I Found it in the Archives: 1861 Criminal Case

Recently, a patron called the Archives asking about a criminal case from the 1860s that had included his ancestor.  We were able to provide the patron with criminal case files discussing the involvement of his ancestor in the beating and robbing of the third governor of Utah Territory.

In 1861, John W. Dawson was appointed as the third governor of Utah Territory by Abraham Lincoln.  He was only in office three weeks, leaving town on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1861.  He had reportedly propositioned a Mormon widow who responded by beating him with a fire shovel.  Dawson offered the widow $3,000.00 to keep quiet about the incident, but she refused the money and the story got out.  Amidst additional tensions involving the Federal government and Mormon residents, Dawson fled the City and made it to a Pony Express station near Mountain Dell.  Here Dawson thought that he was safe.  However, seven young Mormon men had followed his stagecoach.  They went in to the station, one man standing in the doorway with a pistol saying that “if any one was an enemy to Utah he would shoot their heads off.”  People that were in the station left for fear of injury.  The men beat Dawson and also robbed him of clothing and other items.

A posse eventually caught up with all of the men, killing several that refused to surrender.  The remaining men were brought back to the Salt Lake County jail, with one attempting to escape and being shot and killed immediately.  Of the charge of assault and battery: two men were found not guilty, one found guilty and fined $50.00.  Of the charge of larceny: one was sentenced to six months hard labor at the State prison.

Assault and battery charges against three members of the group accused of attacking the governor.

Excerpt from testimony by A. Tillotson: “….saw Wood Reynolds strike the Gov. and Jason Luce kick him – witnesses then left the room. One man stood in door with a pistol in his hand – saw no person interfere to prevent the beating – heard some one at the door say if any one was an enemy to Utah he would shoot their head off….”

Source: Salt Lake County Probate Court, Civil and Criminal Case Files, Series PC-303 , box 8, file folders 15; 29. 

This story has been part of our “I Found it in the Archives” series celebrating Utah Archives Month.  Watch for more blog entries throughout the month of October discussing fascinating record discoveries made by patrons using the County record collections.  And leave a comment about records that you have found in our Archives!

This entry was posted in Territorial Records, Utah Archives Month, Utah history and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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