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Ep 109 – Boggs Bites Port’s Bullet
On this episode, Nauvoo has a lot of secrets to hide. We talk about Orrin Porter Rockwell and his trip to Missouri in May 1842. We discuss his “confrontation” with Governor Lilburn Boggs, of which Boggs was none the wiser until he awoke days later with multiple gunshot wounds. We cover Port’s quick flight from Missouri back to Nauvoo after the assassination attempt. John C. Bennett apostatizes and begins his public derisions of Joseph Smith and Mormonism. Pistol Packin’ Porter Rockwell confronts Wreck-it Bennett about rumors Bennett was spreading about Jo’s hand in the assassination.
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Warsaw Signal 1842
Lilburn Boggs Wiki
Baltimore Sun 31 May 1842
Times-Picayune 29 May 1842
Brooklyn Evening Star 23 July 1842
Times and Seasons May 1842
Seattle Atheists talk
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Would they be good Masons? Could the Mormons keep a secret? Nauvoo had a lot of secrets to keep. Adultery running rampant, fraudulent land deeds more prolific than legitimate deeds, a paralegal army at the tip of Jo’s puppet-strings, never enough jobs forcing crime rates through the roof, all the while Talos is gathering more pieces under the cover of night. Nauvoo may have appeared to be a burgeoning settlement of people just trying to make their way in the world, but what lived in the shadows was far more insidious.
Politics were becoming of increasing importance to the Mormons and Joseph Smith.
Thomas Coke Sharp published an article titled Jo Smith’s Proclamaiton on Jan 26, 1842 detailing the conflicts generated when politicians would curry favor with the Mormon voting bloc.
“As we expected, the wonderful document issued by the Prophet, directing his followers how to vote, has created great shaking amongst the dry bones of the politicians. On one hand, the Whigs say it is a high-handed and insolent production, and on the other, the Democrats say umph! scarcely knowing whether to approve or condemn.
We are not prophets, but we will hazzard the prediction who tampers with the Mormons, or condescends to sycophancy in order to insure their support, will, in less than five years, lose more by the withdrawal of the confidence of the people than it is now in the power of the Mormons to give. But still, notwithstanding this is apparent, such is the [devotion] with which men kneel to [----- --- that] there are those who are willing [to worship a] Money-Digger as a god, if [---- ----- they] can secure their political [---------favors].
The Sangamo Journal, heretofore a friend of the Mormons, has had its tune wonderfully changed by the proclamation. Hear him --
"The Proclamation which follows this preface, is in itself most strange and daring -- perversive of the privileges of a citizen! It would not be so, were the signer anyone else than the person whom it represents -- JOSEPH SMITH. Mr. S. is supposed by his followers to be a Prophet of the Most High God. Whether he is or not, is no matter of dispute at present; but as such Prophet he is held in the highest veneration and respect by his followers, whom he leads easily by the belief of his high calling. Now, as long as Mr. Smith keeps near the sanctuary and prophecies of religion, he is guileless of offence, but when he enters upon the duties of a civil office of the State, and as a Lieutenant General, speaks to his friends, whom [as a] PROPHET he can command, and uses the religious influence he possesses, under the Military garb he has acquired, he becomes a dangerous man, and must look to the consequences. If he would take a friendly advice, we would say, let some Joshua, the son of Nun, lead the armies, and let him stick to interpretation and prophecy -- and for we do assure him upon an honest belief, that his situation in Illinois, is far more dangerous than ever it was in Missouri; if he undertakes to take Mahomet's part, his only prototype, save Mokhauna, and play the warrior and patriot [sic -prophet?].
As for the Supreme Judge, who is so all powerful with the sect, let him look to it that ambition does not overlap its mark."
Jo just kept gaining more and more power. Rising in tandem with the outside criticisms from those not under Jo’s prophetic spell were the rampant rumors of polygamy circulating in and out of Nauvoo. Stories involving not just Jo, but his uppermost elites.
Jo took an occasion to address the increased level of rumors without ever speaking explicitly to what he was referring.
“President Hyrum Smith spoke concerning the elders who went forth to preach from Kirtland, and were afterwards called in for the washing and anointing at the dedication of the House, and those who go now will be called in also, when this Temple is about to be dedicated, and will then be endowed to go forth with mighty power, having the same anointing, that all may go forth and have the same power, the first, second, and so on, of the Seventies, and all those formerly ordained. This will be an important and beneficial mission, and not many years until those now sent will be called in again. He then spoke in contradiction of a report in circulation about Elder H. C. Kimball, Brigham Young, himself, and others of the Twelve, alleging that a sister had been shut in a room for several days, and that they had endeavored to induce her to believe in having two wives. Also cautioned the Sisters against going to the Steamboats.
President Joseph Smith spoke upon the subject of the stories respecting Elders Kimball and others, showing the folly and inconsistency of spending any time in conversing about such stories, or hearkening to them, for there is no person that is acquainted with our principles would believe such lies, except Sharp, the editor of the Warsaw Signal.”
HoC Vogel 4:561-2
The allegations of Brigham Young and Heber Kimball locking a young woman up in the Red Brick Store and coercing her into a polygamous relationship would end up proving to be true, as far as historians can tell. Jo and the leadership were walking a fine line of public declarations which were completely opposite to their private conduct. This contrast existed in nearly every piece of Mormon culture.
Jo believed the powers of religion and state to be separate and distinct, yet as a religious leader he spent ungodly amounts of time with politicians promising to give them the Mormon vote. Jo thought the Missourians were a depraved and ignorant group of people hell-bent on destroying Mormonism, yet Jo first sought to establish Jackson County as the Mormon promised land and declared the Mormons would make war against the Missourians. Jo repeatedly preached one man and one wife and even included a revelation stating it explicitly in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, yet he was having affairs as early as 1834. Jo taught temperance and advocated for the banning of alcohol for non-medicinal purposes in Nauvoo, which provision passed the city government, yet in less than a year’s time he was operating a bar out of his own house.
Countless examples could be placed in front of us when Jo’s private actions were exactly what he frequently preached against, and the hypocrisy of this is what caused a lot of strife within Mormon leadership ranks.
However, there were those loyal to Joseph. A character who has largely operated within the shadows of our historical timeline, only making a rare appearance from time to time, is a childhood friend of Joseph. This man was short, stout, and liked his whiskey. His eyes were portals into black oblivion, and his receding hairline only revealed more of the demonic features comprising his face as the years wore on. He may have been 8 years Joseph’s junior, but he and Jo were rough and tumble scrappy young lads causing trouble in Palmyra since their friendship was forged. If you messed with Jo, you’d have to keep an eye on your back for his best friend and closest personal body guard, Orrin Pistol Packin’ Porter Rockwell.
Porter Rockwell had been the leader of the Destroying Angel company of the Danites throughout the 1838 Missouri-Mormon conflict. He’d participated in looting and burning the non-Mormon towns around the Mormon settlement and he never left Jo’s side as the standoff continued to heat up between the Missouri militia and the Mormon mob, ending in Jo’s arrest. Rockwell had escaped toward Quincy on the night of the surrender, so he wasn’t rounded up with the other 60+ Danites who were arrested and thrown in Jail awaiting treason and conspiracy charges. Rockwell eagerly awaited the prophet’s return from Liberty Jail in the makeshift Mormon settlement on the banks of the Mississippi.
Jo may have had a legion of bodyguards, thousands of Mormons to answer the leadership’s cry for help at a moment’s notice, a Nauvoo Legion with over 1,000 militiamen, and an underground squad known as the Danites in Missouri who essentially became the police force of Nauvoo, but one man was essentially required to be within eyeshot of the prophet as active head of Jo’s secret service, Pistol Packin Port was a powerful asset. Why would a Christian minister like Joseph Smith need an active bodyguard detail? Jo wasn’t an Alexander Campbell, he was a Mohammed to his generation. Jo had a lot of enemies.
Chief among his enemies was a man born in Kentucky in 1796, Lilburn Boggs, Governor of Missouri from 1836 to 1840, and elected to the Missouri state Senate in 1842 for his masterful handling of the Mormon War which made him very popular among the anti-Mormon Missourians. Lilburn Boggs issued the Mormon Extermination order bringing the conflict to an end, the Missourians knew Boggs wouldn’t handle any similar anti-majority uprising with kid gloves like he had the beginning of the Mormon conflict. Boggs meant business. Thomas Reynolds had taken the office of Governor from Boggs and was tasked with bringing Jo and the Mormons to justice for the conflict. He’d issued the arrest warrant for Joseph Smith back in mid-1841, but Jo was able to get a writ of habeas corpus, which Justice Stephen A. Douglas, later presidential election opponent to Abraham Lincoln, granted the writ and called for the release of Joseph Smith. Douglas would later become an opponent to the Brighamite Mormons, Lincoln used Douglas’ flip-floping to score cheap points against Douglas in speeches and debates.
Needless to say, Jo had a lot of friends in high places, but far more enemies in higher places. How does a pious prophet of the Lord deal with his sharpest critics? Thomas Sharp, editor of the Warsaw Signal, was met with public derision. Jo and his propaganda outlets constantly criticized Sharp for articles he wrote in the Signal. Other less public figures who criticized Jo that couldn’t gain enough attention were easily ignored. Every public figure has to understand that sometimes haters are gunna hate, and Jo rarely responded to petty attacks. But, in the case of Grandison Newell, a wealthy businessman and creditor of Jo’s in Kirtland, Jo commanded some Mormons to sit outside his house and assassinate Newell, the attempt failed but the fact was brought up in the court proceedings against Jo which forced him and Rigdon to flee the state of Ohio.
Lilburn Boggs was public enemy #1 in the eyes of the Mormons. Orrin Pistol Packin Porter Rockwell’s wife, Luana Rockwell, was 8 months pregnant with their fourth child. Port and Luana wanted to have the baby with Luana’s parents, then living in Independence, Missouri and in late February, Port packed up a wagon with a few provisions, sent the other 3 kids to live with some family friends for a few weeks, and they departed Nauvoo.
Luana and Porter Rockwell arrived in Independence, Missouri at the home of Luana’s parents probably in early to mid-April, immediately after which, Luana gave birth to their fourth child.
Whether Port had a mission underpinning this trip to Missouri, or whether he took initiative, it can never be known. Port got it in his mind that public enemy number one, Lilburn Boggs’s, time had come to an end. Boggs may not have been governor of Missouri anymore, but if Jo was going to run for POTUS in 44, Boggs as a prominent senator would have been a thorn in Jo’s paw. Whether out of retribution for past indiscretions, or out of political need moving forward, it would be much better for Jo and the Mormons if Boggs weren’t an issue to deal with.
On the evening of May 6th, 1842, Pistol Packin Porter tucked his wife away in bed as she nursed the new baby. Port loved horses, he was an expert rider. He’d just got a new job in Independence taking care of a valuable stallion in order to financially support his family for the brief time they would be staying in Missouri until the baby was old enough to travel back to Nauvoo.
With his wife and new baby tucked away for bed, Port saddled up and rode the couple miles under the cover of nightfall to the home of Ex-Governor Lilburn Boggs. It was dark and a cool spring-time shower masked any noise but turned dirt roads into a nasty brown glue of Missouri springtime mud. It was probably cold, early May in the Midwest at night with high humidity can get a bit chilly. Porter Rockwell approached the home of Senator Lilburn Boggs with one thing on his mind, Boggs wouldn’t see the sun rise the next morning.
This shot had to count. Port knew he’d only get one and have to high-tail it out of there to escape being witnessed. He loaded the pistol with a hot load, lots of extra powder and buckshot to make sure when Boggs was hit there would be no chance of his survival. The Destroying Angel of Mormonism, the great Son of Thunder, crouched outside the office of Boggs’ home, peering in the window, eyeing his prey.
Boggs poured his glass of whiskey for the evening, unfolded that day’s paper, and sat comfortably behind an ornate wooden desk reserved only for the wealthiest of government officials of the 1800s. Boggs was none the wiser an assassin lay in wait just outside the window. Porter expertly took aim at Boggs through the window. He’d fired at human targets before, and this certainly wouldn’t be the last time, but this target wasn’t moving or trying to run away, just unsuspectingly sitting still in his office reading the paper while his six-year-old daughter sat on the floor at his feet rocking her infant sister to sleep.
Port saw the back of Boggs’ head lined up in the sight beads of his pistol loaded with buckshot. He exhaled and held his breath as any good marksperson does. His finger tingled as it slowly drew back on the trigger. (clink noise) The hammer crashed into the cap, igniting the heavy load in the pistol’s chamber. The explosion sent a round of buckshot crashing through the window. The kick from the pistol was heavy enough that Pistol Packin Porter must not have been ready for it and the gun leapt from his hands and plopped lifelessly into the mud at his feet.
The buckshot hit true to its target. Two small lead balls entered Boggs’ head, one implanting in his skull, the other breaking his jaw, and two more balls entered his throat, one entering his esophagus which he swallowed as he gasped in surprise at the gunshot and crashing window noises as the spell of incredible pain and trauma suddenly overtook his body, rendering him immediately unconscious.
Pistol Packin Porter Rockwell had done it. He assassinated an elected public official out of vengeance for the plight of the Mormons in honor of the cold dead bodies of their brethren still lying in a well near Haun’s mill just 30 miles from where he presently stood. Port didn’t even pause to search for his pistol, the mud had swallowed it and every second he remained was another second he could be discovered or identified.
Boggs’ teenage son, alerted by the gunshot and shattered window noise and possibly a cry out from his father, ran into the room to discover his father leaned back in his chair unconscious with his dislocated jaw hanging down while a pool of blood formed around his chair. Young Minnie Boggs was screaming in terror as her mother ran in the room to see her husband slumped lifelessly back in his chair. She picked up her daughter and prodded around to make sure she wasn’t hit. Minnie had miraculously escaped any harm which is even more remarkable considering 13 other bullet holes were found in the room from the buckshot.
Porter dashed from the shattered window and ran to his horse. He hopped on and immediately put as much distance between himself and the Boggs home as his horse could muster. Maybe he rode home as quickly as he could. Maybe he went to his favorite nearby saloon to establish an alibi. Boggs had a lot of enemies in Missouri politics, maybe one of his opponents would be charged with the assassination, the Mormons were such an afterthought to most Missourians by this point, the war had been over 3 years and almost no Mormons remained in the state.
Bogg’s son yelled for the rest of the family and the neighborhood physician was summoned as quickly as he could make the trip so late at night.
From Harold Schindler’s Man of God, Son of Thunder, the best biography out there about Orrin Porter Rockwell, on page 67:
“Judge Samuel H. Woodson, a neighbor, was the first outsider on the scene; and moments later, when Sheriff J. H. Reynolds arrived with a doctor (the first of four that night), Boggs was unconscious and near death…
Outside the house a crowd gathered at first report of the shooting and now numbered nearly two hundred persons; one of the spectators searching the spot where the gunman had stood found traces of footprints in the mud, and in a partially-filled puddle discovered the gun. Sheriff Reynolds studied the firearm carefully, but was unable to detect any identifying mark. It was a “large German holster pistol, chambered for four shots,” he observed. Three of the barrels were loaded with buckshot instead of single balls. Reynolds surmised that the recoil of such a heavy charge had kicked the pistol from the gunman’s grasp, and failing to find it in the rain, the assassin had fled. While the sheriff mulled these thought in his mind, a storekeeper named Uhlinger recognized the weapon as one stolen from his shop.”
Uhlinger later said of the time when the pistol went missing:
“I thought the niggers had taken it, but that hired man of Ward’s—the one who used to work with the stallion—he came in to look at it just before it turned up missing!” That hired man of Ward’s was Pistol Packin Porter who’d hired on to take care of the valuable horse. The investigators had their first lead to who the assassin might be.
In the following days, numerous articles and obituaries were printed for Boggs as he barely clung to life. It was presumed by nearly everybody that he wouldn’t pull through as he languished in an out of consciousness for days and hung on by a worn thread for the following weeks.
Mormon news articles are interesting to watch as the story of Boggs’ assassination attempt started catching fire nationwide. Before reading a few of them, it’s worth noting the timing here. Rockwell and his wife, Luana, made it to Missouri in March or April of 1842. They stayed with Luana’s parents as she delivered their 4th child and Porter went to work for Ward in caring for the valuable stallion. May 6th, Boggs was shot, and a mere 2 weeks later Pistol Packin Porter arrived back in Nauvoo off a Mississippi steamer having permanently left his wife with their new child back in Missouri. He was never seen by any of the locals in Missouri after the assassination attempt and he made the 300-mile journey back to Nauvoo in less than 2 weeks, arriving in Nauvoo 2 days before news of the assassination reached Nauvoo. Porter actually travelled from Missouri to Nauvoo faster than the news did. Maybe he heard the townspeople looking for a suspect and knew that his reputation would put him right at the top of the list and left town as soon as he thought he might be arrested. Maybe he had just planned to leave that next day coincidentally. From the preponderance of evidence following the assassination attempt, it seems like he was running from his own dastardly deed and the timing of his immediate travels lends credence to that evidence.
May 14th, 1842, Rockwell arrived in Nauvoo with rumors of his successful assassination following close behind. The next day Jo preached to the congregation that he’d received word of Boggs’ assassination.
From HoC Vogel edition 5:8
“It was reported in Nauvoo, that ex-Governor Boggs of Missouri had been shot…
Sunday, 15.--Attended meeting at the Stand. Prest Rigdon preached. News of the attempted assassination of Governor Boggs was confirmed by general report, and was mentioned on the Stand.”
Likely from Pistol Packin Port himself, Jo had presumed along with everybody else in the nation that the assassination attempt was successful. Here are some articles from around the nation about what had happened and the confusion which followed.
The St. Louis New Era 11th May 1842
“Gov. Boggs was shot by some villain on Friday, 6th, in the evening, while sitting in a room in his own house in Independence. His son, a boy, hearing a report, ran into the room and found the Governor sitting in his chair with his jaw fallen down, and his head leaning back. On discovering the injury done his father, he gave the alarm. Foot tracks were found in the garden below the window, and a pistol picked up supposed to have been overloaded and thrown from the hand of the scoundrel who fired it. Three buckshot, of a heavy load, took effect, one going through his mouth, one into the brain, and another probably in or near the brain—all going in at the back part of the neck and head. The Governor was still alive on the morning of the 7th, but no hopes of his recovery were entertained by his friends, and but slight hopes from his physicians. A man was suspected, and the Sheriff most probably has possession of him by this time. The pistol was one of a pair stolen some days previous from a baker in Independence, and the legal authorities have the description of the other.”
The St. Louis New Era was wrong, the Sheriff didn’t have the suspect in custody. He’d fled so quickly that no person could know to halt his progress on his journey. Rockwell was probably already in St. Louis by the time that report was published.
Hartford Courant out of Connecticut 24 May 1842
“Ex-Governor Boggs Assassinated—By the last Western Mail, we have the appalling intelligence of the murder of ex-Governor Lilburn W. Boggs of Missouri, at his residence at Independence, on the 6th instant. He was sitting alone in his room, engaged in writing, when he was shot through the window by some villain, who lodged three buckshot in his head, one of them in his brain.”
The Times-Picayune out of New Orleans 29 May, 1842. Word was spreading that Boggs may actually survive.
“Gov. Boggs, of Missouri, who was recently shot by an assassin, according to the last accounts from Independence, was still alive, and faint hopes were indulged of his possible recovery.”
Boggs was slowly recovering, and a manhunt was afoot and the assassin’s motives started to take on a life of their own.
The Baltimore Sun 31 May 1842:
“REVENGE.—It is rumored that the attempt to assassinate Gov. Boggs, was committed by a Mormon, at the instigation of Joe Smith, in revenge for his treatment of Joe’s sect while Mr. B. was Governor of Missouri.”
It wasn’t long before all kinds of accusations were being thrown around. Printed in the Brooklyn Evening Star out of New York on 23 July 1842 was a copy of an article from the Warsaw Signal, Jo’s nemesis, Thomas Coke Sharp couldn’t help but seize the opportunity for some salacious articles. He mistook A.P. Rockwood for O. P. Rockwell in his printing, so I’ve changed the name to Pistol Packin Porter Rockwell as it was initially intended, even though A.P. Rockwood was the name of a high-ranking Mormon elite in Nauvoo. Here it is:
“We understand that the very mischief is brewing in Nauvoo, since the threatening of Bennett to expose the villany of Joe and his satellites. Several of Joe’s right-hand men have left the church and joined Bennett’s party. One disclosure, particularly, will prove interesting and that is in relation to Boggs’s murder. Bennett states that [O.P. Rockwell] started suddenly from Nauvoo about two weeks before Boggs’s assassination; that he(Bennett) asked Joe where Rock[well] had gone, and that Joe replied that he had gone to Missouri to fulfil prophecies! He says further that Rock[well] returned to Nauvoo on the very day that the news of Governor Bogg’s assassination arrived. Since that, the Prophet has presented said Rock[well] with a carriage and horse, or horses, and he had suddenly become very flush of money, and lives in style. These statements we give as we received them. It is said that Bennett has affidavits to prove every fact above stated and will shortly present them to the world. If this be true, then will but little doubt remain that Joe Smith was the real instigator of Boggs’s assassination.”
Further articulating just how powerful and malevolent the Mormon kingdom on the Mississippi had become, the article from Brooklyn continues:
“The Kaskaskian Republican contains a long account of a murder committed on the 2d of June, upon John Stephenson—a Mormon—and supposed to have been committed by Mormons who had called upon him for contributions to build the temple at Nauvoo, and been refused.”
Jo’s Danites in full force to carry out his will by any means necessary.
The article continues:
“We have late information from Nauvoo. Joe Smith anticipates a requisition upon Gov. Carlin from Gov, Reynolds of Missouri, for his person; and is determined not to be given up.
He has all the state arms,--some twenty or thirty cannon[s]—a large number of muskets, yagers, pistols and cutlasses—all belonging to the state, which he is prepared to use against the state authorities if they shall attempt to deliver him to Gov. Reynolds. Joe reiterates that he will not be given up—and the Mormons say that the Prophet shall not be taken while any of them are left to defend him.”
Jo wasn’t just the prophet, he was a theocrat. This article portrays him as the insidious dictator so many people outside of Nauvoo thought him to be. You may have picked up on how many times John C. Wreck-it Bennett was invoked in that previous article. We haven’t spent nearly enough time on Bennett up to this point. Suffice it to say, as the assassination attempt of Boggs was in progress throughout the early spring of 1842, Bennett and Jo had a falling out, likely due to a series of conflicts leading up to the point of falling out.
We’ll get back to Pistol Packin Porter and the fallout after he shot Boggs in a minute, but I just want to step back and try to get a more holistic view of Nauvoo Mormonism in 1842. We’re progressing at a snail’s pace through 1842. That’s not because we’re just taking our time because I’m such a windbag and can’t get to the point which manifests in long episodes every week about nothing, although it could easily be seen that way. The reason we’re progressing so slowly is because there’s just so much. I spend all week reading in prep for each show and it’s a CONSTANT battle deciding what to include and what to leave out. 1842 in particular is so overwhelmingly active in Mormon history and I have to be so selective of what we spend our precious time on. Even then with my selection process, I’m constantly running in to things that I wish we would have spent more time covering to put something else in context, we’re running into that right now with Wreck-it Bennett. We’re about to cover a conversation that Pistol Packin Porter had with Wreck-it Bennett but it doesn’t make sense without a bit of context that we don’t have time to cover in this episode.
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Alright, let’s get back to the show…
We’ll be covering Wreck-it Bennett in depth in the coming weeks to get at the heart of the conflict arising between him and Jo. By late May and early June he’d resigned his position as Mayor of Nauvoo and Jo had taken the mantle on himself. Once again, we’ll cover that in depth coming soon. 1842 is so incredibly busy. Bennett had spent a bit of time gathering affidavits in Nauvoo of people wanting to implicate Jo in criminal activities, greatest of which was polygamy. Bennett would soon publish his expose, History of the Saints. Included in that expose were his pieces of evidence that Jo took an active role in making sure Boggs felt the wrath of Jo when he crossed the Mormons. Jo’s actions prior to the assassination didn’t help exonerate the prophet of such accusations by any stretch of imagination.
Jo’s younger brother, Crazy Willey Smith, had started his own newspaper outlet since the death of his younger brother, Don Carlos, in order to radically propagandize the level of publications coming out of Nauvoo. The Wasp, it was called, took on anybody writing articles in opposition to the Mormons, and Thomas Coke Sharp of the Warsaw Signal was a frequent target of Crazy Willey’s Wasp propaganda.
The Wasp was quite gleeful to see Boggs suffer at the end of an assassin’s gunbarrel with articles like this, tacitly implicating Jo in the assassination plot.
28 May, 1842, reprinting an article from the Quincy Whig, but what comes after it is astonishing:
“Lilburn W. Boggs late Governor of Missouri, was assassinated at his residence in Independence, Missouri, by an unknown hand… There are several rumors in circulation in regard to the horrid affair.—One of which throws the crime upon the Mormons—from the fact, we suppose, that Mr. Boggs was governor at the time, and no small degree instrumental in driving them from the State. Smith too, the Mormon Prophet, as we understand, prophesied a year or so ago, his death by violent means. Hence, there is plenty of foundation for rumor. The citizens of Independence had offered a reward of $500 for the murderer.—Quincy Whig.”
Jo did give that prophecy, also that Governor Carlin of Illinois would find himself in a ditch, which never did happen. In response to these rumors that Jo had given a prophecy that Boggs would suffer a death by violent means, within a year’s time, I might add, Jo penned the following to the Quincy Whig.
“In your paper,… you have done me manifest injustice in ascribing to me a prediction of the demise of Lilburn W. Boggs,… by violent hands. Boggs was a candidate for the State Senate, and I presume fell by the hand of a political opponent, with “his hands and face yet dripping with the blood of murder;” but he died not through my instrumentality. My hands are clean and my heart pure, from the blood of all men. I am tired of the misrepresentations, calumny and detraction, heaped upon me by wicked men; and desire and claim, only those principles guaranteed to all men by the constitution and laws of the United States, and of Illinois. Will you do me the justice to publish this communication and oblige
Yours respectfully, Joseph Smith.”
Yes, Boggs was a public figure. His office of Governorship over Missouri was hotly contested in the 1840 election when he was unseated by Governor Thomas Reynolds. His run for Missouri State Senate was equally controversial, with voters largely siding on opposite sides of the Mormon issue and how Boggs had handled it. He did have political enemies, but he wasn’t a controversial figure in any other regard beyond the Mormon issue. Included in that same article in the Wasp was a letter to the editor of the Hawk Eye out of Missouri which stated “Boggs, although so strongly accused by these renegades (Mormons), was one of the most inoffensive men I ever knew. I knew him well and for years, and I did not know with the exception of the Mormons, that he had a personal enemy on earth.”
Yes, Boggs botched the Mormon war. Look, you have a public official who caused an entire population to be removed from their homes and seek new lives in a new state as refugees of religious persecution. The Mormons HATED Boggs. Jo and Rigdon had both frequently preached against Boggs’ mobocracy both in Missouri and in Illinois after the exodus. They blamed Boggs for everything. The assassin also had no plans on Boggs surviving, malicious murder was his intent. Mormons had motivation, Porter Rockwell had opportunity. Whether acting of his own volition based on the fiery sermons given by Mormon leaders, or acting under direct order from the prophet, the evidence seems to show that Pistol Packin Porter was the dastardly knave who committed this heinous act. The next article from the Wasp exhibits the glee felt collectively by the Mormons that Boggs had finally suffered the wrath of God. It was a letter to the editor and therefore anonymous, and it extensively refers to the previous letter published in the Hawk Eye from Missouri.
“The fact is, their is no proof that a Mormon was in Missouri with an evil intention when Boggs was shot three hundred miles above St. Louis; and the Hawk Eye had no thought of doing more than injuring and insulting an innocent people, who had never laid a straw in his way, when he wrote the above frothy, slanderous article.
The most wonderful development is, that it appears Jo Smith has made several threats against Missouri. The public can hardly be gulled by such foolish libels. Boggs is undoubtedly killed, according to report; but who did the noble deed remains to be found out.”
The editor of the Wasp must have known this article was a bit too much and concluding by adding this:
“We admit the foregoing communication to please our correspondent, no that we have any faith that any one has killed Governor Boggs. The last account we have received is that he is still living and like to live; and if he has been shot at all it was by one of his own negroes.”
So many explanations out there. It was a political opponent, it was one of his slaves, it was General Atchison in retaliation for his and Boggs’ interactions during the Mormon war. They’re all red herrings. All those explanations were bandied about as seemingly more probable explanations than Port doing the ‘noble deed,’ yet the evidence was never contended with. Porter Rockwell had opportunity, intent, motivation, and a color of character which made him feel justified in vengefully taking the life of an elected official. Arguments claiming it wasn’t Rockwell, even to this day, don’t stand up to the abundance of evidence, especially considering developments which followed the attempt.
Hopefully from the next few passages I’ll be reading from Harold Schindler’s biography of Porter Rockwell will satisfy any questions about whether or not Jo had explicitly commanded Rockwell to commit the crime or if Port was simply acting of his own volition.
“On top of this clamor over the shooting came the biting voice of John C. Bennett, who, having resigned his position as mayor because “his whoredoms and abominations were fast coming to light,” began sniping at Joseph from a multitude of directions. The prophet, meanwhile, deemed it wise to assume the mayor’s office himself.
Determined to destroy Joseph for publicly disgracing him, Bennett composed a series of sensational letters for publication in the Sangamo Journal exposing the prophet and his secret doctrine of spiritual wifery, among other things. He also told what he knew of the Boggs affair. Bennett said Rockwell had been sent to kill the man on Joseph’s orders. “In the spring of the year Smith offered a reward of five hundred dollars to any man who would secretly assassinate Governor Boggs.” And after the attempt was made, Bennett related, “Smith said to me, speaking of Governor Boggs, ‘The Destroying Angel has done the work, as I predicted, but Rockwell was not the man who shot; the Angel did it.’” When this statement circulated, Orrin Porter Rockwell found himself with a sobriquet little to his liking. He had become, in the eyes of many, “The Destroying Angel”.
Bennett began blowing the whistle on Jo commanding Rockwell to commit the assassination, and he would have been one of the few who would have the insider’s knowledge about the situation. His biases confound so much of his expose which discussed this situation extensively from pages 278-83, but much of the information stands alone as facts where the interpretation of those facts reveal the biases. Schindler is accurate when it comes to Pistol Packin Porter being called ‘The destroying angel’. The origination of that name came from the 1838 conflict in Missouri. When Jo organized the Danites he broke them up into separate troops, each with their own names. The Destroying Angels was the name of the group headed by Rockwell. After the exodus to Illinois, the Danites went completely underground and were no longer utilized the way they had been in Missouri. That was all because the Mormons had their own state-sanctioned militia which was armed from the state armories by Wreck-it Bennett. After the assassination attempt is when the name “The destroying angels was changed to call Pistol Packin Porter simply, “The Destroying Angel.”
“Even the stoical Rockwell was vexed by the deadly gossip Bennett’s correspondence had evoked, and he was determined to put a stop to it. Seeking out the loquacious apostate in nearby Carthage, Rockwell brushed past three visitors in Bennett’s parlor and confronted his antagonist with the stories being spread in Nauvoo. It took some moments for Bennett to overcome his surprise at the unexpected appearance of a man he knew to be a Danite, but in typical fashion the erstwhile soul-brother of the Saints attempted to bluster his way out of the unpleasant situation; he found Rockwell was not to be sidetracked. Gesturing at the trio of strangers, he asked Bennett for a private conversation, and was answered with, “If you have anything to say, you can say it in front of them!”
“It’s a personal affair,” Rockwell retorted.
After a moment’s hesitation Bennett led the way to another room.
Once they were alone, Rockwell turned to his accuser. “Doctor, you don’t know who your friends are. I’m not your enemy and I don’t want you using my name in your publications!”
“Joe Smith and all of his friends are my personal enemies,” Bennett snapped in reply.
Rockwell’s tone hardened: “I’ve been told you said Joseph gave me fifty dollars and a wagon for shooting Boggs.” Without waiting for an answer, Rockwell continued, “Now hear me well, Doctor Bennett. I can—and I will—whip any man who tells a cursed lie like that about me. Now! Did you say it or not?”
Bennet ran his tongue over his lips and thought for a moment. “No, I didn’t say that. I said—and I’ll tell it to your face—you left Nauvoo about two months before Boggs was shot. And, you came back the day before the report of the attempted assassination reached here; two persons in Nauvoo said you told them you had been in Boggs’s neighborhood.”
“Oh, I was there all right,” Rockwell said curtly. “But if I shot Boggs, they have got to prove it. I never did an act I was ashamed of, and I do not fear to go anywhere that I have ever been. I’ve done nothing criminal!”
Startled by the sudden outburst, Bennett hastily concurred. “Certainly they’ve got to prove it. I know nothing of what you did, I wasn’t there.”
Before Bennett could say more, Rockwell interjected: “If you say that Joseph Smith paid me to shoot Boggs—I’ll be back!” (Pistol Packin Porter was the first to use the terminator meme) There was no mistaking the implication. Satisfied that Bennett understood him, Rockwell marched from the room. In Nauvoo, Rockwell clambered into his elegant new carriage and whipped the fine team forward. It was true the equipage had been a gift from Joseph upon Rockwell’s return from Missouri; the prophet said he gave the present to his friend, “to enable him to convey passengers from the steamboat landing to the temple and back.””
So yes, it seems Rockwell picked up that $500 reward Jo was rumored to offer for the assassination of Boggs. He was rolling around in a new wardrobe in his pimpin brand new carriage which was used as a taxi service in Nauvoo from the waterfront to the center of town or the Nauvoo Mansion once it was completed. Schindler goes on to postulate that Port’s taxi service wasn’t so much convenient transportation as it was an easy and covert way to spy on newcomers into town. Who better to keep an eye on visitors from the outside than Pistol Packin Port himself?
By July of 42, the outside public was clamoring to get Port and Jo back in jail, and once again, existential threat gripped the Mormon kingdom on the Mississippi. By late June, Boggs had recovered sufficiently to begin administrative duties and continue his Senatorial campaign, with newfound sympathy of the constituents for the assassination attempt. He issued an affidavit:
“Lilburn W. Boggs, who being duly sworn doth depose and say that on the night of the 6th of May, while sitting in his dwelling, in the town of independence, in the county of Jackson, he was shot with intent to kill, and that his life was despaired of for several days, and that he believes and has good reason to believe from evidence and information now in his possession, that O. P. Rockwell, a citizen or resident of the state of Illinois, is the person who shot him on the night aforesaid, and the said deponent hereby applies to the Governor of the State of Illinois, to deliver the said O. P. Rockwell to some person authorized to receive him and convey him to the county aforesaid, there to be dealt with according to law.”
Armed with this affidavit and an arrest warrant from Governor Carlin of Illinois, Missouri state constables entered the city of Nauvoo with a writ of extradition, ready to arrest childhood pals, Jo and Port.
Governor Carlin was in a tough position here. He owed his duty to the government and his fellow brother in the Governorship, Boggs, even if Boggs was no longer Governor, but Carlin was also good friends with Joseph and Emma Smith. After a lovely dinner party, Jo had sent this letter to Carlin on 30 July, 1842.
“I cannot let this opportunity pass without tendering to you my warmest thanks for the friendly treatment my lady as well as those with her received at your hands during the late visit, and also for the friendly feeling breathed forth in your letter. Your excellency may be assured that they are duly appreciated by me, and shall ever be reciprocated…. I shall consider myself and our citizens secure from harm under the broad canopy of the law under your administration. We look to you for protection in the event of any violence being used towards us, knowing that our innocence with regard to all the accusations in circulation will be duly evidenced before an enlightened public.”
But, a signed affidavit from and ex-Governor who was a Senatorial candidate stating that somebody in his state attempted to assassinate a public official was something Governor Carlin couldn’t simply ignore. He’d shown a lot of favor to the Mormons thus far and he was personal friends with a number of the Mormon elites, but if he didn’t act upon the writ of arrest request by Boggs, that would be a bit too much blatant corruption to ignore by the populous. Governor Carlin of Illinois was in a tough situation.
He couldn’t help but issue his writ of extradition, to do otherwise would be neglectful of his elected office and could jeopardize his future political standings.
Monday 8 August, 1842 HoC 5:80
“This forenoon I was arrested by the Deputy Sheriff of Adams county and two assistants, on a warrant issued by Governor Carlin, founded on a requisition from Governor Reynolds of Missouri, upon the affidavit of Ex-Governor Boggs, complaining of the said Smith as “being an accessory before the fact, to an assault with intent to kill, made by one O. P. Rockwell on Lilburn W. Boggs,” on the night of the sixth of May, A.D. 1842. Brother Rockwell was arrested at the same time as principal. There was no evasion of the officers,…”
Once again, just like the same time last year, Jo was in the captivity of the Sheriff and constables of Adams County facing extradition to Missouri where he would certainly be locked up, face trial for the Mormon war in 1838, and now have conspiracy to assassinate an elected public official added to the charge. This arrest likely spelled the end for Joseph Smith. Should he face a court for all his illegal practices, it would be the gallows or firing squad for him, there’s no way around that fact. Pistol Packin Port would get the death penalty too for his involvement in the Danites and his attempted assassination.
But, Jo was quick on his feet. He used a convenient little clause in the Nauvoo Charter, which we covered on episode 66, when the charter was drafted and episode 89 when Jo used it for the first time, which allowed the Nauvoo Government to issue a writ of habeas corpus to override any warrant for arrest issued by any other government body or official. Jo applied to the Nauvoo Master in Chancery for a writ of habeas Corpus.
“…the Municipal Court issued a writ of Habeas Corpus according to the constitution of the State…. This writ demanded the bodies of Messrs. Smith and Rockwell to be brought before the aforesaid Court; but these officers refused to do so, and finally without complying, they left them in the care of the Marshal, without the original writ by which they were arrested, and by which only they could be retained, and returned back to Governor Carlin for further instruction, and Messrs. Smith and Rockwell went about their business.”
And just like that, Jo and Port were free to go about their business. There’s a reason we titled the Nauvoo Charter episode God Mode Jo, he put in the perfect combination of cheat codes to create a little place for himself which made him completely protected from any outside laws. It was the Vatican in Illinois; the Mormon theocracy was beginning to morph into a life of its own outside the legal control or oversight of Governor Carlin or any legal authorities in the area. Jo simply couldn’t be touched. He spent a bit of the rest of the summer of 1842 actively in hiding from the governments of Missouri, Illinois, and possibly even Iowa, although Iowa attempting to prosecute Jo was likely just rumors. All the while, Jo had the Nauvoo Legion with something like 2,000 armed soldiers lying in wait to spring him from captivity if a writ of habeas corpus wasn’t honored or if a posse of constables did happen to get outside the borders of the city with Jo in custody.
We’ll continue to follow these developments as we progress. While the Boggs debacle may have resolved itself for Jo by the end of August 1842, Pistol Packin Porter Rockwell wasn’t quite so lucky.
Jo was arrested or appeared in court 42 times in his life. That’s a staggering number. I get how that can be waved away, right? He was a prophet and people didn’t like him and the religion of Mormonism so they endlessly persecuted him by any means possible. Those frivolous lawsuits were merely one way the prophet was persecuted. Gaining a fuller understanding of the circumstances surrounding these lawsuits leads me to be baffled by the fact that people believed Joseph Smith to be a holy pious mouthpiece of God. Sure, we can even grant that he was a man of God, but still a fallible man. But how far does that exception go? I mean that excuse can get rid of accusations of Jo’s intemperance, possibly even infidelity masquerading as a new and everlasting covenant of celestial marriage, but does that exemption still apply to Jo being a crime lord? Can a fallible person be a mafia don while still being a prophet of benevolent God? From the available evidence Jo essentially coordinated the assassination of a government official while he was a fugitive of multiple states he could never set foot in again or else he’d face indefinite imprisonment or the death penalty. Jo didn’t have skeletons in his closet, he lived among an army of rotting corpses that he didn’t even try to hide in a closet.
Nauvoo Mormonism is as brazen and unabashed as Jo ever got in his entire ministry. He became Mayor of Nauvoo in spring 1842 after his falling-out with Wreck-it Bennett, he was the executive authority of all civil and ecclesiastical matters in Nauvoo. Nothing happened in Nauvoo without Jo’s knowledge or approval. He clung to complete and total control of everything with white knuckles. Anytime a situation would arise which threatened his ever-increasing power, he’d manufacture some situation to extricate himself from the situation and absolve himself of any legal guilt or liability.
We’re so far beyond the question of whether or not Jo was a divinely inspired prophet of God, he was a tyrant with a lust for power that would lead him to his end. In just 2 years’ time, he would be running for President of the United States, petitioning Congress for 100,000 soldiers to take the west from the remaining Native American tribes, but it wouldn’t stop there. He sought to truly construct a sovereign theocratic state in North America. If Mormons knew even the smallest fraction of who Joseph Smith truly was, Mormonism wouldn’t be a thing. His character and conduct were offensive to non-Mormons across the nation during his life, and even if we say the 1800s in America were a different time, Joseph is still a horrible human being by any objective standard of measurement.
If we can’t infer that conclusion from his conduct alone, consider the people he surrounded himself with. We have Bloody Brigham Young who was a notorious racist, sexist, dictator of Utah Mormonism and cared more for the almighty dollar than he ever did a single human life. Heber the Creeper Kimball was Brigham’s best bud and shared many of the same character flaws. Hyrum Smith was universally loved by the Mormons, but his character was just as abrasive as Jo’s behind closed doors as the opportunist he was. Wreck-it Bennett was likewise an opportunist, using the doctrine of spiritual wifery to sleep with as many women as would grant him audience. Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith even publicly accused Bennett of propositioning a woman to be his plural wife and when she refused on the grounds of not wanting to be accused of adultery, Bennett allegedly attempted to poison her husband to put him out of the way. Then we have Pistol Packin Porter Rockwell, a hardened and evil human being. By the Utah years, Brigham called on Ol’ Port a number of times to make a problem go away. The problem usually got worse when Port got involved and Wild Bill Hickman was usually called in to clean up the mess, but Port was a ruthless and murderous outlaw with almost no redeeming qualities.
If Jo’s conduct isn’t a proper indication of his character, just look at the character of the people he surrounded himself with. He wasn’t the holy and shining beacon of righteous piety among a sea of depravity, he was the lowest of them while simultaneously being above them all atop his religious pyramid. Joseph Smith was a deplorable human being. The clean streets of Nauvoo couldn’t conceal his true character. He wasn’t led by God, he was led by the dictates of his own self interests from day one. History is full of people worth veneration, Jo should be at the absolute bottom of that list.
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