In 1862, Brigham Young and his congregation were presented with a problem. After discovering that the gravedigger Jean Baptiste was also a grave robber, the people of Salt Lake City had to decide what to do with a man who was a thief of the worst kind. Hundreds of sets of clothing were found in his home, stripped from the bodies of the people he had helped bury. Young reassured his congregation that those who had been buried naked by Baptiste would be fully clothed during their resurrection.
Baptiste’s trial seems a pretty cut-and-dried case. He was ultimately exiled to a barren island in the middle of Salt Lake, escorted there by a handful of men who had been forced to promise that they wouldn’t kill him on their way there. Even though the lake was extremely low, Baptiste couldn’t swim and he was effectively imprisoned. Or so it was thought.
Three weeks later, the owners of the cattle on the island returned to check on Baptiste and their herd. Baptiste was gone. The only signs that anyone had been there was damage to the island’s only shelter, a small shack, and a young cow that had been slaughtered. Baptiste was never seen again.
A handful of different theories have been put forward as to what really happened to him. Some believe that he died trying to make his escape, a theory that’s supported by the discovery of a human skull nearby at the mouth of the Jordan River, and later the rest of the skeleton that was still wearing its ball and chain. Then again, no one seems to know for sure whether or not Baptiste was wearing a ball and chain when he was left on the island. Others suggest that he made it to shore on a raft made of pieces of his shelter and the skin of the cow he killed. Some think that he hopped on a train and headed to California, while others think he made mining towns his home. Later reports dated to well after his exile claim that his ears were cut off and his face was marked with the words “Branded for robbing the dead,” but the truth in those claims is as much of a mystery as his fate.
I reckon that being banished to an island is better than being hung by the neck. Sounds like a strange punishment, but maybe it wan't back in those days. Who knows?
Coffee inside the house this morning. It's cold outside.