THE VIRGIN AND THE COMET - PART I
By Guy W. Moore
Guy W. Moore is a native Oklahoman. He received his MA degree in History at the University of Oklahoma. He is a member of the National Capital Astronomers. He wrote this article especially for the Halley’s Comet Watch Newsletter.
Perhaps the most intriguing story
surviving from the visit of Comet Halley in 1910 concerns the Oklahoma virgin
who was nearly sacrificed to save the world when it came in contact with the
So far as I can learn British science
writer Nigel Calder deserves the credit (or blame) for dusting off this tale in
1981 in his book, The Comet is Coming (Calder may have gotten it from
Philippe Veron, who wrote of the tale in a book published two years before
his. ED.) George Will cited it in a Newsweek column, August 3, 1981,
warning that “Oklahomans should lock up their daughters.” Others picked up the item and they may be
pardoned because Calder said, in straightforward language, “In 20th
Century Oklahoma, at the apparition of Halley in 1910, the sheriffs arrived
just in time to prevent the sacrifice of a virgin by demented Americans calling
themselves Select Followers.”
But is the
The story first appeared on May 19, 1910
in at least two newspapers far from the alleged scene of the action, Aline,
Oklahoma. The Washington Post
ran it on the front page and it reads as follows:
Sacrifice of Girl Stopped
Fanatics About to Offer Up Girl To Foil Comet When Posse
Special to the Washington Post.
Aline, Okla. May 18 – Miss Jane Warfield, 16 years old, was
today rescued from a band of religious fanatics 25 miles southwest of this
place. She was about to be offered up
as a sacrifice to make a blood atonement that the sins of the world might be
The sheriff of Dewey county was told that
the “Select Followers” had given out that their leader, Henry Heinman, had
received a revelation that the world was to end following the contact of the
tail of the comet, and that the only thing to avert the comet was a blood
sacrifice. To save the world the
sacrifice was planned, the lot falling to Jane Warfield.
Hughes, with a posse of 60 men, reached the dell in the Glass Mountains just as
the sacrifice was being prepared. The
Warfield girl was clad in white, wearing a wreath of roses. Her hands were bound, and Heinman was in
front of her with a long, keen hunting knife in his hand. About him were grouped about 40 of his followers.
A similar story appeared on page 2 of
the New York Daily Tribune of the same date but it credited Sheriff
Hughes with six deputies rather than a posse of 60. It also added that “the sect came to Dewey County two years
ago, led by Heinman, who is said to be from Leesburg, Ohio, and a graduate of
an Ohio University.”
the story appeared in the Oklahoma City Times one day later, May 20,
1910, and reads as follows:
Okla., May 19. Jane Warfield, a pretty nineteen-year-olddd
farmer girl, living near here was rescued after a hand-to-hand conflict between
members of the sheriff of Alfalfa county posse and Henry Heinman’s religious
fanatics Wednesday evening just as the girl was about to be offered as a blood
sacrifice for the atonement of the world’s sins in order that Halley’s comet
might not destroy the earth.
girl, nude and partially unconscious, was tied to a stake in the center of a
dancing group of the crazed followers of Heiman and within a few minutes was to
have been stabbed and bled to death.
Heinman’s chief prophet was ready to perform the deed.
was known in the community that the much-heralded approach of Halley’s comet
and the threatened danger attached to its appearance had affected the fanatics
and frequent meetings were being held.
All their secrets are closely guarded and it was not until the girl was
tied to the stake that the authorities became aware of the intended sacrifice.
was immediately formed and proceeding to the meeting ground of the fanatics the
girl was rescued and given medical attention.
Followers of Heinman attempted to fight the officers, but they were
overcome with little difficulty.
Heinman was arrested and placed in the county jail.
instigated the act by telling his companions that the comet meant the end of
the world and the sacrifice was necessary for their atonement.
inquiry to the Oklahoma Historical Society elicited additional information,
including still another version of the events that may or may not have happened
on Wednesday night, May 18, 1910. The
Cherokee Republican on May 27, 1910, ran the story but gives a clue as to
the source, in some introductory paragraphs by the editor, Walter
Ferguson. The Republican
headlined the story this way:
Special Sent from Aline Last Week
following weird dispatch was sent from Aline last week to the Oklahoma City
Times. It “listens” suspiciously
like Ed Marchant who is known to be hiding near the Big tree at that
place. It is supposed that the
chimerical and fanciful brain of the noted dopester was suffering from acute
inertia and that he relieved the inactivity by unwinding the story. Following is the harrowing story, not a word
of which is true as a matter of course.
Okla. May 20 – Jane
Warfield, a 16-year-old girl, rescued from a band of religious fanatics
twenty-five miles southwest of Aline when she was about to be offered up as a
sacrifice to make blood atonement that the sins of the world might be forgiven,
has been brought here for safe keeping.
sheriff of Dewey county had been informed that the band of religious
enthusiasts know (sic) as the Select Followers had given out that their leader,
Henry Heinman, had received a revelation from God that the world would end and
the heavens would be rolled up like a scroll following the contact of the tail
of the comet, that the only thing that would avert the disaster was a blood
sacrifice; that in order to save the world a sacrifice had been planned
and the lot had fallen to Jane Warfield.
Hughes had kept trace of their movements closely and finally determined that he
should be on the scene. With a posse of
six men he reached the dell in the Gloss Mountains just as the sacrifice was
being prepared and only in time to rescue the young woman who was offered to
save the world.
Warfield girl was clad in spotless white, with a wreath of white roses about
her head. Her hands were bound and
Heinman was standing in front of her with a long, keen hunting knife in his hand. About him were groups of his followers,
about forty in all.
Select Followers believe that sin has passed from them and that they can handle
serpents and drink poison without evil effects. For some time Heinman has been telling them in his sermons that
the world would end on the 18th day of May, and the comet now in the
sky would sweep with pestilential gases across the earth eliminating all animal
is a religious fanatic and the girl who was to be offered as a sacrifice is his
stepdaughter. He gave out that he had
received a revelation that he was to sacrifice the girl and thus avert the
world calamity. Sheriff Hughes had
placed the girl in the hands of safe parties and Heiman (sic) will be held to
await action of investigating officers.
sect of Select Followers came into the neighborhood of the present residence
two years ago, led by Heiman (sic), who is said to be from near Leesburg, and a
graduate of some Ohio university. At
one time he was a disciple of Harmon, the Free Thinker, and it is rumored that
many of Harmon’s ideas have been carried out in the form of worship of the band
headed by Heinman. Heretofore they had
been looked upon as harmless, the wildness of their religious utterances only
being held against them.
been learned that many of them had several weeks ago burned much of their
personal belongings, because the world was to end with the contact of the
conflict in details in these various stories is obvious. Whether the intended victim was 16 or 19
years of age, nude or clad in white, whether the event took place in Alfalfa
County or in Dewey County. Aline is in
Alfalfa County; Dewey is two counties
away. According to the Oklahoma
Historical Society, the only Warfield listed in the Alfalfa County index to the
1910 Oklahoma Census is Minnie Warfield, age 18, born in Kansas, who is
enumerated with her brother-in-law, Will H. Alberding. The Oklahoma Red Book (1912) (the
first edition of the Directory of Oklahoma) lists a D.A. Hughey as sheriff of
Alfalfa County in 1910. The Aline
Chronoscope never mentioned the story.
The position of the Oklahoma Historical Society is simply stated. “None of the above considerations confirm or
deny the Jane Warfield story.”
the Cherokee Republican, which ran the only account to be found in the
Alfalfa County newspapers, branded the story a hoax.
is clear that the Republican editor, Walter Ferguson, was confident that
he knew the perpetrator to be one Ed Marchant.
Perhaps someone will visit Aline and try to find a Marchant family
member who will once and for all declare the story a hoax. Assuming it was a hoax, as is probable, how
was it possible for Ed Marchant to send a “special” and get it used? Was he a small town stringer for local newspapers? Was he sometimes used by the wire
services? Will the morgues of the Washington
Post or the Oklahoma Times (now the Daily Oklahoman-Oklahoma
City Times) credit that “special” dispatch from Aline to an
individual? The fact that no one has
unearthed a follow-up story in any newspaper suggests that the editors were
taken in by a good story – as perhaps science writer Calder and others have
been taken in more recently.
the information contained herein, I am indebted to Ruth Freitag of the Library
of Congress, who since the publication of her Halley’s Comet Bibliography,
has become the lightning rod for all serious students of Halley lore. I am particularly indebted to Mr. B. Basore,
Library Assistant, Oklahoma Historical Society, for the Cherokee Republican
and other pertinent data concerning Minnie Warfield, Sheriff Hughey and other