Wednesday, August 19, 2009

History of the Southern States Mission, Part 24: Retrieving the Bodies

In the last installment of the history of the mission, B.H. Roberts had made arrangements to purchase caskets for the murdered missionaries so he could return their bodies to Utah.

Having made all necessary arrangements for procuring the bodies of the Elders, the next question was how to obtain them. The whole surrounding country was thoroughly aroused over the terrible event, but so many sympathizers did the mob have that few people had the temerity to proclaim the just cause of the Elders and condemn the evils of the murderers. All avenues leading to the places of burial were well guarded by members of the mob, who were determined to allow no one to remove the remains; more especially were they set against the idea of the Elders' friends removing them to Utah.

President Roberts met with Elders Jones and Kimball; after they had thoroughly discussed the matter they deemed it prudent to gain the protection of the authorities of the state. With this end in view they called at Nashville to see Gov. W.B. Bate, but he not being in the city, the Adjutant-General's opinion had to be abided by, viz: That nothing could be done by the state until the sheriff of Lewis county should act. This virtually being an admission that state protection could not be granted. Realizing this, the Elders determined to secure the bodies at all hazards. The Adjutant-General gave them a letter to the sheriff of Lewis county advising him to accompany the Elders to the scene and assist them in removing the bodies. This proved of no service, as when the Elders went to the sheriff's house he was away.

It was determined to go to Cane Creek; and further deemed advisable to have Elders Jones and Thompson remain at Nashville and Elders Roberts and Kimball to make the perilous journey. The latter two made their way to Columbus [I assume they meant Columbia, since they don't appear to travel out of state], the point where the caskets had been shipped, and there they took a livery team and coveyed the caskets with them to Shady Grove, Hickman county, where there was a branch of the Church. Upon arriving there they procured the assistance of Brothers Emmons and Robbin Church, who fitted up two teams and wagons. Brothers Henry Harlow, Wm. Church and a young man named Robert Coleman consented to accompany Elder Roberts to Cane Creek, help to exhume the remains and assist in bringing them to any designated place. Thus help was arranged for.

To go there undisguised would mean almost certain death to the attempter. Elder Roberts accordingly clipped off his beard and moustache, smeared his face and hands with dirt, donned old ragged clothes, and, assuming such a rough character that it completely covered his personality, that not even his closest friends could have recognized him. This done he left Elder Kimball, who was detailed to return to Chattanooga and arrange further as to the disposition of the bodies. Traveling through cornfields and woods he met his three companions at a given place, and then proceeded on toward Cane Creek. Nothing of importance happened to them on their way and they reached their destination in peace and safety.

Their next labor was to exhume the remains. This was successfully accomplished with the assistance of some of the Saints and Mr. Garrett, to whose place the bodies were afterwards taken.

"Thus daylight the next morning," says Elder Roberts in his report of the affair, "found us hitched up and on our way to Carpenter Station, which is some twenty-four miles from Mr. Garrett's house, where we had stayed all night. The road was an extremely lonely one, through a heavy growth of oak timber, principally of the species called Black Jack [Quercus marilandica]. After leaving Cane Creek and crossing Little Swan we traveled some fifteen miles without seeing man, woman or child. Robert Coleman, who drove the wagon on which I rode, claimed to have seen two birds and a squirrel—the only animal life visible to any of the party in traveling the fifteen miles mentioned. When within one mile of Carpenter Station the road forked, and arguing ourselves into the belief that we had been bearing too much to the right, we took the left fork and finally reached Mount Pleasant, a railroad town of several hundred inhabitants. By taking this left hand road we went some twelve miles out of our way. It was well that we did so, as it is reported to us that twenty men had banded together and rode to Carpenter Station, where they intended to intercept us; if so, the Lord delivered us from their hands and our hearts are filled with gratitude to Him for His watchful care over us."

The bodies were soon taken to Nashville, where Elder W.E. Robinson met the weary and sorrowful party, and the remains were turned over to him for safe keeping and on their westward journey to the bereaved families. At Salt Lake City the bodies were received amid deep solemnity; Elder Berry's remains were sent south to Kanarra, his late home, while those of Elder Gibbs were taken north to Paradise. The whole territory was in deep mourning; meetings were held everywhere in honor of the martyrs.

(To be continued.)

Latter Day Saints Southern Star, Vol. 1, No. 28, Chattanooga, Tenn. Saturday, June 10, 1899, p 217.

Picture of the blackjack oak under a red sky from

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