Perhaps it’s the nature of some men who work in physically difficult jobs to believe that problems can be solved only through strong-armed means. Miners, in the 1880s for instance, spent their working days at the ends of dusty mine drifts and stopes hammering away at rock surfaces; attempting to crack them into smaller bits that can be loaded onto ore cars and pushed down a track to a lift. It’s was a constant battle between the strength of the men and the resistance of the earth.
In the mining camps of the old west, these men often brought their battles from below ground to the surface. On October 3, 1880 just such a conflict came to a head in Silver Reef.
A few days before, Mike Carbis, the Foreman at the California Mine had finally had enough of Tom Forrest’s violent nature. Forrest had been accused by other miners of bully tactics and threats. Words had been exchanged and a few fights had followed. Carbis, angry over the actions of Forrest, had fired Tom, paid him off, and told him not to show up around the mine again. Forrest blew his top and threatened that he would get even with the Foreman.
Forrest also had been told by the owners of the Buckeye boarding house that he was no longer welcome at the place. He was to pack up his belongings and get out. Before he left, however, Forrest packed his pistol in his rear pants pocket and a long knife in his belt. When Carbis came into the boarding house for supper that night, Forrest would get his revenge.
Forrest had the pistol drawn when Carbis came through the door, but because he was so close Forrest he put the gun away and drew the knife instead stabbing Mike a number of times. Carbis died almost instantly and Forrest was tackled by a number of boarders.
Silver Reef residents were furious, and soon lynch threats were heard in the streets and saloons. Forrest was housed in the Silver Reef jail for a few days, but the furor in the town was growing. In the dark of night, he was finally transferred to the jail in St. George for his own protection, but a lynch mob followed the sheriff’s wagon to its destination. Once there, the mob overpowered the sheriff, took Forrest out of his cell, and tried to hang him from a telegraph pole in front of the jail. When the pole broke under the weight of its cargo, they dragged Forrest to a sturdy cottonwood tree nearby and hung him there.
The following morning the residents of St. George were shocked at the sight of Forrest hanging from a low branch of the tree. One man was reputed to have said, “I have observed that tree growing there by the side of the road for the last twenty-five years, but that’s the first time I ever saw it, or any other cottonwood, bearing fruit!”
No one was ever charged in the hanging of Thomas Forrest.