Brigham's Destroying Angel




by Jerald and Sandra Tanner

    The following is a photomechanical reprint of the 1904 edition of Brigham's Destroying Angel. J. H. Beadle claimed that Bill Hickman wrote this manuscript, and gave it to him for publication. In this book Bill Hickman claims that he committed murderers by the orders of Brigham Young and the Apostle Orson Hyde. Dr. Hugh Nibley, of the Brigham Young University, claims that "The Hickman stories were not true." Dr. Nibley also accuses J.H. Beadle of inventing these stories. He stated:

"...we believe that those tales are Beadle's invention,..." (Sounding Brass, by Hugh Nibley, page 264)

    There is little doubt that J.H. Beadle was very opposed to the Mormon Church (see chapter one of this book which was written by Mr. Beadle), however, there is evidence that Mr. Beadle did not invent the stories. R.N. Baskin, who was mayor of Salt Lake City and a member of the supreme court of the State of Utah, made this statement in his book, Reminiscences of Early Utah:

    "One evening in 1872, Samuel Gilson, who discovered the gilsonite deposits in eastern Utah, came to my office and informed me that the United States marshal held a warrant for the arrest of Bill Hickman, and that he was hiding to avoid arrest by the marshal and escape assassination by members of the Danite organization of which he had formerly been an active member. That having piloted General Connor's soldiers into Utah, and having severed his connection with that organization, his former Danite associates had become suspicious of him, and were seeking his life, and that he wanted to employ me as his attorney. I most positively refused to become Hickman's attorney. Mr. Gilson then stated that Hickman had expressed a desire to make a confession, and that even if I did not accept the offer of employment, that if I would agree to meet him he thought Hickman was in such a state of mind that he would tell me what he knew regarding the numerous murders which had been committed in the Territory. As I was desirous of ascertaining whether such an organization as the Danites or 'Destroying Angels'—which was so much talked about and feared, especially by apostate Mormons—actually existed, and as Hickman—if it did exist—would know, I consented to meet him and instructed Mr. Gilson to inform him of that fact. In a short time afterward Mr. Gilson returned to my office and said that Hickman was ready to meet me if I would promise not to have him arrested. This I promised. Hickman, about eleven o'clock at night, in company with Mr. Gilson, came to my office. I had never seen Hickman before. After we had been formally introduced by Gilson, I stated to Hickman what Gilson had told me respecting his inclination to tell what he knew about the matters before mentioned. He hesitated, and I said to him that if, as generally asserted, he was or had been a member of such an organization, and had participated in the numerous murders which had been committed in the Territory, that the only atonement now within his power was to reveal the facts, as it might aid in preventing the commission of other like crimes. After deliberating for about a minute, he said that during his seclusion his mind had been greatly disturbed by the matter, and that he had finally concluded to reveal the facts to me, although in doing so he would acknowledge his own guilt. Procuring a pad and pencil I took down all that he said and also cross-examined him closely. We were together several hours. At that meeting he revealed most of the numerous crimes contained in his published confession, but in more minute detail. I told him that I wanted him to meet me again and repeat his statements. This he consented to do. Within two or three weeks thereafter I met him a second time and, as before, took down what he said and cross-examined him. My purpose in doing this was to test the truth of his confession, because if not true, his several statements would in all probability be inconsistent. At various times when I had leisure I critically examined and compared the statements, and while in the second one he mentioned two cases of murder which he had omitted in the first one, and in the second added some details which were not contained in the first, I failed to detect any contradictory statements. The statements of other persons made to me tended to corroborate his confessions." (Reminiscences of Early Utah, by R.N. Baskin, pp. 36-37)

On pages 150 and 152 of the same book, Mr. Baskin states:

    "The Danites were an organization in the Mormon church. Its existence was stated by Bill Hickman in his confession made to me. He gave me the names of more than a score of its active members, among whom were a number of reputed notorious Danite assassins. He stated that the members were bound by their covenants to execute the orders of the priesthood, and that when a direct order or intimation was given to "use up" anyone, it was always executed by one or more of the members according to the circumstances of the case. That such an organization existed is conclusively shown by the numerous mysterious murders which were never investigated by the executive officers of the Territory, or any attempt made to prosecute the guilty parties. The Mormon sermons, the confessions of Hickman and Lee, and numerous other circumstances made plain its existence. Hickman confessed to me that he personally knew of thirteen persons having been murdered, some of them by him, and others by various Danites; that at one time he murdered a man by the name of Buck at the personal request of Brigham Young. Hickman's statement of this affair in his published confession is substantially the same as given to me, in fuller detail,...

    "I remember distinctly that Hickman in relating that occurrence to me, said that Buck, when he was shot, sprang out of the wagon, and while he was struggling on the ground, Meacham dismounted and drove his bowie knife twice into his body. He was up to this event the sole survivor of the Aiken party, who were murdered by Porter Rockwell and his ever-ready assistants at the 'point of the mountain' on the road to Lehi." (Reminiscences of Early Utah, pages 150-151)

On page 264 of his book, Sounding Brass, Dr. Nibley makes the following statement:

"The patent absurdity of the 'Confessions' become apparent on the most superficial investigation and grows with every monotonous episode.

" could Beadle and everybody else back East know all about Hickman and his Danites for years before Hickman ever divulged his deep secrets?" (Sounding Brass, page 264)

R.N. Baskin shows, however, that Hickman's crimes were well known at least 13 years before:

    "Among the many heartless murders committed by the Danites was that of Jesse P. Hartley, published in Hickman's confession as follows:

    " 'Hartley was a young lawyer who had come to Salt Lake City the fall before, and had married a Miss Bullock of Provo,... at the April conference, Brigham Young, before the congregation, gave him a tremendous blowing up, called him all sorts of bad names, and saying he ought to have his throat cut, which made him feel very bad. He declared he was not guilty of the charges. I saw Orson Hyde looking sour at him, and after he had been in camp an hour or two, Hyde told me he had orders from Brigham Young, if he (Hartley) came to Fort Supply, to have him used up. 'Now,' said he, 'I want you and George Boyd to do it.' I saw him and Boyd talking together; then Boyd came to me and said, 'its all right Bill, I'll help you to kill that fellow.'... Orson Hyde then whispered to me, 'now is your time; don't let him come back.' We started, and in about half a mile we had to cross the canyon stream, which was mid-side to our horses. While crossing, Hartley got a shot and fell dead in the creek....

    "In the early days of my experience in Utah, I frequently had cases which required me to go to the city of Provo, and when attending court there I lodged at Mr. Bullock's hotel. Having heard of the murder of Hartley, and that his wife was a sister of Mr. Bullock, I asked him on one occasion, while stopping at his hotel, whether what I had heard respecting the murder of Hartley was true. He stated that Hartley had incurred the displeasure of Brigham Young, who at a public meeting had used strong language against Hartley, and had ordered him to leave the speakers stand; that on account of the charges made by Brigham, which Bullock said were not true, Hartley was put under the ban of the church, and decided to change his residence. He joined the company of Judge Appleby, and while leaving the Territory was murdered by Hickman. I asked Mr. Bullock if the matter had ever been investigated by the executive authorities, and he said it had not been, although it was generally known that Hickman had committed the crime. I also asked him why he had not instituted proceedings against Hickman. He shook his head significantly and replied, 'Don't press me for an answer to that question.'

    "The following account of the murder of Hartley, given by his wife THIRTEEN YEARS BEFORE THE CONFESSION OF HICKMAN, is contained in Mrs. Mary Etta V. Smith's book entitled, 'Fifteen Years Residence with the Mormons,' pages 309-310, and is as follows:

    " 'I married Jesse Hartley knowing he was a gentile in fact, though he passed for a Mormon; but that made no difference with me, because he was a noble man and sought only the right. Being my husband, he was brought into close contact with the heads of the church, and thus was soon enabled to learn of many things he did not approve of, and of which I was ignorant though brought up among the Saints, and which if known to the Gentiles would have greatly damaged us. I do not understand all he discovered, or all he did; but they found he had written against the church, and he was cut off, and the prophet required as an atonement for his sins that he should lay down his life; that he should be sacrificed in the endowment rooms, where such atonement is made. This I never knew until my husband told me—but it is true. They kill those there who have committed sins too great to be atoned for in any other way. The prophet says if they submit to this he can save them, otherwise they are lost. Oh, that is horrible! But my husband refused to be sacrificed, and so set out alone for the United States, thinking that there might be at least a hope of success. I told him when he left me and left his child, that he would be killed; and so he was.

    " 'William Hickman and another Danite shot him in the canyons, and I have often since been obliged to cook for this man when he passed this way, knowing all the while he had killed my husband. My child soon followed his father, and I hope to die also, for why should I live? They have brought me here, where I wish to remain rather than return to Salt Lake where the murderers of my husband curse the earth, and roll in affluence, unpunished.' " (Reminiscences of Early Utah pp. 152-154)

    In a sermon delivered Dec. 25, 1859, the Mormon Apostle Amasa Lyman made it clear that the people in the east associated Bill Hickman's name with crime:

    "The spirit of thieving stalks abroad in our land,... say some, we hear that there is stealing done over yonder (pointing towards the west), and that it is BILL HICKMAN and his gang that do it. (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 7, page 307)

    Dr. Nibley claims that the Mormon Church was not aware of Bill Hickman's crimes:

    "To Beadle's mind the significant thing about Hickman was that the Mormons knew he was bad, and yet did not prosecute him. Prosecute him for what? The West was full of bad and dangerous men who couldn't be prosecuted until they were caught in a crime. Hickman's early crimes were ALL MOST SECRET, KNOWN ONLY TO HIMSELF, until he confessed to Beadle." (Sounding Brass, page 258)

    Notice that Dr. Nibley says that Bill Hickman and other bad men could not "be prosecuted until they were caught in a crime." Evidence shows, however, that Bill Hickman was caught stealing horses, and that the Mormon Apostle Orson Hyde "Gave it as the word of the Lord" that he should be set free. In footnote 67 on page 328 of A Mormon Chronicle, the Diaries of John D, Lee, Vol. 1, the following appears:

    "John Bennion, who was Hickman's neighbor in Taylorsville, told an interesting story of the efforts made by the local Bishop and council to punish Hickman for horse stealing. When the Bishop and council had prepared their case against Hickman, ORSON HYDE appeared at the meeting in time to stop public action. 'After meeting Bp., council,' & Elder Hyde had a long talk at my house,' wrote Bennion. 'Br. Hyde said, speaking of the stealing, that a man MAY STEAL AND BE INFLUENCED BY THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD TO DO IT—THAT HICKMAN HAD DONE IT YEARS PAST—Said that he never would institute a trial against a BROTHER FOR STEALING FROM THE GENTILES, but stealing from his brethern, he was down on it. He laid down much on the subject.

    " 'Sund., 14 Oct., 1860, Br. Hyde... spoke on last nights intention to try HICKMAN. Gave it as THE WORD OF THE LORD TO SET HIM FREE for the past, bid him go & sin no more....' "

    It was Brigham Young himself who said:

    "And if the Gentiles wish to see a few tricks, we have 'Mormons' that can perform them. WE HAVE THE MEANEST DEVILS ON THE EARTH in our midst, and WE INTEND TO KEEP THEM, FOR WE HAVE USE FOR THEM and if the Devil does not look sharp, we will cheat him out of them at the last, for they will reform and go to heaven with us." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 6, page 176)

Brigham Young also stated:

    "If men come here and do not behave themselves, they will not only find the DANITES, whom they talk so much about, biting the horses' heels, but the scoundrels will find them biting their heels. In my plain remarks, I merely call things by their RIGHT NAMES. Brother Kimball is noted in the States for calling things by their right names, and you will excuse me if I do the same." (Journal of Discourses, V. 5, p. 6)

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