About Jason Reid Luce
He was a trader (1860) and a member of the Bill Hickman Gang, sometimes called Hickman's Hounds, a notorious LDS gang. He was executed by the State of Utah for the murder of Samuel Bunting in a knife fight at the Townsend Hotel in Salt Lake City.
He shares his middle name "Reid" with a cousin on his father's side (Charity Reed Kent), pointing to it being a family name of some kind.
Jason Luce was probably connected with Bill Hickman as early as 1844, when he was 13. Joseph Smith wrote in his journal in June 1844. "Jason R. Luce reported that Ianthus Rolf said, while the press was burning that before three weeks the Mansion House [Joseph Smith's residence] would be strung to the ground, and he would help to do it; and Tallman Rolf said the city would be strung to the ground within ten day. Moses Leonard also heard him, Joshua Miller being also present. Bryant, (merchant of Nauvoo) said before he would see such things, he would wade to his knees in blood. It is reported that runners have gone out in all directions to try to get up a mob; and the mobbers are selling their houses in Nauvoo and disposing of their property." ("History of Joseph Smith" in The Deseret News, 30 September 1857). The burning press referred to was that of the Nauvoo Expositor, which was destroyed by Mormons, igniting the civil unrest that led to Joseph Smith's murder in December 1844.
Jason Luce came west with his parents when he was 17. He was listed on the 1860 census as a trader with $200 in personal property. In addition to his wife and three children, the census lists a Mary J. Hour (age 18, born in Utah) in his household.
He served with the Utah State Militia during the Indian Wars.
There are several criminal cases against him in Salt Lake County: People vs. Jason Luce, Assault With Intent to Kill, 9 December 1860; People vs. Jason Luce, Assault, 13 January 1862; People vs. Jason Luce, Murder, 12 November 1863.
As early as 1859, Jason Luce was involved with the outlaw gang of his former brother-in-law, Bill Hickman, called "Hickman's Hounds." Wilford Woodruff, the Mormon apostle who had converted the Luces to Mormonism and was later President of the LDS Church, recorded in his diary, 5:338-39, May 1859:
"May 27th I went to the office early this morning whare I was informed that James Johnson son of Luke Johnson was shot last night by one Gibson. There were 4 of them together, Jason Luce, James Johnson, Gibson & another one. Some words passed between Gibson & Johnson when Gibson drew a pistol cocked it & drew it upon Johnson when Luce took the pistol from Gibson & uncooked it & gave it back to Gibson. He then again Cocked it & few words passed & he drew his pistol & shot James Johnson. The ball entered below the Choller bone on the left side. Just escaped the Left Lung broke the upper rib went downward through the body. Dr's France & Anderson was sent For. They Cut out the ball on the right side of the spine of the back."
In 1860 he saved the life of his brother-in-law Bill Hickman. Hickman had been shot by Lot Huntington in December 1859. On 19 January 1860, when Hickman was recovering from his injury, Joe Rhodes tried to enter Hickman's room drunk and armed with two revolvers. Rhodes was apparently afraid that Hickman would reveal Rhodes' duplicity to Cub Johnston. Jason Luce was posted as Hickman's guard at the time. He stopped the attack by stabbing Rhodes 11 times with his bowie knife. Charles Walker wrote in his diary on 20 January 1860: "It seems last night sometime that a man named Joe Rhodes was stabbed in a shocking manner and died very soon after after by one Jason Luce who did it in self Defence. I think if they would drink less whisky and work for their living they would be better off than killing one another." Jason Luce was tried for the murder of Rhodes, and acquitted.
Wilford Woodruff recorded in his diary, 5:416-17, January 1860:
"20 Vary Cold and Frosty. I went to the office in the morning. I there learned that Joseph Rhodes was killed by Jason Luce last evening in Butchers House whare William Hickman lay. Rhodes Came to the House and said he wanted to see Hickman. Luce said he could not. Rhodes swore he would or die on the spot and drew two pistols one Cocked in Each hand and presented them at Luce. Luce drew his knife and sprung at Rhodes and struck him in the Right Breast & the knife went through his body. Ormas Bates sprung at the same time and Caught hold of Each pistol and turned the muzzles up. Luce Continued to thrust the knife into Rhodes and he soon fell and as he began to Fall He snaped the both pistols but the hammer struck Bates Hand and did not go off. Luce Continued to stab him untill he had Eleven gashes through his body.
"I went down to see the Corps. It had been washed and laid on a Board Naked. I never saw a Body so Cut up. The poliece took the body From Hickman to the City Hall whare I saw the Body. Luce gave himself up to the Poliece.
"I spent the day in the office. Luce had his trial in the evening and was acquited upon the plea of self Defense."
Jason was in further trouble later that year. Wilford Woodruff wrote in his diary, 5:480-81, August 1860:
"Aug 5 Sunday I met with my Quorum in the morning. A. O. Smoot Prayed & L W Hardy was mouth. The subjet was spoken off about Jason Luce & Lot Huntington & their party overpowering the Poliece & Jeter Clintons Court one day during the past week. The Mayor will take the matter up to morrow.
"President Young Preached in the forenoon a powerful discourse. He spoke vary plain with regard to the Gentiles. He followed Brother Bywater & H. C. Kimball all of which spoke much to the Edifycation of the people.
"I attended the meeting in the afternoon & herd President Young deliver one of the most Edifying discourses I ever herd in my life. His subject was "what are the pleasures of life." He spoke of Eating & drinking as being two of the greatest pleasurs of the worlding but that pleasure ownly lasts while he is swallowing. He nomanated the various pleasures and a person would soon be saciated in any of them but if a man Enjoyed the spirit & power of God, the Holy Ghost and the gift of Eternal Life it was like a living well of water within him. He was Happy all the time.
"I went home with President Young & took supper with him. I also had a social Conversation with D. H. Wells. The Twelve did not meet in the Prayer Circle as there were none of the Quorum in the City Except Erastus Snow & myself & Brother Snow did not Come. In Conversation with President Young He said in speaking of the Twelve their business was to preach the gospel and they ought to be abroad preaching."
Jason was also involved in the 1861 assault on Territorial Governor John Dawson. He was tried in March 1862, found Guilty, and fined $50. William Hickman appeared before the court, acknowledged himself to be jointly indebted with Jason, and paid the fine and court costs. Jason claimed that Salt Lake City Sheriff Bob Golden had instructed him to arrange for Dawson's beating and promised that the gang would be protected. The accusation created bad blood between Jason and Sheriff Golden and is widely believed to have led to the obviously biased treatment of Jason in another incident. (Hickman 1872, 149-50, 212).
Following his acquittal in the Dawson affair, Jason Luce left Utah for Bannock City, Idaho, where he worked as a driver for the Bannock City Express Company, a stage line that connected Bannock City with Salt Lake City, Utah. In 1862, Jason got into a disagreement with a passenger over a fare. This passenger, Samuel Bunton, gave Jason a severe beating and subsequently threatened to kill Jason at the first opportunity. In early December 1863 Jason returned to Salt Lake City, where on December 7 he encountered Bunton unexpectedly at the Townsend Hotel, on the east side of East Temple Street, Salt Lake City. Witnesses stated that Jason attacked Bunton with a knife and stabbed him three times in the neck and back. Bunton died instantly. Jason was arrested and charged with "knifing to death one Samuel Bunton of Oregon, newly arrived in the city of Salt Lake, " On 15 December 1863 he was indicted for murder and bound over for trial. Bill Hickman was one of his three attorneys. He entered a plea of Not Guilty and petitioned the court for a postponement so that he could bring witnesses William Gutz and John Terrel from Bannock City, Idaho to testify to Bunton's threats against him, but the motion seems to have been denied. A police investigation confirmed that Jason had known Bunton in Bannock City, and Bunton "had attacked him, mal-treated, kicked and trampled him, and threatened him with a knife." The trial began on December 18 and ended the following day: "We the Jury in the above entitled case find Jason R. Luce Guilty as charged in the indictment." On 22 December 1863 he was sentenced to be "shot till dead, within the courthouse yard" on 12 January. A petition was lodged asking that the death penalty be commuted to life imprisonment because of the absence of vital witnesses, but it seems to have been ignored. (People v. Luce).
The following passage are excerpts taken from the Hickman family website from the Civil War newspaper, The Daily Union Vedette (published at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City) describing the murder of Samuel R. Bunting by Jason Luce and Luce's subsequent trial and execution.
Murder. -- On Monday morning last the prevalent quiet and monotony of city life in Salt Lake, was startled by a most wanton and brutal murder. One Jason Luce, a resident of Salt Lake City, was latterly engaged in running the express to Bannack, in broad daylight, on the most frequented thoroughfare, in the door of Townsend's Hotel, attacked Samuel R. Bunting with a large bowie knife, and stabbed his unresisting victim to death. He finally gave himself up to the police; but not 'till after he had brandished his bloody weapon in the air for nearly a quarter of an hour, acknowledging the deed, and apparently gloating over his triumph. On Tuesday, Luce had his examination, before Justice Miner, who committed him to answer at the next term of the Probate court of this county. The testimony adduced on the examination, showed that about 1 o'clock of the day mentioned, Luce met Bunting and after a few words, as the latter turned to pass into the hotel, dealt him a deadly blow in the neck, from behind, nearly severing the head from the body, and followed it up with at least two stabs in the back, driving his bloody weapon to the hilt, and while the victim was prostrate on the floor. The wounded man expired within a few minutes after the first blow was struck, and never spoke, save feebly to cry "murder."
When asked by the Justice if he had any defence to offer, Luce replied that his only witness was at Bannack, and gave his own version of the matter. He says that some weeks since, while at the mines, he was invited by deceased to go home with him to supper; that while at supper deceased asked him if he was a Mormon? Upon replying in the affirmative, deceased jumped upon, beat and stamped him, until he was taken home by some friends. That afterwards he met deceased, when the latter drew a knife and threatened to kill him, and again maltreated him. Seeing the deceased in this city last Monday, Luce approached and asked if his name was Bunting. He replied "yes" "Samuel R. Bunting?" "Yes, " again. "Well, " said Luce, "we have an account to settle, and might as well settle it right here." The deceased then "went for his pistol, " says Luce, "but whether he got it out I don't know; at all events he didn't hurt me much with it." This is the substance of defendant's statement, and almost his exact language. He takes the thing quite cooly, and apparently thinks himself in very little danger of punishment. If every word were true, as Justice Miner remarked, it would not reduce the grade of the offence from murder in the first degree. The assault was wanton, brutal and unjustified in any sense, and it is to be hoped that strict and impartial justice might be meted out to the offender. It struck us as not a little remarkable that the Justice should have bound Luce over to appear before an inferior court, when there will sit in this City in so short a time a court of higher power having jurisdiction of the offence-we mean the U.S. District Court.
The deceased (Bunting) was about 36 years old, recently from Bannack, and lately a Lieutenant in the service of the United States, but was on his way to Missouri to see his aged parents, from whom he had been separated upwards of 14 years. He is represented to have been a quiet, peaceable man, and those who know him cannot place full faith in the story of Luce about the beating and threats while at Bannack. -Union Vedette, Fri Dec 11 1863
To-day, between the hours of 10 a.m., and 2 p.m., unless His Excellency, Governor Reed, shall interfere, Jason R. Luce will suffer the extreme penalty of the law, for the murder of Samuel Bunton, some weeks since. On the 7th of December the murder was committed, in broad day light, on the steps leading to the Salt Lake House. The Grand Jury, the next week, found a true bill against Luce; he was tried almost immediately before the Probate Judge of the county, a verdict of guilty brought in by the Jury, and the Judge, on the 22nd of December, sentenced him to be shot to death on Tuesday, the 12th of January following. We understand that a petition for commutation of sentence has been presented to the Governor, but His Excellency replied in substance, that he had made it a rule in view of the obligations resting upon him under the law, never to interfere with the finding of a Jury or the judgment of the law, except in cases of manifest injustice, or where circumstances or proofs altering the phase of the affair were discovered after the sentence was imposed. As this case came not within this highly proper limitation the Governor declined any intervention, and to-day Jason R. Luce will look the last time upon the scenes of this world. -- The Daily Vedette, Tues Jan 12 1864
THE EXECUTION OF LUCE-HIS LAST SPEECH, ETC.
Yesterday at 12 o'clock, Jason R. Luce suffered the extreme penalty of the law, for the murder of Samuel Brunton. At the hour named, a large number of invited persons (specially notified under the law) were admitted to the Court House, the windows of which opened upon the back yard on the scene of execution. In the yard, attended by Sheriff Burton, the unhappy criminal was seated in a chair, his feet being manacled. His demeanor throughout was cool, calm and collected, evincing the utmost steadiness of nerve. The prisoner briefly addressed the persons present in clear unmingled tones, but with some little emotion. He warned those present to beware of evil associates, as to such influences he laid his present fearful position. In reference to the crime of which he had been convicted, Luce said that his heart was right in the matter, if not his head, and he had evidently impressed himself with the idea, so contrary to all the evidence in the case, that he acted in self-defence. He indulged in some sever remarks concerning those who had professed to be his friends, but who, he said, "had betrayed him." (As it would serve no good purpose, we refrain from specifying the party named by Luce as his betrayer, and whom he said he "desired to brand before the world.") Having concluded his remarks, the cap was drawn over his eyes, and five musket shots were heard at a given signal. The executioners were concealed from view, being stationed in the basement of the Court House, where they fired through the windows. The unfortunate man died without a struggle, each of the five shots having probably entered a vital part. The militia company of the city was posted around the Jail and Court House, to prevent even an attempt at escape, and also to keep off the large crowd whose curiosity to witness such a scent led them to the spot.
The law of this Territory provides that a person convicted of murder in the first degree, might have a choice of deaths, whether by hanging, shooting or being beheaded. As Luce, at the time of sentence, declined to make any choice, it was incumbent on the Judge to determine the means of execution. Judge Smith, therefore, sentenced him to be shot.
It is to be hoped that the awful doom of Luce will have a beneficial effect upon the community, and that the blood-thirsty will restrain their arm when passion, or still more unworthy motives, might impel to deeds of violence and crime. Truly, "the way of the transgressor is hard."
-- The Daily Vedette, Wed Jan 13 1864
THE CONFESSION OF JASON LUCE.
We are reliably informed that Luce, who was executed on Tuesday last, made a full confession as well in regard to the murder for which he was shot, as also to other eventful scenes in his most eventful life. We have made some efforts to obtain this confession or statement, but hitherto in vain. There are many rumors current in the community as to its contents, but we refrain from publishing them at present, trusting that those who have charge of the document will see the propriety of publishing it to the world. If what is freely stated be true, the parties having it in charge have no right to supress it. By so doing they give color to the most exaggerated stories floating about, and only lengthen "rumors lying tongue." We hope the paper will be furnished us for publication, as well in justice to the dead as to the reputation of the living.
THE COUNSEL FOR JASON LUCE.
Yesterday in publishing the remarks of Luce before his execution, we refrained, for manifest reasons, from mentioning the name of the person referred to by Luce as one "who betrayed him unto death."
Mr. Wm. A. Hickman, one of his counsel, however, has called and placed in our hands a copy of the proceedings of the Court and other documents which he thinks fully attest the sincerity and propriety of his action throughout. We have not space to reprint these papers, nor do we deem it necessary, but will give place to any statement which Mr. Hickman desires to make. We understand from him that he purposes to publish a card on the subject in a few days, in response to the strictures of Luce on the day of his execution. Hickman refers all interested to the prior counsel in the case-Judge Appleby.
[Noticed on the same page in an article on the proceedings of the Utah Legislature, 11 Jan 1864:] Councilor Lyman, to whom was referred the petition of Wm. A. Hickman, for a toll road in Tooele county, reported unfavorably to the same. On motion of Councilor Spencer, the report was accepted, and the Committee discharged.
[Elsewhere in the same issue:] We learn that a petition is in circulation in this City for the purpose of raising funds for the destitute family of Jason R. Luce, the unfortunate man who was executed on the 12th inst.
-- The Daily Vedette, Thurs Jan 14 1864
CARD FROM WM. A. HICKMAN
Editor Daily Vedette: Allow me briefly to reply to the scurrilous allegations made by Jason Luce against me at the time of his execution, on the 12th instant. I should, perhaps, regard it as beneath my notice to reply to any such unjustifiable and unfounded statements. What I have done for Jason Luce, is known to hundreds, and when I say that every effort on my part was exerted in his behalf, I state what many in this community know to be the truth. The record of the Court shows my efforts during the trial. After the verdict, I made application to Chief Justice Titus for a writ of habeas corpus, basing the same on the fact that the Probate Court had no legal existance, and certainly had no jurisdiction in criminal cases such as this one, with eight other points fully stated in the application signed by Luce's father. Judge Titus, contrary to my expectations, refused to grant the writ, and then I prepared and circulated a petition to the Governor as a last resort. This too, was refused, and there was no help and nothing further that could be done by me. These facts and bona fide efforts are patent to all, and were known to Luce. The question arises, what worked upon Luce to change his mind and suspect me of unfairness. He was confined in his cell and could know nothing of the matter-except from other parties. Were his suspicions roused by fair means, or by some miserable, sneaking, villifying scoundrel, who thus sought to arouse the hate of the prisoner, and the vindictive passions of his brothers? Was it a mean, grovelling attempt to stigmatize my character, by some whispering, cowardly enemy, or was it the just indignation of a man who had in reality been betrayed? I leave it to the public to judge, conscious of the sincerity of my actions in behalf of Luce, whom I endeavored faithfully to serve, and believe that I did. Were it at all necessary I would refer to the records in the case, to the Governor, to the hundreds whom I brought to sign the petition for commutation of sentence, and to the junior counsel, Judge Appleby. But the whole thing is a fabrication, a mean effort to injure me by men who have not the manliness to openly charge me with what they whispered covertly in Luce's ears. Should a day of reckoning come with these villains, as I hope it might, the whole truth will be exposed, and I will brand them in public as their acts so richly merit.
Whether Luce has made any confession, I do not know. I have tried to find it out, but in vain, and am inclined to think he made no confession, as intimated in your paper.
WM. A. HICKMAN.
[Mr. Hickman might be very honest in that last paragraph, but we happen to know that Luce did make a confession, and also to whom he made it. We hope yet to publish it, when the parties who hold the confession come to appreciate the fact that they are wronging both the dead and the living by withholding it.- Editor Vedette.]
-- The Daily Vedette, Sat Jan 16 1864
Wilford Woodruff recorded in his diary, 6:139-42, December 1863:
Dec 7th 1863 I spent the fore part of the day in the office writing. Jason Luce killed a man in the street by the name of Samuel Burton from Origon. He cut his throat with a Bowe knife. He was immediately arested & imprisioned.
During the Evening G A Smith arived home bringing the Bodies of two dead men viz Ira Jones Willis & his son Cornelius John Willis. Both were turned over together on a load of wood in the Creek near Lehi. The waggon turned bottom side upwards & the men were rolled up in their blankets face downwards in the Creek with the wood on top of them. This was on Saturday night. Quite dark. The oxen Came unhitched & went h[ome. Were?] found at the door in the morning. The bodies were found sunday Morning.
Brother Willis was in the first Company of Saints that gathered at Jackson County. Helped build the first building in Jackson County that the Saints put up. He was in the Mormon Battalion & helped find the first gold in Calafornia. He was whiped by Moses Wilson with Hickory gads & Carried the scars to the grave. He has been true & faithful unto death & will have a Crown of life.
8 The bodies of Brother Ira Willis & son were brought into the Historian office & Exibited to the Jackson County Saints & all others who Called in & were buried about 12 oclok Noon.
Jason Luce was Examined before Orrelius Miner Esqr & was Committed to be tried before the probate Court next Monday.
9 I spent the day mostly at home. I drained some sorgum sugar which I made through Canvass bags.
10 I spent the fore noon Choreing & the afternoon writing.
11 I wrote a Letter to my son Wilford at Liverpool & sent him £6 draft on the Liverpool office. I sent him two sheets one on Temporal & the other on spiritual things.
12 I spent most of the day in the Endowment House. We gave Endowments to 39 persons. W. Woodruff sealed 29 Couple.
13 I met with my Quorum in the morning. W Woodruff prayed. E Hunter was Mouth. I attended meeting at the Tabernacle. Wm C Stanes spoke in the morning O Pratt in the afternoon. I met with the Twelve in the evening for prayer. O Pratt Prayed. G A. Smith was Mouth. I preached in the Evening at the 13 ward followed by Joseph Smith. He spoke vary well.
14 The Utah Legislature met & organized to day. I attended.
Dec 15 1863 I spent the day in the Legislature to day we met in Joint Session and Received the Acting Govornors Message which was vary good Considering a Gentile Govornor.
16 I met with the Council at one oclok & spent the Afternoon in the Legislature & in the Evening I Attended the Musical Consort of O Calder at the Theater. There was 200 girls all dressed in white & 60 young men in dress coats white vests. It was one of the [most] beautiful sights I ever saw. They sung vary well.
17 I spent the fore part of the day in the office the afternoon in the Legislature.
18 I spent the day in the Legislative Council.
19 I preached the funeral sermon of Father Atwood at 10 oclok in the assembly rooms, then went to the Endowment House & sealed 21 Couple. We gave Endowments to 31 persons. I Attended the trial of Jason Luce.
20 Sunday I met with my Quorum in the morning & attended meeting in the Tabernacle. Lorenzo Snow spoke in the forenoon & I spoke in the Afternoon. Presidet Young was present. I met with the Quorum of the Twelve for Prayer in the Evening. There were present O Pratt, J Taylor, W Woodruff L. Snow, & Erastus Snow.
21 I spent the afternoon in the Legislative Council.
22nd I spent the fore part of the day in writing my report to the Legislature.
In the afternoon I attended the Court & heard the Judge Elias Smith Sentence Jason Luce, who had been tried for murder & rendered Guilty of Murder, in the first degree by a Jury of 12 men. The Judge Sentenced him to be shot on Tuesday the 12 of January. He made a few remarks & tryed to Justify himself by saying that what he done He done in self defence &c. When he was taken down into his sell he wept like a child. He told his brother that if He was Executed he must remember that Wm Hickman was the Cause & that he was now deserting him. Hickman & party are holding out the hope to him that He will be reprieved.
23rd The Legislature met to day. Adjourned till Jan 4. There has been a General drive of Horses & Cattle from west of Jordon. They were drove into the public yards by hundreds. Some were killed & maimed. A large share of them find no owners. It is a Bad time of year for a public drive.
24 We had a hard snow storm. I spent most of the day in picking over Appls. I received a letter from my son Wilford in Liverpool. He wrote to his Mother, Sister Bulah, Brother & Sister Smoot, & sister Sayers.
25 Chrismass Morning A Hard snow Storm. I spent the fore part of the day in the office the evening at home.
Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal that he visited Jason in prison and attended his execution, Wilford Woodruff's Journal, 6:150-53, January 1864
Jan 8 A Cold morning. I visited President Young and asked him if He had any Council to give R. Burton Concerning the Execution of Jason Luce Tuesday. He said no not one word. He knows what to do. It will want to be done in Private.
I visited Brother Burton. Then in company with E. F. Sheets & Wm C Stanes we rode to Farmington in a Sleigh & stoped for the night at Ezra Clarks. We attended a Party at the Court House in the Evening. Presidents Young Kimball & Wells were present. We broke up about 10 oclok. 16 miles.
9 Sunday We met at the New Meeting House built by the Saints in the Town of Farmington for the purpose of Dedicating it unto God. Presidet Brigham Young Called the Meeting to order. We then had Singing and I was Called upon to offer the dedication Prayer. I dedicated the House from the foundation to the Top thereof nameing Every thing I Could think of in the Building & the ground upon which it stood. At the Close we had singing. Then Presidet Young spoke to the people a short time followed by Presidet Kimball.
We then had an intermission of one hour after which I spoke to the people 30 minuts followed by E T Benson 15 minutes followed by Brother Fulsome, H. S. Eldridge & President Young Closed & told the Mechanics that He had advised them for years to make their Bins & get wheat for there labor & lay it up [p.150] & they had not done & now he did not Care what they had to pay for bread.
We had a Meeting in the Evening when Elders O Hyde J. Taylor & E. Snow spoke to the people.
10 Sunday We Met at 10 oclok. Joseph W Young Joseph A Young, & Brother Ship spoke in the forenoon. In the Afternoon Wm. C Stanes /D. H. Wells/H. C. Kimball spoke to the people & Presidet Brigham Young made the last speech & gave vary good Advise. He told us how to have peace in our families. We should never let our families see us mad. We should always be kind & mild with them & do what was right & not neglect our Prayers or to ask a Blessing at the Table, but set a good Example before our families. He said that the Sin of Omission would lead to the sin of commission. He Blessed the Assembly & we returned to G.S. L.C. 36 m.
Jan 11 1864 I Called upon Brother Burton & then I Called at the Court House and had another interview with Jason Luce who is sentenced to die tomorrow. He still feels sure that He will not die. He thinks that he has the testimony of the spirit of the Lord that He will live & not die. He said that he was innocent of many things that the people thought he was guilty off. He said that he had never killed any person or had any hand in the death of any person except Rhodes & Bunting & said that he Could not fell that he was guilty of murder in the death of Either of them. He had killed them in self defence. He said Wm. Hickman had advised him to do many things that made his flesh Crawl but he had not followed Hickmans advise in these things. He told the Jailors (which I did not Hear) that Hickman once asked him to go & knock an old man in the Head for no other purpose ownly to obtain an old mare that was not worth more than $30. And He feels that Wm. Hickman has betrayed him and done him much injury & he looks upon Hickman as a vary bad man. He said he would like to see me tomorrow. He thought to day was the time appointed for his Execution untill I told him it was tomorrow.
I went to the Council & spent the afternoon & attended to the business of the day And in the Evening I again Called upon Jason Luce in Company with John Sharp, T. B. Stenhouse R. Burton & many others. G D. Watt being present acted as reporter in taking an account of what Jason Luce would reveal unto us in his last moments.
I Called upon Governor Reed & asked him if he would Commute Jason Luce sentence to the Penetentiary for life as Hickman had held out this promise to Luce. Soon Hickman & Wilford Luce Came in for their answer & Mr Reed told them He Could do nothing in the premises that He Considered that He would be Commiting Crime to Change the sentence of Luce unless he had better ground than any thing He had seen.
So when I arived at the prision in the Evening I told Jason Luce there was no chance for him to live & I wished him to prepare to die. He then spent more than an hour giving us an account of what He had done & what he knew. He said in the Case of Drown & Arnold that Hickman was responsible for their death. He killed them with the help of one or two others. He said Wm. A Hickman robed Carpenter's store took the goods in his waggon & carried them to Huntingtons & from Huntingtons to his house over Jordon & then told Furguson if he would kill Carpenter He would Clear him that He Should not lie in Jail one day. Furguson killed Carpenter & was Hung for it & Hickman made him believe that he would be liberated up to the last minute. Luce said that Hickman Murdered [ ] for no other purpose ownly to obtain his gold watch & money & thinks he has the watch yet.
He said that Hickman was at the head of a Band of thieves. They have stolen as high as 100 Head of Cattle at a time from Camp Floyd & gone out onto the prairie & divided them & taken them to different parts of the Territory. Lute also said that Hickman had many men around him that Had to be fed & that men under him would go onto the range & drive up a Beef & kill & Eat it & sell the Hides or make them into Larretts or throw them away as the Case might be without any regard to whom might be the owners. Luce said that Hickman had been his ruin and the ruin of others and in all these things He had Carried his point by declairing that President Brigham Young had given him Council to do all these things (which is a Cursed lie). Luce made many other remarks which was reported by G. D. Watt.
12 At Eleven oclok I Called at the prision & was with the prisioner untill a few moments before his Execution. His Mother Brothe(rs?] wife & 5 children visited him last night also this morning. He had gotton a woman with Child who was not his wife. He requested his Brothers to take care of this woman & if they were permitted to take more than one wife to take her to wife. He had a vary hard time to part with his wife Children & Friends. He felt to Confess all of his [crimes] and ask the forgiveness of God & all men for all his Crimes. He had worn his garments up to within an hour before his death. I advised him to take it off which He did. He Converse with me untill abut 12 oclok. He asked me to pray with him that he might have strength to go to his Execution & pay the penalty of his Crimes. I prayed with him according to his request & then bid him good by as did others who were with him.
He then walked to his place of Execution. There was a large number out side the wall & some one hundred in the Court House pl(aced?] at the windows to witness the Execution. Jason Luce sat in a Chair with his feet maniceled. He addressed the people a few moments Renounced Wm. A. Hickman as his betrayer bid the People good by. Sherif Burton drew the Black Cap over his face & at a given signal 5 Balls was shot through or near his heart & his spirit left his body without a groan or hardly a movemet of his body. His Corps was taken to the gate & Exhibited to the Croud. It was then taken to his Brothers House & laid out.
13 The body of Luce was buried to day in the burying ground. A subscription was taken up to day for his Family & some $300 was obtained $175 in money. I spent the afternoon in the Council Chamber.
Woodruff wrote that Jason "said he was innocent of many things that the people thought him guilty of Said he had never killed any person or had any part in the death of any person, except Rhodes and Bunton -- he was not guilty, had killed in self-defense. He said Wm. Hickman aroused him to do many things which made his flesh creep but he had not followed Hickman's advice in these things." Woodruff further wrote that according to Jason, Hickman had betrayed him, done him a great injury, and been his ruin and the ruin of others by claiming that Brigham Young had counselled Hickman to do these things. Woodruff characterized this as "a cursed lie." Woodruff goes on to say, "Luce asked me to pray with him that he might have strength to go to his execution and pay the penalty of his crimes. I prayed with him according to his request, and then bade him good-bye as did others who were with him." The editor of Woodruff's journal, Matthias Crowley, notes that there was no request in the prayer that Luce be taken to bosom of Jesus and no promise of a glorious exaltation for him, as he had committed a crime and Woodruff left him to God's mercy, feeling that Jason "had fallen into bad company and become one of a gang of thieves, and disregarding counsel, went finally the way of the wicked." (Cowley). Hickman had a different interpretation: Just at that time the Priesthood need a victim, over whom to make a parade of their zeal in defense of visitors, and "Luce's fate was already sealed." (Beadle).
Brigham Young recorded the execution in his diary on 12 January: Jason Luce executed at noon. His mother, brother [John Martin Luce; Wilford Luce being then still in prison], wife and five children visited his last night and this morning. He requested his brother to take care of a woman he had impregnated. He confessed all his sins and asked God for forgiveness. He addressed the people from his chair -- feet manacled -- pronounced Wm. Hickman his betrayer, he bid the people goodby. His face was covered, 5 balls shot into his heart -- no groan." The Deseret News was more didactic: "On the appointed day and for some days preceeding, Jason showed much contrition of heart for the latter years of his life -- he warned young men against bad associates and attested he had been 'betrayed unto death' by one of his counsel . . . The end of Jason might have been vastly different had he only 'avoided evil associates' for he was a fine hard working man."
A few days following the execution, the Deseret News received a letter from the citizens of Bannock City saying, "Samuel Bunton is a murderer, and a desperado. If he had not been killed in Salt Lake City by Jason Luce, Bannock citizens would have done him in."
Jason Luce was buried in the Lower Stranger's Plot in Salt Lake City Cemetary. Graves in this section are usually unmarked, but Jason's has a gravestone commemorating his service with the Utah State Militia. He is said to have later been pardoned, but the stories vary and I have found no record of this. By one account, the LDS Church delayed his pardon until the day following his execution.
After Jason's execution, local authorities continued to have problems with the Bill Hickman gang. For example, Wilford Woodruff wrote in his diary, 7::36-37, October 1871:
28 October 1871 I met with the school of the prophets. D H Wells was present & spoke & left the school Before it Closed & went into the street & soon after the school was Closed Presidet Daniel H. Wells Hosea Stout, & Wm. Kimball were all three arested for Murder on the Testimony of Wm. Hickman. All three of the Men were as innocent as Children But Wm Hickman is trying to Clear himself by laying all of his damnable Murders upon Innocent Men & the wicked Judges and U.S. Officers in this City are trying to Murder the Innocent & to Clear the guilty.
The above 3 Brethren were Confined in Camp Douglass & it is reported that Presidet Grant is backing up these wicked Judges to persecute the leaders of this People so as to create an open war upon the L D. Saints. We held a Council at Presidet Youngs office in the Evening.
29 Sunday * In Company with H. S. Eldridge & A Carrington I went to Camp Duglass & visited Presidet Wells H Stout & Wm. Kimball who were Prisioners under a Militatry Guard, Indited for Murder who were as innocent of the Crime as the Savior before his Crucifixion. While we were there Elder G. Q. Cannon Came in. Had just arived from Calafornia. Was in a Rail Road Mash up & a Miracle that He was not killed. Quite a Number of the Brethren were in visiting the Prisioners.
At about one oclok we left the Brethren & returned to the City. The Prisioners seemed to Feel Cheerful & fell to trust in God But it was one of the Most wicked persecutions in the annals of time.
Another account, one that puts Bunton in a good light, says:
[I)n late November, [Bill] Bunton made a third enemy who was even more dangerous. After selling out to his two partners, he engaged in a bitter quarrel with the bartender. But since Bunton intended to relocate to Cottonwood, it appeared that the enmity between him and Red Yeager would be of little consequence. Before departing the area, he paid a final visit to one of his favorite haunts, the Bannack racetrack. Sam [Bunton, his brother], who still lived in Oregon but was visiting his older brother, accompanied him, and as fate would have it, Percival also showed up at the track. When Bill greeted the saloonkeeper with the usual "Throw up your hands!" Percival retorted, "That's played out!" The surly response precipitated a quarrel that might have developed into a fatal affray had another racing fan not intervened. "If you want to fight, " Jason Luce said to Bill, "why don't you take a man of your own size, instead of a smaller one?" Though Luce, the express driver, was known as a man of "low caliber and little education" who had enjoyed a "chequered career, " his pointed remark brought Bill to his senses. Shamed at being designated a bully, he promptly extricated himself from the altercation with Percival and, as well, refused to resent the express driver's scorn. Luce, however, interpreted Bill's sudden pacificism as a lack of courage and later in the day approached him and accused him of being a coward. Since Luce was inebriated, Bill simply ignored the remark, but Sam, who was himself a heavy drinker, would not tolerate the insult directed to his older brother. He engaged Luce in a fistfight and soundly defeated him.
The following day, the Bunton brothers parted company. Bill headed for Cottonwood, taking along his horses and young herder, and Sam and his Oregon companion departed for Utah. At 10:00 a.m. on December 7, they registered at the Salt Lake House and that afternoon while walking the streets encountered the Bannack express driver. Luce had been awaiting their arrival, but for some reason, perhaps because he had been drunk during their fight, was uncertain of the identity of the man he was facing. "Is your name Bunton?" he asked. When Sam replied that it was, Luce sprang forward, knife already in hand, and according to witnesses, cut Sam's "neck half off the first lunge."
At the trial held December 29, 1863, Luce admitted his guilt, the jury found him guilty of "wilful murder in the first degree, " and the judge pronounced a sentence of death by either hanging, beheading, or shooting. The choice was left to the condemned man. Though Luce stated that he would prefer to be shot, he was fully confident of a reprieve. And on hearing of Luce's conviction, the vigilantes did prepare a petition, requesting the Utah court to "deal lightly" with the convict since the victim was "a murderer" who belonged to an outlaw band and therefore deserved to have his throat slit. When Utah officials failed to receive the petition, the convict charged that he had been "betrayed unto death" by his own lawyer. At noon on January 12, 1864, Utah authorities led Jason Luce into the courthouse yard, where he was "shot till dead."
At the very time that Luce's trial was proceeding in Salt Lake City, Captain Williams had been on his first trip to Cottonwood -- the fruitless pursuit of Alex Carter. And though Bill Bunton was living in Cottonwood during the vigilantes' two-day spree, they did not at that time regard him as a member of an outlaw gang and therefore did not molest him. But on January 4, Yeager had charged that Bill Bunton was "second in command and stool pigeon, " and the former innkeeper's unpopularity with the vigilante prosecutor could have done him no good. Thus on their January 18 return to Cottonwood, vigilantes had arrested the suspect and taken him to a riverside cabin to hold secret court on his fate.
Within a short time, his jurors concluded that he was "a notorious ruffian and had been mixed up in all sorts of shady adventures, and had a score of killings to his credit." "You should prepare to die, " they informed him.
"I am innocent, " Bunton protested. "You are doing a great wrong. But I know you have made up your minds to get me." Bunton's assumption that his trial was a mere formality was correct. As Williams later admitted, the guilty verdict had been reached earlier in Virginia City, with the defendant "in absentia."
At 10:00 a.m. guards marched the pinioned prisoner behind his store to the butchering scaffold. The structure consisted of two twelve-foot uprights joined at the top by a stout pole on which the butcher would crank up a beef carcass and then suspend it by its heels for skinning and dressing. Between the uprights, the executioners placed two cracker barrels from Bunton's store and covered them with a plank. A large crowd had gathered beyond the party of armed men and stood watching as Bunton climbed onto the plank. With the rope around his neck, the condemned man addressed the audience. His words suggest that despite his "fast habits, " the many hours Elijah Bunton's second son had spent squirming on the rough bench of some primitive meetinghouse while his father preached a protracted sermon had not been a complete waste. "It might never be known in this world, " he said, "but in the next it will be proved that I have never committed a crime or been guilty of an act unjustified." Glancing down at the scant distance between his tall frame and the ground, he added, "But since I am to be hanged, I am sorry that I cannot leap from a precipice 500 feet high instead of being forced to make such a short, uncertain jump." Then he sprang into the air. His neck broke on impact, but like George Lane, his rope had been too long, and by the time his pulse had stopped, his boots were resting on the ground.
After the vigilante guard had departed, Meiklejohn recalled, Bunton's friends cut down his body. "It was placed in a wagon and a dozen men pulled the vehicle to a nearby hilltop, where it was buried on ground that was later occupied by the Sister's academy." Immediately after the burial, the first white woman in Deer Lodge County -- a Mrs. Pelky who was keeping house for a widower and his children -- took an ax, walked to the butcher's scaffold, and chopped down both poles. "Never again, " she said, "will a man be executed on that beef windlass."
From PURSUIT OF MORE SUSPECTS, http://www.montana- vigilantes.org/victims/pursuit.html.
Findagrave.com, Jason Luce
Jason Luce's Timeline
November 18, 1830
North Haven, ME, USA
Salt Lake City, UT, USA
August 28, 1857
Salt Lake City, UT, USA
January 11, 1864
Salt Lake City, UT, USA
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah, United States