Question: Did Bishop Warren S. Snow forcibly castrate twenty-four-year-old Thomas Lewis?

Table of Contents

Question: Did Bishop Warren S. Snow forcibly castrate twenty-four-year-old Thomas Lewis?

Bishop Warren S. Snow and a group of men forcibly castrated twenty-four-year-old Thomas Lewis

Bishop Warren S. Snow forcibly castrated twenty-four-year-old Thomas Lewis. The popular story is that Lewis's alleged crime was wanting to marry a young woman that was desired by an older man as a plural wife. It is claimed that Brigham Young wrote in a letter his approval after the fact in 1857. The full story gives a somewhat different picture of these events.

Lewis was being transported to the penitentiary at the time that this event occurred

Lewis was not attacked simply for desiring a marriage. Samuel Pitchforth noted that the attack occurred at night as Lewis was being transported to the penitentiary for an unspecified crime. Pitchforth was the clerk of the Nephi Ward, who knew Bishop Snow well and wrote his account very shortly after the incident. John A. Peterson, in his December 1985 Master's Thesis, notes that "the sermons delivered in the Manti ward, the spirit of the times, the form of punishment itself and the record of Brigham's reaction to it make it clear that Lewis had committed a sexual crime." [1] The attack was aided by the individual who had been transporting Lewis to prison, and it appears to have been in retribution for the crime that Lewis committed. While being transported at night, Snow and his gang secretly intercepted Lewis and carried out the castration.

According to his biographer, Snow's life and experience had given him a "violent and vengeful world view," which helps in understanding his motivation to attack and maim Lewis.

Federal marshals and judges were aware of the Lewis incident, and sought Snow's capture. However, they were eventually instructed by political leaders in Washington to let the matter drop. It was a Gentile political decision not to prosecute Snow for his actions.[2]

Given that in the 19th century there was a common tendency for "frontier justice" to be carried out extra-legally, especially in the case of sexual crimes, its occurrence in areas far from central Church control is not particularly surprising. Castrated males were guilty of sexual assault or incest, not for competing for a woman's affections.

This event occurred during the Mormon Reformation, when inflammatory rhetoric called for harsh punishment for sin and crime

These events occurred during the Mormon Reformation, when inflammatory rhetoric called for harsh punishment for sin and crime. For Brigham the time for the actual implementation of such punishment had not yet actually arrived, and was primarily hyperbole designed to stir a sinful population to improvement. Some listeners like Snow took things literally.

Notes

  1. John A. Peterson, "Warren Stone Snow, a man in between: the biography of a Mormon defender," Master's Thesis, BYU (1985), 115; citing Samuel Pitchforth Diary of Samuel Pitchforth 1857-1868,typescript CHD. The author notes that "no minutes of any civil or church trial for Thomas Lewis' crime have been found but Pitchforth makes it clear that Lewis was under arrest and on the way to the city salt lake city to be taken to the penetentiionary (sic)."
  2. John A. Peterson, "Warren Stone Snow, a man in between: the biography of a Mormon defender," Master's Thesis, BYU (1985), 112.