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Murder in Salt Lake City - April 6, 1866

Squire Newton Brassfield was a "Gentile" who came from Austin, Nevada, to Salt Lake City. He made the acquaintance of, and soon married, a Mrs. Mary Emma Hill, (March 27), plural wife of Elder Archibald N. Hill, then absent on a mission in England. No steps were taken to secure a divorce for Mrs. Hill, Mr. Brassfield or his advisers holding, doubtless, that her marriage to Hill had no legal status. There was an attempt made on the part of the newly wedded pair to remove the goods from the residence of Mr. Hill, occupied by the woman; legal resistance through the police was made to this act by the friends of the absent husband; there were threats of violence and the drawing of a pistol upon the officers by Brassfield; the offender was arrested and a charge made against him both for larceny and for assault with intent to kill; on these charges he was released by giving bail. Then followed the effort of Mrs. Brassfield by writ of habeas corpus procedure to secure custody of the children by the former husband, and while this case was pending in court, Brassfield, when about to enter his hotel in company with Captain J. K. Hosmer, United States marshal, some person stepped out of an alleyway, shot him and ran off, pursued and fired at by a policeman in the vicinity, but the slayer escaped without being recognized. About forty-five minutes after he was shot, Brassfield died. 

The act of violence produced a sensation in Salt Lake City. Judge Elias Smith of the Salt Lake county probate court--which then had criminal as well as civil jurisdiction, and was then in session--called the grand jury into court and gave them a special charge "to use all diligence and take every necessary step to bring the offenders" in this and some other recent cases of street violence to the bar of justice, "that the majesty of the law might be enforced." The Gentile population raised a subscription reward of $4,500 for the arrest of the slayer of Brassfield, but neither this nor the efforts of the grand jury elicited any information. The quality of this act was variously viewed by the community. By the non-"Mormons" generally who, of course, had no regard for the sanctity of the plural marriages allowed by the Latter-day Saint Church, Brassfield was justified in marrying Mrs. Hill; indeed it was regarded as a meritorious act; and his taking off characterized as a case of "Mormon blood atonement." On the part of the Latter-day Saint community, who held plural marriages to be as sacred as monogamic marriages, the act of Brassfield was of the same quality as if he had invaded a monogamic home and taken from it the wife of an absent and undivorced husband. This is clear from the remarks of President Young during the general conference of the church which opened four days after the shooting of Brassfield, and the editorial comment of the Deseret News. Brassfield was also accused by a Provo correspondent of the Salt Lake Daily Telegraph with already being a married man when he went through the ceremony of marriage with Mrs. Hill; that he had a wife in Kansas; and that Mrs. Hill was not the first woman he had caused to leave her husband.  

The following is important evidence in the case:
Provo City, April 12th, 1866.

Editor Telegraph: 

Dear Sir :--There seems to be considerable excitement over the Brassfield case. For the satisfaction of those who were not acquainted with Brassfield before he came to Utah, I will say to them that Mrs. Hill was not the first woman he caused to leave her husband. Brassfield was a married man and has a wife in Kansas, whom he has been away from several years.

I was acquainted with Brassfield before he came to Utah, and told him before and after he came here how men were expected to conduct themselves while here, and cautioned him particularly not to tamper with any man's wife or daughter while he was here, for if he did the probability was he would get into trouble.

Yours, etc., (Signed) "W. D. R."  

The business partner of Brassfield denied this statement in a communication to the Telegraph; but the editor of that paper in acknowledging the request for the publication of the denial, stated that "from the assurance in a private note" accompanying its Provo correspondent's published communication, asserting that proof was on hand "if required" as to Brassfield's status, said--"We cannot reasonably abate our confidence in the statement of our Provo correspondent."  The community could not fail to be as divided with reference to this charge and the denial of it--and by the same line of cleavage--membership or non-membership in the "Mormon" church--as in relation to the quality of the act of Brassfield's marriage.  But if the charge of bigamy against Brassfield was true, then his act of marriage with Mrs. Hill was all the more reprehensible and was seduction under the false pretension of marriage.  Brigham Young undoubtedly accepted the information that had come from Provo as true, and therefore in a somewhat noted dispatch to General Sherman--noted later--so characterized Brassfield's conduct. 

It added to the aggravation of the case that it was but one of a number of similar cases; and had been suggested as a regular policy in order to break up the "Mormon" plural marriage system. Mr. Bowles of the late Colfax party had suggested that the soldiers at Camp Douglas illustrated the way in which "polygamy will fade away." "Two companies," he writes, "who went home to California last fall (1864], took about twenty-five wives with them, recruited from the Mormon flocks. There are now some fifty or more women in the camp who have fled [?] thither from town for protection, or been seduced away from unhappy homes and fractional husbands; and all or nearly all find new husbands among the soldiers." "Our bachelor stage-driver out of Salt Lake," said Mr. Bowles later, "who said he expected to have a revelation soon to take one of the extra wives of a Mormon saint, is a representative of the coming man. Let the Mormons look out for him."  

The Brassfield incident, as already stated, attracted wide attention outside of Utah and especially in government circles. Orders had been given to disband the remaining volunteers at Camp Douglas, but upon the report of the Brassfield homicide reaching the east, and the rumors of subsequent excitement "threatening an outbreak," the order was countermanded until regular troops could relieve them; "the government at the same time, by telegraph dispatches, assuring the people [i. e. the Gentiles] that they would be protected in their lives and property to the full extent of its power." 

Sensational telegraphic reports were sent east over the affair, and an hysterical effort made to create anti-"Mormon" sentiment with an appeal for military protection for non-"Mormon" federal appointees, and Gentiles generally, as is witnessed by the following telegram sent to General P. E. Connor, then in New York. Associate Justice McCurdy, it will be seen, had performed the Brassfield-Hill nuptials:

Telegram to General Connor

Great Salt Lake City, April 8, 1866
Brigadier General P. E. Connor
Metropolitan Hotel, New York: 

I married S. N. Brassfield to a Mormon woman, on the 28th ultimo.  Brassfield was assassinated on the night of the 6th instant. I have been denounced and threatened publicly. Government officials here have telegraphed to the secretary of war to retain troops here until others are sent to relieve them. Call on secretary of war, learn his conclusions and answer; I feel unsafe in person and property without protection. 

Associate Justice Supreme Court, U. T.

Telegrams Between General W. T. Sherman And Brigham Young

General Sherman, on the 10th of April, sent the following dispatch: 

A telegram comes to me from responsible officers that four men styled `Gentiles,' have been murdered by Mormons, and that there is apprehension of further danger from this class. By `Gentiles' I understand American citizens not of your religious belief. I am bound to give protection to all citizens, regardless of religious faith, and shall do so. These murderers must be punished, and if your people resort to measures of intimidation those must cease. All of our people must have equal rights within the limits of our national domain. I know little or nothing of the causes of local trouble in Utah, but it is well for you to know that our country is now full of tried and experienced soldiers who would be pleased at a fair opportunity to avenge any wrongs you may commit against any of our citizens, even in that remote region. I will soon have regular troops in Utah, and on the road leading there, when I hope we will receive reports on which to base accurate opinions, and I send you this message, not as a threat, but as a caution that a sensible man should heed.

[Signed] W. T. Sherman
Major General Commanding Department

To this Brigham Young sent the following reply: 

Great Salt Lake City, April 11, 1866.
Major General W. T. Sherman, St. Louis: 

Sir :--Your telegram of yesterday is at hand, and contents duly considered. The reports that have reached you are not reliable, satisfactory evidence of which I will telegraph you as soon as the testimony of reliable gentlemen, not `Mormons,' can be had, say within twenty....... B. Young." 

And the next day this was sent: 

Great Salt Lake City, April 12, 1866.

Sir :--I am under many obligations to you for your kindness in telegraphing me respecting reports which have reached [you] from this place, as it affords me the opportunity of stating facts. 

 As nigh as we can learn there have been telegrams sent from here to the east which have not been reliable. Your telegram gives us some idea of their purport. There have been no such assassinations as alluded to in your dispatch. On March 17th a soldier shot a gentleman named Mayfield, and a Mr. Brassfield came home and seduced a `Mormon's' wife, and was shot on the street by some unknown person; but neither I nor the community at large knew any more about it than an inhabitant of St. Louis. Citizens who are not of our faith do not suffer from intimidation here. In no other communities could men pursue the course many do here without experiencing the vengeance of a vigilance committee. The outrageous slanders they have circulated against us would have provoked such an outbreak elsewhere. 

 There are a few speculators here who are anxious to make it appear that American citizens' lives are in danger through religious fanaticism, hoping thereby to have troops sent here to make money out of contracts. Gentiles lives are as safe here as `Mormons,' and acts of violence occur more rarely in this city than any other of its size in any of the new states or territories.

B. Young." 

 Citizens Of Utah To General Sherman 

"Major General Sherman: Sir :--We the undersigned residents of Great Salt Lake City, and not members of the Mormon church, have read the above telegram of Mr. Young, and freely certify that we fully believe that citizens of every class, who simply attend to their own business, are as free from intimidation and as fully respected in their rights in this city as in any part of the United States.

[Signed] "W. Willard Smith, lieutenant colonel 6th U. S. V., commanding Camp Douglas; Captain E. J. Bennett, C. S. Vols.; N. S. Ransohoof & Co., merchants; Ellis & Bro., merchants; J. B. Kimball, merchant; Bodenburg & Kahn, merchants; Walker Bros., merchants; F. H. Head, superintendent Indian affairs; Nounnan, Orr & Co., bankers; J. H. Jones, merchant; J. G. Hughes, representative of Holiday & Halsey, bankers; J. W. Calder, late captain N. C. Vols.; M. G. Lewis, ex-assistant adjutant general U. S. Vol.; Stebbins & Co., merchants."

General Sherman To Brigham Young 

Sir --Your dispatch is received and I am much gratified at its substance and spirit.

[Signed] "W. T. Sherman." Major General Commanding Department."

Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1830 - 1930, B. H. Roberts Comprehensive History of the Church, Volume 5, Chapter 130. The Colfax Party In Utah - The Brassfield Homicide - General Babcock's Report On Conditions In Utah.

Squire Newton Brassfield's brother, James F. Marion Brassfield was killed by Sioux Indians while crossing the plains in 1861.  Their father, Dennis Michael T. Brassfield served in the Tennessee Militia during the war of 1812.


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