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Creffield and the Holy Rollers made page one headlines from 1903 to 1907. When I was researching Holy Rollers: Murder and Madness in Oregon’s Love Cult I spent months transcribing hundreds of articles. I’m not sure why I was so obsessive. Maybe it was my way of immersing my self into a cult without joining one. Anyway, I’m posting them all for those who are really interested in the story, or are interested the history of journalism, or are interested in how a scandalous story played out in the "media" in a by gone era. Since I no doubt made typos and unconsciously corrected papers' typos, these web pages should not be cited in anything serious (e.g. your dissertation). For such projects they should only be used as starting points and you should refer to the original sources. If you want a shorter version of the story, buy my book. Enjoy.

February 6, 1904: How They Tell The Holy Roller Story In Far Off Scotland

 

Holy RollersCorvallis Times 2/6/1904 p4

Corvallis Abroad

How They Tell The Holy Roller Story In Far Off Scotland. Some Things True and Some Not --The Maiden at the Sacrificial Fire -- Burning Musical Instruments on the Flat Stone.”

 

The news of Holy Rollerism as lately practiced at Corvallis has penetrated far off Scotland. A copy of the Scotchman, published at Edinburgh, and contains a story of the doings of the Corvallis Holy Rollers has reached the “Times” office. The article appears under the head, “The Holy Rollers -- Frenzied Acts of a New Religious Sect.” In full, the story is as follows:

 

“Be it as God directs.”

With these words on their lips the fanatical men, women and children who constitute the strange religious sect of “Holy Rollers” whose extraordinary practices have awed the state of Oregon for the last two month, throw upon the flames household goods, and even sacrifice their pet dogs and cats.

 

“Be it as God directs” they also answer to the grave charge that their prophet, “John the Baptist” reincarnated, is preparing to offer to the altar’s flames one of his most devoted followers, a young girl, Miss Matilda Johnson. And the girl, when officers of the law asked her if it were true that she was to be sacrificed, answered with bowed head: “Be it as God directs.”

 

The prophet and his foremost followers have been taken into court on the charge of insanity, but have easily cleared themselves of that charge and gone free. Their weird rites continue, and near the house in which the ordinary services are held, behind barred doors, the prophet has built a tent, into which none dare to enter but himself, for in this tent is the sacred receptacle containing the “holy rolls” upon which God has directed to be written the names of the elect.

 

Among the members of this sect are people who have always been known as sound mind and of good business sagacity.

 

Frank Hurt on the Porch
Jon Ashley Hall as Frank Hurt

ALL TO THE FLAMES

 

After the dismissal of the insanity case, the citizens threatened violence, and some of the leaders fled, but only to remain away for a few days. Their return was occasion for a grand jubilee by the adherents of the new religion, whose faith and zeal were reinforced when the leaders, with great solemnity declares -- “God bade us return. Human beings cannot harm.”

 

The effect of this declaration was electrical. All the faithful assembled in the evening before a flat rock near their temple, which the prophet had proclaimed an altar for special sacrifice. A fire was built upon the altar, and behind it stood the prophet with rapt countenance and arm upraised, alternately praying and exhorting his followers.

 

These fanatical followers had brought before the altar what remained of their furniture and cherished personal effects. As the flames rose the prophet spoke --

“Subjugate all lustful desires. All that has price contaminates the spirit and hinders communion with God.”

 

“Be it as God Directs!” chanted the followers.

 

A young and handsome woman threw upon the flames the mark of her vanity-- a mirror in a carved frame. Men and women followed her with all manner of household fixtures and goods--even the beds upon which they were accustomed to sleep.

 

“All, all to the flames!” exhorted the prophet. “To the flames with all these agencies of evil!”

 

“Be it as God directs,” answered his disciples, whose excitement had become intense.

 

The blazing altar was heaped with furniture and clothing. A young girl fed the fire with her dearest possession, a mandolin. A young man sacrificed his guitar. Two pillars of the church came with a small mandolin which the flames destroyed amid prayers and shouts.

 

OVERCOME WITH EMOTION

 

At this stage the emotions of several women had overcome them. They fell upon the ground, and then began a detail of the sect’s religious practices previously performed only behind barred doors. Shouting and praying, the women rolled over and over on the ground in front of the altar. Gradually other men and women joined them.

 

Suddenly what had really been impressive became frightful. A faithful house dog, whining and struggling in its master’s arms, was stunned by a blow and thrown into the midst of the flames. Pet cats had the same fat--even a bird in its cage.

Children sacrificed their toys without urging. One mite of a girl kissed her rag doll, and threw it upon the blazing altar.

 

The prophet, seen through the smoke with his arms upraised, completely dominated every mind and body there.

 

The mode of ordinary worship of this strange sect consists largely of shouting, singing, screaming, rolling, and other actions which denote a greatly perturbed state of mind. While some sing, others roll about on the floor, giving vent to blood curdling yells. When they tire of this the prophet takes the floor and reads a few passages of Scripture, and if his disciples still show weariness, he holds communion with God. Then the shouting and screaming is then renewed.

 

A GIRL TO BE SACRIFICED

 

When the rumor gained general circulation that a young girl was to be offered as a sacrifice, police officers repaired to the temple of the sect. Admission was at first denied them, but they were not to be defeated, and rushed past the door keeper. The prophet promptly made his appearance and inquired the cause of the disturbance. When informed that all in the building were wanted by the law and were under arrest, he made no protest. The visitors were ushered into the apartment. The scene impressed them in spite of themselves.

 

Disciples were lying about on the floor, on mats, cots, blankets, hides and other places of rest remarkable for their crudeness. Nor furniture graced the room, and the worshipers had assumed various positions to offer up prayers and otherwise declare their devotion to God.

 

One young girl--she who it was reported was to be sacrificed--appeared to be in a trance or suffering a spasm. A large white cloth covered her face. The officer stepped over to remove it, when instantly all in the room cried out, “don’t touch her, she is holding communion with God.”

 

The officer asked the girl if she knew she had been selected as a subject for sacrifice. She replied in the negative, and added, “If God so wills, such a death would be a joy.”

 

Close beside the girl, with his head almost touching hers on the pillows, was the prophet. The questions addressed to the girl were then put to him.

 

“God’s will be done,” is all he would say.

 

Requested to explain the meaning of the cloth over the girl’s face and the nature of their devotions, he replied--”We are receiving a revelation from God to our future.”

 

Pressed to answer whether God had ordered that the girl by his side be sacrificed, he said--”He has not yet, but if He should, His will be done. We know no law of man.”

 

Pressed still further as to whether he deemed such a command probable, he would only say--”It is in God’s hands; His will be done.”

 

The officers, realizing that their mission had failed, hailed the leaders, Creffield and Brooks, into court on a charge of insanity. Their discharge by the court has left them at liberty to continue their strange devotions unmolested--until the watching officers of the law gain evidence that a human sacrifice is actually in preparation.

 

Holy Rollers

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Newspaper Articles about Creffield & the Holy Rollers

1897-1899:Local Lore, News Of Corvallis and Vicinity Told in Brief B. C. (Before Creffield)

1900:Holy Rollers' Lives Before Creffield

1901:Holy Rollers' Lives Before Creffield

1902:Holy Rollers' Lives Creffield

January 18, 1903: Fred Mitchell Attempts Suicide

June 10, 1903: Salvation Army Major Deserts and Joins the Holy Rollers

October 31, 1903: Zealot Worshipers Burn Furniture, Dogs & Other Things

November 2, 1903: Fanatics In Court

November 3, 1903: Had Promise of Tar and Feathers

November 4, 1903: Flight of The Apostles

November 5, 1903: Once-Esteemed Family No Longer Has the Sympathy of the Community

November 6, 1903: Rollers Take On New Life

November 7, 1903: Is Creffield Back?

November 11, 1903: “Apostle” Creffield Still Under Cover

November 24, 1903: Girl of Sixteen Almost Insane

November 25, 1903: In Pursuit of Creffield

November 27, 1903: The Lord May Starve Them

November 28, 1903: Holy Rollers Receive Unwilling Baptism

December 7, 1903: Demented Woman Suffers

December 8, 1903: Hurt Seen In Portland

December 11, 1903:Holy Rollers Roll Into Eugene Church

December 21, 1903:Holy Roller Victim Worse

December 22, 1903: Linn County Holy Rollers

December 23, 1903: Is Crazy Now

December 29, 1903: Holy Rollers’ Not Liked at the Dalles

December 30, 1903: Owner of Property Refuses to Permit Séances

January 6, 1904: Holy Rollers Tarred and Feathered

January 9, 1904: Their Welcome Departure

January 12, 1904: Editorial Comment: “Put yourselves in our place!”

January 13, 1904: Where Brooks Went

January 19, 1904: Our Brainy Contemporaries

January 25: Holy Rollers’ in Hobo Camp Life

February 1, 1904: Camp In Linn County Is Broken Up By Officers

February 6, 1904: How They Tell The Holy Roller Story In Far Off Scotland

February 11, 1904: Medium Mystify Corvallis People

March 1, 1904: The “Holy Rollers” Offend Humanity

March 16, 1904: Holy Rollers to Be Arrested on Serious Charge

March 17, 1904: Where is the Apostle?

March 21, 1904: Reward For Creffield's Capture

March 23, 1904: Fugitive Creffield

March 28, 1904: Reward is Offered

April 1, 1904: “Holy Roller” Chief Very Badly Wanted

April 18, 1904: Holy Roller High Priest Is Seen

April 29, 1904: Urania Seeley is Arrested

May 2, 1904: Frank & Mollie Hurt are Committed to the Asylum

May 4, 1904: Maud Hurt-Creffield & Sophia Hartley are Committed

May 7, 1904: Attie Bray &Rose Seeley are Committed

June 11, 1904: Attie Bray Escapes

June 17, 1904: Mae Hurt is Committed

June 29, 1904: Sarah Hurt is Committed

July 22, 1904: Holy Roller on Death Row

July 29, 1904: Creffield Found Half Dead Under Hurt’s House

July, 30 1904: Armed Guards Protect Creffield

July, 31 1904: Corvallis Could Not Raise a Mob

August 1, 1904: Creffield says, "I am Elijah"

August 2, 1904: Creffield Does Not Dislike Prison

August 4, 1904: Creffield Says He Is Entirely Purified

August 5, 1904: He Does Nothing Unless Directed by God

August 6, 1904: Creffield Believes in Satan and Eternal Punishment

August 9, 1904: No Flowers For Creffield

August 13, 1904; The Holy Rollers And The Man Who Made Them

August 16, 1904; Creffield Reward Will Be Returned

August 19, 1904: Followers in Asylum Stick To Faith

August 23, 1904: Creffield Will Fight His Own Case

August 28, 1904: Creffield Destroys His Revelations

September 16, 1904: Creffield is Guilty

September 21, 1904: Holy Rollers go in and Out of the Asylum

March 22, 1905: Prison Life Of Joshua Creffield>

April 8, 1905: Life In Corvallis Returns to Normal

December 12, 1905: Frank & Mollie Hurt Have a Baby Girl

April 24, 1906: Creffield Establishes a Camp Near Waldport

April 30, 1906: Donna Starr Leaves Children to go to Her Spiritual Love, Joshua Creffield

May 1, 1906: Creffield Takes Credit for The San Francisco Earthquake

May 3, 1906: Creffield In Fear Of His Life

May 7, 1906: Holy Roller Shot Down Like A Dog

May 8, 1906: Medal to Be Given Mitchell in Recognition of His Killing

May 9, 1906: Oregon Prosecutor Would Aid Mitchell

May 10, 1906: Shows No Emotion At Husband’s Grave

May 11, 1906: Bail Is All Ready

May 12, 1906: Mitchell Denied Bail

May 13, 1906: Creffield is Due To Rise Today

May 14, 1906: Creffield’s Widow Watches At Grave

May 15, 1906: Corvallis Starts Fund for Defense of Mitchell

May 16, 1906: Holy Rollers Starving Near Heceta Head

May 17, 1906: Public Sentiment Favors Mitchell

May 18, 1906: Creffield Railed in Vermont

May 19, 1906: Mitchell to Enter Plea of Not Guilty

May 27, 1906: Joshua Says Not to Worry

June 1, 1906: Morris Claims Mitchell Rid World of a Fiend

June 16, 1906: Prosecution and Defense are Making Last Preparations

June 19, 1906: Many Witnesses For Mitchell

June 24, 1906: Trial Will Cost Taxpayers Ten Thousand Dollars

June 25, 1906: George Mitchell on Trial For His Life

June 26, 1906: Mitchell Jury is Selected With Care

June 27, 1906: Mitchell Trial Held Up By Squabble

June 28, 1906:  Jury is Secured to Try Mitchell

June 29, 1906: Trial is Now on in Earnest

June 30, 1906: Mrs. Creffield's Testimony

July 1, 1906: Creffield’s Ghost Controls His Flock

July 2, 1906:  Esther Mitchell on Stand Refuses To Aid Brother

July 3, 1906: Hurt Tells of Debauched Wife and Debased Sisters

July 4, 1906: Creffield’s Unsavory Record Presented to the Jury

July 5, 1906: Expected Admissibility of Evidence Will Arouse Controversy

July 6, 1906: Others Testify They Wished to Kill Creffield

July 7, 1906: Insanity Expert on the Witness Stand

July 8, 1906: Plan To Revive Holy Rollerism

July 9, 1906: Killing of Judge Emory May Effect Mitchell

July 10, 1906: Mitchell Case Goes To Jury

July 11, 1906: Not Guilty

July 12, 1906: General Rejoicing at Mitchell’s Acquittal

July 13, 1906: Esther Mitchell Kills Her Brother!

July 14, 1906: Mitchell Boys Are Done With Esther

July 15, 1906: Hurt Will Come to Aid of His Daughter

July 16: 1906: Will Mortgage His Home for Daughter

July 17, 1906: Let’s Think When We Talk

July 18, 1906: Mrs. Starr’s Life Threatened

July 19, 1906: Mrs. Creffield Weeps in Jail

July 20, 1906: George Mitchell’s Attorney Offers Aid to Murderesses

July 21, 1906: Mitchell Boys to Stand by Esther

July 22, 1906: Hurt Thinks Both Women Are Insane

July 23, 1906: Frater Favors a Commission of Alienists

July 24, 1906: Mackintosh Will Oppose Calling Commission

July 26, 1906: Is Reconciled to Holy Roller Wife

July 27, 1906: Holy Rollers Seek Home in Wyoming

July 28, 1906: Mitchell Juror is Insane

July 30, 1906: Esther Will Deny Committing Murder In The 1st Degree

July 31 1906: Esther Mitchell Says Not Guilty

August 1, 1906: Relatives to Help Esther Mitchell

August 4, 1906: Creffield Greatly Hurt True Religion

August 6, 1906: Mitchell Boys in Drunken Row

August 8, 1906: St. Louis Woman Coming to Convert “Rollers”

August 12, 1906: Esther Mitchell Close to Death from Typhoid

August 13, 1906: Esther Mitchell Not Seriously Ill

September 1, 1906: Four Charged with First Degree Now in County Jail

September 10 1906: To Examine Minds of Slayers

September 12, 1906: Hurt Thinks His Daughter Insane

September 13, 1906: Esther Mitchell Objects to Help

September 14, 1906: Women Not Agitated

September 15, 1906: Mrs. Creffield’s Trial Set for Next Month

September 17, 1906: Mrs. Creffield on Stand

September 18, 1906:  Maud Creffield Anxious to Hang

September 19, 1906: Are They Sane of Insane?

September 21, 1906: Both Women May Go Scott Free

September 22, 1906: Where is This Thing to End!

September 23, 1906: Murders Must Be Tried

September 24, 1906: Must Not Deport

September 25, 1906: Judge Frater is in Very Small Business

September 28, 1906: Insanity Board Not Paid

October 1, 1906: Holy Roller Woman Dies While in Trance

November 9, 1906: Mrs. Creffield Said to Be in Very Nervous State

November 17, 1906: Maud Creffield Dies in the County Jail

November 18, 1906: Death May End a Hypnotic Spell

November 19, 1906: Reviews Findings in Examination of Brain

November 20, 1906: Mrs. Creffield Killed Herself with Poison!

November 21, 1906: Poison Is Found In The Stomach Of Mrs. Creffield

November 22, 1906: Esther Says Maud Did Not Kill Herself

December 4, 1906: Washing Dirty Linen

December 17, 1906: Sad Christmas For Holy Roller

February 21, 1907: Esther Mitchell Goes to Asylum

April 30, 1907: Esther Mitchell Still Believe in Creffield & His Return

April 6, 1909: Esther Mitchell Leaves Asylum

April 9, 1914: Esther Mitchell Marries James Berry

August 3, 1914: Esther Mitchell is Dead By Own Hand

1953 Stewart Holbrook's Murder Without Tears

1951 Startling Detective Magazine: Nemesis of the Nudist High Priest

A List of All the Articles

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Sample Chapters from Holy Rollers:
Murder and Madness in Oregon's Love Cult

***

The Cast of Characters
Photos and Bios of the Holy Rollers

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Holy Rollers' Asylum Commitment Papers

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Info for Book Groups

Book Reviews

***

1903 to 1907 Newspaper Articles About the Holy Rollers

1906 Editorial Calling for Gun Control
After Multiple Murders Involving the Holy Rollers

Stewart Holbrook Holy Rollers Article

Advertisements from 1893 to 1913

***

Oregon Insane Asylum
Where the Holy Rollers Were Committed

Creffield, Brainwashing & Thought Reform

Early Cases of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity

1906 Autopsies Of Holy Rollers
Forensics Before CSI

Holy Roller Bizarre Divorce Decree
Hartley describes trying to kill his wife's lover

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Comedians on Edmund Creffield

The Shadow Testament
A Play About The Holy Rollers

How the Fire Fell
A Movie About The Holy Rollers

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Life in Corvallis in the early 1900s

Life in Waldport, OR in early 1900s

Heaven's Gate

Facts & Stats about 1906
And How The Holy Rollers Measured Up

Oregon State Penitentiary
Where Creffield Was Incarcerated

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Info about Cults

Could you ever be lured into joining a cult?

Share your thoughts about, and experiences with, cults

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Creffield's Preachings

Creffield Vs. Crefeld

The Salvation Army Opening Fire in 1886

Holy Roller Theology

Reverend Knapp's Bible Songs of Salvation & Victory
Songs Sung by the Holy Rollers

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About the Authors

Theresa (T-) McCracken

Robert B. Blodgett

In addition to writing, McCracken is a cartoonist.

To see some of her 'toons, go to the Home of McHumor Cartoons mchumor.com

McCracken's Blog

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Theresa (T-) McCracken
890 North Bayview Loop
Waldport, Oregon 97394

(541) 563-3112

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