Holy Rollers: Murder and Madness in Oregon's Love Cult
by T. McCracken and Robert B. Blodgett
Sane People Don't Go Bareheaded
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
Creffield may have vanished, but the Holy Ones didn't “desist from the late manifestations.” If anything, the manifestations got stranger. Seventeen of the flock now crowded into Frank and Mollie Hurt’s house where they spent entire days and nights lying flat on the floor, face downward, “praying to the Lord for further light.”
“We received messages direct from Him,” Florence Seeley said, and He commanded that they interpret the Bible literally.
Literal interpretation of the Bible was not uncommon in the Victorian age. To close readers of it, it was often a liberating thing during a time where many a father thought his daughters and his daughters’ bodies belonged to him until they and their bodies belonged to their husbands. The Holy Ones just took their interpretations to an extreme.
They now believed that the Lord commanded that they not work: He would “care for his children”--a literal interpretation of Matthew 6:34: “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”
“As there seems to be a disposition on their part to allow the Almighty to do all the providing,” the Daily Journal said, “it is believed they will starve.” And soon they did look as though they were about to starve. At the command of the Lord, they stopped eating meat and cooked food because cooked food was sinful. “Fire [has]not been brought into the world by the creator,” they said, “but [is] the invention of man.” Apparently it was one thing to use this “invention of man” to burn their possessions--not to mention a dog and a cat--but another thing to use it to cook with.
The Holy Ones said they were now “learning to eat what food nature had provided, just as it was prepared by the Creator”--a literal interpretation of Matthew 6:26: “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?”
Eventually, at the command of the Lord, the Holy Ones wouldn’t mix their fare, eating only one type of food at a meal--a literal interpretation of Numbers 11:6, 19-20: “But now our soul is dried away: There is nothing at all, besides this manna, before our eyes... . Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days nor twenty days; But even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you: because that ye have despised the LORD which is among you.”
Elsewhere, other Holy Ones were acting equally strange.
Cora Hartley, a woman who loved sunshine and flowers, was spending all her spring days in her ten-room house praying on her knees in a dark closet--a literal interpretation of Matthew 6:6: “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”
Maud Hurt, back at her parents’ home, seemed to do “anything that came into her mind,” her father said, “saying that she had received a message from the Lord to do so.” Saying the Lord told her to do so, she refused to call him “Father,” instead, calling him “that old man Hurt”--a literal interpretation of Matthew 23:9: “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.”
Saying the Lord told her to do so, Maud turned pictures to the wall. The Lord told her to do so because pictures “partook of vanity and the world.”
Saying the Lord told her to do so, Maud would run into a crowded room, kneel down in the middle of the floor, and pray for the salvation of those present.
And like the other Holy Ones, Maud would fast for days at a time. When she did eat, she refused to eat in her father’s presence--saying the Lord told her to refuse.
At the command of the Lord all of the women of Creffield’s flock went “parading” about in public with “their hair unbraided and unkempt, flowing in tangled masses over their shoulders”--a major breach of societal norms.
Were the Holy Rollers mad? Public opinion varied.
“It is admitted by all that they are not crazy,” said Salem’s Daily Oregon Statesman. “Any one conversing with them can tell that their minds are as well balanced on general subjects as those of ordinary mortals.”
Meanwhile, the Albany Democrat declared: “Sane people don’t go bareheaded.”
Sane people don’t go bareheaded?
Even for 1904, this seems a bit extreme. What were they afraid of? That people who went around bareheaded one day might go around naked the next? Maybe.
“They [the Holy Rollers] can be easily recognized at sight as members of the sect, by their peculiar manner of dress,” the Statesman said. “Although they have not yet adopted the original human habit of attiring themselves in a fig leaf, at least not in public.”
The peculiar manner included going barefoot--something else the Democrat said sane people didn’t do--and the women wore nothing but Mother Hubbards, thin, brown, collarless dresses with a drawstring around the neck--a literal interpretation of I Peter 3:3: “Whose adorning, let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the adornment of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”
In time we will be restored to innocence and purity such as marked the condition of Adam and Eve [Florence Seeley said], but in order to reach that state we must put away all that is sinful. To do this we must conquer our pride and everything that tends to make us proud, and this includes the destruction of clothing and ornaments. When the world is restored to its original condition of innocence, we will be as were Adam and Eve, and there will be no use of clothing or raiment of any kind. Then the world will once more be innocent and God will dwell with us here on earth and we will be like him... .
Adam and Eve were put into the world without clothing. That is the way we should live. When Adam fell the world was cursed, and now there is death. There would have been no death if Adam had not sinned. All things will be restored, and we can bring the world back to that condition by living like the Lord wants us to.
In the end it didn’t really matter whether the Holy Rollers weren’t actually crazy. They were driving everyone else around them crazy--so something had to be done. “There is a strong sentiment in favor of stopping the practices of the Holy Rollers,” the Gazette said, “even if heroic measures have to be adopted.”
And the heroic measures? “It seems to be the opinion of those who have come in contact with them that the only way of breaking up the movement, which threatened to undermine a certain element in society, is to send them to the asylum,” the Statesman said.
Either that--or find Creffield. Few doubted that he was somehow behind all these antics, that he was “the Lord” making commands, instructing the Holy Rollers from some secret hiding place to interpret the Bible literally. But no one had any idea where he was. “Had the earth opened and swallowed him, he could not have disappeared more completely,” the Daily Journal noted.
So, the only way to break up the movement was to send the Holy Rollers one by one to the Oregon State Insane Asylum in Salem.
On April 28th, Edna Seeley filed a petition with Judge H. M. Palmer asking that her sixteen-year-old sister, Florence Seeley, be taken from the Holy Rollers, and, being to young to be committed to the asylum, be committed to the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society.
Edna was one of the few souls the Salvation Army was able to recapture from Creffield. She had been with the group on Smith Island but now charged that “the Holy Rollers are a depraved, demented, disreputable people, the members of which lie around on the floor without regard to sex or other conventionalities and are totally unfit for a girl to associate with.”
When Deputy Munkers served the warrant that Judge Palmer issued, he said that all those in Frank Hurt’s house “appeared to be dazed or on a verge of insanity.”
When Florence was brought into court for a sanity hearing the Telegram described her as “more than ‘passing fair,’” and having the expression of one older than sixteen. She was “bareheaded and her luxuriant growth of hair hung down her back uncombed and confined by neither ribbon nor comb.” Edna asked permission to comb her sister’s hair. The judge told her not only to comb her sister’s hair,but to buy the girl a hat! He also ordered that Florence be committed to the Aid Society.
She was soon joined there by Mae Hurt, O. V. Hurt’s sixteen-year-old daughter.
Sophie Hartley was soon thereafter committed to the asylum, declared insane because she was a “religious fanatic” who claimed to be “an apostle.”
Rose Seeley was committed, declared insane because she claimed that Joshua’s church, the Second Savior’s church, was “the only church,” and Creffield was “a child of God.”
Attie Bray was committed, declared insane because she believed “in the restoration of all things and as an indication of some of her beliefs, regarding dress, she goes about with her head uncovered and hair streaming down her back.”
Maud Creffield was committed, declared insane because she believed “in not wearing any covering for the head and the destruction of all the unnecessary articles of apparel.”
During Frank and Mollie Hurt’s sanity hearing, Frank was asked whether he didn't know he had been hallucinating and he was acting foolishly.
“No, I know when God talks to me,” he said. “We believe that any person can get messages from God by first preparing themselves to receive them. God always answers prayer, and we pray so that we will be able to get our direction from him.”
And why was he parading about town barefoot and bareheaded?
Because God commanded him to, and he always obeyed God. Frank then proceeded to use the invention of man--a fire in a stove--to burn the new shoes and straw hat his father had just given him for the hearing.
Had going bareheaded and barefoot ever before caused such a stir?
Frank said he would rather spend years in the asylum than return to the “worldly ways” that preceded the arrival of Joshua. “I am satisfied and will remain until they get tired of keeping me,” he said. “My father expects me to get weaned away from my views, but he will never accomplish what he expects to do.”
He and his wife Mollie were committed, declared insane because they “lie upon their faces upon the floor and pray day and night, claiming to receive messages directly from God; go upon the streets bare-headed, in the thinnest of raiment; destroy clothing and valuable and useful property belonging to themselves, injuring their mind and health by continuation of these practices which they claim are the commands of God.”
The doctors also said the two were “not destructive except as above stated, not violent and have not been restrained.”
But as soon as Frank arrived at the asylum--bareheaded and barefoot, of course--he began praying loudly for its destruction. Little short of an act of God could have destroyed the institution, a group of massive yet graceful brick buildings that loomed on a hillside over Salem. The asylum housed about 2,000 people, nearly 1 of every 200 Oregonians. It took at least thirty minutes of fast walking to visit all the wards where patients were segregated by sex and condition--mild patients, violent patients, and “imbeciles.”
Much to their frustration, the Holy Ones were not given their own ward, so were forced to mingle with those “outside the pale of the select sect of the Creffield contingency.”
The last to be committed was Sarah Hurt, O. V. Hurt’s wife. O. V. now declared that Sarah had been ready to allow Martha, their adopted baby, to be sacrificed in October along with the dog and cat. Now Sarah would have nothing to do with the baby.
She wouldn't even take care of the adopted child [O. V. said]. I cared for it in the morning, dressed it and looked after it until I left the house. Then I took it to a neighbor’s and left it there until I returned home.
My wife and my daughters refused to wash the child’s clothing, or to wash its body. They refused to feed it, or to wash the dishes in which the baby’s food was prepared. They declared that God would be displeased with them if they had anything to do with the child. Creffield had told them so... .
My wife and daughters came to believe that I was defiled, and that this little one was defiled. At the suggestion of that viper, they talked of making sacrifice of the child; they would have burned her along with their clothing, their furniture and the cats and dogs which they declared to be of this world and unfit to live. They were all crazy--yes, all crazy... .
I was pleading, threatening and trying all in my power to bring my wife and daughters back to sanity, but without avail.
On June 27th, when the sheriff came to take Sarah to the asylum, she put up a fight and tore off all her clothes. O. V. struggled to get a union suit--long johns--on her, and it was wrapped about her neck as she was carried from the house screaming at him, “I hate you, but I love Creffield!”
She was declared insane because she “claims her husband is not related to her, and that God is her husband.” O. V. was not a violent man, but now he said he “would like to hurt Creffield with a bullet.”
“Under the present plan the state of Oregon will have the settlement of Holy Rollerism,” the Democrat said. Only a few of Creffield’s flock weren’t under lock and key, but those that weren’t, weren’t rolling about free either.
Una Baldwin was still under her father’s watchful eye in Corvallis.
Cora Hartley was with her husband, Lewis, in the Bohemia Mining District. Thinking that cooking for six men would keep her mind off of Creffield, Lewis took her there--despite her complaints that she suffered constantly from a buzzing in her head.
Esther Mitchell was released from the Boy’s and Girl’s Aid Society and shipped to Illinois to live with her father.
Donna Starr was with her husband, Burgess, in Portland, but at least now she wasn't as cold toward him as she had once been. She would even eat pork, pickles, and other “forbidden fruits” that Creffield’s creed hadn't allowed. She still adhered to the belief, however, that Creffield was Joshua, the Second Savior, that she and all of the Holy Ones would one day “have the power to cast out devils and perform other miracles reputed of fact in Scriptural story.”
Meanwhile, the search was still on for Creffield. He had told his flock before he went into hiding: “Fear not for me as the Lord is my keeper and will not let me famish or deliver me into the hands of my enemies.” He assured them that it would be impossible for the officers to arrest him. Now, having eluded capture for three months, Creffield’s prophecy appeared to be true. This only enhanced his stature in the minds of the Holy Ones. To them, Creffield was God’s Elect, the Second Savior, their Lord. In Joshua they now trusted more than ever.
The reward for Creffield, whom the Democrat described as “the dirtiest scrub who ever menaced the peace of a community,” was up to $350, almost half a year’s wages for a working man.
The reward was never collected.
If some say we are
peculiar, and don’t do things just “their way,”
They cannot understand us, neither what we do or say;
There is One above who knows us, And he keeps us pure within,
When we “sing and shout, and leap for joy,” he knows just what we mean.
From the Reverend Knapp’s Bible Songs of Salvation and Victory
Buy Holy Rollers: Murder & Madness in Oregon's Love Cult as an eBook for a measly $3.99 or get an autographed paperback for $15.
Holy Rollers is a story that has everything a good read should have: sex, religious fervor, mass insanity, the downfall of prominent families, murder and sensational court trials.
And it's all true.
John Terry, the Oregonian's 'Oregon's Trails' columnist says of the book: "A dandy piece of research and a good read. Lots more stuff than I was aware of. It deserves an audience"
World of Digitals
Holy Rollers: Murder & Madness in Oregon's Love Cult
Part 1: The Seduction
Chapter 1: Trust Me, Brothers And Sisters
(Life Before Creffield [B.C.])
Chapter 2: God, Save Us From Compromising Preachers
Chapter 3: The Flock
(Profiles of the Holy Rollers Were)
Chapter 4: The Holy Rollers
(Things Start to Get Wild on on Kiger Island)
Chapter 5: Housecleaning
(There's a Sacrificial Bonfire)
Chapter 6: Community Concerns
Chapter 7: Esther, The Chosen One
(Creffield Plans to Marry 16-Year- Old)
Chapter 8: Tar and Feathers
(The Men of Corvallis Act)
Chapter 9: Sane People Don’t Go Bareheaded
(Holy Rollers are Committed to the Asylum)
Chapter 10: More Beast Than Man
( Creffield is Arrested)
Chapter 11: God Will Plead Creffield's Case
(Creffield in Court)
Chapter 12: Scandal
(Shocking Testimony at the Trial)
Chapter 13: Calm Before the Storm
(The Holy Rollers Resume their Lives)
Chapter 14: Giving Up The Ghost
(Men are Gunning for Creffield)
Part Two: The People V. Creffield
Part Three: The Madness
Chapter 30: The Final Chapter
(What Happened to Everyone Afterwards)
Sample Chapters from Holy Rollers:
Murder and Madness in Oregon's Love Cult
The Cast of Characters
Photos and Bios of the Holy Rollers
1906 Editorial Calling for Gun Control
After Multiple Murders Involving the Holy Rollers
Oregon Insane Asylum
Where the Holy Rollers Were Committed
1906 Autopsies Of Holy Rollers
Forensics Before CSI
How the Fire Fell
A Movie About The Holy Rollers
Facts & Stats about 1906
And How The Holy Rollers Measured Up
Oregon State Penitentiary
Where Creffield Was Incarcerated
Reverend Knapp's Bible Songs of Salvation & Victory
Songs Sung by the Holy Rollers
About the Authors
In addition to writing, McCracken is a cartoonist.
To see some of her 'toons, go to the Home of McHumor Cartoons mchumor.com
Theresa (T-) McCracken
890 North Bayview Loop
Waldport, Oregon 97394
Theresa (T-) McCracken
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