Killing The Prophet (Part 1)

Still one of the most bizarre stories in Oregon's history, Franz Edmund Creffield is surprisingly unknown these days. 

Little seems to be known about his early life in Germany before coming to the United States.   Born in 1871, he apparently left his native country to avoid military service which made his decision to join the Salvation Army especially ironic. In any event his Salvation Army career came to a premature end  though nobody knows today whether he quit or was fired.   Creffield's real history began in the spring of 1903 when a gaunt figure with a thick beard appeared in Corvallis, Oregon to preach about his new religious movement.  Renaming himself Joshua the Second, his charismatic personality began to attract followers for his Church of the Bride of Christ. While some townspeople recognized him as a former Salvation Army officer, the bearded Creffield was spreading a very different message this time around.

His doctrine was simple enough: the Prophet and his followers would seek a perfect woman who would become the mother of a new "Savior" who would redeem the world. Along with his followers (mostly female), he recruited a former Salvation Army officer named Charles Brooks to act as his second-in-command.  Their prayer meetings certainly must have been something to see. The Prophet would start praying, and leading his followers into a state of frenzy. He would then order them to rip off their clothes and roll on the floor where he and Brooks (who had been given the name of "The Apostle") would join them.  While rolling and moaning, the followers would "speak in tongues" as they sought guidance from God.  These prayer meetings, held at first in the homes of Creffield's converts, were what earned them the name of "The Holy Rollers".

This strange nudity cult became international news but Corvallis residents had little appreciation for the publicity. The town council banned the meetings but Creffield simply moved his followers out of the town's boundaries.; The sect built a retreat on nearby Kiger Island where a large wigwam of rough cut tree branches was built by Creffield and his followers. The meetings continued on a daily basis although the cold Oregon winters made nude praying rather difficult. They later moved to the house of a prominent Corvallis citizen, O.P. Hunt, who had become one of his converts.

The prayer meetings continued as before and the Hunt front gate now sported a large sign that said "Absolutely No Admittance, Except On God's Business".  Rumours of "immoral practices" going on at the meetings with Creffield, Brooks, and the (mostly female) followers had the town in an uproar.   Brooks and Creffield were eventually dragged into a local court for a sanity hearing but  were released due to lack of evidence. Finally, when a photograph went around showing Creffield and many of his female followers in the nude, a mob broke into the house where the Prophet and Brooks were staying. The men were taken to the edge of town where they were tarred and feathered before being told to leave.

The tarring and feathering was enough for Brooks who was never seen again but Creffield simply continued as before (if a little more discreetly).   A surprise marriage with Maude Hunt (O.P. Hunt's daughter) stunned the Corvallis community and Creffield's mission went on.  It was in April, 1904 when the husband of one of Creffield's followers swore out a complaint against him.  Although the police searched for months (and the husband posted a reward for his capture), Creffield was finally found, naked and filthy, under a house where he had apparently been hiding. Images[1]

Creffield was tried in Portland, Oregon and sentenced to two years in a penitentiary for adultery. The families of his  followers hoped that his jail sentence would be enough to end Creffield's influence and many of the more deluded women were sent to sanatoriums or convents to straighten out their lives. These hopes were short-lived. Creffield continued to write letters while inside and was released after fifteen months as a model prisoner. Almost as soon as he was released, he remarried his wife Maude (her family had forced her to divorce him due to the adultery conviction) and resumed his ministry.

Creffield made plans to move his followers to a site near Waldport, Oregon where they would created a new "Garden of Eden". Several of Creffield's more prosperous followers sold their property to buy the site and Creffield urged all followers to join him there. He announced that he had laid his curse on Corvallis, San Francisco, and other places that had treated him badly. When San Francisco was almost destroyed by an earthquake in 1906, the followers took it as a sign of the Prophet's power.

As Creffield's many followers moved to join him at the new colony, the male relatives of some of those followers began making plans of their own. After an unsuccessful murder attempt by one of them (the gun jammed), the Prophet boasted that "no man can kill Joshua". Other men began converging to finish off Creffield and the Prophet fled to Seattle for his own safety.

Finally, on May 7, 1906, Franz Edmund Creffield was shot and killed by George Mitchell.   But the story hardly ended there. To be continued

           

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