| H. David Burton, current Presiding Bishop of the LDS Church, spoke at Gen'l Conf. last Sunday (I believe) of the kindness and love for others exhibited by his great-great-grandfather, Robert Taylor Burton, who took part in the rescue of the Martin-Willie Handcart companies, and, when on his deathbed, instructed his family to "be kind to people." Robert Taylor Burton was a member of the Presiding Bishopric of the Church for over 30 years. David Burton's story made his ancestor out to be a paragon of kindness and love. This made me reflect on another story in the life of Robert Taylor Burton, when he was hardly kind or wonderful.
In the Spring of 1862, the Morrisite War occurred in Utah. Joseph Morris was a Mormon convert from England who emigrated to Utah. By all accounts (friendly and not) he was not completely right in the head, and began claiming to have revelations, was a prophet, etc., which annoyed Brigham Young. Morris eventually garnered around 800 or so supporters, who moved with him to Kingston Fort, about 30 miles from Salt Lake City. Problems arose among the Morrisites as revelations by Joseph Morris failed to be fulfilled. A few dissenters left and grabbed some property on their way, only to be detained and brought back to the fort. Their families sought help from the Utah territorial government, and a writ of habeus corpus was issued for their release, which the Morrisites ignored. Robert Taylor Burton, a deputy U.S. marshal at the time, led a posse comitatus of between 500 to 1,000 men to the fort (with two cannon).
Robert Taylor Burton sent a message to the fort demanding surrender within 30 minutes; when the Morrisites didn't respond, Burton ordered the cannon to fire two warning shots. The second shot killed two women and shattered the jaw of a third woman named Mary Christofferson. The two sides continued to fight for the next two days, and then the fort rose a flag of truce (at the time about 200 men, women and children were still in the fort).
For what happened after that, the following is from the journal of George Morris, brother of Morrisite founder Joseph Morris (all bold added for emphasis):
A white flag was waved in camp and [Robert Taylor] Burton, and his men, went down and disarmed them. After they were disarmed there was a large group of them standing together and Joseph [Morris] was talking to them, saying that he had taught them the principles of righteousness and he would like to know how many of them would stand by him to the death – when Burton spurred up his horse and tried to ride on to him saying “will you give up now? will you give up now?” when they had already given up and were disarmed. Joseph caught the horse by the bit and set him back upon his haunches, when [Burton] spurred him up again, saying “will your God deliver you now? We have had enough of your damned apostacy, we’ll try your God now” and then drew his pistol and shot [Morris] in the face. He reeled and fell dead. When a young woman who was standing by, holding in her arms the baby belonging to the woman who was killed by the first cannonball that was fired spoke up and said “you bloodthirstyhell hound what did you kill that good man for?” When [Burton] said “no woman can say that to me and live” and took deliberate aim at her and shot her dead too and someone else went up behind John Banks [ed. note: Banks was a former General Authority who had left LDS Church] and shot him in the back of the neck, but did not kill him. And it was said that he would probably have lived had it not been for some doctoring that he had during the night following. So after having gained such a glorious victory, they were ready to start home with all the men of the camp as their prisoners.
It appears that the woman shot in the face was one Isabella Bowman, because Robert Taylor would later stand trial for her murder and be acquitted (in 1879) by a Mormon jury. Here is the description of Burton's trial, also from the journal of George Morris:
After a lapse of about 17 years and after being hidden away and disguised most of the time, and after the witnesses were scattered and nearly all had left the territory, [Robert Taylor] Burton was willing to stand a trial for murder. So he employed some shrewd lawyers and had a jury of those who were friendly to him and the results was he got a verdict of Not Guilty. But he done the killing all the same. It might be argued that Mormonism had nothing to do with all this, that it was all United States work, but to me it appears to be all the work of “so-called Mormons”. Even Judge Kinny himself was a Mormon. Those prisoners had a kind of mock trial and some were fined and some had all their real propery confiscated to pay the expenses of the expedition and all the rest were pardoned by Governor Harding. But President Young forbid all the Elders baptizing any of them into the church again without his permission.
Robert Taylor Burton was called as a counselor in the Presiding Bishopric in 1874, and he was a General Authority for the remaining 33 years of his life.
I attended Burton’s trial all the time it was in progress and carefully read the account of it in the papers afterwards, anxious to discover if there was anything that would justify him in the least for taking the lives of those poor deluded mortals, but I failed to find any justifiable reason for the shedding of one drop of blood – or anything that changed my first convictions in the least. I cannot conceive how any one who claims to be far in advance of the average degree of intelligence can take pleasure or satisfaction in seeking out vengeance upon a poor, weak, incompetent mortal, for I never did consider that Joseph [Morris] was a competent person. But we are all of us poor, weak, unworthy creatures and we are in the hands of a merciful God and we shall have to appear before a righteous tribunal to give an account of the deeds done in the body and if there has been any murder commited, or innocent blood shed, the God of all the Earth will give a righteous decision and all unrighteous decisions that havebeen given upon this earth will come up before the Grand Supreme Court of all and be corrected.
Obviously, George Morris's account is biased, and he was not present at the fort that day (so his knowledge is based on hearsay). Nevertheless, this account (the killing of unarmed men and women) stands in stark contrast to the adoring depiction last Sunday of Robert Taylor Burton.
Link to George Morris's journal: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.a...
Other source: Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, pp. 275-76, 644.