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.
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!