Monday, February 23, 2009

Witness - John F. Henschen

The following appeared in the Nashvile Republican Banner on 23 August 1884. It is reportedly a reprint from the Indianapolis News from "yesterday"

John F. Henschen, who is running a saw-mill at Ivy Mills, Hickman county, Tenn., is in town, visiting his family. He was an eye-witness to the shooting of the Mormon elders last Sunday week, and his description of the affair is graphic. The elders had been proselyting in that section for a long time, and the prejudice against them was intense, under the belief that they were influencing young girls to immigrate to Utah. A church which they bult was burned down three times, and then they continued their meetings in Martin Condor's house. Condor and his half brother, Riley Hutson, were in Henschen's employ. Both were proselytes. A warning had been given them that no more meetings would be tolerated, and notice was sent to Gibbs, one of the elders, that tar and feathers awaited him. Gibbs made answer that his field was Tennessee, and the more he was threatened the harder he would work. Right here he intended to stay, if he died on the spot. Sunday morning, as Henschen was riding near Condor's house, he met the band, headed by David Hinson, and they halted him at the muzzle of a revolver, and he remained a quiet spectator of what followed.

The band numbered fifteen or twenty, wearing masks, and were heavily armed, and with them was a wagon in which were a number of whips, a kettle of tar and a supply of feathers. As they neared the house Gibbs was seen at the window reading from a book, and he was shot dead without warning. The fire was returned from the house, and for a few moments the fusilade reminded Henschen of his army experiences. The Mormons finally fled, but not until Condor, Hutson, Gibbs and his associate had been shot dead, and Mrs Condor badly wounded. The attacking force lost but one man, Hinson, who was killed in the first fire from the house. Henschen was one of the judges at the inquest, and in his certificate he made return of death at the hands of unknown parties. He reports that since the shooting several of the proselytes have had to flee the country, among them Tom Basteune and P. W. Dupriest, two of his employees. Elisha Tully, and old resident, was another Mormon who fled the scene, and so great was his fright that he sold his farm of 264 acres, together with the crops, farming utensils, live stock, etc., to Henschen for $500 cash, in order to leave at once.

Of course there are some problems with his account. I won't describe them all, just the two most problematic. First, no other witness reported the presence of a wagon. The vigilantes had just left Elder Jones on the far side of the creek. In order to cross they would have to use the "bridge" made from a fallen tree. Doing so would have prevented bringing along a wagon. Second is that Henschen claimed "the Mormons finally fled". In fact, a better description is that the mob simply left after having killed the missionaries who were still there. While one missionary fled the house (Thompson), the rest of the Mormons ran toward the house to help out Riley and Malinda who were still alive.
This is not to say that Henschen made it all up. The wagon could have been a little down the road, out of site of the house, but exactly where Henschen was riding. And he could have known about Thompson's escape and assumed others had run too. Part of the fun of reading historical documents, is sorting out what is most likely the truth.

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