Picture from Utah Historical Quarterly,
Vol. 65 No. 3, 1997 p.253.
Charles Kelly (1889-1971)
in Glen Canyon, 1932.
An Interview With Mrs. Shaw
Charles Kelly was a western historian who was also rabidly anti-Mormon. He wrote a book about Mormon gunmen entitled Holy Murder: The Story of Porter Rockwell, published in 1934. After he died in 1971 his personal papers were donated to the Utah Historical Society, among which was this record of an interview he had in 1935 with one of Bill Hickman's daughters. The manuscript is typewritten, with occasional handwritten notes, shown below in brown italics. The actual name of Mrs. Shaw has not yet been determined.
From . . . Mrs. Shaw
Daughter of Bill Hickman, Snowville, Utah.
She was born in 1854. Remembers moving south to escape Johnston's army.
William Adams Hickman was born April 16 1815, in Warren Co., Ky. His mother was a cousin (or sister) of John Quincy Adams, she says.
Her mother's name was Minerva Wade, left an orphan at Council Bluffs. Bill loaned her a wagon to bury her mother, then married her. She was his third wife, but the old lady insists she was only No. 2. Sarah Luce, Wife No. 2, don't count, as she was no good. Jason Luce was Sarah's brother. He was a no good tough. Apparently it was Sarah Luce Hickman who lived with the Spaniard Bill shot.
Bill died in August, 1883, at Sweetwater, of dysentery. Wouldn't go to a doctor. Buried at Lander. The grave is unmarked, but is known to Burnette Sheldon, a daughter, who was at the funeral. She lives in American Falls, Idaho.
The list of Bill's wives is as follows:
Brenette Birkharte 1832
Sarah Luce 1844
Minerva Wade 1849 - mother
Sarah Meecham 1850
Hanna Hor 1853
Eliza Johnston 1855 He says he had 10 wives
Marthy Howland (Havland)? 1856
Mary Hor 1857
Jane Hethering 1858
A letter from Bill Hickman to some of his relatives in Missouri, written in Missouri, and dated May 6, 1849 (copied into an old book by his daughter) says in one place:
"I have no notion of being a Mormon, but if I could see a good prospect for gold it would be a great inducement, at least for a while."
The letter states that reports have reached Nauvoo of the finding of large quantities of gold at Salt Lake, as well as in California. [This letter was actually written to Bill from Missouri by his father, Edwin Temple Hickman. To read it, click here.]
Bill seems to have separated or left his first wife(?), and speaks of his children all being scattered. [This also is in the letter to Bill from his father.]
The old lady admits that the facts in the book are correct, but is bitter because her father never got any royalties from the book. She claims that Brigham and the apostles were responsible for his murders, and no blame attaches to Bill. She cites that David put Uriah in the front of the Battle so he could get his wife, which was murder. If King David got to heaven, Bill Hickman will too. Anyway, the men Bill killed were bad characters and ought to have been killed. He and Porter Rockwell were the only ones in the church who had guts enough to do the church's dirty work. She says Porter swore not to cut his hair until the Prophet Joseph had been fully avenged. Apparently he was not through with <p.2> his work when he died. She would not admit any enmity between Porter and Bill.
Her father went after a load of peaches in a buckboard one time, when she was about 9 years old. They were living at the Narrows then. Her father came home with the peaches. In getting out of the buckboard he claimed he shot himself accidentally. They dragged him in the house, all the wives tried to attend him, the floor was covered with blood. It was a holy mess. (This may have been when he was shot by Lot Huntington.) [The above event more likely happened exactly as she described. Wilford Woodruff's diary for September 1861 describes the accident as follows:
"24 I went to my Farm to visit my sugar Cane & to prepare my Cooks portable Evaparator for making molasses & sugar. I spoke to Dr Dunyon Concerning Wm. Hickman who had accidentally shot himself. The Ball went through his body near the liver. He Could not tel whether he would die or not. I spent the afternoon at the office."
Bill was something of a national celebrity, so the story was reported in eastern newspapers: "The adventures of the notorious Bill Hickman still continue. The last is a narrow escape from death by his own revolver – an escape so far, but no knowing how it may terminate. It appears that on Friday last he had been riding out in his carriage with his family, and had returned home, and begun to unharness the horses, when, a piece of the harness falling, he stooped to pick it up, and in so doing, his revolver gravitated suddenly to the ground, exploding at the same instant. The bullet struck him between the two lower ribs on the right side, passed through his body and debouched at his back. So "Bill" lies dangerously sick."
--New York Times, Oct 16 1861 p.2.]
Her mother's diary states that "the family has decided to break up the polygamous relation, and everyone go by herself, and do the best she can." That was apparently after Bill had abandoned the whole lot. She tries to justify her state by saying that if she had not married Bill in polygamy she would never have got to Zion. So she thinks it was perhaps for the best. Not too enthusiastic over it.
This woman is bitter towards most of the rest of the family, and especially the daughter who married Gillispie, in Wyoming. She got all the property in Wyoming.
Some of the daughters are Josephites. She hates them. She says Bill was never a Josephite, but "leaned that way." Her brother, last year, went through the temple for Bill, who is now on the right hand of Brigham. She feels very good about it. All the family does, except the Josephites. Her brother, could almost talk to Bill's spirit while in the Temple. Everything is all right now.
She doesn't know of any old guns left by Bill. That Gillespie woman got 'em all, the huzzy.
April 14, 1935.
Taken to Snowville by Ernest Shaw, nephew of this woman, and grandson of Hickman.
She has a sketch of Bill's life somewhere, written by himself. Will look it up and send it to Shaw, who will copy it.
Bill was first man to settle at Salt Wells.
To read Shauna Solace's commentary on the above, click here. To see the register to the Charles Kelly Papers at Utah Historical Society, click here. To see a list of manuscript collections at the Utah Historical Society, click here. To explore the home page of the Utah Historical Society, click here. To return to the Hickman family Index Page, click here.
Shauna Solace is a great-granddaughter of Lerona Minerva Hickman Vanderhoof, who may be the person Charles Kelly interviewed in 1935. She is inclined to believe the "Mrs. Shaw" in the interview is actually Lerona, and consented to give this analysis of its content:
Taking into consideration that Charles Kelly was 'rabidly' anti-Mormon makes it very possible that there would be a negative slant to the interview. It also makes sense that he was double-thinking. By this I mean, on one hand he was asking the questions and taking notes; while on the other hand questioning the responses and interjecting his own views and opinions into the notes. I don't know how well his book sold as a writer but the man was no gentleman. How dare he refer to her as "the old lady". That is SO derogatory! With that attitude, how can he respect anything she had to say? And he makes that reference more than once. The double-thinking filters throughout the manuscript....
a. I doubt Lerona would forget her own birth date but if his mind were on something else, he could record it wrong;
b. That Minerva was an orphan was a half-truth; her mother had died but her brother and father had gone to fight in the Mormon Battalion -- thus, she was not an orphan but she WAS left alone as her two younger sisters returned to New York. Bill was her "only friend" and she fell in love and they married. She could have followed her sisters to New York but instead chose to marry and follow her heart. I don't begrudge her for that.
c. "'the old lady' admits that the facts in the book are correct but..." This very sentence could have been twisted to his agenda. It was Bill's words up to a point...but that's not mentioned. Royalties from the book? I doubt Bill was proud of the results of the book although at the time he desperately needed the money. But the whole thing was a ruse by Beadle to begin with. Bill chose to let bygones be bygones so why suddenly is Lerona so bitter? This whole paragraph is basically written as Lerona would have said it so why did he not put that in quotes for later clarity and translation? Perhaps because it reflected more his views than hers...
d. The peaches episode. His interjection of the comment about 'may have been when he was shot by Lott Huntington.' It wasn't the same episode. Basically, he wasn't prepared for the interview or he would have known the difference; and asked for correct spellings of the wives' names. Why was he so incompetent? Because he had a different agenda and the facts were unimportant to it.
e. At least he got Minerva's quote right! But here again, his own agenda is working..."that was apparently after Bill had abandoned the whole lot". He didn't abandon them. He gave each their freedom and part of the 'estate'. Food, cattle, money as best he could. Always being watched and pursued, Hickman felt it necessary to leave the territory. In August 1867, fearing his safety, Bill was advised by his family not to return. Bill was disfellowshipped that same year by Bishop Archibald Gardner. He would later be excommunicated. In the eyes of the law, his only legal wife would be Bernetta. The wives decided to break up the polygamous ties that joined them and each went their own way. At various points in the manuscript, it almost seems like Kelly has or is talking to Bill and he had long since been deceased. So where did he come up with that additional information? He certainly managed to 'get in' all the derogatory stuff...the Letter copied into an old book by his daughter -- what daughter? Lerona? He doesn't specify. Shoddy work. All I can say is I'm glad the interview never got published.
f. Lerona was 79 years old at the time of this interview -- four years prior to her death. I would guess she'd had a lot of time to mull over the 'family' and what happened after the breakup in 1867. Her life story ends with the deaths of her son Joseph and her Mother in 1918. She is 'bitter' towards the family which might be appropriate given that she was fiercely loyal to her mother. In her own life story I saw no bitterness so it seems a bit strange that it would creep out of the woodwork now. But who knows what happened in those years between 1918 and 1935? Old wounds can fester and come to life...she may have felt her mother was slighted in some way by the other wives after the split; or, been angry at some 'transgressions' she felt the other wives committed. It's hard to tell; Minerva has been quoted as saying that Bill was the only man she ever loved so the bit about 'justifying her state' rather annoys me. Maybe I'm being too much of a romantic but that's the way I'd like to remember them -- in love with each other. Growing up without a father might have made her bitter. She was only 11 at the time of the breakup; or, the fact Bill stayed with Bernetta rather than her mother. Who knows? A thousand questions, ten thousand answers....
g. "Taken to Snowville by Ernest Shaw, "nephew" -- here again, he wasn't listening nor did he do his homework to know who was who. I don't find him all that credible. But it is interesting that this interview shows her living with her daughter, Betsy Grace Vanderhoof Shaw, and son-in-law, Ernest, at this time. That at least tells me she had been living there for longer than the time of her death;
h. Interesting, too, that she completely ignores the fact that her father was married to a Shoshone Indian squaw, Margaret. My mother often commented on the fact that Katharine [Lerona's daughter] would tell my father NEVER to say that he was "Indian". Katharine believed herself to be half Cherokee (?) making dad 1/4 and us 1/8th. I was rather proud of this, but in those days this kind of heritage was something one never talked about or admitted to. Frankly, I have yet to find the connection. It is quite possible Katharine was mistakenly considering Margaret to be part of their line since Margaret was part of the 'family'. (I don't think Margaret and Bill had any children together. She was 35 when they married). This could also be the reason Lerona didn't make mention of her in this interview;
i. In Hope's book, "Wild Bill" Hickman and the Mormon Frontier, she says that his nephew, Josiah Edwin Hickman approached the LDS Church's First Presidency to reinstate grandpa into the Church posthumously, 22 March 1934 and was given permission to do the work. Grandpa was rebaptised by proxy 5 May 1934. Lerona indicates in the interview that her brother did the work -- but no mention of which one! William Adams, Jr., Moses Edwin, and Warren Wade were all deceased by 1934 so that leaves Survivor as the only living brother at that time. Why a 'seasoned' journalist like Kelly didn't lock into some of these details seems odd -- unless he planned, once he rewrote the interview, to add his own agenda much like Beadle did with grandpa's 'book'. And then too, Lerona was up in years and who knows what her state of mind was at that time?
On a whole, I'd say it could very well be Lerona. The pieces seem to fit, and according to her obituary, Lerona was living with her daughter at the time of the interview. The grammar would be indicative of hers. Some things do not mesh very well and I believe the writing was compromised by his other interests as were hers. She was bitter for whatever reason and Kelly was the sounding board to those emotions.
To get in contact with Shauna, click here. To read Lerona Minerva Vanderhoof's obituary, click here. To return to the Charles Kelly Interview, click here.