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.
August 13, 1904: The Holy Rollers And The Man Who Made Them
Evening Telegram (Portland) 8/13/1904
The Holy Rollers And The Man Who Made Them
Edmund Creffield is the self styled apostle of the Holy Rollers was today in Multnomah County Jail, charged with a crime, the penalty for which is a term of years in the penitentiary. The sanctity of religion, it is claimed, has been used by him as a cloak for deeds in comparison with which ordinary crimes are trifling. Six of his alleged victims are in the insane asylum, four young girls have been sent to the Portland Home, wives have been estranged from their husbands and daughters from their parents and the sorrow and misery all these things mean to the families affected represent an aggregate of which the public has no conception.
Four years ago Creffield was a Seattle hobo, when converted by the Salvation Army. In the spring of 1901 he came to Portland, where his ability as an exhorter advanced him successfully to the ranks of lieutenant and captain. He was then given charge of a corps at McMinnville and also worked awhile at Grants Pass. From there he was transferred to Salem, where a new religion was revealed to him while listening to discussions at Ryan’s Mission by the Holiness people. In company with a follower named Mercer he came to Corvallis in the fall of 1902, and began to preach the doctrine of “God’s Elect” as he called his church.
CLAIMED PERSONAL COMMUNION
He claimed to be blessed with personal communion with God and asserted that his converts would receive the same privilege by renouncing all things carnal. A smooth and persuasive speaker, the apostle soon interested a number of Corvallis people in his religion. Most prominent among these were the families of O. V. Hurt and Lewis Hartley, both well known and highly respected citizens. As his following increased he gradually became more pronounced, and fanatical in his preaching. He threatened eternal damnation for the wives and children who did not separate themselves from unbelieving husbands and parents, claiming as God’s holy prophet to have the authority to regulate the details of their daily life.
J. K. Berry, a young business man, was persuaded to advance the money to fit up a house of worship, and when payment was due he was solemnly informed that God had sent a direct communication to the apostle, that the debt was canceled and for Mr. Berry to acknowledge receipt of payment and turn over everything to God’s Elect. Mr. Berry promptly closed up the place of worship and still holds Creffield’s note as proof that some mistake had been made in the transmission of the message.
Deprived of a tabernacle, the apostle “received instructions from on high” to hold a camp meeting, and Kiger’s Island, a few miles up the river, was selected as the location.
THE COMING OF BROOKS
Elijah Brooks, a former Salvation Army associate of Creffield, appeared on the scene at this time, taking the place as assistant prophet, as Mercer and Creffield had a falling out. Separated from the restraining influence of home ties and the reproaches of husbands and parents, a hold was soon secured upon the members of his flock by this modern Elijah that with few exceptions has never been broken. Whether this was accomplished by hypnotic poser or by the influence which was a keen and crafty mind may in time exercise over weaker ones, but will probably never be known, but the fact remains that he came to be looked upon as a holy prophet who could do no wrong, and his commands were unhesitatingly obeyed.
Wives refused to return to their homes and daughters turned a deaf ear to the pleadings of parents. If reports from some who were present be true, they lived as one family, and many of the acts of God’s elect would hardly pass muster in respectable society, though in accordance with commands from on high as interpreted by Creffield.
It was at this time that the nickname of “Holy Rollers” was first applied to this sect, owing to a practice they had of rolling and tumbling on the ground for hours at a time, apparently for the purpose of working themselves into a state of religious ecstasy.
After breaking up camp meeting, Creffield and Brooks began a series of religious meetings at the home of Mr. Hurt, and the days and nights were made hideous by the groans and screams of the rollers. The sensational climax to these proceedings which attracted the attention of all Christendom was when in obedience to the commands of the prophet a huge bon fire was kindled in the front yard, on which were burned wearing apparel, jewelry, carpets, bedding and household furniture, and even offering up as sacrifice a few cats and a stray dog. A sign was nailed up over the gate on which was inscribed, “No admission here except on God’s business.” News of these incantations spread like wildfire and that night a mob of about 300 men and boys gathered at the house with the intention of ducking Creffield and Brooks in the river near by. not finding their intended victims, the crowd stoned the house, tore up the shrubbery and sidewalks, thus completing the destruction started by the holy Rollers. Next morning the neat home of a day before looked as though wrecked by a cyclone. Creffield and Brooks were at the time arrested on a charge of insanity, but on being examined were pronounced sane and discharged. That night they were waited upon by a few determined men and told to leave the community and never return on penalty of being tarred and feathered.
Acting on this warning they left, but about a week later returned to the home of Frank Hurt, just across the river in Linn County, and calling in their followers began again their peculiar religious services.
WITH TAR AND FEATHERS
On the night of January 4, 20 citizens of Corvallis and vicinity surrounded the house, secured Creffield and Brooks and bringing them back in Benton County stripped them, administered a coat of tar and feathers and turned the loose warning that next time they were found here they would be the principals in a necktie party. Frank Hurt, who had followed the crowd and watched the performance from a safe distance, intercepted the apostles in their flight and took them back again to his home, where he furnished the oil and turpentine for removing their sticky covering.
Early next morning Creffield and Maud Hurt drove to Albany, where they were married. The bride was the sister of Frank Hurt and eldest daughter of O. V. Hurt. The apostle’s next appearance was in Portland, early in February, where he attempted to organize another following, his wife meanwhile returning to her father’s home. Shortly afterward a warrant was sworn out by B. E. of Portland, charging him with adultery, and the accused fled from that city. In spite of a diligent search, stimulated by a reward of $350 for his arrest and conviction, he evaded pursuit and mysteriously disappeared.
PASSING OF HOLY ROLLERISM
In the meantime his former followers in Corvallis, acting from instructions received, as they stated “from on high,” began to discard shoes, hats and all the superfluous clothing and to wander aimlessly about the streets, till they were in turn arrested, examined adjudged insane and sent to the asylum. The mystery of these late developments was explained when a few days ago the missing apostle was discovered by young Roy Hurt under the house of O. V. Hurt where he had lain for nearly four months hidden in a pit 15 inches deep by six feet long. The story of how he was fed and cared for by his followers during his hiding, of his being dragged out naked and emaciated by the officers of the law and of the events following his arrest has been so fully described in late issues of the daily papers that a detailed account here is not necessary.
Denying that he is insane, and declaring that God will be his lawyer, the former Holy Roller chief is now lying in jail, awaiting the sessions of the jury in September to try his case.