Brigham’s Destroying Angel

Excerpts from William Hickman, Brigham’s Destroying Angel (1904). 




In the spring of 48, Brigham’s company started for Salt Lake, with their families. I, in company with a number of others, crossed the Missouri River and went thirty miles to Elkhorn River, to bid Brigham and party a good-bye. Brigham told me he wanted me to stop that year with Orson Hyde, as there were those around who might kill him. He wanted me to look out for him, and see that nobody hurt him. This was very satisfactory to Hyde. In about a month, Amasa Lyman, one of the Twelve, followed Brigham Young with another large company for Salt Lake. I had in the winter just previous to leaving Nauvoo taken me a second wife, whose father was going with this company, and she wanted to go with them. I sent her along, and when I reached Salt Lake next year was not surprised to find she had helped herself to a youngster a few days old. Believing her virtue to be easy long before this let me off. I never had any children by her. When bidding Brigham Young good-bye, in the spring of 48, he said to Orson Hyde: “If Brother William wants to take him another wife, you attend to the marriage ceremonies.”


FROM 1858 TO 1865.


Winter came on, times were lively, and money plenty. One McNeal, who was arrested in the winter of ‘57, when he came from Bridger to Salt Lake City, for the purpose of making a living, and kept in custody some three or four months by order of Gov. Brigham Young, instituted a suit before the United States district court against Brigham to the amount of, I think, ten thousand dollars. McNeal came to the city from Camp Floyd during the winter, and word was sent to the boys, as the killers were called, to give him a using up. The word was sent around after dark, but McNeal could not be found that night, and the next morning he was off to camp again, and did not return until the next summer. I came to town one afternoon, and heard he was upstairs at Sterritt’s tavern, drunk. Darkness came on and we got the chamber-pot taken out of his room, so that he would in all probability come down when he awoke with whisky dead in him. Some five or six were on the look-out for him, and among the number was one Joe Rhodes, not a Mormon, but a cut-throat and a thief, who had had some serious difficulty with McNeal, and was sworn to shoot him, and I thought it best to let him do it. Some three or four were sitting alongside the tavern when he came down, it being dark and no lights in front. Rhodes followed him around the house and shot him in the alley. McNeal shot at Rhodes once, but missed him. McNeal lived until the next day, and died, not knowing who shot him; neither did any other person, except those who sat by the side of the tavern. It made considerable stir, but no detection could be made as to who did it. All passed off, and one day when at Brigham Young’s office, he asked me who killed McNeal. I told him, and he said that was a good thing; that dead men tell no tales. The law-suit was not prosecuted any further. At this time there was considerable stock-stealing from the Government, and, in fact, all over the country, from both Gentiles and Mormons. I did all I could to get those whom I knew of, or was acquainted with, to quit and behave themselves; but it seemed to have no effect. I threatened to get after them if they did not stop. Some then quit it, but others continued, and swore it was none of my business. A few of them took thirty head of mules from a Government freighter and started for southern California; got one hundred and fifty miles on their road, when they were overtaken and brought back by Porter Rockwell and others. As the freighter only wanted his mules, the thieves were turned loose. I was accused of finding this out and sending after them, and shortly afterward seven of them caught me in the edge of town and surrounded me, swearing they would shoot me for having them captured. Three pistols were cocked on me. I tried to argue the case with them, but the more I said the worse they raged, until I thought they would shoot me anyhow. The crowd consisted of about half Gentiles and half Mormons. Believing that shooting was about to commence, and seeing no other show but death or desperation, I jerked a revolver from each side of my belt, cocked them as they came out, and, with one in each hand, told them if fight was what they must have, to turn loose; that I was ready for them, and wanted just such a one as they were able to give. I cursed them for cowards and thieves: when they weakened and became quite reasonable. This all passed off, but I could hear of threats being made by them every few days; when one day I came to town and met Mr. Gerrish, of the well-known firm of Gilbert & Gerrish, who said: “I was just going to send for you; we had seventeen head of horses and mules taken out of our corral last night.”

I told him it had been done by some of the Johnson gang, and I would travel around, town and see them; that they were a set of rascals, and I would try bribery. I found this Joe Rhodes of whom I have spoken. He denied knowing anything about them. I told him I would give him fifty dollars if he would tell me where they were. He then asked if I would betray him to the others that were concerned in it. I told him I would not. He then told me if I would give him fifty dollars down, and fifty dollars more when the animals were recovered, he would tell me, and I would be sure to get them. I saw Gerrish, and he told me to go ahead and use my own judgment about them. I paid Rhodes the $50; he then told me they were about fifteen miles away on the river, hid in the bush, and would be there until after dark; then they intended running them south and keeping away from the settlements, and so get them through to California. He described the place so that there could be no trouble to find it. Knowing of the antipathy of the gang against me, I sent two men, who found the stock at the place described, and no one with them, and brought them to the owners. The gang was very angry at this, and swore they would kill the man that had betrayed them. Not many days after this, the traitor to his own party, Rhodes, said I had played him, and he unthoughtedly had told me something about the animals, but thought as they were Gentiles I would say nothing about it. This was enough – he never told them. that he had done it and got a $100 for doing so. They commenced watching for me, and I for them. One Christmas day following I went to the city, all the time watching this party. I stepped through an alley while waiting for our teams. This was their chance. Some half a dozen of them, well whiskied, met me; only one of my friends seeing them. The only brave man amongst them drew his revolver and attempted to shoot me. I caught his pistol, and would have killed him with my knife, but the scoundrels shouted, “Don’t kill him! don’t kill him!” and stepped up and took hold of him. I did not want to kill him. I had known him from a boy, and had previously liked him; but these scamps had roped him in, and were shoving him into places where they dare not go. I did not see who all the crowd were, but saw two other revolvers drawn on me. This friend of mine says to them: “Don’t shoot; if you do, I will kill you.” I let Huntington go, supposing his friends would take care of him, as he was the aggressor, and I had spared his life. I put my knife back in the scabbard, and turned to look for Huntington, when I saw him leveling his revolver on me, not more than ten feet off; I gave my body a swing as he fired, and the ball struck my watch, which was in my pants’ pocket, glanced, and struck me in the thigh, went to the bone, and passed around on the side of it. I then drew my pistol; but before I could fire he shot again, and started to run, I shot him as he ran, in the hip, and the ball passed into his thigh; but he kept running. I followed him up the street and shot at him four times more, but did not hit him. I was taken to a house, and Dr. * * * and another, the two best Mormon surgeons in the city, were sent for. They split the flesh on the inside and outside of my thigh to the bone. hunting the ball, and finally concluded they could not find it, then went away and reported I would die sure. I sent for other physicians, and the next morning when they came to see me, I told them I had no further use for them, as my thigh swelled and inflamed so that ice had to he kept on it most of the time for three weeks. Then Dr. Hobbs, of the U. S. Army, a cousin of my wife, came to see me, bringing with him a board of physicians from Camp Floyd. They examined my leg, and pronounced the surgery which had been performed on me a dirty piece of butchery, and said: “Were it not out of respect to the profession, we would say they had poisoned it.” But when it was finally opened, behold! out of it came a dirty green piece of cotton, saturated with something, I do not know what, which the butchers had left in it weeks before! No wonder they were sure I would die, after leaving that in my leg. While in this situation, these thieves continued their threats to make a break into the house where I laid helpless, and make a finish of me. This Rhodes was the one appointed to do that, as was told on the streets. Rhodes had become obnoxious to all but his party of thieves. He got drunk one day, and swore he would finish me before he slept. I had good and trusty men staying with me constantly. Rhodes came, as he had said, and wanted to go into the room where I was, but was told that he could not. He swore he would, drew two revolvers, and swore nobody could hinder him. He started for the door, and Jason Luce ran a bowie-knife through him, he fell on the floor, and never spoke. This was the end of Joe Rhodes. Luce was tried and acquitted.

I lay in the city three months and was given up to die. I finally was hauled home, but was not able to go on crutches for six months, and never expected to get over it, as I have twice come near dying with it since. I had the fall before bought a few hundred head of oxen which had hauled freight across the plains. My stock was neglected, and I lost a good number of them while I was lying wounded. There was little attention paid to any violation of law there, unless it was a case that was prosecuted by some of the principal men of the city. This ease of mine passed unnoticed by the law; and the general saving was: “It was a pity to have a difficulty amongst our own people.”

The summer following -‘59 – the troops were to move from Camp Floyd, and a sale was made of almost every thing except ammunition, which was destroyed. The property sold very low – flour, by the 100-pound sack, 50 cents; bacon, one-fourth of a cent per pound; whisky, 25 cents per gallon; and other things in proportion. I bought ten wagon-loads. The barracks were sold to those who pulled them down and hauled away the lumber; and there has not been a house in the old barracks for eight or nine years. The little settlement adjoining across the creek, known as the town of Fairfield, is a nice little village, but is called Camp Floyd, which is my present residence, and has been for the last four years, ever since I left my place ten miles south of Salt Lake City. There was rejoicing when the troops left the territory. They had come here, spent a great quantity of money, and went away without hurting anybody – a victory, of course.

Gov. Cumming left the next spring, ‘60. The next fall another was appointed – Gov. Dawson – who, after being here a few months, was said to have used some seductive language to a woman in the city, which raised great indignation against him. He became alarmed, and made preparations to leave, and a company of the young roughs were selected to follow him out and give him a beating. Five went ahead to the mail station and awaited his arrival, and when he came they gave him a tremendous beating; it is said he died from the effects. it was known the next day in town, and most of the people rejoiced over the beating the Governor had got.

This continued for several days, until the word had reached the States, which made a terrible stink on the Mormons, about the manner in which they had treated the Government official. The newspapers teemed with Mormon outrages. This changed things, and then Brigham Young on the stand gave the men who had beaten the Governor an awful raking down, and said that they ought to have their throats cut. Two of them were arrested and put in prison, and he forbid any person bailing them out. They went for two more, and they fled, taking with them another man, a friend of theirs. They were followed about seventy-five miles; one of them refused to be taken, and he was shot with a load of buckshot, and only lived a few minutes. The other two were captured and brought to the city, showing no resistance.

They reached the city in the night and were given to the police to put them in prison. While going to the prison they were both shot dead, and the cry was raised that they undertook to get away. That was nonsense. They were both powder-burnt, and one of them was shot in the face. How could that be, and they running? This went down well enough with some; but it was too plain a case with thinking men, and especially those who knew the manner in which those men did such things. A great blow was made as a set-off, how the people killed all who would treat Government officials as these had the Governor – Innocence was declared by everybody but the gang who had done it, and three of them were killed, and they said they wished the others to share the same fate. After the other two had been in prison about two months, I went and bailed Jason Luce out. The other got bail in a few days. I then learned all the particulars. Jason told me that he was called on by Bob Golden, who was captain of the police, constable, and deputy sheriff, to go in the country with the others and give the Governor a good beating. Golden said he had his instructions what to have done. Luce went to obey orders, expecting to be protected if any trouble should arise from it, he himself having nothing against the Governor, and did not so much as know him. Luce did not like his treatment, and made a business of telling how the affair was. This got Golden down on him, and from that time it seemed that his destruction was sought.*

(*See Appendix-I.)

These things caused a division in feeling among the people; not open, but there was much private talk about such a course of things, which exists until this day. Many of the thinking better class of the people are disgusted with the abominable course taken by the so-called officials, killing off far better boys than their own or many that roamed the country. But their idea was to kill those they did not like, whether guilty of anything or not, as has been done to hide their own crimes, as well as to vent their spite, regardless of right or wrong. This dirty gang of the so-called police commenced about this time, and have done so well they have been kept in office ever since. I will say more about them when I come to the year of their actions.

There was nothing uncommon transpired in ‘60-‘61 more than every once in a while, somebody being killed – some Mormons and some Gentiles – some, it was said, was for stealing and some for seduction, while some of the greatest scoundrels ran untouched. They were good fellows, counsel-obeying curses, and had their friends.



Jason Luce was shot in pursuance of the sentence of law, in Salt Lake City, for the murder of a desperado from Montana. The circumstances were such that many people in Montana petitioned for Luce’s pardon. The other had threatened to kill him on sight, and when Luce was in Montana the preceding year, he had narrowly escaped being killed. But just at that time the Priesthood needed a victim, over whom to make a parade of their zeal in defense of visitors, and as Hickman has stated, Lace’s “fate was already sealed.”

For the full text of this book, see

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