Road to Carthage 8 - The Final Hour
On this episode, we examine the events of June 27th, 1844 leading up to the assassinations of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in Carthage jail.
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
It’s the morning of June 27, 1844. Emma awoke to the sound of kids running through the house and doing children things. She’s 5 months pregnant and needs her rest, but it was a night of tossing and turning. There are too many unknowns. Her husband and brother-in-law are interred in Carthage Jail. Intelligence is constantly working its way into Nauvoo about the nearby cities gearing up for war. The Nauvoo Legion has been disbanded and disarmed, but that’s officially. Unofficially, they’re ready to go at a moment’s notice, whether to defend the city, break their supreme leader out of jail, or loot and pillage local non-Mormon villages.
Joseph had wanted Emma to leave town with the kids. He wanted them to either head to Washington D.C. where Emma would meet with President John Tyler and tell him the plight of her husband and the Mormons at large, or begin the journey west where the saints would follow close behind. Emma knew she was a target as Jo’s publicly-known wife and being pregnant only complicated matters further. Plans were rushing in and out of her mind. If everything blew up, she’d need an escape plan to keep her and the kids safe while her husband worked out his escape plan. It had happened in Missouri, it happened in Dixon, Illinois last year, and the time seemed to be approaching that Emma would have to handle her family and the church in her husband’s absence until he could extricate himself from the present troubles. Her words to the prophet ring deep and provide a window into Emma’s mind at this troubling time during yet another hard pregnancy.
I desire prudence that I may not through ambition abuse my body and cause it to become prematurely old and care-worn, but that I may wear a cheerful countenance, live to perform all the work that I covenanted to perform in the spirit-world and be a blessing to all who may in any wise need aught at my hands.
I desire with all my heart to honor and respect my husband as my head, ever to live in his confidence and by acting in unison with him retain the place which God has given me by his side, and I ask my Heavenly Father that through humility, I may be enabled to overcome that curse which was pronounced upon the daughters of Eve. I desire to see that I may rejoice with them in the blessings which God has in store for all who are willing to be obedient to his requirements. Finally, I desire that whatever may be my lot through life I may be enabled to acknowledge the hand of God in all things.
There were too many unknowns. All Emma could do was resign herself to a power she thought to be in control of everything. In her mind, whatever happened in that jail would be the plan and will of god. She could only operate with whatever information she had, which was scarce and delayed.
In Carthage, Joseph Smith woke up with John S. Fullmer’s head on his right arm, and Dan Jones’s head on his left arm. He probably used a coat for his own pillow on the hard, wooden floor. John Taylor, Willard Richards, Stephen Markham and Hyrum Smith awoke from the bed as the sun broke through the window. It was to be a very busy day. The men in the jail briefly spoke with Double-Dub Phelps and Nauvoo’s city marshal, John P. Greene, who’d executed the mayor’s orders to burn the Nauvoo Expositor printing press. We don’t know what information was exchanged as these men passed presumably from Yelrom to Nauvoo and stopped in Carthage for a few minutes at 5 a.m.
The prisoners then took breakfast at 7 with a Mr. Crane, whose identity is unknown. Apparently he had a question for the prophet: “Mr crane at [breakfast] with us wanted to know if Joseph fainted 3 times on tuesday rev[ie]wing the Troops.--currently reported--”. Did Jo faint 3 times while Governor Ford was showing him to the militias in Carthage? Quite an odd artifact to find in White-out Willard Richards’s contemporary journal and that’s the only place I find it mentioned. Maybe he was intimidated, overwhelmed, underslept, overstressed, strung out from whatever the Doctor was giving him, and underfed.
Jo had had a conversation with Governor Thomas Ford the previous day. Ford was leaving for Nauvoo this morning and Jo would accompany him to the Mormon stronghold so Ford could better understand the situation from the perspective of the citizens there. When a state is teetering on the edge of civil war, there are many angles to consider; Ford wanted to balance what he was hearing from the anti-Mormons with some interviews of Mormon citizens in Nauvoo. How can the executive of the State make good decisions when he’s being fed sporadic and unverifiable information by people who just want to kill every Mormon they see? He didn’t know who he could trust. Governor Ford knew that whatever happened in Nauvoo would be reflected in the other Mormon settlements nearby as the people would follow their prophet no matter what. If Ford could get the prophet and Mormons on his side, or even warn them of the danger they were in, he could negotiate the tensions from a place of advantage.
One of the Mormon settlements outside Nauvoo that had come under intense pressure was Yelrom. The morning of June 27th, 1844 for Leonora Snow was a stressful one. Some men claiming to be operating under the color of militia law had approached the Mormons there and given them a 24-hour ultimatum, help us arrest your prophet or give up your guns. But, Jo had sent a letter telling the Yelrom Mormons to keep him informed on what was going on and that they needed to remain there as a strategic advantage. Once the militias closed in on Nauvoo, the Mormons in Yelrom, Ramus, Macedonia, and other satellite settlements presented the best opportunity to provide an assault on the flanks of the besieging Illinois armies.
All things considered, tensions were high in Yelrom and Leonora Snow, and her husband Isaac Morley, along with the hundreds others living there would feel these tensions the morning of June 27th when they awoke at daybreak. Leonora didn’t know if the militia men, Mr.s Banks and Baker, would return and force the citizens out of their homes to consolidate the Mormons in Nauvoo. She didn’t know the whereabouts of her sister, Eliza R. Snow, nor when her brother, Lorenzo, would return from his mission in Ohio. Eliza R. Snow had been living with her sister, Leonora, and brother-in-law, Isaac Morley, in Yelrom until April 1844, when she moved in with Hannah and Stephen Markham in Nauvoo. Eliza left her sister, Leonora, to live with Isaac and Leonora’s sister-wives understanding Isaac was a good man who dearly cared for all his wives. Eliza was happy to live back in Nauvoo close to her husband, Joseph. Leonora and Eliza, the sisters Snow, were separated by the hotbeds of anti-Mormonism, Warsaw, where Thomas Sharp’s Warsaw Signal was published, and Carthage, where the prophet was in jail and Governor Ford was encamped. The sisters would have had very different pressures stemming from the same tension upon waking up. Leonora, of course, would have wondered when the state militia would march into Yelrom and remove the Mormons from their homes. Eliza would have wondered what would happen once Nauvoo was surrounded by the state militia, as all signals seemed to indicate this maneuver was imminent.
Governor Thomas Ford was well aware of this. He was hearing voices crying from all over the state telling him to simply exterminate the Mormons as Governor Lilburn Boggs had done in Missouri. As he organized his posse to travel to Nauvoo on the morning of June 27th, he weighed in the balance how effective his companies of militias would be with guarding the jail in Carthage. He’d disbanded all the state militias, that was over 1,300 men, which had gathered in Carthage and Warsaw with the understanding that it would illustrate to the citizens that the situation was under control. He resolved to take a guard with him to Nauvoo and leave the Carthage Greys in their own city to board at their own homes while guarding the Mormon leadership in the jail. Governor Ford writes in retrospect in his HIstory of Illinois circa 1852.
What gave me greater confidence in the selection of this [Carthage] company as a prudent measure was, that the selection was first suggested and urged by the brigadier-general in command [, Deming], who was well known to be utterly hostile to all mobocracy and violence towards the prisoners, and who was openly charged by the violent party with being on the side of the Mormons. At any rate I knew that the jail would have to be guarded as long as the prisoners were confined; that an imprisonment for treason might last the whole summer and the greater part of the autumn before a trial could be had in the circuit court; that it would be utterly impossible in the circumstances of the country to keep a force there from a foreign county for so long a time; and that a time must surely come when the duty of guarding the jail would necessarily devolve on the citizens of the county.
It is true, also, that at this time I had not believed or suspected that any attack was to be made upon the prisoners in the jail. It is true that I was aware that a great deal of hatred existed against them, and that there were those who would do them an injury if they could. I had heard of some threats being made, but none of an attack upon the prisoners whilst in jail. These threats seemed to be made by individuals not acting in concert. They were no more than the bluster which might have been expected, and furnished no indication of numbers combining for this or any other purpose.
We’ll talk about that point in a moment because a lot of people were warning Governor Ford that an assassination attempt was in the works, but they were all sycophants of the Prophet who Ford generally distrusted for good reasons to begin with. He also distrusted a lot of the citizens who hated the Mormons. He was a smart guy and inherently skeptical.
I must here be permitted to say, also, that frequent appeals had been made to me to make a clean and thorough work of the matter, by exterminating the Mormons, or expelling them from the State. An opinion seemed generally to prevail, that the sanction of executive authority would legalize the act; and all persons of any influence, authority, or note, who conversed with me on the subject, frequently and repeatedly stated their total unwillingness to act without my direction, or in any mode except according to law.
This was a circumstance well calculated to conceal from me the secret machinations on foot. I had constantly contended against violent measures, and so had the brigadier-general in command; and I am convinced that unusual pains were taken to conceal from both of us the secret measures resolved upon. It has been said, however, that some person named [Levi] Williams, in a public speech at Carthage, called for volunteers to murder the Smiths; and that I ought to have had him arrested. Whether such a speech was really made or not, is yet unknown to me.
Ford had some leverage calculated in leaving Brigadier-general Deming in charge of the Greys who were guarding the jail. Ford knew how high the tensions were and that Deming had his head on straight. Any non-Mormon militia officer who was being charged by the other men as a friend of the Mormons was a good pick to oversee the guard operations in town. But there was more to this calculation because if any attack happened on the prisoners in Carthage while Governor Ford was in Nauvoo, his life would be in danger. He feared the immediate Mormon retaliation should anything happen to the prophet; which he considered his own life being in danger enough insurance against any attack on the Mormon leadership in the jail. If Jo was hurt, the Mormons would wreak vengeance on the entire county beginning with the Governor himself. He thought that nobody would be so cavalier and stupid as to make such an attack with so many lives held in the balance. The prophet dying in Carthage, guarded by the Carthage militia, would ensure the Mormon vengeance campaign would begin with the citizens of that city; they would never be so stupid as to put their property, lives, and families in danger by allowing harm to come upon the prophet while in their care under Deming’s supervision.
Governor Ford had told Jo the previous day that he would accompany the governor and his dragoons for their trip to Nauvoo. However, Ford decided that it was an ill-advised decision as he’d be unable to ensure the prophet’s return to Carthage as soon as he entered his kingdom and Ford’s men became subject to the whims of the now-disbanded Nauvoo Legion following the word of their supreme leader. Jo wrote a letter to his wife, Emma, telling her of the situation, assuring her all was well, and instructing her to receive the Governor and his men once Jo had been told what was going on. Understandably, with tensions so high and a platoon led by the Governor marching into Nauvoo would be treated with hostility by the Mormons; Jo wanted to make sure Emma knew their arrival was no cause for alarm. The body of the letter is written by White-out Willard Richards, with a small post script written by the prophet himself. It was also drafted early in the morning in preparation for sending out with that afternoon’s mails, but it was revised as the prisoners received more information.
The Gov. continues his courtesies, and permits us to see our friends. We hear this morning that the Governor will not go down with his troops to day <(to Nauvoo )> as was anticipated last Evening, but, if he does come down with his troops to day you will be protected,— & I want you to tell Bro [Jonathan] Dunham to instruct the people to stay at home and attend to their own business<,> and let there be no groups or gathering together unless by permission of the Gov— they are called together to receive communications from the Gov— which would please our people. but let the Gov. direct.— Bro Dunham of course, will obey the orders of the government officers, and render them the assistance they require. There is no dangers of any “exterminating order” “Should there be a meeting among the troops, (which we do not anticipate, excitment is abating,) a part will remain Loyal, and stand for the defence of the State & our rights; There is one principle which is Eternal, it is the duty of all men to protect their lives... and the lives if their household whenever ... <necessity> requires, and no power has a right to forbidid it.<,> ... should the last extreme arrive,— but I anticipate no such extreme,— but caution is the parent of safety.—
P. S. Dear Emma,
I am very much resigned to my lot, knowing I am justified and have done the best that could be done. Give my love to the children [p. 1] and all my Friends, Mr Brower and all who ... inquire after me; and as for treason I know that I have not commited any, and they cannot prove one apearance of any thing of the kind, So you need not have any fears that any harme can happen to us on that score. may God bless you all. Amen.
P. S. 20 mi to 10— I Just learn that the Governor is about to disband his troops,— all but a guard to protect us and the peace,— and come himself to Nauvoo and deliver a speech to the people. This is right as I suppose. [p. ]
When that final P.S. was added at 20 minutes to 10 a.m., a messenger named Joel S. Miles put the letter in his pocket and set out for Nauvoo ahead of the Governor’s posse to deliver the crucial message to Emma before they arrived. If he was unable to reach Nauvoo before the Governor and dragoons, who knows how the Mormon leadership there would react to the Governor and his troops riding into the theocratic kingdom.
There’s a point worth mentioning here; Jo and the other men locked in Carthage Jail weren’t your regular prisoners. Prisoners locked in jail on horse theft charges, disorderly conduct or breaching the peace, counterfeit, other lower-level crimes, would be locked in jail without any access to people from the outside. They may be allowed to see legal counsel or send and receive letters, but their liberty was completely restricted. However, for high-level white collar, political, or military crimes, those same restrictions rarely take place. Jo and his buddies were allowed messengers by special permission from Governor Ford. These messengers could enter and exit the jail apartments at will. The jail itself wasn’t what we usually understand a jail to be either; the men spent a short amount of time in an actual cell with bars on the windows and door, but that was only for a few hours. The majority of the time they spent was in the upstairs apartment with windows that could open wide enough to fit a man through, and messengers could carry letters in and out of that apartment as they pleased. The men allowed special permissions were Stephen Markham, the same family Eliza R. Snow was living with at the time in Nauvoo, Dan Jones, the Mississippi ferry owner and a Danite who had lots of little birds all over the county and funneled information to the prophet, Joel S. Miles, a Nauvoo Legionnaire who served as a courier, John S. Fullmer, another Nauvoo Legionnaire and personal Danite bodyguard of the prophet, Hugh T. Reid and James Woods, non-Mormon attorneys for the prophet, and finally Cyrus Wheelock, another messenger. As long as Governor Ford was in town, the jailor, George Stigall would honor the passes of these men to enter and exit the Carthage apartment jail as necessary. There was an air of gentlemanly trust among these people that anything brought to, or removed from, the jail wasn’t anything that would alter the circumstances. The letters sent and received don’t seem to have been screened and the men weren’t really searched for contraband, or if they were it wasn’t very thorough. That’s because it wasn’t the bars on the windows or even the jailor, George Stigall, who was keeping them there and stopping them from trying to break out, it was the entire militia outside and the risk assessment for attempting to escape. How would they escape? What was the plan once they were outside the jail? What would stop the militia from shooting them as soon as they stepped foot outside the building? Everybody valued their own lives too much to attempt anything so stupid and nothing that entered or left the jail was expected to change that risk assessment.
As Governor Ford was getting ready to leave for Nauvoo, John S. Fullmer planned on taking an initial round of communications with him to Nauvoo. According to Fullmer himself in a letter to George A. Smith while working on the History of the Church project in 1854, Fullmer “left for Nauvoo with instructions from Joseph and Hiram to aid in hunting up and forwarding witnesses to Carthage.” As the men were expecting their trial in 2 days, on June 29th, they wanted to prepare a slate of witnesses with a solid and cohesive story to defend the prophet and get him released on the charges of riot and treason… also to probably destroy or move the counterfeit press that was operating in the city; although the evidence for that is really tough to nail down. Sometime in the 3-hour period between waking up on Jo’s right arm, and leaving around 8, Fullmer removed a single-shot pistol from his frock and handed it to Joseph Smith. What was the plan with this gun? He didn’t seem to provide any extra powder or balls and the gun was good for one shot if the powder remained dry. Would Jo fight off the entire Carthage Grey militia with one shot from one pistol? Or maybe it was for himself should the situation turn really sour. We can’t know; all we do know is Fullmer passed this single-shot pistol to Joseph Smith, who accepted it and hid it in his coat. He may have told the other prisoners about the gun, or he may have kept it to himself. John S. Fullmer left with his instructions to gather witnesses about an hour ahead of Governor Ford’s posse of dragoons.
As Ford gathered his men for the trip to Nauvoo, Dan Jones, who’d woken up on the left arm of the prophet, left the jail cell to procure a private pass for Willard Richards and himself to come and go from Carthage as they pleased that day. The experience of Dan Jones is quite interesting. Jones had heard of the conspiracy afoot in Carthage to murder the prisoners as he was headed to meet the Governor. This exchange is reported in the History of the Church:
While [Dan] Jones was going to Governor Ford’s quarters, he saw an assemblage of men, and heard one of them who was apparently a leader, making a speech, saying that “our troops will be discharged this morning in obedience to orders, and for a sham we will leave the town; but when the Governor and the McDonough troops have left for Nauvoo this afternoon, we will return and kill those men, if we have to tear the jail down.” This sentiment was applauded by three cheers from the crowd.
Capt. Jones went to the Governor, told him what had occurred in the night, what the officer of the guard had said, and what he had heard while coming to see him, and earnestly solicited him to avert the danger.
His Excellency replied, “You are unnecessarily alarmed for the safety of your friends, sir; the people are not that cruel.”
Irritated by such a remark, Jones urged the necessity of placing better men to guard them than professed assassins, and said, “The Messrs. Smith are American citizens, and have surrendered themselves to your Excellency upon your pledging your honor for their safety; they are also Master Masons, and as such Idemand of you protection of their lives.”
Governor Ford’s face turned pale, and Jones remarked, “If you do not do this, I have but one more desire, and that is, if you leave their lives in the hands of those men to be sacrificed-----------.”
“What is that, sir?” he asked in a hurried tone.
“It is,” said Jones, “That the Almighty will preserve my life to a proper time and place that I may testify that you have been timely warned of their danger.”
Jones then returned to the prison, but the guard would not let him enter. He again returned to the hotel, and found Governor Ford standing in front of the McDonough troops, who were in line ready to escort him to Nauvoo.
The disbanded mob retired to the rear, shouting loudly that they were only going a short distance out of town, when they would return and kill Old Joe and Hyrum as soon as the Governor was far enough out of town.
Jones called the attention of the Governor to the threats then made, but he took no notice of them, although it was impossible for him to avoid hearing them....
While obtaining this [jail pass], Jones’ life was threatened, and Chauncey L. Higbee said to him in the street, “We are determined to kill Joe and Hyrum, and you had better go away and save yourself.”
A few points to mention. This was written after the fact so conversation could be fabricated or falsely remembered to tell any narrative the historians wanted. This casts the entire account into question, but I believe the core point is accurate, Dan Jones was one voice which warned the Governor that there was a conspiracy to assassinate the men as soon as he left town. Dan Jones was a pretty unremarkable dude and not well-known outside Nauvoo; he could have eavesdropped any number of conversations and public speeches and gathered all sorts of intel. That was his specialty, gathering information from his little birds around town, which made him the best ferry captain in town. He was privy to all sorts of conversations other people weren’t and he funneled that intel back to the prophet. However, if the conspirators were this vocal about assassinating the prophet in the presence of Governor Ford, Ford never would have left town. The absolute last place he would want to be when the prophet was murdered was Nauvoo because they’d instantly retaliate. If he really believed they’d be murdered as soon as he left, Nauvoo is the last place he’d go. More on that in a few minutes.
Dan Jones returned to the jail with a pass for White-out Willard Richards, but was denied his own pass. The pass for Doctor Richards read “[you are to] permit Doct Richards the private secretary of Joseph Smith to be with him if he disires it and to pass and repass the guard.” Willard Richards wasn’t charged with the crimes, he was in Carthage with Hyrum, Jo, and John Taylor of his own volition. He now had a pass to enter and exit the jail freely. Dan Jones, however, would not be granted the same access again after having spent the previous night in the jail. He remained in Carthage to serve as another message courier.
As Jones was leaving the jail, another man entered the jail with a private pass to see the prisoners. This man was named Cyrus Wheelock; he stopped in to take some verbal messages from the prophet and possibly convey verbal messages from Nauvoo to the prophet and patriarch. Cyrus Wheelock had in his boot a small pistol as well. This pistol wasn’t a single-shot like Fullmer had given to Joseph, this was what was known as a pepperbox pistol. Revolvers had yet to become very popular at the time as they were such a recent invention; what preceded the revolver were pepperbox pistols. Notoriously unreliable and nearly impossible to aim, these pistols have individual barrels for each shot, as opposed to a cylinder that revolves the charges and fires each through the same barrel. This pistol was a six-shooter, having 6 individual barrels each loaded with a charge and cap. Each time a person pulls the trigger it cycles each barrel, allowing the user to fire 6 individual shots. A patent was filed in 1837 by an inventor named Ethan Allen, which kicked off the popularity of these guns. Eventually, the Allen and Thurber pepperbox pistol, manufactured in Connecticut, became a mainstay and popular pistol, often selling for around $10 at the time. Allen & Thurber never marketed to the military, these were strictly civilian personal defense guns with no sights and smooth bore barrels. Often, especially the early versions of pepperbox pistols, when the cap would detonate from the hammer, the spark would jump from one barrel to another and discharge multiple shots with one pull of the trigger with a delay of a few milliseconds, only adding to the difficulty of aiming. They are useless for attempting to shoot a target further than 5-feet away, but in a crowded area or point-blank range they’re incredibly effective; it’s what gamers and jarheads alike call spray-and-pray. These gave shooters the ability to fire six shots instead of single-shots like most pistols that dominated the market prior to the late 1830s.
Cyrus Wheelock removed this pepperbox pistol from his boot and handed it to Joseph. At this point, Jo tried to give it back to Cyrus saying he needed it for personal protection. Wheelock declined and Jo went over to his coat where he’d stashed the single-shot pistol given him by John S. Fullmer. He pulled this single shot pistol out and handed it to his brother, Hyrum sidekick-Abiff Smith, saying “You may have use for this.” Hyrum’s reply? “I hate to use such things, or to see them used.” “So do I,’ said Joseph, ‘but we may have to, to defend ourselves;’”. Hyrum took the single-shot pistol from his younger brother and placed it in his pants pocket. Jo did the same with Wheelock’s pepperbox pistol.
A little anecdote you may find amusing. The last time I visited Nauvoo, I was lucky enough to get a tour of Carthage and Nauvoo from an incredible researcher who tends to be very reclusive, but knows more about Nauvoo than entire teams employed by the church. With this guide, a number of historian friends and I attended the Carthage tour provided by missionaries who know tell the story by what they memorized from the church’s pamphlet. As the elderly missionary told the story, these historians essentially used the missionary’s talking points as queues to discuss the history behind the story the missionary told. As they talked, the missionary became quieter and quieter, eventually realizing there was nothing he would tell any of us that we didn’t know much more about than him. The tour finished and we walked back down the stairs from the upstairs apartment where the shootout occurred and into the small courtyard beneath the window. We discussed the various accounts of what happened after the shootout and I was vigorously taking notes as these historians discussed the accounts and how reliable they are. Then, the independent researcher tour guide turned to all of us and asked if we wanted to see something special he brought along for the tour. Of course, we replied in chorus. He reached into the pocket of his pantaloons and removed a small pepperbox pistol. He wasn’t cosplaying, I just like the word pantaloons. It was a very small pistol, about the size of my hand from bottom of the handle to the end of the barrels. The metal action and trigger guard had some small engravings that were nearly worn down, nothing special, just some swirls and flourishes. It didn’t have a serial number, just a couple stamps with the patent date of 1837 and the Allen & Thurber name. It was cold and heavier than expected for how much metal is contained in the little package. This was an actual period gun, not a replica or something; it could be fired with a few caps, powder, ball, and wadding. If memory serves it was a .32 caliber, the most common bore for these pistols. I held it, cycled the action a few times without letting the hammer hit the cap nipple; I didn’t want to damage it. Each turn of the barrels made a satisfying little clink as the next barrel cycled to the hammer. This may sound odd to hear, but it was oddly peaceful. To be standing in the courtyard where Joseph Smith was assassinated, having heard the story from a missionary and further expounded by historians who know more about the story than any missionary who ever staffs the Carthage Jail tourist center, and to be holding the same gun Jo probably used in that very place, a deep sense of wonder and peace came over me. I don’t know what it was… I couldn’t help but get lost in thought. Maybe I was pondering the fragility of life, how such a monstrous tyrant bleeds just like you and me, how none of us are invincible and all of our time will be up one day. I can’t tell you what that feeling was, but it was contemplative and peaceful to be holding that gun in that place at that time, surrounded by those people who were so kind and generous to me as the Mormon history apprentice of the group. Thank you, Joseph Johnstun.
Jo and Hyrum were now both armed. Hyrum could get off one shot, Jo six if the gun functioned perfectly, maybe that would be enough to frighten off any attempt to cause them harm. Why arm themselves? I doubt they considered that question in the abstract. If they were to attempt an escape, 7 balls couldn’t do anything against companies of the Carthage Greys. Maybe it was just a matter of having the pistols in their possession that provided a false sense of security and that reason alone is enough. No matter what the situation, having guns only made the situation worse for the prisoners, regardless of whether or not the guns were used. These were real human beings, not action movie heroes or video game characters. In no situation would those guns be helpful to them. But, being armed while surrounded by hundreds of armed people who want you dead can provide that sense of security which was lacking for the men in the cell.
Soon after Cyrus Wheelock armed Joseph with the pepperbox pistol, he left the jail cell with a message for Governor Ford, telling him not to hold any military parade in Nauvoo upon his arrival for fear it would excite the citizens into violence.
Before Wheelock left, Jo and Hyrum had some verbal messages for Cyrus to carry back to Nauvoo with him.
Wheelock was intrusted with a verbal request to the Commanders of the legion to avoid all military display, or any other movement calculated to produce excitement during the Governor’s visit. He was especially charged to use all the influence he possessed to have the brethren and friends of JOseph remain perfectly calm and quiet, inasmuch as they respected the feelings and well-being of their Prophet and Patriarch…
Wheelock took a list of witnesses’ names that were wanted for the expected trail on Saturday. When the list was read over a number of names were stricken out among whom were Alpheus Cutler and Reynolds Cahoon, it being deemed by brother Hyrum unnecessary for them to attend. Bro. Joseph asked the reason why they should not come. Hyrum answered, “They may be very good men, but they don’t know enough to answer a question properly.” Bro. Joseph remakred, “That is sufficient.”
Like any good mafia, Hyrum knew who could keep the story straight; who was enough “in the know” to give the court the “truthful” account of what transpired. Jo implicitly trusted him.
The prisoners also sent many verbal messages to their families; they were so numerous that Dr. Richards proposed writing them all down, fearing Wheelock might forget; but brother Hyrum fastened his eyes upon him, and with a look of penetration said, “Brother Wheelock will remember all that we tell him, and he will never forget the occurrences of this day.”
The man who armed the prophet with his famed pepperbox pistol departed Carthage for Nauvoo around 11 a.m. carrying a list of witnesses for Saturday’s trial and a litany of verbal communications which were never recorded and will forever be lost to history.
Around 11:30 in the morning, another messenger arrived carrying a curious letter. The messenger was Almon Babbit and the letter, which I teased back on episode 211. I said “we must wait before we’re able to discuss [this] message specifically” because it’s a passage from White-out Willard’s journal of the day that I’m still trying to figure out. Here’s the passage: “11-30 Almon Babbit arrivd read a letter from O Cowdery.” And that’s it. Oliver Cowdery, Cowdung Allover, has been almost completely absent from our timeline since he was excommunicated in early 1838 and here, on the day of the prophet’s death, Cowdery sent a letter to Jo and friends. The last time Ollie had shared correspondence with the Nauvoo leadership was back in December 1843. Jo told White-out Willard to “Write to Oliver Cowdery ask him if he has eat husks long enough. if he is not most ready to return & be clothed in robes of righteousness & go up to Jerusalem. Orson Hyde need of him…”. Jo wanted Ollie back in the fold and the way he did it was degrading; Hey Ollie, you sick of eating like a pig yet? You ready to come back to where you belong? But there could be more to it, as Jo had married Orson’s wife, Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde, while Orson was on a mission. Maybe Ollie’s wife, Elizabeth Ann Whitmer, sister of Peter, David, and John Whitmer, was Jo’s next possible target.
The letter Richards wrote with the help of Bloody Brigham is less condescending than Jo put it, but still quite fascinating.
“We thought perhaps our old, long esteemed friend might by this time have felt his lonely solitary situation; might feel that he was a stranger in a strange land, & had wondered long enough from his Fathers house, & that he might have a disposition to return. If this is the case, all that we have got to say, is, you brethren are read[y] to receive you, we are not your enemies, but your brethren. Your dwelling place ought to be in Zion--Your labor might be needed in Jerusalem, & you ought to be the servant of the living God.”
That letter was written on April 19, 1843, but wasn’t sent until December 10th for unknown reasons. Here’s Ollie’s reply a few days after receiving the letter:
A friendly letter requires a like answer: and you are to understand in the outset, that I entertain no unkindly feelings toward you, or either of you. See that you have immagined with regard to my “lonely, solitary situation--a stranger in a strange land--” is true, strictly true. It has been a long time--nearly six years--the winds and waves, floods and storms, have been arrayed to oppose me; and I need hardly say to you, that the Lord alone has upheld me, till I have fought up, labored up, and struggled up, to a fair reputation and a fair business in my present profession…
The circumstances under which I left Far West in June, 1838, are familiarly known to you all, no doubt--those circumstances, connected with myself and family, are always painful to reflect on; but you will be reminded again, that I do not charge, or believe that either of you, contributed any thing to render my situation or circumstances, then, or afterwards, in the least afflicting; and for this reason I speak more freely. I could not, nor will I concede, that men, who once took me by the hand, under the sanction of the Holy Spirit, when they received a high and holy calling, would be induced, under any consideration, to even wish me harm. This is another reason why I read and look upon your epistle in the light I do--this is one reason why I feel like answering it promptly and fairly. In fact, why I answer it at all.
There is another circumstance to which I must now adrest, in which you as members and principals in a great and increasing society, are interested; and in which also, whether in or out of that society, I feel, and must continue to feel sensibly and keenly. It is a certain publication, appended to which are many names who are, [or] were at the time, members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, charging myself with being connected with outlaws. I cannot speak definitely of this instrument, as I know nothing of it except what has been related by those who say they have seen it. Now, what I have to say concerning all the difficulty between myself and your Church, together with those charges last refer[r]ed to, is simply this: I believed at the time, and still believe, that ambitious and wicked men, envying the harmony existing between myself and the first elders of the Church, and hoping to get into some other men’s birth right, by falsehoods the most foul and wicked, caused all this difficulty from beginning to end. They succeeded in getting myself out of the Church; but since they themselves have gone to perdition, ought not old friends--long tried in the furnase of affliction, to be friends still, even laying out of view any and all religious consideration?
Accept assurance of my esteem, with all the kindness, friendship and fellowship, expressed in yours to me.
P.S. This letter is designed as, and will be held by you, strictly private--under no consideration is it to be exhibited to the public eye.
Oliver Cowdery, from being Jo’s scribe for the Book of Mormon, to becoming the second elder of the church, to running the stake in Zion and being chased out of Jackson County, Missouri by mobs, to settling Far West with the first faction of saints to resettle there from Independence, to attending the Kirtland Temple dedication ceremony, to charging the prophet with having a “dirty, nasty, filthy affair” with Fanny Alger, to being excommunicated from the church and targeted by Jo’s shadow hit squad, the Danites, by name in the Danite Manifesto, which gave him 48 hours to leave Far West or “vengeance… will overtake you at an hour when you do not expect, and at a day when you do not look for it; and for you there shall be no escape; for there is but one decree for you, which is depart, depart, or a more fatal calamity shall befall you.” Ollie complied with the Danite manifesto and remained in Missouri for a brief time, “a stranger in a strange land,” while the Mormons were forcibly removed from the state and resettled in Illinois, eventually building Nauvoo, Jo’s theocracy. During that interim period of 1839-43, when this letter was sent, Cowdery moved back to Ohio where he practiced law and politics. Now, in December 1843, his letter articulated his problems with the church, that the leaders were all good, but that there were some “ambitious and wicked men… hoping to get some other men’s birth right” who “caused all this difficulty from beginning to end.” It was those evil and designing men who “succeeded in getting myself out of the Church”. It’s hard to know who he’s alluding to, possibly Doctor Sampson Avard or Thomas B. Marsh, maybe it was the Whitmer brothers, Peter, David, and John, maybe it was Hingepin Sidney Rigdon. We don’t know who he’s talking about here. But, because “they themselves have gone to perdition” he believes “old friends… to be friends still”. He also concluded with a post-script that this letter should never be exhibited publicly, a burn notice basically, which is quite remarkable. The great saga of Oliver Cowdery seems to conclude with him wanting to come back to the church in Nauvoo and set aside “any and all religious consideration” which may have caused the trouble with those in perdition who succeeded in removing him from the church. But, and this is important, Ollie didn’t come back. He never made the trip to Nauvoo to officially be refellowshipped into Jo’s church. Now, on this day, June 27th, 1844, with Jo and Hyrum facing death before nightfall, Oliver Cowdery sent one final letter to the prophet which was read to him just six hours before dying. This final communication between Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith said: “....” I don’t know. The letter was never recorded anywhere and it’s never been located. The final data point in the story of Oliver Cowdery is nothing more than a question mark. Was he trying to coordinate his return? Was he castigating the leadership for their overtly treasonous activities? Was he asking for details about joining Orson Hyde on another journey to Jerusalem and asking about the safety of his wife, Elizabeth, should he choose to go? Was he relaying information about the church in Kirtland, just a few days’ journey from where he lived in Tiffin? Simply put, we’ll probably never know because the letter is lost to history.
As the day wore into afternoon, Governor Ford left for Nauvoo after disbanding the militias there and leaving a small cohort of Carthage Greys to guard the jail. The journey to Nauvoo was about 4 hours on horseback. One of his advisors voiced what they were all thinking during the trip to Nauvoo.
Having ordered the guard, and left General Deming in command in Carthage, and discharged the residue of the militia, I immediately departed for Nauvoo, eighteen miles distant, accompanied by Col. Buckmaster, Quartermaster-General, and Capt. Dunn’s company of dragoons.
After we had proceeded four miles, Colonel Buckmaster intimated to me a suspicion that an attack would be made upon the jail. He stated the matter as a mere suspicion, arising from having seen two persons converse together at Carthage with some air of mystery.
Colonel Buckmaster, as a personal assistant to Governor Ford, had his eyes peeled for any activity like this. They’d obviously heard a lot of rumblings about taking vigilante justice on the prisoners which is precisely why Governor Ford disbanded the militias to begin with, but this presented a dangerous situation because the foxes were guarding the hen house and daddy was no longer in town to keep the situation under control. Ford, however, viewed the situation differently, but still took the advice of Colonel Buckmaster very seriously. He also had the voices of Stephen Markham, Dan Jones, Cyrus Wheelock, and other Mormon men echoing through his mind that there was a conspiracy waiting for him to leave Carthage so they could make the attack.
I myself entertained no suspicion of such an attack; at any rate, none before the next day in the afternoon; because it was notorious that we had departed from Carthage with the declared intention of being absent at least two days. I could not believe that any person would attack the jail whilst we were in Nauvoo, and thereby expose my life and the life of my companions to the sudden vengeance of the Mormons, upon hearing of the death of their leaders. Nevertheless, I sent back one company with a special order to Capt. Smith to guard the jail strictly, and at the peril of his life, until my return.
We proceeded on our journey four miles further. By this time I had convinced myself that no attack would be made on the jail that day or night. I supposed that a regard for my safety and the safety of my companions would prevent an attack until those to be engaged in it could be assured of our departure from Nauvoo. I still think that this ought to have appeared to me to be a reasonable supposition.
It may have appeared a reasonable supposition, but it’s clear that Ford harbored some apprehensions about the safety of the prisoners. He decided to make his visit to Nauvoo shorter than 2 days as originally planned and determined to simply make a public speech to the Mormons about what was going on, and resolve to search for the counterfeit machine at a later time when tensions weren’t so high.
I therefore determined at this point to omit making the search for counterfeit money at Nauvoo, and defer an examination of all the other abominations charged on that people, in order to return to Carthage that same night, that I might be on the ground in person, in time to prevent an attack upon the ajil, if any had been mediated. To this end we called a halt; the baggage wagons were ordered to remain where they were until toward evening, and then return to Carthage.
Ford had ambitious plans upon his arrival to Nauvoo. Originally he’d planned to find the counterfeit machine, investigate the charges of polygamy and sex-trafficking, interview folks about the night the Expositor press was destroyed to find out what actually happened and how big the riot was, release any prisoners still in the city jail from that night or who’d been committed to the city jail when the city was under martial law, and generally figure out the sentiment of the Mormons against their non-Mormon neighbors. These plans, however, would have to be put on hold until a later time because Ford also believed an attack on the jail to be possible and imminent. He needed to be in two places at once to keep the peace. Luckily for him, messengers had already arrived in Nauvoo to make sure the Legion didn’t muster or show any aggression whatsoever to Ford’s posse upon their arrival.
While this was transpiring, a militia force from Warsaw, the twin-city to Carthage of the anti-Mormon political party, was marching toward Nauvoo to join Governor Ford’s McDonough posse. They’d yet to receive Governor Ford’s orders to disband and were making their way to Carthage to join forces with the Carthage Greys in defence of the city should the Mormons march to Carthage and attempt to remove their supreme leader by force. The journey from Warsaw to Carthage is just over 20 miles, slightly less than one day’s journey on horseback. They’d left Warsaw early that morning and when they reached about the halfway point between Warsaw and Carthage, a messenger approached them and conveyed Governor Ford’s orders to disband. However, this messenger also told them that Governor Ford was not at Carthage, but in Nauvoo. This Warsaw contingent was led by a man named Colonel Levi Williams. Williams has made a few appearances in our timeline, mostly connected with the horse-thief Daniel Avery when he was arrested and taken across the Mississippi into Missouri to answer old charges from the Missouri-Mormon war. Levi Williams is a prominent figure in the anti-Mormon movement. He was good friends with his neighbor, Thomas Sharp, who’s paper, the Warsaw Signal, was the chief paper of anti-Mormonism. Levi Williams and Thomas Sharp were two founding members of the anti-Mormon political party. He was a vocal critic who wanted to murder the prophet and any other Mormon who came across his path, but civil law kept him from being able to act out his violent fantasies. Governor Ford even provides some insight into Colonel Levi Williams and his role this day of June 27th.
This was a circumstance well calculated to conceal from me the secret machinations on foot. I had constantly contended against violent measures, and so had the brigadier-general in command [Deming]; and I am convinced that unusual pains were taken to conceal from both of us the secret measures resolved upon. It has been said, however, that some person named [Levi] Williams, in a public speech at Carthage, called for volunteers to murder the Smiths; and that I ought to have had him arrested. Whether such a speech was really made or not, is yet unknown to me.
Whether Levi Williams made such a speech is still unknown, but he had enough people looking to him to orchestrate the events of that night. In a reminiscince from 1908, a Mormon named Matthew Caldwell spoke of this speech, likely passed to him through oral tradition.
On the evening of June 26, 1844, the old Mob leader, Col. Levi Williams, with Tom Sharp, the editor of the Warsaw Sentinel, had a few new wagons rolled out from under a shed and placed a two inch plank on the box of one of the wagons. Col. Williams then climbed on the box and gave orders for the captains of the militia to form their companies facing the wagon. “As soon as the orders were obeyed, Col. Levi Williams said, ‘Boys, the governor is not going to do anything for us. All that is in favor of going to Carthage in the morning step out three paces in front. Those contrary stand fast.’ At the word, ‘March,’ all but six men stepped out.
Levi Williams and his band were actually headed to Nauvoo with the intent of burning it to the ground and exterminating the citizens. However, because information traveled slowly, they didn’t receive the orders to disband until they were already half-way through their journey to Nauvoo.
When this messenger told Colonel Levi Williams and his men that Ford had ordered the militias to disband, but was at the time in Nauvoo, Williams got an exciting idea. Most of his men turned around and went back home to Warsaw. Levi Williams, however, took his volunteer vigilante militia and continued their journey to Carthage, instead of Nauvoo, for the remainder of the morning into the afternoon.
A man named John Hay wrote about his eyewitness experience at this time while he was in Carthage in 1869, which I find more reliable than that previous quote of oral tradition recorded in 1908 by a Mormon who wasn’t even alive when it happened.
Colonel Williams read the governor's order. Some of the anti-Mormon warriors, blessed with robust Western appetites, looked at the sun, and concluded they could get home by dinnertime, and under the influence of this inspiring idea started off at quick step. Captain Grover soon found himself without a company. Captain Aldrich essayed a speech calling for volunteers for Carthage. "He did not make a fair start," says the chronicle, "and Sharp came up and took it off his hands." Sharp, being a spirited and impressive talker, soon had a respectable squad about him. Captain Davis, on the contrary, was sorely perplexed. It was heavy weather for him. He was a professional politician, and clearly loved both Mormon and anti-Mormon votes. He was so backward in coming forward that his company left him in disgust, and followed the fiery Grover, whose company had gone home to dinner. Davis still could not make up his mind to go home, but "got into Calvin Cole's wagon and followed the boys at a distance"; so that he had at last the luck to be in at the closing scene, and the honor to be indicted with the rest. The speeches of Grover and Sharp were rather vague; the purpose of murder does not seem to have been hinted. They protested against "being made the tools and puppets of Tommy Ford." They were going to Carthage to see the boys, and talk things over. Some of the cooler heads, such as Dr. Hay, surgeon of the regiment, denounced the proceeding and went at once back to Warsaw.
While they were waiting at the shanties, a courier came in from the Carthage Grays. It is impossible at this day to declare exactly the purport of his message. It is usually reported and believed that he brought an assurance from the officers of this company that they would be found on guard at the jail where the Smiths were confined; that they would make no real resistance, — merely enough to save appearances.
This message was not communicated to the men. They followed their leaders off on the road to Carthage, with rather vague intentions. They were annoyed at the prospect of their picnic coming so readily to a close, at losing the fun of sacking Nauvoo, at having to go home without material for a single romance. Nearly one hundred and fifty started with their captains, but they gradually dwindled in number to seventy-five. These trudged along under the fierce summer sun of the prairies towards the town where the cause of all the trouble and confusion of the last few years awaited them. They sang on the way a rude parody of a camp-meeting hymn called in the West the "Hebrew Children":—
"Where now is the Prophet Joseph?
Where now is the Prophet Joseph?
Where now is the Prophet Joseph?
Safe in the Carthage Jail!"
The farther they walked the more the idea impressed itself upon them that now was the time to finish the matter totally. The unavowed design of the leaders communicated itself magnetically to the men, until the entire. company became fused into one mass of bloodthirsty energy. By an excess of precaution, they did not go directly, into the town, but made a long detour, so as to come in by the road leading from Nauvoo.
This same John Hay offers some interesting insight into the mindset of the conspirators.
It would be difficult to imagine anything cooler than this quiet perjury to screen a murder. Yet the strangest part of this strange story is that Frank Worrell was a generous young fellow, and the men with whom he carried out the ghastly comedy of attack and resistance at the door of the prison — Sharp and Grover — were good citizens, educated and irreproachable, who still live to enjoy the respect and esteem of all who know them. There is but one force mighty enough in the world to twist such minds and consciences so fearfully awry; and that is the wild suspicion bred of civil strife. A few months of this miniature war in Hancock County had sufficed to possess many of the prominent actors with the spirit of demons; and in the mind of any anti-Mormon there was nothing more criminal in the shooting of Smith than in the slaying of a wolf or panther.
With the dehumanization total and complete, assassinating the Smiths that day was merely pest removal, the way we’d exterminate a rat infestation. People who were otherwise good and honest people, completely succumbed to base instincts and tribalism. Levi Williams made the decision to take his small group of men into Carthage via a circuitous route to appear to be coming from Nauvoo, and the plans were formed and put into play. Continuing in Governor Ford’s account:
A communication was soon established between the conspirators and the company; and it was arranged that the guard should have their guns charged with blank cartridges, and fire at the assailants when they attempted to enter the jail.
According to plan, when the time was right, Levi Williams’s men would be the attacking militia in a conspiracy with the company of Carthage Greys stationed to guard the jail. When the men from Williams’s mob attacked, the Greys would fire blank rounds at them as if they were attempting to defend the prisoners, thus providing a shield of plausible deniability. The plan was put in place; all Colonel Williams needed was for the change in guard that evening to get his co-conspirators to be the actual jail guards. Once Colonel Deming, who Ford put in place to oversee the prison watch duties, realized a mutiny was afoot, he’d quickly flee because his men were no longer loyal to Governor Ford and himself. The conspirator who was guarding the jail at the time was a man named Frank Worrel; he would aid the mob in getting into the jail after their feigned an attack on him and his men. The plan was put into motion, the wheels of vigilante justice were rolling, and Colonel Levi Williams, would arrive in Carthage with his mutinous gang close to 5 that evening.
A point I want to discuss emerges from those previous accounts, and that is ThomASS Sharp, the editor of the Warsaw Signal. He’s centered in our Nauvoo timeline as the most prominent and vocal critic of the Mormon empire and the prophet himself. I’ve looked for a long time to determine whether or not Thomas Sharp was part of Levi Williams’s mob that assaulted the jail. Unfortunately there isn’t a solid answer here. He was obviously guilty of stoking the flames that led to this event by calling for extermination of the Mormons following the destruction of the Expositor press. Hyrum Smith even threatened to burn down the Warsaw Signal, Sharp’s paper, for what Sharp was printing in the furor burning through the area. Levi Williams and Thomas Sharp were friends and neighbors in Warsaw, but Sharp wasn’t an officer in the Warsaw militia, so he had no reason to be marching with Williams’s boys to begin with, unless storming the jail was premeditated the previous evening as that 1908 account claimed. A few later accounts place Thomas Sharp in Carthage that night and he eventually stood trial for the murders, but another account that’s earlier than the accounts which put him there states explicitly “I was pushed and shoved some fifty feet..... Did not see Sharp, Grover, or Davis.” However, just because he didn’t see Sharp in the crowd doesn’t mean Thomas Sharp wasn’t there. It’s one of those data points that remains a mystery and the data point is actually pretty consequential. His account of the jail storm is an oddly accurate report of the events and it was published immediately after the deaths, as in just a few hours after they occurred. Which means he himself participated and immediately fled the 18 miles to Warsaw and began writing and printing the paper for that night, which would be quite a feat with slim margins of time. Or, he remained in Warsaw and as soon as the first participant of the mob arrived back in Warsaw and conveyed the account to Sharp he started printing the extra. I will point out, in his account, Sharp claims a Mormon attempted to rush the jail to break out the prisoners as the inciting incident, but there’s no evidence for this and all evidence indicates the contrary. It was characteristic, however, of Sharp to accuse the Mormons as the aggressors in any conflict he reported in the Warsaw Signal. Sharp’s article, however, prints information unknown to any Carthaginians that he must have received by express messenger reporting the movement of Governor Ford in Nauvoo. Sharp also messes up the sequence of events by a few hours here and there, which leads me to believe he wasn’t in Carthage, but reporting on intel messengers and reporters were bringing to him in Warsaw while preparing his extra for that evening. He also falsely says the Richards almost died from it, when it was actually John Taylor who nearly died; Richards got a scratch on the ear. His article reads to me like he was reporting events from what people told him, not from a first-person witness account. Simply put, Thomas Sharp may have been part of the mob that night, but he also might not have been. His account reads second-hand and contains numerous inaccuracies and the accounts which place him there are almost all late, second or third hand, and almost exclusively provided by Mormons who viewed Sharp as their public enemy #1. History often leaves us with ambiguities like this. So, whenever I’m talking about Levi Williams and his boys storming the jail, just know that ThomASS Sharp may have been part of the crowd, but he also may not have been.
As Levi Williams’s troops shifted their destination from Nauvoo to Carthage, the prisoners took lunch at 1:15. Jo, Hyrum, and White-out Willard ate lunch in the upper apartment while Stephen Markham and John Taylor ate their lunch in the lower apartment adjacent to the kitchen. It was generally agreed that the second story was safer than the ground floor of the jail as assailants would have a much harder time firing into a window of the second story as opposed to just firing straight into the window like Pistol Packin’ Porter did to Governor Lilburn Boggs. After dinner, Stephen Markham left the jail to acquire a pipe and some smoking tobacco and bring it back to the prisoners to enjoy after their meal. At this time, Dan Jones was about to depart Carthage to carry a letter to Orville Browning in Quincy. Browning had served as Jo’s legal counsel back in 1841 when he was arrested by constables on order from Missouri. Jo wanted to retain Orville Browning to help in the coming trial on June 29th. Dan Jones tells of his experience in Carthage acting as courier in an incredibly hostile environment.
Even though the guards did not allow me to go into the jail nor for J. Smith to come out, yet they permitted Willard Richards to come, to whom I informed everything which I understood of the designs of the mobs to kill them before nightfall. He told me that I was in more danger outside, and he placed a letter in my hand with the request of Joseph Smith that I take it to Quincy (about sixty miles away) and return as soon as I could.
News of the letter went throughout the mob like the wings of the breeze, and some claimed that it was orders for the Nauvoo Legion to come there to save the prisoners, and others claimed some other things. When I was requesting my horse to be readied, some swore that I would not go from there alive if I did not give the letter to them; but they could not agree about this, which was just as well for me, for I was determined to die rather than release it from my hand. Then they divided into two or three groups: one group wanted to chase me from there immediately, letter and all; another group threatened that I would not reach Nauvoo alive, and at that I saw several of them with rifles in their hands run across the fields to the nearby woods through which the road to Nauvoo passed. Although I understood their purpose, yet I did not see how I could be delivered; but some way would come, I doubted not a bit.
While they were quarrelling amongst themselves, my horse was readied nearby, and I saw my chance. And it was no time after I reached the saddle before the horse and I were out of their sight in the midst of a cloud of dust with bullets whistling through the air everywhere except where they were aiming. Before I had time to think about the road before me, with which I was almost totally unacquainted, I found myself in the prairie galloping toward Warsaw instead of on the road to Nauvoo. I understood my mistake after having a look at the countryside around me, and I crossed the prairies to the right road. After that I understood that by the horse's mistake my life had been saved from those who were watching for me in the woods; and also on the other side I understood that I had been between two fires, for if I had gone a mile further without turning from the Warsaw road I would have no doubt been killed by about three hundred of the most cruel of all the mobocrats who were coming along the road to Carthage and who killed the prisoners no more than two hours after that!
He’s right. If Dan Jones had continued down that same road towards Warsaw, within an hour he would have run into Levi Williams and his rogue militia on the warpath toward Carthage. Luckily he recognized the error of his ways and diverted his path north toward Nauvoo, passing Governor Ford on the way.
Dan Jones and Governor Ford continued their respective journeys toward Nauvoo, though with vastly different missions. Notably, gunshots weren’t reported by Willard Richards or anybody else upon the departure of Dan Jones. That means they probably didn’t shoot at him while he rode out of town; those are just fun details he added to make himself more of a hero in the midst of a circumstance where there were no heroes.
Events in Carthage began to signal that all was not well and the warnings Dan Jones gave to White-out Willard were justified. There were 8 men guarding the jail specifically and about 60 Carthage Greys were stationed as guards throughout the town, cycling who was on active guard duty at the jail itself. White-out Willard recorded in his journal that tensions were beginning to excite.
3.15--P.M. The guard have been more severe in their ope[r]ations--threatning among themselves or telling what they would do when the war <was> over--one would sell his farm and move out of the state if Smith staid.
As the militia became more excited and combative in Carthage, Governor Ford arrived in Nauvoo. His arrival was preceded by the letter from Jo to Emma and other communications to church and city leaders to not make any show of force or demonstration that would seem threatening to the Governor. Everybody recognized this as their opportunity to gain Ford’s favor in the conflict and they were all on their best behavior. Ford first went to the Nauvoo Mansion and held a meeting with his advisors and some men of the Nauvoo government. An occurrence happened here before Ford gave his speech and the details of it are tough to deal with. Pistol Packin’ Porter gave an affidavit in April 1856 in Utah that paints a disturbing and ominous picture of the situation and I need to give voice to this perspective. Porter had attended a meeting earlier in the day in the same room Governor Ford held this meeting. But, he forgot his hat. He returned to the room to retrieve the hat, and here’s what he reports happened 12 years after the fact when Governor Ford was seen as responsible for the deaths that happened that evening.
...the said Rockwell, had of necessity to enter said upper room for his hat, and as he entered the door, all were sitting silent except one man, who was standing behind a chair making a speech, and while in the act of dropping his right hand from an uplifted position, said, “THE DEED IS DONE BEFORE THIS TIME,” which were the only words I heard while in the room, for on seeing me they all hushed in silence. At the time I could not comprehend the meaning of the words, but in a few hours after I understood them referring to the murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in Carthage jail.
ORRIN P. ROCKWELL
Like I said earlier, this affidavit was given 12 years after the incident during the early Mormon reformation era which was marked by militant anti-government culture by the Utah church. Almost immediately after the events of Carthage, Governor Ford was blamed by the Mormons for the assassinations; that rhetoric continued for over a decade and Porter Rockwell, a murderer at heart and Jo’s personal destroying angel, man of god son of thunder, put on record that he witnessed this conversation happen. His affidavit and dozens of speeches given by church leaders have played into the narrative that Ford orchestrated the assassinations and left Carthage for Nauvoo that day for that very purpose. According to this narrative, Governor Ford had a secret alliance with Colonel Levi Williams, Thomas Sharp, and the Carthage Greys to attack while he was in Nauvoo, and then he’d leave Nauvoo before a messenger could arrive to tell the Mormons what had happened, thus eliminating their ability to retaliate while he was there. My response to that argument, it’s plausible but there’s really no contemporary evidence of it. What evidence do we have to contradict this conspiracy narrative? Ford’s own words and actions, but to the person making the argument they aren’t inclined to believe Ford to begin with so why does it matter?
We can look at it a few different ways. Ford was absolutely fed up with the Mormons and the general lawlessness of the Mormon leadership. It may be the case that the only way he saw to keep from his state devolving into civil war was for the chief aggressor to simply not exist anymore. To counter that idea though, with how high tensions were between the Mormons in Nauvoo and the anti-Mormons in Carthage and Warsaw, the death of Joseph Smith almost ensured civil war would break out with retribution being the final catalyst. Joseph Smith being assassinated wouldn’t calm tensions, it would only escalate them. If Ford had orchestrated the death of Jo during his absence, the last place he would want to be was Nauvoo. He stated for himself that he thought the vigilantes wouldn’t attack while he was in Nauvoo as it would surely result in the Mormons killing him, which he thought was enough insurance to make the trip to begin with. However, we can also conclude that he disbanded the various militias to make a vigilante attack safer for the vigilantes. He would want the militias to be disbanded as it would be less likely that the remaining people in town would uphold the law over upholding the designs of the vigilantes. That argument can also be flipped on its head; if Ford believed an assassination was more likely with more men in Carthage, disbanding the militias was the smartest thing he could have done.
The way I see it, there is no bedrock on whether or not Ford conspired to have Jo assassinated and reasonable people can disagree about to what extent Ford bears the blame for the deaths. What can’t be disputed, however, is that Joseph Smith himself was responsible for his own death. Sure, he didn’t call together the militia and tell them to assassinate him, but he inflamed the non-Mormons around Nauvoo for over half a decade and brought an entire state to the precipice of civil war. If not in Carthage, Jo would have been assassinated at some point because he’d so thoroughly demonstrated his ability to flaunt the law to the point that only vigilante law could hold him accountable. So many times in his life, he escaped death by the edge of unlikely circumstances and high-profile lawyers helping him evade the law; his luck would run out eventually. If not in Carthage than somewhere else down the line.
Regardless of responsibility, when Governor Ford made his way into Nauvoo and held this little meeting Porter apparently barged in on to grab his hat, thousands of Mormons came out to attend his public speech and he mustered the disbanded Nauvoo Legion. He remembers a few details of his speech in his History of Illinois. It’s also reported in the History of the Church in much briefer form, so let’s start there and then see what Ford himself remembered of the speech.
… the Governor was making to the Saints in Nauvoo, one of the most infamous and insulting speeches that ever fell from the lips of an executive; among other things he said, “a great crime has been done by destroying the Expositor press and placing the city under martial law, and a severe atonement must be made, SO PREPARE YOUR MINDS FOR THE EMERGENCY. Another cause of excitement is the fact of your having so many firearms; the public are afraid that you are going to use them against government. I know there is a great prejudice against you on account of your peculiar religion, but you ought to be praying Saints, not military Saints. Depend upon it, a little more misbehavior from the citizens, and the torch which is now already lighted will be applied, the city may be reduced to ashes, and extermination would inevitably follow; and it gave me great pain to think that there was danger of so many innocent women and children being exterminated. If anything of a serious character should befall the lives or property of the persons who are prosecuting your leaders, you will be held responsible.
This was viewed as unfair treatment, persecution, and downright prejudice by the Governor, but I fail to see any point in it where he’s actually wrong. Yes, a great crime was committed by destroying the Nauvoo Expositor, yes somebody had to pay the legal price for it, yes the non-Mormon neighbors of the Mormons were incredibly intimidated by the Mormons having so many guns and a militia larger than any other state in the country, yes the Mormons had used their guns and militia against the government before so the people nearby were afraid what happened in Missouri would happen in Illinois, yes they ought to be praying saints instead of military saints because that would be much less intimidating and probably would cause the non-Mormon neighbors to be more friendly, yes a little more misbehavior from the Mormons would absolutely result in civil war and the government and vigilante militias would eventually overwhelm the Mormon forces and burn Nauvoo to ashes and another extermination order would quickly follow, yes if anything bad happened to anybody who was trying to hold the leadership legally accountable then the Mormons would be blamed. Taken in the context of everything which transpired, this account of his speech doesn’t reveal to me anything where Governor Ford was mistaken. He knew the situation and he knew who the aggressors were. He knew about all the prejudice in the neighboring cities and he also understood from where that prejudice sprang. Believe it or not, the people of the day didn’t hate the Mormons because they worshipped a false god, it’s because they were a criminal empire with a supreme leader who flaunted the laws. Ford’s speech is reported in such a way as to prejudice the reader against any government official which is far more troubling to me than anything Ford actually said. So let’s read what he remembered of his speech.
Having made these arrangements we proceeded on our march and arrived at Nauvoo about four o’clock of the afternoon of the 27th day of June. As soon as notice could be given, a crowd of citizens assembled to hear an address which I proposed to deliver to them. The number present has been variously estimated from one to five thousand.
In this address I stated to them how, and in what, their functionaries had violated the laws. Also, the many scandalous reports in circulation against them, and that these reports, whether true or false, were generally believed by the people. I distinctly stated to them the amount of hatred and prejudice which prevailed everywhere against them, and the causes of it, at length.
I also told them plainly and emphatically, that if any vengeance should be attempted openly or secretly against the persons or property of the citizens who had taken part against their leaders, that the public hatred and excitement was such, that thousands would assemble for the total destruction of their city and the extermination of their people; and that no power in the State would be able to prevent it.
Thanks to the preaching of Jo and other church leaders, the Mormons viewed themselves as persecuted and unfairly treated by the system of law. Jo had so successfully poisoned the well that even the Governor of Illinois paying the Mormons a personal visit to tell them what’s going on was treated with hostility and viewed as further evidence of the persecution complex.
During this address some impatience and resentment were manifested by the Mormons, at the recital of the various reports enumerated concerning them; which they strenuously and indignantly denied to be true. They claimed to be a law-abiding people, and insisted that as they looked to the law alone for their protection, so were they careful themselves to observe its provisions. Upon the conclusion of this address, I proposed to take a vote on the question, whether they would strictly observe the laws, even in opposition to their prophet and leaders. The vote was unanimous in favor of this proposition.
Ford was able to calm the tensions and get the people to vote to uphold the laws, even if the verdict reached was against their supreme leader. However, Ford has some other thoughts about the visit.
The anti-Mormons contended that such a vote from the Mormons signified nothing; and truly the subsequent history of that people showed clearly that they were loudest in their professions of attachment to the law whenever they were guilty of the greatest extravagances; and in fact, that they were so ignorant and stupid about matters of law, that they had no means of judging the legality of their conduct, only as they were instructed by their spiritual leaders.
Jo so deeply and thoroughly controlled the Mormons’ view of reality that they trusted him to a fault. They trusted him to the point that committing treason against the country was viewed by them as religious discrimination. Anybody with as much power as Joseph Smith inevitably creates situations like this where laws are seen as the infractions against liberty, media is the enemy of the people, and any investigation into the conduct of a demagogue like Jo is just a witch-hunt conducted by unprincipled people with an agenda. It’s like, if you didn’t break laws then there wouldn’t be any investigations, Jo.
Ford gave this speech then took supper at the Nauvoo Mansion, where Emma prepared a meal for the men and the other patrons staying that night at the Mansion. As they were taking supper in Nauvoo, they likely chatted with Emma for some time. No record of any conversation they may have shared survives today. I find it likely that Emma and Ford were on first-name basis as Emma had been with the previous Governor Carlin, but the extent of their acquaintanceship prior to this meal is unknown.
Ford remained in Nauvoo for the space of about 3 hours, having arrived between 3 and 4, and departing around 6 or 7 that evening as the sun sank lower into the hot and muggy June night. Meanwhile, Colonel Levi Williams’s men were approaching ever-nearer to Carthage, having made an alliance with the small contingent of Carthage Greys who remained on guard. Brigadier-General Deming was stationed in or near the Carthage jail to oversee the guards and supervise the change of guards cycling out every 4-6 hours throughout the day. Franklin Worrel was the primary guard on duty for the last cycle of duty that day. George Stigall, the jailor, was engaging in conversation with the prisoners throughout the day, he didn’t seem to hold much personal animus against the prisoners in spite of being a Carthage resident. Jo chatted with Stigall about the dissenters who printed the Expositor, William and Wilson Law, as well as Joseph H. Jackson who Jo thought was responsible for so many of his problems.
The men thought it weird. Stephen Markham had left the jail over an hour ago to fetch a pipe and smoking tobacco but had yet to return. George Stigall told Jo what happened. Markham had acquired the pipe and tobacco, but as he was returning to the jail he was surrounded by a small group of Carthage Greys and chased out of town. By this point in the afternoon, the number of Jo loyalists in town was dwindling; Cyrus Wheelock was out of town, Dan Jones had just been chased out and was headed to Nauvoo after refusing to give up the letter he was taking to Orville Browning, John S. Fullmer left for Nauvoo that morning carrying verbal messages to the leadership prior to Governor Ford’s arrival, Joel S. Miles also left that morning with the letter to Emma. Stephen Markham was the last Jo loyalist in Carthage and the Greys wanted to rectify that problem. According to Markham, “a man by the Name of Stewart” approached him and told him to leave town, stating he had 5 minutes to comply with the order. Markham refused to comply and attempted to make his way toward the jail, at which point this Stewart guy charged Markham with his bayonet. A scuffle ensued and a group of Greys rallied behind their friend and surrounded Stephen Markham, Piggy-bank Steve, with their bayonet-equipped rifles. They told Markham that if he didn’t leave town they’d kill him on the spot. They got Markham’s horse and forced him out of town at gunpoint.
The jailor, George Stigall, conveyed this information to Jo. Now, the only Jo loyalists in Carthage were Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith, White-out Willard Richards, John Taylor, and Jo himself. All these men were in the jail itself and only White-out Willard had a pass to come and go as he pleased. The walls of the jail were already suffocating, but the walls of the village of Carthage were closing in on the prophet.
They could all sense that the situation wasn’t right. It was getting more tense in town. The guards who changed over at 4 were more confrontational and seemed hostile. Governor Ford wasn’t expected to return until the next day and they knew if he was in town they were safe, but right now he was 18 miles away; his promises of safety were now just hollow words. The men attempted to pass the time and comfort each other. The jailor, George Stigall could sense that something was wrong as well. He suggested they stay the night in the jail of the upper floor, which had a locking gate on the door. “Suggested that th[e]y would be safer in the jail”. Jo didn’t like jail cells and he’d been in them on previous occasions, but he agreed with Stigall, “Joseph said after supper we will go in”. The door to the jail also had a functioning latch. The upper story apartment was broken and Fullmer and Markham had fiddled with the latch with their penknife to make it work, but they weren’t very successful and the latch didn’t work very well.
As the reality of the situation set in, Jo turned to White-out Willard Richards and asked him a hard question.
If we go in the jail will you go in with us.-- Dr answe[re]d Bro Joseph you did not ask me to cross the river with you--you did not ask me to come to ca[r]thage.--you did not ask me to come to Jail with you--and do you think I would forsake you now.--But I will tell you what I will do--if you are condemned to be hung for treason I will be hung. In your stead & you shall go freee. Joseph [“]you cannot[“].-- Dr said [“]I will[“].
Remember, White-out Willard wasn’t charged with any crimes and had a pass to leave the jail at any time, which would render the same treatment as Stephen Markham and Dan Jones of being chased out of town at gunpoint, but at least he’d be able to make it back to Nauvoo. It was his decision to be in the jail that evening as the situation became more intense all around them. White-out Willard was nothing if not loyal to his superiors; whether that be Jo or his cousin, Bloody Brigham Young as his counselor in the nation of Deseret.
The 4 men were powerless to change their circumstances. All they could do was pass the time and hope they’d be safe. After supper, instead of going to the jail, they remained in the upper apartment of the jail, protected only by a thin wooden door with a broken latch. Hyrum picked up his 1830 copy of The Works of Flavius Josephus and read from it for a while.
Some have claimed that Hyrum also thumbed through the Book of Mormon at this time and read some passages, possibly even doggy-earing one page. That’s not true, at least there’s no contemporary record of him reading anything this day other than Josephus.
To help pass the time and comfort the mens’ nerves, John Taylor sang a hymn derived from an 1826 poem titled “The Stranger and His Friend”. He’d learned it while on his mission in England back in 1841 and it’s since been adapted by Protestant churches as a hymn titled “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.”
After John Taylor concluded singing, it left the men contemplative and at peace. Hyrum requested he sing it again, to which Taylor complied. The jailor’s son brought some water to the men, and they requested to see the jailor himself, George Stigall. As Stephen Markham had been chased out of Carthage before he could deliver the pipe and smoking tobacco, they were still wanting to satisfy their palettes. Jo asked Stigall if he could bring them “a bottle of wine. pipe & 2 small papers off tobacco”. Jo gave Stigall 2 and a half dollars, but Stigall refused and said a dollar was enough. He returned in a few moments with the materials that would get all 4 men excommunicated from the church today and they partook to help calm their nerves. The guard had changed over; Franklin Worrel was the guard on duty with a devious plan conceived by him and Colonel Levi Williams. White-out Willard Richards scratched his final entry in his journal for that day “4. o clock changed guard.-- 4.15--”.
Governor Ford was having a friendly chat with Emma as she fed him supper while 4 months pregnant with little David Hyrum Smith; the rest of the Smith children, Julia, Joseph III, Frederick, and Alexander, scampered about the house, not knowing why everybody was so anxious and an odd feeling pervaded the Mormon community. They only knew daddy and uncle Hyrum were gone and mom and Aunt Mary were more stressed than usual with all these strange men visiting the house. Eliza Snow sat anxiously in the Stephen Markham home as Stephen returned home, having left his walking cane behind in his haste to flee Carthage at gunpoint; Piggy-bank Steve undoubtedly regaled Eliza with what happened in Carthage that morning. Leonora Snow took supper with her husband Isaac Morley and sister-wife, Lucy, in the little Mormon settlement of Yelrom south of Carthage; they hadn’t received word for quite some time about what was going on in Nauvoo or nearby Carthage and they couldn’t rely on any information they did get as it had to pass through Carthage before reaching Yelrom. Maybe they’d be forced to give up their guns and flee to the motherland of Nauvoo before all this was over, maybe they’d be allowed to exist happily in their communistic village. Brigadier-General Deming, who was loyal to Governor Ford and tasked with overseeing the guard duties of the jail, could sense a mutiny was afoot as the newest guards under Frank Worrel were confrontational and more abusive to the prisoners than the previous; Deming went on high-alert. As all these people took their supper, Colonel Levi Williams with his best friend, ThomASS Sharp, and his troops of roughly 150 men could see Carthage on the horizon as the sun lazily sunk to their right, casting long shadows to the left of the riders on their southward journey. The plan was in place, the actors in their places on stage for the jail attack to be a success.
Jo’s closest confidants, the Quorum of Apostles, were scattered all over the nation preaching and holding important meetings for Jo’s presidential campaign. Amasa Lyman was in Cincinnati, George A. Smith, who we have to thank for the History of the Church, was in Jacksonburg, Michigan, John E. Page was in Pittsburgh working on publishing a propaganda pamphlet and he’d soon be joined by Hingepin Rigdon who was passing on a steamer through St. Louis on his way to Pittsburgh to electioneer as well. Rigdon got out before the real heat turned up, just a couple days before Jo and Hyrum surrendered. Rigdon’s leadership was the contingency plan if everything went south for Jo and Hyrum. Orson Hyde was in D.C. holding high-level meetings with fellow Masons trying to sell Jo as a viable POTUS candidate, Jo’s brother Crazy Willey Smith was somewhere in the east, possibly Boston or New York City, Heber the Creeper Kimball was hanging out with Lyman Wight, the Wild Ram of the Mountain, in Philadelphia heading to a conference that would be held in Boston, presided over by Bloody Brigham and Willey Goat Wilford Woodruff who were already there preparing for the conference. Of all these church leaders, only Rigdon had the latest intel and had any idea of what was going on in Nauvoo; the others weren’t even aware the Nauvoo Expositor had been published, much less that the press was destroyed, Nauvoo had been placed under martial law and the Legion was disbanded, and Jo and Hyrum were in jail while Governor Ford was there handling matters personally.
Oh Joseph and Hyrum, I regret to tell you, your die is cast, your doom is fixed, you are sentenced to be shot. This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for.
Hey patrons. We haven’t talked for a while. You’ve been with me for this entire journey. I wanted to show my gratitude with something special today. Next week we begin the end of an era for this podcast. After that, I’m going away for a while because I owe y’all a book or two and your old researcher, producer, host, editor, and marketer needs a break for a bit. But, I’ve got a few plans to finish out this series and what lies ahead so be sure to keep email notifications for this podcast active so you can keep up with what’s going on during the coming hiatus. For today, I wanted to give y’all a little something special. It’s something I’ve never done on the podcast and it’s certainly not going to be everybody’s cup of tea, but I hope you’ll briefly indulge me. Before that, a little story.
When you go through the Carthage jail tour, the guide takes you through each room of the jail. You start in the kitchen and then check out the downstairs apartment and jail cells. Then you go up the stairs and see the jail cells up there, after which the guide takes you into the debtors apartment where the gunfight happened. Of course, the guide is telling you the white-washed story each step of the way. When you’re in this historic room, it’s filled with benches for tourist seating. You take a seat and the tour guide continues to tell the story, after which they play a tape. The audio is basically John Taylor’s recounting of the assassination with a few liberties and some foley work of the angry mob and gunshots, stuff like that. However, for a portion of the tape, the narrator hands it off to another vocalist who sings A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief acapella. It’s a pretty weird experience if you’re not there to build your testimony. After the tape plays the missionary bears their testimony and the tour is completed, leaving everybody to depart in either an awkward or a ponderous state of mind.
I had a similar experience at the Independence, Missouri visitor’s center. My tour guides were two sister missionaries who concluded the our tour by calling over two other sisters who then sang a song acapella to the tour group. It probably would have been much less weird if that tour group consisted of more people than just me. But, they were prepared for the expected outcome because before they sang to me they made it a point to ostentatiously hand me a box of tissues.
I’ve read poetry on the show before because I believe music and poetry are capable of conveying a message narration simply can’t. So, if this isn’t too weird, I give you, A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief… The Bryce Blankenagel rendition.
A poor wayfaring man of grief
1. A poor wayfaring Man of grief
Hath often crossed me on my way,
Who sued so humbly for relief
That I could never answer nay.
I had not pow’r to ask his name,
Whereto he went, or whence he came;
Yet there was something in his eye
That won my love; I knew not why.
2. Once, when my scanty meal was spread,
He entered; not a word he spake,
Just perishing for want of bread.
I gave him all; he blessed it, brake,
And ate, but gave me part again.
Mine was an angel’s portion then,
For while I fed with eager haste,
The crust was manna to my taste.
3. I spied him where a fountain burst
Clear from the rock; his strength was gone.
The heedless water mocked his thirst;
He heard it, saw it hurrying on.
I ran and raised the suff’rer up;
Thrice from the stream he drained my cup,
Dipped and returned it running o’er;
I drank and never thirsted more.
A poor wayfaring Man of grief
Who answered the call to endless sleep
He sued so often for deceit
That I could never wash his feet
I have not pow’r to call him good
For theft, deception, nor shining wood
Yet there’s a story compelling me
To study and learn, for why; conceit.
Once magic and theft and polygamy
Stole my sleep and filled my feed
Twice reinvented in search of me
And wanting, hoping to be freed
Thrice broken, lost, flesh from the bone
I find myself wand’ring new, alone.
And now acacia holds the key
No longer I see hypocrisy
Egypt, Eleusis, Greek Pantheon
Each carry a part but grasp for straws
Atilla, Muhamed, Napoleon
Culling vermin; shock and awe
But to break the cycle is my plea
Never enough but always too late
To murder a tyrant is the game
And fracture undue felonious fame
Thank you, patrons.
Copyright Ground Gnomes LLC subject to fair use. Citation example: "Naked Mormonism Podcast (or NMP), Ep #, original air date 08/28/2020"