Was Tucson man one of Mormons' murderers?

YumaSun.com/January 28, 2005
By Frank Love

Mark Aldrich of Tucson was a prominent Arizona settler at the time of his death in 1873 at the age of 72. He was remembered a few years later as "a small man in stature, stoop-shouldered, dark complexioned, black piercing eyes full of vivacity, and always ready to participate in the amusements of the day."

His obituary in the Tucson Citizen on Sept. 27 praised him, reporting, "He discharged all his public and private trusts with fidelity and was possessed of quick, clear judgment."

But was there a black mark on the character of the deceased, who had served as an Arizona legislator and probate judge for Pima County? Thomas Gregg, the author of "History of Hancock County, Ill.," believed there was. He accused Aldrich of being involved in the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, founders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "He was one of the men brought to trial for the murder," Gregg wrote in 1880.

Joseph and Hyrum Smith had been arrested on a charge of treason based on the claims of H.O. Norton and Augustine Spencer at Carthage, Ill. on June 25, 1844. Despite threats from Mormon haters that the two would never leave Carthage alive, State Gov. Ford had pledged that they would be protected by Illinois officers. Taken before a circuit court to answer various charges, a judge ordered them jailed.

Rumors were soon circulating that the two brothers would never leave jail alive. Despite supposedly being under the protection of eight jailors, a mob estimated to contain more than 100 descended on the site at 6 on the afternoon of June 27.

The invaders were disguised as Indians, and the jailors did nothing to stop them. Members of the mob opened fire on the prisoners. Each of the brothers was shot four times. Another Mormon prisoner, John Taylor, was also shot but survived his wounds.

If Mark Aldrich was in the mob, he wasn't the only one at fault. Sixty men were named by the grand jury which investigated the killings, but only nine were actually indicted. It was difficult to get evidence to convict them because those involved weren't talking. Only five of the nine were ever brought to trial, and all were acquitted due to a lack of evidence.

Whether Aldrich was one of the nine indicted or among the five who were tried and acquitted could not be determined from information available here, but Gregg's book claimed that he was one of the five tried for the murders.

But if Aldrich was involved in the murder of the two Smith brothers, his later career brought him honor rather than disgrace. He left Illinois for California in 1850. It seems likely the gold rush was the attraction, but if it was, his luck may have been poor in the diggings. He moved to Arizona Territory in 1855 and settled in Tucson.

In partnership with John Davis, Mark opened a store and awaited the departure of the Mexican troops still occupying the town. They were soon gone because of the Mexican defeat in their war with the United States.

As a college graduate who had studied law, Aldrich was named as the town's alcalde soon after they departed. It made him the chief magistrate of Tucson.

When Arizonans held a meeting in 1856 in Tucson to ask Congress to make Arizona a territory, Aldrich presided over it. When their request was ignored, Arizonans took matters into their own hands, creating a territory which was never recognized in Washington. Aldrich was appointed by its would-be Gov. Lewis Owings as territorial treasurer.

While Congress ignored the territorial requests from Arizona until 1864, Aldrich was prospering. The 1860 census reported he was a merchant with property valued at $52,000.

Chosen criminal court judge at a public meeting the same year, Aldrich only held the position a little more than two months. He resigned in disgust in November, claiming "not a single complaint has ever been made for the arrest and punishment of persons who do not hesitate, for any offense ... to violate and set at defiance the laws, by shooting at each other in the streets and saloons. Yesterday a man was shot dead in the street, in open daylight, in the presence of a number of citizens and not a word is said about arresting the person who committed the deed ..."

When Confederate troops occupied Tucson in 1862, Aldrich remained in town despite his Northern origins. He had been born in New York in 1801. Southern troops were soon gone.

When Arizona Territory was finally created in 1864, Pima County voters chose Aldrich to represent them in the first Territorial legislature. He represented his county again in the third legislature.

Aldrich's death in 1873 brought an obituary in the Citizen newspaper which called him "the first American merchant in this town, the first postmaster, and the first alcalde." It made no mention of his possible earlier role in the murders of the Mormon brothers in Illinois.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.