1884 slayings recall bitter time; today is more peaceful

Several new temples have been announced recently for the southeastern United States. These newer temples, combined with the larger, already existing temples, are a great blessing to Latter-day Saints in the South.

Two temples have been announced for Tennessee. The First Presidency announced in April 1998 plans to build a temple in Nashville, and in September 1998 plans to build a temple in Memphis. Each will be dedicated this year. Combined, the temples will serve some 35,000 members in Tennessee and neighboring states. Great enthusiasm among Church members accompanied the announcements of and the preparation for building these temples. Despite some initial opposition, many officials in neighboring municipal governments have worked to help make the building of these temples a reality. There has not always been that level of cooperation, enthusiasm and support for Church growth in Tennessee.

One hundred and fifteen years ago, Latter-day Saints witnessed, and others heard of, a tragedy that grew out of religious persecution in Lewis County, Tenn. The Church had been established in the vicinity for about 20 years. "Trouble began in May of that year [1884] when a small log meetinghouse, erected at Cane Creek, was burned [by a mob]. From that time on, religious services were quietly held in private homes of the twenty members in the area." (Robert H. Malan, B.H. Roberts, A Biography, Deseret Book Co., 1966, p. 29.)

On Aug. 10, 1884, bitter religious opposition turned to violence. Four full-time missionaries who were laboring in south central Tennessee stayed overnight with Thomas Garrett, who was not a member of the Church but who had shown unusual kindness to them. Days earlier, the missionaries made an appointment to hold Sabbath services the morning of Aug. 10 at the home of a Church member, William James Condor. The home was located on a farm on a hill overlooking Cane Creek. The meeting was scheduled to begin at 11 o'clock but, as Latter-day Saints and interested neighbors gathered, a mob of approximately 25 masked men converged on the Condor farm, intent on breaking up the service. In only a matter of minutes, five individuals were killed and James Condor's wife, Melinda Carroll Condor, was critically wounded.

Among the dead on that Sunday morning was David Hinson, a leader of the mob; two of Sister Condor's sons, and two full-time missionaries. Hinson was a Protestant minister living in Hickman County who saw Mormonism as a menace and as a threat to his own flock. B. H. Roberts, who was then acting president of the Southern States Mission and who later became a member of the Quorum of the Seventy, saw Hinson as "the archenemy of the elders in that region." (B. H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church 6:97.)

The two local young men who were killed in the shootings were Latter-day Saints who were still unmarried and living at home. John Riley Hudson, Sister Condor's son by a previous marriage, and Martin Condor, a son born to her and William James Condor, died defending their home and the missionaries against the intruders. They were buried in a single grave in an orchard not far from the scene of the tragedy. The Condor home and the orchard are now gone, but the location of the burial site, located on private property, is marked by an engraved headstone. The site is known as the Cane Creek Cemetery. A historic marker placed alongside State Highway 48, approximately 4 miles north of Hohenwald, en route to Kimmins, Tenn., chronicles the tragedy.

Without the intervention of these two young men the tragedy would, undoubtedly, have been far worse. Of their deaths and their individual sacrifice President George Q. Cannon, first counselor in the First Presidency, stated: "I feel that their names should be had in honorable remembrance in Zion, as well as the name of their mother and of their family, for their kindness and their bravery, in the cause of truth, and their names should not perish nor be forgotten." (Journal of Discourses 25:287-288.)

The two missionaries who lost their lives on that Sunday morning were John Henry Gibbs and William Shanks Berry. Elder Gibbs was a 31-year-old school teacher from Paradise, Cache County, Utah, and the father of three children. Elder Berry, 46, was from Kanarrah (now Kannarraville), Iron County, Utah. Elder Berry was a successful rancher. Significantly, Elder Berry's parents were converts to the Church from Dresden, Weekly County, Tenn., prior to moving to Nauvoo, Ill., in 1844. They were among the pioneers who arrived in Utah in 1847. In Tennessee, they had lived near where their son was killed.

The irony of the experience didn't end there, however. Soon after the tragedy in Lewis County, which became known among Latter-day Saints as the Cane Creek Massacre and to local inhabitants as Tennessee's Mormon Massacre, there were concerns by Church leaders for the safety of other missionaries in the South. Among the first missionaries to arrive in the South soon after the tragedy was a brother of each of the martyred missionaries. At about the turn of the century and after another generation, two sons of Elder Berry (John and William Berry) and the son of Elder Gibbs (John Henry Gibbs Jr.), also served in the Southern States Mission. (Deseret News, Sept. 18, 1943.)

Shortly after the tragedy, B.H. Roberts went at great personal risk to recover the bodies of the slain missionaries. Pres. Roberts disguised his identity and, in company of some local citizens, LDS and non-LDS, helped to disinter the bodies, which were placed in caskets that were sealed and shipped to Utah.

Once they arrived, the remains of Elder Gibbs and Elder Berry were sent to their families for burial. On Sunday, Aug. 24, 1884, two weeks after the tragedy, special services of tribute to the missionaries were held in Latter-day Saint communities throughout the territory. A part of the memorial service was a fund-raising drive to assist the saints in south central Tennessee to relocate. Most of them moved. The Condor family, which included two younger daughters, moved to Hohenwald, just a few miles away and, later, settled further south in Lewis County. Apparently, the majority of the Cane Creek saints moved to Manassa, Colo. (Malan, p. 32.) Noteworthy is the faith and devotion manifest by the families most directly affected by the tragedy. Sister Condor, mother of the two local young men who were killed, was wounded severely in the hip, an injury from which she never fully recovered. She died decades later in southern Tennessee. The family remained faithful Latter-day Saints despite not having a local Church unit with which to meet.

The widows of both slain missionaries lived for decades and gave remarkable lifelong service in raising their families, holding responsible positions in the Church and contributing to their respective communities.

Fortunately, the antagonism and misunderstanding that, in part, caused the tragedy in Lewis County in 1884 has largely disappeared. In Tennessee today there are nine stakes and two missions, and an LDS population of more than 30,000. These statistics and the building of two temples in Tennessee are further demonstration that the antagonism of the past has been replaced largely by an attitude of mutual respect, cooperation, friendship and understanding between the Church and the citizens of the state.

David F. Boone, a member of Timpview 3rd Ward, Orem Utah Timpview Stake, is Scoutmaster of BSA Troop 878. Photos courtesy Church Historical Department Archives.