Southwestern States Mission: The Death of Elder George O Stanger

By November 25, 2012

Three of President Duffin?s missionaries died during his six-year administration. [1] Below I summarize Duffin?s experience with Elder George O Stanger of Neeley, Idaho, who died, age twenty-three, of complications from typhoid fever on 1903 May 23 in Kansas City, Missouri. [2] I will focus on how Duffin handled the logistics of the illness and death and how he narrated it in terms of doctrine.

Stanger took ill in April 1903 and was admitted to a hospital in Kansas City. [3] When Duffin first learned of Stanger?s illness on May 01, he visited the hospital, called a fast for all the missionaries in the city, and postponed his travel plans so he could monitor Stanger.

A few days later Stanger was improved enough that Duffin felt free to leave but, ten days out (May 16), he received a telegram that Stanger?s condition was ?variable? and returned from Mexico. [4] Duffin spent the subsequent five days ?attending to my duties in the office, visiting Elder Stanger, assisting in setting up with him at night &c.? Friday (May 22) Duffin could see Stanger worsening and ?requested the missionaries in their prayers to ask the Lord to raise him up and not say: ?If he be not appointed unto death??.? [5] Stanger died the next afternoon; ?While it is sorrowful to us, yet we now feel resigned to the will of our Heavenly Father.?

Duffin made a detailed account of the last day, including Stanger?s last attempts at communication, Duffin?s various arrangements and consultations, and an itemized statement of expenses. [6] He and the embalmed body departed for Utah within twenty-two hours. At Salt Lake City the body was ?robed in the sacred robes of the priesthood? (May 26) and Duffin reported to Church President Smith. [7]

Apostle Rudger Clawson accompanied Duffin from Salt Lake and Elder Stanger?s parents met them in Ogden, Utah (May 27). [8] Duffin and Clawson stayed at the Stanger?s home that evening and Duffin ?delivered the body to [Bishop] Bennim of the ward and Brother Stanger,? whereupon his ?responsibility with its care ended.?

Duffin and Clawson spoke at the funeral the following afternoon (May 28) and ?the spirit of the Lord was poured out?, and the spirit of comfort rested upon the parents and relatives of our beloved, deceased brother.? Elder Stanger

?was faithful in his labors while he could labor, and during his sickness, though delirious the greater part of the time for three weeks, uttered no word that indicated that he had led anything but a pure upright life. Through his sickness the gospel was taught to a number of people in the hospital, and we, his fellow laborers, were taught lessons that will be of worth to us.? [9]

That evening Duffin and Clawson ?held meeting? at the Stanger?s home and returned to Salt Lake. [10]


 The ?Southwestern States Mission? series (homepage) examines mission life in (mostly) Texas around 1900.

[1] The Southwestern States / Central States Mission typically had a few more than one hundred missionaries. Three deaths in six years works out to about 0.5% per year. A death rate of 0.5%/year for the current 50,000 or so missionaries would work out to about 250 deaths per year. I do not know the overall death rate for missionaries around 1900 or at present, nor do I know the death rates for comparable non-missionaries in the Mormon Culture Region, so I can?t say with confidence whether missions were statistically more dangerous than staying home. At the end of 1901 Duffin reported 1,680 members (age eight or older) in the mission with 18 member deaths in the previous year, for an approximate death rate of 1% (he reported children under eight and their deaths separately). Since the membership deaths included the elderly, it seems likely that it was more dangerous to be a twenty-year-old missionary in the Southwestern States Mission than to be a twenty-year-old member.

[2] In a subsequent post I will describe the other two deaths. All three deaths happened after the other diaries in this study were completed, so, at present, I have only Duffin?s record. Duffin wrote about 1,300 words on Stanger, 480 on Richard E Johnson, and 90 on Thomas J Adair. I did not find any other mention of Stanger in Duffin?s diary. The silence is not unexpected: Stanger spent only two months as a healthy missionary (mid-February to mid-April).

[3] I do not know where Elder Stanger was serving prior to his illness nor do I know if the Elders chose Kansas City because it was the closest major city or if it was mission headquarters. Duffin did not learn immediately of Stanger?s condition because he was visiting other parts of the mission and, apparently, none of the Elders thought the situation warranted a telegram. The original diagnosis was ?typhoid fever,? which was complicated with ?spinal meningitis? and ?pus?collecting in Elder Stanger’s left side.?

[4] He also noted ?impressions? that he ?ought to return to the mission headquarters? (May 18).

[5] ?I have felt to ask the Lord if Heavens going to take Elder Stanger that he be not allowed to continue in his sufferings but that he should be relieved in death, but if He was going to allow him to remain here, that he be raised from his bed of affliction, and I have requested the missionaries in their prayers to ask the Lord to raise him up and not say: ?If he be not appointed unto death?, or ?If it be the will of the Lord,? and we would leave our dear brother in the hands of the Lord for Him to do according to His will.?

[6] ?This is a day of sorrow to us. Elder Stanger died at 12:15 p. m. While it is sorrowful to us, yet we now feel resigned to the will of our Heavenly Father. This morning Dr Snider sent a messenger to us to call at his office. Elder Bennett and I immediately went to him. He told us that after calling in other doctors for consultation they had decided that an operation was necessary, to remove pus that had been collecting in Elder Stanger’s left side. I told the doctor that I could not consent to this until I had personally examined him; accordingly Elder Bennett and I went down to the hospital to see Elder Stanger. We could see that he was in a very critical condition. While there he tried to talk and we understood these words among others muttered but unintelligible: ?Home? ? ?tell them?. The nurse then asked him if that were all and he indicated by a nod of the head that it was and turned his face to the wall. Elder Bennett and I then went to the doctor?s office again which took us probably ten minutes. Soon after we arrived there the doctor was called to the telephone and informed that Elder Stanger was dead. We then immediately returned to the hospital and assured ourselves of this, after which we went to O’Donnel’s undertaking establishment and made arrangements for embalming of the body, asked in which to ship it, and transportation to the depot, also for making out the papers necessary for the removal of the body. All of this cost me but $93.00 which was very reasonable. The hospital bill was as follows: Medicine and oxygen $42.25 three week and six days room in hospital $25.00; the attendance of the three nurses did not cost anything? (Duffin, 1903 May 23 Sat). Duffin expanded the list of expenses once he reached Salt Lake and reported to President Smith (May 26): ?Following is a full statement of the expenses: Hospital: $25.00; Medicine and Oxygen: 42.25; Ticket from Kansas City to American Falls, Idaho, for corpse:  37.96; Casket, Embalming &c: 93.00; Doctor Fees – Dr Snider: 50.00;  Sundry Expenses-trip with body: 20.45; [total:] $268.66.? (Note: I replaced line-breaks with semi-colons.)

[7] President Smith, ?expressed himself as being well satisfied with what we had done?.?

[8] Duffin notes that ?The Presidency appointed Apostle Rudger Clawson to accompany me on with the body?.? One of Apostle Clawson?s missionary companions had been killed in the field and Clawson often spoke of the experience. I don?t have any information about his selection to accompany the body, but I imagine his ?famous? association with a dead missionary played a role.

[9] Duffin?s attention to last words and delirious mutterings, which eventually led to his happy report at the funeral that they revealed nothing untoward were, as I understand it, typical of late nineteenth-century American treatments of death. His use of the ?beloved? in this formalistic obituary setting also tracked mainstream American usage, though, by 1900, the word had acquired a Mormon valence. Note that, in extolling the religious value of Stanger?s death, Duffin did not call Stanger a ?martyr,? even though he died on a mission from an illness he very likely contracted due to his service. The following year Duffin called Apostle Owen A Woodruff and his wife Helen ?martyrs to holy principles revealed from heaven? (Duffin, 1904 Jun 25 Sat).

[10] Duffin then spent a few days visiting in Salt Lake City and with his first family in Provo and was back in Missouri at mission headquarters by Jun 05.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Edje,

    Thanks for writing about Elder Stanger. I had not heard of him before, but Stanger is my wife’s maiden name so I did some searching. Her great-grandfather was a second cousin to George.

    George Oscar Stanger was born 28 Mar 1880 in Slaterville, Weber, Utah (where Stanger is a very common family name to this day). Based on sibling birth locations, his family apparently moved to Neeley, ID between Oct 1888 and Oct 1890. George’s youngest sister was 3 years old when he died. She, however, lived to see the Reagan administration!

    Comment by Ben Pratt — November 27, 2012 @ 12:03 am

  2. Thanks, Ben, for commenting and finding more about Elder Stanger.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — December 1, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

  3. […] previous posts I wrote about the deaths of missionaries; in this present I will treat the deaths of missionaries? family members. As […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Southwestern States Mission: Deaths of Children and Parents at Home — December 9, 2012 @ 12:38 am


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