Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In memory of a martyr

Monument renewed for slain missionary
Published: Saturday, Nov. 10, 2001

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SALT LAKE CITY — A towering monument in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, a replica of an 1880 monument erected to honor a missionary slain by a mob in 1879, was dedicated Nov. 3 by Elder Alexander B. Morrison, emeritus General Authority.

Photo by Michael Brandy
Elder Alexander B. Morrison addresses monument dedication ceremony at Salt Lake Cemetery. Granite shaft replaced original erected in 1880 in honor of Elder Joseph Standing.

The 13-foot monument was provided by relatives of the missionary, Elder Joseph Standing. It is identical to the original except that it is made of granite, and expected to endure longer than the original marble that became badly weathered. About 120 people attended the ceremony, mostly family members who donated the $31,000 to pay for the shaft, and a fence protecting the monument.

The response from the family "was extremely positive," said Craig Standing, a relative who helped raise the funds. He said nearly 140 families with the Standing name contributed, even those who couldn't establish their relationship to the 19th century missionary.

Speakers at the ceremony were David C. Larsen, an in-law relative who headed the project; Alvie R. Evans Sr., a well-known Church leader from the Southern States, and Elder Morrison. In his remarks, Elder Morrison recounted the event, which occurred July 21, 1879, in a rural area near Varnell Station, Whitfield County, Ga. The following is taken from Church News sources.

Joseph Standing, 26, was the second oldest in a family of 12 children of Canadian immigrants to Salt Lake City. He had filled one mission and was 16 months into his second mission. He was the senior companion of a new missionary who had just arrived in May, Elder Rudger Clawson, then 22, later to become president of the Quorum of the Twelve.

The Southern States Mission had been reorganized in 1875, and a wave of success had spawned a bitter campaign against the Church. The following details were recounted by Elder Clawson. (See "President Rudger Clawson Shows Courage in Georgia Tragedy of 1879," Church News, March 6, 1937.)

Elder Standing had a very oppressive dream sometime earlier that he had been turned away from lodging by a member at Varnell Station, a small town in northwest Georgia near the border of Tennessee. "I am fearful that something terrible is going to happen," he said of the dream.

Photo courtesy Church Archives
Elder Rudger Clawson, left, was a new missionary when assigned to Elder Joseph Standing, right. Photo was taken not long before Elder Standing was slain.

On July 20, at 10 p.m. on a very dark night, the missionaries arrived for a brief stop in this community and sought lodging at the home of a member. The woman became deathly afraid when she saw them, fearing a mob, and turned them away with the very words from Elder Standing's dream. She told them a mob had formed and had threatened to kill Elder Standing, who was known in those parts for his proselyting. Elder Standing knew well about mobs and was extremely fearful of a mob whipping.

As they traveled to the home of a kindly neighbor, "There was an awful, terrible stillness about us," recalled Elder Clawson.

The neighbor, Mr. Holston, welcomed them, but all through the night Elder Standing was highly agitated. He slept with a fireplace poker under his pillow.

The next morning as the missionaries hastened to leave the area, they were warned a mob was coming.

"When the mob saw us and we saw them, it was a tense moment," related Elder Clawson. "They were some distance away, and then it was that they took off their hats and swung them over their heads and with an ugly yell came charging down on us."

All were armed with rifles or pistols. "When they reached us, they drew up suddenly. The leader of the mob said: 'You are our prisoners.' "

Elder Standing protested but was told " . . .there is no law in Georgia for the Mormons. You must go with us.' "

As they were taken down the road, Elder Standing repeatedly asked for water. Eventually, after additional episodes and confrontations, the mob and its prisoners came to a spring where Elder Standing was permitted to drink, and he did so for some time.

Afterwards, the mob accused the pair of many crimes, none of them serious. "I really believe they intended to give us a severe whipping which might or might not have ended the tragedy," said Elder Clawson. However, just as they were ordered to the woods, Elder Standing jumped to his feet, held out his hands as if he were armed, as if to intimidate the mob, and yelled, "Surrender."

"As the word 'surrender' left the lips of Joseph Standing, one of the men sitting in the circle pointed his weapon at the missionary and fired. . . . A cloud of smoke and dust enveloped the wounded man. The leading mobocrat pointing to me, said 'Shoot that man.' Every weapon was leveled at my head. . . . I was looking down the gun barrels of the murderous mob. I folded my arms and said, 'Shoot,' and almost persuaded myself that I was shot, so intense were my feelings. . . .

"I suffered for a moment or two the agony of a dying man. The sight went out of my eyes, total blindness followed and I was enveloped in darkness. . . . When I heard the voice in command say 'Don't shoot' it was just then the realization came to me that I had not been shot."

Photo by Michael Brandy
Granite momument was paid for by relatives of Elder Joseph Standing.

Elder Clawson stepped to help his dying companion who had "a great gaping bullet hole in his forehead." Elder Clawson spoke with the mob and gained permission to go in search of a coroner. The neighbor with whom they had stayed, Mr. Holston, put branches over the body but withdrew for his own safety. When Elder Clawson returned at sunset with the coroner, they found the body where it had been left, now riddled with bullet holes. The small group placed the body on a door and carried it to Mr. Holston's home.

The coroner urged a local and quick burial, but Elder Clawson replied, "Mr. Coroner, if I had been shot to death in Georgia, as he was shot to death, I would not wish to be buried in this soil. . . . I am surely going to take him home if it be humanly possible."

Elder Clawson, through extreme assertiveness, accompanied the body back to Utah on the railroad.

The killing created a sensation in the press, and a large funeral for Elder Standing was held Aug. 3 in the Tabernacle on Temple Square with President John Taylor and President George Q. Cannon as speakers.

After the missionary was interred, the Mutual Improvement Association of Salt Lake Valley donated money to erect a marble monument at the grave site.

Elder Clawson returned to Varnell Station a few months later and testified against the mob in a trial, which he described as a farce. The three men charged were acquitted.

Although Georgia was closed to missionary work for a decade, as the years passed, old animosity was replaced by a new respect. The corridor of land where the missionary was killed and the spring where he last drank became a memorial park in 1952 under the ownership of W.C. Puryear of nearby Dalton, Ga. On May 3, 1952, President David O. McKay dedicated the park and a monument to Elder Standing. A large crowd attended that welcomed him warmly. He also delivered an address on radio. (See "South Receives President McKay," Church News, May 7, 1952.)

Today, 132 years later, ample evidence exists of the success of the work of Elder Standing and other missionaries to the Southern States. Atlanta became headquarters of the Southern States Mission in 1919. In 1983, the first temple in the South was dedicated in Georgia. Atlanta has long been the location of the Church's area offices where first response disaster aid is shipped throughout the South. Georgia currently has an estimated membership of 60,000 in 14 stakes and two missions.