Praying with One Eye Open

Mormons and Murder in Nineteenth-Century Appalachian Georgia

Title Details

Pages: 248

Illustrations: 9 b&w images

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 07/15/2019

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5561-0

List Price: $24.95


Pub Date: 07/15/2019

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5525-2

List Price: $99.95

Praying with One Eye Open

Mormons and Murder in Nineteenth-Century Appalachian Georgia

A true crime account of religion, mob violence, and vigilante justice in postbellum Georgia

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In 1878, Elder Joseph Standing traveled into the Appalachian mountains of North Georgia, seeking converts for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sixteen months later, he was dead, murdered by a group of twelve men. The church refused to bury the missionary in Georgia soil; instead, he was laid to rest in Salt Lake City beneath a monument that declared, “There is no law in Georgia for the Mormons.” Most accounts of this event have linked Standing’s murder to the virulent nineteenth-century anti-Mormonism that also took the life of prophet Joseph Smith and to an enduring southern tradition of extralegal violence. In these writings, the stories of the men who took Standing’s life are largely ignored, and they are treated as significant only as vigilantes who escaped justice.

Historian Mary Ella Engel adopts a different approach, arguing that the mob violence against Standing was a local event, best understood at the local level. Her examination of Standing’s murder carefully situates it in the disquiet created by missionaries’ successes in the North Georgia community. As Georgia converts typically abandoned the state for Mormon colonies in the West, a disquiet situated within a wider narrative of post-Reconstruction Mormon outmigration to colonies in the West. In this rich context, the murder reveals the complex social relationships that linked North Georgians—families, kin, neighbors, and coreligionists—and illuminates how mob violence attempted to resolve the psychological dissonance and gender anxieties created by Mormon missionaries. In laying bare the bonds linking Georgia converts to the mob, Engel reveals Standing’s murder as more than simply mountain lawlessness or religious persecution. Rather, the murder responds to the challenges posed by the separation of converts from their loved ones, especially the separation of women and their dependents from heads of households.

Mary Ella Engel’s excellent Praying with One Eye Open will open your eyes to a forgotten episode of religious violence in the Deep South: the summary execution of Mormon missionary Joseph Standing. The murder occurred in 1879 in mountainous Whitfield County, Georgia, against a backdrop of economic woe, but it was mostly about sex, specifically the polygamy practiced by Latter Day Saints. This is a shocking and fascinating tale.

—Steve Oney, author of And the Dead Shall Rise

It is difficult to find fault with much of anything in this book. It is extremely well-researched... and compellingly written.

—Christopher Cannon Jones, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

About the Author/Editor

MARY ELLA ENGEL is an associate professor of history at Western Carolina University.