"I Don't Want to Be Caught Dead in Utah"
Of all the uncertainties surrounding the life of Joe Hill, one of the most perplexing is his decision in 1913 to travel to Utah.
In 1913 Utah had been a state for less than twenty years. Institutions in the state were uneasy in light of the lingering suspicions that existed among some federal authorities to the powerful role of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Better known to non-members as "Mormons," the church had struggled with federal authority for nearly fifty years over the controversial practice of plural marriage by members. It had been a pitched battle that was not fully settled until 1904, when church leadership issued a strict order prohibiting members from engaging in plural marriage.
Utah had modestly active mining and smelting industries, controlled largely by non-Mormon owners. Church leaders, however, had voiced strong anti-union sentiments throughout recent attempts to organize sectors of the labor force. When it came to the role of the Industrial Workers of the World in Utah, religious differences melted away. Social, economic, political and religious forces voiced opposition to the actions and aims of the Wobblies, and vowed to fight the radicals at every turn.
Some acquaintances claim Joe Hill was merely trying to get through Utah to travel to I.W.W. headquarters in Chicago and meet with Wobbly leader "Big Bill" Haywood to plan a more active role in the Wobblies' national efforts. Regardless of his intent, Hill arrived in Salt Lake City during the summer of 1913.
He would never leave the state alive.
Until January, 1914 Hill's time in Utah is undocumented. He may have worked briefly in the silver mines of Park City. One report indicates he did not last long, falling victim to pneumonia and ending up in the hospital. He apparently befriended many in the small Swedish communities in the smelter towns around Salt Lake City. He took a room with the Eselius family in Murray, Utah., having met brothers Ed, John and Frank Eselius during his West Coast odyssey a few years earlier.