Brigham's Destroying Angel

Brigham's Destroying Angel:

Being the Life, Confession, and Startling Disclosures of the Notorious Bill Hickman, the Danite Chief of Utah

by Bill Hickman (1815-1883)


New York: Geo. A. Crofutt, Publishers, No. 138 Nassau Street, (Park Hotel), 1872.

Excerpts from Chapters IV and V.

Brigham's Destroying Angel online


THIS WINTER,'56-'57, one Mr. Hiram Kimball got a contract to carry the mail from Independence, Missouri, to Salt Lake City, once a month for four years. He not being a man of much means in those days, though he had been wealthy in Nauvoo times, sought assistance from O. P. Rockwell and myself, both of us having stock to carry the mail. We agreed upon terms; Rockwell was to carry from Fort Laramie to Salt Lake, and I from Laramie to Independence. Arrangements being made, I was ready to start, although two parties had tried to get through the mountains and failed, one man having frozen to death before going twenty miles.

About this time Brigham Young and others got up a great carrying and express company, and made us put our mail interests into that company, and run together. I was sick of it, and tried to get out, but "No," said Brigham Young, "You are the very man; get your bays and roll out; you can go." I obeyed reluctantly. I dreaded the trip, knowing I would have to be gone three months or more, suffer many privations, be at a heavy expense, and the way they had things fixed, not make a dollar.

We were ten days going the first hundred and thirteen miles, to Fort Bridger, with the best of animals. We were fifteen days on the bleak desert going from Fort Bridger to South Pass. We would travel all day, tramp the snow and lead our animals, which, with great difficulty, we could get to travel very, slow. At night we would camp on some knoll that the snow was blown off of, and by a poor sage brush fire cook a camp-kettle of coffee and another of corn, having got out of provisions, all but a sack of corn I had taken along to feed the horses. Several of these nights I thought I would freeze to death, but stood it better than any of the others.

We finally got through the snow into a little valley near Devil's Gate, on Sweet Water, where we found good grass for our stock, which they very much needed, having been without several days. The next morning we finished our corn, having only a scanty meal, and had not a bite of anything to eat in the company. We packed up and started for Devil's Gate, twenty miles distant, where we expected to find provisions plenty, knowing that a train of goods had been left there the fall before, under a guard of fifteen men; the snow having fallen so deep they could not reach Salt Lake City. We had not traveled far before we saw eight or ten buffalo. Two men were sent out, and soon shot a large one. We were in the center of a valley on a nice stream, where there was plenty of wood, and any quantity of the best mountain grass. We stopped, skinned and packed to camp all the meat, and the greatest eating I ever saw then took place. I cautioned the men not to eat too much; but a continual eating was kept up all day by our company, consisting of nine men. The next morning we all put all that was left of the buffalo in two flour sacks, and packed it on one mule. This is a big story, but true.

The next day we reached Devil's Gate, and found the men out of provisions; they had been living on beef hides for several days. I asked them if there was no provisions among the goods they were guarding. They said they thought there was something that would do to eat, but they dared not touch it. I told them they were foolish; to help themselves to anything there was there to eat. I told them I would be responsible and shoulder all the blame for doing this, as I wanted some provisions for my men; I would hand it out, they could take an account of it, and report to the owners that it was done by me and my party. This pleased the poor suffering fellows. We burst open the door of the cabin in which the goods were stored, and found plenty of sugar, tea, coffee, rice and dried fruit; all hands helped themselves, and we had a great general feast.

We now had bare ground to travel on, but our horses were worn out, and we could only make twenty miles per day. After forty days' travel we reached Fort Laramie. There we found Mr. Ward, post-sutler, waiting for company to go to the States. We rested a few days. I bought a lot of fresh animals, and we started for Independence again. We got along slowly but comfortably. We saw buffalo in innumerable quantities, killed all we wanted, and had some fine sport after them. One of my men, being good at throwing a lariat, caught one while running, but soon found he had not lassoed a cow nor an ox, but a buffalo bull. After throwing the lariat on the buffalo he fastened the other end to the loggerhead of his saddle, as is customary, and jerked his mule. But the buffalo made but little halt, jerking the man and mule heels over head, dragging the mule a few rods, when the lariat came loose, and the buffalo went on as though nothing had happened, with the rope around his neck. This put a stop to catching buffalo with ropes, no one being anxious to repeat the experiment.

We finally got to Independence, men and animals tired out, having been two months and three days making the trip. I delivered the mail, and had to go down the Missouri River to Boonville to telegraph to Washington concerning the return mail, which I had to wait two weeks for. I visited my father-in-law, and then went to the northern part of the State and visited my father and mother, whom I had not seen for ten years; returning to Independence and started the mail for Salt Lake. I here found things boiling against the Mormons. Troops were coming, and great excitement prevailed amongst the people. I had trouble getting the mail or anything else we needed; was threatened strongly, and received the worst kind of abuse from the roughs. Two or three times the trouble came near being serious; but fortunately for somebody, it calmed down without shots or blows. After starting the mail, I went fifty miles up the river to Weston, where I found old acquaintances and friends, had a good sociable time for two weeks, found one of my youngest brothers with a wife and three children, and persuaded them to accompany me to Salt Lake City.

When we got to Laramie, I, with two of my men, started in advance for Salt Lake, changing horses at the different stations, and traveled the entire distance, five hundred miles, in six and a half days, as tired a man as ever you saw. I went to Brigham Young's office and showed my bills of expenditures, and gave a general account of my trip, showing some articles I had published in different papers, rebutting the influences that were going against the people of Utah and the published statement of Judge Drummond, in which I scored him as bad as he had me. I told them that troops would be here; but was laughed at, tantalized, and treated scornfully for making such an assertion. I told them I had been there and ought to know as well as those who sat at home and knew nothing. All hands agreed they were not coming, and Brother Brigham said neither should they come so this ended it.

I had several animals on this express company, had been gone nearly four months, and asked to be excused to attend to my business, which was granted. I went to Green River again, and set up a trading post and ferry. Did very well during the summer; wound up again and come home.

About this time the express company broke up, and all returned home, the mail contract having been taken from them. I lost, on the outfit, about one thousand dollars, besides my time and suffering. . . .

Read Daniel Webster Jones's account of this event in Chapter XVI.


One Yates, a trader that had been in the country before, had returned with five or six thousand dollars' worth of Indian goods, and stopped on Green River. He had several kegs of powder, and a quantity of lead and caps. He was sent to, to purchase his ammunition, but would not sell it without selling his other goods also. He came to Bridger twice, buying beef cattle for the Government. Both times I went with him beyond all of our troops, to keep him from being hurt. He would trade at the soldier camps, then go to his house on Green River, passing up and down Ham's Fork. We kept watch of the United States camps every day, and if a party attempted to leave we would make a rush for them and run them into camp again. One day they moved up the creek about four miles, and we saw a vacancy between them and their cattle. We made a rush and drove off seven hundred and fifty head, taking all the fat cattle they had, and some mules. Horses and mules were taken several times after this.

About this time it was noised about that Yates had let the soldiers have his ammunition, and that he was acting the spy for them. One of the Conover boys was on a point near Ham's Fork one day, and saw a lone man traveling towards Green River; he got ahead of him, saw he had a good horse, and halted him, intending to take his horse and let him go. But, after learning his name, Yates, he marched him to Bridger, where he was placed in the big stone corral and a guard placed over him. I was not there when he was brought in. I came to Bridger a few days after he was taken. Thinking there would be no particular use for me for a week or two, I concluded to go home and get some fresh horses, and take home three or four of my men that needed rest.

I will here state that the office I held was that of independent captain, amenable to none but the head commanding general or governor, Brigham Young, unless my services were particularly needed, in which case I was under obligations to act in concert with other officers.

When ready to start I was asked to take the prisoner, Yates, to the city with me, and agreed to do so. The men with me were a brother of mine. T. J. Hickman, who had come from the States with me the summer previous. John Flack and Lewis Meacham. There was a common trace-chain on Yates' ankle; fastened with a padlock. He had a fine gold watch and nine hundred dollars in gold, all in twenty-dollar gold pieces. The money was given to me to bring into the city with the prisoner, but the watch was kept, and what became of it I never knew.

We traveled about fifty miles and camped on Yellow Creek. The next morning we traveled about half-way down Echo Cañon to where the general's headquarters were located, and got breakfast. I delivered General Wells some letters, reported myself, and told him who I had along, and asked him what I should do with my prisoner. He said: "He ought to be killed; but take him on; you will probably get an order when you get to Col. Jones' camp"—which was at the mouth of Echo Cañon on Weber River. After breakfast we started for Jones' camp, some twelve miles distant, and when within three or four miles of the camp, we met Joseph A. Young, a son of Brigham's, going, as he said, to the general's camp to take orders. He hailed me (I being behind) and said his father wanted that man Yates killed, and that I would know all about it when I got to Jones' camp.

We got there about sundown, and were met outside by Col. Jones, and conducted around under the hill, below and just outside of his camp. He had a fire built for us and sent our horses out, under guard, to grass. He then took me aside and told me he had orders when Yates came along to have him used up, and that was why he had taken me outside of his camp. Supper was brought to us, and Yates soon went to sleep on his blankets. Flack and Meacham spread their blankets and soon went to sleep also. I told them to do it, as I would guard the prisoner until I called them. My brother, being a Gentile, had been sent on to the next station, some ten miles ahead, on business. I remained at our camp-fire until eleven or twelve o'clock that night, several coming and chatting with me.

About this time all was still, and everybody supposed to be in their beds. No person was to he seen, when Col. Jones and two others, Hosea Stout and another man whose name I do not recollect, came to my campfire and asked if Yates was asleep. I told them he was, upon which his brains were knocked out with an ax. He was covered up with his blankets and left laying. Picks and spades were brought, and a grave dug some three feet deep near the camp by the fire-light, all hands assisting. Flack and Meacham were asleep when the man was killed, but woke up and saw the grave digging. The body was put in and the dirt well packed on it, after which our camp-fire, which consisted of small wood and brush, was moved onto the grave in order to prevent notice of a change of ground. Our horses were immediately sent for, and we were off before daylight; went to the next station, found my brother, got breakfast, and arrived at Salt Lake that day.

The next day I took the nine hundred dollars, and we all went to headquarters. Flack and I had a talk, as we went, about the money. He said Brigham ought to give that to us as we had already been to more expense than that money amounted to, from horses used up and other losses, and urged me to get it. I told him I would try, saying to him: "You know how much I have been out, and can testify to it, and I think he will give us part of it, anyway."

Soon after dark Flack and I went to Brigham's office. He asked how things were going on out East, and I told him. He asked what had become of Yates? I told him. He then asked if I had got word from him? I told him that I had got his instructions at Jones' camp, and also of the word I had got from his son Jo. He said that was right, and a good thing. I then told him I had nine hundred dollars given me to bring in, that Yates had at the time he was captured. I told him of the expense I had been to during the war, and asked him if I might have part of the money? He gave me a reprimand for asking such a thing, and said it must go towards defraying the expenses of the war. I pulled out the sack containing the money, and he told me to give it to his clerk (I do not remember who he was now). The money was counted, and we left. This knocked all the Mormonism out of Flack, and he has never had a speck of it in him since—making many observations of this and other things, of hard work, obeying Brigham Young, and never allowed one dollar for all he had done.

In a few days I returned East, and found Yates' goods and all his property had been taken, and stock belonging to him and other mountaineers.

Read Daniel Webster Jones's account of this event in Chapter XXI.

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