Sam Joe Harvey was a swarthy ex-soldier, about thirty-five, tall and well-built, whose fondness for a scrap earned him the nickname of "U.S. Harvey." He was known to have spent some time in and around Pueblo, Colorado, and in the early fall of 1883 meandered from the plains to Salt Lake City.
Harvey was thought to be Negro, Creole, Mexican, "or a mixture," according to the Salt Lake Herald, and for a few weeks at least he established himself as a bootblack in front of Hennefer & Heinau's barber shop in the city. For reasons never quite clear, Sam Joe Harvey was on the prod. He complained of having been robbed in Ogden, and he was suspicious of everyone. Even those who knew him couldn't explain his behavior on the morning of August 25, 1883. A few said he was insane.
Whatever it was that set him off, Harvey wound up gunning down a captain of police and severely wounding the city watermaster; all this in broad daylight. It so infuriated the citizenry that a mob formed and within a half-hour lynched the shooter. A somber Salt Lake Tribune editorialized that the lynching "was done under the noon day sun and in the shadow of the temple of the Saints. We do not believe there has been a parallel to the case in American history. Mobs have hung men repeatedly, but never before what we remember of have the policemen who had the prisoner in charge, first beaten him into half insensibility and then turned him over to the mob. This is not a question between Mormon and Gentile; it is one I which the good name of the city government is at stake."
Events began with a telephone call to police at city hall from F.H. Grice, owner of a restaurant on the east side of Main Street between First and Second South, next door to the old Salt Lake House hotel. City Marshal Andrew Burt was the only officer on hand at the lunch hour when Grice complained that this fellow Harvey had threatened him with a pistol at the restaurant and disturbed his patrons. He wanted him arrested. Burt was also captain of police and had been talking to Charles H. Wilcken, the watermaster, when Grice's telephone call came; Wilcken went with Burt to collar Harvey.
As watermaster, Wilcken was also a special police officer. This large gruff German had an interesting background. He came to America in 1857 and was persuaded by a persistent New York recruiting officer to join the U.S. Army. He was assigned to the Fourth Artillery and marched west that fall with Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston's Utah Expedition. However, being snowed in for the winter at Fort Bridger didn't appeal to the young emigrant and he deserted, only to be captured by Mormons on October 7, turned over to Orrin Porter Rockwell, and escorted along with a herd of liberated government cattle to Great Salt Lake Valley.
It happened that Wilcken would find the Mormon way of life suited him just fine. He converted, was baptized that December, and became a devout Latter-day Saint, eventually serving a foreign mission. He became a confidant of church authorities George Q. Cannon and Wilford Woodruff and for a while acted as a bodyguard to Brigham Young during the bitter anti-polygamy crusades of the 1870s. Now in 1883, Watermaster Wilcken was ready to help his friend Andrew Burt arrest and jail what they thought was merely a drunken transient making a public disturbance.
Burt, a fifty-three-year-old Scot, was a determined Mormon who earned the rank of captain of police in 1859, was named chief in 1862, and in February 1876 was elected city marshal. He was a lawman almost from the day he arrived in Utah in the fall of 1851. Those who knew him swore he was absolutely fearless; "a braver man never lived--he had the courage of a lion," was the way the Deseret News put it.
From city hall, the two officers strode up First South, crossed State Street, and turned down Main. Grice, meanwhile, had walked up the east side of the street until he encountered the lawmen. Sam Joe Harvey, he told them, had frightened Mrs. Grice and some luncheon customers with his revolver, then pushed his way through the kitchen and out into the back alley.
As Burt and Wilcken scanned the noon crowds along the city's busiest street, Grice recounted the events of the morning. Harvey was looking for a job, he said, and Grice had offered him work as a laborer around his farm on the outskirts of town. Grice would pay two dollars a day and provide Harvey transportation to and from the place. When he was told the farm was twelve miles from the city, Harvey "belched out in profanity" and began insulting the restaurant owner and his patrons. "I pushed him out the door and he pulled a pistol on me," Grice said, as Burt and Wilcken reached the corner of main and Tribune Avenue (today's Second South).
The three turned left to check the stores as far as the corner of Commercial Street (today's Regent Street) before turning around. As they again approached the Main Street corner, Grice spotted Harvey just off the sidewalk-but now he was armed with a .45-caliber rifle and a .44 pistol!
It was later learned that after Harvey had fled the Grices' caf?he went to a general store and bought a rifle he had seen earlier in the day. He paid the proprietor, Thomas Carter, twenty dollars for the repeater along with two boxes of cartridges. "He was nervous and dropped one of the cartridge boxes, spilling some of the ammunition," Carter remembered. Harvey had scooped up the bullets, put them in his pocket, and hurried away.
Minutes later, he would encounter Grice, Burt, and Wilcken coming up the street, directly for him. According to the Deseret News, as they neared the corner, "Grice pointed to a colored man who was standing on the edge of the side walk and said: 'That is the man, arrest him!'"
Burt was carrying a heavy cane which doubled as a nightstick. As he moved closer, Harvey raised his rifle and taking aim said, "Are you an officer?" In the next heartbeat, the ex-soldier fired; the marshal lurched to one side and stumbled into A.C. Smith & Company drugstore a few feet distant. He slumped to the floor just behind the prescription counter.
Outside, Wilcken, who was immediately behind and to the side of Burt when the shot was fired, sprang forward and caught hold of Harvey, wrenching the rifle free. He grabbed Harvey by the throat and the two locked in a desperate struggle, but Wilcken couldn't stop Harvey from using his revolver. Harvey fired again and the .44 slug tore through the fleshy part of the watermaster's left arm between the shoulder and elbow. The cowardice of the crowd was appalling, snarled the Deseret News, "they scrambled away in terror in every direction. Finally Mr. Wilcken threw Harvey in a ditch, and after he was overpowered the crowd returned to the scene to his aid."
Actually, Harvey had pressed the pistol against a Wilcken's body and was squeezing the trigger for another shot, when Elijah Able jumped into the fray, twisted the pistol away, and helped throw the desperado down. With blood pouring from the ugly wound in his arm, Wilcken held his own until finally Homer J. Stone rushed in to subdue the shooter. By this time other police reached the scene and took Harvey into custody. Wilcken's arm was treated at the drugstore as the officers hustled their prisoner to police headquarters.
Then things got nasty. A swarm of spectators followed the tight knot of constables as they made their way up the street. Back at Smith's drugstore, meanwhile, attention turned from Wilcken's gunshot wound to the figure of the marshal slumped behind the counter. Burt had been able to make his way from the sidewalk to the inside of the store under his own power, but he was a dead man. Harvey's bullet had pierced his left arm, penetrated his heart and lungs, exited his body and lodged in his right arm. As he fell he was bleeding from five large wounds.
Dr. J. M. Benedict pronounced the police captain dead at the scene and called a wagon to take the body to an undertaker. When the throng saw Burt's sheet-covered form lifted in to the wagon bed, a long, low moan erupted and the first cries of a lynching were muttered. "I say hang! Who goes with me?" Shouted one man, and from the crown a chorus of "I!" It was a belated threat.
Sam Joe Harvey was pushed into the marshal's office at city hall and searched. Officers found $165.80 in gold, silver, and greenbacks in his pockets as well as a large number of rifle and pistol cartridges. It was then an unidentified man stuck his head in a shouted Captain Burt had been shot dead. As one, the police turned on Harvey, "One of the officers [struck] him violently between the eyes, felling him," the Herald reported.
From outside the building could now be heard excited shouts of "Get a rope! Hang the son of a b--!" The officers dragged the semi-conscious man to the back door, which opened to a yard in front of the city jail. The crown on First South in front of city hall had become an ugly enraged mob of two thousand or more. Sensing that the prisoner was being moved, they ran to a State Street alley that opened on the jail yard and demanded Harvey be turned over.
An officer named William Salmon came to the jail door and was greeted by jeers when he ordered the mob to disband. There was a brief tussle and Salmon was shoved aside; then, Harvey, his face a bloody mask, pitched out the door into the frenzied gathering. He was swarmed over, stomped, and beaten while men ran about yelling for rope. Harness straps cut from teams in front of city hall were passed forward and, when they were found too short, used to whip the wretched prisoner. Still he struggled to break free. His efforts and the momentum of the surging crowd carried them east-ward in the jail yard until Harvey finally toppled, fifty or so feet from the jail door; at the same time a long rope made its way to the spot.
A crudely made noose was pulled roughly over Harvey's head as he squirmed to wrench free. Hands reached out to drag him another hundred feet to a stable shed west of the yard. The rope was tossed over a main beam. Men grabbed the rope and hoisted Harvey by the neck several feet from the ground. As his writhing body swung to view above their heads, the crowd gave out an excited roar of approval. Still the doomed man fought. From the moment he was pulled up he reached above his head for the rope as if to ease the noose that was strangling him. One of the crowd leaped to a carriage nearby and kicked first one hand, then the other until Harvey let go. He gasped, his body jerking in a final spasm before his arms dropped limply to his side.
Twenty-five minutes had elapsed since the fatal shot at Burt was fired. In that time the outraged crowd at Smith's drugstore also was seized by a mob fever and had marched to the city hall, swelling the throng even larger. So hysterical was the atmosphere that it was dangerous for others. W.H. Sells, son of Colonel E. Sells, a prominent Utahn was riding past a hall in a buggy and happened on the scene. Unaware that Harvey was already dead Sells tried to reason with the mob, arguing that lynching was no answer: "let the courts handle it." In that moment Sells came close to joining Harvey on the stable beam. Only the quick thinking of Salmon, the police officer, saved him. Salmon pulled Sells in to the jail and pushed him into a cell. Several other citizens who urged calm and justice were handled roughly and "came near being mobbed," according to the Tribune. The Herald said "Officer Salmon's discretion and prompt action saved Mr. Sells' life."
The horror still was not over, for the mass of angry citizens continued to clamor vengeance. Harvey's body was cut down and dragged out of the alley a short distance down State Street. There the crowd was confronted by a furious mayor William Jennings, who demanded they disperse. Events moved quickly. The mob broke up, an inquest was convened that afternoon, and a coroner's jury comprising W.W. Riter, Joseph Jennings, and John Groesbeck heard the evidence and returned a verdict that the deceased "came to his death by means of hanging with a rope by an infuriated mob whose names were to the jury unknown."
Joe Sam Harvey was buried in Salt Lake City Cemetery that very night. Funeral services for Marshal Burt were conducted a few days later; much of the city turned out in his honor. Watermaster Wilcken recovered and continued to serve in various capacities until his death in 1915.
That ordinarily would have ended the story of that black August 25, 1883, in Salt Lake City, but there is an epilogue. Two months after the lynching, two workers loading sand from an area just went of the cemetery made a grisly discovery; a pine box. In it was a human skeleton. The cemetery sexton was notified and later explained that when the murderer Harvey's remains were buried, the gravediggers misunderstood their instructions and buried the body "near" the cemetery instead of in it. The remains were those of the lynched assassin, the Herald reported. No one, including the city's newspapers, questioned how Harvey's body was reduced to a skeleton in just two months.
Then, in the spring of 1885, Officer Thomas F. Thomas was brought to trial on charges of assaulting the prisoner. After two days of conflicting testimony concerning use of clubs and brass knuckles, Thomas was acquitted.