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 8, 1906: St. Louis Woman Coming to Convert “Rollers”
Evening Telegram (Portland) 8/8/1906 p9
St. Louis Woman Coming to Convert “Rollers”
Mrs. von Porten Wants to Stop “Burning of Children.”
Troubles of the Holy Rollers are unceasing, and what few of the Rollers there are left are now threatened with an attack of missionaryitis. It has remained for people in St. Louis, Mo., to discover that the Holy Rollers need reformation, and to accomplish this end they are preparing to send Mrs. Bertha von Porten here.
Fame of the Corvallis fanatics spread over the country a few years ago, when Creffield first organized his crowd in the little Oregon town. Since then the assassination of Creffield by George Mitchell and the subsequent murder of Mitchell by his sister, Esther, made the Holy Rollers even more prominent. The genuine Holy Rollers are practically disbanded, but the name has been given to other small bunches of fanatics, one such being in California. It was recently announced in the dispatches that the Holy Rollers (California brand) were preparing to immolate their children. This is what caused the St. Louis crusaders to act.
Some one in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has written the following weird description of what the crusaders imagine is an every day affair with the Holy Rollers:
Picture to yourself, if your imagination, has the strength, a meeting of the Holy Rollers, where men and women shout frenziedly, draw themselves into contortions and then roll about the floor as if they were wild beasts or humans possessed by demons. Intensify the picture by giving it as a companion one in which the Holy Rollers are offering a sacrifice. See a great fire surrounded by women and children who hold loved things in their hands and cast them forth in the flames as they are moved by the words of a leader. See, also, mistily, however, the same flames blazing as if they waited for more, and think of the little children that are to be their human fuel, if the press dispatches from the West correctly forecast the future intentions of the curious sect.”
After reading the foregoing literary gem, it is not to be wondered that Mrs. Bertha von Porten began making plans to convert the members of the flock and show them the error of their way. Mrs. von Porten cannot speak a word of English, but is confident that she will be able to open up a line of conversation with the benighted Corvallis people. She lays great stress on the alleged fact that the Holy Rollers believe in sacrificing children.
The date of Mrs. von Porten’s departure for the scene of her missionary work has not been set, and unless she hastens there will be no Holy Rollers for her to convert.
Oregon Daily Journal (Portland) 8/8/1906 p12
Woman Robs Husband to Join Holy Rollers
Los Angeles Cripple Deserted by Spouse, Who Takes Child With Her.
(Journal Special Service.)
Los Angeles, Sept. 8.-- Emil Hugo, a crippled blacksmith, living at 1308 East Ninth street, last Wednesday reported the disappearance of his wife, with their 7-year-old daughter Lillian. He attributes their departure to “Holy Rollers.” Hugo says his wife and a male companion forcibly took $110 from him as he was hobbling along near Eighth and San Pedro streets.
The Hugos came from Pennsylvania about a year ago. Soon afterward the husband was stricken with paralysis. Since then, Mrs. Hugo has been working in a laundry and her friends say that it was her own money which she took from Hugo.
It is said, however, that Mrs. Hugo has sought refuge at the home of the Swedish minister, where her husband claims she is under control of the “Holy Rollers,” whose meetings she has been attending.
Evening Telegram (Portland) 8/8/1906 p9
Roasts the ‘Rollers
TELEGRAM’S SALEM BUREAU, Aug 8.-- “Holy Rollerism is of the devil, free lovism is anti-Christian, and no man is either honorable or Christian, and no man is either honorable or Christian to preach or practice them. Holy rollers are free lovers are both alike and under the spell of delusion.” Rev. M. L. Ryan, of the local Holiness Mission, in an exhaustive article in the Mission’s publication called the Light. In explaining the difference between the belief of his particular sect of religious workers and the Holy Rollers of the Creffield type, and in defense of his church against the charge or inference that his people were tending toward Holy Rollerism as criminal fanaticism under the guise of religion. “The devil is the author of fanaticism,” he says, “and he has launched it for the purpose of thrusting directly at the true faith of Christ. There should be, and probably will be a law enacted to restrict and imprison fanatics whose teachings uphold crime in the practice of religious worship. Such a law would not be unconstitutional, neither would it be against free religious worship of this country. God’s word declares that men shall be visited with strong delusion in the last days, and what more convincing proof is there of the truth of this prophecy than exist all around us? Rollers with free love proclivities are religious perverts. Holy Rollerism is not inspired by God, but by demons. These are the days of all kinds of perverts, religious, moral and otherwise. Holy people are clean, honorable and law-abiding, while Holy-Rollers are deluded, fallen and tending toward crime.”
Seattle Star 8/11/1906 p1
Are Like the Holy Rollers
Oklahoma Sect To Be Prosecuted On Charge Of Immoral Habitation--Leader Claims Divine Power.
(Star Special Service.)
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla., Aug 11.--A man named John Sharp with about 40 followers, has turned up near this city and claims that he is God Almighty. The band is living in tents. They claim all sorts of nonsensical foolishness and live together in disregard of moral or civil law.
Charges have been filed in the district court of this city and a legal battle will be vigorously prosecuted to rid the community of the objectionable crowd.
Oregon Daily Journal (Portland) 8/25/1906 p12
Holy Roller Makes Human Torch as Sacrifice
California Woman Pours Oil Over Herself, Lights It and Dies From Burns.
(Journal Special Service.)
San Bernardino, Cal., Aug. 25.-- In an excess of religious zeal following the advent of the Holy Rollers in southern California, Mrs. Josephine Burton Young yesterday deliberately set herself on fire, hoping by martyrdom of flames to reach the heavenly throne. the woman had become a religious fanatic following continuous attendance of these frenzied meetings, and only a few days ago had been ordered confined in a hospital.
She escaped from there in men’s clothes, making her way back home. Her daughter saw her drink oil from the lamp, pour more oil over her hair and dress and when the frightened girl returned with her father they beheld the unfortunate mother writhing in flames.
Screaming she ran through the yard, her agonized cries being succeeded by prayers such as Holy Rollers use. Her husband caught her and smothered the flames, but the woman died last night.
Mrs. Young was one of several women in this community who had been rendered flighty after persistent attendance at the meetings of a strange sect which teaches that sacrifices like those in ancient days are still necessary.
Oregon Daily Journal (Portland) 9/4/1906 p1
White Women Join Negroes in Frenzy of Religious Orgy
(Journal Special Service.)
Los Angeles, Sept 4.-- A wave of religious fanaticism that has swept over southern California reached a climax last night when at a ramshackle Negro church on Azusa street scores of seemingly respectable white women and a few white men rubbed noses with greasy Senegambias, who were most eager for young, unattended white girls to join the church.
At the height of the meeting, a prepossessing white woman arose, and after waving her hands to secure silence, testified that she left her husband and children in order to follow a Negro. she declared the Lord had told her to leave her family, and in her frenzy threw her arms about the one-eyed Negro leader and shouted his praises. Pandemonium reigned supreme when the meeting was practically turned over to the Negroes at 10 o’clock. Black wrenches threw themselves on the floor and cackled and gobbled. All claimed entire satisfaction. The police were frequently compelled to interfere with the meetings to prevent the maniacs from harming themselves or others.