Fact, everyone knows that Howard Egan was a Mormon. Fact, everyone knows that Howard Egan was a guide to the Gold Fields of California. Fact, everyone knows that Egan founded a shorter route by which Egan Canyon in White Pine County was named after. Fact, everyone knows that Howard Egan had many wives. But, does anyone know that it is not unlawful to kill anyone mess-in with your family if you are a Mormon, in Utah, in a Mormon court. Have you ever heard of the March 6,1852 Justifiable Homicide Act, which came about directly from the Egan Case.
Howard Egan was arraigned in the U. S. District Court (First District) on October 17, 1851, before the remaining federal Justice, Zerrubbable Snow, an arraignment probably made in order to disprove the statement of the "run away" judges.
Now to step back and get a better understanding of Howard Egan, lets review a little of his history. Howard was born June 15, 1815 in Tuellemere, Kings County, Ireland. When he was eight years old his mother died and his father moved the family to Montreal Canada. Five years later his father died leaving the family of nine children orphaned. At thirteen Egan took to the seas and became a sailor for many years. It wasn't until early in 1838, he took up the trade of rope making. It was at this point in his life that he made the acquaintance of his first wife, Tamson Parshley, whom he married on December 1, 1838.
October 1841, Howard Egan became a naturalized citizen of the United States, and in "42", he and his wife were converted to Mormonism and baptized by Erastus Snow. Later that same year he moved his family to the center of Mormon population in Nauvoo, Illinois, where he established a rope making business. He then joined the Nauvoo Police and served as a bodyguard to the Prophet Joseph Smith as well as a Major in the local militia. Evidently he was very dependable for Smith is quoted as saying, "We never feared when Howard Egan was on guard."
To be a good Mormon was to accept the doctrine of polygamy, Howard then started to practice it. 1844, Howard was sealed to Cathrine Clawson by Hyrum Smith; in 1846, he married Nancy Redding; and two years after the arrival of the Mormons in Salt Lake Valley, he married Mary Egan. In the spring of 1848, Egan and part of his family were selected to go with a company organized by Brigham Young; they left on May 24 for Salt Lake Valley. Later in 1849 he returned east to get his wife Nancy and their daughter Helen, he was to pilot another company of saints cross-country to Salt Lake Valley. Upon his return in 1849, Brigham gave him the job of guiding a company of forty-niners across the desert to the gold fields of California and return in the spring of 1850 to the Salt Lake Valley to finish settling his family. It was upon his arrival back in Salt Lake that he met with the news that one of his wives had willingly been seduced by a James Monroe and had given birth to an illegitimate child.
Between 1850 and 1851, Egan's activities were uncertain. But in September he rode out of Salt Lake in the direction of Fort Bridger. This trip leads him to meet up with a wagon train of which Monroe was a member. The affair between Monroe and Egan's wife were generally known throughout the train. The captain had already advised Monroe to leave the train knowing that Egan would come looking for him. Sunday, September 30, Egan meeting the train ten miles west of Bear River Shot Monroe.
Seven days after Howard Egan had returned to Salt Lake City, Chief Justice Brandebury abandoned his post in the first Judicial District, where the case was to be tried, and returned to the states (having tried no cases). Soon afterward on October 3, 1851, a Mormon hearing was held and after hearing the defendant the case was dismissed. The question is, did this hearing have any influence on the Civil Trial soon to follow.
On October 17, Egan was brought in to appear before the United States District Court (First District) for the Territory of Utah for an arraignment, with (Mormon) Judge Snow presiding. Seth M. Blair conducted the prosecution for the United States, but prior to the trial he was employed by and acted as counsel for the prisoner.
October 18, George A. Smith, on behalf of the prisoner, started his opening plea by stating basically that he did not know much about the law and technical terms to be used in court so he would use common mountain English to address the jury. Smith's strongest argument that seems to be most favored was, stating that the laws that are applicable in the United States are not applicable in Utah. Smith was trying to show that a new territory needs new laws. It was his opinion the only law in respect to adultery, which should govern in such an isolated place, was, "that the man who seduces his neighbor's wife must die." In continuing his case he also referred to two similar cases from the east, in which the defendants were found not guilty. These cases were "New Jersey vs. Mercer," and "Louisiana vs. Horton."
In his closing remarks, Smith had two very strong statements; "If Howard Egan did kill James Monroe, it was in accordance with the established principles of justice in these mountains," and that the United States did not have jurisdiction over the case because it was a territorial matter. After the closing by Smith, Judge Snow gave the charge of the jury.
Since there seemed to be some doubt about weather the crime was committed inside the territory. Judge Snow started out by stating the principle law in a plain and simple manner to leave no doubt about who had jurisdiction over this case, Utah. He then went on to state that if the jury found that the United States had jurisdiction, then they must find the defendant guilty; but if they found that the crime was occurred in Utah and that the Territory of Utah had jurisdiction, then they must find the defendant not guilty. Judge Snow's charge to the jury brought a response from a Washington D. C. newspaper, the National Intelligencer, Feb 15, 1852 which printed:To a mind untutored in logic of law, Messrs. Editors, the charge of the learned Judge Snow seems to establish two very important facts, to wit: First, that murder is a legal act within the limits of the Territory of Utah: and second, that the courts and juries of the Territory have ample jurisdiction over undefined extent of country Without the limits of the Territory. While reading this extraordinary Charge, it would be borne in mind that the act organizing the Territory, Congress in express terms extended over the common Law, and clothed the judges and courts with full jurisdiction.
The jury only took the time to write out their findings, because they returned to the court in only fifteen minutes. A Mormon on trial, with a Mormon Judge and Mormon jury, in Utah; verdict, not guilty.
The thought was that this case might set a precedent for future cases held in Utah. Precedent indeed, on March 6, 1852, the Territorial legislature passed the Justifiable Homicide Act, which seemed to be a direct outcome of the Egan case. The Act provided that it would be Justifiable homicide to kill the person who defiled a "wife, daughter, mother, sister or any other female relative or dependent. This law was enforced until 1874 when Congress resolved it with the Poland Laws.
Egan would go on to make his mark in Nevada, as well in Utah. In 1859 Egan and George W. Chorpenning established a stage station at Schell Creek Nevada for Majors and Waddell. However, when the Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express Company's "Pony Express" was established, Egan became the superintendent of the Salt Lake Division. He was to make his legend with the Pony Express. By breaking over 300 miles of trail, founded by Egan, navigating a shorter route through the middle of Nevada he left his mark. Egan Canyon, Egan Station, are places named after the great Scout. He developed business interests, a store in Ruby Valley, a ranch and store at Duck Creek, and several businesses in Slat Lake City. He sold beef in California and discovered several mines in Nevada.
EMajor Howard Egan died in March of 1878 while guarding Brigham Young's Grave. He had got wet and took sick and died at the age of sixty-three.