Some Church-inspired Murders

The murders committed during the "Reformation" which attracted

most attention, both because of the parties concerned, the effort

made by a United States judge to convict the guilty, and the

confessions of the latter subsequently obtained, have been known

as the Parrish, or Springville, murders. The facts concerning

them may be stated fairly as follows:--

William R. Parrish was one of the most outspoken champions of the

Twelve when the controversy with Rigdon occurred at Nauvoo after

Smith's death, and he accompanied the fugitives to Salt Lake

Valley. One evening, early in March, 1857, a Bishop named Johnson

(husband of ten wives), with two companions, called at Parrish's

house in Springville, and put to him some of the questions which

the inquisitors of the day were wont to ask--if he prayed,

something about his future plans, etc. It had been rumored that

Parrish's devotion to the church had cooled, and that he was

planning to move with his family--a wife and six children--to

California; and at a meeting in Bishop Johnson's council house a

letter had been read from Brigham Young directing them to

ascertain the intention of certain "suspicious characters in the

neighborhood,"* and if they should make a break and, being

pursued, which he required, he 'would be sorry to hear a

favorable report; but the better way is to lock the stable door

before the horse is stolen.' This letter was over Brigham's

signature."** This letter was the real cause of the Bishop's

visit to Parrish. At a meeting about a week later, A. Durfee and

G. Potter were deputed to find out when the Parrishes proposed to

leave the territory. Accordingly, Durfee got employment with

Parrish, and both of them gave him the idea that they sympathized

with his desire to depart. One morning, about a week later,

Parrish discovered that his horses had been stolen, and efforts

to recover them were fruitless.

* "There had been public preaching in Springville to the effect

that no Apostles would be allowed to leave; if they did, hog-

holes in the fences would be stopped up with them. I heard these

sermons."--Affidavit of Mrs. Parrish; appendix to "Speech of Hon.

John Cradlebaugh".

** Confession of J. M. Stewart, one of the Bishop's counsellors

and precinct magistrate.

Meanwhile, Parrish, unsuspicious of Potter and Durfee,* was

telling them of his continued plans to escape, how constantly his

house was watched, and how difficult it was for him to get out

the few articles required for the trip. Finally, at Parrish's

suggestion, it was arranged that he and Durfee should walk out of

the village in the daytime, as the method best calculated to

allay suspicion.

* Durfee's confession, appendix to Cradlebaugh's speech.

They carried out this plan, and when they got to a stream called

Dry Creek, Parrish asked Durfee to go back to the house and bring

his two sons, Beason and Orrin, to join him. When Durfee returned

to the house, at about sunset, he found Potter there, and Potter

set off at once for the meeting-place, ostensibly to carry some

of the articles needed for the journey.

Potter met Parrish where he was waiting for Durfee's return, and

they walked down a lane to a fence corner, where a Mormon named

William Bird was lying, armed with a gun. Here occurred what

might be called an illustration of "poetic justice." In the

twilight, Bird mistook his victim, and fired, killing Potter. As

Bird rose and stepped forward, Parrish asked if it was he who had

fired the unexpected shot. For a reply Bird drew a knife,

clenched with Parrish, and, as he afterward expressed it, "worked

the best he could in stabbing him." He "worked" so well that, as

afterward described by one of the men concerned in the plot,* the

old man was cut all over, fifteen times in the back, as well as

in the left side, the arms, and the hands. But Bird knew that his

task was not completed, and, as soon as the murder of the elder

Parrish was accomplished, taking his own and Potter's gun, he

again concealed himself in the fence corner, awaiting the

appearance of the Parrish boys. They soon came up in company with

Durfee, and Bird fired at Beason with so good aim that he dropped

dead at once. Turning the weapon on Orrin, the first cap snapped,

but he tried again and put a ball through Orrin's cartridge box.

The lad then ran and found refuge in the house of an uncle.

* Affidavit of J. Bartholemew before Judge Cradlebaugh.

The outcome of this crime? The arrest of ORRIN and Durfee as the

murderers by a Mormon officer; a farcical hearing by a coroner's

jury, with a verdict of assassins unknown; distrusted

participants in the crime themselves the object of the Mormon

spies and would-be assassins; the robbery of a neighbor who dared

to condemn the crime; a vain appeal by Mrs. Parrish to Brigham

Young, who told her he "would have stopped it had he known

anything about it," and who, when she persisted in seeking

another interview, had her advised to "drop it," and a failure by

the widow to secure even the stolen horses. "The wife of Mr.

Parrish told me," said Judge Cradlebaugh, when he charged the

jury concerning this case, "that since then at times she had

lived on bread and water, and still there are persons in this

community riding about on those horses."

The effort to have the men concerned in this and similar crimes

convicted, forms a part of the history of Judge Cradlebaugh's

judicial career after the "Mormon War," but it failed. When the

grand jury would not bring in indictments, he issued bench

warrants for the arrest of the accused, and sent the United

States marshal, sustained by a military posse, to serve the

papers. It was thus that the affidavits and confessions cited

were obtained. Then followed a stampede among the residents of

the Springville neighborhood, as the judge explained in his

subsequent speech, in Congress, the church officials and civil

officers being prominent in the flight, and, when their houses

were reached, they were occupied only by many wives and many

children. "I am justified," he told the House of Representatives,

"in charging that the Mormons are guilty, and that the Mormon

church is guilty, of the crimes, of murder and robbery, as taught

in their books of faith."*

* "I say as a fact that there was no escape for any one that the

leaders of the church in southern Utah selected as a victim....

It was a rare thing for a man to escape from the territory with

all his property until after the Pacific Railroad was built

through Utah."--LEE, "Mormonism Unveiled," pp. 275, 287.

Charles Nordhoff, in a Utah letter to the New York Evening Post

in May, 1871, said: "A friend said to me this afternoon, 'I saw a

great change in Salt Lake since I was there three years ago. The

place is free; the people no longer speak in whispers. Three

years ago it was unsafe to speak aloud in Salt Lake City about

Mormonism, and you were warned to be cautious.'"

Another of the murders under this dispensation, which Judge

Cradlebaugh mentioned as "peculiarly and shockingly prominent,"

was that of the Aikin party, in the spring of 1857. This party,

consisting of six men, started east from San Francisco in May,

1857, and, falling in with a Mormon train, joined them for

protection against the Indians. "When they got to a safer

neighborhood, the Californians pushed on ahead. Arriving in

Kayesville, twenty-five miles north of Salt Lake City, they were

at once arrested as federal spies, and their animals (they had an

outfit worth in all, about $25,000) were put into the public

corral. When their Mormon fellow-travellers arrived, they scouted

the idea that the men even knew of an impending "war," and the

party were told that they would be sent out of the territory. But

before they started, a council, held at the call of a Bishop in

Salt Lake City, decided on their death.

Four of the party were attacked in camp by their escort while

asleep; two were killed at once, and two who escaped temporarily

were shot while, as they supposed, being escorted back to Salt

Lake City. The two others were attacked by O. P. Rockwell and

some associates near the city; one was killed outright, and the

other escaped, wounded, and was shot the next day while under the

escort of "Bill" Hickman, and, according to the latter, by

Young's order. *

* Brigham's "Destroying Angel," p. 128.

A story of the escape of one man from the valley, notwithstanding

elaborate plans to prevent his doing so, has been preserved, not

in the testimony of repentant participants in his persecution,

but in his own words.*

* Leavenworth, Kansas, letter to New York Times, published May 1,


Frederick Loba was a prosperous resident of Lausanne,

Switzerland, where for some years he had been introducing a new

principle in gas manufacture, when, in 1853, some friends called

his attention to the Mormons' professions and promises. Loba was

induced to believe that all mankind who did not gather in Great

Salt Lake Valley would be given over to destruction, and that,

not only would his soul be saved by moving there, but that his

business opportunities would be greatly advanced. Accordingly he

gave up the direction of the gas works at Lausanne, and reached

St. Louis in December, 1853, with about $8000 worth of property.

There he was made temporary president of a Mormon church, and

there he got his first bad impression of the Mormon brotherhood.

On the way to Utah his wife died of cholera, leaving six

children, from six to twelve years old. Welcomed as all men with

property were, he was made Professor of Chemistry in the

University, and soon learned many of the church secrets. "These,"

to quote his own words, "opened my eyes at once, and I saw at a

glance the terrible position in which I was placed. I now found

myself in the midst of a wicked and degraded people, shut up in

the midst of the mountains, with a large family, and deprived of

all resources with which to extricate myself. The conviction had

been forced upon my mind that Brigham himself was at the bottom

of all the clandestine assassinations, plundering of trains, and

robbing of mails." The manner, too, in which polygamy was

practised aroused his intense disgust.

He married as his second wife an English woman, and his family

relations were pleasant; but the church officers were distrustful

of him. He was again and again urged to marry more wives, being

assured that with less than three he could not rise to a high

place in the church. "This neglect on my part," he explained,

"and certain remarks that I made with respect to Brigham's

friends, determined the prophet to order my private execution, as

I am able to prove by honest and competent witnesses." Loba

adopted every precaution for his own safety, night and day. Then

came the news of the Parrish murders, and there was so much alarm

among the people that there was talk of the departure of a great

many of the dissatisfied. To check this, when the plain threats

made in the Tabernacle did not avail, Young had a band of four

hundred organized under the name of "Wolf Hunters" (borrowed from

their old Hancock County neighbors), whose duty it was to see

that "the wolves" did not stray abroad.

Loba now communicated his fears to his wife, and found that she

also realized the danger of their position, and was ready to

advise the risk of flight. The plan, as finally decided on, was

that they two should start alone on April l, leaving the children

in care of the wife's mother and brother, the latter a recent

comer not yet initiated in the church mysteries.

At ten o'clock on the appointed night Loba and his wife--the

latter dressed in men's clothes--stole out of their house. Their

outfit consisted of one blanket, twelve pounds of crackers, a

little tea and sugar, a double-barrelled gun, a sword, and a

compass. They were without horses, and their route compelled them

to travel the main road for twenty-five miles before they reached

the mountains, amid which they hoped to baffle pursuit. They were

fortunate enough to gain the mountains without detention. There

they laid their course, not with a view to taking the easiest or

most direct route, but one so far up the mountain sides that

pursuit by horsemen would be impossible. This entailed great

suffering. The nights were so cold that sometimes they feared to

sleep. Add to this the necessity of wading through creeks in ice-

cold water, and it is easy to understand that Loba had difficulty

to prevent his companion from yielding to despair.

Their objective point was Greene River (170 miles from Salt Lake

City by road, but probably almost 300 by the route taken), where

they expected to find Indians on whose mercy they would throw

themselves. Two days before that river was reached they ate the

last of their food, and they kept from freezing at night by

getting some sage wood from underneath the snow, and using Loba's

pocket journal for kindling. Mrs. Loba had to be carried the

whole of the last six miles, but this effort brought them to a

camp of Snake Indians, among whom were some Canadian traders, and

there they received a kindly welcome. News of their escape

reached Salt Lake City, and Surveyor General Burr sent them the

necessary supplies and a guide to conduct them to Fort Laramie,

where, a month later, all the rest of the family joined them, in

good health, but entirely destitute.

They then learned that, as soon as their flight was discovered,

the church authorities sent out horsemen in every direction to

intercept them, but their route over the mountains proved their


* Referring to the frequent Mormon declarations that there were

fewer deeds of violence in Utah than in other pioneer settlements

of equal population, the Salt Lake Tribune of January 25, 1876,

said: "It is estimated that no less than 600 murders have been

committed by the Mormons, in nearly every case at the instigation

of their priestly leaders, during the occupation of the

territory. Giving a mean average of 50,000 persons professing

that faith in Utah, we have a murder committed every year to

every 2500 of population. The same ratio of crime extended to the

population of the United States would give 16,000 murders every


The Messenger, the organ of the Reorganized Church in Salt Lake

City, said in November, 1875: "While laying the waste pipes in

front of the residence of Brigham Young recently the skeleton of

a man--a white man--was dug up. A similar discovery was made last

winter in digging a cellar in this city. What can have been the

necessity of these secret burials, without coffins, in such


Social Conditions In Nauvoo The Building Up Of The City - Foreign Proselyting facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail