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In 1887, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published his first full-length detective mystery novel, "A Study in Scarlet," in London's paperback magazine, Beeton's Christmas Annual.
In it, he introduced readers to the fictional eccentric but brilliant "consulting detective" Sherlock Holmes and his loyal friend and chronicler Dr. John H. Watson.
Although Conan Doyle was destined to spark enormous popularity among British readers, "A Study in Scarlet" reaped animosity among Mormon missionaries in England.
The poetic license that fueled Conan Doyle's rousing but fictionalized tale of romance, tragedy, rescue, retribution and murder was peppered with historical falsehoods about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"Arthur Conan Doyle, a Portsmouth physician, had employed less than accurate research in using the Mormons in Utah as a backdrop for his story," historian Harold Schindler wrote in the April 10, 1994, issue of The Salt Lake Tribune. "At the height of anti-Mormonism on the continent, [it] bolstered what [readers] long suspected that Danites, the Avenging Angels of 'Mormondon,' were steeped in the assassination of apostates; and polygamy was white slavery."
"A Study in Scarlet" is a two-part mystery. In the first, recorded by Watson, Holmes uses rationality and forensic science to solve the separate murders of former Utah Mormons, Enoch Drebber and Joseph Stangerson, found with the word "RACHE," or "revenge," written on the wall in blood.
In the second part, Conan Doyle transitions to early 1847 and the Utah Territory where John Ferrier and child Lucy were lost in the western desert and rescued by Mormons.
For years, Ferrier conformed to their religious doctrine but disapproved of polygamy. He resolutely believed "nothing would ever induce him to allow his [adopted] daughter to wed a Mormon."
When Lucy falls in love with non-Mormon prospector Jefferson Hope, Ferrier is warned "If she wed[s] a Gentile, she commits a grievous sin," and given a month to choose marriage to polygamist Drebber or Stangerson.
Ferrier locked his door, cleaned his "rusty old shot-gun" and, seeking help, contacted Hope, the perpetrator and second narrator in part two.
Failing to lead them safely out of the territory, Hope described discovering Ferrier buried in a "low-lying heap of reddish soil" and his fiancé Lucy kidnapped and forced to marry Drebber dead within the month.
Hope judged Drebber and Stangerson culpable for the two deaths, but was unable to get them convicted. When the polygamists fled the country, he tracked them down to exact a terrible revenge.
Some see Conan Doyle's research shaped by various writers, including the Mormon dissident Fanny Stenhouse and former Mormon elder John Hyde, critics of plural marriage; Mark Twain's novel experience in the American West; and Brigham Young's Danites dramatized beyond belief by legend, lore and newspaper accounts.
Amid contentions that Conan Doyle "sensationalized" his Mormon story, Sherlock Holmes' readership soared.
Over time, Conan Doyle adopted Spiritualism. On tour in America in 1923, he stopped in Salt Lake City under the auspices of the extension division of the University of Utah to address the "mysteries of life after death" at the Tabernacle.
The May 12 Salt Lake Telegram reported Conan Doyle "insists [the dead] are not dead, but only gone to another, more advanced field of existence."
The once-loathed Conan Doyle wildly enthralled an audience of some 5,000 and may have earned redemption. Or not.
Staying briefly with family at the Hotel Utah, Conan Doyle received a letter from Dr. G. Hodgson Higgins.
A non-Mormon, Higgins critiqued that "A Study in Scarlet" twisted his view of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and "gave the impression that murder was a common practice among [Mormons]."
Conan Doyle responded, "… All I said of the Danite band and [their] murders is historical so I cannot withdraw that tho' it is likely that in a work of fiction it is stated more luridly than in a work of history. It is best to let the matter rest, I think, and draw the Mormons as they now are."
Eileen Hallet Stone, author of "Hidden History of Utah" and "Historic Tales of Utah," a new compilation of her "Living History " columns in The Salt Lake Tribune, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional Sources: Conan Doyle's "A Study in Scarlet," May 9, 1923, "Daily Utah Chronicle," May 11 and 13, 1923 "Salt Lake Telegram," and e-image of Doyle's letter from the LDS Church History Library.