The Justice Files: The Last Lynching in the West Pt. 3

Justice Files

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – In 1998, a Salt Lake City lawyer wanted a day of reconciliation on behalf of Robert Marshall.

In 1925, Marshall was hanged for allegedly killing J. Milton Marshal, a law enforcement officer in Castlegate.

The mining town was located near Helper in Carbon County. Today, it’s considered a ghost town.

But Marshall never got a trial. On June 18, 1925, a mob kidnapped and lynched him after he was arrested.

Former Utah Governor J. Bracken Lee who was from Price, was 27-years old at the time and watched.

“Another man put a rope around his neck and then somebody hollered ‘pull him up slowly,'” Lee said during a 1988 documentary. “And this fellow said ‘let him hang there for a while.’ And they tied the rope to a fence post and let him suffer. and then somebody said ‘shoot him.’ (Another said) ‘no, let him suffer.'”

Eleven were arrested but charges were dropped when witnesses refused to talk.

“It was considered this wall of silence,” said Kimberley Mangun, a University of Utah associate professor of communications. “This community was closing in and protecting its own. It was
not uncommon.”

For years, Marshall’s body lay in an unmarked grave in price

“It was an atrocity and it always bothered my dad,” said Sandy Gilmour.

His father, Craddock Matthew Gilmour was a well-known Salt Lake civil rights attorney. He championed the black community.

“Dad was deeply angered by the lack of justice,” said his son.

The elder Gilmour grew up in Price. At 16-years old, he learned there was about to be a lynching.

“He saw a man buying rope and they asked ‘what’s going on?’ recalled Sandy Gilmour. “And he said ‘there’s going to be a lynching. There’s going to be a necktie party.'”

Gilmour said his father never forgot the lynching and it bothered him all his adult life.

“Dad always believed the town of Price in Carbon County needed to come together to acknowledge the wrong that had been done and to say this was never going to happen again,” Gilmour said.

In the late 1990’s Craddock Gilmour was inspired by then-President Bill Clinton’s message on race relations. He met with former pastor France Davis of Salt Lake Cavalary Baptist church and the day of reconciliation was born.

“The original gravesite was a plain laying of grass,” said Davis. “No indication of who was buried there, or if anybody was there.”

On April, 4, 1998, the 30th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, a headstone bearing the name of Robert Marshall was unveiled at the Price cemetery.

“We do not come to this community to be a burden but rather to see if we can come help to lift and lighten the load,” Davis told the gathering in 1998.

Later that night, justice for Marshall was celebrated at a local catholic school.

“The only way that a community can recover from this is to go public and acknowledge and confess that things were done that not ought to have been done,” Matthew Craddock said at the 1998 ceremony.

But not everyone in Price embraced the day of reconciliation. The local newspaper questioned why history needed to be replayed.

In an editorial, the paper claimed most believed Marshall was “guilty.” The lynching “horrified” people. But it “wasn’t racially motivated.” There was “no need to reconcile,” the editorial said. “All of us have ancestors who were wronged. Are we expected, as descendants to demand restitution?”

Pastor Davis remembered seeing bomb sniffing dogs and police on rooftops that day.

“There had been threats from the local community against myself and the man who was making the marker,” said Davis.

It was a bittersweet day for Gilmour.

“Dad was satisfied that his job was done,” said Sandy Gilmour. “He was disappointed that not everybody in Price felt the same way.”

It’s been twenty-two years since the day of reconciliation. Most don’t know about the lynching. But those who do said Carbon County learned from its dark history.

“We’ve really been taught by our family, our fathers and mothers how to accept people,” said Price mayor Michael Kourianos. “That’s what I really feel in our community. We’ve grown.”

These days, there’s uncertainty where the real hanging tree is. Some believe its a decayed tree stump on Highway 6 east of Price.

But Dr. Steve Lacy, a native of Price, said he once spoke with Castlegate’s town doctor. Lacy said the tree is north of the tree stump along Highway 6.

What is known is that nearly a century ago, the last lynching in the west took place in Carbon County.

“It’s a sad commentary about our history but it also needs to be remembered,” said Sueann Martell, director of the Eastern Utah Tourist and Historical Museum. “You have to realize that two lives were snuffed out horribly in that instance and it should never have happened. It never should have happened the way it did.”

J. Milton Burns seemed forgotten in all this. His father was also a lawmen killed in the line of duty in the late 1800’s. Attempts to reach his descendants were unsuccessful.

As for Robert Marshall, his family may never have even known that he was lynched. No one has ever found them.

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