1898 killing sends shock waves through county; no convictions
As is usually the case in the middle of the summer in Carbon County, July 23, 1898, dawned warm and then turned hot for the day.
At 5 p.m. a man lost his life to the gun of another who had been his enemy for some time.
On Main Street, between what was then the Price Trading Company and the Senate Saloon, an argument ensued between two men, John Watson and J. Wesley Warf. No witnesses could tell how it started, but everyone in town could tell you how it ended only a short time later.
Past feelings based on not only animosity, but a physical assault, flared. Six shooters were drawn and shots fired.
In the end John Watson lay in the street and was carted off to Dr. Richman's office, where the good doctor removed two bullets, one of which had entered the right groin area (crushing Watson's hip) and the second "taking an upward course through the intestines" (Eastern Utah Advocate, Aug. 4. 1898) and lodging in the rib cage. Speculation was that the second bullet had been fired as Watson lay on the ground. Watson was still alive as the bullets were extracted. He died soon after.
At the time Warf was the temporary Carbon County Attorney. He had been named such in 1996 when Carbon County was formed and being run by a court, instead of by the people. Warf had been involved in a lot of shady incidents, including a gun fight with a railroad detective earlier in the year and then the beating Watson in June. Warf took out his wrath on Watson (who was considered very elderly at the time at 59 years of age) on a ditch bank. Watson and the newspaper publisher in Price at the time, Clarence March, had turned water onto Marsh's property. Later Warf was arrested for assault, but exonerated of the charges brought against him.
According to the paper, Watson "is said to have expressed a determination to secure private satisfaction" since the courts would not do it. It has always been suspected that was the cause of the trouble on that July day. No one except the two men knew who drew first, and one of them was dead.
This time Warf was arrested and charged with homicide. However, just as in the hearing on the beating of Watson in June, because of Warf's position, the trial was moved to Helper where Justice J. T. Fitch heard the case. Fitch, who had said that Warf and another man had not overstepped their bounds in the earlier beating also dismissed this case as well.
"...It appeared to him that there was sufficient justification existed for the act," that Warf had taken against the other man reported the paper.
Sadly that was the end concerning the incident. No more was said in the paper after that and Warf walked away a free man.
But Warf wasn't done. In the election in the fall of 1898, Warf knew his place and what his name meant in the community. The office he had held for only two years was now up for grabs with the power of the people to decide who would fill the slot. Warf did not run, but he did remain in Price, practicing law.
His name arose again in 1904. In late February he was placed under arrest for disturbing the peace because he was firing his six shooter at a railroad tie near the end of the Rio Grande Western train depot. In the ensuing scuffle, the sheriff was accosted by Warf and so he was also charged with resisting arrest.
After he was placed in jail he broke a window sash and some lights in the jail building. Charges of destroying property were added at that time.
After that, another lawyer representing Warf went to the court and requested bail for Warf which was denied. In a curious turn of events however, without the consent of the court, Sheriff J. Bryner, the very person Warf had scuffled with, released him from the jail at about midnight on March 1. The Sheriff took Warf's word that he would come back in for the trial that was to held on based on the charges against him.
The next morning the Sheriff got a letter in the mail from Warf basically thumbing his nose at the law.
"...I have been a fool long enough," wrote Warf. "I understand there is no complaint against me and I hope there will not be.."
Warf stated in the note that he was "willing to make everything right that he had done wrong" adding that he was leaving town (going to a place named Keeley, probably in San Juan County) and would be back "in about a month" (Salt Lake Herald , March 1, 1904).
However, no papers reported his return, nor what happened to him or the Sheriff who let him out of jail.
Three years later Warf and his wife, Celestia had a little boy that was also named J. Wesley. That boy died at five months old in 1908. He reportedly also had a daughter who was given birth by Celestia.
Warf stayed around Carbon County for some years, not obviously getting in trouble again according to what can be found in old issues of the papers from the time. In 1913 his wife passed away in Carbon County. Both Warf's wife and the little boy are buried in the Price Cemetery. There are reports he also had a daughter.
While not reported in the papers, Warf apparently got religion and moved to Salt Lake City. He must have grieved only a short time over his wife because it appears he was remarried in July of 1914 in Salt Lake. He died there at the age of 94 sometime in the early 1950s. He is buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
J. Wesley Warf is one of those from the old days of Carbon County that few people know much about. His time in office was short, but obviously punctuated with a lot of violence and dishonesty. His ties to magistrates in the county helped him by many scrapes and encounters with the law.
While there has at times been dishonesty in local government in the area, few can match the corruption and none certainly the violence that Warf brought to a Carbon County public office.
(Sources for this article include the Eastern Utah Advocate, The News-Advocate, The Salt Lake Herald, Salt Lake City Cemetery records and Joel Frandsen, who also offered the courtesy of the drawing of John Watson that appeared in the May 29, 2012 edition of the Sun Advocate. Frandsen has a website called Wild West Trails and Tales in which many of the characters of the old west are featured (http://www.wildwesttrailsandtales.com).