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



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.




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.




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.


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