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.
May 15, 1906: Corvallis Starts Fund for Defense of Mitchell
Seattle Daily Times 5/15/1906 p1
(Full banner headline)
Creffield Victim Tells Sad Story
Corvallis Starts Fund for Defense of Mitchell.
(Quote in a box across the whole top) “My husband and I have had a loving family broken up and ruined by Creffield, and our signs and heavy-hearted feeling for the ruin he caused in our family was changed to a feeling of hope and thankfulness when we heard that the ‘beast’ was killed.”
CREFFIELD VICTIM TELLS STORY OF SORROW
Young Married Woman Whose Parent’s Home Was Broken Up by Holy Roller Prophet Urges Mitchell’s Release.
Describes Some of the Practices He Demanded of His Followers and Others Cannot Be Printed In Newspapers.
Says That Killing of “Prophet” Saved the Lives of Nine Young Girls and Several Wives By Removing Influence.
Written by a young married woman whose parents home was broken up by the teachings of “Joshua” Creffield, the following letter with its plea for the liberation of George Mitchell is of interest. It tells ion simple language a typical story of the havoc this man wrought during the last few years of his life in Oregon and describes a few of the demoralizing practices he demanded of his followers which are not too revolting to be printed in a newspaper.
The young woman gives her name, but requests that it be withheld from the public, on the grounds that her family has suffered enough without again calling attention to the fact that they are among Creffield’s victims. The name would at once be recognized among those familiar with the names of those of Creffield’s flock. This is the letter:
“Cottage Grove, Or., May 12, 1906.
“To the Editor of The Seattle Times:
“In The Portland Oregonian a few days ago was printed a few lines from your paper to the effect that you thought the killing of Creffield was a justifiable act, and I want to thank you for coming out and saying plainly what you think of it. After you read what I have to say you will think harder.
“My husband and I have had a loving family broken up and ruined by Creffield, and our sighs and heavy-hearted feeling for the ruin he caused in our family was changed to a feeling of hope and thankfulness when we heard that the ‘beast’ was killed. This family consisted of a father, mother, brother and sisters, the father loving his wife as devotedly as ever woman was loved, believing her when she said Creffield’s teachings were right, and they both attended his meetings when he first started to preach in Corvallis.
FATHER CALLED AWAY
“The father went East on business. The mother, attending the meetings, was drawn into and under the impostor’s spell which he cast over them and which held them so completely that they did not seem to know right from wrong and did as he told them to. This changed the mother so completely that she did not welcome the father on his return, and so much was said of the awful orgies Creffield made them do that he questioned the mother, but she would say ‘No.” After coming out and Creffield was in prison she said all these things were done, and worse.
“The mother was a woman who never told the father a lie in her life or told an untruth, but did to shield that wretch. She loved sunshine and flowers, but to follow Creffield’s teachings to the letter she must wear old clothes, no shoes and stockings, their hair down, could not sit on chairs and could eat only one thing at a meal. They must sleep on the floor, must know what it is to feel cold and hunger, must stay all day on their knees in a closet and all the time pray for him. (Here are related some of Creffield’s practices which cannot be printed.) [sic]
“He taught the Christ would come again as he did before, a babe born of a virgin, and told them that one of their number, like Mary of old, would be the mother of Christ, and they must have a Joseph of the Holy Roller sect to protect them, as Joseph of old. Free love was ever a theme he preached, and he took the most revolting chapters in the Bible, such as David and the Hittite’s wife, and made one of the most awful sermons out of it a person ever heard.
OUGHT TO BE KILLED
“A man who had the power to hold virtuous girls and women so completely in his power that they could do that and not say ‘No,’ ought to be killed; a man who made such havoc in your family that there were no meals cooked, no love for the father or brother if they were not of their belief. The father imperiled his life and tried to kill the beast that his wife and daughter might be set free from his hellish doctrine, caring naught if he spent the sunset of his life behind prison bars, risking all for their sake.
“Now they do not treat him as good as they would a dying dog, who can’t call him father, say he is an unnatural father, a very demon, and try to drive him to suicide or to fill a drunkard’s grave; who hold out no hope of heaven for the rest of the family, whom they call he and she devils and try to send to hell as fast as they can. They even damn everlasting a year-old baby simply because its father and mother are not Holy Rollers and are glad that Creffield is no more.
“Would you not, if you were the father or brother of Creffield’s victims kill him like a miserable dog? Of course you would when you had tried to get the law to do something and it could and would not. You would take the law in you own hands if the daughter you loved and cherished was ruined and the law would be powerless to prosecute you. How much more powerless is it to prosecute the slayer of a low dog. Think. Put yourself in the place of Mitchell before he killed Creffield, his young sister ruined, and he the protector. Would you stand the crime against your daughter or sister as long as he did? If that crime was being committed again, if you had a spark of fatherly love or manhood left you would shoot the demon who perpetrated the deed. When that daughter tells you that she hates you with a perfect hatred all because Creffield told her to, you would not stand for it; you would kill the vile wretch that makes her so unnatural and would rejoice to know he was out of the way.
SAVED MANY LIVES
“It is not human nature to hate or wish harm to come to the one who has saved your life or the life of your wife and daughter. When Creffield was killed, the lives of at least nine young girls and several good wives were saved, for a human being could not stand to follow Creffield’s teaching long and live.
“Mitchell did an act which we young married people would have done if we had got the chance he had, for we never could have a loving home as long as he lived. Since commencing this letter the father came from Corvallis to this town to raise money to defend Mitchell and see his grandson. When asked why he did not bring the mother he choked and said he left home. A man 50 years of age forced to leave home and wife, all because Creffield was not killed sooner.
“Now, I have stated facts, and you can print them if you wish to, as they might help young Mitchell. I notice in this morning’s paper the stand a certain Seattle preacher has taken, and wish to say that so-called preacher of the Gospel had the least spark of religion he would not try to cause a young man who did the good Mitchell did to be prosecuted. Mitchell will be found not guilty of murder, but of killing a dirty, low-lived preacher of a false gospel. Is it healthy for the ministers of your city to hold up the teachings of Creffield and laud him to the skies? He needs it; God knows he does. Mitchell should be set entirely free, as there is no law on the statutes that will prosecute a slayer of a ‘free love minister.’
“Creffield has gone to his long-needed rest. He should have gone before, because he deserved it. God grant that his fate may be a lesson to ministers of the gospel and that they will steer clear of the teachings of total perfection, as Creffieldism has proven that there is no such thing.
“Yours to free Mitchell.
“AN OREGON GIRL.
“Also a mother whose family has been broken up by Creffield.
Seattle Star 5/15/1906 p3
Miss Mitchell To Be Chief Witness
Sister Will Go On the Stand For the State and Give Testimony Against Her Brother.
The unusual spectacle of a sister in the role of a witness for the prosecution of her brother and defender of her honor may be witnessed when George Mitchell is placed on trial for shooting the former leader of the Holy Rollers.
Miss Esther Mitchell has indicated that her brother, who says he killed Creffield to protect the honor of his two sisters, need expect no help from her at the trial. Yesterday she was closeted with Prosecuting Attorney Mackintosh and his chief assistant John F. Miller, for two hours, and today Mr. Miller said it would all depend upon the attitude of the defense as to whether the girl would be called upon by the prosecution to testify.
Miss Mitchell reached Seattle from Corvallis, Ore., on Sunday morning and practically the first words she uttered indicated that whatever testimony she gave would not help her brother’s case in the slightest.
TALKS TO ATTORNEY
“He had no occasion to do anything to protect me,” the girl replied to a question asked by Will H. Morris, one of the attorneys retained by the defense. Another remarkable utterance was that wherein she expressed the wish that her brother would have time to repent his sins before he was killed.
The attorneys for the defense are astonished at the stand which Mitchell’s sister has taken.
It has been learned that Esther Mitchell wrote a letter to the prosecuting attorney before coming north. She announced her determination to come to Seattle, and appears to have taken the next train after writing the letter.
Up to the present time, Miss Mitchell has not been interviewed personally except by Messrs. Morris and Shipley, Mitchell’s attorneys, and the members of the prosecuting attorney’s office. Newspaper men have been refused permission to talk to her. The public prosecutor takes the attitude that the press is biased.
Although both sides are trying to keep the card up their sleeve, it has developed that both the prosecution and the defense will probably have a large number of witnesses subpoenaed from Oregon. The defense will use every endeavor to bring out testimony covering the conditions existing when Creffield was at the height of his power as the leading disciple of Holy Rollerism. The prosecution will base its case on the actual killing and the fact that the deed was premeditated, carefully arranged and carried into effect by a man entirely sane and responsible.
Seattle Star 5/15/1906
Holy Roller Hurt Back From Oregon. Faithful Follower of Creffield Returns From Camp Where Sect Had Planned to Meet--Wife and Sister-In-Law With Him.
Frank Hurt, one of the followers of Creffield, the leader of the Holy Rollers, who was killed in this city by George Mitchell, has returned to Seattle from the Holy Roller camp which was, at the time of Creffield’s death being established at Waldport, Ore.
Hurt has been referred to as the only male follower of Creffield remaining loyal to him throughout his difficulties. He had gone from this city about three weeks ago with his wife and sister-in-law, ostensibly to go to camp on the Oregon coast because of ill health.
WENT TO CAMP
It was afterwards learned, however, that there were gathering at the place where Hurt had selected for his camp several of the old followers of Creffield, having been drawn together there through the influence of the Holy Roller leader.
MRS. CREFFIELD’S BROTHER
Frank Hurt is a brother of Mrs. Creffield, who was with her husband at the time of his death. He has been a follower of Creffield since the early days of the Holy Rollers, and his wife, formerly a Miss Sandell, of East Seattle, also became a member of the Holy Roller band. When Hurt left Seattle to go into camp in Oregon he was accompanied by his wife and her sister.
The parents of Mrs. Frank Hurt are old and respected citizens of East Seattle, owning considerable property there. Within the past year, the elder Sandell built his son-in-law a pretty cottage in East Seattle, and the young man has since last spring been in the employ of Capt. John L. Anderson the Lake Washington steamboat man.
His wife and sister-in-law came home from Oregon with him.
HEADLINES IN DIFFERENT PAPERS FOR THE SAME ARTICLE
Seattle Daily Times 5/15/1906 p6
Let The Law Take Its Course
Morning Oregonian (Portland) 5/17/1906 p1
Pleads For the Avenger.
Young Oregon Married Woman Tells How Home Was Broken Up.
(Excerpts from “An Oregon Girl’s” letter)
Because of the extraordinary conditions which surrounded the killing of Creffield, the alleged religious teacher of a peculiar doctrine, much sentimental talk has been made in the community and some very false conclusions reached touching the duty of public officers.
Taking the assumption to be correct the majority of the community perhaps have come to the conclusion that young Mitchell was justified in taking the life of Creffield--and therefore should go scot free.
It is probable that on the trial, which Mitchell will be compelled to face, these assumptions of premises may be proven to be true--but until they be so proven no logical conclusion can be based thereon.
The officers of the law--the prosecuting attorney in this case--are sworn to do their duties--and that oath compels them to see to it that every violator of law be punished in accordance with the terms thereof.
The law declares that every willful murderer shall forfeit his own life as a punishment for taking the life of another.
The law does not recognize any condition whereby one person may take the life of another, except in defense of himself, or of his family, or such persons as he is required by natural or statutory law to defend.
There is not a solitary exemption made by the law relating to murder--and therefore when Mitchell secreted himself from view and shot Creffield, he deliberately took the life of a human being--and that act was murder in the first degree!
No prosecuting attorney who does his duty and fulfills the obligation of his oath can possibly avoid prosecuting a deliberate murderer. Indeed, he cannot avoid prosecuting one who takes human life--leaving it to the person who commits the crime to prove that he was justified in so doing.
Therefore, any adverse criticism of the Prosecuting Attorney’s office because of the arrest of Mitchell--the complaint against him and his proposed arraignment in court, is a blow at the law, and a suggestion that a public officer may violate his oath.
We do not propose to discuss the question of justification--for this was a case of deliberate murder without the slightest possibility of any suggestion to the contrary.
When Mitchell will be put on trial before a jury of his countrymen, and the testimony taken under the direction of a court who will interpret the law, and the jury shall have rendered a verdict--then it will be sufficient season (sic) to discuss the merits or demerits of Mitchell’s conduct.
To say, however, that Mitchell should not be tried according to law for the apparent breaking of the most sacred law upon the statute books, is to propose a condition of anarchy as a substitute for law--and no sane man nor woman would desire such a condition to prevail.
We therefore suggest that the proper thing for the community to do is to withhold its criticism touching this matter until the law applied to the facts, as they shall be produced in court, determines whether Mitchell was justified, or whether he actually committed the crime of murder.
Seattle Daily Times 5/15/1906 p1
Oregon Citizens Plan Aid for Mitchell. Corvallis Gazette Prints an Appeal for Financial Assistance in Defense and Offers to Receive Contributions. Both Sides Recognize That Trial Will Be a Hard Fought Legal Battle and Are Preparing for Bitter Struggle. No Alleged Ancient Statute to Be Involved and With Plea of “Not Guilty” Defense Will Be Along Usual Lines.”
The above notice [To Assist Mitchell] in the Corvallis Gazette of May 11 is indicative of the feeling concerning the Mitchell case in the State of Oregon. Friends of George Mitchell and relatives of victims of the Holy Roller are traveling through the little towns which Creffield devastated with his teachings and practices in an effort to raise the money which will be needed to combat the vigorous prosecution which the prosecuting attorney’s office seems determined to make.
Both sides now realize that it will be a hard-fought trial--perhaps one of the bitterest in the history of King County--and both sides are settling into the harness for the long pull up a hill which is littered with many technicalities of the law. The free discussion of the probable evidence has ceased, witnesses are being segregated and the tactics which precede a legal battle are being strictly followed.
TO PLEAD NOT GUILTY
Mitchell will plead not guilty and his defense will be along strictly legal and well recognized lines. There will be no recourse even to the technical, although well known fact in the law that a man may plead guilty to murder and secure a jury trial, which suggestion was saddled upon Assistant Prosecuting Attorney John F. Miller as a discovery in ancient legal lore by a morning newspaper.
Both Mr. Miller and Will H. Morris, attorney for Mitchell, say that such a plea would be ridiculous under the circumstances and that the law, which is incorporated in the latest code was only intended to safeguard the interests of some ill-advised man who might plead guilty to murder and be hanged when he was really guilty of no greater crime than manslaughter.
Mitchell’s defense has already been formulated and his attorney is anxious for an early trial of the case. Mr. Morris said this morning that he desired to submit his case to the jury just as soon as he could get it ready and that he would do everything he could to expedite it.
TRIAL ON THE FACTS
“We will try this case on facts,” he said. “And there will be no raking up of forgotten statutes or technical loop-holes. Mitchell’s act was justifiable and we will prove it by the usual methods of the law.”
Mr. Miller had a long talk with Ester Mitchell, sister of the prisoner, yesterday afternoon. He pronounces her a bright, intelligent girl of fair education. He says that she realizes her position thoroughly and that she insists there shall be no further notoriety than possible.
For this reason, and for the further reason of safeguarding his jury case, Mr. Miller intends that no one be allowed to see her and will not permit her to be interviewed. It is the same position he took in regard to Mrs. Creffield and the same procedure that he will probably follow when Mrs. Starr, the married sister arrives.