Joseph Standing (1854-1879)
Joseph Standing, the son of Mary and James Standing, was born on October 5, 1854, in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was baptized in 1862 and subsequently ordained an elder. In 1875 he was one of seven men called to serve in the newly organized Southern States Mission, but he fulfilled his mission duties in Illinois and Indiana instead, laboring alongside friend and fellow missionary John Morgan.
In early 1878 he was again set apart for a mission to the South and assigned to the state of Georgia. There he was reunited with Morgan, who had assumed leadership of the Southern States Mission, as well as the responsibility for "gathering" the southern saints to the West. Like Morgan, Standing focused his proselytizing energies on the mountainous counties of northwest Georgia, and soon converts from Catoosa, Chattooga, Floyd, Walker, and Whitfield counties were making their way to a new Mormon colony in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. But conversion to the LDS Church in the nineteenth century often created separation—both physical and psychological—between converts and loved ones, which led some north Georgians to view the Mormon missionaries as a threat to family and community.
On July 21, 1879, as Standing and missionary companion Rudger Clawson traveled from Whitfield County toward a church conference in Chattooga County, they encountered an armed mob of twelve men. It is not clear that the mob intended murder, but by sundown Joseph Standing was dead, having suffered at least twenty gunshots to the head and neck. Clawson survived the encounter and resolved to return Standing's body home to Utah. The Deseret News of Salt Lake City reported that 10,000 persons attended the funeral service, which was conducted in the tabernacle at Salt Lake City on August 3, 1879.
By the time arrest warrants were issued for the twelve who participated in the mob, most had already slipped across the border into Tennessee. A posse finally captured three of the men and returned them to Whitfield County to await trial. When the grand jury met in Dalton in October, they returned indictments against all twelve members of the mob, charging them with murder and riot. Individual trials for the three captured men followed, but within days a jury acquitted them of the charges. The grand jury then moved to absolve the entire mob of blame. Mormon authorities reacted angrily to the decisions and publicly denounced the state's failure to hold Standing's killers accountable. They did not, however, abandon the mission field in Georgia.
In 1952 a small memorial park was dedicated at the site of Standing's murder in Whitfield County.
Ken Driggs, "'There Is No Law in Georgia for Mormons': The Joseph Standing Murder Case of 1879," Georgia Historical Quarterly 73 (winter 1989): 745-72.
Mary Ella Engel, "Praying with One Eye Open: Mormons and Murder in Late-Nineteenth-Century Appalachian Georgia" (Ph.D. diss., University of Georgia, 2008).
John Nicholson, The Martyrdom of Joseph Standing; or, The Murder of a "Mormon" Missionary (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News Company, 1886).
Mary Ella Engel, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, North Carolina
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