After the death of our William Adams Hickman a former associate, George C. Bates wrote at least two articles for the Denver Tribune attempting to capitalize on the folklore that had grown around the "Danite Chief." Bates had been a member of the infamous "Federal Ring" of Utah that in 1872 made an ill-fated attempt to send Mormon church leader Brigham Young to the gallows. Using a blend of fact and fiction to spin his tale, Bates borrows from numerous literary devices created by Poe, Shakespeare, Dickens and others. It is fortunate for him that he waited until Bill was dead before he published these, but perhaps for the remainder of his life Bates was haunted by the "stare from that horrid, pitiless, evil eye." We can only hope.
This account is unusual in that though it claims to be making word-for-word quotes from Bill Hickman, Bates is unsure whether Bill's victim was named "Sprague or Shaw," though the book Brigham's Destroying Angel clearly identifies the victim as Richard Yates. People and events need to be documented from other sources before they can be accepted as fact. Every saloon in Salt Lake City was a place where tall tales and horror stories about the Mormons were exchanged. At the time these articles were published, Anti-Mormonism was the national religion, and journalistic standards were somewhere below that of today's National Enquirer.
The Natural Death of the Perpetrator of Nineteen Cold-Blooded Murders.
His Confession to the United States Authorities, in Which He Implicated
DENVER, Aug. 27.--I find the following in a recent issue of THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE:
Bill Hickman, one of the old Avenging Angels or Danites, whom the Church authorities having used for deeds of blood and atrocity for many years, found it convenient to slight and ignore, died in Sweetwater county, Wyoming, on the 26th.
SO BILL HICKMAN IS DEAD!
The chief of the Danites under Brigham Young for many, many years. The red-handed avenger of all who dared to intermeddle with the Mormon hierarchy, from 1847 at Council Bluffs down to 1865; when he shot his own son-in-law in cold blood near Ophir. No man in this country ever left a darker biography for cold blooded murders than this same Bill Hickman. During all his last days, having turned State's evidence against Brigham Young, he was as great a terror to the Mormon Church and the Mormon people as he had hitherto been to the Gentiles, whom he killed in cold blooded murder so often.
The man's history is a romance of crime unequaled by that of any living man, unless it be among the brigands of Italy, who are now almost exterminated, and hereafter I will give it to the readers of the Tribune in detail as I took it down from his own lips in the United States Marshal's office at Salt Lake in January, 1872, while preparing for the trial of Brigham Young et al. for the murder of a man by the name of Sprague, or Shaw, in the mountains of Utah, about 150 miles east of Salt Lake, during the winter when Johnson's army was encamped at Bridger, en route to Salt Lake.
THE MURDER OF SPRAGUE,
or Shaw, was actually committed by Hickman himself, but it was claimed that it was done under the orders of Brigham Young, sent to Hickman by Joseph Young, the eldest son of Brigham, and so it was charged in the indictment "that the President, Young, was an accessory before the fact, and really the principal criminal in the 'using up' or the murder of Sprague."
On arriving at Salt Lake, December 1, 1871, as United States District Attorney, I was notified by Justice McLean, then Chief Justice of the Territory, "that the trial of Brigham Young et al. on that indictment for murder was set for January 12, 1872, and that I, as United States District Attorney, was expected to be ready to try that case." Of the wild excitement then existing in the Territory of Utah; of the fact that it was no part of my duty as United States District Attorney to prosecute crime against the local laws of the Territory, but that that duty devolved as elsewhere only on the local prosecuting officers of the various counties and districts; of Brigham Young's flight to the extreme southern part of the Territory where, amid the mountain fastness and surrounded by his Mormon cohorts, he could have, and did actually, bid defiance to the Federal Government with all its power, nothing need now be said, but we will come at once to the preliminary examination of Bill Hickman, who would have been the main witness on whom the prosecution relied for the conviction of Brigham Young et al, for the murder of Sprague, if that were his name. So about the 6th or 7th of January, 1872, I directed the United States Marshal to bring Hickman from Camp Douglas, where he was confined, to his office that I might examine him and ascertain from his own lips what he would testify to on the stand. We met, and taking him into a small ante room, about 10x14, I sat down on the bed, pencil and paper in hand, while Hickman occupied the only chair in the room; and the horrible shock that I then and there received from that wretched person and his cool statement of this particular crime, and
THE NINETEEN OTHER MURDERS,
of which he detailed to me during those interviews, even yet makes me shudder. He was about five feet ten inches high, born in Missouri, with a head not unlike that of a bull buffalo, with enormous breadth of neck and shoulders; his weight was say 230 or 240 pounds; exceedingly low of forehead; jaws not unlike Bill Syke's famous and faithful bull dog; with his left eye fixed, as it were, in its socket, and covered all around its ball with thick blooded veins, and, like that of Chouette, in the "Wandering Jew," once fixed on persons transfixed them with horror. That bloodshot eye still peers upon me whenever I recall Bill Hickman, whom I frequently saw afterwards, and whose repeated and earnest invitations to me to go with him into the mountains for a hunting and fishing excursion I always respectfully declined. He and I became great friends seemingly, and he never failed to visit me while I remained in Utah.
But to his testimony. He stated to me "that this man Sprague, or Shaw, whom he murdered, was engaged as a spy in carrying information to the United States troops, who were then en route to Utah, and that he had furnished the troops with information as to where they could obtain supplies, and their best route into Salt Lake. For these reasons Brigham Young determined to have him captured or 'used up.' or put to death; and so Hickman was detailed with a mounted party of Mormons, and finally captured him and started with him to Salt lake, and while on the way Joseph Young arrived with orders from his father not to bring him in but to 'use him up' in the mountains, where his body never could be found, and where there could be no witnesses of his death except Hickman and his confederates. Accordingly, when night approached, Hickman sent his brother, Dr. Hickman, a very respectable man, with others on ahead, and encamped with his victim and the guard in a gorge, where a large fire was built, supper prepared and eaten, and the parties, except Hickman and two of his confederates, boys, all went to sleep with their feet to the fire, and their bodies covered with their blankets, first drenched thoroughly with valley tan or Mormon whisky. About midnight he and his two confederates took an ax, and moving quietly at the head of the 'Peddler Spy,'
CRUSHED IN HIS SKULL WITH THE AX,
and then took from his body his belt containing about $900 in gold, took off his pantaloons and shoes, and then removing the fire, buried his body under the ashes in the earth and replaced the fire over his grave so that the place of his burial could never be ascertained. This was done, according to Hickman's statement, in obedience to Brigham Young's orders, and immediately thereafter they went to Salt Lake and reported all their actions to President Young, who thereupon inquired of Hickman and his confederate "where Hickman got the pantaloons he then had on, and of the boy, where he got the shoes then on his feet," to which they both replied: "From the dead body of the murdered spy"; and Brigham responded thereto: 'Good for you, boys, I wish you had a thousand pairs from this same gang of United States villains, who are coming here to rob us of our homes.' He then called upon them to turn over to him as President the $900 in gold in the belt taken from the body," and then and there began the first feud between Hickman and President Young. The latter insisted and demanded that all this money should be turned over to the church,--that his expenses as President were very large in resisting the advances of the United States army; while Hickman on the other hand claimed that he had made large expenditures in the expedition and had furnished his own horses, so that he ought to be permitted to keep at least a part of it. Brigham Young, of course, conquered, and took every dollar of the gold, but the iron entered into Hickman's soul; and now it was that he anticipated his revenge, by swearing Young on to the gallows for the meanness in not dividing the plunder taken from the corpse of the murdered man. The manner in which Hickman described
THE CRUNCHING SOUND
as the skull of his victim was mashed in was as fearful and dramatic as McCullough's insane mumbling over the body of Appius Claudius, the Decemvir. But his last request on this occasion, as on various others in which he detailed to me the nineteen murders which he confessed to have perpetrated at the instigation of Brigham, was for whisky, for, said he, "Squire, I can't sleep of nights without whisky and a good deal of it," and accordingly supplying him with a quart bottle he drank it to the dregs and went back to the guard house at Camp Douglas with that bloody eye still fixed on me, more horrible and frightful than ever. Such was my first day's interview with Bill Hickman, and hereafter I will repeat a number of others always descriptive of other murders by himself and always ending with his quart of whisky and the stare from that horrid, pitiless, evil eye.
Ex-United States District Attorney of Utah.
--Salt Lake DailyTribune, 2 Sep 1883
Further Interesting Extracts from the Mormon Danite's Murderous Confessions.
It was a clear, crisp winter morning in January, 1872, when, in United States Marshal Patrick's office, in Salt Lake City, I once again met Bill Hickman, the quondom chief of the Danites of the Mormon Church, to continue my preliminary examination of this horrid murderer, so as to be able to use him successfully as a witness for
THE PEOPLE OF UTAH VS. BRIGHAM YOUNG ET AL.,
on the then pending indictment for the murder of Sha, the peddler spy. Coming directly from Camp Douglas in charge of a Deputy United States Marshal, his face was blue with the cold, and that pitiless bloody eye of his gleamed with more than its former ferocity as he took the solejehair in the little ante-room, and I, pencil in hand, sat on the bed side ready to take down from his own lips the terrible story of his wicked life.
THE AWFUL STORY.
But before we began he said: "Squar, it is a cold morning, and I must have whisky before I begin," and so, supplying him with a quart bottle from the Townsend hotel he swallowed about one-half of it, smacked his lips and then began: "In the winter of 1841 I joined the Mormons at Council Bluffs, Iowa; having been before this an exhorter at Methodist camp meetings and in the Methodist Church of Western Missouri; and then and there I first became a firm believer in the creed that the Mormon people were the chosen people of God and that Brigham Young was their prophet, seer and revelator; that he had the gift from heaven of foretelling future events; that he could speak in unknown tongues, and that God made special revelations to him of all matters touching the acts and measures and deeds of his chosen people--the Mormons. I was young, mighty, strong, feared neither God, man nor the devil, and I soon attracted the attention, secured the confidence and won the entire good will of President Young, so far as any man could achieve such a purpose. On several occasions Brigham listened to my burning exhortations, my bitter denunciations of the enemy and persecutors of this blessed people. And he sent for me, congratulating me on the spirit and out-pourings of my prayers and speeches; and flattered and encouraged my
THREATS OF VENGEANCE AND DESTRUCTION,
and death to all the enemies of his chosen people, and promised me promotion as a leader--and further, bishop of the Church--and made me to a certain extent a confidant of his plans and purposes to emigrate far beyond the limits of the United States, to renounce all allegiance to the Government, its Constitution and flag, and far away beyond the reach of its courts and legal processes, to set up an independent government over which he would be supreme ruler and dictator, and where his people would acknowledge allegiance to no one save God and the chosen President, Potentate, Seer and Revelator. I became at once as firm a convert to his creed, as ready to obey his commands and to fulfill his wishes, as I had previously been to show obedience to the God of my fathers, and I trusted as implicitly to him as the head of this peculiar people as I had ever hitherto done in the belief of a triune God, and felt that in obeying his command and carrying out his orders I was simply a servant of God, and that just in proportion as I won his commendation I should hereafter be promoted in heaven.
A POPULAR YOUNG CONVERT.
During the early part of the spring of 1847 there joined our people a very tall, lithe, enthusiastic young man about thirty years of age, with long black hair, very beautiful white teeth and in speech full of religious enthusiasm, and a very eloquent talker and exhorter, with a dark skin, flexible limbs, which proved he had the blood of an Indian--about a sixteenth part--in his veins, and who soon became very popular with the Mormon women and young men of the camps, but who exhibited a jealousy of the power and influence of Brigham Young, and made all possible efforts to win for himself a position in the church, independent of, if not in direct opposition to, our Chief and President. The prophet soon saw the drift of the neophyte, measured his capacity and discovered clearly that he was vain and foolish enough to try to weaken the seer's influence, and to build up for himself a position adverse to his own leadership in the Church; and so on various occasions he called my attention to the deeds and words of this young rival, and hinted that "his carrying off" would be gratifying to God and himself and beneficial to the Mormons, and finally told me that he had had a revelation that his body was found in the dark waters of the Big Muddy. I acted on the hint. One morning in April, 1847, after this young pretender had preached a most eloquent sermon on the banks of the river, and had prayed with such vehemence as to arouse the sobs and the tears of our sisters, he started for his tent, about a mile up the banks, and I followed him with my old Chassear rifle, and as he walked slowly along the river's low banks
I SHOT HIM,
took off his large scalp lock, took his body in a dug out, tied his feet to a heavy stone and dumped him overboard down in the wild stream where the turbid waters of that sandy river concealed forever all that remained of this ambitious young preacher, who dared to aspire to become a rival of Brigham Young.
For a day or two after this, my first Mormon murder I kept very quiet, but one evening took his scalp, enveloped in a cotton handkerchief, and sought an interview with Brigham Young, and after some playful conversation with him about the sudden disappearance of the young Indian orator I showed him the handkerchief containing the scalp, which he took in his fat, fluffy hands, stroked it down gently and with a grim smile he said: " 'Tis well he has gone before us to Heaven: keep this in remembrance of him"--and so I did, and years afterward in Salt Lake I used to carry that scalp to his home, where he seemed to be delighted to feel it, to study over it, and would always congratulate me that I had made the first martyr to the Mormon Church in Council Bluffs, and always renewed his promise to me, like that of Richellea to Joseph, that I should one day thereafter become a Mormon Bishop for my part in his taking off. Having finished his statement of his first murder, Hickman drained the quart bottle of whisky to its dregs, and then resumed.
THE LAST MURDER.
"But my last killing," he continued, "gives me more trouble and vexes my conscience more than all others. I had a daughter, a bright, pretty, smart Mormon girl, about 18 years old, whom I much desired should become the wife of some leader, some disciple or bishop in our Church--and I had always taught her that I had rather see her in her grave than the wife of any cursed Gentile, and that if she were to select any such man I would surely kill him if not her also. Well, girl-like, she became enamored of a young man--a Mexican or Spaniard, as I remember--and in spite of my warnings and entreaties they ran away and were married, but I brooded over it and studied over it, until one moonlight night I was coming along where they lived, on the shore of the lake just beyond Ophir, in a log house, and I had with me my double-barreled gun and half a dozen of my comrades, when, riding up to the door, I called out for a bucket of water. Her husband came out with a tin pail, but on seeing me he retreated; and his wife, my own daughter, came out with the pail of water and gave it to me. I drank, and handed it to one of my comrades, when just at this moment my son-in-law came out the door, and instantly I fired both barrels and killed him right there, in her presence. Then, giving spurs to our horses, we dashed away, cheering and swearing that such should be the end of all Gentiles who stole away our Mormon daughters. Now, Squar', in all this I acted under the inspiration of my spiritual teaching in the Mormon Church, and believed as honestly as I ever did in Christ Jesus that I was doing God's service; that we were the chosen people of God; that Brigham Young was our Prophet, President, Seer and Revelator, and that his teachings to us all to destroy all Gentiles as the enemies of the Church were revelations from heaven. Now, Squar', give me one more drink and I will go back to Camp Douglas for to-day."
GEO. C. BATES,
Ex-United States District Attorney.
--Salt Lake Daily Tribune, Wednesday Sep 12 1883.
To see a chronology of the period 1870 through 1872, click here. To learn more about Bill Hickman, click here. For other accounts of Bill Hickman's death, click here. To return to the Hickman Family index page, click here.