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POTTER, Isaac "Ike" (1833)

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Isaac "Ike" Smith Potter was born on April 19, 1833 in Ohio[1]. At some point, Potter joined the Mormon church. He also moved to Utah, where he eventually became known as a notorious cattle rustler and an apostate. He apparently was the ringleader of a band of cattle rustlers comprised of both whites and Indians.

In July of 1867, Ike Potter, Charles Wilson and John Walker were arrested in Coalville, UT by R. Hinkley and Charles Livingston and imprisoned in a local school.[2] They were charged with stealing cattle.

On August 1, 1867, a group of twelve men, which included James C. Livingston traveled to Coalville to retrieve the prisoners - perhaps to take them to Salt Lake City to stand trial. What happened as they left Coalville via Main Street was the matter of much debate. What we do know is that Ike Potter and Charles Wilson were killed, and that charges were brought against about half of the men who were moving the prisoners[3]

To date, we have only local newspaper articles from which to gain an understanding. The principal newspapers, which reported on the Potter matter, couldn't hardly be farther apart in their coverage of this matter. The Deseret News was tightly controlled by the Mormon church, and was in support of the defendants. The Salt Lake Tribune was "the other newspaper" at the time, and generally held positions that were very much against the church. And in this matter, the Tribune made claims of conspiracy and church involvement in a murder plot against Potter.

We know that Potter and Wilson were arrested. We know they were killed. We know that James was indicted on a charge of murder. We know that the case dragged on over over 10 years. And we know that the charges were eventually dropped.

All of the related news articles we have found to date are transcribed below. If you know any more about this matter, please let me know.

The reader may also be interested in reading an historical fiction about the Black Hawk and other Indian wars entitled "The Black Hawk Journey"[4] by Lee Nelson. This book also includes some (undocumented) claims about the life and death of Ike Potter.


Book Excerpts

Excerpts from books related to this matter are below.

Reminiscences of Early Utah[5]

The incident following took place in the year 1867:
Isaac Potter, Charles Wilson and John Walker, residing at Coalville, were apostate Mormons. Walker was a boy about nineteen years of age. These three persons had previously been arrested for alleged thefts, and in every instance had been discharged by Judge Snyder, who at the time was probate judge of Summit county. In August of this year, they were again arrested on the charge of having stolen a cow. While they were under guard in the schoolhouse at Coalville, ten persons, armed, appeared about twelve o'clock at night at the building and ordered the prisoners to leave. Upon reaching the street they were placed in single file, a short distance apart, and in each intervening space two of the armed persons placed themselves. The others took positions at the front and rear of the procession thus formed. In this order they marched along the principal street of Coalville, through the mainly inhabited part of the town. Arriving at the outskirts, and their captors continuing to move on, Porter turned around and said to Walker: "John, they are going to murder us! Wouldn't you like to see your mother before you die?" Thereupon one of the armed men marching behind Potter thrust the muzzle of a shotgun against Potter's mouth. Potter in terror, shouted "murder!" Whereupon the armed man discharged the gun against the body of Potter at a range so close as to cause his instant death. At the discharge of the gun, both Wilson and Walker broke away and ran for their lives. Wilson was overtaken and killed at the edge of the Weber river. As Walker made his escape, a charge from a shotgun grazed his breast and lacerated his hand and wrist. He was wearing neither coat nor vest, and the charge set his shirt on fire and as he ran he extinguished the fire by the blood from his wounds. He was an athletic youth and soon distanced his pursuers. Although a number of shots were fired at him in the pursuit, he reached the river without further injury, swam across, and thereby escaped assassination. After numerous hardships he succeeded in reaching Camp Douglas, where the commanding officer, upon hearing what had taken place, gave him support and protection.
No steps having been taken by the authorities of Summit county to arrest any of the participants in the homicides mentioned, Judge Titus, whose judicial district included Summit county, upon the affidavit of Walker, issued a warrant for the arrest of the persons accused of the crime. They were arrested, and at the hearing before Judge Titus, at which I was present, what I have here stated respecting the murder of Potter and Wilson and the assault upon Walker, appeared from the testimony of Walker, who was a witness. Several of the residents of Coalville testified that they were awakened by the shots fired, and rushed out to learn the cause of the disturbance; that they saw Potter dead upon the ground, with his throat cut from ear to ear. Walker, when on the witness stand, identified the prisoners severally, and stated what each had done up to the moment Potter was killed. Judge Titus committed the accused to the penitentiary to await the action of the grand jury. John T. D. McAllister, who was the territorial statue before quoted, was the executive officer of the district court, took charge of the prisoners and conducted them in wagons to the penitentiary. Upon arriving there, the prisoners gently lifted the marshal out of the wagon occupied by him and drove away. No effort was made to rearrest them, and a short time afterwards, over the signature of all of them except Arza Hinkley and John C. Livingstone [sic], the following insolent letter appeared in the Salt Lake Daily Telegraph. This newspaper was owned and edited by one Stenhouse, then a zealous member of the Mormon church, but who afterwards apostatized and published a book, and in which he mentioned the murder of Potter and Wilson. The aforesaid letter reads:
"In the Pines, Elk Ranch District, Rocky Mountains, September 7th, 1867.
"Editor of the Daily Telegraph, and to all whom it may concern:
"After arriving here we thought it due to judge, warden and marshal that they should know the reason for our refusing to accept the proposal of his honor, Judge Titus, to take up our abode in the penitentiary for the period of forty days to await the action of the grand jury then to be assembled.
"Firstly: On our arrival at that beautiful mansion in the delightful neighborhood of the Sugar House ward, we were astounded to learn that mine hosts' penitentiary larder was but sparsely supplied, and his stock on hand but limited, no appropriation having been made by nation, territory or county for the entertainment of guests whom the fates may send in that direction.
"Secondly: Not wishing to tax the warden's hospitality unnecessarily, and it generally being our custom to maintain ourselves by the sweat of our brow.
"Thirdly: The atmosphere of warden's boarding rooms was slightly impregnated with a bad influence arising from being occupied by individuals of the Potter, Wilson, and Walker stamp, which is decidedly offensive to our olfactory nerves.
"Lastly: We concluded to sustain ourselves until the memorable fourteenth day of October, 1867, free of expense to the territory and county. On that day we will appear at the court house, G. S. L. City, individually and collectively, (His Honor may put that down)."
"Yours, etc.,

The only excuse ever claimed by any of the accused was that Potter, Wilson and Walker attempted to escape, and were shot while running away. In the light of the fact that Potter's throat was cut and his clothes scorched by the charge which killed him, and that Walker's shirt was set on fire by the shot which wounded him, such a claim is absurd. It was shown by the testimony that Arza Hinkley was in command of the participants in the affair and directed their movements. He was not a resident of Coalville at the time, his home being in Salt Lake City. He went to Coalville shortly after Potter, Wilson and Walker were arrested. After Potter and Wilson were killed he moved permanently to Coalville, was soon installed in the office of probate judge of Summit county in place of Judge Snyder, and served in that capacity for many years. Walker remained for some time at Fort Douglas after the accused parties were committed, but before the time set for the grand jury of the district court to convene he left the fort to visit his mother at Coalville. He did not visit his mother, but mysteriously disappeared, and has neither been seen nor heard of since that time. No doubt he was assassinated before reaching his home. His testimony was necessary to make a case against the accused, and his disappearance gave them perfect immunity.

Newspaper Articles

The newspaper articles referred to above are transcribed below.

Deseret News 1877-08-29

Released on Bail.- This afternoon Alma Eldredge, Jacob Huffman, James C. Livingston and Return J. Redding, against whom the grand jury found a true bill of indictment for the killing of "Ike" Potter, a notorious cattle thief, a good many years since, appeared before U.S. Commissioner Sprague, and were released on $10,000 each till the 27th of September next.
The first two of the accused named were arrested some time since and confined in the penitentiary, and the others voluntarily appeared, without arrest.

Salt Lake Daily Tribune Newspaper 1879-11-25

A Day Set for the Trial of a Batch of Them.
Particulars of the Murder of Potter and Wilson.
On the third of August, 1877, the Grand Jury of which Martin Harkness was foreman, found a true bill against Jacob Hoffman, Jackson Ridding, William Smith, Charles Livingston, Dick Eldridge and James Brime. The indictment charges these parties with the murder of Charles Wilson and Isaac S. Potter, on the 1st of August, 1867.
Yesterday there appeared on the Clerk of the District Court's book so an entry showing that the trial was set for the first day of the February term, 1880.
The facts in the murder of Potter and Wilson have long since been forgotten to the vast majority of our readers. Few persons here can recall the atrocious incidents connected with that outrage, and doubtless a rehearsal would be acceptable.
Isaac S. Potter was once a Mormon. Living in the days of the Danites, he reprobated their midnight murders and apostatized.
Thus was the signal for persecution of every manner. Charges were brought forward of every description, and in Coalville these were tried. The jurors were ever packed with Mormon zealots, and invariably he was found guilty. On every occasion he appealed his case to this city, and as often an acquittal awaited him. The Danites finally became persuaded that he must be done away with at any cost, and by the evidence which subsequently transpired, two of their number were sent from here to Coalville as a committee on ways and means to devise his death. These two were R. Hinckly and Charles Livingston, both living today and in this city. After their arrival in Coalville, a new charge was brought against Potter. They said he and a Gentile named Wilson were inciting the Indians to incendiary deeds against Mormon settlements.
Potter and Wilson had a young friend, of the Mormon Church, named John Walker. He was an athlete and joined his companions on account of his disapproval of the means adopted by the Church for its furtherance.
Before many days had passed after the Danites' arrival, all these were arrested on a charge of stealing cattle. They were lodged in a school house in Coalville, on the plea that an escape was planning, and over them the strictest surveillance was maintained.
On the night of August 1, 1867, a body of twelve men marched to the school house, and proceeding to arrest the prisoners, gave Walker permission to escape. Walker's reply was, "I don't want to escape. I haven't done anything, and what should I want to escape for?" The three were then seized by the Danites, and all, a guard of four being placed over each victim, proceeded down Main Street.
Arriving toward the outskirts of the place, it flashed through Potter's mind wherein the object of their abduction consisted. Turning to Walker, who was walking immediately behind he asked: "John, do you know what they are going to do with us? They are about to kill us! Wouldn't you like to see your mother before you die?" Before a reply could be given, Livingston, one of Potter's guards, threw forward the gun he was carrying into Potter's face, the end of the barrel striking him in the mouth. Potter gave one scream, the prophetic word for the next act, the word whose terror still resides in many an orphan's heart, and in the breast of many a woman made a widow by the terrible deeds of the Danites. It was the piercing cry of "Murder!"
The word had scarecly escaped his lips before Livingston discharged the contents of his gun into it's utterer's side. The load of buckshot literally tore a cruel hole into the apostate's side, and he fell. Wilson leaped from his guards and ran for the river. At its banks he too was killed, being murdered by a shot from one of his fanatic pursuers. Walker fared better. He was, we have said, an athlete, and at the dischrage of the gun, he planned his escape. His guard, however, took immediate steps to thward his measures, and one of them brought to his shoulder a gun to fire. Young Walker noticed the intention, and at a time when he calculated the trigger would be pulled, threw himself backward quick as a cat. His calculation was not amiss, and the charge passed over his bosom, scraping the skin from his chest and setting fire to the shirt front. Quickly he sprang to his feet, and made for the river's banks. Springing in, he swam to the opposite shore, and hid in the thickets. Hiding there for days, he was forced out by famine, and fortunately found aid in the occupants of a neighboring house.
The inhabitants of Coalville on the following morning found Potter's throat cut, the act being done after his fall, as evinced by the flow of the blood.
The murderers were held for indictment by the Grand Jury, which in those days being Mormons, failed to indict. Not till 1877 was this act done. Since then evidence has been wanting, Walker never having been seen since a short time after the murder. All of the above was his testimony in the preliminary hearing. Now, it seems, the trial is set. Has John Walker been found? "If so," said one of our best lawyers, familiar with the case, "he will hang twelve men, as sure as fate."

Deseret News 1879-11-26

A Procrastinating Prosecutor.- About twelve years ago, a horse thief, named Ike Potter, was killed in this Territory, and in the year 1867, at the time Judge Titus sat upon the bench here, six men, namely: Jacob Hoffman, R.J. Redden, Alma Smith, Joseph Brim, and a Mr. Livingston were arrested for the alleged murder. The grand jury at that time failed to find a bill and the defendants were discharged. During Judge McKean's administration, the parties were again arrested and indicted by the celebrated "Englebrech Jury," which was afterward declared by the United States Supreme Court to have been empaneled illegally, and have their acts therefore null and void. In 1877, while Judge Schaeffer sat in the Third District Court, another indictment, for the same offense, was found, accused parties again taken into custody, held in bonde, and the case set for trial. Since then, at every term of the court, this case has been pending, but through lack of time, convenience or on some pretext or another, on the part of the prosecution, has never been disposed of. At the last term of court, the cause was dismissed as to Hoffman, but the other five were still held to answer. Two weeks ago, it came up and was again continued until to-day. This morning, another delay was asked by the District Attorney, on the plea that he was not yet ready with his evidence. The counsel for the defense, Messrs. Sheeks & Rawlins and Williams & Young, however, being tired of this "to be continued" style of action, and not desiring, if it could be avoided, to wade through another tedious chapter, arose in their might and protested against further dalliance, representing with force and logic the injustice and annoyance to which their clients had been subjected for two long years, to say nothing of the heavy expense of coming and going at the beck and whim of the prosecuting attorney. A warm debate arose, and on Judge Beatty's asking for further continuance, his Honor Judge Hunter declined to grant it. Judge Beatty then moved for the dismissal of the suit; this the court was about to grant, when the counsel for the defense objected, as such a step would render their clients still liable to further prosecution. They demanded trial at once and it was finally agreed that the case should come up on the first day of the February term and be tried, whether the prosecution was ready with its evidence or not. The sureties were discharged and the defendants released on their own recognizance.

Deseret News 1880-02-11 - Local and Other Matters (two separate but related articles)

Another Bubble Burst.- The old Potter murder case has, at last, been disposed of. After being harassed for years, the defendants Jacob Hoffman, Jackson Redden, William Smith, Alma Eldredge, James Livingston and Joseph Brim, charged with killing the horse thief, Ike Potter, have been set at liberty. On the case coming up in court, this morning, for the "forty eleventh" time, it was ascertained that the plaintifs had no testimony to offer; whereupon, the jury consulted and returned a verdict of not guilty, and the defendants were discharged.
District Court.- Preceedings on Wednesday morning, Feb. 4, 1880, before Judge P. H. Emerson:
People etc., vs. Jacob Hoffman, Jackson Redden, William Smith, Alma Eldredge, James Livingston and Joseph Brim; 2 cases, indicted for murder in the first degree, jury trial; peole have no testimony to offer, jury consult and return a verdict of not guilty. Defendants discharged.


  1. Isaac Smith Potter on familysearch.org
  2. "TRIAL OF DANITES", Salt Lake Daily Tribune, November 25, 1879.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Nelson, Lee (June 1999). The Black Hawk Journey. Cedar Fort. 
  5. Baskin, Robert N. (2006). Reminiscences of Early Utah, with Reply to Certain Statements by O. F. Whitney. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 9-12. 

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