Division of Archives and Records Service

New Transcription Project: The State of Utah vs. Joe Hill

Lauren Katz
February 4, 2021

Do you know the story of Joe Hill? Did you know that the Utah State Archives has a rich collection of records that illuminate the case of Joe Hill, the international controversy it engendered, and the worldwide response and publicity his trial and subsequent execution generated?

Joseph Hillstrom (also known as Joe Hill) was born in 1879 in Gävle, Sweden and immigrated to the United States in 1902. He worked in a variety of jobs including laborer, miner, lumberman, and longshoreman. The often brutal working conditions he witnessed led him to join the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) where he became a renowned singer and songwriter of the early 20th century labor movement.

In 1913, Joe Hill came to Utah and found work in the mines in Park City. On January 10th, 1914 a murder was committed in Salt Lake City that resulted in the deaths of grocery store owner John Morrison and his son Arling. The same night, Joe Hill appeared at the office of doctor Frank M. McHugh, with a gunshot wound to the chest. Suspicion soon fell on Hill as a suspect for the murder of Morrison and his son, based on the gunshot wound (which would have been inflicted from return fire from Morrison), and circumstantial evidence brought to trial.

Hill was convicted of the murders of the Morrisons and his execution was scheduled for late 1915. The trial engendered international debate over Hill’s conviction and whether his activity as a labor organizer had made him a target of political and business interests in the west. But while the execution was delayed, the conviction was not overturned, and Hill was executed by firing squad at the Utah State Prison in Sugar House on November 19, 1915.

Kept in the Utah State Archives permanent repository, our Joe Hill-related records have been digitized and can be found in our Digital Archive. Now for the first time, we are asking the public for help in transcribing these historic documents! There are three collections we’re starting with:

Governor Spry Joseph Hillstrom Case Records

Case records (1915-1916) gathered by Utah Governor William Spry’s office at the time of Joe Hill’s trial and execution. This series includes newspaper clippings, a funeral oration for Hill, essays on radicalism, and reports from private detectives (written shortly before and after Hill’s execution) that describe their surveillance activities on the Salt Lake City headquarters of the Industrial Workers of the World.

Governor Spry Joseph Hillstrom Petitions

Petitions from across the world to Utah Governor William Spry protesting the conviction and/or execution of Joe Hill, as well as pleas for Governor Spry to commute the sentence.

Governor Spry Joseph Hillstrom Correspondence

Correspondence (1914-1916) both to, and from, the office of Utah Governor William Spry concerning the Hill case. As chief executive officer of the state, the governor had the authority to commute Hill’s sentence. The conviction and execution of Joe Hill became one of the most controversial criminal cases in Utah history; it generated national and international interest. Correspondence in this series is most often in the form of letters, postcards, and telegrams.

Once you choose a collection and click on the Start Transcribing button, you will be taken to FromThePage, which is online software for transcribing documents and collaborating on transcriptions with others. You can transcribe anytime, anywhere! All you need is a computer with internet, the ability to read 19th and 20th century handwriting, and an interest in Utah history.