Earlier this year, Noel Carmack informed UHQ co-editor Holly George that the Journal of Mormon History was planning to publish Connell O’Donovan’s manuscript on the 1855 murder of Isaac Whitehouse in its fall issue. For several years Carmack had worked independently on his own history of the sad affair, slated for publication in our winter 2015 issue. This clearly presented a dilemma. George and Lavina Fielding Anderson, a JMH editor, decided to move up Carmack’s manuscript to the fall issue, so that the two pieces would be published simultaneous. By keeping each journal’s manuscripts confidential, the autonomy of the two journals and the integrity of the process would be maintained.
The resolution of this potentially difficult situation reflects the good judgment of Anderson and George, the gracious accommodation of the authors, and the quality of the two publications. Even more, at UHQ we saw it as an opportunity: what if we arranged to have Carmack and O’Donovan sit down to a taped interview to discuss their experiences uncovering this sordid and twisted tale. Although no historian welcomes the news of another practitioner working on “her” area of research, we felt the simultaneous publication of articles on the same topic afforded an opportunity to explore how two excellent historians, working independently, approached the topic. Thankfully the authors agreed.
Here we present the audio recording and transcript of a conversation between the two authors at the Rio Grande Building in Salt Lake City on August 5, 2014—the first of what we hope becomes a regular series of authors’ interview produced and recorded by Utah Historical Quarterly editors. The dialogue ranges from the details of the Whitehouse murder and its aftermath to the nature of historical storytelling and the reliability of historical sources. Rather than presenting a literal representation of the interview, we offer a lightly edited transcript without extraneous or filler words. We express heartfelt thanks to Carmack and O’Donovan—and to our good friends at JMH— for unearthing this story and for the following delightful exchange.
UHQ: Welcome to the first of what we hope becomes a regular series of author’s interviews. We are pleased to have with us Noel Carmack and Connell O’Donovan, authors of two independently produced articles on the sad case of the Isaac Whitehouse murder.
Noel Carmack is an assistant professor of USU Eastern Price, Utah, and he is author of “The Long Course of the Most Inhuman Cruelty: The Abuse and Murder of Isaac Whitehouse,” published in the Utah Historical Quarterly in its fall 2014 issue. Welcome Noel.
Carmack: Thank you. I’ve had a long held interest in Utah history in Utah and Mormon history and this is a story that I felt really needed to be told as horrific as it is. I’m pleased to be here.
UHQ: Thanks. And joining him is Connell O’Donovan. He’s a professional contract genealogist and independent historian of Mormonism, and he is author of “The 1855 Murder of Isaac Whitehouse in Parowan, Utah,” published in the Journal of Mormon History in its fall 2014 issue. Welcome Connell.
O’Donovan: Thank you very much. I echo Noel’s comments about the importance of having this story told and that it needs not to be forgotten.
UHQ: Well, it is a heart wrenching story of child abuse and murder in early Utah territory. I think today we really don’t want to dwell on the details of the murder so much as the process of historical investigation on how two fine historians approach the subject and the meaning they assign to it. But perhaps we can begin, if you would Noel and Connell, by providing an overview of the case for readers who are not familiar with it?
Carmack: Well, Connell can interject at any moment here. But in October, late October of 1855, the body of a boy was discovered in a ditch in Parowan, which at that time was a fort. And it soon became apparent that his custodians were responsible for this murder, this case of abuse and murder. And subsequent to the discovery of the body they held his custodians and brought them to trial. And if you read the article you’ll discover how it happened. But both Connell and I were interested in how the case came about and of course after the uncle of the child was brought to trial and convicted of the murder. He was shortly thereafter pardoned by Brigham Young. And so it really raised some questions about abuse and murder in early Utah.
O’Donovan: And justice.
Carmack: And justice. Why was he pardoned and how is it that this man could go free and continue on in his evidently his inherent, his personality that was sort of bent on violence.
O’Donovan: And compounding the issue and making it even far more tragic was the fact that 11-year-old Isaac was deaf and mute. And so he was literally unable to let anybody know what was going on and people just mostly ignored it until it was far too late.
UHQ: Now the prologue of the story is one of death and loss on the westward trail, right? So Isaac Whitehouse and his mother were emigrating to the United States from Britain?
Carmack: Correct. His parents – both his parents were.
UHQ: His parents. And so but along the way Isaac’s parents, Jacob and Rebecca – they died while on the trek west and likely from smallpox we understand. Samuel Baker’s wife, anyway –
Carmack: His first wife.
UHQ: His first wife, Sarah, mother to a newborn baby and a small child, she likely died while on the trail as well. So I guess the question would be: How did the strain from these losses contribute if at all to this story of abuse and murder in Parowan, Utah?
O’Donovan: I really struggled with this question and I don’t have a real clear answer on that. From subsequent documentation, especially with what Noel found, it appears that Samuel abused and may have been responsible for the death of his first wife Sarah while on the trail. It’s really complex and there’s not nearly enough documentation for me to even be able to come up with an answer to it.
Carmack: Yeah, there’s such scant documentation for this story and it’s really a miracle that we’re able to even piece it together. But we know that Samuel Baker, the man who took custody of Isaac and his little brother on the trail west, had come from an area of England – Birmingham, as I recall – which was a center for making pearl buttons. It was a manufacturing center for jewelry and other things but in particular we learn from the ship’s roster that that was his occupation – a button maker. And in the course of my research I discovered it takes a certain type of individual to create buttons. And you work in this hard, difficult environment in a factory and one can only surmise perhaps that Samuel Baker had a penchant maybe to some inherent personality that kept his anger sort of pent up and once he had to take over the guardianship of this disabled child that perhaps the stresses of frontier life and the poor economy in Parowan put the pressures on him and caused him to lash out against this defenseless boy.
O’Donovan: The reason why he got custody of the boy was on the trail his first wife had died and then he met Elizabeth Ward who was Isaac’s aunt.
O’Donovan: And apparently they married while on the trail. Elizabeth Ward was his second wife. And she had custody of her nephew after the parents died, after Jacob and Rebecca Ward Whitehouse died. Elizabeth got custody of young Isaac and then when she married Samuel Baker, that’s when he became the guardian of the deaf boy.
Carmack: I should mention – Isaac’s age I believe was 10 years old and he had a younger brother. I think his age was three. And so Elizabeth kind of suddenly – because of the death of her sister and brother in law – had to take custody of these two young boys. And concurrent to that was Samuel Baker and Sarah. Sarah died as well and they had as I recall two young children. So these two families, by sort of mutual necessity perhaps, came together on the trail west and of course one of the children was disabled.
UHQ: Right. So we know that Elizabeth married Samuel Baker while on the trail west.
O’Donovan: We don’t know that he married Elizabeth on the trail, but at some point on the trail Sarah, his first wife, died.
Carmack: She is actually listed on the, the ship’s roster – Sarah. The Overland Mortality Index I believe lists Sarah. It doesn’t say where or what the cause was but it does indicate that she died on the trail. And so somewhere between St. Louis and probably Kansas City they were married or we don’t know exactly where or by whom. We can maybe assume it was Daniel Garn who was the –
Carmack: Captain of the company, right.
O’Donovan: And there were several hundred people in his company but we only know the names of 70 I think. So the records on that particular company are not good. There, they’re quite poor.
UHQ: I see.
O’Donovan: So that’s part of the dilemma in all of this is in trying to reconstruct what happened.
UHQ: Right. We do know that Samuel Baker seems to have – well we know he committed murder against this 10-year-old helpless child but also have evidence that he exhibited other sorts of violent attributes as well, in fact [possibly] against the first wife Sarah . . . and also he slaughtered a cow in the most gruesome way. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Carmack: After, in fact it was over the year, sometime during the year after Samuel was pardoned for the, the abuse and murder of Isaac Whitehouse, a mutilated cow was discovered in the streets of the fort, Fort Parowan. And soon it became evident that Samuel Baker was responsible for the mutilation of this cow. And at first he tried to blame it on someone else, but he eventually confessed to it and was excommunicated for that violent behavior. So it seems that he had this, these violent tendencies. Again we don’t know why, what the cause or the motivations were for his behavior but we can only kind of deduce or surmise based on the evidence that we found.
UHQ: I was really fascinated in your piece when I got to read it that we find out much later in the story – much, much later in the story of Isaac Whitehouse that Samuel Baker was a cad all the way around, if I could offer some judgment. Can you talk about some of his life in California – and again this is much further in the story.
O’Donovan: Once they moved to California they pretty much whitewashed their experience in Utah, in fact pretty much denied it so there were lies that he was telling people in southern California – he was an early settler of Los Angeles. And no one there knew that they had spent any time in Utah at all. And then he was involved over several decades with multiple real estate scams and actually ended up – a third wife that he married later on had brought children into their, the family so he had these stepchildren by his third wife and he, and upon her death, he scammed those boys out of their inheritance from their mother. And then when they tried to capture him or bring him in court on that he left. And that’s the last record that we have of him in the eight – I think it was the 1890s was him.
O’Donovan: Disappearing with his stepson’s money from their inheritance. So he was definitely an immoral, unethical person. And whether that started in England or in Utah we don’t know. [Turning to Carmack] I really – I’m jealous that you found the cow mutilation story. The original story or records of that are in the Parowan Stake minutes, which are at the [LDS] church archives. And I found those minutes and requested to see them. They’re closed to researchers. But I have some in’s, and I tried to pull a few strings and they would not let me see those. But unbeknownst to me there are transcripts of them at –
Carmack: At Southern Utah University. Yeah.
O’Donovan: And as an archivist he knew about them before.
UHQ: This is fascinating.
Carmack: Oh yeah.
O’Donovan: That’s how he was able to find that.
Carmack: In fact, large portions of that record, well – James Henry Martineau was the stake historian and kept those minutes and a large portion of those minutes are kept in the Deseret Alphabet. James Henry Martineau was very proficient in the Deseret Alphabet. And, in fact, some of the earliest examples of frontier Deseret alphabet were by Martineau. And so thanks to LaJean Carruth, she translated those for me or that particular portion of it and I was able to use a little bit of it in this paper.
UHQ: There are so many layers to this story. So we know about a month after the murder, Samuel Baker was found guilty of murder in the second degree and sentenced to 10 years in the territorial penitentiary.
UHQ: And I guess maybe speak to us on what basis did the court issue this sentence. Why wasn’t he given the death penalty?
O’Donovan: Do you mind if I take that one?
Carmack: Go ahead.
O’Donovan: So in 1852, the territorial legislature passed an act “an act in relation to crimes and punishment.” And in Sections Four and Five of that act they described that murder is whoever kills any human being with malice of forethought either expressed or implied is guilty of murder, and then such a murder that involved either poisoning or lying in wait or premeditation or committed while also being involved in Arson, rape, robbery, mayhem or burglary – that’s murder in the first degree. Murder in the second degree is and this is from Section Six – “whoever commits murder otherwise that is set forth in the preceding sections is guilty of murder in the second degree.”
So I guess the court when they were looking at these or at the case, Baker couldn’t prove, it couldn’t be proved that there was any premeditation and there wasn’t any poisoning. He didn’t lie in wait to kill Isaac and it didn’t involve arson, rape, robbery, or mayhem – that’s kind of – what is mayhem, you know? Years of abuse? Is that mayhem? I don’t know. I don’t think they could have a really solid case for it to be first degree murder.
O’Donovan: And then so they felt it being second degree murder – now within that, the judge, Judge Drummond, a gentile that the Mormons hated, he had the option of anywhere between a life sentence – So or excuse me – Murder in the first degree was mandatory capital punishment. But murder in the second degree was anywhere between life and 10 years in prison. And so Drummond actually gives Samuel Baker the 10 year punishment which is the least allowable by law. So he was pretty charitable already I think with Samuel Baker, which kind of raises my hackles, after what he did to this kid. Only 10 years?
UHQ: Not only that but Hosea Stout who is a lawyer on behalf of Samuel Baker –
Carmack: That’s right.
UHQ: He actually notes in his writing in his diary some sympathy for “poor Baker.” In other words, he emerges from this case with a bit of sympathy for Samuel Baker who is the accused.
Carmack: Right, yeah. In fact, Connell and I probably disagree on sort of the reasons for the pardon. I think we would agree that it was a senseless and unthinkable crime, but we sort of question why would Brigham Young pardon this man for such a horrific crime. But as you know, Judge Drummond resigned from his post as associate justice in Utah and part of his resignation had to with or part of his resignation had to do with how Brigham Young was perceived as having influence over the judicial system in the territory. And he wrote a letter to Washington. It was his resignation letter and he actually mentions the Samuel Baker case in that letter. We don’t know if this is true or not but he says that in addition to the fact that or the idea that Brigham was influential over this case for pardoning Baker but he also took him to Sunday meetings the following week, which was kind of a shocking sort of response in the way he treated Baker. Almost like a guest in Salt Lake.
O’Donovan: And then a couple of weeks later, he sealed them because Samuel Baker and Elizabeth Ward had just been married civilly and then after he pardoned Baker he then performs their sealing ceremony in his office. And then a couple of weeks after that they go to Provo and get their patriarchal blessings. And it just – to me it almost looks like they’re being –
O’Donovan: – rewarded for their actions, which I just don’t understand. I know we both searched hard to try to figure out what really motivated Brigham Young to go ahead and sign this pardon and then to treat them so respectfully afterwards. And they clearly had committed the murder – not only was the abuse well known and well documented, she, Elizabeth Ward, immediately confessed to it and went into the house and got the ropes because he was bound. They had kept him tied to a pole and she brought the ropes that they tied him up with and kept him bound, however long they had done that. And she is providing physical evidence of what they had done and to me it’s such a clear case of abuse and murder, and why Brigham [Young] – It doesn’t matter to me that he had this personal beef with a gentile judge [William Drummond]. That shouldn’t override the demands of justice. I find that rather unconscionable. And I know as a historian I am supposed to be objective, but I’ve got agendas all over the place. Or, “agenda.” Agenda is always plural, sorry.
UHQ: We’ve discussed this a little bit. I’ll ask it again. So what do we know about Brigham Young’s pardon of Samuel Baker?
Carmack: It says in the pardon in fact that and Holly it looks like you have a copy of it there.
UHQ: I have copies.
Carmack: But that – the reason for it was that a large number of citizens of Parowan had signed a petition because they believed that Samuel Baker had not intended to kill the boy. And yet neither Connell nor I were able to find the actual petition. And so we wonder if that, that petition was –
O’Donovan: even really exists. We’re both suspicious of its actual existence.
O’Donovan: To me it looks like George A. Smith partially orchestrated this as the apostle who lived in Parowan. Did he live in Parowan or in Cedar City?
Carmack: George A. Smith was one of the original founders of Parowan that lived there for I think about a year and then went back to Salt Lake.
O’Donovan: But he still had jurisdiction.
Carmack: Jurisdiction over it or stewardship over that.
O’Donovan: And he’s the one who allegedly comes up with the petition, but I found no independent evidence of there being a petition other than the statement in the pardon that this petition exists. No one talks about it in the correspondence or journal. Did you find any?
Carmack: No. I never found it.
Carmack: So, in fact, the pardon exists in different versions.
O’Donovan: Word for word.
Carmack: And Connell found the original in the warden’s papers.
O’Donovan: Right there in the records.
Carmack: Yeah. But in none of those collections does the petition exist. In fact, there is a letter from the – let’s see. I’m trying to remember.
O’Donovan: Let’s explain what the petition is.
O’Donovan: The petition allegedly was the members of well certain citizens of Iron County, which in essence would have been the Parowan Stake. At that time the three big cities and pretty much still today in Parowan or in Iron County were the city of Parowan, Paragonah, and Cedar City. And the citizens of Parowan all unanimously voted for their excommunication and helped send them to prison. If a petition was circulated, I doubt that it would have even or anyone in Parowan would have signed it. But to me it seems kind of like a stake versus a ward tension. And George Albert Smith – if the petition exists, I think the main signers of the petition would have been from Cedar City and Paragonah, but not anyone from Parowan.
Carmack: See and I conjectured in the article that perhaps Brigham was out of sort of sympathy or empathy for this mother of at that time I think she still had the four young children.
UHQ: Elizabeth Ward
Carmack: Elizabeth Ward yes. That that perhaps he pardoned Samuel Baker so that he could return and be a supporter, a wage earner or whatever back at home, as opposed to leaving her basically an unmarriageable widow.
O’Donovan: What an awful situation. The situation in Parowan at that time was horrific for everybody. The economy there was terrible. Their harvest that year was awful. What they did harvest the insects ate a lot of it. They had Indians who either just out of fear or the settlers, the white settlers were just fearful of the Indians and if the Indians demanded food they would just give it to them for fear of it causing any violence. It was just a really, really a bad situation in fact. And I bring this up too is that in my article is the fact that the people in Parowan were specifically told you do not share your food with any non-Mormon. If any gentile comes through here looking for pasturage, no. If any want to buy food, no. Don’t give them anything. Don’t sell them anything. We don’t have enough for ourselves. In kind of giving Samuel a little bit of leeway on why he may have been so violent and abusive – he was under incredible pressure. He was a pearl worker from England. They don’t need pearl buttons in Parowan, Utah. So he was probably trying to be a farmer that he’s never done ever in his life. In a high mountain desert that’s arid and salty.
Carmack: Having to take care of a 10-year-old boy who is deaf mute.
O’Donovan: Deaf mute. There’s no way to communicate with him.
Carmack: He’s not his flesh and blood.
O’Donovan: So, I think those are all contributing factors to the tension in the home. But that is not an excuse.
Carmack: Not an excuse, no. It’s not in the least.
UHQ: Elizabeth gives birth right after Samuel is sentenced. It’s just days, isn’t it?
O’Donovan: Not a day. No, it’s the day of sentencing.
Carmack: It’s the day of sentencing, right.
UHQ: I wondered if the whole trial caused her labor – or that’s how I thought of it. But whatever the case –
O’Donovan: It all seems to imply that.
Carmack: I do want to point out that Hosea Stout mentions in his diary, he makes a very poignant comment about Elizabeth bereft of all that she had and then goes into labor and has this child.
O’Donovan: Oh and that leads to the fact that actually Samuel Baker was on trial for two crimes – one is nonpayment of his perpetual immigration fund debt and then the murder was the second charge – so the church was actively pursuing this money from Baker which I think is really interesting.
Carmack: I don’t know if Connell agrees with me but I was thinking.
O’Donovan: No I don’t.
Carmack: But I wondered if the pardon was – that rather than confiscate everything that she had after the sentencing, Brigham pardoned Samuel Baker to go back and become a wage earner to repay the funds and to be a father in his home and so forth. Not that it was the right thing to do or but –
O’Donovan: Yeah and I do disagree in the sense that she could have married somebody else.
O’Donovan: Women were desired. This is 1855, ’56, ’57. They were so desperate for wives the women that they are marrying are younger and younger and younger. And so I think she could have been easily married to someone else. So I don’t.
UHQ: Wouldn’t Samuel Baker’s perpetual emigration fund debt then go to Elizabeth? So Elizabeth would have assumed the debt and the debt would have been hers in that sense?
O’Donovan: That’s a good question. I –
UHQ: I guess was the debt Samuel’s or was it Elizabeth’s?
O’Donovan: Well in the one record that I’ve, I’ve noted it’s under Samuel’s name but it’s for the whole family.
O’Donovan: The whole family’s emigration. But
Carmack: She probably came as Sarah.
O’Donovan: Sarah and Samuel.
UHQ: Samuel and his two kids so she’s not party to it right?
Carmack: Right. I think she might have come across with her sister and brother in law with PDF fund as well.
O’Donovan: Yeah, yeah.
Carmack: And so she would have probably had a debt to repay as well. So these are all questions that are just difficult if not impossible to answer.
UHQ: Let me ask this other question. It’s one I’ve been thinking about this afternoon. But both of you know it’s really perplexing that the community members on one hand vote to excommunicate Samuel Baker for murder but on the other hand – this is like a month or two later – this petition such as it is, is signed urging his pardon. And it’s the supposed petition it comes from a large number of citizens of Iron County. That’s what we read in the pardon.
UHQ: So we don’t know much about what the people of Parowan thought about Samuel’s pardon but you both suggest, I think, that his uneasy reintegration into the community contributed to his family’s decision to leave Utah. So what can you say first I think about this kind of vacillating opinion in the community about the Bakers – and it’s back and forth in the documents – and then on the other hand, what you think about the community’s opinion about them and their decision to leave California, if you have any insight about that.
Carmack: There’s no documentation on how they felt towards Samuel Baker except for the not just one excommunication but two. Remember that they were excommunicated for Samuel’s – or excuse me – for Isaac Whitehouse’s abuse and murder.
UHQ: They were both excommunicated?
UHQ: Okay right.
Carmack: And then as I don’t remember the specific but they were reintegrated or welcomed back into the fold and then Samuel commits violence against this cow, right. He, the incident of the cow and he was then cut off. I don’t recall if it was only Samuel or if it was – I suspect it was only Samuel who was cut off for the abuse of the cow. But we can only sort of conjecture about how they felt. I can only imagine then returning to this small community of about 1,200 people.
O’Donovan: Where everybody knows their really dirty laundry.
Carmack: Right yeah.
O’Donovan: And do you know that they tried to escape previously to California but were caught.
UHQ: Oh that’s right.
O’Donovan: Between the murder and the trial they tried to –
Carmack: – to escape.
O’Donovan: They tried to escape.
UHQ: With all of his children.
O’Donovan: Yeah. But they were apprehended and kept in Parowan and then sent to Fillmore.
Carmack: One can only think that they tried, that they left to get away from to avoid the stigma of having been charged and convicted of that murder.
O’Donovan: And excommunicated.
Carmack: And excommunicated.
O’Donovan: They were out of the church and –
UHQ: Talk about this letter from Dr. Pendleton, C. C. Pendleton – just what he says about the treatment of Isaac Whitehouse.
Carmack: If I’m remembering correctly, Calvin Pendleton was a member of the stake presidency and was also regarded as the local doctor. In fact he is often referred to as Dr. Pendleton.
O’Donovan: Well his medical training was that.
O’Donovan: Virtually – –
Carmack: Yeah there’s Dr. Pendleton and then there’s Priddy Meeks because I think Priddy Meeks was living in Paragonah at the time. But Pendleton was called to look at the postmortem examination of the boy I believe. I know Martineau was there. But he also witnessed the boy over the course of about a year and when the Baker’s first got to Parowan, he notes in the letter that the Baker’s treatment of the boy was considered improper at that time and he was investigated by the teachers.
O’Donovan: Yeah they sent teachers to the house and they were, and the teachers told them that they needed to improve their treatment of Isaac, little Isaac. And that worked temporarily for a while and then everyone noticed that the abuse then started again and –
O’Donovan: But nobody really did anything about it and I would – in my imagination – when I’m thinking about little pioneer boys in general in Parowan, Utah, they’re probably not clothed well. They’re barefooted. They’re filthy dirty. He probably didn’t look that much different than any other little kid. People didn’t bathe a lot then. I guess as a boy you would want to play in the stream or whatever or you might get clean that way but –
Carmack: Everyone was wanting of food, not just only food but clothing.
O’Donovan: And hygiene.
Carmack: Hygiene – James Martineau writes in his journal about the fact that he had only one pair of trousers and a long sleeve shirt and he had no shoes. There was a period of time when he went barefoot. And Uncle Ben, he said – Benjamin Johnson – gave him a pair of his boots and he said that they were about four inches too long in the front and then they had a high heel in the back. And he said that the heel eventually wore so that the heel stuck out like a rooster’s feet. So it was just an awful kind of existence there.
O’Donovan: Yeah so I can see where if you weren’t paying close attention to Isaac’s physical condition, he could have just seemed to be a regular dirty little kid in the street. But Pendleton does mention well yeah, he’s kind of worse than usual and he says he asked somebody else about it and they kind of said, “oh don’t worry about it,” so he kind of backed off and then –
Carmack: During my research I couldn’t help but to place myself in the shoes of the people of Parowan and how perhaps I observed children in my own community or in my own [LDS] ward. Do we say something to someone? Do we report what we think might be abuse or neglect?
O’Donovan: When does it become our business?
Carmack: Yeah, what is that quote that Hillary Clinton stated? It takes a village to train a child. And [in] ward families we tend to think of them as very close knit and sometimes perhaps we don’t report things or take note of things as we should.
Carmack: And this is a good case of that.
O’Donovan: You want to think the best of your fellow brother and your fellow saints.
UHQ: Yeah. Thank you for letting me interject that. I was fascinated by that letter. So let’s talk briefly about – well, I guess we have talked about it – their decision to leave for California and how I guess you feel like the shame contributed to that.
Carmack: Well I’m sure that part of it was motivated for fear of being caught and convicted so they tried to escape. We don’t know how or if it was another wagon train or what, but Martineau I think is the only person who mentions that attempt to escape. And –
UHQ: Did they live as Latter-day Saints in California?
UHQ: Yeah, I was curious.
Carmack: Yeah. Connell’s best prepared to answer that.
O’Donovan: By the time they got to the San Bernardino area, which had been a Mormon colony, the Mormons were in the midst of the Mormon War, and so the good Mormons had already left the area and had gone back to Utah. There were still a number of quasi Mormons and I’m sure maybe a few active believing with all the LDS folks there in the area, but the vast majority had left. So, yeah, there’s no record of them participating with whoever may have been left in the area.
UHQ: That’s interesting.
Carmack: I have to say, that’s a real strength of Connell’s article. He takes the Baker family beyond their sojourn in Utah to San Bernardino, and now it’s fascinating to hear what Baker did.
UHQ: I thought the same thing. I wanted to also just mention that. That your account Connell was excellent because you did draw upon census registry biographical sources and I kind of think that’s from expertise of –
O’Donovan: Genealogy right.
UHQ: – as a genealogist. So maybe talk to us about I think listeners would be quite interested in knowing how those types of sources add another layer of interesting myths to this sort of story. And you talk excessively about their, the Baker’s life in California after their time in Utah. What does that story tell us? What does that add?
O’Donovan: Okay. Well one of my missions – I have several missions in life and one of them is to bring genealogical sources and resources into the world of historical research. It is and people often dismiss it or don’t even think about genealogical sources when doing historical research. And well it always comes to me and actually this was mentioned earlier. Whenever a historian says, we don’t know about this person or whatever, I just think have you even looked? You’ve looked in your own archive but there are a lot of other broader sources out there.
What started me in all of this was researching blacks in the priesthood in 1978 and this was before actually even the revelation [June 1978, granting the privilege of holding the priesthood to all men regardless of racial decent], a couple of months before I started doing research on it. What is going on with this? I guess it just didn’t sit well with me. And I came across I think it was Newell Bringhurst and Armand Mauss. They both said, “we know Walker Lewis this black Mormon held the Mormon priesthood, but we don’t know anything about him,” and that’s it. And I was like well why? Why don’t we know anything about him? At that time I was an employee at the genealogy library when it used to be at the Church Office Building. And so when I read that I thought, well, let me go see. And I went to the 1840 Census of Boston and there’s this black man named Walker Lewis in the census and that started a 15-year project of me researching the life of Walker Lewis.
And I published his biography in the John Whitmer Journal, and it was groundbreaking. Everybody knew that Elijah Abel was a black man who held priesthood but that he was the exception to the rule. And then I came across Walker Lewis and then I was able to publish this huge biography of him using 99 percent of non-Mormon history related documents and it was all genealogy. I was using the genealogy library and finding the records there about this incredible man and his life. And also along with just it went beyond besides using genealogical resources. I see a person. My grandmother would always refer to someone as their people meaning their family but sort of their close knit community. That was their people. And I tend to see especially in small towns of Utah, it’s not just the person, it’s their whole family is involved. And they have a family background so I see genealogy as offering more sort of a holistic viewpoint rather than just an individual. It’s where that individual also fits into the family unit. So that’s part of it. And going back to Walker Lewis, discovering that his uncle had been the person who had sued for his own emancipation in 1789 and had gone to the Massachusetts state supreme court and they agreed with him and he won emancipation for all slaves in Massachusetts. And Walker Lewis was named after him. So that had to have affected Walker Lewis’s personality, his sense of entitlement and “yeah, I’m equal too.”
So of course my question was often – Why would this black guy want to be a Mormon and participate in a religion that didn’t necessarily want him? And I don’t think he knew that. I just think he was like, ‘I am a man as well.’
UHQ: It’s fascinating.
O’Donovan: There’s an enormous amount of records out there that aren’t at the church archives. They’re not at the state historical department, but there are census records and tax records and criminal court records and newspaper accounts and the list of genealogical resources just goes on and on. Historians I think tend to look at a lot of biographies, journals and correspondence and if it’s not in those sources, it’s unknown and it’s just not true.
Carmack: And I think this is a great example of how two historians discover a story that they found independent of each other. Connell brought all these fascinating layers of background to the Baker family and the Whitehouse family through his genealogical expertise. Whereas I perhaps was taking the story in a different direction or was more focused on the Whitehouse abuse and murder in the larger context of Utah. And it’s interesting how we can each take our own sort of lens to it.
UHQ: Connell, how did you come to this story? I know how you did. You mentioned it. How did you find it?
O’Donovan: So I am a member of the Parrish family. I’m a member of the William R. Parrish family. He’s my great, great uncle. And he was murdered in Springville – he and his son – by the ward, members of the ward conspired to and killed William R. Parrish and his son William Beeson Parrish in 1856 or February of – excuse me of ’57, February of ’57. And so I’m on a 10, 12 year research project trying to write their story and what happened and thank heavens I solved it. I think many historians have looked at this and have just kind of gone away. We don’t know. And I’ve actually just recently within the past six months it’s just broken open. Anyway, so looking at the ways that Mormon communal violence occurred in early Utah history. And for that I just happened to be reading through Hosea Stout’s journal for 1855 looking for references to the Parrishes and came across this story, this reference to the deaf and dumb boy who gets murdered. I’m like what? So that’s the context that I create it in. I don’t explain that in my paper but my larger research project is about theocracies and cultural violence and how there is this theocracy in violence are so closely tied together, and that it’s a moral lesson that we still need to learn as a human race. Theocracies just don’t function right. They are beneficial to some folks at the top but they’re devastatingly crushing to anybody at the bottom. And the deaf, mute impoverished 11-year-old boy was at the bottom and he literally got killed because of all the imaginations of this theocracy that didn’t want to recognize justice for some in this case, for some reason, whatever it was, and Baker literally got away with murder. He and his wife got away with horrific abuse and murder and paid a very small price. He was in jail how many days?
Carmack: I think it was about a month or six, five or six weeks.
O’Donovan: Six weeks.
O’Donovan: For years – well a year and a half – of abuse and then a horrific murder. The condition they found his body in. The description you just – you’re reading it going oh my gosh, this poor kid. He’s covered in his own excrement because he wasn’t allowed to use the restroom to go out anywhere so he just dirtied himself.
O’Donovan: Because he is tied to a post. I just –
UHQ: Well let’s continue this theme and Noel let us know how you came to this topic and then we’ll talk about sources and use of sources and the historiographical stuff.
Carmack: Well it was sometime in the fall of 2006, I became more aware of the deposition of the James Henry Martineau journals at the Huntington Library in San Marino. And so I went to Los Angeles and I traveled to the Huntington and looked at the Martineau diary and took notes and it was that fall that I said, ‘you know, I’m going to work on the diary and prepare it for publication.’ And so over the course of the next year or so of course I read the diary and began putting together annotations and I came across the Whitehouse Baker story from that angle and became fascinated with it. I too found information in the Hosea Stout diary. I traveled to Parowan. I went to Cedar City to the Southern Utah University to research the murder. And of course none of the published histories talked about it. Somehow it’s been overlooked all these years. And I discovered as did Connell what scant or sparse documentation there really was. Even the minutes, the official minutes are very sparse of the court case. So yeah I came from that perspective of annotating the Martineau diaries, coming across Martineau’s description, postmortem examination of the boy and the subsequent murder trial in Fillmore.
UHQ: Why doesn’t each of you talk a little bit about the challenge of storytelling when the sources you are using are inadequate and sometimes unreliable? What kind of challenges did you confront?
Carmack: Well Connell, to his credit, did a wonderful job of finding genealogical sources, being able to place the children. That was really my difficulty, placing people and knowing exactly who was where at specific times and so –
O’Donovan: Well you found the child that I didn’t find.
Carmack: Well I did find, yeah.
O’Donovan: You found Franklin.
Carmack: Franklin Edward was the second child of Samuel and Sarah Baker. And he actually lived to adulthood. I think he died as I recall in 1917. But there’s very little to no information. It doesn’t show up in the 1860 Census. It just happened that I came across through Ancestry.com someone’s family history and in that online source there was an excerpt from a reminiscence that talks about the Whitehouse family migrating from England to California. There’s no mention of Utah.
Carmack: Curiously there’s never a mention of Parowan or southern Utah.
Carmack: Mormonism. But there is a mention of Franklin Edward in that record. And I did find his death record and grave memorial. But it’s just little pieces of information. We’re able to put the story together. It’s just a miracle that we were able to even do what we did.
O’Donovan: Yeah. To me our writing history is always speculation and everything is speculation. We, you can’t have all perspectives. You can’t know and document all perspectives of everything that happened. So even the best histories are just the tip of the iceberg of the truth of what happened. So you just go with the clues that you have. I happened to be blessed with a great imagination. And so I take this clue here and this clue here and this clue here and I meditate and I think about it and just kind of hold onto it and I learn by epiphany. I gather data, little odd bits of data, and I just kind of let it rumble around for awhile and then, boom, I get my response, ahh. And that’s what I did in this case.
Carmack: I was telling Connell earlier that’s really almost a charge, it’s a thrill I’m sure. Every historian probably feels that when they find a little tidbit of information or source and it puts maybe a piece together.
O’Donovan: It’s a part of a puzzle certainly because it’s clear.
Carmack: Clear right. And hopefully when, when readers read both our articles, and they rate us saying probably or might have, it’s that conjecture, it’s that speculation based on very scant evidence.
O’Donovan: Historians aren’t supposed to do that. We’re supposed to be objective and not speculate but to me there is no – there were – the author is not dead so there is no objectivity. You just can’t. I can be as objective as I try to be, but my own agenda picks the topic.
O’Donovan: So and then it starts and it goes on from there.
UHQ: Well you mentioned imagination as part of the, maybe the toolset that the historian might use to evaluate the situation. And, along with that, one of the challenges of historical work is assigning motive. And despite the scant sources in this particular case, what each of you found is fascinating. Each of you uses various contextual clues to establish motive before the abuse and murder of Isaac Whitehouse. So maybe talk to us a little bit about what you concluded from that and maybe consider this: At what point can a historian step back from the evidence and make assertions about motive without any direct evidence? Or is that not possible for a historian to do?
Carmack: Boy, it’s really, it’s a slippery slope but I tend to like to raise questions, maybe not that I am trying to answer them. But I raise the question and let the reader sort of –
O’Donovan: Mull it over.
Carmack: – mull it over and put the pieces together for themselves. So, some of them [might] read my article and say, oh he was saying this and this and this, but if you read very closely I may not actually come to a conclusion, but I raise the question and the reader comes to the conclusion themselves.
O’Donovan: For the first time ever I put questions in an essay, because I didn’t know. So there are question marks my article because I had to raise questions that I couldn’t answer myself. And I think with even direct and corroborating evidence, we still have to theorize and speculate and conclude and impose a sort of our sense of order onto whatever this chaotic evidence might be with our own perceptions. And we call that writing history but –
Carmack: And someone 20, 30, 50 years from now may come and may discover some pocket of information about the Whitehouse murder that we weren’t able to uncover and add more light to this mystery or this investigation.
O’Donovan: Who knows what’s in that dusty old attic.
O’Donovan: There could be the Samuel Baker diary. That would be quite a finding.
Carmack: Yeah, yeah. It was only recently that we found the photographs of Samuel Baker and Elizabeth Ward Baker.
UHQ: Oh yeah. Online.
Carmack: Online, that’s right. So there very well could be more out there.
UHQ: This has a really poignant human dimension to the story. And it’s kind of heart wrenching. A lot of times you read stories from the past but it doesn’t tug on your heartstrings quite so much. This one did for me. I really empathize with this little boy. So I guess I’m wondering how, how did this story resonate or impact you on that very personal human level and then how did you evoke its human dimensions, the human dimensions of this story while at the same time maintaining objectivity? It’s called detachment.
O’Donovan: I don’t maintain objectivity. There’s that in my first draft and this is often what I have to do. In my first draft of writing I let Samuel Baker have it, and I just used every vile adjective I could think of in writing just so I could vent that and let that be out there, because I found him so morally objectionable and his wife. This little boy’s aunt – how could she do that? But so then after I let all that out, then I went back and edited that all out and got rid of all those adjectives. Just that’s part of my process when I find something like that. I want to leave that in there, but I know that other historians would look down on that and say, oh he’s not being objective or he’s being shrill or strident. I have been accused of that. So I’m still trying to pull back a little bit, but I still have to get that blast in and I delete.
Carmack: I have to say it was really difficult for me as well. I went so far as to find his grave site and of course it’s unmarked there in the Parowan cemetery. But it’s just a tragic, tragic story, and I actually delivered this paper in 2008 in the [Utah State] Historical Society meeting. And even delivering the paper, I got choked up. It was really hard for me to finish.
O’Donovan: I cried a lot while I was writing it.
UHQ: I had a hard afternoon after looking at it, yeah.
Carmack: But part of the – one of my own objectives for this paper was to place it within a context of other cases of abuse in Utah, and it’s sad to say that Isaac Whitehouse’s story isn’t the only one. There were other cases of physical abuse that some were recorded and others were not. And sadly and there were no laws on the books to prosecute specifically child abuse and murder at the time. And it was only and over the course of the second half of the nineteenth century that Utah finally put laws on the books to prosecute child abuse.
UHQ: Thank you. Okay. I’d like to ask you gentlemen some questions on the larger significance on this and again it was – it was so fascinating to read both of your articles together. I really enjoyed it.
O’Donovan: Thank you.
Carmack: Thank you.
UHQ: It was, it was really, really good. And so I have a question about how you frame a story in its larger contexts. We’ve got the story of Isaac Whitehouse’s abuse and murder and then the pardon but then both of you go different directions or you go different directions after that. Noel uses this case as a launch pad that you just talked about too. Talk about the prosecution of child abuse and domestic violence in the West. Connell, on the other hand, places this 1855 act as really the most egregious of one of many perpetrated by Samuel Baker and this quote here is fabulous: “The former Mormon child abuser, convicted and pardoned murderer and real estate cheat.” That’s how you describe Samuel Baker.
O’Donovan: Yeah. I did let him have it there a little bit in the writing.
O’Donovan: I don’t think there’s anything untrue there.
UHQ: There’s nothing untrue there.
O’Donovan: And I don’t think it’s very shrill but.
UHQ: No. So how did you gentlemen choose what direction to take?
Carmack: I really wanted the reader to read the story and feel the impact I guess – for lack of a better word – of this horrific crime and so I put it right up front. I started out with James Martineau’s description of the boy’s body and how it came to be that they discovered this boy and kind of took it from there. I took it chronologically. So I wanted to capture the reader with that right off the bat and then take them through the whole court case. And then in the second half of the article deals with the territorial wide cases of abuse and murder or domestic violence. Whereas Connell –
O’Donovan: And I kind of took a similar approach to begin with, because I started out with the discovery of the body. In writing biographies or histories, I have kind of developed this formula now where I do all my research and I put it into a chronology. That’s, that’s my – that’s how I do the research. Whatever document I find I then put it in chronological order not when the document was written per se but what it’s about, the story. And then – and once I’ve got my chronology down or most of it, then I pick a single dramatic moment from out of that chronology and I start off with that. And then I’ll do a narrative pretty much unfootnoted, an accounting of that incident. So I come up with this kind of lengthy narrative retelling. I try to make it historically accurate, and I talk about the weather – everything – bring it all together and tell each story of this one incident. Then I go back to my chronology and start at the beginning and then just kind of go through my chronology and tell it all. And so, for me, in trying to understand Samuel Baker and what he did, I still wish I had found the cow mutilation story, because that fit in with where I was going with all of this, that he overall turned out to be an immoral person, unethical in his dealings, and it was a lifelong pattern. When the first I knew of it was the murder, well the abuse of Isaac and then the murder, but then it continued on throughout his life. So to me that was part of the context was just this he was just a bad person through his life.
Carmack: Well, Connell, you probably take a more systematic approach than I do. I do something very similar. I collect all the information and I too want to sort of capture the furor and tension with this significant event in the same way. And I also try to put a lot of context to it. It could be the weather – it might be some other events that are occurring at this same time or something like that. But I try to put as much context in the story as possible and especially so for this story where there’s so little evidence or documentation. We have to use secondary sources or other histories to describe what’s going on.
UHQ: Well that’s perfectly legitimate.
UHQ: If you can’t tell us all about one person’s life and one exact thing, you can give the broader context and have it be a little more of the iceberg.
Carmack: Yeah. Well, for instance, Franklin Edward – Connell maybe did not catch Franklin’s –
Carmack: – existence. I found mention of his name, but I have yet to find any more about him even though he lived to adulthood. It’s another avenue that still needs to be pursued.
O’Donovan: Yeah. When we first found out that we were both doing the same thing, we talked and he told me about Franklin Edward and I was like, oh I want to put that in my paper. And I actually had time to, but my sense of what is right – I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t steal his thunder.
Carmack: There’s always – you look back on things you’ve done and wish that you had.
UHQ: You both have been absolute gentlemen about it all in general.
Carmack: Honestly, had I known five years ago or whatever that Connell was going to work on this, I would have loved to have collaborated on something, making it all that of stronger piece. But I like how this is going.
O’Donovan: It’s so unique that we came to the same spot at the same time and we were completely unaware of the other.
Carmack: Yeah we have – readers can, can go read them both and kind of take something from each one.
Carmack: That’s great.
UHQ: So the last question here. Noel you write that the story of the Whitehouse murder was “effectively washed from collective memory.” And then you conclude your article with this statement: “As the years pass the unspeakable events surrounding Isaac Whitehouse’s death seem to sink deeper in the soil beneath the sod of the Parowan City Cemetery and into oblivion.” But yet these two articles bring a little bit of understanding to the sad story. And what do you gentlemen hope that readers will take away from your work and how do you think it will add to what we already know about the history of early Utah and of Mormonism?
Carmack: Well reading that last statement in my article, one might say, well that’s kind of contradictory, because Connell and I just brought this to light. My reason for writing that is that we tend to sweep hard histories or stories like this under the rug, because it’s such a taboo subject. It’s very difficult to talk about – abuse and murder of a young boy, a disabled boy. This is just one example or one story among countless. And the reason I said that is because we could sort of take it as a challenge to other historians to face these difficult questions head on. We have great historians like Will Bagley, Juanita Brooks, Ardis Parshall, and Polly Aird who are asking these kinds of questions. And perhaps other historians can take a difficult situation or difficult topic like abuse or whatever it is – murder – and ask difficult questions and try to come up with answers. So it’s a bit of a contradiction in the fact that in saying that the story might disappear. Well perhaps it might. Maybe it will just be swept under the rug. We’ll read about it and think how difficult or how horrific this incident was and just sort of forget about it. And my challenge is for us to look and face these difficult stories and ask all the questions.
O’Donovan: Although I am no longer LDS, I grew up LDS here in Utah, and I was as guilty as any body of what I would call pioneer-olitry – adoration and worship of pioneers. If you were a descendent of a Mormon pioneer in the congregations that I grew up in, that gave you cache. That a convert didn’t have. That if your ancestors got to Utah before the train in 1869, that gives you Mormon street cred. And as a part of that pioneer-olitry, virtually every pioneer biography that I grew up with was hagiography. That the pioneers were full of faith, and they were loyal to the end, and they did what they were told. They did incredible things in colonizing the West. There were a lot of destructive things that they did when you look at what happened with Native Americans, for example. But so for me this is a reminder that the pioneers were human beings too. There’s child abuse going on today. There was child abuse back then. Kids are getting murdered today and kids were getting murdered by their families back then. The pioneers aren’t to be worshipped. That’s not right – that doesn’t do justice to their lives and what they went through. So I hope that this is kind of a reminder of that.
Carmack: I just I have to agree with Connell. We tend to venerate or hold the pioneers up. And yeah they were, for the most part, very stalwart pioneers and path makers and so forth that settled these small communities; but they were all human. Samuel Baker had just arrived, and Elizabeth and the Whitehouse family had come from England and brought with them the various behaviors and beliefs and traditions that they had built up when they were there. And these people are just human like the rest of us. No excuse for their behavior in this instant, but hopefully we can take this example and make some sense out of it.
O’Donovan: I would love to see a tombstone put –
Carmack: Erected down in –
O’Donovan: In the Parowan –
O’Donovan: Acknowledging of Isaac’s existence and life and death somehow, but, you know, [a] plaque or – it would be difficult to – what do we say on it?
Carmack: Right, yeah.
O’Donovan: Murdered horrendously by his aunt and uncle? No. There needs to be something there, something permanent to remind everyone of what he went through.
Carmack: It would be a hard thing for the members of that community to acknowledge that it happened there. That but –
O’Donovan: That they’re not responsible for.
Carmack: No, not at all.
O’Donovan: But I can understand that that could be an issue.
UHQ: Well, excellent work to both of you. Both articles are very, very well done, and especially thanks for agreeing to speak to each other like this.
Carmack: The opportunity was – the pleasure was mine.
O’Donovan: Thank you.