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Thursday, April 28, 2011

District Court Trials of 1858-59

Two incidents that occurred in 1858 may have had some bearing on James Gammell’s November 14 excommunication from the Mormon Church.  On June 3, 1858, just one day before General Johnston’s army began marching toward Salt Lake Valley, the Mormon militia was monitoring the army’s movements.  Lt. James Ferguson wrote to Daniel H. Wells concerning the activities of his militia.  He seemed to suspect that Jim Gammell was providing “aid and comfort to the enemy”:

Are you aware that in addition to the two teams that accompanied Ben Simons…five others heavily laden brought up his rear; three of which were under the charge of Jim Gammell, whom if McGraw(1) gets hold of, a little boot might be given in trade.  It may be that all the flour contained in those teams was intended for the Indians.  I am inclined to Thomasize [doubt] on that point.  And what material difference is there between flour and bacon when the enemy is equally in want of each?  I am afraid General Ben is but a tool.  At any rate I think somebody or other has wrung in a team or two that Lewis knew nothing about.  A guard of 8 foot [soldiers] and 2 horses will today be placed at the mouth of each of the two canyons you referred to.  I have requested Gen. West to take the necessary precautions against any parties going out from or by way of the Northern settlements.(2)

Another event that could have precipitated James’ excommunication took place in November 1858.  Judge Charles E. Sinclair convened the First Judicial District Court in Great Salt Lake City.  In his instructions to the grand jury he urged them to prosecute “the leading men of the Territory for treason, for intimidation of the courts, and for polygamy.”  As part of the peace negotiations that had settled the so-called Utah War, President Buchanan had pardoned any Mormon hostilities that had occurred during the conflict, but the three federal judges insisted that the hostile offenses be brought before the court.  Judge Sinclair wanted to summon ex-Governor Young, Lieutenant-General Daniel H. Wells, and other leading Mormons, particularly the Apostles:

…to make them admit that they had been guilty of treason, and make them humbly accept from him the President’s clemency…But it was something more radical and serious than a vainglorious effort to humble Utah to the footstool of a Federal Judge.  It was an attempt to reopen in the courts the entire conflict, which had so nearly come to the issue of war.  U. S. District Attorney Wilson, however, would not present to the jury bills of indictment for treason, pleading that the Commissioners had presented the pardon, and the people had accepted it, and the Governor had proclaimed that peace was restored to the Territory…Sinclair’s judicial service was a failure...(3)

No names of witnesses or jury members are cited in the Tullidge account of Sinclair’s November 1858 court, but James Gammell did sign an affidavit before Judge Sinclair in March 1859 condemning the authorities of the Mormon Church.(4)  (Further research could determine whether or not James was involved in the original trial in November.)

A few months after his excommunication James became involved in Judge Cradlebaugh’s trials, aimed at implicating “the leaders of the Mormon Church in all the criminal offenses and deeds of violence done within the Territory”(5) of Utah.  The first case that Cradlebaugh investigated from his District Court in Provo, Utah, focused on the Parrish-Potter murders of March 1857, which had taken place at Springville.

Two of the murder victims were William Parrish and his adult son, Beatson.  Both had apostatized from the Mormon Church.  They had planned to leave for California, against the wishes of local church authorities.  They acquired two good horses and hid them in a cane thicket on the edge of town.  Before dawn on the morning of the planned escape, William Parrish, his sons (Beatson and Orin), and a man named Duff Potter were attacked when they went to retrieve the horses.  Several men hiding in ambush fired at them and then engaged in a bloody hand-to-hand encounter.  Orin managed to escape into a cornfield.(6)

During the trial James gave testimony implicating Alfred Nethercot(7) and other “Prominent men” in the murders:

Testimony of James Gamble [sic] taken before the court of Chambers at Provo City March 23, 1859:

Last May [1858] riding over the ground with Alfred Nethercot coming from Palmyra,(8) Nethercot said Jim if you had seen what I saw here a year ago it would have surprised you—he stated that Parish and Potter – he tried to carry the idea that he [Nethercot] did it—he said the party that fired upon them were secreted in the locust in the corner of the fence—he pointed to the spot where the old man fell—where Beetson fell about 50 yards away and where Potter fell the place was about eight rods from the corner of the fence—we were in that grove—he said those men [Wm. & Beatson Parish] were calculating to leave the Territory and to steal horses and we headed them in it—the Prominent men spoke openly in regard to cutting the throats of Apostates.(9)

On Wednesday morning, March 23, James gave testimony and was examined by the attorneys.  It was concluded that he “knew nothing except hearsay.”  One attorney, Mr. Stout, "objected to the witness on the grounds that, from his own statement, he was not in this country at the time the murder was committed."(10)

One week later James, along with five other Springville residents, signed an affidavit accusing the leadership of the Mormon Church of sanctioning the murders, but more importantly, the document focused on the presence of federal troops at the court proceedings:

Territory of Utah, Utah County,
We, Albert Parrish, Henry Higgins, James O’Bannion, Leonard Phillips, Orlin Parrish and James Gammell, do solemnly swear…that we were summoned to appear as witnesses before the United States District Court for the 2nd Judicial District of said Territory, which convened at the city of Provo, on the 8th March, 1859; that we possessed certain knowledge of various crimes…on account of which said knowledge we had been so summoned; that on account of the participation in, or sanction afterwards of the said crimes, by the community…emanating as we believe from the authorities of the Mormon church; we considered our lives and property in imminent peril from the Mormon community, should we appear and testify to the facts within our knowledge, unless a portion of the United States troops should (as they have been) be stationed in the town of Provo, near enough the Court room to guarantee safety, and that from the Mormon community we have received threats of intimidation, in case we should divulge the facts concerning said crimes, which have come to our knowledge, and which threats we believe would have been carried into execution but for the timely aid afforded by the Commanding General in the stationing of troops, now in and near this city; and further, we believe our lives to be in danger henceforward without military protection from United States troops…

Subscribed and sworn to before me this 29th day of March 1859.
Charles E. Sinclair, Associate Justice Supreme Court, Utah Territory.(11)

The main objective of this court affidavit was to justify Cradlebaugh’s judicial order summoning the United States army to protect his court.  Much of the conflict in these District Court proceedings was not with the Mormons, but with other federal officials, a result of Cradlebaugh usurping the executive powers of Governor Cumming, and the prosecutorial role of U.S. District Attorney Wilson.  Governor Cumming asserted that the court had no authority to call for the aid of the military, except through him.  As Judge Sinclair had done the previous November, Cradlebaugh took a “most extraordinary judicial action,” extraordinary in that he assumed the roles of investigator, prosecutor, as well as judge.  In his summation of the evidence in the Springville murder trial, Judge Cradlebaugh concluded:

You are the tools, the dupes, the instruments of a tyrannical church despotism.  The heads of your church order and direct you.  You are taught to obey their orders and commit these horrid murders.  Deprived of your liberty you have lost your manhood, and become the willing instruments of bad men.  I say to you it will be my earnest effort, while with you, to knock off your ecclesiastical shackles and set you free.(12) 

In 1886, Edward Tullidge wrote his assessment of the Cradlebaugh trials.  He reasoned that “with such a grand jury, charged in this manner by such a judge, it was impossible to accomplish the ends of justice; equally impossible whether they had been ‘the willing instruments’ of a ‘tyrannical church,’ or a grand jury of honest, innocent men.”(13)

  1. McGraw and his Missouri mob attacked James the previous year.  (See post “Leaving Texas.”)  John Taylor wrote, “My private opinion, from the twinkle of his eye, when speaking on the subject is, that it would not be very good for McGraw’s health to meet him [James] on equal grounds.”
  2. Letter from James Ferguson to Daniel H. Wells, June 3, 1858, Great Salt Lake City.
  3. Tullidge, Edward William, History of Salt Lake City, pp. 226-231.
  4. The affidavit was published in the newspaper Valley Tan on April 5, 1859.
  5. Tullidge, Edward William, History of Salt Lake City, pp. 226-231.
  6. Johnson, Don Carlos, A Brief History of Springville, 1900, pp. 40-41.
  7. See Hosea Stout diary, March 22, 1859: “Alfred Nethercott was called as a witness today, and not testifying to suit T. S. Williams & the judge, was arrested by a bench warrant previously prepared for him. This makes 4 persons arrested for the murder of Parrishes & Potter against who there is not the shadow of evidence."     See  
  8. Palmyra, Utah County, Utah, is a small town located west of Springville and northwest of Spanish Fork.
  9. Church History Library Archives, CR 100 397, Box 1, Fd. 1859 Feb- June.
  10. "Court Doings at Provo", Deseret News, March 30, 1859, p. 8.
  11. Published in Kirk Anderson’s Valley Tan, April 5, 1859.
  12. Tullidge, Edward William, History of Salt Lake City, Salt Lake City, 1886, pp. 226-231.
  13. Tullidge, pp. 226-231.

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