. . . On one earlier occasion those who enforced the laws lost control and Cache County witnessed shameful acts of violence. To a degree they were alcohol-related in the initial phase, but mob violence determined the final outcome. On Valentine’s night, 14 February 1873, a number of young men were walking toward a dance being held at Logan Hall. They had been drinking heavily and laughed, jostled, and quarreled as they moved toward the dance. Ten days earlier county coroner Charles O. Card complained to the Logan City Council that brewer Henry Worley was dispensing of his product too freely. The council asked two of its members to see if Card’s accusations were true regarding “frequently large drunken crowds.” Worley was warned, but nothing more.
It is not clear whether David Crockett, Charles Benson, and their [p.96] friends had been at Worley’s or at some other establishment. However, an argument turned nasty and suddenly Benson drew a pistol and shot Crockett in the chest. The gunfire sobered the companions and homeowners came to their doors to check on the commotion. Crockett lay bleeding in the snow; he had died instantly. Benson, a young man with a mean reputation, holstered his gun and ran away. There was no doubt that he had murdered an unarmed man. Benson, the eldest son of deceased apostle Ezra T. Benson, doubled back to his home, reported the event to his mother, grabbed some bread and cheese, wrapped himself in a buffalo robe, and disappeared into the night. For some reason he did not take or even seek a horse, but left on foot. By the time he had left his mother’s home, the community of Logan knew of the murder. Alvin Crockett, the sheriff and uncle of the victim, joined with Logan U.S. Marshal Mark Fletcher to coordinate the search. Crockett wired other communities and reported the slaying. Knowing that Benson was armed, some citizens kept an all-night vigil. Houses were locked and armed deputies prepared for a house-to-house search the next day.
Meanwhile, young Crockett’s body lay in an open coffin in his parent’s home. Hundreds of family, friends, and curiosity seekers filed through the house to view the victim’s remains. Others went to Charles Benson’s home to console his mother. Almost everyone in Logan knew the young men. That Saturday the searchers found no one. On Sunday the search continued and church services were shortened because of the emergency. Rumors spread about sightings and escapes, but there was still no actual sign of Benson. Marshal Fletcher tried to convince the sheriff and others that Benson had to still be in town. As rumors circulated and the search continued, a type of paranoia swept the community.>
[p.97] Moses Thatcher, Captain in Cache Military District, superintendent of ZCMI, official of the Utah Northern Railroad, served in territorial legislature, delegate to the state constitutional convention, and Apostle of LDS church. (Utah State Historical Society)
Charles Benson never left Logan. He hid in Moses Thatcher’s stone barn behind Thatcher’s house. By Monday night the bread and cheese were gone and as he hid beneath hay and the buffalo robe he made a decision. On Tuesday morning he would try to escape during the early hours, because he reasoned vigilance must have relaxed. Benson wanted a horse, so he went to the home of a rancher friend, Fredrick Goodwin. In the predawn hours, Goodwin refused to let Benson in the house and asked him to leave and not cause any more [p.98] trouble for his friends. Benson, still on foot, moved southwest and began following the Logan River. The leafless trees and willows did not afford much shelter, so patrol deputies easily spotted him, summoned the marshal, and, when reinforced, pursued Benson west of Logan. Faced with the inevitable, young Benson surrendered to Fletcher and was taken to the jail in the rear of the original county building.
Unfortunately, a crowd of posse members and town citizens did not disperse but milled around the building reliving the terror and events of the past four days. The anger, hatred, and paranoia combined to turn a crowd into a mob. With the bravado of a mob mentality, some men rushed the building, broke into the cell, and dragged Benson outside. A rope with a tied noose was thrown over the Cache County courthouse signpost. Willing hands put the noose around Benson’s neck and other hands hoisted him up until he strangled. By 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 18 February, Charles Benson was hanging dead at the hands of vigilantes.(25)
That very afternoon coroner Charles O. Card impounded a jury which filed the following summation of the events of that morning: “the said jurors upon their oaths do say that the said Charles A. Benson came to his death from strangulation, caused by a rope around his neck, and that we further find according to the evidence here presented that the said Charles A. Benson unharmed was taken from the officers by a mob with violence and that the said mob hung the said deceased to the sign in front of the county court house until dead.”(26) Three men, Sylvanus Collett, Eli Bell, and O.G. Beach, signed the affidavit. This tragic event led to much criticism, especially from the Salt Lake Daily Tribune. This was still the American frontier in 1873 and, although Logan was considered a religious community, violence still most certainly existed. Arms were plentiful and so was alcohol, which the locals blamed for the tragedy. Nevertheless, the writer for the Tribune made some excellent points about what justice should be, even on the frontier:
The lynching of Charles A. Benson is an act to be deplored, no matter how deserving the criminal might have been. Society must be made secure at any cost, and if lynching once be countenanced [p.99] there is no knowing where it may end, or what moment a mob of irresponsible persons may pounce upon their victims or how soon we may have in Utah a reign of terror. We would earnestly urge all law-abiding citizens to sternly frown down this beginning of lynch law.(27)
David W. Crockett and Charles A. Benson were both buried in the Logan Cemetery. Mary Ann Weston Maughan wrote that Crockett had a “very large funeral,” and that “M. Thatcher, J. Hath, and T. X. Smith spoke and said what could be said to comfort the mourners” at Benson’s funeral.(28) Some perhaps recalled when Thomas Ricks, the sheriff in 1860, had shot David Skeen in a Logan gunfight.
There is no record in county, city, or church archives that any of the mob were brought to justice or demonstrated repentance. The city did respond to two petitions signed by 611 residents who wanted to prohibit the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the city limits as well as shut down any establishment that featured games of chance such as billiards and cards. The council approved both petitions but never really enforced them. Also, they never considered a ban on carrying firearms.(29) . . .Notes
(25) The best account of Charles Benson’s lynching is a series of essays by
A.J. Simmonds, “Looking Back,” Herald Journal, 11, 18, and 25 September 1986.
(26) Cache County Records, 18 February 1873.
(27) Salt Lake Daily Tribune, 20 February 1873.
(28) Mary Ann Maughan, Journal, 22 February 1873, USUSC.
(29) Simmonds, “Looking Back,” Herald Journal, 25 September 1896, USUSC.
Notes by Nicholas W. Crookston (from another source)
“[Benson] lived with his Mother driving a team of mules in the Canyon and done some farming always carrying two revolvers in his belt and bluffed everyone that come his way. He lived accrossed the Street from Bishop Preston and when their pet rabits or chickens went out in the street they were shot by Benson off hand with his revolvers he being an excelent Shot The Bishop remarked that him and Benson could not live much longer in the Same Town.”
Notes from Donald Benson Alder and Elsie L. Alder, The Benson Family
“Charles Augustus Benson was the oldest son born to Ezra T. Benson who lived. He crossed the plains as a boy of 12 with his father and mother, Pamelia. He was endowed 11 April 1856 at the Endowment House when he was 19 years of age. This endowment took place just before his father left for his European mission.
In 1860 at the age of 22, he went to Logan, Utah, with his parents and became a trapper. He owned traps, knives and a gun which were the tools he neede for his occupation. After his father’s death in 1869, he lived in the vicinity of Logan until hs death 18 Feb 1873.”
It must have been difficult for family members to see this happen without Charles having a chance to tell his side of the story. Perhaps some of those who participated in the lynching were fellow ward members. Apparently some members of the family left the Church over the incident. See A. J. Simmonds, The Gentile Comes to Cache Valley: A Study of the Logan Apostasies of 1874 and the Establishment of Non-Mormon Churches in Cache Valley, 1873–1913 (1976), 9–11.