Land distribution turned deadly for one man in Beaver County. Newcomer John Howard was shot and killed as a result of mounting tensions over claims to land.
Utah has at times been a violent place, especially when distribution of lands has been at stake. Land apportionment in the Utah Territory was a complicated matter and only the federal government, through the institution of a land office, had the right to grant title to territorial lands. The fact that Utah didn't get a federal land office until 1869 meant that before federal officials arrived on the scene, twenty-two years' worth of competing land claims were able to accumulate and create sometimes intense friction in the little towns that dotted the territory.
In the case of John Howard, this policy turned out to have deadly consequences. Howard was a relative latecomer in the settlement of Beaver County in south-central Utah. The first white colonizers of the area were Mormons who arrived in 1856 and immediately began putting down roots. For more than a decade, they were left to their own devices until a branch of the federal land office was established in town, an event that caused some residents to fear that outsiders would be given lands they had been clearing and farming for years. When a small group of newcomers, including Howard, moved in and began building on lands already claimed by Mormon settlers, those fears were realized and tensions quickly boiled over until they led to murder. As Howard was entering a friend's cabin late one night he was gunned down by a hidden assailant. His friends scattered and the gunman was able to get away. A few days later, a local Mormon man was arrested and held for the killing, but according to historian Martha Bradley, in the end no one was charged with Howard's murder.
Image: Headline from the Salt Lake Tribune, October 28, 1873. According to historians the man held for the murder of John Howard was never charged. Courtesy of Utah Digital Newspapers.
See news reports about John Howard’s assassination in the following editions of the Salt Lake Tribune: October 9, 1873; October 14, 1873; and October 29, 1873. Also see Martha Sonntag Bradley, A History of Beaver County (Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society and Beaver County Commission, 1999), 55-56.