The Society for Strang Studies
Chair - Bill Olson, Vice Chair - Vickie Speek,
Secretary - Rebecca Carlson, Treasurer - Constance Cappel
Issue No. 21
March 21, 2006
Greetings to the Strang Gang
Your Conference Committee is hard at work ironing out the details of the June conference. It looks like a real winner and we hope all will enjoy the program and good fellowship.
We look forward to hearing from Simon Otto as our featured speaker. His introduction follows.
Several scholars will present papers on various subjects relating to James J. Strang.
Vickie Speek will present her just published book, God Has Made Us a Kingdom, James Strang and the Midwest Mormon. Details below.
Bill Olson has been laboring over his play, Shades of Beaver Island, which will be read or possibly performed by Beaver Island players.
One of our members has written a reenactment of the shooting of Strang which you can read elsewhere. Comments would be appreciated.
Since the cost of meals, accommodations and other expenses are the responsibility of attendees we have decided to charge a registration fee of only $10 when paid in advance and $20 if registering at the door.
The exact venues for the conference are still being finalized. – Bill Olson
Simon Otto, respected elder, historian, and storyteller, recently moved back into his grandfather's house in Petoskey. After years of governmental work and teaching on the college level, he now travels locally and nationwide as a storyteller, writes a column for the Petoskey News Review, and is working on a new book to add to his previously published ones. He was the first Executive Director for the Little Traverse Bands of Odawa Indians from 1990 - 1992.
Vickie has great news - her book is to be available sometime next month. The following is from the Signature Books site at: http://www.signaturebooks.com/strang.htm
God Has Made Us a Kingdom
James Strang and the Midwest Mormon
by VICKIE CLEVERLY SPEEK
hardback. 376 pages. / 1-56085-192-9 / $34.95
Vickie Cleverley Speek is a former newspaper and radio reporter, feature writer, and columnist in Illinois and Michigan, recipient of four first-place awards from the Illinois Press Association, the 2002 Illinois State Red Ribbon Media Award, and recognition as a columnist from the Associated Press. In 2001 she received the Award of Excellence from the Illinois Historical Society for her historical research and writing on a Civil War theme. She has been a speaker at professional and community gatherings, including two presentations about James Strang during Museum Week on Beaver Island, Michigan. She is a past director of the LDS Family History Center in Morris, Illinois. She and her family live in Minooka, Illinois.
Where previous treatments of Strang have relied either on inside or outside sources to show either a prophet or charlatan, Speek utilizes all sources, updates the record, corrects previous errors, and shows diverse perspectives. She recounts the turbulent and dramatic events of the 1840s-50s, including the plot to murder Strang and the heartbreaking exile of the Saints from Beaver Island. She traces the dispersion of this once formidable colony of Mormons to the forests of northwest Wisconsin, the far-flung outposts of southwest New Mexico, the hills of Lamoni, Iowa, and to Salt Lake City, Utah.
Following is a draft of the script for the reenactment of the shooting, offered by one of our members–who would appreciate your comments.
second draft: 3-19-06
Scene: Facing east at Paradise Bay; the McCullough store to the left, the McCullough Dock straight ahead. Tied up at the dock, the USS Michigan, the first ironclad to ply the Great Lakes.
A narrator is facing the street, where 75 members of the audience have gathered. Behind him are a few small circles of Strang's followers.
On the Michigan Captain McBlair is discussing something with McCullough in low tones, two sailors looking on.
Cast: a narrator
James J Strang, king of Beaver Island
Captain McBlair, commander of the Michigan
"Dr." McCullough, owner of the store
St. Barnard, the pilot
Thomas Bedford, a mature fisherman
Alexander Wentworth, a young man
The Ship's Surgeon
Various Strangites (a few one-liners)
Narrator: "One hundred and fifty years ago today, to the minute and on this very spot, a kingdom fell, the Kingdom of St. James, which had been established by the coronation of James Jesse Strang six summers before.
"When Strang arrived to make Beaver Island home for his followers, only a few dozen traders were living at Whiskey Point. Year by year, new converts gave up their homes and moved to Beaver Island, believing in Strang's vision for a spiritual community. They found rich fishing grounds, and a market for the wood they had to clear to create their farms.
"Strang illegally apportioned land and imposed an illegal tithe system. Many who did not believe his religious claims moved away—primarily to Mackinac Island. There and elsewhere antagonism to his rule rapidly grew. There were skirmishes, and battles.
"Those who lived under his rule had a good life, by and large, but some resented his high-handed style. Some felt that his announcement of a message from God allowing and encouraging plural marriages was simply an excuse for the lust in his heart that had led him to take young and attractive Elvira Field into his bed, followed by three more polygamous wives.
"Dr. McCullough, co-owner with the father-in-law of young Alex Wentworth of the store to my right," (a sweep of the hand) "had seen his fortunes decline in recent years. This one-time Elder and community leader had been criticized by Strang for his intemperance, and had been forced out of the important position of Clerk. He seethed with a desire for revenge."
On board the ship:
McCullough: "You must convince him that he'll face the might of the Federal Government if he doesn't mend his ways."
McBlair: "Yes, yes. I received the complaints from you and your friends, and have pointed out to my superiors what a scoundrel this shaman has become."
McBlair: "They are in full agreement, sir."
McBlair: "There is not much they can do. They can't declare war on Beaver Island; that would only authenticate his claims. The rascal has a knack for ferreting out little loopholes to protect his operation."
McCullough: "That's why it's so important for you to lay down the law to our high and mighty 'king.' You've got to convince him that he's about to cross the line and bring down America's wrath. Several of us honest merchants—"
McBlair: "I've heard reports that he has charged you with false weights, Doctor."
McCullough (furious): "See what I mean! He acts like all he has to do is say something and it will be accepted as a Divine Revelation! Take this charge, for example. Does he have any evidence? No! Of course not. My weights are as honest as the day is long."
McBlair: "Take it easy, sir. I simply repeated what I was told. But you don't have to convince me of his deceit and dishonesty. He has convinced me of that all by himself."
McCullough: "So what will you do about it? We can't take this much longer."
McBlair: "Please relax, or I'll have to have our ship's surgeon treat you for apoplexy. I've sent our pilot, Mr. St. Barnard, to fetch the rogue. I'll sit him down and tell him in no uncertain terms that he'll have to begin treating people fairly or the Federal Government will see fit to intervene."
McCullough: "Very good. But what if your man can't find Strang? Do you recall the time he escaped arrest on High Island by paddling a leaky old boat over to Garden and hiding out in the woods for two weeks?"
McBlair: "But why should he hide from me? I'm not going to arrest him, only talk to him. You worry too much."
McCullough: "This is of vital importance to my friends and me."
McBlair: "Look over there, sir. In the distance. Here they come now, Strang and St. Barnard, arm in arm. I told you that you worry too much."
McCullough (scrambling to depart): "Good, good. Maybe now things can be put right."
Narrator (looking left, distantly) (Strang and St. Barnard appear): "Yes, here comes James Jesse Strang and the pilot. They have known each other for six years—ever since Strang was arrested five years previously and taken on this same ship to Detroit with dozens of his followers, where they were tried for several crimes: interfering with the mail; theft; and counterfeiting. His silver tongue and quick wit got them all acquitted."
McCullough enters his store, and can be heard talking, barking out orders. A moment later two men exit the store and crouch down behind piles of freight.
Narrator: "Rumors have been rife in St. James. Tom Bedford has sworn to revenge himself for the whipping ordered by the King. Strang had him given more than 39 lashes for being caught with his partner's wife—Mrs. Brown was said to be wild, and not a true believer—and for failing to control his own wife, who fomented an insurgency against Strang's decree that all women wear the form-hiding bloomers. And Wentworth has been made to believe that Strang will soon take his young wife for his own. These two were said to have been practicing for several days with guns provided by McCullough and Johnson.
"When Strang was told of this, he simply laughed it off. He had a great talent for delivering a far-fetched pronouncement and then exhibiting complete belief in the veracity of his words. He acted as though he were immortal."
Strang and St. Barnard have drawn close. Upon reaching the dock, Strang is greeted by those who are there; he pauses briefly to acknowledge the greetings causing St. Barnard to separate from his as he continues.
St. Barnard stops and turns, calling back: "Sir, the captain is waiting."
Strang continues walking, approaching the gangway with a jaunty, confident step.
McCullough appears at the door of his store, shooing the two crouching men forward with a hand gesture. Wentworth and Bedford rise and run towards Strang with weapons drawn.
A Mormon: "James! Watch out behind you!"
Strang starts to turn but is knocked down by a close-up shot in the back on the head from W's revolver.
The assemblage gasps.
Another Mormon: "Hey! Hey hey!!"
Strang, on the ground, turns to see who has shot him, and Wentworth shoots again, hitting him in the face.
Wentworth: "Take that! This is what you get for your lies!"
Strang rolls over, groaning, his face turned away by the force of W's second shot.
Bedford steps closer and, leaning over Strang, fires his horse pistol into his back.
The Mormons break out of their paralysis and rush toward the scene.
Bedford bends over and clubs Strang three times in quick succession.
McCullough has stepped into the doorway of the store.
McCullough (in a 'yelled whisper'): "Get on the ship! Get on the ship!"
Bedford comes out of his trance, looks at the approaching Strangites, and takes Wentforth by the arm.
Bedford: "C'mon, boy!"
The two men catch a brief glance at the approaching Strangites and run for the ship.
The Strangites do not chase them past Strang, but stand around him. Two crouch down and turn him to face up.
A Mormon: "Get a doctor! Somebody get a doctor!"
Another Mormon (standing, yelling towards the town): "The prophet's been shot! We need a doctor!"
Wentworth and Bedford disappear into the hold of the ship.
McBair (to a sailor): "Get the ship's surgeon, have him see what he can do."
The ship's surgeon appears from below. He descends the gangway and hobbles towards Strang, where he crouches down, looks at the wounds, shakes his head (as if there's little hope), and applies bandages.
A Mormon: "How is he, doctor? Will he live?"
Doctor: "Not good, I'm afraid. I don't know. I've done all I can. Now his fate rests with God."
McCullough and two other men have come out of the store and are inching toward the Michigan.
A Mormon: "We've got to get the King into a bed."
Another Mormon: "Let's take him to our brother's house." (he points across the street)
A Mormon: "Somebody, get Sheriff Miller! We've got to arrest those murderers!"
Another Mormon: "He's not dead! Mr. Strang, Mr. Strang, can you hear me? Don't worry, we'll protect you."
Strang's followers pick him up and carry him away.
Narrator: "James Strang would not recover from his wounds.
"The sheriff, the legal authority over this matter, demanded that McBlair turn over Wentworth and Bedford to him, but McBlair refused.
"The next morning he left with his two prisoners, as well as McCullough and his friends. The Michigan sailed to Mackinac Island, where Wentworth and Bedford were handed to the 'Gentile' sheriff. They walked into a jail cell; the door was not closed; after five minutes they walked out again and were feted as heroes.
"The Michigan returned in ten days later, bringing armed men from Mackinac who attempted to arrest some of the Strangites. None were captured, and the warship steamed away. Intimidated, Strang's followers decided to move their leader to safer quarters. Two days later he was carried on board the Louisville, and taken to his parents' home in Voree in southern Wisconsin, where he died on July 8th. As he lay in his bed, he was asked again if there was anything he wanted to say—a request he had previously refused. This time he answered, 'Yes'—it was his last word.
"On July 5th a drunken, armed mob descended on Beaver Island and went from door to door, telling Strang's followers that they had to leave or their bodies would be found in the ashes of their homes. They were told to bring what they could carry down to the same dock where Strang had been shot; ships would be waiting to take them away. The Tabernacle was burned. The theological books published at the Print Shop were dragged into the street and set on fire. Disconsolate over the attack on Strang and left disorganized by the failure of any leader to step forward, his followers meekly obeyed the mob. At the dock everything other than the clothes on their backs was taken from them—a reward of booty to the mob for 'sweeping the Beavers clean.' Perhaps 800 people were forcefully evicted from their homes.
"The Navy ordered an investigation of the role of the Michigan. Commander McBair issued a report, claiming his presence on the fateful day was only circumstantial. Lacking contradictory evidence, the report was accepted, and the inquiry dropped.
"This was the end of the Strangite community on Beaver Island. The shooting was a blow from which they did not recover. Twice over the years they attempted to reorganize, but they lacked a sufficiently inspiring prophet. The Strangite organization fell apart, reduced to a few hundred scattered members. Today that number has dropped to around forty, who nevertheless keep up their hopes for a rebirth.
"What you have witnessed is an event that changed the face of the land. Over the past hundred and fifty years, various scholars have advanced differing theories about the validity of Strang's claims and the reasons for his downfall. There is little agreement among them, except on one point: this was a unique moment in American history, and it happened right here.
"Thank you for coming, and goodnight.”