Ep 50 – Mo Justice Mo Peace
On this episode, we finally reach the November court of inquiry following the Mormon-Missouri war of 1838. Typically, court hearings are held to pass fair judgement, but the Mormons find no justice or peace. The episode begins with an exciting announcement about a cross-country Mormon history pilgrimage. Updates found on this episode and you can follow along on the show’s Patreon feed.
Missouri State Archives Mormon war papers 1838-1841
Reed Peck Manuscript
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Voicemail Line (864)Nake-dMo (625-3366)
Today is our 50th episode, and it’s also march 16th, 2017, welcome and thanks for joining me! I know it’s a completely arbitrary distinction as it’s taken us nearly 2.5 years to get here and there are actually over 100 episodes in the feed, but we have to take the time to celebrate once in a while even if the celebration is arbitrary. We have a lot of information to get through in this episode, but before jumping into the November court of inquiry held against Jo and 63 other Mormons, I want to take a minute to talk to you guys about the show in general.
The last milestone we celebrated was the first anniversary episode, the 7.5 hr BoM episode. That was nearly a year and a half ago so let’s take episode 50 as cause for another milestone celebration. To give you a little peek behind the curtain, I’m also super excited that the downloads on this episode have finally ticked us over the 1 million overall downloads milestone. 50 episodes is one thing, but 1 mn downloads simply sends me into ecstasy. Let me just take a brief few minutes to be a little prideful, if you’ll give me license to do so.
It’s really exciting to be hitting these milestones today. I don’t want to say that I never thought we would actually get here because it’s simply not true. I always wanted this show to grow and expand and knew with enough persistence and banging my head against the wall that we eventually would get here. That’s kind of my thing, and I’ll just briefly share this about myself. When I put my mind to something that I truly want, I can seldom think of an example when it didn’t happen or end up panning out. But luck doesn’t have much to do with it, most often times these passions have come to fruition through sheer brute force and level 11 jackass bull-headed persistence. From the little struggles that hinder most episode’s release until 11 p.m. on Thursday nights or force me to get a guest on the line a second time to re-record an interview, all the way to the broader overall struggle of somehow monetizing what most people consider a hobby, we’ve had our fair share of fights and frustrations over the almost 2 and a half years this podcast has been running.
I’ll share this personal behind-the-scenes perspective very briefly. The first time I received a negative email from somebody that didn’t like show was around the time the first few negative reviews began to trickle in. When I received that first harsh email, I wanted to throw it all away and delete any presence of the podcast from anywhere it may be hiding online. I wanted to delete the website and erase even the memory of having done anything even relating to this podcast. I felt like a failure. The entire endeavor felt like the most dramatic failure I had ever experienced in my life. It was like somebody was hitting my child. The number of positive reviews and emails from people who liked the work simply didn’t matter with this cloud of negativity marring my perspective and casting a shadow on everything I did for the weeks following it. Eventually the depressive feelings passed and a few more reviews and emails came in from people who liked the work and it took a long time for me to finally embrace the fact that you simply can’t make everybody happy. That was a tough realization to comprehend. Since a young age, I was always the peacemaker in the household, I couldn’t stand the thought that somebody might be angry or sad because of me. I couldn’t stand the thought that somebody didn’t like this thing I was pouring countless hours in to, or worse yet, might not like me. It’s a fine balance to strike, caring what people think and also not letting what they say get to you.
Eventually I was able to reconcile the good and the bad reviews and emails by saying, I’m going to do what I’m going to do, regardless of what people say, which gets to the stubborn jackassery as earlier eluded to. Now, when people leave reviews or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I seriously consider what they have to say, but don’t let it necessarily penetrate the callouses I’ve built up from the bad emails and reviews in the past. This does a great disservice to the quality of the show and, more importantly, to you the listeners. If one of you are willing to take the time to say there’s something wrong, it’s my duty to listen to what you have to say and take it under serious consideration, while still remembering that I’ll never make everybody happy. More on that in a minute.
It’s worth mentioning that any criticisms somebody levels at me or the work pales in comparison to the level of self-criticism I’ve toiled with. That old adage of you are your own worst critic is absolutely true.
This brings me to a self-criticism I’m constantly fighting, I’m not a real historian, just a fan of history. This does allow for certain liberties in the historical narrative that I may not take if I were classically trained through conventional methods. There are reasons why historians are often very careful with what they say. I was in a very extended discussion with Brent Metcalfe this week in the Mormon historians facebook group, and it’s incredibly clear that I’m capable of making connections and embracing assertions that simply may not be founded in reality or may not be substantiated by the consensus around the historical record. This allows for some much-needed wiggle room when telling stories, but may cause such narratives and models to cripple under harsh historical scrutiny. Needless to say, if I could go back and start the historical timeline with the knowledge I now have, I may have spent much less time on some parts and much more time on others, but I definitely would have done it differently. The problem is, I didn’t know what I didn’t know 2.5 years ago, and I seem to know even less about what I don’t know now; the great endless paradox of any field of study that dives deep enough. The more you learn, the less you seem to know.
But if I were to go back and redo all those early episodes, this journey would be lost as well. That’s the thing with a dissertation for a degree, the people that will be judging you only see the finished product; what might they think if they were judging the rough draft from the student’s freshman year? I’ve made no bones about the fact that you are all taking this journey through Mormon history with me. When I’m learning about Mormon history, it’s usually limited to the content of that week’s episode, meaning I still know very little of the Nauvoo and Utah years, but plan on learning as we go, and you, the listeners, will be learning it at the same pace as me.
To wrap this all together, the reason I brought up criticisms earlier is I plan on answering some feedback that was both petitioned for and appreciated. The Haun’s mill episode featured dramatized readings of firsthand accounts, many liked it, others didn’t, but the overwhelming consensus was to keep Naked Mormonism the historical monologue as it has previously been. But that leaves the people who enjoyed the dramatized version high and dry, thus opening up an opportunity for expansion. Anyone listening to this show since the early days knows that I love to tell stories, and it just so happens that Mormon history is a rich medium from which to derive an historical fiction storyline, just ask Gerald Lund of the Work and the Glory if you disagree. I’ve also been wanting to reboot the Glass Box Podcast for quite some time and thus presents our convergence of circumstances. Lately I’ve been listening to a couple of old time radio shows and personally think a Mormon version of old time radio could be the perfect answer. That allows for Naked Mormonism to stick with the historical monologue as we’ve been doing, and allows a separate outlet for my insatiable need to tell a compelling story, regardless of historicity. Without spending too much time on details of an ever-evolving idea, it would require a small gathering of podcasters to voice our characters and an audio engineer to edit and produce everything with sound effects and a storyline. I have a pilot and second episode already essentially scripted, now comes the hard part of translating that jackass-like persistence and excitement about a project into reality.
Let’s put that on hold for a brief second to discuss an announcement I teased 2 weeks ago, and mentioned last week. One thing real historians and journalists do is travel and visit the relevant places they’re studying. If you’re a Bible scholar, it’s a good idea to make the pilgrimage to the holy land at least once in your life. If you’re a Mormon or a Mormon historian, there exists the holy Mormon pilgrimage that many Mormons never do even though they believe in the church their whole lives. This pilgrimage includes Nauvoo and Carthage IL, Kirtland OH, and Palmyra NY, and of course, UTAH with some other little nearby stops thrown in there. At the time this episode airs, I’ll be in my car leaving Seattle for the first leg of the journey beginning in Utah, reaching its halfway point in NY, and finally ending in Las Vegas.
This journey means a number of things. First, Naked Mormonism will be taking its first ever hiatus during this time, and will resume after ReasonCon on Star Wars Day, May the 4th. If you’re listening in the backlog, this hiatus is largely irrelevant because you’ll just go on to the next episode after this one’s over, but for those listening along as the shows air, we’re taking a break to do some in the field research and journalism and will return in May with renewed energy and a lot to talk about as we crest the threshold into the Nauvoo years.
As many of you know, this podcast is my only source of income, and I, like many of you, can’t just take a month with no income, especially as I’ll be driving across the country spending nights in my tent because hotels cost too much. So, if you’re a subscriber on Patreon.com/nakedmormonism, there will still be weekly content posted there for the month and a half the podcast is on hiatus. This content will vary greatly including audio travel logs, patreon exclusive video content, interviews, all which won’t be part of the regular podcast or youtube feed. You’ll be able to access that exclusive content by pledging to support this research and journalism; it doesn’t even have to be a dollar an episode. Go on a pledge a penny per episode and you’ll gain access to that exclusive content.
I don’t really have a boss I can go to and ask for a raise nor do I use advertisers, so we have to give patreon the hard sell sometimes. Being in the middle of my taxes, I have a pretty solid idea of how much I made in 2015 as opposed to 2016. Being a truck driver was a posh job with benefits, now I’m a podcaster on Medicaid making roughly 6 and a half bux an hour, and that’s only if you calculate out to 50 hour weeks, which I haven’t had one of those since I was a truck driver. If I extrapolate out the actual number of hours per week while deducting business costs, that 6 and a half bux gets much closer to the 4.50/hour range. I consider myself very lucky to be able to do this podcast for a living without advertisers, but I’ll just say that it isn’t without its sacrifices.
That being said, my personal living situation is comfortable, but there is absolutely zero room in the budget for growth and development. The only way I’m able to fund this Mormon history pilgrimage is thanks to one sentence in my Grandma’s will, and I can think of no other use for this small inheritance than making my first Mormon pilgrimage, she would have been ecstatic to know of its use.
I read off the new patrons every two weeks, but the trickle of new subscribers doesn’t match the number who let their card expire. We reached the goal for NaMo home evenings two months ago, but alas, with the usual fluctuation, we’re back to being a few dollars short of that goal, so here’s the hard sell. Get us up to the next patreon goal and we’ll reboot the Glass Box Podcast as an old-school radio storytelling version of Mormon history. And if you’ve let your card expire, maybe consider logging in to patreon.com and renewing because you’re freeloading off the extra content. Also, subscribing to the patreon feed will be the best way to keep up with my travels across the country along with any interviews I conduct and videos I shoot. Did I mention that yet? I’ll be taking along my 360-camera as well as a regular point and shoot camera to chronicle everything and it’ll all be posted up on the patreon page. 2% of the people listening right now pledging a dollar an episode would get us not only to the next goal, but to the goal after that. You can say, well, other people listening will probably heed this seemingly desperate plea for my hard-earned money, and they’ll take care of it, but you’re wrong, because everybody thinks that. I’m not talking to the 5 other listeners of the show, I’m talking to you. You, the person shaking your head at this whole intro because it sounds like an NPR pledge drive. We need your help, I need your help to not only keep this going, but to invest in R&D to make it even better.
Don’t be part of the 5 other listeners who consume just the free content; treat yourself a little bit. Join the NaMo family and count yourself among the ranks of the NaMo elite by gaining access to the premium extended edition episodes as well as all the extra content that will come out of this cross-country Mormon history pilgrimage and beyond. You owe it to yourself to indulge a little bit when it comes to Mormon history.
Not to belabor the point to complete annoyance, but I’m not done asking for your help, and this is much more direct than financial support on patreon.com/nakedmormonism. I said I’ll be taking a point-and-shoot camera with me as well as the 360-video camera, this provides some great opportunities. In the past, I’ve received a small number of emails from people who say they have an old family journal or some old letters in a trunk that I may be interested in. Well, I’m interested, but my answer is always something along the lines of, “I don’t want your great grandmas old journal because it’s a family heirloom and it doesn’t belong with me. If it belongs anywhere, it should be in an historical library with the Community of Christ or something,” so I always refuse offers from people who want to send me stuff like this. Well, we now have a great opportunity to meet in person and for me to take pictures of that old journal. If you have an old newspaper, journal, letter exchange, book, anything you think I may be interested in, Mormon or not, send an email to email@example.com. I would consider it an honor to come and photograph whatever you have and leave it in your rightful possession, and I’m willing to drive significantly out of my way to make that happen. That’s what real historians and journalists do. They travel to relevant places and speak to relevant people to bring to the scholarly world information which was previously unknown. We have all benefitted endlessly from what the world of Mormon history has to offer, let’s give a little something back. Alright, I think that wraps it up. We’re trying to answer feedback by rebooting the GBP, I’m on my way to embark upon a cross-country Mormon history pilgrimage, and please support our efforts at patreon.com/nakedmormonism, simple as that.
As stated before I told you everything I just told you, we have a lot to get through today. Our last milestone episode was 7.5 hours, but we’ll try to stay a bit under that for the sake of everybody’s sanity. The last historical episode covered the surrender of the Mormon leadership and the twin refuge cities of Far West and Diahmon, crippling the last places Mormons safely lived in Missouri. The terms of surrender forced the Mormons to uproot their lives once again and leave Missouri, as per the extermination order, and now we get to the subsequent court of inquiry following the surrender.
Once General Clark arrived to the camp of General Lucas, Clark enforced the negotiated surrender terms and took custody of Jo and the other detained Mormon leaders. Nearly 50 other Mormons were dragged to Richmond with the leadership to stand as defendants or witnesses in the court of inquiry which would span from November 12th to the 29th.
A court of inquiry isn’t even a grand jury hearing. A grand jury is held to determine if there is sufficient evidence to bring charges against a suspect, after which a jury trial proceeds. A court of inquiry is a step or two below a grand jury and usually only reserved for military situations. On the very first page of the November court documents we find this information from the various committees that were investigating the Mormon’s crimes in Missouri.
“The documents may be divided into several classes 1 st. The affadavits and correspondence, preceeding each series of authorized military operations 2ed The orders issued upon such evidence 3 rd The military operations and correspondence consequent thereon and 4 th The evidence taken before a court of inquiry held for the investigation of criminal charges against individuals…
The copy of the examination taken before the criminal court of enquiry,
is manifestly not such evidence as ought to be received by the
committee. 1 st because it is not authenticicated and 2 nd it is
confined chiefly to the object of that inquiry: Namely the investigation
of criminal charges against ind = =viduals underarrest: for these
reasons, but above all for the reason that it would be a direct
interference with the administration of Justice, this document ought not
to be published with the sanction of the legislature. The Committee
concludes that it would not be proper to publish the official orders,
and correspondence between the officers in command and the executive,
without the evidence on which they were founded, and that evidence is
not sufficuntly full or satisfactory, to authorize its pub= =lication –
To publish the whole together might tend to give a direction to the
public mind prejudicial to an impartial administration of Justice in
Right there it tells us that this court of inquiry should not be published or used for any reason really in a full grand jury trial for bringing charges against Jo and the Mormons. That right there explains why these documents weren’t released until 1841, nearly 3 years after this court of inquiry was held. That’s sets our tone for the legality of this situation. As soon as Jo and the Mormons surrendered, General Lucas held the court martial during which he sentenced Jo, Wight, Rigdon and the other Mormon leaders to death by firing squad the next morning. The executions were derailed thanks to General Doniphan, and this court of inquiry was held during the following two weeks to build up a façade of proper law proceedings, but it was still flawed. Nobody was really playing by the rulebooks, and some innocent people suffered violation of habeas corpus as the product.
But let’s get into the actual court of inquiry. We’ll spend this episode reading court documents to try and put us in that 1838 courtroom. A few things to point out before getting started, these proceedings occurred over 17 8-hour days and generated over 200 pages of documents most of which I’ve read through by this point. We simply can’t discuss every testimony without this episode being the longest we’ve ever done by orders of magnitude. We’ll also be exposed to many names on both sides of the conflict with whom we’ve never dealt before so I’ll try my best to give a brief background or even a simplistic label such as “Mormon” or “anti-Mormon,” which often leaves a lot of necessary nuance out of the conversation. We have to do this for time and logistical constraints, but we’ll do our best to compile the most representative testimonies and move through the documents as concisely as possible.
Everything we discuss in this episode is from one source unless otherwise stated. The state of Missouri government has published pdf and text copies of the entire archive of court documents, anybody can see these on sos.mo.gov archive website, which you’ll find a link to in the show notes under the title “Mormon War Papers 1837-1841”. Normally I don’t really get off on just straight reading you guys court documents, but there have been those select few trials in Jo’s lifetime where doing anything other than reading the actual court documents just sells the situation short of what really happened. Previously we’ve read the infamous 1826 glass-looking trial, the two 1830 trials which were one week apart, and of course, we briefly covered the lawsuit Grandison Newell brought against Jo claiming he’d commanded 2 Mormons to assassinate Newell. Among the dozens of court appearances Jo’s made by this point, those are the few most important appearances, which is why we’ve covered them in detail. The seriousness of all those trials combined pale in comparison to how crucial this trial was in Jo’s life. A guilty verdict from this court of inquiry could realistically lead to a death penalty ruling following the impending civil trial. There was truly no other trial in Jo’s life more important than these 17 days in November 1838.
The presiding judge, yes, singular “judge,” for this court of inquiry was Justice Austin A. King, the same who presided over the trial of Jo and Lyman Wight on Raglin’s farm back in September after they surrounded the homes of government officials with the Danites. Judge King wasn’t really a detached observer in this situation and should have recused himself of the whole situation. There may be more to his motivations than meets the eye, and we’ll try to get into that at the end of the episode.
For now, let’s just dive in face first and see what we’re met with. First, let’s read the charges; without them no court of inquiry exists. I’m going to read every name of those charged and I only do that because some of you may recognize your ancestors’ name in here.
“State vs. Joseph Smith, jr., Hiram Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Parley P. Pratt, Lyman Wight, Amasa Lyman, George W. Robinson, Caleb Baldwin, Alanson Ripley, Washington Voorhees, Sidney Turner, John Buckhanon, Jacob Gates, Chandler Haldbrook, George W. Harris, Jesse D. Hunter, Andrew Whitlock, Martin C. Alred, William Alred, George Grant, Darwin Chase, Elijah Newman, Alvin G. Tippetts, Zedekiah Owens, Isaac Morley, Thomas Buck, Moses Clawson, John J. Tanner, Daniel Shearer, Daniel S. Thomas, Alexander McRay, Elisha Edwards, John S. Higbey, Ebenezer Page, Bejamin Covey, Ebenezer Robinson, Lyman Gibbs, James M. Henderson, David Pettigrew, Edward Partridge, Francis Higby, David Frmpton, George Kimble, Joseph W. Younger, Henry Zabriskey, Allen J. Stout, Sheffield Daniels, Silas Manard, Anthony Head, Benjamin Jones, Daniel Carn, John T. Earl, and Norman Shearer; who were charged with the several crimes of high treason against the State, murder, burglary, arson, robbery, and larceny.”
The first 7 names except Amasa Lyman we recognize as the first group of Mormon leaders to be taken hostage on October 31st prior to the Mormon’s surrender. But, there were a few unexpected names, as well as a few names missing we might expect to see. For example, Doctor Sampson Avard was Brigadier General over the Danites, second only to Captain General Elias Higbee who’d fled Far West before its surrender, how was Avard not a member of the 53 accused Mormons we just read? Well, that was a question on the minds of the accused Mormons as well. Sampson Avard was a Danite insider who’d participated in the Mormon depredations of Daviess county which led to Haun’s Mill and the subsequent surrender in the first place, why was he not included? The first witness was called to the stand:
“Sampson Avard, a witness, produced, sworn, & examined, on behalf of the state, deposeth & saith: That about 4 months ago, a band called the Daughters of Zion, since called the Danite band, was formed of the members of the Mormon church, the original object of which was to drive from the county of Caldwell, all those who dissented from the Mormon church; in which they succeeded admirably, and to the satisfaction of all concerned. I consider Joseph Smith, Jr as the prime mover and organizer of this Danite band_ The officers of the band, according to their grades, were bought before him, at a school house together with Hiram Smith & Sidney Rigdon, the three composing the first presidency of the whole church. Joseph Smith then blessed them xc then he prophesied over them, declaring that they should be the means in the hands of God of bringing forth the millenial kingdom It was stated by Jos Smith Jr. that it was necessary this band should be bound together by a cove nant. That those who revealed the secrets of this society should be put death. The cove nant taken by all the Danite band was as follows, to wit: They declared, holding up their right hands, “In the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God I do solemnly obligate myself “ever to conceal and never to reveal the secret purposes of this society, called the Daughters of Zion, Should I ever do the same, I hold my life as the forfeiture.” The prophet Joseph Smith Jr, together with two his counsellors, Hiram Smith & Sidney Rigdon were considered as the supreme head of the church and the Daniete band feel themselves as much bound to obey them as to obey the Supreme God. Instruction was given by Joseph Smith Jr that if any of them should get into difficulty, the rest should help him out, and that they should stand by each other, right or wrong, This instruction was given at a danite meeting, in a publick address. As for Joseph Smith Jr and his two counsellors, the witness does not know they ever took the Danite oath He knows that all the rest of the defendants are danites, except Sidney Tanner, Andw Whitlock Zedah Owens, Thos Rich, John I. Tanner, Dan’l S Thomas, David Pettigrew, Geo. Kimble, Anthony Head, Benj. Jones, and Norman Shearer At the election last August, a report came to Far West that some of the brethren in Daviess cty were killed. I called for 20 volunteers to accompany me to [“Adam ondi Ahmon Mr Joseph Smith in company” crossed out] Davis to see into this matter. I went, and about 120 Mormons accompanied me to Adam ondi Ahmon Mr. Joseph Smith, Jr in com pany. When we arrived there, I found the re port exagerated. None were killed. We visited Mr. Adam Black—about 150 or 200 men of us armed. Jos Smith was commander, and if Black had not signed the paper he did, it was the common understanding & belief that he would have shared the fate of the dissenters. Sidney Rigdon and Lyman Wight were at Adam when we went to Blacks & advised the movement. As regards the affair at DeWit, I know little personally, but I heard Mr. S. Rigdon say they had gone down to DeWitt, where it was said a mob had collected to wage war upon the Mormons residing in [“Caldwell” crossed out] Carroll county, and that Joseph smith, Jr, with his friends went down to De Witt to give aid & help to his brethren. The company, as I presume, were armed, they re turned armed. Hiram Smith & Geo. W. Robert son were in the company. Amazi Lyman went to see what was gong on. I hearded these persons say they were in Hinckle’s camp at De Wit several days When the Mormons returned from De Wit, it was rumoured that a mob was collecting in Davis cty. Jos Smith Jr, the Sunday before the late disturban ces in Davis, at a church meeting, gave no tice that he wished the whole county collected on the next day (Monday) at Far West. He declared, on Sunday or Monday, I don’t recol lect which), that all who did not take up arms in defense of the Mormons of Davis should be considered as tories, and should take their exit [“out” crossed out] from the county. At the meeting on Monday, when person met from all parts of the county of Caldwell, Jos Smith Jr took the pulpit, & delivered an address, in which he said that we had been an injured people, driven violently from Jackson cty, that we had appealed to the Govern or, magistrates, judges & even to the Prest. of the U. States, & there had been no redress for us, and that now a mob was about to destroy the rights of our brethren of Davis cty and that it was high time that we should take measures to defend our own rights. In the address he related an anecdote about a captain who applied to a Dutch man to purchase potatoes, who refused to sell sell. The captain then charged his com_ pany, several different times, not to touch the Dutchmans potatoes, In the morn ing the Dutchman had not a potatoe left in his patch. This was in reference to touching no property in our expedition to Davis Cty, that did not belong to us, but he told us that the [“people” crossed out] children of God did not go to war at their own expense. A vote was taken whether the brethren should embody and go down to Davis to attack the mob, this ques tion was put by the prophet Jos Smith Jr and passed unanimously, with a few exceptions Captains Patten and Brunson were appoint ed commanders of the Mormons by Jos Smith Jr to go to Davis, he frequently called these men generals. I once had a command as an officer but Jos Smith Jr removed me from it & I asked him the reason & he assigned that he had another office for me; afterwards Mr. Rigdon told me I was to fill the office of Surgeon to attend to the sick & wounded After we arrived at Diahmon in Davis a council was held, at night composed of Jos Smith Jr., Geo W. Robertson, Hiram Smith Captains Patton & Brunson, Lyman Wight Prest R Cahoon, P.P. Pratt and myself & perhaps Mr. Hinckle Prest. Rigdon was not present, he remained at Far West: a correspondence was kept up between him & Jos Smith Jr. I heard Mr Rigdon read one of the letters from Smith which as I remember was about as follows That he knew from prophesy & from the revelation of Jesus Christ that the enemies of the Kingdom were in their hands, & that they (the mormon church) should succeed Rigdon on reading the letter said it gave him great (“satisfaction” crossed out) consolation [“that” crossed out) to have such authority that the kingdom of God was rolling on. In the above refered to council Mr Smith spoke of the grievances we had suffered in Jackson, Clay, Kirtland & other places, declared that we must in future stand up for our rights as citizens of the U. States. & as Saints of the most high God. & that it was the will of God we should do so. That we should be free and independent, and that as the State of Miss ouri and the U.. States would not protect us it was high time that we should [ ] up as the saints of the most high God & protect ourselves & take the kingdom Lyman Wight observed that before the winter was over he thought we would be in St. Louis & take it. Smith charged them that they should be united in supporting each other. Smith said on some occasion that one should chase a thousand and two put ten thousand to flight. That he considers the U. States rotten, he compared the mormon church to the little stone spoken of by the prophet Daniel & that the Dissenters first & the State next was part of the image that should be destroyed by this little stone The Council was called on to vote the measures of Smith, which they did unanimously. On the next day Capt Patton who was called by the prophet Capt Fear naught, took command of about 100 armed men & told them that he had a job for them to do & that the work of the Lord was rolling on, & they must be united. He then led his troops to Galatin, saying he was a going to attack the mob there. He made a rush into Gallatin, dispersed the few men there and took the goods out of Stollings’ store. & carried them to De ahmion. & I afterwards saw the store house on fire. When we returned to Diahmon the goods were deposited in the Lords storehouse under the care of the bishops Vincent Knight Orders were strictly given that all the goods should be deposited in the Lords store house no individuals were to appropriate anything to themselves until a general distribution should be made Jos. Smith Jr was at Adam ondi Ahmon giving directions about things in general connected with the war when Patten returned from Galaten to Adam ondi Ahmon, the goods were divided or appor tioned out amongst those engaged, and these affairs were conducted under the superin tendency of the first presidency. A part of the goods were brought to Far West, on their arrival under the care of Capt Fear naught. prest Rigdon and others shouted three hozannahs to the victors On the day Patten went to Galatin. Col. Wight went to Mill Port, & I understood. I saw a great many cattle, beds, furniture &c brought into our camps by the mormons. After we re turned to Far West, the troops were con stantly kept in motion: and there was a council held at the house of Prest Rigdon to determine who should be chiefs. It was determined that Col Wight should be commander in chief at Adam ondi ahmon. Brunson Capt of the flying horse of Davis, Col Hinck le should be commander in chief in chief of the Far West troops. Capt Patton Capt of the flying horse or cavalry, and that the prophet Jos smith Jr should be commander in Chief of the whole Kingdom. the Council was composed of Jos Smith Jr Capt Fear naught alias Patton col. Hinckle, Col Wight & Prest Rigdon the object of the council was in furtherance of the scheme proposed in council in Davis Cty refered to above__ after this council Fear naught dis puted as to the chief commander of the far west troops & had a smart altercation about it with Hinkel but Smith proposed that they agree to disagree and go on for the good of the Kingdom. The troops were kept together until the militia came out lately: there was from 500 to 800 men as I should sup pose under arms. It was about this time that the militia came, out lately to Far West under Genl Lucas that our prophet, assembled the troops together at Far West into a hollow square and addressed them and stated to them that the Kingdom of God should be set up & should never fall, and for every one that we lacked in numbers, of those who came against us the Lord would send angles, who would fight for us & that we should be victorious After the militia had been near Far West awhile, in an address Smith said that those troops were militia, & that we were militia too, and both sides clever fellows, & that he advised them to know nothing of what had happened, to say nothing & to keep dark: that he Smith had forgotten more than he had ever known_ After it was ascertained that the militia had ar rived, inteligence was immediately sent to Diahmon to Col Wight_ next morning Col Wight arrived in Far West with about 100 mounted [“and” crossed out] armed men The troops were constantly Kept prepared, and in a situation to repel attack The evening the militia arrived near Far West, it was the general understand ing in the mormon camps that they were militia legally called out, [“previous” crossed out] and indeed previous to their arrival it was ascertained that there were mi litia on their way to Far West.__ Some months ago I received orders to destroy the paper concerning the Danite Society, which order was issued by the first presidency, and which paper being the consti tution for the government of the daniete Society, was in my custody, but which I did not destroy__It is now in Genl Clark’s possession__ I gave the paper up to Genl Clark after I was taken prisoner__ I found it in my house, where I had previously deposited it, and believe it had never been in any person’s posession after I first reced it_ This paper was taken into prest Rigdons house and read to the prophet & his counsellors, and was unanimously adopted by them as their rule and guide in future_ After it was thus adopted I was instructed by the council to destroy it, as, if it should be discovered, it would be considered treasonable_ This constitution, after it was approved of by the first presidency was read, article by article to the Dan ite band and unanimously adopted by them_ This paper was drawn up about the time that the Danite band was formed_ Since the drawing up of the paper against the dissenters, it was, that this consti tution of the Danite band was drafted but I have no minutes of the time, as we were directed not to keep [“no” crossed out] written minutes_ which constitution above refered to is as follows:….
In connection with the grand scheme of the prophet his preachers and apostles were instructed to preach to and to instruct their followers, (who are estimated in Europe & America at about 40,000) that it was their duty to come up to the Stake called Far West and to possess the Kingdom, that it was the will of God that they should do so, & that the Lord would give give them power to possess the Kingdom_ There was another writing drawn up in June last, which had for its object to get rid of the dissenters, and which had the desired effect. (this is the paper drawn up against the dissenters refered to above by the witness)_ Since that time, and since the introduction of the scheme of the prophet made known in the above constitu tion, I have the prophet say that it was a fortu nate thing that we got rid of the dissenters, as they would have endangered the rolling on of the Kingdom of God, as introduced and to be carried into effect by the danite band, That they the dissenters were great obstacles in the way, and that unless they were removed, the aforesaid King dom could not roll on__ This paper against the dissenters was drafted by Sidney Rigdon and is as follows:…
The above was sign ed by some 84 Mormons Far west June 1838. About the time the dissenters fled, President Rigdon preached a sermon from the text “ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost its savor, where with (“it” crossed out) shall it be slated? it is therefore good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden und er foot of men.” commonly called the salt ser mon, in which the dissenters were (“compared to” crossed out) called the salt that had lost its savor, and that they should be trampled upon, and driven out by the saints, which was well understood by the danites to be a part of their duty to do. When Genl; Lucas’ men marched up to Far West. Smith told me, as I un derstood him, that he had said to one of the mili tia captains, not to come any further as he might get into danger Smith after erecting his bul works, (the night after genl Lucas arrived) asked me if I did not think him pretty much of a general and I answered in the affirmative. We were advised all the time to fight valiantly, and that the angles of the Lord would appear in our defense and fight our battles In reference to Bogarts battle, I know but little personally as to the start of the troops to fight Bogart I was called upon to go along with the company (which was commanded by Patten) as surgeon this was about midnight, but as I thought a little sleep would do me more good than fighting I remained at home. In the morning of the fight, about 6 o’clock I was called on by a Mr Emmet who in formed me that Capt Fearnaught was wounded mortallyI went to Patton about 3 miles from the battle ground where I found Jos Smith Jr present laying hands on the wounded & blessing them to heal them Abraham OBanion was also mortally wound ded…
I never heard Hiram Smith make any inflammatory remarks; but I have looked upon him as one composing the first presidency; acting in concert with Joseph Smith, jr.; approving, by his presence, acts, and conversations, the unlawful schemes of the presidency.
I never saw Edward Partridge and Isaac Morley, two of the defendants, take any avctive part in the above measure testified to by me; and I have heard Joseph Smith, jr., say he considered Partridge a coward, and backward, and ought to be forced out or [comply?].
I was continually in the society of the presidency, receiving
instructions from them as to the teachings of the Danite band; and I
continually informed them of my teachings; and they were well apprised
of my course and teachings in the Danite society…”
The state opened up with their secret weapon. The fearless bad-cop Brigadier General of the Danites, Sampson Avard, upon the Mormon’s surrender took the deal Lyman Wight refused in the camp. He provided damning testimony indicting Jo and everybody else by name with connections to the Danites. He explicitly told the court of inquiry everything they needed to know about the Mormons and their military depredations, and the simple fact remains, if not for this testimony, the historical connections we have of Jo to the Danites are a bit thin. For that matter, without Avard’s testimony, this court would never have proceeded the way it did and they never would have gathered the necessary evidence to quasi-convict the Mormon leadership. It was the opening testimony to help set the tone for the entire 16 days following.
After Avard’s testimony and learning of Orson Hyde and Thomas Marsh’s defections which led to Haun’s Mill, the prophet was beginning to acquire a palette for the bitter taste of betrayal, but the testimonies were only getting started.
The rest of the testimonies we read will be structured not necessarily chronologically, but by side. We started with Sampson Avard’s because it was the first testimony heard in the court. The next block of testimonies will come from people on the non-Mormon side of the conflict. After that, we’ll shift to people who experienced things from the Mormon perspective. The distinction may not be so clear at the onset, but I’ll qualify each witness as we go for ease of listening.
The next testimony we’ll read is from Captain Samuel Bogart, the commanding officer who was assaulted by Captain Fearnaught’s Dainte troops on Crooked River.
“Captain Samuel Bogart a witness produced sworn and examined for the State deposeth and saith, that on the evening of the 24 th Octs last while ranging under the Orders of Genl Atcheson as is below inserted I met with several Mormons & read it to them supposing they would inform the Mormons of Caldwell the characters of my com =pany. We had been informed on that evening by citizens of Ray that we were in Danger of being attacked by the Mor =mons that night, whereupon I fell back to an encamp ment on Crooked River in Ray county. On the next morning near day break my picket guard gave information that they were coming and in a few moments I saw the Mormon forces forming and a few guns were fired out of the brush by the Mormons, when the fight commenced the left wing of the Mormon forces were with in about 30 steps of my sight. and in numbers were about 150 or 200 as I supposed and further this depo nent saith not Samel. Bogart”
He also produced the letter he used to justify taking the Mormon prisoners in the first place which led to the Mormon assault on Crooked River.
“Capt S Bogart Sir Your Communication by express has been received You
are hereby ordered to range the line between Caldwell and Ray Counties
with your Company of volunteers and prevent if possible any invasion of
Ray county by any persons in arms whatever: You will also take care to
enquire into the state of things in Daviss county & make report thereof
to me from time to time I will endeavour to be with you in a few days
time signed David R. Atcheson Major Genl 3 rd Div M.M.”
We’ll try and keep any extra documents beyond the testimonies to a limit, but this one was short and relevant. From this order we see General Atchison, who was still the field commanding officer when this was produced, commanding Captain Bogart to simply stop armed people from crossing the county line, there is nothing about taking prisoners, an aggressive action to which the Mormons retaliated aggressively at Crooked River. This detail muddies the water significantly when the court, and us today, try to lay blame on somebody.
The next testimony we’ll read is from a man named Wyatt Cravens, the one of Bogart’s men who were taken prisoner after the battle at Crooked river, who was subsequently shot and recovered when he was released. This is how he remembers that night and what happened afterward.
“Wiatt Cravens a witness, produced sworn & examined for the State
deposeth and saith He was one in Capt Bogart’s company, and was present
in the fight with the Mormons the 25 th Oct last, about day break in Ray
cty Parley P Pratt and Capt Patton, appeared in command of the company
that made (“the” crossed out] an attack upon us_ We were lying in camp
when we heard them coming. We got up and prepared for battle. The
mormons came in about 60 yards of us, and formed the line of battle,
they approached in a body number ing as near as I could guess about
150. armed with guns, sword & pistols to within about 40 yards of us,
when the firing commenced by both parties about the same time, I can’t
say which side fired first_ I was taken prisoner by the mor mons_ I
saw Jos Smith Jr come to the Mormons at a house in log creek timber a
few miles from the battle ground. The wounded were taken out of the
waggon then, and we started on towards, Far West J Smith Jr passed on
by me to the head of the company, where Pratt & Wight halted the
company, he Pratt & 4 others rode off a piece & confered together, &
then returned to the company_ & called out some captain, and ordered
him to call out 10 of his braves 7 men came out, and I was placed under
their guard, & told by Wight that they would escort me off & let me go
about my business. We started back, and after getting near a field, the
Capt of the guard and one other rode off ahead saying they saw [“a man”
crossed out] some one Shortly after the Capt returned alone. The
declared (“they would” crossed out] I should be guard [“me” crossed
out]ed no further, and pointed out the path I should take, which led
around the fence . I then thought the man who had not returned had been
placed round the fence to Kill me, but I was determined to do the best I
could to make my escape. In passing on I discovered my direction would
lead me to where I thought the man was placed, and I took off to the
right, and immediately I was ordered to stop by some person, whom I
recognized to be the man of the guard, who left with the Capt of the
guard & did not return, I fled & turned my head to look & saw the man
with his gun in a shooting position & shortly after, while running I was
shot by him, & I made my way to Ray Cty. Parley P Pratt was in the
battle_ Moses Rawlins one of Capt. Bogarts men, & several of the
mormons was Killed in that battle, 5 of Bogarts company including myself
were wounded, and further this deponent saith not_ C Wiatt Cravens”
This was the tone of the anti-Mormon testimonies, and they were only just getting started at this point. The inequality experienced by the Mormons in the court room with all these anti-Mormon witnesses was not lost on them in the moment, nor has that sense of inequality evaporated since this happened. This court of inquiry really played into the Mormon persecution complex back then, and really contributes in subtle ways even today.
The next testimony we’ll read comes from a man named William Splawn, a Daviess county citizen who’d been confronted by the Danites concerning John Raglin, the owner of the farm where Jo and Lyman Wight had stood trial in September. This is how he remembers the situation:
“William Splawn a witness produced sworn and examined on behalf the
State deposeth and saith I was at Eli Bagleys in Daviess county when an
armed company of men about 10 or 12 in number came there. James H
Raulins and Jesse D Hunter two of the defendants were of the company
they came to Bagleys they enquired who I was and if I was a mob
character and learning I was not they let me alone. They inquired for
John Raglin and Said they heard he was a mob character and had gone for
men to fight them and if they got their eyes on him they would take his
life & that he had better keep out of the way. To be positive that
Hunter was of the company I will not but I have little or no doubt of it
from his appearance; this was on Saturday after I learned that Gallatin
was burned the Thursday before and during the time the mormon troops
were in Daviess county and further this deponent saith not William
About a dozen Danites had confronted Splawn and asked if he knew where to find John Raglin because they wanted to exchange words with him, being a mob character and whatnot. Raglin had been incredibly opposed to the Mormons, and was suspected as being a leader of an anti-Mormon mob without state-sanctioned militia status. I don’t think there’s any way to tell what the Danites would have done had they encountered Raglin and his mob, I doubt an actual firefight would have broken out, but the Mormons were trying to keep tabs on their enemies as much as possible and it just so happened that Raglin was one of those they were tracking. The next testimony picks up where William Splawn left off and it’s from a Daviess county citizen named Thomas Odle, who was living on Raglin’s farm and suspected to be an anti-Mormon mobocrat.
“Thomas M Odell a witness produced sworn and examined on behalf the
State deposeth and Saith, that on the Saturday after Gallatin was burnt
and armed company of 12 men rode up to Mr Raglins house in Daviess
County where I resided, they inquired for John Raglin. I told them where
he had gone, they said their object was to drive the mob from the county
and said that I must go. I replied I could not. that I had no way to get
off and that my family were bare footed. They replied that made no
difference I must go, and said if I was not gone by next morning by
sunrise they would take my life. They told Mrs Raglin she must put out,
that there she could not stay and that Raglin had better never show
himself there that they would take his life if ever they set their eyes
on him. Next morning by the assistance of friends we did start leaving
most of our property there. Since then I have returned and found the
houses burnt & the property gone consisting of household plunder and 29
bee gums. They enquired for gums and got down one and took it away from
the house belonging to one Josiah Littlefield. They further said that
they had been driven as long as they were a going to; that they had got
strong enough now to defend themselves; that they intended to do it by
the Sword; that they were at the defiance of any set of men who could
come against them; & that they now intended to make it a war of
extermination. The following of the defendants were in the above Company
viz. James H. Rollins, Jesse D Hunter, Darwin Chase & I think from his
appearance Maurice Phelps was there but may be mistaken. Hunter appeared
to be Captain or Commander of the Company as he did the most of the
talking. but most all of them had something to Say and further this
deponent saith not his Thos M x Odle”
Next we get a very small testimony from the John Raglin who the Mormons were tracking, giving his whereabouts at the time the Danites confronted Thomas Odle on Raglin’s farm concerning his whereabouts.
“John Raglin a witness produced sworn and examined on behalf the State
deposeth and saith I was in Gallatin when the Mormons made an attack on
it which took place on one thursday in October. All the persons that
were there left the town; and the Mormons, as I believe them to be to
the number of about 150 or 200, all armed took possession of the town
and the store and other houses were burnt as I learned that evening and
further this deponent saith not John Raglin”
Raglin was at Gallatin when Captain Fearnought and his 200 Danites descended upon the town and plundered it, chasing out any inhabitants that remained. They had cut rope and run as soon as the Mormon mob appeared on the horizon, and thanks to Raglin’s mob fleeing, the Mormons met with no opposition during their depredations of Daviess county.
The next testimony comes from Andrew J. Job, a man living in Daviess county at the time of the Mormon depredations.
“Andrew J. Job, a witness for the State, produced, sworn, and examined, deposeth and saith: While the Mormon troops were in Daviess county, in the last expedition, I was taken prisoner by Captain Fearnaught, (as he was called,) who, I have since learned, was a Mr. Patten. While they were getting me into Diahmon about midnight, I passed on between Millport and that place, and counted ten houses on fire. James H. Rollins, Ebenezer Page, James M. Henderson, Alanson Ripley, and Sidney Tanner, were of the company that took me prisoner.
When the houses were burning, I heard Ebenezer Page say that the mob were burning their own houses, and would lay it on the Mormons. I observed it was curious they should burn their own houses: he replied, it was, but they were doing so.
I arrived at Diahmon that night a prisoner, and was detained there until next morning about daybreak, when I, Ira Glaze, and William Boone, who were also taken prisoners, were turned loose by Lyman Wright, and told that he would give us four hours to leave the county; and if they caught us after that time, we should not live any longer. Before we left, I heard Lyman Wright say—Come, boys, feed your horses, and get your breakfast; we must try and scatter the mob.
After I left Diahmon, I went to my step-mother’s, and made efforts to
get out of the county. After the Mormons surrendered at Diahmon to the
militia, I went with my step-mother to Diahmon, to hunt ofr her
property, which had been left at the house when she moved, and which was
missing on her return—such as beds, bed-clothing, knives and forks, a
trunk, &c. On examination, we found at the house of Lyman Wright, and
upon his bedstead, a feather bed, which I knew to be the one left by her
at the time she fled from the Mormons. I knew the bed from its
appearance; the tick was striped and pieced at the end, and the stripes
of the piece turned crosswise; also, we found in Wright’s house a set of
knives and forks, which I knew were the same left at her house as above
stated. My step-mother left her residence, (in two miles of Diahmon,)
where she left the above articles, on Wednesday before I was taken
prisoner, which was on the Sunday night after; and when at Diahmon, the
night I was a prisoner, I slept on that same bed, as I believed it to
be, at one Sloan’s, as I understood his name to be. When my step-mother
left her home near Diahmon, where the above articles were left, she went
into the lower part of Daviess; to which place I went when turned loose
as a prisoner. My father’s name is Robert Job. And further this deponent
saith not. Andrew J. Job”
Document p. 188-9
Granted, there are a not insignificant number of other testimonies from anti-Mormons. Remember, I don’t really like that description as it ignores a lot of nuance, but it’s useful for our application today. But, as I said at the beginning, for fear of redundancy and boredom, we’re only reading a small but representative group of testimonies. That concludes our reading of anti-Mormon testimonies. I’ll tell you right now, the Mormon testimonies are significantly more damning than anything these people who hated the Mormons could tell the court.
Let’s begin with a testimony from a Mormon who died in 1876 in Idaho with 4 verifiable wives and 13 children, more or less faithful all his day in the church. His name was Morris Phelps, no relation to W.W. Phelps. He was exactly 3 days older than Jo and joined the church in August of 1831. He’d been a faithful member all his days, never raising any ire from the church. His family had been chased from their home in Jackson County in 1833 and he subsequently was called on a mission in 1834. He was a carpenter for the Kirtland temple, and lived in Far West at the time of the surrender. This guy was all in, and his testimony is as follows.
“Maurice [Morris] Phelps a witness produced Sworn and examined for the
State deposeth and Saith, that Parley P Pratt was in the Battle with
Bogart, Darwin Chase was one of the expedition but not in the battle
Lyman Gibbs was in the battle thinks Benjamin Jones was in the Battle a
Norman Shearer was also & wounded. I was Called upon by Charles C Rich
to go down to Crooked River to help releeve some Mormons prisoners who
it was said had been taken by a mob. I first refused to go but being
threatened with force I consented to go we proceeded to McDaniels field
in Ray Cony. where we were comnond ed to hitch our horses and we
proceeded down to where Capt Bogart was encamped myself in the extreme
rear the fight was brought on but I was not in it On our return from the
battle ground near log creek timber in Caldwell Cony. we met Jos. Smith
Jr Lyman Wight & others who went to the wounded and pronounced blessings
on them & prayed for them to be healed & saved, when we started from
McDaniel field fences the only command given that I heard was boys
follow me given by commander by. I have been in two daniete meetings the
first I did not make any exception to, & in the Second the following
exceptionable was inculcated. “that we should take spoil or plunder in
some cases” but it was Objected to and I have never attended a danite
meeting Since, the day before the mormons, went to Adam on diahmon J.
Smith Jr in an address told an anecdote of a Dutchman who had been
applead to by a Capt to purchase Potatoes. & Rigdon in speaking of
dissenters who were unwilling to fight mobs. Said that they ought to be
pitched upon their horses with pitchforks & Bayonets And forced into the
front of the battle & their property confiscated to the use of the army
the anecdote spoken of above about the dutchman was told by Smith after
Rigdon address and without any application of it by him & further this
deponent saith not Morris Phelps”
This was a faithful Mormon’s testimony about everything that had happened leading to that day. Unfortunately, and this is the case with every testimony we’ll read, the facts discussed in the court of inquiry were largely agreed upon by the Mormons and the Missourians who gave their testimonies. There really isn’t a positive way to describe acts of war without making the primary actor look responsible for lots of monstrous shit, even when those acts of war are described by the most in-line brainwashed simpleton. Jo was suffering the wrath of real facts crushing him and no amount of alternative facts or crying betrayal altered reality.
The next one we’ll read is from John Corrill, a faithful Mormon who’s been with us for quite a few years, having previously received chastisement from Jo for seemingly many reasons. He’d also won a seat in the Missouri state legislature thanks to the Mormons’ successful brawl at the Gallatin election on August 8th prior to this. Some have contended that this election was a bit of a turning point in Corrill’s conduct because he didn’t seem quite as faithful at that point. He’d raised various contentions with the leaders about their actions against the Missouri government, advice which wasn’t really appreciated.
“John Corrill a witness produced sworn & examined in behalf the State deposeth & saith that about last June I was invited to a private meeting in which an ef =fort was made to adopt some plan to get rid of the dissenters. there were some things I did not like and opposed it with others & it failed. after that I met Prest Rigdon. & he told me I ought not to have any thing to do with it that they would do as they pleased. I took his advise. I learned afterwards that they had Secret meetings. but I was never invited none of the 1 st Presidency was present at the meet =ing above refered to , we have a rule in the church authorizing any member to consecrate or give voluntarily his suiplies property to the church for charitable purposes.
Prest. Rigdon last Summer preached a Sermon commonly called the Salt Sermon, which Seemed to have for it’s object to produce a feeling among the people to get rid of the dissenters for crimes alleged & because they disagreed with them, in a few days there seemed considerable excitement among the people. & the dissenters left. as I adresed them, they were in danger. I was afterwards, invited to one of those meetings where an oath in substance the same as testified to by Dr Avard was administered. The Society was ultimately organized into companies and captains of tens & 50’s were appointed. I took exceptions only (“so” crossed out) to the teachings as to the duties’ of that society wherein it was said if one brother got into any Kind of a difficulty it was the duty of the rest to help him out right or wrong, at the Second or at least the last meeting I attended the presidency to wit Jos. Smith Jr Hiram Smith & Sidney Rigdon & also Geo W. Robertson was there, there was at this meeting a ceremony of introducing the officers of the Socieity to the presidency, who pronounced blessings on each of them. As introduced according to faithfulness in their Calling & they should have blessings, after this Prest Smith got up & made general remarks about in Substance as follows. Relating the oppressions the society had Suffered and they wanted to be prepared for further events but said he wished to do nothing unlawful & if the people would let him alone they would preach the gospel & live in peace, towards the close he observed to the people that they should obey the presidency & If the Presidency led them astray they might destroy them. In the last or in some public meeting Jos Smith Jr said if the people would let us alone we would preach the Gospel to them in peace but if they came on us to molest us we would establish our religion by the Sword & that he would become to this generation a Second Mohamet. About April last I heard Joseph Smith Jr & Prest Rigdon (who appeared to be vexed on account of troubles & lawsuits they had had) say that they would suffer vexatious lawsuits no longer & that they would resist even an officer in the discharge of his duty, Smith Said he has been before court, some 20,000 times they had never found anything against him & that made him of age & he would submit to it no longer. I heard S. Rigdon 4 th July Speech I heard him say he would not suffer people to come unto their Streets & abuse them, nor would they suffer vexa tious lawsuits. In substance he further remarked that “neither will we permit any man or set of men to insti tute vexatious lawsuits against us to cheat us out of our just rights If they do so wo be unto them” this mormon church has been represented as being the little stone spoken of by Daniel which should roll on and crush all opposition to it and ultimately should be established as a temporal as well as a spiritual Kingdom. These things were to be carried on through the instrumentality of the Danite band as far as force was necessary If necessary they being organized into bands of tens. 50’s & ready for war the teachings of that society led them to prohibit the taking of any person’s against the presidency so much so that it was dangerous for any man to set up opposition to any thing that might be set on foot & I became afraid to speak my own mind. I objected to the course of Dr Avard in defiance to this Daniete band I rather thought Jos Smith Jr. up held him I would not allow any objections to him. After the return of the Mormons from deciet I heard Jos. Smith Jr in presence of Hiram Smith in a conversation say that application had been made to the Gov. and that they understood that he would give them no assistance & they were determined to withstand the mob, they were greatly incensed against certain persons in Caldwell& Daviss & said they intended to rid the counties of them & of the mob in the course of that week, this was on Sunday morning and in the course of that day instructions were given to meet the next day (monday) on Monday Jos Smith Jr made a speech and some resolutions were passed purporting that those persons who would not engage in this undertaking this property should be consecrated to the use of [“the church” crossed out] those who did engage in this undertaking
On Sunday Jos. Smith Jr in his discourse spoke of persons taking at sometimes, what at other times it would be wrong to take, and gave as an example the case of David eating the shewbread & also of the [Saviour] & his apostles plucking the ears of corn and eating as they passed through the cornfield he supposed the prejudices of the Jews and Pharisees were so great against the Sa viour that they would give them nothing to eat & they took that method to get it. On the Monday when the re solutions above refered to were introduced President Rigdon in a speech said that those who were unwilling to go into the war ought to be put upon their horses with guns & bayonets and forced into the front of the war having reference to those who heretofore had been backwards in defending themselves, & families No persons were suffered to leave the County in this extreme time and I met with Phelps to consult as to what all ought to do.
After the troops got to Diahmon in all about 4 or 500 men I heard Lyman
wight addressing a portion of the men who were then (perhaps 8 or 10)”
that the earth was the Lord’s and the “fullness thereof with the Cattle
upon a 1000 hills, & if I was “an hungry I would not tell you” that the
Saints of the Lord had the Same privilege or rights, after that perhaps,
the next day I saw a drove of some 4 or 5 Cattle pass along & asked what
cattle these were & was answered that they were a drove of buffalo,
Others, observed they were Cattle a methodist priest had consecrated Jos
Smith Jr Hiram Smith Parley P Pratt Lyman Wight Geo W Robinson Caleb
Baldwin Alanson Ripley Geo W Harris Geo Grant Darwin Chase Aliza McRay
Edwd Partridge Jos W. Younger probably Jas W Rawlin’s were in the
expedition that went to Daviss, Cony, at the time Gallatin was burnt on
the same day that the Company went to Gallatin Lyman Wight went with a
Company to Mill port as I understand he returned & made a report as I
understood it to be to Jos Smith Jr in which he said he found nothing to
fight but fences & empty houses I understood him to say the people had
not taken away all their property Smith the Prophet here asked him if
they had taken the negroes he said yes[,] someone then laughed
observed Smith you have lost Your negro to which I think, he made no
reply Jos Smith Jr asked Wight if he had done anything with the property
remaining in Millport Wight said not they would leave that matter for a
private council. Suman Gibbs told me he went down with the expedition
that fought Bogart and he remained behind ¾ of a mile from the battle
ground [“to” crossed out] holding horses I feel confident that Isaac
Morley was not in the fight with Bogart, I think the original object of
the Danite band was to operate on the dissenters, but afterwards it grew
into System to carry out the designs of the Presidency and if necessary
to use physical force to upbuild the Kingdom of God it was to be done by
them this is my Opinion as to their object and I learned it from various
Sources connected with that band. It was my understanding that Dr Avard,
teachings in the danite Society proceeded from the Presidency. I never
heard that Constitution spoken of by Dr. Avard in the So ciety when I
was present nor did I ever hear of it until lately & further this
deponent saith not John Corrill”
Faithful Mormon after faithful Mormon took the stand and shed increasingly more light upon the Danite situation and the Mormon depredations. The old adage comes to mind, “no good deed goes unpunished” because a large number of the people who were considered faithful Mormons testifying on the stand before Jo went to Liberty Jail, were excommunicated promptly upon his escape in spring of 1839. John Corrill was one of those who testified his way on to Jo’s hit list and his testimony and subsequent excommunication is well remembered and revered by scholars like Richard Bushman as a strong and trustworthy account of the Mormon war in Missouri.
The next excerpt we’ll read is the last half of James Owens’ testimony. He was a faithful Mormon, having been baptized in June of 1831 after his 11-year-old son heard the gospel and was baptized a few months earlier. He lived was chased out of Jackson County and was living in Far West at the time of surrender. There’s nothing to suggest that James Owens ever questioned Jo or the leadership, or the church for that matter.
“He [Joseph Smith] further stated that they pretended to come out as
militia, but that they were all a damned set of mobs. He stated at that
or some other time that as they had commenced consecrating in Daviess
county that he intended to have the surrounding counties consecrated to
him, that the time had come when the riches of the Gentiles should be
consecrated to the saints(“after prisoners” crossed out) while the last
of expedition was in progress in Daviess county a portion of the troops
returned to Far west to whom & to the people assembled I understood
Sidney Rigdon had read a letter from Jos Smith Jr_ I asked him to read
it to me which he did and it was as near as I can recollect as follows
That the enemy was delivered into their hands, and that they need not
fear, that this had been given to him by the spirit of prophecy in the
name of Jesus Christ. Sidney Rigdon appeared to rejoice at the
information, and give unto the thing. A few days before the Militia got
to Far west Jos Smith Jr observed that he did not in tend to obey the
laws any longer, that he had had a great many (“law suits” crossed out)
writs served on him, & that he was of age, and did not intend to have
another served on him. And further this deponent saith not James C.
This isn’t much like the ol’ school type of mafia where snitches get stitches, or a bullet. Many of these Mormon witnesses had been sworn to secrecy under the Danite oath, or were just threatened with their lives as dissenters and apostates if they questioned or didn’t participate in the Mormons’ cause. But nobody was paying them hush money, nor did Jo and Rigdon have any power over their lives anymore because they were in shackles in the courtroom. As soon as every threat and incentive to keep their mouth shut was removed, these good Mormon people squealed like mashed cats. They weren’t obfuscating truth or hiding incriminating facts, they were just telling the sequence of events as they had experienced it.
Before reading the next one, I just want to point out how nice it is that we have these court documents well preserved with the majority of them uploaded online. If not for this court of inquiry, it may have been hard to recreate the series of events that led to the Mormon surrender. Instead, we have these firsthand accounts sworn in court testimonials and all of the accompanying letters and military orders. That’s not to say that this whole thing turned out fair, such a claim is absurd, but the fact that we have these surviving documents makes a powerful argument for the usefulness of the court system. If General Doniphan had carried out the direct order by General Lucas to execute Jo and the other leaders in the town square after that sham court-martial, none of these documents ever would have come forward and the history of what happened to Jo and the Mormons would have been forever shrouded in mystery or painstakingly recreated after decades or centuries of historical study and document gathering. I’ll just say, as unfair as this presentation is for the Mormons, and the fact that they didn’t have any legal representation, just goes to show how useful it is when things are done somewhat by the books. More on that in the conclusion.
The next testimony comes from John Cleminson. I’ll leave a link to his geni.com page describing his life in Mormonism, but this is a small excerpt:
“John and Lydia were still living in Lafayette County in 1830, and by that time, had two girls, Laura and Mary. In the 1830's, the newly formed Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) were recruiting new members in Jackson County, Missouri. Joseph Smith was preaching in those days that Independence, Jackson County, Missouri was the location of the Garden of Eden, and thus the center of the Universe. Many converts were moving to this area. The Cleminson family moved to Independence, Jackson County, before 1833, as their son James was born there August 7, 1833.
Due to many conflicts between the Saints and non-Mormons, the state of Missouri formed Caldwell County as a Mormon area, with the town of Far West, the County Seat. Sometime after 1833, John and Lydia joined the church and moved to Caldwell County. There is some family history that says John Cleminson was one of the "7 Lights" of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormons.
John was involved with the Missouri Mormon war of 1838. There was a lot
of blame on both sides for this conflict and there were many killings.
At one time John was sent as an emissary from the Mormon side to
negotiate with an army coming to Caldwell County which was either going
to kill everyone or get them to move out of Missouri. John and Lydia
were friends of some of the non-Mormons and were offered a chance to
escape the Mormon town of Far West before war started but they decided
to stay with their friends. After much negotiation, including the
agreement of the Mormons to sell all their lands and leave Missouri,
they surrendered. The Mormon leaders, including Joseph Smith, were
brought to trial. John disagreed with a secret and violent Mormon group,
called the Danites, which had caused most of the problems which led up
to the war, and he testified against the Mormon Danites in 1838.”
That gives us an idea for who John Cleminson was so we know from what perspective he was recounting these events.
“John Cleminson a witness, produced, sworn, and examined in behalf of
the State, deposeth and saith. Some time in June (“last” crossed out) I
attended two or three Danite meetings, and it was taught there as a part
of the duty of the band, that they should support the presidency in all
their designs right or wrong; that whatever they said was to be obeyed,
and whoever opposed the presidency in what they said or desired done,
Should be expeled the county or have their lives taken. The three
composing the Presidency was at one of those meetings, and to Satisfy
the people, Dr Avard called on Jos Smith Jr, who gave them a pledge,
that if they led them into a difficulty, he would give them his head for
a foot ball, and that it was the will of God these things should be so.
The teacher, and active agent of the Society was Dr Avard, and his
teachings were approved of by the presidency Dr Avard further taught as
a part of their obligation, that if any one betrayed the secret designs
of the society, they should be Killed and laid aside, and nothing said
about it. I heard Sidney Rigdon’s sermon, commonly called the salt
sermon, and its purport and design was about as other witnesses have
state there before me. When process was filed against Joseph Smith Jr
and others, in my office as clerk of Cald well circuit court, for
trespass, Jos Smith Jr told me not to issue that writ, that he did not
in tend to submit to it: that it was a vexatious thing and I had a
right to judge whether a suit was vexatious or not: and that he would
see me out in it Hiram Smith (who was not a defendent in that suit) also
joined him in this promise If I would not issue the writ. This was
previous to the last term of the Caldwell circuit court. I considered
myself not as a proper judge as to whether it was a vexatious suit or
not. Jos Smith Jr said it was a vexatious thing, and that he would not
suffer it to be issued; and I felt myself intimidated and in danger if I
issued it. Knowing the regulation of the Danite band. On the monday
prior to the last Daviess expe dition I heard Mr Rigdon say that those
who had heretofore been backward in taking up arms in defending
themselves, ought to or should be put upon upon their horses with
bayonets and pitchforks (“and forced” crossed out) and Smith said
forced into the front of the battle, and that the property of those who
would not go into the war, should be consecrated to the use of those who
did. Mr Smith said their beef, corn and potatoes they would take_ I
went in the expedition to Daviess, in which Gallatin was burnt, as I
felt myself compelled to go from the regulations which had been made. It
was generally understood that every move ment made in Daviess was under
the direction & supervision of the first presidency of whom Jos Smith Jr
& Hiram Smith were in Daviess The following of the Def.th were in that
expedition to Daviess. viz: Jos Smith Jr. Hiram Smith. P.P Pratt Lyman
Wight Caleb Baldwin, Alanson Ripley,_ John Buckhannon was not there,
George W. Harris was there, Darwin Chase was there, Elijah Newman was
not there, Isaac Morely was not there, Moses Clawson I think was there,
Alexz McRay was there, John S Higbey I think was there Ebenezer Robinson
& and Daniel Pettigrew were there Edward Partridge was there. David
Frampton was not there. Sheffield Daniels I think was not there. Danil
Carr was there. James H Rawlings was there Maurice Phelps, I think was
there. Of the troops at Diahmon in this expedition Some were sent on one
expedition, and some on another but all were there mutually to aid and
assist each other in all that they undertook or did on that occasion
When we first went to Da viess. I understood the object to be to drive
out the mob If any should be collected there. but when we got there we
found none. I then learned the object was, from those who were actively
engaged in the matter to drive out all the citizens of Daviess, and get
possession of their property. It was understood that they burnt mormon
houses, as well as the houses of the citizens; the burning of the mormon
houses was to bring the Mormons into Diahmon as I understood it_ It was
said by some that the mormons were burn ing their own houses, and by
others that the mob were burning them, and so much was said about it,
that I did not know when I got the truth_ I heard Demick B. Huntington
one of the Mormon troops say, that Mis [“ourians” crossed out]
sourians at Gallatin had taken the goods out of Stollings [“the”
crossed out] store, and piled them up, and set fire to the store house,
and had gone off for waggons to haul off the goods but that our waggons
had got there first and had hauled them off.I understood that the goods
were deposited with the Bishop of the church at Diahmon as consecrated
property to the church. A great deal of other property was brought into
the mormon camps, but Know where it came from, but understood it to be
consecrated property. It was frequently ob served among the troops,
that the time had come when the riches of the gentiles should be
consecra ted to the saints. From the time of the return of the troops
from Diahmon the town of Far West was kept under military rule, troops
paraded, and disciplined every day. It was a generally prevailing
understanding among the troops, and seemed to be so much so towards the
last, that no other impressions prevailed, that they would oppose,
either militia or mob, should they come out against them; for they
considered them all mob at heart. this was about the time the militia
arrived there As to Hiram Smith personally, I have thought him to be a
good meaning man, but in connexion with others un der the order of the
Daniete society. I thought, I had as much to fear from him as from
others. As to the constitution testified of, by Dr Avard I never heard
of it until he disclosed it when he was taken prisoner_ I did not
attend the first meetings in which the Danite band was formed. I did not
see Hiram Smith in the last expedition to Daviess have arms upon his
person, but he constituted one of the consellors of Jos Smith Jr & it
was not usual for any of the Presidency, com posed of Prest Smith & his
consellors to take any & go into the ranks When I arrived at Diah mon, I
staid the first night at Lyman Wight’s house & informed Wight that Genl
Parks was coming out. with the militia. Wight answered that he did not
wish Parks to come out, & sent an express to him not to come, he
remarked that they could settle the difficulties themselves. And further
this deponent saith not John Cleminson
The next one we’ll read comes from Reed Peck. He was a faithful Mormon at the time of the surrender, and we’ll read a chunk from his infamous Reed Peck manuscript at the end of the show. Essentially though, his 1839 manuscript became the go-to authority on the happenings surrounding the Mormons in Missouri until these court documents were published and widely consumed in 1841. Here’s his recreation of events:
“Reed Peck a witness, produced, sworn, and examined on behalf of the State, deposeth and saith A short time after Cowdery & the Whitmers left Far West (sometime in June) Geo. W. Robinson and Philo Dibble invited me to a Danite meeting. I went, the only speaker was Dr Avard who explained the object of the meeting and said that its object was, that [“they” crossed out] we might be perfectly organized, to defend [“ourselves their” crossed out] ourselves against mobs, that we were [“to” crossed out] all to be governed by the presidency and do what ever they required, and uphold them: that we were not to judge for ourselves whether it were right or wrong. that God had raised us [“up” crossed out] a prophet who would judge for us. and that it was proper we Should stand by each other in all cases. and he gave us an example: if we found one of the Danites in a difficulty, in Ray or Clay for instance, we should rescue him, if we had to do with his adversary, as Moses did with the Egyptian put him in the sand; It made no difference whether the daniete was to blame or not, they would track to Far West, and there be taken care of. The quetion was asked whether it would extend to a legal process. Avard answered not. The Danite oath was administered to about 30 or 40 persons at this meeting. Philo Dibble told me who the head officers of the Danite [“members” crossed out] were: that George W. Robinson, was Colonel, that he Dibble, was Lieut Colonel, and Seymore Brunson Major, and that I was chosen Adjutant. After that I had a talk with Geo. W. Robinson & Philo Dibble together, in which I was informed who the officers were as above, and further, that Jared Carter was Captain General of the band, Cornelius P Lott Maj Genl. and Sampson Avard Brig General this is as I now recollect it. Dr Avard in speaking to the society remarked that it would be impossible for the presidency to explain the object of the society, to every member, but that the presidency would explain their views or wishes, to the head officers, and they to the members of the society. I was present at one meeting where the officers of the society were presented & introduced to the presidency, each office receiving a blessing from them. Avard stated that he had procured the presidency to come there to show the Society, that what he was doing was according to their direction or will And while there the presidency approved of Avards course in the society. Dr Avard how ever did not explain to the presidency what his teachings had been in the Society_ I heard Avard, on one occasion say that the Danites were to consecrate their surplus property, and to come in by tens to do so. and if they lied about it, he said Peter Killed Ananias and Sapphira, and that would be an example for us. When appointed adjutant of the Danite band, as refered to above, I did not think proper to object openly, tho’ I determined within myself not to act, & the lists, and other papers brought to me for recording, I threw aside & made no record of. On the day before the last expedition to Daviess I heard Joseph Smith Jr, in a speach say, in refference to stealing, that in a general way he did not approve of it, but that on one occasion, our Saviour and His disciples, stole corn in passing through the corn fields for the reason that they could not otherwise procure any thing to eat. He told an anecdote of a dutchmans potatoes, and said in Substance that a colonel or captain was quartered near a Dutchmans from whom he wished to purchase some potatoes, who refused to sell them, the officer then charged his men not to be caught stealing the Dutchman’s potatoes, but next morning he found his potatoes all dug I think this was in refference to the expedition to Daviess, and that they had been compeled to go out there so often, that the people there ought to bear the expense. Such men as would oppose things undertaken as being unlawful, & such as they feared was a violation of the law. I have heard Smith & Rigdon in their publick addresses denominate “O don’t men” these I understood to be those who were denominated also dissenters; and in refference to [“such” crossed out] men who were hanging back, & did not wish to engage in their expeditions, they were called traitors, and refering to such, as I understood, Mr Rigdon proposed that [their] blood should first begin to flow in the streets of Far West but his proposition did not carry. The proposition was then made, and carried unanimously that those who thus hung back, should be pitched upon their horses [“with” crossed out] and made to go, and placed in front of the [“battle” crossed out] army. All the above occurred in Far West. the day before the last expedition to Daviess. The following of the Defendants were in the last expedition to Daviess City. Jos Smith Jr. Hiram Smith. P. P. Pratt. Lyman Wight. Amasa Lyman I am certain was not there, Geo. W. Robinson, Cabel Baldwin Alanson Ribley were there, John Buckhannon was not there, Geo W. Harris, Geo Grant & Dar win Chase were out. Isaac Worley was not about. Alex.a McRay was there, Ebenezer Robinson was there, John S Higby I think, James M Henderson was there, Edward Part ridge was there, Francis Oligby I think was there, Geo Kimble was there, Amaso Younger was there. James W Rawlins Maurice Phelps were there. When the troops arrived at Diahmon they were divided into companies of 20 40, 50& just as they might be called for, those companies were sent out in different parts of the county, as I saw them thus occasionally going out & coming in. I saw a company of about 50 called a fur company come once some had one thing, & some another, one I saw with a feather bed, another had some spun yarn_ I understood from some of those who were bringing property, that they were to take it, to the Bishops store & deposit it, and if they failed to do so, it would be considered stealing. As the property was brought in there was a general shout of hurrah, and waving of hats by those in camp I heard Demick Huntingdon, one of the troops, tell in Camp, that the mob had burned the store house in Gallatin but that the Mormons had hauled off the goods. And also that the mob were burning some Mormon houses. I looked at him as though I did not believe it. and he stooped down to me, being on his horse, and whispered to me, that it was Capt Brunson who had gone with 20 men to the grindstone Fork who was burning those houses. The goods taken in Gallatin was generally understood in Camp, to have been deposited with the bishop as consecrated property. When the Companies would return from their expedition, they would make their reports to the presidency who were there As this company above refered to as the fur company, passed with their plunder, I heard Mahlon Johnson, who lived in the lower part of Caldwell, ask Joseph Smith Jr, if these proceedings would not endanger the families living in that [“lower” crossed out] part of Caldwell, and incite the people to come on them, and Smith asked him what he was talking about, that this was the first step they had ever taken to quell the mob. I heard Perry Keyes, one who was engaged in the depredations in Daviess, say that Joseph Smith Jr. remarked in his presence, that it was his intention, after they got through in Daviess, to go down and take the store in Carrolton; this remark Smith made while in Daviess. After the mormon troops returned to Diahmon Far West from Daviess. I saw several of the captains of tens, who had been in that exepedition, making out a list of their men, for the purpose, as they said, of being handed in that they might receive their portion of the spoils I heard Darwin Chase say that he was in the expedition against Bogart. Several days before the Militia came to Far West I learned through Mr Arthur of Clay County, that they were raising the Militia. On monday before the militia arrived I went out toward Crooked River, to see if I could meet them. I met a young man who informed me that Genl Donephan was on Crooked River with the militia. I returned to Far West and informed Mr Rigdon & Jos Smith Jr, as well as giving general information of the fact. I proposed to Mr Smith to go next morning and try to find them to which he assented, I was disappointed in my effort & returned late in the evening to Far West. Just as I arrived I saw the militia & I went down to them with a flag. I met with Genl Donephan who recd. me , & told me there were about 1300 in number & that they were militia. On my return to town I met with Jos Smith Jr. & informed him, that the troops were militia under Genl. Donephan’s command. (as I then sup posed was the case) Mr Smith asked me their number & when I told him, he replied keep up good courage we can whip that number if they make an attack upon us. Some other person came up at the time and enquired of me their number. and Mr Smith answered, that Mr Phelps, who was a judge of numbers having seen troops before, said that there is about 250. as he would suppose. Mr Geo W. Robinson then whispered to me not to tell the men the number of the militia, that it would frighten them, or damp their courage
At this Stage of the examination of Reed Peck the following named
defendants [ ] King Follet Samuel Bent J Eeberry Brown William Whitman
and Jonathan Dunham were brought to the bar of the court and put upon
this trial for the offences alleged against the other defendts and time
being allowed them to employ counsel they retired and again returned to
the bar appearing by their counsel Mesr.s Rees & Doniphan the
examination of Reed Peck was then continued Reed Peck deposeth and
further saith that Jonathan Dunham was in the last expedition to Daviess
and was Captain of a company of 50 which I have spoke of as called the
Fur Company. He went under the fictitious name of Capt Blackhawk. when
the men were paraded, they were called out as all belonging to Capt
Blackhawks company my impression is that King Follet was not in that
expedition, but he was captain of 12 men in far West under the Danite
order as I understood as he was neither an Officer or private of militia
and was known and called under the fictitious name of Capt Bull and by
Company was called the regulators. I saw William Whitman on the
Expedition to Daviess and seemed to be one of the troops engaged with
others, some time previous to the difficulties in Daviess the first time
when the militia went out there for the purpose of keeping the peace, I
heard Jo. smith Jr in a public address say that he had a reverance for
the constitution of the united States and of this State but as for the
laws of this State he did not intend to regard them nor care any thing
about them, as they were made by lawyers and blacklegs the above things
said some time in last July or August. On the eve of the last expetition
to Daviess I heard Joseph Smith Jr. say that they meaning the heads of
the church had appealed to the Govt for protection and he had sent us
back word that we must fight our own battles, he further stated that the
law was unequally administered, all against us and none for us and spoke
of the prosecutions set on foot in Daviess as an instance and He then
said we must take our own cause in our own hands and defend
ourselves—that he did not calculate to regard the laws any longer, I
think & was in the last of June or first of July last that I heard Dr
Avard say that he had Just returned from a Council with the presidency
in which council Jared Carter was broken of his Office of Capt Genl of
the Danite band for having spoken against Sydney Rigdon one of the
presidency, it being a regulation of that society that no one should
speak against them or hear any one else do it with impunity In that
council Avard said an arrangement was made to dispose of the dissenters
to wit: that all the head offices, of the Danite band should have a list
of the dissenters both here and in Kirtland and said he I will tell you
how I will do with them when I meet one damning the presidency I can
damn them as well as he, and if he wanted to drink he would get a bowl
of brandy & get them half drunk and taking him by the arm he would take
him to the woods or brush and said” he (would) be into their guts in a
minute and put them under the sod” he gave this as an example of the way
they should be disposed of the only motives for getting rid of the
dissenters in this way as far as I ever learned was this if they
remained among the mormons they would introduce a class there that would
ultimately endanger their lives & destroy the church and if they were
suffered to go out from among them they would be telling lies on them in
the surrounding country, these reasons I gathered from Mr. Rigdons Salt
Sermon and Mr Rigdon said in the Same Sermon that he would assist to
erect a gallows on the Square and hang them all. Jos Smith Jr was
present and followed Mr Rigdon after he also made the above declaration
and said he did not wish to do any thing unlawful. he then spoke of the
fate of Judas & said that Peter had hung him (Judas) & said that he
approved of Mr Rigdons Sermon & called it a good sermon and further this
deponent saith not Reed Peck”
Reed Peck really gave us the inside track on a lot of the closed-door meetings. He had been an active devil’s advocate against Jo with the Danite depredations, but the advice was not heeded and Peck, among others, was chastised for his wise dissent. Peck didn’t take too well to being labeled a dissenter or traitor, and ended up writing his manuscript. Here’s a brief paragraph from near the end so you can get a sense for the tone of the rest of the manuscript.
“I intended to take a course that would save the greatest number from
misery whether guilty or innocent knowing that the guilty had been made
so by placing too much confidence in the divine authority of their
leaders, believing that God would shield them from harm and prevent the
consequences that would naturally flow from their conduct - I did them a
service but still the sacrifice of my character is necessary to support
one of more importance I have been informed that the army were [p.
145] generally acquainted with the course pursued by John Corrill
myself and some others for six months preceding the war - therefore no
one can accuse us of cowardice for we knew that our innocence among
men secure our Safety.”
Peck hit the nail on the head. He said it perfectly, “the guilty had been made so by placing too much confidence in the divine authority of their leaders,” obviously writing this from an already embraced “us and them” perspective of the Mormons. He doesn’t say us when referring to the Mormons, he always refers to them as the Mormons, seemingly drawing a more distinct line between him and them then had existed prior to 1839. Given everything that happened though, I can’t fault him for his dissent and subsequent disbelief. In fact, he should be commended for it. He dealt with a lot of public disgrace because of his opposition to Jo’s shenanigans during this whole 1838 Missouri war fiasco, but he stayed a strong member throughout. Finally, after the surrender which flew in the face everything Jo and Rigdon had been preaching he realized, oh… well maybe I’m the one who got squirreled here. It’s nice to see the vail fall from someone’s eyes and make that realization in front of us in a relatively short historical time.
But Reed Peck, as he said in naming John Corrill, obviously wasn’t the only Mormon who defected and testified, as we’re well aware by this point. Let’s get into another testimony, this one being from somebody who’d recently fallen away, but was permitted to remain in Far West under a watchful eye. William Wines “Double-Dub” Phelps, who’d been one of the people included in the Danite manifesto as told to leave Far West or die along with Cowdery and the Whitmers, was also one of the primary negotiators of the surrender terms on behalf of the Mormons. Double-Dub Phelps had been a member of the church since June of 1831, and was the primary printer in Independence, Missouri before the press building was burned and the Saints were chased out in 1833. Phelps was essentially one of the main leaders of the church in Missouri throughout all the Kirtland years, and now it was his turn to tell his perspective of the sequence of events.
“William W. Phelps a witness on the part of the state produced sworn and examined [deposeth]and saith, That as Early as April last at a meeting in Far West of 9 or 12 persons, Mr Rigdon arose & made an address to them in which he spoke of having borne persecutions & law suits and other privations & did not intend to be a victim any longer, that they meant to resist the law and if a sheriff Came after them with writs they would kill him, & if anybody opposed them they would take off their heads, Geo W Harris who was present observed you mean the head of their influence I suppose Rigdon answered he meant that lump of flesh and bones called the skull or scalp. Jo Smith Jr followed Mr Rigdon approving his sentiments and said that was what they intended to do[;] both in their remarks observed that they meant to have the words of the Presidency to be as good and as undisputed as the words of God. And that no one should speak against what they said. Hyrum Smith was not in Far West at this time and think he was not in the Country. Some time in June steps were taken to get myself and others out of the County of Caldwell, and efforts were made to get the post office from me, being P. M., by a demand for it, I explained the law which seemed satisfactory & it was given up. I then informed the [2d] Presidency of the church by letter, that I was wiling to do anything that was right and if I had wronged any man I would make satisfaction. I was then notified to attend a meeting. Sidney Rigdon in an address again brought up the subject of the P. office. I told them if public opinion said I should give it up I would do so but they have to await the decision of the P(ost). M(aster). G(eneral). which they agreed to do, with the understanding that a committee of three should inspect the letters written and sent by me as well as those received by me – this committee however never made their appearance – after my case was disposed of another man’s was taken up. he attempted to speak in his defence & said he was a Republican, several rushed up to wards him and stopt him, telling him if he had anything to say in favor of the presidency he might say it, and that was their republicanism – J. Smith Jr Sidney Rigdon & Hyrum Smith who compose the first presidency were there. It was observed in the meeting that if any person spoke against the presidency they would hand him over in to the hands of the brother of Gideon. I knew not at the time who or what it meant. Shortly after that I was at another meeting where they were trying several, the first presidency being present. Sidney Rigdon was chief spokesman – the object of the meeting seemed to be to make persons confess and repent of their sins to God and the Presidency and arraigned them for giving false accounts of their money and effects they had on hand and they said whenever they found one guilty of these things they were to be handed over to the brother of Gideon. Several were found guilty and handed over as they said – I yet did not know what was meant by this expression ‘the brother of Gidion’ – Not a great while after this[,] private meetings were held[;] I endevored to find out what they were and I learned from John Corrill and others they were forming a secret Society called Danites formerly called the brother of Gidion. In the Meeting above referrd to in which I was present one man arose to Defend himself, and he was ordered to leave the house, but commenced to speak. Avard then said “Where are my ten men” 30 or more men arose up where upon the man said he would leave the house. At this meeting I agreed to conform to the order of the Church in all things knowing I had a good deal of property in the county and if I went off I should to leave it. For some time before and after this meeting an armed guard was kept in town and one of them at my house, during the night[,] as I supposed[,] to watch my person. In the fore part of July – I being one of the Justices of the County Court was forbid by Joseph Smith jr from issuing any process against him. I learned from the Clerk of the Circuit Court that declaration had been filed against Smith Rigdon & others by Johnson and in reference to that case, Smith told Dennison the Clerk that he should not issue a writ against him – I observed to Mr. Smith that there was a legal objection to issuing it that the cost, meaning the Clerks fee had not been paid – Smith replied he did not care for that – he did not intend to have any writ issued against him in the County – these things together with – many other alarmed me for the situation of our County, and at our next Circuit Court I mentioned these things to the Judge & several members of the bar. A few days before the 4 th day of July last I heard D. W Patton known by the fictitious name of Capt. Fearnought say that Rigdon was writing a declaration to declare the church independent. I remarked to him – I thought such a thing treasonable to set up a government within a government – he answered it would not be treasonable if they could maintain it or fight till they died. Daniel Huntington and some others made about the same remark. Sidney Rigdon’s 4 th of July oration was the declaration referred to. Along through the summer & fall, a storm appeared to be gathering and from time to time I went out into Ray & Clay Counties – saw and conversed with many gentleman on the subject who always assured me that they would use every [asertion] that the law should be enforced, and I repeatedly made these things known in Caldwell County & that there was no disposition among the people to raise mobs against them from these counties I never was invited nor did I attend any of their secret meetings. I was at the meeting the Monday before the last Expedition to Davis – having learned that steps would be taken there which might affect me. At this meeting the Presidency together with many others were there to the number of perhaps 200 or 300 or more. Joseph Smith Jr I think it was who addressed the meeting and said in substance, that the[re] were others about to go war in Davis County – that those persons who had not turned out their property should be taken to maintain the war – this was by way of formal resolution and was not objected to by any present. A motion was then made by Sidney Rigdon that the blood of those who were thus backward should first be spilt in the streets of Far West. A few said amen to this, but immediately Mr Jo Smith Jr. before Rigdons motion was put rose and moved that they be taken out into Davis County & if they came to battle they should be put on their horses with bayonets & pitch forks and put in front – this passed without a dissenting voice. There was a short made then by Jo Smith Jr. about carrying on the war in which he said it was necessary to have something to live on, and when they went out to war it was necessary to take spoils to live on. This was in reference to the dissenters as well as to the people of Davis where they going in this speech he told the [anecdote] of the Dutchman’s potatoes. Finding I should have to go and not wishing to be put in front of the battle. I sought a situation and went out with my waggon. This was the expedition in which Gallatin and Millport were burnt. I went on to Diahamon a few days after the Mormon troops had gone out. I went to the tavern late at night when I found J. Smith Jr. Hyrum Smith & others. I informed J. Smith that the Clay troops had returned home some 40 or 50 in number, but told him that Genl. Parks was in Far West and his troops just behind. There was a conversation among them as to what they [would do; ] and they came to the conclusion to send down to Lyman Wright at his house for him to send an express to Genl Parks that his troops were not needed. Some time before day I awoke and found Lyman Wright & Capt. Fearnaught in the house – he said he had sent the Express to Genl. Parks informing him that his Militia was not needed – Wight asked J. Smith twice if he had arms to the point now to resist the law that he wanted that matter now distinctly understood he said he had succeeded in smoothing the matter over with Judge King when he was out, and that he defied the U.S to take him, but that he had submitted to be taken, because he Smith had done so This was in reference to the examination for the offence for which he and Smith had been brought before Judge King in Davis. Smith replied the time had come when he should resist all law. In the fore part of the night after my arrival I heard a good deal of conversation about driving out the mob from Davis. I heard J. Smith remark there was a store at Gallatin & a Grocery at Millport and in the morning after the conversation between smith and Wight about resisting the law a plan of operations was agreed on which was that Capt Fearnaught who was present should take a company of 100 men or more and go to Gallatin and take it that day to take the goods out of the store at Gallatin bring them to Diahamon and burn the store. Lyman Wight was to take a company and go to Millport on the same day, and Seymore Brunson was to take a company and go to the grind stone [fort] on the same day. This arrangement was made in the house before day while I was lying on the floor. When I arose in the morning some of the companies were gone. But I saw Lyman Wight parade a horse company – and start off with it toward Millport – I also a foot company the same day go off on the same day in the evening I saw both these companies return. The foot company had some plunder which appeared to be [feed] and bed clothes &c. They passed on towards the Bishops store, but I know not what they did with the plunder. I remained in the Camp one day and two nights at Diahamon when I returned to Far West. The night before I started to Far West an express [word crossed out] was sent from Joseph Smith and Lyman Wight to Rigdon at F West but what was [“in” crossed out] the contents of the Express I know not. When I returned to Far West I had a message in reference to having wood & provisions provided for the families of those persons living in Far West who were in Davis and for the purpose of giving them that information. I was invited to a school house where it was said the people had assembled. I went there and was admitted. The men being paraded before the door when I arrived in number about 40 or 50 – It was remarked that these were tried men and we all marched into the house. A guard was placed around the house and one at the door.
Mr. Rigdon then commenced making Covenants with uplifted hands – the
first was that if any man attempted to move out of the county or pack
their things for that purpose, that any [man] then in the house,
[“seeing this” crossed out] seeing this without [“without” crossed
out] saying anything to any other person should kill him and haul him
[aside] into the brush, and that all the burial he should have should
be in a turkey buzzards gut so that nothing should be left of him but
his bones. That measure was carried in form of a Covenant with uplifted
hands – after the vote had passed he said now see if anyone dares vote
against it, and called for the negative vote & there was none. The next
covenant that if any person from the surrounding Country came into their
town walking about no odds who he might be, Anyone of [other] meeting
should kill him and throw him aside into the brush this passed in manner
as the above had passed. The third covenant was conceal all these
things. Mr Rigdon then observed that the kingdom of heaven had no
secrets – that yesterday a man had stopt his wind, and was dragged into
the hazelbrush and said he – “the man who lisps it shall die.” There
were several Companies organised at this meeting, and volunteers Called
for, and I having assigned [“to me” crossed out] the command of the
express company Called for volunteers wanting to be doing something to
make a show. Amasa Lyman a Dept. was in that meeting, and was appointed
by Mr Rigdon Capt. of a Company, whose duty it was to watch the
Movements of the enemy, or mob in [Buncombe], and if they burnt one
house in Caldwell his company was to burn four of theirs; and men were
selected who were strangers in the community where they were to act
toward the latter part of the instructions to Lyman’s Company, Rigdon
observed that if the inhabitants in the surrounding Country Commenced
burning houses in Caldwell, if they could not get clear of them in any
other way they would poison them off. This last remark, I did not
understand as being particularly addressed to Lyman as a part of the
duty of his Company, but seemed addressed to the meeting generally. This
meeting was on Saturday and on the next Monday I returned to Diahamon
with 7 or 8 waggons, 3 or 4 of which were moveing some families, tho I
had been directed to take to Diahamon for use there. I arrived at
Diahamon that evening and next morning 4 of the waggons were loaded and
sent back to Far West. Joseph Smith Jr and Hyrum Smith perhaps informed
me they wanted 4 waggons a part of which were to haul beef and pork to
Far West and what the balance of the [“balance of the” crossed out]
loading was I did not know, but these waggons brought out by me, were
pointed out, and taken back to Far West. I remained in the Camps at
Diahamon that day—my waggon and another went down to Millport and
brought up Slade’s goods which were there. Slade is not a Mormon, but
has three brothers residing in or about Far West who are Mormons. The
following of the Defendants were in the last Expedition to Daviess –
Joseph Smith Jr., P. P. Pratt, Lyman Wight, Geo. W Robinson, Alanson
Ripley, Geo. W. [“Robson” crossed out] Harris, Elijah Newman was one
of my men. Isaac Morley was not there, Alexander McRae was there,
Ebenezer Robinson, was there, Edward Partridge was there, James H.
Rawlins was there, Sheffield Daniels I think was not there. Samuel Bent
was there, and he was Called Capt Black Hawk – While in Adamondiahmon
I saw Geo W Robertson with a clock under his arm which I afterwards Saw
in Far West, and which was claimed by a Mr. McLaney of Daviess County as
his property after the arrival of Genl. Clark at Far West and further
deponent saith not. W. W. Phelps”
The next testimony we’ll read is from Burr Riggs. He’d joined the church in 1831 and was called on a mission in January of 1832 in Amherst, Ohio. He was an interesting fellow, known for bashing his head against a wall to incite personal revelations. Hey, whatever you gotta do to get there, right?
“Burr Riggs, a witness for the State, produced, sworn, and examined, deposeth and saith: In the latter part of June last, immediately after the witness and Cowdrey left Far West, I fell into company with Joseph Smith, Jr., and Geo. W. Robinson. Jos. Smith, jr., said there were certain men using their influence against the proceedings of the presidency, and against their proceedings, he must tie him up and give him thirty-nine lashes; and if that would not do, give him thirty-nine more, until he was sorry for what he had said; and Robinson said he would do it.
About the latter part of July, I heard Sidney Rigdon say, Wm. W. Phelps and Dr. Williams, and he strongly suspected John Corrill, were using their influence against the presidency of the church; and further said, Corrill and Phelps were men of great influence in the country, and their influence must be put down.
I did not go out (with the troops) in the late expedition to Daviess; but my turn was passed. Four or five days after the Mormon troops had gone out, I learned that one of my horses was sick, and that I had better go out and attend to him. I went out to Diahmon, and got there in the evening; remained there that night, and returned to Far West next morning. While in Diahmon I saw a great deal of plunder brought in, consisting of beds and bed-clothes; I also saw one clock, and I saw 36 head of cattle drove in, and put into a pen. All the above property was called consecrated property; and I heard John L. Butler, one of the Mormons who was engaged in assisting to drive the cattle in, say that they had taken the cattle from the citizens of the Grindstone Fork; and said he had made a valuable expedition. I saw Ebenezer Robinson there, who had a gun barrel in his hand. I asked him where he got it, and he told me that the evening before he had set a barn on fire, and that he heard the gun go off while the house was burning, and he went back and got the barrel out of the ruins of the barn.
The following defendants were in the last expedition to Daviess:…. Etc...... Two or three days before the surrender of the Mormons to the militia at Far West, I heard Jos. Smith, jr., say that the sword was now unsheathed, and should not again be sheathed until he could go through these United States, and live in any county he pleased, peaceably. I heard this from him, also, before the last expedition to Daviess, when Gallatin and Millport were burnt, as well as afterwards; and I heard it on several occasions. I never heard Jos. Smith, jr., say that he would disobey the laws of the country. The following of the defendants were in the expedition against Bogart: ….. etc……
While the expedition was going on in daviess, there was a meeting in Far West, in which Mr. Sidney Rigdon presided. There were present about 60 or 100 men; a guard was put around the house, and one was placed at the door. Mr. Rigdon said that the last man had run away from Far West that was a going to; that the next man who started, he should be pursued and brought back, dead or alive. This was put to vote, and agreed to, without any one objecting to it. He further said, that one man had slipped his wind yesterday, and had been thrown aside into the brush for the buzzrds to pick, and the first man who lisped it should die.
At this meeting companies were chosen, some to procure wood for the
town, and some to procure meal for the army at Far West, and, also, for
the families of those who were in the expedition to Daviess; and one
company for spies. Sidney Rigdon said that these companies were
necessary, and appointed men as heads of the companies, to make them up.
Rigdon further stated, at this meeting, that the enemy were in their
hands, and that they should prevail. He gave instructions to the spy
company that they should go out to Richmond and surrounding country, to
learn the movements of the mobs; and that if they found any mob burning
houses in Caldwell, be sure, said he, that you do the same thing to
them. Amasa Lyman was the captain of this spy company. It was stated in
this meeting, that the object in organizing a spy company was to be able
to guard against mobs, which they said were coming on them from all
quarters. When Mr. Rigdon was instructing the spy company, or apparently
in conversation with them, abover referred to, I heard it said that if
they could not get rid of the mob in any other way, they could poison
them to death. At the time of this last remark I was engaged in other
conversation, and did not hear all that conversation. Whenn Patten was
raising his company to go against Bogart, he remarked that it (Bogart’s
company) was said to be militia; but it was a cursed mob, and that, in
the name of the Lord, he would go and disperse them. And further this
deponent saith not. Burr Riggs”
The next chunk we’ll read is taken from the court documents as well, but it’s not a testimony. Out of all the testimonies I could find, nothing really enlightened us to the Haun’s Mill Massacre. This was the best example I could find of the court recognizing it even happened, but they didn’t call any witnesses for or against the massacre. They were much more interested in the military actions taken by the Mormons to see if they could brand Jo as a defective military leader deserving of the death penalty for treason. This is seriously one of the very few documents in this entire court of inquiry that deals at all with the massacre, and it’s a letter from S. M. Smith reporting on the massacre and resulting deaths of his brother and nephew.
[Fulltext transcription of: Letter from S. M. Smith, Kirtland, Ohio to Governor Boggs, Jefferson City, Mo]
“I have received by letter from the widow & others the following facts
respecting the murder of a brother in your state by the name of Warren
Smith. He was a mormon (the only one of the connection) He set out for
Far West Mo. last summer because he believed it as he said to do his
duty to go. This was a misfortune to be pitied not a crime to be
punished. [ Warren began a journey with] 3 or 4 other families had
arrived to within a short distance of the end of their toilsome journey
they were informed that the roads were strictly guarded & to proceede
farther was to be disastrous, they consequently halted at shoal creek
and encamp= =ed in the edge of a prairie, when they were attacked on the
6 th Nov. by an armed force of 2 or 300. The women & children fled to
the woods, the men & boys to a log block Smith shop. The ruffians
instantly surrounded the latter & in a few minutes massacred about 20.
After the roar of death had ceased & the inhuman banditti retired, the
women crept silently from their hiding places & selected each her own
husband from among the mingled & mangled slain, wiped the warm flowing
life blood from their [__] cheeks, snatched a hasty kiss & buried
their lifeless [many] in a deep narrow tomb together ([niz a null])
& fled again to the thick [cirkling] shade of the gloomy forest to
escape a like, or a worse fate, & now wander friendless & pitiless
without money or means in a strange land, a land of enemies They
perished my brother & a little son of his of about 10 years, who begged
hard for life, but was shot through the head in cold blood after the
excitement of battle was over, If there is philanthropy in Mo. let it be
exercised in relieving the suffering of these widows and orphans, if
there is power in the law or energy in the executives of Mo. let them be
put in requisition to bring to punishment the perpetrators of this
It's tough to bring this episode to a close with so much running through my mind. How does one sum up such a complicated conflict with so many moving parts with such broad causal and resultant effects? I guess I’ll start with the legality of everything. This court of inquiry was only quasi-legal, but what was illegal was more what the Missourians actively didn’t do instead of what they did do. The court of inquiry was supposed to be reserved for military application only, and they were hoping they could prove Jo was acting in a military capacity, thus deserving of the non-civilian court of inquiry that happened. Jo was never a member of any state militia, legally speaking he was a civilian deserving of a grand jury and subsequent trial. The Missourians actively deprived the Mormons of their right to a fair and speedy trial with a jury of their peers in lieu of acting with monolithic power at the hands of Justice Austin A. King. What’s even worse is that no Missourian was held responsible for anything, they got off scot free. We’ll get to that in a second because I want to talk about Judge King for a second.
We know he was opposed to the Mormons. He’d heard the case on Raglin’s farm after the Danites had surrounded the homes of elected officials to force their signatures on pro-Mormon propaganda. King’s friends had been chased from their homes by Mormons, his own property had lost significant value from their moving in, he was not an unaffected party and had no ground to stand as justice of the peace over a trial like this. He should have had the ethics to recuse himself from the case and bring in a justice from a neighboring state to hear the case, and it should have been a grand jury and legitimate civil trial with a jury of peers. None of those constitutionally obligated procedures occurred. But, if you’re in King’s position, why wouldn’t he want to be the presiding judge over this court? He likely hated the Mormons, like most non-Mormon Missourians, and he had his finger on the knob for how they would be treated in the Missouri state legal system. He could pass a judgement nearly as harsh as could be conceived and the Missourians would laud his name for being tough on those damned religious fanatics. It’s hard to ascribe motives to King, but there may have been some underlying prejudices that caused him to be the presiding judge over this quasi-military court of inquiry.
Which gets to the seeming central point upon which the prosecution was trying to make their case. If Jo or one of the Mormon leaders could be roped in as an military officer who’d gone rogue, they could suddenly forget a number of constitutionally sanctioned rights. Court martials are held by the military when somebody in the military steps out of line, and this court of inquiry served the same purpose, it had no legal civil jurisdiction. Somebody convicted in a court-martial enjoys significantly less rights than a convicted civilian, so if the Mormon leaders were tried as military officers, the court martial General Lucas held and this court of inquiry presided over by Judge King would hold more weight than a proper civil trial. The problem was, hardly any of the Mormons were actually state militia officials, and they were acting under Jo, Rigdon, and Hyrum, none of which were military actors, and thus subject to all the rights of civilian-suspects.
This court of inquiry was a sham trial. The first document we read was one of many from fact-finding committees who said that this trial should not be used as evidence for the real jury trial, nor should it even be happening. As much as the Mormons were in the wrong for so much of this conflict, the Missouri government was woefully and shamefully unfair to the Mormons both during and after the conflict.
The most frustrating part is this court of inquiry was the only legal recourse the Mormons ever received for the Haun’s mill massacre. And as much as you heard us talk about it, which was basically nill, was the extent of the legal exposure the entire massacre ever received. Those 18 men and young boys who were mercilessly slaughtered at Haun’s mill were simply never legally recognized, and their families never received one degree of reconciliation for their loss. You know what they got? Forcefully removed from the state of Missouri. And the real kicker here is the removal of the Mormons was deliberated in court for its constitutionality, but was tabled till July of 1839, long after nearly every Mormon had fled to Illinois. The issue was never further discussed in any court of law. The Mormons were out, just as the Missourians had wanted, and Jo, Hyrum, Rigdon, Lyman Wight, along with Alexander McRae and Caleb Baldwin, were all sent to Libery Jail in Clay County to await their civil trial, while the remaining 58 Mormon defendants were released for lack of substantial evidence of their collusion with the leadership. Jo and Hyrum would later attempt a meeting with Martin Van Buren, then president of the U.S. in applying for some kind of recourse, a meeting which didn’t pan out in their favor.
I made this point in the Haun’s mill massacre episode, but it bears repeating. Haun’s mill is touted as the height of Mormon persecution. If there is anything that believing members know of church history today, it’s the Haun’s mill massacre. The worst part, they have good arguments that the Mormons were wrongfully persecuted, but not the arguments they think. They lay the blame squarely on Lilburn Boggs and the anti-Mormon mobs, but that ignores everything we’ve been covering for the last 18 hours of historical timeline since Jo and Rigdon fled to Missouri and started shaking things up. Mormons were persecuted, but not because they were Mormons. They were subjugated and oppressed in 19th century society like so many other classes of people in different locations at the time. No Mormon ever had it as bad as any black person living in Missouri at this time. No Mormon was forced to endure the trail of tears which was literally happening at this same time. Haun’s mill isn’t an argument for Mormon persecution complex, it’s an argument about just how deplorable and twisted people can be towards one another.
One thing I do want to get to, and I’m not the only one, why did the people continue to believe in Jo after this debacle? Earlier I read a small excerpt from the manuscript of Reed Peck, a document which heavily colored the public perception of the Missouri Mormon war as it was the authoritative account for 2 years before the court of inquiry documents were published. The final paragraphs of his manuscript seem to say it so well.
Reed Peck ending:
“You may here ask in conclusion of the story how Joseph Smith retains the confidence of his followers and even bind them more closely to the cause when the ultimate of all his plan has been a total failure. He tells them as an excuse for being in the hands of his enemies after the delivery of so many brave speeches "that he was betrayed". The very men who risked their lives at his request to open a communication with the army are now branded as traitors. When no others would venture, we stepped forward and were instrumental in saving the lives of hundreds perhaps by bringing about a treaty. Propositions were made to us and we faithfully reported the same to the presidency and they understood the whole matter, still Joseph pretends to the church that he was betrayed by us as christ was by Judas.
You may ask how he can expect to support his church as a man of God
when facts are exhibited to the world in their true light.”
In essence, Reed Peck was asking in 1839 the same thing I’m asking in 2017; how did this church survive? Lately, Annie and I have been watching Avatar the Last Airbender. It may be a tv show made for 7-year-olds, but it’s amazing and full of really profound life lessons. We’re on book one right now, so essentially just getting started, but an episode came up that made me stop and think for quite some time. The Aang gang wandered into a town that was right underneath an active volcano, Pompeii style. The town was led by a prophetess and everybody in town followed her every whim. From love advice to not bathing for good luck, every person in the town wholeheartedly believed whatever the prophetess claimed. Saka, the skeptical one of the group, went on a campaign to debunk the prophetess’ claims by challenging the believers with hard questions, to which they always had a non-answer which seemed to satisfy them and infuriate Saka even more. One person was told they would find their true love while wearing silly red shoes. The person then commenced wearing the silly red shoes every day in hopes of meeting his true love. Saka pointed out that of course he would find his true love eventually and the fact he was wearing the silly shoes didn’t have an influence. The man credulously and excitedly claimed the prophecy must come true as long as he’s wearing his silly red shoes. I think we can see why this logic paradox was frustrating to the skeptic of the group.
The episode progresses and the prophetess comes out with her ancient book and interprets the clouds for what the next year will hold, good year for rice, etc. But everybody wants to know about the volcano, if it will go off or if it will explode and bury the town in lava. She prophesied that the town wouldn’t be destroyed that year, which was met with cheers and elation from the townsfolk. As the episode progresses, we find out that the volcano is on the brink of erupting and will soon bury the town if something isn’t done. Imminent danger lay on the horizon and it’s up to the heroes of the show to warn the townsfolk to flee before they’re all killed. But when they get to the town, they try and explain to the people in the town square that the volcano is going to erupt and they need to leave, but the people non-chalantly blow them off, because their prophetess had told them the city wouldn’t be destroyed by the volcano that year. Nobody would listen to the skeptics who’d seen the mouth of the volcano with their own eyes, they took more comfort in believing the convenient falsehood of their prophetess.
Eventually the heroes manipulate her powers of prophecy in clever ways and the prophetess claims the town will be destroyed by the volcano and suddenly everybody believes her and takes action. They dig a trench around the town to channel the lava flow, they evacuate everyone, and thanks to the avatar, the city wasn’t destroyed by the volcano; a point which wasn’t lost on the believers in the prophetess. She prophesied the volcano wouldn’t destroy the city and she was only right through a narrow interpretation of the facts. If not for the avatar, her words wouldn’t have mattered because the town would have been destroyed and the people would have died and there would be nobody left to call out her false prophecy. But, thanks to human intervention and the clever wit of the avatar, her prophecy was interpreted as true, and the people went on believing. As I said before, a tv show made for children, but it really is profound in its own right and I can’t help but notice some incredible parallels.
The sad part is, people will often choose to believe a convenient falsehood in the face of the most brazen and incontrovertible truth. I was talking to Marie, my cohost on MyBoM, and I made this point that Mormons love their struggles. They, and I shouldn’t say they, because I experienced this when I was attending; we think that if we’re fighting against our natural man and struggling against that porn or video game addiction, or pushing our nose ever harder against the grindstone in our callings, we think that is what’s important. We’re always trying to be more righteous. I used to revere my stake patriarch because he was a feeble old man that would always say, “I just wish I could do better for my heavenly father,” and he was the most pious man I had ever known. The problem is, those struggles to be righteous are all done while lazily embracing a falsehood, because admitting the prophet is false is the greatest struggle of all.
Look at these Mormons living in Missouri in 1838. They’d truly gone through hell to embrace Joseph Smith as their infallible prophet. They’d lost their property, their friends and family, and ultimately, some lost their lives and yet, they still persisted in their belief that Jo was their prophet. But these were lazy struggles. They had embraced their Mormon lives and everything that entailed, but saying that Jo was a false prophet and reconciling the fact that they’d gone through hell the last x number of years of their life all for a con-man, that was the greatest personal fight they each had to wrestle with.
It’s this stupid sunk-cost fallacy we so often find ourselves in. We invest time/energy/thought/money into something or someone with the hopes that it’ll all pay off if we just keep struggling with it. It’s much more of a struggle to take a step back and say, alright, something is really wrong, how did I get here, and what is actually wrong in my life. Any of you get there with car repairs? You keep thinking, after this injector/coil/spark plug and valve replacement, this car will run perfect… until it inevitably breaks down again. The hardest part of the struggle against that lemon car is stepping back and saying, this car sucks and it’s taking all my money and it will never run perfectly. Humans hate to realize they’ve been wasting their money, but that’s even more motivational when it’s time and belief.
These Mormons believed that Jo was their prophet. They’d invested their time, money, and even more frustratingly, their belief into this guy, and everything that transpired in 1838 would cause any sane person to say that Jo is obviously a con artist and he has no idea what he’s doing; but they were hopped up on belief, and sanity has little to do with belief in prophets and their professed divinity. The truth of the matter is, it’s hard walk away from something you’ve invested time and energy into for years, even when you’re faced with hard facts that should cause every person to walk away.
Reed Peck said it perfectly, “You may ask how he can expect to support his church as a man of God when facts are exhibited to the world in their true light.” I’ve been wondering that for 4 and a half years since I began studying Mormon history. When the facts are laid out to the world in their true light, how can people continue to believe in this church? Peck was asking the profound and unanswerable question in 1839 when the church had 10,000 members, and I’m asking it in 2017 when they claim to have 15 million members. How can people know of Jo’s false prophecies and still call him a prophet of God? How can a church built on a someone we can factually verify as a con artist survive? And the sad realization behind that is people will often choose a convenient falsehood, even if it entails all kinds of struggles, as long as they don’t have to contend with an inconvenient truth that they were wrong and they got duped.
Very few people I talk to who have left the church actually complain about the money they gave in tithing; the vast majority say, I can’t believe I was in it for x number of decades and I didn’t know about the Book of Abraham. (you can fill in the book of Abraham with any other church issue, the formula still holds true). Those people aren’t angry about the church taking their money, they’re upset because they were lied to, and it took them gaining new perspective to understand that lie. It took overcoming that greatest personal struggle by saying, maybe I was wrong and I got duped. People don’t like to be lied to. If only the church today could get that through its thick gentrifying skull that this is why people are leaving in droves and searching for something else. All of the bubbles on that “enemies of the church” slide Ryan McKnight leaked could be replaced with one large bubble that says “because we lie to them”. Reed Peck couldn’t see how the church would survive after Jo’s incarceration, I don’t see how it’ll survive the internet age, but the truth of the matter is, we’re both wrong. The church will go on. It’ll survive in some bastardized form of its original self and people 100 years from now will be studying the historical Joseph Smith and wonder why the hell anybody is a Mormon then.
Maybe we’ve accessed some kind of objective truth with humans through all of this. We would much rather believe a convenient lie than a harsh truth. We don’t want to face the music and understand that we screwed up somehow. We don’t want to admit that we’re wrong and our investment of time energy and money was all a waste. The problem with us humans is the truth doesn’t care what we believe, the truth just is, and often times we lie because the truth simply sucks too much, or we’re afraid of what will happen if we’re wrong. Maybe, like some of the saints living in Missouri, we’re worried about the punishment for honesty. John Corrill, Reed Peck, Burr Riggs, William Wines Phelps, all suffered the wrath of the leadership and became pariahs among their friends and family because they spoke the truth against the prophet. They became traitors and the followers of Jo were further solidified in their persecution narrative because they thought these traitors were just doing to Jo what Judas did to Jesus. Following Jo is lazy. Most of these people would rather bury their heads in the sand than struggle with the fact that Jo might be lying to them.
Jo made a number of claims during this conflict that would put him into the category of false prophet, what’s more, he didn’t see how things would turn out, as you may expect that a prophet would. He claimed that angels would fight to supplement the numbers of the Mormons against the Missourians, yet Mormons were slaughtered at Haun’s mill and inflicted very few wounds on their Missourian assailants. Jo claimed that the lord would damn the mob and the Mormon could kill 10 as easily as 10,000, but every indication shows us that the Missourians would have utterly wiped the Mormons off the face of the planet if it came down to mortal combat. Not only were his prophecies false, but he didn’t foresee that Mormons would die at Haun’s mill and during the subsequent months of their removal from Missouri. He didn’t foresee Liberty Jail, and thought he was going to be slaughtered as the militia carried him and the other surrendered Mormons toward Richmond for this court of inquiry. He didn’t foresee that he would escape from Liberty Jail, or that Rigdon would go off the rails in the coming years. He never foresaw John Bennett, James Strang, Brigham Young, or Major Bidamon as becoming leaders of his church after his death 5 years from where our timeline sits. He never gave us one solid prophecy that came true, and the vast majority of his prophecies were either benign or simply wrong, and STILL people believe him to be a prophet of God.
Say what you will, but I would be cautious of anybody that claims to be telling the truth. If somebody says something and then says believe me right after, maybe consider questioning what they said before. The truth is self-evident and doesn’t need any prophets to advocate for it. I don’t claim to tell you the truth on this show, I merely present information I’ve found in my research and it’s incumbent upon you to look into it for yourself and decide if it’s true, but I never say, believe me, Jo’s a con man. I just straight up call him a con man and I have years of research to back that up if somebody wishes to challenge such a claim. You can struggle through life on behalf of somebody that claims to have the truth, or you can struggle through life on a search for the truth. I’ve chosen my path and it’s lead me to drive across the country in search of more truth. I can only express the truth I’ve come to know and hope you share the same insatiable hunger for truth I do. Let’s find true Mormon history together and dethrone, once and for all, the claims of a false prophets.
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