Ep 142 – Pistol Packin’ Porter in Prison
On this episode, Orrin Pistol Packin’ Porter Rockwell lets down his guard and heads for Nauvoo. As he was about to board the steamer, a bounty hunter caught up with him. We follow Port and his troubles in Missouri criminal justice system of 1843. In Port’s absence, a new wolf in sheep’s clothing appears.
Boggs Shooting and Attempted Extradition by Morris A. Thurston
Millennial Star 1860
Joseph H. Jackson Bio
Startling Disclosures August 1844 by Joseph H. Jackson
Secular Society of MIT w/ Sohan Dsouza
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Jo’s childhood friend and shadow enforcer, Orrin Pistol Packin’ Porter Rockwell was last known to be in Philadelphia when he dictated a letter to be sent to Joseph Smith in December of 1842. Whether or not Jo replied to the letter is a fact lost to history as no reply has ever been found or was ever recorded in his letter book.
Port had a rough winter. He’d taken lodging in a small apartment, had worked for a man tending to his horses, but that was part time labor that barely paid the bills with anything left over for whiskey money. However, he’d probably received word, as it was published widely through national newspapers, that Jo had been released on his writ of habeas corpus in January. Port may have been so bold as to think that he could fair just as well and determined it was time to head back to the kingdom on the Mississippi.
The details of the next occurrence are a bit clouded by uncertainty. For this, I turn to Hal Schindler’s seminal biography of Porter Rockwell titled Man of God, Son of Thunder. Just to let you know, this book was published in 1966, which was a time when historians were able to dramatize history and still have it be classified as history. Needless to say, Hal made up some quotes and scenarios that the historical record simply can’t verify beyond verifying that a certain person was at a certain place at a certain time. That said, it is a very entertaining book and well worth the read, once you realize the dialogue is reconstructed while the circumstances in which the reconstruction occurs are real history.
Picking up in Harold Schindler’s Porter Rockwell Man of God, Son of Thunder on page 82:
Eight hundred and fifty miles to the east [of Nauvoo], a despondent, weary Rockwell shut his carpetbag and trudged out of his cheaply furnished Philadelphia room on another search for work. By February, a month later, he had scoured New Jersey from one end to the other without a flicker of success. Disgusted with the role of fugitive, Rockwell threw caution to the winds, faced about, and stepped out toward Nauvoo and home—Boggs and his warrants be damned! With the few dollars he had left, he headed for the Erie Canal.
On March 4, 1843, a big paddle-wheeler splashed to a shuddering standstill at the St. Louis riverboat landing. Rockwell walked down the gangplank and gazed across the river toward Illinois. He would board a ferry and be back among his friends in a few days. So engrossed was he that he did not notice the stranger approach.
“Orrin Porter Rockwell, I arrest you on a charge of assault with intent to kill Lilburn W. Boggs—just keep your hands right there where I can see them—the reward poster says ‘Dead or Alive’.
Rockwell cursed himself for a fool. After nine years of constant vigil against Missourians, he had let himself be caught in broad daylight like a country clod. The man named Fox jammed the snout of a pistol against the small of Rockwell’s back and motioned him forward; a second man walked quickly from the shadows of a warehouse doorway to join them. Elias Parker cast a nervous glance at Fox’s prisoner. “That’s him, that’s Rockwell!”
Finally, at long last, after nearly a year on the run from the law, a bounty hunter was able to catch up to Pistol Packin Port, the Destroying Angel of Mormonism. Well, head of the Destroying Angel division of the Danites, anyway, people calling Port himself the Destroying Angel is a bit of a misnomer. Port had tangled with the law before but he’d never been on the hook for conspiracy to murder an ex-Governor and state Senatorial candidate before. This bounty hunter had tracked him down with a bounty poster you can see online by googling it, “Wanted Orrin Porter Rockwell, $500 cash or gold reward, He got a sawn pistol and other accoutraments of danger BEST LEFT ALIVE AND BRUNG TO TRIAL By order of Missouri Law”.
Porter had been fighting for the well being of the prophet before he was a prophet of god and long before the Book of Mormon was published, and now he was under the arrest of a bounty hunter for carrying out the will of the lord and fulfilling prophecy as Wreck-it Bennett had alleged.
Missouri was still collecting documentation and crafting the perfect airtight forms to get Jo arrested and extradited to Missouri, but Port didn’t have the astute legal defense of Josiah Butterfield on his side and therefore was unable to escape this arrest with a clever bit of 19th-century lawyering as Jo had.
Pistol Packin’ Port was not in a good place upon his arrest. The exact details of what followed his arrest were taken in December of 1843, dictated by Port himself. This is what he recounts as what happened to him after his arrest.
He was arraigned before a magistrate in St. Louis who was to determine what to do with him. He was wanted dead or alive, but he was now in state custody, considered dangerous once he was disarmed. True to his name, upon his arrest he gave his two pistols, his bowie knife, and his pocket watch to a man named Mr. Blanerhasset. Port claimed those articles were never returned to him, likely further fueling his hatred of Missouri mobocrats. This magistrate decided to hold him for two days in the St. Louis county jail while they arranged armed transport to remove him to Jefferson city where they planned on trying him for the assassination attempt of Lilburn Boggs.
These two days were horribly uncomfortable. Port was never released from iron hobble chains around his ankles. The arresting bounty hunter, Fox, was the man charged with transporting Port and eight other passengers to Jefferson City.
They departed St. Louis at midnight. Porter Rockwell was a high-profile target and most Missourians considered him to be the paragon of Mormon shadow militarism. A lot of Missourians wanted Pistol Packin’ Porter dead. He would also escape the first chance he got. Once Port made his way back to the theocratic walls of Nauvoo, there would simply be no hope of arresting him and getting him back to Missouri the way the Missourian government was trying to get Jo extradited. For these reasons, Port was always under close guard and usually hobbled or chained to something. Missouri constables would not risk losing another high-profile Mormon target the way so many had escaped in early 1839.
At the beginning of this midnight journey, it was so dark that the prisoners could barely even see each other. One of the prisoners decided it would be a good idea to mess with the destroying angel of Mormonism and commenced prodding Porter Rockwell in the back, being seated behind him on the carriage. Port responded by saying, “it is dark, and I cannot see you, but you are no gentleman.” Once Port said that, one of the women prisoners leaned over to whisper something to the man who was prodding Port, and he immediately stopped. She may have told the man who Porter Rockwell was, she may have told him that they’ll be confined in the same cell upon their arrival to Jefferson city and it wasn’t a good idea to antagonize the ruffian, nobody knows what information was exchanged.
Once morning arrived it was no longer safe to transport the prisoners. If word got out that Pistol Packin’ Porter was arrested and being transported, he wouldn’t make it to the next stop. Literally thousands of people wanted this guy dead. They set out the next night for the next leg of the journey. The driver apparently got properly tight before their trip and ran the horses into a tree, breaking the king bolt, which hinges the front axle and allows it to turn. Port, still in his shackles and hobbles, crawled under the carriage and found a spare king pin, and fixed it so they could get on their way.
Why would Porter fix the carriage that was taking him from one jail to another in the middle of the night? Well, what other options did he have? If they didn’t get rolling by morning some Missourians could happen upon them, find out that one of the prisoners was the infamous Porter Rockwell, and lynch him on the spot. It was in everybody’s best interest to get the coach rolling again.
They set out again, but, the drunk carriage driver didn’t get them much further down the road before he ran them into another ditch and overturned the carriage. Apparently, Port had dosed off in between the crashes, as it was still the middle of the night, “but the bustle aw[o]ke me”. Port had plenty of experience driving coaches. He was gifted with a nice new carriage and the job of taxi driver in Nauvoo to spy on people as they got into town after his supposed assassination attempt. The other guards asked him to drive the carriage because the current driver was clearly too drunk to get them any further. Port proposed a deal. Take off the shackles and I’ll drive your cart. They didn’t take it, but he agreed to do the driving anyway. Him and a couple of the other prisoners put the carriage back on its wheels and Port with his hobbles still on, drove for the rest of the night.
They arrived in Jefferson City where Porter was boarded for two days and two nights. It was decided that he was to be taken to Independence, Missouri. They passed through Boonville on their way, which is the city Jo and friends were on their way to when they escaped during transport. Still under the care of this Fox guy who arrested him in the first place, they set out for Independence, which was a four-day journey. The posse was now passing between major cities and were able to travel during the day time. They arrived in Independence sometime around March 16th late in the evening.
Word quickly got around that the man who shot Lilburn Boggs, the underground enforcer of the Yankee Mohamet’s will, Porter Rockwell was in town and in the custody of the state. A crowd quickly assembled to witness the 5’8” terror of a man. Chants rang through the city to hang the demon on the spot. The due process of law awaited Port but he would have to survive the court date for said due process to be carried out. While the men of the crowd were kept at bay by the constables, including this Fox character, the younger boys of town decided to get in on the excitement by kicking and punching the shackled man as the crowd jeered.
They locked up Port for 2 days before assembling the proper documentation for a trial. He called it a sham trial. The arresting bounty hunter, Fox, testified on behalf of the prosecution. He claimed that Port had told him that he hadn’t been in the state of Missouri for five years, going back to the 1838 Mormon War. This was apparently not true. Port had been in Missouri from February to May of 1842 and had an alibi from his wife who gave birth at her parents house near Independence. Fox testifying that Port had told him he hadn’t been in Missouri since 1838 made it so they could hold him in contempt of court while the state compiled documents to properly prosecute him.
As a result of his lying, Port claims that Fox split a payout with another gentleman who corroborated Fox’s false testimony. Once again, this is all from Pistol Packin’ Port himself and I can’t unearth the actual court document in spite of hunting for a long time and reading a few articles about it. As a result of Fox’s testimony, Port was held in the Independence Jail. According to him, the judge couldn’t find a crime against him, but merely kept him in the jail for his own safety.
It’s always important to remember that, during this time, Port was public enemy number 2 in Missouri, while Joseph Smith was number 1. The Mormons had always been unpopular in Missouri since 1831. The war of 1838 only further vilified Mormons in the mind of Missourians. Boggs was responsible for pushing the Mormons out of Missouri, making him very popular among the majority of people living in Missouri, and very unpopular with the Mormons. Boggs was their avowed enemy, making him the friend of anybody who didn’t like Jo or the Mormons.
Whether or not Port actually shot Boggs, the people had already decided he was guilty, and that’s what mattered. The public wanted Port dead, he’d nearly killed their hero. The judge in Independence holding Port in the jail actually was in everybody’s best interest while the state decided what to do with him. If they released him, it wouldn’t be long before vigilante justice was served. If he was able to escape vigilante mobs, he’d take refuge in the Kingdom on the Mississippi and would never set foot back in the state.
The fact of the matter is, the state wanted to charge him with assault with intent to kill, but they simply didn’t have evidence to prove it was Pistol Packin’ Port who pulled the trigger. Boggs was just sitting in his study late at night and bullets crashed through the window. The only evidence they had was the pistol recovered from the crime scene, but the gun was stolen from a local shop and the testimony of the shop owner pointing the finger at Port wasn’t enough evidence to get a conviction. The state knew they had a case, but when it came to evaluating the actual evidence, there really wasn’t much there beyond testimonies of Boggs and the shop owner accusing Port of being the guy.
He was confined to the Independence jail for quite a while as the state decided exactly what to do with him. According to his own account, “I was re-committed to jail, still wearing the iron hobbles, and was kept in the upper part in the day-time, and in the dungeon at night with a little dirty straw for a bed, without any bedding, no fire, and very cold weather, for eighteen days I was not free from shaking with cold. I then got permission to buy 1 ½ bushels of charcoal, which I put into an old kettle and kept a little fire; when that was gone, I could not obtain any more.”
He continued to languish in jail throughout April and into May of 1843. He relates that at various times he shared his jail cell with various people, some of them were even nice enough to read newspapers to him.
Once the weather was warm enough that Port thought he could survive on the lam once he escaped, he devised a plan to escape. This came as a result of another person he was sharing the cell with, and this is how the escape attempt transpired according to Port:
Numbers were put into the jail with me at different times, and taken out again. One of them, who was charged with a fraudulent issue of U.S. Treasure notes, was allowed to have his saddle-bags with him. They contained some fire-steels, gun-flints, and articles of Indian trade. I sawed the irons nearly off with one of the fire-steels; he got the negro girl to get him a knife and I finished cutting the fetters with it; he would frequently call for a good supper and pay for it, which was allowed him, but not allowed me. He was very anxious to escape, and urged mt to undertake it with him; he ordered a good supper, and he ate very hearty. I would not eat, telling him that he could not run if he ate so much. Nearly dusk, as the jailer came in to get the dishes, we sprang to the door, and I locked him in, and threw the key into the garden. In coming down stairs we met the jailer’s wife; I told her that her husband was unharmed, I had only locked him up.
They were out of the jail cell and flying down the stairs to burst out of the jail yard and make their way out of Independence. Then, Port made a mistake. He vaulted the fence surrounding the jail and made a run for it, but his new friend wasn’t quite as athletic.
We had a board fence to climb over, which was about 12 feet high: I climbed it, and ran about 20 rods, when he called me to come back and help him over, which I did; if I had not, I should have escaped. The pure air had so great an effect upon me, that I gave out and slacked my pace; the populace of the place came up, and I told them to run, they would soon catch him, and that I had given out and could not run; they soon returned with him: I fell into the crowd and walked back to the jail yard.
Sheriff J. H. Reynolds laid his hand upon my shoulder, he being the first to approach me; asked where the key was, I told him in the garden.
The commotion rose the ire of the Independence Missourians who quickly gathered to the jail to see what had happened. Because Port had turned back to help his fellow jail dweller to escape, he wasn’t able to get out of sight, and sheriff J. H. Reynolds, who was a central figure during the 1838 Mormon war, apprehended Port. The crowd responded in an expected way.
Smallwood Nowlin was the first who proposed to hang me on the spot, when Reynolds gave me a push towards the crowd, and said, “there he is, God damn him, do what you damn please with him.” Nowlin’s son in-law (by marrying one of his Mulatto wenches,) a Mexican stepped up to me to lay hold of me, when I told him to stand off or I would mash his face; he stepped back.
But the crowd wasn’t done. They continued to become more excited as Port threatened to mash the face of anybody who might try to lynch him, even though the sheriff himself had essentially given them license for vigilante justice. Reynolds escorted Port up the stairs of the jail to his cell, seeking what tool Port had used to cut his shackles. Port handed it over, but also found himself a weapon should anybody try to throw a noose around his neck in the meantime.
I then walked up the stairs into the jail; was followed by Reynolds and others until the room and stairs were full. Reynolds asked me what I had cut my irons off with; I went to the saddle-bags and handed him the knife and fire-steel; while feeling for them Igot hold of a piece of buckskin that had some three or four pounds of bullets tied up in it, which I intended to use in mashing in the head of any one that should attempt to put a rope on my neck. A rope was passed along over the heads of the people into the room to a bald-headed man. About this time pistols could be heard cocking in every part of the room, and bowie-knives were produced as if for fight. In a few minutes the room was clear of all but three or four persons.
Nobody pulled the trigger. Nobody was able to get the noose around his neck and vigilante justice was not served. Eventually the crowd dissipated. Sheriff Reynolds decided not to risk another escape attempt by not only hobbling Port, but chaining his right wrist to his ankles and locking him in solitary confinement in the dungeon.
I was then put into the dungeon, my feet ironed together, my right hand to my left foot, so close that I could not half straighten myself. The irons, when put on my wrists, were so small that they would hardly go on, and swelled them; but in eighteen days I could slip them up and turn them around my arm at the elbow. I was fed on cold corndodger and meat of the poorest description; and if I did not eat it all up, it was returned the next time.
For nearly a month Port was kept in these inhuman conditions. He was due for another trial, possibly on a writ of habeas corpus, possibly on a charge of breaking out of jail, possibly for shooting Boggs, although, once again, I can’t find the court documents so it’s a bit unclear. This is how Port records it, probably happening in late May or early June of 1843.
About a month after the court sat, my irons were taken off, and I was so weak that I had to be led to the courtroom by the officer. I was notified that a bill was found against me for breaking jail, and that the grand jury had failed to find a bill against me on the charge of shooting Boggs, as charged in the advertisement offering a reward for my apprehension.
I was taken into court, and was asked by the judge if I had any counsel; I told him I had not. He asked if I had any means to employ a counsel; I answered I had none with me that I could control.
Even though most of the state wanted Port dead, he was still an American citizen and subject to the constitution, meaning he was allowed a speedy and fair trial with proper representation. The man he chose to represent him was an old friend of the Mormons who has a street named after him near Liberty Jail to this day, Alexander Doniphan.
A little review on General Doniphan and his role with the Mormons in 1838. Doniphan was one of the few Missouri militia generals who was sympathetic to the Mormons’ plight. While Generals Lucas and Bogart were happy to see the Mormons as animals in need of extermination, Doniphan was one of the few people in Missouri government who saw them as fellow humans. After the standoff between the Mormons and the Missouri militia in Far West, when Jo was arrested and General Lucas held the sham court martial and condemned Jo to death, Lucas ordered General Doniphan to execute Jo in the city square of Far West the next morning. He refused, disobeying a direct order from a superior officer, and reported to Governor Boggs what had happened, which led to Jo being taken to court, tried, and imprisoned, as opposed to being executed on the spot. General Doniphan’s measured approach to the Mormon war saved Joseph Smith’s life, and the lives of likely hundreds of Mormons as he was directly responsible for the Missouri militia not invading Far West and Adam Ondi-Ahmen. Doniphan was also the lawyer who represented Jo and the Mormons at the November court of inquiry in 1838. He was one of the few Missourians in high-ranking government offices who was a friend to the Mormons.
Port chose Doniphan to work as his counsel. Doniphan rejected the offer, claiming he was too busy with clients already. The judge disagreed and designated Doniphan to be Port’s counsel. For the hearing, Doniphan requested a change of venue that was nearer to his home in Clay county, where the famous Liberty Jail was, which held Jo and 5 other Mormon elites during the winter of 1838-39. Of course, the accommodations were not optimal for Pistol Packin’ Port.
When the officers came to Independence jail for me, they requested me to get ready in a hurry, as they feared the mob would kill me. I told them I wanted to put on a clean shirt, if it cost me my life, as I had not been permitted to enjoy the luxury of a change of linen since I had boarded at the expense of Jackson county: while I was changing my shirt, the officers several times told me to hurry, or the mob would be on me and kill me.
Port simply refused to leave the Independence jail without a change of clothes. That’s understandable though. He’d been confined to jail cells with terrible food, probably dysentery, no bathing, and a straw bed for upwards of 3 to 4 months by this point. The smells that must have been coming off this man can’t be put into words. Thus, Port said he would rather forfeit his life than go another minute in his old clothes. But, can you blame him? However, his life was in danger. A lot of people wanted him dead and they were sure to meet people on the road who knew Port was being transferred.
The posse set out to move Port to Liberty Jail in Clay County. We pick up again from his own account:
When I got ready to start the officers furnished me a very hard-trotting horse, with a miserable poor saddle, tied my feet under the horse with ropes, and my hands behind my back, and started off at a good round trot, in charge of two officers. In a short time a strange gentleman fell into our company, who was also on horseback; it was six miles to the ferry, where we could cross the Missouri river; when we got there, we saw the boat land on the opposite side, when several men got off the boat and took a course to the woods, through which the road ran. The boat returned, this stranger asked, “where are those men going[?]” and was answered, “they are going to the woods to hew timber.”
Port and his constable escorts became a bit uneasy by these guys disappearing into the forest, something seemed wrong. The stranger who fell into line with the posse may have had some interesting consequences, although, they didn’t have any way of gauging whether or not this stranger was friend or foe.
We then crossed, and took our way for Liberty. When we left the boat, we saw no signs of people, nor heard any sound of axes. After traveling some two or three miles, the woods became dense and brushy; we heard the cracking of brush and the noise of men traveling through it. The officers and the stranger appeared frightened and urged speed, keeping close watch. We came to an opening in the woods, when the noise of crackling of brush ceased: we traveled safely to Liberty, where this stranger told his friends, that he overheard several men in Independence planning to waylay me in the thick timber on the Missouri bottom, at the place where we heard the noises, but his being in company counteracted their plot. I was then lodged in Liberty jail. In a few days afterwards I learned that the men who went into the brush told it, that they went into the woods according to agreement to waylay me, but when they saw this stranger it frustrated their plans.
Port remained in Liberty Jail for 10 days after this relocation, likely meeting with General Alexander Doniphan to construct his defense. Then word came down that something was wrong with the initial transfer paperwork and Porter was taken back Independence Jail by another route so as to evade vigilantism once again. In Independence jail, Porter would stay for another two months with his hands cuffed to his ankles once again.
This is just a brief sketch of what life was like for somebody who was a high-profile fugitive once he was captured and imprisoned. It was horrible. Terrible food, no allowance for personal hygiene, dark and cold dungeons, fighting off attackers who tried to lynch him in the streets, chained and hobbled for months at a time to the point of losing strength and having to be assisted in walking to his own trial, freezing in dark dungeons for weeks on end with nothing to make a fire, no information on what kind of case the state was building, denied counsel and only granted counsel by somebody who was too busy to give him the time of day, transported while chained to a horse with his hands tied behind his back and only narrowly escaping vigilante justice on multiple occasions. Life was rough for ol Pistol Packin’ Porter Rockwell. And all of this, he experienced in only the 28th year of his life while his best friend, Joseph Smith, continued to live in the lap of luxury atop his kingdom on the Mississippi. Port sacrificed everything, including his own personal freedom and dignity, to further the Mormon cause in building the criminal empire of Zion, and this is how he was repaid. Under Jo’s direction, Port had fought in minor battles, intimidated, and probably killed folk, and committed high treason against the United States, and this was his just desserts.
With all of that said, it’s worth considering the way the state and the public at large viewed Porter. He was the villain. He was the guy who shot their hero. It didn’t matter if he was actually guilty of nearly killing Lilburn Boggs, the public knew he was the guy who did it and acted in ways they saw appropriate and justified. Even if Port did shoot Boggs, did he deserve this? If he was the most horrible human being, did he deserve to be treated this way? The truth is, prisoners were often treated like this and worse for crimes far lesser than shooting a governor. People are treated this way and plenty worse all over the world today. As if somebody can do something to somehow remove their humanity which justifies treating them as something other than a fellow human. Still, this is what Port was subjected to. He’ll continue to languish in various jails for nearly the remainder of 1843.
We’ll pick up on Port as his story develops and our timeline progresses with him in prison. Just keep in mind, it was known in Nauvoo that Pistol Packin’ Port was in jail. When the dynamic was reversed, when Port was free in 1838-9 and the Mormon hierarchy was locked in Liberty Jail, he’d smuggled in two augers for the men to drill holes in the wall, but the construction of the jail rendered the endeavor futile. Port had been a personal messenger for moving intel back and forth between the incarcerated leadership and the Mormons making their exodus to Illinois. Port had taken the Danite oaths to ever conceal and never reveal the secrets of the Mormon underground enforcement squad and he never left his fellow Danites behind. Now the tables were turned, Port was stuck in prison. Jo himself never helped Porter with legal counsel, or, as far as the historical record can attest, even tried to contact Port. There is honor among some thieves, but apparently that’s a one-way street. However, that’s not to say that Jo didn’t try to spring Port indirectly, you’ll see what I mean as we meander to our conclusion for today.
This whole ordeal with Pistol Packin’ Porter Rockwell was all happening in Missouri, but what of Nauvoo during this period. Business continued as usual. Sometime in late winter to early spring of 1843, a very interesting character made his appearance on the scene. This newcomer was scarcely known in Nauvoo, but he’d played a role in a December of 1842 slander case against Joseph Smith. After the slander case he briefly moved to Carthage, Illinois, which was a hotbed for the anti-Mormon political movement along with Warsaw, where the anti-Mormon political party was initially organized by Thomas Coke Sharp. Sometime, probably in April, this man moved back to Nauvoo, possibly after being influenced to do so by some of the people opposed to the Mormon empire and its amassing political wealth.
Here is how this guy got affiliated with the Mormons in early 1843, by his own hand, published in August of 1844, a time fraught with chaos and uncertainty 2 months after the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, a month after the death of Samuel Smith, when Crazy William Smith was the only man of the Smith family left alive. I begin with the introduction of his 1844 expose which sheds light on his motivations for joining the Mormons in the first place. After that we’ll pick up with how he first was able to infiltrate the upper echelon of the Mormon criminal empire of Nauvoo, using Port’s incarceration as leverage.
The following narrative of my experience in Nauvoo, is submitted to the public in hopes that it may call attention to the character of the iniquities practiced in that city, in the name of religion. I am aware, that such is the nature of the disclosures made in the following pages -- such the blackness of the record, that it will be difficult to induce men to believe that such depravity could possibly exist. By what follows, however, it will be perceived that my motives in going to Nauvoo, were to gain the confidence of the Prophet, that I might discover and disclose to the world his real designs and the nature of his operations. To do this. I was obliged to practice dissimulation and to seem to be a fit tool for him to work with. Some may say that such conduct on my part was not excusable; but let such bethink them that the secret designs and workings of this Heaven daring wretch. could never have been made public only by such means as I employed. The end, justified the means. Many are the instances on record, In which bands of robbers or counterfeiters. had so organized themselves that they were enabled to baffle the closest scrutiny of the law, and in such instances, it has been a common practice, especially in Europe, to employ men to become seeming accomplices, that they might thus be enabled to disclose the information necessary for a conviction. This was my object, and the inducement that prompted my action. will be found in what follows.
I tell nothing more than what I have seen and heard in Nauvoo. I have colored nothing, nor set down aught in malice. Many of my statements can be corroborated by abundance of testimony. I am content however, at present, to give my story and if contradicted, I can follow it up by proof, such as no reasonable man will doubt,
The question may be asked, how is it possible for so corrupt a man as Joe Smith is represented to be, could ever have attained so complete control as he unquestionably had, over the minds of the honest portion of his followers? I confess the question puzzles me. No man, who has never seen the influence of blind fanaticism over the human mind, can imagine the effect it will produce. There were hundreds of men in Nauvoo, who, I believe, from what I have seen, had Joe Smith commanded them to commit murder in the name of the Lord, they would have believed that they were doing God's service in obeying him. I will leave the philosophy of this, for the consideration of moralists; my business is to state facts.
Now to how this man made his way into Nauvoo amidst the Bennett Meltdown in October of 42:
Before visiting Nauvoo, I had heard much of this famous city, and the character of its inhabitants. Such was the contrariety of reports afloat, that it seemed difficult to form any settled opinion concerning the Prophet or his followers. Where I had been however, the opinion seemed to prevail, that they were a pack of abandoned scoundrels, leagued together for the basest of purposes.
In passing down the Mississippi in the fall of 1842, I determined to stop In Nauvoo. My object was partly to find business and partly to gravity curiosity. With the location of the city I was delighted; but as frequent descriptions have already gone abroad, I will not stop here to expatiate either on its beauties, or the advantages of its position.
At the time I landed, (10th of October, 1842) there was great trouble amongst the saints, in consequence of a demand having been made by the Governor of Missouri, for the Prophet, for being accessory to the attempted assassination of Gov. Boggs. My visit to the city at that time, (being a stranger and out of business), induced the people as I afterwards learned, to believe, that I was a spy from Missour, in quest of evidence against Smith. Many men, who I have since learned belonged to the Danite Band, visited me at my boarding house and asked all manner of questions in relation to my business in the city. Deeming these enquiries impertinent, I did not condescend to answer them; but they did not cease their importunities. At length, being disgusted and indignant at their proceedings, I abruptly cut their acquaintance. After this, I observed that I was closely watched; but did not know the reason, until informed by a friend, that the Prophet thought me a spy. I determined then to give no satisfaction, but to pursue a silent policy.
Some time in November I was helping to haul some goods from the river, that belonged to Messrs. Rollison and Finch. I was in company with Mr. Finch and a man from Keokuk, who was owner of the horses and wagon. We had hauled one load and were returning for the second. As we crossed the bottom, between the, Temple and the river, a man standing at about eight rods distance, (it being after dark,) called me by name. I immediately jumped from the wagon, thinking that it was a man who wished me to get some goods stored that had called me. Finch immediately followed. When I got within about five feet of the villain as he proved to he extended his arm at full length and said, "damn you, I give you what you deserve" and fired a pistol. The ball passed my head, and so stunned me, that for a few minutes I scarcely knew what I was about, but on coming to, I could scarcely see, for my face and eyes were so much burned with powder. Finch, at the time the shot was fired, was about one rod behind. He seeing me stagger, immediately pursued the fellow, but soon found that he was no match for him in speed, and gave up the pursuit. Finch and myself agreed to keep this matter a secret, that we might he able to discover some clue to the assassin. I thought that if we did not mention it, and heard of it from others, we would be able then to trace the matter to its fountainhead. When however this idea became hopeless, I mentioned it to my friends, who seemed to understand the object of the maneuver.
Shortly after this I left Nauvoo and went to Carthage to spend the winter. During the winter, I employed my time in hunting, but I heard frequently, complaints against the thieving Mormons. In the spring I determined to find out whether Joe Smith was in reality as bad a man as he was represented, and whether he had in reality instigated the villain who attempted my life in Nauvoo.
I therefore stated to Harmon T. Wilson, Deputy Sheriff, that I intended to visit Nauvoo, and if any man could, I would find out Joe's plans and measures and at a proper time, if I found him to be as base as represented and as I believed him to be, disclose all to the world. In forming this resolution, I was actuated by a desire on the one hand, to revenge myself on him if he were guilty of the attempt on my life, and by at romantic love of adventure on the other. I possessed every advantage in person and countenance to accomplish my object, as well as a full share of experience in the ways of the world.
Accordingly in the month of March, I went to Nauvoo, an after staying there a few days, I visited Joe, and gave him to understand that I had important business with him. He invited me into his private room, and there in the presence of Eber [sic - Heber?] C. Kimball, I disclosed the nature of my business, and made him believe that I could be of great service to him. I stated that I was a fugitive from Macon City, Georgia, and wanted protection. This seemed to tickle his fancy wonderfully, and throwing off restraint, he saw that I was just the man he wanted, and referred me to the conduct of Joab unto David. He then said, that he would make any man rich, who would be unto him as was Joab to David and obey his commands in the name of God, that he might fulfil his prophecies. He then commenced an argument, to make me believe that this was right and lawful in the sight of God and declared himself a godly man and a Prophet endowed with power from on high. I then remarked, that as to his religion, I cared nothing about it, for I did not believe in the supremacy of a God. Here he looked me very steadfastly and significantly in the eye; but I flinched not.
Then, this man offered something to Jo. This was a test of loyalty, proposed by the person seeking said loyalty, in order to gain status within the ranks of Mormon elites. You’ll quickly see why this is relevant in view of today’s subject matter.
I then told him that I was a desperate man, and could release O. P. Rockwell, who was at that time confined in prison in Missouri, for his attempt on the life of Gov. Boggs. "Well" said he, "if you will release Porter, and kill old Boggs, I will give you three thousand dollars." Kimball heard this conversation throughout, but I have no hope that he could be made to acknowledge its truth, so deeply is he leagued with Joe in his villainy.
Joe, after this offer, made a proposition to give me an outfit to Missouri; and said that he would soon furnish me with a splendid horse, saddle, bridle and all the necessary accoutrements for the journey. To all this Kimball assented. The second morning after this, I met Joe again. He told me he had traded a town lot with Elder Grant for a splendid black horse, and also that he had procured a saddle and bridle for the trip. "Now" said he: "Go and perform in the name of God, and let the little fellow out of jail for my heart bleeds for him." I took possession that day of the horse saddle and bridle, and the next day, Joe brought to my boarding house a pair of saddle bags, concealed under his cloak. This expedition was kept a profound secret. People in general supposed that I had bought the horse of Joe, and had no idea that there was any understanding between us.
After having this horse in my possession for two or three days, Joe and I took a ride up to Edward Hunter's, where he borrowed one hundred dollars, and I drew his note for it on demand. Hunter, at this time, was absent. While there, Mrs. Hunter brought the Bible to Joe, and wished him to explain some passage in the 3d chapt. of Hosea, in relation to the adulteress. He replied that he would call at another time and translate it for her, for which she thanked him kindly, After this, I learned that the scripture named by Mrs. Hunter, was one of the proofs of the correctness of the spiritual wife doctrine, of which, the reader will learn more hereafter.
After conversing a little while, we arose to depart, and Joe gave Mrs. Hunter a very sanctimonious blessing. We then got on our horses and rode up the hill where we were met by the Holy Patriarch Hyrum, on his white horse. He informed Joe, that brother somebody, (I do not recollect the name) was sick, and they were sent for to lay hands on him, "for he was sick unto death." I rode to thG house of the invalid with them. We entered the room, and I put on a very grave countenance, while they both laid hands on the sick man, and Hyrum made a long sanctimonious prayer. As we left the house, Joe pronounced a blessing on it and all that were within. We then again mounted our horses -- Hyrum went home; and Joe and I took a ride of some five miles on the prairie. All the way out and back, he pressed me to kill Boggs; and said that he would pay me well for it. Finally, I gave him a strong hint that I was in for the business -- knowing as I did, that if I hesitated he would suspect me of treachery, and thus, all my plans in relation to him would be frustrated. I therefore carried on my game by showing a bold front. All the while, he was urging the killing of Boggs, he insisted that it was the will of God, and in God's name he offered me a reward for his blood. This was all done with an air of sanctimonious gravity, and with a look of innocence, that would make one almost believe that the Prophet really thought, that he was acting under the command of Heaven. I was utterly astonished to see this man concoct the most hellish plans for murder and revenge, and yet, with pertinacity insist that it was right in the sight of God. And here, (if I may be permitted to pause) lay the whole secret of Joe Smith's success. He had a singularly unmeaning countenance, that was no index of his real character -- he had so long practiced duplicity, that there was scarcely a compunctious feeling left in his bosom, and he had no scruples in regard to the means he should employ, when he had an end to attain; Hence it was, that he had no hesitancy in prostituting every thing sacred, for the purposes of lust, cupidity, revenge or power.
This August 1844 expose comes from a man named Joseph H. Jackson, published in the Warsaw Signal. Joseph Jackson is a guy shrouded in mystery within the annals of Mormon history. Where he came from and where he ended up is a matter lost to history. His birth date, political affiliations, Masonic connections, religious convictions, and his death date are unknown. This 1844 Joseph Jackson expose was a short 32 pages, but it ignited fires in Gentile cities surrounding Nauvoo and played a role in the disincorporation of Nauvoo and the Mormon exoduses from the state of Illinois. This expose, from which we read just a few pages, impacted the realm of Mormon history in ways which simply cannot be summarized.
Joseph Jackson’s affiliation with Nauvoo Mormonism is a subject of a great deal of controversy in the world of Mormon historians. The accuracy of many of his accusations has been challenged, while many points have proven to be accurate in many ways. It’s crucial to understand the context in which Jackson chose to align himself with the Mormon elites. The Bennett expose was gaining traction across the nation, but Wreck-it Bennett had already betrayed the Mormon elites and his role had run its course for exposing the inner workings of Talos. Somebody new needed to come along and fill the position of planted reporter to expose what 1843 and 44 would hold, and that’s where Joseph Jackson comes in. The thing is, Joseph Smith was quick to make judgement calls when somebody new came along seeking high rank in Nauvoo. In many respects, Jo didn’t seem to take a slow and measured approach to filling his criminal cabinet. When somebody like Jackson came along and had something of value to offer Jo, they would immediately gain the favor of the prophet. However, in that regard, Jo was very smart. He chose to incentivize people to help him, rather than use intimidation as leverage, which can’t be said of his most prominent successor.
While it may not appear so right now, Jo was incredibly vulnerable. Everybody he added to his trusted circle of elites had their own motivations that Jo wasn’t privy to, yet he seemed to trust many of these people regardless of that fact. Jackson gained Jo’s trust by carrying out the journey to Missouri to hopefully kill Lilburn Boggs once and for all, and spring Port from the cage he was held in. We’ll discuss the finer details in coming episodes. Jackson making the trip to Missouri in the first place was the test of fealty the prophet needed in order to show him that Jackson was ready to keep secret the darkest recesses of Nauvoo Mormonism. The blueprints for Zion would be safe with Jackson, Jo eventually concluded. The level of trust Jackson was able to gain is truly incredible. He will figure into our timeline moving forward from Spring of 1843.
Really, though, we should be thankful for people like Joseph Jackson doing what they did. He witnessed horrible things taking place, but he stuck to his guns when pressed for loyalty and by doing so he bore witness to things truly unconscionable to us today. His role, like that of John C. Wreck-it Bennett, in Mormon history is a gift to historians of today. Trust me, you’ll see what I mean as we progress further through Nauvoo.
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