Road to Carthage 9 - Carthage Jail Gunfight

On this episode, we discuss the assassinations of Hiram and Joseph Smith in Carthage Jail.

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The evening of June 27th, 1844 in Carthage, Illinois was a fateful one. This is a story many of us have heard a dozen times in church, it’s a faith-promoting tale of martyrdom, sacrifice, and the beginning of the last dispensation, sealed by the anointed blood of a messianic figure. Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died a martyr for what he believed. Long shall his blood which was shed by assassins, stain Illinois while the earth lauds his fame. Almost any Mormon can tell you the story of Carthage Jail while simultaneously knowing almost nothing about it. Even historians who extensively study Nauvoo history will often lay the blame of the assassination on religious intolerance.

This is pure propaganda to push a religious agenda. What happened to Joseph and Hyrum Smith that day was a symptom of ills we see around us everyday. The lack of ability for the legal system to curtail flagrant and unapologetic despotism, coupled with lynch mob rule executing vigilante justice when they perceived no other remedy in the adolescent legal system of American democracy. The trappings of mob rule and vigilante justice are foundational aspects of majority-rule Americanism and the victims are diverse and often subjugated peoples. Rarely is the victim of a lynch mob one of the most powerful men in the country, but the story of Joseph Smith’s death presents many irregularities for us to contend with today.

This is also a story I’ve wanted to tell for years. Most episodes of this podcast focus on one or two consequential sources to discuss individual stories in Mormon history and their relevance to the greater timeline; each of those stories has led to this point, where there are dozens of sources to pull from. There are some discrepancies in some of these sources but I’ve done my best to harmonize those where they can be reconciled and I’ll discuss discrepancies where the sources can’t be reconciled. Let’s begin.

The sun sank closer to the horizon west of Carthage; the shadows became longer, the blue sky turned hues of yellow, red, and orange, tensions remained high among the citizens of the city. Brigadier-General Deming, called a jack-Mormon by the Carthage Grey militia, was personally appointed by Governor Thomas Ford to oversee the guard duties of the prisoners in Carthage Jail, Joseph, Hyrum, John Taylor, and Willard Richards. General Deming gave a task to a young boy named William Hamilton to sit on the roof of the city’s courthouse, the tallest building, and use a looking glass to keep a lookout for anybody entering the city, whether individual riders or entire groups of people. William Hamilton grew up in Carthage, his dad ran the city tavern, Hamilton’s Hotel, and young William could see for several miles in all directions from this vantage point.

Around 4 p.m., he spotted what looked to be a large group of men coming from the North. They were about 2 miles off and they were moving toward Carthage on the road that leads from Nauvoo. William Hamilton was ordered to immediately report anything like this to Brigadier-General Deming, which he did. As soon as he told General Deming that a military force was on the North edge of town coming from the road to Nauvoo, a number of questions inevitably entered Deming’s mind. Were they Mormons coming to break the prophet out of the jail? Were they vigilantes? Or, were they dispatched by Governor Ford after his arrival to Nauvoo for some other purpose? There was no way to know until Deming could establish contact with the unidentified group of men.

We don’t know the details of what happened or what information was exchanged, but General Deming, who’s sole task was to guard the prison, fled. He left town and headed to the countryside miles from Carthage. According to Governor Thomas Ford, Deming had “orders to guard the town, observe the progress of events, and to retreat if menaced by a superior force”. The number of Carthage Greys Deming had under his command was about 60 men. This unidentified force coming into Carthage from the road to Nauvoo outnumbered Deming’s men by 3-to-1. Deming had also seen that the new jail guard, who’d taken over at the 4 p.m. changeover, were more hostile to the prisoners than the previous guard. With these puzzle pieces coming together, Deming now understood the reality of the situation. He told young William Hamilton to go back up the courthouse tower to continue observation and immediately report to him any developments of the descending mob, which he did. Once that order was issued, General Deming followed his orders from Governor Ford to retreat in the face of the superior force. Whatever would transpire upon the unknown force’s arrival was out of Deming’s hands and he had no way of stopping it. The one guy Governor Ford counted on successfully guarding the jail was running from Carthage like it was already on fire.

Franklin Worrel, a man in his early 20s, was head of the new set of guards for the city jail. Levi Williams, the leader of the unidentified mob, and Frank Worrel established communication. Levi Williams and his buddy, Thomas Sharp, coordinated their ruse. Three shots fired in the air would signal to Frank Worrel the beginning of the assault by the mob from the outskirts of town. Thomas Sharp, good friend and neighbor of Levi Williams as well as editor of the vociferously anti-Mormon paper the Warsaw Signal, took a moment to rally the troops, or maybe he was still in Warsaw at this moment, the record isn’t totally clear. A disputed account details Thomas Sharp’s war cry to the men before they marched into Carthage.

“FRIENDS AND FELLOW-CITIZENS! The crisis has arrived when it becomes our duty to rise, as freemen, and assert our rights. The law is insufficient for us; the governor will not enforce it; we must take it into our hands; we know what wrongs we suffer, and we are the best calculated to redress them. Now is the time to put a period to the mad career of the Prophet; sustained as he is by a band of fanatical military saints! We have borne his usurpations until it would be cowardice to bear them longer! My Fellow citizens! Improve the opportunity that offers; lest the opportunity pass, and the despotic Prophet will never again be in your power. All things are understood, we must hasten to Carthage and murder the Smiths, while the governor is absent at Nauvoo. Beard the lions in their den. The news will reach Nauvoo before the governor leaves. This will so enrage the “Mormons,” that they will fall upon and murder Tom Ford, and we shall then be rid of the d—-d little governor and the ‘Mormons’ too.” (Cheers.)

The clock ticked to 5 p.m. A disputed account claims Frank Worrel, the jail guard, sent a message to Colonel Levi Williams:

“Now is a delightful time to murder the Smiths. The governor has gone to Nauvoo with all the troops. The Carthage Greys are left to guard the prisoners. Five of our men will be stationed at the jail; the rest will be upon the public square. To keep up appearances, you will attack the men at the jail—a sham scuffle will ensue—their guns will be loaded with blank cartridges—they will fire in the air.”

William Hamilton watched atop the city courthouse through his looking glass and saw “a body of armed men- about 125- came out of the woods on foot and started in a single file, behind an old rail fence, in the direction of the jail. They were then about three-fourths of a mile distant.” Following order, Hamilton tried to report this development to Brigadier-General Deming, but… Deming was nowhere to be found. Young William Hamilton wouldn’t make it back to the jailhouse until after the shooting had already started.

As this still unidentified mob descended on the jail, the Carthage Greys were stationed about a quarter mile west of the jailhouse. Frank Worrel and his boys were the Greys guarding the jail, but they were only 5-8 in number. The remainder of the Greys wouldn’t join the fray until they saw Levi Williams’s 125 men assaulting the jail. Almost everything we’re discussing today was already finished before any of the Carthage Greys even had time to get to the jail.

These 125 men under the command of Levi Williams were mostly citizens of Warsaw, the twin anti-Mormon city to Carthage 18 miles to its west. The men would be easily recognized in Carthage by any witnesses and therefore took measures to conceal their identity before emerging from the woods north of town. About 1/3rd of them blackened their faces with soot or painted their faces with red mud; if the assailants were lucky the assault would be blamed on freed slaves or displaced Native Americans.

Three shots were fired in the air, signalling the beginning of the plan. Levi’s men marched toward the jail. “Col. Williams shouted out, “Rush in!—there’s no danger boys—all is right!””

The jail where the Smiths were confined is situated at the extreme northwestern edge of the dismal village, at the end of a long, ill-kept street whose middle is a dusty road and whose sides are gay with stramonium and dog-fennel. As the avengers came in sight of the mean-looking building that held their prey, the sleeping tiger that lurks in every human heart sprang up in theirs, and they quickened their pace to a run. There was no need of orders, — no possibility of checking them now.

Frank Worrel and his 7 compatriots guarding the jail feigned a defense according to plan with Levi Williams. The jailor, George Stigall, was up in the apartment with the prisoners and when he heard “a little rustling at the door” he ran down the stairs to the entrance to see what the commotion was about. Levi’s men were already descending on the jail and they cried out for the guards to surrender. Frank Worrel and his boys fired their guns at the attackers. But the guns were loaded with blank cartridges and would do no more than leave a powder-burn mark on clothing. Frank Worrel, who was 19 at this time, supposedly continued to struggle against the attackers, presumably to make it more believable that he was trying to actually defend the jail. He also had a stutter and an eyewitness account could be interpreted to conclude that Worrel actually wasn’t a conspirator in the act, but other evidence seems to betray that conclusion. “He floundered and pounded, vociferating "Y-y-y-y-you! - "Lie still you fool we are not going to hurt you!" D-d-d - continued Frank kicking and struggling to break loose and trying franticly to break the third commandment though his impediment of speech saved him from the actual sin”

The Jailor, George Stigall, quickly understood what was going on. The mob outside his jail was too large and he knew he could do nothing for the prisoners. He either cowered in a corner or fled out the other exit of the jail; he simply can’t be placed for the next 5 minutes of history. Franklin Worrel did his job as agreed with Levi Williams and he was pushed to the side of the doorway. It was claimed later that he held the door open for the mob to flow into the jail unhindered, but I’m pretty sure a mob of guys can hold their own door without Frank Worrel’s help.

With so much commotion outside, Willard Richards “glanced an eye by the curtain--saw a 100 ar[m]ed men arou[n]d the door.” Richards told the other prisoners what he saw and the reality sank in for Richards, John Taylor, and Hyrum and Joseph Smith. We can’t possibly imagine what went through their minds, maybe I’m about to die. This is the end of the line. I won’t ever see my family or my wives ever again. None of us know what we’ll think about when our lives flash before our eyes but this was that moment for these 4 men.

The jail itself is an interesting building and we need a brief description to visualize the events of the next 3 minutes. The building standing today is the same building as was built in 1839 and housed the prisoners; it isn’t a recreation. It was purchased by the Mormon church in 1903 and was restored in the late 1990s to become a tourist location staffed by missionaries who tell the Carthage story to tens of visitors every year. I’ve been twice and can see the building in my mind’s eye better than my own childhood home. It’s an experience you don’t forget. The building itself is relatively small. You walk in through the kitchen area on the north side of the building, after which you enter the main living area. This is where the jailor, George Stigall, lived. Then you turn to the right and you see the landing area with a staircase. To the right of this landing area is a jail cell with an iron bar door and barred windows. Walk down the short corridor and you come to another building entrance and the stairway. The stairway is very narrow, barely wide enough to fit two people if they scrunch their shoulders together. At the top of the stairs is a small doorway which leads into the upper story jail cells. This has a wooden door with an iron bar door behind it. When you walk into that room, there are individual holding cells with more iron bars and metal locks and the wooden and iron bar door also have locks. The windows are very narrow to the point that maybe a letter could be passed through the slit but no person or even a cat could fit through the jail windows. The missionaries call this the dungeon. These are the secure holding cells the prisoners planned on going into once they had finished supper that evening, but never got the opportunity. Had they been in here, the mob wouldn’t have been able to get line of sight to shoot the prisoners unless they somehow broke through the two doors or the jailor gave them the key to get in, which it doesn’t seem like George Stigall would have done. Once you’re at the top of the stairs, you turn right and the hallway extends to a window on the other side of the stairway rail, but immediately in front of you is a wooden door with a broken latch which opens into the room ahead. When you walk through that door, you enter a room that is about 15 x 15 feet with white plaster walls, a small hearth and fireplace, a window on the far wall and two windows on the south wall. There’s also a bed against the southwest wall that was actually on the southeast wall at the time. Today there are benches for people to sit during the missionary tour of the jail, but of course back then there was probably a desk and chair in the otherwise open space of the room.

That’s the general layout of the jail itself and it remains in that basic form today for tourists to learn the Carthage jail story from Mormon missionaries. However, and this is important, they leave out a few details and only talk about those details if you ask the question directly. Questions like, did Joseph Smith have wine and tobacco, or a pistol that day? They know the facts, but they only divulge if you ask directly. Lying by omission for the lord, I suppose.

Levi Williams’s men pushed through Frank Worrel’s guard, into the ground floor of the jail, shoving the jailor, George Stigall out of the picture, and ran up the stairs. It seems the men weren’t exactly sure where the prisoners were and as they ascended the stairs they fired “A shower of musket balls… thrown up the stairway against the door of the prison in the second story”. The number of shots at this door is unknown but was probably less than a dozen before the men realized the prisoners weren’t in the jail cells of that room and were instead in the debtors apartment to their right. Levi’s men continued to clamor up the steps and fill the hallway above the staircase facing the door to the room holding the prisoners, trying to push their way through the door.

The time dilation becomes a reality we must deal with here. All of the events described from Frank Worrel’s feigned defense of the jail to the men rushing up the stairs would have transpired in less than 30 seconds. In fact, everything we’ll spend most of the episode on today took place in the space of about 6 minutes. It was a chaotic time with hundreds of individual actors and only one resolution to the sequence of events. We’ll spend 12 times the amount of time talking about the events as it took for them to transpire. As these men were rushing up the steps and firing into the jail cell door at the top of the steps, the prisoners, Jo, Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith, John Taylor, and White-out Willard Richards, all understood that this was their final stand. They quickly braced themselves against the door. That wooden plank was literally the only thing between them and the mob of 60-70 men who’d rushed into the jail to shoot the prisoners like the rats in a cage they were. That door was the final bulwark protecting their lives and they knew it, but the attacking men also knew it. This is an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.

The attackers tried to push on the door, but Richards, and Taylor immediately braced themselves against the door. Jo and Hyrum both grabbed their pistols, Hyrum with his single-shooter and Jo with his six-shooter pepperbox pistol, and braced against the door helping Taylor and Richards. Hyrum was closest to the latch while Richards was closest to the hinges of the door by the northwest corner of the room.

As the mob filled the upper story and the stairwell, the prisoners continued to push hard against the mob’s advances. The mob, however, thought the locking mechanism on the door was holding it shut, not the 4 men on the other side. A shot blew through the metal latch of the door, shattering the workings of an already broken door latch. When a hot lead ball shot from a pistol collides with the cold steel of a door latch, the bullet does anything but act predictably. It broke through the latching mechanism, but it didn’t emerge on the other side of the door with any lethal effect. What it did was scare the prisoners because they now understood that the attackers were willing to use gunshots to get through the door against which they were braced.

By the time the prisoners realized this, it was too late. Hyrum pulled his single-shot pistol out of his pocket and attempted to shoot it through the door at the assailants. Whether or not this shot hit true or simply embedded into the door is unknown. After firing, Hyrum dropped the pistol and braced himself against the door. It didn’t much matter, because as soon as he pushed his weight against the door, a second ball blasted through the door a few inches above the door latch. This proved to be an infamous and effective shot. With 4 men bracing one door, bullets smashing through that door were bound to hit somebody. Now, when you picture somebody bracing themselves against a door to keep people out or in, you can see how they’re postured against it. One shoulder is lower with full shoulder and arm contact on the door, one foot hard against the floor and door jamb, one leg extended far behind them to provide a triangle figure with the floor for the best structural support, and the other hand above their head pushing against the door as well for added support. This is the posture Hyrum Smith was in while yelling to his younger brother to hold the door, shoot at the men through it, or do something to help. The second shot that pierced through the door above the latch struck true. Hyrum’s head was pressed against the door or very close to it, looking downward slightly at the floor while using every bit of his strength. This ball hit him in the face on the left of his nose, traveling through his skull and exiting below his jawbone, possibly entering his neck again before passing out the other side. This bullet could have severed his brain stem, which would have caused him to go instantly limp.

I want to use this as a jumpoff point to talk about this whole Carthage jail incident in the abstract for a few minutes. This isn’t to be overly morbid, this digression is merely to discuss the deep and sinister reality of what happened that fateful day. Besides, nothing I’m about to describe is any more disturbing than what you see on primetime tv. Still, listeners beware and abandon hope all ye who enter here.

As humans, we have a lot of traditions. Rituals, holy days, languages, family dynamics, ways to look at the complexities of the world. All of these traditions evolve from older traditions and sometimes we get better at them in some way as those practices evolve. However, one of the oldest human traditions, older than language, religion, using fire to cook our food, older than any system of thought, is killing one another. Us humans, we’re spectacularly good at killing each other.

We’re so good at killing each other that we got bored with rocks and sticks so we attached rocks to sticks and broke the rocks to make them sharper and thereby more effective at the job of killing. When that wasn’t enough we put rocks on sticks and learned how to shoot them at each other from a distance. Then we found out that some rocks are better than other rocks. Then we wanted to make rocks shaped in a certain way so the entire stick can be a rock so we heated up the rocks and turned them into metal sticks with sharp edges. During all of this we also figured out some plants can kill each other, burning each other, pouring burning oils on each other, and plenty of morbid and lethal ways to deal with each other. Beyond that, however, we also figured out all sorts of unique and novel ways to hurt each other without actually killing each other, which is a fascinating phenomena in and of itself. I doubt any other species of animal engages in torture the way us humans do to specifically cause harm without quite killing the victim; a remarkable practice that distinguishes us below any other animals in the kingdom.

Millions of years have passed and we’ve never stopped innovating on murdering each other. Now, in the last 1000 years, the technology of death has seen a figurative and literal explosion in the form of chemical reactions. Fire is super deadly, but what if we could throw it 100 meters through the air at our enemies? What if we put fire in a little metal ball that exploded and sent the metal and fire flying in all directions? Gunpowder alone has done more to advance the technology of murder than arguably any other human invention. A little potassium nitrate, some charcoal, and sulfur, all sorts of fun inventions can center around this simple chemical reaction which is stable until heat is added. Over a thousand years ago, a Chinese inventor used gunpowder to shoot spears from a bamboo tube. When bamboo became too fragile for larger explosions, metal tubes were forged and the gun was invented a few hundred years later. It wasn’t long before this incredible invention spread across the planet and became a mainstay of well-funded militias who could absolutely dominate other forces who didn’t have the innovation known as the gun. The tactical advantage afforded by a gun is incredible, why get up close and personal with swords, that guy might kill me, instead I’ll shoot him from a distance where he can’t possibly kill me with his sword or spear then I’ll reload and kill all his friends while never in real danger myself. If there are enough of those guys, you can take them all out with one gun if it’s big enough. A big enough explosion and you can eventually turn entire civilizations into glass surrounded by inhabitable radioactive waste. Modern problems require modern solutions. Look how far we’ve come.

As all of this murder innovation was rapidly expanding, technologies for exploring and colonizing unknown lands was also aggressively accelerating. Trans-oceanic trade and circumnavigation transitioned from a rarity by explorers to an everyday occurrence by traders and settlers. These people traversed oceans in the matter of weeks or months carrying guns and cannons; they became the superior force to which the rest of the world was forced to bow. Some gun-toting miscreants here in North America told the vastly superior British empire to get off their lawn and won a war to declare their will the final word that would carry this landmass into the next few centuries. Those same people kicked off a multi-generational campaign of colonization so brutal it resulted in the near complete eradication of most of the people already living here. Thousands of cultures and languages, millions died by guns, germs, and steel when their own innovations of murder simply couldn’t keep pace. There is simply no denying the power of the gun in all of this.

The oldest human tradition of killing one another is never more simple and effective than the gun. A human with unnecessary holes in them doesn’t live for very long. The entire science of ballistics transitioned from calculating the distance and accuracy of trebuchets and catapults to figuring out how a gun can best be designed to make a bullet go exactly where the shooter wants. Rifled barrels, cartridge rounds, repeating actions, machine guns, larger calibers and heavier powder loads, vehicles to carry these guns, artillery that fires rounds over miles instead of yards, bombs dropped from the air or fired from underwater; each of these innovations increased the murdering power of the humans wielding their portable death machines. Today you can buy a portable death machine for less than an average grocery store run and there’s something like 3 of for every citizen of this country; it’s a baffling world to me.

When a bullet makes contact with human flesh, some truly incredible things happen. This is the science of terminal ballistics. This isn’t gratuitous, this is foundational information to bring into focus the reality of what we’re discussing today. When a bullet hits flesh, it does some really crazy stuff. That bullet is carrying a ton of kinetic energy. With relatively little mass accelerated with so much energy, these hot pieces of lead travel extremely quickly, with many modern bullets breaking the speed of sound, that’s over 750 mph or 343 meters per second. If designed correctly, all that kinetic energy transfers to human flesh upon impact. The primary cavity is where the bullet enters the flesh and it’s usually the size of the bullet caliber, but that’s only where the carnage begins.

The majority of the bullet’s energy is transferred as soon as it punctures through the flesh. The temporary cavity created immediately after entering the skin can expand the tissue up to 40 times the size of the bullet. Most bullets are less than a half-inch in diameter, but the cavity it makes can become twice the size of a baseball. Tissue is mostly liquid and doesn’t compress, meaning all of it expands into the surrounding flesh. It does that by compressing organs, ripping and tearing tissue, and causing incredible amounts of chaos and damage as the bullet transfers its energy by creating that temporary cavity. As the flesh absorbs all that energy it creates what’s known as an impact crater, where the flesh is destroyed behind the initial impact cavity. Once that energy is absorbed, the flesh will attempt to return to its form prior to the bullet entering it. The rebounding of the flesh to try and seal up this temporary cavity can be nearly as destructive as the bullet itself creating the cavity.

Different bullets act differently and in the case of today’s subject matter they’re all spherical lead balls that can do all sorts of crazy things. Full metal jacket bullets, as used by militaries across the globe, are designed to pass through bodies and leave very little tissue damage but incapacitate the victim. Hollow-points that cops use are designed to stop inside the victim; this is the stopping power of the bullet. When a hollow point bullet hits the target, it immediately expands into a mushroom-like form, transferring all its energy immediately and stopping somewhere inside the body; which also ensures the safety of anybody who may be behind the victim.

Now, if you’re the victim of a gunshot, the best possible outcome is for the bullet to pass straight through because some of its energy isn’t transferred to the flesh. Much worse scenarios, however, result when the bullet is able to transfer all the energy and it can do that in a few ways. If the chunk of flesh is thick enough, like center mass on the target, a person’s torso, the person’s organs will absorb all the energy and the bullet will remain inside their body. But, much worse things can also happen and that’s when bones get involved. Bones can handle a lot of stress and torque, but high-velocity low-mass impact is not what bones evolved to withstand. When the bullet strikes a bone, the transfer of energy to the bone will often cause it to disintegrate, shooting bone fragments into the surrounding tissue causing even more damage. Basically, a bullet striking a bone can turn that bone into a grenade inside the victim’s body. This will also cause the bullet to ricochet to other areas of the body. When fired into a skull, a bullet can enter the brain, ricochet off the back of the skull, and travel the opposite direction back through the brain, causing even more damage as it continues to expend all its energy. Bullets can also tumble after entering, which causes irregular and multi-directional permanent cavities. The permanent cavity is what’s left behind from the path of the bullet itself. Once that initial cavity is opened up immediately after impact and the tissue closes around the expanded flesh in the temporary cavity, there’s still the path of the actual bullet which forms a channel of ripped and destroyed tissue. If you’ve ever seen videos of ballistics gel or some episodes of mythbusters, you know how everything I just described looks; it’s some horrifying stuff to think that’s a pretty accurate representation of human flesh being shot. That’s what’s known as the permanent cavity.

That’s the nitty gritty of how bullets interact with flesh, but when a human is shot, rarely is it immediately fatal. We’ve all seen action movies where the hero wastes entire armies of baddies with a single bullet to each enemy as they blast through the baddie lair and then they’re captured by the ultimate baddie who gives a long speech before the hero is rescued by the sidekick. Hi-ya! Unexpected variable! That’s fun, but it’s not how humans actually act when they’re shot. A bullet to the head or through the heart are about the only way to cause a person to go immediately limp or unconscious, even then they will often survive for a few minutes even if immobilized. For an absolutely instantaneous death, you have to sever the brain stem. Prisoners of death camps and political dissidents in gulags will often catch a bullet to the back of the head and that’s because when the bullet is fired right at the base of their skull, the brain stem is destroyed and there’s basically no suffering, no noise, no protestation, nothing; just lights out and that’s the end of it. Anything other than a brain stem severance, the person will live for a certain amount of time before bleeding out or organ failure. Center mass shots, hits to the torso, will often leave a person alive for minutes or hours before death, or if the bleeding is stopped they can recover slowly, often dying to complications of the shot sometime later.

I also want to note that hitting nerve centers or tendons can cause immediate loss of control. A person shot in the leg or arm will have instant nerve damage and they’re often unable to use the muscles damaged by the shot, sometimes never again. A shot or seven to the back is exceptionally dangerous as the fragmentation of hitting bone coupled with the nervous system running through the spine will inevitably cause loss of control, loss of feeling, and usually paralysis to some extent if the person survives. I’ve only seen a few movies which accurately depict gunshot wounds and the one that comes to mind is Public Enemies, the Johnny Depp and Christian Bale movie about the Great Depression bank robbers. It stuns me how accurate that movie portrays people being shot. It’s also an oddly apt movie to bring into today’s episode.

This second shot through the apartment door that hit Hyrum in the face did the fatal damage necessary to render him useless to the other 3 men in the room. Legend says that Hyrum yelled “I am a dead man” as he fell backward, but if his brain stem was actually severed, which the evidence indicates this likely happened, he wouldn’t have spoken a word, he would have just gone limp while the muscles in his body pushed him away from the door and he fell backwards, hitting his head on the hardwood floor as the body slumped lifelessly. If the brain stem wasn’t severed, the wound to his neck would cause him to bleed out within a matter of minutes while he remained largely conscious of what happened around him, unable to speak or cry out for help as his lungs and esophagus filled with his own blood and his life drained out. He would have watched everything we’re about to discuss, powerless to change the situation. I tend to believe his brain stem was severed and he had two large holes in his neck for reasons we’ll discuss in a bit.

When Hyrum collapsed on the floor, the other prisoners, fueled purely by adrenaline, understood they were next. Before he was chased out of Carthage earlier that day, Stephen Markham had left his cane, called a rascal beater because of the textured knob at the top, in the jail. Markham had expected to return to the jail and didn’t mean to leave it there, but the Carthage Greys had other plans for him. However, this did provide John Taylor and Willard Richards with a second cane to use as a weapon. As the mob clamored up the stairs, Taylor and Richards armed themselves with Markham’s rascal beater and another cane that was in the room. These canes would prove invaluable in preserving their lives.

Seeing his brother fall and blood beginning to pool underneath Hyrum, Jo pulled his 6-shooter Allen and Thurber pepperbox pistol from his pocket. Without Hyrum helping to keep the door pushed closed, Richards and Taylor began to struggle under the force of the mob trying to push the door open. It nudged opened slightly, just a few inches, and the attackers tried to push the barrels of their state-issued rifles through the door into the room. Taylor and Richards at this point used their canes to hit the barrels of the guns sticking through the door. Jo saw an opportunity and shoved the muzzle of his pepperbox pistol through the small opening, squeezing the trigger as fast as his finger could pull. This situation is the exact intent for the design of a pepperbox pistol. They’re useless at hitting a target even on the other side of a room, but when fired point-blank range into a crowd of people, every ball will strike flesh. However, pepperbox pistols are also notoriously unreliable even if you are able to keep the powder dry. Of the six charged barrels, only three actually fired, some traditions say 4 of the 6 fired; we can be certain of at least 3. John Hay, an eyewitness counts 4 and even details how each bullet struck true on each victim.

He shot an Irishman named Wills, who was in the affair from his congenital love of a brawl, in the arm; Gallagher, a Southerner from the Mississippi Bottom, in the face; Voorhees, a half-grown hobbledehoy from Bear Creek, in the shoulder; and another gentleman, whose name I will not mention, as he is prepared to prove an alibi, and besides stands six feet two in his moccasins.

None of these shots were fatal, even Gallagher who was shot in the face. To be clear, Jo was trying to hold the door from being pushed further open and just stuck his left arm around the side of the door into the opening when he fired. He didn’t take the time to aim at anybody specifically, he was just shooting a smoothbore pepperbox pistol into a mass of dozens of men; he was bound to hit every shot. Richards and Taylor later claimed that 2 of these men died from being shot by Jo, but there’s no evidence to substantiate the claim and those two men simply wouldn’t have any way of knowing that information.

Once these 3 or 4 shots were fired by Jo from his smuggled pistol, the men at the door briefly recoiled. They would have been struck with second thoughts because the prisoners weren’t supposed to be armed. They were shot at by one of the prisoners, but what if all of them had pistols? They also wouldn’t have known that the bullet through the door had just killed Hyrum so they probably considered these shots from Jo to be aggression, not retaliation. What started as an attempt to assassinate two men now had become a gunfight and the attackers didn’t know if another mistake might lead to more of them getting shot. They needed to make quick work of this matter.

Outside the jail, the Carthage Greys were responding to the commotion from their encampment about a quarter mile away. The report of gunfire coming from the jail could mean only a few things, either the Mormons were trying to break the prophet out of jail, or another militia was there to kill the prophet. Either way, they were needed and the roughly 60 Carthage Greys who remained by special appointment from Governor Ford, under the command of Robert F. Smith, began to run with their rifles toward the jail. It’s possible some of them were aware of the plan by Levi Williams to storm the jail, but it’s most likely that almost all those men didn’t know what kind of situation they would encounter once reaching the jail. A quarter mile can be covered by an armed soldier in the space of about 2.5-3 minutes at full adrenaline-fueled sprint.

Back in the jail, the attackers redoubled their onslaught after taking shots from the prophet. They pushed even harder on the door. With Hyrum dead and unable to help hold the door, John Taylor and Joseph Smith realized they were outnumbered, outgunned, and didn’t have any way to prevent the continued attack. They tried as best they could to hold it while Willard Richards and John Taylor continued to try and hold the door closed with one arm while hitting the gun barrels sticking through the door with Stephen Markham’s rascal beater cane.

Inevitably, the mob gained the upper hand and pushed even harder on the door. This door opens into the apartment and when fully opened creates a space in the corner of the room which covers anything in that space. Another shot rang through the door and grazed Willard Richards on the ear. As all these gunshots were going off, Levi’s men in the courtyard surrounding the jail heard all the gunshots inside the jail and began firing their rifles into the window from outside. None of these men could get a line of sight to fire on anybody in the room so their bullets smashed through the window and embedded into the ceiling above the window. These are all single-shot rifles and undoubtedly some of the soldiers carried their own pistols as secondary weapons, but the Quartermaster of state militias usually didn’t issue pistols of any sort to soldiers like this. They were armed with the state issue rifles and swords, any other guns they privately owned were brought of their own volition for this special task. Each of these rifles required reloading before they could be fired again. A skilled soldier could get off three rounds per minute, which means about 15-20 seconds to reload a rifle with powder, ball, and wad. Cartridge rifles and repeating actions wouldn’t be widely used until a few decades later in the Civil War as those inventions were just a little too young to be widely circulated by the mid-1840s.

What all that means is the assailants probably fired in volleys. A salvo of rifle shots would go off, then there’d be a short delay before the soldiers were ready to fire again. Those at the front of the mob could, however, increase their rate of fire if they were handed loaded guns from other assailants further back in the crowd. To what extent reloading verses passing already loaded guns took place in this instance can never be known. We do know, however, that the men in the hallway began pushing into the jail cell while the men in the courtyard fired rounds into the window, partially in hopes that a bullet might get lucky and strike one of the victims, but more so to dissuade any attempt to jump out the window to escape.

Jo yelled to the other 2 surviving men, “That’s right, Brother Taylor, parry them off as well as you can.” while Richards and Taylor continued to use their canes to deflect the rifle barrels that were sneaking into the room. Taylor remembered “It certainly was far from pleasant to be so near the muzzles of those firearms as they belched forth their liquid flames and deadly balls.” As more rifle muzzles were pushed through the small opening of the door, more men continued to push up the narrow stairway and against the door. 3 men holding the door can only withstand so much of this pressure before the mob outside the door gains the advantage. Hyrum’s corpse bleeding out was certainly a morale crusher as well; a harbinger of their coming deaths.

Jo and Taylor realized the futility and peeled away from the door, simultaneously, and made a run for the window, leaving Richards to be pinned behind the door in the corner of the room as the mob pushed their way in. At this point, the two running men became completely exposed to gunfire while Hyrum bled out at the feet of the assailants. While running, John Taylor was the first to be struck.

While he ran, this first bullet hit John Taylor’s leg. The bullet entered into the back of his upper thigh, glanced off his bone flattening the ball, and continued it’s deflected path, lodging in the front of his leg a half inch underneath the skin. While Taylor was lucky with this shot as it didn’t directly hit his leg bone and cause the bone to disintegrate, the ball lodged barely underneath the skin at the front of his thigh, meaning it was able to transfer all its kinetic energy into his flesh; it immediately severed nerves and Taylor fell forward on his way to the window. He “lost entirely and instantaneously all power of action or locomotion” and hit the window sill in a falling kneeling type of position. His torso collided with the window sill, breaking his pocket watch with the hands at precisely 5:16:21 p.m., freezing in time the infamous moment when this gunfight occurred. He yelled out “I am shot!”. As Taylor stumbled into the window sill, he briefly thought “we might have some friends outside, and that there might be some chance of escape,” but what he saw out the window was about 100 men with their guns pointed at the window, which now framed his face looking down at the assailants.

In a situation like this, people don’t have time to think, they just act. When Taylor saw a hundred guys out the window with rifles pointed at him, he pushed himself back from the window sill and they fired another volley of bullets into the ceiling above his head. Taylor later attributed this physical movement to divine intervention. It’s not like he had time to run the calculations in his mind that there were probably less men in the room than out in the courtyard, thus increasing his chances of survival if he stayed instead of dove out the second-story window; he just acted based on the greatest threat in front of his face. He pushed himself back from the window, unknowingly securing his survival, and laid on the ground, then realized that the men were pushing into the room from the doorway. He was unable to stand, but he could roll, which he did to the only place where there was any cover, under the bed in the southeast corner of the room by the window. As he tried to roll he was entirely exposed and the men pushing into the room continued to shoot John Taylor. He was prone with his feet toward the men pushing into the room, which explains the nature of the rest of his wounds. The second shot hit him in the left knee, which traveled up his thigh and embedded near his groin. He claimed in 1854 that this bullet was never extracted. He was covering his head with his arms like a boxer as he tried to roll and the third bullet entered his left arm near the elbow. This bullet ripped through muscle and tendon all the way up his arm, crushed through his wrist joint, and came to a halt “a little above the upper joint of my little finger.” Had his arms not been up protecting his head, this third bullet likely would have struck his torso or head; I think most people would take a bullet ripping through their arm instead of their organs or skull any day of the week.

The fourth and final bullet was the most gruesome. His left flank took all these shots so he must have been nearly under the bed as all three of these bullets hit him simultaneously. The fourth ball entered the flesh of his left hip. While this was the nastiest wound of them all, it was also the least damaging. This ball essentially grazed his hip, but the ball passed straight through, meaning it didn’t transfer all its energy into his body. The temporary cavity a bullet creates can expand the flesh up to 40 times the diameter of the bullet. When this bullet entered his hip, that expansion basically caused his hip flesh to explode where that temporary cavity was made, exposing bone and flesh, causing massive amounts of bleeding. According to Taylor, the bullet “tore away the flesh as large as my hand, dashing the mangled fragments of flesh and blood against the wall.” This massive chunk of flesh missing meant the ball didn’t lodge in his body; it carried the rest of its energy with the pieces of flesh and hip bone onto the wall above his head as he finished rolling under the bed.

As John Taylor absorbed these shots, the men pushing into the room probably thought they’d successfully killed Taylor after seeing the blood and bone splatter on the wall, but he wasn’t their primary target. Their target was running to the same window Taylor had fallen against before rolling under the bed. Joseph and Hyrum Smith were the men the militia were there to kill that day. Hyrum was motionless on the floor, and Jo was dashing for the window.

The mob took aim at the fleeing Joseph and fired. He immediately took a shot to center mass; the bullet entered somewhere in his back above his right hip and lodged somewhere in his torso, which buckled him over and hampered his ability to run. He got to the window and did the only thing he could think of, he lifted both arms to the square at either side of his head and shouted “O Lord, my god, is there no help for the widows son?” the Masonic distress call. Many of the men in the mob were Freemasons as were most of the leading politicians like Governor Ford. When Mormon loyalist Dan Jones told Governor Ford that Jo and Hyrum were Master Masons and required his protection before Jones himself was chased out of Carthage that morning, Jones was invoking the distress of the brotherhood in hopes Ford would take more seriously the threats to the lives of his fellow Master Masons. It was a threat. Jo did the same while dangling out the window and accounts differ as to what happened immediately after. Most accounts say he was fatally shot and fell lifeless out of the window, others say he jumped from the window and was executed, yet another account that’s disputed claims he was in the window for 3 to 4 minutes essentially bargaining with the men in the courtyard while the men in the room continued to keep their guns aimed at him.

Here’s the sequence of events as best as I can piece them together. After taking the first bullet, Jo went to the window and made the Masonic distress call. There was a momentary pause in the shooting as this was a very powerful invocation. The Masons in the mob now knew they were about to assassinate a fellow Mason and the non-Masons in the crowd knew they were about to take the life of a Master Mason, which might carry deadly consequences for them if they went through with it. The oaths of fealty sworn to by Masons are taken very seriously, especially at this time in frontier America. This brief pause forced everybody to think for a minute, all while Jo was bleeding from the gunshot wound to his back, possibly having some organ failure and tunnel-vision.

Levi Williams was in the crowd surrounded by his men in the courtyard while his men were in the room with their guns trained on the prophet sitting on the window sill crying out for mercy. He yelled “Shoot him! G-d d—n him! Shoot the dam’d rascal!” and his men inside the room responded appropriately. They fired again and another bullet struck true in Jo’s right side, causing him to recoil and fall out the window. This was a fall of 2 stories onto hard dirt. He fell head-first and hit the ground with his left shoulder and head making first contact and his feet hitting soon after. This fall likely broke his neck and caused brain damage, but it wasn’t actually fatal. The prophet lay face down in the dirt of the Carthage Jail courtyard, struggling for consciousness, one or two bullets lodged in his body. He tried to push himself up but was too crippled from the gunshots and fall to be able to move himself. Levi Williams, or some unidentified kid, dragged Joseph Smith, bleeding, dying, in excruciating pain, a few feet across the dirt to the center of the courtyard where they propped him up leaning against the bricks of a well.

As he was being dragged through the dust, the men who chased him out of the window to begin with quickly evacuated the jail in order to witness the lynching they were all taking part in. The jail emptied of the men who’d pushed through the door and as they ran down the stairs and into the courtyard, the 50-60 men of the Carthage Greys finally arrived at the jail, having run the quarter mile from their encampment, to find out what all the commotion was.

Levi Williams, and some men including Jacob Davis, and William Grover, gathered around the broken and dying Jo. At this point, I can only assume Jo was begging for his life as I doubt that at any time during the previous 3 minutes he’d accepted his fate. A group of men gathered around him and at least two of them pointed their rifles at his chest, pulled their triggers, and murdered him by sending two to four more bullets smashing through his torso and vital organs. “The fire was simultaneous. A slight cringe of the body was all the indication of pain that he betrayed when the balls struck him. He fell upon his face.” Given all his injuries from the previous few minutes, this was an act of mercy.

Kinda poetic, isn’t it? Joseph Smith started his magical journey by finding his famed brown seer stone while digging a well, he gave his most impactful and famed speech at the funeral of a man who died digging a well, and a well was the last conscious sensation he felt pressing against his back as he was gunned down by these men.

The upper apartment had been abandoned by the assailants who immediately clamored down the stairs to witness the lynching firsthand. As they emptied the room, Willard Richards ran to the window Jo fell out of and looked at the scene below him long enough to witness the men dragging Jo to the well for his execution. He assessed the situation and tried to find an escape, but no exit of the jail was unobserved by the enemies around the jail. Richards would be unable to escape, even though he was unharmed. He saw the motionless body of Hyrum with a puddle of blood beneath his head and neck, seeping through the floorboards to the kitchen below. He saw the splattered blood and bone fragments on the wall from John Taylor and probably assumed he was dead. He turned to leave the room in an attempt to find a hiding place, somewhere, anywhere. But, as he was about to step out of the door, he heard a weak cry from under the bed, “Stop, Doctor, and take me along”. Whether this voice was reassuring to hear, or distressing, we can’t imagine what was going through the mind of Willard Richards. Or the mind of the man who said those words, for that matter.

He turned around and looked under the bed. John Taylor was a mess. He was absolutely covered in blood, his left leg was bleeding profusely, his arm was unusable, the shattered bones of his left hip joint completely exposed to open air. Taylor didn’t see out the window what Richards had just witnessed, the execution of their supreme leader. He exclaimed to John Taylor, “Oh! Brother Taylor, is it possible that they have killed both Brother Hyrum and Joseph? It cannot surely be, and yet I saw them shoot them;”. He was an absolute wreck and he apparently said a little prayer “elevating his hands two or three times,... [saying] ‘Oh Lord, my God, spare Thy servants!’”.

Willard Richards was a Thomsonian herbal physician, not a surgeon. He’d never seen this level of carnage and pain his entire life, but he did what he could with what he had. John Taylor wasn’t in control of himself, he was probably in shock at this time with that characteristic thousand-yard stare, so it was all on Willard Richards to get both men to safety. Richards took an extreme risk in helping John Taylor. He said, “Brother Taylor, this is a terrible event[!]” while pulling him from underneath the bed. Richards was a big guy of over 300 pounds while Taylor was relatively small. Richards picked Taylor up and brought him to the adjacent room with the jail cells. Richards put Taylor in one of the cells, filled the wounds with straw while saying, “I am sorry I can not do better for you;” after which Richards grabbed a dirty old straw mattress and put it on top of John Taylor to hopefully conceal him from anybody entering the jail cells looking for the rest of the Mormons. Richards told John Taylor while concealing him, “That may hide you, and you may yet live to tell the tale, but I expect they will kill me in a few moments!” Taylor recounts, “While lying in this position, I suffered the most excruciating pain.”

After concealing John Taylor, Willard Richards ran back into the apartment and looked out the window again “to see if there were any signs of life, regardless of my own, determined to see the end of him I loved”. There was no sign of life, Joseph Smith was a corpse. He understood the reality of the situation and resigned himself to his likely fate of a similar execution. He returned to the jail cell where he concealed John Taylor and awaited the arrival of the mob back up the stairs.

Jo was dead and the mob knew that Hyrum had been hit, but they weren’t sure of it. They ran back up the stairs, surely causing Willard Richards to go into a panic, and they found Hyrum lying motionless on the floor with a bullet hole in his face and exit wound on the back of his neck. There was a pool of blood under his head and his right shoulder also had a considerable amount of blood. The men ran into the room and shot him 3 more times to ensure he was actually dead. These bullets entered his back, an arm, a leg, and his torso to the left of his naval. The shot which entered his back passed completely through his body and smashed his pocketwatch, completely destroying it. What is curious about these shots is Hyrum didn’t seem to bleed out of them at all. The shot which passed through his skull, out his jaw, into and out of his neck, it left a massive blood stain on his shirt that day, so much so that somebody cut a large chunk of the fabric out, possibly because it was so gruesome, possibly out of a sense of preserving the material which had the most amount of blood and flesh material on it. However, all these other holes in his clothes don’t contain any bloodstains nor any evidence that blood was ever washed from the areas. This can really only mean that Hyrum had completely bled out from his head and neck wound before these shots, which would mean he was dead for a few minutes before the men returned to the upper room and put these other bullets in him. This means Jo was in the windowsill and the courtyard for as long as 5-7 minutes before he was executed and the mob returned to Hyrum to make sure he was dead.

After these gratuitous bullets ripped through Hyrum’s corpse, a cry was heard outside from an unknown person “The Mormons are coming!” and the men immediately flew down the stairs and scattered in all directions from Carthage jail. Maybe it was Willard Richards who yelled it from the other room. In the space of about 5-7 minutes, from Frank Worrel shooting his blank rounds at Levi’s men to those men fleeing all directions from the jail out of fear of the Nauvoo Legion, the deed was done. A disputed account claims a young man attempted to decapitate Jo but a pillar of light scared him off, but the account is full of plenty of other details too ridiculous to believe and actually served to hinder the prosecution against the assailants the following year. That same account claims Willard Richards stood in the middle of the room and blocked the bullets with a magic wand like a Jedi; it’s pretty humorous. Jo’s body lay a broken shell with multiple bullet holes, possibly broken bones including his neck, slumped against the well in the courtyard of the jail. John Taylor’s wounds were beginning to coagulate as he lay in excruciating pain under the dirty old straw mattress; Willard Richards waited in the jail cell near the dying John Taylor; “I expected to be shot the next moment, and stood before the door awaiting the onset.” But, the men never came. The Nauvoo Legion never came. Brigadier-General Deming, who was personally appointed by Governor Ford to guard the jail, never came. Levi Williams who put this bloodbath into motion never came. Dan Jones, Stephen Markham, John Fullmer, Cyrus Wheelock, any Mormon loyalists never came. Willard Richards was all alone in that building with two dead friends and a third on his way in and out of consciousness.

All told, 35 bullets were found lodged in the plaster of the walls and ceiling of the room, Jo had at least 4 bullets in him, Hyrum had at least 4 bullets in him, a fifth if he used his single-shot pistol on himself which is entirely possible, John Taylor had 4, a gun went off in the kitchen as the men were pushing past George Stigall, the jailor, Jo fired 3 or 4 rounds from his pepperbox pistol smuggled in by Cyrus Wheelock, Hyrum discharged his bullet from his single shot pistol smuggled in by John S. Fullmer, an unknown number of bullets were fired up the stairway toward the jail door before the assailants realized the men were in the apartment instead of the jail, Frank Worrel and his boys in their feigned defense of the jail fired 4 blank rounds at the attackers, and then an unknown number of balls bounced off the stone of the building outside, leaving small dents. Best estimates place the number of shots fired in that short period between 75-100 rounds, although those estimates are understandably squishy.

As the mob fled, the citizens of Carthage only heard the report of gunfire at the jail and didn’t know what had happened. The Carthage Greys were packing up camp, Levi Williams’s men were scattering quickly; until the citizens came upon the jail there’s no telling what had happened. Understandably, many thought the Mormons had attacked to break their prophet out of jail, but when they got to the jail, that notion was quickly corrected. As the mob scattered they undoubtedly hollered out the prophet is dead, the damned rascal is shot, and all sorts of triumphant cries to anybody in earshot range.

This only meant one thing, and it’s exactly what everybody including Governor Thomas Ford believed when he departed for Nauvoo that morning, the Mormons may not be here in Carthage right now, but as soon as word made it to Nauvoo, they would be. The wrath of 3,500 religious zealots with nothing more to lose would descend on Carthage before daybreak; the city would be burned to the ground and the Mormons would salt the earth in their wake before moving on to Warsaw and doing the same. After 5 years of construction, the Mormon war machine was literally built for an occasion just like this, but could it run without a pilot fueled only by the pure rage of vengeance and retribution?

John Hay, “The Mormon Prophet’s Tragedy,” Atlantic Monthly (December 1869):

The moment the work was done, the calmness of horror succeeded the fever of fanatical rage. The assassins hurried away from the jail, and took the road to Warsaw in silence and haste. They went home at a killing pace over the wide dusty prairie. Warsaw is eighteen miles from Carthage; the Smiths were killed at half past five: at a quarter before eight the returning crowd began to drag their weary limbs through the main street of Warsaw, — at such an astounding rate of speed had the lash of their own thoughts driven them.

The town was instantly put in such attitude of defence as its limited means permitted. The women and children were ferried across the river to a village on the Missouri shore. The men kept guard night and day in the hazel thickets around the town. Everybody expected sudden and exemplary vengeance from the Mormons.

The wife of the captain of the Carthage Greys remembers the weeks leading up to and the instant terror after gunfire was heard throughout the town. Her husband, Robert F. Smith, was captain of the Greys who were tasked with guarding the city by Governor Ford. Deming oversaw the jail guard specifically, Robert F. Smith was captain of the Greys guarding the city. He was also the justice of the peace overseeing the legal hearings during this whole affair so he was understandably busy and possibly not the best guy to be captain over the Greys.

Mrs. Robert F. Smith, “A Short Sketch of the Trials of Mrs. R. F. Smith at the Killing of the Smiths, The Mormans Profphet,” holograph, SC 1434, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, Illinois. (Misspellings in title and numerous transpositions of letters and misspellings in narrative retained as in original.)

That day [June 27, 1844] I was unusually depressed and out of sorts. [I] had been living in almost constant dred terror of the Mormans for years and never knwen from day to day and hardly from one hour to another, what dreadfull catastrophe would happen and when the rumor reached me about half past two P.M. that a mob had collected on the prairie some a few miles out and were on the road to Carthage. Some thought they were Mormans comeing to liberate the Smiths from jail and and [sic] would destroy the town and every thing in it. My neighbors began to make preperations to leave their homes with their families and the part of town where I lived was soon entirely deserted but myself. . . . [My husband] had not been home a single night for two weeks. He with his men had been keeping gard of the town day and night all that time. . . . [She dressed and sent her six children to friends’ houses one block away and about an hour later she heard gunfire.] [I] was powerless to move for a minute or so. When I became conscious there was a Morman girl, who lived in the neighborhood, standing in the door. I was holding on to the bench of my chair and she was ringing her hands and saying ‘Oh my God! Mrs. Smith they are shooting the men down at the jail and throwing them out of the window. . . . All brought word of what terrible revenge the Mormans were going to take on the Carthage people for killing the Smiths. They were frightened and beleaved all the stories they heard.

Word of what happened immediately hit every ear in Carthage and every citizen began packing up and heading to Warsaw within the hour. Thomas L. Barnes was the coroner of Carthage and he immediately went to the jail to make his examination of the crime scene. He sent 2 letters to his daughter remembering the scene 50 years from when it happened. He describes the shootout and the situation in which he found each of the victims.

The attacing party forced the door open and commenced firing at Smith it is said they must have hit him an probably disabled him, as he stagered across the floor to the oposite side of the room where there was a window. It is said that there he gave the hailing sign of the distress of a Mason but that did him no good. In the room behind him was armed men, furious men, with murder in their hearts. Before him arround the well under the window there was a croud of desperate men, as he was receiving shots from behind which he could not stand, in despersation he leaped or rather fell out of the window near the well where he breathed his last. When I found him soon afterwards he was laying in the hall at the foot of the stairs where his blood had as I believe left indelible stain on the floor.

… Taylor was severely wounded Richards was not hurt. Shall I try to describe the wounds that Taylor received and got over them. Well let me tell you where we found him, I cannot impress your mind of his appearance as he appered to us when we wer called to him by the jailor. We found him in a pile of straw. It appeared that a straw bed had been emtied in the cell where he was when we found him. He was very much frightened as well as severly wounded. It took strong persuading of the jailor as well as our positive assuriance that we ment him no harm but Was desirous of doing him some good. He finally consented to come out of his cell… The wounds had bled quite freely, the blood had had time to coagulate which it had done, and where the clothes and straw came in contact they all adhered together so that Mr. Taylor came out his self sought cell he was a pitable looking sight. We took the best care of him we could till he left us. He got well but never paid us for skill or good wishes...

After we were through with Taylor I went to Richards and said to him Richards what does all this mean who done it. Said he, doctor I do not know, but I belive it was some Missourians that came over and have killed brothers Josef and Hyrum and wounded bro Taylor. Said I to him do you believe that, he said I do. Says I, will you write that down and send it to Nauvoo. He said he would if he could get any person to take it. I told him if he would write it I would send it. He wrote the note, I found the man that took it to Nauvoo.

With the help of Coroner Barnes, the Jailor, George Stigall, and the town’s hotel owner, Artois Hamilton, Willard Richards conveyed the Smith bodies and the bleeding John Taylor to Hamilton hotel just a few blocks away from the jail. Here they provided their examination and stopped John Taylor’s bleeding. It was important to get a message to Nauvoo. It was only a matter of time before word reached Nauvoo that Jo and Hyrum were dead, John Taylor probably dead as well and the whereabouts of Willard Richards being unknown. How the Mormons would respond was a question mark for everybody, even the Mormons themselves. If Richards could get word to the Mormon leadership before any other messenger, he may be able to prevent the counties from devolving into immediate civil war, which many dreamed about but nobody actually wanted. Complicating matters further, the leadership of the church was scattered all over the nation. The centralized hierarchy of Mormonism was separated by hundreds or thousands of miles and could do nothing to coordinate and handle the situation with any sense of deliberation or restraint. The people in Nauvoo who were high-ranking Mormon leaders, the men the Mormons would listen to, was scarce and the men of the Nauvoo Legion would be thirsty for blood of the men who killed their prophet and patriarch.

For all these reasons and so many terrifying unknowns, Carthage became a ghost town. Beyond that, Governor Ford was just wrapping up his public speech in Nauvoo telling the Mormons that if anything happens that would interfere with the prosecution of their leaders, the blame would be on their heads. A little more misbehavior and the whole state would burn Nauvoo to ash. For unknown reasons, while Governor Ford was giving his speech, a tension, a feeling of unease, plagued the Mormon community. Samuel Smith, Jo’s youngest surviving brother, rode out from Nauvoo headed for Carthage just a little ahead of Governor Ford and his detail. After nearly 3 hours of moving the bodies, examining them, and stabilizing John Taylor, Willard Richards sat down to pen this note addressed to Governor Ford, Gen. Johnathan Dunham head of the Nauvoo Legion, Col. Stephen Markham who’d been chased out of Carthage that morning, and Emma Smith, Jo’s first wife.

Joseph and Hyrum are dead. Taylor wounded, not very badly. I am well. Our guard was forced, as we believe, by a band of Missourians from 1 to 200. The job was done in an instant, and the party fled towards Nauvoo instantly. This is as I believe it. The citizens here are afraid of the mormons attacking them; I promise them No!

W. RICHARDS

N.B. The citizens promise us protection; alarm guns have been fired.

JOHN TAYLOR

This letter was handed to the coroner, Thomas Barnes, who gave it to his brothers, William and John, who were understandably afraid to go to Nauvoo bearing such news, believing the Mormons would kill the messengers and return to murder their families in Carthage. Those guys instead took the letter to an Arza Adams a few miles north of Carthage who agreed to carry it with the help of a Benjamin Leyland, who knew the roads and could avoid any troops on the road between Nauvoo and Carthage, be they Mormons or mobocrats.

They set out for Nauvoo around 9 p.m., but 2 men carrying the news without Willard Richards’s warning to not attack Carthage were already on their way to Nauvoo to spread the word. Governor Ford had left Nauvoo around 6 p.m. and was headed with his detail toward Carthage, suspecting an attack might be made. He left one of his boys, a Captain Singleton, in Nauvoo to control the Nauvoo Legion. He met these two messengers on the road headed to Nauvoo, George D. Grant, a Mormon, and David Bettisworth, the Carthage constable who had the arrest warrants for Jo and the 17 other men who burned the Expositor printing press which led to this whole affair to begin with. These messengers bearing the bad news were only a couple miles outside Nauvoo when they were intercepted by Governor Ford and his men.

Ford:

A short time before sundown we departed on our return to Carthage. When we had proceeded two miles we met two individuals, one of them a Mormon, who informed us that the Smiths had been assassinated in jail, about five or six o’clock of that day. The intelligence seemed to strike every one with a kind of dumbness. As to myself, it was perfectly astounding; and I anticipated the very worst consequences from it. The Mormons had been represented to me as a lawless, infatuated, and fanatical people, not governed by the ordinary motives which influence the rest of mankind. If so, most likely an exterminating war would ensue, and the whole land would be covered with desolation.

Acting upon this supposition, it was my duty to provide as well as I could for the event. I therefore ordered the two messengers into custody, and to be returned with us to Carthage. This was done to get time to make such arragements[sic] as could be made, and to prevent any sudden explosion of Mormon excitement before they could be written to by their friends at Carthage. I also despatched messengers to Warsaw, to advise the citizens of the event. But the people there knew all about the matter before my messengers arrived. They, like myself, anticipated a general attack all over the country. The women and children were removed across the river; and a committee was despatched that night to Quincy for assistance.

Governor Ford was now in complete damage control mode. For the moment, Hancock County was a contained oil fire, now he just needed to keep it from spreading for the fires to actually catch and send the whole state into war. Ford took the messengers into custody to bring them back to Carthage with him; the longer he could keep the news from the Mormons the more time he had to evacuate Carthage and take control of the situation to suffocate the flames. Governor Ford and his men immediately went to Hamilton’s hotel where the bodies and John Taylor lay under the care of Coroner Barnes and Willard Richards.

They arrived around 10 p.m., where Governor Ford was able to get the story straight from the Coroner and Willard Richards himself. Jo’s younger brother, Samuel Smith, had arrived at the hotel to see his dead older brothers just ahead of the Governor and his men. Ford asked Richards and Samuel Smith to pen an addendum to the message Richards sent earlier with Arza Adams and Benjamin Leyland, in hopes the second message would reassure the Mormons that an attack on Carthage was a terrible idea.

To Mrs. Emma Smith, and Maj. Gen. Dunham &c.:--

The Governor has just arrived; says all things shall be inquired into, and all right measures taken.

I say to all the citizens of Nauvoo, my brethren, be still; and know that God reigns. Don’t rush out of the city--don’t rush to Carthage; stay at home, and be prepared for an attack from Missouri mobbers. The Governor will render every assistance possible--has sent out order for troops. Joseph and Hyrum are dead, but not by the Carthage people--the guards were true as I believe. We will prepare to move the bodies as soon as possible.

The people of the country are greatly excited, and fear the Mormons will come out and take vengeance. I have pledged my word the Mormons will stay at home as soon as they can be informed, and no violence will be on their part, and say to my brethren in Nauvoo, in the name of the Lord--be still--be patient; only let such friends as choose come here to see the bodies. Mr. Taylor’s wounds are dressed, and not serious. I am sound.

WILLARD RICHARDS,

JOHN TAYLOR,

SAMUEL H. SMITH

Defend yourselves until protection can be furnished necessary. June 27th, 1844.

THOMAS FORD

Governor and Commander-in-Chief.

Governor Ford now had the unenviable task of keeping the peace, learning the facts, and commanding militias all over the state who’d already committed mutiny or held only the words of their dead supreme leader as the law. Governor Ford credits this letter we just read as being the only thing that kept the Mormons from marching out and destroying Carthage and Warsaw that very night.

Here also I found Dr. Richards and John Taylor, two of the principal Mormon leaders, who had been in the jail at the time of the attack, and who voluntarily addressed a most pacific exhortation to their fellow-citizens, which was the first intelligence of the murder which was received at Nauvoo. I think it very probable that the subsequent good conduct of the Mormons is attributable to the arrest of the messengers, and to the influence of this letter.

Governor Ford released the messengers he’d taken into custody a few miles outside Nauvoo and Mormon George D. Grant immediately departed Carthage at a gallop carrying this letter Ford credits with keeping a lid on the state from exploding into civil war. He came within 2 miles of Nauvoo at the same time another person in Nauvoo was acting on suspicions of foul play. Orrin Pistol Packin’ Porter Rockwell had been uneasy about Governor Ford’s speech that evening and was unable to sleep. He decided to go to Carthage that night, set to arrive sometime before daybreak of June 28th. However, as Porter was about a mile and a half outside of Nauvoo on the road to Carthage, he ran into George D. Grant, carrying the message penned by Richards, Samuel Smith, Taylor, and Governor Ford. George Grant told Pistol Packin’ Port what he knew, that Porter’s childhood friends from Palmyra and men he’d sworn absolute fealty to protect, were dead. “Who was in charge of the troops?” Porter asked Grant. “Worrell. Frank Worrell” Grant replied breathlessly.

The name of Frank Worrel would forever be burned into the mind of Porter Rockwell. After the conversation, Pistol Packin’ Porter wheeled his horse around and sprinted for Nauvoo. George Grant’s horse was exhausted from the gallop from Carthage, Porter’s horse was still fresh. It was about 3 to 4 in the morning and Porter reached the outskirts of Nauvoo, shouting at the top of his lungs. “Joseph is killed--they have killed him! Goddamn them! They have killed him!” Still a few hours before daybreak, Mormons slowly roused at the panicked shrieks from Port and the thunderous pound of hooves as he canvassed every street in town to raise the alarm. This is Porter Rockwell’s famous ride through Nauvoo, waking thousands of people from their slumber at 3 in the morning with the cry that they’ve killed the prophet, the name Frank Worrel etched into the folds of his consciousness.

Governor Ford had done enough to gain the trust of the Mormons through this whole affair. With the letter telling the Mormons to rest easy and let the Governor handle it cosigned by the Governor himself, Jo’s younger brother Samuel, and the two survivors of the attack, the intelligence spread through the Mormon community, causing a sense of uneasiness coupled with the turmoil and despair of losing Jo and Hyrum. Many simply didn’t believe it, others thought Governor Ford was responsible, others were gearing up for an assault on Carthage in spite of the orders. Nauvoo was utter chaos. Governor Ford understood the mob made the attack exactly when he was in Nauvoo with the hopes the Mormons would blame him and kill him on the spot.

As for myself, I was well convinced that those, whoever they were, who assassinated the Smiths, meditated in turn my assassination by the Mormons. The very circumstances of the case fully corroborated the information which I afterwards received, that upon consultation of the assassins it was agreed amongst them that the murder must be committed whilst the governor was at Nauvoo; that the Mormons would naturally supposed that he had planned it; and that in the first outpouring of their indignation, they would assassinate him, by way of retaliation. And that thus they would get clear of the Smiths and the governor, all at once. They also supposed, that if they could so contrive the matter as to have the governor of the State assassinated by the Mormons, the public excitement would be greatly increased against that people, and would result in their expulsion from the State at least.

It was the plan all along. Murder Jo and Hyrum while Governor Ford was in Carthage, send a messenger to Nauvoo before Ford left with knowledge of the murders, the Mormons would retaliate by murdering Governor Ford like they’d done with Governor Boggs, and then the anti-Mormons would point to Ford’s assassination and use it as a rally cry against the Mormons to drive them out of Illinois. The Mormons existed in a state of confusion and mourning, but the anti-Mormons in Carthage and Warsaw sought to capitalize on the public confusion by weaving their own narrative. Notably, within 5 hours of the gunfight in the jail, Carthage was almost completely a ghost town and all the people fled to Warsaw or were ferried across the Mississippi from Warsaw to Missouri, as Missouri would provide complete and absolute protection against the Mormons.

Thomas Sharp, who may have been part of the attack or may not have been, the evidence is inconclusive, printed his version of the events in an extra of the Warsaw Signal the night of the gunfight, which was immediately circulated beginning around 9-10 that same night. The anti-Mormons began controlling the narrative using propaganda within hours of the event happening, claiming it started by a Mormon trying to break the prisoners out. Remember, it was the Warsaw Signal and Thomas Sharp’s own words which had initially called on the citizens to exterminate the Mormons; that was the endgame here. The Governor of Illinois was merely a sacrificial pawn in this game if all went according to the plan of Thomas Sharp and Levi Williams.

EXTRA

Joe and Hiram Smith are dead -- shot this afternoon. An attack from the Mormons is expected every hour. Will not the surrounding counties rush instantly to our rescue?

Warsaw, June 27, 1844.

It seems that the circumstances attending the killing of the Mormon Prophet and his brother Hiram are as follows: On yesterday, Gov. Ford left Carthage with about one hundred and twenty soldiers, for the purpose of taking possession of the "Nauvoo Legion," and their arms. They arrived at Nauvoo about noon, and called for the assembling of the Legion and their arms. -- They arrived at Nauvoo about noon and called for the assembling of the Legion. About 2000 men with arms immediately responded to the call. These troops were put under command of Col. Singleton of the Brown county, who accompanied Gov. Ford to Nauvoo.

The Governor finding all quiet left Nauvoo about 5 o'clock P. M., with a company of 60 men for the purpose of encamping about seven miles from the city.

At about the same time that Gov. Ford left Nauvoo, the Prophet and his brother were killed at Carthage, under the following circumstances, as near as we can ascertain them: --

Joe and Hiram are both confined in the debtors room of the Carthage jail, awaiting their trial on a charge of treason. The jail was strongly guarded by soldiers and anti-Mormons who had been placed there by the Governor.

A Mormon attempted to rush by the guards for the purpose of forcing his way in the jail. He was opposed by the guard, and fired a pistol at one of the guards, giving him a slight wound.

A general confusion ensued in the crowd around the jail. Joe and his fellow Mormon prisoners, it seems, had provided themselves with pistols, and commenced firing upon the guards within. He then attempted to escape by the window, when a hundred balls entered his body, and he fell [a] lifeless corpse.

His brother Hiram shared the same fate. Richards, a leading Mormon, was badly wounded. There our intelligence ends -- what took place after this, God only knows. Mormons immediately left for Nauvoo, to carry news of the death of the Prophet. It is feared that the Mormons at Nauvoo will be so exasperated as to exterminate the Governor and his small force.

The Boreas brought down most of the women and children from Warsaw [Carthage] . It is feared their town is in ashes before this.

Our citizens were aroused this morning by the ringing of bells and a call to arms. Our three independent companies are already in marching order. Maj. Flood has ordered out the militia of the regiment, and the steamer Boreas is waiting to convey them to the scene of action.

There is no knowing where this dreadful affair will end. Many have expressed fears that our city is in danger, because most of the Warsaw [Carthage] families have taken refuge here -- but we believe there is no danger, we are too far from the scene of action.

Messengers have just left for Hannibal and the towns below for the purpose of arousing the Missourians. The excitement in our city is intense and the anxiety to hear the fate of Gov. Ford and his men are very great.

And just like that, the beginning of the propaganda was kicked into motion. It became the cry of the anti-Mormons that Mormons stormed the jail to break out the prisoners and the prisoners were killed to prevent their escape. There is absolutely no evidence for this and the person writing the article, Thomas Sharp, knew it was a lie when he printed it. Governor Ford reflects on this time with a great deal of wisdom and calculation as he attempted to balance mutually opposed interests of the Mormons and anti-Mormons.

[The citizens of Warsaw], like myself, anticipated a general attack all over the country. The women and children were removed across the river; and a committee was despatched that night to Quincy for assistance. The next morning by daylight the ringing of the bells in the city of Quincy, announced a public meeting. The people assembled in great numbers at an early hour. The Warsaw committee stated to the meeting that a party of Mormons had attempted to rescue the Smiths out of jail; that a party of Missourians and others, had killed the prisoners to prevent their escape; that the governor and his party were at Nauvoo at the time when intelligence of the fact was brought there; that they had been attacked by the Nauvoo legion, and had retreated to a house where they were then closely besieged. That the governor had sent out word that he could maintain his position for two days, and would be certain to be massacred if assistance did not arrive by the end of that time. It is unnecessary to say that this entire story was a fabrication. It was of a piece with the other reports put into circulation by the anti-Mormon party, to influence the public mind and call the people to their assistance. The effect of it, however, was that by ten o’clock on the 28th of June, between two and three hundred men from Quincy, under the command of Major Flood, embarked on board of a steamboat for Nauvoo, to assist in raising the siege, as they honestly believed…

Upon hearing of the assassination of the Smiths, I was sensible that my command was at an end; that my destruction was meditated as well as that of the Mormons; and that I could not reasonably confide longer in the one party or in the other.

The question then arose, what would be proper to be done. A war was expected by everybody. I was desirous of preserving the peace. I could not put myself at the head of the Mormon force with any kind of propriety, and without exciting greater odium against them than already existed. I could not put myself at the head of the anti-Mormon party, because they had justly forfeited my confidence, and my command over them was put an end to by mutiny and treachery. I could not put myself at the head of either of these forces, because both of them in turn had violated the law; and, as I then believed, meditated further aggression. It appeared to me that if a war ensued, I ought to have a force in which I could confide, and that I ought to establish my head-quarters at a place where I could learn the truth as to what was going on.

Governor Ford resolved Quincy would be the location he’d post up to try and keep the tensions from exploding from that point. He arrived in Quincy the morning of the 29th of June, the day which was on the docket book to hold the hearing for the Smith brothers on charges of riot and treason. Ford also notes that even though the Smith brothers were dead “It appeared that the anti-Mormon party had not relinquished their hostility to the Mormons, nor their determination to expel them,” but he also notes that the time of year bought him a little bit of time to get things in order. “But [the anti-Mormons] had deferred further operations until the fall season, after they had finished their summer’s work on their farms.”

As Governor Ford was organizing his men for the trip to Quincy, Willard Richards commissioned Artois Hamilton, the owner of the hotel where the bodies had been taken and Richards was helping Taylor recover, to build 2 pine boxes for the bodies. They were completed by 7 the morning of June 28th. It was a sleepless night for everybody involved except probably John Taylor who Doctor Richards undoubtedly gave something to put him to sleep. With the help of Artois Hamilton and the younger Smith brother, Samuel, Willard Richards placed the bodies of Hyrum and Joseph in the pine boxes, placed them in two wagons, and left Carthage for Nauvoo “about 8 a.m.”. General Deming, who’d been tasked by the Governor to oversee the jail guard operations and fled when Levi Williams’s troops entered the city, gave the men a detachment of 8 armed soldiers to escort the bodies to Nauvoo, which they covered with tree branches to protect them from the sun.

The Nauvoo city marshal, John P. Greene, organized the procession to receive the bodies. The wagons and escort arrived in Nauvoo about 3 p.m. where, “several thousands of the citizens were there, amid the most solemn lamentations and wailings that ever ascended into the ears of the Lord of Hosts, to be avenged of their enemies.”

As the thousands of people received the procession, “Dr. Richards admonished the people to keep the peace, stating that he had pledged his honor and his life for their good conduct, when the people with one united voice resolved to trust to the law for a remedy of such a high-handed assassination, and when that failed, to call upon God to avenge them of their wrongs.

O! Americans, weep, for the glory of freedom has departed.”

The bodies were taken to the Nauvoo Mansion, where Dimick B. Huntington, William Brutus Marks, and William D. Huntington, washed and examined the bodies. They noted “Joseph was shot in the right breast, also under the heart, in the lower part of his bowels on the right side, and on the big wrinkle on the back part of his right hip. One ball had come out at the right shoulder-blade.” During this time, George Cannon made a plaster cast of the faces of Hyrum and Jo, from which he would make two copies of their death masks. The bullet wound to Hyrum’s face above his left nostril can be seen as a blemish on his death mask today in the church history museum.

The Governor does spend a bit of time commenting on the immense pressures surrounding his handling of the situation, pressures which extended far beyond the Mormon and anti-Mormons into the national political sphere.

I had scarcely arrived at the scene of action before the whig press commenced the most violent abuse, and attributed to me the basest motives. It was alleged in the Sangamon Journal, and repeated in the other whig newspapers, that the governor had merely gone over to cement an alliance with the Mormons; that the leaders would not be brought to punishment, but that a full privilege would be accorded to them to commit crimes of every hue and grade, in return for their support of the democratic party. I mention this, not by way of complaint, for it is only the privilege of the minority to complain, but for its influence upon the people.

I observed that I was narrowly watched in all my proceedings by my whig fellow-citizens, and was suspected of an intention to favor the Mormons. I felt that I did not possess the confidence of the men I commanded, and that they had been induced to withhold it by the promulgation of the most abominable falsehoods. I felt the necessity of possessing their confidence, in order to give vigor to my action; and exerted myself in every way to obtain it, so that I could control the excited multitude who were under my command. I succeeded better for a time than could have been expected; but who can control the action of a mob without possessing their entire confidence? It is true, also, that some unprincipled democrats all the time appeared to be very busy on the side of the Mormons, and this circumstance was well calculated to increase suspicious of every one who had the name of democrat.

There were so many motives, political and otherwise, that Governor Ford had to balance here, and his group of trusted militia commanders constantly shrunk around him as the situation escalated. He bore the blame in the mind of every Mormon for the deaths of Jo and Hyrum when I can barely see an error in his decision-making. He bore the blame from the non-Mormons for being too cozy with the Mormons. He was blamed by his whig political opponents for trying to curry votes and blamed by the democrats for sullying their name… They were the slaveholders at the time and they were like, hey, Tommy Ford, you’re giving us a bad rap. Maybe he shouldn’t have left Carthage for Nauvoo that morning, but he needed to meet with the Mormons and convey to them the seriousness of the situation, which he couldn’t do with the force of his own voice through emissaries. He catches the blame for both his actions and for perceived inactions and I don’t think it’s fair.

Similarly, Thomas Sharp catches a lot of blame for what the fire he constantly spewed through the Warsaw Signal. I don’t think that’s totally fair either because his articles about the Mormons were reactionary, not proactive. He published in response to what was done by the Mormons or intel he received that the Mormons didn’t want the rest of the world to know. And to be even more fair to Sharp, Jo constantly attacked him and the Warsaw Signal as lies and fake news through the Mormon propaganda outlets. The best Sharp could do was retaliate with more print about the Mormons. Maybe that fueled the Mormon persecution complex because he was basically platforming them, but would it have been better for him to completely ignore the dangerous ideas and motivations of the Mormon theocracy? That’s a prescient discussion which transcends any individual examples of despotism or populism. The Federalist Papers discussed populism extensively because it's far from a modern phenomena.

Some want to blame the Missourians because the public mind about the Mormons was so deeply shaped and warped by what happened there that many believe it was the same mobocratic spirit that carried from Missouri into Illinois that spurned all the anti-Mormon rhetoric and publications that eventually led to the Carthage gunfight. That’s a fair point to make in the abstract but it’s rendered meaningless when viewed in the larger context. The reason the anti-Mormon sentiment was similar in Missouri and Illinois is because the Mormons were doing the same lawless and theocratic stuff in both states, which brings me to the final focus here; Joseph Smith.

Most of the people who learn the story of Carthage see Jo as the victim; a persecuted religious leader attempting to bring the light and knowledge of the one true gospel to the world, who was removed at the time the lord saw fit for his greater plan of restoring the ancient church to the world which was lost through the great apostasy. Yeah religious persecution is certainly a component to what happened, but it was such an ancillary issue when compared with everything else Joseph Smith did to absolutely and unequivocally deserve the public castigation. The real tragedy here is that he brought thousands of people along that journey of persecution, pain, anguish, turmoil, abuse, disease, and bloodshed. His followers were his victims, but such is the plight of those who attach their identity to an unapologetic monster, a populist tyrant like Joseph Smith. He was a wolf in wolves clothing that caused the suffering of thousands of people for the sole purpose of personal aggrandizement.

People want to blame ThomASS Sharp, Governor Ford, Levi Williams, Frank Worrel, or Governor Lilburn Boggs for what happened in Carthage, but every person trying to do so is wrong. They’re not just wrong, they’re deluded to believe they’re right and nothing will change that belief. Religion poisons everything and if Jo wasn’t a religious leader he’d live in infamy as a militant demagogue, a tyrant who was assassinated while running for President of the United States. But, because he’s not just a tyrant, but the first prophet of this dispensation, who translated unknown texts into scripture, revealed plain and precious doctrines of the nature of god and the universe, created the one true religion, nay, the last religion this world will ever need before the second coming of the savior, he gets a free pass on theft, plaigiarism, murder, adultery, violating his own commandments, forming assassin squads or secret combinations if you will, committing treason, murder, burning entire villages to the ground during campaigns of pillaging, and raping children. He’s not guilty of any of those crimes, he simply operates by the law of the lord, not the law of the land. He’s the worst kind of tyrant, the religious kind. But, I suppose, rarely are tyrants completely absent a religious component.

The simple fact is, if Jo’s legacy were attached to somebody who wasn’t a religious leader, he’d be overwhelmingly condemned by any human being with a modicum of humanistic morality. While we’re casting blame around the room for Jo’s death, how about we put it where it belongs, on the man himself. He was clearly the problem. He was the agitator. He was the reason for all the perceived persecution; all the pain and suffering experienced by thousands of people, now tens of millions; all of that happened because of his own actions and desires. The great Mormon war machine he’d built for nearly a decade and a half was suddenly left without a pilot. Thousands of people were left directionless and at the mercy of a tiny cabal of self-righteous professed holy men to use as trading cards for the next Mormon exodus. It’s all a game, it was from the beginning as much as it is today, and we all got played just like the Nauvoo Mormons.

A final point to deal with. A lot of people want to put the blame for this on Bloody Brigham Young. Let’s deal with this pervasive little coup d'etat conspiracy theory quickly. No. He was 1,200 miles away holding a conference. For him to have any hand in what happened, he’d have to be responsible to some extent for the Nauvoo Expositor, for the city council meeting which resolved to destroy the expositor, the riots that followed, the arrest warrants filed by the circuit judge in Carthage, and everything that followed it. He’d also need to have instantaneous communication with Governor Ford, Colonel Levi Williams, Thomas Sharp, Stephen Markham, and Frank Worrel, which wouldn’t exist for a couple more decades. Coordinating messages that far took weeks; the dude didn’t even know the Expositor was published when he received the news Jo and Hyrum were dead 2 weeks after it happened. That’s how long it took for news to spread across the nation. Oh, maybe he wasn’t actually in Boston and that was all a rouse! He was meeting people out there and was organizing a general conference to be held in early July. There are journal entries from the people with whom he was meeting, other members of the Quorum of Apostles. Look, it’s not impossible like the Book of Mormon or Abraham being what Jo claimed them to be, but it’s exceptionally unlikely so let’s cut that crap out. There’s plenty about Bloody Brigham worth hating without him being responsible for Jo’s death. He doesn’t have his nickname because your host Bryce Blankenagel likes alliteration.

The question then remains, how does this resolve? How do you prosecute a vigilante mob for issuing the death penalty to a person who deserved it, when that execution was affected without the sanction of a court? Who bears responsibility? What is the punishment for vigilantism? A more foundational question precedes those; how do we bring a tyrant to justice when he’s proven himself legally untouchable? How do you break the iron grip of populism when all it does is cause harm to unwitting victims who work tirelessly to advance it? Once a movement reaches critical mass, how do you fracture the bad ideas which underpin it?

By virtue of my existence and millions of former Mormons since the church began, those questions obviously remain unanswered, but they’re dire and perfectly timeless questions to ponder… or skepticize, if you will.

Every major biography of Joseph Smith ends here. The bodies are brought back to Nauvoo, the assailants were all acquitted, and the concluding chapter brings to a close the life and legacy of the inimitable Joseph Smith by waxing poetic about how awesome the gospel is interjecting or pithy lines about how horrible a guy he was. Yes, Jo is now dead in our nearly 6-year historical timeline, and good riddance, fuck that guy cuz he fucked everybody. But, I can’t help but have complicated thoughts on this. Buuuuut, that’ll have to wait until next week because we have to talk about all the vast and multi-faceted consequences of what happened the day Jo and Hyrum died. For the past 2 months I’ve also been collecting accounts from a number of people connected with all of it because it’s important to see how those people felt and reacted to this event. Needless to say, it’s incredibly disappointing to learn how complicated the story really is and compare it to the 15-minute tour you get when going through the jail, or the family home evening lesson on the martyrdom. There are real lessons to take from all of this that make us question society and the way we humans deal with marginalized people, lawlessness and tyranny, oppression and persecution, policing and warfare, law and disorder. That’s all for next week when we bury Jo and prosecute those responsible. I hope to talk at ya next time, here on the NMPC.

Sources

Jail description

Thomas L. Barnes, letters to Miranda Haskett, Ukiah, California, November 1-9, 1897

The under sheriff and jailer lived in the jail. The jail was a two story stone house. The lower story and part of the upper story was occupied by the jailor and his family. The jail proper was in the north end of the building up stairs, divided off into cells. The front room up stairs was a kind of a family room. At the head of the stairs there was two doors, one entering into the family room and the other entering into the jail proper.

William R. Hamilton served in the Carthage Greys in 1844. His letter to Foster Walker, describing the Smiths' murders in Carthage, was published in Foster Walker's "The Mormons in Hancock County," Dallas City Review (January 29, 1903, p.2).

The room in which they were is about 16 x 16 feet and had one window in the east side, two in the front or south end, and the door opening from the hall, just at the top of the stairs almost directly opposite the east side window out of which Smith fell. There was a bedstead in the south­east corner of the room, under which Taylor was after the shooting was over. The door opened in such a manner that when forced open it formed a recess in the corner, so that a person there was hid from sight. Richard's position bought [sic] him into the corner.

Franklin Worrel guarding jail

John Hay, “The Mormon Prophet’s Tragedy,” Atlantic Monthly (December 1869):

While Worrell, little thinking of his tombstone, was struggling with his friendly assailants, as many as the narrow entry would hold had rushed into the open door and up the cramped little stairs. Smith and his brother had been that day removed from their cells and given comparative liberty in a large airy room on the first floor above...

This jolly, good-natured Worrell was himself murdered by Mormon assassins not long after. He was riding with a friend. A shot was heard from a thicket. "That was a rifle!" said the friend. "Yes, and I 've got it," said Worrell, coolly. He fell from his horse and died. I have seen, as a child, his grave at Warsaw. A rude wooden head-board, bearing this legend, "He who is without enemies is unworthy of friends," — not very orthodox, but perhaps as true as most epitaphs.

Thomas Sharp, Levi Williams, and company join with Carthage Greys

William Daniels, Nauvoo Neighbor (May 7 and May 14, 1845 issues).

Thomas C. Sharp mounted his “big bay horse,” and made an inflammatory speech to the companies, characteristic of his corrupt heart. The following is a short extract, as near as my memory will serve me:

“FRIENDS AND FELLOW-CITIZENS! The crisis has arrived when it becomes our duty to rise, as freemen, and assert our rights. The law is insufficient for us; the governor will not enforce it; we must take it into our hands; we know what wrongs we suffer, and we are the best calculated to redress them. Now is the time to put a period to the mad career of the Prophet; sustained as he is by a band of fanatical military saints! We have borne his usurpations until it would be cowardice to bear them longer! My Fellow citizens! Improve the opportunity that offers; lest the opportunity pass, and the despotic Prophet will never again be in your power. All things are understood, we must hasten to Carthage and murder the Smiths, while the governor is absent at Nauvoo. Beard the lions in their den. The news will reach Nauvoo before the governor leaves. This will so enrage the “Mormons,” that they will fall upon and murder Tom Ford, and we shall then be rid of the d—-d little governor and the ‘Mormons’ too.” (Cheers.)

After we had arrived within nearly six miles of Carthage, they made a halt. Col. Williams rode three or four times backwards and forwards from the company to the Carthage Greys. He said he would have the Carthage Greys come and meet them. They marched within four miles of Carthage, when they were met by one of the Greys, bringing a note to the following import:

“Now is a delightful time to murder the Smiths. The governor has gone to Nauvoo with all the troops. The Carthage Greys are left to guard the prisoners. Five of our men will be stationed at the jail; the rest will be upon the public square. To keep up appearances, you will attack the men at the jail—a sham scuffle will ensue—their guns will be loaded with blank cartridges—they will fire in the air.”

They were also instructed by the person bearing this dispatch, to fire three guns as they advanced along the fence that led from the woods to the jail. This was to serve as a signal to the Carthage Greys that they were in readiness.

Thomas L. Barnes, letters to Miranda Haskett, Ukiah, California, November 1-9, 1897

We saw going on that road quite a company going hurriedly in the direction (of) Carthage. It was not long till we could see quite a number on the same road going toward Warsaw. We then went back to Carthage to report and what did we find. Such a sight as I hope never to see again.

When we saw that company going to and from Carthage my suspicions was arroused that all was not right.

William R. Hamilton served in the Carthage Greys in 1844. His letter to Foster Walker, describing the Smiths' murders in Carthage, was published in Foster Walker's "The Mormons in Hancock County," Dallas City Review (January 29, 1903, p.2).

About 11 o'clock A.M., myself and another young man were ordered by the captain to go on top of the court house and keep a sharp lookout for and see if a body of men were approaching the town from any direction; and, if any were seen, to immediately report to the captain personally, at his quarters. We had a large field glass and could clearly see in every direction save due north for several miles. We were espe­cially ordered to keep a strict outlook over the prairies towards Nauvoo. Nothing suspicious was discovered until about 4 P.M. when we saw a body of armed men in wagons and on horses approaching the low timber, a little north of west from the jail, and about two miles distant. This was at once reported to the captain, when we were ordered to keep a strict watch and at once report if they came through the timber. In about a half hour after, a body of armed men- about 125- came out of the woods on foot and started in a single file, behind an old rail fence, in the direction of the jail. They were then about three-fourths of a mile distant. This we at once attempted to report, but could not find the captain; and (not being "muz­zled," as soldiers of late date) told another officer, who after considerable delay found the captain who ordered the company to fall into line. By this time the mob had reached the jail and had commenced shooting. I there forgot all about orders to put on accoutrements and fall into line; but immediately started on dou­ble quick for the jail.

Feigned attack on jail

John S. Fullmer

And, as might have been expected, a little after five o'clock in the evening, at the very time that his Excellency was insulting the peaceable citizens of Nauvoo, a body of about one hundred and fifty armed men, with painted faces, appeared before the jail, unobserved by the inmates, and without opposition from any quarter. The guard at the door, it is said, elevated their firelocks at the approach of these men in disguise, and, boisterously threatening them, discharged them over their heads.

John Hay, “The Mormon Prophet’s Tragedy,” Atlantic Monthly (December 1869):

The jail where the Smiths were confined is situated at the extreme northwestern edge of the dismal village, at the end of a long, ill-kept street whose middle is a dusty road and whose sides are gay with stramonium and dog-fennel. As the avengers came in sight of the mean-looking building that held their prey, the sleeping tiger that lurks in every human heart sprang up in theirs, and they quickened their pace to a run. There was no need of orders, — no possibility of checking them now. The guards were hustled away from the door, good-naturedly resisting until they were carefully disarmed.

William Daniels, Nauvoo Neighbor (May 7 and May 14, 1845 issues).

Col. Williams shouted out, “Rush in!—there’s no danger boys—all is right!”

A sham encounter ensued between them and the guard. They clinched each other, and the mob threw some of them upon the ground. A few guns were fired in the air.

A rush was made in the door, at the south part of the building. This let them into a hall, or entry, from which they ascended a flight of stairs, at the head of which, turning to the right; they reached the door that led into the prisoners’ room.

Gunshots

Mob storms jail

[Carthage coroner] Thomas L. Barnes, letters to Miranda Haskett, Ukiah, California, November 1-9, 1897.

Well after the brave guards had fired their blank carheridge on the mob as I was taken prisoners, the mob rushed up stairs to where the Smiths Taylor and Richards were enjoying themselves. Some said they were sipping their wine whether that is true or not I do not know. At any rate they were comfortably situated, and they had a right to suppose safely protected by the laws of the great state of Illinois.

John S. Fullmer

The crowd by this time had encircled the building: some shoved the guard from their post; rushed up the flight of stairs to the prisoners' apartment, which for that day was in an upper open room; broke open the door, and began the work of death, while others fired in through the open windows.

First shot through lock

[Carthage coroner] Thomas L. Barnes, letters to Miranda Haskett, Ukiah, California, November 1-9, 1897.

When the false guard had made their hypocritical assault on the other part of the mob (I look upon them as being equally guilty as those that came from Warsaw.) They the attacking party rushed up stairs with murder in their hearts to where the accused were tryed to break open the door which it appears was held shut by all four of the men when the mob commenced firing heir loaded arms through the door.

Second shot hits Hyrum in face

[Carthage coroner] Thomas L. Barnes, letters to Miranda Haskett, Ukiah, California, November 1-9, 1897.

It appears that one of the balls in the commencement of the attac pased through a panel of the door and hit Hyrum in his neck which probably broke his neck he fell back and died, as I was informed instantly. When I went into the room shortly afterwards his head was laying against the wall on the other sid from the door.

John S. Fullmer

The first shot, however, that was made, was through the door, before it was opened, at their first approach; this was the fatal ball that killed Hyrum. It pierced his face a little below the eye. As he fell he exclaimed, "I am a dead man, " These were his only and last words. He was afterwards, while down, pierced with a number of other balls in various parts of his body.

William Daniels, Nauvoo Neighbor (May 7 and May 14, 1845 issues).

Hyrum stood near the center of the room, in front of the door. The mob fired a ball through the panel of the door, which entered Hyrum’s head, at the left side of his nose. He fell upon his back with his head one or two feet from the north east corner of the room, exclaiming, as he fell, “I am a dead man!” In all, four balls entered his body. One ball (it must have been fired through the window from the outside) passed through his body with such force—entering his back—that it completely broke to pieces a watch which he wore in his vest pocket.

His death was sudden and without pain. Thus fell Hyrum Smith, the Patriarch of the Church of God, a martyr for his holy religion! In that brief moment was the Church of Jesus Christ deprived of the services of as good a man as ever had a name in its history.

Taylor makes dash for window

John S. Fullmer

Elder Taylor was by this time also thought to have been killed, as he lay bleeding from many wounds.

William Daniels, Nauvoo Neighbor (May 7 and May 14, 1845 issues).

Elder Taylor continued parrying their guns, until they had got them about half the length into the room, when he found resistance vain and attempted to jump out of the window. Just then a ball from within struck him on the left thigh; hitting the bone, it glanced through to within half an inch of the other side. He fell on the window-sill and expected he would fall out, when a ball from without stuck his watch, which he carried in his vest pocket, and threw him back into the room. He was hit by two more balls; one injuring his left wrist considerably, and the other entering at the side of the bone, just below the left knee. He fell into the room, and rolled under a bed that stood at the right of the window, in the south-east corner of the room. While under the bed, he was fired at several times and was struck by one ball which tore the flesh on his left hip in a shocking manner, throwing large quantities of blood upon the wall and floor. These wounds proved very severe and painful, but he suffered without a murmur, rejoicing that he had the satisfaction to mingle his blood with that of the Prophets, and be with them in the last moments of their earthly existence. His blood, with theirs, can cry to heaven for vengeance on those who have shed the blood of innocence and slain the servants of the living God in all ages of the world. This seemed a source of high gratification and he endured his severe sufferings without a single complaint, being perfectly resigned to the providence of God.

Richards hitting gun barrels with “rascal beater”

John S. Fullmer

Dr. Richards, with Colonel Markham's heavy walking stick, defended the door, knocking down, and to one side, the muzzles of the assailants' guns, as they fired into the room; and, strange to say, notwithstanding his exposed condition, he remained entirely unhurt.

JS fires pepperbox pistol

[Carthage coroner] Thomas L. Barnes, letters to Miranda Haskett, Ukiah, California, November 1-9, 1897.

It is supposed when Hyrum fell the door was partially opened by the attacking party, so much so at any rate that I was informed that Jo Smith had what was common then what was and probable is now called one of Steves peper boxes. It is said and there is no dout but what it is true that he sliped his hand through the opening of the door and hit a young man from Warsaw about his neck or sholder which made it conveinent for the young man to remain for a while in Missouri.

John S. Fullmer

Joseph had taken position on one side of the door, and, with his left hand, discharged three rounds from a revolving six-shooting pocket pistol (which had been handed him by Elder C. H. Wheelock, but who was also sent away on business by them), and at each fire wounded his man; the other three caps did not go off.

John Hay, “The Mormon Prophet’s Tragedy,” Atlantic Monthly (December 1869):

Joe Smith died bravely. He stood by the jamb of the door and fired four shots, bringing his man down every time. He shot an Irishman named Wills, who was in the affair from his congenital love of a brawl, in the arm; Gallagher, a Southerner from the Mississippi Bottom, in the face; Voorhees, a half-grown hobbledehoy from Bear Creek, in the shoulder; and another gentleman, whose name I will not mention, as he is prepared to prove an alibi, and besides stands six feet two in his moccasins.

Richards pinned between door and wall

John Hay, “The Mormon Prophet’s Tragedy,” Atlantic Monthly (December 1869):

Richards hid himself behind the opening door, in mortal terror. He afterwards lied terribly about the affair, saying he stood calmly in the centre of the room, warding off the bullets with a consecrated wand.

JS runs to window and hangs out for minutes

[Carthage coroner] Thomas L. Barnes, letters to Miranda Haskett, Ukiah, California, November 1-9, 1897.

The attacing party forced the door open and commenced firing at Smith it is said they must have hit him an probably disabled him, as he stagered across the floor to the oposite side of the room where there was a window. It is said that there he gave the hailing sign of the distress of a Mason but that did him no good.

JS falls out window and executed

[Carthage coroner] Thomas L. Barnes, letters to Miranda Haskett, Ukiah, California, November 1-9, 1897.

In the room behind him was armed men, furious men, with murder in their hearts. Before him arround the well under the window there was a croud of desperate men, as he was receiving shots from behind which he could not stand, in despersation he leaped or rather fell out of the window near the well where he breathed his last. When I found him soon afterwards he was laying in the hall at the foot of the stairs where his blood had as I believe left indelible stain on the floor.

John S. Fullmer

The Prophet, now finding himself without any means of defence, his brother being dead, and himself the only survivor whose life was sought for, attempted to make his escape through the nearest window. A number of balls penetrated his body, however, while making this attempt; and in his last moments he did not forget Him whose servant he was, and for whose cause he was about to lay down his life. How very like were his last words to the dying words of the Saviour- "My God, my God! why hast thou forsaken me?" Joseph had only time to exclaim, " O Lord, my God!" and fell out of the building into the hands of his MURDERERS.

John Hay, “The Mormon Prophet’s Tragedy,” Atlantic Monthly (December 1869):

Severely wounded as he was, he ran to the window, which was open to receive the fresh June air, and half leaped, half fell, into the jail yard below. With his last dying energies he gathered himself up, and leaned in a sitting posture against the rude stone well-curb. His stricken condition, his vague wandering glances, excited no pity in the mob thirsting for his life. They had not seen the handsome fight he had made in the jail; there was no appeal to the border chivalry (there is chivalry on the borders, as in all semi-barbarous regions). A squad of Missourians who were standing by the fence levelled their pieces at him, and, before they could see him again for the smoke they made, Joe Smith was dead.

Elder Richards was still contending with the assailants, at the door, when General Smith, seeing there was no safety in the room, and probably thinking it might save the lives of others if he could escape from the room, turned calmly from the door, dropped his pistol upon the floor, saying, “There, defend yourselves as well as you can.”

William Daniels, Nauvoo Neighbor (May 7 and May 14, 1845 issues).

He sprang into the window; but just as he was preparing to descend, he saw such an array of bayonets below that he caught by the window casing, where he hung by his hands and feet, with his head to the north, feet to the south, and his body swinging downwards. He hung in that position three or four minutes, during which time he exclaimed, two or three times, “O, LORD, MY GOD!!!” and fell to the ground. While he was hanging in that position, Col. Williams hallooed, “Shoot him! G-d d—n him! Shoot the dam’d rascal!” However, none fired at him.

He seemed to fall easy. He struck partly on his right shoulder and back, his neck and head reaching the ground a little before his feet.

He rolled instantly on his face. From this position he was taken by a young man, who sprang to him from the other side of the fence, who held a pewter fife in his hand, was barefoot and bare-headed, having on no coat, with his pants rolled above his knees, and shirt-sleeves above his elbows. He set President Smith against the south side of the well-curb that was situated a few feet from the jail. While doing this, the savage muttered aloud, “This is Old Jo; I know him. I know you, Old Jo. Damn you: you are the man that had my daddy shot.” The object he had in talking in this way, I supposed to be this: He wished to have President Smith and the people in general, believe he was the son of Governor Boggs, which would lead to the opinion that it was the Missourians who had come over and committed the murder. This was the report that they soon caused to be circulated; but this was too palpable an absurdity to be credited.

After President Smith had fallen, I saw Elder Willard Richards come to the window and look out upon the horrid scene that spread itself below him.

I could not help noticing the striking contrast in the countenance of President Smith and the horrid, demon-like appearance of his murderers. The former was calm and tranquil, while the mob were filled with excitement and agitation.

President Smith’s exit from the room had the tendency to cause those who were firing into the room to abandon it and rush to the outside. This gave an opportunity for Elder Richards to convey Elder Taylor into the cell, which he did, and covered him with a bed, thinking he might there be secure if the mob should make another rush into the jail. While they were in the cell, some of the mob again entered the room; but finding it deserted by all but Hyrum Smith, they left the jail.

When President Smith had been set against the curb, and began to recover, from the effects of the fall, Col. Williams ordered four men to shoot him. Accordingly, four men took an eastern direction, about eight feet from the curb, Col. Williams stranding partly at their rear, and made ready to execute the order. While they were making preparations, and the muskets were raised to their faces, President Smith’s eyes rested upon them with a calm and quiet resignation. He betrayed no agitated feelings and the expression upon his countenance seemed to betoken his inly prayer to be: “O, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The fire was simultaneous. A slight cringe of the body was all the indication of pain that he betrayed when the balls struck him. He fell upon his face. One ball then entered the back part of his body. This is the ball that many people have supposed struck him about the time he was in the window. But this is a mistake. I was close by him, and I know he was not hit with a ball, until after he was seated by the well-curb.

His death was instantaneous and tranquil. He betrayed no appearance of pain. His noble form exhibited all its powers of manly strength and healthful agility, yet not a muscle seemed to move with pain, and there was no distortion of his features. His death was peaceful as the falling to sleep of an infant—no cloud of contending passion gathered upon his brown, and no malediction trembled on his lip. The reward of a righteous man seemed hovering over him, and his breath ceased with as much ease and gentleness, as if eternity was exerting an influence in his behalf and taking his spirit home to a world of “liberty, light and life.”

Attempt to decapitate JS

William Daniels, Nauvoo Neighbor (May 7 and May 14, 1845 issues). (The account below contains several embellishments or fantasies that are contradicted by other witnesses. For example, Daniels has Joseph Smith surviving his fall from the second story jail and then being shot by four men under the orders of Levi Williams. After the murder of Smith, Daniels describes a scene in which a "ruffian" draws a bowie knife and is ready to sever the head of Smith when suddenly a pillar of light "bursts from the heavens upon the bloody scene" and frightens the killers away.)

The ruffian, of whom I have spoken, who set him against the well-curb, now secured a bowie knife for the purpose of severing his head from his body. He raised the knife and was in the attitude of striking, when a light, so sudden and powerful, burst from the heavens upon the bloody scene, (passing its vivid chain between Joseph and his murderers,) that they were struck with terrified awe and filled with consternation. This light, in its appearance and potency, baffles all powers of description. The arm of the ruffian, that held the knife, fell powerless; the muskets of the four, who fired, fell to the ground, and they all stood like marble statues, not having power to move a single limb of their bodies.

By this time most of the men had fled in great disorder. I never saw so frightened a set of men before. Col. Williams saw the light and was also badly frightened; but he did not entirely lose the use of his limbs or speech. Seeing the condition of these men, he hallooed to some who had just commenced to retreat, for God’s sake to come and carry off these men. They came back and carried them by the main strength towards the baggage wagons. They seemed as helpless as if they were dead.

“The Mormons are coming!”

Richards takes Taylor to jail and covers him with straw

[Carthage coroner] Thomas L. Barnes, letters to Miranda Haskett, Ukiah, California, November 1-9, 1897.

You want to know what has become of Richards. He was not hurt. You will ask how did it happen that his comrads (were) so badly treated and he came off without receiving any damage whatever. It was in this way, as I suppose I think he told me so. The four braced themselves against the door to keep the mob out. He stood next to the hinges of the door so when the door opened it would turn back against the wall that divided the room that they were in from the prison room. So when they crowded the door open it shut him up against the wall and he stood there and did not move till the affair was all over, so they did not see him.

John Taylor

[Carthage coroner] Thomas L. Barnes, letters to Miranda Haskett, Ukiah, California, November 1-9, 1897.

Shall I try to describe the wounds that Taylor received and got over them. Well let me tell you where we found him, I cannot impress your mind of his appearance as he appered to us when we wer called to him by the jailor. We found him in a pile of straw. It appeared that a straw bed had been emtied in the cell where he was when we found him. He was very much frightened as well as severly wounded. It took strong persuading of the jailor as well as our positive assuriance that we ment him no harm but Was desirous of doing him some good. He finally consented to come out of his cell. When we examined him we found that he had been hit by four balls. One ball had hit him in his fore arm and pased down and lodged in the hand betwen the phalanges of his third and fourth fingers. Another hit on the left side of the pelvis cuttin through the skin and pasin leaving a superficial wound that you could lay your hand in. A third ball passed through his thigh lodging in his notus. A fourth ball hit his watch which he had in the fob in his pantaloons, which I suppose the Mormons have today, to show the precise time that their great leader was killed. The wounds had bled quite freely, the blood had had time to coagulate which it had done, and where the clothes and straw came in contact they all adhered together so that Mr. Taylor came out his self sought cell he was a pitable looking sight. We took the best care of him we could till he left us. He got well but never

paid us for skill or good wishes.

Willard Richards

Carthage citizens immediately flee for Warsaw

John Hay, “The Mormon Prophet’s Tragedy,” Atlantic Monthly (December 1869):

The moment the work was done, the calmness of horror succeeded the fever of fanatical rage. The assassins hurried away from the jail, and took the road to Warsaw in silence and haste. They went home at a killing pace over the wide dusty prairie. Warsaw is eighteen miles from Carthage; the Smiths were killed at half past five: at a quarter before eight the returning crowd began to drag their weary limbs through the main street of Warsaw, — at such an astounding rate of speed had the lash of their own thoughts driven them.

The town was instantly put in such attitude of defence as its limited means permitted. The women and children were ferried across the river to a village on the Missouri shore. The men kept guard night and day in the hazel thickets around the town. Everybody expected sudden and exemplary vengeance from the Mormons.

Willard Richards and John Taylor in Hamilton Hotel; Samuel Smith shows up

Times & Seasons

12 o'clock at night, 27th June, }

Carthage, Hamilton's Tavern. }

TO MRS. EMMA SMITH,

AND MAJ. GEN. DUNHAM, &c-

The Governor has just arrived; says all things shall be inquired into, and all right measures taken.

I say to all the citizens of Nauvoo, my brethren, be still, and know that God reigns. Don't rush out of the city-don't rush to Carthage; stay at home, and be prepared for an attack from Missouri mobbers. The governor will render every assistance possible-has sent out orders for troops-Joseph and Hyrum are dead, but not by the Carthage people-the guards were true as I believe.

We will prepare to move the bodies as soon as possible.

The people of the county are greatly excited, and fear the Mormons will come out and take vengeance-I have pledged my word the Mormons will stay at home as soon as they can be informed, and no violence will be on their part, and say to my brethren in Nauvoo, in the name of the Lord-be still-be patient-only let such friends as choose come here to see the bodies- Mr. Taylor's wounds are dressed & not serious-I am sound.

WILLARD RICHARDS,

JOHN TAYLOR,

SAMUEL H. SMITH.

Deming fled when attack began

Times & Seasons

Mr. Orson Spencer,

Dear sir:-Please deliberate on this matter; prudence may obviate material destruction. I was at my residence when this horrible crime was committed. It will be condemned by three fourths of the citizens of the county-be quiet or you will be attacked from Missouri.

M. R. DEMMING.

Examination, fact finding, Bodies brought back to Nauvoo

Mr. Jonas Hobbart Sworn:

Mr. Hobbart do you live in this town.

I do.

Did you live in town on the day that Smith was killed.

I did...

Did the most of them [mob] seem to be armed.

Yes.

What sort of weapons had they.

Muskets.

Had they any rifels.

Yes. Rifels of a peculiar kind with [illegible]

Had they any knives.

I think I saw a knife in the hands of one man.

Did anybody seem to be giving and command to the mob.

I did not hear any orders given.

Was there much noise upon the ground.

Yes there was much noise.

How many guns fired together.

About thirty, as fas as I could judge,

He retired.

Times & Seasons

The Legion in Nauvoo, was called out at 10 A. M. and addressed by Judge Phelps, Col. Buckmaster, of Alton, the Governors aid, and others, and all excitement and fury allayed and preparations were made to receive the bodies of the Noble Martyrs. About 3 o'clock they were met by a great assemblage of people east of the Temple on Mulholland street, under the direction of the city Marshal, followed by Samuel H. Smith, the brother of the deceased, Dr. Richards and Mr. Hamilton, of Carthage. The wagons were guarded by 8 men. The procession that followed in Nauvoo, was the City Council, the Lieut. General's Staff, the Major General and staff, the Brigadier General and staff, commanders and officers of the Legion and citizens generally, which numbered several thousands, amid the most solemn lamentations and wailings that ever ascended into the ears of the Lord of Hosts to be avenged of our enemies!

When the procession arrived the bodies were both taken into the 'Nauvoo Mansion;' the scene at the Mansion cannot be described: the audience was addressed by Dr. Richards, Judge Phelps, Woods and Reed Esqs. of Iowa, and Col. Markham. It was a vast assemblage of some 8 or 10,000 persons, and with one united voice resolved to trust to the law for a remedy of such a high handed assassination, and when that failed to call upon God to avenge us of our wrongs! Oh! widows and orphans:-Oh! Americans weep for the glory of freedom has departed!

William R. Hamilton served in the Carthage Greys in 1844. His letter to Foster Walker, describing the Smiths' murders in Carthage, was published in Foster Walker's "The Mormons in Hancock County," Dallas City Review (January 29, 1903, p.2).

The bodies of the Smiths, after the coroner's inquest, were taken by my father, Artois Hamilton, to his hotel. He had boxes (not coffins) made out of pine boards, in which they were taken to Nauvoo the next day. The news of their death having been sent to Nauvoo, early the next morning two of their brothers, with two other men, came after their bodies in a wagon. The body of Joseph was placed in theirs and that of Hyrum in father's wagon, who with two of my brothers went with them.

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