Ep 53 – Bloody’s Play While Jo’s Away
On this episode, we shift focus from Quincy to Liberty Jail and back as we follow Bloody Brigham Young stepping into the vacuum of leadership, making a power play in Jo’s absence. Jo agrees to buy the land deal proposed by Isaac Galland sight unseen after he screeds to him about Mormon doctrine. Then Jo and friends are charged again in a Grand Jury with everything they’d already been charged, then proceed to escape during a transfer to Boone County. Everybody plays their part in the building up of Zion in their clean slate state, Illinois.
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Welcome to episode 53 of the NMPC, the serial Mormon history podcast. Today is Thursday June 1, 2017, my name is Bryce Blankenagel and thank you for joining me.
We still have a lot to get to today, so let’s get into a wrap-up of the last historical episode for the milk today then we’ll jump into the meat of today’s episode.
Last historical episode covered the letter exchanges going in and out of Liberty Jail. Rigdon made his plea in the court for habeas corpus and was essentially allowed to escape, which left Caleb Baldwin, Alexander McRae, and Lyman Wight interred in the Liberty prison dungeon with the prophet and his brother Hyrum. They were seemingly relieved to be relieved of Rigdon’s whining and maniacal spells of impending apocalypse and untold persecution, but the remaining months ahead of them in that dungeon wasn’t a stroll on the beach.
Jo’s power was threatened by his absence. The Saints were being chased from Missouri, forced to flee from the mobocrat militias who were enforcing the surrender negotiations agreed upon in November of 1838. The Mormons were to be exterminated, or removed from Missouri; luckily Illinois was nice enough to take the refugees. Jo was trying to run his church, but it was in complete disarray regardless of his presence. His internment didn’t help with organization, it just caused power struggles executive decisions to be made by people who were legitimate threats to Jo’s authority. Whether those people realized they were a threat isn’t clear, but Jo knew. He was afraid what Rigdon would do as soon as he got to Quincy without Jo there to naysay him or keep him reigned in.
This was a rational fear. Hingepin Rigdon and Jo as business partners had a sordid past, even as good friends. Go back to episodes 26-28 to hear about the power struggles between them and see how they developed a respect for each other in the wake of claiming each other had lost the keys to prophecy. Power was a constant ebb and flow between Jo and Rigdon, and Jo felt threatened with Rigdon in Quincy handling everything in his absence. Unfortunately, Jo didn’t realize that Rigdon wasn’t anywhere near as much a threat as some others who were handling business in Illinois. The quorum of the twelve had assumed all leadership, and they performed some executive actions which should have been handled by vote, and the vote should have been called for by Jo and the presidency. Instead, Bloody Brigham was handling the role of executive quite well, merely whetting his palette for what the future held. We’ll cover that in a little more detail in a minute.
We read through a bunch of letters that were exchanged between various church leaders and loved ones to those interred in Liberty Jail. We read a letter Jo wrote to Presendia Huntington Buell as well as a later letter written to his wife, Emma.
We finished up the episode talking about a guy named Isaac Galland, who we’ll discuss in a little more detail today, with a conclusion talking about Rigdon’s possible faith crisis during the entire Liberty jail affair and everything which led up to and followed it.
That does it for the milk today, why don’t we take a bite out of the meat and see where it leads us down the never-ending labyrinth of rabbit holes that is Mormon history.
Bloody Brigham was operating as president in Jo’s absence. He didn’t have a problem making necessary executive decisions. We talked last episode about how Edward Party-Boy Partridge said he didn’t want to help the Saints from Missouri, that he’d been able to get there by himself and the saints should be able to do the same. Being the pragmatist he was, Bloody Brigham was a little more charitable, setting him and Party-boy Partridge at odds. Bloody Brigham was essentially the interim supreme leader of the church, which is good because he was an awesome businessman. Without Brigham’s insights and influence, the church likely would never have survived and the Mormons sure as hell never would have made it to Utah.
Let me give you an example of Brigham’s smart managerial ideas which contributed to the survival of the Mormons. This example comes at the end of the Nauvoo years after Jo’s death in the Carthage gun fight and it’s something I learned from the local blacksmith when I was in Nauvoo on the history tour.
When Bloody Brigham took over the church in Nauvoo and devised the plan to go to the Rocky Mountains to build a safe-haven, he knew that it was going to be a logistical nightmare getting over 10,000 people moved over 1200 miles to settle an area ruled by a chaotic mix of Native Americans, mountain-men, and savage outlaws. Brigham devised an early assembly-line kind of system to mass produce wagons and hand-carts. There were multiple shops around Nauvoo that were dedicated to building just one small portion of the wagon, like the box, wheels, suspensions systems, stuff like that. They mass-produced those parts to specific measurements and were able to manufacture thousands of wagons to get everybody across the plains.
Creating this mass-production system was impressive in and of itself and we can credit Bloody Brigham with having the foresight to implement it. But beyond the mass production system was also a calculated shipping system for each wagon. Each could carry 2,000 lbs of cargo. Brigham implemented a system where each cart would carry 1,000 lbs of the family’s possessions, and 1,000 lbs of stuff the rest of the wagon train needed, like bulk food, extra wagon parts, blacksmithing stuff to set up once they got to Utah, all the necessities. They did this, and they survived, showing just how brilliant of a businessman Brigham was. His leadership got those people to Utah and established the Brighamite Mormon church.
His strong business traits were being exercised in a healthy manner during the Mormon settlement in Illinois. With Jo and Hyrum absent, Brigham stepped up to the plate and handled some organization and business items to keep the saints alive.
Rigdon was Bloody Brigham’s only competitor. This time during the early organization of the Illinois settlements was when Rigdon developed a healthy new respect and fear of who Bloody Brigham was starting to become. Bloody Brigham purged the leadership and put his own guy, Wilford Woodruff, into the quorum, the same Woodruff who would become the 4th prophet of the Brighamite church. In addition, he kept a tight set of reigns on the other members of the leadership, making sure that Jo would be happy with his work upon his return. A guy named Jonathan Dunham stepped out of line when he went to Springfield and held a conference in opposition to Jo’s wishes.
This is from volume 3 page 259 of the History of the Church Source and text-critical edition by Dan Vogel.
“Sunday, [March] 17th. Extract from the minutes of a Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, held in Quincy, on the 17th of March, 1839, Brigham Young was unanimously called to the chair, and Robert B. Thompson chosen clerk.
‘Elder Young then arose and gave a statement of the circumstances of the church at Far West and his feelings in regard to the scattering of the brethren, believing it to be wisdom to unite together as much as possible in extending the hand of charity for the relief of the poor, who were suffering under the hand of persecution in Missouri; and to pursue that course that would prove for the general good of the whole church, who were suffering for the gospel’s sake; and would advise the saints to settle (if possible) in companies, or in a situation so as to be organized into churches, that they might be nourished, and fed by the shepherds; for without, the sheep would be scattered; and he also impressed it upon the minds of the saints to give heed to the revelations of God; especially the elders should be careful to depart from all iniquity, and to remember the counsel given by those whom God hath placed as counselors in his church; that they may become as wise stewards in the vineyard of the Lord, that every man may know and act in his own place, for there is order in the Kingdom of God, and we must regard that order if we expect to be blessed.
Elder Young also stated that Elder Johnathan Dunham had received previous instructions not to call any conferences in this State, or elsewhere; but to go forth and preach repentance, which was his calling; but contrary to those instructions, he called a conference in Springfield, Ill., and presided there, and brought forth the business which he had to transact; and his proceeding in many respects during the conference was contrary to the feelings of Elder W. Woodruff and other official members who were present. They considered his proceedings contrary to the will and order of God.
The conference then voted that Elder J. Dunham be reproved for his improper course—and that he be advised to adhere to the counsel given him.
And after transacting various other business, Elder George W. Harris made some remarks relative to those who had left us in the times of our perils, persecutions, and dangers, and were acting against the interest of the church, and that the church could no longer hold them in fellowship unless they repented of their sins, and turned unto God.
After the conference fully expressed their feelings upon the subject, it was unanimously voted that the following persons be excommunicated from the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, vis.: George M. Hinkle, Sampson Avard, John Corrill, Reed Peck, Wm. W. Phelps, Frederick G. Williams, Thomas B. Marsh, Burr Riggs, and several others. After which, the conference closed by prayer.
BRIGHAM YOUNG, Pres.
ROBERT B. THOMPSON, Clerk.’”
Alright, what did we just read? While Jo and friends were toiling with trying to run the church from Liberty jail and Hingepin Rigdon was getting settled on the little farm he was renting from Isaac Galland near Commerce, Bloody Brigham was running the show and proceeded to transact business, chastise people like Elder J. Dunham for his improper course, which could mean any number of things during this fragile time in the church’s history, and, of course, Bloody Brigham took this conference as an opportunity to excommunicate nearly every person who testified against the leadership during the November court of inquiry. Jo had no idea this happened until after he busted out of the joint. Rigdon wasn’t even present at this conference. Jo told them explicitly to not hold any conferences until he could get there, which is an absurd thing to say because of course they will need to hold a conference to figure out just what the hell they’re going to do with 10,000 refugees moving into a dinky little swampland on the Illinois banks of the Mississippi. Bloody Brigham took charge and handled business as it needed to be handled.
At this same time, let’s jump back to the prison cell. Jo had received word that Isaac Galland, the guy who owned a ton of land in Illinois and Iowa, had met with Israel Barlow and Hingepin Rigdon, and Jo told them to go forward with the agreed upon terms. This is a couple of excerpts from the letter Jo sent to Galland on March 22, 1839, 5 days after that passage we read about Brigham cleansing the leadership and putting in his boy Wilford Woodruff.
This is hosted on the Joseph Smith papers.org and there will be a link to it in the show notes.
Mr. Isaac Galland;
I have just been privileged with a perusal of a letter, put into my hands by Mr. D[avid] W. Rogers, which letter was directed to him, dated February 26th, 1839. and signed, Isaac Galland. The contents of said letter expresses a sympathy and a good feeling towards the people and church of the Latter Day Saints, which I have the high honor, of being their religious leader; I say high honor, more especially, because I know them to be an honorable, a virtuous, and an upright people. And that honor, virtue, and righteousness is their only aim and object in this life. They are sir, a much injured, and abused people; and are greatly belied as to their true character. They have been fallen upon by a gang of ruffians and murderers, three times, in the state of Missouri; and entirely broken up, without having committed the first offence: or without there being the least shadow in the very slightest degree of evidence, that they have done ought of any thing derogatory to the laws, or character, of the state of Missouri…
I am bold to say sir, that a more nefarious transaction never has existed, since the days of Yore; than that which has been practiced upon us.— Myself and those who are in prison with me, were torn from our houses, with our wives and children clinging to our garments, under the awful expectation of being exterminated…
We are kept under a strong guard, night and day, in a prison of double walls and doors, proscribed in our liberty of conscience, our food is scant, uniform, and coarse; we have not the privilege of cooking for ourselves, we have been compelled to sleep on the floor with straw, and not blankets sufficient to keep us warm; and when we have a fire, we are obliged to have almost a constant smoke. The Judges have gravely told us from time to time that they knew we were innocent, and ought to be liberated, but they dare not administer the law unto us, for fear of the mob. But if we will deny our religion, we can be liberated. Our lawyers have gravely told us, that we are only held now by the influence of long faced Baptists; how far this is true, we are not able to say: but we are certain that our most vehement accusers, are the highest toned professors of religion… But enough of this. I feel highly gratified to learn of a man who had sympathy, and feelings of friendship towards a suffering, and an injured, and an innocent people: if you can do them any good, render them any assistance, or protection, in the name of suffering humanity, we beseach you, for God’s sake, and humanity’s sake, that you will do it. If you should see Gov. [Robert] Lucas, I wish you would have the kindness to state to him, the contents of this letter; as we know him from information to be a man of character and a gentleman. I would be glad therefore, if it were possible that he, and not only him, but every other patriotic, and humane man, should know the real facts of our sufferings: and of the unjust and cruel hand that is upon us…
[Then it goes through like 6 pages of a screed from Jo describing everything about Mormon doctrine with bible references to back it up, a side note here, Jo didn’t use any passages from the BoM in this letter to teach Galland about Mormon theology, just the bible. The reason he was doing this was to win favor with Isaac Galland. Galland was a rich dude with many powerful friends in the Illinois and Iowa governments. He owned a ton of land. Jo wanted this guy to convert to Mormonism, and thus gave him the whole 9 yards to try and convince him of its truth. I won’t belabor you with everything Jo said, I tuned most of it out while reading through because it’s just typical preacher dribble that Jo was often wont to rant upon. This is the historically significant portion of the letter and why we’re reading it in the first place.]
Please Sir, to pardon me for having obtruded thus lengthy upon your feelings, as you are a stranger to me; and I know nothing of you, only what I have read in you[r] letter, and from that I have taken the liberty which I have. Be assured Sir, that I have the most liberal sentiments, and feelings of charity towards all sects, parties, and denominations; and the rights and liberties of concience, I hold most sacred and dear, and dispise no man for differing with me in matters of opinion.
Accept Dear Sir, my best wishes for your welfare, and desire for further acquaintance, I close my letter, by giving you some quotations which you will have the goodness to read.
JOSEPH SMITH, Jr.
N. B. If Bishop [Edward] Partridge, or if the church have not made a purchase of your land, and if there is not any one who feels a particular interest in making the purchase, you will hold it in reserve for us; we will purchase it of you at the proposals that you made to Mr. [Israel] Barlow. We think the church would be wise in making the contract, therefore, if it is not made before we are liberated, we will make it.
JOSEPH SMITH, Jr.”
Actually, we were really just reading it for the N.B. thing, the post script at the end of the letter. While Rigdon and Brigham were doing their thing in Illinois to organize the church, Jo sent this letter to Galland, basically accepting his business proposition sight unseen, thus tentatively committing the church to about $50k of debt. Jo read in a letter that Galland owned all this land, and without talking to his counselors or even seeing any of the property for himself, Jo gave the church the go-ahead and told Galland that if the church didn’t buy his property by the time Jo was released from jail, then Jo personally would see to it that the property was purchased.
One of two things happened with Galland. Either something in Jo’s letter spoke to him and he was converted sincerely, or he saw the Mormons as suckers and decided to stick around to make sure they purchased his land. Galland was likely ecstatic that these massive chunks of land he owned were now being purchased in a bloc by the Mormons, and now it was just a matter of making them flourish in the area and everybody’s land prices go up, including his own. That’s what happened in Kirtland, although the opposite happened in Missouri. Galland wanted his land in Illinois to develop like Kirtland had when the Mormons began moving in, he didn’t want whatever happened in Missouri to happen to the Mormons and their land again this time around in Illinois.
But, Jo wasn’t done complaining to people in high places about the situation. That letter was sent on March 22 from Liberty jail. A week prior Jo had dictated a letter to the honorable Judge George Thompkins asking for a legitimate hearing instead of that sham court of inquiry which had happened to land them there in the first place. So, while Jo was dictating the letter to Isaac Galland telling him that the Mormons will happily buy his property, Judge Thompkins was in the middle of reading what we’re about to go over and making a decision about how to handle the whole ‘Mormon prisoners’ situation.
Everybody in the Missouri justice system knew that the Mormons had been shortchanged in the court of inquiry. The whole situation was such a mess and there wasn’t a whole lot of citable case law that gave them justification for holding to the surrender terms and forcing the Mormons to leave the state. The Mormons had no recourse for the people they’d lost in the Haun’s Mill massacre. Jo was rotting in Jail for treason and murder, when some actors in the Missouri militia had done way worse shit to the Mormons and were deserving of the same or worse punishment. But nobody in the Missouri government could side with the Mormons because they were a shrinking minority with increasingly fleeting numbers as more and more of them moved to Illinois. No politician could help the Mormons and hope to have a career in Missouri politics from then on.
The term comes back to mind, political plutonium. Anybody who touched or even got near the Mormons one way or another was dead politically speaking. Judge Thompkins received this letter from which we’re going to read a few excerpts. It’s also hosted at the Joseph Smith papers.org.
“To the honorable Judge [George] Thompkins, or either of the Judges of the Supreme Court for the State of Missouri.
Alansen [Alanson] Ripley[,] Heber C. Kimble [Kimball], Joseph B. Noble, William Huntington, and Joseph Smith Jr beg leave respectfully to represent to your honor that Joseph Smith Jr is now in Liberty Jail, Clay County (Mo) that he has been restrained of his liberty near five months. Your petitioners claim that the whole transaction which has been the cause of his confinement, is unlawful from the first to the last, he was taken from his home by a fraud practiced upon him by a man named by the name of George M. Hinkle and one or two others thereby your petitioner respectfully shows that he was forced contrary to his wishes and without knowing the cause into the Camp which was commanded by General [Samuel D.] Lucas of Jackson County and from thence to Ray County sleeping on the ground and suffering many insults and injuries and deprivations which were calculated in their nature to break down the spirits and constitution of the most robust and hardy of mankind, he was put in Chains immediately on his being landed in Richmond and there underwent a long and tedious expartie examination. Not only was it expartie, but your petitioners solemnly declare that it was a mock examination that there was not the least shadow of honor or justice or law administered toward him, on account of his religion but sheer prejudice and the spirit of persecution and malice and prepossession against him on account of his religion— that the whole examinations show that the said Joseph Smith Jr was deprived of the privilege of being examined before the court as the law directs— that the witnesses on the part of the State were taken by force of arms and threatened with extermination, immediate death, and were brought without Subpoena or warrant under this awful and glaring anticipation of being exterminated if they did not swear something against him to please the Mob, or his persecutors, and those witnesses were compelled to swear at the muzzle of the Gun and that some of them have acknowledged since which your petitioners do testify and are able to prove; that they did swear false and that they did it in order to save their lives and your petitioners testify that all the testimony that had any tendency or bearing of criminality against Said Joseph Smith Jr is false.
We are personally acquainted with the circumstances and being with him most of the time, and being present at the times spoken of by them therefore we know that their testimony was false and if he could have had a fair and impartial and lawful examination before the court, and could have been allowed the privilege of introducing his witnesses, he could have disproved every thing that was against him: but the Court suffered them to be intimidated some of them <in> the presence of the Court, and they were driven also and hunted and some of them entirely driven out of the State, And thus he was not able to have a fair trial; …
And after the examination the said prisoner was committed to the jail for treason against the State of Missouri. whereas the said Joseph Smith Jr did not levy war against the State of Missouri, neither did he commit any overt acts, neither did he aid or abet an enemy against the State of Missouri during the time that he is charged with having done so… and yet said prisoner has been committed to Liberty Jail Clay County (Mo) for treason, he has continually offered bail to any amount that could be required, notwithstanding your petitioners alledge that he ought to have been acquitted…. And your petitioners alledge that he has is not guilty of any crime whereby he should be restrained of his liberty; … and that he has never acted at any time only in his own defence and that too on his own ground property and possessions That the prisoner has never commanded any military company nor held any military authority neither any other office real or pretended in the State of Missouri except that of a religious teacher. That he never has borne arms in the military ranks, and in all such cases has acted as a private character and as an individual, how then, your petitioners would ask can it be possible the prisoner has committed treason.
[Here we get into some incredible denials of historical facts. Jo talks about Doctor Sampson Avard and George M. Hinkle being the leaders of the Danites, claiming they intimidated Jo into silence so they could perform their depredations in Daviess county. There are a lot of holes in Jo’s story here, but he had been locked up for 5 months and was willing to say anything to Judge Thompkins to get an appearance.]
The prisoner has had nothing to in Davies[s] County only on his own business as an individual. That the testimony of Dr [Sampson] Avard concerning a council held at James Sloan’s was false. Your petitioners do solemnly declare that there was no such council, that your petitioners were with the prisoner, and there was no such vote nor conversation as Doctor Avard swore to, that Doctor Avard also swore falsely concerning a constitution as he said was introduced among the Saints, that the prisoner had nothing to do with burning in Davies County. that the prisoner made public proclamation against such things; that the prisoner did oppose Doctor Avard and George, M. Hinkle against vile measures with the Mob, but was threatened by them if he did not let them alone. that the prisoner did not have any thing to do with what is called Bogart’s Battle, for he knew nothing of it untill it was all over, that he was at home, and in the bosom of his own family during the time of that whole transaction. And in fine your petitioners alledge that he is held in confinement without cause and under an unlawful and tyrannical oppression; and that his health and constitution and life depend on being liberated from his confinement…
And further your petitioners testify that the said Joseph Smith Jr did make a public proclamation in Far West in favor of the militia of the State of Missouri and of its laws and also of the Constitution of the United States. That he has ever been a warm friend to his country and did use all his influence for peace That he is a peaceable and quiet citizen and is not worthy of death, of stripes, bonds or imprisonment. The above mentioned speech was delivered on the day before the surrender at Far West.
Joseph Smith Jr”
Kind of a long thing to read, but it was important because Jo made his case for us in this very letter to exhibit that he’s innocent and that Sampson Avard and George Hinkle were responsible for everything that the Mormons did unlawfully in Missouri. It wasn’t the Mormon’s leader, Jo, who was responsible for what the Mormons did, it was all because of these guys who had incidentally been excommunicated by Bloody Brigham by the time Judge Thompkins was actually reading this letter.
It wasn’t just Jo who filed this petition. What we read includes all those guys I listed who signed it at the end, but attached in the same package which was sent to Judge Thompkins were separate petitions from Caleb Baldwin and Alexander McRae, they were forced to make their own petitions to the judge.
After this plea was sent and Jo had told Isaac Galland that he wanted to buy everything the guy had, Jo sat down to pen a letter to his wife, Emma, once again from the Joseph Smith papers.org. Check the show notes.
“Liberty, Jail, Clay. Co., Mo, April, 4th, 1839.
Dear— and affectionate— Wife.
Thursday night I sat down just as the sun is going down, as we peak throu the greats of this lonesome prision, to write to you, that I may make known to you my situation. It is I believe <it is> now about five months and six days since I have bean under the grimace, of a guard night and day, and within the walls grates and screeking of iron dors, of a lonesome dark durty prison. With immotions known only to God, do I write this letter, the contemplations, of the mind under these circumstances, defies the pen, or tounge, or Angels, to discribe, or paint, to the human mind being, who never experiance what ~~I~~ we experience. This night we expect; is the last night we shall try our weary joints and bones on our dirty straw couches in these walls, let our case hereafter be as it may, as we expect to start tomorrow, for Davi[es]s Co— for our trial, We shall have a change of Venue to some of the lower counties, for the final trial, as our Lawyers generaly say, if law can be adheared to in Davis, as it grants us the privaliege. But you are awere of what we may expect, of beings that <have> conducted as they have.… My Dear Emma I think of you and the children continualy, if I could tell you my tale, I think you would say it was altogether enough for once, to grattify the malice of hell that I have suffered. I want <to> see little Frederick, Joseph, Julia, and Alexander, Joana, and old major. And as to yourself if you want to know how much I want to see you, examine your feelings, how much you want to see me, and judge for <you[r]self>, I would gladly go <walk> from here to you barefoot, and bareheaded, and half naked, to see you and think it great pleasure, and never count it toil, but do not think I am babyish, for I do not feel so, I bare with fortitude all my oppression, so does do those that are with me, not one of us have flinched yet, I want you <should> not let those little fellows, forgit me, tell them Father loves them with a perfect love, and he is doing all he can to git away from the mob to come to them, do teach them all you can, that they may have good minds, be tender and kind to them, dont <be> fractious to them, but listen to their wants, tell them Father says they must be good children, <and> mind their mother, My Dear Emma there is great respo[n]sibility resting upon you, in preserveing yourself in honor, and sobriety, before them, and teaching them right things, to form their young and tender minds, that they begin in right paths, and not git contaminated when young, by seeing ungodly examples, I soppose you see the need of my council, and help, but as <a> combinnation <of> things have conspired to place me where I am, and I know it <is> not my fault, and further if my voice and council, had been heeded I should not have been here, but I find no fault with you, att all I know nothing but what you have done the best you could, if there is any thing it is known to yourself, you must be your own judge, on that subject: and if ether of done us have done wrong it is wise in us to repent of it, and for God sake, do not b[e] so foolish as to yield to the flattery of the Devel, faslshoods, and vainty, in this hour of trouble, that our affections be drawn, away from the right objects, those preasious things, God has given us will rise up in judgement against us in the day of judgement against us if we do not mark well our steps, and ways….
You[rs?] [Joseph Smith Jr.]”
There is a lot more in that letter we could talk about, but it’s not really relevant. Jo basically just tells Emma to be super faithful and not to give in to temptation and be a good Mom, stuff she never possibly could have known without him sending this letter which once again, didn’t make any reference to how much Jo loves her. He talks about the kids and says he would walk miles barefoot to see her, but still he didn’t devote any of his amazing talents with words to telling Emma how much he loves and misses her.
The letter is historically relevant just as is it relevant to giving us a window into what Jo and Emma’s relationship was going through at this time. Jo told Emma that he and the other prisoners would only be spending one more night in Liberty Jail before they were transferred to have a hearing in front of the honorable Judge George Thompkins. This transfer was granted and the Mormon leaders finally had a brief grand jury trial to ascertain legitimate charges.
Judge George Thompkins heard their case on Apr 11, 1839 and delivered a judgement the following day. He officially charged Jo and the others with everything the court of inquiry had charged against them, but Thompkins knew how hard it was to deal with the Mormons. He didn’t want to acquit them of their charges as it would likely be the end of his career. He didn’t want to charge them with anything more, because, what else do you possibly charge them with, you already landed the murder, treason, arson, and theft, a death sentence in most states back then.
Somebody, there’s no way of knowing who, came up with the only possible way to somehow put justice on hold and make the best of the situation. If the Mormons couldn’t get justice in Missouri, at least the state wouldn’t be responsible for killing them which was the inevitable conclusion to a full conviction of the charged offenses. Somebody issued a writ to transfer the prisoners to Boone county. A man named Sheriff William Morgan took custody of the prisoners. I’ll let a legitimate historian tell the story from here. It should be noted that Brodie claims in No Man Knows My History that Jo was the person who petitioned for the change of venue, but I can’t seem to verify that claim.
This is an excerpt from page 56-7 of Pistol-Packin’-Porter’s seminal biography by Harold Schindler titled “Orrin Porter Rockwell, Man of God/Son of Thunder”.
“…in early April 1839, the prisoners were returned to Gallatin to appear before a grand jury. On April 12[,] the panel returned a true bill against Joseph, Hyrum, Wight, McRae, and Baldwin for “murder, treason, burglary, arson, larceny, theft and stealing.” Rigdon had previously been admitted to bail and had fled Missouri to join church members at Quincy, Illinois.
Quite unexpectedly, three days later the court ordered a change of venue and the five Mormons were placed in the custody of Sheriff William Morgan to be transferred to Boone County for sentencing. It was apparent that the move was being made in a deliberate maneuver to provide the prisoners with a chance to make a break. While many Missourians still pressured to have the Mormons hanged, several officials in high places, perhaps Boggs himself, had come to the realization that an “escape” would be convenient to all concerned, since the fugitives certainly would leave the state at the first opportunity, and it was unlikely that they would return, with a grand jury indictment hanging over their heads. Accordingly, Sheriff Morgan and his guards conveniently became intoxicated during the ride to Boone County. Late that night the five prisoners galloped across the border into Illinois.
With the Mormon prophet out of their grasp, the enraged Missouri population completely razed church settlements in Daviess, Clay, Caldwell, and Ray counties, shooting livestock, firing homes, and stealing everything left behind. The handful of remaining Saints hastily packed what they could and made tracks for Illinois.
Little love was lost between the Illinoisians and their Missouri neighbors and when the story of the Mormon expulsion spread across the state line, the people of the town of Quincy were quick to offer solace and hospitality. They also extended a blanket invitation for the Saints to resettle in Illinois, a suggestion the Mormons eagerly accepted…
Exhausted and hungry, Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Lyman Wight, Alexander McRae, and Caleb Baldwin rode into Quincy on April 22. “Thank God we have been delivered,” the prophet said as his family and friends ran to embrace him. Among them was Orrin Porter Rockwell.”
The prophet was finally free, having set up the escape plan with unknown entities and successfully bribing Sheriff William Morgan and his men with some powerful sweetened whiskey. Jo, Hyrum and the other men effected their escape without looking back.
One of the reasons Jo wasn’t let out on the Habeas Corpus hearing along with Rigdon was because the authorities knew he would abscond as soon as he was released, that’s why he was stuck in prison for over 5 months, Jo was kinda slippery when it came to the law. This was still over half a century before the FBI was created and there was any structured interstate police force in existence. This had been a recurring theme for states since the Articles of Confederation were drawn up, how do states police criminals who cross state lines? The Missouri law enforcement knew that Jo would cross a state line as soon as he could escape the clutches of the jailors, which he did, nullifying their jurisdiction over him. Jo made a habit of removing himself from a state where there were criminal charges against him. Whether it was New York, Ohio, Missouri, or anywhere in between, Jo was quick to flee the state and escape the previous state’s enforcement jurisdiction when trouble arose.
Word spread to the Saints on the banks of the Mississippi that the prophet would be heard in court for a Grand Jury trial. Many of the Mormons were of the opinion that the whole thing was religious persecution, just like Jo and Rigdon thought. They had been told by the leadership the whole time that the Missouri government are all mobocrats hell-bent of persecuting the Mormons, and the persecution narrative was literally real to them. Mormons today don’t understand all the factors that went into the Mormons being removed from Missouri, and I would wager a guess that many Mormons back then didn’t even know all the reasons why they were being chased out either. It likely seemed like strictly religious persecution to them, the same way it’s viewed by Mormons today, but that ignores massive swaths of competing factors and complicated politics which played into the situation much more so than the religious aspect.
Some sections I cut out of the petition to Judge George Thompkins were these massive chunks where Jo tells the judge how everybody in Missouri was against him, he was terribly abused by the Missouri militia, and that he was completely innocent and could prove himself such if given the opportunity to state his case. Well, just like in the court of inquiry, usually in Grand Jury trials the defendant doesn’t get to state their case. The grand jury is held by the prosecution to determine if there’s enough evidence to move forward with a full jury trial. However, according to Brodie, Jo did make the motion to change venue to Boone county to get an objective panel of judges, which the court accepted. It was during that transfer to Boone that Jo and friends were able to flee the drunken clutches of Sheriff Morgan and his men and make their way across the state line to Illinois. And, of course, thanks to the lack of interstate law enforcement, nobody had jurisdiction to follow Jo and enforce the grand jury indictment for capital offenses.
The bribe Jo offered Sheriff Morgan was known and rather substantial, but a very small price to pay when taken on balance of the death penalty inevitably awaiting Jo. In addition to the whiskey sweetened with honey, they also agreed upon $800 and payment for the horses. A few weeks after this somebody spotted the Sheriff in Quincy collecting on his bribe. The Missourians were understandably not pleased, but the whole Mormon problem had been essentially solved in their opinion, so they didn’t pursue any legal action against the Sheriff for his corruption. The majority of the Missourians just ignored the Mormons by the end of April 1839 as there were so few Mormons remaining in Missouri to even bother the anti-Mormon citizens there.
But really, when it all comes down to it, wasn’t this the best possible option? Consider what should have happened vs. what did happen and skepticize what the best option was. I’m all for people paying the price when they break the law, but it’s important to be reasonable and consider the real legal ramifications of any situation this incredibly complex.
Ideally speaking, Jo and the other dozen plus members of Mormon leadership should have appeared in front of a Missouri court in a county where they hadn’t influenced the public one way or another, trying to get as unbiased of a judge as possible. The prosecution should have been able to charge the Mormons with everything they charged and then put them back in jail until a proper jury trial happened. In addition to that, Jo and the Mormons should have filed a countersuit against the state of Missouri for wrongful treatment and not protecting life liberty and free exercise of the Mormons, which would have dragged in Colonel Thomas Jennings and his men for executing the Haun’s Mill massacre without any orders, a malicious capital offense perpetrated by a state-sanctioned militia commanding officer. Judgement would come out one way or another and the Mormons and their leaders would have been entangled in a legal battle for years to come trying to get Jo freed from jail as well as some kind of recourse for being removed from Missouri on nothing more than surrender charges with a bunch of wrongful deaths from state militia officials. Jo likely would have spent much of this time in jail until he could be acquitted of all the charges against him for treason, arson, all that good stuff, or the conviction would have gone through and the long process of appeals prior to execution would have begun. If the chips did fall that way, Joseph Smith may very well have been executed by the United States government for treason and murder if this all went down according to law. But, that would require classifying him as a military commanding officer as opposed to a religious leader. Given the Mormon’s history in Missouri, those lines were pretty blurry when it came right down to everything Jo had done. How would executing a religious leader look on Missouri’s record of case law? The point is, some variation of that is what should have happened ideally to get a fair trial, not necessarily speedy, but fair and legal.
Well, the state of Missouri was in a bad legal spot in different ways than the Mormons, but everybody had broken the law and the Missouri government had violated the constitution. If this case got out of hand the spotlight would be on Missouri to handle this the right way, moreso than it already was to see how they would handle the Mormon situation. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The whole legal scenario was unpopular for different groups of people for different reasons, it was a no-win conundrum.
The state could go through all this and spend hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars and a number of years convicting Joseph Smith after they’d already spent millions on the whole Mormon problem so far. No possible outcome looked good for anybody involved.
So, what’s the simplest solution? You let them escape. It’s the most pragmatic compromise where nobody is actually satisfied, but at least people aren’t rioting in the streets because the government executed a religious leader or they let a traitor who killed American soldiers go free. With an escape, all you’re doing is looking the other way and passively exporting the Mormon problem to the next sucker of a state to take them in, which just so happened to be Illinois in this case. It really was the only reasonable way to handle this without years of court battles and countless expended resources to bring the Mormon leaders to justice, which would uncover a lot of bad moves on the state’s part that they’d rather not discuss. Nobody wanted to deal with this problem, which is made even clearer when we consider that the petition to form a committee investigating how the Mormons were treated in Missouri was tabled until July 1839, 2.5 months after the prophet escaped and many more months after nearly every Mormon was gone and their houses were all burned to the ground.
Everybody wanted the problem to go away, and it did. Rigdon and the other church leaders had done well in befriending Isaac Galland. Once Jo escaped he was made aware of the forces Galland had been exerting to help the Mormons in Illinois and Iowa. Here’s a couple of excerpts of a letter exchange between Galland and Governor Lucas of Iowa taken from Vogel’s source and critical text of the history of the church vol. 3 pages 291-2:
“…The testimony of Governor Lucas as to the good moral character of these people [Mormons], I think will have its deserved influence upon the people of Illinois, in encouraging our citizens in their humane and benevolent exertions to relieve this distressed people, who are now wandering in our neighborhoods without comfortable food, raiment, or a shelter from the pelting storm.
“… I received your letter of the 25th…, in which you give a short account of the sufferings of the people called the Mormons and ask “whether they could be permitted to purchase lands and settle upon them, in the Territory of Iowa, and there worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences, secure from oppression,” &c…
In answer to your inquiry, I would say that I know of no authority that can constitutionally deprive them of this right… “No person demeaning himself in a peaceable and orderly manner, shall ever be molested on account of his mode of worship or religious sentiments in said Territory.”
These principles I trust will ever be adhered to in the Territory of Iowa. They make no distinction between religious sects. They extend equal privileges and protection to all; each must rest upon its own merits, and will prosper in proportion to the purity of its principles, and the fruit of holiness and piety produced thereby.
Governor Robert Lucas [Iowa]”
Isaac Galland was a powerful ally to have and made himself a crucial asset to Jo and the church. Really, without him, who knows how the church would have landed in Illinois or even if they would have remained there. Makes you wonder, if only the Mormons had done this same schmoozing with Governor Boggs when they first began moving in to Jackson County Missouri, maybe the whole 1838 Mormon war wouldn’t have happened and the Mormons may never have been removed from Missouri in the first place. That’s just one of those historical thought experiments that are fun to occasionally play with.
That’s a valid takeaway. If you’re going to settle in a previously unsettled area, it may benefit you to make friends with the authorities in that area. Jo and the Mormons had settled in a number of areas en masse without really talking to relevant people about it before doing so. Take that example of Jackson County Missouri. They didn’t talk to the legislature or any of the government for that matter when they first set their sights on Independence, they just came in and declared Independence as their holy land, Zion.
What happened in the bible when somebody was on the Israelites promised land? What happened to the Canaanites, Midianites, Amalekites, and a number of other -ites lost to history when Yahweh decided they were on the Israelites land? Was it really that irrational to think the Mormons may treat the Missourites the same way? Well yeah it was, but Jo didn’t always operate within the boundaries of rationality. When the Mormons were chased out of Jackson County Jo led an army of 200 men to Jackson county for the purpose of restoring the Mormons to Zion. What did that look like in his mind? Did that mean open armed-conflict? If not then why were all 200 men armed in the first place? Come one, there’s only one reason to march 200 armed men over 800 miles.
I guess the overall point would be that Jo figured out when he needed help and let the people who were in the proper position do what they could to help him. Galland was a wealthy land owner, the governor needed to be aware of and approve the Mormons moving in, Brigham was good with running the business, Rigdon was able to schmooze the necessary people when he told them of the Mormons’ persecution in Missouri. Every one of these people played their part in getting the Mormons situated in Illinois to the point that they could build a new community from scratch. The swath of land which the church purchased from Galland called Commerce was just a swampland with a couple dinky run-down farms on it. Fast-forward 4 years and Nauvoo was a sprawling metropolis with a population rivaling Chicago of nearly exclusively Mormons. In order to construct his empire, Jo needed a lot of help, and the people were willing to do their duty to Zion.
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