AN UNCIVILIZED TIME
A dozen or so men began to haul their captive to the top of the tree. As soon as Robert Marshall was almost to the top he began to try to loosen the rope from his neck.
At that same moment the mob leader yelled out, “Get your goddamn hands down or we will cut your hands off!” Marshall put his hands down to his side.
He hung there for just over nine minutes.
Sheriff’s deputies Sam Garrett, Mack Olsen, Lee Bryner and City Marshall Warren Peacock (Peacock was a nephew to J. M. Burns) arrived on the scene and Garrett jumped out of the car and then ran over to the tree and cut him down with the help of Peacock. They were preparing to load him into their car.
Everyone stood and watched offering no attempt to stop them until he showed signs of regaining consciousness. Dr. Fisk went over and looked at him and said he wasn’t dead.
A lady yelled out, “Lynch him! Lynch the goddamn n****r! He isn’t dead yet!”
The mob again overpowered the deputies and took their firearms away from them; Bryner and Olsen tried to offer assistance, but were met with the same blunt force.
The mob leaders were not taking any chances of Marshall living. The rope was replaced around his throat and they proceeded to string him back up in to the tree only about three feet off the ground, the rope was tied off. Then he was pulled to the top of the tree and the slack was let loose, causing Robert Marshall’s neck to pop. This was done seven times. Afterwards, the body was pulled about halfway back up the tree and tied off, so that pictures could be taken, pictures which would show that one of the socks on Marshall’s foot was about to fall off.
When Sheriff Ray Deming returned and discovered that an abduction of Marshall had occurred he headed out to meet the mob. Deming was stranded from an accident which tore his left front wheel from the axle. By the time someone came by so he could get a ride out to the scene of the mob violence it was too late. Deming cried “Oh my god, get him down,” as he gazed at Marshall hanging from the tree.
Robert Marshall’s body was taken to Flynn Mortuary, where it was again on public display. Hundreds of people came from all over the county to gawk at the cold, bruised body.
AN UGLY BUSINESS
By 2 p.m. that same afternoon people were selling photographs of the lynching door-to-door for 25 cents apiece.
That evening, a group of about twenty people in white hoods, with fiery torches, rode up in a flatbed truck to a small house that contained a Negro family. The group was called the Ku Klux Klan. The leader yelled out, “You come out, you n****rs!”
A man and woman came out, the women was holding a baby. The Negro man asked very nervously, “What you want?”
The leader replied, “Take a close look at this picture. If you get out of line the same thing will happen to you.”
The picture was of Robert Marshall hanging from the tree.
“We don’t have to listen to you we’re free,” Replied the Negro.
“Shut up!” bellowed the leader. “If anyone of you talks, we won’t give any speeches or scare the hell right out of you. We will just KILL, KILL, KILL, and then we will take your body and put it up on a building that is so high everybody can see it, and leave it to rot. Isn’t that right Klan?”
The Klan replied with “KILL, KILL, KILL, KILL.” The group didn’t stop with just Negroes; they went on to threaten all minorities in the county.
In Price, Sheriff Deming was reading aloud to his deputy from the newspaper.
“Oh my Gawd!” spoke the Deputy, “what are we going to do?” “I have no idea.” replied the sheriff.
THE GOVERNOR INTERVENES
On June 24, a car pulled up in front of the Utah State Capital building. A group of black people emerged, wearing black suits with white, starched shirts. They walked up the steps of the Capitol and into the Governor’s Office.
An elderly man spoke, “We would like to see the Governor.”
The startled secretary murmured, “Just one moment, please.” She went into the other room and came back. “Governor Dern is out of town but Acting Governor Crockett will see you now.”
The group walked into the Governor’s private office. The same man spoke again.
“We are a committee of Castle Gate miners, we have appeared before you in connection with recent lynching in Carbon County of one Robert Marshall, who brutally murdered City Marshal Burns of Price. We regret very much the entire incident and believe that the man Marshall deserved to forfeit his life for his heartless crime; and that had citizens of Carbon County allowed the case to transverse the regular channels of constituted authority, justice would have been duly meted out to the guilty culprit; and the lamentable and deplorable resort to mob violence would not have occurred to blight the fair records of our sovereign state. We hope that the guilty shall be dealt with in accordance with the seriousness of their crimes.”
Acting Governor Crockett spoke, “You have my personal guarantee that everything is being done to correct this matter.”
The men left, and Crockett picked up the phone and said, “Get me F.W. Keller, District Attorney of the seventh district in Monticello. (Long pause) This is Acting Governor Crockett I suppose you have heard about the lynching of that Colored man in Price?”
“Yes,” replied Keller from the other end.
Crockett continued, “I want you to make an earnest and thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding it. I want a detailed report as soon as possible. I have the miners on my back. Let’s get that all taken care of before there has been an opportunity to organize and destroy all of the evidence and testimony. The lynching was a crime and disgrace, and every legal action should be taken to clear up the action of mob-violence. Good-bye.”
A wire from Governor George H. Dern who was in Yellowstone Park was received by Keller “The lynching was a crime and a disgrace. All proper measures should be used.”
SCANT SEMBLANCE OF JUSTICE
District Attorney Fred W. Keller and county attorney O.K. Clay worked fast to file arrest warrants for 11 men for being the ring leaders. Justice Of The Peace J.W. Hammond signed the warrants. They were: Joseph Parmley, who was chief clerk for the Utah Fuel Company, his family had been known around the coal camps for over 30 years and he was well respected. Next was Henry East, a special officer and deputy sheriff, who had come to Carbon County 10 years before.
Price electrician Morgan King, a person who was always the first one to offer his help when someone was in need was the third person named. Barber Charles Atwood, who worked the second chair at Leo Lowry’s Shop. Also working at Averill’s Pool Hall and Barber Shop was George O’Neill the fifth man. His father had served as a member of the Utah State Legislature from Uintah County. J.R. Golding along with his brother, who operated an auto repair service in Wellington made the list.
City Marshal Warren S. Peacock who was really Chief Of Police was seventh. He was originally from Emery County and his brother was manager of Price Trading Company where the rope was purchased. Castle Gate Mine Superintendent E.E. Jones was eight. John Daskalakis the night watchman at Castle Gate was ninth, the manager of the Wasatch Store at Castle Gate Levi P. Davis was number 10. Joseph Caldwell from Castle Gate rounded out the short dozen.
Davis, Caldwell, Jones, Daskalakis, Parmley and East had been part of the posse who captured Robert Marshall.
Samuel A. King was retained as defense attorney.
District attorney F. W. Keller tried to put together a through investigation of the whole matter. It was very difficult to do, because a lot of the evidence was completely destroyed by the time he arrived in Price. But he was able to gather up 125 witnesses for the Grand Jury.
The KKK somehow got access to the list of people who were to testify in front of the Grand Jury, and those they thought would provide damaging testimony received a visit; there is no written record of this but interviews conducted in 1977-78 with some of the people there at the time spoke on condition that their names not be used.
Attorneys for the defense were W.W. Ray, Samuel A. King of Salt Lake and Henry Ruggeri of Price. Samuel A. King was paid for his services with bad IOU’s that he had incurred when he came down to Carbon County to gamble.
It was a difficult time when the trial was taking place, as not one person of the 125 or so witnesses would say who actually committed the act of lynching Robert Marshall. They were either scared of what might happen to them or they were trying to protect family, friends or they felt that the lynching was justified.
Carbon County was a very rough area of the state of Utah as there was gambling, prostitution and other forms of vice. It was said that there was around 40 solved and unsolved murders on its books at the time.
Fred W. Keller summarized the trial: “The past thirteen days this court has called 125 witnesses. How can these people who testified demand others to uphold the laws of the United States of America, to give equal justice to all races, live next to and around the men involved in the lynching? They can’t help but think about these men about free as a bird after having committed an act which is even unlawful in the eyes of God… I am ashamed at the disgraceful mockery of the law and order which has resulted in the affair right from the beginning, and the manner in which the state had been held up to ridicule. May God have pity on you.”
We may never know the true reasons why Robert Marshall cruelly shot and beat J. Milton Burns, but we do wonder about the social pressures he may have felt as a minority eking out a living in a rural county, and whether those pressures were a factor.