Southwestern States Mission: The Deaths of RE Johnson and TJ Adair

By December 2, 2012

Last week I wrote about the death of Elder George O Stanger, who died in Missouri in May 1903. Today I discuss the deaths of Elders Richard E Johnson of Monroe, Utah, and Thomas J Adair of Loma, New Mexico, who died in August 1903 and August 1906, respectively. [1]

On August 24, 1903, 2:50 PM, three months after Elder Stanger died, President Duffin (in Missouri) received a one-line telegram from Arkansas:

?Elder Johnson dead at Hot Springs. What shall we do??

Richard E Johnson had died the day before from a ?brief illness.? He was about twenty-six and had been in the mission a little over two months. A little over three hours later, Duffin was on a train:

Thus sorrow has again come to us in the death of one of our beloved companions in the mission field. Immediately on receipt of the above telegram, I made preparations to go to Hot Springs to prepare the body for shipment home. I also wired Elder Crowther to have the body embalmed, and wired Prest. Smith of Elder Johnson’s death, also the Bishop at Monroe, Utah, the home of Elder Johnson. At 6:15 p. m. I took train?. [2]

Duffin arrived in Hot Springs the following day (Aug 25) at 5:00 PM ?and at once went to the undertakers? to inspect the body and casket, negotiate a fee, and prepare for departure the next morning. [3] Duffin also noted that Johnson ?has been faithful in his duties as a servant of the Lord.? [4] After another twenty-four-hour train ride, Duffin arrived in Kansas City with the body (Aug 27), where he was met by one of his assistants and an Elder Palmer.

I immediately began making arrangements to send the body on to Monroe [Utah], in charge of Elder Palmer, who was released. He left with the body at 10:40 a. m. I did not accompany the body as conference was to be held in Arkansas and Oklahoma?.

As with Elder Stanger, Duffin made an itemized list of expenses. [5]

Elder Thomas J. Adair, of Loma, New Mexico, died of ?a fever? August 01, 1906, in St John, Arizona, on his way home from the mission. Duffin wrote mentioned Adair?s death in a letter to the First Presidency copied into the diary but is otherwise silent on it. [6]

I have two interpretive observations of Duffin?s record of missionary deaths. First, it is probably no fluke that all three died in summer, with its heat and disease. [7] Second, Duffin?s diary is mostly non-confessional; its central concern is his duty as individual and as church representative: hence his detailing of actions and expenses and custody of bodies. [8]

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

[1] As before, I will quote only Duffin?s diary and will focus on the logistics and Duffin?s narration of the deaths.

[2] Elder Crowther was with the body in Arkansas; he sent the original telegram. President Smith was Joseph F Smith, President of the Church; I presume he was in Salt Lake City, but haven?t verified.

[3] The undertaker, ?B. Gross?at first wanted to charge me $200.00 for his undertaking work and a metal lined casket, but by proper representations as to the nature of the work our Elders were doing &c. he concluded to make the charge $150.00 Considering the work he had done, and the quality of the casket, this was very reasonable.?

[4] ?His death took place at the home of Brother and Sister Stephen B. and Emma E. Riales, who were very kind to him during his brief illness.?

[5] Following are the expenses in shipping the body: Undertakers bill: $150.00; R. R. Fare, Hot Springs to K. City – body: 17.50; R. R. [fare] K. C. to Elsinore, Utah – body: 39.60; Shirt, Drawers, &c, for body: 1.40; Miscellaneous Expenses: 5.00; Total: 213.55.?

[6] The letter is dated Aug 08. ?With a few exceptions the elders are enjoying good health, and at the present time we know of no serious case of sickness among them. Yesterday [Aug 07] we received the sad intelligence of the death of Elder Thomas J. Adair, of Loma, New Mexico. Elder Adair had filled a good, faithful mission and had been released to return home. It seems that about the time he was released, he contracted a fever and got as far as St. John, Arizona on his way home, that the fever became so severe that he was forced to remain there. All was done for him that loving hands could do, but on the first of this month he passed away.? The quoted section appears at the end of the letter following about four hundred words on other matters. At the time, Duffin was not keeping a regular diary; the only entries for the surrounding weeks are copies of letters.

[7] ?Summer? here being the hot time of the year rather than the astronomically-determined period connecting the ends of June and September. Between the exhaustions of working (and then trying to sleep) in the humid heat and enduring the various ?fevers,? summers were brutal for missionaries. Duffin doesn?t draw any explicit connections, but he and the other missionaries regularly experienced the same symptoms as the deceased. I imagine the possibility of death colored their experience of illness differently than it does for (most) present-day missionaries.

[8] This emphasis on recording the execution of duty and on occasions when responsibility moves from one individual to another also manifests in Duffin?s diary when missionaries are released from their missions. One of the reasons the account of Adair?s death is so slight (besides the already mentioned spottiness of Duffin?s diary at the time and the fact that the death happened outside the mission) is that Duffin had no official responsibility and thus the brief mention of Duffin?s sorrow without the follow-up detail. I?m not prepared to make a categorical statement, but fulfillment of duty appears to be a common concern in the diaries.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Thanks, as always, Edje.

    Comment by Ben P — December 2, 2012 @ 2:55 pm

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

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Southwestern States Mission: Deaths of Children and Parents at Home — December 9, 2012 @ 12:46 am


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