Criticism of Mormonism/Books/One Nation Under Gods/Use of sources/Beating John W. Dawson

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Beating John W. Dawson?

A FAIR Analysis of: One Nation Under Gods, a work by author: Richard Abanes

Author's Claims

One Nation under Gods, page 271 (hardback and paperback)

  • Was Utah's second governor, John W. Dawson, who replaced Governor Cummings in 1861 beaten by Latter-day Saints "so severely that he never fully recovered from his injuries?"

Author's Sources

Endnote 54, page 572 (hardback); page 570 (paperback)

  • Alfred Cumming, letter dated March 1, 1860, Alfred Cumming Papers.

Question: Was Utah's second governor, John W. Dawson, beaten by Latter-day Saints?

The attack upon Dawson may have been extra-legal justice by males offended by his treatment of a female relative, and had nothing to do with the Church

One cannot blame this event on the Church, or on the "Mormons" generally.

Dawson was beaten not because he was the governor, but because he "was accused of making improper advances to one of the Mormon women, and on new-year's eve of 1861 was glad to make his escape from Zion, being waylaid at Mountain Dell on his return journey and soundly beaten by a party of saints."[1] Some charged that Dawson had done this on his own, while the anti-Mormon T.B.H. Stenhouse wrote that Dawson "was almost immediately a victim of misplaced confidence, and fell into a snare laid for his feet by some of his own brother-officials....Governor Dawson had been betrayed into an offense, and his punishment was heavy," thus arguing that other federal officials framed Dawson for some misconduct.[2]

The Journal History reports that "Gov. Dawson has threatened to shoot Stenhouse if he published anything about his wishes to sleep with Tom Williams' wife when she raised the fire shovel on him, and his offer to compromise for $3000 for her not to tell. She has made affidavit and seen Pres. Young."[3]

The beating is described by one historian:

At Hank's Mail Station, the first night out of Salt Lake City, Dawson was attacked by what at the minimum was described as a "gang of rowdies."52 Dawson was robbed, kicked and beaten quite seriously. One of the alleged assailants was Wood Reynolds, said to have been related to the lady reputedly involved. The whole band seems to have been of a wild, if not criminal, element. One of the supposed culprits, Lot Huntington, was shot by a deputy sheriff in January, 1862, while attempting to escape. John P. Smith and Moroni Clawson were killed by police in Salt Lake City while similarly occupied. Others were tried and punished. Reportedly the men killed had committed other robberies and "their tragic taking off was not regretted by the general community."[4]

Dawson was accused of a crime or indiscretion of some sort; he may have been guilty or have been framed by non-Mormon federal officials. The attack upon him may have been extra-legal justice by males offended by his treatment of a female relative—a common occurrence in nineteenth-century America, especially for sexual crimes. With the governor apparently fleeing the territory, offended males may have felt they would have no other opportunity to call him to account. In any case, those who carried out the assault were pursued by the law, and had been engaged in other criminal activity.


  1. Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Utah (San Francisco, CA: The History Company, Publishers, 1890), 604.
  2. T.B.H. Stenhouse, Rocky Mountain Saints: a full and complete history of the Mormons, from the first vision of Joseph Smith to the last courtship of Brigham Young (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1873), 502.
  3. Journal History, 576.
  4. E.B. Long, The Saints and the Union: Utah Territory During the Civil War (Urbana, Chicago, and London: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 48.