The Faithists, Part II

Allegedly the history of life on Earth and life in dimensions parallel to our own, Oahspe attracted an international group of followers who became known as Faithists. In October of 1884, 20 of these Faithists accompanied Newbrough to a quiet part of southern New Mexico Territory, just north of Las Cruces. 

There, on a 930-acre swathe of creosote desert beside the Rio Grande, the group established Shalam Colony—a community with a name from Oahspe—with the goal of creating a place where orphaned children of all races could be raised as vegetarian pacifists, and where Faithist adults could explore their beliefs away from the eyes of the world. 

Within only a few years, thanks in large part to the wealth of a Bostonian wool merchant named Andrew Howland, Shalam Colony had become a thriving place with extensive crops, numerous animals, imposing buildings, and a two-story studio in which Newbrough would paint religious imagery with both hands simultaneously, while entranced. 

In 1886, Newbrough’s wife divorced him, reporting that she “objected violently” to his beliefs. In 1887, Newbrough married Frances Van de Water Sweet, one of the colony’s members. 

“Those [Newbrough] and Howland collected about them were, for the most part, religious fanatics, adventurers or those afflicted with something strikingly akin to imbecility,” wrote one unnamed 1906 historian. The colony’s Faithists—numbering as many as 47 at one point—let their hair grow long, and walked around the desert in gowns and sandals. The colony’s orphans wore sleeveless, pajama-like outfits. 

As early as 1885, however, trouble arose that suggested life at Shalam Colony might not always be all lazy days of lounging around in robes, leafing through Oahspe for details on Chief Litabakathrava or the mountain of Yublahahcolaesavaganawakka. That year, certain Faithists accused Newbrough of being a tyrant, and in 1886, over a mere six-month time span, 50 percent of Shalam’s members abandoned the colony. By 1887, the remaining colonists were divided by squabbling, and certain of the Faithists were allowed to found the nearby desert suburb of Levitica; by 1890, however, Levitica had been destroyed in a flood, and only about ten adults remained at the colony. 

In 1891, Newbrough died from influenza, though his ghost was said to have stayed behind. In 1893, Newbrough’s second wife married Howland, to quiet certain sordid rumors, and for almost a decade, the Howlands struggled to keep the colony alive, pouring money into the colony’s fields and orphanage, until 1900, when Howland suddenly had no money left to pour. By that point, the colony had been weakened to the point of breaking—by East Coast urban Faithists who knew nothing of farming or irrigation, by frequent flooding and drought, and by tourists who fed the vegetarian orphans ham sandwiches. In 1901 the colony was officially disbanded, and the remaining children were sent to orphanages in Texas and Colorado. 

The Howlands moved to El Paso, Texas, where Andrew Howland was said to have sold vegetarian snacks. One woman remembered him peddling a cookie called “U-Like-Ums,” made of honey and cornmeal. 

The Faithists scattered across the West, founding short-lived colonies in at least three different states. Today, there are perhaps 1500 practicing Faithists, and many more who consider Oahspe an inspired text. The Faithists are now the Universal Faithists of Kosmon, and—judging from their numerous websites—seem to be strongly divided into separate factions that all regard the others as brainwashing cults. 

Shalam Colony itself is now only ruins—adobe walls, a name on a country road sign, a story, and the desert beside the river. 

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