro Morgan ... address the people and is just getting barely commenced when a young man named Wes Gilbert jumps from a desk near me and grabbing a crutch lying at my feet raises it above his head and while making to strike bro Morgan says God Dam Your old heart I have heard enough of that, bro Wright and I jumped as soon as possible on either side of him. Bro W jerked the crutch from him and collared him but Bro Morgan told him to let him go, he then put his hand in his pocket got his knife and opened it and endeavored to strike bro M. well but we prevented him I caught his arm and he raised his arm to strike me but was unable to do so. With frightful oaths he continued to hurl a volley of invectives at bro M. and the elders for inducing his relatives to go to Utah, and repeated a number of things which had been circulated to the object that they were all dissatisfied and wanted to come home but could not get the money also that his cousins mother had an illigitimate child. in the melee Spinks Mcs [?] wife fainted away and at this juncture young Gilbert left the house. There was a large crowd of mobocrats gathered and as we had but few friends we concluded it not wisdom to continue our meeting so we left for Uncle Jno Mcs where we hold another meeting in the woods and rec. a great variety of council from Prest. M. relative to our duties. bro M then leaves us for Florence on his return to Chattanooga [on the Memphis & Charleston Railroad].
We spend bal of afternoon in council among ourselves and conclude to remain together for the night to protect each other if necessary. Bros Walker Markham Shipp and myself all bunk on the floor together and thus passed the most eventful day experienced in the south.

BruceCrow said...

That is awesome Dale. Some good clues to follow up on. I wonder if "Mcs" was an abbreviation of "McMurtrey's" Elder Fuller did have a habit of abbreviating names down to just the first letter or so.

Dale said...


You are right. I just checked through Fuller's journal. He consistently misspells "McMurtrey," but on page 11 of the typescript, instead of "Spinks Mcs" he writes "Spinks McMertry."