Once there was a man in Corvallis, Oregon who could certainly fight for the title of “strangest figure in the history of the American west.” His name was Edmund Franz Creffield, and he claimed he had been given divine powers. After which he proclaimed himself a prophet, and instructed his followers to call him “Joshua The Second”. This is his story, and the story of the “Bride of Christ Church”. Don’t believe everything you hear kids, and don’t join cults!
When Edmund, or Joshua first came to Corvallis in 1903, he was mostly preaching about the “beauty of the full gospel.” He had recently left the Salvation Army because he thought they weren’t holy enough. As these things go-his followers (mostly women) started believing he was receiving messages directly from God, and Joshua would preach for hours while his followers prayed face down on the floor, gnashed their teeth, and rolled around; thus the term “holy roller”. As these loud meetings would go on into the early morning hours, Joshua was soon banned from holding these meeting within city limits. No matter! Soon, Joshua and his followers camped out on Kiger Island in the Willamette River, and by Fall followers Sarah Hurt and her three children invited him and about twenty others to move into their house just outside Corvallis. Families were broken apart, as Joshua taught that believers were to have nothing to do with unbelievers. He also preached to his followers of the evils of life’s fineries, and by October the group burned most of the house’s contents including furniture, utensils, heirlooms, a cat, and a dog. I guess Joshua missed that whole “thou shall not kill” part when he was gifted with divine power. He also told his followers “Clothing is vanity — let’s all get naked and roll on the floor!” Sounds like a fun party!
The idea of a man living in an empty house with females, some of which were no more than children certainly raised some eyebrows in Corvallis. In January 1904, twenty men called the White Caps (husbands of the women in the cult) tarred and feathered Joshua and told him to leave town and never come back. Joshua, or by this time he was also referring to himself as the second Elijah, responded by appearing the very next day at the courthouse in Linn County. His skin was still red and raw from scrubbing and he reeked of the turpentine used to remove the tar, and marrying one of his followers — Maud.
The next month Joshua was accused of having an affair with Maude’s aunt, 23-year old Donna Starr in Portland. As adultery was a criminal offense at the time, a warrant was put out for Joshua’s arrest. As a statewide manhunt commenced Joshua’s followers began to fast and spent their days lying on the floor praying. Most of them were committed to insane asylums. In July, Joshua was discovered naked and starving under Sarah Hurt’s house. He was found guilty and served seventeen months in the Oregon State Penitentiary. What was his reason for committing the act of adultery, you may ask. It had been part of a vital, God-ordered purification ritual, of course! As one does, when he was released from prison he claimed that he was Jesus Christ and that his resurrection was his release from prison. Perfectly reasonable! When the adultery charge was made, nearly all the men had left the Bride of Christ Church, leaving only Joshua and one other man as leaders of a flock of exclusively women. I’m sure a lot of purifying went on!
In 1906, Joshua condemned San Francisco. When the earth quake that killed thousands of people happened, his followers (recently released from the asylum) believed him. One follower, Cora Hartley was quoted as saying ” he is Jesus Christ. He condemned the city of San Francisco and brought the earthquake; he has condemned the city of Corvallis and an earthquake will destroy this place.” Like good followers, they obeyed Joshua’s command to evacuate the coast.
In April of that year, Cora Hartley and her husband went to Newport to meet up with Joshua. As they boarded the ferry, Cora’s husband Louis (an unbeliever) fired a revolver four times at Joshua. Fortunately for Joshua, Louis had put the wrong type of bullets in the gun-so the gun was useless. I’m sure Joshua claimed another miracle after that.
After the attempt on his life, Joshua and Maude fled to Seattle. There, another shooter gunning for Joshua II was waiting for him. George Mitchell, the brother of one of Joshua’s followers named Esther Mitchell, found him and shot him dead in front of multiple witnesses. Multnomah County’s DA, John Manning, sent King County’s prosecuting attorney, Kenneth Mackintosh, this letter about Joshua: “I investigated many, many charges against him while he was on his Holy Rolling tour in Oregon, the character of which were perfectly awful, in so far as being low, degenerate and brutal, and if permitted, I would like an opportunity to testify before the grand jury, before Mitchell is indicted. I think the taking of the law in one’s own hands, under such circumstances, to mete out summary justice is almost excusable.”.
George was defended by attorney O.V. Hurt (Joshua’s own father in-law). The witnesses who took the stand told detailed stories of “free love” taking place within the group. They talked about Joshua claiming that Christ would be reborn and one of the Brides’ of Christ would be the new Mary and that he needed to lay his hands upon them and purify them. Most damning for Joshua was the claim that daughter’s were forced to watch their mothers have sex with the male members of the cult. Lastly, George was told that Joshua had named then-16 year old Esther Mitchell as the new Mary. George was found not guilty by reason of insanity and released. Two days later, Esther shot and killed him. Before the case of George Mitchell’s murder went to trial Joshua’s wife Maud took her own life. Esther, like her brother was found not guilty by reason of insanity. She was committed to an insane asylum in Washington, and released in 1909. She committed suicide in 1914. When we remember the fate of others at the hands of true evil like Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite, don’t forgot those who were fooled into believing the maniacal ravings of Franz Edmund Creffield (1870–1906)