Beaver Island’s King

But Strang refused to back down, even when friends were involved. In retaliation for their defiance, the church harassed the women’s families—a tactic that angered Ruth Ann’s husband, Thomas Bedford. When Bedford grew so bold the following spring as to gossip openly about the king, Strang’s strongmen whipped him. (The Mormon explanation for the whipping was that Bedford was taken in the act of adultery.) From that evening on, Bedford vowed to kill Strang. He tried that night, April 3, but couldn’t get a shot.

Eventually, Bedford was joined in his campaign for revenge by Alexander Wentworth, H.D. MacCullough, Franklin Johnson, and a Dr. Atkyn. Just months before, MacCullough and Johnson had been elite members of Strang’s church, but they’d recently suffered retributions from Strang, for among other reasons, their wives’ refusal to wear bloomers. Besides supporting his wife, Wentworth had his own vendetta against Strang. Strang had apparently competed with him for Phoebe’s hand before she married Wentworth—a rivalry that occurred when Phoebe was 15. And Dr. Atkyn had his own story. While he posed on the island as an itinerant photographer, Atkyn may actually have been there to spy for Michigan Governor Kinsley Bingham.

As the months rolled on, it’s evident from Van Noord’s account, that MacCullough’s, Johnson’s and Atkyns’ roles in the murder were to enlist government sympathy for an assassination of Strang. Bedford and Wentworth, meanwhile, would do the killing. In May they tried again to get a shot at Strang, but again couldn’t find an opportunity. On June 2 the Michigan steamed into St. James. While the commander, Charles McBlair, took affidavits from acCullough, Johnson and other disaffected Mormons (among their charges were theft and padding the census count to cover voter fraud and to receive more government money for schools) to send to Governor Bingham, Bedford tried once again to get a shot at Strang, but failed.

Two weeks later, the Michigan returned to St. James. When Strang walked to the ship for a meeting called by McBlair, Bedford and Wentworth were waiting. In public view—and obviously not worried about government retribution—they shot Strang twice from behind, then again as he lay on the ground. Finally, Bedford pistol-whipped him. The assassins fled onto the Michigan where they were taken to Mackinac Island and set free after a short hearing. The government’s investigation into the Michigan’s role in the assassination was purely cursory.  Strang lived three more weeks. At the end of June, as news arrived that mobs were gathering around the straits to storm Beaver Island, he was taken to his parents’ home in Wisconsin, near Voree, where he died July 9, 1856.

Meanwhile, the angry Gentiles invaded Beaver Island and drove the Mormon families off with guns and threats. The Mormons left behind property, homes, businesses and crops in the ground—none of which they would ever get back. As the steamer carrying the last of the Mormons puffed out of the harbor, King James’ kingdom dissolved into memory.

Article Comments

  • Lucky Guy

    I am interested in Beaver Island history