B. H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (1930), Vol. 5, p. 39:

Another incident of this period--1862-3--and one which most always brings regrets with its recital, is what is known as the Morrisite affair. It could be passed over with brief mention so far as the importance of the incident itself is concerned, if, in the first place, anti-"Mormon" malice had not made of the incident an occasion of rank offending on the part of the Latter-day Saint Church leaders, and who class Morris as a martyr to their hatred of a rival; and, second, if Governor Harding by pardoning without just reason, a number of the Morrisites, tried and convicted of murder in the second degree, had not linked up this affair with the series of events which constantly kept the Latter-day Saints in a state of irritation against the United States federal officers in the territory.

Joseph Morris And His Vagaries

Joseph Morris, the chief figure of the incident, was an ignorant Welshman, who joined the Church of the Latter-day Saints in his native land in 1849; and now, undoubtedly, was become of unsound mind. Under date of September 1st, 1859, he addressed a long letter to President Brigham Young in which he made many incongruous claims respecting himself, among which was that he was the "seventh angel" spoken of in the Revelation of St. John.

In addition to this there is in the letter a lot of jumbled vagaries about the resurrection; about the fullness of the keys of the priesthood having been given to him; that he was "the greatest prophet that ever lived upon the earth with the exception of Jesus." "It is true that I hold the keys of the dispensation of the fullness of times," he said, "Joseph Smith was my forerunner; he did that for me which I could not do for myself." Yet with all this he assumed humility: he was inferior in many things to the brethren of the twelve; he wanted to be united with them "heart and hand." "I am willing to give them any privilege that their hearts desire in righteousness," he continued. "Use your liberty and be of good courage for the Lord will be with you and fight your battles, and prepare yourselves for a speedy Moses," which character, reincarnated, Morris also pretended to be. Morris directed President Young and the twelve to send out no more missionaries into the world; they were admonished to give their whole attention to the deliverance of Israel, and to opening a door for him that he might come up "to the head of the church." "For," he continues, "I long to have the privilege of meeting with you when I can have the opportunity to speak face to face with you, for I never had the opportunity to make known much unto you, as yet. I have only, as it were, hinted to you, but when I come up to the head of the church I will make known to you all things that are necessary to you." The Investigation Of Morris

Other letters followed of like general character. Naturally the course of the unfortunate man was annoying, and Brigham Young could not be expected to have much patience with his vagaries. Besides the new prophet" had been twice excommunicated from the church for immorality, since living in Utah, and even at the height of his career was living in illegal relations with the wife of a man who was demented.

In the course of a year Morris succeeded in gathering about him a following of several score of people, chiefly located at South Weber settlement, near the mouth of Weber canon. The bishop of this ward, Richard Cook, had become a convert to Morris and many of his people were in sympathy with the claims of the latter as an inspired man. Elders John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, of the council of the twelve, were sent to make inquiries concerning the status of things and to correct any irregularity that might have arisen in that ward of the church. A public meeting of the members of the ward was held on the 11th of February, 1861, and Bishop Cook was required to state his position with reference to the new "prophet," whereupon he very boldly announced his belief in Morris, and declared Brigham Young to be a failure as president of the church. Fifteen others announced a similar faith, whereupon they were excommunicated from the church by Elders Taylor and Woodruff, and the remaining faithful members of the ward.

The hearing was long and great patience was exercised by the two apostles. Morris himself was sent for and given a hearing though it appears that he was not very forceful in presenting his claims, and he had to be strongly urged before he would make any statement at all. Bishop Cook was commended by Elder Taylor for his frankness in declaring his belief in the order of things set forth in the claims of Morris. An overzealous brother of the name of Watts, opposed to Bishop Cook and everything "Morrisite," made harsh accusations against the bishop, charging him with lying, with not abiding in the council of President Young, and denouncing him as worthy of destruction. "He made some very unwise statements," says the minutes of the meeting, "which were disapproved by Elders Woodruff and Taylor, and Bishop Cook said he was satisfied with their disapproval" of that which Watts had said. Cook also said that the brethren had "expressed themselves against his `evils' and `wrongs' much more moderately than he had expected." In concluding the meeting Elder John Taylor admonished the brethren who had remained faithful in the South Weber ward "to go to work in the fear of God and work righteousness. Treat those well who cannot believe as you do, they have expressed themselves very candidly, you can afford to treat them well. You that profess the principles of Jesus Christ, show it by your works. " All which represents fair and gentle treatment towards the brethren so far lost in error.

On the 6th of April following this action of the church authorities, Morris and his following effected an organization. Five persons were baptized that day, who, with Morris, constituted six members-the number with which the Church of the Latter-day Saints started thirty-one years before. Morris became the head of the new "church" with Richard Cook, the deposed bishop of South Weber, and John Banks as counselors.

The Morrisites held their property in common; and as they also believed in the immediate coming of the Christ, "in power and great glory," when all their needs would be supplied without labor, they neglected the ordinary pursuits of life and gave themselves up to holding meetings and religious ecstasy. It is said that Morris so abounded with "revelations" that it required three English and three Danish clerks to work daily in order to record the numerous "revelations" received, which in a short time amounted to six volumes, each containing two or three hundred manuscript pages.

The sect rapidly increased in numbers, and they located at a point called "Kington Fort," afterwards changed to "Morris Fort." They soon numbered over three hundred, and before the breaking up of the community that number was increased to between five and six hundred.

Several times the day was set for the coming of the Christ, but he did not come, and the repeated disappointments tried the faith of the disciples. There was murmuring among them, and some began to desire to withdraw from the community plan of life, insisting upon taking with them all they had "consecrated to the common fund," without reference, according to pro-Morrisite representation, to what they had consumed while members of the community. This was resented by the community and led to seizure of stock and property by the dissenters, on the one hand, and to reprisals by the Morrisites on the other, in the course of which several of the dissenters were captured and imprisoned at Kington Fort. Finally an affidavit was made before Chief Justice Kinney setting forth that one John Jensen and three others were unlawfully imprisoned by Joseph Morris, Richard Cook, and John Banks, et al. Whereupon his honor issued a writ of habeas corpus commanding that the parties unlawfully detained be brought before him. The writ was duly served by Deputy Marshal J. L. Stoddard, but the mandate was not obeyed, the law and the judge were set at defiance, the writ burned, and the marshall threatened and ordered to leave the fort, at the same time being told that no more wqrits would be served in their camp, "to prevent which," as Marshal Stoddard reported, "they had at least one hundred armed men.

On the 10th of June upon the affidavits of H. O. Hanson and Philo Allen, Chief Justice Kinney issued a second writ of habeas corpus directed to the same parties, demanding the forthcoming of the bodies of John Jenson and William Jones, the other two prisoners, associated with these in the former writ, having made their escape; also a warrant was issued by the Judge for the arrest of Morris, Cook, Banks et al, on a charge of false imprisonment.

These writs were placed in the hands of Robert T. Burton and Theodore McKean. Henry W. Lawrence, long prominent in "Mormon" church and Utah affairs, was territorial marshal, but was absent from the territory, and the serving of the writs devolved, as matter of civil duty, upon Burton and McKean, his deputies. Robert T. Burton, a prominent member of the Church of the Latter-day Saints, and also of the territorial militia, "with great reluctance assumed the responsibility" of serving the writs and making the arrests, `which he was bound to undertake by his oath and bond of office." Action Of Governor Frank Fuller In The Morris Affair

Acting governor of the territory, Frank Fuller, being advised that formidable resistance would be made to the serving of the writs called out several companies of the militia to aid the deputy sherriffs as a posse, one hundred and fifty being drawn from the Salt Lake county militia, and one hundred from the militia of Davis county. Besides these a great many people of their own volition, under the excitement of the occasion, gathered in the vicinity of the expected conflict, and by anti-"Mormon" writers are accounted as and included in the forces of the sheriff.

Arriving on the south heights that overlook the little valley in which Kington Fort is located, a written message addressed to Messrs. Morris, Banks, Cook, Parsons, and Klemgard, the parties for whom writs were held, was sent into the fort, reciting their former resistance to the officers and laws, announcing that other writs were now issued against them, and a sufficient force furnished by the executive of the territory to enforce the laws. They were therefore called upon to peacefully and quietly surrender themselves and the prisoners they were illegally holding to the processes of the law. An answer was required in thirty minutes after the receipt of the aforesaid notice; if answer was not then made they were warned that forcible measures would be taken to arrest the parties named in the writs. Should they disregard this summons to surrender, and thus put their lives in jeopardy, they were urged to remove their women and children, and all persons peaceably disposed within the fort, were notified to leave, and informed that they could find protection with the posse. In addition to this notice sent into the fort, a flag of truce carried by Major Egan and Wells Smith approached the fort anticipating that they would be met by a deputation from the Morrisites, but none came.

In the fort the question was discussed as to whether or not the summons of the posse should be complied with. Morris withdrew to his dwelling, and soon returned to his assembled following with a "revelation" forbidding them to yield to the demands of the posse, promising them deliverance and the destruction of their enemies, while "not one of his faithful people should be destroyed." The people of the fort assembled, the "revelation" was read, but before it could be discussed a cannon ball crashed into the fort killing two women and wounding a young girl. This produced the utmost confusion, until ex-Bishop Cook advised all to go to their homes and each man protect himself and family as best he could.

The Morrisite "Battle"

The posse had waited much longer than the half hour that was said would be allowed for compliance with the demand for surrender of prisoners before the first cannon shot was fired. The first shot was fired by direction of Deputy Sheriff Burton and the gunners were ordered to so elevate their guns that the shot would pass over the fort. The same order was given as to the second shot fired, but from the evidence in the case the ball struck short of the fort in a field, bounded into the fort with the result named.

After firing these shots Deputy Sheriff Burton deployed his men to more effectively close in upon the fort. While making this movement the posse was fired upon from the fort and one man killed. Firing on both sides continued through the day. The second day there was a continuous and heavy rain so that little was done. Towards the close of the third day a division of the posse took possession of a house near the fort, in doing which another man of the posse was killed. Shortly after this a man bearing a white flag came out of the fort; all firing ceased; upon inquiry being made by the bearer of the flag as to what was required, he was answered by Deputy Sheriff Burton that unconditional surrender was required, stacking of the arms, and the surrender of all the men bearing arms. The flagman with this information returned to the fort, and when it was observed that those within were stacking their arms, Burton, followed by twenty or thirty of the posse immediately at hand, some on foot and others (four) mounted, entered the fort. With his warrant in hand Deputy Sheriff Burton informed the excited people that the men for whom he held warrants, and all who had borne arms in the fight would be arrested. Some one asked that Morris be allowed to speak to the people, which request Burton granted with the proviso that he be brief and do not incite the people to further resistance. On this the "prophet" stepped forward, raised his arms excitedly, at the same time shouting, "All who are for me and my God, in life or in death follow me?" There were cries of "I," "I," and some "to arms," "to arms," and a rush was made for the arms. Burton called upon the maddened crowd to "halt," this, several times; the command not being obeyed he shouted "Stop them boys!" addressing his men, whereupon firing began, Burton himself firing at Morris. Morris was instantly killed; Banks fell wounded; two women were killed by the firing to stop the rush to arms, a Mrs. Bowman and a Mrs. Swanee. This stopped the rush, and Burton ordered firing to cease.

One hundred and forty men were taken to the posse's camp-a number of others had escaped--the women and children of the fort were supplied with food. During the night Banks died. The next day ninety-four of the prisoners were taken to Salt Lake City, the remainder having been released. The prisoners were brought before Judge Kinney who admitted them to bail, the prisoners being allowed to become sureties for each other. General Burton's Trial

General Burton after delivering his prisoners to the court was complimented by both Judge Kinney and Acting Governor Frank Fuller, for the able manner in which he had discharged his duty, and with so little loss of life.

Yet years afterwards General Burton was arraigned before this same district court on a charge of "murder," being accused of killing a Mrs. Bowman, one of the women killed in stopping the rush of the Morrisites for their arms, as detailed in the text above. An indictment was found at the September term of the court, 1870; but the grand jury which framed it was declared illegal by the decision of the United States supreme court in the Englebrecht case, and therefore the indictment was void. Another indictment was presented at the June term, 1876, and General Burton was arrested in August of that year and placed under $20,000 bonds. His trial did not take place until February, 1879. The case was prosecuted by P. T. Van Zile, the United States attorney for Utah, and his deputy attorney, James H. Beatty; and defended by Judge Tilford and Judge Sutherland of Salt Lake City. After a trial which attracted wide attention at the time, General Burton was acquitted by a unanimous verdict of "not guilty" by a jury half "Mormon" half "Gentile."

Trial Of The Morrisites

At the following March term of the third district court ninety-six of the accused were indicted by the grand jury for resisting the officer, and ten of them for the murder of Jared Smith-the member of the sheriff's posse who was killed on the first day's attempt upon the Morrisite fort. A long trial followed at which sixty of the accused appeared in court, the rest having left the territory. A fine of one hundred dollars was assessed against each of those tried for resistance to the posse-the lowest penalty allowed by the law. Seven of the ten indicted for murder were found guilty of that crime, in the second degree. Five of the number were sentenced to imprisonment for ten years each, one for twelve, and one for fifteen years.

The trial of the Morrisite prisoners took place in the month of March, just when popular excitement in Salt Lake City and throughout the territory was at its height over the attempt of Governor Harding and associate justices Drake and Waite to revolutionize the character of the territorial government as already detailed in a preceding chapter. The demand for the resignation of these officials and their retirement from the territory had been made on the 5th of March; and doubtless in retaliation, and to annoy the "Mormon" people, three days after the conviction of the Morrisites found guilty of second degree murder, Governor Harding, without assigning any cause for this action, except in the general terms of "divers good causes me there to moving," granted to each of them "full and perfect pardon" for the offense of which they stood convicted; "and each of them is hereby forever exonerated, discharged, and absolved from the punishment imposed upon them." On the same day the governor also issued a pardon to the sixty-six offenders who had been fined in the Morrisite cases for armed resistance to the officers of the law, and discharged them from the "fine, costs, and charges imposed upon them. "

The grand jury of the third judicial district was in its annual session for the adjudication of causes arising under the laws of the United States, at the time Governor Harding granted this pardon to the Morrisites, having begun its session on the 30th of March. "In accordance with a common custom with grand juries after concluding their labors, if there exists anything in the district prominently offensive, to call attention of the court and the people to the fact, by solemn presentment, beg leave," said the grand jury, "to tender this statement, and ask that it be spread upon the records of the court." Then follows a scathing rebuke of the act of the governor in pardoning the Morrisite prisoners. It was an able review of the whole subject that the grand jury presented, leading to the conclusion that courts are of no avail "when their most solemn and deliberate judgments can be thus summarily ignored and set aside;" that Governor Harding was `an officer dangerous to the peace and prosperity of the territory;" and that "the crowning triumph of his inglorious career" was the turning loose upon the community a large number of convicted criminals.

The report of the grand jury in full is published in Deseret News of April 15th, 1863. Judge Kinney who had issued the warrants for the arrest of the Morrisite leaders, being on the bench at the time the grand jury made its presentment, added to the record of the court the following comments:

"Gentlemen of the grand jury: The paper just read by the clerk, is one of great responsibility, presenting the governor of this territory as unworthy the confidence and respect of the people. [trust you have fully considered the importance of the step which you s a grand jury have felt called upon, under the oaths of your office, to take. I am well persuaded that in no spirit of malice or undue prejudice have you been induced to call the attention of the court and the people to what you regard as the official misconduct of the executive, but only as the deliberate result of your investigations for the public good. * * * The law and its authority were fully vindicated by the verdicts, but, as you state, the governor has granted an unconditional pardon. What effect this may have upon the minds of evil disposed persons, I know not, but leave the responsibility where it belongs, with the governor, who, in the exercise of a naked power, has seen proper to grant executive clemency. You have now, as you state, concluded your labors and before discharging you I desire to tender to you the commendations of the court for your attention and diligence in the discharge of your duties."

Post Kington Movements Of The Morrisites

After their pardon a few of the Morrisites who had the means to do so, left the territory; many had found friends and employment among the Latter-day Saints in the Utah settlements, after the collapse of their affairs at Kington Fort; in aid of which natural and desirable ending of the wholly regrettable episode, President Young sent out word among the bishops of the surrounding settlements, "to employ and feed any of them that were disposed to work;" and one of their leading spirits, John Parsons-the one who had read to the assembled Morrisites at Kington Fort the "revelation" of Morris forbidding surrender to the sheriff's posse-went among the scattered groups and read to them this epistle of President Young's to the bishops. He "told his fellow dupes that they had been grandly humbugged, and as for himself he was going to turn in and work, and he advised them all to do the same." Others of these deluded people, representing the more fanatical and implacable element, found employment at Camp Douglas, where they were patronized by both army officers and the California volunteers-as also by the civil federal officers of the territory-as if they were a persecuted and a much abused people. When General Connor established a military post at Soda Springs, in May, 1863, he offered them free transportation under the protection of the marching detachments from Camp Douglas if they would go to the great bend of Bear river, in the vicinity of Soda Springs, and there found a settlement. In response to this invitation about eighty families of these people, numbering in all more than two hundred souls, moved to Soda Springs and founded a settlement. But very little came of this movement; after a time the followers of Morris began to scatter, and in a few years became absorbed in the general community of the Latter-day Saints.

Back to John Banks main page.