THE CURIOUS CASE OF FRANCIS SCHLATTER: the Denver Messiah

Francis Schlatter

At the turn of the last century, a French cobbler took up residence in Denver. He was a quiet unassuming man who plied his trade until he had a transformative experience in which he was told by “the Father” to give up his business and devote his life to healing. He spent the next two years wandering the American West. His first efforts at healing began in California with the Indians of the San Jacinto Valley. By July 1895, he was in Albuquerque treating hundreds who gathered for his hands-on treatment.

Francis Schlatter lived simply refusing all forms of payment. He taught no new doctrine and healed by grasping the hands of the sufferer. Sometimes he was overheard to say The Lord’s Prayer, but a good portion of his healings was done in silence. He healed the blind, the deaf, the lame, and all sorts of maladies while crediting “the Father” for all of them.

In the fall of 1895, he was back in Denver staying with a friend. Outside a small house Schlatter stood near the front fence as thousands passed by for healings. So impressed was the Union Pacific Railroad executive, Superintendent K. Dickenson, after his wife’s treatment, that he allowed any of his railroad workers to leave his job and travel to Denver at the expense of the company to seek treatment. And come they did! In the short two month period in which Schlatter stood on a platform in that Denver neighborhood, it is estimated that 60,000 people received healings. Each day, the mail arrived requesting the healer bless and return hundreds of handkerchiefs. Schlatter did his best to keep up with those as well.

Newspapers picked up the story and soon other cities were clamoring for Schlatter to visit them. Men came offering Schlatter all kinds of deals in return for his presence. People who took up their places in line for the daily healing were now offered money as the wealthy and privileged sought to exploit them. Schlatter was deeply offended by the practice and some believe it was what convinced him to give up his work and flee in the night. The people of Denver were outraged when their healer disappeared. Hundreds were still arriving daily to see the healer. Search parties were sent out to find Schlatter and bring him back to Denver, against his will if necessary.

Francis Schlatter’s story is detailed in Denver’s Extraordinary Faith-Healing Messiah edited by Bill Blanning. The book contains the newspaper accounts from the time Schlatter appears in New Mexico until his disappearance. It’s interesting to read the articles written over a hundred years ago because the language is so formal and foreign to the way we write today. However, you do get a good feel for the way Schlatter was received. Hundreds of individuals who received healings are named and people genuinely felt Schlatter was doing good work. His simple way of living and goodness are portrayed. There were a few dissenters, who felt Schlatter was a fraud, but they can be counted on one hand and their motives even at the time were seen as suspect.

What is also interesting is looking back and seeing Schlatter in his own time. I was surprised to see that Spiritualism was well known and I found no derisive comments in the newspaper coverage of it. In addition, the terms animal magnetism, Christian Science, and psychic science were all used without explanation. People over a century ago were familiar with those terms. I came away feeling that mainstream people at the turn of the last century were far more open to these things than we are today.

And the end of the story. Schlatter disappeared into New Mexico for a few months where he managed to dictate his autobiography. The Life of the Harp in the Hand of the Healer by Ada Morley was released in 1897. That same year, Schlatter’s bones and possessions were discovered on a mountain in the Sierra Madre.

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81 Comments

Filed under Books, Spiritual/Mysticism

81 responses to “THE CURIOUS CASE OF FRANCIS SCHLATTER: the Denver Messiah

  1. Hello all,
    I should mention that I am the contractor for the new owner of the home. We have saved the home from the wrecking ball and restored it as close to its 1920’s condition inside and out. It should survive another 100 years!

  2. Jeff Mangino

    Do you have the modern day address in Denver where Francis Schlatter lived with Mr. Fox?

    • It seems to be a rather protected piece of information.

      • Hello Jeff and Ellis–
        No, the address isn’t really a secret; however, at the time I first posted on this site, the occupants of the home wanted to protect their privacy, and they no longer live there. The address of the Fox home is 3225 Quivas (it was 725 Witter when the healer was a guest there). The home is listed as a Denver Landmark, and if it survives the wrecker’s ball, it may become a locally famous site–at least, I hope so, as my book The Vanishing Messiah: The Life and Resurrections of Francis Schlatter, is due out June 2016 by the University of Iowa Press. Today, with the rapid build-up of new apartments and condominiums in the north Denver area, the Fox home is a prime target for demolition.

      • Good luck with the book. It would be wonderful to have more people know his story.

  3. Reblogged this on Supernal Living with Dana Taylor and commented:
    Another fascinating article from Ellis Nelson.

  4. I can understand how some people (both then and now) were so impressed with Schlatter’s skills. However, if they had learned from him, the world would be a much different place. We can all do what he did but we choose to think we can’t. Therefore, people like him seem odd and stand out in any society. I think the reaction to him is much like today’s people who don’t/won’t put the time into practicing these innate skills. Instead, they want a pill that will cure everything immediately so they can get on to…what?

    Schlatter obviously practiced and his skills grew. He can be a great example for everyone. Practice, and you can do anything.

    • I see your point and agree to an extent. But at the same time, I think we have to honor the reality that not everyone is progressing at the same rate. It isn’t fair for me to toe tap and yell “Hurry up with your enlightenment!”

      • I agree we shouldn’t toe tap and be impatient, nor should we just excuse the ones who refuse to grow and become enlightened. Somewhere in between is probably where we should be at this time.

      • A good portion have no idea why they are here. In Buddhism we use the word “confused.”

      • Ellis, this is so true, and the thing that is most forgotten. We don’t know what we don’t know. Enlightenment is collective, but also personal. What mercies are bestowed upon you and me for the things that still lie fallow within our own souls. Patience is an aspect of wisdom, if not enlightenment itself.

      • Agree, Rea. Thanks for visiting the blog. I’m reading your book, The Sublime Transformation and am enjoying it. There are some synchronicities between the book and my experience. Can’t wait to see how his plays out.

      • Mark Holmes

        Thx 4 corresponding….Having read, “THe Healer” by Norman Cleveland…I am a little confused about the Schlatter story… I don’t think he was a phoney yet, i wonder if it was Francis who stated he was a reincarnation of Jesus or a misunderstanding? Christ stated that many would impersonate him but when he returns it will be obvious to all…

        Date: Sat, 16 May 2015 15:52:01 +0000 To: markholmesguitar@hotmail.com

      • Yes, Schlatter did claim that from what I remember.

      • Schlatter did acknowledge that he was the Messiah, and he believed it. But he would only answer to a direct question: “Are you the Christ?” He was not a phony, in my estimation, but a true believer in his own messianic destiny. One could say he was deluded–and some accused him of being a megalomaniac in his day–but not dishonest. He believed the Father would bring about a kind of Armageddon in 1899, followed by a worldwide peaceful order called New Jerusalem. See page 81 of The Healer. Everything Schlatter spoke about while he was on Ada Morley’s ranch pointed to this prophecy, which Schlatter based on Daniel 9:26-27 (at least, that’s how I read it).

        This is a timely discussion, for I’m just finishing revisions to my manuscript, “The Forgotten Messiah: The Life and Shadowed Legacy of Francis Schlatter,” which will be published by the University of Iowa Press early next year.

      • Mark Holmes

        thx Ellis…interesting stuff….i look 4ward 2 ur book…let me know when its done

        Date: Tue, 26 May 2015 15:52:55 +0000 To: markholmesguitar@hotmail.com

  5. I like this post. It’s interesting to see how times change. In this chap’s day or maybe a few years later there were spritual societies at some of the top universities in England (don’t know about the US but I expect it was the same everywhere) and they had big high profile debates about contacting the dead and so forth. I think the need to believe was even stonger a few years later on when so many died so far from home in the Great War.

    • I think in the US it was more of a grassroots movement with average citizens. People were definitely into seances and table tipping. In the 30s and 40s Duke University took up scientific research work in ESP and PSI. But even that late, that arm of Duke eventually split off to become private. There remains a lot of stigma attached to studying life after death or such topics.

      • janis houston

        Harry Houdini spent a great deal of his life exploring the fakery of spiritualism. There are too many people who use a persons grief to fill their own pockets. To me the life after death is a one way door..dont believe in ghosts. But then Jesus saves Buddha recycles.

  6. D Lytphull

    Most interesting .

  7. Peace Love Wisdom Bliss

    New blog link

  8. TheNorthernAmaranth

    There’s little room for faith and spirituality in today’s times; a world so dominated by skepticism, atheism, and atheism’s toxic brother, anti-theism.

    Only spirituality allows for this manner of wonder and amazement. Science has many wonders, but it is frustrated by things that work without reason. Science does not allow for miracles, because everything must be quantified and explained. Spiritualism teaches us that occasionally, impossible things simply happen; it’s not our place to reason why or understand the cause, only to appreciate that it happened. We call those miracles.

    This man was a miracle.

  9. can “The Life of the Harp in the Hand of the Healer” be found at this
    time? I heard it may be contained in one of the other books
    about Francis

    • Amazon doesn’t have it. It would probably be a rare book and hard to find. Haven’t heard it’s contained in another book.

      • according to coloradowest.auraria.edu/node/112 in 1989 ada morley’s
        grandson, Norman Cleveland published “The Healer:the story of
        Francis Shlatter” (Sante Fe, N.M. Sunstone Press) a compilation that
        reprints “Life of the Harp in the Hand of the Healer.” although i dont know if that version is still available

    • David

      The Life of the Harp in the Hand of the Harper [not Healer] is out of print, and only a handful of copies exist in a few libraries in the U.S. However, the grandson of the woman who published it in 1897, Norman Cleaveland, incorporated it into a 1978 book entitled The Healer: The Story of Francis Schlatter (Santa Fe, New Mexico: Sunstone Press). Though other books have been published on the healer since then, most are either unreliable or fall far short of telling the full story of Schlatter’s mysterious life.

  10. It just goes to show how cynical and unbelieving humanity has become. In modern days they would have torn him apart and probably started a reality show trying to prove him a fake!

  11. marymeddlemore

    Very, very interesting!

  12. Really liked the old pictures and enjoyed the writing

  13. Pingback: Weekly Linkroll « M. Fenn

  14. This reminds me of a movie I saw on TV. I have limited recollections of woman with such ‘hands on healing’ – though I do not think there were religious motivations. I do remember that folks wanted to exploit her. the last scene of the film was that she had ‘retired/escaped’ into obsurity to a curiosity shop in (what I believe was) Arizona where she was able to make cacti bloom out of season. A family was on what they thought was a last vacation with their young son who had leukemia and was dying. The shopkeeper/ woman’s dog had had puppies and the little boy wanted one, but the parents thought it wasn’t a good idea. The woman basically said, “Please let him have the puppy and just let me hug him in return.” – she did not explain that her hug would heal/ cure the boy.
    If I had to put a time reference on the period I might guess the story took place in the 1950’s or 1960’s.

    • I LOVE that movie. It’s called Resurrection with Ellen Burstyn. She had a near death experience and comes back with the ability to heal. I think it was made in the early 80s. Saw it recently on Netflix (I think).

      • Thanks so much for the info. I’ve got so much dusty marbles rattling around in my brain that, well honestly I just done worry about not remembering everything. I don’t think I ever watched it from start to finish because I never caught the title. As I don’t have Netflix, maybe I’ll be able to find it at (if I can find one) a video movie rental place.
        I enjoy how the internet helps us connect – thank again.

  15. What an extraordinary story.There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy… (Hamlet)

  16. Catholic Glasses

    Awesome how God works in everybody, with different gifts. Some use their gifts for God, and some just don’t use their gifts at all, or don’t attribute them to God. Rare good example for even our times. Thanks for posting this. However, I would not call him the “Messiah.” That’s blasphemy. God is offended by that sort of language. All Grace comes from God. That young American healer knew that.

  17. one in consciousness

    vibrationaly it is interesting to see in the comments, how interested every one becomes, how the energy just goes up abound a simple man healing the people with no money and living without fear. Its a world we all understand in our hearts. that’s why its so appealing.

    • It’s a reoccurring theme in Christianity. To return to the simple way Christ lived. Many saints and orders have been created based on it. The question becomes how can we take the example and use it in our own lives.

    • And while I have you here, I’d be interested in your perspective on this. Are we all healers?

      • one in consciousness

        The ability for every human to heal is there, it is just a matter of interest as to whether they wish to do so or not. firstly one has to remove the obstacle to that possibility, and that obstacle is oneself. or more importantly who it is one thinks oneself to be. “I of mine own self can do nothing”

      • I wonder. I’m running into two schools of thought here. The attitude in the energy healing community (assuming this exists) is that it’s choice, but there are also the accounts of healers who feel they’ve been called. Schlatter is one with a callling and many in this camp feel/felt that they’d rather NOT be called.

      • one in consciousness

        That is it exactly “I of mine own self can do nothing” is the connection to Consciousness or God.
        Realising like St Francis that it is only fear that stops us from being in consciousness, yet it is the self that is in the way, the identity which we have made for ourselves, who we think we are.
        The practical vadic terms by which healing may be understood the progression of Chi through the chakras is also tangible. Although real understanding only comes by knowledge without thought. The heart understands its reason without intellect, as Jesus and Buddha teach from the heart,the movement out of the material base in to the heart chakra, it is the vastness the consciousness or God that we are all one in, there is no separation nothing is outside of this everything is contained with in it. That is why one must get out of ones own way because that idea of identity and all its desires brings pain and suffering .which is how we learn what love is, we begin to understand gratitude. that is the role of karma. When one is caught up in that one can only pay lip service to the realisation of fear. The fear of loss and the fear of death all block out conscious awareness beyond the realms of matter. One must die before one dies to understand.

      • So you’re kind of implying we “call” ourselves and that may have some validity. It may feel external as reported by many healers. The dying of self/ego opens the heart connection. Love that- because so much healing literature and so many traditions across time indicate the heart connection. I’m also thinking I might be asking about two kinds of healing. An MD chooses to be an MD. Some MDs are healers and some MDs are not healers, even when healing might occur. Society would say all MDs are healers but are they?

      • one in consciousness

        Jesus was called and in the garden and had great doubts about it. that’s the way it is, its all very painful because the thought of death is so very real. The divide comes in understanding when we go beyond the idea of death, contained as it is in the space TIME continuum.
        Reach out , but not with ones intellect which is creates stress, but with the heart that only knows courage, when it understands it is the most powerful faith producing event in ones life, enough to move that mountain of personal B.S that creates disease out the way.
        Russell.

      • one in consciousness

        Have just finished a re edit of Ghost Dance which has some tangible healing understanding in it, in terms of credible Chi. Sex, movement through the chakra’s. “The energy in question” All presented by way of allegory and mixed with the powerful story of the Native American Indian Ghost Dance, I would not mention the book but it has a great deal to do with the ability to Heal in a Dynamic way

    • David

      This is a very interesting conversation, well beyond my powers of reasoning or conjecture. But I can tell you that Francis Schlatter spent two years walking three thousand miles around the American West, following the voice of God (or what he thought was God’s), suffering physical and mental abuse, hardship, pain, humiliation and near-starvation at the whims (or guidance, if you will) of the Father in every step. During that time he gave over every aspect of his personal will to the Father, and when he emerged he was not a man who moved according to his own desires or decisions. This was the prerequisite for healing the masses, and my guess is it’s beyond most people who set out to heal.

      • The suffering part breaks ego/attachment rendering the healer a vessel to be used as a channel. The amount of suffering would be equal to what was required for the particular individual. Schlatter definitely suffered (chose suffering?). Some healers might not require the same ordeal but many have.

  18. Fascinating, thanks so much for sharing this. What an extraordinary man. I’d never heard of him before either so thank you for enlightening me.

  19. Oh wow, another cool story from Denver I didn’t know about. If I still lived there would have to hit you up for books. Yea the mainstream of today is not a diverse as it was 100 years ago.Today all of our media outlets are owned by a few individuals who, in my opinion, highly manipulate the information stream… and with a TV in every home they make sure we are very well informed. Electromagnetism you say…. isn’t that like new-age fluffy stuff… umm… hey, like did you hear brittney spears is drinking and driving and terrorists are everywhere!?!? aren’t you scared? That’s the news of the mainstream today…. well, until the internet. YAY!

  20. It’s always interesting to read 100+ year old texts, seeing what has changed in the style and language – and, perhaps more interestingly, what hasn’t.

  21. Wow! What a great story! I would like to find out more about him. I visit a doctor here in Texas who has magic hands. I love going to his office because I always feet better when I leave. He knows just where all the sore spots are.Thanks for sharing this.

  22. Wow! Very interesting! Thanks for stopping by my blog BTW 🙂
    All the best.
    P.

  23. I’m sure the offering of money and exploiting was the reason he disappeared. Thanks for sharing this article. Somehow, I think I know about this man.

  24. THANK YOU for sharing this! It’s so interesting…I’ve found myself at ease in the void the last two days just allowing God to keep showing up in & through me, and there is a very real part of me that longs to serve similarly to Schlatter. Not saying, of course that I’ll endeavor to imitate, but to get a glimpse into the humble life of yet another human servant of love is uplifting indeed.

    • Schlatter definitely felt called and gave up a lot to follow that calling. Wandering the West barefoot with nothing to eat, relying on the good will of strangers was a tough life. It harkens back to people like St Francis who people still want to emmulate.

      • We are so fortunate to have many stories of forerunners (whether well or little known) in devotional living. A friend of mine wrote a book recently, Bare Naked at the Reality Dance, and one thing that has come up for her since its release is a lack of interest from a previous spiritual circle. The big take away for me was that we all have our own unique way of embodying our spiritual nature, we don’t need to do it the way anyone else did, and we don’t need any followers to be who we are 🙂 Good stuff!!

  25. How utterly fascinating! Thank you for sharing this. Peace!

  26. Fascinating, this is a new one on me too…and it really intrigues me that we modern folk think we’re so open and yet perhaps we’ve a way to go before taking these things in our stride, as it seems they did back then. Saddens me though that they were prepared to bring him back against his will if necessary…so they were still missing the point somewhere.

    • It does sound like things were getting dicey at the end. Schlatter was burning himself out and the crowds were growing daily. People were desperate. Cities were competing with each other to get him to visit and the healer was looking for divine guidance.

  27. Always interesting to think about how such people come to be. I’d seen a few references about this fellow, nothing specific, so thanks for the details and reference to a longer work.

    Although there was a brief period of interest in animal magnetism in the U.S. following Mesmer’s notoriety in Paris (and Ben Franklin’s role in the investigating committee), it doesn’t really catch on in the U.S. until Charles Poyen brings it to Providence and Boston in the late 1830s. Coincidentally, phrenology arrived only a few years earlier with Johann Spurzheim. There were several attempts to blend the two, producing a discipline called phrenomagnetism. One of the phrenomagnetists, J. Stanley Grimes, would be the first person to mesmerize Andrew Jackson Davis, who consequently became one of the leading figures in antebellum spiritualism, which returns us back to the subject of your post.

  28. Fascinating! Seems vaguely familiar to me, perhaps because I am a long-time resident of Albuquerque. Not to nit-pick but one typo that made me do a double take is when you say that he was back in Denver in the fall of 1995! Lol. Pretty sure you meant 1895. =^)~Mike.

  29. Robert Mitchell

    Fascinating! I echo David’s comment — how have I never heard of this man before?

    • He was one of those phenomenas who was a flash on the national scene and then disappeared. I found the book on my library’s recommendation list after searching on healers. And I think they only have the book since it’s a piece of local history. I would have liked to visit the Fox residence in north Denver but research revealed that whole neighborhood no longer exists. There is a cooper rod of Schlatter’s that resides in the NM Governor’s palace. I wonder about all those handkerchiefs….tucked in hope chests, folded into Bibles, …

      • Cool. I want a blessed handkerchief! =^) Suddenly having visions of the show, Supernatural. lol. When you talk about how people seemed remarkably accepting of such a notion back then that makes sense to me. I think we have become way, way too skeptical. I have come to feel that even skepticism can be taken too far. I am fairly literate in science and believe in it overall but no longer feel that that actually requires total disbelief in anything else.

      • David

        The Fox home does, indeed, exist. However, its owners value their privacy and don’t want a lot of people, besides occasional local tour groups, staring at their home. But it’s true the neighborhood has changed drastically in just a few years, and the Fox home stands alone as a shadow of the past in amid modernist apartment houses and townhouses. Yes, the healer’s copper rod is on display in the Museum of New Mexico, and you are so right about the thousands of handkerchiefs and letters from Schlatter hidden away all over the world.

      • Any photos of the Fox residence online? Since this is such an obscure bit of history, I really doubt very many would pester them. I for one would like to see it since I’m just south of Denver.

      • David N. Wetzel

        I have a recent photo of the Fox home and will be happy to send it to you, Ellis. Also have the current address. The reason you may have thought the neighborhood no longer existed is that the street name and number sequence were changed in the early twentieth century. The home is no longer wood-sided; it was bricked over in the 1930s, but its interior is the same. Send me an email and I’ll be happy to give you the information.

      • Sounds like it’s expedition time! Send me an email at: himalayaspencerellis@yahoo.com
        Thanks!

  30. Fascinating Stuff!
    Excellent “Presentation” –> Great Blog _/|\_

  31. This really sparks my curiosity. Ive never heard of him before.

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