Day 18: Holy Rollers Cult
The Holy Rollers Cult was known by many names such as the ‘Nudity Cult’, ‘Oregon’s Love Cult’, ‘Cult of Corvallis,’ and more. Although this is not a widely-published cult it is very odd and has just as much odd history if not more than many cults that are infamous today.
Edmund Creffield who went by the name of Joshua was the founder and leader of the Holy Rollers Cult. Edmund went with the general idea that many cult leaders go with, considering themselves as the second coming of Jesus. He generally seemed to attract women to his cult which is also another thing that is common in many cults. So, let’s get into Edmund’s history and how he became to create this cult.
Edmund was originally from Germany. No one is completely sure how he got to Oregon but he seemed to immigrate from Germany in the 1880s and shown up in Portland in 1899. When he arrived here he jumped head first into helping the Salvation Army and this is how he would later gain his following.
His delusions started while he was working with the Salvation Army. He was always talking about his connections with God and claiming he was ‘God’s Elect.’ He was always described as being pretty unattractive, personally all of his photos look terrifying. He has a way of looking at the camera that is just creepy. Google him or look at our social media or show notes to see what I mean. However, despite his unattractiveness his personality was apparently perfect to draw people in.
He told this to a journalist when asked about his years in the Salvation Army:
While in the Salvation Army I had the light, but I did not have the power. I was teaching his works, but was still in the darkness. I did not experience the fullness of his power until I had tarried long before God in prayer. Then the light came. The Holy Ghost told me that I should live a life of pure faith. I was to do everything by Faith. I could no longer work for the Army, because its people are not entirely of God. I could not take part in soliciting for funds. I was directed by the Holy Ghost to not solicit for money. It is not right to hold ice cream socials and other social gatherings where money is taken.
When he left the Salvation Army his teachings started to come out. He traveled around aimlessly and talked radically about Christianity, or at least his version of Christianity. Most places that he traveled just made him leave. Some thought he was mentally insane and some others thought he was just too intense. Either way many people did not want to listen to him. And that is how he ended up in Corvallis, hence the name the ‘Cult of Corvallis.’
The people here were mostly of lower class and very religious so Edmund really appealed to them, far more than he appealed to anyone anywhere else he had been. Because of their low income and their love for religion Edmund knew he would be able to take advantage of these people and he did just that without any care in the world.
Learning from his past preaching’s that didn’t go so well Edmund started off slow. He thought that if he started off with things these people believed in already and slowly brought in his own ideas and radical views then they would be more likely to believe him and what he said. This was very smart of him and in the end, it really shown to work.
He appealed to these people by stating that with practice any of them could reach where he was in ‘Spiritual Perfection.’ This appealed to so many people as they simply wanted to be spiritualty perfect and really valued that aspect of life.
Later on, those who were not convinced by Edmund would state that his followers were essentially under hypnosis. His personality was so attractive, as stated before, that he apparently was described as a hypnotist. Which would assist him in gaining a following.
So how did the name Holy Rollers eventually come around? Well, one point of Edmund’s teachings was the idea that if these individuals that were listening to his teachings would have their names on a Holy Roll in Heaven if they reached a high enough level of spirituality. Hence the Holy Rollers.
Once Edmund got about 12 people in his little cult he started doing prayer sessions that were said to sometimes last an entire 24 hours. These prayer sessions were times when people yelled at God to gain his recognition, flailed about, and rolled on the floor. Kind of seems like a weird drug trip but alright. This often got very loud and disruptive and eventually Corvallis decided that they were no longer allowed to hold meetings there.
So, like any great cult leader would do he persuaded his followers to leave the city with him. He even took a page out of Jim Jones book and secluded all of his followers. Edmund convinced many of his followers to go with him to an island that was three miles outside of Corvallis. Edmund stated it was “the same as in the Garden of Eden.” This also established that those in the cult shun those not in the cult and thus a fear of leaving was created. That is how many cult leaders keep their followers within their clutches even after the followers stop believing them.
This is when the Brides of Christ come in. All of his female followers were now considered the Brides of Christ and Edmund became Joshua. This helped him to gain more leverage over these women in the group because they were not allowed to refuse anything that God told Edmund, or now Joshua to do.
Over time it was established that Edmund went after women who really were unable to think for themselves. These women were more likely to stay with Edmund and feel attached to him since they had nowhere else to go. Many believed that these women were hypnotized but it seems that they were just mentally ill or mentally weak and he preyed on that as he knew it would help his cause.
This is why the Holy Roller’s cult was first ostracized. People were outraged about the fact that he was preying on weak minded, or mentally unstable women and people in general. However, other documents and newspapers released at this time seem to state that people were not mad about that but were mad that women were running away from their husbands to be essentially free in this cult. Which kind of pisses me off. It was the early 1900s but still people were mad because these women were doing what they wanted? That’s stupid. Anyways, I am not defending a cult, just stating what I think.
The island living for the Holy Rollers did not last long. Apparently, it got very uncomfortable very quickly as the group was not prepared to live outside of society all together. They eventually moved into the home of O.V. Hurt. He lived just outside of Corvallis so it was still allowed for the group to meet there and I guess live there as well.
This is where the name the ‘Oregon’s Love Cult,’ comes into play as giant orgies started in this home apparently. This was due to many new rules that Edmund put into play once the group moved here. One of which was that everyone must sleep in the same room with pretty much no clothes on.
Around this same time giant fires started happening. Edmund got his followers to bring pretty much everything in the Hunt’s home outside and burn it. Then these individuals started to rob others around the area so that they had more stuff to burn which really didn’t have a large purpose. Like there was no reason that they had this fire.
This was when things in Corvallis started to really rotate around the Holy Rollers again. Although they were not allowed to meet in the city that did not mean they did not go into the city. They like to just go through the streets and essentially raise havoc for no rhyme or reason.
Eventually, after those in Corvallis began to try and run the Holy Rollers out of their town the group decided to move to Portland. While here Edmund was stated to have committed adultery with someone else’s wife. Because of this, the wife that had been in the cult since the beginning, was forcibly taken out of the group by her husband. After this many people came forward to claim that Edmund slept with their wives. Which, you know, whatever, not completely his fault so I don’t know why people are only mad at him, but whatever.
Anyways, once again this was the early 1900s and sheriffs began to try and catch Edmund for these reasons. He successfully fled for months. During this time while he was hiding he was not in contact with his cult but his cult still continued on its own with the same insane rituals and whatnot.
Once again, the mental state of all involved in the cult was brought up and questioned. Eventually, somehow the towns people and those close to the members of the Holy Rollers cult were able to get to them and partially end this. Many of the Holy Rollers were admitted to the Oregon insane Asylum (that’s what it was called back then which is why I am calling it that in this episode) or the Boys and Girls Aid Society.
The funny thing here is that some of the individuals were admitted for hallucinations and mental illnesses but others were admitted for having long hair or just not wearing shoes. Obviously, reasons for great concern, right? Can’t have people not wearing shoes, that is just crazy.
In 1904 Edmund was finally found living under the Hunt’s home. He apparently looked more animal than man which is concerning to say the least. Here is a news report from the time:
Naked as a new-born babe and emaciated from starvation, Edmund Creffield, the former sleek and sanctimonious leader of the Holy Rollers was hauled out from under O.V. Hurt’s house at 10 o’clock this morning by officers of the law.
When he was in jail there was a mob outside the jail set on killing Edmund but he was found to be mentally unstable, or in those days it was called insane, and demented. This did not cause any who were part of the cult to lose any faith in Edmund which speaks to how good of a cult leader he really was. He was eventually tried on September 16, of 1904. What was he tried for?
Unlawfully and feloniously committing the crime of adultery with on Mrs. D Starr
This crazy guy also refused a lawyer even though everyone was against him. He said that God would help him and if he was found guilty he would be joyful about it. Donna Starr, whom Edmund was on trial for having sex with testified for him saying he purified her. Most of what he told the jury was quotes from the bible. He was, obviously found guilty, and served 17 months in jail.
Once he got out he started all over again. He got the brides back together and started to look for a new place for his cult to live and grow. Pretty much everyone who had been in the cult before returned once again. Their faith was apparently still strong and he quickly reinstated the fear of leaving as well. He told his followers that he caused the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and he could do it again.
Once again, after finding a new place to stay by the Yachats River they were quickly thrown out because of the towns people that did not like their practices. So, once again Edmund stated he would find a new place for them to coexist. Those who were still pissed off at him from Corvallis heard this and went off to try and find him and kill him. He told his followers that if he happened to be killed they were to find his murderer and eat them. So, cannibalism is now being introduced into this cult.
He was killed during this time by George Mitchell. Mitchell, although a not a fan of the cult stated that God had picked him to kill Edmund so obviously, he was not completely sane either. He found Edmund when he was in a store and shot him in the back of the head. This happened on May 7, 1906.
This was a case of a man taking advantage of mentally unstable women. He was able to do this so easily because of the gender roles in that time period. Although he was not good looking he knew how to talk to sway people to believe what he was saying and believe whatever he put forth. To this day many people cannot understand how someone like Edmund was able to gain such a following and get them to do anything for him. He did not have the intense charisma that many cult leaders before and after him had.
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