1856 : James Jesse Strang Assassinated on Beaver Island

June 16, 2024 all-day

James Strang daguerreotype (1856).jpg

After the murder of Mormon leader Joseph Smith in 1844 in Illinois, most Mormons followed Brigham Young west to Utah. A few Mormons accepted the leadership of James Strang, a native New Yorker, and settled in Wisconsin.

Looking for a more isolated environment, Strang and his followers were attracted to Beaver Island in northern Lake Michigan. Strang’s community grew rapidly and he crowned himself king in 1850. Strang ran his kingdom with a strong hand and had quite a few enemies.

On Monday, June 16, 1856, Strang was waylaid around 7:00 PM on the dock at the harbor of St. James, chief city of Beaver Island, by Wentworth and Bedford, who shot him in the back. All of this was carried out in full view of several officers and men of the USS Michigan, a US Naval vessel docked in the harbor. Not one person on board the ship made any effort to warn or to aid the intended victim.

Strang was hit three times: one bullet grazed his head, another lodged in his cheek and a third in his spine, paralyzing him from the waist down. One of the assassins then savagely pistol-whipped the victim before running aboard the nearby vessel with his companion, where both claimed sanctuary. Some accused Captain McBlair of the Michigan of complicity in, or at least foreknowledge of, the assassination plot, though no hard evidence of this was ever forthcoming. The “King of Beaver Island” was taken to Voree, where he lived for three weeks, dying on July 9, 1856 at the age of 43. After refusing to deliver Bedford and Wentworth to the local sheriff, McBlair transported them to Mackinac Island, where they were given a mock trial, fined $1.25, released, and then feted by the locals. None of the plotters was ever punished for his crimes.

While Strang lingered on his deathbed in Voree, his Michigan enemies determined to extinguish his Beaver Island kingdom. On July 5, 1856, on what Michigan historian Byron M. Cutcheon later called “the most disgraceful day in Michigan history,” a drunken mob of “gentiles” from Mackinac and elsewhere descended upon the island and forcibly evicted every Strangite from it. Strang’s subjects on the island—numbering approximately 2,600 persons—were herded onto hastily commandeered steamers, most after being robbed of their money and other personal possessions, and unceremoniously dumped onto docks along the shores of Lake Michigan.

Sources :

James Strang Wikipedia Entry

Jenny Nolan, “The King of Beaver Island”, Detroit News, January 29, 1996.

Beaver Island’s History, New York Times, May 25, 1895.

Full Newspaper Title : Beaver Island’s History/Home of the Mormon Colony Under King James J. Strang/Career of the Bogus Prophet/Fights of His Followers with the Native Fishermen – His Death at the Hands of the Cowardly Assassins

Jeff Smith, “Beaver Island History Story Hits Kindle“, UpNorth, December 17, 2015.

Richard Fidler, “The Murder of James Jesse Strang, Ruler of the Mormon Colony at Beaver Island, 1856“, Grand Traverse Journal, November 1, 2015.

Sarah Hulett, “How a Mormon king shaped a sleepy island in Lake Michigan“, Michigan Radio, November 4, 2015.

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