Mormon History

Open Letter to Brigham Young #5 - 1871

Daily Corinne Reporter September 16, 1871


(Written expressly for the Corinne Reporter and containing a
true and succinct account of the Reign of Terror in Utah. -- Ed.)

The Crime of Murder Defined for Brigham -- The "Cutting Off" of Haight and Lee from the Church -- Why it was Done -- Brigham Fears the Arch-______ of the Mountain Meadows Massacre -- The Prophet as the Very Embodiment of Hypocrisy -- The Head of the Mormon Church Openly Charged with Murder -- The Modern "Macbeth" -- Etc.

Salt Lake City, Sept. 14, 1871.    

An Open Letter to Brigham Young.

SIR: There are times defined, limited and regulated by law, when the taking of human life is and may be justifiable. First, in the defence of life; second, when life is taken accidentally and without any intention of killing; third, when taken by soldiers within the military regulations; fourth, when taken in fulfillment of the sentences of the law. Any other life taking is murder; provided there be a union or joint operation of act and intention, or criminal negligence. Then, if a Gentile in the streets of this city should with criminal intent kill another Gentile, or a Mormon, it would be murder. Now, let us reverse the case, and suppose that a Mormon should kill another Mormon, or a Gentile, would it not be murder? The circumstances being the same, would there be any difference in the criminality of the two acts? Is it the man who kills, or the intent to and act of killing, that constitutes the crime? Would not the unlawful taking of human life be equally criminal whether taken by desperado in our streets or the highest civil officer in the Territory? And would not all just men consider it so absolutely? Why should the guilty in one case be condemned and not in the other? Certainly, intelligence, refinement and exalted position are considerations which bit tend to aggravate and intensify the criminality of that which is by the law made criminal. You can not be ignorant of the fact that in the United States no priest, as such, can sit in judgment upon a case of life and death. The power that legally take life must be, first, responsible; second, it must have been constituted and regulated by law, having bounds set beyond which it can not pass to the prejudice of the rights of the accused. These questions and propositions are introduced here because they are entirely apropos of the history of Utah, and are put for your grave and earnest consideration, not by myself as a Mormon, or an apostate, but as a man. It is immaterial who he is that puts these questions, and whether he sails in your boat, or paddles his own canoe. It is enough to know that they originate in that instinctive abhorrence which man has to the unlawful and irresponsible shedding of human blood, and a painful sense of the bounden duty of every good citizen at whatever time and in whatever place to aid in bringing the murderer to justice. This may be equally true of other criminals; but it is possible for such to offer reparation for wrong without the forfeiture of life. It is for this reason that the punishment for offences, other than capital, comes within the statute of limitations. But life can be the only equivalent for life; and therefore the duty of prosecuting the murderer ceases only with his life. This is not only in accordance with all known criminal law, but with our own Book of Covenants, which says: "He that kills shall be delivered up unto the law of the land;" and, again, "He that kills shall mot have forgiveness in this world." In this connection we are not only to consider the principal villain, but the accessory also. This latter is one who, being present, hath advised, encouraged and counselled the perpetration of the crime. The guilt of the accessory is equal with that of the principal. An accessory after the fact is one who after full knowledge that a crime has been committed conceals it from the magistrate, or harbors and protects the person charged with or found guilty of the crime.

My mind has been drawn to this particular line of thought by information lately received of your proceedings at St. George, when you excommunicated Isaac C. Haight and John D. Lee from the church. It appears that Lee, who was not present, knew nothing of your action in his case until after the meeting. In fact the first he knew of it was from your own lips. Haight was there; but was completely surprised at the steps taken to cut him off. He claims that he was not notified to appear. He had tried to speak in his defence, but you silenced him at once, and refused him any opportunity to defend himself. There was no formal charge presented against these men; there was no regular trial. They were simply accused of murders committed at the Mountain Meadows nearly thirteen years before, and voted out of the church without a hearing. Now, sir, I refer you to our Book of Doctrine and Covenants, which says that "any member of the church transgressing, or being overtaken in a fault, shall be dealt with as the Scriptures direct." And again: "In all cases the accuser and the accused shall have the privilege of speaking for themselves before the council, after the evidences are heard and the counselors who are appointed to speak on the case have finished their remarks." Then, after the decision has been given, "of the remaining counselors who have not spoken, or any one of them, discover an error in the decision of the President, they can manifest it, and the case shall have a rehearing; and if, after a careful rehearing, any additional light is thrown on the case, the decision shall be altered accordingly." You see, sir, that by the canons of our church every man is entitled to a fair trial. And you will bear in mind that any decision really or pretendedly predicated upon those canons is recognizable by the civil courts. To Illistrate I will say, that if previous to the excommunication of Haight and Lee you did not deal with them as the (New Testament) Scriptures directed, and if you did not cite them to appear before you substantially as required by the ecclesiastical code, and if you did not formally charge them, giving them a reasonable time to answer, and if at the trial you did not permit them to introduce testimony or speak for themselves, or if you abridged them in any of their legal rights as defendants, you are liable for damages in an action at law before our civil courts, regardless of the guilt or innocence of the defendants. My informant, a good Mormon, who little thought she was talking to "Argus," told me that when Haight assayed to speak in his defense you immediately arose, and in an excited manner commanded him to keep silence, and commenced to walk back and forth, saying you wouldn't "hear a murderer speak." Oh? you wouldn't? Y-o-u wouldn't!! Immaculate prophet! Surely innocence shall die with you! After having fellowshipped those men for thirteen years since the Mountain Meadows massacre -- after having protected them from arrest and punishment by the courts during all that time -- after having deceived the American people and surprised your own by the most unjustifiable lyings through the columns of your official organs, in which you substantially denied that any Mormon had anything to do with that massacre -- after having sacrificed even your personal honor to Governor Cumming in 1862 by promising to have those very men arrested and tried -- you suddenly become so exceedingly good that you won't even hear them in their own defense! Out upon such hypocritical masquerading! Why, sir, a judge of our courts would hear the vilest and meanest of criminals. He would hear you in your defense. I will tell you why you would not let Haight defend himself. It was because he was a member of a military council that received and acted upon the instructions sent by you to govern Colonel Dame in his action toward those ill-fated emigrants. Isaac C. Haight knows perfectly who is and ought to be held responsible for that massacre. He could have told you to your face and in the presence of the people that in that inhuman slaughter neither Lee nor himself transcended the orders received from their superiors "both in the church and in the military!" He could have given a testimony which would have made you shake worse than you did when Judge Titus said to you in this city: "Sir, you are a murderer, and I have got the proof in my pocket!" There were indeed conclusive reasons why you durst not let Haight enter upon his defense, and why you dared not hold your very un-ecclesiastical court in the presence of Lee. And this was you who had become so shocked at "man's inhumanity to man" that you "wouldn't hear a murderer speak." Poor Macbeth, how that dagger must have frightened you!

Sir, your proceedings on that occasion were not only un-American, unjust and tyrannical in the last degree, but they reveal and publish the guilty conscience of Brigham Young as clearly as though your confession of guilt should appear in the next issue of the Deseret News. And as a fitting conclusion to those contemptible doings, upon your return to Salt Lake City, you stopped at Harmony and told Lee what you had done, saying "the whole proceeding was but a sham and pretense, for purposes of policy!" and advised him to remove to Kanab, and take his wives and all his family with him. Sir, it requires an effort to keep one's temper when coming so frequently and repeatedly in contact with your double distilled duplicity and treachery! After sacrificing Lee at St. George by withdrawing from him your still powerful protection, you cajole him into acquiescence by a falsehood. You artfully extract the fangs with which the serpent could effectually strike you by deceiving him with a few sift words and show of patronage which cost you nothing, while they serve to close his mouth and prevent the possibilities of vengeance. The cutting off of Lee and Haight was no sham. It was an earnest, serious action on your part, not because you was horrified at their crime, but, rather, alarmed for yourself. Yes, sir, you have succeeded in getting Lee off to Kanab, where he can be under the espionage of your Danites, away from Gentile interference, and where he can safely be assassinated whenever it shall be deemed necessary to your safety.

In conclusion, let me say to you in solemn earnestness that you are bound by every consideration of the circumstance, by the important facts involved, by the value you place upon your imperiled reputation and that of the church over which you preside, by the regard you have for a popular verdict which, if finally against you, may be found to be incontestable and crushing in its uncontrollable indignation, to nullify those extra-judicial proceedings had in the obscure settlements of St. George, and duly cite Wm. H. Dame, I. C. Haight, and John D. Lee to appear before a General Conference of the whole Church at Salt Lake City, giving them timely notice of the time, and the exact charge upon which they will be tried, with the privilege of employing counsel without regard to church membership, and then with open doors, free to all comers, give them a full and fair trial. And finally, be you there as their accuser, and face them like a man. You dare not do it.   ARGUS.