"Lonely Bones": Leadership and Utah War Violence

  The Spring 2007 issue of Journal of Mormon History contained an article by historian Bill MacKinnon that should be of interest to all members of the Hickman family.  Though it provokes controversy, it is an invitation to us Hickmans to do further research.  My inital reaction may be seen by clicking here.

  By permission of its author it is made available here in PDF format.  If you don't already have the reader on your computer, you can download it by pressing the Adobe button below, at left.

                   The table of contents of the Spring 2007 issue (24.5 kilobytes, 1 page).

                    Open the article here (2.299 megabytes,  58 pages).

To learn more about Bill MacKinnon, click here.
To read some Utah War diaries, click here, here, here, here, and here.
To learn about the Hickman family in the Utah War, click here.
To return to the Hickman Family index page, click here.

May 15, 2007
Dear Bill,

  I just completed reading your "Lonely Bones" article. I've been specializing in one specific aspect of the Utah War, but you've come up with many references to that aspect that I didn't know existed, and many of them are from sources that one wouldn't even think to look at. It was also useful to look at how the various violent acts seem to fit a pattern.

  My background is geology, a field where if you need more data you just go out and collect some more. It may be that you've found almost everything there is to find and even with all that, we still can't be sure.

  My special interest is the Hickman family in the Utah War. I'm not directly descended from Bill Hickman. If I was, I'd hope that some of his good points might have been inherited by me; I'd like to think he didn't have any bad points. Family history is a careful mythology that repeats the good stories and eventually drops the bad ones. One would hope the memory of an ancestor who was a serial murderer would not become a treasured family tradition.

  When I was in high school, the craze for me and my friends, and I think most of the free world was James Bond, 007. He got to drive fancy British sports cars and play with special toys. He had no problems meeting girls; even better, he had a license to kill! I was never sure what that meant--the difference between James Bond and someone without a license must be that Bond got to decide who to kill and was free from the consequences of having to go to trial or even fill out a form.

  I don't know that Bill Hickman was given an earlier form of a 00 license, but through some communication mix-up he may have thought he had one. He may have been instructed to make decisions as he was led by the Spirit. This was essential in pioneer Utah where there were no cell phones or pagers (or even telephones) by which he could ask his supervisors for instructions.

  For its first ten years Utah didn't really have a civil government, meaning one that wasn't controlled by the LDS Church. I think that statement continued to be true for some time afterward, and it may also be true to a larger extent than I'd like to think, today. I imagine that Bill was set apart to be a kind of church security guard, or policeman. His responsibilities would be like those of a policeman today. He probably carried a badge, but he worked for the church. He had to deal with murderers, thieves, and very undesirable elements in the Mormon community. Many of them probably didn't go to church or even pay tithing or fast offerings!

  I don't know what to think of Beadle's book, Brigham's Destroying Angel. The manuscript was originally written by Bill as an autobiography, but Beadle published it for an entirely different purpose. It's doubtful that Hickman was given an opportunity to proof read the galley sheets. I'd like to have been watching him to see his reaction when he finally had a copy of that book in his hands.

  A view of Bill as a local policeman (for the church) is recounted by James Knox Polk Miller here:  http://www.hickmansfamily.homestead.com/Burton.html.  In this interview, Bill seems to portray himself as a local policeman. It appears that Orson Hyde for a time promoted the idea that it was ok for Mormons to steal from their non-Mormon neighbors:  http://www.hickmanmuseum.homestead.com/OrsonHyde.html. Bill's son-in-law Samuel Butcher served time in prison for a crime based on that philosophy, though Bill was excused of the exact same crime because he was an employee of the Army.

  Before he was executed, Jason Luce, a member of Bill's gang, told Wilford Woodruff that Bill was a really bad man (http://www.hickmansfamily.homestead.com/JasonLuce.html). He was executed because he killed a man in downtown Salt Lake City in front of many eyewitnesses, yet he thought he had done a good deed for which he would be rewarded. It's implied that this was a doctrine taught to him by Bill Hickman.

  At least one of Bill's wives recognized that he wasn't living gospel principles as she understood them and took an extended (permanent) vacation from him: http://www.hickmansfamily.homestead.com/MarthaD.html

  A Hickman relative once told me a family story that Bill caught two escaped criminals at a location several days away from any communities. He didn't know how he could get the men back for trial without the risk of them overpowering him at some point, so he killed them both.

  In the Utah War there is evidence that Bill almost killed a guy because he liked the look of his horse (moved by the Spirit?), but with great difficulty Henry Sanderson talked him out of doing it:  http://www.hickmanmuseum.homestead.com/Sanderson.html

  There is also a mysterious instance where he appears to have used his 00 license to remove "Mr. Levi":  http://www.hickmanmuseum.homestead.com/Fairfield.html. My thoughts return to this story often, because there seems to be a message there, in between the lines, but I can't quite figure out what it is.

  Bill's daughter Lerona (http://www.hickmanmuseum.homestead.com/MrsShaw.html) admitted to Charles Kelly that he had killed men, but added (according to Kelly), "Anyway, the men Bill killed were bad characters and ought to have been killed."

  Bill's son Warren (http://www.hickmanmuseum.homestead.com/WarrenWH.html) explained his father this way: "...in those early days of rough pioneer life men became bold and daring, and often did things which we today, with milder civilization, would refrain from doing. For these reasons, my father, like Porter Rockwell and others, often did things that brought criticism upon themselves, but what would the country have done without such daring men?"

  A real mystery is the way Richard Yates was treated differently from William Clark: http://www.hickmansfamily.homestead.com/Clark.html, and Charles Henry Wilcken: http://www.hickmansfamily.homestead.com/Wilcken.html.

  Sanderson claims with certainty that Yates' murder took place after Bill had left with him for Salt Lake City, and was nothing like the illustration in Brigham's Destroying Angel. The Yates murder came up when Bill was threatened with hanging for his murder of Spanish Frank (Frank Moreno) at Stockton. There was enough evidence in that case that Bill would certainly have been executed. The Yates confession was a diversion. There's no question that Hickman killed Yates, but it's unlikely that Hosea Stout held the lantern, or that it took place in camp, or that he was told to do it.

  It's been maybe 6 months since I saw this reference, but there was an article by AGB, Jr. in the New York Daily Tribune dated Jan 18 1858 that was written over a month prior to the "Murder of Dr. G.W. Hickman" article. It spoke of rumors among the mountaineers that Dr. Hickman had "failed to make the connection," meaning the murder of Clark must have been known for maybe a month before his body was found. In fact the whisperings were mentioned in the "Murder" article, as having started shortly after G.W. Hickman was set free. This leads me to believe that Pvt. George W. Clark was mistaken for Dr. George W. Hickman, and murdered in his place. This allowed Dr. George to make the connection, enter Utah, and become my great-great grandfather.

  The really intriguing thing about Bill Hickman is how he fought the Army in the Utah War, then he settled down in Camp Floyd and lived among them.  When Patrick Connor came to town, he was trusted enough to become an employee of the Army.  When John D. Lee was executed Bill was hired as a security guard, despite the fact that everyone had read his book.  He must have come across as a really sincere, nice, capable, trustworthy guy.

  Will Bagley said something to the effect that nothing happened in Utah without Brigham Young knowing about it. I can't believe that, and can't see how anybody can! The events chronicled in your article illustrate how little control Brigham had. We see people interepreting Brigham's earlier letters or the crook of his finger to decide what action to take. That's very much like the situation described in Gary Bergera's article on President McKay and his counselors (in the same issue).

  I really appreciate what you have done in tracking down all kinds of useful information that will help in understanding the history of my family. I attended Hickman family reunions for I think about 23 years. The general message that was spread there was, Bill Hickman was a wonderful man. John H. Beadle somehow wrote a bad but detailed autobiography of him. These were opinions that were based more on what they'd heard other Hickmans say, and not much on any actual research. It's been interesting learning more about the Hickmans, and I'm grateful to you for publishing your detail-laden articles, especially this most recent one.  If there's ever another Hickman reunion, I'll take my copy with me.

Best Wishes,

Steve Richardson

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