Way We Were: Western weirdness on Main Street | ParkRecord.com

Way We Were: Western weirdness on Main Street

Steve Leatham
Park City Museum
Outspoken school teacher John Alvus Reed was charged with “maliciously exhibiting, in an angry manner, a deadly weapon.”
Courtesy of the Thomas and LaVon Hewitson family.

It is often said that losing a child is the most enduring pain a parent can suffer. It doesn’t matter the age or circumstance, it’s just not supposed to happen. Such a devastating loss can cause a parent to behave in unforeseen ways.

In a scene right out of a western, former Texan John Alvus Reed – mounted on horseback, arrayed in chaps, a rifle across the horn of his saddle, and a .45 revolver conveniently within reach – rode up the middle of Park City’s Main Street on Wednesday afternoon, March 22, 1916.

John and Mary Reed’s little daughter had died in the Miner’s Hospital the previous week. At just five years old, tiny Theo had succumbed to peritonitis as a result of appendicitis on March 15.

John, a 49-year-old public school teacher from the small Summit County community of Rockport, arrived in Park City carrying handbills that he had printed in Salt Lake City. He hired two boys, one for each side of the street, to judiciously distribute the handbills as he supervised them from his horse.

When in front of the Park City Meat Company, the Park Record reported, Policeman Ezra Robertson reached for a bill from one of the boys. Reed, under the impression, perhaps, that the officer was going to take all of the bills, called out: “Here, leave those bills alone, now!” When he noticed that Robertson only wanted one he said, “That’s all right, take one if you want it, and go on.”

John Alvus Reed’s March 1916 handbill excoriating undertaker W. D. Richardson.
Courtesy of the Thomas and LaVon Hewitson family

Without reading the bill and not knowing its contents, Officer Robertson stepped into the street and started toward Reed. Reed threatened him to stop and to get back on the sidewalk. To avoid trouble, Robertson did so and the boys continued circulating the leaflets without further meddling.

The flyers were a scathing attack on Undertaker W. D. Richardson, who was also the Park City Marshal. Reed accused Richardson of being a “liar,” “thief,” “robber,” and “hold-up man” because of the alleged exorbitant prices he charged for caskets. Marshal Richardson was in Coalville on court business that afternoon or serious trouble might have ensued. He was naturally incensed after reading the libelous handbill and decided to arrest Mr. Reed for his alleged upsetting of the peace and quieting of the police force.

Ezra F. Robertson swore in a complaint, charging Reed with “maliciously exhibiting, in an angry manner, a deadly weapon commonly called a rifle, loaded with gunpowder and leaden bullets, and in a threatening manner telling Robertson not to come a step nearer, or by God, he, Reed, would shoot.”

Summit County Sheriff Pat Ryan went to Rockport and informed Mr. Reed that a warrant was out for his arrest and that he was wanted in Park City.

Stay tuned for part two: Reed pleads “not guilty” and is brought to trial in Park City.


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