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Beacon Archive

October 2002
PDF Version

The Man who shot Strang.

In the summer of 1856, as the increasingly powerful and autocratic king of Beaver Island strolled leisurely onto McCullough's dock (in front of the Erin Motel) for a conversation with the Captain of the US Michigan, two men, Thomas Bedford and Alexander Wentworth, appeared behind him and launched an attack. Wentworth fired the his gun, the bullet passed through Strang's hat, striking his head, and then bolted. But Bedford, whose pistol only held a single shot, ordered him back and forced him to fire another shot at point-blank range. Wentworth complied, and then ran for the ship, but Bedford remained, clubbing the fallen leader with his gun seven times, until the barrel broke.

The picture that has come down to us is of Wentworth being less hardened to such an act than was Bedford; indeed, Thomas Bedford was said to have killed two other men, and he was particularly proud throughout his life of having dispatched James Strang. He boasted of his act in the Detroit Evening News in 1882 (when he was 67), claiming he had come to Beaver before Strang, had affected a mock conversion in order to stay (and had married Tip Miller's sister), but was rankled by the loss of liberty that came with Strang's rules. Especially the ordinance requiring women to wear "the bloomer," to which he refused to make his wife comply.

The precipitating act was a beating to which Bedfford was subjected by Strang's henchmen in early March of 1856. One story is that he was beaten because he could not control his wife, but he tells a different tale in the paper. "I knew Strang had his men steal a boat from Gull Island, and mentioned this to the only white man living on Garden Island. I thought he would protect my confidence, but he repeated my remarks and the next day I was summoned. They accused me of betraying them by revealing what they had done, and marched me into the woods to receive my punishment. When they were done, I went home and got my gun."
After waiting outside Strang's home for fifteen minutes, hoping to get off a shot, Bedford rethought his plan and decided to wait for a better opportunity. The next morning he ran into Strang, who baldly asked him, "Were you whipped last night?" He claims to have replied, "You know I was, for there is none of this deviltry done unless you give the order." He never spoke to him again until he was leaning over his inert, pulpy body.

A power struggle had begun between Strang and one of his most important elders, Dr. McCullough. Strang moved to reduce his status, charging him with growing intoxication. McCullough retaliated by encouraging those who had a grudge against the king. In the case of Bedford, it is said he provided the pistols. When the Michigan arrived at the beginning of June, Bedford crouched behind a pile of lumber with a double-barreled duck gun, but the opportunity for a shot did not materialize. He resolved to try again when the warship returned.

He got his chance on the 16th when the Michigan again tied up at McCullough's dock. After bringing Strang down, both men were taken on board the ship and delivered to the authorities on Mackinac Island, where they were treated as heroes. A mock trial fined them $1.25 each and set them free. Bedford began to agitate for removing the rest of the Mormons, and by going from port to port was able to assemble 61 men to "sweep the Beavers." Once that stumbling, quasi-military maneuver was done, Bedford settled down on Beaver, where he resided for the next ten years.
In the interview, Bedford levied several charges against Strang, perhaps to justify his actions. He accused him of theft, among other things. "At one time there were 13 double teams on the Island," he said. "And I know for a fact that 8 had been stolen. The sheriff of Oakland County arrived one day, looking for a stolen horse. Strang lent him every assistance, furnishing him with men to assist in the search. But they were the very thieves who had stolen it! At Strang's direction they search one half of the Island one day, and the other the next. But he had the horses moved from one end of Beaver Island to the other during the night."

In the interview, Bedford stuck to the picture he wanted to present of having rendered a fine service to the Beavers. He would not discuss other crimes which impinged on his reputation; nor would he provide details about the encouragement, assistance, and rewards he might have received. He possessed much information which would be of interest today, but he took the rest of his secrets to the grave when he passed away five years later, forcing us to turn to speculation as we try to assemble the complete story of Strang's life and end. As for Wentworth, he was merely trying to protect his girl from the king’s eye.

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