19 – Brigham Young’s “Destroying Angel”

By Museum of Northwest Colorado

Bill Hickman was a bad dude. He was the personal bodyguard for Joseph Smith and Brigham Young – Mormon prophets – yet he also claimed to be a prolific assassin for the Mormon Church.
Born in 1815, William A. Hickman joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1839. He eventually became a close confidant to Joseph Smith himself (the founder of the religion) and later Brigham Young (the second president of the Mormon Church, founder of Salt Lake City and Utah’s first governor).
There’s not much denying that Hickman committed scores of atrocities including countless murders during his time with the church. The question has always been if he was simply a loose cannon or had orders from the top – most notably from Brigham Young.
Hickman was arrested for the murder of a US Army official during the Utah War of 1857-58. In 1871, while in prison, he wrote an autobiography that made scandalous claims against the Mormon Church – specifically Brigham Young himself. It was titled “Brigham’s Destroying Angel”. Hickman claimed that he was used extensively by Brigham Young to deliver vengeance and death to numerous church enemies and dissenters.
Hickman’s claims indeed led to Brigham’s indictment; however, it never went to trial due to a surprising Supreme Court decision that canceled 1.5 years worth of legal proceedings in Utah and declared null and void indictments found against roughly 140 people – including both Young and Hickman. Hickman lived out his days in Wyoming excommunicated from the Mormon Church until he passed away in 1883.
Pictured here is a beautiful 1851 Colt Navy revolver manufactured in 1856 – a stellar artifact in and of itself. However, its provenance states that it was acquired by Frank Longtine from a Bernetta Allen in the early 1900s. Bernetta claimed that it belonged to her father, the infamous William A. Hickman. It was later acquired by Bill Mackin from Longtine and it eventually became part of the museum’s extensive Cowboy and Gunfighter collection (acquired from Mackin).
The museum prides itself in extensively vetting its artifacts, yet has not succeeded in verifying any more than the provided provenance for this artifact. Any further knowledge is always welcomed!