What is Brigham's Destroying Angel?
Left to right, the edition of 1872 (damaged cover), published by Geo. A. Crofutt, Publisher, New York; the reprint edition and the paperback reprint of 1904, which was widely circulated. Both were published by Shepard Publishing Co. of Salt Lake City. Courtesy of LDS Church History Library.
Because of a book published in 1872 William Adams Hickman became the most famous member of the Hickman family, and someone all Hickmans have had to reckon with then and ever since. Hickman first achieved national notoriety for his heroic guerrilla attacks against wagons supplying US troops in the Utah War the fall and winter of 1857, making President Buchanan's Utah Expedition one of the most embarrassing political mistakes of the Nineteenth Century.
In the 1860s non-Mormons moved into Utah in large numbers, first as soldiers, then as prospectors and miners. It would be foolish to accept Brigham's Destroying Angel as an accurate historical account without considering the political climate under which it was issued; it would be dishonest to accept the book at face value without first asking what motivated Bill write it; what motivated John Beadle publish it.
There is good evidence that the manuscript was tampered with by Beadle to leave his readers with a very bad impression of Hickman. If Hickman had had any control over the book there is little doubt his manuscript would have been presented differently.
It is difficult to accept Brigham's Destroying Angel as an accurate portrayal of Bill Hickman's life and activities, though for us Hickmans, it's the most we have to work from. Davis Bitton in his Guide to Mormon Diaries & Autobiographies notes that
"Beadle in the preface, pp. v-vii, states that he left Hickman's account almost as written by him. Chapter 1, pages 9-24, is an introductory history of Mormonism by Beadle. Also by Beadle is the account of the reasons Hickman turned against Brigham Young, pp. 136-139. Editor notes that this section condensed from Hickman manuscript. Several appendices by editor appear on pp. 197-219.
"The account was written in 1871 while Hickman was awaiting trial for the murder of Yates. Beadle uses the word 'Danite,' Hickman does not, nor does he describe an organized body that might be given that name. His tales of crime usually deal with one or two individuals sent by Brigham Young to 'use up' some victim of the Mormon leader. Beadle's illustrations, which refer to specific page numbers, are often given captions which do not agree with the text on the pages referred to."
I might also add that Hickman would never have named a chapter of his manuscript "A Chapter of Horrors" or "Hickman's Last Crime." It appears that though they incorporate some, perhaps much of Hickman's writing, these were Beadle's expansions upon his manuscript, and should be read with caution.
Now with that introduction, here's Brigham's Destroying Angel (click on the parts you wish to read):
Part 1---pp. v-vii, Preface (by Beadle); pp. 9-24, Chapter I: Introductory History (by Beadle) Part 2---pp. 25-55, Chapter II: Hickman's Narrative Part 3---pp. 56-99, Chapter III: From 1850 to 1854 Part 4---pp. 100-121, Chapter IV: From 1854 to 1858 Part 5---pp. 122-140, Chapter V: A Chapter of Horrors (by Hickman and Beadle) Part 6---pp. 141-185, Chapter VI: From 1858 to 1865 Part 7---pp. 186-197, Chapter VII: Hickman's Last Crime, pp. 197-219. Appendices (by Beadle) To learn more about Bill Hickman, click here. To return to the Hickman Family Index page, click here.