Capture of JOHN D. LEE 1874-1875
begins in the United States District Court at Beaver City, Utah Territory
with The Honorable Jacob S. Boreman presiding
Every citizen of Beaver must be here today he thought, and some from settlements as far away as Washington County, a hundred miles south. Those unable to make their way into the hot crowded courtroom, he noted, were gathered in the doorway and down the stairs into the sun-baked yard surrounding the two story building where the trial was being held.
This was Wednesday, July 23, 1875, the opening day of the trial of John D. Lee, charged as accessory in the murder of 120 men, women and children at Mountain Meadows, Utah more than 18 years before. Managing to capture him had, surprisingly enough, proved easier than bringing him to trial. The trial had been delayed several times because the U. S. District Attorney was unable to gather information enough to prosecute. More than nine months had elapsed since his capture; Judge Boreman would be compelled to discharge him if he could not be brought before the bar soon.
Stokes recalled the day that he brought the prisoner into Beaver City
from his capture at Panguitch; it was the 10th of November of the previous
year. The citizens of Beaver had been astonished at the news of his
arrest. It seemed the entire population was aroused as word spread among
them. Feelings of disbelief and incredulity brought on by this unlikely
turn of events continued for the first few weeks of his confinement,
with everyone speculating about his fate. But then things had settled
down and Lee proved to be a model prisoner.
traveled southward toward Harmony, via Cedar City and Fort Hamilton,
he met Thomas Winn, whom apparently he knew and who had assisted Stokes
in other law enforcement assignments. When he told Winn of the indictment
and orders to capture John D. Lee, Winn told Stokes in no uncertain
terms, that such a task was impractical for it had been reported that
Lee was heavily armed and traveling with several of his sons. It was
madness to think that he alone or even the two of them could apprehend
and arrest Lee under such circumstances. Disregarding such talk, Stokes
put Winn on the federal payroll and swore him in as a deputy. He then
instructed him to head for Iron City, form up a posse of six or eight
men and meet him at Harmony. Stokes continued on toward Fort Hamilton.
for the rendezvous early Saturday morning. Several hours later, he found
Winn and Fish as they came riding out of Little Creek Canyon above Parowan.
Winn, with no prefatory remarks, immediately reported the spine-tingling
message, Your man is there, meaning that Lee was at Panguitch.
Later, riding in the darkness of night up the trail toward Panguitch, the posse halted three miles outside town. The plan was to wait there until sunup when Fish was to come into camp and notify them of the whereabouts of Mr. Lee. At that point they would ride into town and make the arrest. While they thus lingered, the early morning temperature dipped below the freezing mark. As tired as they must have been, It was impossible to get any rest on the frozen ground. They had no bedrolls with them and it was miserably cold standing immobile in the frigid mountain air. Stokes refused to allow a fire for fear that Lee would be alerted and skip out ahead of them. All they could do was remain there, off the road in a clump of box elder trees, occasionally stamping their feet and flailing their arms in an attempt to generate a little heat in their icy limbs.
unable to endure the cold longer, Stokes decided they should go in ahead
of schedule. They would try to catch the citizenry off guard by riding
into town with as much spirit and boldness as they could muster, thereby
gaining time to meet with Fish, discover the fugitives whereabouts
and make the arrest. Hopefully Fish would be there to lead the way.
It would be unthinkable that any of the Mormons would voluntarily came
forward with a report of Lees location.
But their man was nowhere to be seen. They themselves would be discovered, Stokes realized, if they didnt soon make their move. Get on in there Evans, he finally ordered David Evans and see if you can find Fish and bring him back here. As Evans departed, one of the remaining men murmured, Maybe Fish has been captured and blood atoned, an expression describing the ritual by which Mormons were accused of putting away their enemies. Fish will be alright Stokes replied evenly, trying to make his voice sound positive and to mask his own feelings of apprehension.
when Evans did not return, they could wait no longer. Stokes ordered
them to mount up; complaining as they did so, they could now feel the
stiffness in their bodies from a night of freezing immobility and lack
of rest. One of them swore softly as he settled into the saddle. Another
with grumbling stomach longed for the pungent bite of a steaming cup
of hot black coffee.
During breakfast, Lee told Stokes he thought he could get a fair trial and assured him that neither he nor his family would make any trouble during the trip back to Beaver. And, Stokes reported, the old gentleman was as good as his word; even rented his wagon to me so that I could transport him back to Beaver. His wife Rachel who had traveled with him on his trip from the ferry, prepared some food to take along, and some blankets so they would be relatively comfortable during the journey. Since then thought Stokes, hes been a model prisoner; has never tried to escape even assisted the guards to carry out their instructions from the officers.
thus deliberating on Lees capture, Stokes was brought abruptly
to the present as the U.S. District Attorney, William C. Carey, carrying
a bulging calfskin valise, entered the courtroom, with his assistant
lawyer Robert W. Baskin
was captured November 7, 1874.