Anyone who has followed this blog at all over the past few years knows that I am fascinated by the Utopian social and religious movements that have occurred in this country, particularly during the latter 1800s and early 1900s. Another such movement was the Incoming Kingdom Missionary units that were established around 1920 by the Rev. John A. Battenfield, a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Around the turn of the 20th century, Battenfield claimed to have discovered within the Hebrew text of the Old Testament "patterns of seven" by which he could discern the true meaning of the scriptures. In 1913, he began publishing a series of pamphlets called "The Great Demonstration" in which he announced that the world as it existed would end by 1926 and perhaps earlier. About the same time, he left the formal ministry and began traveling around the country as a religious lecturer, supposedly to prepare the world for the coming apocalypse. In 1919, the first issue of his newspaper, the Incoming Kingdom Harbinger
, was published in Olney, Illinois, and he began urging his followers to build economically self-sufficient communities in isolated, mountainous areas of the country, where they would be able to survive the holocaust and emerge afterwards to establish the Millennial Kingdom of God.
Gilbert, Arkansas (located in Searcy County) was chosen, because of its remote location, as the site for one of the units. People began arriving at Gilbert in September of 1920 when wealthy Illinois farmer C.E. Jordan, a firm believer in Battenfield's teachings, bought land for the site and started selling lots at cost to Battenfield's followers. A church and a schoolhouse were quickly constructed, as was a printing plant for the Incoming Kingdom Harbinger
. Within a few months about 70 people had arrived in the community, and the number of people living in the community rose to about 200 within a couple of years. The Gilbert millenialists began mission work or "witnessing" to people in surrounding communities. According to Battenfield's vision, believers were to share their belongings and live communally, and cooperative stores and other cooperative endeavors were begun.
However, problems soon arose because some of the colonists who came to Gilbert were reluctant to share their belongings. Also, Battenfield alienated some of his followers when he began to abandon traditional Christian teachings about the Trinity and other subjects. The movement became more and more endangered as the years began to elapse with no holocaust and no appearance of the Messiah. The last straw came in 1925 when Battenfield announced that he would bring one of his followers who had died back to life and his several public attempts to do so failed. Battenfield reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown. His publication suspended operation, he and his family left Gilbert, and his remaining followers soon renounced his teachings. For more information on this topic, visit the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas at www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net.