Samuel and Sarah Butcher at their home in Salt Lake City with an unidentified relative about 1890.
Today, Bingham Canyon is well known as the site of one of the world's largest copper mines. But in the 1870s it was just another mining camp trying to get some recognition for the mineral wealth it contained. National attention first came to Bingham Canyon not because of its ore deposits, but as a result of a gun battle that resulted in the death of Gabriel Cotton and his two sons. Marla Webb, a relative of the Cotton family, discovered the following first-hand account of the 1873 Butcher-Cotton gun fight in the Salt Lake City semi-weekly Deseret News. The story was told nearly 20 years later by a participant, Samuel Monroe Butcher, the husband of Sarah Catherine Butcher, the oldest daughter of William Adams Hickman.
S.M. Butcher Arrested
For Killing the Cottons in Bingham Canyon 1873
HE WAS ONCE ACQUITTED
He shows this and is released on
His own recognizance
Nearly seventeen years ago Bingham Canyon was the scene of a tragedy which resulted in the death of Gabriel Cotton and his two sons Gabriel and Bert. The fatal shots were fired by Samuel M. Butcher, more generally known as “Sod” Butcher. The latter was arrested and a month later had a trial and was acquitted by a jury, the justification being self defense.
It has been rumored recently that Mrs. Cotton was determined to have the matter again brought up, and she has been successful, for last night’s R.G.W. train from Bingham carried Deputy Marshal Bush and Mr. Butcher, the latter, under arrest.
He was placed in the penitentiary and was to have a preliminary examination today, but the grand jury having found an indictment charging the defendant with murder, in having killed Gabriel Cotton, no hearing will be had till the case comes up in district court.
Mr. Butcher was seen today and gave the following account of the tragedy;
The trouble took place on the 24th of July 1873. There was a man by the name of Kirk up there, and he and I had some trouble that day, and we came near to having a fight. We did not, however, for when we were feeling pretty warm, Kirk said, “I am not able to fight you will find someone who is.” He then went away.
I thought it was all over and went about my business. Pretty soon Kirk and Cotton came back. I said to Kirk, “I suppose you have come to settle that trouble?” He made no reply but Cotton broke in and said, “You go into the house you s_______ b________“
I replied, “Cotton I’ve got nothing against you, and if you have something against me, I’ll be glad to correct it.”
I then got into the house, because I was a little afraid of the old man Cotton. I knew him to be a dangerous man, and I had been warned that he and his sons wanted an opportunity to kill me. When I went into the house, Cotton and Kirk continued on their way up to Mumford’s.
Sol. Gee who now lives in Tooele, and Wm Taylor whose present whereabouts I do not know, came up to have a pick sharpened, and I helped them. Then we all went into a tent by the side of the house, and took dinner with my family.
After dinner I came out of the tent, and was surprised to see Gabe Cotton Jr. sitting on his horse in front of the door. He had a double barreled shot gun and dropped it on me. Then he asked where his father was. I moved close to my door and replied, “He’s gone up to Mumford’s with Kirk.” Gabe then said “You are a ______ _______liar.”
I jumped into the house and seized my shotgun, which was loaded with buckshot. He cocked his gun and I saw that he meant to shoot me. I had nothing left but to fire first, if I could, or be killed, so I let him have it in the breast and neck. He fell backwards to the ground. His gun did not go off but it was still cocked and would have gone off soon, only I acted promptly. Deputy Sheriff Saunders afterwards drew the loads from his gun, and found nine buckshot in each barrel.
I knew old Gabe Cotton would be on me, so I reloaded my gun. It was no use trying to get away, for I had no chance. In about ten minutes, Cotton and his son Bert came. Cotton saw the dead man lying on the ground and asked, “Who is that you’ve got there?”
I knew that if I told him, he would drop me so I answered, “You had better go and see.”
I knew that he would shoot so I backed around to my yard on the south side of the house and in front of the tent. I had my gun in my hand.
Cotton stepped up and seeing who it was on the ground exclaimed, “Oh God! It’s my son.” He jerked his revolver and began shooting. I tell you he was pretty quick. I dodged about so as to spoil his aim and he got in three shots. I could not get time to steady my gun and fire, so I held it by my side and shot at random. The charge caught him in the breast and he toppled over dead.
I turned and looked toward Bert who had been back. He was riding towards me and opened fire. I drew my pistol and shot at him, the bullet getting him in the left side of the head, close to the eye. He fell from his horse, I don’t know how long he lived, but it was a very little time after he was hit, if at all.
In the mean time Ben Tasker, who was on the north side of my house, and about a hundred yards away, opened fire on me. He had a breech loading rifle and could just see my head over the tent where my children were at the dinner table. Tasker fired five shots at me, and the bullets went through the tent and came close to me. It was just luck that none of the children were hit.
Gee was at the back of the house and saw the whole thing. Tasker kept on shooting, so I took after him, and he broke and ran over the hill like a wolf.
While this was going on a man named Thompson had got into the house; how I do not know. I saw him there and ordered him off. That evening we found a knife which he had hidden under a pillow, but he got no chance to use it.
A while after Mrs. Cotton and one of her sons came and took the bodies.
I remained at the house until Deputy Sheriff Saunders came down. He had no warrant for me, but I gave myself up and was taken to Salt Lake. In August 1873, I was tried in the probate court, before Judge Smith and a Jury. Judge Snow prosecuted and Mr. Burmester was my attorney. The jury brought in the verdict of not guilty, and I was released. I thought that ended the matter. I would never have shot the Cottons but I had to, or they would have killed me on my own ground. They had a bitter feeling against me. I was in their way and had been warned that they would use me up. I had kept in for a whole year and shortly before this took place, I was told Cotton said he would kill me before the snow fell. The feeling against me was because I sheltered officers and others who were searching for stolen horses that Tasker and the Cottons had run off.
Mr. Butcher also referred to the fact that in 1876 he was indicted by the grand jury of the Third District and on the matter being brought to the attention of Judge P.H. Emerson, who was then on the bench, the indictment was ordered dismissed on the ground of a former acquittal. Again in 1877, he was indicted, there being three cases. These were dismissed by Judge Shaeffer on motion of Sumner Howard, then district attorney.
This afternoon Mr. Butcher brought in the record of his former acquittal, and was released on his own recognizance. This practically ends the case.
--Deseret News, May 6, 1890
To read more detailed accounts of the event, click here. To return to the Butcher Index page, click here. To return to the Hickman Index page, click here.