Who Done It? by S. W. Taylor

Years ago I participated in a Sunstone convention and while there I met a facinating charactor by the name of Samuel W. Taylor.

Samuel W. Taylor was an LDS historian. He was also the grandson of the LDS prophet John Taylor. He resided in Redwood City, California at the time. I believe he is now deceased.

He is the author of numerous articles and books, including NIGHTFALL AT NAUVOO.

He and I corresponded by mail for a time and he is the one that informed me that they dedicated the Nauvoo Temple (or portions thereof) up to seven different times in an unsuccessful effort to get the confirmation of pentecostal phenomena similar to what occurred at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple.

I found this article of his the other day and thought it might be of interest to some of you.


Brigham Young took sick on a Thursday evening, and died a week later on Wednesday afternoon, 29 August 1877. At the time there were persistent rumors that he had been poisoned. A century later the mystery surrounding his terminal sickness is still a matter of speculation among historians and scholars. In common with other “sensitive” subjects, there are two exactly opposite accounts of the cause of Brigham’s death.

The official Salt Lake posture was, and has always been, that no mystery exists. “In order to satisfy the feel-ings of many of our readers and answer numerous inquiries con-cerning the particulars of the last sickness of our late beloved Presi-dent, Brigham Young,” the Deseret News reported two days after Brigham’s demise, it published an account of the week’s sickness, pre-pared by attending physicians “and others who were present during the last hours.” (“Last Moments of President Brigham Young,” Deseret News, 31 August 1877.) However, this report, in the light of modern medical knowledge, raises nagging questions that the cause wasn’t “cholera morbus,” which popularly was attributed to a meal of green corn and peaches.

In fact, while my personal medical library relies heavily on the Encyclopedia Britannica and Roberts’ Theory and Practice of Medicine, Phil., 1874, it was the reading of the “Last Moments” which alerted my suspicions that Brigham Young’s death didn’t result from natural causes, but that he’d been done in by means most foul. It seemed obvious from this report, also, that the attending physicians rea-lized that the patient had been poisoned, and were helpless to do anything except administer opiates to relieve the pain while waiting for the end.

If this was so, it opened a field for historical research into a hitherto neglected or suppressed final chapter to the story of a man whose life has received most exhaustive research and publicity in all other respects. If Brigham Young died of poison, we must ask: Who done it? How was it done? Why was it done? Among LDS scholars and historians there were persistent rumors of foul play. Yet on so sensitive a subject nobody had been bold enough to publish documen-tation. And so I took my shattered lance and purred on to tilt at the windmill.

I began by discussing the case with a Mormon physician. He expressed interest, and agreed to attempt a diagnosis based on the “Last Moments.” I furnished him a copy, and waited for his report. That was in 1970, and I am still waiting. He hasn’t yet mentioned the subject again to say yes, no, or maybe.

My brother, Raymond, who knew practically everyone in Utah, took up the lance. He was acquainted with several history buffs who had ga-thered material on the mystery. However, they kept their information close to the vest. Raymond also submitted the “Last Moments” to several active LDS doctors for an opinion. Results were uniform — complete silence. Quite obviously, this was a “sensitive” subject, which meant that to run counter to the official story would be considered negative thinking, possibly the greatest sin of the modern culture except for drinking coffee.

In common with other”sensitive” subjects, there are two exactlyopposite accounts of the cause of Brigham’s death.

Therefore, I went outside the “active” circle, but remained within the area of understanding. I submitted the “Last Moments” to a prominent Sacramento physician of Mormon extraction whose only contact with the church was through the monthly visit of his home teachers. It also helped that he happened to be my brother-in-law. Dr. Max Dimick, Assistant Clinical Professor, Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of California Medical School at Davis, undertook the diagnosis of the “Last Moments” almost a century after the death of the patient.

After consulting the pathologists, he reported that “What you would like to know is who had access to his lunch that day. It must have been arsenic and it had to be acute rather than chronic poisoning.” He discussed the possibility of typhoid, paratyphoid or bacillary dysentery, dismissing them because in such cases “he should have been ill over a prolonged period of time.” As for cholera –“forget it.” He enclosed tear sheets regarding arsenic from a medical text, saying, “Read the enclosed on acute poisoning and I’m sure you will agree the picture fits.” (The Pharmocological Basis of Therapeutics, by Louis S. Goodman and Alfred Gilman. New York: The Macmillan Company 1955. Seconded.)

It certainly did fit. However, during the period in question arsenic was not only a popular poisoning agent but also was a major ingredient of embalming fluid. I asked Dr. Dimick “whether by exhuming Brigham’s remains it would be possible to ascertain if he was poisoned. Would the embalming fluid penetrate the bones and hair after death, as the poison would have during life?”

He replied that “it took about seven days after ingestion for arsenic to get into the bones and hair,” as the body deposited it in attempting to eliminate the poison. He added that “I talked with two of our pathologists and they told me the embalming fluid would not contaminate the bones or hair.”

I published these facts in a footnote of a book, which evidently shook up Salt Lake, but did nothing to change the official story. (The Kingdom or Nothing, New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1976.) Meanwhile, I was charging the windmill. Dr. Dimick had pointed out that just one hair of Brigham’s head, a sliver of a fingernail or fragment of bone would be sufficient, with modern methods, to ascertain if the poison indeed was arsenic. So on hearing that a bracelet made of Brigham’s hair was on exhibit at the Beehive House, I made a bee-line for it on my next visit to Salt Lake. However, the hair of the bracelet evidently came from Brigham in his middle years, for there were no silver threads among the gold (actually, auburn); also, the date was indicated by a notation that the gold bands were from the ’49er diggings.

A retired physician…told me that it was known in his own family that Brigham died of poison.

I sent the “Last Moments” to Whittier Hospital, where my nephew was administrator. He submitted it to doctors on his staff, and the consensus was that Brigham died of arsenic poisoning. One doctor noted that in lasting a week Brigham “must have been a tough s.o.b.” Indeed he was, but this remark brought up a new angle to the mystery: had there been more than one dose? Had someone with access both to the food and the sickroom put arsenic in Brigham’s lunch on Thursday, then more in his medication during the week of his sickness? Pure speculation, but…

One evening a retired physician called around whose grandfather had been a doctor in attendance at Brigham’s last moments. We had a most interesting conversation, and you must accept or reject my report of it, because I don’t have his permission to use his name. He told me that it was known in his own family that Brigham died of poison. His grandfather and the other doctors were aware of the situation, he said, and simply made the patient as comfortable as possible. He also told me that he had talked with the wife of Apostle John A. Widstoe, who was a Young, and she said that fact that Brigham died of poison was well known in her family.

As to who done it, he believed that Brigham, old, sick and tired of life, simply had taken a lethal dose. I pointed out two things which conflicted with the suicide theory.

One was Brigham’s religious faith. By suicide, according to his belief, he would deny himself the higher glory of the hereafter. The other reason, which my visitor hadn’t considered, was the possibility that Brigham had planned to form a Young family dynasty to rule the church. TBH Stenhouse had accused him of this in the book, Rocky Mountain Saints, evidence being that Brigham had secretly ordained a son, John W. Young, as an apostle, when John W. was a boy of 10.

Subsequently, in 1864, he ordained two more sons, Brigham Young, Jr. (“Young Briggie,’) 28, and Joseph A. Young, 30. (Ordination of the three Young boys was confirmed in the internal press by Reed C. Durham and Steven H. Heath in Succession of the Church Presidency, Salt Lake, Bookcraft, 1970. Also by Church Almanac, 1975.)

The significance of this action is that the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles would succeed to the office of Church President upon the death of the incumbent. However, if this was Brigham’s plan, it backfired. The Quorum of the Twelve was outraged on learning of the secret ordinations of the boys, and only one of the three, Young Briggie, was accepted into the Twelve.

However, by 1877, the last year of Brigham’s life, he was accused by the Salt Lake Tribune of planning to abdicate in favor of Young Briggie. At this time the first LDS Temple in Utah had been completed at St. George, and its dedication scheduled during the annual conference in April. Brigham, at 76, had grown old and infirm, stiffened by arthritis and with neuralgia and respiratory troubles. A recent attack of gout made walking impossible, even with the aid of a crutch and cane; he was carried about to the various meetings in an armchair, constructed by Howard Cottam to accommodate the prophet’s obese girth. Prostate trouble required the use of a catheter to relieve his bladder. Brigham Young quite obviously was in the sere and yellow leaf. The Tribune said that for several years people had joked that he was well enough to sit up in bed and get married now and then.

The Gentile press had freely predicted that at the dedication conference Brigham would abdicate in favor of Young Briggie. The Tribune was so sure a change of leadership would take place that it dubbed the event the “abdication conference.”

The ambiguous ranking of Apostle John Taylor was another evidence that abdication might have been planned. Brigham had succeeded to the church presidency by reason of being president of the Quorum of the Twelve. Yet for the past three years, when Taylor was senior member of the Quorum, he was pointedly sustained at conference as a “member of the Twelve,” rather than its president.

Brigham hadn’t abdicated at the St. George conference, very probably because of the recent execution of John D. Lee, scapegoat of Mountain Meadows 20 years previously, and the sensation caused by his Confessions, written after he felt betrayed by Brigham in receiving the death sentence

At Mountain Meadows, near St. George, Mormon fanatics with Indian help had waylaid and massacred a Califomia-bound wagon train killing more than 120 men, women and children. While the Saints tried to keep the lid on, the Gentile clamor for justice finally was settled when just one white man of more than 60 who participated was tried and convicted. Lee had been executed at the site of Mountain Meadows just two weeks before the dedication conference.

The nation-wide uproar at this time could have caused Brigham to remain in control, had he planned abdication at St. George. The Tribune, however, predicted that he would abdicate in favor of Young Briggie at the next conference, in October. But Brigham Young died 29 August.

Most certainly, if Brigham had planned to establish a Young dynasty, he wouldn’t have suicided just five weeks prior to the October conference. His 30-year reign as prophet, seer and revelator had given him enormous prestige and unquestioned power. He could have controlled succession to the presidency only by personally stepping down in favor of his selected replacement. Dead, the matter of succession was beyond his control.

After we discussed these factors, my visitor changed his mind about suicide. The question of who done it was still open.

Rising to the defense of the official story, an LDS doctor, Lester E. Bush, Jr., wrote a paper in 1978, “Brigham Young in Life and Death: A Medical Overview,” (Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 5). He takes the thesis that physicians attending Brigham were completely unaware of poison symptoms, and that death was due to appendicitis. When I relayed this to Dr. Max Dimick, his reply was causetic: “If a medical student diagnosed appendicitis from Brigham’s symptoms,” he said, “he’d flunk out of school.”

Actually, the Bush article as a whole is an excellent paper on an obscure subject, full of tidbits such as that in middle life Brigham’s health improved on giving up tobacco, and that at this time he acquired a “very handsome” set of dentures. However, I’m afraid it belongs to the school known as the “new” Mormon history, characterized by a veritable avalanche of footnotes, but, too often, defending the faith rather than following the facts. Juanita Brooks, the historian’s historian on Mormonism, defined apologist contributors to the internal press thusly: “They aren’t historians at all. They are lawyers, providing a case.”

Re footnotes, in three places Dr. Bush says that Brigham’s health in middle life was generally good. To support the first mention of this he cites a total of fourteen sources.

“If a medical student diagnosed appendicitis from Brighham’ssymptoms” he said,”he’d flunk out ofschool.”

Certainly by the time the reader wades through the labyrinth of this and the two succeeding in-depth footnotes on the same subject, he will be convinced that Brigham’s health was generally good. However, he might suspect that Dr. Bush is pumping iron, posturing to display his research muscles, and at the least is guilty of overkill. It also seemed to me that a serious study of the subject might pay attention to my own evidence, rather than brushing it off. To select only facts supporting his thesis is typical of a lawyer proving a case.

The Bush article relies heavily on the journal of Seymour B. Young, an attending physician at Brigham’s last sickness. As Brigham’s nephew, Seymour Young would have a most compelling reason to conceal evidence of foul play. He was not only protecting the establishment stance, but preventing a family scandal.

It just wouldn’t do to admit that Brigham was murdered, for the immediate question arises:

Who done it? And Why?

Was the motive connected in any way to retaliation for the execution of John D. Lee that previous March? It is a fact that Brigham and several other brethren in Salt Lake, upon arrival at St. George for the April conference, had been felled by sudden attacks of violent purging and vomiting. This was Lee country. Feelings ran high. Were the brethren victims of bad water, tainted food, or, we must ask, had something been slipped into their food?

Subsequently, after Brigham’s return to Salt Lake, two of Lee’s sons were discovered lurking in Brigham’s private bedroom at the Beehive House. Obviously, they hadn’t scaled the high wall and slipped past the heavy guard just to drop in and say hello.

Brigham Young for years had lived in fear of assassination. In his obituary the Deseret News reported that “Like all great men, he has had bitter enemies,” and that “His life has been frequently sought.” However, he was well protected from outside enemies. He lived in a compound surrounded by a nine-foot cobblestone wall, patrolled by guards. He never left it without an escort of bodyguards. When traveling, his entourage typically consisted of 75 carriages and wagons, with armed outriders, often with a band of mounted Indians on the flanks. “The bullet and knife of the assassin,” the News said, “have been prepared to shed his heart’s blood.”

While Lee’s two sons had penetrated the fortess, gaining access to the kitchen and to the particular dishes designed for Brigham would be an entirely different matter. This rules out the Lee clan.

Who done it? Well, who had free access to the heavily-guarded compound? Who would have given Brigham his medication in the small hours, and sat with him throughout the night? Who would be admitted without question to the sickroom at all times? The answer is inevitable: members of his immediate family, and in particular the nurses, about whom the “Last Moments” say nothing. Yet with “vomiting and purging being almost continuous” the first few days, the patient needed a great deal of attention. The women of the household would have been busy with bedpans, with changing sheets, with keeping the patient clean and as comfortable as possible.

In looking for someone who would have been in position — and with a motive — to have put arsenic in Brigham’s lunch on Thursday, and, very possibly, to have also given additional doses at the bedside during the week of his sickness, we must examine those who were very close. We must zero in on a suspect who was entirely above suspicion.

Who done it? Quite obviously, the case of the cast of this mystery falls into the “island” situation beloved by the authors of murder books, known in the trade as whodunits: the guilty person had to be someone living in the Lion-Beehive House complex.

“Dr. Young often lamented that appendicitis had not been discovered just a few years earlier,” Bush stated,”for had it been, he felt, Brigham’slife could have been saved.” (Therecognition of appendicitis as aclinical and pathologic entity forwhich surgical therapy is essentialdates from 1886 when Reginald Fitz,Professor of Pathologic Anatomy atHarvard, gave a paper at the first meeting of the Association ofAmerican Physicians entitled,”Perforating inflammation of the Vermiform Appendix: with Special Reference to its Early Diagnosis and Treatment’,” Davis-Christopher Textbook of Surgery. Edited By David C. Sabiston, Jr., M.D., Saunders Co., 1977, 11th ea.)

Well, perhaps. While at that time the ruptured appendix had not been”discovered” as a cause of peritonitis subsequently diagnosed as appendi-citis, the condition — known as “in-flammation of the bowels” – had been recognized for centuries. In fact, my grandmother died of it. Andso, exactly what would Dr. Seymour Young have done if appendicitis had been “discovered” at the time of Brigham’s last sickness? In 1877 antiseptic surgery hadn’t yet been developed. It wasn’t until the following year that Robert Kochmade made the discovery that wound infection was caused by germs.

Surgery at that time was performed by doctors operating with bare hands and unsterilized instruments while wearing blood-stained “surgeon’s jackets,” used time after time and hung on a nail between uses. Koch revolutionized operating procedure by washing his hands before surgery. The development of sterile techniques such as now employed in operations developed slowly during a period of a dozen years after that time, until 1890. It is extremely doubtful that surgeons would have risked opening the abdomen of Brigham Young, for this was virtually a death sentence at the time.

It could be significant that Seymour Young not only had second thoughts about Brigham’s death, years later, after appendicitis had been “discovered,” but that Dr. Young dug back in his joumals to 24 August 1877, five days before Brigham’s death, and penciled in the addendum, “appendix broke.” This suggests that the journal wasn’t a repository for private and personal matters, but was considered a historical record being written for posterity.

Dr. Max Dimick pointed out that the swelling of Brigham’s abdomen in the latter stages of his sickness “is suggestive of peritonids and ileus,” resembling the symptoms of appendicids. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the condition was caused by a ruptured appendix, because “the corrosive acdon of arsenic may erode the mucosa undl perforadon can and does occur. This in turn would insure peritonitis, and ileus.” The violent vomiting and purging of the first few days would be typical of poison, but certainly not of appendicitis. “The muscular twitchings described here are also consistent with arsenic poisoning.” Evidently, the diagnosis of appendicitis, Dr. Dimick concluded, can be made only by ignoring completely the first days of Brigham’s sickness.

The mystery surrounding the cause of Brigham Young’s death has a parallel in the Bridsh royal family. Evidence unearthed after nearly a century from sealed Scotland Yard records caused suspicion that Jack the Ripper was Edward, Duke of Clarence, eldest heir to the British throne. This was given as the reason why the records of the Jack the Ripper case were sealed, and why some had vanished. The royal family must be protected. (Frank Spiering, Prince Jack. New York: Doubleday, 1978. A number of other authors have also discussed this aspect of the mystery.)

Veneration of the British throne, however, would pale in comparison to the zealous adulation of Brigham Young’s subjects. He not only was the absolute ruler — he was Prophet, Seer and Revelator, the mouthpiece of God. He also was a millionaire, who had built mansions for his various families. His son, Young Briggie, an Apostle, was said to be groomed to succeed him while another son, John W., was counselor in the First Presidency. Thus at the time of Brigham’s death and subsequently, his family has been shielded from the slightest breath of scandal.

With the advance of medical knowledge, appendicitis has officially replaced the original diagnosis of “cholera morbus,” brought on by eating green corn and peaches, as the cause of death. Leonard J. Arrington, Director of the Church History Division, replied to a letter asking, “is there any evidence that Brigham Young was murdered?” by sending a copy of the Bush article and assuring the writer that it “conclusively demonstrates that our long-time belief that he died from appendicitis is quite true.” (Letter to Mrs. J.C. Brazier of Los Angeles, 16 February 1979).

Upon seeing the Bush article, I sent it, together with the “Last Moments,” to Dr. Max Dimick. I also forwarded copies to Whittier Hospital, and from here J.W. Springer, M.D., Pathologist, replied: “From the available material it appears that Brigham Young died as the result of ingesting arsenic. This certainly does not resemble appendicitis.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Dimick consulted with other physicians, then wrote an opinion:

I have seen innumerable cases of appendicitis including the complications of rupture, peritonitis, and abcess formation. I have never seen it present itself with symptoms such as those described for Brigham Young. Diarrhea is rare and “continual vomiting and purging” are not described as symptoms of appendicitis.

In summary, one can say Brigham Young did not die of appendicitis. That he had a massive generalized gastroenteritis is evident and is compatible with acute arsenic poisoning…

He appended medical literature from three sources, calling attention to the date, 1901, of An American Textbook in Pathology, when “I’m certain they saw more arsenic poison in that time frame.” (Edited by Ludvig Hektoen, M.D. and David Riesman, MD., Philadelphia and London: W.B. Saunder & Co., 1901. Another reference is Thienes, Clinton H., and Haley, Thomas S., Clinical Toxicology, 5th ea., Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger, 1972. This deals with arsenic in the chapter, “Poisons with Symptoms Referable to the Digestive Tract.” The third reference discusses “Acute Appendicitis,” and is from Davis Christopher, Textbook of Surgery, edited by David C. Sabiston, Jr., M.D.; 11th ea., Phil.: Saunders Co., 1977.) This text mentions “The vomiting and diarrhea, which are persistent and profuse in most cases of arsenic poisoning.” In contrast, the chapter on appendicitis in the Textbook of Surgery notes that “Vomiting occurs in about 75 percent of the patients but is not prominent or prolonged, most patients vomit only once or twice.” Compare this to the “vomiting and purging being almost continuous” for the first days of Brigham’s sickness.

Clinical Toxicology states that “Vomiting, severe abdominal pain and diarrhea soon follow” ingestion of arsenic. “Pain in the limbs, headache, convulsions, muscular weakness and unconsciousness indicate an effect of arsenic upon the central nervous system…Nervous symptoms are numbness, buming, tingling or itching; these are followed by fasculation (muscular twitching) or gross tremors with the muscular atrophy and paralysis.” This could be a descriphon of Brigham’s symptoms.

It is certain that the cause of death was peritonitis, and in this respect the final symptoms could resemble the results of a burst appendix. However, “In a case of acute poisoning, the digestive tract is inflamed, and may show ulceration,” the above text states; and the Text-book of Pathology notes that “the whole of the mucous membrane may be reddened” with consequent erosion which may penetrate all the coats of the stomach and cause perforation.” It should be noted, however, that Brigham had displayed the classic symptoms of arsenic poisoning for several days before evidence of peritonitis appeared.

Three other doctors joined Dr. Dimick in rejecting the diagnosis of appendicitis. Dr. George Babbin, Clinical Associate Professor Surgery, University of Califomia at Davis, said that in the past 40 years “I have never seen appendicitis present itself with ‘vomiting and purging being almost continuous.’ In my opinion such an onset to an acute illness would make acute appendicitis so unlikely that I would certinally not even consider it in formulating my diagnosis.”

Joseph H. Master, M.D., Forensic Pathologist at the Diagnostic Pathology Medical Group of Sacramento, states “I find nothing in the Deseret News article description of President Young’s terminal illness that would be inconsistent with death by arsenic poisoning.”

Dr. Frederick A. Schroeder, specialist in intemal medicine at Sacramento, said that after reviewing the “Last Moments” he would “certainly concur with the diagnosis of arsenic poisoning,” the symptoms being “most unlike appendicitis in any form.” The “neurologic phenomena are typical” of arsenic poisoning, while ”terminally his dehydration and electrolyte symptoms are rather classic.” He concluded that “arsenic poisoning makes this a favored diagnostic probability.”

All of which brings us back to who done it?

We must remember that there would have been an impelling motive for such an act. Who were the enemies of Brigham Young? Their name is legion. No man in his position of power, who had ruled Utah as a theocracy for 30 years, could avoid enemies. This is quite aside from the family complications of a man who married 53 wives. Yet Brigham was aware of outside enemies, and fully prepared against them. If men did penetrate the fortess, as did the two Lee sons, it would be impossible to poison only the food eaten by Brigham.

Who had the most to gain? Offhand, we must look at the man next in line to succeed to Brigham’s office, John Taylor. Had Brigham lived another five weeks to October Conference, had he abdicated in favor of his sons, John Taylor never would have become President of the Church. Taylor was known as the “manacled giant” who had lived for 40 years in the shadow of Brigham’s power. Only by the prophet’s death could Taylor shake off the shackles. However, we can rule him out. Quite aside from his character, principles, and respect for Brigham’s position, Taylor never was socially close to him as a person. The two men worked together in church affairs, but were never friends. Taylor would have had no opportunity to tamper with the food or medication.

This narrows the field to the menage of Brigham’s own family and close relatives. It might be appalling to suggest such a scandal in the family of a sainted figure. However, it is a fact that one murder in five is committed by a member of the immediate family, and almost half of all murders by relatives, family, or close friends. The Young family had its tensions, as the subsequent brouhana over the settlement of Brigham’s estate proved. The complications of plural marriage were astronomical.

Who of this select group would have both opportunity and an immediate, impelling and overwhelming motive?

Who done it? Call her Ms. X. Inasmuch as charges were never filed, I cannot name her now. However, if you really do want to know, her identity can be found among the pieces of this whodunit which lie waiting in available material for any interested scholar, historian, western buff, whodunit fan, trivia freak or windmill filter who wishes to fit the puzzle together. My cards are on the table. I’ve had no access to confidential sources or sensitive materials. No safes were opened to me.

What is important is not the actual name of Ms. X, but her relationship to Brigham Young. In an association of a dozen years, her initial dislike had grown to intense loathing. But what drove her to the corner drugstore for a little calomel salve, please, Mr. Godbe, and oh, yes, a dime’s worth of arsenic to get rid of the gophers?


The threat to her daughter, a beautiful girl of 17. At this period in Deseret, when an old man began losing his steam, he was dealt a young girl as a plural wife to revitalize him. Brigham did the dealing; his permission was essential. While a special exaltation in the hereafter was promised a nubile maiden who married an old man on earth, to her mother it was a monstrous situation which made her flesh crawl. When an appeal to Brigham failed, her only recourse was to eliminate the man in charge.

Modus operandi:

The sugar bowl. Brigham liked to eat with members of his menage. How, then, to single him out for a lethal does without endangering others? Sugar was a prized commodity in frontier Utah. The members of the household sweetened their tea with honey. Only Brigham and special guests used sugar. He also liked a cup of tea in midaftemoon. Again, the sugar bowl, the contents mixed with a tasteless white powder.

In the event more than one dose was required, because Brigham was “a tough s.o.b.,” consider the tea served to settle his stomach during his week’s sickness, and also the medication, a mixture of brandy and milk. There was ample opportunity.

Whether or not the identity of the culprit was suspected I have no way of knowing, though her unhappy fate subsequently would have indicated that she was tormented by conscience or harassed by family rumor.

And so the case stands. Officially, Brigham Young died of appendicitis. Impartial medical evidence says arsenic poisoning. And, like the case of Jack the Ripper, the full facts may never be known.


If you wish to unravel the mystery of Brigham Young’s death, start here, with the DESERET NEWS report of 31 August 1877 on his “last moments.”

Last Moments of President Brigham Young (From Deseret News, 31 August 1877.)

In order to satisfy the feelings of many of our readers and answer numerous inquiries concerning the particulars of the last sickness of our late beloved President, Brigham Young, we publish the following, arranged from reports made by Drs. Seymour B. Young and F.D. Benedict, and others who were present during the last hours of the President’s earthly existence.

President Young’s sickness commenced on Thursday, August 23, continuing the whole of the afternoon. He had an inclination to vomit, but he continued to attend to his business as usual. In the evening he was present at a Bishop’s meeting in the Council House, and instructed the brethren in their duties, speaking with marked point and power.

At 11 o’clock at night, on retiring, he was seized with an attack of cholera morbus, the usual symptoms of vomiting and purging being almost continuous until 5 o’clock on Friday morning, when, at his own request, a mild opiate was administered hypodermically into each foot, to relieve the intense pain, caused by the constant cramping of the muscles.

During the whole of that day his sufferings were great, continuing through most of the night, but becoming less severe toward Saturday morning, when he slept for a few hours. This was the first rest he enjoyed from the commencement of the attack. During the whole of this period he endured his pain cheerfully, and occasionally made humorous remarks as was his wont when he saw those around him inclined to be troubled.

Inflammation of the bowels set in on Saturday at 3 p.m. and the abdomen commenced to swell. One small dose, half a grain of opium, was administered and at midnight the same quantity. These doses, though small, and given at long intervals, had a tendency to somewhat relieve the pain and retching, so susceptible was his system to any kind of narcotic or stimulant.

Throughout Sunday he continued, both while awake and asleep, to moan. When asked if he suffered pain his invariable reply was, “NO, I don’t know that I do.” During the same night his sufferings were less severe, but continuous, although at 8 o’clock he had a grain of opium and at midnight half a grain.

On Monday morning, at 8 o’clock, he showed increasing symptoms of nervous prostration, by constant moving of the hands and twitching of the muscles of the arms. One grain of opium was administered, and from then till 12 noon, he had a very severe spell. Another grain of opium was given him and at 8:20 in the evening half a grain more. About 9 o’clock he sank into a quiet sleep, resting without moaning. During Sunday and Monday he had received, at intervals of half an hour, a tablespoon of milk and brandy, an ounce of the latter to eight of the former. He was also administered to by the various brethren very frequently from the time he was attacked until his demise. About 10 on Monday evening he sank into a semi comatose condition, from which it was difficult to arouse him, although, by persuasion, he swallowed the milk mixture every half hour and a teaspoonful of ice water between times.

At 1 o’clock on Tuesday morning, warm stimulating injections were given, after which he thoroughly aroused, and, by the aid of his attendants got out of bed twice. At 4 o’clock the same morning he sank down in bed, apparently lifeless. Artificial respiration was resorted to, by which the lungs were kept inflated, and hot poultices were placed over the heart, to stimulate its action. President John W. Young and others administered to him the ordinances for the sick, calling on the Almighty to restore him, and he subsequently revived, and responded “Amen” to the administration. For nine consecutive hours artificial respiration was continued. At that time he seemed greatly revived and spoke to those around him, saying he felt better and wished to rest.

This condition remained until about 8 in the evening, when partial prostration again ensued and his case considered exceedingly critical by the attending physicians, Drs. S.B. Young, W.F. Anderson, J.M. Benedict and F.D. Benedict. After consultation an entire filling up of the lower part of the bowels by injection was determined upon, for the purpose of creating an action through the alimentary canal, but was not persevered in, on account of fainting symptoms, and the patient objecting to the treatment, which caused him to cry out with pain. He passed the night in a semi-comatose state.

On Wednesday morning symptoms of approaching dissolution were plainly evident. The early coma was entirely attributable, so the doctors say, to a poisoning of the blood, from the pressure of the swelled bowels, causing a prevention of return currents of the circulation to the hearts and lungs. At the time of his demise he was entirely free from the influence of any opiates or narcotics, not having taken any for 44 hours previous.

From the time Pres. Young was taken ill until the hour of his death, Dr. Seymour B. Young attended upon him with greatest assiduity, attention and care, scarcely ever having left his bedside during the whole of the time, night or day. In fact the same can be said of all his attendants, who remained by him constantly, and watched every pulsation and very change with the most intense anxiety and solicitude.

Dr. F.D. Benedict remained with the patient the whole of Tuesday night and Wednesday until his demise. Drs. W. F. Anderson and J.M. Benedict also attended at intervals during that time. The temperature and pulsations were taken frequently, the temperature remaining at 99 until 4 a.m. on Wednesday when it rose to 101, and to 105 just previous to his decease. His pulses ranged from 120 to 128, the latter being reached after the administration of stimulating medicines.

Not only the physicians named above, but the members of the profession of Salt Lake generally, expressed an anxiety to give all the aid in their power with a view to the relief and restoration of the President.

On Tuesday night about 10 o’clock, while lying in a kind of stupor, his son John W. asked him, “Do you know me, father?” He responded, “I should think I ought to.” About two hours previous to his decease, when several brethren administered to him, he responded in a clear and distinct voice, “Amen.”

Since news of the great man’s departure have gone abroad, messages of condolence have been received from all parts of the Territory, as well as from the different points of the union, and from Europe. No earthly potentate ever reigned more fully in the hearts of his people than did President Brigham Young. And throughout the territory, while flags hang at half mast, and civic and religious organizations vie with each other in rendering tributes of respect to the departed, grief swells the souls of the Saints ..(Article continues, re: funeral arrangements, etc..)

This report evidently was published to quiet rumors of poisoning. However, it is more revealing than the doctors at that time realized.


4 Responses to Who Done It? by S. W. Taylor

  1. This is so freaky. So is the link. I swear it totally freaks me out that so many early saints were possibly murdered! Oh my word!

    Do you believe there is anything to Steven Davis’ claims on the mormontruth website that some of the other presidents of the church have been poisened or died under suspicous circumstances?

    I’m reading The 19th Wife written by Ann Eliza Young. She claims that many polygamous wives died from neglect. They would get sick and not get the care they needed.

    All of this just disgusts me.

    Oh, have you figured out “who done it” yet??? 🙂

  2. I am very curious to know who the gal is that he speculates did the dirty deed… but I have no clue.

    I wish you would put your investigative research abilities to work and find out for us..

  3. I started…we’ll see what turns up. I ended up getting diverted with The 19th Wife. LOL
    I’ll have to exercise all my best genealogy research abilities to figure it out.

    The information age is a blessing and a curse!

    Are you remaining silent on my other question?

  4. yes I am… as you know, I never get into controversial stuff! LOL

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