Bill Hickman: Man About Town
Our William Adams Hickman was seen and described by the famous British explorer, Richard F. Burton during a visit to Salt Lake City in 1860. This person is not to be confused with the Richard Burton who married actress Elizabeth Taylor:
". . . .While awaiting the hour to depart under the veranda of the hotel, Governor Cumming pointed out to me Bill Hickman, once the second of the great "Danite" triumvirate*, and now somewhat notorious for meddling with Church property. He is a good-looking fellow, about forty-five, rather stout and square, with high forehead, open countenance, and mild, light blue eyes, and owns, I believe, to only three deaths. On the last Christmas-day, upon occasion of a difficulty with a youth named Lot Huntingdon, the head of the youngster part, he had drawn his "Bowie," and a "shooting" took place, both combatants exchanging contents of revolvers across the street, both being well filled with slugs, and both living to tell the tale."
--Richard F. Burton, The City of the Saints, 1862, p.344
*The three were identified on p.191 as Ephe Hanks, Orrin Porter Rockwell, and Bill Hickman.
Though he himself was a noted horse thief, Bill Hickman was not immune from having his own horse stolen:
"Bill Hickman had his horse stolen in the street last week, with saddle. A few hours before it was stolen, he was offered five hundred dollars for it. Theives [sic] are getting strong hold in Salt Lake City, stealing horses in the streets, through the day, and wagons out of yards, by night."
--LDS Church Historian's Office, Manuscript History of the [LDS] Church, Nov 22 1858, p. 1104.
To teen-aged store employee Ebenezer Crouch in 1862, Bill Hickman and his gang were a familiar sight, and they seemed to have plenty of leisure time on their hands:
"Bill Hickman, Lot Huntington, Jase Luce and other toughs of that time would ride into town [Salt Lake City], tie their saddle ponies up and strut around town clad in buckskin suits, broad brimmed hats, handkerchief around their neck, leather leggings and Spanish spurs jingling as they walked. They would drink and carouse all day and sometimes paint the town red. Porter Rockwell could be seen most any day on the street. He was usually horseback with his dog sitting behind him on the rump of his horse. One day Port, drunk as usual, rode back and forth on the porch in front of the Great Salt Lake Hotel and into the store of Gilbert & Garrish. The police threatened to arrest him but decided not to. Port seemed to be a privileged character."
--Ebenezer Crouch, Autobiography, 1923, LDS Church Archives, MS 724, p. 23.
A few years later James Knox Polk Miller, a non-Mormon, was working in a billiard hall in Salt Lake City while waiting for the opportunity to travel to Montana in the spring. He was reading Burton's book when Bill Hickman entered the saloon:
MARCH 25, 1865
"Heavy fall of snow last night. Cold, windy, blustering day, snow falling all forenoon. Wind busy piling it in drifts. No sun, very unpleasant. Clear at 10 o'clock, snow melting rain at 5 P.M. Snow at 6 P.M. About eight inches of snow fell during the night. Johnny attended theatre. Spent the evening in Billiard Stand reading Burton's "City of the Saints." Bill Hickman, a character robber freely mentioned in the work, happened to come into the Billiard Room [and] I showed him the account about him and invited him to give me a true statement concerning the three deaths which Burton alledges that he confessed to. He seemed much amused, wondered how such an account ever found its way into the book, and stated that when Johnston's army were out here he had command of an independent company with the right of taking as many men as he wanted from the Mormon soldiers for any raid or scout he wished to undertake. His orders were not to kill a man unless in self defense and his duty was principally and almost entirely running off the stock belonging to the army, especially the horses. He was to annoy them [the soldiers and teamsters of the Federal Army] as much as possible with a view of making them "come to terms." He says: "Now I think as much of my life as any man and would not risk it any sooner than any man, but when I could see a chance I used to take it and they thought from that that I was a terrible desperado and my name was in all the eastern papers. After a while they (the church) thought I was too fast and helped to bring on the ill-feeling between the Mormons and the government so I made up my mind I would in future go along just as usual tending to my own affairs." He also took a commission from the government to apprehend horse thieves. In 1851 he fought Indians in the Humboldt and saw in one place 16 men women and children piled together that had been massacred by the Indians. He supposed he had killed a great many Indians in one day. He had 13 fighting men under him on that trip and killed 16 Indians in one day during a fight with 60 [of them]. Did not know how many Indians he had killed but "It was as many as anyone." He also shot 5 at separate times with his own hands. His business under his commission led him of necessity into many scrapes with the thieves. He said: "They used to come down and steal horses. We would start after them and bring them and the horses back again and sometimes we would bring the horses without them." The gestures with which he accompanied the last words left no doubt as to what he had done with them.
"Speaking of the Danites, he said there was a body calling themselves Danites during the troubles in Missouri but there never was an association of that kind in this country. He said that his chief difficulty and the cause for all his troubles was in his sympathy with men who had got into trouble at one time. He was trying to clear a young man and in spite of all he could do they sent him to the Penitentiary. He then went to the judge of the Supreme Court to get out a writ of habeas corpus. The judge asked him why he did not release all the prisoners. Acting upon the suggestion he [Hickman] released every prisoner, instead of one, some 9 in number, "for sport." He now holds a commission from Genl. Connor for apprehending horse thieves. Bill Hickman is a thick set man about 5 ft. 4 in. high. His face is very full and also very red, owing undoubtedly to the mixed cause of whiskey and exposure. Blue eyes, roman nose, dark brown hair, thick full neck. He looks like a Blackleg and at the same time has an expression of good humor upon his face. He often comes into the Billiard Rooms to drink."
--Andrew Rolle, The Road to Virginia City: The Diary of James Knox Polk Miller, 1960, pp.51-53.
A Description of Hickman.
(Millenial Star, Vol. 34, page 254)
On the 15th of March I had the extreme pleasure of riding to Camp Douglas behind the fastest team in Utah, in company with their owner, "Genial Jack Gilmor". My desire in visiting the Camp was to see that renegade "Bill Hickman." We found him seated smoking in the guardroom. I think, without exception, he is one of the most murderous-looking villians I ever saw. He is about five feet nine inches in height, and of very heavy build. He has a round head, which reminds one of a ten-pin ball, blue eyes, with a cold murderous look in them. His hair and beard, of which he has a plentiful supply, are of dark brown color, interspersed with gray. He seems to be a man possessed of a great amount of bodily strength. His mouth exhibits that vacillating, treacherous smile that would warn a man of ordinary perception not to have any dealings with him. His so-called "Confession" is a base fabrication, gotten up for the purpose of misleading the public. I would place as little dependance on what he said as on that of a murderer at the foot of the gallows, who hoped by lying to escape a dreadful death. --Ely Record.
--Manuscript History of the [LDS] Church, Volume 44, March 15, 1872, pp. 876-877.
To learn more about William Adams Hickman, click here. To learn more about Richard F. Burton, click here. To view Burton's book City of the Saints, click here. To learn more about Governor Cumming, click here. To learn more about the Bill Hickman/Lot Huntington shootout, click here or here. To return to the Hickman Family Index page, click here.