Mormon Missionary Diaries
About the Collection
John Henry Gibbs
by Brian A. Warburton
John Henry Gibbs was born 28 July 1853 in St. Mary’s Haverford, West Pembrokshire, Wales, to George Duggan Gibbs and Ellen Phillips. In 1866 John and his parents immigrated to Utah, eventually settling in Paradise, Utah. John married Louisa Shelton Obray on 2 November 1874 in Salt Lake City, Utah. He taught school at Richmond, Utah, in the winter of 1879-80 and was called to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) to the Southern States in 1883. He was set apart as a missionary on 26 February 1883 and left Salt Lake for his mission the next day, arriving in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on 3 March 1883.
After arriving in Tennessee John was assigned to labor in Hickman County, where he and his companions traveled from house to house and town to town taking advantage of any opportunities they had to preach, “There was a man at our meeting by name of Crowell he invited us to his house, hence we went to see him. They received us well. He had a daughter named Rebecca, she wanted us to preach in their house that night which we consented to do. She sent her two little brothers around to notify the neighborhood and done all she could to have a good meeting.”1 Anti-Mormon feelings were very high in the Southern United States at his time and John recorded many instances when he received persecution and even threats such as a letter that was posted in the town of Tomlin Creek, warning the Mormons to leave or be killed.
On 27 April 1884 a conference was held for the missionaries in Tennessee and John was called to be the president of the North West Tennessee Conference and was given a special assignment to “travel in the Southern States lecturing on the political, historical, moral and social phases of the Mormon question.”2 After the conference John returned to Hickman County to find the area a hotbed of anti-Mormonism; he received several threatening letters. One of the letters was written by a group that called themselves the “Shiloh Men,” who claimed responsibility for burning a Mormon meeting house and then threatened to kill all the Mormons if they didn’t leave the county. The reason given for this threat was that “you are the low down scrapings of the devil and we are going to stop it if we will have to cause war.”3 Speaking of all the persecution John said “I have never seen a hotter time since I have been out. We have been threatened on every hand and all came on since May 1.”4 The tensions continued to mount in Tennessee during the summer of 1884, but for much of the summer John and his companion, Elder Jones were fulfilling their assignment of traveling throughout the South lecturing on the “Mormon question.”
The last entry in John’s journal was written on 2 August 1884, only eight days before he was to meet his fate. After 2 August John returned to Tennessee, where a conference was to be held at Cane Creek at the home of James Condor on 10 August. That morning three Elders, John Gibbs, William Berry and Henry Thompson, met early at the Condor home to sing hymns and prepare their sermons. John’s companion, Elder Jones stayed behind for a few minutes to finish reading a newspaper, but was to join the others shortly. While Elder Jones was traveling to the Condor home he was seized by a mob of men dressed in white robes and hoods and was questioned about the other missionaries. The mob left one man to guard Elder Jones, with orders to shoot him if he tried to escape and the rest of the mob continued to the Condor home.
The Elders began their meeting with a hymn at about 10:00 a.m. just as the meeting was commencing the mob rushed through the door and shot John Gibbs, killing him instantly.5 The murder of John was followed by a struggle between Elder Berry and the mobbers, in which Elder Berry was also shot and killed, but he was able to distract the mob enough that Elder Thompson was able to escape to the woods. James Condor had a son and stepson who also joined the fight. As the sons rushed into the house, Martin Condor was shot while trying to secure a gun that hung above the fireplace. During the struggle, his half brother J.R. Hudson ran to the loft to get his gun, as he came back down the stairs he shot and killed one of the mobbers, but he was then shot, leaving a total of four members of the church and one member of the mob dead. As the mobbers left the house they fired one last volley through the windows hitting Mrs. Condor in the hip and badly wounding her.6
The bodies of the missionaries were buried on the Condor property, but the president of the southern States Mission, B.H. Roberts, decided that the bodies should be sent to their homes in Utah. The mob had been standing guard in the Cane Creek area and claimed that if Roberts tried to exhume the bodies they would kill him too. Roberts traveled in disguise to the condor residence, avoiding the mob, and was able to secure the bodies, which were sent by railroad, under the care of a missionary by the name of Willis E. Robison, to Salt Lake City.7
When the bodies arrived in Salt Lake City the men were eulogized by the leadership of the church as martyrs.8 John Gibbs was buried in his hometown of Paradise, Cache County, Utah. He left behind his wife Louisa and three children.
1 John Henry Gibbs, “Papers,” VMSS 741, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University. 17 March 1883.
2 Ibid., 28 April 1884.
3 Ibid., 1 May 1884.
5 Brigham H. Roberts, The Essential B.H. Roberts, ed. Brigham D. Madsen (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999) , 5.
6 This event came to be known as the “Tennessee Massacre,” or the “Cane Creek Massacre”.
7 Willis E. Robison, “Journals, 1882–1884,” MSS 1591, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University. Robison’s journal details the events at Cane Creek and his journey to Salt Lake with the bodies. Robison’s journal is also included in this Internet collection.
8 Roberts, 22.
Arrington, Leonard J. Mormon Beginnings in the American South. Salt Lake City: Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1976.
Gibbs, John Henry. “Papers,” VMSS 741, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
Hatch, William Whitridge. There is no Law; a History of Mormon Civil Relations in the Southern States, 1865–1905. New York: Vantage Press, 1968.
Jensen, Andrew. Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Vol. 3, Salt Lake City: Andrew nc., 1926.
Mowry, Georgia Roberts Livingston. The Tennessee Massacre. Privately printed, publisher unknown, 1951.
Nicholson, John. The Tennessee Massacre & its Causes, or, The Utah Conspiracy: A Lecture. Grantsville, Utah: LDS Archive Publishers, 1997?
Roberts, Brigham H. The Essential B.H. Roberts. Edited by Brigham D. Madsen. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999.
Robison, Willis E. “Journals, 1882–1884,” MSS 1591, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.