Ep 52 – Liberty Love Letters
On this episode, we view the Mormon exodus from Missouri to Illinois through the eyes of those locked up in Liberty Jail. Jo and Hyrum try to run the church from their dungeon, while Rigdon is trying to reestablish the Mormon kingdom which was lost. Jo has letter correspondence with his wife and Presendia Huntington Buell at the same time. We finish, as usual, with random musings about Hingepin Rigdon and his belief in a God that would dare to cause him such personal suffering.
LDS article on Liberty Jail
Letter to the Chuch in Caldwell County 16 Dec 1838
Letter to Brigham Young and Heber Kimball 16 Jan 1839
Memorial to Missouri Legislature 24 Jan 1839
Letter from Edward (Party-boy) Partridge 5 March 1839
Letter from Don Carlos and William Smith 6 March 1839
Letter from Emma Smith 7 March 1839
Letter to Emma Smith 21 March 1839
Letter to Presendia Huntington Buell 15 March 1839
Isaac Galland—Mormon Benefactor
Journal of Discourses 23:12 John Taylor on Sidney Rigdon
Pulpit Podcast – Naked Mormonism and Gilgal Gardens
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
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Welcome to Episode 52 of the NMPC, the serial Mormon history podcast. Today is Thursday May 18, 2017, my name is Bryce Blankenagel and thank you for joining me.
Last episode we covered what happened to Jo, Hyrum, Rigdon, Caleb Baldwin, Alexander McRae, and Lyman Wight once they were incarcerated in the Liberty Jail in Clay County Missouri. The situation was bleak for all. Jo and Hyrum, brothers behind bars, were concerned with what was happening to the saints as they were being removed from Missouri during that harsh winter. Rigdon was oscillating between states of manic complaint about the situation and being nearly non-verbal in the throes of depressive episodes. His mind was on the breaking point and he was dragging everybody else in the jail ever closer to insanity with him.
Finally, Jo and friends appeared in front of a judge on a plea of habeus corpus with Alexander Doniphan representing everybody but Hingepin Rigdon. Then, because everything turns on this guy, when Rigdon, representing only himself, addressed the court from a reclined cot in his sickly state, He turned everybody’s hearts into complete mashed potatoes and they all cried for his release. Rigdon organized an elaborate escape attempt with the prison guards in case any Missourian vigilantes planned to take care of him upon his lawful release. The night of the escape, Rigdon feigned a scuffle with one of the guards and booked it down the road, leaving his wife and son-in-law behind, only to pull a gun on his son-in-law when they caught up. Rigdon spared no horseflesh in getting to the Illinois side of the Mississippi over the next few days through backwoods roads to elude any possible vigilantes he may have encountered. Realistically, the vitriol the Missourians held for the Mormons was still a force to be reckoned with. The Mormon leaders were in constant danger of a lynching, which likely would have been swept under the rug in the wake of the Jacksonian bully-majority democracy which had only been manufactured over the previous 9 years.
Let’s talk on that for a minute. Obviously, the Missourians got what they wanted by the time Rigdon was making his way to Illinois. All along, the Missourians just wanted the Mormons out of their counties, and preferably their state, and they had the quasi-legal surrender terms enforced by General John B. Clark which forced the Mormons to leave. By early February, the majority of the Saints were either in Illinois, or were in the process of getting to Illinois. Very few Mormons remained in Missouri by the end of winter in early 1839. But the sentiments and public outrage that led to the Mormons being removed in the first place still burned fervently in the minds of the anti-Mormon Missourians. They had escaped without losing any major leaders and without any major loss in life, and that made many of these Missourians quite happy with the situation. It would take a few years, but eventually people began to realize that the Mormons had been totally screwed over legally and had no allies, but no recourse would be attained for anything that happened in Missouri. And, let’s face it, Jo and friends never really paid for what they did. They were never in a subsequent civil court after this court of inquiry to determine legal prosecution, they spent a few months in a jail, then escaped, that’s it. They Mormons were never repaid for what the militia inflicted upon them, but they also never paid for what they inflicted upon the state, which included assaulting a state-sanctioned militia with deadly force, among many other illegal activities. The Mormon leadership was deserving of a harsh sentence for anybody responsible for the Mormon’s actions in Missouri from August to October of 1838, but nobody really paid for it. The whole situation was largely ignored and swept under the rug.
But those are details we’ll be discussing this episode, so let’s get into the meat for today having consumed our fill of milk.
To set the scene, Rigdon had very recently settled in the makeshift half-way camp of Quincy, Illinois and was the presiding church leader while Jo and Hyrum continued to languish in Liberty Jail. Last historical episode we focused on Rigdon quite a bit, this episode will be focused more on Jo and Hyrum Smith, along with their 3 friends locked up in Liberty Jail. We’ll still be talking a little about what Rigdon was doing on the outside to provide context, but our main focus is on Jo’s experience. We’re going to see what it was like for Jo without snapchat and twitter to get updates, he could only rely on the hearsay of visitors and letter exchanges.
It was dark and very cold inside Liberty Jail. The dungeon had already essentially driven Rigdon mad to the point that he was released, but that still left Jo stuck in the dungeon with 4 other people, languishing, wondering, hoping that things would change soon. The men are struggling to cleave to their sanity as the jail only seems to get smaller, closing in on their waning sense of reality while being completely disconnected from the outside world.
The jailers do their job, but they can’t stop the people from coming up to the window and yelling at the prophet, “where’s your gold bible now?” And “when it comes time to release you fellers, we’ll see if we can’t get a little justice from that tree branch over there.” Their voices echoing through the darkened stone room with nothing but some matted-down straw and the prisoner’s fearful minds to absorb the blasphemy and death threats.
Out there is so much to do, so many people to converse with and items of business to attend. In here, just terrible food, crushing boredom, and idle time for deep self-reflection. This was the longest Jo had ever spent in jail before. He’d had his few run-ins with the law prior to this point, but none of those resulted in jail time any more than a few days. At one point, Joseph Sr., Big Daddy Cheese, spent a month in jail back in 1830 for a $14 debt he owed to some wealthy guy, but his month is jail was nothing like what his son was currently going through in Liberty.
The worst part of it all, nobody knows how long they’d be here. They had made their appearance in front of the judge and Rigdon got off, but Doniphan couldn’t do diddly-shit for Jo and friends to get them released. They hadn’t even had a real trial and sentencing yet, they were just being held as the state prepared its case against the Mormons, or more realistically, waited for them all to leave so they didn’t have to deal with it. There was no telling if Jo and his friends would be there for another month or another 10 years; fear of the unknown must have been utterly soul-shattering.
It’s probably a good thing that Rigdon got away though, Jo was sick of hearing his constant bitching. All of the men were going through the same physical turmoil as Rigdon, they just didn’t complain as much. But, Rigdon is a good guy, and he’s helped Jo since they teamed up in early 1831. He knew how to run a church and he took Jo under his wing. Jo has been a smart and worthy apprentice, even if his sense of adventure has occasionally gotten them in many small bouts of trouble. You know, if not for Rigdon, Zion would never have been declared as Independence, MO. If not for him, none of this business with the Mormons in Missouri would have happened. Wait… Is that good or bad? Good thing the trusted Bloody Brigham Young is in Illinois saying stuff like this from page 230 of vols 3 of the History of the Church A Source and Text Critical Edition edited by Dan Vogel.
“About this time, Prest. Brigham Young proposed to Bishop Partridge to help the poor out of the State. The Bishop replied, “The poor may take care of themselves, and I will take care of myself.” Prest. Young replied, “If you will not help them out, I will.”
Jo knows he can trust Bloody Brigham, but is Rigdon still trustworthy? I mean, he did just feign an escape and leave his wife and son-in-law behind as he sprinted from the jailhouse. Maybe he can be trusted, but can he be predicted? Obviously Rigdon was going to look out for the Saints, but what would he do without Jo there to keep him in check? If Rigdon does start to make a power-grab, what happens then? Would Bloody Brigham and the quorum follow him because he’s not in jail? Fear of the unknown must have been strangling the prophet’s synapses.
A mere half-month after incarceration, Jo sent a letter to the Church in Caldwell County dated 16 Dec 1838. It basically tells the church that everything is going to be fine, keep believing in us, we’re just being persecuted like the big J was in J-town. Here are some excerpts taken from the Joseph Smith Papers.org:
“To the church of latter day saints in Caldwell county and the saints scattered abroad and are persecuted and made desolate and are afflicted in divers manners for christ’s sake and the gospel’s, and whose perils are greatly augmented by the wickedness and corruption of false brethren. May grace, mercy, and peace, be and abide with you and notwithstanding all your sufferings we assure you that you have our prayers and fervent desires for your welfare both day and night… Know assuredly dear brethren that it is for the testimony of Jesus that we are in bonds and in prison… Those who have sought by their unbelief and wickedness and by the principle of mobocracy to destroy us and the people of God by killing and scattering them abroad and wilfully and maliciously delivering us into the hands of murderers desiring us to be put to death thereby having us dragged about in chains and cast into prison, and for what cause; it is because we were honest men and were determined to defend the lives of the saints at the expense of our own… We glory in our tribulation because we know that God is with us, that he is our friend and that he will save our souls. We do not care for those that kill the body they cannot harm our souls; we ask no favors at the hands of mobs nor of the world, nor of the devil nor of his emissaries the dissenters.”
He even takes a minute to disparage some of those who testified against him during the court of inquiry a month prior to when this letter was penned.
“Look at the dissenters. And again if you were of the world the world would love its own Look at Mr [George M.] Hinkle. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Look at his brother John Corrill Look at the beloved brother Reed Peck who aided him in leading us, as the savior was led, into the camp as a lamb prepared for the slaughter and a sheep dumb before his shearer so we opened not our mouth But these men like Balaam being greedy for a reward sold us into the hands of those who loved them, for the world loves his own.”
Then the letter goes on a screed about how the incarcerated individuals are totally innocent and the fact that they are only in there because George Hinkle sold them out for his own immunity. Then it goes on to talk about the “mobocrats” who were warring against the Saints in Missouri in the first place.
“Hence, mobbers were encouraged by priests and Levites, by the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenees, and the Herodians, and the most ruthless, abandoned, and debauched, lawless inhuman and the most beastly set of men that the earth can boast of; and indeed a parallel cannot be found any where else; to gather together to steal to plunder to starve and to exterminate and burn the houses of the Mormons these are the characters that by their treasonable and avert acts have desolated and laid waste Daviess County these are the characters that would fain make all the world believe that we are guilty of the above named acts. But they represent us [p. 3] falsely; we say unto you that we have not committed treason, nor any other unlawful act in Daviess County was it for murder in Ray county against mob-militia who was a wolf in the first instance hide and Hair, teeth, and legs, and tail, who afterwards put on a militia sheepskin with the wool on, who can sally forth in the day time into the flock and snarl & show his teeth, and scatter and devour the flock and satiate himself upon his prey, and then sneak back into the brambles in order that he might conceal himself in his well tried skin with the wool on.”
The letter ends with a bunch of preachy dribble, no doubt exhorting the church members to be faithful even though they were actively being driven out of Missouri at that very moment. After reading the entire letter, there are no explicit instructions to the saints with the exception of telling them to remain in Far West for a time, and calling a few Mormons out specifically for betraying the leadership. Actually, there is a pretty good passage about D-Day David Whitmer.
“This poor man who professes to be much of a prophet has no other dumb ass to ride but David Whitmer to forbid his madness when he goes up to curse Israel, and this ass not being of the same kind of Balaams therefore the angel notwithstanding appeared unto him yet he could not penetrate his understanding sufficiently so but what he brays out cursings instead of blessings. Poor ass whoever lives to see it will see him and his rider perish like those who perished in the gainsaying of Core, or after the same condemnation.”
Oh, how the tables have turned. The Whitmers used to be trusted leaders, scribes, and historians for the church, and now David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses, is called a dumb ass who wouldn’t open his mouth in the face of danger like Balaam’s ass did.
Granted, there were Saints coming and going, frequently visiting the prophet and his acolytes in their dungeon. We don’t have any way of tracking all the people that came and went, but rest assured, the prophet and friends weren’t perfectly lonely during this time. We can, however, begin to understand the little singularities of order amidst this vast battlefield of chaotic forces acting upon each other. Heber C. Kimball and Bloody Brigham were given charge of the Saints in the absence of Jo, Hyrum, and Rigdon. This is the next correspondence emerging from Liberty Jail, 9 days before the Habeaus Corpus hearing where Rigdon was released.
“It is not wisdom for you to go out of Caldwell with your Families yet for a little season untill we are out of Prison after which time you may act your pleasure. but though you take your Families out of the state yet it will be necessary for you to Return and leave as before designed on the 26 of April.— In as much as we are in prison and for a litt[l]e season if need be the managment of the affairs of the church devolves on you that is the twelve <the> gathering… Let the churches in England continue there, till further orders. till a door cac [can] be opened for them. except they choose to come to America. and take their chance with the saints here. if they do that, let them come, and if they choose to come the[y] would do well to send wise men before them and buy out Kirtland, and the regions round about. or they may settle whare they can till things may alter… We nominate George A Smith and Lyman Sherman to take the place of Orson Hyde and Thomas B Marsh Brethren fear not, but be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.”
This letter had a few more directives in it, but it was still really hard to know what was happening to the Saints at the hands of still zealous mobocrats who were constantly giving them trouble. The idea of moving to Illinois was still not in the minds of the Mormons, they knew they had to get out of Missouri, and the only options they had were Illinois, Iowa, elsewhere in Missouri, which seemed very unlikely, or they could retrace their steps back to Indiana or Ohio. They had been chased from Kirtland by the church there but Jo and friends still wanted to go back, so they held it as a possibility while imprisoned, specifying to Bloody Brigham and Heber Kimball that Saints can come from England if they just send their money to buy plots in Kirtland first. They had no allies remaining in Kirtland. They couldn’t stay in Missouri, novel solutions needed to be considered. But Jo still didn’t understand what was happening in the winterscape that lie beyond the walls of Liberty Jail.
The next letter to be dictated in the echoing chamber of sickness and bodily smells was to the Missouri state Legislature detailing the problems the Mormons had with the trial. This was essentially the letter which got them into the habeaus corpus hearing where Rigdon preached to his release, but they do bring up some important points concerning Judge Austin A. King who’d been the presiding judge over the Court of Inquiry back in November, 2 months prior to when this letter was sent.
“It is not our object to complain—to asperse any one. All we ask is a fair and impartial trial. We ask the sympathies of no one, we ask sheer justice— tis all we expect— and all we merit, but we merit that—… But it is a difficult task to change opinions once formed, The other [p. 66] obstacle which we candidly consider are of the most weighty, is the feeling which we believe is entertained by the Hon, A[ustin] A, King against us, and his Consequent incapacity to do us impartial justice. It is from no disposition to speak disrespectfully of that high officer that we lay before your Hon. Body the facts we do, but simply that the Legislature may be apprised of our real Condition. We look upon Judge King as like all other mere men, liable to be influenced by his feelings, his prejudices, and his previously formed opinions… He has written much upon the subject of our late difficulties in which he has placed us in the wrong— These letters have been published to the world He has also presided at an excited public meeting as chairman and no doubt sanctioned all the proceedings… We believe that the foundation of the feeling against us which we have reason to think Judge King entertains, may be traced to the unfortunate troubles which occurred in Jackson County some few years ago. In a battle between the mormons and a portion of the Citizens of that County, Mr Brassell [Hugh Breazeale], the brotherinlaw of Judge King, was killed. It is natural that the Judge should have some feeling against us, whether we were right or wrong in that controversy.”
They have some relevant points, and by extension, relevant complaints. There really wasn’t any question about Judge King’s partiality considering the Mormons, he hated them… simple as that. The incarcerated leaders knew this to be an injustice in violation of a fair trial, which hadn’t even happened yet because the Court of Inquiry wasn’t even an actual trial. They wanted to be heard again in court in a different circuit where Judge King wasn’t presiding, or even present. They really hated Judge King, which goes way back to the hearing they had on Raglin’s farm back in like August or something.
The prisoners were finally fed up. Rigdon had just been released in that little bullshit escape attempt thing, and the remaining 5 prisoners had dealt with enough of the terrible food and abysmal living circumstances. With the mysteries of what was happening on a day to day basis outside of the jail constantly bearing down on Jo and Hyrum, they needed to regain control as the Mormons were amidst their mass exodus towards Quincy, Illinois. They had been told, not in any written correspondence, but by word of mouth, that Illinois seemed to be friendly to the refugee saints and that the quorum of twelve had been organizing parties to make the journey, but all the details were too vague to really know what was going on.
Finally, they attempted an escape, unsuccessfully. No writings exist during February of 1839, likely because the Mormons were simply too busy organizing and moving during that month to take the time to sit down and write to the prophet and friends. The escape attempt around February 6th was thwarted by vigilant prison guards, however, their second escape attempt happened in early to mid-March. This is from the history.lds.org article concerning their escape attempt and Caleb Baldwin’s reaction to the prison guards doing their job.
“Two days later, on March 17, Samuel Tillery, one of the jailers, inspected the lower-level dungeon and found an auger handle, which he believed was being used by the prisoners to chisel their way through the thick walls. Tillery ordered 25 men downstairs to finish the search, then ordered his contingent to chain Joseph Smith and the prisoners to the floor. Having already bottled up three and a half months of stress, anguish, and frustration, Baldwin furiously rose to his feet, looked the jailer in the eye, and affirmed, “Tillery, if you put those chains on me I will kill you, so help me God!”17 In the words of Hyrum Smith, Tillery “soon calmed down and agreed to call again and settle the matter.”18 While Baldwin’s fiery threat temporarily settled the dispute, the prisoners were put under even heavier guard.
Just three days after the scuffle with Samuel Tillery, Baldwin was still on edge and wondered if he would ever see or hear from his family again.”
Everybody was on edge. They wanted out but the jail was built too well for them to realistically effect an escape. That auger was used to make a hole in the wall, but since there were loose-pack rocks between the inner rail-road tie boards and outer brick structure, the hole they made to try and widen the window just filled in with more rocks. The second escape attempt was obviously foiled, but Jo was happy he’d cost the state a round sum of money in damaging the jail. While this served as some little consolation to Jo’s sufferings, he and the 4 others were still stuck in the jail with no possibility of escape for quite some time. They continued to share correspondence with church leaders throughout March, but not a single word was written between Jo and Rigdon during this entire incarceration.
Jo was in regular contact with Bishop Edward Party-Boy Partridge during his incarceration, but wasn’t actually there himself to meet with people and make personal assessments of their character. Party-Boy was keeping him up to date on relevant dealings. This a few small excerpts from a letter written by Party-Boy Partridge on 5 march 1839 from Quincy to those still incarcerated in Liberty Jail. I’m going to read the majority of it because it queues us in on a few things that were going on in Illinois with only Rigdon to be a representative for the church leadership. Remember, these letter exchanges and occasional visits were the only way by which the Mormon leadership could know of what was going on outside their confinement. They only knew what other people would tell them, and Party-boy Partridge was one of those few connections.
Having an opportunity to send direct to you by br [David W.] Rogers, I feel to write a few lines to you. Pret. [Sidney] Rigdon, Judge [Elias] Higbee, I[srael] Barlow and myself went to see Dr [Isaac] Galland week before last. brn, Rigdon, Higbee, and myself are of opinion that it is not wisdom to make a trade with the Doctr. at present, possibly it may be wisdom to effect a trade hereafter. The people receive us kindly here, they have contributed near $100 cash besides other property for the relief of the suffering among our people. Brother Joseph’s wife lives at Judge Clevelands [John Cleveland’s], I have not seen her but I sent her word of this opportunity to send to you. Br Hyrum’s [Hyrum Smith's] wife lives not far from me, I have been to see her a number of times, her health was very poor when she arrived but she has been getting better, she knows of this opportunity to send. I saw Sister [Harriet Benton] Wight soon after her arrival here, all were well, I understand that she has moved out about two miles with Father [Isaac Higbee]& John Higbee who are fishing this spring.
Sister [Eunice Fitzgerald] McRae is here living with Br Henderson and is well I believe she knows of this opportunity to send. Br [Caleb] Baldwin’s family I have not seen, and do not know that she has got here as yet, She may however be upon the other side of the river the ice has run these three days past so that there has been no crossing, the weather is now moderating and the crossing will soon commence again.
This place is full of our people, yet they are scattering off nearly all the while. I expect to start tomorrow for Pittsfield, Pike Co, Ill, about 45 miles, S. E from this place. Br Geo. W. Robinson told me this morning that he expected that his [p. 3] Father in law, Judge Higbee, and himself would go on a farm about 20 miles N, E from this place. Some of the leading men have given us, (that is our people) an invitation to settle in and about this place, many no doubt will stay here.
Brn, I hope that you will bear patiently the privations that you are called to endure— the Lord will deliver in his own due time. Your letter respecting the trade with Galland was not received here untill after our return from his residence at the head of the shoals or rapids. If br Rigdon were not here we might (after receiving your letter) come to a different conclusion respecting that trade. There are some here that are sanguine that we ought to ~~accept~~ trade with the Doctr. Bishop [Newel K.] Whitney and Knights [Vinson Knight] are not here, and have not been here as I know of. Br [Isaac] Morley and [Titus] Billings have settled some 20 or 25 miles N of this place for the present. A Br Lee who lived near Hawn’s Mill died on the opposite side of the river a few days since, Br Rigdon preached his funeral sermon in the Courthouse.
It is a general time of health here, We greatly desire to see you, and to have you enjoy your freedom. The Citizens here are willing that we should enjoy the privileges guaranteed to all civil people without molestation.
I remain your brother in the Lord.
To Joseph Smith Junr and others confined in Liberty Jaol. Mo. [p. 4]”
That letter told Jo some very crucial information concerning what the church leadership, and specifically Rigdon, were all doing while he continued to languish in the smoke-filled hellhole with his 4 closest friends. What is important is something we’ll pick up soon. The opening paragraph told of a bunch of church leaders gathering together to meet with a man named Dr. Isaac Galland. We know what happens with this guy and what was going on outside the jail, but remember, Jo and company had blinders on; they couldn’t see past the two little porthole windows offering a small view and very little fresh air to the men locked in this cage not fit for vermin. We’ll pick up with Isaac Galland soon.
Let’s continue reading more letters to and from Liberty Jail so we can put ourselves in the darkened cell with the Mormon leadership, looking at the outside world through these letters.
The next written correspondence to enter the melancholy walls of the prison was a letter written to Jo and Hyrum by their younger brothers, Crazy-Willy and Don Carlos Smith. This was the only real way Jo and Hyrum figured out how their families were doing. It must have been pure anguish to only hear these little snippets of information hurriedly scrawled down by people who were too busy to care what Jo and Hyrum would direct from the jail cell. These people were going about their very hard lives with the prophet and his closest counselor absent, why did they still need the prophet? Why did they even need to take the time to write to him?
“Having an opportunity to send a line to you, I do not feel disposed to let it slip unnoticed. Father’s family have all arrived in this state, except you two, And could I but see your faces, this side of the Mississippi, and know and realize that you had been delivered from your enemies, it would certainly light up a new gleam of hope in our bosoms; nothing could be more satisfactory, nothing could give us more joy. Emma and Children are well, they live three miles from here, and have a tolerable good place. Hyrum’s children and mother Grinolds are living at present with father; they are all well, Mary [Fielding Smith] has not got her health yet, but I think it increases slowly...
Father and Mother stood their journey remarkably, they are in tolerable health, Samuel’s [Samuel Smith's]wife has been sick ever since they arrived, Wm [Smith] has removed 40 miles from here, but is here now, and says he is anxious to have you liberated, and see you enjoy liberty once more. My family is well, my health has not been good for about two weeks, and for 2 or 3 days the toothache has been my tormentor. It all originated from a severe cold.
Dear Brethren, we just heard that the Governor says that he is a going to set you all at liberty; I hope it’s true, other letters that you will probably recieve, will give you information concerning the warm feeling of the people here towards us, After writing these hurried lines in misery I close by leaving the Blessings of God with you— and praying for your health, prosperity and restitution to liberty. This from a true friend and brother.
J, Smith Jr,
H Smith. Bro Hyrum & Joseph,— I should have called down to Liberty to have seen you, had it not have been for the multiplicity of business that was on my hands & again I thought perhaps that the people might think that the Mormons would rise up to liberate you; consequently too many going to see you might make it worse for you; but we all long to see you, and have you come out of that lonesome place. I hope you will be permitted to come to your families before long, do not worry about them, for they will be taken care of; all we can do will be done, ~~farther~~ further than this we can only wish, hope, desire, and pray for your deliverance.
When this letter was penned on March 6th, the Smith family were obviously amidst a fair amount of toil and discomfort. The exodus from Missouri to Illinois was in full swing and the majority of Saints were settling in the tiny little township of Quincy, Illinois, forcing an area with accommodations for a few families to balloon to inhabit a few thousand Mormons as they disembarked from the ferry across the Mississippi.
The next day Jo received a letter from his wife, Emma. I’ll let the letter speak for itself, but remember, visitors and letters were the only connection these men had to their families and the only way they could tell if they were doing well or if somebody had fallen to some great calamity.
Having an opportunity to send by a friend I make an attempt to write, but I shall not attempt to write my feelings altogether, for the situation in which you are, the walls, bars, and bolts, rolling rivers, running streams, rising hills, sinking vallies and spreading prairies that separate us, and the cruel injustice that first cast you into prison and still holds you there, with many other considerations, places my feelings far beyond description.
Was it not for conscious innocence, and the direct interposition of divine mercy, I am very sure I never should have been able to have endured the scenes of suffering that I have passed through, since what is called the Militia, came in to Far West, under the ever to be remembered Governor’s notable order; an order fraught with as much wickedness as ignorance and as much ignorance as was ever contained in an article of that length; but I still live and am yet willing to suffer more if it is the will of kind Heaven, that I should for your sake.
We are all well at present, except Fredrick [Frederick Smith] who is quite sick.
Little Alexander [Smith] who is now in my arms is one of the finest little fellows, you ever saw in your life, he is <so> strong that with the assistance of a chair he will run all round the room.
I am now living at Judge [John] Cleveland’s four miles from the village of Quincy. I do not know how long I shall stay here. I want you to write an answer by the bearer. I left your change of clothes with H. C. Kimbal [Heber C. Kimball] when I came away, and he agreed to see that you had clean clothes as often as necessary.
No one but God, knows the reflections of my mind and the feelings of my heart when I left our house and home, and allmost all of every thing that we possessed excepting our little Children, and took my journey out of the State of Missouri, leaving you shut up in ~~jail~~ that lonesome prison. But the ~~reflection~~ recollection is more than human nature ought to bear, and if God does not record our sufferings and avenge our wrongs on them that are guilty, I shall be sadly mistaken.
The daily sufferings of our brethren in travelling and camping out nights, and those on the other side of the river would beggar the most lively description.
The people in this state are very kind indeed, they are doing much more than we ever anticipated they would; I have many more things I could like to write but have not time and you may be astonished at my bad writing and incoherent manner, but you will pardon all when you reflect how hard it would be for you to write, when your hands were stiffened with hard work, and your heart convulsed with intense anxiety. But I hope there is better days to come to us yet, Give my respects to all in that place that you respect, and am ever your’s affectionately.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Jo and Emma, not knowing how each other is doing. But, luckily, they did exchange letters. Jo wrote back to his wife two weeks later on 21 March 1839. I won’t read the entire thing, but here are some highlights.
“I would ask if **Judge cleaveland **[John Cleveland] will be kind enough to let you and the children tarry there until l can learn somethng futher concerning my ~~lot~~ fate I will reward him well if he will and see that you do not suffer fo[r]** any thing I shall have a little mony left when I come my Dear Emma I very well know your toils and simpathise with you if God will spare my life once more to have the privelege of takeing care of you I will ease your care and indeavour to cumfort your heart [p. ] I wa**[n]**t ~~the~~ you to take the best care of the family you can which I believe you will do all you can…**if you lack for mony [o]r fo[r] bread do let me know it as soon as possible my nerve trembles from long confinement but if you feel as I do you dont care for the imperfections of my writings for my part a word of consolation from any sourse is cordially recieved by us me I feel like Joseph in Egyept doth my friends yet live if they live do they remember me have they regard for me if so let me know it in time of trouble my Dear Emma do you think that my being cast into prison by the mob of renders me less worthy of your friendsship no I do not think so”
An interesting detail to point out, it took Jo 2 weeks to write 3 paragraphs in reply to his wife after she sent her heartfelt letter telling how much she worries about Jo. Oddly enough, Emma expressed her affection for Jo and how much she yearns to be with him again; none of these sentiments are reflected by Jo in his return letter. It took him 2 weeks to write back to his wife, was he busy? He was spending every waking moment laying on beds of matted down straw or sitting at a desk writing and he just somehow couldn’t find the time to reply to that letter? That’s not completely fair because the letter took a few days to get to him, but the reason I point it out is to shine a spotlight on another letter that Jo wrote during the interim period on 15 March 1839, and this was addressed to Presendia Huntington Buell after her visit to Liberty Jail. This is how it begins, along with a few excerpts that illustrate the overall tone of the letter.
My heart rejoiced at the friendship you manifested in requesting to have conversation with us but the Jailer is a very Jealous man for fear some one will leave tools for us to get out with he is under the eye of the Mob continually and his life is at Stake if he grants us any privileges he will not let us converse with any one alone Oh what a joy it would be to us to see our friends it would have gladdened my heart to have the privilege of conversing with you but the hand of tyrany is upon us but thanks be to God it cannot last always and he that sitteth in the heavens will laugh at their calamity and mock when their fear cometh… I think that many of the brethren if they will be pretty still can stay in this country until the indignation is over and past but I think it would be better for brother Buel [Norman Buell] to leave and go with the rest of the Brethren if he keep the faith and at any rate for thus speaketh the Spirit concerning him[,] I want him and you to know that I am your true friend[.] I was glad to see you[;] no tongue can tell what inexpressible Joy it gives a man to see the face of one who has been a friend after having been inclosed in the walls of a prison for five months it seems to me that my heart will always be more tender after this than ever it was before… I suppose there will soon be perplexity all over the Earth do not let our hearts faint when these things come upon us for they must come or the word cannot be fulfilled I know that something will soon take place to stir up this generation to see what they have been doing and that their fathers have inherited lies and they have been led captive by the Devil to no profit but they know not what they do…”
Well, you guessed it, Presendia would become one of Jo’s wives in December of 1841 shortly after he’d married her sister, Zina Huntington. Read the entire letter for yourself, it’s in the show notes. At the time of her death in Utah she had the full legal name of Presendia Lathrop Huntington Buell Smith Kimball having two children by Heber Kimball. We’re really starting to near those years where Jo was frequently associating with many women who would later become his wives. Consider the timeline of letters entering and leaving Liberty Jail. Emma wrote a letter to Jo on 7 March, Presendia visited Jo in the jail on 15 March, and immediately after her departure, Jo wrote a letter to Presendia telling her how much he enjoyed her visit, then 6 days later he finally replied to the letter his wife sent, neglecting to detail how much he misses and loves her. It almost makes you wonder if this was a conjugal visit.
I mean, you make your own assessment of the situation because I’m just looking at the timeline and content of the letters and making my own judgement. I don’t think they actually had any intimate relations in the jail, but given how shitty it was in the jail, it makes sense that being visited by one of his crushes would perk up the mood of the prophet in a jiffy, and then motivate him to write a letter as soon as this hot little 28-year-old crush was done visiting with them.
The common line has it that polygamy became a thing about 2 and a half years after this scenario, but did Jo court and polygamously marry women he’d never met before? NO! His wives were all people he was friends with, or were the daughters of people he was friends with. Are we to believe that Jo wasn’t courting these women long before they were officially sealed to him? Remember, this is two and a half years after Jo was supposedly found by Emma in the barn with Fanny Alger.
While there is no way to truly understand what went through that man’s mind on any given day in any given situation, I think putting the timeline and content of these letters into historical context offers a brief insight to the personality of Joseph Smith.
Let’s take a step back and think about that for a minute. What else did Jo have to be excited about? What else was going on inside the jail that was worth living for? The conditions were prohibitive to any positivity, much less human life, yet these men were still locked away for months with nothing but visitors and letters from which to derive any pleasure. All the men could do was spend their days fantasizing about life outside the walls of that forsaken goddamn prison and they latched onto anything that could offer the intangible feeling of connectedness to the outside world. When Jo was writing to Emma, he was reminded of how he was separated from his children, one of whom was quite sick. He was further reminded of how his bad decisions may have led his friends and family to suffer endlessly, wallowing in destitution. Emma signified his real-world responsibilities.
Contrast that with how Presendia’s presence must have struck Jo. She was the hotter, younger, more exotically featured, and more ignorantly credulous connection Jo had to his previous life long before the responsibilities of cult and family were constantly crushing him. She, Fanny, Nancy Marinda Johnson, all of his crushes made him feel alive and carefree again at a time when he was looking for an outlet to serve his addictive personality and insatiable hunger of greener pastures, or shaved pastures, I don’t know what Jo liked…
It only takes a tiny bit of foresight a mere 5 years in the future to see where his endless appetite for women left him, but the problems which led to the Carthage shootout are often ignored or simplified. He had a lot to wrestle with in having 30 plus wives. Women were essentially the center of his attention for about 4 years which polarized the public and caused other things which needed Jo’s attention to slip away or be handled by other people. Presendia visiting Jo in Liberty Jail marks a point in Jo’s history where he prioritized one exhilarating aspect of his life over the crushing responsibilities in the rest of his life; this trend eventually led to his death.
Obviously Presendia was supportive of the prophet and must have shared some level of attraction to make the trip to visit him personally without her husband Norman Buell in tow. Maybe she was somebody who has an affinity for people in Jo’s position, regardless of the fact that his position had landed him in jail at that moment.
By the end of March, Jo was feeling the pinch and isolation. He wrote 3 epistles complaining to god about getting shafted constantly since they moved to Missouri. Those epistles later were canonized into sections 121, 2, and 3 of the D&C, and here’s a quick snippet from 121 to give you a sense of the tone of all three revelations.
“**1 **O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?
**2 **How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?
**3 **Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?”
Finally, jail temporarily broke Jo’s typically sanguine spirit. His usual attitude of party first, ask questions never had been abandoned in lieu of harsh inquisition of his personal God; why had god forsaken his prophet? Jo had been the chosen one for so long, why now was the lord causing his wrath to fall upon the prophet?
You know, it’s kind of hard to talk about Liberty jail to believers because it’s complicated enough to be misconstrued into all kinds of incredible evidences for Jo’s personal god. Let me pose a hypothetical conversation to you.
If Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, why was he locked up in Liberty Jail for high treason, arson, larceny, and murder?
Religious persecution of course.
So he didn’t do anything that may have landed him there for any reason? He was only there because people didn’t like Mormons?
Well, yeah, the Missourians just really hated the Mormons.
Even though that ignores a ton of historical context, let’s grant it for the sake of argument, if he were in jail because of persecution, why didn’t god just fell the prison walls or set the place on fire without letting the prisoners be burned like in the book of Mormon?
Maybe God was trying to teach him a lesson...
He’s a prophet of God, why wouldn’t God just TELL him what he needs to know?!
Well, he was also a man, and God works his perfect will through imperfect beings.
Okay, why did God let Rigdon go but kept Jo and Hyrum there for so much longer?
Well, Rigdon was sick and couldn’t take the persecution. He wasn’t cut out to follow the work which is why he fell away from the church after Joseph’s martyrdom.
Wait, so you don’t see any naturalistic explanation for anything that happened, it was all the will of God and no set of natural circumstances could have landed the prophet in Liberty Jail without God’s plan?
What do you mean, everything in the world is part of God’s plan, of course he knew that Joseph would be locked up, but God can use any circumstance to his benefit, his ways are beyond ours.
This conversation is over because you’re historically ignorant and currently stupid.
This is what happens when you create a no-lose proposition and non-falsifiable model for history, we can’t talk as equals, there’s always room for God to squeak into the historical equation, whereas I would make the claim that it was all a given set of circumstances that quickly snowballed and rightfully landed Jo in prison, from which he eventually escaped and never paid his debt to society.
Everything we’ve talked about so far has been focused on Jo and his experience inside the prison. So much has been going on outside those walls, but Jo didn’t know about any of it because we just read nearly everything he received with intel about the Mormon’s removal from Missouri to Illinois.
Last historical episode followed the journey of Sidney Rigdon through his stay in the Liberty Jail and his subsequent escape after his epic oration delivered pro se in court. Well, let’s pick up outside the walls of Liberty Jail. We’ll cover Jo and Friends’ escape next historical episode. I thought we would get there today, but it just blew up way too big reading so much from the letter exchanges.
In order to understand what Jo and friends did as soon as they escaped the law, we need to cover what happened during February and March of 1839 in Illinois under Rigdon and Bloody Brigham’s direction.
When the Saints began settling in Missouri in 1838 in large enough numbers to influence elections, politicians and businessmen began catering to the needs and political desires of the Saints to secure their voting bloc. The same phenomenon emerged upon their arrival to Illinois, it just so happens that Illinois citizens were largely more receptive than many Missouri citizens had been. To be fair, Illinois didn’t have the earlier scrape from back in 1832-3 in Jackson County to taint public perception of the Mormons, they were starting with essentially a clean slate in Quincy and the surrounding 50-mile radius.
The saints were critically vulnerable as refugees, which opened them up to considering proposals they otherwise may have never previously considered. It had essentially been agreed upon in Liberty Jail that Illinois would be the next settlement location for the saints, now it was a matter of making that dream and necessity a reality, to which Rigdon fervently devoted every waking moment. Here enters Isaac Galland, a war veteran and wealthy property owner around the Mississippi in Iowa and Illinois.
Galland had a wide and varied career throughout his days including: being a colonel in the Black Hawk War, a multiply failed politician who’d run unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2 different states, a medical doctor, published author, and most importantly a land-speculator. We’re interested in him for that last career-path choice he made. Galland owned a TON of property, or at least he held the deeds to a TON of property. He owned the deed to 1,000 acres in the “military tract” on the western border of Illinois and apparently owned a deed for 19,000 acres in the half-breed tract on the other side of the Mississippi in Iowa territory. These land “tracts” were set out by the U.S. government for various purposes, the military tract being reserved for government military combatants who were paid in acreage instead of money, and the half-breed tract, which was reserved for white settlers who were taking Native Americans as wives and having “half-breed children”.
The thing about land speculation back then is it was the wild western frontier. If you purchased land from somebody, 6 other people might emerge with deeds showing the land was theirs and ask why you gave that guy money for their land. Even more than that, people could just write their own land-deed as new areas were carved out by the U.S. government and simply claim some segment of the land grab was their land, the lack of legitimate oversight back then was appalling. Well, Isaac Galland had been present for many of these land-grabs since the Indian Removal act had been in full effect. The roughly 1,000 acres of property he owned in the military tract of Illinois was legitimately his, paid to him for his military service. The 19,000 acres on the other side, sparing you some arduous details, wasn’t actually his, he just had some random deed which claimed that he owned the property.
In order to understand Galland’s backstory a little better I’ll include a link in the show notes to 24-page super-easy read about Galland from byustudies.edu titled, “Isaac Galland—Mormon Benefactor”. There’s kind of a lot to unpack with this guy and he has an interesting story including some practice of polygamy before it was ever cool for the Mormons. I would recommend reading up on this guy to understand a bit more of his role in the land acquisition process during 1839.
Suffice it to say, once Rigdon had settled with the refugee Saints in the makeshift Quincy, Illinois, people like Isaac Galland began to emerge from the woodwork and benefit from the Mormons’ suffering. He had been living in a two-story home built barely a decade prior just south of the little swampland of Commerce, Illinois. He didn’t have any neighbors and the nearest large town was more than a week’s ride away. This proved to be the optimal settlement location for the Saints and was only a 3-4-day walk from Quincy where all the Saints were temporarily camped out.
After a failed attempt, Rigdon was able to make contact with Galland to tour the tract of land and discuss possible purchase terms. Rigdon seriously considered purchasing the land owned by Galland, but wasn’t sure it was a good idea, as he’d had bad experiences with land speculators in the past. There was also the problem of the ability to pay for any land Galland sold the Mormons. The Mormons were by-in-large quite destitute, as most refugees usually are. Even if Galland were providing the best price of any other land speculator out there, it didn’t matter if the Mormons couldn’t pay for the land or didn’t have the credit to begin settlement on loan.
A solution existed, but the ramifications are a bit questionable. The Mormons owned tons of land in Missouri, including the long-held plots in actual Zion, Independence. They had been holding on to these parcels of land in Zion since they began purchasing them in 1831. This land in Zion coupled with the land they’d been purchasing all the years since they declared Independence as Zion tallied up to a hefty grand total of holdings in Missouri, even if some of the deeds were held in dispute for lack of payment. But that’s hallowed ground! Some cried. You can’t just sell Zion, that’s where the Lord will return at the millennium! Those arguments didn’t seem to matter when there were literally thousands of people without homes or food in February and March in Illinois. I’ll tell you, this last January I was in Chicago. Never again. That state simply isn’t for humans during winter months, much less humans who don’t have actual structures and homes in which to live. Decisions needed to be made in order to save the starving Mormons, and Hingepin Rigdon did his best to make them. Something about Galland struck Rigdon the wrong way and he decided to appeal the decision to Jo.
Initially, Rigdon merely leased a small farm with his son-in-law, George W. Robinson, and leader of the Danites, Elias Higbee, about 40 miles north of Quincy, about 10 miles south of Commerce. That’s the farm Galland owned but leased to Rigdon temporarily. Rigdon didn’t trust Galland, and thought engaging in business with him may lead the church into some form of peril they hadn’t yet experienced.
Regardless of his apprehensions, Rigdon met with Isaac Galland around March 11th and expressed interest in purchasing everything Galland had which amounted to about 1,000 acres in and around Commerce for $18,000 and an additional “about twenty thousand acres,” of the half-breed tract in Iowa, contracted for an additional $50,000 to be paid over 20 years of installments. As soon as Galland saw the Mormons coming, he talked to his friends in the Iowa and Illinois legislative and judicial branches. This is a quote from the article on byustudies.edu which introduces a few characters into the mix.
“Dr. Galland, apparently eager to insure a transaction with the mormons on the one hand and to satisfy Mormon fears on the other, corresponded with two of his acquaintances, Attorney General Isaac Van Allen and Governor Robert Lucas of Iowa territory. In the letter to governor Lucas, dated 25 February 1839, Dr. Galland wrote:
‘I will come to the issue at once and ask on behalf of these much injured people your permission that they may purchase lands and settle thereon in the territory of Iowa and there to worship almighty god according to the dictates of their own consciences secure from the robbers grasp the ruffians gun and the midnight assassins knife.’
Governor Lucas responded favorably assuring Dr. Galland that the territory of Iowa would “extend equal privileges and protection to all.” He added that their “religious opinions I consider have nothing to do with our political transactions”
With the contacts Isaac Galland had with higher-ups in the Iowa and Illinois government, he was a powerful ally to have on the Mormon’s side. Jo recognized the importance of courting Galland. I’ll tell you, I’ve been looking into this guy for a while trying to figure him out and I’m not terribly sure what to make of him. We’ll keep him in our timeline’s focus as we progress, just know he is seen as a polarizing figure in Mormon history, which seems unfounded to me. Regardless of who Galland really was or what his intentions may have been, Jo trusted him and wrote this to Bishop Edward Party-Boy Partridge concerning Galland, dated 22 March 1839.
“We continue to offer further reflections to Bishop [Edward] Partridge and to the church of Jesus Christ of Latter day saints whom we love with a fervent love and do always bear them in mind in all our prayers to the throne of God. It still seems to bear ~~heavy~~ heavily in our minds that the church would do ~~will~~ well to secure to themselves the contract of the Land which is proposed to them by Mr. Isaac Galland and to cultivate the friendly feelings of that gentleman in as much ~~shall~~ as he shall prove himself to be a man of honor ~~humanity~~ and a friend to humanity.”
Jo was definitely on board with Isaac Galland, let’s hope that doesn’t come back to burn him at any point. Galland would eventually join the church even though the actual ownership of the Iowa deeds he sold the church came in to question. Galland is seen as an opportunist or swindler by some and a good honest guy who was swindled out of land deeds himself which he unwittingly sold to the church by others. Like I said, it’s kinda hard to nail this guy down.
Party-boy Partridge showed the letter from Jo to Rigdon and Rigdon knew it was time to start serious talks with Galland in order to secure the lands he had for sale. He began those serious talks just as Jo, Hyrum, and friends were amidst planning their escape. He was dedicated to helping the saints and doing everything necessary to secure a place for them to live. Remember, a number of those Mormons had been Rigdonites long before Jo ever made his way on to the scene. Rigdon was just taking care of his faithful followers as they were looking towards the white chin-strap bearded shepherd to answer their turmoil and personal woes.
That’s something admirable to consider; once Rigdon got to Illinois, he wasted absolutely zero time in dealing with the refugee crisis on his hands. He was the only member of the leadership not actively in jail at the time and therefore acted as supreme leader of the church on behalf of the saints.
But let’s just talk on him for another minute here. Rigdon had previously stated that Christ’s sufferings were a fool to his, claiming that he suffered more than a Jew who was executed for heresy. Seeing that Rigdon was still alive after his 2.5-month incarceration, he may have been blowing things a bit out of proportion. But it remains that Rigdon was in the real world dealing with real-world shit. He was a faithful man for decades of his life, never having his faith truly put to trial like this before, and understandably, Rigdon had some conflicting thoughts about his situation. This was reported by John Taylor, third prophet of the church and it’s recorded in the JoD vol 23, page 12, delivered on Nov. 9th, 1881.
“We had to leave Missouri, and I suppose God intended to try the Saints, to let them pass through certain kinds of experience and place them in a position that they would have to lean on Him. Some of the people rebelled against these things in their feelings. Among the rest, I remember being much shocked at the remarks of Sidney Rigdon after he had been imprisoned with the Prophet Joseph in Richmond jail, as well as many others. I visited them in jail, and Sidney Rigdon made a remark soon after he got out, to the effect that if God did not care anything more about us than He seemed to do, that if He allowed us to be hauled around as we had been, he did not care about serving such a God.”
Rigdon seemingly had some challenging personal questions with which he had to wrestle. He’d spent his entire life serving God as a full-time minister, trying his utmost to understand whatever it is out there that fits into those three letters, “God”. And once again, we end an historical episode on Sidney Rigdon. Let’s have that same conversation with an hypothetical Rigdon that we had with a believer earlier.
If Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, why were you guys interred in Liberty Jail for high treason, arson, larceny, and murder?
Religious persecution of course. We were suffering as Christ as for the sake of God.
So, you guys didn’t do anything that may have landed you there for any reason? You were only there because the Missourians hated the Mormons?
Well, yeah, the Missourians just really hated the Mormons. And also, Sampson Avard told of our depredations in Daviess county while he cowardly stood in front of that Mormon hater Judge King.
Well, that incorporates a ton of historical context, let’s explore it further. If you guys are indeed God’s elect few, why didn’t god just fell the prison walls or set the place on fire without letting the prisoners be burned like in the book of Mormon?
The lord works mysteriously, his ways are beyond ours. Maybe he was trying to teach us that which can’t be taught to fallible human beings.
You are God’s elect people, led by Joseph Smith, the one man on earth with a conduit to God, why didn’t God just speak through him and tell you what you needed to learn as he’d done hundreds of times before?
We can’t question God’s plan and will, he does everything his way, not ours.
Okay, why did God let you go but kept Jo and Hyrum there for so much longer?
Well, the lord has blessed me with the power to exhort and move a congregation, he didn’t want me to continue on in my sufferings.
So, let me get this straight. God works in mysterious ways, therefore he led your congregation to convert to Mormonism, which led to forceful removal from your homes many times and mob violence, all to lead up to 9 months of hell on earth in Missouri, which led to 18 people dying agonizing deaths at the hands of the Missouri militia, only for the Mormons to be removed from Missouri and land in Illinois as refugees? What kind of a god makes a plan like that?
Well, probably a God that’s not worth serving… possibly even no God.
These are hypothetical conversations so I can make them do anything I want, but I’m trying to get to a point. When Jo wrote section 121 of the D&C, which we read the beginning of, he basically wrote, god, why have you forsaken us? Where are you? Rigdon, on the other hand, knew that only a pernicious or disconnected god would allow his faithful people to suffer through so much turmoil and still continue to turn a blind eye. Rigdon had been contemplating the nature of God his entire life, and he came to the resolute conclusion that whatever god out there which caused all this shit to happen, isn’t a god that’s worth serving. You have to commend him in that regard. At least he actively contemplates God, instead of just preaching about him.
This may have actually served to be a wedge between Jo and Rigdon. Jo was continually content to believe in his god, and just realized that his god had forsaken him while in that dungeon. But once Jo was busted out and was mayor of Nauvoo and head of his own army and town of 15,000 people a mere 2 years after this, life was alright and god was on his side. Rigdon continued to struggle with his own personal God for years to come, which likely contributes to the common modern perception Mormons have of Rigdon being a faithless pansy who left Brigham when the church needed him the most.
Once again, we end with a segment about how much of an ass Jo was and how awesome Rigdon was. If you read this part of Mormon history from Fawn Brodie in No Man Knows My History, you find a starkly different interpretation of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon, which only further exhibits the failing historians have in trying to paint a picture of these incredibly complicated individuals. I like Rigdon, he’s kinda my hero. I think Fawn Brodie may have had a crush on Jo, even though she didn’t like how much he slept around with other women under the guise of righteous polygamy. Granted, I haven’t read the entire book yet, only considerable chunks, so my opinion of Brodie’s opinion could be completely inaccurate. But it gets to a central point in historical studies.
When I was in Utah hanging out with Joey and Andrew of the Pulpit Podcast, we got into some interesting discussions about Mormon history and the historical Joseph Smith. One of those conversations we even recorded for an episode of their podcast, check the show notes for a link to it. But we came to a realization that Joey and Andrew see a different Jo, Rigdon, Ollie, Hyrum, Party-Boy Partridge, and Bloody Brigham than I do. We can each use our sources and personal logic to back up the version of each of those people; we can each explain why we see a specific version of each person, but we can only assert those versions to the point where we have historical documentation backing us up. The real Rigdon and Jo were vastly different than any logical construct we try and put them into for the purposes of understanding Mormon history.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Skepticize Mormon history. Construct your own models of these people based on whatever sources you feel are logically defensible, and when somebody poses information which challenges the narrative you’ve created for some of these people, it’s important for your models to be malleable enough to adapt to that new information. That’s how we approach history with a scientific mind; tentative conclusions based on documentable evidence, continuously vulnerable to falsifiability and adaptation. That’s how we science history.
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