Question: What was Brigham Young's position on punishing theft without due process?

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Question: What was Brigham Young's position on punishing theft without due process?

Harsh rhetoric against apostasy and rumors of Danites searching out fleeing apostates created an atmosphere of fear

Brigham Young’s “motto” regarding thieves was included in an ill-considered sermon that Young used to menace Gladdenite missionaries and their converts.[1] “Now, you nasty apostates, clear out, or judgment will be put on the line, and righteousness to the plummet.” A few weeks later, Young moderated his remarks. “We have been pretty severe upon them, but nowhere, except in the pulpit, to my knowledge. I counsel my brethren to keep away from their houses; let them alone, and treat them as courteously as you would any other person.”[2] In June 1858, after martial law had been lifted and Johnston’s army had entered the valley, Brigham Young could reflect, "With the exception of a short time during the late difficulties all persons have always had the privilege of going away from here when they pleased, and have been repeatedly invited to do so if they wished to."[3]

Despite invitations to leave, debt and poverty in Utah could be a significant barrier for apostates to actually do so.[4] When fortunes were reversed, Mormon history (especially in Lucy Mack Smith's biography[5] is full of examples of debt collectors' harassment and efforts to evade them. Whenever parties moved out of an area, there was potential for extra-legal violence or imprisonment for debts. Once out of a jurisdiction, few legal remedies could be pursued to settle debts. The amount of economic entanglement with the Church and its members could be especially difficult to resolve amicably. Members could be in debt to the PEF fund while being emotionally invested in the Church through voluntary tithing and consecration of property. Harsh rhetoric against apostasy and rumors of Danites searching out fleeing apostates created an atmosphere of fear. In 1859, Mormon writer, John Jaques countered some of more sensationalistic elements appearing in exit narratives:

The idea put forth by some here, that men cannot think or act or speak freely in, or pass through, or leave this Territory without their lives being in danger is too absurd to be entertained. The fact that hundreds annually have peaceably left the Territory, from its first settlement to the present time is ample refutation of any such assertion. True some who attempt to leave with other people’s teams, or without liquidating their just debts, are sometimes intercepted in their flight. But if I am not mistaken, such interception is not altogether illegal, and I fancy it could be easily supported by eastern precedents.[6]

The Springville Murders

Edward Leo Lyman provides some details:

Even the local historians of Springville admitted that the "foul crime" would not fade away. William Parrish and his adult son, Beatson, both of whom had apostatized from the Latter-day Saint church, intended to leave for California against the wishes of local church authorities. According to one account, someone infiltrated their circle of friends and learned the time of their contemplated "escape." The good horses acquired for the journey were secreted in a cane thicket on the edge of town. At early dawn Parrish and two of his sons, along with a man named Duff Potter, walked single file along a trail to the horses. According to Orin Parrish who survived the attack, his father became suspicious of Potter lagging back of the others and insisted that he walk directly behind him. This may have confused those hiding in ambush who shot the first three men—William and Beatson Parrish and Potter—while Orin escaped into a cornfield. All accounts mention that the older Parrish's body was also lacerated with knife wounds. "[T]he perpetrators of the awful deed were never apprehended," concluded the local histories. According to historian Nels Anderson, despite attempts by non-Mormon territorial officials to bring the guilty to justice, "the fact remains that the Mormons in charge of the local government did nothing to find the murderers."[7]

The claim that local members did nothing about the murders is false. There were no indictments brought in the Parrish-Potter murders at the first grand jury of 1859, but "[t]he second 1859 grand jury handed down indictments for the Parrish and Potter and the Henry Jones cases, yet Bagley [in Blood of the Prophets] tells us that no indictments were ever obtained for these crimes."[8]


  1. Richard Saunders, Francis Gladden Bishop And Gladdenism: A Study in the Culture of a Mormon Dissenter and his Movement, USU Thesis (1989): p. 143-146 off-site
  2. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:125.
  3. Aird, p. 147 citing Brigham Young, Sermon, June 6, 1858, Deseret News (28 July 1858), 94.
  4. Aird, p. 146-152
  5. [citation needed]
  6. John Jacques, Millennial Star, July 1859
  7. Edward Leo Lyman, San Bernardino: The Rise and Fall of a California Community (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1996), 343.
  8. Robert D. Crockett, "A Trial Lawyer Reviews Will Bagley's Blood of the Prophets," FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 199–254. off-site