Robert Taylor Burton was second counselor to Presiding Bishop
Edward Hunter from 1875 to 1883, and first counselor to Presiding Bishop William
B. Preston from 1884 to 1907. Bishop Burton was the son of Samuel Burton and Hannah Shipley,
and was born Oct. 25, 1821, at Amherstburg, Canada West. He was the tenth
in a family of fourteen children, seven of whom were born in England and
the rest in America. His parents emigrated to America in 1817, and after
residing two or three years in New York State they removed to western Canada.
Some time in the autumn of 1837 two "Mormon" missionaries
came into the neighborhood where the Burton family resided. Robert T. Burton,
then only sixteen years of age, persuaded his father to entertain the Elders
and provide a place in which they could expound their views. Soon after
this the youth visited some relatives in the State of Ohio, spending the
winter at school and the next summer in helping his widowed sister, Mrs.
Jane Layborne, upon her farm. During his absence from home his father's
family was converted to "Mormonism." He was informed of this fact by his
mother, who in September visited him and her kindred in Ohio, and requested
him to accompany them in their proposed migration to the far west. This
meant at that time the State of Missouri, where the Latter-day Saints were
gathering in large numbers. He consented to do so, though not without some
reluctance, the result of certain rumors unfavorable to the Saints that
were afloat concerning them in Ohio.
Returning to Canada he was himself converted to the
faith which his parents had espoused, and was baptized by Elder Henry Cook,
October 23, 1838. In the latter part of that month he left Canada, with
his father's family, for Far West, Caldwell county, Missouri, and had gone
as far as Walnut Grove, Knox county, Illinois, when he learned of the terrible
persecutions of the Saints in the adjoining State. He therefore concluded,
with others, to remain at Walnut Grove, where a branch of the Church was
organized, and there the Burton family resided for about two years.
They then removed to Nauvoo. From June, 1843, to
1844, Robert T. Burton, who had been ordained an Elder, was absent from
Nauvoo on a mission in Illinois, Michigan and Ohio, in company with Elder
Nathaniel V. Jones. Having baptized a goodly number and organized branches
in the two latter States, they returned home, Elder Burton's arrival being
just two weeks before the martyrdom of the Prophet and Patriarch.
Right at this time he performed his first military
duty, enlisting in Captain Gleason's cavalry company, Nauvoo Legion. He
was on guard duty in Nauvoo at the time of the Carthage jail travesty and
for some time afterwards was constantly on duty there and in the vicinity,
endeavoring to protect the lives and property of his persecuted people
from rapine and robbery.
A lover of music and possessing talent in that line,
he became a member of the Nauvoo Brass Band, and also connected himself
with the Nauvoo Choir, besides performing other public duties. In January,
1845, he was called on a special mission, with Elder Samuel W. Richards,
to travel through some of the central counties of Illinois for the purpose
of allaying prejudice in the minds of the people, the result of falsehoods
circulated by apostates and others in the vicinity of Nauvoo.
He returned in time to be married on the 18th of
December, to Miss Maria Susan Haven, the ceremony uniting the young couple
being performed by President Brigham Young at
the home of the Havens in Nauvoo. Elder Burton later practced plural marriage,
taking two other wives and fathering a total of twenty-seven children,
mostly boys. The nearest thing to a honeymoon experienced
by Brother and Sister Burton was the tragic exodus of the ensuing spring,
when the Saints began to leave Nauvoo upon their long and toilsome pilgrimage
into the unknown West. The Burtons were in one of the first companies that
started, crossing the Mississippi on the ice, February 11, 1846, and encamping
on the western bank. The snow was about eighteen inches deep and the weather
intensely cold—so cold that many of the homeless pilgrims were compelled
to cross and recross the frozen river several times, with teams and wagons,
for additional supplies of clothing, bedding and provisions. The Burtons
left Sugar Creek in the general move westward. Progress was slow and difficult,
owing to the absence of roads and the prevailing wet weather, the country
being covered with water and mud almost the entire distance to the Missouri
river, where they arrived about the middle of June.
The main camp was at Council Bluffs, but Bro. Burton
with his wife and his aged parents made a temporary home at a point lower
down the river. There his mother died, a victim to the hardships and exposures
of the enforced exodus, and was buried in a lonely grave on the banks of
the Missouri. The survivors of the family, after accumulating the necessary
teams and supplies for the journey across the plains, left their Missouri
home, and on May 20, 1848, rejoined the main body of the Saints at Winter
Quarters. By this time the Pioneers had been to the Rocky Mountains and
returned, and President Young and his associates were now organizing the
main emigration. Robert T. Burton and his family were in the company led
by Pres. Brigham Young, with whom they came to Salt Lake valley, arriving
there in the latter part of September. During the journey Bro. Burton acted
as bugler for the camp.
He and his family lived in the Old Fort until January,
1849, when, Salt Lake City having been laid out and divided into ecclesiastical
Wards, they moved into the Fifteenth Ward. Elder Burton first lived with
his brother-in-law, William Coray, but on the 15th of August removed to
the corner of Second West and First South streets.
In the fall of that year the local militia was organized,
under the reminiscent title of "Nauvoo Legion." In the first company of
cavalry that was formed—the one commanded by Captain George D. Grant—Robert
T. Burton was appointed bugler. Early in 1850 this company was called into
active service to defend the settlers in Utah county against hostile Indians.
Leaving Salt Lake City on the evening of February 7th, they traveled all
night, and arriving at Provo early on the morning of the 8th, found the
Indians strongly fortified on the south bank of Provo river, where they
stoutly defended themselves for three days against the attack of Captain
Grant's "Minute Men" and others of the militia. On the third day a little
company of cavalry made a determined assault upon the enemy's position,
and after receiving the Indian fire, which momentarily checked their charge,
rallied, swept on and captured a barricade formed by a double log house,
from which the savages fled precipitately after defending it as long as
In the very thick of the fray, two of the cavalry
men—Robert T. Burton and Lot Smith—heedless of the bullets that whistled
past their ears and splintered the wood-work in every direction, rode round
to the front of the house and spurred their horses into the passage way
between the log buildings. They were the first of the troopers inside the
house, most of their comrades entering by sawing through the logs at the
rear. The campaign was quite successful, the Indians being driven from
the valley into the mountains.
In September of the same year Elder Burton was one
of a company ordered north against the Shoshone Indians, and in November
he and his comrades again went to Utah county against a remnant of the
tribe they had fought there the previous spring. While on this campaign
he was elected lieutenant. In December he was ordered to Tooele county
in pursuit of marauding savages. This trip was a very trying one, the company
having no tents or other shelter, and being without sufficient bedding
or clothing. After a hard experience they returned to Salt Lake City, having
accomplished very little. In June, 1851, he accompanied another expedition
against the Indians on the western desert, and though the men suffered
much for want of water, they were entirely successful, killing, in a battle
fought at the edge of the desert west of Skull valley, nearly all the members
of this hostile tribe.
In the spring of 1852 he took a small company of
men to Green river to serve papers issued from the District court and protect
the settlers in that section from Indians and renegade white men. The following
year he was elected captain of company "A"—the original cavalry corps—and
on March 1st, 1855, he received his commission as major. His commission
as colonel came on June 12th, two years later.
In October, 1856, he accompanied the relief corps
that went out to meet and help in the belated handcart companies, struggling
through the snow five or six hundred miles east of Salt Lake City. The
weather was extremely cold, and not only the immigrants but their rescuers
ran short of provisions and were reduced to one-fourth rations, until the
arrival of further relief. After the companies had been provided for as
well as possible under the circumstances, Major Burton was placed in charge
of the train and conducted it to Salt Lake City, arriving there on the
last day of November. "This," says he, "was the hardest trip of my life.
Many of the immigrants died from cold and hunger and were buried by the
The next fall found him in the midst of the trouble
known as the "Echo Canyon War." On the 15th of August, pursuant to orders
previously issued, he started eastward at the head of a small company of
mounted men, numbering about eighty in all, to assist the immigration then
en route to the Valley, take observations as to the movements of the United
States troops also on the way to Utah, and report the information to headquarters.
He faithfully carried out his instructions. Meeting, at Devil's Gate, on
the 21st of September, the vanguard of Johnston's army, commanded by Colonel
Alexander, Colonel Burton and his scouts hovered in the vicinity of the
advancing troops, watching and reporting their movements until they arrived
on Ham's Fork, twenty miles northeast of Fort Bridger.
At the latter point, Colonel Burton joined General
Wells, the commander of the Legion, now opposing, by order of Governor
Brigham Young, the further advance of the invading army. About the middle
of October Colonel Burton, with a heavy force of cavalry, intercepted Colonel
Alexander, who, finding his way through Echo Canyon blocked by ice, snow
and hostile militia, was supposed to be attempting a detour to the northward,
thinking to enter Salt Lake valley by the Fort Hall route. Alexander was
compelled to return southward and camp on Black's Fork, where he was joined
in November by General Johnston.
The Federal army having gone into winter quarters
at Fort Bridger, Colonel Burton rejoined General Wells in Echo Canyon.
He remained there until the 5th of December, and then returned to Salt
Lake City. In the spring of 1858, when the people in general moved south
to avoid a possible collision with the government troops, who were making
preparations to march through Salt Lake City, Colonel Burton was left with
a force of militia to guard the property of the absent community.
In 1862, by order of Acting-Governor Fuller, he proceeded
with a company of picked men as far east as the Platte river, for the purpose
of protecting the mails from Indians and lawless white men, who, taking
advantage of the outbreak of the Civil War, were attacking and burning
mail stations, driving off stock, way-laying stage coaches, killing passengers,
cutting open mail sacks and scattering the contents, and committing various
other depredations. This duty he performed to the entire satisfaction of
the governor and other authorities.
In June of the same year occurred the "Morrisite
War," in which Colonel Burton played a very prominent part, commanding,
as deputy of the Territorial marshal, the posse sent against the Morrisites
by order of Chief Justice Kinney of the Third District Court, whose writs
the Morrisite leaders had treated with contempt, and with their followers
were in armed rebellion against the execution of the laws. The details
of this affair, including General Burton's trial on a trumped-up charge
of murder—a vexatious proceeding instituted many years afterwards—with
his triumphant acquittal (March 7th, 1879) by a jury composed equally of
"Mormons" and non"Mormons," are related in Volumes two and three of Whitney's
History of Utah.
Robert T. Burton received his commission as major-general
from Governor Durkee in 1868. In all the military history of Utah up to
the disbandment of the Nauvoo Legion in 1870, General Burton, under Lieutenant-General
Wells, was one of the principal men in perfecting the organization and
directing the operations of the Territorial militia. In addition to his
military offices, he held civic positions as follows: Constable of Salt
Lake City in 1852; U. S. Deputy marshal in 1853 and for many years thereafter;
sheriff, assessor and collector of Salt Lake county from 1854 to 1874;
deputy Territorial marshal from 1861 until several years later; collector
of internal revenue for the District of Utah, by appointment of President
Lincoln, from 1862 to 1869; assessor of Salt Lake county in 1880; a member
of the Salt Lake City Council from 1856 to 1873; and a member of the Legislative
Council from 1855 to 1887.
While serving in the legislature, he was appointed
in 1876 one of the committee of three to arrange, compile and publish all
the laws of the Territory of Utah then in force, his associates in this
important labor being Hon. Abraham O. Smoot and Hon. Silas S. Smith. From
1880 to 1884 Hon. Robert T. Burton was a member of the Board of Regents
of the University of Deseret.
His ecclesiastical record after coming to Utah is
as follows: In 1859 he was appointed counselor to Bishop Andrew Cunningham
of the Fifteenth Ward, and in 1867 he became the Bishop of that Ward. In
November, 1869, he went upon a mission to the Eastern States, and during
his absence spent some time in the city of Washington, assisting Utah's
delegate, Hon. William H. Hooper, in the interests of his constituency.
In May, 1873, he left for Europe, to fill a mission
placed upon him at the previous April conference. He visited various parts
of Great Britain and the neighboring continent, spending some time in the
principal cities of Germany, Austria, Italy, France and Switzerland. On
returning to England he was appointed president of the London conference.
July, 1875, found him again in Utah. While in England
in 1875 he was chosen second counselor to Edward Hunter, the presiding
Bishop of the Church, but continued to act as Bishop of the Fifteenth Ward
until 1877. After the death of Bishop Hunter, he became First Counselor
to his successor, Bishop William B. Preston. The date of this appointment
was July 31, 1884. After that time he acted continuously in this capacity.
Bishop Burton was one of the first of our citizens
to engage in home manufacturing. Associated with A. O. Smoot and John Sharp,
he built the Wasatch Woollen Mills on Parley's Canyon creek, near the southeastern
part of Salt Lake City. He had a fine farm on State street, below the southern
suburbs and for many years was engaged in farming and stockraising.
Bishop Robert T.Burton died Nov. 11, 1907, in Salt Lake City, Utah, leaving
an honorable name and a large family.