Michigan Pentecost Bands Cause Local Uproar in 1886

An undated photo of some women from the Pentecost Bands. Some newspaper accounts note women as young as sixteen and seventeen leaving home to join a Pentecost Band. (Photo Chris Hansen Family Photo Collection)

Because the Pentecost Bands were essentially traveling revivalists, their members had the opportunity to influence countless individuals, It wasn’t unusual for a young adult to attend a band meeting, become saved, and then feel called to become a band member. However, the religious enthusiasm the bands fueled wasn’t without controversy. In this blog post, I’ll share some accounts of controversies surrounding their ministry in St. Joseph and Lawrence, Michigan in 1886.

The Influence of the Bands

When young adults felt called to join the bands, it didn’t always go over well in their local communities, particularly when young women felt called to leave their families and join a band.  Despite bands being composed of members of the same sex, it was still highly unusual for young women to leave home before marriage in the nineteenth century. Telling your family and community you were joining the Pentecost Bands to travel the Midwest preaching, essentially living in poverty, sometimes did not go over very well.

Controversies and Sensationalism

Numerous newspaper accounts from 1885 through around 1890 sensationalize the bands “recruitment” or “kidnapping” (depending on your local newspaper) of young adults. A July 24, 1886, St. Joseph Herald story claimed “bands break up families” under the name of religion, undermining society.  The next year, in February 1887, the St. Joseph Herald- Palladium called the Pentecost Band members “insane freaks” who should be suppressed in the name of public decency and order. Clearly, their ministry wasn’t going over well with everyone in the community.

Yet, the official band reports (at least the ones I’ve found so far) often just allude to community tensions but don’t directly address the concerns in the same way the local papers did as was the case in St. Joseph and nearby Lawerence Michigan in 1886.

Official Reports vs. Local Perspectives

In January 1886, Band No. 6 (Chas. E. Edinger, Rubeun Schamehorn and at least one more young man) were sent to St. Joseph to hold meetings and Band No. 4 (all women, including Lizzie Ball whose report is later in this post) was sent to nearby Lawerence, Michigan (about 30 miles away).

In 1886 St. Joseph Michigan was home to a knitting factory that employed about 300.1 Band No. 6 was doing outreach to the factory workers and encouraging them to attend meetings. A March 31, 1886 Free Methodist report from Chas. Edinger did note early opposition No. 6 had encountered in St. Joseph, but blamed local prejudice against the Salvation Army as the main cause. By March 2nd, Edinger noted opposition had diminished and they’d had thirty-six conversions. “Every night, the poor and the rich, the great and the small are coming in on one common level, being made one in Christ in this common salvation.”

Yet, everything wasn’t going as well as Edinger’s report implied. Around the same time, regional papers published stories about knitting factory workers to go “insane” and develop “dementia” after attending a band meeting.

A March 19, 1886 Chicago InterOcean story said three girls- Lizzie Arnt, Lena Turner, and Bertha Mischka “Went crazy over religion” after attending a meeting, noting a doctor had to be called after the girls went in “violent convulsions.” Then, a little over a week later, on March 27, 1886, the St. Joseph Saturday Herald reported the city council had voted three to two to request the Petecost Band to find a new location for their meetings—they had been using city hall, but that permission was now revoked. Local papers also reported in mid-March that the girls (perhaps the same ones who went “insane”) had chosen not to join the bands and stay in St. Joseph with their families.2

While Edinger glosses over controversies occurring in St. Joseph, Thomas Nelson does address the controversy in his biography of Vivan Dake. As Nelson explained the meetings were disrupting production at the knitting factory, but that the response was largely positive from the workers. He even noted that one of the young women who went “insane” married a member of the band (Rubeun Schamehorn) a year later. Nelson blamed the local “rum element” in fanning the negative publicity.3

The regional opposition to the bands’ work extended beyond St. Joseph as Lizzie Ball’s April 14, 1885, Free Methodist report of the work in Band No. 4 alludes to similar social tensions in Lawrence. Ball’s account is particularly fiery, and the reader gets a vivid picture of what a meeting led by Ball and Band No. 4 would have been like:

1886 Lawrence, Michigan

 “Pentecost Band No. 4, with Mary Primmer, Leader, came to this place Feb. 8, and set up our banner in the name of the Lord of hosts. God honored us with his presence at the opening meeting and we felt victory was ours. We sounded the trumpet that ne’er calls retreat. Glory to God! God has been with us in power and has enabled us to pour the red-hot truth of the gospel on people. We have realized the truth of the promise:–‘On my handmaidens I will pour out my spirit and they shall prophesy.’ Some have accepted the truth and are gradually saved, and others are coming. We are holding on for a mighty break in the enemy’s ranks. Oh! How the devil is stirred and he manifests his rage by throwing eggs at the saints and heaping on persecution. But the louder he howls, the harder we fight, and the brighter we shine. Glory to Jesus!”

‘Let come fiery trails, and mockings and hate,

And devils howl round us to heaven’s own gate:

No earth will can move us; what God doth dem and

We hasten to do, sings the Pentecost Band.’

Victory! Amen! we will drive this battle on until we reach the gates. The devil, wicken men, and some who profess to be good men, are opposed to this work. But it is of God and cannot be overthrown. Glory to God! Salvation! Yours in this war against sin and carnality,

Lizzie M. Ball”

Band No. 4 and No. 6 continued to work in the region throughout 1886, moving on to Paw Paw, Michigan (slightly east of Lawrence) in late spring.  Like in St. Joseph and Lawrence, the bands faced opposition with locals attempting to ship the bands’ tabernacle tent to Australia to prevent services.4

1 Nelson, T. Life and Labors of Vivan Dake, p. 117.

2 St. Joseph Herald March 13, 1886.

3  Nelson, p. 117-118; & The Herald-Palladium (St. Joseph, Michigan) October 25, 1887, story about Reuben Schamehorn and Lizzie Arnt getting married.

4 Nelson, p.121

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