I have mentioned previously that the late 1880s were a time a great social and religious experimentation. After the turmoil of the Civil War, people were looking for some meaning in their lives and were willing to try new things they might not otherwise have tried in times of more stability. Some of the experimental groups were mere fads that lasted only a short time, while others enjoyed a period of popularity before dying out slowly, but a few morphed into the mainstream and are still going relatively strong today (e.g. Christian Science).
Perhaps the most bizarre religious group to settle in the Ozarks during this time was the one that took up residence in a house a few miles south of Searcy in White County, Arkansas, in 1876 under the Rev. Cobb. Known as the "walking preacher," the leader of the group reportedly came from Tennessee and held outlandish beliefs, but little else was known about him. His "atrocious doctrines," as the New York Times
called them, included the belief that he himself was God or Jesus Christ and that he could perform miracles, such as commanding the sun to rise or set by wielding a sycamore pole.
His followers, called Cobbites, were just as strange and fanatical as he was. One of their peculiar behaviors was walking back and forth on the housetop with their eyes closed, supposedly to prove that they were chosen and protected by God. They believed that the only way they could become Christ-like was to be "sanctified" and that "sanctification" could only come to the women through Rev. Cobb and then to the rest of the group through the women.
The group's antics soon aroused the alarm and curiosity of local people, and several who ventured out to investigate reported being dragged inside the house and forced to pray with the group. In the late summer of 1876, only a few months after the group arrived in White County, two local men went out to see what all the uproar was about, and the Cobbites went out to greet them with entreaties to come inside and "see God." When one of the men made a sarcastic remark, the group started shouting "Kill him!", dragged him from his wagon, and chopped off his head with an ax. The other man fled and reported what happened. A mob quickly formed, went to the Cobbite settlement, killed two of the men, and arrested a few of the other "murderous Cobbites," as the Times
later called them. However, Cobb himself managed to escape and was never captured.