Arkansas February 09, 2018
Few People Know About This Outrageous Feud Of Arkansas’ Past That Called In The National Guard
Arkansas may be a state dedicated to its history, but there’s some stories that slip from memories and text books. One such instance is the 1931 Church War of Jonesboro. Not many folks are aware of this bizarre, over-the-top series of feuds that tore the familiar town apart. Let’s delve into the wild account of clashing congregations.
Before we begin, it’s important to note that today’s good people of Jonesboro were not affiliated with the folks of this article’s focus.
Although history does repeat itself, we’d like to think of the 1931 Jonesboro Church War as a bizarre, one-time only event.
Our history lesson begins in 1930. The effects of the Great Depression were being felt nationwide. From New York businessmen to Arkansas farmers, everyone was under duress to figure out the next move. Jonesboro was having plenty of trouble itself, all five banks in town were in a state of ruin. The entire town was unbelievably stressed. Many people turned to the churches for community and spiritual support. We’ve mentioned the man that pulled Jonesboro out of its banking disaster in
The initiator of the war was Joe Jeffers.
He began as a comedian/actor but then became a traveling evangelist. After an invite from the First Baptist Church and Jonesboro Bible College, he started holding tent revivals during the summer of 1930. He became quite popular in the town.
Jeffers became so popular that the congregation nominated him to replace the church’s recently resigned pastor. There was a problem, though.
Not all of the congregation had been able to take part of that decision. Enough people protested that the decision was revoked and the pastorate was given to a different man, Dow Heard from Texas. Jeffers angrily left Jonesboro but that wouldn’t be the end of him.
In August of 1931, Jeffers made his return to Jonesboro.
He reestablished his tent revivals less than a quarter mile from Heard’s congregation at the First Baptist Church. The two’s preaching styles were complete opposites. While Heard conducted traditional sermons over the good gospel, Jeffers vehemently proclaimed that the second coming would take place in May 1932.
Jeffers’ sermons became increasingly popular but began to include accusations of immorality concerning Heard and the mayor, Herbert Bosler.
This inspired a brawl between the two groups of church goers. What began as a fistfight escalated into the parties using planks of wood and pitchforks to even breaking out their guns. On September 9th, 1931, a Jeffers’ supporter George L. Cox Jr. was arrested for being the initial instigator of the fight. His trial was scheduled for the next day. That day would be the breaking point for Jonesboro.
During the trial, Jeffers led a group of protesters to the steps of the courthouse.
Nearly 500 Jeffers supporters flocked to the scene. Jeffers politely requested permission to hold a prayer before the trial and the mayor begrudgingly consented to four minutes. After 30 minutes of Jeffers dramatically asking the almighty to grant justice to Jonesboro, Police Chief W. C. Craig was asked by the mayor to stop Jeffers. Jeffers did not stop.
Jeffers roared, "May God strike the mayor dead!" and chaos erupted.
The mob turned into a street wide brawl. The mayor and police barricaded themselves in the courthouse. Mayor Bosler telegrammed Governor Harvey Parnell asking for troops to control the wild crowds. 75 ROTC soldiers were stationed around the city until September 14th. National Guard troops came in after the violence continued throughout the city, but eventually they were removed.
The war hadn’t ended quite yet.
Tensions were still high after the soldiers were dismissed. The day after their dismissal, someone dropped a tear-gas bomb outside of Jeffers’ revival tent. Later on, 21 Jeffers supporters that attended the First Baptist Church were banned which caused more feuding. On October 25th, Jeffers' tents were burnt down. This led to Jeffers creating the Jonesboro Baptist Church and hiring Dale Crowley to take over after Jeffers left town. Things calmed down considerably after his departure.
Jeffers returned to Jonesboro 11 months later and demanded Crowley step down. He did not.
To solve this dilemma Crowley and Jeffers held a juvenile popularity contest. The two would hold sermons simultaneously. Two sermons, two choirs, same time. On August 14th, 1933, a fistfight broke out between members of the two groups. This fistfight also escalated to shotgun standoff in the streets. Jeffers and Crowley agreed to settle the dispute in the courts. On October 9th, the courts ruled in favor of Crowley remaining the pastor. But wait, this isn’t the end.
The next day Crowley was shot at. By a hit man. Hired by Jeffers.
J.W. McMurdo was hired as a "janitor" by Jeffers before he had originally left. Crowley’s bodyguard took the hit (not fatal) and McMurdo ended up being shot twice by Crowley. McMurdo died and Crowley was arrested. While in jail, Crowley survived another murder attempt and after a trail in Piggott he was eventually acquitted.
Crowley, Heard, and even Jeffers finally vacated Jonesboro.
Jeffers went on to become a self-proclaimed profit and leader of the Pyramid Power Yahweh group in Missouri. After these figures left, Jonesboro finally became a peaceful town.
Wow! Do you recall learning about this war? Isn’t it just over the top? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
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