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.