Division of Archives and Records Service

The People versus Frank Smiley: Investigating an 1894 Sodomy Crime in Territorial Utah

Guest Author
September 6, 2022

This blog post was written by Randell Hoffman, a 2022 summer intern at the Utah State Archives and Records Service. They are working on their Master of Archives and Records Administration degree at the San José State University School of Information. They focus particularly on community archives and community involvement in archival processes, as well as Utah’s LGBTQIA+ history. 

Who Was Frank Smiley?

Frank Smiley was born to Irish immigrant parents in San Francisco, California in 1875. Frank first appears in the 1880 U.S. Census with his family at 114 Langton Street.[efn_note]U.S. Census Bureau, Ancestry, 1880 U.S. Census, Enumeration District 150, page 9, Accessed 31 May 2022.[/efn_note] His father, William Smiley, is listed as the widower head of the house. Frank’s mother is never listed in census records. We know from his 1941 death certificate that her name was Mary Donohue, born in Indiana. Frank’s siblings (Matilda “Tille,” 7, and Harry, 8) were also living with five step-siblings who all had the last name of Cole. William was a laborer and worked odd jobs to support the family and Frank would later follow a similar line of work. They both likely faced the same immigrant stereotypes and anti-Irish discrimination throughout their lives.

Later census records repeatedly show that Frank could read and write, thanks to his eighth-grade education. Frank probably left San Francisco for Utah soon after he finished his schooling, which would have been by at least 1890. The earliest record of Frank in Utah is a news article from the Salt Lake Herald-Republican, printed on 23 July 1893. [efn_note]Salt Lake Herald-Republican, Williams Not In It, 23 June 1893.[/efn_note]. Frank was a boxer, possibly as a pastime or evening side job. [efn_note] Utah Territorial Prison Inmate Commitment Register (1888 – 1896), courtesy of Utah State Historical Society, page 310.[/efn_note]. As other records indicate, he was also a hotel hand. That evening he went face-to-face with Lester Lord. They were respectively nicknamed the San Francisco Kid and the Milwaukee Kid. The Herald-Republican reported that they went through three “unpolished” sparring rounds when Smiley ultimately wrapped up the match and won. 

Aside from this Herald-Republican article, an information gap exists between Frank’s life growing up in San Francisco and his ‘new’ life in the Ogden area. There is no indication as to why the teenager moved east to Utah during a prominent time in California. 

1890s Utah

Photo of Frank Smiley in his prison uniform.
Photo of Frank Smiley (17), Utah Penitentiary Inmate Intake Log, Utah State Archives.

When Frank arrived in the early 1890s, Utah was still a territory despite its initial 1847 settlement and seven bids for statehood; this was largely because of biases against and general misunderstandings about the Latter-day Saint Church, but mostly because of the practice of polygamy. In the nearly 50 years since Brigham Young and his wagon company entered the Salt Lake Valley, the territory had a diverse and booming economy which attracted people from near and abroad, as well as a buzzing political landscape. Utah was not granted statehood until January of 1896. This was the Utah in which Frank Smiley and Willis Clark found themselves.

While the Salt Lake Valley was very well known at the time for its large LDS settlement, several other towns and communities had grown up in Salt Lake’s backyards for the non-LDS, the non-conformists, and those who had left the faith. Ogden, Park City, and Corrine are examples of small settlements which attracted people from around the country and the world, creating a diverse blend of non-LDS people in territorial Utah. Ogden was designated as a major stop on the east-west rail line, with a south-bound track leading to Salt Lake City. Ogden’s economy depended on a population from all around the world and had many restaurants, bars, shops, hotels, and boarding houses. Frank may have been attracted to an area like this, rather than a predominantly LDS community like Salt Lake City, where he might not fit in. Frank does not appear in LDS Church records and can be assumed as not of the faith. It may have also been a convenient place to settle if he had taken the railroad to Utah from California. 

What We Know About Willis Clark

Unlike Frank Smiley, his sexual partner, Willis Clark, was able to avoid the headlines and the criminal records. Between their arrest in November 1894 and Frank’s court hearings in mid-December 1894, there are no records of Clark outside of what was printed in newspapers across the state, indicating he was let free. [efn_note] Fourth District Court Minute Book (1892 – 1895). Courtesy of Utah State Historical Society. Pages 366, 369, 371.[/efn_note]. We do know that Frank and Willis were involved with each other sexually from the ‘local briefs’ columns in several major local newspapers. These columns mostly covered police and court events to update the community. The actual arrest record no longer exists. Unfortunately, this means very little identifying information on Willis Clark exists today. The few pieces left offer a small view into who he may have been. 

The earliest record of Willis Clark is the 1892 city directory for Ogden, which lists him as a lather in the city. [efn_note]Ogden, Utah, City Directory, 1892, Ancestry,[/efn_note]. There is no work address provided, but his residence is listed as a rented, furnished room at 2463 Grant Avenue, run by Mrs. Ada Smith and now demolished. No further residence can be found for him in Ogden or elsewhere.

On 23 November 1894, The Salt Lake Herald-Republican published the following in their ‘Local Briefs’ column:

‘Frank Smiley, commonly known as the “Smiler,” the young man arrested in Salt Lake on a charge of committing an unnatural crime with a little negro boy in Ogden, was arraigned before Commissioner Ternes yesterday and held in $1,000 bonds to await the action of the grand jury.’[efn_note]Salt Lake Herald-Republican, Local Briefs, 23 November 1894.[/efn_note].

The Salt Lake Herald-Republican, November 23, 1894

This is the only report to mention Clark’s race. His description as a “little boy” does not match his being gainfully employed and residing alone in a board house. Since there are no other official, recorded indications regarding Willis’ race or background, this cannot be cross-referenced and verified. 

As the sodomy law was written at the time, Frank was apparently considered the perpetrator, with Willis as the passive victim. The victim would not have been brought up on criminal charges, which is most likely why Clark was able to walk free and Smiley faced the prison sentence.[efn_note]The Compiled Laws of the Territory of Utah, Containing All the General Statutes Now In Force, 1876, S.J. Quinney College of Law, The University of Utah, page 590.[/efn_note].

Michael Quinn, historian and professor credited with opening up historical research on Gay and Lesbian Utahans, initially researched these two young men in the 1990s and briefly wrote about this case. He interpreted Frank’s guilty plea as Frank coming forward so that Willis could go free, possibly in a romantic manner.[efn_note]D. Michael Quinn, Same-Sex Dynamics Among Nineteenth Century Americans: A Mormon Example (University of Illinois Press, 2016), page 288.[/efn_note]. I disagree with Quinn’s interpretation. Instead, I believe the evidence suggests that Frank’s guilty plea, romantic or otherwise, aligns with the context of his arrest as the perpetrator of the crime as written in the territorial sodomy statute. Willis, having been determined the victim by the statute, was freed under that same context. The majority of men arrested for sodomy pleaded guilty, as well. 

The only other written record of the name “Willis Clark” is found in a series of arrests of “inmates of a house of ill fame” or “repute” (vernacular terms for a brothel) in 1903 in Park City.[efn_note]Park City, Utah, Police Department, Register of Arrests (1892 – 1904), 159, 161 – 162, 166 – 167.[/efn_note]. Willis Clark was regularly arrested with these women and had his fines paid every time. This pattern reflected the local practice of police making arrests to ensure their jobs were being done on paper, while letting the prosperous brothel business continue. Doing so prevented local men from spending their time and money off in the far away Salt Lake City brothels and bars. 

At the top of the arrest records created by Park City Police Department are several women’s names arrested for prostitution. Willis’ name is listed as well. Courtesy of the Park City History Museum’s Research Center.

Park City, much like Ogden, was an exception to the Mormon-settler stereotype. A mining town, Park City developed its fame on its wealth, employment prosperity, and its diversity, although small in population.[efn_note]The 1900 census recorded over 3,700 Parkites. World Population Review. Accessed 31 July 2022.[/efn_note]. Early census records show a clear and very high concentration of men, allowing brothels to move in and make excellent profits.

Rachel Urban owned and operated the longest-running, most successful brothel in the city. Eventually forced to move to the other side of the train tracks (now Rossi Hill Drive), Urban remained an advocate and motherly protector of her employees; they were not allowed to go into town and were required to maintain high standards of manners, cleanliness, and decorum.[efn_note]Chris McLaws. The Madam. Park City Museum, 23 March 2016. Accessed 2 June 2022.[/efn_note]. According to recorded oral histories, Rachel Urban did have a male employee who would run errands in town. Although there is no record of the employee’s identity.[efn_note]Judy Dykman. “OH2013.9.” By Larry Warren, courtesy of Park City Museum.[/efn_note]. This could have been Willis. I also hypothesize that Willis could have also worked as a sex worker in the brothel for the local patrons. The 1899 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows a row of “female boarding houses” on Heber Avenue, just at the mouth of Deer Valley in Park City.[efn_note]Dalton Gackle, historian of Park City, wrote that “[the] most well-known “lady of the night” in Park City’s history is Rachel Urban – or, as most knew her, Mother Urban. Mother Urban was a madam active from about 1910 until her death in 1933.”[/efn_note]. The 1900 census also shows several single women living along Heber Avenue, though Urban and her family are not listed with these buildings.[efn_note]Sanborn Map Company. Park City, Summit County, Utah, 1883. Courtesy of Western Americana Division, Special Collection, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah. (Accessed July 2022).[/efn_note].

The Law That Imprisoned Frank Smiley

The territorial government and the legislature had passed several laws regarding sodomy. The first was written in 1851 and banned any sex between men.[efn_note]Laws and Ordinances of the State of Deseret (Utah) Compilation 1851. Shepherd Book Company, courtesy of S.J. Quinney College of Law, The University of Utah, page 30.[/efn_note]. In the subsequent legislative session, no sodomy law was added to the law books, making it legal. This lasted until 1876 when another, more thorough sodomy statute was written. It was under this 1876 law that, in 1894, Frank Smiley and Willis Clark were arrested:

“Every person who is guilty of the infamous crime against nature, committed with mankind or with any animal, is punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary not more than five years.”

“Any sexual penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete the crime against nature.”[efn_note]The Compiled Laws of the Territory of Utah, Containing All the General Statutes Now In Force, 1876, S.J. Quinney College of Law, The University of Utah, page 590.[/efn_note].

Laws of the Territory of Utah, 1876

In the thirty-one years this law was in effect, only a few cases were recorded. In 1881, Dr. McClanahan was arrested because one of his patients died under mysterious circumstances. While in the Provo jail cell, he sexually assaulted a young man and was brought up on sodomy charges. [efn_note]D. Michael Quinn, Same-Sex Dynamics Among Nineteenth Century Americans: A Mormon Example (University of Illinois Press, 2016), pages 275, 297 – 298.[/efn_note]. According to the Utah Territorial Prison Inmate Commitment Register, Sidney Pickering was also found guilty of sodomy in 1882.[efn_note]Utah Territorial Prison Inmate Commitment Register (1875-86). Courtesy of Utah State Historical Society. Pages 50, 89. (See Quinn, 275, 298, 362).[/efn_note]. And in 1891, William D. Burton and a man listed as “Hamilton” were caught having sex behind the Keystone Saloon, which backed up to today’s Regent Street in Salt Lake City. They were fully acquitted by an all-LDS jury.[efn_note]D. Michael Quinn, Same-Sex Dynamics Among Nineteenth Century Americans: A Mormon Example (University of Illinois Press, 2016), pages 284, 305, 308.[/efn_note].

Frank Smiley and Willis Clark were arrested in November of 1894 by Ogden Police, but any official documentation of the arrest is missing. On 13 December 1894, only Frank Smiley was brought to court in Ogden. Reporting back to court with his assigned counsel at 10 am the next day, 14 December 1894, Smiley pleaded guilty to his crime.[efn_note]Fourth District Court Minute Book (1892 – 1895), courtesy of Utah State Historical Society, pages 366.[/efn_note]. In the court minutes book is written the following about his sentencing hearing on 15 December 1894:

“The defendant in this Cause being personally present in court and ready for sentence, therefore the Court render its judgment; That Whereas the defendant Frank Smiley having been duly convicted in the Court of the crime of Buggary, by his plea of Guilty, it is therefore ordered and decreed that said Frank Smiley be sentenced to the Penitentiary at Salt Lake County, Utah Territory, for the term of three (3) years.”[efn_note]Fourth District Court Minute Book (1892 – 1895), courtesy of Utah State Historical Society, pages 371.[/efn_note].

Fourth District Court Minute Book, December 15, 1894

Terminology regarding what we call homosexuality was so uncertain, various terms were often used interchangeably, including buggery or ‘buggary.’ Smiley’s prison intake record at the State Penitentiary even has ‘Burglary’ crossed out and was replaced by ‘Buggery.’

Frank was only seventeen years old when he entered the Utah State Penitentiary. He would turn eighteen the following February and would be about twenty by the time he was released from prison.

The minute book from Commissioner Terne’s territorial court room where Frank’s sentence was recorded. Courtesy of Utah State Archives.


Gravestone of Frank T. Smiley
Frank Smiley’s veteran tombstone in San Bruno, California. Courtesy of Find A Grave.

With a large and still growing population in the territory, there were assuredly many more instances of same-sex romance, love, desire, and intercourse. With such identities and attractions ignored, shamed, and made illegal, we have very few records of the existence of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Utahns. What we do have are the criminal records proving and memorializing their historical presence. We can only surmise the possibility of romance or even long-term commitments. Finding someone else attracted to the same gender in a place and time when there were no words to describe themselves or places to meet similar people would have been as exhilarating and hopeful as it was complicated. Being criminalized and found guilty of this with your partner, romantic or otherwise, could have included a deeper commitment to protecting the other or staying in contact.

Willis Clark’s fate and life are uncertain. Frank, however, eventually moved back to San Francisco to live with a step-sister and her family for several decades. During that time, he joined the U.S. Armed Forces,[efn_note]U.S., National Cemetery Interment Control Forms, 1928-1962. Frank Smiley, 1941. Accessed 7 July 2022.[/efn_note]. served in the Philippines, and later worked as a laborer. He was last listed living as a lodger in 1940. At the time he was unemployed and had not worked for over a year.[efn_note]U.S. Census Bureau, Ancestry, 1940 U.S. Census, Enumeration District 38-222, page 81B. Accessed 31 May 2022.[/efn_note]. Frank died in June of 1941 of “Chronic myocarditis, chronic cardiovascular disease, chronic bronchitis, and hypertension” at the age of sixty-six.[efn_note]San Francisco County, Death Certificate of Frank T. Smiley.[/efn_note]. He is buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California.[efn_note]Find a Grave Index, Ancestry. Sgt. Frank T. Smiley. Accessed 21 May 2022.[/efn_note].