Excerpts from the The Daily Union Vedette (1863-1864), a Civil War newspaper published at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City.
These excerpts describe the murder of Samuel R. Bunting by Jason Luce, an associate of Bill Hickman, and Luce’s subsequent trial and execution.
Murder.—On Monday morning last the prevalent quiet and monotony of city life in Salt Lake, was startled by a most wanton and brutal murder. One Jason Luce, a resident of Salt Lake City, was latterly engaged in running the express to Bannack, in broad daylight, on the most frequented thoroughfare, in the door of Townsend’s Hotel, attacked Samuel R. Bunting with a large bowie knife, and stabbed his unresisting victim to death. He finally gave himself up to the police; but not ‘till after he had brandished his bloody weapon in the air for nearly a quarter of an hour, acknowledging the deed, and apparently gloating over his triumph. On Tuesday, Luce had his examination, before Justice Miner, who committed him to answer at the next term of the Probate court of this county. The testimony adduced on the examination, showed that about 1 o’clock of the day mentioned, Luce met Bunting and after a few words, as the latter turned to pass into the hotel, dealt him a deadly blow in the neck, from behind, nearly severing the head from the body, and followed it up with at least two stabs in the back, driving his bloody weapon to the hilt, and while the victim was prostrate on the floor. The wounded man expired within a few minutes after the first blow was struck, and never spoke, save feebly to cry “murder.”
When asked by the Justice if he had any defence to offer, Luce replied that his only witness was at Bannack, and gave his own version of the matter. He says that some weeks since, while at the mines, he was invited by deceased to go home with him to supper; that while at supper deceased asked him if he was a Mormon? Upon replying in the affirmative, deceased jumped upon, beat and stamped him, until he was taken home by some friends. That afterwards he met deceased, when the latter drew a knife and threatened to kill him, and again maltreated him. Seeing the deceased in this city last Monday, Luce approached and asked if his name was Bunting. He replied “yes.” “Samuel R. Bunting?” “Yes,” again. “Well,” said Luce, “we have an account to settle, and may as well settle it right here.” The deceased then “went for his pistol,” says Luce, “but whether he got it out I don’t know; at all events he didn’t hurt me much with it.” This is the substance of defendant’s statement, and almost his exact language. He takes the thing quite cooly, and apparently thinks himself in very little danger of punishment. If every word were true, as Justice Miner remarked, it would not reduce the grade of the offence from murder in the first degree. The assault was wanton, brutal and unjustified in any sense, and it is to be hoped that strict and impartial justice may be meted out to the offender. It struck us as not a little remarkable that the Justice should have bound Luce over to appear before an inferior court, when there will sit in this City in so short a time a court of higher power having jurisdiction of the offence—we mean the U.S. District Court.
The deceased (Bunting) was about 36 years old, recently from Bannack, and lately a Lieutenant in the service of the United States, but was on his way to Missouri to see his aged parents, from whom he had been separated upwards of 14 years. He is represented to have been a quiet, peaceable man, and those who know him cannot place full faith in the story of Luce about the beating and threats while at Bannack.
–Union Vedette, Fri Dec 11 1863
To-day, between the hours of 10 a.m., and 2 p.m., unless His Excellency, Governor Reed, shall interfere, Jason R. Luce will suffer the extreme penalty of the law, for the murder of Samuel Bunton, some weeks since. On the 7th of December the murder was committed, in broad day light, on the steps leading to the Salt Lake House. The Grand Jury, the next week, found a true bill against Luce; he was tried almost immediately before the Probate Judge of the county, a verdict of guilty brought in by the Jury, and the Judge, on the 22d of December, sentenced him to be shot to death on Tuesday, the 12th of January following. We understand that a petition for commutation of sentence has been presented to the Governor, but His Excellency replied in substance, that he had made it a rule in view of the obligations resting upon him under the law, never to interfere with the finding of a Jury or the judgement of the law, except in cases of manifest injustice, or where circumstances or proofs altering the phase of the affair were discovered after the sentence was imposed. As this case came not within this highly proper limitation the Governor declined any intervention, and to-day Jason R. Luce will look the last time upon the scenes of this world.
–The Daily Vedette, Tues Jan 12 1864
THE EXECUTION OF LUCE—HIS LAST SPEECH, ETC.
Yesterday at 12 o’clock, Jason R. Luce suffered the extreme penalty of the law, for the murder of Samuel Brunton. At the hour named, a large number of invited persons (specially notified under the law) were admitted to the Court House, the windows of which opened upon the back yard on the scene of execution. In the yard, attended by Sheriff Burton, the unhappy criminal was seated in a chair, his feet being manacled. His demeanor throughout was cool, calm and collected, evincing the utmost steadiness of nerve. The prisoner briefly addressed the persons present in clear unmingled tones, but with some little emotion. He warned those present to beware of evil associates, as to such influences he laid his present fearful position. In reference to the crime of which he had been convicted, Luce said that his heart was right in the matter, if not his head, and he had evidently impressed himself with the idea, so contrary to all the evidence in the case, that he acted in self-defence. He indulged in some sever remarks concerning those who had professed to be his friends, but who, he said, “had betrayed him.” (As it would serve no good purpose, we refrain from specifying the party named by Luce as his betrayer, and whom he said he “desired to brand before the world.”) Having concluded his remarks, the cap was drawn over his eyes, and five musket shots were heard at a given signal. The executioners were concealed from view, being stationed in the basement of the Court House, where they fired through the windows. The unfortunate man died without a struggle, each of the five shots having probably entered a vital part. The militia company of the city was posted around the Jail and Court House, to prevent even an attempt at escape, and also to keep off the large crowd whose curiosity to witness such a scent led them to the spot.
The law of this Territory provides that a person convicted of murder in the first degree, may have a choice of deaths, whether by hanging, shooting or being beheaded. As Luce, at the time of sentence, declined to make any choice, it was incumbent on the Judge to determine the means of execution. Judge Smith, therefore, sentenced him to be shot.
It is to be hoped that the awful doom of Luce will have a beneficial effect upon the community, and that the blood-thirsty will restrain their arm when passion, or still more unworthy motives, may impel to deeds of violence and crime. Truly, “the way of the transgressor is hard.” –The Daily Vedette, Wed Jan 13 1864
THE CONFESSION OF JASON LUCE.
We are reliably informed that Luce, who was executed on Tuesday last, made a full confession as well in regard to the murder for which he was shot, as also to other eventful scenes in his most eventful life. We have made some efforts to obtain this confession or statement, but hitherto in vain. There are many rumors current in the community as to its contents, but we refrain from publishing them at present, trusting that those who have charge of the document will see the propriety of publishing it to the world. If what is freely stated be true, the parties having it in charge have no right to supress it. By so doing they give color to the most exaggerated stories floating about, and only lengthen “rumors lying tongue.” We hope the paper will be furnished us for publication, as well in justice to the dead as to the reputation of the living.
THE COUNSEL FOR JASON LUCE.
Yesterday in publishing the remarks of Luce before his execution, we refrained, for manifest reasons, from mentioning the name of the person referred to by Luce as one “who betrayed him unto death.”
Mr. Wm. A. Hickman, one of his counsel, however, has called and placed in our hands a copy of the proceedings of the Court and other documents which he thinks fully attest the sincerity and propriety of his action throughout. We have not space to reprint these papers, nor do we deem it necessary, but will give place to any statement which Mr. Hickman desires to make. We understand from him that he purposes to publish a card on the subject in a few days, in response to the strictures of Luce on the day of his execution. Hickman refers all interested to the prior counsel in the case—Judge Appleby.
[Noticed on the same page in an article on the proceedings of the Utah Legislature, 11 Jan 1864:] Councilor Lyman, to whom was referred the petition of Wm. A. Hickman, for a toll road in Tooele county, reported unfavorably to the same. On motion of Councilor Spencer, the report was accepted, and the Committee discharged.
[Elsewhere in the same issue:] We learn that a petition is in circulation in this City for the purpose of raising funds for the destitute family of Jason R. Luce, the unfortunate man who was executed on the 12th inst.
–The Daily Vedette, Thurs Jan 14 1864
CARD FROM WM. A. HICKMAN
Editor Daily Vedette: Allow me briefly to reply to the scurrilous allegations made by Jason Luce against me at the time of his execution, on the 12th instant. I should, perhaps, regard it as beneath my notice to reply to any such unjustifiable and unfounded statements. What I have done for Jason Luce, is known to hundreds, and when I say that every effort on my part was exerted in his behalf, I state what many in this community know to be the truth. The record of the Court shows my efforts during the trial. After the verdict, I made application to Chief Justice Titus for a writ of habeas corpus, basing the same on the fact that the Probate Court had no legal existance, and certainly had no jurisdiction in criminal cases such as this one, with eight other points fully stated in the application signed by Luce’s father. Judge Titus, contrary to my expectations, refused to grant the writ, and then I prepared and circulated a petition to the Governor as a last resort. This too, was refused, and there was no help and nothing further that could be done by me. These facts and bona fide efforts are patent to all, and were known to Luce. The question arises, what worked upon Luce to change his mind and suspect me of unfairness. He was confined in his cell and could know nothing of the matter-except from other parties. Were his suspicions roused by fair means, or by some miserable, sneaking, villifying scoundrel, who thus sought to arouse the hate of the prisoner, and the vindictive passions of his brothers? Was it a mean, grovelling attempt to stigmatize my character, by some whispering, cowardly enemy, or was it the just indignation of a man who had in reality been betrayed? I leave it to the public to judge, conscious of the sincerity of my actions in behalf of Luce, whom I endeavored faithfully to serve, and believe that I did. Were it at all necessary I would refer to the records in the case, to the Governor, to the hundreds whom I brought to sign the petition for commutation of sentence, and to the junior counsel, Judge Appleby. But the whole thing is a fabrication, a mean effort to injure me by men who have not the manliness to openly charge me with what they whispered covertly in Luce’s ears. Should a day of reckoning come with these villains, as I hope it may, the whole truth will be exposed, and I will brand them in public as their acts so richly merit.
Whether Luce has made any confession, I do not know. I have tried to find it out, but in vain, and am inclined to think he made no confession, as intimated in your paper.
WM. A. HICKMAN.
[Mr. Hickman may be very honest in that last paragraph, but we happen to know that Luce did make a confession, and also to whom he made it. We hope yet to publish it, when the parties who hold the confession come to appreciate the fact that they are wronging both the dead and the living by withholding it.—Editor Vedette.]
–The Daily Vedette, Sat Jan 16 1864