Ep 145 – The Corruption of Their Leaders
On this episode, we pick up where we left off last week. Joseph Smith was in the custody of Missouri Sheriff, Joseph Reynolds, but the sheriffs were in the custody of one of Jo’s boys. We read through multiple first-person early accounts of how their journey to Nauvoo went. Jo had everything in his control.
Joseph Smith Arrested New York Herald
Second Arrest of Joseph Smith
Joseph H. Jackson 1844 Expose
Cyrus Walker bio page
Wilson Law bio page
Stephen Markham bio page
Albert P. Rockwood bio page
History of Illinois by Governor Thomas Ford
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Zachrelige Monday night 3/11
Hail Columbia entrance song preroll
At first appearances, it may have looked like Joseph Smith was in a bad situation. He was in the custody of an Illinois Sheriff and a Sheriff from Missouri sent on special assignment with an order from the states governors of Missouri and Illinois to bring Jo into Missouri. Once there he’d face all the old charges of the Missouri-Mormon war and with being an accessory before the fact in the assassination attempt of Ex-Governor Lilburn Boggs, shot down in his own home during his campaign for Missouri state senator. Any time Jo was arrested, Mormon settlements went in lock-down mode. In response to Jo’s personal scribe, William Clayton, bringing intel back to Nauvoo that Jo was arrested, the Nauvoo Legion set out a night watch and hundreds of legionnaires set out on land and water to search the state for Jo’s arresting posse.
The lines between a state militia, and Jo’s own private army were blurry. The Nauvoo Legion was established as a city militia, but in the bylaws of the Nauvoo Charter, they were subject to the command of the Illinois State Governor, Thomas Ford. Ford had given the proper paperwork to Sheriffs Wilson and Reynolds for them to arrest Joseph Smith, so of course Governor Ford wouldn’t want the Nauvoo Legion interfering with the arrest and extradition. But, because the prophet was in handcuffs, they were called out and Nauvoo was placed in a state of emergency. This military made it’s mission clear in doing so, it existed for the sole purpose of protecting Joseph Smith from the system of law everybody else abides by.
Even though Jo was arrested, he was relatively safe while still in Illinois. Between where he currently was, Dixon Illinois, and Jackson County Missouri lay his kingdom that the posse would have to pass near or through to get to Missouri. He knew the Legion would be out looking for him, one of his cronies had arrested the two sheriffs and he had a writ of habeas corpus to be heard in Quincy Illinois in front of a Judge who’d shown huge favors to Jo and the Mormons for years now. If all else failed, Jo had a pistol smuggled to him by another of his cronies. He had his bases covered. Even with Jo controlling what was happening, the situation could still go awry, especially if a rival mob found them before the Nauvoo Legion did.
Another detail worth including, as it only added to the chaos, Jo’s fellow jail-dwellers from his stint in Liberty Jail during the winter of 1838-9 were also in danger of being arrested and brought to trial in Jackson county on the old Missouri charges. It wasn’t just Jo who escaped state custody. Sidney Rigdon had been released, but Alexander McRae, Hyrum Smith, and Lyman Wight were all on the same writ of arrest that Sheriff Reynolds used to arrest Jo. These guys became aware of that fact and went into hiding with a small contingency of the Nauvoo Legion as bodyguards. They were all armed as well. The Nauvoo nightwatch was ready to act should anybody with an unfamiliar face wander into town.
The Destroying Angel contingent of the Nauvoo Legion organized their men into small companies. The guy who was trying to infiltrate the Mormons and gain the favor of Jo, Joseph Jackson, was placed at the head of one of these companies. He claims he deliberately misled them in hopes his company wouldn’t be the one to find the prophet, because who knows what would happen at that point.
In a few days Clayton returned, bringing news that Joe was arrested, and an order immediately issued from Hyrum, for parties to start out to rescue Joe. One party, I was placed in and was compelled to go to prevent suspicion on myself. It consisted of twenty-five men. -- Our directions were to proceed directly to Dixon and release Joe at all hazards. I acted as pilot, and Doctor Foster proceeded ahead to reconnoiter. We were all armed with side arms. On the prairie above La Harpe, I led the company astray purposely that Wilson and Reynolds might get ahead. We all got lost, and wandered about for a day, without making any progress on our journey.
It wasn’t just the Nauvoo Legion on high-alert. Newspapers throughout the nation caught wind that Jo was arrested and published the newest intel they had, reprinting articles printed in localities close to Nauvoo who had the earliest and most reliable information.
The Chicago Democrat was one of the first media outlets to receive word directly from Nauvoo of Jo’s arrest.
To the editor of the Chicago Democrat:
Dear Sir:--Our little town has been in an unusual state of excitement for the few days past, originating from the arrest of General Joseph Smith, which took place at the Inlet Grove, while he was on a visit, with his family, to a sister who resides there. He was arrested on Friday last by an officer from Hancock County [Wilson], and delivered over to the sheriff of Jackson County [Reynolds], Missouri, in compliance with the orders of the Governor…
[Joseph] applied for the benefit of the habeas corpus; and, while the lawyers were busy drawing up the necessary papers, the officers frequently asserted that they would not wait, but would leave for the Mississippi at all hazards.
They were, however, induced, by the force of argument, to desist from their intention and wait until morning, when the habeas corpus was served; after which they stated their determination to go to Rock Island, and by steamboat from thence to Galena, before Judge Brown. General Smith justly felt fearful that once on a steamboat, he should hardly reach Galena…
General Smith, finding this their determination, commenced suit against the sheriff of Missouri for trespass, and held him to bail, which he was unable to procure, which circumstance lowered his tune a little; and thus finally, today have left for Quincy in search of Judge Young.
The severe treatment of the General, together with his pleasing deportment and equanimity under all his trials, has made him many friends, and created almost universal sympathy. Persecution or oppression always helps the cause of the persecuted and oppressed, whether their cause is right or wrong.
In haste, yours, G.
This was early intel, but wholly accurate. The summarizing paragraph at the end is important to keep in mind during this whole trial, persecution and oppression always helps the cause of the persecuted and oppressed. Those unacquainted with the facts of Joseph Smith and the Mormons’ relationship with Missouri couldn’t help but pity the poor persecuted Mormons. Their settlement as religious refugees in Illinois garnered a lot of sympathy of Illinoisans as well as those living in other northern states. Missouri was already a politically contentious state before the Mormon settlement there. The Mormons being chased out of the state only played into the public perceptions of Missourians as backwards state’s rights kind of southern democrats. But, as we know, the truth is always more nuanced, especially when it comes to the Mormons in Missouri. Needless to say, Jo was in a state of friends while Sheriff Reynolds was in hostile territory in the custody of the Lee county sheriff, who was loyal to Joseph Smith. Reynolds continued to run out of options while time was on Jo’s side.
The New York Herald, the paper run by James Gordon Bennett, the guy who’d been awarded position of inspector-general of the Nauvoo Legion and given an honorary doctorate from the University of Nauvoo, printed the earliest article I can find on the arrest. The general tone of the report shows just how much Gordon Bennett didn’t actually buy into the Mormon religion, but was merely using it for the political opportunities and to sell papers. Once again, this is the age when information travelled at the speed of a horse, so the papers ran on a week or so lag from actual events.
From Jul 2, 1843
Arrest of Joe Smith, the Mormon Prophet.—We have received the following letter acquainting us of the arrest of Joe Smith, which we publish as it was received:--
Dear Sir, I hasten to inform you of the arrival in our town, this afternoon, of the far famed Joseph Smith, who was captured this afternoon a few miles from this place by the sheriff of Jackson county, Missouri, charged with treason against the State, advantage being taken of his absence from his strong hold, while on a visit to some of his relatives in this neighborhood. The Sheriff has been delayed a short time to await the arrival of Judge Brown of this district, who is momentarily expected to arrive, with the pretence of obtaining a writ of habeas corpus, when he will probably be taken before Judge Pope, if not he will be taken to Missouri, to be disposed of perhaps as the citizens may deem proper. He says he is willing to be tried in Illinois, but will not be taken to Missouri.
I presume he has not had a revelation lately, or he would not have been caught so far from home, where he has been easily taken by two men.
The mail is just closing, and I have not time to say more.
Picking up where we left off from Jo’s own account in vol 5 of the HoC, Vogel edition, beginning on page 476. This first entry shows just how much Jo was actually in control. As they continued to progress through Illinois, Jo gathered an increasingly larger posse of his howler monkey sycophants ready to jump on any advantage they could gain over the sheriffs. The Sheriffs knew they weren’t safe with Jo in their custody and every new addition to the posse made them more nervous.
While crossing Fox river I requested Reynolds to give me the privilege of riding on horseback, which he refused; but by the intercession of Sheriff Campbell and Mr. Cyrus Walker [Jo’s legal counsel], Walker took my seat in the stage-coach, and I his, in the buggy with Mr. Montgomery, son-in-law and law student of Cyrus Walker.
In about two miles we met Peter W. Conover and William L. Cutler, and shook hands with both of them at the same time, and could not refrain from tears at seeing the first of my friends come to meet me, and then said to Mr. Montgomery, “I am not going to Missouri this time; these are my boys.”
Like a mafia boss, some of Jo’s friends found them on the road from Dixon to Quincy and Jo jumped off his horse, embraced his friends, and turned to his arresting agents and told them he’s not going to Missouri anytime soon, now he’s got his boys to take care of him. Now Jo’s boys outnumbered the two arresting sheriffs by 5 to 1 and the posse was under the control of Jo’s boy, the sheriff from Lee County. From Jo’s perspective though, what a relief this must have been. Look, he knew he was in trouble, he knew what he’d done and that the state of Missouri had him dead to rights. Until his boys appeared, he wasn’t sure he’d make it out of this one alive. As soon as they showed up, Jo knew he was safe. All that was left was to see out the rest of the journey and group up with more of the Danites who were searching for him. From the perspective of the sheriffs though, they may have thought they had a chance to get Jo into Missouri before Jo’s boys arrived. Now, they just had to make it back to their own homes with their own lives intact. The way Jo reports this makes it sound like the sense of fear was beginning to settle in for these guys who were merely executing the due process of law.
While we were talking, Markham, with Captain Thomas Grover, and the other five brethren, rode up; at the same time the company who started with me from Dixon rode up; I then said to Reynolds, “Now, Reynolds, I can have the privilege of riding old Joe Duncan,” [Jo’s favorite horse] and mounted my favorite horse, and the entire company then rode towards a farm house where we made a halt.
Reynolds and Wilson, who trembled much, then rode up to Conover, who was an old acquaintance of Wilson’s: when Conover asked Wilson, “What is the matter with you? Have you got the ague.” Wilson replied, “No.”
Reynolds asked, “Is Jim Flack in the crowd?” and was answered, “He is not now, but you will see him tomorrow about this time.” “Then,” said Reynolds, “I am a dead man, for I know him of old.” Conover told him not to be frightened, for he would not be hurt.
Reynolds stood trembling like an aspen-leaf, when Markham walked up to him, and shook hands with him. Reynolds said, “Do I meet you as a friend? I expected to be a dead man when I met you again.” Markham replied, “We are friends, except in law, THAT must have its course.”
The company moved on to Andover, where the sheriff of Lee county requested lodgings for the night for all the company. I was put into a room and locked up with Captain Grove3r. It was reported to me that some of the brethren had been drinking whiskey that day in violation of the Word of Wisdom.
I called the brethren in, and investigated the case, and was satisfied that no evil had been done, and gave them a couple of dollars, with directions to replenish the bottle to stimulate them in the fatigues of their sleepless journey.
Celebration time! Hey were you guys violating the word of wisdom by drinking whiskey? Oh, well did you cause any trouble? No? Well then here’s a couple bucks, let’s keep this party rolling! The prophet of Mormonism for you.
Lucky for Jo, the Nauvoo Legionnaire who met them first, Peter Conover, brought Jo a six-shooter pistol to exchange for the single shooter that Markham had first smuggled to him. Now Jo could actually be useful for more than one shot, hopefully it wouldn’t come down to that. The posse was about 100 miles off from Nauvoo now in a town called Andover, where they were staying at a person’s farm for the night. Jo became privy to the owner of the farm and the two sheriffs hatching a plan to run off with Jo in the middle of the night away from the Lee County sheriff, where they’d be free to drag him across the state line into Missouri where a party was waiting to receive them. When Jo told the Lee County sheriff, his crony, the sheriff commissioned some of Jo’s boys to stand as night guard to make sure nobody entered or left the farm house. The next day Jo called his boys together to hatch their own plan, travel by land straight to Nauvoo to get the prophet safe. Sheriffs Wilson and Reynolds didn’t like the plan as they’d certainly be killed once they entered the city limits. Here’s how it went down according to Jo’s account.
Went to a little Grove at the head of Elleston Creek, where we stayed an hour to feed our animals. Reynolds said, “Now, we will go from here to the mouth of Rock river, and take steamboat to Quincy.” Markham said, “No, for we are prepared to travel, and will go on land.”
Wilson and Reynolds both spoke and said, “No, by God we won’t, we will never go by Nauvoo alive,” and both drew their pistols on Markham, who turned round to Sheriff Campbell, of Lee County, saying, “When these men took Joseph a prisoner, they took his arms from him, even to his pocket-knife. They are now prisoners of yours, and I demand of you to take their arms from them, for that is according to law.”
This is an interesting interaction. Consider the power dynamics here. Sheriffs Wilson and Reynolds were on special appointment from the Governors of Missouri and Illinois, but they were just sheriffs. Stephen Markham was a Jo crony since he joined the church in 1837, but he was also a lieutenant-colonel of the Nauvoo Legion and a city alderman. Stephen Markham outranked these guys in civil and military offices. Technically speaking, he even had the military jurisdiction to tell the Lee County sheriff to relieve these other sheriffs of their arms. And, of course, as a lieutenant-colonel of the Nauvoo Legion, Jo was lieutenant-General, so everybody in the posse was subject to Jo’s military command because the Legion was an officially recognized state militia will full military powers. Add in that the posse had only 2 guys trying to arrest Jo while there were more than 10 of Jo’s boys there to defend him. Even in custody of these two sheriffs, Jo was completely untouchable. The sheriffs knew this, the Lee county sheriff knew this, Stephen Markham knew this, and, most importantly, Joseph Smith knew he was untouchable.
They refused to give them up,, whe nteh sheriff was told, “If you cannot take the arms from them, there are men enough here, and you can summon a posse to do it, for it is plain to be seen that they are dangerous men.”
Reynolds and Wilson then reluctantly gave up their arms to the sheriff. The company then started, taking the middle road towards Nauvoo to within six miles of Monmouth, and stopped at a farmhouse, having traveled about forty miles; got there about sundown and called for supper and lodging.
They spent the night at Monmouth at this farmhouse. The sheriffs were getting desperate. If they made it to Nauvoo with the prophet in their custody, they wouldn’t leave the city alive. If they could just get Jo away from his boys, they had a chance. The sheriffs began devising a plan with the young boy who lived in the farmhouse. The sheriffs didn’t know that the Peter Conover was spying on them. He listened intently and relayed the plans to Jo. Jo responded by having the Lee County sheriff confine Sheriffs Wilson and Reynolds in the upper chamber of the farmhouse with some of his boys as nights watch. Their final ditch effort plan to get Jo to Missouri had failed. Nauvoo lay on the horizon just two days out and they were getting closer to the city with an increasing density of Mormons. Just about any farmhouse they called on to stay in for the next two days would undoubtedly be a Mormon. Sheriffs Reynolds and Wilson were travelling down the esophagus of the beast, headed for the belly.
One of the Destroying Angel companies was led by a guy named Albert P. Rockwood, who’s made a few small appearances in our timeline before now. He was ordained into the Quorum of the Seventy during the Mormon exodus from Missouri to Illinois by Brigham Young, who was basically in charge of the logistics of the exodus. He was a drill officer of the Nauvoo Legion, and later became a general. Some of the news reports that went out about the Lilburn Boggs assassination attempt had confused O. Rockwell with A. Rockwood and some suspected him of being the assassin. Rockwood kept a journal during this time and recorded what the situation was like for his company of the Nauvoo Legion closing in on the prophet’s arresting posse. I’ll let him tell his story from his own pen.
On arriving near the farmhouse where the posse stayed last night, we learned that they had been gone about two hours; then General [Wilson] Law said, “Now, boys, comes the tug of war, every man and horse try your best,” and away we went with our blood at fighting heat.
At a watering-place, about three miles from the river, Gen. Wilson Law and William Law, Elisha Everett, A. P. Rockwood and one or two others took passage in a wagon; having comparatively fresh animals, we left most of the detachment in the rear, yet bro [King] Follett, and from five to ten others were up with us, positively charged with fight, but few if any men negatively charged.
While in the wagon, Wilson Law remarked, “We must overhaul them before they can get on the ferry-boat to cross the river, and we must take the stand that Joseph should not be taken over the river; therefore, prepare yourselves for your best licks, for if Joseph goes into Missouri they will kill him, and that will break us up, as our property in Nauvoo will become useless, or of no value,”
During the conversation we emerged from the timber, and saw a small village in the distance less than half a mile on the bank of the river; we put our animals at their full speed, and charged in with drawn swords, our guns and pistols cocked and primed, ready for attack.
Our sudden appearance and hostile movements caused much excitement in the village. Gen. Law jumped from the wagon, ran into the tavern; soon a man came out [and] forced the contents of a bottle of spirits down his horse; some of our horses fell to the ground as soon as we halted: all were foaming with sweat and nearly exhausted.
Some of the citizens refused to give us any information; others declared, “I have done nothing,” and expressed their fears and anxieties in various ways. I ran down to the river and down the beach, while William Law ran up, each in search of the ferry-boat, which happened to be on the other side; no tracks or other evidence could be found by us that any persons had passed the river this morning. Wilson Law was at this time making enquiries of the citizens.
Some of the horsemen rode on full speed through the village of Oquaka in search of the Prophet, while others left their exhausted horses standing or lying in the streets, and ran on foot…
[W]e concluded that the posse, knowing that we were near by, to rescue, had taken to the woods to secrete themselves or evade us; therefore, bro. [King] Follett and such others could gather as they came in, were ordered to search the timbers [and] in a short time a wayfaring man reported he had seen a company passing down the river road below the village. This I immediately reported; whereupon all hands were ordered to the pursuit… [S]oon the village was clear of the destroying angles, and they were left to their own reflections and meditations on the strange scene that had passed before them.
Those who were in the rear of our detachment saw the posse who had Joseph travelling down the river road;…
At a small farmhouse in Monmouth near the river road is where this Destroying Angel company of the Danites found Jo’s posse. And we return to Jo’s account.
While staying at this farmhouse, Gen. Wilson and William Law, and about sixty men came up in several little squads. I walked out several rods to meet the company. William and Wilson Law jumped from their horses, and unitedly hugged and kissed me, when many tears of joy were shed.
They were a single day’s ride from Nauvoo and the posse now had nearly 100 of Jo’s boys ready to fight. We can’t imagine what was going through the minds of sheriffs Wilson and Reynolds at this moment. Jo called at a friend’s house, brother Crane, and asked him to have prepared a supper for 100 mouths. They killed a flock of turkeys and chickens to satisfy the appetites of these hungry Destroying Angels and gentlemen of the law.
They had one day left of travel to get into Nauvoo, but the leadership and city government in Nauvoo hadn’t received any intel to know whether or not Jo had been rescued. The city was still on high-alert and the nightwatch had twice been doubled to accost any suspicious looking persons. Some people the Legion approached must have complained about search and seizure without any proper warrant or color of law, so the city government called a special meeting and passed a broad and sweeping bill to take effect immediately upon passage. The ordinance was titled “An ordinance concerning strangers and contagious diseases, and for other purposes.” I’ll read some of it and you’ll see what I mean by broad and sweeping.
Sec. 1. Be it ordained by the city council of the city of Nauvoo, for the peace, benefit, good order, convenience, cleanliness, health and happiness of said city, agreeable to the charter of the same, that the icty council, marshal, constables and city watch, are hereby authorized, empowered, and required to require all strangers who shall be entering this city, or are already tarrying, or may hereafter be tarrying in said city, in a civil and respectful manner to give their names, former residence, for what intent they have entered or are tarrying in the city, and answer such other questions as the officer shall deem proper or necessary for the good order, health, or convenience of the said city; and for failure or refusal on the part of strangers to give the desired information, they shall be subject to the penalty of the “ordinance concerning vagrants and disorderly persons.”
Sec. 2. And be it further ordained, that the aforesaid authorities of the said city, are further authorized; and empowered, and required to hail and take all persons found strolling about the city at night, after nine o’clock, and before sunrise, and to confine them in ward for trial, according to the aforesaid “ordinance concerning vagrants and disorderly persons,” unless they give a good and satisfactory account of themselves, or offer a reasonable excuse for being thus caught out after nine o’clock.
Sec. 4. And be it further ordained, that the aforesaid authorities are further authorized, empowered, and required to enter all hotels, or houses of public entertainment, and such other habitations as they may judge proper, and require the inmates to give immediate information of all persons residing in said hotel or habitation, and their business, occupation or movements; and for a failure, non-compliance, or false information, their license shall be a forfeit if it be a public-house, and they, the transient persons subject to the penalties of the three preceding sections.
Daniel H. Wells, Prest. Pro tem.
Passed June 29th, 1843
James Sloan, Recorder.
So, what did this ordinance do? Basically, if somebody wandered into town that people didn’t recognize, now any member of government or the Nauvoo Legion could just walk up to them and ask what their business was in the city. If they didn’t have an answer, they’d be arrested and thrown in the city jail for an alderman to interrogate. It also established a curfew of 9 p.m. If anybody was out after 9 without good reason, they’re arrested. It also allowed any of those Legionnaires, constables, aldermen, or any government official to enter any public house or hotel and question anybody they wanted to, and if the house didn’t comply they’d have their license revoked and the person in question would be arrested anyway. At no point did the History of the Church state that martial law was declared in Nauvoo at this time, but that’s exactly what this is. People in Nauvoo, Mormon or not, had no true rights, they were subjected to absolute dictatorial rule and Orwellian dragnet surveillance. The nightwatch had dozens or hundreds of Nauvoo Legionnaires staked out in public locations all night, while daytime had a smaller contingent camped out on street corners. All of this while the whistling whittling brigade kept constant watch for any unfamiliar faces. This was a town of something like 10,000 people. If you didn’t know your neighbors or they didn’t know you, or worse if somebody suspected you of suspicious conduct, you were subject to arrest and interrogation by the city police and treated as a vagrant, a second-class citizen.
If you weren’t Mormon or rich and powerful and found yourself in Nauvoo, it was a hostile place to be. If we remember to Joseph Jackson’s first incident at Nauvoo, he was there a few days as an outsider and somebody tried to kill him in the darkness of night, simply because nobody in the city knew who he was and they suspected him to be a Missouri spy. Now such an occurrence wouldn’t happen again because city government officials now had the authority to arrest anybody like Jackson who just shows up and subject them to interrogation. This is the protectionism with which the city guarded itself. Passing this ordinance also allowed them to thwart any possible extradition party that may be forming in the city. Before they found Jo near Dixon, the sheriffs had gone to Nauvoo where they learned Jo was at Inlet Grove, where they made their arrest. Had this ordinance existed at the time the Nauvoo constable could have arrested the sheriffs where they could be questioned by one of the Mormon elites as to their intentions. If a member of the elite had found out these guys were headed to arrest Jo, they never would have left Nauvoo, or at least wouldn’t have without ample time for a messenger to reach Jo a day before the sheriffs did. That little oversight was no longer a problem.
The posse was now just a single day out from Nauvoo, half a day’s horse ride. Jo sent Dr. Bob the builder Foster ahead of the company to tell them of the posse’s arrival the next day, he requested the band of the Nauvoo Legion to be present to make a proper entrance. Jo’s plan worked perfectly and everybody in town was notified that the prophet was going to safely return the next day.
At 10 ½ o’clock, the Nauvoo Brass Band, and Martial Band started with Emma and my brother Hyrum, to meet me; also a train of carriages, containing a number of the principal inhabitants.
The scene that follows is where Jo was in his proper element. He made a grand entrance into the city with the band playing, his friends surrounding him, hundreds of Nauvoo Legionnaires armed and in formation at his sides, his family and friends waiting for his triumphant entrance with his captors in the custody of Colonel Stephen Markham. It’s theatrical, grandiose, and exactly what Jo wanted. He also summarized the sequence of events rather well. Here it is:
At 8 a.m., the company with me again started; arrived at the Big Mound about 10 ½, where the brethren decorated the bridles of their horses with flowers of the prairie, and were met by a number of the citizens. Continued our journey, and at 11:25, I was gladdened when opposite my brother Hyrum’s farm, about 1 ½ miles east of the Temple, with seeing the train approaching towards us, and I directed Col. [Albert P.] Rockwood to place my life guards in their appropriate position in the procession. I was in a buggy with Mr. Montgomery, Sheriff Reynolds and Wilson, with my three lawyers, Cyrus Walker, Shepherd G. Patrick and Edward Southwick were in the stage coach with Lucian P. Sanger, the stage proprietor. Mr. Campbell, the sheriff of Lee County, and a company of about 140 were with me on horseback.
I was a prisoner in the hands of Reynolds, the agent of Missouri, and Wilson, his assistant; they were prisoners in the hands of Sheriff Campbell, who had delivered the whole of us into the hands of Colonel Markham, guarded by my friends, so that none of us could escape.
When the company from the city ccame up, I said I thought I would now ride a little easier, got out of the buggy, and after embracing Emma and my brother Hyrum, who wept tears of joy at my return, as did also most of the great company who surrounded us—it was a solemn, silent meeting—I mounted my favorite horse “Old Charley,” when the band struck up “Hail Columbia,” and proceeded to march slowly towards the city, Emma riding by my side into town.
The carriages having formed in line, the company with me following next, and the citizens fell in the rear. As we approached the city the scene continued to grow more interesting; the streets were generally lined on both sides with the brethren and sisters, whose countenances were joyous and full of satisfaction to see me once more safe.
I was greeted with the cheers of the people, and firing of guns and cannon; we were obliged to appoint a number of men to keep the streets open for the procession to pass, and arrived at my house about one o’ clock, where my aged mother was at the door to embrace me, with tears of joy rolling down her cheeks, and my children clung around me with feelings of enthusiastic and enraptured pleasure: little Fred. exclaimed, “Pa, the Missourians won’t take you away again, will they?”
What we have in front of us is an ingredient list for a persecution complex. The prophet of god being tragically arrested and nearly being taken to Missouri by the vicious mobocrats, triumphantly gets rescued by his followers before facing the gallows. His family and friends all lining the streets with the band playing the President of the United States entrance song as he boldly rides his horse into town with his captors under the control of his own personal army. Then he heroically jumps off his horse, embraces his mother, wife, and 6 year old son; he’d evaded death once again. It would have been quite inspiring to be a Mormon living in Nauvoo at this time too. You hear that the prophet has been kidnapped by Missouri mobocrats. You’ve gone through all the trials of the Missouri Mormon war just a mere few years ago, some of your best friends were killed at Haun’s mill by the evil mobocrats, and now, all that old trauma comes back. 5 days of being completely terrified, the Nauvoo Legion is out in full force patrolling the streets to stop any further loss of control. If they captured the prophet again and locked him up, what was to stop the Illinois government from exterminating the Mormons the way Missouri had done? Anxiety, fear, uncertainty, all these emotions rile up the Mormons into a fervor, and then their prophet strolls into town with the band playing, flanked by hundreds of his Legionnaire bodyguards, safe again. The prophet had triumphed over his Missouri oppressors. If you’ve seen the American Prophet movie the church put out in 2005, this scene is depicted. Jo is kidnapped and taken on a carriage towards Missouri, but dozens of his guys ride up on horses and spring the prophet. Not only did this play into the persecution narrative of Mormons living in 1843 Nauvoo, but it plays into the persecution narrative TO THIS DAY, nearly 2 centuries later.
But if we view this from a purely legal standpoint, Joseph Smith was a criminal. He’d committed high treason against the state of Missouri, forming his own private military without state sanction. Then he used that military to burn towns to the ground and pillage the gentile belongings, his men had taken Missouri militiamen as prisoners of war, one of which they shot after “releasing” him from captivity. He’d waged open war against the Missouri militia which ended in a tense standoff and eventual surrender when the Mormons were finally outnumbered 3 to 1 by the Missouri militia. After languishing in jail for five months when he should have faced the death penalty, Jo escaped state custody and fled as a fugitive from justice. Then, one of his boys comes back 2 years later with a vendetta against Lilburn Boggs and nearly kills him in his own home. All of this, Jo was able to do because his political and military power had exceeded the power of any other living human being in America at this time. Given the legal standards of the day, Jo deserved the death penalty, there’s simply no argument to be made to the contrary.
So Jo was home, how did this all end up playing out? Even though he was in Nauvoo now, he was still in the custody of Sheriffs Wilson and Reynolds, and they were in the custody of Stephen Markham as a superior officer of a state-sanctioned militia. Jo had his writ of habeas corpus, as did the sheriffs. They were scheduled to be heard by Judge Stephen A. Douglass in Quincy. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite that simple so I’ll cut to the punchline, Joseph Smith was ordered to be released on his writ of habeas corpus. The proceedings of the hearing and the aftermath of sorting out the mess extend for the next nearly 150 pages in vol 5 of the History of the Church. Don’t worry, I’ll read all of it and tell you how it went down, but just keep in mind that this is how it all ended up working out, Jo got off scot free. A lot of letters were exchanged among Mormon elites, Sheriff Reynolds of Missouri, Governors Reynolds and Ford of Missouri and Illinois respectively, and of course, Joseph Smith. Jo was heartily represented by Cyrus Walker, to whom Jo had promised the Mormon vote if Walker agreed to represent Jo, and we’ll see how that turns out for Walker when we get to the 1843 elections. Here’s how Governor Thomas Ford summarizes what happened in his 1852 book History of Illinois, published posthumously. Kind of a long read, but he deals with everything for this and last episode in about a page and a half from his own perspective, so bear with me.
On the 7th [of June] a messenger from Missouri presented himself to me with a copy of the indictment and a new demand from the governor of Missouri. A new warrant, in pursuance of the constitution of the United States, was issued and placed in the hands of a constable in Hancock [Harmon T. Wilson].
This constable and the Missouri agent [Sheriff Reynolds] hastened to Nauvoo to make the arrest, where they ascertained that Joe Smith was on a visit to Rock river. They pursued him thither and succeeded in arresting him in Palestine Grove, in the county of Lee. The constable immediately delivered his prisoner to the Missouri agent and returned his warrant as having been executed. The agent started with his prisoner in the direction of Missouri, but on the road was met by a number of armed Mormons who captured the whole party and conducted them in the direction of Nauvoo. Farther on they were met by hundreds of the Mormons, coming to the rescue of their prophet, who conducted him in grand triumph to his own city. Cyrus Walker, the whig candidate for Congress, was sent for to defend him as a lawyer; a writ of habeas corpus was sued out of the municipal court; Mr. Walker appeared as his counsel and made a wonderful exertion in a speech three hours long, to prove to the municipal court, composed of Joe Smith’s tools and particular friends, that they had the jurisdiction to issue and act on the writ under the ordinance of their city…
The municipal court discharged Joe Smith from his arrest; the Missouri agent immediately applied to me for a militia force to renew it; and Mr. Walker came to the seat of government, on the part of the Mormons, to resist the application. This was only a short time before the election. I was indisposed from the first to call out the militia and informed Mr. Walker that my best opinion then was that the militia would not be ordered; but as many important questions of law were involved in the decision, I declined then to pronounce a definite opinion… It was afterwards, upon mature consideration, decided not to call out the militia, because the writ had been returned as having been fully executed by the delivery of Joe Smith to the Missouri agent; after which it was entirely a question between Missouri and Smith, with which Illinois had nothing to do except to issue a new warrant if one had been demanded. The governor in doing what he had done had fulfilled his whole duty under the constitution and the laws. And because Smith had not been forcibly rescued, but had been discharged under color of law by a court which had exceeded its jurisdiction, and it appeared that it would have been a dangerous precedent for the governor, whenever he supposed that the courts had exceeded their powers, to call out the militia to reverse and correct their judgements. Yet for not doing so I was subjected to much unmerited abuse.
I cut a little from that chunk because it isn’t relevant today but will be in coming episodes. Needless to say, after the hearing we’ll be going through next week, Governor Ford determined that he’d fulfilled the duties of the warrant of arrest and that the municipal court in Nauvoo determined Jo should be let free was a binding decision. He didn’t want to set the precedent of the state governor calling out a militia to overturn a court ruling, so he just left the whole situation alone. As we progress further into Nauvoo and Governor Ford’s tenure as Governor we’ll begin to see a pattern emerge that we saw in Missouri with Governor Boggs. The American sentiment of anti-nobility, anti-ruling class, anti-monarchy rendered the office of Governor largely ceremonial in this first half of the 19th century. Governor often took a back seat on controversial issues within their states in order to allow localities to govern themselves and keep the power in the hands of city governments. If issues needed to move further up the chain of command, citizens were better off appealing to their congressmen and senators than their governors. However, when situations like the Mormons inevitably arose, governors had full control of the militia and were in the primary position to put down anti-government rebellions like the Mormons with military force. Governor Boggs had done it and it resulted in his getting shot. Governor Ford was no moron, he knew if he called out the Illinois militia to rein in Mormon power, it would just be a repeat of the Missouri-Mormon war, and the Mormons would simply settle in a new area, probably Iowa territory or somewhere further west, and then Governor Ford would be square in the crosshairs of a Danite just like Boggs.
Because of this political and shadow military power dynamic, Ford handled the Mormons under Joseph Smith with kid gloves. He was much less generous after Jo’s death, possibly underestimating Bloody Brigham’s power and character, but for the time being, he was treading lightly even though gross abuses of power were happening right in his state. But, to be fair to Governor Ford, he wasn’t responsible for the Mormon mess. He inherited the entire issue from Governor Carlin who’d left office in 1842. Carlin was the guy who’d curried so much favor with Jo and the Mormons. Governor Ford was in a predicament. Even more unfortunate for Governor Ford, there were forces at play he simply wasn’t privy to. Joseph Smith escaping state custody once again may have seen like a relatively trivial issue, but Ford didn’t know the larger plans in Jo’s mind, he didn’t know how far this theocratic empire was ready to go. To be even more fair to Governor Ford, and everybody else negatively impacted by the Mormon theocracy of the early 1840s, they couldn’t see the future. We have the hindsight of history to see how this all played out, but they were acting upon their best judgement of the circumstances at the time. That’s what we’re all doing, and we all justify our actions based on what we believe will bring good results. Good for us, good for our family, good for our religion, good for our country, whatever it is that motivates us. It’s a matter of somebody coming along with no scruples or regard for the happiness and wellbeing of their fellow humans that we see anomalies like a Joseph Smith come along and incite a revolution. We can all become victims to systems like this. As much as we like to think we’re enlightened or something and therefore immune to being coopted like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young did to the early Mormons, but that’s just not true. It doesn’t matter, politics, religion, social justice issues, your favorite tv show, we can all be coopted and coerced by the world around us and we have little control to stop these forces much larger than us pushing and pulling us in all sorts of undesired directions.
You see, Joseph Smith was no idiot. Sure, uneducated, a country bumpkin, he wasn’t full of information or particularly well-read, but apologists who claim it miraculous that a barely literate teenager like Joseph Smith could produce the Book of Mormon will, in the same breath, say it is equally miraculous that Jo was able to build multiple cities, and garner a following of over ten-thousand people in the age before radio or television, and, for all intents and purposes, begin a religious revolution. Joseph Smith was smart, and more importantly, clever. He was smart enough to surround himself with people much smarter than him who could carry out his will, regardless of how impractical it may have been. As Jo’s following grew, it reached points of critical mass where, regardless of transpiring events or “religious persecution,” it couldn’t help but grow and the elite ranks continually filled with more educated and motivated people whose only goal was to be part of something bigger than themselves. It should be no wonder what set of circumstances led to Mormons being 3% of the American population today but 18% of politicians.
I find Governor Ford’s commentary on the Mormon mindset and people they kept as company particularly prescient, nearly prophetic, considering the future of Mormonism for the 175 years after Ford’s death.
Thus the Mormons were deluded and deceived by men who ought to have known and did know better. It was a common thing for this people to be eternally asking and receiving advice. If judicious and legal advice were given to them they rejected it with scorn, when it came in conflict with their favorite projects; for which reason all persons designing to use them made it a rule to find out what they were in favor of and advise them accordingly. In this mode the Mormons relied for advice, for the most part, upon the most corrupt of mankind, who would make no matter of conscience of advising them to their destruction, as a means of gaining their favor. This has always been a difficulty with the Mormons, and grew out of their blind fanaticism, which refused to see or to hear anything against their system, but more out of the corruption of their leaders, whose objects being generally roguish and rotten required corrupt and rotten advisers to keep them in countenance.
Roguish, rotten, and corrupt advisers, Jo seemed to be surrounded by them his entire life. One of them, Joseph Jackson, who’s currently amidst a shadow campaign to infiltrate the Mormons, at least he carried out his efforts undetected so as to gain further favor in the eyes of the prophet. The search company he was a part of wasn’t the one who found Jo, because Jackson had apparently deliberately led them astray. They did learn of the prophet’s return to the city, which was a relief to Jackson as he continued to carry out his infiltration plans.
In the mean time, another party that had proceeded directly up the river, met Joe, Wilson and Reynolds, all in the custody of the Sheriff of Lee County, proceeding Southwards. They escorted Joe to the City, and would not suffer the officers to take any other direction. This fact we learned and returned to the City. At Nauvoo, the writ of Habeas Corpus, granted at Dixon, was tried before the Municipal Court, and Joe released. Wilson and Reynolds then effected their escape from the City: Seeing all hopes of bringing Joe to justice baffled for the present, I determined to continue my game.
Here's to playing the game.
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