Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Gaston L. Braley: Leaves from a Life’s Journal (3)

Gaston L. Braley: Leaves from a Life’s Journal (3)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 31, 2011

Previous installment

During the week I became very ill with malaria. We had been spending a day with some friends, about three miles from the church. We started walking to the church for evening services. I became so sick that I could go no farther. I excused myself and staggered off the road some distance, where I knelt down. After explaining to the Lord in a few words why I was there, and my desires to continue my work, the sickness which had afflicted me passed away instantly. I arose, caught up with the company, and arrived at the meeting well and on time. That evening I spoke for one hour and a quarter on the “Divine Mission of Joseph Smith,” and the Church which he was instrumental in giving to the world.

After finishing that interesting week’s services, we returned to our tracting and visiting duties. We went our way to some friends, where we had previously stopped.

We reached the home of a Mr. Root one day, and found him standing in front of his house, holding a mule, with a saddle on. His wife and some of the children were also standing in the door yard with him. They told us that he was just starting to look for us to have us come and pray for Daisy, their little 12-year-old daughter.

Her mother said that the child had been born with kidney trouble. Several doctors had treated her with no results. She was reduced in weight to thirty-five pounds. One doctor had been there that day, and said that he would not come again, and it was of no use, since Daisy could live but a very short time, and he could do nothing for her.

We were very hungry and tired. After partaking of refreshments, and resting for a time, we administered to Daisy. She immediately fell asleep. After a peaceful sleep of several hours she sat up to the table, and ate a hearty meal, a thing she had never done before in her life. After finishing dinner she took the Bible, and read several passages. From that hour she was sound and well, and in a remarkably short time she grew to weigh ninety pounds. We baptized the family and a number of their relatives.

We continued our tracting again after this healing experience. While on our way, we stopped to see a Mr. Sloan, whom we had previously baptized. He entertained us over night.

In the morning a man drove up and introduced himself as an officer, and said he had a warrant for our arrest. He drove with us several miles to a Mr. Taylor’s who said he was a justice of the peace. There were sixteen other men at the place. From there we drove with the party, about two miles through a dense forest to an old abandoned cabin. The old cabin was in a bad state of decay. The floor was all gone and most of the roof was gone. There was a large magnolia tree standing near by. It was covered with blooms; the air was fragrant with perfume.

We went into the cabin, when ordered to do so, by the justice and were seated on a log, which lay across the cabin where the floor had been.

The sixteen men above referred to seemed to be excited. They milled around, in and out of the cabin. The Justice seemed to be very much confused. He had some of the leaves from an old law book which he carried in a basket on his arm.

I asked him what we were charged with, if anything, and if so to please read the charge. He didn’t seem to have any charge, but read from one of the leaves of the law book where Vagrancy was forbidden. He promptly assessed a fine of $20.00, against us for vagrancy, and made a note of the same, on one of the blank leaves which he had in the basket.

The law which he read provided that a person having fifty cents, could not be found guilty of vagrancy. I had just received $20.00 from my wife, to buy me a suit of clothes. I exhibited the $20.00, but it did no good. So I told them that we would not pay a fine, because we were not guilty of any crime.

A man in the group rose and said he was a minister. He declared that the whole country had been annoyed by our presence; and that we were guilty of vagrancy for we had stopped at his house some time before, and had asked for entertainment. The excitement among the men became intense, at this time. One of them had a gun, and the others had clubs. The Justice informed us that we would either have to pay the fine, or to go jail.

My companion at this time was Elder Alvin Fisher Smith, the youngest son of Patriarch John Smith. It was rumored later in the neighborhood, that the mob had intended to murder us, but their hearts failed them in fulfillment of my blessing when I was set apart.

We got into the wagon and were driven sixteen miles to Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, and were taken to the jail. When we approached the jailer, he said he could not receive us without commitment papers. The officer who arrested us went off somewhere, and got commitment papers made out. We were received in jail, and like Paul and Silas of old, we were thrown into an inner cell, with three condemned men. I had some conversation with the jailer, through the bars; he very proudly informed me that he was a Presbyterian. I told him I thought he was before he told us. He asked me why I thought so, and I told him because of the fact that he was on the outside, and I was on the inside of the jail. I told the jailer, that I was glad to be counted worthy to be thrown into an inner cell like Paul and Silas.

There were three condemned men in the cell where I was, two black and one white. The white man said he had entertained the elders a number of times while at home. He was now sentenced to hang for starting a “turpentine fire” among the turpentine trees, an offense punishable by death. He said he was innocent. I promised him that he should be a free man. He later proved himself innocent, and gained his freedom, as I had promised him under inspiration of Almighty God.

One of the black men, sixty years of age, was under sentence of death for murder. All the evidence there was against him was that he was minus one toe. I also promised him that he should be free. Just before the date of his execution, another negro “got religion,” and confessed to committing the murder. All the evidence against him was conclusive, and he was executed, while the old negro went free.

The newspapers made a great deal of capital out of what had happened to us. Much of what they said was untrue, as usual. The next morning after our arrival in jail, a friend of ours, Mr. Henry Bowers, came in and furnished a bond for our release until the district court set.

After our release, at that time, we went with Mr. Bowers to get an attorney to represent us. We had some difficulty in getting a man that was willing to take the case on the terms wanted. Mr. Bowers introduced us to a Mr. John McMasters who, at the time, was a member of the state senate and possibly the leading criminal lawyer of the state.

He engaged to represent us in the court for $50.00. I gave him the $20.00 that my wife had sent me and promised to pay the remainder as soon as I could have it sent from home. He looked at me and said, “Mr. Braley, the promise of a Mormon to me is worth one hundred cents on the dollar, as they never have fallen down yet on one of their obligations.” “But,” I said, “Mr. McMasters, I am not the Mormon Church.” He answered, “Never mind about that; your promise is worth one hundred cents on the dollar.”

The session of the court, where we were to be tried was three months away. We went into the city once a week, to get our mail. We would occasionally drop into our attorney’s office. He became very friendly, and very much interested in us, insomuch, that he took us to his father’s home, his father being very old. He introduced us to his father and mother and a maiden sister. They were those old-time southern aristocrats, not so easy to approach. But they set us at our ease.

The time came for our trial. A very spectacular affair it was indeed. It was a warm day in the month of June and hundreds of the so-called Christians of the country were in attendance. The court room was packed to the door. The occasion meant much to us and to the church for if that high court ruled against us, very likely every elder in the south would be arrested on the false charge of vagrancy.

But that was not to be so. That was one of the tensest hours of my life. It seemed to me that the whole success of our work there depended upon what was about to happen. The weight of the whole thing seemed to rest upon my shoulders.

The court was called. The clerk stood up and read the charge against us. The court was about to ask if we were represented by counsel when Mr. McMasters stood up with what appeared to be a majestic air and informed the court that he had been retained for that purpose. It seemed the court room and every thing thereabouts was electrified by the splendid personality, and his presentation of the matter in hand.

In the proper time in the trial, he spoke for three-quarters of an hour, and his argument was such that a few of the spectators, as well as myself and companion, wept. He continued, contrasting us, as we appeared there alone, with those crowds of crouching cowards, sitting about us on the floor of the court house and filling all the seats and out on the court house grounds. Said he: “Would to God that all the people present were such as these innocent men are.” He referred briefly to some of the persecutions of the “Mormon” people as due to just such cowards as then persecuted us. Finally he dropped to his seat exhausted, the perspiration pouring from his body.

The district attorney sat in front of the court and never even arose from his seat, but asked the court that the case be stricken from the records. The court ordered the clerk to strike the case from the records. This was done and thereby a stop was put to our elders being arrested for “vagrancy,” as they carried on their tracting and visiting in the country districts of the south.

When the trial was over, we stood up and our attorney, Mr. McMasters, took us by the arm and walked with us down the aisle, out through the court house, down the steps, between the throngs of Methodists and Presbyterians, and across the street into an ice cream parlor. We were seated at a table near the front window where the mobocrats could see us. We sat there, ate ice cream, and chatted for almost two hours, discussing the events that had just transpired; answering his many questions about the Church and kindred matters.

Thus ended what I believe was a very important chapter in the work of the Lord in that part of his vineyard. The newspapers in general had been very busy and active in their discussions and reports of what had happened to us all the way through.

(To be continued)



  1. That was a pretty powerful attorney!

    Comment by Maurine Ward — May 31, 2011 @ 12:03 pm

  2. I’m thinkin’ he must have been the model for Atticus Finch.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 31, 2011 @ 12:03 pm

  3. My best guess for the lawyer is John McMaster, born about 1861 in South Carolina. His parents were Colonel Fitzhugh (Fitz) William McMaster and Mary McMaster. Fitzhugh McMaster is listed online as a notable player in a number of major Civil War battles.

    John is listed in the 1880 census as a student, living at home in Columbia, South Carolina, with his parents, 13 siblings and his maternal grandmother.

    So if John McMaster, with no “s” on the end, is the right man, he would be in his early 30s at the time of this story.

    Comment by Researcher — May 31, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

  4. Thanks, Researcher. Anytime someone was willing not only to do right by the elders, but also eat ice cream with them for the whole town to stare at, we ought to remember them!

    (Anything in the census for Daisy — maybe Margaret — Root? Now I’m asking for the moon …)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 31, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

  5. Wonderful. I love a well written missionary recollection. So much information and so hard to keep myself from following every little clue to another story.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — May 31, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

  6. Nope, I’m not finding anything on the Root family in South Carolina, Utah, or Colorado. That’s pretty much my experience looking up people mentioned in Southern States Mission histories. It’s moderately easy to find missionaries and notable Southern citizens, more difficult to find converts and mobbers. When I’ve looked in all the usual sources, I can probably find about one out of three people in the latter two categories.

    Comment by Researcher — May 31, 2011 @ 3:26 pm

  7. After reading Bruce’s post today on Amateur Mormon Historian, I’d like to also point out that it’s certainly not impossible to find less-well known people, as Bruce and Ardis have demonstrated so many times.

    For instance, back in 2009 when I was posting a history of the Southern States Mission from the Latter-day Saints Southern Star, the history included this intriguing passage,

    June, 1880, Sister Sarah Church, of Utah, visited the south, and while thus engaged made a number of appointments to preach, bearing her testimony to the Gospel as revealed through Joseph Smith. She traveled through portions of Tennessee and Mississippi.

    I undoubtedly spent about ten or fifteen minutes looking for her in New Family Search, Ancestry, etc., but didn’t find anything.

    About a year and a half later, Bruce spent some time looking for Sarah Church. Here’s his post:

    Sarah Church shares her testimony in Tennessee

    His post illustrates the importance of having a familiarity with the sources and people and history of an area before you assume that you have exhausted all avenues of inquiry, like I see happen so frequently in genealogical “research.” (Which to many people means copying the first family tree they find, even if it’s from New Family Search. Yikes!)

    The other moral of the story is that it can be useful to hire a reputable researcher and writer who is intimately acquainted with the resources and knows where to look for things. Someone like Ardis, to be exact. : )

    Comment by Researcher — June 1, 2011 @ 7:28 am

  8. Hey! Spam isn’t allowed on Keepa!

    (It really does help to know the people and places where you’re hunting, that’s true. Bruce proves that constantly on Amateur Mormon Historian, and Researcher does it on her family history blog. Just as you might recognize which of your siblings wrote an unsigned note merely from its contents — something that would be impenetrable to the rest of us — familiarity with the people and history of an area allows a researcher to spot clues that would easily be missed by others.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 1, 2011 @ 7:47 am

  9. Nothing to add, but I loved it.

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 1, 2011 @ 9:56 am

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