Road to Carthage 10 - The New Reign
On this episode, we examine the consequences of Joseph Smith’s death.
Show notes of entire historical timeline: http://scripts.nakedmormonismpodcast.com/
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
The bodies had been prepared. The death masks had been cast. The people had learned the truth, the prophet and patriarch had been shot to death by anti-Mormons.
The bodies were placed in coffins “which were covered with black velvet, fastened with brass nails.” They placed a glass lid over the face of each body to protect it, and the coffin was “lined with white cambric.” Then, Emma and Mary, Jo’s and Hyrum’s first wives, were allowed into the mansion room to see their husbands. The children came along too.
Emma (who was at the time pregnant) was then permitted to view the bodies. On first seeing the corpse of her husband she screamed and fell, but was supported by Dimick B. Huntington. She then fell upon his face and kissed him, calling him by name, and begged of him to speak to her once: the scene was too affecting almost to be borne.
Mary (Hyrum’s wife) was also admitted, and manifested calmness and composure throughout the trying scene. The children of the martyred Prophet and Patriarch were then admitted to see the bodies, when the scene beggared description, being perfectly heartrending.
The next morning at 8 a.m., the bodies were placed in the main living area of the Nauvoo Mansion and the doors were opened to receive the mourning procession. Estimates claim about 8-10,000 Mormon filed through the mansion on June 29th 1844 to view the bodies.
People took these deaths in many ways. We’re lucky enough that some of them took the time to sit down and express their thoughts in writing, so let’s spend some time with some of these folks.
Emma Hale Smith and Mary Fielding Smith
Emma was the first wife of Joseph. Mary was Hyrum’s first wife. Neither of these women wrote any of their thoughts at the time so the best we can do is read accounts from those who observed them on that distressing day. You’ll recognize a little bit from the History of the Church I read from earlier but there’s a fair amount more information here to help us visualize the scene. Mormon Enigma P. 196-7
B. W. Richmond said Emma tried several times to walk across the room but each time she fainted. Finally a friend helped her form the room. Then Mary Fielding Smith entered with her four children. “She trembled at every step, and nearly fell, but reached her husband’s body, and kneeled down by him, clasped her arm around his head, turned his pale face upon her heaving bosom, and then a gushing ,plaintive wail burst from her lips: ‘O! Hyrum, Hyrum! Have they shot you, my dear Hyrum? Are you dead? O! Speak to me, my dear husband. I cannot think you are dead, my dear Hyrum.’” Richmond said, “Her grief seemed to consume her, and she lost all power of utterance. Her two daughters, and the two young children, clung some to her body, falling prostrate upon the corpse and shrieking in the wildness of their wordless grief.”
A few minutes later Dimick Huntington and another man assisted Emma back into the room. Dimick held his hat up to shield her view of Joseph. The two led her over to where Hyrum lay and Richmond took her hand and placed it on Hyrum’s forehead. Emma stood for a minute, then said, “Now I can see him; I am strong now.” Unassisted, she walked to Joseph where she “kneeled down, clasped him around his face, and sank upon his body. Suddenly her grief found vent, and sighs and groans and words and lamentations filled the room. ‘JOseph, Joseph,’ she said, ‘are you dead? Have the assassins shot you?’ Her children, four in number, gathered around their weeping mother, and the dead body of a murdered father, and grief that words cannot embody seemed to overwhelm the whole group.” Richmond said Emma spoke softly to Joseph and the only words he heard were the ones he recorded. Young Joseph remembered her saying, “Oh, Joseph, Joseph! My husband, my husband! Have they taken you from me at last!” Twenty-four years later Dimick Huntington claimed he heard Emma ask Joseph to forgive her.
Lucy Mack Smith
Lucy needs no introduction, she was mother of Joseph and Hyrum. She dictated this to Martha Corey after she had withstood the pain of burying 5 of her 6 sons as well as her husband and she was quite late in years.
This shall <will> be my testimony in the day of God Almighty and if it be true what will Gov Lilbourn W. Boggs, Thomas Carlin Martin Van Buren and Gov. Ford answer me in day when I shall appear where the prayers of the saints and the complaints of the widow and orphan come up before a just and righteous judge who will be is not only our judge but the judge of the whole Earth. [A lined-through passage begins here] will not the Lord then say unto those who have thus suffered us to be thus abused that have not bound up that which was broken neither brought again that which was driven away neither have ye saught that which was lost but with force and cruelty have ye ruled my people109 ... I am now 70 years of and a Native of the united states and although My Father and my brothers Fought hard and struggled manfully for to establish a government of liberty and eaqual rights upon this the home of my birth...
Oh, for a lodge in some vast Wilderness some boundless contiguity of shade where rumor of oppression and deceit might never reach me more111 let me leave the tombs of bones of my fathers and brothers ... and the bones of my Martyrd children and go to a land where never man dwelt fare well my country. Thou that killest the prophets and hath exiled them that were sent unto thee once thou wert fair112 once thou werte lovely <fair ye pure> wert pure and lovely. When thy legislators were Just men and law-givers saught to make <the good> the people <like unto themselves> was righteous and good men but now thou art fallen the life to which wisdom and justice and guilt debachery and […] reigns thy tables are filled with smut and filthiness and the hearts of people with rottenness and deceit but oh! if there is <yet> one in the midst of this sink of polution <corruption> in whose breast flows one feeling that warmed the heart of Washington come forth I pray you from <flee> Turn yourselves men did spurn or spot which so polution that nothing can cleanse it but judgements of H <him> who is a consuming fire …
I will not dwell upon the awful scene which succeeded. My heart is thrilled113 with grief and indignation, and my blood curdles in my veins whenever I speak of it…
After the corpses were washed, and dressed in their burial clothes, we were allowed to see them. I had for a long time braced every nerve, roused every energy of my soul,118 and called upon God to strengthen me; but when I [p.749]entered the room, and saw my murdered sons extended both at once before my eyes, and heard the sobs and groans of my family, and the cries of “Father! Husband! Brothers!” from the lips of their wives, children, brother, and sisters,119 it was too much, I sank back, crying to the Lord, in the agony of my soul, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken this family!” A voice replied, “I have taken them to myself, that they might have rest.”120 Emma was carried back to her room almost in a state of insensibility. Her oldest son approached the corpse, and dropped upon his knees, and laying his cheek against his father’s, and kissing him, exclaimed, “Oh, my father, my father!” As for myself, I was swallowed up in the depth121 of my afflictions; and though my soul was filled with horror past imagination, yet I was dumb, until I arose again to contemplate the spectacle before me. Oh! at that moment how my mind flew through every scene of sorrow and distress which we had passed together, in which they had shown the innocence and sympathy which filled their guileless hearts. As I looked upon their peaceful, smiling countenances, I seemed almost to hear them say,—“Mother, weep not for us, we have overcome the world by love; we carried to them the Gospel, that their souls might be saved; they slew us for our testimony, and thus placed us beyond their power; their ascendancy is for a moment, ours is an eternal triumph.”
I then thought upon the promise which I had received in Missouri, that in five years Joseph should have power over all his enemies. The time had elapsed, and the promise was fulfilled.
Personal secretary of Joseph Smith, keeper of the Council of Fifty Minutes and Jo’s personal journal. He was very close to the prophet and was instrumental in building the Nauvoo kingdom.
“And now O God wilt thou not come out of thy hiding place and avenge the blood of thy servants.--that blood which thou hast so long watched over with a fatherly care--that blood so noble--so generous--so dignified, so heavenly you O Lord will thou not avenge it speedily and bring down vengeance upon the murderers of thy servants that they may be rid from off the earth and that the earth may be cleansed from these scenes, even so O Lord thy will be done. We look to thee for justice. Hear thy people O God of Jacob even so Amen”
“Few expressions were heard save the mourns for the loss of our friends. All seem to hang on the merch of God and wait further events. Some few can scarce refrain from expressing aloud their indignation at the Governor and a few words would raise the City in arms & massacre the Cities of Carthage & Warsaw & lay them in ashes but it is wisdom to be quiet. After the bodies were laid out I went to see them. Joseph looks very natural except being pale through loss of blood. Hyrum does not look so natural. Their aged mother is distracted with grief & it will be almost more than she can bear.”
“The blood of those men, and the prayers of the widows and orphans and a suffering community will rise up to the Lord of Sabaoth for vengeance upon those murderers.”
Eliza R. Snow
A powerful poet and personal secretary of Emma in the Nauvoo Relief Society. She frequently wrote poems to specific people for reasons of mourning, encouragement, or threatening. She was also a dearly beloved plural wife of Jo, creating plenty of conflict in her life as she was marrying age but off limits to be courted by any other men. She became the most powerful woman in Utah.
143 The Assassination
of Gen’s Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith
First Presidents of the Church of Latter-day Saints; Who Were Massacred by a Mob, in Carthage,
Hancock County, Ill., on the 27th June, 1844
— Rev. 6:9–11.
Ye heav’ns attend! Let all the earth give ear!
Let Gods and seraphs, men and angels hear—
The worlds on high—the universe shall know
What awful scenes are acted here below!
Had nature’s self a heart, her heart would bleed 5
At the recital of that horrid deed;
For never, since the Son of God was slain
Has blood so noble, flow’d from human vein
As that which now, on God for vengeance calls
From “freedom’s ground”—from Carthage prison walls. 10
Oh! Illinois! thy soil has drank the blood
Of Prophets martyr’d for the truth of God.
Once lov’d America! what can atone
For the pure blood of innocence, thou’st sown?
Were all thy streams in teary torrents shed 15
To mourn the fate of those illustrious dead;
How vain the tribute, for the noblest worth
That grac’d thy surface, O degraded Earth!
Oh wretched murd’rers! fierce for human blood!
You’ve slain the prophets of the living God, 20
Who’ve borne oppression from their early youth,
To plant on earth, the principles of truth.
Shades of our patriotic fathers! Can it be,
Beneath your blood-stain’d flag of liberty;
The firm supporters of our country’s cause, 25
Are butcher’d while submissive to her laws?
Yes, blameless men, defam’d by hellish lies
Have thus been offer’d as a sacrifice
T’appease the ragings of a brutish clan,
That has defied the laws of God and man! 30
’Twas not for crime or guilt of theirs, they fell—
Against the laws they never did rebel.
True to their country, yet her plighted faith
Has prov’d an instrument of cruel death!
Where are thy far-fam’d laws—Columbia! Where 35
Thy boasted freedom—thy protecting care?
Is this a land of rights? Stern-FACTS shall say
If legal justice here maintains its sway,
The official pow’rs of State are sheer pretence
When they’re exerted in the Saints’ defence. 40
Great men have fall’n and mighty men have died—
Nations have mourn’d their fav’rites and their pride;
But TWO, so wise, so virtuous, great and good,
Before on earth, at once, have never stood
Since the creation—men whom God ordain’d 45
To publish truth where error long had reigned;
Of whom the world, itself unworthy prov’d:
It KNEW THEM NOT; but men with hatred mov’d
And with infernal spirits have combin’d
Against the best, the noblest of mankind! 50
Oh, persecution! shall thy purple hand
Spread utter destruction through the land?
Shall freedom’s banner be no more unfurled?
Has peace indeed, been taken from the world?
Thou God of Jacob, in this trying hour 55
Help us to trust in thy almighty pow’r;
Support thy Saints beneath this awful stroke—
Make bare thine arm to break oppression’s yoke.
We mourn thy Prophet, from whose lips have flow’d
The words of life, thy spirit has bestow’d— 60
A depth of thought, no human art could reach
From time to time, roll’d in sublimest speech,
From the celestial fountain, through his mind,
To purify and elevate mankind:
The rich intelligence by him brought forth, 65
Is like the sun-beam, spreading o’er the earth.
Now Zion mourns—she mourns an earthly head:
The Prophet and the Patriarch are dead!
The blackest deed that men or devils know
Since Calv’ry’s scene, has laid the brothers low! 70
One in their life, and one in death—they prov’d
How strong their friendship—how they truly lov’d:
True to their mission, until death, they stood,
Then seal’d their testimony with their blood.
All hearts with sorrow bleed, and ev’ry eye 75
Is bath’d in tears—each bosom heaves a sigh—
Heart broken widows’ agonizing groans
Are mingled with the helpless orphans’ moans!
Ye Saints! be still, and know that God is just—
With steadfast purpose in his promise trust: 80
Girded with sackcloth, own his mighty hand,
And wait his judgments on this guilty land!
The noble martyrs now have gone to move
The cause of Zion in the courts above.
published in Times and Seasons, 1 July 1844
This is an account written by a non-Mormon who witnessed the funeral procession, which describes what he saw with Lucinda Pendleton Morgan Harris Smith, Jo’s first official plural wife and the widow of the famed William Morgan who disappeared after publishing an expose on FreeMasonry.
While the two wives were bewailing their loss, and prostrate on the floor with their eight children, I noticed a lady standing at the head of Joseph Smith’s body, her face covered, and her whole frame convulsed with weeping. She was the widow of William Morgan, of Masonic memory, and twenty years before had stood over the body of her husband, found at the mouth of Oak Orchard Creek, on Lake Ontario. She was now the wife of a Mr. Harris, whom she married in Batavia, and who was a saint in the Mormon church, and a high Mason. She is a short person, with light hair and very bright blue eyes, and pleasing countenance. I had called on her a few days previous to this occasion, and while conversing with her, put my hand on a gilt-edged volumen laying on the stand. It was ‘Stearns on Masonry,’ and contained the likeness of William Morgan. She said she had taken it out, and thought if the mob did come, and she was obliged to flee, or jump into the Mississippi, she would take it with her.
Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball
Young and Kimball were traveling through the eastern states holding meetings with powerful individuals for Jo’s presidential campaign. They both record when they first heard the rumors that Jo had been murdered as well as when they received actual confirmation.
--9-- I heard today, for the first time, the rumors concerning the death of Joseph and Hyrum [Smith].
--16-- While at Brother Bement's house in Peterboro', I heard a letter read which Brother Livingston had received from Mr. Joseph Powers, of Nauvoo, giving particulars of the murder of Joseph and Hyrum. The first thing which I thought of was, whether Joseph had taken the keys of the kingdom with him from the earth; Brother Orson Pratt sat on my left; we were both leaning back on our chairs. Bringing my hand down on my knee, I said the keys of the kingdom are right here with the Church.
Received a letter from Brother Woodruff confirming the news of the death of the Prophets.
**Heber C. Kimball was a close friend of Brigham Young before they both joined the church in the early 1830s. His wife, Vilate, and he shared many letters back and forth. Heber himself was uneducated and his writing reflects it but he was a relatively faithful journal keeper. Heber and Vilate’s daughter, Helen, was given to the prophet as a wife at the age of 14.
9 Tuesday… The papers were full of News of the death of our Prophet. I was not willen to believe it, fore it was to much to bare. The first news I got of his death was on Tuesday morning in Salum of the 9. It struck me at the heart…
12 Friday… Toords night one of the Brethren went to the office and got one leter from my wife up the the 24 which day he gave Him Self up in company with Hiyrum, Richards, and J. Tailor three days before they ware killed. This leter satisfide us that the Brethren ware dead. O Lord what feelings we had.
14 Sunday morning went to meting. Red the news to the saints. Great sorrow prevailed and agreed to dress in mourning. O Lord How can we part with our dear Br., O Lord save the Twelve.
Dan Jones was Jo’s little birdie of Nauvoo. Jones always had intel that was valuable to the prophet about people in and out of the city. Because of his ability to gather intel, he became captain of the steamer owned by the prophet, The Maid of Iowa, where he saw most people who entered and exited the city. He was very close to Joseph Smith and was one of the last of Jo’s trusted acolytes that was chased out of Carthage by the Carthage Greys the day the assassinations happened.
About midnight a steamboat came down the river, and I went on board toward Quincy (forty miles from there) and before daylight the boat called at Warsaw on its way, and great was the tumult which was there! It was announced with great delight to the passengers on the boat that "Joe and his brother, Hyrum, had been killed at Carthage Jail." Oh, how sweet was this news to their chops! That old "Sharp" again had already published an extra with great haste accusing the Mormons of having gone to Carthage to save the prisoners and that the guards in carrying out their duty had shot J. and H. Smith lest they escape, when in fact, I was the last Mormon to have been in Carthage and had been driven out as if at bayonet point! Yes, when in fact it was that very man, Sharp, who was leading those who killed the prisoners, boasting "that he had put one bullet through old Joe." And when his fingers were still dripping with innocent blood he proclaimed to the world that it was the Saints who had done it and invited all from everywhere to gather to defend Warsaw, that the Mormons had burned Carthage to ashes and killed its inhabitants, Governor Ford and all, and that they expected them to burn Warsaw at any minute! Yes, he published this in his paper and sent messengers to the other countries to call the militia to defend them when in fact he knew that he was in no danger whatsoever from the Saints.
And when I was there I heard his party admit and praise the cunningness of Sharp's trick to get people there; and that their objective was to "attack the city of Nauvoo and kill or expel the 'd-m-d Mormons.'" This false story about the massacre of J. and H. Smith flew across the world, and we do not think that the truth had even yet been determined. An example in that of all the publications of that man, Sharp, and his party against the Saints. I was so impulsive as to contradict them on the bank from what I knew, and had the boat not been alongside to jump onto they would have killed me for what I said. After reaching Quincy I saw that the messengers of Sharp had arrived and had stirred up the entire city to the point that they were expecting the Mormons to come there and kill them too, and the militia was hurriedly preparing to go to save Warsaw, as they supposed.
When I got the opportunity with the people together, I opposed those lying messengers to their faces, and then the people saw that they were not in danger and that not one of the Mormons had even lifted his hand against any one of them and had no such intention. Then everyone returned to his business, and I went with the other steamboat toward Nauvoo, where I arrived by eight o'clock the next morning.
Oh, the sorrowful scene to be seen in Nauvoo that day! There has never been nor will there ever be anything like it; everyone sad along the street, all the shops closed and every business forgotten. Onward I quickened my pace until I reached the house of the late Joseph Smith. I pushed my way through the sorrowful crowd until I reached the room where his body and that of his brother had been placed (for they had been brought from Carthage the previous day). There they lay in their coffins side by side, majestic men as they suffered side by side from prison for years, and they labored together, shoulder to shoulder, to build the kingdom of Immanuel; eternal love bound them steadfastly to each other and to their God until death; and now, my eyes beheld the blood of the two godly martyrs mingling in one pool in the middle of the floor, their elderly mother, godly and sorrowful, on her knees in the midst of the blood between the two, a hand on each one of her sons who lay in gore, her heart nearly broken by the excruciating agony and the indescribable grief. At the head of the deceased sat the dear wife of each one and around their father stood four of Joseph's little children and six of Hyrum's children crying out intermittently, "My dear father." "And my dear father, too," another would say, with no reply except the echo from the walls, "Oh, my father." And from the hearts of the mothers, "My husband killed," and the grey-haired mother groaning pitifully, "Oh, my sons, my sons."
Each in his turn, the thousands made their way forward, sad and desirous of having the last look at their dear brethren whose solemn counsels and heavenly teachings had been music in their ears, lighting their paths and bringing joy to their hearts on numerous occasions. On the streets around it was almost the stillness of the grave which reigned, but all, the noble as well as the humble, with crystal tears streaming down their cheeks. Even the sun and the elements had stilled as if in surprise, and all nature looked at the unended madness of man toward some of the best on the earth in any age or part of it. I shall ever remember my feelings at the time. Now I saw the two wisest and most virtuous men on the earth without any doubt, whom I had seen just awhile before preaching tenderly from between the iron bars of their jail the gospel of peace to those who wanted to kill them; the two stood like two reeds in the midst of the storm as witnesses of Jesus, despite the jealous fury of the press, of the pulpits, and of the mobs of the age; and just like the reed they straightened up their heads after every breeze and scorned worldly profit and fame; steadfast they clung to their objective until they had finished their work; and like their elder brother and their Leader before them they did not love their lives unto death, nor did they refuse to face knowingly the slaughter; rather they leaped onto the bloody altar which they saw waiting for them in Carthage" so they could have a better resurrection." But what pen can describe that scene and the feelings of thousands of mourners? The only comfort that kept them from sinking under the oppression and the loss was knowing that a day of swift reckoning would come also before long and that he who has the correct scales in his hand perceives the whole and will . . . But I restrain myself. It is easier for the reader to imagine this scene than it is for me to portray it and its results.
The two were buried secretly by one another's side, for there was a reward of several thousand dollars already offered by their enemies for their heads!
Jane Elizabeth Manning James, Early Member of the Church, 1813–1908
Jane Manning James, a young black woman who moved into the Smith home and who was, in my opinion, Joseph’s only African-American wife. She lived and worked in the Nauvoo Mansion like all of Jo’s other teenage wives.
"I [knew] the Prophet Joseph. That lovely hand! He used to put it out to me. Never passed me without shaking hands with me wherever he was. Oh, he was the finest man I ever saw on earth. . . . When he was killed . . . I could have died, just laid down and died." (In Heidi S. Swinton, American Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith (1999), 14.)
William Daniels, Nauvoo Neighbor (May 7 and May 14, 1845 issues).
Daniels is a relatively unknown character in Nauvoo history but he clearly writes from a Mormon perspective as well as that of an eyewitness to the actual gunfight in Carthage. His account was given in a affidavit and then embellished by a Mormon writer in May of 1845. He claims a few fantastic details, but there are other details he provides which are contextual and helpful to understand the general events of the day.
The storm had passed away. The cowardly demons had fled, and I stood a spectator, gazing on the scene. There lay Joseph Smith, the martyred leader of thousands who revered him. The man who had passed like a magic spirit through society, and in a career of a few years, had lit up the world with wonder, astonishment and admiration, was left dead upon the ground! He lay full low; yet, in my contemplations, I regarded him as the triumphant conqueror left master of the bloody field. Eighty-four men, (fiends,) armed with United States’ muskets and other weapons, had the unparalleled heroism to murder him while a prisoner; (!!) while he had the nerve and presence of mind to contend with such unequal force, and with a pocket pistol kill and wound as many as they. In him was the spirit of dauntless bravery exemplified.
But a few days before his noble figure rode at the head of a mighty legion, numbering five thousand brave hearts and ten thousand strong arms. His presence gave them courage, his words animated their hearts and nerved their limbs; and the large heart that beat within his manly breast, entwined around it their love and affection, by the generosity and nobility of its principles.
In this situation he had the power to defend himself. How insignificant was the power of this contemptible mob, in comparison with this force, that could have borne him off triumphant, in defiance of all their resistance! From this position of power he descended—threw down the sword that could have protected him from the menace of mobs—and trusted himself to the honor and fidelity of men and the boasted majesty of American jurisprudence!
O, man! How worthless are your promises! How perfidious are your ways! He that would have died for the maintenance of his honor, fell a sacrifice to the broken faith of other men!
The murder took place at fifteen minutes past five o’clock, p. m., June 27, 1844.
…People talk about “Mormon” thieves, when they have eighty-four beings, fiends in human shape, running at large in their community, who were actually engaged in murder! The people of Illinois talk about “Mormon” usurpation, and treasonable designs in their leaders, and their senate chamber echoing with the denunciation of a fiend yet dripping with the warm blood of innocence! The legislature and governor repeal the Nauvoo City charter, for some pretended stretch of municipal power, and they welcome to their councils a being with an indictment hanging over his head for the highest crime known to the laws! They talk about the “Mormon” abuse of habeas corpus, while they pass special decrees that no member shall be subject to any process, whether civil or criminal, during the session of the senate, for the special benefit of a murderer, thereby releasing him from the custody of the sheriff, and screening him from justice! They prate about “Mormon” disloyalty, while the plighted faith of the State is broken, and her honor trampled in the dust!
Gentle reader, I have given as faithful a narrative as I possibly could. I have related scenes through which I have passed myself—scenes of danger, excitement and wickedness. My life has been hunted by day and by night; the quietude of my family has been broken up, and the villains are still determined to take my life. I have thus far eluded them; but I know not when my life may be taken as a sacrifice to atone for telling the truth in a free country. But I am at the defiance of devils and emissaries of hell, and will not shrink from duty, or cower under their menaces.
How does one describe grief? We see a consistency among these accounts that the sorrow and mourning the Mormons experienced was ineffable. Joseph Smith was their supreme leader and when thousands of people are left directionless by the death of their visionary master the grief is compounded beyond anything we can understand. Further complicating matters, there was no plan of succession and the people knew it. These deaths meant more to the thousands of people of Nauvoo that day of June 29th than anybody else across the world. It immediately cast them into a world of uncertainty and instability, making them exceptionally vulnerable to a tyrant at heart to come along and step into the power vacuum. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
There was still a bounty on the head of Joseph Smith. After the public viewing, the doors to the Nauvoo Mansion were closed and the bodies were removed from their coffins and replaced by sandbags where they were buried in a public graveside service. The actual bodies were buried that night by 9 FreeMasons during a heavy rainstorm in two unmarked plots at the northwest corner of the unfinished Nauvoo House. They covered the plot with some brush and rubble; the rainstorm further concealed the plots and by morning there was no evidence of where Jo and Hyrum were buried.
Not even the pallbearers knew they were burying sandbags. Here, Emma exhibits her prowess and understanding of power dynamics. Whoever controlled the bodies had a strong claim to the throne and she was sure to keep them well-concealed. A few days later it was feared the whereabouts of the bodies had been discovered so Emma coordinated their removal to a new location.
Once again, around midnight, 4 FreeMasons dug up and moved the bodies to the Nauvoo Homestead, the home the Smiths lived in until the Nauvoo Mansion was completed in early 1843. Here they were buried under the cover of night and marked by a beehive which was placed over them. This location was discovered soon after and Emma, with increasing desperation to keep control of the bodies, had them moved to a secret location on the property of Davidson Hibbard in a small grove of trees. Here the bodies remained for years and it became a favorite place of Jo and Emma’s youngest son, David Hyrum Smith, to visit as a child. People knew this as “David’s Chamber,” not thinking anymore of the place than just where young David liked to go thinking or playing in the woods.
This, however, was also a temporary burial location. After a couple decades, as Emma was becoming very late in years, she had the bodies exhumed again and moved to a location in Nauvoo that has been lost. She was also buried there. It wasn’t until 1928 that grandson of Emma and Jo, Frederick M. Smith, as prophet of the RLDS church, located the bodies, exhumed them a final time, and placed them in a sacred permanent place of honor where the bodies remain today. When they were exhumed in 1928, Fred M. also allowed the remains to be photographed and examined; those records are in the Community of Christ archives to this day.
Emma recognized that whoever controlled the bodies controlled the church, so she was a good Mason and kept the bodies secret and under her control. If she hadn’t retained control of the bodies as well as most of Jo’s property in Nauvoo, the RLDS church may have never been founded under her oldest son, Joseph III, in 1860 when he rose to the mantle of prophet following in the patrilineal steps of his father who was assassinated 16 years prior. Of course, the progression of all these events are stories for another time.
An event of the magnitude of a national public figure and POTUS candidate being assassinated inevitably caught fire across the nation. From Boston to South Carolina, papers had been covering the newest intelligence of the Mormon insurrection since the Nauvoo Expositor was published and disseminated across the nation, with the prophet dead, the nation’s eyes turned to the Mormon kingdom on the Mississippi.
First to print was the Muscatine Journal out of Bloomington, Iowa on July 5th, which printed the public declaration from Governor Ford we’ll read in a minute. The Alton Telegraph and Democratic Review out of Alton, Illinois published on July 6th the article from the Warsaw Signal we read last episode. The Holly Springs Gazette from Holly Springs, Mississippi, published another account in addition to the Warsaw Signal article on the same day along with The Times-Picayune out of New Orleans further down the Mississippi river. Then intelligence hit New York and The Buffalo Commercial, The Evening Post, The New York Tribune, The Daily Madisonian out of D.C., the Public Ledger out of Philadelphia, Bangor Daily Whig and Courier out of Bangor, Maine, all published articles based on the Warsaw Signal article in the days of July 8-10th, which then carried word across the nation and within 3 weeks word hit Worcestershire, England in the Berrow’s Worcester Journal of August 1st.
With the bodies buried, the Mormons tossed into chaos and uncertainty, and the nation’s focus in a heated election year on the battleground state of Illinois with a Democrat Governor, all that could be done was assess the situation and move forward. There was also the anti-Mormon perspective as well as the government’s perspective to consider in all of this. Let’s have a look at the guy who started the anti-Mormon political party and was the most vocal critic of the Mormons for all of Nauvoo history.
Thomas Sharp/Warsaw Signal
"The St. Louis 'Gazette' says that the men that killed the Smiths were a pack of cowards. Now our view of the matter is, that instead of cowardice they exhibited foolhardy courage, for they must have known or thought that they would bring down on themselves the vengeance of the Mormons. True, the act of an armed body going to the jail and killing prisoners does appear at first sight dastardly, but we look at it as though these men were the executioners of justice; and their act is no more cowardly than is the act of the hangman in stretching up a defenceless convict who is incapable of resistance. If any other mode could have been devised, or any other time selected, it would have been better; but as we have heard others say, we are satisfied that it is done, and care not to philosophize on the modus operandi."
This is representative of the anti-Mormon perspective. They felt justified in the act, but had trouble justifying it in public discourse. Vigilante justice is hard to rationalize after the fact, yet Thomas Sharp tried. Let’s discuss the morals of this entire situation in a little while. Next, let’s hear from the guy who was resoundingly blamed by the Mormons for the assassinations, and blamed by the anti-Mormons for letting Mormon lawlessness get out of hand in the first place, Governor Thomas Ford. This was his public declaration immediately after the Carthage gunfight while he was stationed in Quincy, trying to keep his state from spiraling into civil war just 4 months before the November election.
Thomas Ford, “To the People of the State of Illinois,” Times & Seasons http://www.centerplace.org/history/ts/v5n12.htm
TO THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS.
I desire to make a brief but true statement of the recent disgraceful affair at Carthage, in regard to the Smiths, so far as circumstances have come to my knowledge. The Smiths, Joseph and Hyrum, have been assassinated in jail, by whom it is not known, but will be ascertained. I pledged myself for their safety, and upon the assurance of that pledge, they surrendered as prisoners. The Mormons surrendered the public arms in their possession, and the Nauvoo Legion submitted to the command of Capt. Singleton, of Brown county, deputed for that purpose by me. All these things were required to satisfy the old citizens of Hancock that the Mormons were peaceably disposed; and to allay jealousy and excitement in their minds. It appears however that the compliance of the Mormons with every requisition made upon them failed of that purpose. The pledge of security to the Smiths, was not given upon my individual responsibility. Before I gave it, I obtained a pledge of honor by a unanimous vote from the officers and men under my command, to sustain me in performing it. If the assassination of the Smiths was committed by any portion of these, they have added treachery to murder, and have done all they could to disgrace the state, and sully public honor.
On the morning of the day the deed was committed, we had proposed to march the army under my command into Nauvoo. I had however discovered on the evening before, that nothing but utter destruction of the city would satisfy a portion of the troops; and that if we marched into the city, pretexes[ pretexts] would not be wanting for commencing hostilities. The Mormons had done every thing required, or which ought to have been required of them. Offensive operations on our part would have been as unjust and disgraceful, as they would have been impolitic, in the present critical season of the year, the harvest and the crops. For these reasons I decided in a council of officers, to disband the army, except three companies, two of which were reserved as guards for the jail.-With the other company I marched into Nauvoo, to address the inhabitants there, and tell them what they might expect in case they designedly or imprudently provoked a war. I performed this duty as I think plainly and emphatically, and then set out to return to Carthage.-When I had marched about three miles, a messenger informed me of the occurrences at Carthage. I hastened on to that place. The guard it is said did their duty but were overpowered. Many of the inhabitants of Carthage had fled with their families. Others were preparing to go. I apprehended danger in the settlements from the sudden fury and passion of the Mormons and sanctioned their movements in this respect.
General Damming [Deming] volunteered to remain with a few troops to observe the progress of events, to defend property against small numbers, and with orders to retreat if menaced by a superior force. I decided to proceed immediately to Quincy, to prepare a force sufficient to suppress disorders, in case it should ensue from the foregoing transactions or from any other cause. I have hopes that the Mormons will make no further difficulties. In this I may be mistaken. The other parby [party] may not be satisfied. They may recommend aggression. I am determined to preserve the peace against all breakers of the same, at all hazards. I think present circumstances warrant the precaution, of having competent force at my disposal, in readiness to march at a moments warning. My position at Quincy will enable me to get the earliest intelligence, and to communicate orders with the greatest clarity.
I have decided to issue the following general orders:
Quincy, June, 29, 1844. }
It is ordered that the commandants of regiments in the counties of Adams, Marquette, Pike, Brown, Schuyler, Morgan, Scott, Cass, Fulton and McDonough, and the regiments composing Gen. Stapp's brigade, will call their respective regiments and battalions together immediately upon the receipt of this order, and proceed by voluntary enlistment to enrol [enroll] as many men as can be armed in their respective regiments. They will make arrangements for a campaign of twelve days, and provide themselves with arms, ammunition, and provisions accordingly, and hold themselves in readiness immediately to march upon the receipt of further orders.
The independent companies of riflemen, infantry, cavalry, and artillery in the above named counties, and in the county of Sangamon will hold themselves in readiness in like manner.
Governor, and commander-in-chief.
Hyrum and Joseph Smith were dead and buried, but that didn’t mean everything that led to their deaths was suddenly over. The anti-Mormons and old citizens of Hancock county still wanted the Mormons out of Illinois. The Mormons wanted to continue flaunting laws in their self-declared sovereign theocracy. Those interests are mutually opposed and can’t be reconciled. Governor Ford had been the victim of mutiny by multiple state militias. In spite of Jo and Hyrum biting the assassin’s bullets, Governor Ford had largely gained the trust of the Mormons. Willard Richards assumed a primary leadership role in the church with the aid of William Clayton while waiting for the Quorum of Apostles to return from the eastern states. White-out Willard was a prudent pro tem leader who advocated for peace and helped the Mormon settlement from spiraling into madness through retaliation. It was late June, the rest of the leadership wouldn’t get the news of the gunfight until the second week of July, after which it took them the rest of July and into early August to make the journey back to Nauvoo. A conference was held in the first week of August where the people largely chose to follow Bloody Brigham Young or a newly-discovered charismatic James Strang who carried a forged letter of succession from the prophet. Hingepin Sidney Rigdon claimed to be the guardian of the church and commanded the people to move to Pittsburgh; the people rejected him. Rigdon was washed up and relied on old systems of public oratory to sway the masses, which failed in comparison to the appealing stability of a council of men who deliberated and exhibited a solid front for the church leadership. Thousands of the converts then living in Nauvoo had been converted as a result of the Quorum of Apostles’ mission in England and therefore followed the group of men who converted them and coordinated their immigration to America.
It was fairly well-understood that the leadership of the church would remain in the Smith family. Should Jo be removed from the office of prophet, his older brother Hyrum would inherit the mantle until Jo’s oldest son, Joseph III, was of leadership age. Hyrum died when Jo died so that wouldn’t work. The last two remaining Smith brothers after the Carthage gunfight were Samuel and William. Samuel was a strong contender, but William was generally regarded as a scoundrel and was absolutely hated by most of the Mormon leadership. He posed less of a threat to the Quorum of Apostles than did Samuel. Mother Lucy Mack Smith argued that “Samuel [should] move into Nauvoo and take the Patriarchs office and says the church ought to support him”. With the support of Mother Lucy Mack Smith, Samuel would gain the support of the Mormon population. Samuel argued in a July 10th meeting that he was “Joseph’s designee as president if Joseph and Hyrum both died.” Willard Richards pushed back and successfully argued that any discussions of succession should be postponed until the Apostles returned. A week after this meeting, Samuel came down with an illness. Hosea Stout, a Bloody Brigham loyalist like Willard Richards, attended Samuel during the illness. Stout did this under the direction of White-out Willard Richards; the Apostles were still abroad and making their way back to Nauvoo. On July 30th, Samuel Smith died and a Joseph loyalist named John M. Bernhisel wrote a letter to William Smith, the last remaining Smith brother, that his brother had been poisoned. Samuel’s widow wrote another letter to William Smith that Hosea Stout “had administered a white powder to him daily.” Samuel’s brother in law, Arthur Millikin, was receiving a similar treatment from Hosea Stout with this white powder and was becoming more and more ill until his wife, Lucy Millikin, Sam’s younger sister, threw the powder into the fire and Arthur recovered soon after. Willard Richards tried to remove every Smith threat after Jo’s and Hyrum’s deaths.
William Smith, who was in Boston as all this happened, returned to Nauvoo to three dead brothers instead of just two, as well as a nearly-dead brother in law. While Jo and Hyrum were assassinated by anti-Mormons, Samuel was assassinated by Willard Richards to pave the way for his cousin, Bloody Brigham Young, to ascend to president of the church. White-out Willard must have known that old adage, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, mix in some arsenic, and give it to your enemies”. William Smith eventually became the target of Bloody Brigham and was publicly squeezed out of leadership in the church. William went on to write an expose of Brigham but it fell flat as the people had already largely decided Brigham was the rightful successor and plans were in the works to move west. William would also join the movement of James Strang before publicly apostatizing from Strang’s church and writing another expose which included Strang’s endowment ceremony. Crazy Willey Smith, indeed. That was two paragraphs covering like 7 years of history so obviously there’s much more to it, but those are stories for another time.
Let’s turn back to the issues at hand because there was still the mess of the actual gunfight to clean up. Ford was able to keep a lid on his state for another almost year while also revoking the Nauvoo City Charter, which disincorporated the city and officially disbanded the Nauvoo Legion, never to regain official state sanction again. May of 1845 saw the trail of 5 men involved in the assassination. Nine were officially indicted, but 4 of them, John Allen, William Vorhees, John Wills, and William Gallaher, fled Illinois before they could be arrested and brought to court. A witness claimed that Wills, Gallaher, and Vorhees were first men who pushed through the door to the apartment and that Gallaher was the man who shot Jo in the back as he mounted the window sill to jump or fall out the window. Apparently 3 of these 4 men were the victims of Jo’s blind-firing pepperbox pistol. The 5 who did stand trial were Colonel Levi Williams, who was the commanding officer of the men who attacked the jail, Mark Aldrich, who was second in command to Levi Williams, Jacob C. Davis, who was an outspoken political opponent of the Mormons and had repeatedly spoken out about their removal from Illinois, William Grover, a lawyer and militiaman under the command of Levi Williams, and finally, Thomas C. Sharp, editor of the Warsaw Signal and the most outspoken opponent of the Mormons for the past 4 years of Nauvoo history through his newspaper.
Indicting the witnesses was a mess in and of itself. The election of August 1844 caused a stir between the Mormons and non-Mormons of Hancock county and Colonel Deming was elected by the Mormons as the new sheriff of Hancock county with the promise he’d vigorously prosecute those responsible for the Carthage murders. This is the same Colonel Deming who fled Carthage as Levi’s men descended on the town because Governor Ford had instructed him to “flee if menaced by a superior force.” Immediately after the election, Levi Williams and Thomas Sharp fled across the Mississippi to Missouri, and only returned after Governor Ford made modest concessions to secure their safety from Mormon vigilantes and promised reasonable bail. Governor Ford made these negotiations with the force of 450 militiamen under his command in Quincy and the threat of an extradition agreement from Governor Reynolds of Missouri.
Governor Ford personally oversaw the court proceedings by employing the lawyers to get the indictments, gain testimonies, and prosecute those who’d committed the crime. The Mormon lawyers sought to fill the jury with Mormons and Mormon sympathizers, but they were in a hostile land with a hostile court. On jury selection day, without state sanction, a thousand men surrounded the courthouse with their guns and barred Mormons from entering the building. Only the men who were selected by this armed anti-Mormon mob were allowed to be on the jury. They “swore that they had never formed or expressed any opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the accused,” however, understandably all the men on the jury planned on acquitting the accused before the jury even heard opening arguments. The Mormons were allowed a single witness, William Daniels. Daniels had been at Carthage that day, but because the Mormon leadership wanted to fill the press with their propaganda, Daniels’ account of the Carthage gunfight had been so corrupted by unbelievable events that it ended up being a detriment to the prosecution. The Mormon leadership made the mistake of printing Daniels’ account with complete falsehoods as a pamphlet in the months before the trial, which forced Daniels to stick to the story in the pamphlet when he was called as a witness, completely crippling the prosecution’s case against the 5 men. From Governor Ford:
But before the trial came on, they had induced [Daniels] to become a Mormon; and being much more anxious for the glorification of the prophet than to avenge his death, the leading Mormons made him publish a pamphlet giving an account of the murder; in which he professed to have seen a bright and shining light descend upon the head of Joe Smith, to strike some of the conspirators with blindness, and that he heard supernatural voices in the air confirming his mission as a prophet! Having published this in a book, he was compelled to swear to it in court, which of course destroyed the credit of his evidence. This witness was afterwards expelled from the Mormons, but no doubt they will cling to his evidence in favor of the divine mission of the prophet.
They way he reports it, that Daniels joined the Mormons, gave his account, then left the Mormons, almost seems like the leadership under Bloody Brigham bought the guy’s testimony, which wouldn’t be a surprise. There is more possible evidence for this as Daniels didn’t live in Nauvoo until like 7 weeks before the trial and his pamphlet was published, but he was never counted a Mormon after the trial. He was basically a tool of the Mormons; maybe some listeners can empathize with that. Regardless, Ford was right, because the folklore of the kid trying to cut off Jo’s head and being scared off by a flash of light is still a legend known by most Mormons today; even though that legend was a complete fabrication that destroyed the prosecution’s case against the assassins. The church even includes this propaganda today in their essay about the Carthage martyrdom, even though the story served to be the greatest weakness to the state’s prosecution of those who committed the crime. Regardless, a number of witnesses were called in to determine the facts, but the verdict was already decided before the people stepped foot in the courthouse.
Some interesting information did emerge during the trial and we won’t go through the entire thing here. As Governor Ford observed, “Many other witnesses were examined, who knew the facts, but, under the influence of the demoralization of faction, denied all knowledge of them.” Every witness and indicted suspect took the stand and denied they had anything to do with the assassinations or anything leading up to them, often times even contradicting their own statements. They testified that they had no knowledge of the other suspects being there, that there was no collusion, that they had no idea what was going to happen that day when they got to Carthage. They all just lied because everybody was under the control of the far-superior anti-Mormon faction in the area. Governor Ford observes:
During the progress of these trials, the judge was compelled to permit the court-house to be filled and surrounded by armed bands, who attended court to browbeat and overawe the administration of justice. The judge himself was in duress, and informed me that he did not consider his life secure any part of the time.
It was clearly a charged case. The anti-Mormons successfully got every Mormon thrown off the jury, intimidated the judge, and filled the courthouse with cheers and boos depending on what each witness said and what bearing that information had on incriminating the suspects.
The consequence was, that the crowd had everything their own way; the lawyers for the defense defended their clients by a long and elaborate attack on the governor; the armed mob stamped with their feet and yelled their approbation at every sarcastic and smart thing that was said; and the judge was not only forced to hear it, but to lend it a kind of approval.
The jury deliberated for 2 hours and delivered a verdict of not guilty. All 5 men were acquitted and the outstanding warrants for arrest for the other 4 men were stricken. How do you charge a mob with murder? You don’t. At least, not in this case. Notably, a few months later, there was a separate hearing to determine the criminality of the Mormon leaders for destroying the Nauvoo Expositor printing press and they were also acquitted by the same methods. The Mormons filled the jury and intimidated the witnesses and judge and they were all acquitted. Justice wasn’t served on the Mormons or the anti-Mormons because this was mob law and an era of American jurisprudence which didn’t have enough weight prosecuting systemic crimes like this. It wasn’t until the casino-owning mafias in Vegas were prosecuted in the 1950 and 60s that we formulated the conspiracy charges necessary to eradicate hierarchical crime as seen in Nauvoo and the anti-Mormons fighting Nauvoo criminality.
Let’s go through some of the court record, which was taken in Pittman shorthand by George D. Watt, an incredible resource for Bloody Brigham Young in Utah. If only Jo had recognized how useful George D. Watt was before he died, we might have a lot more of Jo’s actual words to work with today. I digress.
The prosecution, Josiah Lamborn, opened up with the charges.
You are here called upon to Judge a truly extraordinary case; it is extraordinary on account of the peculiar celebraty of the person killed, and on account of the peculiar circumstances, attending the killing of this man, and that has attended the whole account throughout this County and the adjoining Country, the Case is one of peculiar interest, and vast importanse to the whole Country, to it public attention is directed from every part, the eyes of the whole country is upon us, it has not only excited a feeling of considerable interest among the people of the united stated, but throughout the civilized world...
A citizen of your County was confined in Jail under the protection of the Law, and plighted faith of the Governor, of the State, as to how far his offences, are two, or far they are false, he may have been guilty of the basest crimes, or he may have been innocent of the charges alleged against him, about these things I know nothing, but he has suffered an awful atonement, for any offence he might have committed and is gone to answer for it before his God.
He being confined in Jail a wreckless mob, came here, on these peacable prairies, and took that man from Jail and murdered him, but the Laws of Mobocracy, not having the laws of God and man, in their favour,
We alledge that these men arraigned before you at the Bar, are the men who new the movers, and instigators, of that mob who committed the crime, and shed blood, upon the soil of your town, they were the cause of the spilling of that blood in consequence of which murder, rests upon their hands, and hearts of these five men here arraigned,
It is not necessary to prove that these men, entered the Jail, or shot the Gun, or any of these instruments, by which his death was accomplished, in order, to convict them, but that the mob, got its spirit, impulse, movements, and blood thirstiness, from the minds, and dispositions of these men, and that they were the instigators of that mob, gave countenance to it and that they did stir up others, to commit the murder we shall be able fully and sbstantially to prove,...
There are hundreds here I have no doubt are ready to applaud you, and rejoice with you, if you should return a verdict of not guilty against these men, but as you respect your honour, your Country, and your God, I call upon you to do justice to this case, for this state of things cannot exist much longer, the law must prevail, mobs, may triumph for a short time, but the law, will ultimately prevail and triumph,
The guilt of this crime, hangs over you, as a blight, and curse, which is destroying your character, and gnawing at the root of your prosperity, it is a blood stain upon your character, and a foul blot, which cannot be erased, but with vengeance, and rigour, to deal out the law, as the law is, As you respect, and fear your God, as you respect, and fear God, and not man, do your duty, for it is better that truth and righteousness prevail, and that even handed Justice, be dealt out to the full, than to suffer the guilty to go free, and escape the merited punishment due to their deeds...
Where, are your Laws, here in this country, where the protection, that ought to be thrown, around your persons if such violations, are to be committed, as they have been, you are not sure, but that yourselves, may be the next victim, you are now interested in the welfare of your County, the laws of your Country, demands such an interest, and you are not, the only ones, that feels this interest, but as far as the name, of Liberty, Religion, the rights of conscience, and the power of the divine providence is extended their will be interests manifested in the examination of this case, therefore it is for you to know and consider well your duty and make your decision according, to the dictates of truth, and a pure conscience, remember that these oaths you have made is registered in [illegible], and you will be called upon to answer the manner in which you have determined this case, between the state, and these individuals, for taking the blood of that man against the Laws of God and against your own human laws, that govern the Laws in which you live.
The defense responded with their opening statement:
What followed these opening statements was a farce. Each witness testified that each defendant wasn’t there or they didn’t see any of the defendants in the chaos of the day. All of these men lied to protect each other and ensure mob law and vigilante justice carried the day.
Did you see anybody there besides yourself
I saw a great crowd of people there.
Did you see any that you knew.
I did not.
Did you see any of these defendants there.
How many people were there.
I suppose about one hundred and fifty.
Did you see any in disguise there.
I did not.
Are you acquainted with any of these men on trial.
Did you see any of them at the Jail.
I did not.
Was Sharp there, when you was discharged.
I don’t think he was.
How far from Warsaw when you was discharged.
We was five or six miles.
Was David, Oldridge, and Williams, there, when the company was discharged.
I think they were.
Was Grover there.
He was somewhere there a [illegible]
I did not see him there.
What time of the day was you discharged.
Near twelve O clock.
Did you hear any of these men address the people upon anything.
Who addressed the people.
I think Sharp made a small speech.
Do you watch any of the speech.
I recollect some portion of it.
Did he say anything about Joseph Smith.
(the witness waited some considerable time before he answered)
I think he said that Joe Smith, was now in custody, and the Mormons would elect the officers of the County, and by that means, Joe would select his own, Jury and get free.
Was anything said, about killing, Joseph Smith.
Did he was what should be done with him.
Another interesting detail emerges from a few of the testimonies and it points to possible complicity by Governor Ford:
What was the words Sharp used.
He said the Mormons, had the power to elect the officers, of the County, and that Joe, would select his own Jurors, and be set free.
Did he say anything more.
Yes, but I don’t recollect all his speech.
He said Joe, would select the Officers of the County, did he.
Did he say any thing more that you remember.
He said, the Governor had said whatever they did, to do it quickly
Whatever you do, do it quickly. Spoken under oath from the stand by somebody who testimony contained plenty of problems like most of the other witnesses, but it is still notable. Whether or not Governor Ford said such a thing, or anything alluding to vigilante justice, is troubling and possible, but can’t be concluded simply from this statement. Never forget, there are no heroes in this story.
Another testimony from a Mr. Backman
How long was it before the firing that you saw Mr. Williams.
I saw Williams going in the line of march up to the Jail.
Did you see Williams after they returned from the Jail.
No. I was called on as a Juryman, immediately after,
Did you see Williams immediately after with Wilson speaking about the killing.
Did you see Sharp there that evening after the killing.
Did you see Grover there that evening after the killing.
Did you see Davis here that evening.
You get the idea. Each of these guys lied and lied to protect each other. No honor among assassins and the rule of law had long been dispensed with before this trial was even called.
One exchange from the hearing I want to highlight comes from the testimony of Frank Worrel. He was the teenage guard at the jail who colluded with Levi Williams to fire blank rounds at the attacking militia to give Frank and his fellow guards plausible deniability. This is a bit of a long read but it’s important to hear how it all transpired to understand the consequences that followed the trial.
Mr. Worrel Sworn:
Did you see Smith where he was killed.
Did you see any of these five men there.
I did not.
How many men were there at the time Smith was killed.
I could not say, but I suppose from one to two hundred.
How long did they stay.
I suppose three or four minutes.
What did they do, when they first, came.
The first motion was to come up in front of the Jail and when they had got formed there, they made a rush for the door.
Did many go up stairs.
I could not say.
Was smith shot in a number of places.
I can not say I never examined the body.
Did you see any body there, you knew, after the deed was done.
I did not.
Was there a good deal of confusion.
Did you hear anything said.
I cannot say, the pieces were going off, all the time, so that I could not either see, nor hear, anything said.
Where was you, when they made a rush to the door.
I was at the door.
Then you stood in the door.
No I was sitting on the door, step, when the men came up.
Did you change your position.
I was pushed, and [illegible], away about fifty feet in the crowd.
Did you see Smith when he died.
How long did he live after he fell.
Not to exceed a minute after he struck the ground.
Did you see him hanging in the window.
I did not.
You saw him die.
What time in the evening was it.
Between five and six O. clock.
Did you see [Levi] Williams there.
I do not recollect, I am satisfied I did not see him there.
Was he in town.
Was, Grover here.
I did not see him.
Was Davis here.
I did not see him.
You saw Williams and Oldridge, both here that evening.
I think I did.
You are acquainted with almost every body in the County.
I suppose , I am acquainted with about one third.
And there was between one hundred to one hundred and fifty people there and you did not know a single one.
No there was such a hurry I could not tell who was there.
Franklin Worrel Captain of the Gaurd, that was at the Jail, when the Mob, came up, was again called into the witness box by [illegible, looks like ‘Squire’] Lamburn to ask him questions that were before omitted, Mr. Browning for the defence, stood up in opposition to his asking him any further questions, which cause an investigation of the Law upon the subject which lasted some time, but [illegible] was finally decided by the Court that Mr. Lamburn have the privilege with strict injunctions, upon the witness not to answer any questions that would implicate himself.
Mr. Worrel, Do you know if the Carthage [illegible, looks like ‘Greys’] that evening loaded their guns, with blank catridge,
at this question Mr. Browning and Mr. Richardson spoke out to the witness saying you need not answer that question.
I know nothing about the Carthage [illegible, looks like ‘Greys’], only the six men that I had to do with.
Well do those six men, load their guns, with black cartridge that evening.
I will not answer it.
Let it go to the County there in that way, that he would not answer the question for fear of implicating himself.
Franklin Worrel, the 19-year-old with a stutter, denied that any of the defendants were in the mob, couldn’t remember a single face in the crowd, saw Jo die but didn’t see him hanging out the window, and then claimed he knows 1/3rd of the people in the county but not a single person in the mob struck him as familiar. But that final bit is really important, he refused to answer the direct question of whether or not he loaded his guns with blank cartridges to make a show of defending the jail against Levi Williams’s men. The attorney for the defense objected to him even being asked the question, and after the court decided the prosecution could ask him, he still refused to implicate himself by answering the blank cartridge question. This was the largest scandal of the entire hearing and Frank Worrel was held accountable; not by the law, but by the Destroying Angel of Mormonism, Orrin Pistol Packin’ Porter Rockwell. Porter Rockwell had the name of Frank Worrel etched into his mind when he met George D. Grant who gave Port the news of Jo’s death, telling Port that Frank was responsible. He never let that name escape his mind.
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.
By the end of 1845 when Port murdered Frank Worrel out of retribution, the Nauvoo Charter was revoked, the Mormon settlement of Yelrom was burned to the ground, the mob would march into Nauvoo and remove the few remaining Mormons in September of 1846, only mob law ruled in the area. The Legion may have been officially disbanded, but that didn’t stop Bloody Brigham from mustering the men when occasion required, armed with some repeated rifles from Jonathan Browning, yes that Browning, the same Browning that made my shotgun, Jonathan Browning started gunsmithing in Nauvoo and some of the earliest rifles he made are bear a plaque reading “Holiness to the Lord” which is also on every temple. I want one of those Nauvoo Legion Browning guns more than I want a turbo kit for my Miatia, which is to say more than my next meal or a heartfelt letter from my parents telling me they realize they’re wrong about everything. I can dare to dream. I’m doing fine! Stop asking!
That aside, Governor Ford recognized the increased lawlessness with both the Mormons and anti-Mormons after both these trials. It was only going to spiral further out of control.
No one would be convicted of any crime in Hancock [county]; and this put an end to the administration of the criminal law in that distracted county. Government was at an end there, and the whole community were delivered up to the dominion of a frightful anarchy... the people were neither capable of governing themselves nor of being governed by others. And truly there can be no government in a free country where the people do not voluntarily obey the laws.
Now to some broader observations from Governor Ford on the Mormon movement. It’s a long read from a guy that’s been dead over a century and a half but his understanding of the situation is very Twain-esque and absolutely timeless; as well as oddly prophetic.
Governor Ford p. 357
The world now indulged in various conjectures as to the further progress of the Mormon religion. By some persons it was believed that it would perish and die away with its founder. But upon the principle that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church,” there was now really more cause than ever to predict its success. The murder of the Smiths, instead of putting an end to the delusion of the Mormons and dispersing them, as many bleieved it would, only bound them together closer than ever, gave them new confidence in their fatih and an increased fanaticism. The Mormon church had been organized with a first presidency, composed of Joe and Hiram Smith and Sidney Rigdon, and twelve apostles of the prophet, representing the apostles of Jesus Christ. The twelve apostles were now absent, and until they could be called together the minds of the “saints” were unsettled, as to the future government of the church. Revelations were published that the prophet, in imitation of the Saviour, was to rise again from the dead. Many were looking in gaping wonderment for the fulfilment of this revelation, and some reported that they had already seen him, attended by a celestial army coursing the air on a great white horse. Rigdon, as the only remaining member of the first presidency, claimed the government of the church, as being successor to the prophet. When the twelve apostles returned from foreign parts, a fierce struggle for power ensued between them and Rigdon. Rigdon fortified his pretensions by alleging the will of the prophet in his favor, and pretending to have several new revelations from heaven, amongst which was one of a very impolitic nature. This was to the effect, that all the wealthy Mormons were to break up their residence at Nauvoo, and follow him to Pittsburg. This revelation put both the rich and the poor against him. The rich, because they did not want to leave their property; and the poor, because they would not be deserted by the wealthy. This was fatal to the ambition of Rigdon; and the Mormons tired[,] of the despotism of a one-man government, were now willing to decide in favor of the apostles. Rigdon was expelled from the church as being a false prophet, and left the field with a few followers, to establish a little delusion of his own, near Pittsburg; leaving the government of the main church in the hands of the apostles, with Brigham young, a cunning but vulgar man, at their head, occupying the place of Peter in the Christian hierarchy.
Missionaries were despatched to all parts to preach in the name of the “martyred Joseph;” and the Mormon religion thrived more than ever. For awhile it was doubtful whether the reign of the military saints in Nauvoo would not in course of time supplant the meek and lowly system of Christ. There were many things to favor their success. The different Christian sects had lost much of the fiery energy by which at first they were animated. They had attained to a more subdued, sober, learned, and intellectual religion. But there is at all times a large class of mankind who will never be satisfied with anything in devotion, short of a heated and wild fanaticism. The Mormons were the greatest zealots, the most confident in their faith, and filled with a wilder, fiercer, and more enterprising enthusiasm, than any sect on the continent of America; their religion gave promise of more temporal and spiritual advantages for less labor, and with less personal sacrifice of passion, lust, prejudice, malice, hatred, and ill-will, than any other perhaps in the whole world. Their missionaries abroad, to the number of two or three thousand, were more earnest and indefatigable in their efforts to make converts; compassing sea and land to make one proselyte. When abroad, they first preached doctrines somewhat like those of the Campbellites; Sidney Rigdon, the inventor of the system, having once been a Campbellite preacher; and when they had made a favorable impression, they began in far-off allusions to open up their mysteries, and to reveal to their disciples that a perfect “fulness of the gospel” must be expected. This “fulness of the gospel” was looked for by the dreamy and wondering disciple, as an indefinite something not yet to be comprehended, but which was essential to complete happiness and salvation. He was then told that God required him to remove to the place of gathering, where alone this sublime “fulness of the gospel” could be fully revealed, and completely enjoyed. When he arrived at the place of gathering, he was fortified in the new faith by being withdrawn from all other influence; and by seeing and hearing nothing but Mormons and Mormonism; and by association with those only who never doubted any of the Mormon dogmas. Now the “fulness of the gospel” could be safely made known. If it required him to submit to the most intolerable depostism; if it tolerated and encouraged the lusts of the flesh and a p[l]urality of wives; if it claimed all the world for the saints; universal dominion for the Mormon leaders; if it sanctioned murder, robbery, perjury, and larceny, at the command of their preists, no one could now doubt but that this was the “fulness of the gospel,” the liberty of the saints, with which Christ had made them free.
The Christian world, which has hitherto regarded Mormonism with silent contempt, unhappily may yet have cause to fear its rapid increase. Modern society is full of material for such a religion. At the death of the prophet, fourteen years after the first Mormon Church was organized, the Mormonis in all the world numbered about two hundred thousand souls (one half million according to their statistics); a number equal, perhaps, to the number of Christians, when the Christian Church was of the same age. It is to be feared that, in course of a century, some gifted man like Paul, some splendid orator, who will be able by his eloquence to attract crowds of the thousands who are ever ready to hear, and be carried away by, the sounding brass and tinkling cymbal of sparkling oratory, may command a hearing, may succeed in breathing a new life into this modern Mahometism, and make the name of the martyred Joseph ring as loud, and stir the souls of men as much, as the mighty name of Christ itself. Sharon, Palmyra, Manchester, Kirtland, Far West, Adamon Diahmon, Ramus, Nauvoo, and the Carthage Jail, may become holy and venerable names, places of classic interest, in another age; like Jerusalem, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Mount of Olives, and Mount Calvary to the Christian, and Mecca and Medina to the Turk. And in the event, the author of this history feels degraded by the reflection, that the humble governor of an obscure State, who would otherwise be forgotten in a few years, stands a fair chance, like Pilate and Herod, by their official connection with the true religion, of being dragged down to posterity with an immortal name, hitched on to the memory of a miserable imposter. There may be those whose ambition would lead them to desire an immortal name in history, even in those humbling terms. I am not one of that number…
From my own personal knowledge of this people, I can say with truth, that I have never known much of any of their leaders who was not addicted to profane swearing. No other kind of discourses than these were heard in the city. Curses upon their enemies, upon the country, upon government, upon all public officers, were now the lessons taught by the elders, to inflame their people with the highest degree of spite and malice against all who were not of the Mormons church, or its obsequious tools. The reader can readily imagine how a city of fifteen thousand inhabitants could be wrought up and kept in a continual rage by the inflammatory haragues of its leaders.
Timeless observations. Bravo, sir Thomas Ford.
Alright, listeners. I appreciate all of you sticking around for this really long episode. I’ve prepared a conclusion, not just of this 10-part Road to Carthage series, but also some of my takeaways from the historical timeline. But first, some acknowledgements and announcements.
First, some announcements. As most of you know, I’m going away for a while. I’ll still be on Glass Box Podcast every 2 weeks because it feels like a mistake to have a platform in 2020 and not discuss current events, but this show is going on hiatus. Here’s what that means for the wonderful people who support the show on patreon.com/nakedmormonism. I’m not going to charge you during the hiatus but you can expect periodic updates on that exclusive feed. It’s 2020 and I know money is a tough issue for a lot of people right now so I’m not taking your money until we’re officially off hiatus. So, if you want to join the patreon feed to get all the extra content, extra episodes, NaMo Home Evenings, early Mormon audiobooks, extended editions of most episodes, and just tons of goodies, hiatus is a great time to get all that extra content for free. Patreon.com/nakedmormonism. Speaking of Glass Box Podcast, if you want some merch, that’s a great way to support the show. We have mugs, t-shirts, stickers, all kinds of cool stuff in the shop section of glassboxpodcast.com.
Next announcement, and this comes in the form of a massive thank you to listener and friend of the show, Jeff Anderson. Jeff and I have been working together for the past couple months to get all the show notes from the entire backlog posted on the website. Simply go to scripts.nakedmormonismpodcast.com where you can view all the scripts, listen to each episode, and add any comments or corrections you have. There’s also a search function. Once again, without the help of Jeff Anderson, this never would have happened and he’s also a long-time supporter of the show. Thank you Jeff. That’s scripts.nakedmormonismpodcast.com; you’ll find a link in the show notes and a special post of it on the patreon feed.
Next announcement, we’re doing a final live Q&A this upcoming 200th anniversary of first-vision day, that’s September 21, 2020 at 6 p.m. pacific time. If you have comments, thoughts, or questions from the historical timeline or the Road to Carthage series specifically, post up a question on the patreon page or tag Naked Mormonism on your social medias of choice and I’ll answer questions or respond on that YouTube live broadcast. This will be the final NaMo Home Evening Q&A to kick off the hiatus.
Final announcement, I re-recorded the first episode of the show to reflect the research and writing style I’ve developed since the last time it was recorded as well as provide a general directory to the backlog. With this 10-part Road to Carthage Series and episode 1 rereleased, there’s never been a better time to recommend the podcast to a friend, The more y’all do that, the less marketing stuff I have to do which is great cuz I’m really bad at it.
With all that said, I don’t know how long the hiatus will be. One more unashamed plug, patrons at patreon.com/nakedmormonism will get periodic updates and anybody who signs up during hiatus gets all that extra content for free.
This podcast would never have become what it is today if not for an army of amazing folks who helped me every step of the journey. In no particular order, I owe a massive debt of gratitude to all of the following people, and yes, it’s a pretty long list cuz I’m a hefty boy and it takes a lot of shoulders to carry me around.
Preston, Hal Prentice, Jay Mumford, Julie Briscoe, Noah, Eli, Heath, Lucinda, Tom and Cecil, Andrew Torrez, David Michael, Marie Kent, Matthew Giltner, Cash, Racheal Nannon Brown, Professor Stephen, Judy Cottrell, Kurt, Philip Saulnier, Eric Johnson, Cody Noconi, Brian Kassenbrock, Doug Hofeling, Mark Hofeling, Dan Beecher, Lynn, Howard, Jared Rowley, Dan Wees, Lane, Andrew Lindeman, Joe Mrak, Tim Heaton, Heather and Brandon King, James R Wharton, Jim Dobler, Darren Bennett, Aaron Gleason, James Redekop, Doubting Dogma, Amy Larsen, Jeanie, Marsgirl, Jonathan Tindell, Abe Gardner, Roy Cazier, Rob Rigby, Mary and Shelley, Josh Kim, Joel Kuhn, Rebecca Fakkema, Katie Langston, Tim Birt, Perry Potter, Will M, Eric Herman, Levi Claussen, Tanner Barker, Jeff Peterson, Sara Ward, George Nash, Dennis Anderson, Darren Schaefer, Dread Pirate, Jessica Oudbier, Dave & Shay, Shannon Grover, Mike Hunt, Josh Wood, Chris and Kristy, Greg Gibson, Shane Toone, Frank Frost, George Green, Tim and Clara Keyt, DarthMandyPants, Bevin Flynn, Chuck Simons, Misty Dawn, NA Johnson, Ryan Kolanz, Blake Wright, Tanner Gililand, Samantha Shelley, John Dehlin, John Larsen, Colleen Dietz, Ryan McKnight, Ethan Dodge, Seth Andrews, Lesley Butterfield, Joseph Geisner, Sherry and Bill Morain, Rachel Killebrew, Cheryle Grinter, Jill Brim, Barbara Brown, Robert Beckstead, Michael Winkelman, Don Bradley, Vickie Speek, Braden Hamm, Lindsay Park, Cristina Rosetti, Brian Ziegenhagen, Brent and Erin Metcalfe, Alice Ashton, Callie Wright, Charone Frankel, Billy Eason, Jenica Crail, Mike Marquardt, Dan Vogel, Cheryl Bruno, Matt Harris, Trace Rogers, Jason Cameou, David Fitzgerald, Cara Santa Maria, Kaitlyn McKenna, Shawn Jolley, Shawn McCraney, Adam Gonnerman, Esther Palmer, John Hamer, Seth Bryant, Diane and Bill Shepherd, Roy Jeffs, Heretic Woman Deb McTaggart, Sam Young, Lydia Finch, Kimberly Anderson, Kate Kelly, Benjamin Schaffer, Marissa McCool, David Salisbury, Jeanne Aldrich, Tyson Kidder, Tom Kimball, Tim Coray, Jimmy Snow, Godless Engineer, Shirlee Draper, Miles Germer, Greg Rattey, Randy Todd Lamonda, Ishmael Brown, Dario Alvarez, Jill Brim, Julie Thomas, Jason Smith, Mark Elwood, Bryan Buchanan, Jonathan Streeter, Jana Riess, Grace Pool, Thomas Smith, Wayne Hepworth, Stacy Rebrul, Beth Hambridge, Zach Law, Morgan Stringer, Glenn Ostlund, Deb Diener, Alan Piper, Bonny Reckner, Rick Hansen, Will Bagley, Christine Marie, D. Michael Quinn, Jeremy Runnels, Phil Ferguson, Natalie Newell, Raven, Lilith Starr, Clair Barrus, Johnny Stephenson, Michael Marshall, Andy Wilson, Josue Majia, Gazalem, Joseph Johnstun, Gaylon Vorwaller, Curtis Evans, The Atlanta Atheist, Mark Doucet, Georgi Ivanov, Pup Dahlia, Jason Kendall, Jennifer Cantrell, Steven Deam, Kris Barton, Daniel Spencer, Jim Van Heel, Duke of Earl Grey, Devery Anderson, Kimberlee Galaxyy, Joey Scoma, Jessica and Andrew Sproge, Daniel Stone, Amy Kuhel, Jake Farr-Wharton, Sylia Gray, David Conley Nelson, Dayne Dawson, Andrea L. Rice, Randy and Jana Woodward, John Peden, Zena Gresham, Gene Elliott, Tyler Measom, Craig Criddle, Brian Keith Dalton, Bobby Cary and Miss Ashley, The Prophet Jeremiah, Bill Reel, and the longer I think, the longer the list gets so I’ll cap it there. That list is far from exhaustive and I know there are so many people I missed, so if I didn’t call out your name just know that I appreciate you as well.
Each of these people have been instrumental somehow in my journey the past 6 years of doing the podcast. I want to take special note of Christopher C. Smith. He’s the historian I hired to help put together this final Road to Carthage series and he’s been an immense help in many ways beyond these final 10 episodes. Thank you, Chris. I’m also uploading the 213 pages of Carthage Jail sources Chris compiled for this series to the scripts.nakedmormonismpodcast.com website.
I also want to thank my wonderful partner, Annie Ross. We met and started dating while I was mulling around the idea of starting the podcast and she even listened to the first episodes and gave the necessary feedback of “this is terrible”. From that point forward I knew I had a winner and I’m so lucky to now be her lifelong partner. Annie has been so supportive and instrumental to this journey and she’s taught me more about life than any other person. Thank you.
And finally, hundreds of hours of broadcast, thousands of pages of script, nearly 3 million downloads, and you amazing listeners have been there every step of the way. My biggest thanks goes out to each and every one of you who hit the download button every week.
Alright, listeners. Let’s bring this to a wrap with a conclusion. I have some thoughts about what happened in Carthage as well as some general thoughts overall so let’s start with the death of Joseph Smith.
How does somebody deal with a person like Joseph Smith? A figure like Joseph Smith never simply goes away, nor do the systems he created. If the Mormons faced another exile under his leadership, it would merely push off the Mormon theocracy problem a few more years and they’d take all the lessons they’d learned in Missouri and Illinois and make their next settlement all the more powerful and untouchable. And that’s a powerful word, untouchable.
Joseph Smith, legally speaking, had constructed his fiefdom such that he was untouchable by the legal system. How does a legal system rein in such flagrant abuses? When Jo had escaped that legal system so many times, what could it do? What could the people acting out of goodwill in the legal system do to touch somebody who was untouchable?
When I take a look at Jo’s plans, his ability to navigate the legal system, and everything he intended to do to the world in his Mormon revolution, all the damage and human cost attendant with revolutions, the freedoms stolen by a theocracy, the devastation he planned on wreaking upon an ever-expanding scope of victims of his criminal empire; when I take all these trends into account, I can only view Joseph Smith with complete and utter contempt, disgust, and reprehension. Deplorable, abominable, vile, and absolutely loathsome tyrant of heinous and revolting proportions.
By the legal standards of the day, Joseph Smith should have been executed via court martial in 1838 after he’d surrendered at the end of the Missouri-Mormon War. He acted in open defiance to the government of Missouri, acted out of pure contempt for federal government authority, sat atop a criminal empire which committed robbery and murder at a systemic level, and he used that empire with his own militia to wage war against the government. He committed treason. If a military officer in any era of American history ever did what Jo did, they’d be killed on the spot after an unceremonious court martial. By every legal standard, whether civilian or military, Joseph Smith rightfully faced the gallows or firing squad.
The legality of the situation is separate, however, from the moral judgment. Jo presents a very complicated rendition of a trolly problem. The problem was solved for us by Levi Williams and his men on June 27th, 1844. But the moment before that decision was made for history, what consequences could we tease out of the situation had he not died that day?
This forces us to stare down the barrel of alternative history, which isn’t something historians engage in often because infinite variables could easily change any possible outcome in unforeseeable ways.
If he didn’t die on June 27th, how much more suffering and death would he have caused? If he was able to carry out his grand designs to any extent, how many people would have died in his warpath during the Mormon revolution of America and the rest of the world? How many people would have been forced into slavery of all kinds because no empire has ever been constructed without the subsistence of slave labor? Undoubtedly, Jo’s new empire in the west, once Nauvoo became untenable, would have been a far more dangerous and criminal theocratic regime. If the suffering of the Mormons in Missouri and Nauvoo is a pattern we could carry on to this hypothetical 4th Josephite Mormon settlement, tens of thousands of people would have suffered from abuse and illness; crime would have run completely out of control, counterfeiting operations would have been significantly expanded, the Mormons themselves would be driven to the brink of collapse and wounded animals are always the most dangerous. Think of how polygamy would have expanded as well. If the most salacious exposes of how women were treated in the sex-work ring at Nauvoo, thousands of women would have been caught up in this oppressed and subjugated state, living off crumbs, tools for servicing rampant male sexual gratification, abused, broken, traumatized, ultimately to be discarded for younger generations of sex workers in an endless cycle of abuse and sex slavery.
Under a Mormon theocratic government, religious compliance would be required, apostates would disappear, shipped off by train cars to gulags and camps. The 50/50 population split of men and women would force a significant percentage of young men to be castrated so as to allow the religious government officials enough wives. The Lost Boys we see from fundamentalist Mormon communities today would be an entire social caste. Property of the Gentiles across the world would be plundered and absorbed into the church-run bishop’s storehouses as modern Labans and Nephis would see the aggressor as the hero in these conflicts. Anybody who dared to call themselves an atheist or stand up to this religious tyranny in any way would be labeled a Korihor, after which their tongues would be ripped out, they’d be cast from civilization, and then they’d meet their untimely end by citizens trampling them to death. Anybody seeking a change of government from the Mormon theocracy would be labeled a kingman, and following the example of General Moroni, the Book of Mormon’s most dangerous fascist, those dissenters would be placed in prison camps and ultimately burned alive to set an example to anybody entertaining tendencies of dissent. The Book of Mormon truly is a horrific book. All that horrific shit is in there and Mormons are encouraged to apply scripture to their everyday lives.
This draconian system of religious thought-policing would be enforced via bishops’ interviews at regular intervals. Punishments would be given for anybody without the most steadfast testimony. Folks in the community would disappear and nobody would dare question where they went or if those people would ever be seen again. Were they sent to labor camps until their testimony was strong enough? Were they sent to fight foreign wars? Were they outright blood atoned for committing the crime of apostasy? You better not ask or you’re questioning the ways of god and could be next. The idea of a Mormon theocracy plagues my nightmares.
What I’m really driving at here is a question I’ve wrestled with for years now. Was it a good thing for Joseph Smith to die?
I want us all to sit with that question for a long time while acknowledging our biases. There isn’t an objective conclusion to this question because there are millions of people across the globe who consider the death of Joseph Smith to be the worst event in human history. I, however, have spent years highlighting the absolutely worst aspects of this man, sparing no page of script to bleed his legacy by a thousand cuts until all that remains is a hollow shell; a scarecrow held together by lies. And I want you all to understand that the question of whether it was a good thing for Joseph to die is something which has plagued my daily walk and sucked my dreams into oblivion for years now.
I think the question breaks down into two components which are equally perplexing for me. Did he deserve to die and was it the best outcome for him to die? One of those questions is retrospective while the other is prospective.
I’m not letting myself or any of you out of this one easy. We don’t get to say it’s always wrong for somebody to be murdered and do away with this question because that’s rarely an option especially when faced with such a complicated trolly problem that is Joseph Smith. We also don’t get to say, Joseph Smith was a monster who murdered people, stole everything people had, caused untold pain, anguish, sickness, and death of his followers, committed treason while a military leader, he made his living solely from lying to people every moment of every day of his professional life, he raped children! He absolutely deserved to die, and the question is dealt with because where does that line of thought begin and end. I see people posting that George Floyd deserved to die because he was a criminal. These are not equal but the result of capital punishment for crimes from this line of thinking comes from the same place. That thought process creates systems of law that gives the death penalty to atheists and adulterers and commits genocide against people with a different skin color or god. Remember, it was against German law to oppose the Third Reich.
Did Jo deserve to die? Legally for the time and legally in most states and countries today, yes. Many countries have outlawed the death penalty. Can society really consider itself free while state-sanctioned murder is the status quo? Whether that murder be through the court system murdering people who commit heinous crimes with a deranged mind, or that murder be abrogated to an 18-year-old with a machinegun murdering people our government has labeled terrorists, can society progress while governments kill citizens of its own country or other countries? What are reasonable criteria for governments to murder people? Once the criteria are established, can we be certain that the murders our government commits are all 100% justified and reasonable, or is there a margin of error we tolerate? If 98% of felons are sent to death row on incontrovertible evidence, are those other 2% of innocent people we murder negligible? Something which can’t be disentangled from state-sanctioned murder is the mythology which fuels it. When we kill somebody on death row, we basically say “you’ve committed such a horrible crime that any punishment we could foist on you isn’t good enough. We have to send you to god and he’ll give you the punishment you deserve.” Can we tolerate this mythological undertone in a secular nation?
All of this says nothing about vigilante justice and lynchings which is really at issue in the case of Joseph Smith. What does it say about our society and government when people take capital punishment into their own hands without government sanction? This says “you are such a pariah of our society, we don’t care what the law says, we’re going to kill you anyway.” This nation has a long and truly abhorrent history of racially motivated lynchings. They still happen today. But, is there ever a case where somebody like Joseph Smith demonstrates himself completely untouchable by law who continues to commit acts deserving the death penalty, where vigilante justice is warranted? Not only warranted, but the only solution in his case specifically.
Did Jo deserve to die? I’m going to say he didn’t deserve to die. Whether by vigilante justice or state-sanctioned murder, I don’t think he deserved death. I think any time we give government license to kill its own citizens, we quickly find ourselves in dangerous power dynamics.
Let’s deal with the second component of this question, was it the best outcome for him to die? This is a bit more complex. Mormonism had reached critical mass long before Carthage and Jo’s movement doesn’t die with him, so we can put that aspect of the question to the side. Had Jo been able to carry out his greatest designs, world history would be very different. He would have caused an indescribable amount of death, suffering, and harm to billions of people for generations to come. If we could harness the energy from the suffering he would have caused if he remained alive and free, we could power the rotation of the galaxy itself for time and eternity.
If we could somehow quantify the suffering he would have caused if allowed to live, was it the most moral outcome for him to die on June 27th, 1844? Yes. Yes, it was. But not for the reasons you might think.
Suffering in jail for the rest of his life would cause him incredible suffering, the law would catch up with him eventually. This isn’t a judgement on Jo, it’s a judgement about our justice system that’s based on retributive justice, not rehabilitative justice. He would have languished for years and suffered and that’s acceptable to a lot of people, but it would have done nothing to make him a better human being. It only would have fueled the fire burning inside him and caused his followers to further cling to the persecution complex. This would only accelerate his grand designs, especially if he ever escaped from prison as he’d done before. For the suffering he caused, the wrongs he committed, and the suffering he would have experienced with a life in prison, it was best for him to die that day in my opinion.
But, that’s my opinion. What do you think? Should he have been murdered that day? If your answer is yes, would you have pulled the trigger that day? Would you have been a spectator? Would you have been a Levi Williams who put the assassination into motion but didn’t actually fire a gun?
There isn’t an objective conclusion to these questions because they tap into difficult aspects of human morality. Justice, retribution, freedom, the worth of human lives. There aren’t simple answers. It’s never simple because we’re dealing with the most precious of possessions that humanity has, humanity itself. When we see injustices by a person like Joseph Smith, we want simple answers; we yearn for simple answers, then wonder what it is about the concept of eternal paradise and punishment from daddy who knows everything we’ve done is so appealing to billions of people. Why is religion so appealing and effective? Because humanity is ugly and we’re creatures who want simple answers.
Besides, the worst thing about Joseph Smith isn’t anything he personally did. It’s not the murder, it’s not the serial rape, it isn’t the habitual lying for self-serving motives, it’s not the treason or intent of a theocratic revolution, it’s not all the brazen crime and raising militias and shadow assassin squads, it’s not all the white supremacy and visions of racial cleansing for white purity; all of these things done in the name of the voice in his head, his god, Elohim. Those are reprehensible, but they aren’t the worst things he did. The worst thing Joseph Smith did wasn’t anything specific, but rather, what he started. Truly, the worst thing about this human is his successors.
No treatment of Joseph Smith’s beliefs, sense of morality, or daily conduct can be complete without examining the system he created and the people who followed his footsteps. Joseph Smith was a horrible person, but Brigham Young was simply on a different level. Everything Jo dreamed of doing, Brigham actually executed. Jo’s most malevolent plans for America were carried out by Brigham Young in the nation of Deseret. Jo’s racial supremacy doctrines were carried out by Brigham Young who committed genocide and created the largest isolated eugenics experiment in American history.
You know that Mormon theocratic dystopia of alternate history I was talking about earlier? You may think that would never happen, but everything I described happened to some extent in Utah under the tyrannical reign of Bloody Brigham fucking Young, which presents a larger point: intellectual contagion.
Look, Joseph Smith didn’t make Mormonism in the larger sense. The culture he grew up in made him and he took bits and pieces of that culture, beliefs, ideals, concepts, the philosophies of men, if you will, and simply plagiarized and reskinned them to be his own flavor. Nothing he did was original, his path through life is perfectly consistent with countless demagogues before and after him. The culture made the man who made the religion that was then weaponized by somebody much smarter than him. For any successful religion to grow beyond a few families, you need an ideas guy followed by a business guy… yes guy. I mean that. It’s an indictment, not an endorsement. Intellectual contagion, the force of populism, outlives the person who spawns their specific flavor of it.
We see these same patterns around us every day. We can’t stop them but we can’t afford to not fight them. Ideas are more resilient than the fragile human skulls which carry them. It doesn’t matter what populist movement you examine, it doesn’t arise from a vacuum.
Jo wasn’t the most successful imposter the world has ever seen, he yet another among a swampland of monsters. He was ignorant of almost everything around him. He was coarse and brazen, corrupt, beholden to all manner of vice, his lust for power, wealth, and control dragged him to his grave kicking and screaming. Everything was instant gratification and convenience; he never considered the consequences of his actions if they happened more than 5 minutes from the present. He could never choose the good in the future when there was an evil close at hand. He was no better or worse than a common trickster, he just had more people who paid attention to him. He wasn’t a sage old man with a strong drink at the end of the bar, he was a child in a man’s body who drank like a miner and was arrogant to destruction. He hated authority and fought it every step of his path to supplant any systems of power with his own words of “thus saith the lord”. He was a chameleon who bounced from piety to levity, purity to lust, magnanimity to wrath dependent on who was there to perceive his conduct. He was physically strong, mentally cunning, and morally perverse, a dangerous combination.
But truly what makes him the most corrupt is what those who followed him accomplished. The people who followed Joseph Smith were leaders and the led. Any system of belief will present an irresistible pile of excrement to amoral flies wandering the wilderness. The ranks of Mormon leadership were filled with unprincipled, defiled, and morally bankrupt monsters, the exact people with which Jo got along so well. These vicious leaders co opt the credulity of the wandering followers who know very little of human nature and who give every possession, minute, and desire to the leaders. These are the victims of a monstrous self-feeding system of the ignominious leading the honest and simple. Religion remains the most powerful human tool for the strong to control the weak. A cloak of safety given to the sheep by the wolves with comforting words and promises of eternal riches. Hollow assurances to satisfy the hungry with the smell of food, cure the dying with spit and mud, uplift the depressed with derision for daring to not be filled with joy. A person sacrifices their autonomy and sentience to this force and they become a sacrificial pawn to the game lord, gluttonous for power, wealth, and control. Don’t read that, it makes god angry. Don’t like that person, it makes god angry. Don’t listen to them, they make god angry. But the real power lies on the flipside of that coin. Do this, steal that, kill them, you wouldn’t want to make god angry, would you?
The greatest aspiration of Mormonism is no secret; it will not die until it rules the world. From Joseph Smith to the current nonagenarian running the company with a skull full of slushie mix, each prophet has worked tirelessly to make this cult the most powerful cult in the world. Hundreds of billions of dollars, millions of acres of land, politicians calling and asking what they can do for the church, meeting with presidents and foreign dignitaries under the guise of spreading the gospel, a sales force, tens of thousands strong, giving their own hard-earned money to have the privilege of selling the church for 2 years. At its heart, this is what kingdom-building looks like in our modern world.
Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.
Zion the New Jerusalem will be built on the American continent
The field is white all ready to harvest
Consecrate the property of the gentiles
They will vex the gentiles with a sore vexation
Mormons are so nice. They’re programmed to be everything they are. Make no mistake, all it takes is one modern Bloody Brigham Young for Mormonism to quickly become the greatest domestic threat in American history. It’s too wealthy, too powerful, too dangerous to ignore. Joseph Smith created a doomsday cult with murderous oaths of fealty and secrecy. We have yet to see this religion live up to its full potential; and that’s a force of nature worth fighting.
Thank you listeners. For the sake of nostalgia, one last time, let’s drift away from safe harbor together. I’ll see you on the battlefield.
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