WASHINGTON COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY (Washington County, Utah)
THOMAS "TOM" FORREST
(Silver Reef miner and murderer who was lynched in St. George)
BIOGRAPHYThomas Forrest was born about 1842 in Scotland.
In 1880, Thomas Forrest, a Scottish Catholic miner, was hired on at the California Mine owned by theStormont Silver Mining Company of Utah. Forrest immediately became a problem for the company. He was aggressive and tended to cause problems, especially among fellow Scottish and Irish immigrants. People generally did not enjoy Forrest's company, and he was not one to enjoy the company of others.
On October 2, 1880, Colonel Washington Allen, the general superintendent of the mine, instructed the mine foreman, Michael Carbis, to fire Forrest. Carbis was a well-mannered and respected individual, but was well aware of the problematic Forrest. Carbis was more than willing to discharge the troublemaker. Prior to the start of Forrest's shift, Carbis advised him that his employment was being terminated effective immediately. Forrest did not take this news well and there may have been a heated verbal confrontation between the two men.
Forrest was visibly upset over his termination and he freely expressed his discontent with Carbis to whomever would listen. Initially, his complaints sounded no different from the complaints of other miners who had been discharged before him. However, Forrest then began stating his intentions to kill Carbis. Still thinking that he was just a disgruntled worker and wouldn't follow through with his word, nobody paid much attention to the threats. Forrest eventually retired to his home and began sharpening his knife in preparation for the sinful deed.
Tom Forrest awoke early the next morning. He grabbed his knife and tucked it into a sheath on his belt. He also grabbed a revolver and loaded it with ammunition. Once everything was prepared, he set out for the road that Carbis followed every day to the mine. He waited at the side of the road, just outside the Buckeye Boarding House. When Carbis passed by, Forrest asked him to stop as he wished to talk with him. Carbis said he had no spare time and must hasten on. Then Forrest jumped up and stabbed Carbis with the knife.
As it happened, Constable Joe Hoag was nearby and attempted to arrest Forrest. But Forrest drew a pistol and the officer wisely abandoned the idea and ran for help. Meantime, several people took the severely wounded Carbis home to his family near the Catholic Church. Two physicians were called to dress the wound, but found little hope for life. Carbis died about sunset surrounded by his wife, children, and many friends.
Constable Hoag had organized a large posse of approximately one hundred individuals to locate Forrest. They included a couple of the witnesses and a couple Native Americans with tracking skills. They found Forrest hiding in an idle shaft of the Tecumseh Mine and placed him under arrest, incarcerating him in the Silver Reef jail.
Almost immediately, there was talk of breaking Forrest out of jail and hanging him for the murder. Hoag kept a constant watch for anyone who might choose to carry out this threat. Sure enough, Michael Carbis' oldest son, Michael J. Carbis, came to the small jail with a loaded pistol and threatened to kill Forrest. Hoag was able to diffuse the situation and convinced Carbis to leave. But then Hoag determined that it wasn't safe to keep Forrest in Silver Reef. Transportation was arranged and Forrest was transferred to the Washington County jail in St. George for his safety
The Michael Carbis funeral was held on October 5. Every miner from the mine was given the day off with pay. Carbis was one of the most popular men in Silver Reef, and his passing affected not only his family, but the entire town.
A few short hours after Carbis' funeral, a large posse gathered in Silver Reef. Over one hundred masked men gathered together with one mutual goal: to bring Thomas Forrest to justice by any means necessary.
The small army departed for St. George after midnight on October 6, arriving in St. George by two o'clock. Sheriff Augustus P. Hardy and one other guard were subdued and the posse took custody of Forrest. Forrest was led a block to the east where the party attempted to hang him on a telegraph pole. The pole was unable to hold Forrest's weight, however, and its wooden arm snapped off. Undeterred, the party led Forrest to the home of George Cottam where they hung him on a much more sturdy cottonwood tree in Cottam's front yard. Once Forrest died of asphyxiation, the lynch mob retreated back to Silver Reef, leaving his body hanging on the tree. When the sun rose later that day, a grisly sight met the eyes of St. George's citizenry. St. George's residents were not used to seeing sights such as the hanging body of Tom Forrest. This sight was not well received, though one man allegedly remarked, “I have observed that tree growing there for the last 25 years. This is the first time I have ever seen it bearing fruit!”
Forrest's body was taken down by Sheriff Hardy and interred in an unmarked grave in the St. George cemetery. Its exact location has long since been forgotten.
REFERENCESThe Carbis-Forrest Affair: Vigilante Justice in Frontier Utah
In a paper by Jonathan Alvey
Story of the Michael Carbis murder and the Thomas Forrest lynching