Part II: “Adam God,” a religious cult, caused chaos in Kansas City in 1908

 People who saw them approaching took shelter inside businesses and in alleyways, because this wasn’t just any religious cult – they were openly carrying guns.

By Diane Euston

  In the last issue of the Telegraph, we explored the emergence of a religious cult known as “Adam God.” Its founder, James Sharp (b. 1857) and his wife, Melissa (b.1871) claimed to be Adam and Eve reincarnated. 

  Starting in 1905 in Oklahoma, the couple along with their son, Lee (b. 1894) began to roam the countryside preaching. They were arrested for preaching naked on the streets of Oklahoma City. 

  The couple converted Lewis Sharp (b. 1864) and his wife, Della (b. 1877). They, along with their five children and other members and moved town-to-town looking for more converts. 

  While the Sharps left for Colorado to set up their “Garden of Eden” in 1906, the Pratts briefly stopped in Kansas City before rejoining the cult.

  The way they had been treated in other towns by authorities had them literally up in arms. Della Sharp explained that James Sharp said, “If the police attempt to arrest you, shoot. They can’t kill me. I’ll live forever.”

  James Sharp’s belief that he was a reincarnated Adam who would live forever was a central conversion message to his followers.

  The Sharp’s 14-year-old son, Lee wasn’t fond of the addition of guns and left them sometime around 1906. 

  About one week prior to the event coined “The Adam God Riot,” the cult floated in their 12-foot-long houseboat down the Missouri River, stopping, preaching and singing in small towns along the way.

  Five people would soon lose their lives.

City Hall, built in 1892, stood between 4th and 5th St. on Main and was the site of the Adam God Riot in 1908. Courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections, KCPL.

The Riot’s Beginning

  On Dec. 8, 1908, probation officer George M. Holt was walking north on Main St. near 5th just before 4 o’clock in the afternoon when he noticed a group of “street preachers” singing “fanatic religious songs” for money. A woman, identified later as Melissa Sharp, along with 13-year-old Lulu, 12-year-old Lena, 11-year-old Mary (all Pratt’s children) and an older teenager named Willie Enghnell were present.

  Holt recognized the children from prior run-ins with them, so he approached them to inquire why they weren’t in school. They said they were living in a boat on the river and were holding religious meetings at the Workingman’s Mission at 309 Main.

  Melissa promptly cursed at him as he began to ask more questions and took the children toward the mission. At the door, Holt was met by “Adam God” himself, James Sharp. With wild eyes, long hair and unkempt beard, Sharp’s appearance immediately alerted the probation officer that danger was on the horizon.

  “I am Adam God, the father of Jesus Christ!” Sharp screamed as he drew a revolver. Holt was struck on the head with the gun and blood began to flow as “the women and children surrounded [him], scratching and pummeling him.”

  Holt ran immediately to police headquarters just across the street and alerted them to the incident.

  Following closely behind were James and Melissa and their unkempt followers. Lewis Pratt and his three children along with Willie Enghnell went straight to the police station so they could sing songs in a semicircle in front of it. 

  People who saw them approaching took shelter inside businesses and in alleyways, because this wasn’t just any religious cult – they were openly carrying guns.

This photo of police headquarters at 4th and Main was the site of the Adam God Riot. Photo taken in 1895. Courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections, KCPL.

The Adam God Riot

  Thirty-four-year-old Officer Albert Dalbow approached the group and said he came in peace. Lieutenant Harry Stege came to assist Dalbow and noticed that James had a large knife in his right hand. He pointed his gun at James’ head and demanded he drop the knife.

  Lewis responded by firing his gun at Stege; luckily, the bullet grazed his chest and left shoulder. 

  Within seconds, James spun around and showed he had a gun in one hand and a knife in the other. There in the shadows of City Hall, James fired a warning shot into the air.

  Officer Dalbow went to grab James’ gun; Lewis aimed and fired three shots at the officer, hitting him on his hip, in his back and through his chest. Dalbow died minutes later. 

  Officer Michael Mullane, 32, lunged at Lewis. Lewis shot him twice – once through the right lung and once in the right hip. He died two days later from his injuries.

  Bullets flew in each direction, striking a horse and killing it, piercing a man’s hat through-and through, and hitting a nearby saloon’s windows. James fired into a crowd of bystanders and hit 69-year-old retired farmer, Andrew Selsor in the right lung, cutting through his spinal cord. 

  Selsor had gone to City Hall to pay his water bill. He died three days later.

  Sergeant Patrick Clark, 41, was without his gun. Despite this, Clark tried to take down James, and in the process, he was shot in the right shoulder and was stabbed in the left eye with a knife. He survived but lost sight in the injured eye.

  In midst of the chaos, James, who had been shot in both hands by officers, was able to escape.

  Lieutenant D.C. Stone forced open a window in an upper floor of City Hall, aimed his rifle at Lewis and hit him square in the forehead. Two other bullets were lodged into his leg. He crumbled to the ground.

Kansas City Times, December 9, 1908 shows the events that unfolded on the riverfront

Standoff at the Houseboat 

 The group, including Melissa Sharp, Mary, Lulu and Lena Pratt bolted north toward the Missouri River where their 12-foot houseboat was tied up at the foot of Wyandotte St. 

  Melissa and Lena were arrested before they could get to the water, but the two other children made it to the houseboat. On board waiting was their mother, Della, 8-year-old Dewey and 4-year-old Edna.

  Around 20 officers stood at the plank leading to the boat as Lulu, Mary and Dewey sang a religious song. Della, armed with a rifle, stood in the cabin  that was covered with a weather-beaten canvas. 

Kansas City Times, December 9, 1908

  Della told the officers if they brought “Eve” (Melissa Sharp) to her and if she told her this was God’s will, she would surrender. 

  The children, without the officers seeing, untied the ropes to a skiff attached to the houseboat and the group quickly transferred to it. They floated with the current down the river. Lulu hid under the cabin covered in canvas- the group continued to sing.

  Officers fired at the water line of the boat in hopes of penetrating a hole in it. 

  Two fishermen in a boat rushed next to the skiff where Della had flung herself in the water to avoid the bullets. As they lifted Della out of the water, they saw a little mattress inside the covered portion of the skiff. There, 13-year-old Lulu rested in a pool of blood; she had been shot in the lower jaw. “Moaning with pain, Lulu clasped her hands as if in appeal. But she shed not a tear as the fisherman lifted her into the boat,” the Kansas City Times reported.

  Lulu passed away before they reached the shore.

  Eleven-year-old Mary was with her mother when they heard the news that Lulu was dead. “She died for her God,” Mary calmly- without a tear- said.

  All of these events unfolded in less than two hours. Seven had been shot, and within days, the event had claimed five lives. 

The children were drawn at the time of the Adam God Riot. Note that their ages are incorrectly identified. Drawing published in the Kansas City Star

Unearthing the Reasons

  Mary said their religious sect carried guns for their own protection. “Papa says this is a free country and we could carry fire arms if we wanted to,” Mary said. “A policeman is a serpent and ought to be killed. The Constitution gives us that right.” 

  It became clear that even the children had been instructed to shoot to kill.

  Their mother Della expressed remorse for the events, but not for what one would expect. She had never fired her rifle at police as she was holding them off on the houseboat. Della told police, “I’m afraid I have lost my eternal life because I think Adam (James Sharp) would have advised me to shoot.”

   Della went on to explain to police that they had the right to kill. “The police are serpents and it’s not wrong to kill them if they get in our path. You kill snakes, don’t you?” she stated.

Della Pratt with her daughter, Mary. Kansas City Times, December 9, 1908

  Meanwhile, Lewis was clinging to life in the hospital. He had a bullet to the brain and gunshots to his right leg that tore it to pieces; his leg had to be amputated below the knee. 

  He was able to talk despite his fatal injuries. When he was told he would die, Lewis said, “I want to live or die as the Lord wills. The Lord is with me; He guides me.” 

  He said he would kill more police if needed, and when asked about the death of his daughter, Lulu, he said, “It was the Lord’s way.”

  Meanwhile his wife Della  was asked by police and reporters what would lead her to participate in such an event. She calmly replied, “James Sharp is the prophet who was to come after Christ. The Script’ers tell about it. The blood of Adam is in him.” 

  Police found it peculiar that the children called their parents by their first names because “James Sharp is their ‘spiritual father;’ Pratt is only their father in the flesh.”

  The cult hadn’t always carried guns; this had been something they had started only months earlier. While floating down the Missouri River, stopping at towns along the way to spread their spiritual message, they would take the time to target practice. This included all of the young children. 

  Melissa said they carried guns “because we knew our enemies were comin’” 

James Sharp shortly after his arrest. The Topeka Daily Capital, December 13, 1908.

Adam God Surfaces 

  James, 51, wasn’t really one of those men that blended into a crowd. With long hair to his shoulders and a beard over eight inches long, he wouldn’t be able to escape arrest for long. In midst of the commotion at 4th and Main, “Adam God” was able to escape to the west virtually undetected.

  About 20 minutes after the shooting, James entered a barber shop at 952 Mulberry St. Because of his injuries to his hands, he pushed the door open with his shoulder and made sure to keep his hands in his pockets. He asked for a close shave and for his hair to be cut.

  The barber methodically worked to clean up this stranger, but the stranger grew more impatient. Sweat poured down his face and his nerves were beginning to show.

  After James’ physical transformation was over, he asked the barber to remove his wallet from his pocket. When asked what was wrong, James said he had frozen his hands fishing.

  Police were certain that James was injured, and they were right. They put out a $100 reward for the capture of the cult leader.

  Two days after the shooting on Dec. 10, 1908, James was arrested near Olathe, Ks. where he was found asleep in a haystack. Sharp had gone to the farm of JR Beaver the night before. He kept his hands in his pockets and Beaver even fed him himself because James said “he was suffering from paralysis.” 

  He told the police that he thought that the Lord told him to run away. After he was in custody, James was given medical treatment where it was found he had three shattered fingers on his right hand and a bullet in his left hand.  

  He claimed that he was “deeply sorry” for killing police and swore he was done with being a prophet. 

  Both Della Pratt and his own wife claimed they now believed Adam God to be a false prophet. “I have no more faith in Sharp now,” Della said. 

Lewis and Della Pratt’s wedding photo, taken in Fannin Co., TX in 1893.

  Della certainly had something to be sorry about. Her husband, Lewis died in the hospital from his gunshot wounds and her little daughter was dead, too. She was able to visit the undertakers with her children to see Lulu and her husband. There, she broke down. “All I can do now is to do what is right and best for my children.”

  Melissa didn’t stay the course in her belief that her husband was a false prophet. While awaiting trial, Melissa had changed her tune. “‘Eve,’ Mrs. Melissa Sharp, has regained her confidence in the supernatural infallibility of her husband’s revelations,” the Kansas City Star reported.

James Sharp “Adam God” and his wife, Melissa “Eve,” as drawn during his murder trial in 1909. Courtesy Kansas City Star

Adam God’s “Punishment”

  In May 1909, James was put on trial for the murder of Officer Michael Mullane. He kept a Bible on his lap in the courtroom. James wrote a letter to the judge promising to never kill again. “There are lot of government lands in the West to be taken as homesteads. We are strange people, but we can’t help it,” he wrote.

  James was charged with second degree murder and was sentenced to 25 years in the state penitentiary.

  Melissa never had a day in court; charges were dropped against her in October 1909. “All I can do now is wait 25 years until my husband gets out of prison. It’s a long time- but if I am alive he will find me waiting for him.”

  No one else was ever charged. Della stayed in Kansas City for several years and lived with her daughters. Melissa promptly moved to Jefferson City so she could be closer to her husband where “she was largely an object of charity.” 

  Fourteen years later, James was released for good behavior. Prosecutors considered charging him with the other murders from that day, but it never happened.

“Adam God” James Sharp and his wife, “Eve” Melissa Sharp as they appeared in 1931. Photo courtesy of Eufaula Indian Journal.

A Surprising End  

  By 1924, the Sharps were camping outside of Clinton, Mo. on their way to Colorado “to take out a government claim.” Surprisingly, they weren’t alone.

  With them was none other than Della Pratt and one of her daughters. 

  By 1926, James and Melissa were living in Joplin, Mo. where “Adam God” was making a living as a junker. He had been arrested for disturbing the peace when there was “a complaint by school authorities that the veteran preacher had been chasing and frightening school children near where he lives in a small hut.” This house was described as “a ragged tent on a rubbish dump in an abandoned mine pit.” The couple was making about $5 per month.

  It appeared that James hadn’t given up his preaching. In 1931, he claimed, “A great power is now at work within me and shortly I will be guided to move mountains and to raise the dead.” The couple lived on Adele Ave., and by 1935, their next-door neighbor was none other than Della Pratt. For whatever the reason, she left her daughter and son in Kansas City and continued to follow the Sharps.

James Sharp in 1931, published in the Kansas City Star

  James continued to preach on the streets of Nevada where he called himself “the reverend” and would launch into sermons. In 1946, he was “dancing a jig” in the middle of a street sermon when he died of a heart attack.

  There was no funeral for this self-proclaimed “Adam God” who claimed he would never die, and there was no mention of his son, Lee who was living in California.

Joplin Globe, March 9, 1946

   Melissa and Della continued to live next door to one another, and by the late 1950s, the ladies were joined by a familiar face from the past. William Enghnell, who was at the Adam God riot, left Seattle and moved to Joplin.

  Melissa died at 95 years old in Joplin in 1966. Della passed at the age of 90 one year later. Neither of these notorious women’s deaths were mentioned in the newspapers. 

Deciphering the Past

  It is certainly hard for us to fathom a religious cult storming downtown Kansas City and launching a full attack on police outside of their headquarters in the shadows of City Hall. But it’s even harder to understand how one man named James Sharp was able to convince so many to follow him. 

  Regardless, “Adam God” had extreme power and influence over these people. He even had tremendous influence over his own wife who could have chosen to leave him as he served his limited sentence for an event that ended in five lost lives. 

  The Adam God Riot isn’t often brought up in the discussion of Kansas City’s colorful history. Perhaps this is because this event and the cult behind it is even a bit too colorful for our history books to cover.

Diane writes a blog about the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to 




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