William S. Hawley

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William Schroeder Hawley, his personal and family background, and his involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre

William S. Hawley


Biographical Sketch

William Schroeder Hawley was a native of Peoria County in west-central Illinois with American forebears from Vermont and Tennessee. Moving from there to central, then western, Illinois, and finally to frontier Utah, Hawley was an American frontiersman and pioneer of southern Utah.

Early Life in Illinois

Hawley was born in Peoria, Peoria County in west-central Illinois. Hawley’s father and paternal grandfather were from Addison County near Lake Champlain in west-central Vermont; his maternal forebears, from Tennessee. In the early 1820s Hawley’s parents were married in Lawrence County in southeast Illinois. The family passed through Dupage County in north-east Illinois, then moved to the west to Lasalle County in central Illinois, then further west to Peoria County where William S. Hawley was born.

By the late 1830s they were in Shelby County in central Illinois. They heard the Mormon message and converted to Mormonism.

Migration to Utah

In 1855, Hawley married Nancy Sebrina Matheny (1837-1914) who was born in Green County, Arkansas. She was a younger sister of Sims Lafayette Matheny. In the 1850s, the Hawleys traveled to the temporary Mormon settlements in western Iowa. In 1856, they joined the Jacob Croft Company, which departed on the trek west in late June. Traveling with William Hawley were his older brothers, George and John, and their families.

The Mormon Trail

They passed the usual milestones on the trail: Fort Kearney, the South Fork of the Platte River, Chimney Rock, Fort Laramie, the Sweetwater River, Independence Rock, Devil's Gate, Green River, Fort Bridger, Bear River, and Weber River. After suffering the usual hardships of overland trail they arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake in early October.

The Cotton Mill in Washington County.

To Washington County and the Cotton Mission

In 1857, William Hawley with his brothers George and John Hawley along with his wife and his brother-in-law Sims Matheny were original settlers in Washington, Washington County, in southern Utah. Washington was settled by several interconnected families of southerners. Although the Hawleys were not from the South, evidently they joined the southerners because John Hawley had married into the Matheny family. Arriving in the future site of Washington in the spring, they encamped at Adair Springs. The Adairs, Mathenys, Pearces, Prices, Slades, and others were some of the principal families in the new settlement. These southerners founded the Cotton Mission in what came to be known as Utah's Dixie.

Washington appeared to have many advantages over other nearby locales. It was located near several fine springs and the Washington fields seemed to provide a lush expanse of farmland. However, appearances proved to be deceiving and soon "Dixie" was considered one of the most difficult areas to colonize. The broad fields were actually floodplains so if their dams washed out, as they did with discouraging frequency, their crops were jeopardized. Meanwhile the springs, so inviting in an arid, hot country, created marshes, the perfect habitat for mosquitos. Many of them suffered from bouts of malaria (the "fever and ague" or "chills") for many years.

Although it eventually proved commercially unsuccessful, it did succeed in producing cotton goods for local use and export at an important stage in Utah Territory's economic development.

Iron MIlitary District: 2nd Lieutenant William Hawley, Company I, John D. Lee's 4th Battalion

Map southern utah 1.jpg

In 1857, the Iron Military District consisted of four battalions led by regimental commander Col. William H. Dame. The platoons and companies in the first battalion drew on men in and around Parowan. (It had no involvement at Mountain Meadows.) Major Isaac Haight commanded the 2nd Battalion whose personnel in its many platoons and two companies came from Cedar City and outer-lying communities to the north such as Fort Johnson. Major John Higbee headed the 3rd Battalion whose many platoons and two companies were drawn from Cedar City and outer-lying communities to the southwest such as Fort Hamilton. Major John D. Lee of Fort Harmony headed the 4th Battalion whose platoons and companies drew on its militia personnel from Fort Harmony, the Southerners at the newly-founded settlement in Washington, the Indian interpreters at Fort Clara, and the new settlers at Pinto.

In September 1857, William S. Hawley, 27, was sergeant under 2nd Lt. James Mathews' platoon, in Harrison Pearce’s Company I in John D. Lee’s 4th Battalion. See A Basic Account for a full description of the massacre.

In the arrest warrant issued by Judge John Cradlebaugh in 1859, Hawley was listed as "William Halley." According to John D. Lee, Hawley was among the party from Washington who moved up to Mountain Meadows on Tuesday the 8th. Hawley’s exact role in the main massacre on Friday the 11th is uncertain.

Map of Millard County, Utah.

Later LIfe

According to John D. Lee, Hawley moved to Fillmore in central Utah and in fact Hawley and his family left southern Utah in 1858, settling in Fillmore, Millard County. In the mid-1860s, a William S. Hawley was a deputy sheriff in Millard County. Between April 1865 and November 1867, Hawley was in the militia, or home guard, charged with protecting settlements and livestock and pursuing Indian raiders.

Hawley remained there until his death in 1893. He was survived by his wife and seven children.

Rumors or Lore

Included under this heading are uncorroborated rumors, legends, or lore about some of the militiamen, which freely circulated after the massacre. Millard County newspaper editor Frank Beckwith collected information on William S. Hawley including Mountain Meadows lore to the effect that Hawley was chained to a wagon wheel as punishment for opposing the attack on the emigrants. But this is unconfirmed quadruple hearsay, allegedly passing from Hawley to Nate Dodge to Josiah F. Gibbs to Charles Kelly. Gibbs held that Hawley died "insane" while Beckwith reported that some thought Hawley was "a bit off." (A History of Washington County, 29, fn. 11; A History of Millard County, 138.)

Years after his death, his widow applied for Indian War veterans benefits for his service during the Black Hawk War during the late 1860s.


Alder and Brooks, A History of Washington County, 29, fn. 11; Bagley, Blood of the Prophets, 143; Beckwith, "Shameful Friday," 23-25; Bigler and Bagley, ed., Innocent Blood: Essential Narratives, 405; Lee, Mormonism Unveiled, 228, 379; Lee Trial transcripts; Lyman and Newell, A History of Millard County, 138; New.FamilySearch.org; Turley and Walker, ed., Mountain Meadows Massacre: Jenson and Morris Collections, 236; Utah State Archive and Records and Service, Commissioner of Indian War Records, Indian War Service Affidavits, affidavit of Nancy Hawley re service of William S. Hawley, accessed at http://archives.utah.gov/research/inventories/2217.html; Walker, et al, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, Appendix C, 258.

For full bibliographic information, see Bibliography.

External Links

For further information on William S. Hawley, see:

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