The Cast of Characters
Photos and Bios of the Holy Rollers
1906 Editorial Calling for Gun Control
After Multiple Murders Involving the Holy Rollers
Oregon Insane Asylum
Where the Holy Rollers Were Committed
1906 Autopsies Of Holy Rollers
Forensics Before CSI
Holy Roller Bizarre Divorce Decree
Hartley describes trying to kill his wife's lover
Oregon State Penitentiary
Where Creffield Was Incarcerated
Creffield Vs. Crefeld
The Salvation Army Opening Fire in 1886
Holy Roller Theology
Reverend Knapp's Bible Songs of Salvation & Victory
Songs Sung by the Holy Rollers
me, brothers and sisters, I am God's exclusive messenger and
He wants you to obey me implicitly. He wants you to join me
in a life of deprivation, degradation--and orgies. In
so doing, you will drive your families mad and they will
have you committed to the insane asylum--the loony bin. Come, let us roll on the ground and pray."
Had Edmund Creffield said this during his
first street corner sermon in Oregon in 1899 he would have
had few if any followers. "Some sort of lunatic," people
would have whispered to their children, grasping their hands
as they sped away from him. Alas, Creffield didn't sound
like a lunatic at first.
The secret to Creffield's charisma? Not
his physical stature. Creffield, a small man, five-foot-six,
135 pounds, with light hair and pale blue eyes, was "a very
homely man"--or so said Burgess Starr. "But he attracted
women wonderfully." And not just any women, but women who
were the wives and daughters of respected men, women of high
character and standing, God-fearing, decent women.
"His power over his followers, who were
nearly all women, was something wonderful," O. V. Hurt,
Burgess Starr's brother-in-law, said. "They did whatever he
said. They were dead to all human sympathies. They let their
children, their husbands and their parents go uncared for
and without a kind thought or word."
"Creffield was a hypnotist," Burgess
Louis Sandell, another of O. V.'s
in-laws, said that Creffield had a "look that seemed to cast
a spell over a person," and that he himself personally "felt
more secure the farther away from him."
his schooling he made a particular study of mental telepathy
and, it is claimed, became something of an expert in the
science of thought transference," someone else said.
Correspondence courses in hypnotism were popular at the
time, courses that promised to "make women bend to your
A look that cast a spell? Mental
telepathy? The science of thought transference? And these
are statements made by people in this story who weren't
eventually committed to the insane asylum.
As ludicrous as these all sounded, they
were easier to accept than the idea that Creffield was God's
exclusive messenger. But this is jumping ahead, for
Creffield hadn't always held such power over people. In 1899
he was a soldier in the Salvation Army in Portland, Oregon,
preaching with mixed success to anyone who would listen to
him. When the Salvation Army had "opened fire" there twelve
years earlier, they hadn't exactly been held in the highest
esteem either. Thought of as a group of religious crackpots,
they were routinely spat upon, pelted with rotten eggs,
vegetables, and rocks, all the while thanking their
tormenters, saying the attacks strengthened their
determination. It was enough to drive the less righteous
By the time Creffield joined the organization, the Salvation Army had gained a certain amount of respectability. Initially it was thought he might make a promising officer and was sent to Officer-Training School. His halo soon tarnished, though, as he began quibbling with his fellow soldiers--often about money because wherever he was posted--The Dalles, 85 miles east of Portland; Oregon City, 13 miles south of Portland; McMinnville, 40 miles south-west of Portland; and Heppner, in eastern Oregon--donations plummeted. Donations were everything to the Salvation Army--or so Creffield claimed.
The Holy Ghost apparently didn't approve
of this policy because in 1901 the Holy Ghost, Creffield
said, directed him "not to solicit for money," and to leave
the Salvation Army because "its people are not entirely of
"Creffield does not like to be controlled by others," said a fellow soldier, "but wants everything his own way, and that is why he left the Salvation Army."
No matter. Creffield resigned his
position and went to, as he said, "tarry" with Martin L.
Ryan at his Pentecostal Mission and Training School in
Salem. Ryan's group was part of a Holiness Movement that
taught the Bible in its entirety--from the first word of
Genesis to the last word of Revelation--"And if any man
shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy,
God shall take away his part out of the book of
To Ryan, churches in America were
honeycombed with sin and apathy. Just look at the what had
happened to the Methodists. Many Methodists were practically
infidels, leading lives filled with carnal and selfish
desires. Go to the home of one and you might be invited to
partake of worldly amusements and sinful pleasures such as
card-playing, smoking, drinking, and dancing--or, most
objectionable, a discussion on Darwin's theory of evolution.
Such things had no place in the lives of members of Ryan's
group. Even if they had wanted to partake of these
amusements, they had no time, for they went to evangelistic
meetings nightly--not being content to attend services only
on Sundays. These days Methodists pooh-poohed such
his time with Ryan, a new doctrine was "revealed" to
Creffield--he was God's Elect. He went to preach this new
doctrine in Corvallis. Corvallis was in the heart of the
Willamette Valley, the "Eden" at the end of the Oregon
Trail. Thousands had came to the Oregon Territory for many
reasons, but most came because there was the promise of
land--free land that was productive beyond belief--preachers
not being the only ones making astonishing claims. Peter
Burnett, later governor of California, said: "Gentlemen,
they do say, that out in Oregon the pigs are running about
under the great acorn trees, round and fat, and already
cooked, with knives and forks sticking in them so that you
can cut off a slice whenever you are hungry."
When Creffield arrived in Corvallis, it
was a small farming community and home to Oregon
Agricultural College, a land-grant institution. People there
led fairly orderly lives--ordinances had even recently been
passed that prohibited livestock from roaming the streets at
Everybody knew everything about everyone
else in town--the two papers, the Corvallis Times and
the Corvallis Gazette, made sure of that. Everything
was reported. Everything!
Go out of town--it was reported. "A swift
journey on a bicycle was made Saturday by Frank Hurt," the Times reported on October 26, 1901. "He went from
Corvallis to Oregon City in six hours. It is not likely that
the trip was ever made by wheel in so short a time."
Come back to town--it was reported.
"Clarence Starr returned home Tuesday from Seaside, Oregon,"
the Gazette reported on November 1, 1901, "where he
had been employed for several months in a sawmill. He
relates an amusing story at the expense of the little
pumpkin vine railroad that runs from Warrenton to Seaside.
While en route home, traveling over this line, the train
slowed down, that is, it went slower than usual and the
whistle was repeatedly blown in vain efforts to 'shoo' a cow
off the track. It seemed impossible to make her give the
right of way and a wearied passenger finally agreed to give
her a start, which he did. She seemed quite alarmed at the
demonstrations of the passenger and, throwing her tail to
the breeze, continued her way on down the track at her
liveliest gait. The passenger climbed back onto the 'whole
train' and the engine was turned loose to make up for the
time lost. After about half an hour's run the train again
slowed down and the shrill whistle resounded along the
coast. The passenger inquired what was the matter now. He
was answered by the conductor who stated that they had
caught up with the cow."
Have a good day at work--it was reported.
"Frank Hurt is reported to be doing exceedingly well in his
position as shipping clerk at Ainsworth dock, Portland, the Gazette reported on December 3, 1901. "A few days ago
he checked a China steamer in and out. This is quite an
undertaking and requires considerable knowledge and great
accuracy. He is well spoken of by his employers."
Have a bad day at work--it was reported.
"It was not a cyclone or a cattle stampede, though not many
of the symptoms were lacking," the Times reported on
May 29, 1901. "It happened in Kline's store Saturday
evening. The employees were boxing eggs for shipment. Victor
Hurt stooped over an egg case and rummaged in the bottom,
when a big rat ran up his arm on his shoulder, brandishing
his tail in his face. Hurt, convinced that it was the
panther reported at large west of town, fell over himself in
terror and set up a commotion that brought all employees to
the scene. Armed with brooms, pocket shears and bars of soap
the boys began a chase that finally ended with the death of
the rat just outside the front door. The only hurt sustained
in the incident was by Hurt, whose nerves were so hurt that
he still sees rats in every old box about the store."
Sometimes the most exciting items in the
paper could be found in the church notes: "Unearthed!" the Gazette reported on January 5, 1900. "Exposed! Made
public! Terrible tragedy! Full details! Names given! A blood
stained bag! Ghastly contents to be exposed Saturday night 8
o'clock at the Salvation Army Hall, January 6th. Full
particulars of greatest crime ever made public. All are
The crime that Creffield was about to
commit in Corvallis was thought to be one of the
greatest--if not the greatest--crimes ever made public in
the city's history. At the time the papers dutifully
followed and printed the details of this crime. Secrets were
unearthed. Private lives were exposed. All of it was made
public. Names were named. Reputations were stained. It was a
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Holy Rollers is a story that has everything a good read should have: sex, religious fervor, mass insanity, the downfall of prominent families, murder and sensational court trials.
And it's all true.
John Terry, the Oregonian's 'Oregon's Trails' columnist says of the book: "A dandy piece of research and a good read. Lots more stuff than I was aware of. It deserves an audience"
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