By Diana Hess
A whisper from beyond the grave…
A headstone hunting trip always provides us with an intriguing discovery. The latest trip was no exception. We were taking pictures in the cemetery when Ariana noticed a word on a headstone. “Assassinated?!” Yes, assassinated.
The headstone which called out to us belonged to Joseph Madison Thomas. He was born in Spanish Fork, Utah Territory in 1859. He died in 1901 and was buried in the Spanish Fork Cemetery.
A very short little remembrance by his youngest daughter, Vera, tells us about her father who went by “Matt.” The family of five children and a mother were living in rural Price, Utah. The oldest child would have been 13 and Vera was five.
Matt had a ranch in a rural area where he had cattle. In the spring Matt took a load a grain up to the cattle and did not return. Hundreds of men went out looking for him, but he wasn’t found until April 5th when some boys herding cows saw blood bubbling up in the river.
They got the sheriff, and they searched the river and found Matt’s body with his feet and hands bound with ropes. He was hit on the head with what looked like the butt of a gun and his throat was slit from ear to ear.
Their grandma Lewis said a paper man had written that he committed suicide. He would not retract the false story. They wanted people to know that it wasn’t suicide, and that’s why they put “Assassinated” on the headstone.
The story says that they never did find out who murdered him, but there are two suspects. The first was employees of the Nutter Corporation. It seems that Matt had filed on a 160-acre homestead that they wanted and he wouldn’t give up. Preston Nutter, “Utah’s last great cattle king,” owned so many cattle that he really didn’t know how many he had. He probably wanted those 160 rural acres to graze cattle on.
The second suspect is the Butch Cassidy gang, of which he was once a part. They worried that he would talk. Matt owned a big white horse which was used in a robbery. The horse was fast and sturdy and could carry a lot of silver in a getaway.
How many stories have been lost because they were not written down? Aren’t we glad Joseph Madison “Matt” Thomas’s daughters took the time to write the story of their father? I am.
If you want to read more about Matt, read this post on Facebook by Kerry Ross Boren.