WILLIAM ADAMS HICKMAN
was born in western Kentucky. He
was the oldest of thirteen children; nine boys and four girls.
Kentucky became overcrowded with settlers after the Revolutionary
War ( he was told that he had twenty-one blood relations who participated
“and not one Tory among them!”) When
he was four years old (1819) his parents moved to northeast Missouri,
where they built a gristmill and farmed.
He loved the wilds of Missouri.
It was in this environment that he learned how to defend himself
against man and beast. He
enjoyed the freedom to enjoy outdoor sports, especially hunting.
He worked with his father on his farm and his father said of him,
“He was full of mischief, such as tricks for fun making.
He was the best and the worst boy I ever raised.”
began with his parents teaching him and his brothers at home.
At the age of fifteen he was sent away to school.
He was urged to go into medicine, and he did, but he did not like
it. He went back to school to
study law, which he liked better, but eventually got tired of that, too.
He returned to school once again attending a boarding school.
There, he fell in love with his teacher, two years older than he
was and after much objection from their parents, they wed.
Bill was blue eyed, dark haired and handsome.
She was black-eyed, black haired and pretty.
Both parents were against the marriage mainly because Bill was only
seventeen years old. But when
Bill’s father saw that they were determined to make a go of it he
relented and gave them a farm. They
joined a Methodist Church, but Bill had met several Mormans in the area
and became fascinated by their ideas.
In spite of them being openly disliked in Missouri, Bill joined
them, he said, “thereby losing his good standing in society.”
In 1838 the
Mormons were expelled from Missouri and fled to Quincy, Illinois.
Bill and Bernetta had four children by then, but he sold the farm
and moved to the Mormon settlement where he met the church leader, Joseph
Smith. He gave financial aid
to several suffering migrants. In
1839 Bill was ordained, signifying full acceptance as a Latter Day Saint.
Bill was twenty-four at the time.
Within a year or two he was chosen as one of a group of body guards
or protector of Joseph Smith. He
was a regular with the security forces during the period of 1843-44.
There is no evidence that he was a member of the Danite group that
wreaked vengeance on people who persecuted the Saints and was repudiated
by Smith. It has been assumed
that he was, but if so, he was not involved to any significant extent.
He farmed in Iowa and Illinois and carried out occasional
assignments for the Saints. In
1846 he was endowed in his first plural marriage.
He returned to Nauvoo for his family and got caught up in the
hostilities between the Mormons and anti-Mormon mobs.
The citizens attacked Nauvoo and Bill was thrown into jail, but he
escaped and returned for a time to Missouri.
While, he was gone, Joseph Smith and his brother were killed.
The Mormons splintered for a while into different factions. Brigham Young emerged as the most successful new leader even
though Joseph Smith’s wife and children did not follow him.
Bill did not like Brigham but felt the group needed a leader and
thought he as good as any.
did not travel west with Brigham Young, but was called later to come and
do some “important” work. At
the start of his crossing, Bill was delegated to help the nineteen year
old Minerva Wade, whose mother had died.
He took her as his third plural wife.
wrote of Bill about this time: “He is sometimes a little rash and may
shoot and innocent Indian, mistaking him for an Omaha horse thief.” He
continued: “This is even better than many do, who will do nothing
themselves to save or preserve the property of the Saints.”
the fall of 1851 Bill got gold fever and went to California to search for
gold. But rumors of trouble in Utah made him return in the summer
He brought home
some of the gold he mined while in California.
He melted a nugget, got a paint brush and painted his mustache cup
Bill did what
was asked of him by the church and sometimes took it upon himself to do
more besides. A testimony
that would indicate the influence of his reputation alone, is the fact
that Jim Bridger survived a confrontation with our Bill by simply
abandoning the fort that Bill had been sent to negotiate for.
described the scene after his arrival at the fort with a sense of humor:
“The whiskey and rum, of which Bridger had a good stock,
In 1854 he
became a licensed lawyer and he was appointed sheriff of Green River and
representative in the territorial legislature.
It was a region populated with outlaws.
James S. Brown wrote: “We met men face to face, with deadly
weapons, and if it had not been for the cunning and cool head of Bill
Hickman,…blood would have been shed more than once.
By the end of
1856 Bill had the responsibility of caring for seven wives and fifteen
children. Despite the obvious
problem, Bill was not neglectful and he had a good relationship with his
wives and children. The
diaries of his neighbors have many references to visiting with the
Hickmans and they frequently went visiting.
Bill worked hard for the community and specifically labored on the
expansion of the schoolhouse.
When the bad
times came for Bill, he had married ten wives and had twenty-four living
children, the eldest just eighteen years younger than himself.
At least two of the women did not live conjugally with him.
The others seemed to live together somewhat successfully. The method of how he “chose” who he would spend the
evening with is revealed in one of the stories he told of himself. The ones wanting his company would put their names in a hat
and he would draw a name.
he was about forty-two years old he was described:
…a tough, muscular, heavily built man, full-bearded and not
true facts of his deeds, the job he fulfilled was necessary and not for a
weakling. If he was sometimes
rash in his dealings with people, he was a man of his times and totally
dedicated to his cause. He
knew his own faults and accepted the consequences.
He never understood the complete disregard (he was excommunicated)
of the very church he had given his life to protect.
His faith in the church, if not to the people in the church, stayed
strong to the end.
Bill said of
the book, BRIGHAM'S
DESTROYING ANGEL, that it was mostly
a falsehood. He claimed his
involvement in the first place was due to the promise of money.
There were enough other people who knew him who also disclaimed the
book so that while some things are based upon truth, and some stories
certainly were told by Bill, the author, a Mormon hater, took the story
and twisted it to add interest or for his own purposes.
Bill regretted it and the misconceptions it gave.
Dr. Hugh Nibley of Brigham Young University claims that “the
Hickman stories were not true…We believe that those tales are Beadle’s
invention…” Neil D.
Harding said, “Bill Hickman was not the man who performed the crimes in
BRIGHAM’S DESTROYING ANGEL..” Even
the manuscript basis for the book is questionable.
It is full of inconsistencies.
Still, the book did it’s damage and harmed not only Bill Hickman
but some of his posterity.
fanatical about horses. So great was his obsession with horses that he was accused by
the church of stealing them. After
some righteous accusations about the subject, one of the accusers
refrained from pressing formal charges, saying that he would never
institute a trial against a brother stealing from Gentiles, but if it was
stealing from a brethren, he was down on it.
The incident ended when Bill was bid to; “ go and steal no
A story tells
of a horse owned by an army officer that was stolen.
The officer let out that he would give the horse to whoever
recovered it. Bill Hickman
sent word that the mare was in the possession of a band of horse thieves
and that he could recover her, but it would cost some money.
He succeeded at great risk to his life and expenses, he claimed,
and the horse was now in his possession.
When the owner of the horse proposed to pay for the expense and
take the horse back, Bill handed him such a complicated list of expenses
that amounted to more than the horse was worth.
Bill told the man very plainly that he expected to be paid.
The owner declined and Bill remained in possession of the
“fastest horse in Utah”. Was
he the thief? Whether he took the horse in the first place or not, surely
the officer would have thought so.
Goodhart from Soda Springs, Idaho in a letter writes:
“The first time I ever met you father…he was camping on
Green River with Port Rockwell and Lot Smith…I was a boy working for the
American Fur Company. I was
sent with a message to some trappers some distance away…I found some
hobbled horses belonging to three men by a camp fire a short distance
away. I called, ‘Hello,
White Man’s friend.’ They
answered me, taking me into camp with them.
My horse was put up with theirs. They had a kettle of venison on
the fire. The finest I ever
ate. After supper I told them
how glad I was not to have come across some of those ‘dam Mormons,’
…I told them everything bad I had heard about the Mormons… I slept
with Hickman. After breakfast I saddled my horse and one of them tied a
good lunch on my saddle. Hickman asked, ‘How have we treated you?’
I told him I could not have been treated better…How glad I was to
have found them. Then he
said, ‘Tell your company we treated you to the best we had; we are
Mormons. We are Port
Rockwell, Lot Smith and Bill Hickman.’
My heart seemed to jump to my mouth.
Murdock relates the following: “In
the spring, it was my job to herd the… flock…My brother Daunt, five or
six years at the time, decided to go home…(I) pointed our house out to
Daunt. It was about six miles
away. When we got home that
night, Daunt wasn’t there. We
and the neighbors got lanterns and set out to hunt him. We didn’t find him until the next day. A Mr. Bill Hickman had gone out to look for cattle the night
before and heard wolves howling. When
he went to see why they were making a noise, he found Daunt sitting by
some big rocks on the Jordan River. He
took Daunt to his home for the night.
another story about an Indian boy who had lost his parents.
Without a home or a place to go, no one to care for him, Bill
Hickman took him home to live with his family.
they hadn’t got to raising fruit there yet much, and Pa went over to
Maxwells and got us some peaches in the buckboard.
When he came back he unharnessed the horses and put them up and
came back to get the harness. Something
caught in his pistol and it fell to the ground and went off and shot him
through the liver and I heard him say ‘Man, I am shot’ and ran to
grama (must mean Bernetta). We
had gone to bed and Ma said ‘get
up your Pa is dying’ (sic) and I went in to see him.
He was in the middle of the floor with his garments on and a sheet
around him and them carrying watter (sic) from the spring and throwing it
on him and they said ‘let us pray’ and they came into my Mother’s
room and knelt down and asked God to spare him to them.
They went back to his room and he was better and they went back and
prayed again and he was spared to them, and lived thirty years after that.
When Mother washed his close (sic) down by the river there was
little pieces of bone in them.”
ambitious. The single largest
enterprise launched by the Mormons in the nineteenth century was the Y X
Company. It was to provide
mail service between Salt Lake City and Independence, Missouri.
It would also transport immigrants from the Missouri River to the
Salt Lake area, and carry freight. The
leading persons were Brigham Young, Hiram Kimball, John Murdock, Orrin
Porter Rockwell, and William Hickman.
The fact that this enterprise was suddenly canceled by order of the
Federal Government, without formal notification or explanation, thereby
causing a great financial loss to the participants, all Mormons, probably
has much to do with the life and attitude of Bill from that point on.
incident has been blown out of all proportion by various historians.
The facts indicate that the problem was resolved between Bill and
Huntington and when the fatal shot was fired it was by Porter Rockwell on
January 16, 1861 and Bill was not anywhere near.
accused of being involved in the Aidin murder near Nephi but Rockwell and
Collett were indicted for this murder.
Then, he was indicted for the murder of a man named Buck at Warm
Springs, along with Brigham Young, Hiram Kimball, Porter Rockwell, Grand
and Dutton; and had two documented killings of Ike Hatch and the Spaniard
who had an affair with one of his wives and threatened to rape one of
Bill’s daughters. It is
important that these incidents be kept in the context of the times,
circumstances, and to his role as lawman.
was a man of the old west. He
was considered an Angel of Mercy to many who needed help.
He had a special love for his children, especially the boys.
He taught them to saddle and bridle, to curry and crop their horse.
They were taught the technique of shoeing each hoof just right to
avoid damage, how to feed and water, ride, spur without harm and how much
weight a horse could handle. He
taught them how to use a lasso, survival, planting and ranching; and, he
taught them to be a good marksmen with a gun.
Bill was both
sinner and saint. He had intelligence and energy.
He was a scoundrel; a desperado; generous, humorous, and sometimes
shadowy. He was reckless,
impulsive, emotional and daring. He
was a man that stood up for what he believed in and he gave protection to
those he felt a responsibility. He
was friendly and there were those who always defended him even when it was
not popular to do so. From
this distance, it is difficult to say what is or is not true.
We tend to believe what we want to believe. He had weaknesses, and had strength. He was a man to depend on in a time of crisis, one who you
would want at your back in a battle.
His family decided
to end their plural marriages. Only
Bernetta stayed with him to the end.
Our Minerva, his third wife, never said anything bad of Bill and
related many stories to her children of his deeds.
She never remarried. Bill
took it with some humor that one of his friends had always commented how
sweet one of his wives was and didn’t seem upset when the friend married
her. There is evidence that
they continued to be friends.
In 1870 Bill
was hiding in prison. He was
released in 1872 and went back to Fairfield until 1877.
He went to the mining fields from there and was in Nephi with his
son in 1880. He went to
Wyoming with his first wife, Bernetta.
He had several daughters with their husbands with him there.
He began to suffer from the old bullet wound.
He died August
21, 1883 in Lander City, Sweetwater County, Wyoming Territory, at 3:00,
after an illness of fifteen days from diarrhea and old bullet wounds.
He was surrounded by friends and relatives.
He died in the arms of his son-in-law, Robert H. Gillespie.
He might have lived as long as his father had it not been subject
to recurrences of infection and old wound to his leg.
He was buried
in a secluded spot, now unknown. Tradition
says that a few days later, his grave was robbed.
Bernetta was ill and died a few months later.
She had apparently been taken to Nephi where her death is recorded.
IMPRESSIONS recorded in the book PROFILE OF WILLIAM ADAMS HICKMAN
did not beat around the bush in admitting his faults and mistakes…”
Many times the front he displayed was with a confidence and bravado
so typical of his character.”