Through the hatred of a woman and the folly of her daughter, John the Baptist was beheaded. Though Jesus declared, "Among them that are born of women, there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist," yet God, in His sovereignty, chose to allow man's cruelest, most dishonorable means to remove his prophet from the scene. Here was Emmanuel, "God With Us," standing just a few miles away, seemingly with His arms folded, while a woman's evil plot was carried out.
How quickly some would judge this to mean that no doubt this was judgment upon John the Baptist. How shallow their thinking when we realize that it is simply a matter of God's ways not being our ways. We might have wanted John elevated to a king's position, or to have been the one to sit at the right hand of Jesus while He was on the earth. But John himself said, "I must decrease, he must increase."
Brother Branham told how the day would come when he too would have to walk through the door of death. He called it an "escape from this pesthouse." At the time of Sister Hope's death, he whispered to her, "Honey, I will probably be placed beside you."
At the age of fifty, he began to mention that he was past the half-century mark and that if he was ever to do anything for God, it would have to be now. He knew that his allotted "threescore and ten" years were well advanced and that if the Lord did not come soon, he would be taken away to meet Him in Glory through the escape door of death.
In his account of the vision of the seven angels which preceded the actual happening in Arizona, in which there had been an explosion, he wondered whether this was God telling him that he was finished with his ministry and was about to be killed in an explosion or other violent action. This feeling was expressed in a number of his sermons in the early part of 1963.
In the matter of the purchase and furnishing of his house in Arizona, he told me that it wasn't for him, but was so that "Meda and the children will have a nice place to live." He was happy that they could live out in the climate of the desert, so relatively healthful compared to the valley of Jeffersonville. He told how much he loved the west and how he would like to stay out here, but that if the Lord chose to take him, at least Meda would have a nice place to live. I remember remarking to him that I had observed on a recent trip to the cemetery where Hope is buried that there was no room for him next to her there. "Brother Branham," I said, "you'll have to live for the Rapture, because that tree has taken your place." At that he turned and walked away from me without giving me an answer.
We may look at death as something that is fearful and dreadful, but we must remember the words of Jesus Who said, in John 5:24, "He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life . . . " Only God can say those words. Jesus said concerning Lazarus, "He sleepeth." The disciples answered that if this was the case, "he doeth well." But when He explained that Lazarus was dead, then they feared and trembled because they had not yet experienced the resurrection. It is only in the assurance of the resurrection that death loses its grip on us.
Events leading to the accident began early Saturday morning, December 18, 1965, when Brother Branham left Tucson with his family, headed for Jeffersonville for the Christmas holidays. Tracing their route of that fateful day, we find that they stopped at Hank's Restaurant in Benson, Arizona, for breakfast. For the noon meal they stopped at the Dinateria in Alamogordo, New Mexico. By about six o'clock that evening they were in the town of Clovis, New Mexico, stopping at Denny's Restaurant for the evening meal.
Brother Branham, Sister Branham, Sarah, and Joseph were riding in his station wagon, a 1964 Ford. Billy Paul, Sister Loyce, and their two boys were following in Billy's car. Like so many things concerning Brother Branham, even the car he was riding in has been falsely reported. For this reason, I wish to set the record straight. The car was a 1964 Ford with about fifty-five thousand miles on it, which he was to sell to me at Jeffersonville and take delivery on a new 1966. I was to fly to Jeffersonville to bring the station wagon back.
At Clovis, his family reports, two unusual things happened. First, he said that he wasn't going to eat, that he didn't feel like it, but later joined the group from both cars in the restaurant and did have a light supper. The next thing was that when they came out of the restaurant, he asked Joseph to ride with Billy Paul and his family in the car behind. He seldom did this, realizing that a young boy like Joseph could be difficult in a car already filled with belongings and people.
Brother Branham enjoyed driving. He and Billy had traveled by car for thousands of miles from one meeting to the next. The two of them demonstrated an extraordinary ability to travel the highways, often without road maps. They quickly memorized the intricacies of maneuvering through difficult highway interchanges. They knew their routes well, knew where their stops would be for meals and even the names of the restaurants far down the road. I had observed this ability and alertness on a trip which I had made with them to British Columbia in 1964. This characteristic is important, I believe, because it has a bearing on the accident.
Just the other side of Texaco, Texas, at the edge of the city, there is an unusual turn that must be made amidst islands in the center of the street in order to make a left turn onto the highway to Amarillo. Billy Paul, now leading the way in his car, made this somewhat intricate turn, but Brother Branham missed the turn. Billy paused alongside the road, waiting for his dad to swing around further down the road, come back in the proper lane, and make the turn from the opposite direction. Sister Branham remembers that Brother Branham proceeded out of the city, crossed a railroad track, made a U-turn, and came back to the intersection. Billy said to me that it took three to five minutes for his dad to come back and catch up with him.
Three miles east of Friona, Texas, Billy Paul passed a car (determined later as containing a family by the name of Busby). As he passed the car, he noticed a single headlight approaching, as of a motorcycle. As the light drew closer, he realized that it belonged to a car with the left headlight out and the right headlight coming right down the center of the road. This placed the automobile more than halfway into Billy's lane, causing him to swerve into the ditch to avoid collision. As he came back into the lane, shaken from this experience, he watched in the rear view mirror to see if the car he had just passed would also avoid this wayward vehicle. Suddenly there was the sickening sound of a crash! This car, a 1959 Chevrolet, driven by a seventeen-year-old boy whose life was a history of crime and punishment since the age of eleven, had met the following vehicle head-on!
The boy had been released from Gainesville Reformatory only thirty days prior to the accident. He was released in the custody of his uncle, a very poor farm worker with about nine other children. The boy had hardly known his own parents. For the past thirty days he had worked and had succeeded in making a $100 down payment on this car just three days before. Needless to say, the car he bought was in poor condition and, at the time of the accident, the young driver and his companions were under the influence of alcohol. The man from whom the boy had purchased the car had made certain that collision insurance was carried, to protect his investment, but otherwise, the driver carried no liability insurance.
Brother Billy Paul's first thought after the accident was that the car he had just passed was the one involved. Thinking that his father would be following this car and would be stopping to render assistance, Billy immediately swung around in the road and went back to the scene of the crash. Only when his headlights flashed on the wreckage, did the terrible truth strike him that his father had also passed the car as he had, and that it was his father who was involved in the accident.
Billy stopped his car at the side of the road, locked the doors as he got out, and told the children to remain in the car. He and Loyce ran across the highway to survey the ghastly scene. His father had gone through the windshield and lay out across the hood. His left elbow was pinned in the door, his left leg impossibly wrapped around the steering column. Sarah was on the floor in the back, and Sister Meda was under the dash on the right side. Billy spoke to his father, "Daddy!" he said, "Speak the word!"
Brother Branham replied, either, "I can't" or "I won't," and turned his head from Billy.
Loyce screamed, "Meda's dead! Meda's dead!"
Billy ran around to that side of the car, found Sister Meda's arm and sought after her pulse. He found no pulse. Returning to his father, he spoke to Brother Branham and seemingly got no response from him.
Another scream broke the night and penetrated to Brother Branham's consciousness - Joseph's pent-up agony and horror at the scene before him, the realization that his parents must be terribly hurt, or dead. At this, Brother Branham roused, shook his head, and said, "What was that?"
(Remember the vision which Brother Branham tells on December 30, 1962, in his sermon Sirs, What Is The Time? where Joseph was with him and there was a loud scream.)
Billy told his father that his mother was dead. He replied, simply, "Where is she?"
"She's on the floorboard," Billy told him.
"Put her hand in mine," were his instructions as Brother Branham ran his hand back through the car to where Billy could join their hands together. His prayer was, "Oh God. Don't let mother die - but leave her with us."
Sister Meda and Sarah were removed and sent to the hospital in Friona, Texas. The stormy life of the young driver had ended on impact. His passenger on the right side was also dead and two boys in the rear were barely alive. The living and barely living on their way to the hospital, the grueling task of removing Brother Branham from the wreckage began. It was to carry on for forty-five agonizing minutes.
He was pinned so badly into the wreckage that drastic measures were necessary to free him. While two trucks literally pulled the car apart, Brother Billy Paul risked his own life to crawl into the wreckage to free his father. A failure here would have meant that the car would have snapped back together and could easily have killed Billy. Against the advice of the highway patrolmen and the wrecker crew, Billy entered the wreckage and actually unwrapped his father's leg from around the steering column, pushed the door outward with his feet, and brought his father out with him. Terribly hurt, his father was placed in the ambulance and joined by his faithful son. Brother Branham's words to Billy, though incongruous, were firm, "Billy, do I have on my hairpiece?"
Billy answered that he did, and his father's next words were, "Take it ok," Billy pulled on it to remove it, but fearful of hurting his father more, said that he couldn't do it. This time the request was an order, "Take it off! " Billy grabbed the hairpiece and jerked it off.
Shortly after they arrived at the hospital, the incredible news was out that Brother Branham and his family had been involved in a serious automobile accident. Brother Branham's daughter, Becky, and her fiancÚ, George Smith, were guests at our home in Tucson on that fateful night. They had just gone out the door when the news arrived by telephone. Within the hour, after I had talked to Billy at the hospital and been unable to determine just how serious was Brother Branham's condition, I was aboard a jet for Phoenix, the first lap in the journey to the bedside of our beloved prophet. I was without reservations, and had no idea as to how I would complete the trip. At Albuquerque, I learned from phone contact with Billy that Brother Branham had been taken to Amarillo, Texas. Billy requested that I pick up his family in Clovis and bring them on to Amarillo. Since no commercial flights were available, I chartered a private plane.
It was this act of chartering the private plane that brought me an experience I will never forget. It was at sunrise on the morning of December 19, flying at an altitude of nine thousand five hundred feet, that I observed a "sign in the heavens" which the Word says we can expect in the times near the end. The moon was almost completely blacked out, as though draped in mourning, except for a bit of light, shaped like a teardrop, at the very bottom. The color was blood-red. I turned to the pilot, a Mormon, and asked him if he saw what I saw. His reply was impressive: "That is a sign of the coming of the Lord." Later, at Clovis, he refused my invitation to go on to Amarillo, saying that the experience had so stirred his heart that he felt he must return to set his own house in order . . .
The only sign of life I found on the lonely airfield at that hour of the morning was a tiny light at the edge of the field which turned out to be a doorbell light on a house trailer. I woke the occupant who was somewhat startled to be visited at this hour of the morning, and asked how I could go on from there. The Lord had provided a way, as I soon learned, in the form of a car from National Car Rental which had been left there for the National Car Rental people to pick up later in the day. The keys were in the car. Temporarily I became a car thief, for I took the car, picked up Loyce and the children, and drove on to Amarillo. (I turned the car over to the National Car Rental agency in Amarillo, who were happy to make the fee and have the car delivered to them.)
I arrived at the hospital waiting room at about 8 o'clock a.m., just thirteen hours after the accident had occurred. Billy had been up all the night. (At one time, Brother Branham's blood pressure had dropped to zero, and the medical records stated that they had stood him on his head in order to give him a blood transfusion.) If Brother Billy Paul lives to be sixty years old, I am sure he will look as he did that morning. He was so weary, so completely exhausted that he has never been able to recall my walking into the room, taking the phone from him where he had been talking long-distance, and guiding him to a couch where he immediately fell fast asleep.
A nurse arrived at the door, informed me that Brother Branham was out of surgery, and asked whether I would like to see him. She thought it best to let Billy sleep at this time and took me into the Intensive Care unit. Sarah, less critically injured, had been removed to another part of the hospital. First I was allowed to see Sister Branham. She seemed unconscious, her face swollen beyond recognition. As I spoke to her she seemed to recognize me from a state of semi consciousness.
I counted the patients in the ward. There were eleven other people in the Intensive Care unit besides Brother Branham. I tucked this fact into my memory, quite unaware at the time of the significance of this knowledge. I walked over to Brother Branham's bedside.
His left arm and leg were in traction. There had been no response from him since he had been taken from the operating room. I spoke to him-he did not respond.
It seemed to me that if he would only speak the word . . . I told him so. Still, no response.
Through the gray flood of anguish that swept over me, the bitter relief of tears, I found myself singing On The Wings Of A Snow- White Dove.
Somehow the strains of this melody, such a favorite with him, penetrated to a consciousness that had endured so much in the past few hours. He turned his head, opened his eyes, and smiled at me.
He had been given a tracheotomy to allow him to breathe and the tube protruded from his throat, preventing him from speaking. I told him of the sign I had seen in the moon. The news had a violent effect, for he tried to sit up in bed and shouted something to me, but the words, deprived of the sounding chamber of the larynx, were lost in the tracheotomy tube. I don't know what it was he tried to say, nor why this recounting of what I had seen produced such an outstanding response. I suggest that you listen to Question No. 24 of the tape entitled Questions On The Seals. Here Brother Branham spoke of the sign that John the Baptist was to see. Under the anointing he mentions something about the moon turning to blood. John didn't have a sign of the moon turning to blood.
The five-minute visiting time being up, I left the ward to call others whom I knew would be anxiously awaiting word on the prophet's condition. Others began to arrive. We set a vigil for all day Sunday . . . Monday went by . . . the vigil continued. On Tuesday, the doctors informed us that the pupil of Brother Branham's left eye was swelling, that this was a sign of a brain concussion, and that an operation would be necessary to relieve the pressure. The momentous decision of whether or not to operate was left up to Brother Billy Paul. It was a terrible decision to have to make, but everyone felt that God would guide him to the right choice for so great a matter concerning the very life of a prophet of God.
Brother Billy Paul gathered the approximately sixty-five brothers who had arrived from all over the North American Continent, told them of the matter before him and asked them to pray with him. It seemed the natural thing to do; we started singing again, On The Wings Of A Snow-White Dove. Outside the window, a cold, gray day reflected the mood of this solemn occasion. Rain, snow, and freezing weather had prevailed from the time I had arrived in the city. Now, however, a most encouraging sign was given us, for as we sang the words, "A sign from above . . . " everyone witnessed that the sun burst through the clouds at that exact moment, illuminating the room where we had all gathered. Brother Billy Paul took this as a sign that God was with us and would help us make the decision. Soon after this, he signed his permission for the operation.
Shock and dismay were revealed in the voices of those whose calls came in endless procession during the days following the tragedy. There were voices with well-known names, like Brother Oral Roberts, Brother Demos Shakarian, and Brother Tommy Osborn. Brother Oral spoke of praying for Brother Branham, Brother Demos remarked how incredible it was for such a thing to happen to God's prophet. (How little we mortals understand the sovereignty of God Whose ways are not our ways.) It was Brother Tommy Osborn whose deep despair was reflected in the words he said to me, "This being God's prophet, if He takes him from the scene, then there is nothing left for the world but judgment."
Many wild rumors, spawned for who knows what reason in the minds of men, circulated far and wide: Brother Branham rising from his bed and leaving the hospital; Brother Branham praying for Sister Branham who was also instantly healed. For this reason, and to be of service where I could, I took the calls for Brother Billy Paul, at his request, and tried to aid in the dissemination of the facts as they developed. Of one thing I can testify, the eleven people who were in the Intensive Care unit were all moved out of the unit without one death occurring. Everyone who was in the unit when Brother Branham was placed there was eventually discharged from the hospital, though one man was so critically ill that his heart stopped beating five times in one night. Some people might not see the significance in this, but to me, it indicated that the anointing was still there near this prophet of God and the people were reaping the benefits. For this, I give God the glory and the praise.
I took the shift in the waiting room, from about 3 p.m. to 6 o'clock in the morning. This lonely vigil provided me with an excellent opportunity to spend some quiet moments near the prophet, praying, weeping, and seeking God for an answer to this tragedy. A box of candy for the nurses each day made this possible, whereas during the day I stood aside for others to have these same precious moments near our beloved prophet. I had no special place, special privilege, or special word from the prophet as a result of these night visits. In fact, he never spoke once to me, but I continually asked God what was left for us if this, His prophet, were to be removed.
It was just after 4:30 on the morning of December the 24th, when the nurse opened the door of the waiting room to tell me that Brother Branham had stopped breathing at 4:37 a.m. and that she had put him on the respirator machine. The machine was then breathing for him; I could hear its sound in the next room. Another step for the worse, but I still believed that God would let it go only so far before Brother Branham would be healed. In spite of the hectic days answering the phone, making arrangements for a special phone, for special permission for arrangements for a special phone, for special permission for those who wanted to pray for Brother Branham, often in the small hours of the morning when they arrived in the city, still my faith held. If you had told me that he would not be healed, I would have told you that you simply didn't know what you were talking about.
The time was 5:49 p.m. on Friday, December the 24th. Again, I was alone in the waiting room. I looked up as the nurse opened the door. Her face betrayed the painful news she carried as she asked me if I would get "Mr. Branham."
"Is it . . . finished?" I asked.
She shook her head (not trusting her voice) "Yes."
I was calm, remarkably calm, as though steadied by a force outside myself, as I walked down the hall and descended in the elevator to the dining room where I knew Brother Billy Paul was eating supper. In the strange manner that insignificant facts impress themselves on one's memory at a time of grief or great stress, I remember that Billy was there, eating a piece of chocolate cake.
"Brother Billy," I said, "The nurse tells me that Doctor Hines wants to see you."
Doctor Hines was Brother Branham's bone doctor. He had made a little drawing of Brother Branham's elbow and thigh bones to show several of us the terribly tortured condition of these bones when Brother Branham was brought in. I still have this little sketch. "Beyond repair," were his words to describe the damage done. A few days later, however, he made further sketches to show us the miraculous manner in which these same bones had fitted themselves back together. He didn't say that Brother Branham was well, but he was amazed, and he said that his bone structure was "ten thousand times better off now than when he was first admitted to the hospital." This accounts for the rumor heard by many that the prophet had been healed of all his broken bones. Something supernatural had taken place which even this specialist in bone structure could not understand.
Billy asked me to go with him to see Doctor Hines. As we entered the consultation room, we could look into the Intensive Care unit where the nurse had drawn the curtains around Brother Branham's bed. At this, Billy Paul looked at me and said, "Pearry, it's all over." I turned my head to conceal the tears and just then, Doctor Hines walked in.
"Mr. Branham," said Doctor Hines, "I regret to inform you that your father expired at 4:49 p.m."
Billy bowed his head, sobbing softly. Turning to me, he said, pathetically, "Pearry, take Daddy home."