Between Pulpit and Pew: The Supernatural World in Mormon History and Folklore

By W. Paul Reeve; Michael Scott Van Wagenen | Go to book overview

3
“As Ugly as Evil” and “As Wicked as Hell”
Gadianton Robbers and the Legend Process among the Mormons1

W. Paul Reeve

ON A SPRING DAY IN 1874, carpenter Charles Pulsipher busied himself putting the finishing touches on a new home in the town of Hebron in southwestern Utah. Things were likely calm and pleasant as Pulsipher went about his work in this small Mormon ranching community, rooted in the south end of the Escalante Desert in Washington County. Suddenly William McElprang, the young man under Pulsipher’s charge, changed all that. McElprang “started in an instant run across the lot, jumped the fence and went up the mountain like a wild man.” Pulsipher sprinted after him, “but it was not in the power of mortals to catch him.” When McElprang’s strength finally failed, Pulsipher brought him back to town, but only “by faith in the Lord and the power of the priesthood.”

Apparently McElprang had been afflicted by “evil spirits” for about two weeks. When these demons overpowered him, they caused “terrible pain most of the time” and occasionally “tried to run him wild into the mountains.” John Pulsipher, Charles’s brother, stood guard over the young man one night and described the principal spirit that possessed him as “a very stubborn dumb sort of a fellow.” However, on this particular night, “a very raving noisy spirit got possession of

1 A version of this essay was originally published in the Journal of Mormon History 27 (Autumn 2001): 125–49.

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