Gold and Precious Metals

A murder in Silver Reef and lynching in St. George during Utah’s mining days – St George News

The stone jailhouse that Gus Hardy constructed in the backyard of his home, that was used to imprison Tom Forrest, still stands in St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy Washington County Historical Society, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Sheriff Gus Hardy was sound asleep when the mob arrived in the morning on Oct. 6, 1880. The sounds of horse’s hooves and the cursing of men with murder on their mind caused him to jump out of bed at 2 a.m.

Miners flocked to Silver Reef from mining camps throughout the West, Silver Reef, circa 1880 | Photo courtesy Utah State Historical Society, St. George News

By the time he got downstairs and into his backyard where he’d constructed a small stone jailhouse, he could see the men from Silver Reef planned to take Tom Forrest from the safety of his prison cell. He knew there could be trouble when he locked Forrest up, but he hadn’t anticipated this.

Silver Reef was in its glory at the time, with nearly 2,000 miners, merchants, and assorted hangers-on calling it home. Between 1875 and 1884, over $8 million worth of silver ore was extracted from its mines. The miners themselves could be a wild bunch, but their troubles rarely spilled over to disturb the tranquility of St. George.

Disputes over mining claims or the charms of the young women that worked in the dance halls occasionally broke out, and from time to time somebody got shot. But until now the town’s Deputy Sheriff Joe Hoag had kept the lid on things, throwing the occasional miscreant into the one-room wooden jail on Silver Reef’s East Street.

It was true that just two years earlier, Sykes Griffin, a dealer at the Cassidy Saloon shot and killed a card shark named Henry Clark, whose gambling skills Griffin attributed to deceit. No arrest nor trial was required in that instance, however, as Clark’s brother quickly administered justice of his own by killing Griffin.

Silver Reef’s Main Street in Silver Reef, Utah circa 1880 | Photo courtesy Utah State Historical Society, St. George News

But this was a rare occurrence, if you also overlook the time Jack Truby, the foreman at the Kenner Mine, and Deputy Marshal John Diamond killed one other in a shootout following a court hearing. Even at that, the business with Tom Forrest was another matter altogether.

Tom Forrest had left Scotland for the American West to make his fortune, but by the time he reached the mining camps fortunes were hard to come by and Forrest’s hot temper got him into trouble everywhere he went. After knocking around the West for a few years, he landed in Silver Reef in 1880 where he got a job in the California Mine owned by the Stormont Mining Company.

True to form, it didn’t take long for Forrest to get sideways with management and in early October the mine superintendent directed the foreman, a man named Michael Carbis, to sack him.

When Carbis carried out the directive, Forrest threatened to kill him. Carbis and the miners who overheard the threats figured Forrest was just a loudmouth spewing empty threats who would soon be on his way to another mine.

Michael Carbis emigrated to America in the 1850s, seeking his fortunes in the mines of the American West. He and his wife Fanny had six children circa 1870, location not specified | Photo courtesy Washington County Historical Society, St. George News

Unlike Forrest, Carbis was well-liked by the miners. He and his brother William had come to America from Cornwall, England in the early 1850s and were doing well for themselves. Michael and his wife Fanny had six children, and with his brother Carbis had worked the mines in California and Nevada before landing in Silver Reef.

Unbeknown to Carbis or anyone else, Forrest returned to his boarding house after being sacked, had supper, then went to his room to sharpen his long knife as he plotted his revenge. Early the next morning he sheathed his knife, loaded his pistol, and went out to intercept Michael Carbis on his way to work.

As he waited beside the Buckeye Boarding House, Carbis came by and refused to stop when Forrest asked to talk to him. With that, Forrest unsheathed his knife and plunged it into Carbis’ side, fleeing as Carbis fell bleeding the ground. Nearby miners witnessed the attack and carried Carbis to his home where the local doctor did what he could.

But as Carbis’ wife and children wept and looked on, he died a few hours later. By then Deputy Sheriff Joe Hoag had organized a large posse to track Forrest down. After a few hours they found him cowering in an abandoned mine shaft. Hoag arrested him and threw him into the town’s small wooden jail.

Word of the murder flashed through Silver Reef as angry miners began gathering to exact speedy justice. Things got worse when Carbis’ oldest son Michael showed up at the jail, pistol in hand, prepared to even the score on the spot. Deputy Sheriff Hoag talked him out of it but also recognized the impossibility of keeping Forrest safe in Silver Reef.

With the help of a couple of other men, Hoag put Forrest in irons and moved him to the Washington County jail in St. George. When Hoag explained the situation, Sheriff Gus Hardy quickly got the picture and agreed to keep Forrest in custody while awaiting his trial. Two days later, things took an ugly turn.

The stone jailhouse that Gus Hardy constructed in the backyard of his home, that was used to imprison Tom Forrest, still stands in St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy Washington County Historical Society, St. George News

A big crowd showed up for Michael Carbis’ funeral, which the local Masonic Lodge had organized, after which Carbis was buried in the Silver Reef cemetery. The sight of Carbis’ six fatherless children cemented the miners’ thirst for vengeance, and later that night they armed themselves, saddled their horses and set out for St. George.

Hearing the mob approach, Sheriff Hardy was at the stone jailhouse to meet them, but his attempt to calm them down failed. They quickly overpowered him, found the key to the jailhouse, and seized Tom Forrest. He was terrified and pleaded for mercy as the men dragged him a block to the east where they threw a rope over the arm of a telegraph pole.

As they tried to hoist Forrest, the pole arm broke, sending Forrest and his executioners sprawling. Undeterred, they moved further down the street where they found a big cottonwood tree in George Cottam’s front yard. It easily held Forrest’s weight and after it was clear he was dead the mob declared their work done, mounted their horses, and rode back to Silver Reef, leaving Forrest’s body hanging in Cottom’s tree.

With the help of others, Sheriff Hardy soon lowered Forrest’s body from his perch and buried him in an unmarked grave in the St. George cemetery. Apparently wishing not to be dragged into more of Silver Reef’s ugly business, the authorities in St. George left it to Deputy Sheriff Hoag and the mine owners in Silver Reef to punish the lynch mob.

Gus Hardy built the house at 46 West St. George Blvd. for his family in 1877. It remains in use today, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy Washington County Historical Society, St. George News

But discretion being the better part of valor, and perhaps imagining the consequences if those responsible were brought to trial, the whole matter was dropped.

It wasn’t long before the mines at Silver Reef played out and the miners, card sharks, and dancehall girls moved on to greener pastures. Things quieted down after that, but no one who witnessed the events of that night, or the grim sight of Tom Forrest dangling from George Cottam’s cottonwood tree, ever forgot it.

The only reminder of the tragedy left today is Michael Carbis’ headstone in the Silver Reef cemetery. It’s epitaph reads: “Dying is but going home. Death thou art but another birth, freeing the spirit from the clogs of earth.”

Editor’s note: Sources for this article include “Memories of Silver Reef,” by Mark A. Pendleton, in Utah Historical Quarterly, Volume 3, Number 4, October 1930; documents found in the Washington County Historical Society on-line archives; and Memories in

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