The country north of the Cypress Hills was the site of some pioneer-era intrigue and excitement, courtesy of a religious sect called “the Dreamers”.
Dreamers were ethnic Germans originating from South Russia who came to Alberta from Java, South Dakota in the early 1900’s, settling in an area known as Josephsburg. The Dreamers considered themselves the “Gemeinde Gottes”, or literally translated “People of God” and were led by Jacob Merkel Jr., who was naturally the “Son of God” . An offshoot of the Adventist or Millerite movement, Dreamers believed that Saturday was the proper day for the Sabbath; that a second coming of Christ was imminent; and called anyone who didn’t belong to their sect “devils” and refused to shake hands with them .
However, their greatest distinguishing attribute was their tendency to interpret members’ dreams from the week previous; and their belief that if anyone of them had a dream that a certain devil should be punished or harmed, that one of the Dreamers would be designated to dole out punishment.
The Dreamers soon became a nightmare for Josephsburg settler, John S. Lehr. Having received several letters from the Dreamers previously, threatening to burn his home with his family inside , he awoke on April 11, 1908 at one in the morning to find his house aflame. He and his wife and four children escaped through a window, and upon seeing that part of the house’s foundation had been removed, and gasoline inserted under the floor, he called upon the Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP) to investigate. Hence began what was perhaps one of the most bizarre criminal cases in early southeastern Alberta history