For years historians of the American West have overlooked Utah when dealing with the subject of extrajudicial violence, while researchers of Mormonism have misread the existence of such violence in territorial Utah. The former asserts that Utah was free from extrajudicial proceedings and that such violence was nearly nonexistent within the contours of the Mormon kingdom. The latter maintains that any violence that existed in Utah was directly connected to the religious fanaticism of the Mormon populace in the region. The reality is that much of the extralegal violence in Utah was a result of the frontier, not the religion of the Mormons. Although episodes of bloodshed have been routinely categorized as religious zealotry, the evidence suggests that they are more properly catalogued within the context of western vigilantism—a practice well-documented and accepted among historians of the West. Utahans did employ extralegal means, like most other locales, for maintaining the existing social structure. Numerous factors led to conflicts of interests and, as was common during this time, violence became a part of life for early Utahans. It is the purpose of this examination to demonstrate how residents, leaders, and visitors in Utah justified the use of extrajudicial proceedings during the territorial period. Examining the violence that occurred in nineteenth-century Utah within the framework of the western extralegal culture provides a more nuanced understanding of the people of the region and demonstrates how their actions were not as aberrant as previous scholars have claimed. During the territorial period, Utahans experienced a significant amount of extralegal justice. The unique confluence of ethnic, religious, and political ideals led to clashes on the western frontier. There was no shortage of outlaws in Utah, nor of citizens and authorities capable and willing to go beyond the bounds of legal authority to maintain order within the territory. This thesis aims to properly place the Utah Territory in the broader framework of extralegal violence in the West and expand the historical understanding of summary justice in pre-statehood Utah.
College and Department
Family, Home, and Social Sciences; History
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Thomas, Scott K., "Violence across the Land: Vigilantism and Extralegal Justice in the Utah Territory" (2010). All Theses and Dissertations. 2485.
American West, Utah Territory, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormons, vigilantism, vigilante, extralegal, extrajudicial, violence, crime, Danites, Blood Atonement, law