Crime in Utah Primary Source Set

About Crime in Utah

Criminal Register of Action book

Throughout Utah’s history there have been many interesting and tragic crimes, criminals, and convictions. Some people have become mythic figures as romanticized outlaws in Utah history, while others have become infamous for murders. Looking into crime in the past can help us better understand history and how our society has changed over time. It can help us to understand a range of issues, such as systemic racism, prohibition, child welfare, robbery, labor workers, and more. This primary source set contains information on infamous criminals and crimes, including Joe Hill, Butch Cassidy, John D. Lee and the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and lesser-known cases that have been largely forgotten.

Resources for Historical Context

Elementary School Students

Secondary School Students

Discussion Questions

After reading through these primary sources, discuss these questions in groups to better understand the history of the crime in Utah.

Elementary School Students

  1. Regarding the Joe Hill case, do you think this same issue would happen today?
  2. How is the criminal justice system different today than it was at previous times in Utah?
  3. How was western expansion related to the Mountain Meadows Massacre?

Secondary School Students

  1. What does the Joe Hill case show about politics and fear in the early 1900s?
  2. Why did the Joe Hill case garner world-wide attention?
  3. How have famous criminals and cases, like Butch Cassidy and the Mountain Meadows Massacre, impacted modern views of these figures and issues?

Teaching and Learning

Tags: Joe Hill, Butch Cassidy, John D. Lee, Mountain Meadows Massacre, Pardon Applications, Crime.

Utah Core State Standards for Social Studies

  • United States History I, Strand 6: Expansion
  • Fourth Grade Standard II
  • Utah History, Strand 3: Utah in the Union

Written by Mariah Todd
Originally published in October 2020

Primary Source 1

Death certificate for Joe Hill
Series 81448 Box 18 Folder 32, November 19, 1915

Description: Death certificate of Joe Hill from 1915.

Analysis Questions

  1. How was Joe Hill killed?
  2. From what you know about Joe Hill, why did he die in this way?

Primary Source 2

Plea to indictment by John D. Lee

Series 24291 Box 4 Folder 12

Description: A statement from John D. Lee regarding his indictment in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

Analysis Questions

  1. How did John D. Lee react to his indictment?
  2. Was John D. Lee alone in his actions during the Mountain Meadows Massacre?

Primary Source 3

Indictment of Butch Cassidy from 1897

Series 4031, Image 1

Description: Indictment of Butch Cassidy from 1897.

Analysis Questions

  1. What crime was Cassidy indicted for?
  2. Why is Butch Cassidy still a well-known figure today?

Primary Source 4

Pardon application

Series 328, Reel 1

Description: Pardon application for Eliza Beardall in 1895.

Analysis Questions

  1. What reason did Polly give to have Eliza pardoned?
  2. What does this case show about the role of women and the state of child welfare in the late 1800s?

Primary Source 5

These letters are between President Woodrow Wilson, Utah Governor Spry, and the Swedish Minister in 1915.

Series 2941, Reel 1 (Box 1 Folder 1)

Description: These letters are between President Woodrow Wilson, Utah Governor Spry, and the Swedish Minister in 1915.

Analysis Questions

  1. Why were other leaders in the world contacting the Utah governor?
  2. Why did the Joe Hill case garner international interest (see the Resources for Historical Context for more information)?

Primary Source 6

Mugshot and arrest records from Ogden Police.

Series 13300, Box 6 Folder 14, Image 633

Description: Mugshot and arrest records from Ogden Police.

Analysis Questions

  1. Why was E.J. Davidson arrested?
  2. What does this source show about crime in Utah during Prohibition?

Primary Source 7

Pardon application

Series 328, Reel 1

Description: This pardon application from 1895 consists of a letter that was written by Eliza Beardall’s 13-year-old daughter Polly.

Analysis Questions

  1. What does this source show about the role of women in Utah currently?
  2. Has the Utah government changed since 1895 in regard to child welfare? If so, in what ways?

Primary Source 8

Court document on John D. Lee

Series 6645, Reel 1 (Box 1 Folder 36)

Description: This source is a petition from people in New York state who opposed the conviction of Joe Hill.

Analysis Questions

  1. Why were so many of the petitioners who defended Joe Hill part of unions?
  2. What does this source teach us about political differences and unions in America in the early twentieth century?
  3. Could Hill’s status as an immigrant have impacted this event? If so, how?

Page Last Updated October 6, 2020.