On July 8, 1850 James Jesse Strang was crowned King. To this day he holds the illustrious honor of being the only person crowned as a monarch on United States soil. Six years later he was shot in broad daylight in front of apathetic witnesses.
In February, 1844 Strang becomes a member of the The Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints and is personally baptized by founder Joseph Smith, Jr. Within a month Strang is recognized by the church as an Elder and dispatched by Smith to Wisconsin to create a Mormon settlement. The settlement in Voree, Wisconsin is located just west of Burlington in the southeastern part of the state. On June 27 Smith is murdered by an anti-Mormom mob. The homicide creats a power vacuum within the church with three individuals each claiming leadership; Bringham Young, Sidney Rigdon, and James Jesse Strang.
Up to this point Strang’s story appears to be a quintessential early American story. A young man moves west to find his place in the world, adopts religion, and becomes a prominent community figure. This is where things turn weird.
Photo: The Strangite church located in Voree, WI appropriately on Mormon Road.
Strang, being the deeply religious and righteous man that he is, forges a letter supposedly from church founder Smith stating that Strang is to be the successor. To further his claims Strang provides evidence that Voree is to be the next chosen Mormon settlement. In 1945 Strang is guided by an angel to discover three small gold plates buried in the ground. The plates have text etched into them that only Strang can translate. The Voree Record supposedly affirm Strang’s ascendance in the church and reveal God’s plan for the Mormons.
Although ambitious, Strang doesn’t get any points for originality. The whole “finding gold plates and revealing God’s plan” was exactly what church founder Smith claimed years before. Strang’s life is about to get a whole lot stranger.
Brigham Young is eventually chosen to be the head of the Mormon church. Strang decides to break off and form his own sect, which still survive to this day as the Strangites. As non-Mormons moved into the area Strang made the decision to move his followers to Beaver Island, Michigan in June 1848.
No wait… it gets even better.
In 1849 Strang took a secret second wife Elvira Field. Strang concealed their relationship by passing his buxom new bride off as a man named Charles Douglass. The ruse was so convincing that her own family believed her to be missing.
Like all things American, Strang decides to up the ante even further. He’s kind of like Scarface, only with religion instead of cocaine.
In 1850 Strang is crowned “King of the Kingdom of God on Earth.” The ever expanding congregation was able to take control of the island’s raw material and commercial resources. Friction between the gentile population increased when Strang demanded gentiles pay a tithe to the church. Physical skirmishes broke out when the church prevented alcohol from being shipped to the island. After the “War of Whiskey Point” most of the gentile population of Beaver Island moved.
Polygamy is wholeheartedly embraced after Strang takes a third wife in 1852. After this he mandates that all Strangite men have at least two. Wives four and five join the Strang family in 1855.
Word of King Strang’s abberant behavior eventually reaches President Fillmore, who then opens a jar of pickled whup-ass on Strang. Or so he thinks. The USS Missouri is dispatched to bring Strang and his followers to trial for tax irregularities, harvesting from public lands, delaying mail service and counterfitting. Strang, acting as his own lawyer, is able to beat the federal government in open court. He then returns with his followers back to his Beaver Island kingdom.
So King Strang returns victorious and is viewed as a hero by his congregation. Things start to fall apart when the fearless leader brutalizes one of his subjects.
In 1856 King Strang orders David Bedford to be lashed 79 times for allegedly sleeping with his business partner’s wife. The punishment is doled out swiftly and deeply enrages Bedford. Bedford convinces a group of 40 men to ambush Strang on the shores of Beaver Island. During the confrontation Strang is shot three times; one bullet grazes his head, one goes through his cheek, and the last bullet lodges itself in his spine. The group of men then board the docked USS Michigan, where they set off for nearby Mackinac Island. The conspirators are given a mock trial, fined $1.25, and are released.
A dying King Strang is placed as soon as possible on a vessel back to Voree, Wisconsin. He dies from his injuries three weeks later on July 9, 1856. Four of Strang’s five wives are pregnant at the time of his death. He is buried in the Burlington Cemetery shortly thereafter.
The King is dead. Long live the King.
Photo: King Strang’s marker is almost indistinguishable from the rest in the cemetery.