Joshua Creffield's Martyrdom
It lay tranquilly on the west bank of the Willamette River, surrounded by forest, fields and orchards. Boats plied the stream and there was a ferry to the east bank. A sawmill added an industrial touch to the scene. On Saturday nights Main Street was lively with vehicles of all sorts: buggies, wagons and hacks. Of social life there were church-going on Sundays, bazaars, the Ladies Aid, the commercial club and the usual rural town activities that centered about pool room and corner drugstore.
Into this bucolic scene came Franz Edmund Creffield. He was born in Germany in 1871, left his country to escape military service, and came to the United States. After knocking around he came to Oregon where he joined the Salvation Army, rose to be an officer, served in several Oregon towns, and finally landed in Corvallis.
There, in the spring of 1903, when he was 32 years of age, he conceived the idea of a new religious movement. It was to be a spiritual kingdom on earth, built, taught and inspired by Creffield. He was educated for the Catholic priesthood in Germany at a time when the scientists and philosophers wrote of the relationship between religious and sexual emotions, and it is probable that this helped to give color and form to his new-found faith.
He let his hair and beard grow long and, with his pale face and burning eyes, looked not unlike the pictured Christ. Add that he was possessed of a magnetic, even hypnotic personality and was exceedingly well versed in argument, and it was small wonder that his bizarre preachings impressed his congregations as they did. The males were not so easily won, but the female members flocked to him.
Little by little his teachings grew authoritative, he developed a creed, and named his movement the "Church of the Bride of Christ". He was the prophet "Joshua"; Charles BROOKS, like himself a former Salvation Army officer and his right hand man, was head "Apostle"; and the aim of the kingdom was to find a woman worthy to be the mother of a second "Saviour".
During the early summer of 1903, CREFFIELD’s meetings settled into a noisy routine which broke into print and was featured in newspapers the nation over and as far as Edinburg, Scotland. According to common knowledge the order of procedure was for Creffield to start praying, chanting and swaying, exhorting his followers to do the same, until he had them worked into a frenzy, when he would order them to take off their clothes and roll on the floor where they would continue their chanting and praying, would moan and shout and "speak in tongues", and Creffield and Apostle BROOKS would join them. While they were naked on the floor, they were supposed to receive messages from God and be generally inspired.
Outside meetings Creffield taught that clothes and furniture were luxuries no religious person ought to own; that his adherents ought to confine themselves to one wrapper, not sit on chairs and think little of their food.
The pyrotechnics of his meetings finally became so noisy and objectionable that he was forbidden to hold any more in town. Nothing daunted, he led his followers, now almost exclusively women, south of Corvallis where they chanted, prayed and rolled in the grass. Some of the women had babies with them.
When it grew too chilly for outdoor meetings, Creffield obtained the cottage of Victor HURT for his rites. HURT was one of the believers in "Joshua", a merchant, about 53, intelligent and of a kindly disposition. His whole family - his wife, married son, his son’s wife and two unmarried daughters had fallen under the prophet’s spell.
By this time, many citizens were up in arms about CREFFIELD. It was noised about that horrible immoral rites went on at his meetings. These were no longer open to the general public and as a rule the shades were drawn down. On HURT’s front gate was a sign reading: NO ADMITTANCE EXCEPT ON GOD’S BUSINESS. Once a bonfire was staged in HURT’s back yard in which much of the HURT furniture was burned and word went around that the dog and cat was to be offered up. Besides this, the women who attended the meetings began to show signs of mental disturbances, to neglect their homes and their husbands and children. Of course, the men’s anger, jealousy, suspicion and resentment were roused.
HURT, himself, began to wonder about CREFFIELD. His home no longer seemed home. Meetings were held mostly when he was away at his store, but he would come home and find the members of his family on the floor, praying and shouting and disdaining food, sometimes for many hours on end.
On the evening of November, 1903, after a summer of hectic religious excitement, five prominent fellow citizens called on HURT to remonstrate with him about harboring CREFFIELD. To their surprise they found that the prophet had already left. HURT was warmly congratulated. Then he told them that he had planned to go east, leaving "Joshua" to enlarge the house for more followers, but that he did not go, and returned home unexpectedly - whereupon followed the order for all except his family to vacate.
For a short while CREFFIELD and his apostles were homeless. Then they found refuge in a house on the Linn County side of the Willamette. On hearing this about 20 Corvallis citizens gathered quietly, were ferried across the stream, broke open the door of CREFFIELD’s house, took him and Charles BROOKS from a room among a dozen of his followers, conveyed them back to Corvallis and to a spot north of town where the pair were forced to strip while a coat of tar and feathers were administered. BROOKS took the treatment stoically, but CREFFIELD was badly frightened. Clothing was restored the shivering men and they were told to make themselves scarce under pain of worse treatment.
It is suspected that Victor HURT, probably at the instigation of his family, intercepted the fugitives. Anyway, they were back at their beach house among their followers the next morning and had their tar and feathers removed. On that same morning, 5 January 1904, CREFFIELD and Maude HURT, HURT’s eldest daughter, and the leading disciple of the CREFFIELD cult, young, intelligent and comely, appeared in Albany and were married by County Judge H. M. PALMER. Witnesses at the wedding were Frank HURT and his wife.