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THE INFAMOUS ST. JOHNS RING

Updated: Dec 9, 2023

A powerful group of anti-Mormons in Arizona Territory.

Sketch of gunman hiding while votes counted

The St. Johns men hid a gunman behind a curtain with orders to shoot Probate Judge Jesse N. Smith if the vote count did not turn out the way they wanted. Sketch by Edward Silas Smith.


When I opened a book once belonging to my mother, I hoped only to verify a few details. Instead, I found a boatload of new information, including about the anti-Mormon group known as the St. Johns Ring.


St. Johns, Arizona, my mother's hometown, was never a strictly Mormon settlement. It had four factions in its early days:

1) The Barth family who sold land to the Saints,

2) Mexicans, many who had worked for the Barths and didn't want to leave,

3) Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, generally called Mormons, and

4) A group of Anglos who called themselves The St. Johns Ring.


How bad was the Ring? Here's an excerpt from their newspaper, The Apache Chief, published on May 30, 1884.

“How did Missouri and Illinois get rid of the Mormons? By the use of the shotgun and rope. Apache County can rid herself of them also. In a year from now the Mormons will have the power here and Gentiles had better leave. Don’t let them get it.

“Desperate diseases need desperate remedies. The Mormon disease is a desperate one… No Mormon should be allowed to cast a vote. He has no rights and should be allowed none. Down with them. Grind out their very existence or make them comply with the laws of the people and decency.”


Over time, The St. Johns Ring managed to acquire powerful political allies, including the Chief Justice of the Territorial Supreme Court and the United States Court Commissioner stationed in St. Johns. One of the group’s successful efforts was the enactment in 1885 of the Stover Bill. Named for the representative to the territorial legislature from St. Johns, it disenfranchised not only the polygamists in Arizona but every faithful Mormon because of their belief in the doctrine. Armed with that bill, the Ring then did their best to keep the territorial courts busy prosecuting polygamists.

But political winds often shift, and the well-connected can lose power. That’s what happened with the election of the Democratic candidate for president in 1885, Grover Cleveland. In search of votes, the Democrats looked favorably upon the Mormon settlers, and the Stover Bill was soon repealed.


Sources:

C. LeRoy and Mabel E. Wilhelm, A History of the St. Johns Arizona Stake, Historical Publications, Orem, Utah, 1982.

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