Question: Did Orson Hyde state that it was permissible to "steal & be influenced by the spirit of the Lord to do it" as long as it was against non-Mormons?

Question: Did Orson Hyde state that it was permissible to "steal & be influenced by the spirit of the Lord to do it" as long as it was against non-Mormons?

Orson Hyde's remark is relative to William "Wild Bill" Hickman

The Brigham Young office journal for 3 April 1860 states:

[April 3, 1860:] April 3, p. 70 Mayor Smoot had a conversation with the President about W[illia]m A. Hickman, observing people see him come and out the office, and that leads them to suppose he is sanctioned in all he does by the President he also observed that dogs were necessary to take care of the flock, but if the Shepherd's dogs hurt the sheep it would be time to remove them.

President observed W. A. Hickman was in the hands of the Lord and he believes he was interested in this latter day work, and he believed whether he was wounded or whether he recovered, or whether he died these events were in the hands of the Lord.[1]

Because Hickman had served Brigham Young during the Utah War, some presumed that Hickman's later activities (especially horse-thieving) were sanctioned by the Church

Yet, prior to the journal entry above, Church leaders had been railing (in public and private) against Hickman's gang and its criminal activities:

Brigham Young wrote: "December 26, 1859. About 1:00 p.m. yesterday, a disgraceful affair occurred on Main Street near the Townsend Hotel. A difficulty between Wm. A. Hickman and Lott Huntington over the division of some stolen property. Hickman and his party retired to Hickman's son-in-law, and a physician was sent for."[2]:89

Brigham clearly disapproves of Hickman's activities

This entry was made privately; this was not Brigham Young speaking publicly to provide "plausible deniability." Here he clearly disapproves of Hickman's activities. Apostle Amasa Lyman was also preaching publicly against Hickman's activities:

The spirit of thieving stalks the land--gets hold of unguarded youth, causes them to steal from neighbors. Don't let your sons be corrupted--know where they are--Many deceive, not just Bill Hickman and his gang. Sons go into the streets of the city only to hear that stealing from Gentiles is "OK," and are told that the President of the Church says so--all lies to lead the unwary from the truth.[2]:89

Hickman wrote to Brigham insisting that when "my Bro[ther] told me what you said, [it] made the cold sweat run off me and I almost sank under it." The prophet and Hickman exchanged further letters, with Hickman insisting that he didn't drink that much whiskey, that he had never been seen drunk in public, that he could quit anytime he wanted to if Brigham felt it best, that he knew he used profane language but hardly ever the Lord's name in vain, and that he supported the Church and Brigham Young.[2]:89-92

At this time, Hickman was suffering from a bullet wound, which would plague him for the rest of his life. Doctors despaired of his life. Thus, it is in this context that Brigham's journal notes that whether he lives or dies is in God's hands.

Hickman was disfellowshipped

Hickman's bishop disfellowshipped him only ten days after being shot, after speaking "forcibly on the workers of iniquity," and assuring them that he "would do his duty in those things."[2]:95

Hickman's neighbor, John Bennion did not feel this was an adequate punishment, and urged excommunication. Bennion's journal is the source for the Orson Hyde quote cited by the author. Bennion recorded that

[August 26, 1860] Bishop Gardner said there was much prejudice against W. A. Hickman and that he knew nothing against him, as nothing had been reported to him officially. He intimated that W. A. Hickman was apologetic and that he would stand by him or any other Brother until he knew of their guilt. Hickman being called upon confessed to his weaknesses and foibles like other men, but strongly denied his guilt as to things commonly reported on him, stealing etc. Bishop Gardner requested any who knew anything against Hickman to report to him and to stop running to Bishop Hunter or he would be after them with a sharpstick [check spelling].

Thus, Bishop Gardner had disfellowshipped Hickman based on his confession of some wrongs, but had no evidence (save rumor) of the more serious charges.

Saturday, October 13, 1860: Went to the city met Bishop Gardner, had a talk with him about W. A. Hickman's wicked course for sometime past. He said that up until now he had been bound and could not act, I told him I was not bound, neither was I afraid to oppose the wickedness of any man, that it was my duty to expose. We got home about sundown. In the evening I met with the Bishop and his counselors and parties concerned with trying George Hickman for stealing mules. When about to commence the trial, Elder [Orson] Hyde came in and by Bishop Gardner's solicitation he preached and the trial was postponed.

After meeting the Bishop, the counsel, and Elder Hyde had a long talk in my house. Bro. Hyde said, speaking of stealing that a man may steal and be influenced by the spirit of the Lord to do it, that Hickman had done it in years past. Said that he never would institute a trial against a brother for stealing from the Gentiles, but stealing from his brother, he was down on it. He laid down much teaching on the subject.[2]:95-96

Orson Hyde defended Hickman since he had saved his life in 1849

Wrote Hickman's biographer:

Orson Hyde, a member of the Council of Twelve Apostles, was an important Hickman defender. Hickman had saved his life in 1849, and he could not bring himself to condemn Hickman yet. Even as late as 1872, Hickman would use Hyde's line of reasoning in his own defence: he could not understand why people chastised him when all he did was to steal from the Gentiles.

Bennion attended yet another meeting on the matter of Hickman's church status the next day: "Sunday October 14, 1860: Went to meeting at the mill to hear Bro. Hyde . . . he gave much good instruction, spoke on last night's intention to try Hickman--give it as the word of the Lord to set him free for the past, bid him go and sin no more."[2]:95-96

Hyde didn't say that the Spirit of the Lord inspired Hickman to steal, but that it was a sin from which he should refrain

Hyde's stance had, therefore, shifted—rather than arguing that the Spirit of the Lord had inspired Hickman to steal, he was willing to grant that the action was a "sin" from which he should henceforth refrain.

Thus, the position argued by Elder Hyde and Hickman does not represent the Church's doctrine and teaching at the time. Hyde even altered his stance—perhaps his zeal to spare Hickman suffering led to an intemperate remark, which he later amended the next day. Bennion, who clearly wanted Hickman punished, seemed content with Hyde's preaching the next day, while he had not been the night before.

Heber C. Kimball contradicted Elder Hyde's remark soon afterward

Furthermore, Heber C. Kimball, a member of the First Presidency, would soon contradict Elder Hyde: Certain ones say that we justify stealing from unbelievers but we do not and they who say so shall be cursed, they shall be poor and vagabounds [sic] on the earth, and all the people said, `Amen.'[2]:96-97[3]

Orson Hyde wished to pass lightly over Hickman's sins because of the services which Hickman had rendered during Utah's settlement, the Utah War, and the personal debt he owed him. However, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and other church members and leaders were not of the same view, and denounced it. Even Hyde would, within twenty-four hours, amend his stance.


  1. From "Office Journals of Brigham Young--Excerpts, 1853-62," New Mormon Studies CD-ROM (Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates).
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Cited in Hope A. Hilton, "Wild Bill" Hickman and the Mormon Frontier (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1988)
  3. Compare with Heber C. Kimball, (23 August 1857) Journal of Discourses 5:171.