William Adams ("Wild Bill") Hickman was one of the most notorious outlaws of the nineteenth-century American frontier. As a bodyguard and spy for Mormon church presidents Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, he was popularly known as a "destroying angel." However, a matter of disagreement among historians is whether he acted more often in his church's interest or independently as a true renegade.
Hickman obeyed the Mormon teaching of polygamy and was husband to ten wives and father to thirty-five children. During the Utah War of 1857-58, he rallied with his fellow Mormons and was one of the most effective guerillas in the hit-and-run attacks that wore down the attacking U.S. Army. When he was later arrested and jailed for murdering a government arms dealer during the war, his troubles multiplied when he implicated Brigham Young. Young returned the favor by excommunicating him and never speaking to him again.
When he died in Wyoming in 1883, his reputation in three states forced many of his relatives to change their name to escape the social stigma of family ties, while the residents of the small town in which he died refused to bury him in the city cemetery. Still, whatever one thinks of his motives or degree of loyalty, Hickman left an indelible impact on the history and myth of the West as a rough, undisciplined frontiersman who nevertheless helped to establish the Rocky Mountain kingdom of Mormons.
Hope A. Hilton is a descendant of William A. Hickman and co-author of In Search of Lehi's Trail .