The Tennessee Massacre: Setting the Scene

One of the most courageous events in the life of Pres. B. H. Roberts, was his recovery of the bodies of two elders who had been slain by mobs while performing missionary work in the Southern States mission. The account of those events are given as follows in President Roberts’ own language:


“Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel,” was a commission given to the Apostles by the Son of God when ministering in the flesh. A like commandment has been given to the apostles, seventies and elders of the Church of Jesus Christ in our day. In obedience to that commandment, many elders have left their homes, their houses and lands, wives and children, together with all their business interests, the association of friends and the lovely joys of home, to become wanderers in strange lands and among strange peoples.

In no other nation have the elders been more faithful and energetic in proclaiming the glad tidings of the gospel restored than in the United States of America. Thousands have gladly received the word, and have rejoiced in the reception of the Holy Ghost.

Fruitful Field

Since the close of the Rebellion, the Southern States have been a fruitful field of labor for the elders; many people have been brought to a knowledge of the truth and gathered with the Saints from that part of the Republic. Particularly of late years have the elders been successful in the Southern States. In the summer of 1883, 95 elders were laboring in those states. There were only nine elders traveling in Tennessee in the year 1880, but so rapidly were openings made for preaching in that state, that last summer 27 elders found fruitful fields within its borders.

The spread of truth, however, in Tennessee and other parts of the south has not been accomplished without meeting with opposition from the powers of darkness. Infamous falsehoods have been circulated concerning the elders and the objects of their missions; their characters have been vehemently assailed; for misrepresentation and the wickedest and most wilful lies, manufactured with the express design of traducing the character of the Latter-day Saints have been industriously circulated by professedly pious ministers of the gospel and others with whom the powers of darkness had influence, with a view of poisoning the minds of the people against the principles of truth the elders proclaimed to them; slander, with her vile tongue, has done all she could to oppose the truth.

Threats Made

When all this failed to stay the spread of the gospel, as revealed from heaven, threats of mob violence were frequently made, and mobs at different times collected to drive the elders from various localities where they were preaching. Involuntarily we pause, and as is it possible that in this boasted land of political and religious liberty, with all its vaunted civilization and enlightenment – brute force, threats, whippings, house burnings and the deadly bullet has been employed to combat supposed errors respecting religion.

Disagreeable as it is to our feelings, the question must be answered in the affirmative. Such means have frequently been used, to stay the spread of the gospel, and culminated in Tennessee on the tenth day of August, 1884, in the murdering of four innocent men and the serious wounding of an inoffensive woman.

Appeal to Prejudice

The enemies the Latter-day Saints have ever sought to impede their progress by misrepresenting them to the world, and arousing the worst prejudices of mankind against them; until, like the Church in former days, the Saints are everywhere spoken against. To stem this stream of popular sentiment the presidency of the Southern States Mission appointed Elders J.H. Gibbs and W.H. Jones to go on a lecturing tour through the mission.

They were instructed to call upon the leading citizens of the various counties and give them correct information respecting the doctrine, history and the progress of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as to represent the true condition of affairs in Utah – politically, socially and morally.

In this labor they traveled through a number of counties in Tennessee, and also in the northern part of Mississippi; and from thence returned to Tennessee, arriving on Cane Creek, Lewis county about the seventh of August.

Willing to Listen

Cane Creek is a stream of clear water, formed by springs in the northeast of Lewis county. It takes a meandering course through a wide ravine to the Tennessee. The ravine through which Cane Creek winds its way widens at places almost into a valley; here the settlers have cleared away the timber from the rich bottom lands and side hills, bringing them under cultivation.

It is near the head of Cane Creek where Elders Joseph Argyle, Edward Stevenson, and Martin Garn, several years ago, found the people who were willing to listen to them. A number obeyed the gospel and a branch of the Church was organized.

Ever since, elders have been preaching there and in the surrounding neighborhood. Last spring it became the field of labor of Elder Gibbs. By his energy and the blessings of the Lord, quite a number were added to the Church.

It was this branch of the Church Elders Gibbs and Jones returned to after their lecturing tour through west Tennessee and Mississippi. They had the pleasure of meeting Elder W. S. Berry and Henry Thompson, who, a few days before, had dropped in to visit the Saints and hold public service with them on Sunday, August 10.

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