A correspondent signing himself “Utah” wrote to the New York Times in March 1857 with a one-sided catalog of “treasonous events” by the Mormons against the United States. One of the recent actions “Utah” charged against the Mormons was this:
On the night of the 29th of December last  the office of the Clerk of the United States Supreme Court, which was also the office of the United States Circuit Court, was broken open and robbed of all the records, books and papers of every kind, together with the libraries of Judge Stiles and T.S. Williams, containing some nine hundred volumes. These were all thrown into the vault of a privy in an adjoining yard, after which they were covered with straw, shingles and other combustibles, and the whole were burned and utterly destroyed. This was the first stab taken towards the breaking up of the United States Courts. The city authorities and Governor Young take not the least notice of the affair, while the citizens chuckle over it as a clever trick.
Ever since the morning of December 30, partisans have disagreed over what, if anything, was burned in that outhouse fire:
Judge W.W. Drummond, writing from San Francisco, claimed that the books and records of the Utah Supreme Court had been burned.
Mormon William I. Appleby, stationed in New York but visiting Washington, D.C. when Drummond’s report was received, “did not believe the Report, as I had letters from Utah up to January 6/57, and no mention was made or the least reference to it.” But he discovered others believed it, “and I further understood that the President and his Cabinet had the affairs of Utah under consideration.”
When the new Governor Alfred Cumming was installed in Salt Lake City at the end of the Utah War, one of the first orders of business was to show him the books and records belonging to the Supreme Court. All were in order, Cumming certified, although civilian correspondents and lawyers traveling with the army disputed that, claiming that many law books belonging to the Territorial Library had disappeared.
In more recent years, historians have either taken sides based on their estimation of witness credibility, or remained noncommital because the evidence was so contradictory: In 1960, Norman Furniss admitted that “there is considerable doubt as to what was burned in the privy that night.” In 2001 Will Bagley didn’t hesitate to say that “a mob seized the judge’s law library and papers, dumped them into an outhouse, and set it on fire.” In 2008 Bill MacKinnon diplomatically wrote that “what was destroyed, by whom, and why became one of the major incidents debated in connection with Mormon affairs before, during, and after the Utah War.”
I just hate having to say this, but Will, I admit you were right.
Look what I found in the retained rough draft of a letter sent by Brigham Young to a Washington correspondent. I’ve left it in its overstruck mode for you to have the fun of picking out what was inked over:
You will remember that Thos S. Williams was paid $500, by voluntary subscription, for books destroyed by fire, &c., in this City, and that Geo P. Styles also owned a share of said books. Styles has been authorized by his father here to receive such subscriptions as may be made towards paying his share in the aforesaid loss, but no one here knows what his claim is, nor what it ought to be when compared with his share of the books and the $500 paid to Williams. There is a disposition to voluntarily subscribe and pay to Styles’ father, as per the son’s order, his fair proportion of loss, in accordance with the settlement made with Williams, and to enable subscribers to do so, I wish you would learn from Geo. P. Styles the share he owned in the destroyed books, and whether he will forward to his father a full receipt to be by him delivered upon payment of an amount fairly proportioned to that paid to Williams. In other words, if Styles fairly owned 1/3 of said books, so far as I know subscribers would be willing to pay him, or his order, $166 66/100, upon receiving a receipt in full from him, or his agent, for all damage and loss sustained by him in the case in question.