Looking back on the Cazadero cult camp, hundred years later

Truth Home was a religious community in the hills near Cazadero. One day all its occupants disappeared, leaving their belongings behind, never to be heard from again. It was as if the rapture had taken place. Or so the story, as told around the fire at Camp Cazadero, goes.

Truth Home was founded in 1926 by Reverend Ollie Bradley when she and her husband Perry bought a 800-acre ranch along Bear Pen Creek. On an earlier visit to the ranch, Ollie had a vision that the location would be the only safe place in the world when the doomsday events foretold in the Bible came to pass.

Ollie’s church was called the Truth Sect. Her followers were mostly World War I veterans and their families. Though she was expecting the end of the world, Ollie had big plans for the future of the property. As the head of her self-proclaimed Truth Ministry, she envisioned a college campus which would be open to members of the sect from all over the country. Construction of the first two buildings, a lecture hall and a dormitory, began in 1928. It was called “University Truth Home.”

At the time she founded Truth Home, Ollie was in her 50s. The 1920 census listed her occupation as “Teacher of Metaphysics;” her husband, Perry, worked as a “gardener” on a private estate. The year they bought Truth Home they celebrated their 37th wedding anniversary.

Once the sanctuary was established, Ollie kept her flock isolated and limited the flow of information into her community. The only outside news that reached the members were misleading stories that ?reinforced her doomsday teachings. “Fake news” we might call it today. Members came to believe that the situation outside their enclave was desperate. Then, one day in 1940, one of the Truth Home men was milking a cow when he had a heart attack and died.

The details are fuzzy - perhaps the death brought in the authorities, who said something that tore the veil from Ollie’s ruse - but somehow this event led to more reliable information reaching Truth Home. The community learned that outside events were not as dire as Ollie claimed. They realized the leader of Truth Home was lying to them; she was using them to build and maintain her little utopia. Having seen the light, Ollie’s followers fled Truth Home in such a hurry that they left their personal belongings behind. It was not exactly the ending they had signed on for. But it provided the seed for the spooky campfire stories that were later told there.

It’s uncertain whether Camp Cazadero or any camp will be open this summer. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, people around the world are pulling in, retreating from a dire situation. As at Truth Home, the availability of good information is limited and we’ve come to realize the value of the truth. People are dying because of the gap between what they believe and what the situation really is.

Ollie lived well into old age. After she sold Truth Home in 1946, it was turned into a summer church camp. Eventually it became the United Church of Christ Camp Cazadero. Commonly known as Camp Caz, it has no affiliation with Bradley’s Truth Ministry or the Truth Home community.

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