A Marvelous Slap and a Blunder

“We were just walking, and he looked back and flipped us off,” [Elder] Brezenski said, adding the driver was carrying a cigarette in the hand he used to make the gesture. “Then the car flipped 10 to 12 feet in the air.”

Giving missionaries the bird + smoking + driving drunk = Invoke the wrath of God.
A combination of blunders and a marvelous slap from above.
This is the stuff of missionary folklore.

The car accident happened this week in Indiana, and the Elders were restrained in their description to local media, making no mention of whether feet had been dusted prior to the collision.

Rewind to 1935. Legrand Richards, then-President of the infamous Southern States mission, shared a similar story of missionary-vindicating justice in General Conference. I came across the legend while researching the history of LDS views on disabilities, and this may be one of the most unfortunate examples I’ve found so far:  

I was in the city of Augusta, Georgia, a few months ago, and a good sister there told me this story: She said she had a friend in that city who was a member of the Church, and this friend said that her grandfather was the one man in the county in which he resided in former days who would receive our Mormon missionaries in his home. One day her cousin said to his grandfather, “Grandfather, the next time those Mormon missionaries come here if you receive them I will slap them in the face.” And, she said, “True to his promise, the next time they came he did slap one of them but the Elder did not retaliate.” She said, “That man’s mind left him and he became an idiot, and he has been in the insane asylum ever since.”

I could stand here and relate to you for a long time the evidences that the Lord is with his missionaries guiding them in their work (Conference Report, April 1935, pp. 40-41).

In historical context, the term “idiot” was frequently employed to describe people we now refer to as having intellectual or cognitive disabilities. I guess it goes without saying that it’s more likely that the individual already had some difficulties prior to the altercation with the elders. During that period institutionalization was rather common, less so today due to the advent of various psychotropic medications and a heavier emphasis placed on placement in group homes.

With stories like that it’s probably a good thing Pres. Richards refrained from relating more evidences…


  1. Mark Brown says:

    Love it!

    The diaries and newsletters from the Southern States mission are chock full of foot-dustings and righteous smitings.

  2. Alternate ending:

    “With evidences like that, who needs faith!?”

  3. Nooo!!! We need more LeGrand Richards stories, not fewer!!!

    And, strange to say, I can’t think of a single contemporaneous foot-dusting story from the Southern States Mission. I can’t find one on my blog or on Bruce’s Amateur Mormon Historian, although one lady left a comment there recounting a non-Mormon family legend of a long-ago foot-dusting. There are no references to foot dusting in the Latter-day Saints Southern Star or in Heather Seferovich’s thesis. Neither Patrick Mason’s Mormon Menace nor his dissertation contain the word “dust,” and even John D. Lee’s Mormon Menace doesn’t contain any foot dustings.

    Stories of divine retribution? Yes. Stories of foot dusting? Not that I can find in a quick search through these sources. Perhaps the practice developed in later years?

  4. This made me smile. Thanks.

  5. There is an excellent foot-dust story in I believe the 2nd chapter of Parley P. Pratt:The Apostle Paul of Mormonism. Parley dusts off his feet and wags his coat-tail and gets a verbal smack-down for it. I love Pratt, but he was acting like a fool and deserved to be brought back down a few pegs.

    Incidentally the Richards story is far too removed to even be a story worth him relaying. He heard from someone’s sister’s uncle’s cousin’s great aunt’s pet chinchilla’s neighbor. A court of law would be scandalized by that level of hearsay.

  6. I think we all need more of Alma 19:22 in our lives.

  7. My favorite foot dusting stories involve Jason Wharton.

  8. Mark Brown says:

    Amy T., are you sure?

    I would swear on a stack of bibles that I read in the Southern Star about some elders being mistreated in Alexandria Louisiana, dusting their feet, and then recording with a good measure of smug satisfaction that a tornado hit the town just a few weeks later.

  9. Mark Brown says:

    That would have been in 1898-99.

  10. Amy T, the practice of footdusting was definitely in place by 1837, when there are records of certain Apostles dusting their feet after being rejected by certain households during their mission to the British Isles.

  11. I’ve heard Elder Legrand Richards talk many times. He had a great sense of humor. His listeners were often treated to humorous stories and experiences. Maybe this story was told with tongue in cheek.

  12. I was once treated to a good old-fashioned JW dusting of the feet. It looked a lot like clogging.

  13. #5, you mean Pratt was being a prat.

  14. Am I sure, Mark? No. Text searches of digitized PDF documents are hardly definitive, and a search for “dust” certainly could have missed your story.

    Also, could they have used different language not involving the word “dust”? All of the instances of “dust” showing up in both volumes of the Southern Star involved references like “…God formed him out of the dust of the earth…” and “…it was even predicted by Grant that he would outlive the Church. Grant lies mouldering in the dust and the Church of Jesus Christ has an aggregate total of about 320,000.”

    “Tornado” is only turning up metaphorical speech (vol. 1) and a reference to the Galveston Hurricane (vol. 2). All references to “Alexandria” are either classical allusions or are about Orson Hyde’s mission. There are too many references to “Louisiana” to read through, but I do see a column about the delightful time the editor of the Southern Star had at the meetings of the Louisiana Press Association. It wasn’t all persecution and hard times!

    Do you have a name I could search for? Could you be remembering an account from a journal or a different church publication? There are plenty of missionary letters in the Deseret News and other sources.

  15. Mormonbrit — I know that foot dusting was and still is a common trope or legend in missionary culture, but I have really not noticed it in the Southern States Mission. It could have been the influence of long-time mission president John Hamilton Morgan.

    Morgan was a noted story-teller (in fact most of the presidents of that mission were, including B.H. Roberts, J. Golden Kimball, Charles Callis, and LeGrand Richards) and he liked a divine intervention story as much as any other missionary. This former member of Wilder’s Lightning Brigade was known to preach with a rifle on the podium, but he didn’t have much use for folk millennialism or the standard persecution narrative, and his views could have had lasting influence on the culture of the Southern States Mission.

  16. I’ve got a wonderful account of a missionary doing this — not in the Southern States — but he referred to it as “washing” rather than “dusting” although he was clearly, clearly meaning his action to be a testimony against a town that rejected him. I wonder what other terms might have been used?

    What I’ve noticed in the Southern States mission is claims of divine justice unrelated to foot-dusting. At least two people report that there were crop failures either county-wide or on the former Conder farm after the Cane Creek massacre. I wonder if such claims are being distorted in readers’ memory as reports of retribution after foot-dusting?

    And finally, I invite BCC readers to recall Jason Wharton’s virtual foot dusting here, and consider what effect that may have had on the mental capacity of BCC permas. {running for cover}

  17. Mark Brown says:

    LOLZ, Ardis!

    *I* was the recipient of that particular virtual foot-dusting, and it is a badge of honor for me. But There needs to be some explanation for my limited brainpower, and that is as good as any.

  18. I was trying, with marginal success, to forget all things J Wharton. Thanks a lot, BCC threadjackers.

  19. Ardis, the fact that I’d totally forgotten about Mr. Wharton until now may be evidence of the efficacy of his dusting! My faith is hereby promoted!!!

  20. Link or it didn’t happen.

  21. That thread was a classic. Best comment of the year Ardis.


  22. Droylsden says:

    Just FYI, Brigham Young on the practice of dusting your feet:

    I recollect, in England, sending an Elder to Bristol, to open a door there, and see if anybody would believe. He had a little more than thirty miles to walk; he starts off one morning, and arrives at Bristol; he preached the Gospel to them, and sealed them all up to damnation, and was back next morning. He was just as good a man, too, as we had. It was want of knowledge caused him to do so. I go and preach to the people, and tell them at the end of every sermon, he that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; and he that believeth not, shall be damned. I continue preaching there day after day, week after week, and month after month, and yet nobody believes my testimony, that I know of, and I don’t see any signs of it. “What shall I do in this case, if I am sent to preach there?” you may inquire. You must continue to preach there, until those who sent you shall tell you to leave that field of labor; and if the people don’t manifest by their works, that they believe, as long as they come to hear me, I will continue to plead with them, until they bend their dispositions to the Gospel. Why? Because I must be patient with them, as the Lord is patient with me; as the Lord is merciful to me, I will be merciful to others; as He continues to be merciful to me, consequently I must continue in long-suffering to be merciful to others—patiently waiting, with all diligence, until the people will believe, and until they are prepared to become heirs to a celestial kingdom, or angels to the devil.

  23. That Jason Leroy Wharton / Steve Evans exchange was awesome. So glad I found BCC last year =). I served in the south (post-Southern States mission) and have no recent dusting of the feet to report, although some missionaries might have tried it, at about the same frequency I expect happens everywhere.

  24. Thanks Ardis and Steve! I missed all of that, but since I was nursing a small baby, I will have to forgive myself.

    I wasn’t able get the link to work, so I am not positive about how this relates to feet dusting. (I admit that I hadn’t learned about feet dusting before this post, so maybe that is why I am a little behind the ball.)

  25. It’s interesting that Brigham Young condemned the practice of footdusting, Droylsden. I wonder how the practice first started – whether Joseph Smith was the originator of it or if it was just kind of grafted in to the Church from the general restorationist/christian primitivist background that a lot of the early converts were coming from.

  26. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    I remember hearing a story in the MTC of a woman who slammed her front door on finding the Elders there. But, to her chagrin, the door didn’t close, it popped back open again. So she, allegedly, slammed it a couple of more times with the same result. Finally, one of the Elder’s said, “Lady, your cat is in the doorway”.

    Anyone else ever heard that one?

  27. In the book Sergeant Nibley, PhD, Hugh Nibley spoke of serving his mission in Germany inmany of the same towns he later saw as an intelligence officer in the Army. His mission president told him to warn the people that if they did not repent, fire from heaven would destroy their villages. Nibley affirmed that many of the towns were bombed into oblivion duringthe war.

  28. On my mission in Oklahoma I met a woman who claimed that she had dusted her feet on several occasions. I can’t remember most of her stories any more but in one of them a bank or an office of some sort had done her wrong. She said that she prayed about it and felt she should dust her feet of the company. She went down and shook the dust off of her feet in their doorway. She claimed that after she did this that the company fell on hard times and nearly went under. After the company had suffered for several months she decided that they had suffered enough so she “undusted” her feet at them. After her uncursing the company/bank what ever it was pulled it out and did okay again.

  29. @ 26 cat story. My dad served his mission in Ireland in 1968 and he used to tell that story.

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