Near the end of her life, Malinda Conder was described as “steadfast and happy in the faith.” That faith had been tried by one of the most horrendous events in late 19th century church history.
Malinda Carroll was born in Lewis County, Tennessee, in 1833. Wife in 1855, widow and mother in 1856, she named her son for his late father: John Riley Hudson. Marriage to William James Conder came a few years later, followed in 1863 by the birth of a second son, William Martin Conder. Other children came: two daughters who grew to adulthood, and three children who are known only because late in life Malinda told a census taker she had been the mother of seven.
1884 was a challenging year for Latter-day Saints in Tennessee: Several elders were beaten; one was covered in hot tar and had to walk for miles before finding help; bullets fired by unseen assailants whistled past the heads of at least two elders. Anonymous notices threatening violence unless Mormons left the area were nailed to trees throughout the state. Nevertheless, missionary work went forward – and the family of James and Malinda Conder were among many who accepted the Gospel.
On Sunday, August 10, 1884, Malinda woke with a heavy heart. She had dreamed that something terrible would happen that day. Because the branch met at the Conder house (a mob had burned the branch’s log meeting house the previous May), she asked her two sons to keep their guns loaded in case it became necessary to protect the elders who would visit that day.
One of the elders, late for services, was hurrying through the woods near the Conder house when he was stopped by an armed man wearing a hood over his face. The elder could hear branch members singing hymns in the Conder home – then the singing ended in a burst of gunfire and the screams of women and children. The elder fled for his life.
The next night, another missionary evaded roaming mobbers and crept cautiously to the Conder home. He tapped softly at the door; after a long, whispered conversation, he convinced those inside that he was a friend, and he was admitted to the Conder home. There he learned that two missionaries – including the elder who had baptized Malinda only four months earlier – had been murdered. Both of Malinda’s sons had been killed while attempting to protect the missionaries, and Malinda herself lay in bed with a gunshot wound that would cripple her for the rest of her life.
August heat required that the martyrs be buried immediately. Courageous branch members built rough pine coffins, but, too terrified to carry the bodies to the cemetery, they buried the four young men next to the Conder house. The bodies of the two elders were later returned to their families in Utah. Malinda’s sons were removed to the family burial ground, where they lie today under a joint stone reading: “In Memory of Noble Defenders of the Truth. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.”
As soon as Malinda could be moved, James and Malinda and their two surviving children left their Cane Creek farm and moved to Perry County – although they remained in Tennessee, and although the anger of neighbors who misunderstood Mormonism continued to make life difficult for Latter-day Saints, at least Malinda was spared the grief of living in the house where so much tragedy had occurred. For a time Malinda struggled to understand what had happened, but James remained strong. Malinda leaned on his faith until she regained her own.
The Conder family eventually moved back to Lewis County, but not to their old home on Cane Creek. James died in 1911; Malinda lived until 1916, cared for by her daughter. Their “faith in the gospel remained unshaken to the last, and [they] never murmured because of the great sacrifice [they were] called upon to make in obeying the gospel of Christ and defending the Master’s servants.”
photograph: James and Malinda Conder, with daughters Rachel Ann and Lavicia Jane, circa 1890. Note the head of Malinda’s cane near her hand.
6 Comments »
Thanks Ardis! These sorts of stories always make me wonder what kind of “bullets fired by unseen assailants whistle past” our heads. Surely current Latter-day Saints have equally dangerous challenges– they just don’t generally manifest in physical form.
Comment by Robin — 12/15/2006 @ 6:16 am | Edit This
Was anyone ever prosecuted for the Cane Ridge Massacre? Did the branch survive?
Comment by Paul Mouritsen — 12/15/2006 @ 3:48 pm | Edit This
Thanks, Robin, I like your thought. Sometimes we see them, sometimes we don’t — neither are we always aware of what protections we might have.
Paul, yes, to both questions. This is the event where Elders Gibbs and Berry were murdered, and BHRoberts went to secure their bodies (most of us have seen the photo of BHR in his hobo disguise). A great deal has been written about the murder of the elders, but not much attention has been given to the two young members, or the family they left behind. The killers are known, and some of them were brought to trial but not convicted. And yes, the branch survived.
There is also quite a bit of folklore about this massacre, some of it arising within a few years of the events. Should you run across the folklore, realize that it is NOT true that the Conder property was blighted so that crops wouldn’t grow for years; NOT true that local residents said the property was haunted by demons; NOT true that the area was put under a curse and the priesthood withdrawn for decades; NOT true that a descendant of Gibbs and a descendant of Berry were recently made companions and were the first elders to visit Cane Creek since the massacre. The truth is always good enough, and I don’t understand why those rumors get such wide circulation.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 12/15/2006 @ 6:07 pm | Edit This
Ardis, I’m not one, but a good folklorist could tell you why those rumors get such wide circulation, why for certain purposes the truth is not good enough (or, why it is good enough, but historical truth isn’t enough of the truth).
Comment by Jim F. — 12/15/2006 @ 7:55 pm | Edit This
If there are folklorists out there, feel free to chime in with ideas. I like to think I’m a little creative (you have to be to imagine what records might have been made and where they might be hiding, and what they mean once you do find them), but I admit to being stumped as to why urban legends and faith promoting rumors are such prominent features of our world.
Clearly I take after my mother. Her stories never got more dramatic with the repetition. My father’s, on the other hand …
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 12/15/2006 @ 9:03 pm | Edit This
Double check part of your statement in #3 (”priesthood withdrawn for decades”) with Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Seventy. In 1984, while in a regional council meeting that I attended, I am almost positive that he recieved an assigment, while president of the Franklin Tennessee Stake, to rededicate the area of Lewis County, TN for missionary work. I also know that missionaries had not been assigned to Lewis County (TN) for as long as I could remember prior to that time.
Comment by David R — 12/29/2006 @ 3:26 pm | Edit This
This was published at another blog on 15 December 2006