16 William “Bill” Hickman

In the spring of 1871, in a sheepherder’s shack west of Nephi Utah, a strange confrontation took place between a U.S. marshal and a notorious ruffian named William A. “Bill” Hickman. The marshal was Sam Gilson who had recently come west on the newly completed Transcontinental Railroad with a desire to dig up enough evidence on important Mormon officials to get court convictions. The Cullom Bill had just been passed by Congress and excitement was running high as the pro and anti polygamy factions began squaring off for the fight that was soon to come.

Hickman was a suspected Danite who some claimed had committed murdered under the direction and authorization of the LDS Church. At this time, however, he was estranged from his church, having been disfellowshipped after a long period of hard-feelings between him and certain other prominent territorial leaders. It was this animosity between Hickman and The Church that Gilson was counting on; he needed evidence, and he believed that Hickman knew enough to get convictions; Gilson’s goal seems to have been ambitious, to reach to the very top: He was after none other than Brigham Young himself.

We can imagine these two men bargaining across a crude wooden table in that primitive shack. Gilson thought that Hickman wanted to “come clean” after a life of which he could not possibly have been proud, and Hickman knew he had information that Gilson would dearly love to have. Gilson may have been threatening at times, while Hickman would have been thoughtful as he weighed his options. Gilson wanted Hickman to testify in court against Mormon Leaders and offered immunity from prosecution in return.

Eventually an agreement was reached. Hickman wrote a “full confession” implicating many others as well as himself. Repercussions were soon to follow. The confession was turned over to a grand jury and resulted in the arrests of Daniel Wells, Hosea Stout, William H. Kimball and an indictment against Brigham Young. In the confusion that followed, other prominent Mormon leaders scattered to outlying regions seeking protection. All those arrested were eventually released and charges dropped, but in one sense, Territorial Utah had forever changed. The isolation that had formally given immunity to LDS leaders and Church, was now gone.

At this point Sam Gilson seems to fade off into unwritten history. That sheepherder’s shack was either in Millard or in nearby Juab County, and he must have lived there for some time, because the nearby mountains have acquired his name; they are called The Gilson Mountains.

Some of the information for this article comes from the book: “Orrin Porter Rockwell – Man of God – Son of Thunder” by Harold Schindler. It was published in 1966 by University of Utah Press.