It is unlikely that you have ever heard of the so-called 1857 Aiken Affair, an event that took place later in the same year as the Mountain Meadows Massacre in southern Utah. In the 1970s, I wrote a play based on the research of Juanita Brooks about the MMM and John D. Lee, great-great-grandfather incidentally of Utah’s current Republican senator Mike Lee. The play, titled “Fire in the Bones” (a favorite phrase of Brigham Young’s from the Old Testament’s Book of Jeremiah) was awarded a grant for its performance to a Salt Lake-based theater Walk Ons, then operated by several former BYU theater graduates. I also received a monetary award for having written it. At the time of its presentation, I was directing the BYU Study Abroad in Vienna and so never got to see it. A few years later, I shared the play with then BYU President Rex Lee, John D. Lee’s great-grandson. This was his kind response after reading it:

“I have always struggled with why any rational human being could have done what my great-grandfather and others did on September 11, 1857. I still don’t understand it. But I get more of an insight from your play than I ever had before. It’s not that you present any more facts. I knew them all. It is the context. Maybe it is partly your writing skill. I’m sure it is, but I doubt you could have written an essay that would have recreated the dynamics that may have existed in Cedar City on that Sunday evening quite as helpfully as did your play.”

Toward the end of my retirement as a member of the BYU faculty in 2000, I then also wrote an ancestral play titled “First Trump” (referring to John’s expression for the First Resurrection in the Book of Revelations.) That play focuses on my maternal great-grandfather Sylvanus Collett’s involvement in the Aiken Affair. In 1857, Collett had just returned as a young LDS missionary to Lehi, Utah, which had been settled by, among others, his parents and the parents of his future first wife, Lydia Karren. Shortly after his return home, he was appointed the constable of Lehi and then with another renowned Lehi resident, Orrin Porter Rockwell, assigned to be escorts for two of four well-provisioned gentiles from California who upon Brigham Young’s call to various outlying church colonies to return to Utah as Johnston’s Army was then approaching Utah, had attached themselves to those then residing near the Sierra Mountains in Nevada’s Carson County, probably for a safe escort through Indian territory. There were then, in all, six men in the Aiken party, so named for two brothers with that surname. Upon arriving in Brigham City, however, they were found to have on them papers of introduction to Colonel Johnston from a U.S. military officer in California—which created the suspicion that, during the period that Territorial Governor Young had declared martial law, the Aiken group were government spies.

Four of their number were assigned personal escorts by local officers of law and order—Collett and Rockwell in Lehi and two others from Nephi. They were to escort the four—all riding horses—back to California by the “southern route.” (For whatever reason, the other two members of the Aiken party remained in Salt Lake City, one of whom managed to escape and return to California and the other the victim of a murder at Wasatch Hot Springs by a desperado called Wild Bill Hickman) It appears that one of the principal reasons for the Aiken party’s travel to Utah was to establish a gambling concession to take advantage of the wages of the members of Johnston’s army.

Few Utah or LDS historians have written about the Aikens. The only sources I have so far encountered that reference the Aiken affair are the biography by Salt Lake Tribune editor Harold Moroni Schindler, Orrin Porter Rockwell: Man of God, Son of Thunder (University of Utah Press, 1993), and Thomas G. Alexander’s Brigham Young and the Expansion of Mormon Faith (University of Oklahoma Press, 2019). For my play about Collett, however, I also relied on the complete microfilmed transcript of the notorious federally instigated trial twenty-one years later in 1878 in Provo, which lasted for several weeks and in which Collett was the lone defendant. Conveniently, Rockwell had died just the year before. At the time, the trial prompted outcries both in the media and from pulpits throughout the country decrying “the Church of Mountain Meadows.” Just as the march of Johnston’s Army in 1857 was, incidentally, the longest such event in U.S. history, the MMM is to this day considered our nation’s worst historical massacre. Collett’s trial ended in a hung jury, which absolved him of being sentenced, while in the two years prior, John D. Lee’s trial ended in his being condemned to execution by a firing squad of federal soldiers. The entire next to last act of my later play “First Trump,” which is a fanciful account of both Collett’s and other ancestors’ personal stories, derived from family records and told to one another as they come out of their graves during the First Resurrection, is essentially a verbatim copy of the Salt Lake Tribune account of Collett’s trial, and its persecution witnesses’ testimonies provide a detailed account of the Aiken Affair. I wrote “First Trump” and the equally enigmatically titled novel The Book of Lehi in which it is now embedded and in it attributed to one of Collett’s contemporary descendants like Yours Truly. The reason for the novel’s title becomes clear as one reads it.

Collett’s story and the Aiken Affair strike me as especially relevant just now with the findings of the recent publications by LDS historians Richard E. Turley and Barbara Jones Brown’s Vengeance Is Mine: The Mountain Meadows Massacre and Its Aftermath and Janice Johnson’s Convicting the Mormons: The Mountain Meadows Massacre in American Culture. I find that the subject matter of my novel The Book of Lehi and its embedded play “First Trump” very much coincides with that of their publications about the MMM and in a parallel fashion resembles what we now know about the Aiken Affair in 1857 and my great grandfather’s involvement in it during his trial in 1878.

I am persuaded that both John D. Lee and Sylvanus Collett were subsequently scapegoated for dutifully obeying their government authorities, who were also their ecclesiastical leaders. In both cases, each male victim was assigned a local escort ostensibly to accompany him peacefully out of Utah Territory until upon a sudden oral command, each escort drew weapons and mortally attacked the man he was in charge of. This modus operandi had to be prescribed and orchestrated by perhaps the same higher authority.

The object lesson from both events—the MMM and the Aiken Affair—is that when faced with similar demands, we can ill afford to support such actions or engage in them ourselves when we are faced with our own ethical challenges. Lee and Collett were well-intended men who under higher orders as otherwise accountable American citizens and Christlike disciples, seriously lapsed morally. Or as in my novel’s last line, the adopted Indian Lehi rhetorically asks, “He killed for the Kingdom, didn’t he?” When I directed the BYU Honors Program, our faculty and students were introduced to a book by Stanley Milgram entitled Obedience to Authority that forcefully made the same point. We must each respond to such crises according to our own conscience and individual inspiration. Call it personal revelation. The speeches by my great-great grandmother Ann Karren in the final act of the novel’s embedded play, convey the most significant ethical and spiritual insight—that if we can, with forgiveness, still accept and claim various offenders as ours, surely a loving Deity will also.


As an undergraduate at the University of Utah in the 1950s, Thomas F. Rogers double majored in both political science and theatre. He spent his first two years of graduate study at the Yale School of Drama, writing plays for the noted New York critic John Gassner. In 1983, he received the Association of Mormon Letters Drama prize. While at the 1998 Mormon Arts Festival Awards Ceremony in St. George, he was cited by Eugene England as “undoubtedly the father of modern Mormon drama.” A professor of Russian language and literature, Rogers has published monographs in that discipline. In 2016 the BYU Neal A. Maxwell Institute also published his essay collection Let Your Hearts and Minds Expand, previously reviewed by Square Two. In all, he has written twenty-nine plays.

Besides serving on the faculty of the Church’s flagship university for thirty-one years, he was privileged to serve as a missionary in Germany ten years after WWII (including Latter-day Saints in Communist-controlled East Germany) and then presiding over the LDS Russia St. Petersburg Mission a year after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Later he coordinated the visits of Latter-day Saints from the eight Russian missions to the Sweden Stockholm Temple. As a Patriarch for eight years of the Europe East Area, he bestowed over 2,600 patriarchal blessings in Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Armenia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Not to mention, refresher courses in Russian at Moscow State University and brief residencies in Communist controlled Rumania and Yugoslavia and in Soviet occupied Poland, as well as in Syria. Later, alongside his wife after retiring from BYU, he taught English to graduate students for the BYU China Teachers Program at Peking University in the Communist PRC. In all of these instances, he found value in fostering relationships with people from many previously opposing backgrounds.

For all the Collett, Karren, and Sims descendants, who by now are legion. And for the astoundingly articulate polymath Marcus Smith, long-standing announcer and interviewer at KBYU-FM, whose own ancestors Samuel Pitchforth and John Kienke, citizens of Nephi, also played some part in the Aiken affair. Marcus’s assiduous investigations and our passionate exchanges richly enhanced the telling. Also, with special thanks to my granddaughter Jacqueline Noel for her assistance as my copy editor.

Also dedicated to my cherished former BYU colleague Gary Browning

“And behold, it is wisdom in God that we shall obtain these records that we may preserve unto the children the language of our fathers.” (1 Nephi 3:19)

“The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which shall not be forgiven in the world nor out of the world, is in that ye commit murder wherein ye shed innocent blood, and assent unto my death, after ye have received my new and everlasting covenant, saith the Lord God; and he that abideth not this law can in nowise enter into my glory, but shall be damned, saith the Lord.” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:27)

“And now I, Moroni, proceed to finish my record concerning the destruction of the people of whom I have been writing.” (Ether 13:1)


Ogden, Utah—The Present

I dab at the cut on my chin. It angers me. I know it’s because I didn’t want to leave home on this pleasant fall weekend and lost my cool. Took it out on my own face like some nerd. I’d much rather stay at home and watch football. Even go to church day after tomorrow.

What’s so liberating about the great outdoors? This frontier fetish about getting your five point buck? Prove you’re from a line of hunters, not wimpy gatherers? Good frontier stock and still their equal? Besides, I’ll just give the meat away to some homeless center. And why did Janice insist I shave? Bet that was the last thing our ancestors thought of when they went for game. It’s such an outworn ritual, like so much else he puts up with. Civilization? Faux wilderness? These days there’s little difference. And I got little sleep last night just thinking about where I had to go.

But my cousins prevailed again. Can’t let them think I’m anti-social, that family isn’t important. And this time Jerry said he had some hot new stuff about our great-granddad. It’s sure to be scandalous. Wonder how Earl will take it. What a contrast—the wily professor, always hoping to upset you. The religion teacher is full of denial and ready to uplift. Maybe I can get a little more shut-eye as I tune out on them.

Janice brings me a small bandaid and, as she applies it, a nice wet kiss. My lunch is ready too. Everything else got packed last night—gun, ammo, sleeping bag, trail mix. As usual, Jerry will provide canned beans and franks, pancake mix, and all the cooking gear. I’ve got to stop off in Provo on the way down to see a client or two. May not get there much before sunset. Tomorrow’s the big day. And, if they’re still short a stag or doe, Sunday too. Let’s hope the critters are close in, waiting for the kill.

“If I’m not back on Sunday, tell Harold I’ll go home teaching another time.”

“Not to worry, sweetie. Remember Ben, it’s called ‘strengthening family ties.’ And ‘building a relationship of trust.’”

“Another mini-mission, huh? Okay, I’ll try not to get trunky.”

Out the door I go, the air still cool. All the way to Nephi and from there to Burraston Ponds, as they call it these days. Or, as pedant Jerry says, Bottomless Springs—back then its Indian name—Pungun. What’s he getting at with all that trivia? Why did he insist we find our deer so far away this time—so far to the south? Mystery Man will spring it on us tonight, I suppose. Around the campfire. Dark all around. Animal noises. Embers flying in your eyes. That’s when he’ll say, ‘Boo.’ But guess what, Jerry? I ain’t afraid.


Burraston Ponds near Salt Creek (Nephi)—1854

Sun straight above us. Hot. Piute chief drags me off pony. Then my sister. Been riding for two or three suns. Sore. Can’t walk fast, can’t run from them. Chief binds our backs together. Can’t see her now, or soothe her. Only seven winters along—my little sister. We squat together in tall bunch grass by this little lake. They dip their gourds and drink. Then give us some. Don’t know their language. Don’t know what they have in mind. Yes, I do. Mustn’t think about it. Taste the cool water. Stare at mountains, trees. Count their leaves.

Then two Whites show themselves. Come closer. One speaks our language. Not well, but well enough. He translates. Chief tells them this a sacred place. Dead ancestors weighed with rocks and put in water. No bottom. Go to ghost cave. Chief’s squaw just put there. Needs slave. Me or sister? Maybe both. Take me!!

Whites not happy. Chief will send us both to ghost cave, or only one. Whites must buy the other. Take sister!! I die for you, my sister. Quiet! Swallow your cries, your heavy breathing! More angry talk. Then loud noise from chief’s iron stick, his rifle…Ears still ring, but I hear White Man. “For God’s sake, yuh savage!! What have yuh done???” Am I dead? Not dead. Back and neck wet now. Not water. I see on shoulder—sticky and berry red…Sister quiet, too quiet. No whimper now, no breathing, no pressing my back. Slack…Kill ME now! Kill me too! No want this place—no want you, Piute, or you, White Face!

“Alright. We’ll take the boy then. No more bloodshed, hear? An’ don’t come ‘round anymore with yer treacherous tricks. Next time there’ll be a posse waitin’—bigger than all yer Piute braves put together. Now untie him.”

Whites take grain bags and tanned hides from pack horse. “There. That’s all I have. Now come here, lad.” Braves undo cords, push me to him. Must not turn ‘round. Only look ahead. Straight ahead…

“How old is he?”

Translator says, “About sixteen winters.”

“Good. I’ll take him into my household…What tribe are you, son? They didn’t even tell me. And what about that poor young girl, now at the bottom of this deep pond? I take it she was your sister. I’m real sorry…I am Samuel Pitchforth. You can address me as Brother—no. I’m going to be your daddy and adopt you. Make you into a Mormon. Give you a decent life. Bring you out from the wilderness and away from this heathen Babylon—like the Lord did your Father Lehi. And that’s what we’ll call you too—Lehi. So your name is now also Pitchforth. Lehi Pitchforth. I know you can’t understand what I just said, but we’ll make sure you speak English before long and can maybe even read it… Now let’s get going.”


Burraston Ponds—The Present

Just like old times. Tent set up. Fire going. They’ve both already been here an hour or more. Those two are real wilderness freaks, alright. Beans still taste good when you’re hungry though. I’ll say that much for the outdoors—sharpens the appetite. So here I am, as usual, seated between them. To referee, I guess. Let ‘em talk away then.

“This is a spooky place, Jerry. Who’s crying out there?”

“A dead papoose.”

“Yeah. Right.”

“At least the Indians think so. It comes to the surface when the sun sets, contorting itself and calling for a rescuer. But if anybody tries to help it, they’re pulled in and carried to the bottom— to the Indians’ ghost cave.”

“I see.”

“Of course, that’s just a legend. Helped keep their children in line.”

“Out of the Indians’ own Brothers Grimm.”

Now Jerry stands and, with his glove on, retrieves a tall metal canister from off the grill. I see it coming—the old ritual.

“Coffee, Earl?”

As Jerry knew he would, Earl declines.

Then to me. “Ben?”

I’m half tempted. But that would make us complete allies.

I decline too, and Earl lets out a visible sigh.

Then Jerry again. “What you’re really hearing is a great horned owl.”

“Is that why you brought us here, Jerry? Is that this year’s stunning ‘revelation’?”

“No, Earl. I’ve got something closer to home.”


“It’s about our common ancestor.”


“Good guess.”

“Sylvanus was a good man. They all were. Faithful Saints. Too faithful, I’d say. That’s the problem.”

“You’re always tearing things down, Jerry.”


“Especially the Church and what’s sacred.”

“If any of it’s true, it can stand the scrutiny of scholarly investigation.”

“I agree, Jerry. But the facts still need interpreting. And even history is not pure science.”

“I concede that, Earl. But let’s just look at a few incontrovertible facts you probably didn’t know about.”

“Such as?”

“Did you know Sylvanus went to trial in 1878 in Provo?”

“As a matter of fact, yes.”

“Did you know, Ben?”

“Think I heard about it. But that was long ago.”

“Remember what for, Ben?”

“Accused of killing some man, as I recall.”

“That’s right. For a crime he committed at least twenty years earlier—in the same year, same season as Mountain Meadows.”

“For a crime he’d committed two decades before? Guess they didn’t have any statutes of limitations for trials back then.”

“At least he wasn’t convicted.”

“It was a hung jury, Earl—all Mormons.”

“Some of them ‘Jack Mormon,’ I’ll wager. Just like at John D. Lee’s trial the same year where they all voted against him—a complete hanging jury.”

“Lee was executed by a firing squad.”

“We won’t go into that just now. But Sylvanus’s trial—the evidence. Have you examined that?”

“A time or two, Jerry, you’ve hit us with some real doozies. That right, Ben?”

“He’s got a bag full.”

“So, guess what, Jerry? I just happened by the U of U library a few months ago, looking into family history. That’s when I noticed you’d put a hold on several books that also interested me—including the trial transcript. So, for once, I had an idea of what you’d try to spring on us. But this time I did my homework too. In fact, I wrote it up in the form of a play.”

“You and your plays, Earl, that no one ever produces. You should stick with teaching seminary.”

“Did you bring anything with you—any documents?”

“They’re all in my head.”

“Well, I brought mine in my play. A script for each of us. The trial’s arguments are strictly factual. And I intend for the three of us to read it with the help of this kerosene lamp.”


“Come on, Jerry. How often have we had to indulge your sarcastic spin about all kinds of sensitive issues? My turn now. Whaddaya say, Ben?”

“It can’t be worse than what I’ve heard out of both your mouths a number of times. Just joking.” “I take that as an assent. Two to one. Here are the copies I made for each of us.”

“What’s it called?”

First Trump.”

“Not about a certain president?”

“No, Jerry. It’s from the Book of Revelations. About the Resurrection of the Righteous. Hope to see you there someday.”

“Come on, Earl. That’s not history—family or any other kind. It’s wishful thinking and pure speculation.”

“I foresaw your objection, Jerry. That part of my play is just a fanciful frame, but it serves a purpose. You’ve got to be patient, Ben willing. Now you indulge me, Jerry, the way both of us have always put up with you. That’s fair, isn’t it?”

“Alright. I’ll listen.”

“And read one of the parts?”

“If I have to.”

“I’ve assigned the major roles to fit our personalities. I will read Sylvanus’s father-in-law, Alexander Sims.”

“That addled Scotsman?”

“You want to be Sylvanus, Jerry?”

“The villain, huh?”

“I said he was a good man, didn’t I?”

“Despite what he did?”

“Let’s wait and see. Ben, I’ll have you take the role of Sylvanus’s son, Tom Collett. Later in the play, when it’s suddenly set in Cape Town, South Africa, I’d also like to have you read another part whose speaker is quite different from either Sylvanus or you. It will test your talent as an actor.”

“I’ll give it a try.”

“And I’ll start it off by reading Alexander’s lines. Since I served my mission in Scotland, I think I’m up to sounding like he may have. Have another hot dog, boys.”


“Why not?”

“As the stage directions tell us, Act One takes place on the old cemetery hill in Fish Haven, Idaho. Alexander, attired in a dark, tattered nineteenth-century suit, sits on a grassy knoll and stares before him. He’s preoccupied with flying insects that occasionally light on him. Suddenly we hear an elaborate trumpet fanfare.”

“Louie Armstrong maybe?”

“Probably not.”

“OK, Shakespeare. Let’s read on…”


Act I

Pioneer Cemetery in Fish Haven, Idaho overlooking Bear Lake—The Anticipated Future

(ALEXANDER SIMS, played by Earl, sits on a grassy mound dressed as Earl described him. He looks toward the sky until the music ceases.)

ALEXANDER: (in a thick Scottish brogue) Wha’ in’ th’…Whoo’s playin’ tha’ troompet? Never heard sooch a wild tune, ‘cept maybe from them Zulus…(slapping at invisible insects) Well, bite, why don’ yuh? So I least have a chance tuh catch one o’ you critters an’ give yuh wha’s fer. Why ain’ yuh bi’in’? Yur as bad as soom fish…(touching his sleeves) An’ wh’ abou’ these rags? Never wore noothin’ like this before…!

(In her seventies, Sylvanus Collett’s mother-in-law ANN KARREN approaches Alexander. She wears a floor-length, long-sleeved dark dress and a Queen Victoria indoor bonnet. She carries a cloth-covered basket.)

ALEXANDER: Good day, mum. Can I assis’ yuh?

ANN: (in a distinct British accent) I’m looking for my husband.

ALEXANDER: Ain’ seen anoother body all day. Yur the first. Where yuh froom?

ANN: Lehi.

ALEXANDER: Wha’ brings yuh here, might I ask?

ANN: Instructions in a note. It was pinned to my dress. With a train ticket to Montpelier.

ALEXANDER: ‘Ow was the ride?

ANN: Smooth as ice. Sped like a bullet. Didn’t see another passenger though. Not one.

ALEXANDER: Walked here froom Moo’pelier did yuh?

ANN: Just a small hike, it was. Nothing like crossing the plains. I’m to wait here to meet my grandson, Tom Collett.

ALEXANDER: Wha’s his line o’ work—yer gran’soon’s?

ANN: He ranches with his father, Svlvanus.

ALEXANDER: Where at?

ANN: Cokeville. Seems like an age since I last saw him. You a Latter-day Saint?

ALEXANDER: Indeed I am, mum.

ANN: I’ve a concern…You could call it a sorrow.

ALEXANDER: Wha’s tha’, mum?

ANN: This same grandson—Tommy, named for my late husband—was never baptized. And now he’s a grown man, already twenty.

ALEXANDER: W’y ain’ he a Moormon?

ANN: Our daughter Lydia died giving birth to him. Maybe that embittered Sylvanus. My husband, Tom Karren, blamed Sylvanus for neglecting her.


ANN: He has five wives. But so does my Tom Karren.

ALEXANDER: Lord save us. Muhself, I never pursued th’ Pri’ciple.

ANN: That’s not the reason. It’s Sylvanus’s vigilanty-ism.

ALEXANDER: One o’ them marrauders, is ‘e?

ANN: He’s from a good family. We came to Lehi together with its first settlers. Sylvanus was the town’s first constable. Then a sheriff’s deputy. Tried to advise that U.S. Army Colonel O’Connor against perpetrating the Bear River Massacre in Idaho, but O’Connor wouldn’t listen—which is why the big U.S. Army’s slaughter of squaws and papooses and why so many soldiers also lie to this day in the military cemetery east of Salt Lake they named for that Mormon hater, Steven A. Douglas. Sylvanus had also been a missionary at Fort Limhi on the Salmon River and now justice of the peace in Cokeville.

ALEXANDER: A lawman then?

ANN: And murderer.

ALEXANDER: Yuh mean it?

ANN: Accused of it anyway. Had a big trial in Provo eight years back. He was let off though. Couldn’t agree on a verdict.

ALEXANDER: Tha’ Sylvanus?! Sylvanus Collett, yuh mean?

ANN: That’s right.

ALEXANDER: Then yer gran’soon’s a Collett too. Not Tom Collett?

ANN: Of course. And he married your daughter Catherine. We call her Kate.

ALEXANDER: What? When?

ANN: Just las’ year…

ALEXANDER: Yuh said his father’s trial was joost eigh’ year ago?

ANN: That’s right.

ALEXANDER: Wha’ year were tha’ then?

ANN: ‘78.

ALEXANDER: Beg yer par’on? Yuh know w’a year this is, mum?

ANN: Why, yes, love. It’s 1886.

ALEXANDER: An’ yer gran’son an’ muh daugh’er Kate was marrie’ afore then? Yuh recall how they met?

ANN: It’s a story we never tire of telling in the family: When your daughter Kate was still in her late teens, a girlfriend in Cokeville, they tell us, invited her to come from Bear Lake to its annual parade on Fourth of July. A handsome young horseman rode past them—our grandson Tom Collett—and your Kate asked her friend, “Who’s that?” Her friend mentioned his name but then added that he was already engaged. Your impish Kate answered, “We’ll see about that.” And the rest is history… Now who’s that?

(SYLVANUS COLLETT (played by Jerry), in his mid-sixties, grey and gaunt, appears from offstage and approaches them. He wears a plain dark turn-of-the-century men’s suit.)

ALEXANDER: Afternoon, stranger.

SYLVANUS: How’s it goin’?

ALEXANDER: Same as ever, ’cept fer them pesky ’squitoes.

SYLVANUS: Don’t bother with ’em. Ain’t bitin’ no more.

ALEXANDER: Noticed that too, did yuh? Nothin’ more fierce than Bear Lake ’squitoes. Unless it’s Bear Lake hoorse flies. You from ’roun’ here?

SYLVANUS: Wyomin’.

ALEXANDER: How’d yuh get here with no hoorse?

SYLVANUS: Walked. Been walkin’ fer a day or two.

ALEXANDER: Wha’s yer business?

SYLVANUS: Supposed to meet a feller here. Got a job fer me, I guess. Note says he’d give me further instructions.

ANN: Another note?

SYLVANUS: Yeah. It was pinned to this funny suit I’m wearin’.

ANN: Where was that?

SYLVANUS: In a green place like this one.

ALEXANDER: Soun’s soospicious.

SYLVANUS: Oh, I’m used to rendezvous-in’.

ALEXANDER: ‘Ow’s tha’?

SYLVANUS: My line of work. What’s yours?

ALEXANDER: Miller. Pu’ in th’ first burr mill in these parts.

SYLVANUS: How’s business?

ALEXANDER: Joost finished a canal ‘twixt Swan Creek an’ Sain’ Charles. We’ll ‘ave plenty o’ wa’er now—muh seven soons an’ me an’ all our neighboors. An’ lo’s moore whet tuh grind. Took muh boys an’ me seven year tuh blast through tha’ mou’ain over there.

ANN: Seven years with seven sons. Sounds like a fable.

ALEXANDER: No fable, mum. Celebration was goin’ to be tomorrow. A brass band was even comin’ from Mon’pelier to play for it. I got a li’le tipsy, I’m afraid. Cannot recall anything else.

ANN: I’ll tell you then, Brother Sims. Are you sitting down? Because the night before the celebration you went to the canal to check the dam behind your mill race—but you fell in, hit your head on a boulder, and drowned….

ALEXANDER: Yuh mean it? I’ve really been dead then? Cannot believe it.

ANN: For a long time too. I’m sorry, Alexander.

SYLVANUS: Where you from?

ALEXANDER: Name’s Sims—Alexander. Born in Scoo’land. Bu’ we coom here, me an’ Lizzie, froom Sooth Africa.

ANN: Africa?

ALEXANDER: Wen’ there as a miller’s ‘ppren’ice, an’ tha’s where we me’ th’ Moormon elders an’ become han’cart pioneers. I were th’ first miller in Sugar House, then Liberty Park an’ Centerville, where muh daughter Kate was born—

ANN: My grandson Tommy’s wife.

ALEXANDER: Tha’s right. An’ finally we settled here at Bear Lake…So how was th’ trip here…froom Wyomin’?

SYLVANUS: Strange. Didn’t see another soul. An’ that was from way up on a mountain.

ANN: What mountain?

SYLVANUS: Well, I started for here yesterday mornin’. Then decided I’d make a detour an’ climb what some say is the tallest peak in these parts—in the high Uintas—always wanted to. Never got to it till now.

ALEXANDER: Tha’s a near eighty-mile detour.

SYLVANUS: Anyway, when I reached the pass at the base of it—’bout 11,000 feet up—it was just a plain of boulders as far as you could see. There’s several peaks right there at the pass. I picked what looked like the tallest an’ up I went. Giant boulders all the way—huge steppin’ stones piled on each other like ridges on the spine o’ some ol’ dinosaur. Nice view at the top. Just one lone red-tailed hawk out there in the far distance, floatin’ on a current of air. Not above me either—but way below.

ALEXANDER: You was tha’ high, was yuh?

SYLVANUS: An’ all so still an’ quiet. No squabblin’, no cantankerous-ness. No outlaws anywhere to hunt down an’ put away.

ANN: Put away?

SYLVANUS: Sometimes. Sometimes you have to…That was ’bout four in the afternoon, judgin’ by where the sun was. Goin’ back, I told myself I’d never get to camp afore dark an’ maybe freeze to death up that high unless I avoided the trail and lowered myself over one o’ them steep shale slopes just down from the pass—no zig-zags, no meanderin’.

ALEXANDER: How deep were the slope?

SYLVANUS: 4,000 feet, maybe. Couldn’t see the base of it from halfway down.

ALEXANDER: So yuh di’n’ know if it migh’ be too steep farther down?

SYLVANUS: Took my chances. Them boulders wobbled each step I took. Couldn’t trust ’em. So I moved slow motion, strainin’ my legs an’ gettin’ weaker with the effort.

ALEXANDER: If yuh had toppled, yuhdda lost yer balance an’ kept toomblin’, I bet.

SYLVANUS: Fact is, I did just that.

ALEXANDER: How far did yuh tumble then?

SYLVANUS: Half the slope.

ALEXANDER: An’ lived duh tell it? I see no scra’ches, no bruises.

SYLVANUS: A mystery, ain’t it?

ALEXANDER: ’Tis surely.

ANN: Maybe you’re one of those three Nephites. You take a lot of chances.

SYLVANUS: Yeah (winking at them), maybe I am. So watch yerselves, hear…?

ALEXANDER: Or yur a spirt.

SYLVANUS: Think so?

ALEXANDER: I were a spiritualist afore I were a Moormon.

SYLVANUS: You may be right about that. An evil spirit too. At least accused of it…How long you been in this place?

ALEXANDER: Since early this moorning. An’ starin’ at th’ lake out there. Can’ ge’ muh fill o’ it. Like I’d joost seen it anew. Same ol’ lake though, an’ beautiful as ever. Look at tha’ deep blue. An’ all th’ trout in it. Seems like I been starin’ a’ it all day. Still, somethin’s different.

SYLVANUS: Like what?

ALEXANDER: Like this tattered suit I’m wearin’.

ANN: (to herself) He’s already forgotten.

ALEXANDER: Ain’ mine. Yer clothes don’ look mooch be’er.

SYLVANUS: I wondered about that too. These ain’t my rags. That’s for sure.

ALEXANDER: An’ where’s muh wife Lizzie….? (looking behind him) Cannot see our cabin back where it use’ tuh be. Hope she ain’ lost. Miss ’er bad…

ANN: And there’s all this confusion about what year it is.

SYLVANUS: You must both have a bout of amnesia. We’re already into the Twentieth Century.

ALEXANDER: Coome on, man!

ANN:What year do you say it is?


ALEXANDER: Yur demented, surely!

(Whistling is heard from offstage.)

ANN: Who’s that?

ALEXANDER: Soom kid loiterin’.

SYLVANUS: Oughta be out in the fields helping his pa.

ALEXANDER: Or a’ school…Maybe he’s yer messenger.

SYLVANUS: Don’t think so. Note says he’ll be wearin’ a uniform.

(BERDEAN SIMS, sixteen and unusually thin, walks hesitantly toward them. He also wears a conservative dark suit, vintage 1940. In each hand he holds a tall, capped plastic ice cream container with a straw protruding from its top.)

ALEXANDER: Whacha got there, laddie?

BERDEAN: Raspberry shakes. One’s fer you. Didn’t know you’d have company.

ALEXANDER: ‘Shakes’? What’s a ‘shake’?

BERDEAN: You mix ice cream with fresh raspberries. They sell them at all the stands this time of year.

ALEXANDER: Moost be oother folk ou’ there then—runnin’ them stands.


ANN: Where do you get the ice, love?

BERDEAN: They make them in machines.


BERDEAN: Better eat yours before it melts. Use that straw.

ALEXANDER: What straw? This one’s made o’paper.

BERDEAN: (handing the other container to Ann) Here. Take mine. Already ate a couple on the way here.

ANN: Why, thank you, love.

BERDEAN: (to Sylvanus) Sorry, I don’t have another.

ANN: (drawing on her straw) Mmmm. Delicious.

ALEXANDER: (handing his to Sylvanus) Here. Try mine.

SYLVANUS: Much obliged…

ALEXANDER: Whoose boy are yuh?

BERDEAN: Everett and Buelah’s.

ALEXANDER: Everett is one o’m uh sons.

BERDEAN: And that makes me one of your grandsons. But I wasn’t born till after you…you’re sitting down, ain’t you?

ALEXANDER: Acoorse I am—on this here hillock. But Everett ain’t yet married. How could he be yer daddy?

BERDEAN: He married in’ 94.

ALEXANDER: Don’ fool me, laddie. Tha’s next year.

BERDEAN: I’m glad you’re still sittin’ down.

ALEXANDER: Why’s tha’?

BERDEAN: I got a shock too when I found out where I was and how much time had gone by.

ALEXANDER: Whaddaya mean?

BERDEAN: I was sixteen when I died. But that’s how old I still am, seems like.

ALEXANDER: So you’re supposed to be soome kind o’ spook too, are yuh? Well, I know all ‘bou’ ‘em an’ had lots tuh do with ‘em.

BERDEAN: I know.

SYLVANUS: How coome yuh know?

BERDEAN: You was a spiritualist when you was in Africa.


BERDEAN: And I’m no spook. I’m resurrected.

ALEXANDER: Yu’r wha’?

BERDEAN: Right now is the morning of the First Resurrection.

SYLVANUS: Who told yuh?

BERDEAN: Can’t rightly say. There’s lots of messengers.

ALEXANDER: Lookie here, laddie. I’m fifty-eight year ol’, an’ yur joost a w’ipper-snapper. I seen a lo’a things an’ been a lo’a places you still ain’t. Starin’ out way oop in Aberdeen.

BERDEAN: I know. That’s why they say they named me Berdean but didn’t quite spell it right…

ALEXANDER: Well, if I’m a resurrected bein’, w’ere’s muh Lizzie?

BERDEAN: She’s waitin’ fer you to claim her.


BERDEAN: Just down the road over the Utah border in Garden City.

ALEXANDER: Wha’s she doin’ there?

BERDEAN: What we’ve all been doin’. Me an’ my folks—your sons and daughters, their kids an’ theirs, an’ theirs too.

ALEXANDER: Doin’ what?

BERDEAN: Lyin’ stretched out, facin’ East.

ANN: You mean?

BERDEAN: That’s what I’ve been tryin’ to tell you.

ALEXANDER: Everet married in ’94, yuh say? Wha’s the year now?

BERDEAN: Can’t say. At least a century later. Maybe more.

ANN: Good heavens!

ALEXANDER: Think we’re all resurrected too then, laddie?

BERDEAN: Look around you. Where you’re at…

ALEXANDER: Yeah. There’s tombstones everywhere. (to Sylvanus) Wha’ green place was you in two days back?

SYLVANUS: Kinda like this here.

ALEXANDER: Tombstones too?

SYLVANUS: Yeah, now I think of it.

ANN: And where I was in Lehi too.

BERDEAN: (to Alexander) See that hole way over in the corner? That’s where you were. It was practically the first grave up here.

ALEXANDER: Why’s that?

BERDEAN: ‘Cause you died so early—practically the first one in the settlement.

ALEXANDER: Where’s all th’ others?

BERDEAN: Haven’t come out yet. Still waitin’ for the next trump. Or the next. You must of been good enough folks, or you wouldn’t be sittin’ upright yet either. Me? Guess I was too young an’ weak to be much of a sinner.

ALEXANDER: Resurrected, huh? Tha’ why the ‘squitoes ain’ bi’in’?

BERDEAN: That’s right. From now on we’re supposed to make peace with ’em. Like the lamb an’ the lion.

ALEXANDER: Think they’re resurrected too?

BERDEAN: Why not? Couldn’t sin, could they?

SYLVANUS: Every time they ever bit me, boy, it was sure a sin. Don’t know ‘bout you.

ALEXANDER: Woonder if tha’s w’y they’re so thick now—cause it’s all th’ ‘squitoes that ever was. All the way back tuh Adam.

SYLVANUS: That would be a heap, wouldn’t it? With all the other animals.

ALEXANDER: ‘Twould, surely. No’ tuh mention all the plan’s—trees an’ grasses. An’ all we ever ate? Think they’ll be resurrected too?

BERDEAN: Can’t say.

ALEXANDER: ‘Twould crowd us off th’ Earth, I’m thinkin’…if yur no’ foolin’ us, laddie, wha’ did I die of? I already forgot.

BERDEAN: Spirits.

ALEXANDER: Shh…So the spirits finally go’ me, did they?

BERDEAN: Not the kind you’re thinkin’ of. You drank too much before the day the canal went through that you and your seven sons had spent seven years building. Before the celebration, you fell in an’ drowned.


BERDEAN: Yeah, bad luck.

ANN: Just a small indiscretion, Brother Sims. But fatal.

ALEXANDER: Dooble damn!!

ANN: What did you die of so young, love?

BERDEAN: Swallowed a tack.

SYLVANUS: Did yourself in with a tack?

BERDEAN: Didn’t mean to. Picked it up off the floor as a baby when I just started to crawl. It lodged in my lung. They couldn’t get it out, so I just kept coughin’ up blood and phlegm and havin’ infections. We’d go down to the doctors in Salt Lake to see what they could do, and I’d sell newspapers on the street to help pay for it. Each time they’d drain some of the fluid from my lung. That’s wha’ finally did me in. The last time, the doctor’s instrument broke a vessel and the phlegm poured into my bloodstream. I was gone in an instant. At least that’s how it was explained to me.

ALEXANDER: Who did th’ explainin’?

BERDEAN: Other messengers…My illness was a real worry for Momma. I know it aged her. An’ when I suddenly died like that…musta broke her heart.

ALEXANDER: So yuh never ’ad a family o’ yer own.

BERDEAN: Hey, I’m only sixteen. But I can now.

ANN: You think so, love?

BERDEAN: That’s the promise, ain’t it? For those who come forth with the First Trump?

ALEXANDER: (nodding toward Sylvanus) How’d you die, mister?

SYLVANUS: Have no idea. Must’ve went fast, like you. Maybe a heart attack.

BERDEAN: What’s yer last memory—before sittin’ up again? Where was yuh?

SYLVANUS: Visitin’ in Salt Lake.

ANN: In the year ‘01, was it?

SYLVANUS: That’s right.

ALEXANDER: Well, if you was goo’ ‘nough fer that ‘First Troomp,’ then so was my Lizzie. She’s gotta be up too an’ wai’in’ already. When did she die?

BERDEAN: Twenty years after you. That’s why they buried her in Garden City. None of your kids stayed around here. The ones that moved there took her in an’ bought plots so they could all be together. Me too.

ALEXANDER: An’ left me here.

BERDEAN: Didn’t want to disturb you.

ALEXANDER: Joost as well. Th’ view here’s better.

BERDEAN: You’ve got quite a progeny.

ALEXANDER: Yeah, we had thirteen yoong ‘uns.

BERDEAN: How many more by now, you suppose? Grandkids like me? And ‘greats’?

ALEXANDER: You tell me. You go’ all th’ answers.

BERDEAN: Not so many as some since you weren’t no polygamist.

ALEXANDER: Thank th’ stars fer tha’. How many?

BERDEAN: More ’n a thousand.

ALEXANDER: Holy catfish!!

BERDEAN: Finished your shakes?


SYLVANUS: Not bad.

ANN: Truly delicious.

ALEXANDER: Always ‘ad great berries ‘roun’ here. Well, le’s ge’ goin’. ‘is a goo’ three hour tuh Garden City.

SYLVANUS: (rising) Meanwhile, I’m goin’ down to the lake an’ catch me a fish. If that messenger comes askin’ fer me, have ’im wait.

ALEXANDER: Won’ take long if th’ fish er bi’in’ as usual…

(Sylvanus leaves.)

BERDEAN: Strange fellow. What’s his name?

ALEXANDER: Di’n’ ask. Maybe one o’ them three Nephites.

BERDEAN: You believe in them?

ANN: They’re in the Book of Mormon, love. You must read it sometime.

ALEXANDER: Well, le’s ge’ goin’. Gotta help Lizzie.

BERDEAN: We can’t go to Garden City yet. That’s why they sent me here. To let you know.

ALEXANDER: Wha’ abou’?

BERDEAN: Business.

ALEXANDER: Business?

BERDEAN: We’ve all got some. Mine was gettin’ hold of you.

ALEXANDER: Wha’s mine?

BERDEAN: First, you’ve got to go north to Montpelier and take a train to Salt Lake. But that’s just the beginning. The conductor, who married your daughter Kate—


BERDEAN: —will meet us here.

ANN: Tommy works for the railroad now, does he? That must be why I got a free ride to Montpelier.

BERDEAN: He should show up any time now.

ALEXANDER: ‘is dady Sylvanus was soomeone t’ reckon with. Joost as soon keep muh distance froom his son too. Leastways, not git on his wroong side…

(Sylvanus, now dashing and in his early twenties, appears in buckskin on another part of the stage. The others seem not to notice.)

OTHER WHITE MAN’S VOICE: Alright, you redskin sneaks. What you after now?

INDIAN’S VOICE: Me want speak with father.

OTHER WHITE MAN’S VOICE: This here’s Colonel Collett of the Utah Nauvoo Legion. Whaddaya think, Syl?

SYLVANUS: Well, boys, yer mean old daddy’s under arrest fer what he did in Smithfield in the late Indian War.

OTHER WHITE MAN’S VOICE: Let ‘em talk to him, Syl.

SYLVANUS: Alright, bring him out…

OTHER WHITE MAN’S VOICE: Just be careful, is all.

SYLVANUS: Don’t worry. I been ambushed enough times already… Just don’t you boys try nothin’, understand…?

OTHER WHITE MAN’S VOICE: Hey, there! Get away from him. Look, Syl, the old man’s bolted…

(Sylvanus calmly raises an invisible rifle, takes aim and shoots into the audience. A shot sounds.)

OTHER WHITE MAN’S VOICE: By golly, Syl, you got the old geezer. I think he’s plumb dead. And did those braves scatter. I do believe, Syl, you could hit a fly’s heel at a thousand yards with a blank cartridge…

(The lights fade on Sylvanus.)

ALEXANDER: No, don’ know ‘ow close I’d wanna gi’ tuh tha’ Sylvanus. So why ‘ave I gotta talk tun his soon? Why’s he my Catherine’s ‘oosban’ an’ no’ soome oother?

BERDEAN: He’ll have your ticket and tell you the rest. It’s the order of the Church, you know. We accept our calls—wherever they send us.

ALEXANDER: So th’ Church is still with us?

BERDEAN: In principle.

ALEXANDER: An’ is tha’ all he has tu’ do, this Tom Collett? Joos’ ‘an’ me a ticket?

BERDEAN: And reconcile his father-in-law to Sylvanus. With your encouragement.

(Alexander eyes Ann.)

ALEXANDER: Is this life noo differen’ from th’ oother one?

ANN: You ever hear of free agency, Brother Sims?

BERDEN: We’ve still got to make the good things happen.

ALEXANDER: So I’m tuh take a train, am I? Never rode many trains. ‘Twas mostly hoorse an’ booggy—an’ all th’ way froom Missouri by han’cart.

BERDEAN: This Tom Collett will give you two tickets—one for the train and another for an airplane. That’s why you’re going to Salt Lake. To the airport.

ALEXANDER: ‘Air Plane’? Some kinda flying carpet? An’ how far will tha’ take me froom muh Lizzie afore I can claim ’er?

BERDEAN: How’d you like South Africa again? Cape Town? Port Elizabeth?

ALEXANDER: Back to muh in-laws if they’re still alive?

BERDEAN: Or resurrected.

ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah. Resurrected. Lizzie’s moother is a Boer, yuh know. Her father’s Irish.

BERDEAN: That’s what I hear—a Boer and then some. That’s, I believe, why you’re going back to Cape Town.

ALEXANDER: Oh no, yuh don’. I paid muh dues. Been there an’ done tha’. An’ I’m far too ol’. Besides, w’y shoul’ I?

BERDEAN: I’ll tell you why, Grampa. You need to go there or do whatever else you’re asked because until every last one of us has filled his or he assignment—including my future eternal companion—none of us—and wherever there were any differences—all must now be ‘reconciled.’ I think that’s the word they’ve been battin’ around.


BERDEAN: The messengers.

ALEXANDER: So tha’s the deal, is i’?

BERDEAN: That’s the deal.

ALEXANDER: An’ how many most I claim in all, did yuh say? Besides muh Lizzie?

BERDEAN: Over a thousand.

ALEXANDER: Sufferin’ catfish! An’ they’ve all most be ’reconciled’ too?

BERDEAN: At least to the third or fourth generation. We’ve been given a thousand years for that if we need it.

ALEXANDER: Wha’s yer name agin?

BERDEAN: Berdean.

ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah. A-a-a-a-berdeen, an’ mis-pronounced. Well, Berdean, when will muh soon-in-law show up?

ANN: Yes, when? I’m especially so anxious to see him again.

BERDEAN: Any time now.

ALEXANDER: Will I ever git back here? Fer keeps, I mean?

BERDEAN: Probably.

ALEXANDER: Because—look a’ tha’ lake oot there, will yuh? She’s as deep as Loch Ness. Even, soome say, wi’ her very oown moonster.

BERDEAN: Did you ever see it? The monster?

ALEXANDER: Joot oother moonsters. Moonsters an’ demons.

BERDEAN: The spirits?

ALEXANDER: Some dark winter nights they beat me tuh th’ groound, coomin’ home late froom

th’ mill. Shh...! (He steps toward the footlights and, starting to writhe, falls to the ground.)

STRANGE VOICES: Stay with us, Alex…

ALEXANDER: (still writhing) Yuh canno’ make me.

VOICES: If you don’t, we will destroy you.

ALEXANDER: Wha ‘fer? If yur really muh friends, like yuh always claimed you were?

VOICES: You know too much. You’ve seen the other world. You’re an initiate—one of us.

ALEXANDER: Yuh ain’ noothin’ tuh me any more.

VOICES: That doesn’t matter.

ALEXANDER: I’ve found soomthin’ full o’ love an’ light—soomthin’ far be’er.

VOICES: That doesn’t matter.

ALEXANDER: I’ll lean on muh Loord then an’ call yer bloof. Take me if yuh can.

VOICES: We’ll torment you then—torment you forever.

ALEXANDER: Go ahead!

VOICES: (fading) You’ll be sorry…sorry…sorry…sorry…

ALEXANDER: (to the others) They never fergive me that I fersook ‘em fer Christ’s priesthood. But I saw tha’ priesthood woork miracles far moor powerful. Helpful neighboors was prayed tuh muh sick wife in muh absence. Tha’ first winter in Salt Lake I was fellin’ timber in the Oquirrh Mootains fer a tanner whoo said he’d take care o’ Lizzie an’ our first sets o’ twins. They’d have starved if I hadn’t been fer those like tha’ man who were truly faithful. (He turns and faces the auditorium.)

MAN’S VOICE: How’s it goin’, neighbor? How’s the wife and kids?

ALEXANDER: Strange. While I was away, Lizzie fainted, she says, from bein’ so weak. She was lyin’ there oon th’ col’ floor, with chills an’ fever—the babies untended. An’ then you shoow oop an’ git ’er intuh bed. Fed ’em all too an’ give ’er a blessin’. An’ straigh’ away she gets be’er. I believe yuh saved muh family.

MAN’S VOICE: Brother Sims, I’d swear you’d come to my window just a while before. Tapped on it several times and asked me to come over soon as I could.

ALEXANDER: How could I? I were far ooff in th’ mootains.

MAN’S VOICE: No you wasn’t, Brother Sims. I swear it was you at my window. Or I’d of never thought to look in on your loved ones…

ALEXANDER: (turning again to Berdean) Oothers coome back froom th’ shadow o’ death under muh own hands—praise be tuh God, whoose Spirit quickened ’em as it flowed through me… Joost you look ou’ there, laddie, a’ tha’ goorgeous blue lake, them loomin’ moontains. There’s th’ gloory already, don’ yuh see, laddie? The paradisiacal gloory. An’ if I am finally privileged tuh inheri’ this Earth with soome oothers, tha’s all I’ll ever wan’. There can be noothin’ be’er…(looking offstage) Now who’s’ tha’ man in a uniform? He moos’ be…

BERDEAN: I’ll be movin’ on then. See you in Garden City, Grampa… (He leaves.)

ALEXANDER: (calling to him) Sure hope so…!

(TOM COLLETT (played by Ben), in his mid-sixties and wearing a conductor’s uniform, walks toward them from another direction. He carries a sheaf of documents.)

ANN: It’s another stranger. Thought it was to be my grandson.

TOM: Gramma Annie!

ANN: Don’t get fresh with me now, mister.

TOM: Don’t you recognize me?

ANN: It can’t be…my Tommy Collett? He’s…he was only twenty when I…Is it really you, Tommy love?

TOM: Yes, Gramma.

ANN: How old are you then?

TOM: I’m sixty-five.

ANN: When did you…die?

TOM: 1931, they tell me.

ANN: So it’s really that much later.

TOM: A lot later than that, they say.

ANN: (finally embracing him) Oh, Tommy, love. My Lydia’s son…. This is all so awkward. Do you remember the tall willow in my front yard, Tommy?

TOM: Yes, Gramma.

ANN: And the long rope ladder that hung from its highest limb? How you used to love to swing on it whenever you and your father Sylvanus came to see us. You’d swing and swing for hours on end.

TOM: Not when I got older, Gramma.

ANN: And what a handsome young man you were then, love. But why you were never baptized, Tommy, and why you weren’t allowed to I’ll never understand… (to both men, uncovering her basket) Have one of my crumpets. They’re mighty tasty.

ALEXANDER: (taking one) I’m sooprised we still require noorishmen’.

ANN: Maybe we don’t. But let’s hope we’re still allowed the pleasure.

TOM: (handing papers to Alexander) These are your instructions.

ALEXANDER: So yur really muh Kate’s ‘oosban’? ‘ow ol’ are yuh?

TOM: Sixty-five.


TOM: What is?

ALEXANDER: I’m only fifty-eigh’.

ANN: At least I’m slightly older than the rest of you. But my Tom Karren would only be Tommy’s present age.

ALEXANDER: I’m tol’ Lizzie soorvived me by twenty year. Tha’ makes her fourteen year muh senior. Think they’ll make an adjoos’ment—bring oos all back tuh our prime?

ANN: What age would that be?

ALEXANDER: I’d settle fer thir’y. When yuh think they’ll swi’ch us back? Our ages?

ANN: Not, I imagine, before the reunion.


ANN: With all our kin.

ALEXANDER: So yur really Tom’s Gramma? An’ yer ‘oosban’ had foor oother wives? Bet yuh had a lo’a kiddies.

ANN: Eleven in all. Together we’ve had, I’m told, sixty-four grandchildren and, with my husband’s four other wives, a total of ninety-three. By now his offspring numbers, believe it or not—I consulted with another early riser at the Lehi cemetery, a man who knows calculus—close to a million.

ALEXANDER: Gloory! There wer’n’t tha’ many in th’ entire territory.

ANN: Can’t help it. It’s higher arithmetic. By now our descendants would have joined up with practically every other family from back then. Exciting, isn’t it—we’re all one big clan.

(Sylvanus, older again and dressed in his dark burial suit, meanwhile settles, unnoticed, on a tombstone upstage from the others.)

ALEXANDER: What’s excitin’? There still ain’ soome folks ’roun’ here.

ANN: Who, for instance?

ALEXANDER: Muh wife. Yer ’oosban’. An’ all our chil’ren. An’ now we got tuh head in th’oopposi’e direction.

ANN: Patience, brother. You must have done a lot of good. Or they wouldn’t trust you with this new mission.

ALEXANDER: In tha’ sky vessel?

ANN: That’s right.

ALEXANDER: (to Tom) Wha’ is muh mission, by th’ way?

TOM: It’s on account of your wife.


TOM: Her ancestors.

ALEXANDER: Th’ Dootch or Irish?

TOM: Others, farther back. Cape Town must have been quite a melting pot.

ALEXANDER: Who else then?

TOM: (referring to his documents) Well, Elizabeth’s maternal line—she may not have even known herself—goes like this: her great-grandfather married a woman whose forebears were Chinese, one of them for a time the governor of Indonesia, later sent by the Dutch East India Company as a political exile to Cape Town.

ALEXANDER: So I’m hooked oop with a bunch o’ Asians…

TOM: It doesn’t stop there. And this is the problem. Another Boer ancestor took for wife the daughter of two more Indonesian exiles with Semitic names, Moses and Sarahm— Maylays and possibly Dutch slaves.

ALEXANDER: When was tha’?

TOM: 1600s.

ALEXANDER: Tha’s a loong time ago.

TOM: Not long enough.

ALEXANDER: Fer wha’?

TOM: This couple had Old Testament names, but they’re also names from the Koran.


TOM: They were Muslims whose descendants, when they intermarried with the Boers in South Africa, became Christians.

ALEXANDER: Goo’ fer them.

TOM: This is also, unfortunately, known to the Muslim Sheiks and Imams in Cape Town and in Jakarta. It’s been their practice to execute those who leave their religion.

ANN: Gracious!

ALEXANDER: Savages, tha’s wha’ they are. No better ’n African Kafirs an H’ootentots.

TOM: Of course, they can’t execute anyone anymore.

ALEXANDER: W’y’s tha’?

TOM: Death’s done with—remember?

ALEXANDER: Oh. Fergo’!

TOM: However, just as you and I are hoping to claim our posterity, so are the followers of Allah, worldwide.

ALEXANDER: The Lord will have soomethin’ tuh say ’bou’ tha’.

TOM: That’s our hope.

ANN: A principle of our Faith.

TOM: They have a similar conviction.

ALEXANDER: ’Cept we know who’s righ’—who’ll be th’ winner.

TOM: That’s how they see it too.

ALEXANDER: Where’s all this headin’?

TOM: It’s created another one of those differences that need to be resolved before we—

ANN: Can claim our families.

TOM: We and the Muslims. They’re God’s children too.

ALEXANDER: An’ tha’s w’y I’m goin’ back tuh Cape Town?

TOM: Yes.

ALEXANDER: There’s anoother ma’er needs resolvin’, by th’ way. Has tuh do with you.

TOM: My turn, is it?

ALEXANDER: Yer task is easier. Won’ take yuh nearly so far.

TOM: What is it?

ALEXANDER: You go’ tuh persuade yer father, Sylvanus, tuh return tuh Provo an’ meet his jurors.

TOM: Revisit his trial?


TOM: Why?

ANN: If I understand what’s expected of all of us now, then it’s also for me and my husband, your grandfather and namesake—Tom Karren. And all of our descendants too. If Sylvanus would just come clean about those murders, my Tom Karren could accept him again as one of the family. And he and his family, including you, our grandson, and all your offspring.

ALEXANDER: Looks like tha’ needs tuh happen too. So we kin all rejoin our looved ones…

TOM: How should I put it to him?

ANN: It’s already been said.

TOM: What do you mean?

ANN: (nodding toward Sylvanus) Tommy, don’t you know your own father? There he sits, and he’s taken in everything we just said.

SYLVANUS: (suddenly shouting) All of you—now freeze!

ANN: Come on, Sylvanus. What’s this always playing the desperado? You can’t threaten us.

ALEXANDER: (in a whisper) Shh, Sister Annie. I see it.

ANN: See what, Alexander?

ALEXANDER: (still whispering) That Diamond Back. Boost two fee’ froom where yur si’in’.

ANN: (also whispering) Oh…He’s a long one too…

(The sound of rattles. Sylvanus stalks toward the others then crouches and, slowly waving his hands, suddenly grasps an invisible snake.)

ALEXANDER: Yuh got ‘im. An’ joost look a’ ‘im twist an’ twine ‘bou’ yer arm.

ANN: How’d you dare do it?

SYLVANUS: Can’t harm us, so long as I keep grippin’ him like this behind that hateful skull. Now git me a flat rock, someone…

ANN: (handing him an invisible rock) Here.


ANN: No, what?

ALEXANDER: Don’ touch ‘im!

SYLVANUS: Why not?

ALEXANDER: Remember wha’ muh gran’soon said ‘boo’ th’ ‘skee’ers? They kin’ do us noo Moore ‘arm. An’ remember Jooseph Smith at Zion’s Camp? We muoo’ not kill this one either.

SYLVANUS: Just had me a fish a while ago.

ALEXANDER: But no’ ou’ a’ meanness, or ’cause yuh feared it…Lemme look a’ ‘im—a’ his eyes. I know soomethin’ ‘boo’ these cri’ers…(drawing close to Sylvanus’s arm) Yes, yuh devil. I see yuh. An’ I see yer spirit…(to Sylvanus) Give ‘im tun me now…(appearing to take the snake from Sylvanus and bringing it close to his own face) Yuh may not like me, mister, but I ain’ afraid o’ you. Not anymoore. I’m resurrected, see. An’ that makes yuh helpless. Yer fangs cannot reach me, see…? Wanna handle ‘im, Sister Annie?

ANN: I’d say you’re doing just fine without my help.

ALEXANDER: (to the snake) Then go…go yer own way, mister. We’ll leave yuh tuh th’ Loord now…(He appears to release the snake.)

(Turning in the same direction, all watch the snake crawl away.)

ANN: Praise God…! And how are you, Sylvanus? Didn’t recognize you at first either.

SYLVANUS: Never thought they’d pursue me beyond the grave—and now my very own. All I ever did was for the Kingdom when I protected the Saints with drawn weapons. And when I married each of my wives.

ANN: When that Aiken party came along, poor boy, you were only twenty-one. Like Tommy here the last time I saw him. But tell us, love. We need to know—have you more to say than you told them at the trial?

SYLVANUS: So you doubt me too? Like all the others?

ANN: You need to reassure us. Particularly your own Tommy. And my Tom Karren.

ALEXANDER: Yuh go’ tuh face ‘em agin—th’ folks what witnessed agin’ yuh at th’ trial in Provo. Those are th’ instructions.

SYLVANUS: Another trial?

ALEXANDER: (reading from his papers) The same trial, says here.

SYLVANUS: Why should I?

ANN: Why, Syl, do you think you were raised up two days ago and directed here?

SYLVANUS: Can’t say.

ANN: We prayed you here, that’s why. And the Lord wanted you here too, or you’d still be laid out in the Cokeville cemetery.

SYLVANUS: Think so?

ALEXANDER: Lookee here. Do yuh care a’ all’ aboo’ yer…our wives an’ kiddies? Muh girl Kate an’ all th’ oothers whoo’ve coom aloong since then? Look where I gotta go talk tuh some infidels. Flyin’ there like a bird withou’ muh own wings. If I kin do tha’, you kin go back tuh Provo.

ANN: Tommy, may I join Alexander?

TOM: You really want to, Gramma?

ANN: Something tells me I ought to. It’s better than just tending my garden all day or flouring my hands in the kitchen while we wait for others to get their head and heart together.

TOM: I’ll need to check with…the Dispatcher.

ANN: How?

TOM: (producing a cordless phone) I’ll just punch a few numbers. Our discussion’s already been recorded. We’ll get an answer shortly.

ALEXANDER: Well, Sylvanus, how ‘bout it…?

SYLVANUS: You corralled me. An’, sure, I wanna see my kin again—all of ’em. If I really thought any of this would make that possible. Just hold off on all your questions.

ANN: Alright, love.

TOM: Thanks, Father. You can stay on my train all the way to Provo. (His phone beeps. He places it to his ear.) Yes…? Thank you, Brother.

ANN: What did he say, love?

TOM: I’ll make you up another ticket, Grandma…(He hands her a sheaf of documents.)

ANN: What’s that?

TOM: History of the Malays. Mostly about their religion. You’re Alexander’s assistant now, and you’re supposed to read up on it.

ANN: That’s something I’ve never thought about. Time I did, I guess. Isn’t eternity wonderful? There’s no end to it—or what we still have to learn about practically everything.

ALEXANDER: I feel a sudden chill.

ANN: Are you taking sick, love?

ALEXANDER: No. I’m troobled. No’ ’boot tha’ flyin’ contraption either. It’s wha’ cooms after—them pagan heathen we have tuh deal with.

TOM: That’s another reason you’re being sent there.

ALEXANDER: W’a’s tha’?

TOM: Your experience…with the spirits.

ALEXANDER: Though’ so.

TOM: Just be as fearless as you were with that rattler.

ALEXANDER: Tha’s th’ thing, laddie. I fear they’ll be serpen’s of a differn’ soort—changed in their shape boo’ still doin’ immense harm.

ANN: Now I know why I’m supposed to come with you, love. You’ll need someone by your side.

ALEXANDER: Aye, tha’ I will…I’m curious aboo’ a certain point though.

ANN: What would that be, Brother Alexander?

ALEXANDER: Wha’ made yuh soo a’venturous?

ANN: Well, besides all the moves we made and all the children we had—I lost quite a few more while still in the womb—which was always a great sorrow—just before we left Liverpool, our first child took ill, little Joseph. Our trunks were already stowed in the ship, and each morning for an entire week we’d have to go to the harbor to see if that was the day we’d sail. The very last night, Joseph passed away. I had to give him up for burial to my sister, who hadn’t spoken to me since we’d made ourselves Mormons…(She turns toward the auditorium, focusing on someone just in front of her, and extends her arms, as if holding a small bundle.) Thanks for coming, Mavis.

WOMAN’S VOICE: I can’t believe this.

ANN: I’m very grateful.

WOMAN’S VOICE: Grateful for what? That you’re finally rid of this one?

ANN: No. Please.

WOMAN’S VOICE: You have no heart. Or you’d never leave the poor thing like this.

ANN: There won’t be time. We sail at dawn. And my heart is broken, believe me. I know you’ll give him a decent burial.

WOMAN’S VOICE: With his mother already far gone? How do you think that will make him…his spirit feel?

ANN: He’ll understand.

WOMAN’S VOICE: And what will people say? The neighbors?

ANN: They’ll call you a saint.

WOMAN’S VOICE: And you something far different.

ANN: I can’t let people’s opinions decide what’s important.

WOMAN’S VOICE: Like those charlatan elders?

ANN: Mavis, I refuse to argue. As you well know, after my Tom Karren heard that missionary apostle John Taylor preaching on a street corner here in Liverpool, our purpose in life changed. WOMAN’S VOICE: Terribly.

ANN: No, wonderfully—for us and for our future family…. But thanks. Thanks for burying our boy.

WOMAN’S VOICE: Someone has to, that’s for sure.

ANN: And, Mavis, I’ll always love and pray for you.

WOMAN’S VOICE: No, I’ll pray for you.

ANN: (handing over her bundle) That’s good, Mavis. I hope you will. Goodbye. (turning to Alexander) We couldn’t dwell on it, me and Tom Karren. We had to move on. And with faith, we always did. I guess that’s your answer.

ALEXANDER: Sister Annie, yur a woonder! An’ how ‘bou’ you, Thomas? How many chil’ren di’ muh Kate give you??

TOM: We had two girls and a boy.

ALEXANDER: Three only? Wha’s this worl’ coomin’ to…?

TOM: We’ll miss the train to Salt Lake if we don’t soon head for Montpelier.

ALEXANDER: Aye, lad.

ANN: And then that flying machine.

TOM: Are you still with us, Father…?

SYLVANUS: Whatever else these people may think, son, I’m a man of my word.

TOM: (lightly touching his shoulder) Thank you, Father.

ANN: Bless you, Sylvanus. So where will you be then where we are gone?

SYLVANUS: Revisiting my 1878 trial in Provo.

TOM; And for what purpose, Father?…

SYLVANUS: Just like the rest of you, so that I can reclaim my family.

ALEXANDER: And ‘ow do we do that, laddie?

SYLVANUS: By confessing our sins and repenting.

ANN: And are you up to it this time?

SYLVANUS: Only if they prove to me I’m guilty…

ANN: You’ll be honest won’t you?


ANN: And be guided by the Spirit?

SYLVANUS: Of course…

ANN: Then I only have this much more to say: I’ve heard some of you tell your stories, and I’ve told you mine. We’ve all had difficult choices to make in life, but we’ve made them. One of the reasons has to be our very own parents—like my saintly mother in Liverpool and my father, the baker there, even though they never knew about our church. And like my Thomas Karren’s parents on the Isle of Man. Hopefully, he and I have been a good example to you, Tommy. Your father Sylvanus too. And his parents to him. I understand that his father Daniel was a bodyguard to Joseph Smith in Nauvoo. And your parents, Alexander, back in Aberdeen. And surely your daughter Kate, my Tommy’s wife, and Tommy too.

TOM: We tried, Grandma.

ANN: I’m sure you did, Tommy…All good, honest, God-fearing people. All, as I can best tell, who modeled their lives after the Savior. That is what has made us want to do the same thing. And He will guide and be there with us. But we must also believe it and let nothing shake our faith in Him…

(The lights dim.)


“But, Earl, unlike the Irish, the Scottish have a reputation for not being very talkative.”

“This one is, Jerry.”

“You’re sure?”

“It’s a play, Jerry.”

“Yes, I know. But he’s our forebear—a real person. Shouldn’t you at least try to approximate how he most likely was? And Sylvanus—he never wrote a single word about himself. No one ever quoted him either. For all we know, he was a deaf-mute.”

“Well, that’s equally unlikely. Now don’t get so restless, Jerry. What I’ve written serves a purpose.”

“Some dark Jesuitical purpose, I imagine.”

“Come on, Jerry. When we get to the trial, it’ll be the real thing. Right from the Tribune transcript.”

“And when will that show up?”

“You’ll see…”


Benbow Farm, Herefordshire, England—1840

He holds our gaze, this American preacher. Thomas Oakey was our preacher till now. But this big boned man with the long shock of hair that keeps fallin’ down his face has persuaded Uncle Thomas he’s got far more for us than we’d known before, and just a month ago Uncle Thomas declared to us he didn’t have the right to preach no more—the right from God. That was a sign, he says, and God took notice. The big man, Woodruff, has restored that right to him and everyone’s pleased. The baptism was something else—took three full days. I wanted to get in the pond too, and kept trying to, but they said I was still too young. Some said I was showin’ off and just wanted a dip to get cool. That wasn’t it at all—I wanted the meanness taken out of me. How many times have Momma and Daddy told me I was plain mean and stubborn? Then I need a baptism as much as they do, maybe more. Just have to wait, I guess, till we get to America. We’re all going there with the big preacher—all of us United Brethren. Maybe they’ll dunk me after we get to Nauvoo.


I’m dunked at last! An’ not by Apostle Woodruff but by my own daddy. That was even better. But my thoughts were somewhere else—on what happened just before. This mornin’ another of them Gentile snoops came by—to gawk an’ mock, Momma says—and challenged the Prophet Joseph to a wrastle. He didn’t know that Brother Joseph is the best wrastler around. Never loses. But the Prophet had already wrastled at least two other men that same day, and, naturally, he was wore down. He’s just another mortal man like the rest of us, as he keeps remindin’ us. So Daddy doffed his cap an’ stepped up to the Prophet an’ offered to wrastle that man for him, an’ the Prophet agreed. Daddy’s a lot stronger than he looks. Bein’ a wheelwright and bodyguard to the Prophet keeps him in top shape. So he whipped that Gentile fast and clean. The man they call Port—his real name’s Rockwell—was standin’ right next to me. He’s a fierce looker with his gnarly hair way down to his shoulders, but he’s known the Prophet since the very beginning—one of the earliest members. And the Prophet counts on his pertection like none other. When Daddy was through with that Gentile man, Port turned to me and said, “You got a great dad there, son. He’s a credit to the Church and all o’ us.” I hope I can grow up and be as strong and nimble as Daddy and as trusted as both he and Port. I want to pertect the Prophet like they do an’ defend the Saints when they need it.


Salt Creek (Nephi)—July 24, 1857

Quite pleasant in the forenoon but rather windy later. Had a first rate time. At daybreak music by Capt. Sperry’s band and firing of musketry at 9 a.m. The Escort was formed and marched through the principal streets in the following order: front Guard; Sperry’s band; twelve old men with flag, motto Fathers of Israel; twelve old ladies with banner, Mothers of Israel; Bishop Bigler and counselors; committee of arrangements; twelve young married ladies, banner Zion Shall Increase; twelve young men, banner Zion’s Defense; The Young Lions that were seen in the vision; 24 little boys with paper caps, banner Hope of Israel; 24 little girls, banner Israel’s Hope of Perpetuation—We Will Do It; rear Guard. All under the command of John Kinke, Marshall of the day. We then marched to the bowery which had been prepared for the occasion, where we heard an address by Brother Love. There was then permission given for anyone to speak that felt like it and for toasts, etc., which took up the forenoon. Then adjourned for two hours to partake of refreshments in companies of ten. The greater part of the afternoon was taken up in speaking, singing, music, reading, toasts, etc., after which there was a short time spent in dancing, then we adjourned for one hour after which we again assembled and spent the evening until 11 o’clock in dancing…Rockwell has brought news of a U.S. Army expedition being sent our way. Mention was made of Apostle Parley P. Pratt’s assassination, and Apostle Orson Hyde has been telling the Authorities of Sanpete to cut the neck of those who will keep doing wrong. Bishop Bigler was elected Captain of the first fifty of the Juab Battalion and John Kienke Captain of the first ten. John D. Lee declared that those members who back in Missouri and Illinois committed inexcusable acts of lawlessness and stole simply for the love of it were never really converted and not true Saints. Brigham Young disapproved of the cutting of young Lewis at Fort Ephraim for committing rape. He can never have an increase, and Brother Brigham pronounced his punishment too severe. Yesterday I worked at making a cradle to cut my wheat with and commenced cutting my wheat in the south field. My boy Joseph and my adopted son Lehi helped me. Lehi is a good worker, quiet and loyal. He remains grateful that I rescued him and will make a good Mormon—a future blessing to his people. He is learning our language at a quick pace—very bright and able. A joyful addition to our household.


Church House, Salt Creek—Summer, 1857

O ye mountains high, where the clear blue sky

Arches over the vales of the free.

When the pure breezes blow and the clear streamlets flow,

How I’ve longed to your bosom to flee!

O Zion! dear Zion! land of the free,

Now my own mountain home, unto thee I have come.

All my’ fond hopes are centered in thee.

Tho the great and the wise all thy beauties despise,

To the humble and pure thou art dear;

Tho the haughty may smile and the wicked revile,

Yet we love thy glad tidings to hear.

O Zion! dear Zion! home of the free,

Tho thou wert forced to fly to thy chambers on high,

Yet we’ll share joy and sorrow with thee.

In thy mountain retreat, God will strengthen thy feet.

On the necks of thy foes thou shalt tread;

And their silver and gold, as the prophets have told,

Shall be brought to adorn thy fair head.

O Zion! dear Zion! home of the free,

Soon thy towers shall shine with a splendor divine,

And eternal thy glory shall be.

Here our voices we’ll raise, and we’ll sing to thy praise,

Sacred home of the prophets of God,

Thy deliverance is nigh; thy oppressors shall die;

And the Gentiles shall bow ’neath Thy rod.

O Zion! dear Zion! land of the free,

In thy temples we’ll bend; all thy rights we’ll defend;

And our home shall be ever with thee.


Salt Creek—August 1857

Yesterday I finished cutting my oats. Lehi raked and bound for me. An express came from the City ordering us to secure our grain as fast as possible and drop every other kind of business. We are to thresh and save every grain and use it sparingly, eat vegetables, etc., where we can, and look out for places of safety in the mountains for our wives and children and to cache our grain, etc., if needs be. We must also make the Indians our friends, for the U.S. will soon be their enemies as they already are to the Sioux. Mr. T. B. Foote was elected mayor…Bishop Bigler’s brother-in-law, Apostle George A. Smith, preached this evening on his way home from Iron County. The authorities are alarmed about the impending invasion, while a company of Gentiles has already destroyed a supply of winter feed. Brigham Young has announced a scorched earth policy and President Wells has issued a letter urging the Saints to prepare to defend their wives and children from the army now approaching. We were reminded of Sidney Rigdon’s Salt Speech during the troubles in Missouri: This is a war of extermination, for we will follow them till the last drop of their blood is spilled, or they will have to exterminate us. Bishop Bigler asked those who would rather have their right arms severed from their body than back out of defending these people to raise those same hands. I think all hands were raised.


Genoa, Carson Valley, Nevada—October 1857

Dear Nell:

You didn’t expect this letter, I’m sure—maybe you didn’t even expect to hear from me ever again. But since I was with you three weeks ago, my life has changed a good 180 degrees. Let me explain. When I was with you in Frisco, in that place, I was practically as new to it all as, from what you told me, so were you. To be really honest, Nell, I hated that place and I hate what it is doing to you. A different man every night, and probably more than one. My heart breaks for you when I think about it. I’m not judging you. You told me you were desperate—that you and your younger brothers and sisters were orphans now and you were doing it for them. Believe me, I admire you for that, Nell. It just shows how good you are at heart and how much you’ll do for others. But I also want to see you have a better life before it’s too late, and, yes, I feel partly responsible.

One reason—let me tell you frankly—is that after that night with you I, well, I just plain fell for you. I fell hard—harder than for anyone else in my entire life. And I want you to know that it was about the first time for me when I was with you. In fact, there was just one other time—when I turned fourteen and my brother Tom took me to one of those places down in L.A. I only went there then because he made me in order to prove I was a man. I didn’t like it then, especially afterward. And I didn’t like it when Tom and his friends took me to your place three weeks ago. Please understand me, Nell. I liked you, liked you a lot. But not what I did to you, not after it was over because, like that one time before, it just wasn’t the way such things should be done. Things like that need to be permanent and bonding, not just some fly-by-night commercial exchange.

Now let me tell you why I especially feel this way right now—what’s happened since Tom and I and the others headed east. We met up with some folks—we’re with them right now here in the town Lehi—and they’ve opened my eyes to what’s really important, what really brings lasting happiness. And I want them to open your eyes too, Nell. Because…because—please believe me—I love you. I do, Nell—with all my heart—and it makes me so happy. Oh, how I miss you, Nell.

Now this is what really changed me. Please listen. Please keep an open mind. Remember how you cried on my shoulder after we…You were so sweet, so tender, and you just melted me right then and there. I wanted so bad to protect you then and I want to now—forever, Nell, forever. And forever is a long time, but as there is a God in Heaven, Nell, He wants us to have that blessing—happiness forever as loving, committed husbands and wives. I learned this from these good people we’re with who are on the move with us and have kindly offered to provision us and give us an escort.

Who are they, you’re asking? Well, this is who: they’re the settlers here in Carson Valley, called back to Utah just now. Yes, they’re the Mormons. Maybe you’ve never even heard of Mormons. I’m not sure I had either. They’re very God-fearing, Nell. And they’ve been persecuted for it too. Chased, they tell me, first from New York state, then to Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois—across the entire country. But you should see them and their beautiful families—their sweet, innocent children. At night their families pray together and again in the morning. And they work together, help each other out, and take care of their sick and poor. The men—they’re all priests and preachers, righteous heads of their families, empowered to bless them. They strive to rise above the natural man in them, and that’s why they’re really what they call themselves—Saints, Saints of the Latter Days…

They say that before I become one of them I’ve got to learn more about Christ’s true teachings and be sure I believe it. See, they respect my choice in the matter. But that’s what I want to be, Nell—a better man and a good husband and, someday, father. And that’s also what I want for you. I want to help you be that happy too. And forever. So what do you say, Nell? I know this is all very sudden and new for you. But please give it some serious thought. I’ll be writing you again whenever I have the chance and will, I’m sure, have lots more to tell you.

Just in case you think I don’t have a way to help you, I’ll let you in on this little secret. My brother Tom and his friends would thrash me for being a snitch if they knew I’d told another soul: see, we already know about this big U.S. army expedition that’s coming to Utah. It’s just a political thing—to straighten out some of the people who are running the show right now. The army can’t possibly interfere with these good people though because they’re too decent and wholesome, and the soldiers will see that. They’re good Americans like the rest of us. They aren’t barbarians.

But what are all those soldiers going to do when they’re bivouacked and each month draw more pay with no place to spend it? They’ll want some kind of distraction, won’t they? And we’ll be there with—here’s the secret!—a gaming concession. Tom’s L.A. friends already have plenty of experience. And we’ve brought along all the necessary equipment and lots of gold coins to start it out. Of course, we’ll make a good profit. That’s how the business works. And with my share, I’ll have plenty to return to Frisco with and pay off your employer and then bring you and your brothers and sisters back to Utah. It’s a sure thing too, Nell, because—through a U.S. Senator—Tom’s friends have a letter of introduction to the man who’s just replaced General Haney to head up this military expedition, Colonel Johnston. You know what kind of influence a Senator can have when he’s of the same party as the President. And this one is, from a very important state. (I dare not say more.)

These Mormons, these Latter-day Saints, have an expression, Nell. In helping Christ, who they worship with all their heart—in helping Christ perform His great work of Redemption—they humbly speak of themselves as saviors on Mount Zion. Nell, let me be YOUR savior. Let me redeem and rescue you. Let me save you for that celestial joy and happiness God wants forth of us. Yes, this is a true proposal. I want to be your husband, your forever husband and want you as my forever wife. And the Mormons have the divine authority to make that happen, the heavenly keys—they and no one else. (In fact, interesting isn’t it that no one else even claims to.) That’s why Satan blocks their way—like this army that’s heading right now for Utah, but the Lord stands by them and they always find a way forward. Meanwhile, Tom and me and the boy—we’ll show ’em. We’ll take their money, and what I come by I’ll use mine for good—to rescue you and set us up for a happy, happy future.

Oh, how I love you, Nell. You are so lovely, so beautiful and fetching. I know your true spirit. It inspires me. I want it and need it in my life, your beautiful spirit. Like I keep saying, FOREVER. Please pray about this. Please seriously consider my heartfelt proposal. When you were so tender with me, I knew you meant it. I could feel it. Oh, how I love you, Nell. Please make me the happiest of men, and I’ll make you just as happy, I promise. I love you so, Nell—love and miss you. Until my next letter then.

Your adoring Johnnie Aiken

PS: Our first night in this valley after we’d crossed over and down from the Sierras, I looked up at the sky and thought I saw the biggest stars that ever were. Then someone told me it was a bonfire set by other travelers along the topmost peaks. Way up there, where we’d recently been ourselves. It was too dark by then to see the Sierras. They’d already blurred into the high black sky. But those peaks were still there, I knew—directly above where we now stood. So steep and majestic. And even though those bonfires were not what I’d at first thought—still loomed out for me like something not of this earth, beautiful and amazing. Just like what I’ve encountered in these people, Nell. It was, I believe, a sign. From Heaven for you and me. But like with all heavenly things, we have to believe. It takes faith. I have that faith, Nell, and hope you do too.


“You’re right, Earl. We need to stay another day so Ben can get his stag. It’s too hot to be up in the hills any longer, so here we are again—your captive audience. A disappointing trade-off for you, I guess—missing Sunday School… Now let’s get out of fantasy land and on to the trial.”

“Sorry for the delay, Jerry. First, we’ve got to go with Ann and Alexander in that flying machine.”

“But why to South Africa? Why don’t you just stay with the facts?”

“I do—the essential facts, as we know them. About their lives before the Resurrection.”

“What do you think, Ben?”

“Well, it didn’t put me to sleep. Your characters are colorful, Earl. I’ll give you that much.”

“Don’t you yearn to meet them someday, Jerry?”

“Huh...? When do we get to the trial?”

“It’s coming up next.”

“The sooner the better—so you and I can cross swords over what really happened. Fair enough.”

“Let ’er rip then.”


Salt Creek—September 1857

These are unsettled times. News has reached us that Steven A. Douglas has turned against the Mormons and threatens us with destruction. U.S. troops are at Fort Laramie. Apostates are fleeing the City and not paying their debts. I hear that a company of emigrants en route to California were all killed by the Indians near Iron County. All but 15 small children, part of them sucking babes. These emigrants had killed a beef and poisoned the meat before they gave it to the Indians, which caused some Indians to die, and they had their revenge. Bishop Bigler returned last night from the City. He spoke and said that we ought to keep our mouths shut and not talk about things that do not concern us, and if we should see a man walking around with his head cut off we need say nothing, or if we should see a man riding a saddle and the horse has run out from under it and the man enquiring for the horse, we need know nothing about it…For the worst enemies that we ever had are those that we have always had amongst us. The Territorial government has declared martial law. I hear fifty men are called from Payson and Summit Creek since the troops are determined to come in or die in trying. It is said that at least 2,000 Indians could be raised if need be. One of my oxen is sick tonight. Lehi and I cut corn.

October 1857

The mail carrier told me tonight that the troops were eight miles east of Fort Bridger and would come in to the City or die trying and that fifty men from Provo had stampeded thirteen hundred of the soldiers’ cattle. Also the Bishop said that Lot Smith’s company had burned fifty of the soldiers’ wagons that were mostly loaded with liquors…Most of today was spent in arranging how the work should be done for the men that are gone already and they finally concluded that each man here should look after one of the families whose husbands are gone. I have to look after Sister Ord. I also dug John Kienke’s potatoes. Lehi helped. We hauled his squashes and corn. Heard that the Mormon boys have burned 27 more U.S. wagons and that one soldier has deserted…The express came in from the City this evening stating that we must raise fifty more efficient men in this place, armed and equipped with thirty days provisions and with teams to haul them…There was a meeting called at early candle light and a selection made of the men that are to be involved. I am one of the men selected, but I should feel much better if I had a pair of good boots for mine are so full of holes that I can hardly keep them on my feet. Still, I would much rather fight bare foot than see our enemies trample us under foot as they have already done. What is a few days hardship compared with it? Or should we have to die in defending our rights? What is that? We only have to die once, and we could not die in a more noble cause than in defending the Kingdom of God. I do not believe the Lord wants me to die yet, but if He does, then let me die in doing good and in helping to redeem Zion. Brothers Foote, Miller, Woolf, Pyper and Cazier spoke on the principle of obedience to all that are placed over us, whether military or ecclesiastical, and that we should always be ready to go, whether to work or any thing else.


Lehi—November 23, 1857

Dear Nell:

The situation’s changed some. Almost another 180 degrees, in fact! But there’s a silver lining to it because guess what? We’re already headed back to California. That means I’ll be in Frisco in another couple of weeks and we’ll see each other again that much sooner.

Our gaming enterprise won’t work out here. But don’t you worry. We’ve still got all our equipment and seed money and can easily set up a business somewhere else—somewhere nearer to you. And I’ll work at anything that comes my way to free and support you. I’m young—just twenty-one—and strong. And the dream these Saints instilled in me is still there, exciting as ever. So don’t worry and do not despair! My offer still holds, Nell—my proposal.

This is how things have changed: When we and the Genoa Saints arrived at the Great Salt Lake we detoured north to Brigham City. We then learned that because of the invading army, the Territorial Governor and Mormon Prophet Brigham Young had declared martial law, which, naturally, makes newcomers and non-Mormons like us more suspect than usual. That’s understandable, don’t you think? Anyway, we were met in Brigham City by the local militia and held for a time in jail. Only overnight though. Then they brought us to Salt Lake City, where two of our number, the two seniors, were allowed to remain. I guess to help explain our circumstances to the officials. The other four—me, Tuck Wright, my brother Tom, and the Colonel—were each assigned an escort of the same number and told we’d be exiting to the south and out of the territory. It was, they said, for our own protection, and they were all polite enough. So, yesterday in the a.m. we started in that direction and, as it turned out, spent last night in one of their homes here in Lehi—that is, with my own special escort’s mother-in-law, who is a wonderful hostess.

Let me describe them to you: They are, like the Saints we met up with in Nevada, basically good and simple folks, and they’ve seen a lot of life and many more hardships than the rest of us. This mother-in-law is an English emigrant whose surname is Karren. Her son-in-law calls her Mother Annie. She makes delicious bread and rolls. Says her father had a bakery in Liverpool. That’s where she met her husband, who was then a baker’s apprentice from the Isle of Man, Thomas Karren. Karren is in the Sandwich Islands right now serving a four-year Mormon mission. He left his spunky wife and five children behind in order to answer the Lord’s call from the Prophet. See what I mean about these people—how committed they are to their beliefs, how willing they are to sacrifice their all in God’s work. Mother Annie’s actually looking forward to the U.S. soldiers and hopes to sell them her baked goods and with her earnings put in what will be the first wood floor in Lehi. Did I tell you about the name ‘Lehi’? It’s really the name of the first Prophet in the Mormon’s special scripture. This Lehi, a Hebrew, was called by God to leave Jerusalem and miraculously cross the Atlantic Ocean to the Western Hemisphere. His descendants are the American Indians, believe it or not. Well, just as this Lehi was called out of the wicked world to make a long journey so that he and his people could preserve their religion and avoid capture by first the Babylonians and, still later, the Romans—so these Mormons—after already fleeing across the entire continent, some of them the first settlers where you are right now and also in San Bernardino—were similarly called by Brigham Young to move here and settle this small hamlet in the valley just to the south of the Great Salt Lake. And that’s why they call it Lehi.

As for Mother Annie’s son-in-law—the escort assigned to me, the man they call Syl who’s about my same age but already the town’s constable—he’s been one of their missionaries and is also an impressive frontiersman, fearless and all sinew. He’s pow-wowed with the local Indians, whose language he speaks they say—and killed some too. He also has two wives—but I won’t go into that right now. Real quiet though. I can’t get a thing out of him. Unlike the others, he’s even-tempered. I haven’t seen him get annoyed or swear—not even once. Has this polite smile but a faraway gaze, like his thoughts are somewhere else, like he’s always thinking about something he’d rather not talk about. So he doesn’t say hardly a word. I don’t even know his last name.

The oldest of the four, Syl’s sidekick, has long matted hair and a fierce, almost crazy look. I believe he thinks he’s Samson. They call him Port. Like Syl, he’s all business too. Makes me uneasy some. But we had great hospitality at Mother Annie’s, and our escorts know this country like the back of their hand. They’ll be good protection against any Indians. In fact, I’ve noticed a certain rivalry between the two from Lehi and the other two, who hail from where we’re now heading—a place called Salt Creek. Port and Syl call themselves the Sons of Lehi and the other two, Murdock and Lott—Sons of Nephi, which is another name for Salt Creek. Nephi’s also the name of another Prophet in the Mormon scripture, its first prophet Lehi’s son. Haven’t read it yet, so none of it’s too clear. Also overheard the two from Lehi taunt the others about who’s had the most close calls with outlaws and Indians and who’s killed the biggest number. Port and Syl are the big winners. Funny, isn’t it—they reverence the Indians in their scripture, then brag about how many they’ve put down.

We leave in another hour, still heading south, then later due west and back to California. Mother Annie promises to pass this letter on the next time the Pony Express comes through. It runs directly through Lehi.

I yearn for you, Nell. As much as ever. And, deep down, I’m glad I’ll see you even sooner than I’d imagined. The love you kindled in my heart is a bright and—if you get my meaning—hot flame, and it’s as bright and hot as ever. Oh, how I long to be with you again. In every way you can imagine. But this time so it’s permanent—this time as your legitimate husband, your only man forever.

Your impatient, adoring Johnnie Aiken


Act II

Courthouse, Provo, Utah. October 1878.

A semi-circle of chairs faces the audience. Seated on the farthest of these chairs, stage right, is the prosecutor, JUDGE SUTHERLAND, and on the farthest chair, stage left, the attorney for the defense, JUDGE TILFORD. Between them are seated witnesses for the prosecution and the defense. The very middle chair in the semi-circle is empty, but, as each witness is called upon, he or she moves to and sits in it while giving deposition or being interrogated. Whenever they speak, Judges Sutherland and Tilford first rise from their chairs, sometimes pacing before the others. SYLVANUS COLLETT sits in silhouette on a single chair farther downstage and to the left of Judge Tilford. Two rows of additional chairs are aligned at an angle to the audience at approximately the same distance from Judge Sutherland, stage right. The jury is addressed as if in the audience. The voice of the presiding magistrate, JUDGE EMERSON, is projected from the rear of the auditorium. (This should be the voice of the actor who played Yussuf in Act II.) Whenever EMERSON’S VOICE is heard, all on stage look with rapt attention toward the rear of the auditorium and above the heads of the audience, as if Emerson’s decrees are a kind of fateful, superhuman pronouncement—a ‘Last Judgment.’ Sutherland, Tilford, and most of the witnesses are middle-aged. FOOTE is in his eighties and ALICE LAMB ROBINSON is in her thirties. During the trial’s re-enactment, the lights dim slightly, while during the present action’s intervening charges and comments, they noticeably brighten.

EMERSON’S VOICE: We are gathered here for an unprecedented event—the re-enactment of a trial that took place perhaps several eons ago in the distant year of our Lord, 1878. That trial was convened twenty-one years after the occurrence of the alleged crime. Although you will tend from force of habit and, in some instances, out of ingrained prejudice to settle for your earlier testimony, I charge you to be absolutely truthful. Only if you are and only if, as a consequence, the truth comes fully forward, thus leading this time to an unquestioned verdict, will you—or any of us—merit, as it were, a permanent ‘resuscitation.’ Otherwise, rest assured—and I emphasize the word ‘rest’—you may expect to return to your various crypts and there resume the recumbent posture you’ve become accustomed to for some time now—and for who knows how much longer.

(In response, a sudden audible catching-of-breath from the witnesses.)

EMERSON’S VOICE: Once more I hold you, under the oath you have taken, to listen attentively to the testimony and, in finding a verdict, be governed by the law and the facts that are laid before you. You have nothing to fear except to be wrong. The prisoner at the bar is, I remind you, still presumed by the law to be innocent, and the Prosecution must overcome this presumption by the proof of guilt. You will not be troubled by any nice distinction between the degrees of murder. The crime charged is that of murder in the first degree. If you finally determine that the respondent is guilty, convict him. If you have a reasonable doubt of his guilt, acquit him. The trial will now resume. (The lights dim.)

SUTHERLAND: Your Honor and Gentlemen of the Jury, we are here to indict one Sylvanus Collett, who, together with Porter Rockwell and others, has perpetrated one of the most cold-blooded and cowardly murders that ever stained the pages of Utah’s history—

EMERSON’S VOICE: Mr. Sutherland, do you know for a fact that the gentlemen you have just named perpetrated said crime?

SUTHERLAND: That is the case I hope this time to prove, Your Honor.

EMERSON’S VOICE: Then why don’t you say so?

SUTHERLAND: Say, Your Honor?

EMERSON’S VOICE: That you hope to prove it, not that the alleged deeds are already a certainty.

SUTHERLAND: I…I see what you mean, Your Honor.

EMERSON’S VOICE: Now continue.

SUTHERLAND: We are, in this case, dealing with a single defendant who is here charged with the murder of one John Aiken, though three others in Aiken’s party were doubtless also brought to their end at the same time and by the same instrumentality…This community has shown great interest in these proceedings. They have been the topic of many a fireside and, as I am told, frequent meetings of the local priesthood.

T1LFORD: Save it for the social register, Sutherland.


SUTHERLAND: The Prosecution will satisfy this community’s keen interest by proving—

EMERSON’S VOICE: (clearing his throat) Uh-hmmm…

SUTHERLAND: By endeavoring to show that one John Aiken was the party that was wrongfully and unlawfully killed and that the killing was done by the defendant and others with malice aforethought…

EMERSON’S VOICE: The particulars, if you please.

SUTHERLAND: The Aiken party—six in number—while traveling from California, was dubiously arrested in Box Elder County, then ordered out of the Territory and back to California by the southern route. Ostensibly for this purpose, four of their number were conducted to Nephi—or Salt Creek, as it was then called—where arrangements were made to put them out of the way. It is herewith alleged that Porter Rockwell and Sylvanus Collett went to the Sevier to carry out the plot. However, two of the men under arrest escaped the massacre and returned to Nephi, both wounded in the head and one shot through the body. These men remained in Nephi for a period of days while the ball was extracted and their wounds tended to. Then they were sent forward to Salt Lake, with a further escort provided by the plotters, and on Willow Creek at a spot now called Burraston Ponds, eight or so miles from Nephi, were again set upon and there executed, Sylvanus Collett, being one of the murderers and till now protected by his brethren—as pious a Latter-day Saint as ever had a concubine or cut a throat.

(Uproar in the auditorium.)

EMERSON’S VOICE: Order! Order…!

TILFORD: I strongly, strongly object!!

EMERSON’S VOICE: The Prosecution will henceforth limit its remarks to the facts as they pertain to the case before us. This is my last warning…

(Sutherland nods assent.)

SUTHERLAND: I, therefore, remind the Jury that, although this was in the fall of 1857, the statute of limitations does not apply to murder. You are to try this case as though the crime had been committed yesterday.

TILFORD: At this juncture, Your Honor, may I try to right the balance some by offering another perspective?

EMERSON’S VOICE: I’d say you’ve just earned that privilege, Mr. Tilford.

TILFORD: It should be noted then that the defendant has long endured great personal hardship. He has lived under a cloud of suspicion, shunned by neighbors and friends, and is very anxious to clear his good name by this trial. His career enforcing the law, first as Lehi’s constable and at a very young age, then as a sheriff's deputy, a colonel in the militia, and now justice of the peace where he presently resides, has not been an easy one in our frontier society. Particularly in 1857, the Territory was in a troubled condition and, it needs to be recalled, under martial law. A hostile army was on our eastern border, and strangers were looked upon with suspicion by the affrighted people and therefore frequently arrested by the local authorities. What has not yet been mentioned here and deserves to be is that—whatever their unfortunate fate—the Aiken party, when arrested, were found to carry special letters of introduction to General Johnston himself. Johnston’s army was at the time viewed as a most formidable and frightening threat to the people of this Territory, possibly bent on their total extermination, and the Aikens were very likely spies. That is all, Your Honor.

EMERSON’S VOICE: The rest can best be told by the witnesses.

SUTHERLAND: Then I call upon Timothy Foote, one-time mayor and proprietor at the time of the hotel at now Nephi, then Salt Creek…Please tell us, Mr. Foote, about your involvement with the Aikens and when it took place.

FOOTE: Late in the Fall of ‘57.


FOOTE: The party of four—

SUTHERLAND: Their names?

FOOTE: The two Aikens.

SUTHERLAND: The brothers John and Tom?

FOOTE: Yes. With a man named Tuck, and another they called the ’Colonel.’ Stayed one night at my place, fitted up, and then moved on. Fine lookin’ gentlemen. When they paid their bill, I could see from their belts they was carrying lots of money—twenty dollar pieces of gold. The other four—

SUTHERLAND: Which four?

FOOTE: Rockwell, John Lott, John Murdock, and (pointing to Collett) that man there went with them. Said they was their escort.

TILFORD: Mr. Foote, that’s what you told us at the trial in 1878, now isn’t it?


TILFORD: But, Mr. Foote, can you positively identify the man over there, the defendant, as the same man you say was one of the Rockwell party at Salt Creek in 1857…?

FOOTE: It’s possible.

TILFORD: Only possible?

FOOTE: It was a long time ago, and I never saw him again till now. People sometimes change and look a lot different when they’re older.

TILFORD: Could you describe the man you took for Collett at the time of the occurrence?

FOOTE: Not exactly. As I said, it was a long time back.

TILFORD: In that case, isn’t it possible that the man you identified then as the defendant was in fact someone else?

FOOTE: No, I don’t think so. It was generally known that Collett and Rockwell went about together…that they was buddies.

TILFORD: Would that be why you assumed the man with Rockwell and with Lott and Murdock, both of whom you did know well because they lived at Salt Creek, was Sylvanus Collett?

FOOTE: A number of other folks kept saying the man was Syl Collett. It wasn’t just me.

TILFORD: Who, besides yourself?

FOOTE: I…can’t exactly remember…

TILFORD: Did Collett identify himself to you back then or speak to you at any time?

FOOTE: Guess not.

TILFORD: Thank you…

SUTHERLAND: Proceed with your account, Mr. Foote…

FOOTE: Next day Tuck and John Aiken come back.

SUTHERLAND: But not Tom Aiken or the Colonel?

FOOTE: No, sir. The two who come back was barefooted and bloody. Both injured in the head.

SUTHERLAND: What kind of injuries?

FOOTE: The kind of wounds that might have been inflicted by a club or iron bar. Or maybe a dull hatchet. We called for a doctor who cut out the bullet in Tuck’s shoulder. The two men stayed with us four or five more days, then headed north to Salt Lake.


FOOTE: No. They went in a buggy, and we sold them some spare coats. Tuck’s was a soldier coat.

SUTHERLAND: Did they leave on their own?

FOOTE: Others drove them.

SUTHERLAND: Which others?

FOOTE: James Picton and James Woolf. I also lent one of my horses. They took the road toward Willow Springs.

SUTHERLAND: Did they settle with you before they went north?

FOOTE: They had no more money but Tuck offered me his watch. I noticed he had a pistol and asked for that instead.

SUTHERLAND: Did you ever see Aiken and Tuck again?

FOOTE: Not in a live state, I didn’t.

SUTHERLAND: Did you ever see any of the property you lent them?

FOOTE: The buggy showed up at the Woolfs’ an’ my horse was back in the corral the next day. Also, the coats I’d sold them. They got passed around after that. Like trophies. One of the town’s young men started wearing the soldier coat. Had lots of holes in it—at least twenty. John Kienke wore the frock coat, with a small hole in the back that hadn’t been there before, now mended. Another young fellow sported one of these fancy broad-brimmed felt hats nobody’d ever seen around here before except—


FOOTE: Except when the Aiken men came through.

SUTHERLAND: Do you remember who wore it?

FOOTE: It got passed around too.

SUTHERLAND: What were the holes like in the military coat?

FOOTE: Made by bullets. And spattered with blood.

SUTHERLAND: Anything else?

FOOTE: Well, the Rockwell party come back from the south on the same day the two men did, but later. And they stayed around till before breakfast the day Tuck and Aiken went north. They headed north too but started from the western part of town through an open field. Not on any traveled road.

SUTHERLAND: So they also stayed at Salt Creek while the two men were mending from their wounds?


SUTHERLAND: Did they ever come to your hotel and make inquiries or show any concern about Foote and Aiken?

FOOTE: No. Never. But when they left, my son noticed they had the Aiken party’s horses and mules, which they took with them. Later we observed that John Murdock had kept one of the mules for himself, and John Lott their roan pony.

TILFORD: Mr. Foote—once again, did you personally at any time after the two men, Tuck and Aiken, returned to Salt Creek and stayed once more at your hotel, or until they left again, observe or speak with the defendant?

FOOTE: Like I already said, they kept their distance, ‘specially after those two come back wounded an’ bloody.

TILFORD: Please just answer my question: Did you or did you not see or speak with the defendant during that period of time…?

FOOTE: Guess not.

TILFORD: Thank you.

SUTHERLAND: What happened a year later?

FOOTE: Out by Willow Creek there’s a bunch of deep springs that supply our water. A year later, it came out there was dead men in those springs. That set me to worrying. So I went there and, with some effort, dished out two bodies. Badly decayed. Couldn’t tell whose bodies they was, but they had neither hats nor coats.

SUTHERLAND: What did you do with the bodies?

FOOTE: Buried them. There weren’t no coroner around.


TILFORD: Your Honor?

EMERSON’S VOICE: Please remember.

TILFORD: Remember?



EMERSON’S VOICE: Your witness.

TILFORD: Oh…oh. yes…Mr. Foote, at the earlier trial did you not also imply that these were the bodies of John Aiken and the man named Tuck?

FOOTE: Tha’s right.

TILFORD: Why was that?

FOOTE: Those was the two men that had disappeared.

TILFORD: But, because of their state of decomposition, you really could not identify the bodies as such, could you?

FOOTE: Well, they seemed about the same size. And they had no coats on.

TILFORD: And you buried them as soon as possible?

FOOTE: It weren’t a pleasant job, so, yes, I put them out of the way soon as I could.

TILFORD: Were there other witnesses? Did you have any help?

FOOTE: Well…now you ask, there was two or three others.


FOOTE: Neighbors.

TILFORD: What were their names?

FOOTE: Can’t remember. It was too long ago.

TILFORD: You’re sure?

FOOTE: Honest, I can’t remember.

TILFORD: Why, Mr. Foote, when you first testified about recovering those remains, didn’t you at that time also tell us there were others involved with you?

FOOTE: Dunno. Thought it weren’t all that important.

TILFORD: They could have backed you up—helped support your story.

FOOTE: Like I said, by the time the trial come ‘round, I’d already fergot exactly who they was.

TILFORD: Alright. A lapse of memory then…Has anyone made any subsequent attempt to find where you buried those bodies?


TILFORD: Could you locate the burial site for us?

FOOTE: Not anymore. It was too long ago. An’ I didn’t place no marker or mound on it.

TILFORD: Is this a truthful account?

FOOTE: Yes, honest. As best I kin remember…

(DR. BENEDICT enters.)

TILFORD: Well then, if it please the Court, we will now hear the testimony of an expert witness, Dr. Rufus Benedict, a Salt Lake physician and surgeon who, during a long practice, has made numerous post-mortem examinations of drowned bodies…Dr. Benedict, what, in your experienced opinion, would be the state of a corpse that had been submerged for an approximate year in a body of water?

BENEDICT: First of all, chemical changes occur after no more than four or five months that dissolve the tissues and ligaments. The cuticle falls off, the joints separate, and the flesh dissolves into a jellied mass.

TILFORD: Then what, sir, would be the condition of a body that had come to its end by violence and been immersed for as long as twelve months?

BENEDICT: One might find some bones, but the tissue would by then be entirely dissolved. A Negro corpse might be identified as such by the hair, but the race or even the sex could not be otherwise determined. Decomposition takes place more rapidly in stagnant water than in a flowing stream, incidentally. Changes in temperature also accelerate or retard decomposition. A body submerged in cold water and not mutilated would nevertheless also dissolve in the time specified. When clothing covers the body the putrefactive process does not proceed quite so rapidly, but that would still not preserve it for as long as a year. All that would remain would be a soapy or chalky mass with some bones inside the cloth. Fish would also aid the dissolution. A hook might draw up one or two bones, but it would find no body, and recognition would be impossible long before the mass had broken up.

TILFORD: Thank you, Doctor Benedict. You are excused…

(Benedict exits.)

EMERSON’S VOICE: Any comment?

SUTHERLAND: Medical testimony showing the state of the human body lying in water and its final decomposition amounts to and disproves nothing. The Prosecution can agree with the medical expert Doctor Benedict and still not compromise the chain of evidence that points to the bodies being taken out of Bottomless Springs as being the bodies of Aiken and Tuck, placed there by the Collett-Rockwell party.

TILFORD: I call upon Mr. Charles Sperry…Mr. Sperry, you have lived in Nephi for how long?

SPERRY: Twenty years.

TELFORD: And your occupation?

SPERRY: I farm.

TILFORD: Are you acquainted with the witness for the Prosecution Timothy Foote?

SPERRY: I am. Well acquainted.

TILFORD: And how would you assess his reputation in the community?

SPERRY: His reputation among his neighbors for truth and veracity is not good. I would not believe him under oath, and there is many another who would say the same.

TILFORD: Can you give us their names?

SPERRY: Thomas Gustin, Thomas Bowls, Edward Williams, James Paxton, William Leveredge, Matthew Hulser, Richard Peay, Thomas Old, Matthew Bulger, John Cazier, and maybe twenty others. Says one, “If I had seen a thing with my own eyes and Tim Foote should afterward say it was so, I should think my senses had gone back on me.”

TILFORD: Do you know of any instances on Mr. Foote’s part of outright dishonesty?

SPERRY: Many of those I just mentioned would attest to Tim Foole’s stealing. So would I.

TILFORD: Can you cite an example?

SPERRY: I caught him once taking milk from my cow.

TILFORD: Is this an honest account of your dealings with Mr. Foote, Mr. Sperry?

SPERRY: I wouldn’t dare say otherwise, particularly under the circumstances.

SUTHERLAND: Honest but prejudiced!

TILFORD: Thank you, Mr. Sperry…Those, for the time being, are my witnesses—or, should I say, counter-witnesses.

SUTHERLAND: This is an old lawyer’s trick, you know.

EMERSON’S VOICE: Careful, Counselor. Don’t become personal.

SUTHERLAND: No such intention, Your Honor. Timothy Foote’s reputation is nevertheless here simply discredited because he once milked Brother Sperry’s cow. A single witness for the defense and several more he names—over twenty—speak ill of the old man. But what of the other nearly 4,000 inhabitants of Nephi…? Enough said.

SUTHERLAND: The Prosecution’s next witness is Mrs. Alice Robinson…Mrs. Robinson, you were still a young girl in 1857.

ROBINSON: Just twelve at the time.

SUTHERLAND: And you were staying in whose home?

ROBINSON: I tended the Woolfs’ children.

SUTHERLAND: Do you recall any conversations in the Woolf household at the time of the events in question?

ROBINSON: Yes. I overheard a conversation between the Woolfs, Brother Picton, and some others.

SUTHERLAND: Which others?

ROBINSON: Couldn’t say. They were strangers.

SUTHERLAND: And what did they say?

ROBINSON: I heard one of them say the boys had done a bad job and two of the men had come back again. The plan, as I understood it, was to take those same two men to Willow Creek and there do away with them. Woolf and his wife were opposed. She said her man was not strong and might be overpowered. One of them said there was no danger; our men had arms and the others would have none. Then I saw Woolf and Picton go off in a buggy, James Woolf driving. The buggy came back the same day, and I heard Mrs. Woolf ask Brother Woolf how it went. He said when they turned off the road at the springs, the men knew their doom was sealed and plead like everything.

SUTHERLAND: And did you not so testify and sign an affidavit before Judge Cradlebaugh in 1859 just two years after the events in question, Mrs. Robinson?

ROBINSON: Yes, I did.

SUTHERLAND: Thank you, Mrs. Robinson…

TILFORD: Mrs. Robinson, exactly where were you at the time you overheard this conversation, and where were the other parties? Were you in the same room?

ROBINSON: The conversation took place in Mrs. Woolf’s bedroom. She was sick in bed at the time.

TILFORD: And where were you?

ROBINSON: I was cooking breakfast in an adjoining room and was in and out while the talk was going on.

TILFORD: Did the others take any notice of you? Weren’t they concerned that you could hear their conversation?

ROBINSON: Mr. Woolf finally sent me away…

SUTHERLAND: This is a truthful account, is it not, Mrs. Robinson?

ROBINSON: It certainly is.

TILFORD: I simply ask the Jury if this woman’s statement is in any way consistent with human nature. Do men go into the presence of a sick woman and a small girl to plan murder? In her scenario, these foolish conspirators, after telling all their plans in the presence of this girl, then send her away so she will not hear it. Consistency…? If, however, there is something to what Mrs. Robinson tells us—well, I will deal with that later.

SUTHERLAND: As will I. However, I have here an affidavit by one William Skeen, resident of Plain City and long-time acquaintance of the defendant.

(The actor representing Skeen stands in a spotlight on another side of the stage, addressing the audience.)

SKEEN: In the year 1860, the latter part of August or fore-part of September, I stopped in Lehi on my way back from California and visited with Sylvanus Collett. He gave me a broad-brimmed black hat with a cut in the crown and, when I asked him about its history, he told me he’d been an escort to the Aiken party, then having been delivered over to Rockwell, Lott, Murdock, and himself with the order to make away with them. After they’d stayed overnight at Salt Creek arrangements were made, he said, to travel to the Sevier River and camp the next night at Chicken Creek. When supper was done, the Aiken party sat around the fire singing. Each assassin had selected his man, and at a signal from Rockwell each man drew a bar of iron from his sleeve and struck his victim on the head. Collett and another failed to stun their man, however, and were getting worsted. Rockwell discharged his gun across the fire and wounded one of them in his upper body. Two of the Aiken group escaped and got back to Salt Creek. Later arrangements were then made to send those two on to Willow Creek. The buggy they were in was driven there unhitched under the pretense of watering tits horses. When the men got out, Collett said, he and his party, who were waiting for them behind some trees, turned loose their double-barreled shotguns. Then they removed the two men’s outer clothing and put their bodies in a pond the Indians called Bottomless Springs…I took the hat Syl had given me. But, guessing who it had belonged to, I never wore it and got rid of it soon after. Syl also told me he’d received a mare as a portion of the spoils that fell to him. He showed it to me. It was a nice bay mare, seven years old, fifteen hands high, broke for harness and saddle—the best there was about that section of the country. I’d like it understood that I’ve always regarded Syl Collett like my own brother. I still regard him as my friend and am much attached to him.

TILFORD: I call on John Spiers, also a resident of Plain City…Mr. Spiers, how long have you known the Prosecution witness, William Skeen?

SPIERS: Since 1852.

TILFORD: Could you give us an indication of Mr. Skeen’s reputation among his neighbors for veracity and truth?

SPIERS: It’s bad.

TILFORD: Would you and other neighbors you know believe Mr. Skeen under oath?

SPIERS: We would not.

TILFORD: Can you provide us with additional names?

SPIERS: I can, if you want them.

TELFORD: How many?

SPIERS: Right off, at least four or five.

TILFORD: What are the grounds for distrusting Mr. Skeen?

SPIERS: Well, besides his at times violent nature and occasional abuse of his neighbors, which has more than once brought him before the magistrate, the bulk of the neighbors in Plain City is Mormons.

TILFORD: And is Mr. Skeen not a Mormon?

SPIERS: No longer.

TILFORD: Why is that?

SPIERS: He’s been dropped by the Church in Plain City.

TILFORD: You mean, excommunicated?

SPIERS: That’s right.

TILFORD: Do you know the cause?


TILFORD: Are you at liberty to divulge that cause?

SPIERS: I am not.

TILFORD: Can you tell us anything more?

SPIERS: Seventeen years ago in Cache County, Skeen’s brother, E.D. Skeen, a notorious horse thief, was shot while attempting to escape from custody. William charged Sheriff Thomas E. Ricks with the shooting and also suspected Syl Collett of complicity therein. However, after working hard to destroy Ricks, Skeen failed to procure a conviction. He then swore revenge against Collett and is now, I believe, trying to wreak that revenge with this story about the Aiken murder and the thin covering of his real feelings by pretending his regard for the prisoner.

TILFORD: Is yours a truthful account, Mr. Spiers?

SPIERS: Most certainly.

SUTHERLAND: Truthful and as biased as the bias he portrays. Pot and kettle!

EMERSON’S VOICE: Has the Defense any more witnesses?

TILFORD: Two, Your Honor. The first is Thomas Smith, a resident of Farmington…Mr. Smith, you are, are you not, an acquaintance of the defendant?

SMITH: I am.

TILFORD: How long have you known each other?

SMITH: Since the spring of 1856.

TILFORD: In what capacity?

SMITH: We were missionaries together at Fort Limhi on the Salmon River. I presided over the settlement—around sixty-five persons.

TILFORD: You were with the defendant until his return from there in the fall of 1857?

SMITH: I was.

TILFORD: When was that?

SMITH: His departure?


SMITH: Around October 28. With ten other persons, ox teams, and six wagons loaded with salmon fish, both fresh and dried.

TILFORD: What is the approximate distance between Fort Limhi and Salt Lake?

SMITH: Four hundred miles.

TILFORD: How long would such a journey take?

SMITH: Twenty-five to thirty days. Longer if snow was already in the passes.

TILFORD: What was the defendant like?

SMITH: He was a peaceable and quiet man. I never heard anything against him. SUTHERLAND: Mr. Smith, is your journal authentic?

SMITH: Why, yes. You already examined it at the previous trial.

SUTHERLAND: And is your opinion of the defendant truthful?

SMITH: Indeed it is.


SMITH: What do you mean?

SUTHERLAND: Do you favor him?

SMITH: He’s a good friend, if that’s what you mean. What’s wrong with that…?

TILFORD: Thank you, Mr. Smith…My last witness will be the defendant himself.

(Sylvanus moves from his chair to the chair, center, previously occupied by those already interrogated. Meanwhile, Ann Karren and Alexander Sims rush in, breathless, from stage right and take seats on the first row of empty chairs to the right of Sutherland.)

TILFORD: Mr. Collett, please identify yourself, where you were born, your age, where you now reside, and your occupation.

SYLVANUS: Sylvanus Collett. Born at Hereford Shire, England. I’m…I was forty-one when this trial first began. I live at Smith Fork, now Cokeville, Uintah County, Wyoming. I’m a rancher and entrepreneur in the coke mine there. Also justice of the peace.

TILFORD: Were you in residence at the Limhi settlement on the Salmon River in the fall of 1857?


TILFORD: When did you leave there?

SYLVANUS: Around the last of October or the first of November.

TILFORD: And when did your party reach Salt Lake?

SYLVANUS: About the last of November.

TILFORD: And then?

SYLVANUS: Stayed there one night, then went home to Lehi. Was two days going there. Stayed home one day, then returned to Salt Lake. Was detained there to ride express for Bryant Stringer. Went twice to Tooele, once to Ogden, and once to Farmington. Then went home, reaching there about the middle of December.

TILFORD: Are you acquainted with William Skeen?

SYLVANUS: Yes. However, there was no such conversation between us as stated in his deposition either in the year 1860 or any other year. I never made any confession to him of the Aiken murder and never gave or sold to or traded with William Skeen a hat with a cut in the crown, or any other kind of hat. I deny I ever owned a fine bay mare five years old. About that time I did own a three-year-old bay mare but later traded her to parties coming from Echo Canyon because she was already too poor to travel long distances. I was not in Nephi in the Fall of 1857 and had no part or participation in the so-called Aiken murder. I heard of it, and up until this trial heard a lot more of it—more than I ever wanted to…

TILFORD: Is that your statement, Mr. Collett?


TILFORD: Thank you, Mr. Collett.

SUTHERLAND: Prosecution will not re-interrogate the defendant. I can tell by the ’determined’ glint in his eye that he would never recant what he’s already told us. His testimony is clearly as resolute, his mind as made up as during the prior trial.

TILFORD: Your Honor, there is really nothing in the whole case at all damaging to the defendant except perhaps the insidiously construed testimony of a now confused and guilt-ridden William Skeen. By contrast, we have the irrefutable testimony of a journal that establishes the defendant’s whereabouts as far from Salt Creek at the time of the events in question.

SUTHERLAND: Allow me to say something about that alibi.


SUTHERLAND: I call attention to the fact that the witnesses for the Prosecution would not and did not try to fix the exact date of the murder, but only asserted it was late in the Fall of 1857, which does not in the least conflict with the fact that the defendant left the Salmon River in late October of that year.

TILFORD: Bishop Smith’s journal clearly establishes that the defendant could not have arrived in the area much before early December.

SUTHERLAND: The winter season only begins on December 21!

TILFORD: That is a technical, astronomical definition, involving the solstice. Particularly in our climate and latitude, we have by early December already experienced long dark nights and bitter cold. By then the leaves have all fallen. Ponds have iced over and in many places, snow covers the ground. In my book and yours too, I believe, gentlemen, that is winter. We are then well into winter.

SUTHERLAND: That is a strictly subjective consideration!

EMERSON’S VOICE: Enough, gentlemen. We shall refer that consideration to the jury.

TILFORD: It’s a critical consideration. Your Honor.

SUTHERLAND: And highly contestable!

EMERSON’S VOICE: That, gentlemen, is why we will refer it to the jury.

SUTHERLAND: Prosecution is pleased that Defense admits to the crucial nature of William Skeen’s testimony regarding the defendant’s confession to him, a confession that fully implicates the defendant in the crime. In order to impeach the testimony of Skeen and of yet other witnesses. The Defense has once more resorted to one of the oldest and shabbiest litigious devices by finding one or more individuals who, doubtless with their own personal grievances against them, are prepared to malign the character of said witnesses. I beg the jury to discount this frivolity. Such sifting of secondary witnesses has in no way impeached the testimony you have heard here but instead becomes the sickest thing on record. Again, a witness’s reputation for truth and veracity is discredited because from one to five persons in a village of 600 did not consider him reliable—the opinion of the other 595 remaining unaccounted for. On the contrary, Mr. William Skeen is a man long well known as possessing stable qualities and as being a successful entrepreneur. Today he is as highly respected as any man in Weber County. The great crime he has committed, gentlemen, is his apostasy from the Mormon Church. I, therefore, beg the jury, in all fairness, to discount that circumstance, which is both highly personal and totally irrelevant to our system of law and order, founded, at least in principle, on the absolute separation of church and state. That Collett has categorically denied his confession to Skeen should not in the least be taken by the Jury as disinterested. It is the natural posture of a man, or for that matter any wild beast when cornered and kept at bay with its back driven to the wall…

EMERSON’S VOICE: How does the Defense respond?

TILFORD: Your Honor and gentlemen of the Jury, Defense has already demonstrated the infamy of the Prosecution’s several witnesses.


SUTHERLAND: Oh, yes. With less than a handful of carefully chosen defamers. Who knows if they were bribed? Or if they shared a secret password?

(Strong murmurs from the auditorium.)

TILFORD: I have a nagging complaint, Your Honor. Anyone coming into this court and hearing the side talk of the Prosecution without also hearing the indictment read would almost imagine that the Mormon Church were on trial. In any other country, the question would never be asked what church a juror belongs to, but not in Utah…

EMERSON’S VOICE: Complaint noted.

TILFORD: Witnesses and seasons aside, we have yet to consider what by itself must disqualify any and all charges brought against the defendant.

EMERSON’S VOICE: What is that?

TILFORD: In the case before us, no corpus delicti was ever established, Your Honor. The prosecution has failed to produce any outright physical evidence that in all of this, there was ever a single killing. Public condemnation must not be passed upon Sylvanus Collett in the face of such fragile testimony.

SUTHERLAND: Let us not be too hasty, Counsel. Allow me to reference one of our most recent sources on criminal procedure, the treatise by Bishop which asserts that the corpus delicti need not always be proved by one particular course of evidence but that any legal evidence that will establish the fact of a crime being actually committed is sufficient.

TILFORD: I refer Prosecution to an equally esteemed commentary by Wharton on “Homicides,” Section 628, laying down the rule that the corpus delicti must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Many cases are there cited illustrating the great chance a jury takes in convicting prisoners on circumstantial evidence alone. This rule has its foundation in the principle that many guilty should escape before one innocent man should be made to suffer. I must insist that this essential aspect of any bona fide case of murder has still not been established. And I can therefore assure you that, were this case to go before the Supreme Court, a decision against the defendant would for that very reason be at once reversed since all the charges brought forward by the Prosecution are, as earlier, strictly a matter of conjecture. Your Honor and gentlemen of the Jury, the facts demonstrated in this case are very meager. The rumors, hearsay evidence, and unsupported statements of unreliable witnesses are numerous, and it is not only difficult but impossible from the developments of this trial to arrive at the exact truth. So far there has in fact been no satisfactory proof that any of the Aiken party were actually killed, whether by Indians or white men. Nothing clear has been ascertained about the fate of the two men who did not return from the Sevier to Nephi after starting southward. Nothing reliable has been disclosed about the two who did return after leaving Nephi for the north. It has not been established who inflicted the wounds received by the injured men before their return to Nephi, and all that happened with them afterward is only a matter of conjecture. It is supposed that certain persons who went as escorts with the party of four set upon and killed two of them and wounded the other two and that subsequently they also killed those two and threw their bodies into some springs north of Nephi. But those of you who have watched the evidence closely and impartially perceive that no definite proof has been advanced as to the fate of any of the Aikens.

EMERSON’S VOICE: Let us see now. Just where are we? Dubious witnesses on both sides of the aisle, the report of a damning confession by the defendant from a witness with perhaps his own personal axe to grind—

TILFORD: Yes. A Judas kiss!

SUTHERLAND: A confession whose detail uncannily resembles that of other witnesses unknown to that witness! May the Jury bear this in mind!!

EMERSON’S VOICE: Disputations over the seasons and corpus delicti. This is all familiar ground. Is there nothing new, nothing more you can call to the Jury’s attention?


SUTHERLAND: (eyeing him) Yes. One thing more.

TILFORD: In this, I believe, the Defense and Prosecution share the same opinion—a most sensitive one, however.

EMERSON’S VOICE: We’re getting somewhere then at long last. If the two of you agree, so might the Jury. Please proceed.

TILFORD: For this purpose, I would like to re-examine Timothy Foote, and very briefly…

(Foote takes the witness chair.)

TILFORD: You say, Mr. Foote, that, after Tuck and John Aiken spent four to five nights at your hotel, one of them offered you his watch?


TILFORD: A gold watch?


TELFORD: You’re not making this up now, are you? Remember what’s personally at stake here for every one of us.

FOOTE: It’s God’s truth, I swear.

TILFORD: Let us hope, Mr. Foote, that you are not swearing falsely and that what you say is indeed such truth as God would recognize. So you noticed that one of the two men had a pistol and you asked for that instead?



FOOTE: I d”cided I’d rather have the pistol.

TILFORD: Why was that? Surely the gold watch was more valuable?

FOOTE: I can’t say.

TILFORD: “Can’t say?” Or “May not say?”


TILFORD: Why else would my witness insist on the poor end of a bargain except to deprive two men of their only weapon? Why did he reluctantly admit to enlisting others to retrieve the alleged victims’ corpses from the so-called Bottomless Springs? Or did others enlist him?

SUTHERLAND: For once, Your Honor, I fully concur with my astute colleague. In fact, I shall pursue his arresting insight by posing several more pointed questions: First, why has no one even now told us what the two who returned from the Sevier had to say about the encounter there? No one, it seems, has been allowed to communicate what the wounded Aiken and Tuck told the witnesses, and thus no evidence from their mouths was brought before the jury. But the testimony describing the character of the wounds on their bodies clearly shows that a murderous assault had been made on them. They neither returned with the escort they went with, nor on horseback, nor with the rest of their property—property that, as we have learned, was later seen in the possession of both their earlier escort and various residents of Nephi, a circumstance till now scrupulously ignored by the Defense. Had Aiken and Tuck come back dumb and could not tell what had happened, and if the escort itself had never returned, one might have reasonably supposed that Indians had attacked and annihilated all of them. But the escort did return, and why, pray, did it not inquire after the wounded men if it had indeed been friendly to them? Did they even think to organize a rescue for the two who did not return to Nephi? They did not. It is also more than slightly ominous that the Rockwell party was observed leaving town in advance of the two, not taking the regularly traveled road, but skulkingly, through bye-ways. Then there is the testimony of Mrs. Robinson which, though downplayed by the Defense, corroborates that all of this was according to a premeditated plan. If what she overheard at the Woolfs did not take place, why, I ask you, were the Woolfs and Picton not put upon the stand by the Defense to deny Mrs. Robinson’s statement? And why, if they were escorting the two men as far as Salt Lake City, did they come right back? The murder of the two wounded men was planned in Nephi. It was a communal undertaking…

(Gasps from the auditorium.)

SUTHERLAND: When we first heard Timothy Foote testify, we were inclined to believe that Foote had sympathy for the wounded men, but it now appears that old man Foote had just as much to do with the murder as the others. Don’t you agree, Counselor?

TILFORD: Yes. I quite agree.

SUTHERLAND: Foote helped procure the team and wagon for both the expedition south to the Sevier and the one that went north to Willow Springs. He took a pistol from the two wounded men for their hotel bill, instead of settling for a more valuable watch. A few days later the coats he’d sold them turned up in his possession with bullet holes and besmeared with blood. But the old man still does not remember other, more crucial facts. He only remembers the two men’s wounds, Collett’s name, and taking the bodies out of the spring with the assistance of others whose names, however, he, conveniently, no longer remembers…On the other hand, we have heard far too much self-incriminating corroborative detail than could be made out of whole cloth by persons so seemingly unsophisticated. As for the men who did the killing, Woolf and Picton were not to do it. But it was to be done. Who, I ask, would have been most interested in the destruction of the survivors of that first murderous assault but the Collett-Rockwell party who had committed that assault? The escape and safety of Tuck and John Aiken would have meant the eventual and possibly literal destruction of the members of the escort…Foote told us he took the dead bodies out of the spring, more than eight miles from his house because he wanted pure water. He went that far from his home and took the bodies out of a spring, gentlemen, not for clean water but to hide a crime. Why did he and the men who went with him, whose names he does not remember, not examine the bodies and hold an inquest? Because they went to those springs to hide what an inquest would disclose. What, again, of all the local citizens who were not brought here to deny what was said of them? James Woolf is competent to deny that the conversations detailed by Mrs. Robinson ever took place in his house, if that is really so. He and Picton could also deny they ever drove the team to Willow Springs if that is really so. John Kienke is still fully competent to deny that after the murder he wore one of the coats brought away from Nephi and afterward returned with a bullet hole in it. Bishop Murdock and John Lott are also just as competent to deny they and the defendant ever murderously assaulted and killed the Aiken party, providing of course they are truly innocent.

TILFORD: Defense is pleased that Prosecution has so zealously pursued what must ultimately exonerate the defendant.


TILFORD: The testimony now points to other parties in Nephi as far more guilty than the prisoner at the bar. Conspiracy, yes. But conspiracy that on all counts fails to implicate my client…And speaking of what is ’singular,’ isn’t it also remarkable that wearing broad-brimmed hats and riding conspicuously fine horses, the Aiken company was sent 125 miles to the Sevier River to be dispatched there, when large expanses of country lay between Salt Lake City and the Sevier where the killing might have been done without advertising the party and the escort who went with them? Indeed, if the murder could be proved, it was Picton, Woolf, and others at Nephi who did the deed. The prisoner is not shown to have in any way figured in connection with them.

EMERSON’S VOICE: Your charges to the Jury, gentlemen.

(The following exchange becomes ever more heated.)

TILFORD: Put simply, you must decide whether the defendant was in fact even ever in Juab County, for which the Prosecution has produced not a shred of evidence. Counsel, therefore, appeals to the jury to render such a verdict as will allow you to return to your homes and tell your own dear children you have not robbed other children of a father and some wife of her— SUTHERLAND: Make that “wives”—in the plural!


TILFORD: That you have not robbed them of a father and husband.

SUTHERLAND: It is your duty to enforce the law. As a people, we cannot allow murders to go unpunished. It would be a reproach to this court, its jury, the Prosecution, and the entire community.

TILFORD: Rumor, conspiracy, and the false coloring of legal pleading, steeped in prejudice—

SUTHERLAND: Whose prejudice?

TILFORD: Must not have much effect upon the public mind as will shut out due consideration of an accused man’s probable innocence.

SUTHERLAND: Why probable?

TILFORD: The Prosecution has just asked you to convict the prisoner so that great scandal might not rest on the Prosecution. Such talk might have been acceptable two hundred years ago, but it will not do in our day. The Jury is not called upon to convict the defendant simply so that the Prosecutor may return to his office, put his feet on the table, and point to another scalp taken.

SUTHERLAND: Objection, Your Honor!

EMERSON’S VOICE: Gentlemen. Gentlemen. Such squabbling. Such mayhem. You have both, I must say, set the Jury a fine example. And what, with all this disputation, have we finally accomplished here…? Don’t look at me like that! This is for you to work out, not me. You and the Jury…Once again I fear for the verdict, gentlemen. Yes, fear for it…Defendant?

SYLVANUS: Your Honor?

EMERSON’S VOICE: Can you help us?

SYLVANUS: You heard my statement.

EMESON’S VOICE: Yes. The same statement…Isn’t there—given the high stakes that now affect so many…if let us say, we arranged for some kind of immunity…We could probably do that. Get permission from a Higher Court—Isn’t there, sir, anything more you could possibly do for us…?

(A long pause.)

SYLVANUS: I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry…No…

EMERSON’S VOICE: (with an audible sigh) Please forgive my musing so, but I’ve learned something from all this. I’ve learned that it is one thing to require people to be truthful and honest. It’s another to require them to see beyond their own stubborn, sometimes ignorant, even deluded conception of it—to recognize what the Truth really is. I’m not the Ultimate Judge here, in case some of you have wondered. Thank Heaven for that. And may that Judge have mercy on us all…The jury has been charged. They may now adjourn and, when ready, come back this time with, we shall hope (another sigh) a truthful but unanimous verdict. Counselors and witnesses are now dismissed to return to wherever, according to that verdict, they justly belong…

(Tilford, Sutherland, and the witnesses apprehensively exit.)

EMERSON’S VOICE: A final suggestion to the Jury. It certainly can’t hurt: Please pray. Pray hard, please!


“Is this how it ends, Earl? The trial?”

“Essentially. But we’ve read everything the jury listened to. So we can draw our own conclusions at least as well as they did.”

“Except Judge Emerson never admonished anyone to pray.”

“Did the jury finally arrive at a verdict?”

“Could you, Ben?”

“But did he do it? Was Sylvanus guilty or not?”

“What do you think?”

“Can’t say.”

“I have to hand it to you, Earl. You captured the controversy and told it accurately enough. And your depiction of everyone’s personal responses—their human nature—seemed true to life. Sure, I could have done without all that Millenial deja vu stuff. But your depiction of the trial itself squares with the record. And Ben is right: what a deliciously baffling impasse, huh? Same thing we face today.”

“How’s that?”

“For starters, some folks still believe that the world will end tomorrow. So they too ‘fort up’ against those who disagree with them the way our ancestors did against both the Gentiles and the Indians. A siege mentality.”

“But the Saints were literally besieged. Those were hard times. Besides the U.S. army and Indian raids, there were armies of crickets, scarcities of all kinds, and diseases. In their extremity and isolation, they were uncommonly imperiled to a degree we moderns can’t even begin to appreciate.”

“So they responded like the Branch Davidians in Waco. Or Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Don’t forget this was during the Church’s Great Reformation: people were being re-committed, re-baptized, their feet held to the fire.”

“The Saints had gotten pretty lax. They were obviously in need of it.”

“There was also this inordinate literalness about the doctrine of Blood Atonement. Dissidents were readily viewed as apostates. In their hearts, people ‘excommunicated’ those they didn’t get along with or disapproved of. So, yes, I can believe that Sylvanus and others literally killed for the Kingdom. And, besides that being a fabulous oxymoron, it’s as unsettling a contradiction as I can think of. In a reverse way, aren’t we all too eager to assert our own unity and collective sameness? It’s called ethnocentrism—a terrible thing—and all too human. In their endeavor to please God and to save themselves—to live a nobler, more meaningful life—they became a collective mob, a ‘peculiar people’ who in moments of duress, lost sight of fairness and common decency—of what they owed their fellow beings—God’s other children.”

“Not everyone.”

“Especially in rare cases, in exceptional times, I grant you. But it was a mixed thing: for their very physical survival, our ancestors were united in their necessary dependence on each other. And in the process, many of them got very close and enjoyed real fellowship. I doubt they had as highly developed a concept of, say, their ‘right to privacy’ as we do. And as compensation, they were probably a lot less lonely.”

“You paint a pretty bleak picture, Jerry.”

“But what about the fallout: the injustices and ‘collateral damage’ where others were concerned? And everything about which they so prided themselves?”

“The proud ones, maybe. Not everyone.”

“How about their authentic selves—not just their institutional personae?”

“Their natural man, you mean?”

“Their authentic creaturely selves—whatever you want to call it! How about Sylvanus?”

“How about him, Jerry? How can you read his heart? What can you say about his soul? Or Ben’s or mine? Or your very own? What do you think, Ben? You need to weigh in on this.”

“You really want to know what I think?”

“Yes. Most of the time, Ben, we’d like to know what you really think!”

“Well then. We’re accustomed to attending church with our neighbors. We share the same language of belief and thrive on a feeling of togetherness and unity of purpose and direction. But when the rubber hits the road, our challenges are still pretty private. We face them, more often than not, in comparative isolation. Despite all our gospel training, we do try to engage the world differently than back then—more kindly, more diplomatically maybe. Though, ultimately, for our own what you both like to call ‘ethnocentric’ ends. And we sincerely enough see those ends as a profound blessing for all who would embrace them. One has to have a kind of double vision to take the position that, with our faith and testimony, we at the same time try to be truly ecumenical and value other perspectives. I’ve always been fairly comfortable with that juggling act, although I concede its double-mindedness and the frustration, the cognitive dissonance it can produce in others. As for the early Utah Saints, I read somewhere in the account of some visiting preacher that, at least as he saw it, our youth back then were even more profane and unruly than young people elsewhere. But is that any different from the talk one can overhear to this day on any junior high school bus in Ogden, Provo, or Salt Lake City? Even the Brethren’s frequent taunts and threats to ’cut’ and ’behead’ and ’salt’ or ’pickle’ those who disobey may have just been frontier rhetoric. Rockwell may have been an exception: he seems to have been more inclined to literally follow through. And maybe the humane refinement we expect of ourselves and of better-educated persons than were many of the first Mormons is, at the end of the day, only a veneer that doesn’t necessarily guarantee any greater or more subtle ethical sensitivity when the chips are down. Think of the Nazi Gauleiters who listened to Mozart and Bach in the evening after exterminating hundreds of Jews each day in the camps…Sure, our predecessors were fallible. Because they were deep down just ‘human.’ Can we ever get away from being ‘human’?”

“Your turn, Earl.”

“What you describe, Ben—such serious moral default—is just not true of everyone.”

“Who isn’t it true of then?”

“His true Saints.”

“You, Earl?”

“I don’t know, Jerry. I hope so though…What about the fear factor? The role of fear in all this? Fear almost takes the shape of a character in this whole saga, and I doubt my play conveyed that nearly as well as it should have. Jerry, you talk about ‘forting-up’ back then. And, yes, souls and hearts were also ‘forting-up.’ Fear of all kinds makes us less merciful and less compassionate. That’s how it works in every war. ‘Perfect love casteth out…’ And that’s why—despite such default—when we put our faith in our loftiest ideals, the Savior’s teachings and how we covenant to them are so important…Otherwise, I absolutely agree that there’s something about us humans that is so fallible and bungling that only a wise and loving God could salvage the good from all our errors and misplaced efforts—at every level. Whaddaya think, Jerry?”

“Maybe, Earl. Maybe…But, Earl, what about Sylvanus? Was he guilty or not? We’ll never know, Ben—not with what we have to go on.”

“Does it really matter, Ben? If not Sylvanus, then Rockwell or someone else. In the history of the race—religious history is no exception—their name is Legion. I’m convinced, Ben, that Sylvanus truly loved his fellow Saints. Their community meant everything to him. Let’s not overlook that great boon and personal motivator.”

“Nor its flip side.”

“OK. But as long as God’s hand is still in it—"

“You hope.”

“It’s been confirmed for me.”

“That’s nice.”

“You can’t know otherwise.”


“So kinship means nothing to you either?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Then there’s still a glimmer of hope.”


“For you, Jerry.”

“It’s just that, unlike the rest of you, I realize that my attachments are purely subjective and where they come from.”

“Without what you disparage as just emotional, Jerry, we’d all be monsters.”

“No more than, due to our emotions, we already often are.”

“You’re relentless.”

“It’s the only way to cut through the haze of others’ wishful thinking and make a stab at the truth.”

“With a small or a capital ‘T’?”

“This is going nowhere…”


Salt Creek—December 2, 1857

Dear Nell:

Another 180-degree turn! And I don’t know how much to say, in case they intercept this message. Now there’s only two of us—if you get my meaning. Only two of the four who went south. We’re back in Salt Creek at the hotel we stayed at previously. Tuck and me. We were ambushed. Wounded too. Tuck worse than me. He took a bullet. Hard blows to the head—both of us. We didn’t pass out though. If we had…?? We both had the presence to scoot from their campfire into the darkness, then ran and finally found each other and somehow made our way back to the hotel in Salt Creek. Our escorts had already taken our money belts and equipment. For safekeeping, they said. Indians, they tell us. Though I’m not so sure. Tom’s gone. And so’s the Colonel. And all four of our escorts. We’ve been here for several days, tended by the local doctor. Had nothing to pay him with, or the innkeeper. They took Tuck’s pistol to make up for it. Didn’t want his watch. So now we’re totally unarmed. They said the pistol would also cover the cost of a buggy they’ve sent for. Some locals will take us back to the City, Salt Lake, in the morning.

So what do you think, Nell? Can we trust them? We haven’t a choice though. All I ever saw of these folks till now—the Genoa party and then Mother Karren—made me believe they were all really good people, the kind of people I want to be more like myself. But now…Anyway Nell, if Tuck and I ever get out of this, I’ll come back to you first thing. And I’ll do whatever I have to to give you and those young kiddies a wholesome new life. Don’t doubt me, Nell. I’m there for you—the whole way, no turning back.

Meanwhile, Nell, keep praying, will you? As soon as this reaches you, pray for me and Tuck. And for Tom and the Colonel too, wherever they are right now. Hope I’ve learned a lesson or two from all this. We’ll see.

I love you, Nell. As much as ever.

Your adoring and devoted Johnnie Aiken


Salt Creek—1859

“Lehi. I’ve something to tell you!”

“Yes, Alice?”

“I need to tell someone. And you’re the only one I can trust.”

“I’m happy you would say that.”

“It’s what I overhead two years ago at the Woolfs’.”


“You remember. When those Gentiles came through and then disappeared?”

“I remember.”

“Well, I overheard Brother Woolf and others plotting what to do with the two men who made it back to Foote’s hotel and were then, after their wounds healed some, to be conveyed out of town in a buggy. I don’t know too much about that. But, yes, I was helping Sister Woolf, who was ill at the time, and I overheard them. They were planning to do those two men in after they left us. With the help of others. Others had already gone down to the Sevier from when those two gentile survivors would be told they’d be driven back to Salt Lake in a buggy to avoid hostile Indians.”

“And what else, Alice?”

“And…well, this Gentile Judge came by the other day. Someone had told him enough that he knew I might be aware of it. He came to me and put me under oath and made me tell him what I knew. I had to be honest, didn’t I, Lehi?”

“Yes. Probably.”

“So I told him what I just told you, and he wrote it down and had me sign my name to it. I needed to tell someone.”

“I’m glad you told me, Alice. I’ll keep it to myself. I promise.”

“Oh, thank you, Lehi. For some reason, you’re the one I always turn to when I need to share my thoughts and open myself.”

“Alice, have you thought about why?”

“Yes, I have.”

“You already know how I feel about you.”

“I do, Lehi.”

“Will you give it a chance, Alice?”

“I’d like to, Lehi. But others are pressuring me to consider James.”

“Do you feel about James the way you feel about me, Alice?”

“Well, no. Not really. But maybe I can. Some day.”

“Oh, Alice. We have so much in common.”

“I know, Lehi.”

“Please consider that. Consider me, will you?”

“I don’t know, Lehi. I’m so confused right now. I like you so much, Lehi. I really do. I…I’ll try. I will. And thanks, Lehi, for hearing me out.”

“Any time, Alice. Any time you need to talk, I’ll be there. You know that.”

“Yes, Lehi. I do. And I’m very grateful.”


Salt Creek—November 1857

Mayor Foote is to be released as Bishop Bigler’s counselor. Bishop says he’s a man after money. Foote says he’s bringing charges against the Bishop. What’s this community of Saints coming to? Sunday. Cold and windy. I went to a meeting this forenoon. Gave the prayer, speaking in tongues. The Bishop interpreted, then read from the History of Joseph Smith, in vol. 7, number 35 of the Deseret News, which shows very plainly what our enemies would like to do with us now if they could, for they are trying to play the same game again, but thank the Lord, they are not able to do it. The Bishop wants the people to keep humble and prayerful and not forget the Reformation. I had a headache and stayed at home this afternoon…I mended my wife’s shoes. The California mail arrived today from the City and brought news that the troops had fired grapeshot at our boys and that the boys had obtained 150 head of cattle and 50 head of mules and horses and that Col. Johnston had come up with 360 more troops together with the new Gentile Governor and other territorial officers. There was quite a company of Gentiles, Merchants, etc., from Salt Lake stopped here tonight on their way to California as the time has come for them to separate from these people. William Huntington is their guide and is to pass them through the Indian tribes as Mormons and consequently will allow of no swearing in camp, which I think will be rather hard for some of them as two of them are U.S. teamsters and Linforth an apostate…Very cold. The Apostates and Gentiles started on their journey this morning after paying the Bishop twenty dollars in gold for keeping part of them and feeding part of their animals. Another Apostate arrived this afternoon with a cart and two ponies before it and a woman in it. They are very anxious to overtake the company that left this morning. I banked up my house and built a pig pen…The Apostates with their cart started back for the City. Their name is Sutherland. They’d been told the Indians would scalp them, but on they went…We heard today that when Col. Johnston came up with the rest of the U.S. company. They pointed out Joseph Taylor who they had taken prisoner when he was bringing supplies to Lot Smith. Johnston said they would hang him tomorrow when they get to Fort. Bridger and placed a double guard over him. But he pulled off his boots and was warming his feet and it smoked in his face and he stepped back to get out of the smoke and when he got back far enough he made a break and run in among the cattle where they could not shoot him and thus made his escape to our boys in his stockings…The other people that left here last Sunday for California came back today for the Indians have stolen one of their horses, and they began to think that the Mormons told them the truth, so they have also turned back for the City. I helped Lehi thresh today. There were four men that came by yesterday headed for California by the southern route. They have lately come from California on the north route and were going east, but were stopped in the City and sent to California escorted by O.P. Rockwell, John Lot, and John Murdock. One of the men had a letter of recommendation from the commander of a U.S. station in California to Col. Johnston stating that the bearer was a man that could be trusted and was capable of performing any scheme that he might undertake etc. This letter fell into Brigham’s hands and thus he found out who they were…Cool and cloudy. I was called up between ten and eleven o’clock last night to go out to the Sevier River on business. Started before light this morning in company of Absalom Woolf, Miles Miller and John Kink.


Salt Creek—1877

“How are you, Lehi?”

“Alice! Haven’t seen you in…seems like ages. How’s your husband and children?”

“Same as ever. And Mother Pitchforth?”

“Real frail, but I still look out for her.”

“Lehi, I’ve got something else to share. See this book? It’s Father Samuel’s diary. Kept daily entries throughout his life. When he died, their son James gave it to me. I’ve read through it. Very interesting. But there are things in it that I believe might have upset James. I don’t want to throw it away. I’d like you to have it.”

“Why me?”

“You always respected Father Samuel. And you understand things—better than most. Remember those events in ‘57?"

“Of course, Alice. Especially after what you told me…”

“Well, there’s quite an unusual entry for November 24. And then someone cut out the pages that come right after—everything for the rest of that month, and then some. Who did that I have no idea. Was it Father Samuel? James? Or someone else? I just don’t know. But they say more by not being there than, I suspect they ever could if they’d been left in. And maybe that’s why James got rid of it. Will you keep it for us, Lehi? Like it was your very own?”

“I will, Alice.”

“What would we do without you, Lehi?”

“You’d do just fine.”

“I’m not so sure. But thanks, Lehi.”

“Thanks. I’ve got to go…”


Court House, Provo—October 1878

“Who’s that Injun sittin’ in the back there Nephew? What’s his name?”


“A Mormon?”

“From the Pitchforth household. He’s legit.”

“What’s he got there on his lap?”

“Looks like a book.”

“Keeps peering into it.”

“It’s not a weapon, is it?”

“Guess not. But what’s he here for?”

“Who knows? It’s an open trial, ain’t it?”

“Never saw a lone Indian sittin’ out there before. Makes you wonder, don’t it?”

“A little.”

“You frisk him?”

“Yeah. He’s alright.”

“I wonder…."


“So how do you reconcile all this with Sylvanus?”

“You have the end of the trial but not the end of my play.”

“Don’t tell us there’s more!”

“Just a few pages. And, yes, a resolution.”

Your resolution.”

“Maybe yours too. Give it a try.”

“OK. Then let’s read on. Then we’ve got to hit the sack before we take off in the morning. Didn’t get a buck this time. Not even a doe. Sorry, Ben. Better luck next year.”

“It’s alright. I’d have just given mine to someone else. Spared a life. That’s one way to look at it.”

“Now don’t get all passive-aggressive and put us on a guilt trip. None of that ‘animal rights’ stuff!”

“Not to worry. I still eat the meat that others kill for me.”

“That’s the way. Still a red-blooded American boy!”


“‘Fraid so…”



Courtroom, Provo—October 1878

(Sylvanus sits by himself on the stage. Ann and Alexander enter the courtroom.)

ANN: I wish we’d heard the whole trial. (noticing, then approaching Syl with Alexander) Oh, Syl! We’re here…!

SYLVANUS: I don’t believe it. Have you been all the way to Africa and back?


SYLVANUS: Did you hear the trial?

ANN: We only got here at the end of it. What do you think?

SYLVANUS: It was just the same as before.

ANN: So what will the verdict be?

SYLVANUS: Undecided. Another hung jury.

ANN: Will that take care of it?

SYLVANUS: I guess. I still can’t be sentenced. One side still doesn’t agree with the other…But how did it go for you in Africa?

ALEXANDER: I feared tha’ Annie would lose her head.

SYLVANUS: Not my mother-in-law!

ANN: But I almost did, Syl. We were stumped too, and then Brother Alexander had a magnificent revelation. Tell him, Alexander.

ALEXANDER: Well, they woul’n’ give in—them bullheaded Malays. So we though’ we’d have tuh stay there, maybe ferever.

ANN: We couldn’t come back without a resolution. Then…Alexander—tell them.

ALEXANDER: Well, th’ though’ come tuh me: Wha’ have we tuh lose? We believe in th’ Savioor, don’ we? An’ He’s th’ Savioor o’ all men an’ woomen, ain’ He? An’ any desce’an’s we may by chance ’ave in coommon with soomeone else—well, they may be theirs, boo’ they’re ours too, even if they don’ know i’. An’ th’ Loord will make tha’ clear to them when He’s ready. He’s lookin’ after us all, an’ He cer’ainly won’ le’ ’em take joost fer themselves wha’s booth theirs an’ ours. Tha’s simply no’ His way. So le’ ’em call Him ‘Alla’s’, boot since He’s our Crea’oor too, booth ours an’ theirs, well, finally, I joost tol’ ‘em, “Go have ‘em. They’re also yoors."

SYLVANUS: All your offspring?

ANN: Including some of yours. But they’re still ours too, whatever they care to think about it. It’s an act of faith, you see. And that’s what we’re supposed to live by, isn’t it…? Don’t you see, Syl? The old ways just don’t work anymore. They have no power. The serpents are all de-fanged. We needn’t fear them anymore—either those we can see or those inside us.

ALEXANDER: Tha’s righ’, Syl. Remember how yuh always faced them In’ians, an’ how yuh coom ooff tha’ moo’ain? An’, Annie, how yuh almos’ los’ yer head in Africa?

SYLVANUS: How’s that?

ANN: Never mind…(seeing someone at the rear of the auditorium) Look!


ANN: Is that who I think it is?

ALEXANDER: Yer’ hoosban’?

ANN: And your Lizzie. And our daughter—your late wife and Tommy’s mother, Syl, who sadly passed away after she bore him.


BERDEAN: (joining in) Hi, Daddy! Hi, Ma…!

SYLVANUS: I don’t see anything…

ANN: You don’t…? Now I’m getting a revelation…Syl, during the trial, did you…did you totally deny that you’d done anything to the Aiken’s?

SYLVANUS: You know I did. Just like the time before.

ANN: Who’s that with my Tom Karren—my dear husband…? Why, it’s all my babies! But they’re so far off. They’re waiting for something.

ALEXANDER: Fer a confession maybe.

ANN: (to Sylvanus) Well, couldn’t you, love? Couldn’t you confess?

SUTHERLAND: (returning from stage left) Of course, he could. But they don’t want him to.

ANN: Who’s ‘they’?

SUTHERLAND: He knows. That might implicate them.

ALEXANDER: Ah, yes. I recognize yuh now an’ cast yuh oot. Oot wi’ yuh, Chief Spiri’!

SUTHERLAND: (pointing at Silvans) No, not me. There’s the real snake.

ANN: Is that true…? Just tell us, Syl. Out with it. Moses killed a man, and, like you, exposed a serpent—though a good one. Nephi killed too at an angel’s bidding.

SUTHERLAND: (chortling) And John D. Lee!!

SYLVANUS: No! Never…!

(Disgusted, Sutherland leaves. As he does so, Tom Collett appears, as if replacing him, on the same side of the stage.)

ANN: Did you do it? Confess, Sylvanus!

SYLVANUS: Even if I’m innocent?

ANN: Then confess your innocence one more time, and we’ll believe you. Even my Tom Karren. I’ll make him…

SYLVANUS: So you have to know before you can accept me…?

TOM: At the cemetery in Fish Haven, Father, you told us you were a man of your word.

ANN: Have you prayed, love…?

SYLVANUS: (collapsing on his knees, now center stage, in great pain) Yes, I’ve prayed. That’s all I’ve done.

ANN: Then what was the answer?

SYLVANUS: Nothing. There was no answer…

TOM: (rushing to Sylvanus, kneeling and embracing him) Then that’s his answer, don’t you all understand? Both his and our answer?

ANN: Why, Tommy, what do you mean?

TOM: That we need not—no, must not—require a confession but must simply stop judging. This wasn’t just my father’s trial. It was all our trial, but we didn’t seem to understand that. We must accept one another. Despite what happened or what was done.

ALEXANDER: Like we di’, Sister Annie, wi’ th’ Malays…like when—speakin’ o’ snakes—we le’ tha’ ra’ler go.

TOM: The Magistrate was right. We have no proper way to judge my father for what’s so far in the past. Just as he has no proper way, and possibly no right, to judge them.

ANN: Them?

TOM: Yes, them. And my father’s been trying not to do that, don’t you see? That’s why we had to revisit his trial.

ANN: So that’s the Revelation: “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men…”

TOM: Go to him, Gramma.

ANN: Him?

TOM: To your Tom Karren. Go ahead. They’ll let you, if it’s to help him understand too…We must leave the verdict to the Great Judge. It’s between my father and Him…and no one else.

ALEXANDER: Tha’s righ’.

ANN: “He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers…” I believe it, and do you know why? Because, as we’ve been taught, God is also literally our Father and his Son our Elder Brother. Like our earthly parents, they will never cease lovingly standing by us—encouraging us to overcome our weaknesses and repent from our past mistakes. They will always be there for us.

SYLVANUS: (tearful, at last responding to Tom’s embrace) But when will we know for sure? When will they tell us?

ANN: Soon, I hope, love. Meanwhile, let us simply believe that if we still all claim each other, our Maker will claim us, including Sylvanus.

SYLVANUS: And then I can claim my family?

ANN: Not just your family, Syl. Our entire family! But there’s also one more thing you will need to do.

SYLVANUS: What’s that?

ANN: Meet up again with that man—the fellow you shot near Nephi. He must be resurrected now like the rest of us. Meet him too and both of you be reconciled.

ALEXANDER: Tha’s right. An all th’ Indians yuh brought down wi’ sooch great skill.

SYLVANUS: Even in our own self-defense…? I…I’ll do that too…

(The lights dim, then rise to full brightness as the trumpet refrain heard at the beginning of the play resounds once again. Now gathered together, the play’s Collett, Sims, and Karren family members look skyward until the sound ceases. )

ANN: I have another strong impression.

ALEXANDER: Wha’s tha’, Sister Annie?

ANN: That, while we are here together, we offer a prayer. And as we do so, let us vow to trust God to be in charge and to forgive and refrain from judging others.

ALEXANDER: An’ who should say it for us?

ANN: Remember the Atonement. Who suffered the most for all of us?

ALEXANDER: The Savior, o’ course.

ANN: Then I propose him among us who has also exceedingly suffered by now—Sylvanus…

TOM: What do you say, Father…?

(All bow their heads.)

SYLVANUS: (removing his broad-brimmed hat, then lifting his head and staring at the sky) Our Father…

(The lights dim, then raise again. Joined by all the play’s other actors, the entire cast step to the edge of the stage and acknowledge their audience.)


“Quite a sermon last night, Earl.”

“Since each of us missed church today, guess it will have to suffice. Whaddaya say, Ben?”

“Good as most that come across the pulpit.”

“Change your life any?”

“Hard to say, Jerry.”

”Did it enlighten you?”


“But, Earl. That’s all just so much wishful thinking!”

“Don’t you wish for it though, Jerry? The Resurrection? Eternal life and reconciliation?”

“Not if it’s not going to happen. Isn’t that so, Ben?”

“Don’t put me on the spot now, Jerry.”

“Whaddaya mean?”

“It’s what we’ve always been taught—our heritage, our training.”

“I know, but—”

“You want it too, Jerry. I can see you do. So just open yourself up to it. Give it a chance to work in you, and you’ll receive a confirmation.”


“No. You’ll know it’s more than that—that it came from elsewhere. And it will bless your life the way it has mine and Ben’s when we let it.”

“I’ve got to stay honest.”

“Go ahead. Stay honest. But you can’t disprove it either. So give it a chance, and it will bless your life.”

“What makes you think I’m not satisfied already? That I’m not happy enough the way I already am?”

“That’s true, Jerry. I can only judge by what it’s done for me. But I can’t help believing that, as mortals, we’re basically all the same—insecure, often discouraged, unsure of our purpose, with our strong urges and often unwarranted self-confidence, prone to make serious mistakes.”

“Like some Oedipus?”

“Like some Oedipus. But by acknowledging that Higher Direction—”

“The Sphinx?”

“No, Jerry. The Christian God! By acknowledging Him and conforming to what He requires of us, everything is more endurable…more beautiful and so much better.”

“Plato’s triad, eh? The True, the Good and the Beautiful all fused in one and testifying to each other? Is that it?”

“If that’s how you care to put it. But don’t leave out Paul’s formulation either—an equally profound triad.”

“Faith, Hope, and Charity.”

“The greatest of them being—you know which one. That’s how it really is, Jerry! Forget about what other men have sometimes done—even in His name. We all fall short. It’s the grand Vision I’m talking about. And its pure Source. There’s only one such Source, Jerry. Nothing else can even compare….”

“Well, we’ll just have to see.”

“Don’t wait until the next life to find that out, Jerry. Or it won’t happen.”

“If it ever does. A ‘Catch-22,’ eh?”

“Think about it, will you? At least that.”

“Okay, Earl. Just for you.”

“No, Jerry. For you. For you and yours.”

“You’re rather forward, Earl. You know that, don’t you?”

“Like certain companions we each once had on our missions. I’ve been there too, don’t forget. Also done that. Speaking of which—let’s keep something else in mind: when you were missionaries, just how ‘pumped up’ were you then? Ben?”

“That’s why they were ‘the best two years of our lives,’ right? So what?”

“It’s not so simple though, is it? In an alien setting—let’s say, in early post-World War II Germany, where I served mine—after the budding terrorist finds a sympathetic coterie of like-minded peers and, fueled by their ethnic and ideological isolation, he fiercely commits himself, perhaps for the very first time, to the tradition of his fathers. But our young elders and their converts do the same thing.”

“As do the evangelical ‘born agains’ who so disapprove of Mormons or the Tea Party-ers and Anti-Wokes, who so abhor and demean political progressives like me. It’s the powerful effect of tribalism and peer bonding between the ideologically committed, especially when they find themselves together in an isolated and indifferent, even hostile social environment. Others have noted the close resemblance, the mirror imaging between fanatic extremists in both the Muslim world and our own—whether political or religious, not to mention their lethal mixture.”

“Blessedly, a terrorist’s aims are methods radically different from our own. The one bent on punishing, even destroying the infidel ’other,’ while our people strive to lovingly assist perfect strangers to enjoy a better life and ultimate salvation. I guess it finally comes down then to who’s right and who’s wrong. And there’s no easy way to know that. It’s just a matter of plain faith. Even the studiously indifferent and non-committal are making a statement of belief, expressing a preference.”

“So you finally agree then that none of us can avoid our ethnocentrism. If our behavior has less to do with individual choice than with our biological imperatives. ‘We’re all enlisted ’til the conflict is o’er.’ Then we’re, I’d say, pretty much simply subjects, victims of a herd mentality. Let’s not forget the Fort Limhi where Sylvanus was a set-apart missionary and that he went there at the same age we did when he was just nineteen—a ‘greenie’ missionary like all the rest of us. That was in 1856—just a year before the events in question. When he got back he’d have just reached the ripe old age of twenty.”


“Judging by the dates we have, he was sealed to his first two wives, including our progenitor Lydia, in the early spring of 1857 while still serving his mission. Lydia and Sylvanus had been married civilly in 1853—she at fourteen, he sixteen. She died birthing her fifth child, our grandfather Tom, at age 27. Wives started early back then, like Muslims. And sometimes ended early too. Anyway, Sylvanus must have returned to Utah on leave, then gone back to Limhi after his and his second wife’s double honeymoon. Maybe as a kind of future reward for the extra measure of care and comfort he’d have earned by year’s end.”

“Come on, Jerry. That’s crass!”

“And just to bring your play up to date, Earl, we also understand some things a little better now than they apparently did at his trial.”

“Such as?”

“For starters, consider the testimony of Alice Robinson. There’s no indication that like, say, the old innkeeper and former mayor—”

“Timothy Foote.”

“—she ever resented the Church, per se—particularly not just a year after the events in question when, as young Alice Lamb, she swore in an affidavit before Judge Cradlebaugh about what she’d overheard at the Biglers’. Pretty good evidence concerning the Nephi-centered conspiracy.”

“That still doesn’t implicate Sylvanus.”

“How about the testimony of his old buddy, William Skeen?”

“The defense clearly showed that by then Skeen had personal grievances against Sylvanus.”

“True enough.”

“So Skeen had strong reasons for implicating him. His testimony was biased.”


“Biased enough to tell the truth for once rather than lie on Sylvanus’s behalf like others.”

“Which others?”

“His former mission president, for one. We now have access to President Smith’s journal, which lists the names of those who returned from Fort Limhi in late October with pickled fish. Sylvanus wasn’t among them. Smith obviously drew up a separate list for the trial. And newer missionaries on their way to Limhi attest that already in early October they encountered Sylvanus and a companion heading for Utah, released early to inform Brigham of the desperate circumstances at Fort Limhi. With all their gear and wagons, companies averaged a distance of forty miles per day. The distance between Salt Lake and the Salmon River is approximately 379 miles. Sylvanus and his companion were much less encumbered and were also charged to reach Salt Lake as quickly as they could, so their rate of travel would have been even greater. And if they left Limhi in early October and the Aiken trouble took place in late November—well, go figure. Sylvanus was there, Earl. He did what he was accused of at the trial. And he lied about it to save his neck and for ‘the good of the cause…!’”

“I don’t mean to offend you, Jerry. It’s just that I care about you. And I think there are other things you may have forgotten. Things that can easily happen. Besides, Jerry, we’re kin.”

“Yeah, kin. That snag again. Hooking, then tugging at each of us like helpless Salmon River fish. Pulling us all out of—”

“Yes, Jerry. That’s how it’s been put to us. But don’t resist. And recognize who said that.”

“The Big Fisherman. Isn’t that how you see it too, Ben?”

“Yeah, Earl. I’m hooked too.”

“But gladly?”

“Sometimes, Earl…Sometimes. But what has all or any of this to do with Sylvanus? What other things?”

“Not so much with him, Ben, as with us and how we regard him.”

“How should we then?”

“With honor.”


“Yes, Jerry. For what he taught us. How not to be. That too. And, despite all that, to love him.”

“The child…father to the man. Is that it?”

“Maybe, in this case, that’s how it needs to be. We all crave connection, don’t we?”

“Some are luckier than others. Some try for it, but don’t ever find it.”

“So, whoever we’re connected to—it’s important…sacred.”


“Call it what you will.”

“OK, preacher. With your play and all, you’ve probably won the first round. Just one thing more though.”


“Haven’t we learned something valuable from all this?”

“History teaches a lot of important lessons. I grant you that, Jerry.”

“In this case…?”

“You’ve obviously got something particular in mind.”

“I do. I hope you both do too: it’s that under similar circumstances, we’d have been capable of the same things. We’d be just like Sylvanus and the others. You see that, don’t you, Earl?”

“Well, sure. We’re, deep down, no different.”

“No better either. So it’s important to keep that in mind, don’t you think?”

“Of course, Jerry. It’s a good cautionary tale. “

“Maybe even a needful one.”

“Maybe so, Jerry.”

“Not just maybe.”

“I can tell you feel strongly about that, Jerry.”

“Don’t you, Earl? Ben…?”

“But there’s something else, Earl.”


“You didn’t deny just now—finally—that our ancestor was guilty of the charges.”

“Nor did I confirm it.”

“So you’re still in denial…”

“Remember what his son Tom said at the end of my play—that it isn’t for us to judge? Or even know for certain? That’s my position.”

“Your construction.”

“The way I see it.”

“The way you’d like to see it—ought, not is.”

“Maybe both, Jerry.”

“Like faith itself, you mean? We really can’t be certain about faith claims and the supernatural.”

“Jerry, you twist my words. You always do. You always have. Isn’t that so, Ben?”

“And he always will.”

“Come on, guys. That’s not it. I’m just trying to be honest—epistemologically honest.”

“And that’s why, deep down, you really can’t appreciate—you haven’t learned to live by faith.”

“Because I’m so honest, you mean? So existentially humble—like we’re all supposed to be but seldom really are? Then I guess you’re right, Earl. If that’s what it takes, I guess not. Guess I haven’t ‘learned,’ as you say. Just can’t ‘appreciate’ it all. But I wouldn’t have it any other way either—God help me.”

“I hope He will help you, Jerry—and that you’ll let Him.”

“There’s something else I’ve wanted to ask you about, Earl.”

“Sure, Jerry. What’s that?”

“Well, if twenty-one years after apparently being involved with others in the deaths of several innocent men and you were then charged at trial as the sole defendant—”

“Like Sylvanus.”

“That’s right. And if at the time you were aware—as Sylvanus had to be—and that the previous year another man had been similarly charged at a trial and found guilty—”

“John D. Lee.”

“Yes. Then executed at the site of his alleged crime.”

“Mountain Meadows.”

“How would that make you feel about admitting at your trial that you were also guilty? Wouldn’t you fear the same consequences, knowing that those whose orders you had dutifully obeyed would respond like they who failed to to protest or even comment on Lee’s fate…? How about you Ben?”

“It would put fear in you the way the threat of Johnston’s Army never could. I…I would keep silent. Like Sylvanus.”


“I hadn’t given that any thought, Jerry. Not till just now…To be honest, I would not have admitted anything either.”

“Well, then. For once, that’s something we can all agree on. Congratulations!”

“Gotta go, boys…”

“You’re right, Ben.”

“That cry again…Farewell, spooks. Farewell, papoose. Rest in peace. You too, Tuck and John Aiken….And dirt trail. Glad I only brought my bed roll and boom stick.”

“Till next year, boys.”

“Sure, Jerry. And then you’ll have another chance.”

“To do what, Ben?”

“Unsettle us.”

“I’ll try to oblige.”

“We can hardly wait. Right, Earl?”

“Yeah, right. I guess so….”

“Cars to the left. Still where we parked them….And—I keep forgetting—this is where those two men were ambushed—John Aiken and Tuck. Likely shot and killed by Sylvanus and Rockwell.”

“That’s right, Ben.”

“And that pond over there—that, I guess, was their grave.”

“As attested to at the trial in Earl’s play.”

“And why you wanted us to come here.”

“For a special family reunion. Of sorts…So long then.”

“So long.”

“Take care…”


US. Postal Service, San Francisco—1859

To: Post Master, Salt Lake City, Utah

Dear Sir:

The three enclosed unopened letters, recently discovered in an unused cabinet drawer and postmarked Salt Lake City in the year 1857 have lain in the San Francisco Dead Letter Office for a period of years. We apologize to the sender, John Aiken, and herewith return them by Union Pacific Railroad post to Central Post Office in Salt Lake City together with the following notation, found with the aforementioned three pieces of mail:

Returned to P.O. by the proprietor of Sarah’s House of Hospitality on Market Street. For their protection and to maintain their services on a professional level, her employees never use their real names. No actual person with the addressee name Nell Wiscombe at the designated address. Sender so advised.

J. Reynolds
U.S. Post Master
San Francisco, California


Cemetery, Nephi—1878

Hey Daddy. I’m back from Provo. Harvest was over and I had the time…So I sat through that trial. It went on for days and then several weeks. I sat there with your book in my hands—your diary. Your book—now my book, I guess…Alice Lamb, now Alice Robinson, gave it to me to care for, maybe since I’m still living with Mother Pitchforth. Don’t worry, Father. Alice and I are caring for her and will continue do so as long as we’re both around…I keep coming back here to where you lie, though I know it’s just your earthly shell and that you’re already in Heaven…I’ve been coming here—until the trip to the trial in Provo—a couple of times each week. I like talking to you. Wish I could hear your voice, but I believe you hear me…I always tried to do whatever you’d ask. I owe my life to you and have never forgotten. I’ve never stopped being grateful: hope you’re pleased with me.

But there’s something I don’t understand. You were always so kind, such a good man. A man of peace and friendship. Not just to other Mormons. So I sat through that trial, again reading your book. Kind of like Moroni did with what his father wrote down. And what I need to understand is: Why did things happen that way twenty-one years back—to those four men? What did they do to deserve what happened to them? It’s clear you knew something about it and maybe even were a part of it. How much I can’t say and really don’t want to know, but would God he have wanted that…?

There’s also something else, Father. I know you steered me away from Alice and that’s why she married Robinson. Was it wrong of me to want her to be my wife? We were truly fond of each other. I know she liked me, for a time more than anyone else. I’m fully a Mormon, your adopted son, and like the rest of you, an heir to Abraham’s great blessings. You brought me to the endowment house in Salt Lake, remember, where I was sealed to you for all eternity? What I especially remember is how the blinding sunlight streamed through that one high oval window and onto our clasped hands at that altar—yours, Mother Pitchforth’s, and mine. Surely, that was a heavenly confirmation that, in His wonderfully miraculous way, the Lord made us—no matter where we each started from—a single flesh. Forever. That’s our belief, isn’t it? I felt the Spirit then—the Spirit you always so reverently spoke of and said you felt too—as never before. You all think so highly of the prophets Lehi, Nephi, Mosiah, Alma, Mormon, and Moroni. And both you and our holy scriptures tell me I’m one of their people, Lehi’s direct descendant. But am I still not good enough to mix my blood and seed with yours? So that my children could really be yours and other Mormons’ too?

Can I tell you something silly? I mean no disrespect. This happened in the Salt Creek chapel even before we met up, before you rescued me. I’ve heard it told a number of times, even from your own lips: Remember when one Sunday a band of Piutes came demanding your crops? Or was it your cattle? There were men on guard, but the rest of you were at church. You thought it would be best to ignore them until they would go away. Which they finally did. But for a long while they whooped it up outside the church house so you could hardly hear yourselves. So you all started singing—louder than ever. Then one of their braves burst into the chapel, stark naked, and ran in front of the pulpit and did his war dance. He danced and danced, while you all sang and sang, ignoring him. He finally gave up, probably out of exhaustion, and then left. Daddy, do you know how many times I’ve wanted to do the same thing—shock you all in some way, if need be dance before you all, yes, stark naked—to remind you I’m one of you and deserve your equal attention? And I’d have done it too if I’d thought it would make any difference. But then I remembered that naked brave and how you defeated him by never paying him the slightest attention. I’m too much one of you now to live with other Indians—not where other white men have put them. What will become of me then? Maybe some day you’ll help me understand that one too. I think about it all the time, more than ever since you left us. I do….

And one more thing, Daddy: I’ve read your book many times—especially when I attended the trial of that Sylvanus Collett. I believe he did what they said he did. But I also believe he did it because they said it was his duty. Like Nephi went to Laban for the plates. Awful as it was, I believe he killed for the Kingdom. Didn’t he?


The account of the Sylvanus Collett trial in the character Earl’s play is based on its verbatim reportage in the 1878 Salt Lake Tribune. References in Act One of my embedded play “First Trump” to their own personal stories by or about Alexander Sims, Berdean Sims, Ann Karren, Sylvanus Collett, and Tom Collett are all derived from my own family records, while the musings of both the Indian boy Lehi and the young Sylvanus Collett and the letters by John Aiken are all fabricated. David L. Bigler’s Fort Limhi: The Mormon Adventure in Oregon Territory 1855-1858 (Spokane: The Arthur H. Clarke Company, 2003) invaluably assisted in assessing a key argument by the defense in the Collett trial, while the text of the hymn “O Ye Mountains High” is from the original version, published in 1856 in The Latter-Day Saints hymnbook. Portions of the diary attributed to Samuel Pitchforth are also derived from that of his fellow Nephi townsman Homer Brown and from the autobiography of John Lowe Butler. Alice Lamb did not marry Pitchforth’s son James, but a man named Robinson. Neither she nor anyone else bequeathed Pitchforth’s diary to his adopted Indian son Lehi, whose adoptive name the novel’s title references. However, both the November 24, 1857 entry (from Brown’s diary) about a sudden late-night summons for urgent business on the Severe River and the later removal of entries (1 3/4 pages) from Pitchforth’s diary for the same date are real. The Mormon ally Colonel Thomas Kane’s wife also incidentally substantiates that she and her husband stayed at the Pitchforth home in Nephi and visited its residents as guests of their host Brigham Young (Pantianos Classics: Elisabeth Kane, Twelve Mormon Houses Visited in Succession on a Journey through Utah to Arizona, 1874).

It is, I believe, telling that after the events in 1857, Collett had been further rewarded with important positions in law enforcement over which a counselor to Brigham Young, Daniel Wells, was also in charge as leader of the Territory’s national guard, the Utah Nauvoo Legion. Before his trial, Sylvanus Collett also founded Cokeville, Wyoming as Justice of the Peace.

It may also be telling that during Collett’s trial another of Young’s counselors and then editor of the Deseret News, George Q. Cannon, fiercely defended Collett in the newspaper. Coincidentally, when Cannon had in the fifties served in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) as a young and remarkably precocious missionary, so had Collett’s Lehi-based father-in-law, Thomas Karren, who, as was then the custom, had left his wife and children when called to do so and then served as a missionary abroad for a period of four years. In one of the elders’ missionary conferences there, Karren had—as was also customary—been assigned to give a blessing to Cannon in which he is reported to have predicted that Cannon would one day associate with the highest leadership in the Church.

Was Sylvanus Collett a targeted scapegoat? The two ‘escorts’ from Nephi—Lott and Murdock—were, unlike Collett, never brought to trial. Nor is there in Collett’s trial any mention of those in Salt Lake who doubtless ordered the four ‘escorts’ from both Lehi and Nephi to do their will. Back in that day, perhaps of necessity, all aspects of society in the entire Territory were clearly governed by a theocratic autocracy.

In the novel, I freely put into the mouths of the disputatious present-day Collett cousins—Ben, Jerry, and Earl—verbatim portions of the vigorous email discussions on the subject between Marcus Smith and myself—he at the time in Provo and I in Damascus.


Full Citation for this Article: Rogers, Thomas F. (2023) "THE BOOK OF LEHI," SquareTwo, Vol. 16 No. 2 (Summer 2023),, accessed <give access date>.

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