The Life and Crimes of Frank Treseder

PROTECTING UTAH’S LAW ENFORCEMENT HISTORY

There are few collections in the Utah State Archives as rich and colorful as those associated with law enforcement. Through these records the escapades of both cop and criminal play out, providing dramatic snapshots of historical moments that are often tinged with high drama, emotion, and periodic violence.

In 2011, Salt Lake Tribune columnist, Robert Kirby approached the Utah State Archives with the idea for a project that would promote the importance of historic law enforcement records to the various communities responsible for creating them. As an ex-police officer, Kirby has made countless contacts with various law enforcement professionals throughout Utah during his career, many of whom have long acted as the lone custodians over their individual agency histories. After a successful presentation on the value of law enforcement records in October 2011, phone calls began to roll in from far-flung offices asking how the Utah State Archives might help in ensuring the long-term preservation of Utah’s law enforcement history.

One such call came from the Utah Board of Pardons, asking if the Utah State Archives would be interested in taking over the permanent care of an extremely unusual artifact: an 1887 painting of the Utah Territorial Prison that once stood in modern-day Sugar House Park. This painting had hung on the office walls of the Board of Pardons for decades, before getting reconciled to an office closet. The historic importance of this object was clear at once, and it was immediately transferred into State Archives custody for safekeeping. Using the small clues available on the painting itself, Archives staff conducted research for a finding aid, which soon revealed a back story of the artist every bit as interesting as the painting itself.

1887 painting by Frank Treseder of the Utah Territorial Prison in Sugar House.
1887 painting by Frank Treseder of the Utah Territorial Prison in Sugar House (series 27827).

A LIFE OF CRIME

Frank M. Treseder was born in 1853 in Jersey Island, England, and by the 1880s he had become well known to law enforcement officials in the Utah Territory. The first documented case of Frank Treseder running afoul of the law came in 1877 when he was brought up for trial in Salt Lake (along with Charles Howard) on the charge of robbery. According to Third District Court records, the pair had assaulted John Hepworth, robbing him of a gold watch valued at $180. Tresder was found guilty, and sentenced to three years in the Utah Territorial Penitentiary.

1877 charging document against Frank Treseder and Charles Howard (series 9802).
1877 charging document against Frank Treseder and Charles Howard (series 9802).

It wasn’t long after his release from prison before Treseder once again found himself in court, this time in  Ogden’s First District Court. According to court records, Treseder had been arrested (along with Meyer Seekel) for the November 24, 1881 theft of $1000 in gold coin and $500 in sundry checks from the home of Ambrose Greenwell. The pair was convicted on the charge of burglary on May 09, 1882, and Treseder would spend another three years in the Sugar House prison before his release on May 01, 1885.

Not even a year passed before Treseder’s next brush with the law. On January 22, 1886 Treseder and County Collector N.V. Jones were arrested by Federal officials in the Utah Territory and charged with bribery. According to officials, Treseder had made an attempt to bribe U.S. Marshals into giving up information on raids that the government was planning on making on polygamists and unlawful cohabitants in the Utah Territory. With the impending 1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act banning the practice of polygamy in the territory, Treseder was effectively charged with acting as an agent in gathering information that might be used to help protect LDS members who would soon fall under the legal reach of the federal government for their ongoing practice of plural marriage.

1886 demur from Frank Treseder on charges of attempted murder (series 6836).
1886 demur from Frank Treseder on charges of attempted murder (series 6836).

An interesting twist to the case came in March when Treseder (who was free on bail) was arrested again and brought before the Third District Court on charges of attempted murder. The March 02, 1886 Salt Lake Democrat reports that Treseder had approached Thomas Murray and discussed with him the potential murders of U.S. Marshal’s W.H. Dickson, E.A. Ireland, and E.A. Franks. Treseder’s attorney made a demur on this indictment, claiming that it didn’t conform to sections of the Territorial criminal code, and ultimately the charge of attempted murder against Treseder was dropped. However, on September 28, 1886 he and Jones were convicted on the original charge of bribery, and Treseder once again found himself facing a three year sentence in the state penitentiary.

THE UNEXPECTED ARTIST

It was this final stay in the Utah Territorial Prison where Treseder would turn to painting and create a series of works that have marked him as an important 19th century artist in Utah’s history. An inkling of this creative turn is described in the September 28, 1886 Salt Lake Democrat. Reporting on the bribery trial that would ultimately lead him to another stint at the Sugar House prison, the newspaper states:

“Frank Treseder spend the great part of his time while in court drawing pictures on paper. He is quite an artist in his way and seems to take as much pleasure in it as a school boy.”

This artistic talent seemingly blossomed during his three years in the state penitentiary. Another newspaper report from the April 13, 1888 Salt Lake Herald, describes the construction of a new penitentiary building on the prison grounds and states: “Frank Treseder, who has become quite an artist, has his studio [in the basement of the new penitentiary building].”

The view of the prison that is now held by the Utah State Archives is one of several that have survived to the modern day. The Springville Museum of Art is known to have two Treseder Sugar House prison paintings as well, one looking to the east, and the other looking to the west.

LIFE OUTSIDE THE SUGAR HOUSE PRISON

Frank Treseder was released from the Utah Territorial Prison in the late 1880s, and promptly married a woman named Mary Bennett, whom he had met while she was visiting the prison. Domestic bliss wouldn’t last however, as Bennett would appear before the Third District Court in 1892 asking for a decree of divorce from Treseder. According to her statement he had left her, and was last known to have been seen somewhere in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The court granted her divorce from Treseder and also sole custody over their child.

Information on Treseder after he left Utah is scant, but his story has an unhappy ending. According to a 1923 Texas death certificate, Treseder died alone on February 21, 1923 from paresis, with drug addiction listed as a contributing cause.

Whether Treseder remained an active painter after leaving Utah isn’t known either, as no other paintings attributed to him have been identified (leaving the Sugar House prison paintings the extent of his known work at this time). However, as this story demonstrates, you never know when another unexpected discovery might be made!


SOURCES

Ancestry.com. Texas, Death Certificates, 1903–1982 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.

Salt Lake Democrat, “Before the Grand Jury.” Jan. 26, 1886. From Utah Digital Newspapers. http://udn.lib.utah.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/sldemocrat/id/48655/show/48637/rec/4 (accessed Dec. 01, 2014).

Salt Lake Democrat, “Conspiracy to Murder.” Mar. 02, 1886. From Utah Digital Newspapers. http://udn.lib.utah.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/sldemocrat/id/58696/show/58687/rec/11 (accessed Dec. 01, 2014).

Salt Lake Democrat, “Local Jots.” May 02, 1886. From Utah Digital Newspapers. http://udn.lib.utah.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/sldemocrat/id/16196/show/16182/rec/2 (accessed Dec. 01, 2014).

Salt Lake Democrat, “Local Jots.” Sep. 28, 1886. From Utah Digital Newspapers. http://udn.lib.utah.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/sldemocrat/id/46791/show/46770/rec/30 (accessed Dec. 01, 2014).

Salt Lake Herald, “Out on the Hill.” Apr. 13, 1886. From Utah Digital Newspapers. http://udn.lib.utah.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/slherald18/id/78855/show/78830/rec/73 (accessed Dec. 01, 2014).

Salt Lake Herald, “Her Romance Ended.” Apr. 30, 1892. From Utah Digital Newspapers. http://udn.lib.utah.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/slherald19/id/120218/show/120181/rec/75 (accessed Dec. 01, 2014).

Swanson, Vern G. Utah Art, Utah Artist – 150 Years Survey. Layton: Gibbs Smith, 2001. Print.

Utah State Archives and Records Service. Board of Pardons. Utah Territorial Prison Painting. Series 27827.

Utah State Archives and Records Service, District Court (First District), Northern division civil and criminal case files, Series 1529.

Utah State Archives and Records Service, District Court (Third District), Territorial criminal case files, Series 6836.

Utah State Archives and Records Service, District Court (Third District), Case files, Series 9802.

3 thoughts on “The Life and Crimes of Frank Treseder

  1. As a Utah State Archivist I get to walk by this painting from our collection everyday. I admire it for it’s simplicity and beauty. The best part of this painting is it’s historical background.

  2. Thank you for such a fascinating post!

    As I understand it, FamilySearch was permitted to digitize some of these records. But they don’t make it clear which digital collections correspond to the state archives inventories. For instance:

    Utah, Juab County Records, 1847-1948
    Utah, State Archives Records, 1848-2001
    Utah, Utah County Records, 1850-1962

    Any idea who could help me sort out which Utah State Archives inventories are present on FamilySearch’s website? I’m currently neck deep in some probate records ca. 1860s and would love some guidance.

    Cheers!

  3. Dear Mr. Robbins,

    Thank you very much for your comment on my blog post. Based on the links you sent, I can only safely comment on the records from FamilySearch that are clearly listed as “Utah State Archives Records, 1848-2001” as definitely coming out of our holdings. However, it appears that FamilySearch has lumped multiple series together under that heading. We do tend to have scattered holdings from each county office around the state, so it is possible we hold duplicates of the material cited from Juab County and Utah County as well. Let me point you in the direction of two research guides on our website that show our Territorial probate court holdings:

    http://archives.utah.gov/research/guides/courts-territorial.html
    http://archives.utah.gov/research/guides/probate.htm

    If you have specific questions about those guides, or would like help accessing any of the record series that appear on there our Research Center staff would be more than happy to assist you. They can be reached at:

    The Research Center
    When You Visit
    Open 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. M-F
    300 S Rio Grande St
    Salt Lake City, UT 84101
    (801) 533-3535

    Best,
    Jim

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