During 1877, the actions of the family of W.J. and Jessie Miller of Sedalia were reported in both the Sedalia Bazoo and the Sedalia Democrat. Figuring out the accuracy of the articles is difficult, in part because those who spoke or wrote to the papers presented only one side of the events, and in part because of attitudes of the time toward what constituted insanity.
The incident began in the spring when Mrs. Miller attended a revival meeting at the Methodist Church. The papers do not report which of Sedalia’s three Methodist churches was hosting the revival. The papers, however, do report that Mrs. Miller became “suddenly insane,” exhibiting behaviors that caused “considerable excitement.”
Revival meetings were known for the extreme release of emotions that accompanied a penitent’s desire to repent and be forgiven of sin. Shouting, shaking, and fainting occurred as people fell under the power of God and knelt at the altar to pray. If Mrs. Miller exhibited these behaviors, those attending the revival would probably not been surprised; instead, they would have gathered at the altar to pray with her.
What likely caused such concern was that Mrs. Miller made her way to the pulpit and demanded that she be allowed to preach. A woman’s desire to preach moved outside the accepted gender roles of the time and her violation of those roles would have caused her to be considered insane. As the Democrat pointed out, “It was then thought that she would be a maniac for life, and no one could account for her terrible mania.”
Mrs. Miller was taken to the state asylum at Fulton, where she was treated. She would likely have been restrained, possibly with chains, or put into icy baths, or prescribed a regimen of rest that prohibited any work, activity, or reading. These treatments rarely helped a patient, and often harmed them.
However, after staying at the asylum for several months, Mrs. Miller was declared cured and returned to her home in Sedalia. She and her husband began having difficulties that caused alarm among her neighbors, to the extent that they claimed he had caused her insanity and suggested the husband deserved to be tarred and feathered.
Neighbors reported that on one incident, Miller had come to his home angry and had driven his “invalid” wife out into the rain. One neighbor, Thomas Geary, filed a complaint with Justice of the Peace Kirby that Miller had disturbed the peace and “maliciously” destroyed personal property.
Deputy Constable Allen Connors went to Miller’s home to interview Mr. Miller. He was met at the door by Miller, who was brandishing a hatchet and denying Connors entry to his home. Connors drew his revolver and ordered Miller to drop the hatchet. Miller complied but refused to accompany Connors to the police station until Connors corrected an error in the warrant that referred to his as J.W. Miller rather than W.J. Miller.
Once in front of the Justice of the Peace, Miller used his watch as security in lieu of $100 bond. He left the courtroom in a rage, promising revenge of his wife and his accuser. His behavior was so threatening that a police officer was dispatched to follow him to ensure he did not hurt anyone.
The Democrat closed the article by noting Miller was a member of the church and makes a great profession of his Christianity.
Next week’s column provides Mr. Miller’s account of the events.