Utahn unravels ancestor's 1891 homicide
His book, 'Jane,' probes the mysterious death of feisty pioneer ancestor
Tom Smart, Deseret News
The warrant has been on the books for 118 years, spinning the story of a Scottish immigrant, a Mormon pioneer who faced down an infamous Indian chief and was shot dead in a dance hall.
"Jane: A Woman's Determination and the Wild West Frontier" was written by a Utah law enforcement investigator with nearly 30 years of experience.
But Mike King, who has been chief of staff to the Utah attorney general and who spent time as a beat cop and untangled mysteries of many a crime, never envisioned he would tackle the truth behind his great-great-grandmother's murder.
His quest started 10 years ago in Monticello, where he made a side trip to learn more about Jane McKechnie Walton — a murdered woman, a pioneer who was part of the Hole-in-the-Rock expedition and a relative he'd long heard stories about.
"I knew very little about her except that she had been killed by a drunken cowboy at the town celebration in 1891. I always wondered about Jane."
On that side trip, he approached a visitors booth, asking about his great-great-grandmother.
"It was this old, old, woman," he said. "She looked at me with big wide eyes and asked if I was family of Mrs. Walton."
"With old, arthritic fingers, she handed me this diary. She said, 'I have this diary of your great-great-grandfather's since I was a little girl. He told me someday a family member would come looking for it.' "
King said he was stunned.
"I couldn't believe that someone, who was not a member of the family, had protected it all these years."
He said it was an uncanny moment.
"The old woman looked at me and said, 'Now, son, she has a story worth telling.' "
So, he told it.
He picked apart the research and began writing about this woman who sailed across the Atlantic in a wooden steamship as a child, crossed the plains and was called by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to help establish the San Juan Mission.
In his efforts to learn more, he would discover that Walton faced down an infamous Paiute chief, striking him in the head with a hoe when she refused his demands for food.
Her bravery would forge an unlikely alliance with the rebel chief who would go onto avenge her death, or so the story goes.
When the stories came alive, King put them on paper, and after reading the diary given to him by the old lady, he learned all is not what it seems.
Through his research, King says he learned it was not the drunken cowboy who killed his great-great-grandmother in the dance hall that July 24, 1891, but someone else, which is revealed in the last chapter.
Still, the warrant for the "killer" remains on the books in San Juan County 118 years later, and the story of Jane McKechnie Walton lives on, a legacy to pioneer strength and Wild West violence.
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