[Waco] Branch Davidians: Joe Robert Collection, Inclusive: 1932-1997, undated, Bulk: 1979-1995
The Davidians and Branch Davidians were the offspring of a reform movement that originated within the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. In the early 1930s, a Bulgarian immigrant named Victor Houteff claimed to have had personal revelations from God and published his controversial views. His book The Shepherd’s Rod (1932) served as a challenge to traditional Seventh-Day Adventist views of the apocalypse and church practice. Houteff’s book inspired the Davidian movement within the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. The new Davidians emphasized the need for the gift of prophecy among their leaders and believed that King David’s earthly kingdom would be re-established on earth prior to the second coming of Jesus Christ. Upon his excommunication from the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Houteff settled in Waco, Texas, and taught his followers until his death in 1955. This collection contains various pamphlets edited by Houteff as well as The Shepherd’s Rod.
The Roden family, whose writings are well represented within this collection, are crucial to the developments leading up to the infamous Waco Siege of 1993. Benjamin Roden became the leader of a new sect, the Branch Davidians, after the fledgling church splintered from the Davidians following Houteff's death. Roden called for obedience to the feasts and fasts found throughout the biblical text. Benjamin’s wife Lois claimed a vision of her own in 1977 when it was revealed to her that the Holy Spirit was a feminine entity. On October 22, 1978, Benjamin died. Lois assumed the mantle of leadership, much to the dismay of her son George.
The 1980's brought about division within the Branch Davidian sect. A newcomer named Vernon Howell joined the Branch in 1981. Three years later, a schism occurred within the Church, with Howell leading his own group of followers to a new site in Palestine, Texas. Lois Roden died in 1986, creating a power struggle between George Roden and Vernon Howell for control of the main Branch Davidian group. In 1987, Howell and his followers instigated a shootout with Roden. The subsequent trial against Howell was declared a mistrial. In 1989, George Roden was arrested for the murder of his roommate Wayman Dale Adair whom Roden claimed was a mercenary for Howell. For the rest of his life, George Roden was transferred to various mental institutions, and was not able to take the leadership position he wanted in the Branch Davidian Church. Vernon Howell changed his name to David Koresh in May 1990 and relocated his headquarters to Mount Carmel Center near Waco, Texas. Rumors concerning polygamy, abuse, and arms dealing within the Branch Davidian group aroused the suspicions of the federal government, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation began to monitor the group.
In response to a stockpiling of illegal weapons, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives secured a search warrant for the investigation of the Branch Davidians’ compound near Waco, Texas. From February 28th until April 19th, 1993, Branch Davidians under the leadership of David Koresh resisted federal agents’ attempts to storm Mount Carmel Center. Joe Robert, the donor of this collection, served as an eyewitness to the siege, volunteering his labor for the Salvation Army while speaking with law enforcement officers and media personnel. The fifty-day siege ended when the compound erupted in flames, killing most of the Davidians.
Joe Robert was born in Waco, Texas, as the eldest son of a Baptist minister. For most of his life, he has resided in the central Texas region. Upon graduation from high school, Robert joined the Air Force. Following an on-the-job injury in 1991, Robert devoted his free time to studying the Branch Davidian sect that had flourished in the Waco area. While undergoing rehabilitation for his injury, Robert witnessed the Waco Siege of 1993.
Robert used his vast knowledge and personal contacts to begin working on a book manuscript designed to pinpoint the origins of the Branch Davidian cult. In an effort to achieve objectivity, Robert interviewed Davidians who had survived the conflagration as well as those who had rejected Koresh’s leadership. His efforts culminated in the publishing of his book Beyond the Flames, written in 1997 under the alias of J.J. Robertson. In 1997 and 1999, Robert donated his vast collection of materials to The Texas Collection so that further research opportunities would be available to the public.
The [Waco] Branch Davidians: Joe Robert Collection was acquired by gift in two separate transactions from private donor Joe Robert in March 1997 and March 1999. The chronology of the collection begins in 1932 with Victor Houteff’s controversial book The Shepherd’s Rod and concludes with writings concerning George Roden in 1997. These records include religious tracts, cassette tapes, books, magazines, photographs, negatives, and papers ranging from sermons to personal correspondence to legal documents. Transcriptions of the emergency calls made while the compound was under siege in early 1993 and various newspaper clippings that chronicle public reactions to the cult are also present. Autopsy reports of those killed in the standoff provide a comprehensive overview of how various Branch Davidians perished in the fiery siege of Mount Carmel. Much of the material is divided according to the individual persons involved: Victor Houteff, members of the Roden family, David Koresh, and the survivors of the Waco Siege.
All requests for copying of materials must be submitted to The Texas Collection in writing. Please use the Request Form for Copying Materials sheet. Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator (s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.
The collection is open for research.
General condition: Excellent.
[Waco] Branch Davidians: Joe Robert Collection, Accession, #3205, Box #, Folder #, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.
Accession No. 3205.
Described by Thomas DeShong. Released on 2014-04-25.
Archivist's Notes: Much of the general organization of the collection was maintained during the processing stage. Both personal correspondence and legal documents were already divided among the various authors. Series III, literary productions, was much more difficult to organize. There was no discernable organization before this finding aid was written. For this processing project, folders were organized according to prominent personalities within the Branch Davidian movement. If documents had no clear author, they were classified by the type: religious pamphlet, book, certificates, teaching manuscripts, etc. The photographic materials also lacked organization and any type of system of dating. If pictures were grouped together in albums or folders, such classification was maintained. The negatives had no labeling whatsoever. Even though half of the recordings were undated, virtually all cassettes defined who was being interviewed. The tapes were simply organized alphabetically according to the individual’s last name.
Roden Family Tree
As a point of clarification, it is important to note the familial relationships that existed between the Rodens mentioned above. Benjamin Roden and Lois Roden were a married couple who proved to be quite influential in the leadership of the Branch Davidian sect. Their son, George Roden, had a very contentious personality. He had complex relationship with Lois and struggled against her for power throughout the early 1980s. George married Amo Paul Bishop in 1987. Like the situation with his mother, George’s relationship with his wife also soured over time to the point of divorce. Amo was quite vocal about the Waco Siege, writing two books and an essay that appear in a related collection.
George Roden’s poor relationship with his mother has been explained in light of the alleged sexual relations that developed between Lois Roden and Vernon Howell. In the trial that occurred in 1987, George Roden told the jury that Howell had raped his mother and sought every opportunity to turn her against George.
Detailed Description of the Collection