The Justice Files: The last lynching in the west Pt. 2

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – Robert Marshall never got a chance to defend himself.

He was lynched by an angry mob for allegedly killing a lawman. It happened in 1925 in Carbon County.

Two young boys claimed Marshall shot and killed J. Milton Burns, the town marshal of Castlegate. But the boys never witnessed the shooting.

Marshall fled into the hills outide of Castlegate, a mining community near Helper. About three days later, he was found in his cabin.

“Marshall was viewed as the villain,” said University of Utah associate professor Kimberley Mangun. “He was depicted as an assassin, called a murderer even before there was any trial.”

But according to Mangun, Burns was depicted as a family man and a hero.

In 1925, the Klu Klux Klan was known to make its presence felt throughout Carbon County. Many in the community were members, including those who were part of the posse that came after Marshall.

“I don’t think they organized to go pick him up,” said Dr. Steve Lacy, an author and Utah historian. “But they were involved because there were members who pulled him and lynched him.”

After his arrest, authorities brought Marshall into Price. But the mob grabbed him from the backseat of the car before he could be taken into the jail.

“Dad (Craddock M. Gilmour) was 16-years old and walked into a general store with his father, my grandfather in 1925, said Sandy Gilmour, Craddock’s son.

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

Hundreds of people hopped in their cars and took Marshall to a place east of town.

14-year old Francis Prince was headed to the mountains to work on the family farm. His daughter recalled what he once told her.

“He and his friend got caught up in the excitement and the cars and people yelling that they had captured the negro and they just got caught up with it,” said Janet Prince Sparks. “A man gave them a ride and they went with him.”

Former Utah Governor J. Bracken Lee, a native of Price was 27-years old at the time and was an eyewitness to Marhsall’s lynching.

“I saw the man who climbed the tree and was sitting up on the limb, head ahd shoulders up there and he handled the rope,” Lee said.

His statement was from a documentary produced by Lacy.

“Another man put a rope around his neck and then somebody hollered ‘pull him up slowly.'” said Lee. “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.'”

From his research, Lacy said Marshall was hanged three times. Those in charge realized Marshall was still alive when they brought him down the first time. He was strung up again, according to Lacy.

“They dropped him again to snap his neck,” Lacy said.

Marshall was lifted once more and dropped again. After the third time, Marshall was dead.

“It was violent because there was between 800 and a thousand people that witnessed it,” Lacy said. “People brought their picnic lunches because they knew something was going to happen.”

On June 18, 1925, Robert Marshall was left hanging from a cottonwood tree for all to watch.

The young Francis Prince who never offered details of the lynching to his family, had nightmares.

“He went up to the mountains by himself and all night long dreamed of lynchings and of hangings,” said his daughter Janet P. Sparks. “It was very frightening to him.”

There was a photographer present at the lynching and was taking pictures. Lacy said an hour later the photographer made copies and sold pictures of the hanging for twenty-five cents and postcards were sold for fifty cents.

“The public became quite concerned over the fact that the lynching would bring negative attention to the state of Utah in particularly to the town of Price and the residents of Carbon County,” Mangun said.

Then Governor George Dern was horrified and believed the lynching would tarnish Utah’s image. He called for investigaton.

“The newspaper announced the arrest of eleven Carbon County citizens,” Mangun said. “They were called Carbon County’s finest citizens.”

But from the outset, there was a wall of silence.

“The sheriff deputies who were there claimed they didn’t know who was responsible,” Mangun said.

A grand jury was convened and 125-people were called in to testify. One of those was future Governor Lee.

“They, almost every one of them was friends of mine to some degree,” Lee said. “And the only excuse I had given was I said ‘there were so many people out there that I may make a mistake and I just can’t tell you who.'”

No one would talk and the case against the eleven was dismissed.

“Most everyone knew who had done it,” said Mangun. “But they closed ranks. They did not identify anyone.”

Lacy, who grew up in Price, wrote a book about the lynching. He claimed to be good friends with Governor Lee.

“He was afraid for his life,” Lacy said. “(It’s) because there were a lot of big-time older guys that were involved in crime in Carbon County.”

After the eleven men were set free, the case was closed. There was no justice for either men.

“You have to realize that two lives were snuffed out horribly in that instance and it should never have happened,” said SueAnn Martell, director of the Eastern Utah Tourist and Historial Association.
“It never should have happened the way it did.”

And the lynching was tucked away in the annals of Utah history. But in 1998, it resurfaced.

“The original gravesite was a plain laying of grass,” said retired pastor France Davis of the Calvary Baptist Church. “(There was) no indication of who was buried there or if anybody was there. It was just grass.”

Marshall’s grave was about to change. Wednesday, in ‘The Justice Files’ continuing story of the “Last Lynching in the West,” the 1998 day of reconciliation.

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