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Koresh and Waco – Cyrus and David

It has been nearly five years since I’ve posted, and I never really intended to do so, but I’ve been reading with some sense of what I want to call “amusement”, but this is not an amusing subject. I’m talking about the recent discovery that the Branch Davidians in Waco Texas probably used some of the teachings of Koresh (Cyrus Teed) to bolster the “authority” of David Korsesh (Vernon Howell).

I have to admit that the story of Cyrus Teed, because of the story of Waco, seems to have taken on more of a national air. However, the Teed story is the same. Cyrus Teed spouted his beliefs, made up his own words and warped many Christian beliefs to fit his view of the world and himself. At the same time, he isn’t responsible for what the Branch Davidians did. They were just another “cult” who took Scripture and beliefs and molded them into their own liking. They simply used Teed’s writings as a playbook.

The Teed Koreshans, and not so much Teed himself, were responsible for a number of things, the least of which is the fact that they helped to settle Southwest Florida. There were almost as many Koreshans in Estero than there were people in Fort Myers. They were a very learned group of individuals despite their “crazy” ideas, which probably weren’t that crazy in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The impact of the Koreshans on southwest Florida was enough to allow a major Florida University, FGCU, to collect and organize the Koreshan collection, which had been preserved by the Florida Park Service for many years. Long before FGCU existed. I can recall some of the people who volunteered to help gather those things which gave meaning to what it meant to be a Koreshan. Books, publications, photographs etc.

I remember Park Rangers, like Peter Hicks and many others, who took their jobs seriously, despite poor pay and lack of materials to preserve what they could. The author of the book on David Koresh remarked how one was able to view an actual copy of the Flaming Sword in the University Archives, and yet I remember being shown a couple of cardboard boxes filled with these Flaming Swords and smelling of kerosene that had, at some time, had been accidentally spilled on them, their provenance unknown. This work to preserve the Koreshan past also included the rangers who were called “Museum Education Specialists” which later evolved into a full blown “Curator”. People like Kate Anthony.

There was a multitude of volunteers who gave of their time and talent to inform visitors, to put on displays and events, such as the “Ghost Walk”. They created oral histories of people, now long gone.

Then there was Bill Grace, a Koreshan decendent who faithfully sought to promote the history of the Koreshan community, despite his run-ins with the “College of Life” and Jo Bigelow.

In the early 1990’s it was difficult to attempt to organize the collection, especially due to the fact that the Park had very little financial leeway in attempting to get archival materials, acid free boxes and folders, etc. Many items in the collection were digitized, in a very primitive way. The Internet and the “World Wide Web” were only just beginning. Eventually the State began to show some interest and the (what was then called) Museum Building was built. Tallahassee began to take things more seriously. Park managers came and went, some of them with a deep interest in preserving all things Koreshan and others only caring about how many canoes or campsites were rented.

And yet, those canoes and camp sites helped to support the work that the Rangers and the docents were doing and it helped to give them the information they needed to inform people about who the Koreshans were, their importance to the history of this area and to end the “stories” that weren’t true, and there were many of them that embellished the stories of Teed and the Koreshans.

There were people that I never knew, such as Hedwig Michel. What I do know about her isn’t very flattering, in my humble opinion. In a March 2016  posting, I wrote:

March 29, is the 124th anniversary of the birth of Hedwig Michel.

She was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1892 to Ferdinand Michel and Emma Wertheimer. Many call her the “last” Koreshan, others say she was merely an opportunist. There is no doubt that she helped to sustain the Unity in bad times with her management skills, but one has to wonder why it was that two original Koreshans, Allen Andrews and Laurie Bubbett ended up as enemies after Hedwig entered the scene. Hedwig and Laurie were also accused of spending money on themselves instead of on the remaining Koreshan members. At one point Hedwig and Laurie took a cruise to Europe. Perhaps it was necessary, but it certainly makes one wonder about Hedwig’s commitment to the “community”. Others simply say that she was committed to the Unity and she did everything she could to carry it into the 20th century that saw scientific advancements that disproved many of the Koreshan theories. The Fort Myers News-Press ran an article in their “Tropicalia” section back in 2010 asking many of the same questions. Amy Bennett Williams, the Tropicalia editor, pretty much came to the same conclusions. Namely, that despite her talents, Hedwig could have done nothing to stop the demise of the Koreshans. Her somewhat caustic personality also contributed to some ill will. Author Lyn Millner, in her book, writes that Hedwig was described as an “Interloper”. ((1)) Some former park rangers have said that when Hedwig was living in the Planetary Court she used to come out agitated and tell them what they were doing wrong. Perhaps that was nothing more than her apparent difficulty in letting go.

So, thank you to all those who have gone before. Those who helped to promote the importance of the Korseshan Unity and its part in the history of Southwest Florida. Thanks to those who, in the present time are continuing to promote Koreshan history — that is, the good, the bad and the ugly. That would include Prof. Lyn Millner and the professional archivists at FGCU. Also, Amy Bennett Williams the Fort Myers News-Press journalist who never passes up on an opportunity to promote Koreshan history.

  1. Quoting Bill Grace in: Millner, Lyn. The Allure of Immortality: An American Cult, a Florida Swamp, and a Renegade Prophet. p.255 []

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