Archive for October, 2014

October Announcement for the Utah Westerners



One of the most controversial, yet overlooked, figures in Utah’s long-lasting Mormon and non-Mormon conflict is also one of the least recognized and remembered. Robert Newton Baskin came from southern Ohio, arriving in Utah in mid-summer 1865, to all appearances seeking success in a law practice and wealth from the minerals in the Wasatch Mountains. It was years before the dark cloud of his killing a man in self defense came to public knowledge. It would turn out that complexity and contradictions would characterize his life in Utah.

He carried life-long guilt when his advice to a former army surgeon, Dr. John King Robinson, to press his case in Utah’s court resulted in the doctor’s brutal assassination on the city street. He served as the prosecuting attorney, when in 1875, the court in Beaver heard the case of John D. Lee for murders committed eighteen years earlier at Mountain Meadows.

Baskin repeatedly pressed for legislation, writing many of the twenty-five bills designed to end polygamy and undemocratic features of theocratic rule in Utah. As Salt Lake City’s second non-Mormon mayor he pushed for modernization of the city’s infrastructure. He was the force behind the building of the City and County Building on Washington Square as an architectural rival to the Salt Lake Temple. He was also instrumental in pushing the first legislation funding public education in Utah.

Robert Baskin battled with Utah’s incumbent member of Congress, George Q. Cannon, and twice ran against him. He was behind the Edmunds and Edmunds-Tucker Acts that dismantled the financial structure of LDS Church, and also authored the Cullom-Struble Bill whose pending passage helped bring about the Wilford Woodruff 1890 manifesto, presumably ending polygamy. In 1914, Baskin’s inflammatory, but well-documented, book, Reminiscences of Early Utah, was published. In it, he decried what he viewed as the excesses of a Mormon theocracy and roundly condemned its leaders, especially Brigham Young.

As Utah’s Supreme Court Justice he ended his public service, claiming high regard for the Mormon people. Was he the implacable enemy or was he largely responsible for the republican form of government under which Utah blossomed and for the changes in the LDS Church whose size and influence has grown immensely?

Fellow Utah Westerner, Gary Maxwell, will discuss these and other questions and tell us about one of the most fascinating and controversial characters in Utah history.

John Gary Maxwell received his M.D. from the University of Utah in the 1950s and went on to a long, distinguished career in medicine as a surgeon, professor, administrator, adviser, and leader, attaining numerous positions of responsibility and distinction. He is a member of several professional societies in the field of medicine, but also other groups such as the Western History Association, Mormon History Association, OCTA, and the Utah State Historical Society. Not only is he is the author of scores of medical publications, but he has also written books on Western history, including Gettysburg to Great Salt Lake: George R. Maxwell, Civil War Hero and Federal Marshal Among the Mormons and the one about the subject of our October meeting, Robert Newton Baskin and the Making of Modern Utah. Andy Jordan, in the Midwest Book Review, writes that the Maxwell’s book is “a seminal work of impressive detail in presenting the life and accomplishments of a key figure in . . . Utah” and says it is “highly recommended.” Gary’s forthcoming book is The Civil War in Utah. All the books are published by The Arthur H. Clark Company, an imprint of the University of Oklahoma Press.

Note: Until recently, Robert Baskin lay in an unmarked grave at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Salt Lake City. But after reading Gary Maxwell’s book about Baskin, two local men were motivated to honor and recognize Baskin and his “significant contributions” to Utah. They formed a committee to organize a gala dinner to honor Baskin on July 10, 2014, the 100th anniversary of the publication of his book, Reminiscences of Early Utah. Gary Maxwell served as an advisor to the committee. And now, the man whose many achievements went largely unheralded, until recently, has a marker for his grave.


October 13, 2014 at 3:06 pm Leave a comment

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