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.
April 30, 1906: Donna Starr Leaves Children to go to Her Spiritual Love, Joshua Creffield
Oregon Daily Journal (Portland) 4/30/1906 p1
Leaves Home For Roller
Two Little White-Haired Children Make Dandelion Chains, With Faith That Mother Will Return to Them. But Neighbor Woman Says She Will Not. Pretty Home in East Portland Mourns for Mrs. B. E. Starr, Who Left Saturday Night, Saying She Had Gone to Her Spiritual Love, Joshua Creffield.
In a grassy yard in front of a small neat home in East Portland, two little white-haired children of five and three sit all day and play contentedly. They greet a passing stranger with a friendly smile and the information that they like to make dandelion chains. The stranger asks where the mother is and they smile and day:
“Mamma has gone away for a little while. She will come back soon.”
Such is the faith of the children. Indoors is a charitable neighbor who has come in to take care of them. Her faith is not the same.
“She will never come back till she is sick of it. The best thing would be for her husband to go after and horsewhip her back. Anyone that could go and leave such a sweet baby as that has no feelings anyway.” and she cuddles fondly a little seven-months old babe who coos back gently and never sobs or cries.
And in the meanwhile, Mrs. B. E. Starr has joined her “spiritual love” among the Holy Rollers. She left her home Saturday night without warning while her husband still slept, and left a note to apprise him of her departure.
AFRAID CHILDREN WOULD CRY
“I did not tell you because I was afraid the children would cry,” she wrote, “and He said that Christ will take care of them.
“He” with the capital “H” is Joshua Creffield, her spiritual love, and Christ’s immediate emissary seems to be a neighbor who puts less trust in divine assistance than her own and presides over the home with loving words for the children interspersed with strong expressions of indignation against the mother and the “brute who done all this.”
“Does anyone want to do anything?” she asks. “Then let him get an army and go hunt down that vile man like a dog and kill him. It is better than he deserves for the number of homes he has broken up.”
Mrs. Starr fell under the spell of Joshua Creffield, the Rolling prophet, three years ago when he was converting weak-minded women to his doctrine in Corvallis. Her sister-in-law, Mrs. Hurt of Corvallis, visited her at that time, and demonstrated to her the supposed beauties of his creed. Mr. Starr, a warehouse man on the east side, saw the filth where she saw the beauty and unceremoniously dragged the outraged prophet to court and succeeded in landing him in jail for a two years’ term. Matters were better for a time, and save for an occasional moment when Mrs. Starr began to “roll” on the floor in the middle of the night and disturb her husband’s slumber, the house was at peace.
THEN EMERGED CREFFIELD
But the time came for Creffield to emerge and Joshua found that his two-year’s imprisonment paralleled the three days in the tomb. He didn’t exactly roll away a stone to get out when his time was up, but he began rolling as soon as he reached his destination. Since February, when he was released, he has held his camp near Waldport on Alsea Bay, and though none but his followers know the exact spot it is said that he is encamped in a ravine between two mountains that he may watch the approach of any comers, and that he boasts that his fortress is impregnable.
Since his release, nothing had been heard of Creffield at the Starr home except for Mrs. Starr’s remark one day that she still had a spiritual love for him. She had been unusually good at home and seemed to be happy with her children and her husband, who always kind and patient, still loved his wife. On Saturday evening, she told him she wanted new shoes and stockings and when he offered her the money she begged him to walk downtown with her to get them. She was unusually affectionate.
That night at about 11-o’clock, Mr. Starr awoke and found his wife missing. He looked about the house, but she had gone away in the shoes that he had just bought her. A note on the bureau told him where she had gone and that she had taken money from his pocket which she felt belonged to her. She wrote that this was not enough to take her all the way, but she could walk the remaining distance.
WHAT THE NEIGHBOR SAYS
Mr. Starr, almost crazed with grief, telephoned at once to Corvallis for his wife’s relatives to look out for her there, but no word has come. He has been unable to eat or sleep since then, the neighbors say, but he went to his work this morning to keep his mind from his sorrow. An aunt will come soon from Newberg to care for the children. Only lack of money prevents him following her at once, and his threats are dire in case he should meet the originator of the mischief.
“He will take her back if she comes,” said the neighbor who is in charge of the home, “but she will not come until she gets disgusted with the life she has to lead with that wretch. It will not be easy, either, for he will make her do penance for sending him to prison, even it was not voluntary. He got only two years last time, but if a certain father here would bring suit he would get 10 or more for the seduction of young girls and more than one family would rejoice to see him convicted. He has three men with him and about nine women, who have been insanely drawn to his horrible teachings and seek purification through the immoral methods he commands.
Corvallis Gazette 5/1/1906 p1
By The Rolling Sea
Friday, Frank Hurt and wife and two other women of Holy Roller fame arrived over from Corvallis. Saturday evening they were joined by the notorious Creffield and his wife. They went over to South beach the same evening and it is reported that they have since gone down the coast to Ten Mile Creek, a point below the Yachats in Lane County.
Creffield was followed to this city by a Mr. Hartley, who accused him of enticing his (Hartley) wife and daughter away from him, and bringing them over here. Hartley tried to get out a warrant for Creffield’s arrest Saturday night but was seemingly unable to swear positively to a complaint therefore no warrant was issued. Later it is reported that he purchased a pistol and went gunning for Creffield finding him just as he was leaving for South Beach and snapped his gun at him five times. It appears that the pistol was a center fire weapon, and that it was loaded with rim fire cartridges which accounts for their failure to explode.
Monday morning Hartley secured a rifle, and started down the coast on the Holy Roller’s trail with the avowed intention of shooting Creffield.
It is said that the holy rollers are going to start a colony at Ten Mile Creek.-- Yaquina Bay News.
Mr. Hartley, wife and daughter arrived in this city yesterday on the bay train.