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Marie Ogden Led Spiritual Group in San Juan County

W. Paul Reese
History Blazer, April 1995

In September 1933 a band of religious settlers led by Marie Ogden chose Dry Valley, about fifteen miles north of Monticello, as the headquarters for their spiritual community. Shortly after arriving, Ogden purchased the county's only newspaper, the San Juan Record, which she continued publishing. The only change in its format was the addition of Ogden's column, "Our Corner," in which she declared her revelations on "metaphysical truths." These writings failed to rouse much excitement in southwestern Utah---at least not until April 4, 1935, when she included a new section called "The Rebirth of a Soul."

Ogden's original followers came mostly from around Boise, Idaho, where she had been lecturing on occult subjects prior to her move to Utah. But her occultism can be traced farther back than Boise. Following her husband's death in 1929, Ogden devoted her life to spiritual studies and for a time formed an alliance in New Jersey with another spiritualist, William Dudley Pelley. In 1909 he began issuing his own "religio-sociological" monthly called the Philosopher and over the years owned several newspapers that he used to spread his message. Ogden found that she disagreed with some of Pelley's emerging political leanings, and to prevent contamination of her followers she broke ties with Pelley and removed her School of Truth from his organization.

By this time, Ogden was spiritually independent anyway; she had developed her own link to heaven. She claimed that her typewriter, through divine manipulation, received messages that told her God's will; it began directing her to seek out the spot where God's "kingdom" should be built. In the meantime, she toured the country, lecturing, spreading truth, and establishing reading societies and study groups. Eventually, messages from her typewriter informed her that Dry Valley in southeastern Utah was the axis of the earth and that she should locate her Home of Truth there. Upon arrival in Utah, Ogden, having learned something from Pelley, bought the local newspaper to use in disseminating her message.

Ogden's small band of believers followed her to the Beehive State's desert country and busied themselves in establishing God's kingdom. To qualify for membership in that kingdom colonists had to renounce all personal goods, become semi-vegetarians, and pledge obedience to the "word" that came from Marie's typewriter. The group of truth seekers lived communally and largely relied upon the Lord to provide daily sustenance. They built their kingdom in three groups of buildings, the innermost of which housed Ogden's "Home of Truth" where several times a day her typewriter came alive with revelations from heaven. According to the revealed "word," Marie's Inner Portal was the very axis of the earth where only those present when the terrible and imminent last days arrived would be spared.

Generally, local Mormons could identify with aspects of Ogden's organization, and most just looked on curiously. Then on February 11, 1935, one of the colonists, Edith Peshak, died of cancer. Peshak had joined the Home of Truth after Ogden promised a cure for her sickness, but the leader's spiritual therapeutics proved ineffective and Peshak died. Ogden asserted, however, that the stricken believer was simply in a state of purification and would soon return to life. Ogden received messages from the dead woman, and three times daily helpers washed Peshak's body in a salt solution and fed it. Ogden herself spread news of the metaphysical truths behind her actions, publishing them in the Record under the heading "Rebirth of a Soul." Needless to say, rumors quickly spread throughout Monticello and into neighboring communities.

Eventually, Sheriff Lawrence S. Palmer ordered a forcible investigation for sanitary purposes. The county attorney, a doctor, and a nurse were all allowed to view the corpse. The doctor found Peshak's body to be in a perfect state of preservation, leaving the attorney no legal grounds to force its burial. In the ensuing two years the rumors subsided, but many of Ogden's original thirty colonists apostatized. Only a dozen or so were left in February 1937 when Ogden again drew attention to her community by announcing that Peshak would soon return to life.

Authorities revived the case and demanded a death certificate be signed. Ogden refused, insisting that Peshak was not dead. Officers searched the Home of Truth but failed to find the body. Finally, Tommy Robertson, a former follower of Ogden came forward. He declared that two months after the original investigation Ogden had ordered him to wrap the body in two sheets and a thin mattress and carry it to a dry wash nearby. Ogden had supervised as Robertson built a pyre of wood and laid the mummy upon it. He soaked the whole mass with oil and lit it on fire. His testimony ended the investigation and nearly ended Marie Ogden's Home of Truth. Following this debacle only a handful of members persisted in the commune, feebly continuing to build the kingdom.

Decades later, the final curtain fell on this unusual religious drama when the contents of Marie Ogden's Inner Portal were sold at auction on October 1, 1977.

Sources: Wallace Stegner, Mormon Country (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1970), pp. 331--43; San Juan Record, April 4, 11, June 20, 1935; Times Independent, June 13, 20, 1935; Leo P. Ribuffo, The Old Christian Right: The Protestant Far Right from the Great Depression to the Cold War (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983), pp. 26--27; auction broadside in USHS Library.