The Justice Files: The forgotten man

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Courtesy: J. Marriott Library

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) –  J. Milton Burns died with little fanfare.

Very little was written about him following his murder.  

In 1925 he was shot to death while making his nightly rounds in Castlegate near Helper.  

A miner, Robert Marshall was arrested and later lynched by an angry mob. 

“(Robert) Marshall was the villain,” said Kimberley Mangun, a University of Utah professor of communications. “He was depicted as an assassin, called a murderer even before there was any trial. Burns was on the other hand depicted as a family man, as a hero.”

Burns was shot multiple times and was taken to the hospital where he died.  

According to historical accounts, Marshall and Burns had clashed days before. Burns attempted to take Marshall’s gun away from him. Marshall protested and became angered.

He fled but was arrested based on the statements of two young boys who di don’t actually witness the shooting.

On June 18, 1925, Marshall was kidnapped by the mob following his arrest and hanged east of Price. 

Dr. Steve Lacy,  “It was a violent time out there,” said Dr. Steve Lacy, an author and historian.

Burns’ father, James Christopher Burns was Sanpete County’s sheriff in the late 1800s. Both were killed in the line of duty.  Those who killed his father were never brought to justice.

Dr. Steve Lacy, author, historian: “They knew who had done it but couldn’t catch up to them,” said Lacy. “The Burns family suffered a lot.”

J. Milton Burns was buried in the Mt. Pleasant cemetery with very little fanfare. Sanpete County’s former sheriff once met Burns’ daughter.

“She could remember the train coming to Sanpete County carrying her father’s body,” said Charles Ramsey.

In 1988, Sanpete County honored three fallen officers including Milton and Christoper Burns. Mt. Pleasant marshal Lon T. Larsen was also honored that day. 

“As far as we knew there had never been any ceremony honoring any of them,” said Ramsey.  “Deputy sheriff Rod Nordell put the whole thing together.”

According to the local newspaper, Ramsey presented plaques for both men to Helen Larsen, Milton’s daughter.  J. Christopher Burns was also her grandfather.  The plaques were then donated to the police departments for display.

Ramsey met Milton’s daughter at the ceremony and later drove her back to her Nevada home.

“Milt’s daughter said she could remember when he was sheriff over here in Sanpete, that she’d go on patrols with him or answer calls with him,” said Ramsey.

In the 1990’s the rest of the state learned of the two law enforcement officers.    There was a ceremony at the state capitol where the names of father and son were placed on the memorial wall honoring fallen officers.

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