Ep 144 – If You Stir I’ll Shoot; God Damn You!
On this episode, at the behest of Joseph Smith, Joseph H. Jackson embarks on a mercenary trip to Missouri in hopes of breaking Porter Rockwell out of jail and finishing off Ex-Governor Lilburn Boggs. His true intent? Collude with Jackson County Sheriff Reynolds to arrest Joseph Smith. He isn’t successful, but gathers some helpful intel to bring back to the prophet to gain his trust. Joseph Smith heads to Dixon, Illinois to preach but winds up arrested by Sheriffs Reynolds and Wilson; mobs form everywhere they go. The Danites are called out to canvass Illinois to break Jo out of custody and return him to the Kingdom on the Mississippi, and Jo has a pistol smuggled to him. Content warning for this episode, there’s some of strong language.
Second Arrest of Joseph Smith 1843
Joseph H. Jackson 1844 expose
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Joseph Smith was still on the run from Missouri. He’d been released on the technicality on his writ of Habeas Corpus, but Missouri was still trying to get him within state boundaries to prosecute him for his crimes. Those crimes were accessory before the fact to attempted murder of a public official, Lilburn W. Boggs, and all the old Missouri Mormon war charges from 1838, being arson, robbery, and high treason. Jo was still technically a fugitive from Missouri after his escape from custody in spring of 1839, and if he stepped foot in the state of Missouri, whether of his own volition, or in the custody of constables or bounty hunters, he’d be arraigned in court on all those old charges and sent to the gallows where he belonged.
To complicate matters, Jo’s underground enforcer, Orrin Pistol Packin’ Porter Rockwell, misnamed as the Destroying Angel of Mormonism, was currently languishing in various jails throughout Missouri. But, Jo had a new friend appear on the scene, Joseph H. Jackson, who promised that he’d break Port out of jail and finish the botched Lilburn Boggs job while he was there. Jo had acquired a horse and some provisions for Jackson to make the trip from Nauvoo to Missouri, and had promised Jackson that he’d pay him a handsome 3,000 dollars for a job well done. Commissioning Jackson to break Port out of prison was literally the only thing Jo did to try and help his childhood friend in his time of need.
As we progress from spring to summer of 1843, tensions were high in Nauvoo. With the looming threat of a militia marching into Nauvoo to arrest Jo, hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt currently in default, and the expansion of the political power of the Mormons, the kingdom on the Mississippi was beginning to look more like a house of cards every day.
At the appointed time, Joseph H. Jackson began his journey to Missouri to fulfill his mission of breaking out Port and killing Boggs. We pick up from his account of how his journey transpired.
The next morning after this adventure, I took my departure for Missouri. The weather was very bad, the streams high, and I suffered very much with the wet and cold. After a journey of eight days I arrived at Independence, where I put up with a Mr. Knowlton. At this time, the Chavis murderers were arrested, and I saw them in the custody of the sheriff, while on their way to the jail. While these men were being put into the prison, I entered it for the purpose of seeing Rockwell, and that I might give a straight account of myself. I found him with a pair of shackles on, and a lion skin over coat -- looked rather uncouth. There were however, so many in prison at this time, that I had no opportunity to converse with him. My hope was, that by representing myself as being in the employ of Joe, and convincing him of that fact, to draw from him a confession that might be useful for the purposes which Harmon T. Wilson and myself had in view. Previous to my leaving Carthage for Nauvoo. I had learned from Harmon T. Wilson, that he was in correspondence with Mr. Reynolds, sheriff of Jackson county, Missouri, in relation to another demand from the Governor of Missouri, for Joe Smith. An arrangement had been entered into, that a requisition should he made on the return of Mr. Wilson, from a trip which he contemplated to take to the south, immediately on the opening of navigation. Had I thought at the time I left Mr. Wilson, of this trip to Missouri, I should have brought a letter from him to Mr. Reynolds, which would have disclosed to the latter my true character. As matters however were, I found myself placed in a situation where I could do no good towards the great object I had in view. There was great excitement in Independence, in consequence of the Chavis murders -- many persons were arriving to join the Oregon emigrating expedition; and every stranger appeared to be looked on with distrust and suspicion. Mr. Reynolds, was so busily engaged in arresting the Chavis' murderers, that I could get no opportunity to make his acquaintance, and fix upon a concerted plan of operations in relation to Smith. Seeing the impossibility of effecting what I desired, and having no idea of attempting what Joe sent me for, I resolved to return to Nauvoo. Previous to taking my departure however, I wrote to Mr. Wilson, and directed my letter to "Point Coupee," Louisiana; supposing that it would reach him there, but it appears that he never received it. Having been in Independence, one week without effecting anything, I set out on my journey, My trip back was very pleasant -- the roads having become settled and the weather dry. I struck the Mississippi at Churchville, crossed to Warsaw, and thence journeyed to Nauvoo.
To recap the journey, Jackson wasn’t successful in anything he set out to do. He initially departed Nauvoo promising Jo he’d break Port out, that didn’t happen and he didn’t even get to talk to Pistol Packin’ Port because there was so much commotion. He told Jo he’d finish off Boggs, but he didn’t even make an effort to assassinate him, even if he’d actually wanted to. Then, Jackson wanted to meet with Sheriff Reynolds of Missouri to tell him that he was in the process of infiltrating the Mormon hierarchy and they could affect a plan together to get Jo in Missouri custody, but because of the recent Chavis murders he wasn’t even able to meet with the sheriff to tell him what was going on. At every point Jackson’s trip to Missouri was a failure. That’s true whether you’re on Jo’s side or the anti-Mormons’ side trying to bring justice on the Mormon demagogue.
However, Jackson was able to gather intel for Jo. Always keep in mind that this is the 19th-century before telegraphs. Information travelled at the pace of a galloping horse across the nation, and the information that Jackson was able to gain was very helpful to him. That information is the fact that Sheriff Reynolds of Missouri was currently working on a plan to get into Nauvoo and arrest Jo with updated documentation that didn’t have the legal loopholes that Jo used to escape custody with his writ of Habeas Corpus back in January of 1843.
When Jackson returned he sought out a meeting with Jo to update him on how the mission went. He inserts a few interesting details, including a brief sketch of Emma and the fact that Jo liked to gossip with his circle of elites around town. Undoubtedly, he’d told some of his trusted friends that Jackson had left to break out Port and kill Boggs, which Jackson wasn’t able to do, but was treated as if he’d been successful.
On my arrival, I rode to the house of the Prophet, where all seemed glad to see me, and "sister Emma," Joe's wife, received me very cordially, the Prophet not being at home. Since I have introduced this lady to the reader, I will mention that although she is acquainted with all the villainous plans and operations of Joe, yet she should be looked on with pity rather than scorn. I believe she knew no guile until Joe schooled her to wink at his rascality, and compelled her by threats to aid in carrying out his measures. Indeed, he has frequently said that it was with the greatest difficulty that he could prevail on Emma, in many cases, to hold her peace, and not expose him to the world.
In order to amuse myself until the Prophet's return I strolled over the city, and was surprised to find so much attention paid to me; and that many, especially the women, knew all about my expedition to Missouri. convinced me, that Joe could not keep his secrets, but I could not know at that time he had so many wives to whom to disclose them. When night came on, the Prophet returned.
Now Jackson was in Jo’s house, about to tell him how the mission went. This was a dangerous situation for Jackson to be in. If he let on that he hadn’t been successful because he had no real intention of being successful from the beginning, then his grand plans to infiltrate the Mormon elite circle would be discovered and he wouldn’t make it out of the city alive. However, if he could tell the story of his Missouri trip to Jo in just the right way, Jo would buy into it and consider Jackson even more trustworthy than before his departure, even though he failed his mission. This is how Jackson reports the meeting. You’ll find a link to his entire expose in the show notes, of course.
He seemed glad to see me, and taking me by the hand led me into a private room, and commenced his enquiries about Porter Rockwell. He fixed his eyes steadily on me, while I gave an account of my stewardship, and suffered me to proceed about half through without interruption, when he suddenly exclaimed. "Oh! did you kill old Boggs?" No! said I, he was not at home; and this was the fact, as good luck would have it, and it gave me an exellent excuse. Joe seemed to regret this very much; but soon returned to Rockwell's case, and prophecied "in the name of the Lord that he would after passing through the fiery ordeal of the Missouri tribulation, come safely home. He said he knew that they could prove nothing against him, for he was a true man, and they could not make him own a word of it if we was guilty.
So, Boggs wasn’t dead, Port was still in prison, and Jo was no better off than when Jackson departed. You can sense the tension in the rest of the meeting.
Silence ensued for a few minutes, when Joe suddenly looked me full in the eye, and after gazing steadily for a few moments said. "Jackson you are the first man that I have ever met that I could not look down." Said I, "do you like a bold eye?" He replied that he did and then commenced a panegyric on himself.
Jo was sizing up Jackson, trying to decide if he was gazing into the eyes of a friend or foe. He probably saw him as a possible strong ally, but somebody who he couldn’t quite pin down. After this awkward interaction, Jo decided to float out a trial balloon to see how Jackson would deal with it.
He said that he was a good and godly man, and that he had never known wrong in his life, for in all his acts, he was guided and protected by the power of the Holy Ghost -- that the Missourians had tried to kill him, but rifle balls could have no effect on him, for he had been shot at thirteen times in Missouri, and the balls bounded back as hail from the side of a house; and for this reason he knew the Holy Ghost was with him, and that he truly was the greatest man on the earth. To this I replied that it was altogether Unnecessary for him to preach rascality to me, in the name of the Lord, for the more he did it the less I should think of him.
Jackson drew a line. Jo could preach about how much he was persecuted by the Missouri mobocrats, but Jackson was no sycophant like the thousands of Mormons in Nauvoo. He wouldn’t buy the pile of manure Jo was serving up. Instead, Jackson decided to take a different approach to test Jo’s character. He decided it was time to ask Jo about his first few days in Nauvoo back in late 1842. When Jackson had first appeared on the scene, the Mormons thought him to be a spy and tried to kill him. He was shot at while moving some cargo for a shop owner in town, just trying to make a buck. The unknown would-be assassin fled into the night and Jackson recovered from the powder burn on his face, the bullet had missed. Jackson decided to tell Jo this story to see how Jo would react.
I then related what had occurred to me the previous fall in Nauvoo, giving him a full account of my being shot at, not letting him know however, that I suspected him or cared anything about it. My object was to learn from his own lips, by seeming indifference to the matter, whether he in reality had been black-hearted enough to send a man to perform so dastardly an act. He however pretended perfect innocence, and could divine no reason why I had been shot at.
Jo’s ability to wear whatever hat necessary in any given situation was quite a remarkable character trait. He could play the persecuted religious leader, the bible scholar, the pious prophet, the mouthpiece of God, and even play dumb depending on the situation. That’s exactly what he did here. Jo tried a few different hats with Jackson and finally found one that fit. From this interaction, according to Jackson at least, he gained the trust of the prophet, even though he’d failed his mission. Jo gave him a place to stay in the Nauvoo Mansion that night, but not before a parting word of what his plans were for Jackson.
Here ended our conversation for the evening, and Joe took me up stairs to my chamber. As he bade me good night, he pronounced the blessing of God on my head, and said that he never loved a stranger as he did me, and that he had trusted me further for a short acquaintance, than he had ever done any man before; but said he "you must kill old Boggs and I will build you up in the world."
In order to fathom the depths of Joe's villainy, I was obliged to appease to him as an abandoned wretch and outcast. When I told him I was a fugitive from justice and had committed the darkest crimes, it seemed to give him the greatest confidence, and he immediately run away with the idea that he could through me fulfil his prophecies, and then on the top of it he would urge me to carry out his measures "in the name of the Lord."
Jo thought he could still use Jackson to complete the mission he’d failed to complete in Missouri. Jo wanted Boggs dead and he viewed Jackson as the perfectly situated guy to fulfill his prophecy. Consider Jo’s position here. Jackson was relatively new on the scene. Jo owed him absolutely no fealty. He had no value to Jo except of his ability to carry out Jo’s plans. Jackson hadn’t done that, so was still in a tenuous place with the prophet. Could Jackson be trusted? How much can you trust any mercenary who just randomly appears on the scene at a time when you’re wanted by 2 different states and a territory? Jo’s grasp on power was slipping and Jackson provided an opportunity to increase that grasp, but only if he was truly loyal to the prophet.
Continuing further in Jackson’s expose, him and Jo took a little carriage ride together a few days after this meeting. We’ll forego discussing what happened there for the time being as it relates to polygamy, D&C 132, William Law, Hyrum Smith, and the Partridge sisters, which will require an episode or two in and of itself very soon. For now we’ll skip that bit and cut to what happened next.
Jo received intel that Sheriffs Joseph Reynolds of Missouri and Harmon T. Wilson of Hancock county Illinois had the proper documentation in order and were headed to Nauvoo to arrest him. John C. Wreck-it Bennett had been working with the Missouri government to procure the necessary documentation to arrest Jo on all the old Missouri Mormon war crimes, and now Sheriff Reynolds was on his way to Governor Ford’s office to get a new writ of arrest and extradition for Jo. From page 449-50 of volume 5 of the Vogel history of the church:
To show the wickedness and rascality of John C. Bennett and the corrupt conspiracy formed against me in Missouri and Illinois, I insert the following under date of the letter:--
Independence, Mo., June 10, 1843
TO HIS EXCELLENCY GOVERNOR FORD [of Illinois]
Sir:--For the last three months I have been corresponding with Dr. John C. Bennett, relative to one certain Jo Smith, Mormon Prophet, &c., of your State. In several of Dr. Bennett’s letters to me, he informs me that my name is known to you; taking this for granted, authorizes me without hesitation to write you full upon a subject that the people of this part of our State feel themselves vitally interested.
At the last term of the circuit court of Daviess county, an indictment was found by the grand jury of said county against Joseph Smith for treason against this State, the necessary papers are now on their way to Gov. Reynolds [of Missouri], who, on the receipt thereof, I have no doubt, will make a requisition upon you for the apprehension and delivery of said Smith to the bearer, Mr. Joseph Reynolds, who goes as a special agent to attend to this business, and I am in hopes that so soon as the proper papers come to hand, you will take that course that will secure this imposter, and have him delivered over to Mr. Reynolds.
Dr. Bennett further writes me that he has made an arrangement with Harmon T. Wilson, of Hancock county, (Carthage, seat of justice) in whose hands he wishes the writ that shall be issued by you to be put. From the tenor of his letters I am induced to believe that he has made the same suggestions to you; the only wish of the people of this State is, that this man, Joseph Smith, may be brought to that justice which the magnitude of his crime merits.
Respectfully, your obedient servant;
Sam. C. Owens
[Commander-in-chief of the Mob in Jackson County]
With this new intel, Jo knew that he was square in the crosshairs of two sheriffs who had the proper documentation to legally arrest him and extradite him to Missouri. Jo put the Nauvoo Legion on red alert to watch out for any intruders making their way into Nauvoo, expecting to be alerted if anybody made their way into town to arrest him.
It’s necessary to consider this situation from all angles here. Sheriffs Reynolds and Wilson knew that if they entered Nauvoo they’d quickly be dealt with. Whether that meant the Nauvoo Legion running them out of town, or them just simply disappearing at the hands of the Danites, these guys entering Nauvoo was embarking far behind enemy lines in hostile territory. They had the law on their side to arrest and extradite Joseph Smith, but laws are only effective when armies like the Nauvoo Legion don’t keep you from enforcing them. Nauvoo was a criminal empire with Jo sitting at the top, it was part of the union and the state of Illinois, but it behaved as a sovereign city-state. A criminal city-state is only beholden to the laws its begrudgingly forced to abide by. Reynolds and Wilson knew that as soon as they had Jo in their custody that they’d be in severe danger of the Nauvoo Legion bushwhacking them and springing their commander-in-chief. At that point, Jo would simply disappear into any of his dozens of ratholes in the city and they’d never get their hands on him again. The stakes for making this arrest were high and the consequences held everybody’s life in the balance.
Jo was scheduled to lecture in a small town called Dixon, Illinois. It’s about 170 miles from Nauvoo, about 100 miles directly west of Chicago. Jo had brought his wife and kids with him. Sheriffs Reynolds and Harmon Wilson became aware of this information and decided it best to make their arrest the day Jo was scheduled to lecture. However, Jo also received intel that they’d be in Dixon waiting for him, so he decided to stay about 15 miles away at a member’s house in a smaller village called Inlet. He sent a letter to the Dixon congregation that he wouldn’t be able to preach to them, which they apparently were much dissatisfied in learning. However, when that letter went out, the two sheriffs became privy to this new intel and traced the messenger, William Clayton, back to where Jo was currently hiding in Inlet. This is how it went down, beginning on page 468 of vol. 5.
I sent [William] Clayton to Dixon…, to try and find out what was going on there. He met Mr. Joseph H. Reynolds, the sheriff of Jackson County, Missouri, and Constable Harmon T. Wilson, of Carthage, Illinois, about half way, but they being disguised, they were not known by him.
And when at Dixon they represented themselves as Mormon elders who wanted to see the Prophet. They hired a man and team to carry them, for they had run their horses almost to death.
They arrived at Mr. Wasson’s while the family were at dinner, about 2 p.m.; they came to the door, said they were Mormon elders, and wanted to see brother Joseph. I was in the yard going to the barn, when Wilson stepped to the end of the house and saw me; he accosted me in a very uncouth, ungentlemanly manner, when Reynolds stepped up to me, collared me, then both of them presented cocked pistols to my breast, without showing any writ, or serving any process.
Jo must have struggled against the arresting officers, and received what he considered brutal treatment by them in response to his protestations.
Mr. Reynolds cried out, “God damn you, if you stir I’ll shoot; God damn you, if you stir one inch I shoot you; God damn you, be still, or I’ll shoot you by God.” I enquired, “What is the meaning of all this?” “I’ll show you the meaning by God, and if you stir one inch I’ll shoot you, God damn you.” I answered, “I am not afraid of your shooting, I am not afraid to die”; I then bared my breast and told them to shoot away; “I have endured so much oppression, I am weary of life, and kill me, if you please. I am a strong man, however, and with my own natural weapons could soon level both of you; ;but if you have any legal process to serve, I am at all times subject to law, and shall not offer resistance.” Reynold[s] replied, “God damn you, if you say another word, will shoot you, by God.” I answered, “Shoot away, I am not afraid of your pistols.”
Jo was now under the arrest of constable Harmon Wilson from Carthage Illinois and Sheriff Joseph Reynolds of Jackson county Illinois. They had him. They had the documentation they needed and the writ of extradition from Governor Ford of Illinois to move Jo across the state line to Missouri so he could finally face the proper criminal justice system he’d evaded 4 years ago. Getting Jo under arrest was the easy part. Now they were 150 miles North and east of Nauvoo and had to transport Jo across most of Illinois before they’d make their way into Missouri with him in their custody when they’d be considered safe. As soon as they had their pistols up against Jo’s side, threats from all directions were realized because these sheriffs were in hostile territory and everybody was a potential threat. Stephen Markham, the prophet’s personal detail during his trip to Dixon, saw these two unknown men pointing guns at his prophet with no explanation and decided to act. Markham, as a member of the Nauvoo Legion, had been training for this moment for years.
By this time Stephen Markham walked deliberately towards us; when they saw him coming, they turned their pistols from me to him, and threatened his life if he came any nearer, but he paid no attention to their threats, and continued to advance nearer. They then turned their pistols on me again, jamming them against my side, with their fingers on the triggers, and ordered Markham to stand still, or they would shoot me through. As Markham was advancing rapidly towards me, I said, “You are not going to resist the officers, are you, brother Markham?” He replied, “No, not if they are officers; I know the law too well for that.”
Markham backed off once Jo told him these guys were lawmen. But, how could he know before that. He just saw a couple guys holding guns on Jo and sprung to action the way a good Nauvoo Legionnaire should. We should keep in mind that this whole ordeal is a bit dramatized, recounted by Jo after his return. He’s the hero baring his chest at the mobocrats and daring them to shoot him. He claims they refused to produce documentation to prove they were there on official business, instead they apparently continued to push Jo around with the muzzle of their pistols. Jo was still in his nightclothes though and petitioned the men to hold on a moment so Emma could bring out his hat and jacket. They refused, but the commotion drew Emma and the Smith children out of the home. Stephen Markham grabbed the reins of the horses and wouldn’t let them leave until Emma brought out his hat and some clothes. But you really can’t blame the sheriffs for trying to get Jo away from any of his allies. Every person he spoke to from then until they got to Missouri provided an opportunity for him to give them information that would bring the Nauvoo Legion crashing down on the posse.
Now, the sheriffs had a choice to make. They could take Jo to Rock River, a tributary of the Mississippi, and canoe him down river until they hit the Miss and then board a steamer at Davenport which would take him all the way to St. Louis and they’d have him safely in custody in the state of Missouri. But, a 3-day river trip in a canoe going only one direction was a vulnerable place for these sheriffs to have Jo in custody. They’d be ambushed long before they even made it to the steamer in Davenport. Even if they did make it on a steamer, it would go right past Nauvoo before it hit St. Louis. There’s no way they could conceal Jo via this route.
They could take him over land, south from Dixon, through Peoria, but that meant they’d cross the Mississippi at Quincy, Illinois, a town of majority Mormons where they first settled when they were removed from Missouri in 1839. This route meant that halfway through their 450-mile journey, they’d be passing within a single day’s ride of Nauvoo. How could they conceal Jo with this route? It would be impossible and they’d be within rough rider range of thousands of people willing to die for Jo. It’s two guys, they couldn’t hold off the Nauvoo Legion.
There was no easy option for these sheriffs to get Jo to Missouri because Nauvoo was between them and Missouri no matter what direction they went. That was the long-term plan they would think about once they could get Jo locked up for the night as darkness was beginning to fall. They chose to ride to the nearest tavern, which was in Dixon, something like 10 miles away. Stephen Markham rode ahead to rally any Mormons he could find in Dixon, where Jo was supposed to be preaching that day, but had cancelled because of the threat of arrest. That didn’t too much matter anymore, but there ought to have been some friend in Dixon Markham could appeal to in order to help him spring Jo from the sheriffs’ custody.
The posse arrived at the tavern in Dixon, much to the protestations of their prisoner. This was a town with many Mormons, the sheriffs were playing a dangerous game.
On arriving at the house of Mr. McKennie, the tavern-keeper, I was thrust into a room and guarded there without being allowed to see anybody, and fresh horses were ordered to be ready in five minutes.
I again stated to Reynolds, “I wish to get counsel,” when he answered, “God damn you, you shan’t have counsel; one word more, God damn you, and I’ll shoot you.”
“What is the use of this so often,” said I, “I have often told you to shoot, and I now tell you again to shoot away.”
Reynolds and Wilson were denying Jo counsel while he was under arrest. Doing such was a violation of the constitution, sort of. It’s violating the constitution to deny a person legal counsel in a court of law, but these guys weren’t trying Joseph Smith yet, they just had him in custody to transport him. Regardless, there is some schadenfreude in seeing a guy like Jo, who flagrantly ignored any laws inconvenient to him, appealing to these sheriffs to follow the rule of law when they weren’t actually doing anything illegal. The sheriffs were on the defensive though, it’s important to understand how afraid they were because they were not among friends and their prisoner could easily affect an escape should an opportune time arise. Stuff like this must have been a bit stressing:
I saw a person passing, and shouted to him through the window, “I am falsely imprisoned here, and I want a lawyer.” Lawyer Edward Southwick came, and had the door banged in his face, with the old threat of shooting him if he came any nearer.
Another lawyer (Mr. Shepherd G. Patrick) afterwards came and received the same treatment, which began to cause considerable excitement in Dixon.
A Mr. Lucien P. Sanger asked [Stephen] Markham what was the matter, when he told him all, and stated that the sheriff intended to drag me away immediately to Missouri, and prevent my taking out a writ of habeas corpus.
Any of these guys walking by the tavern hearing Jo’s cries of false imprisonment could have been a member of the Destroying Angels. If anybody in this little town of Dixon had sworn their oaths of fealty to the prophet, promising to defend his life at the cost of their own, these two sheriffs would have been quickly overwhelmed. Once again, however, intel travelled at the speed of horse, and Jo had only been in their custody for a few hours by this point. The sheriffs were already in danger of a mob uprising and they were only at their first stop with Jo in their custody. And that’s just what happened, a mob formed outside the tavern, mostly of Mormons and Gentiles friendly to the Mormons.
Sanger soon made this known to Mr. Dixon, the owner of the house, and his friends, who gathered around the hotel door, and gave [Sheriff] Reynolds to understand that if that was their mode of doing business in Missouri, they had another way of doing it in Dixon; they were a law-abiding people and republicans, and gave Reynolds to understand that they should not take me away without giving me the opportunity of a fair trial, and that I should have justice done me; but that if they persisted in their course, they had a very summary way of dealing with such people.
Let our prophet have some legal counsel, or we’ll deal with you the way Illinois Republicans deal with Missouri Democrats. Sensing an uprising if they continued to oppose, the sheriffs granted audience of the prophet for his counselors. They were allowed to enter the room, with Sheriff Wilson constantly keeping a gun on Jo in case he tried any funny business. Jo told them to get the local master-in-chancery to swear out a writ of habeas corpus. Stephen Markham, Jo’s trusted friend throughout the whole ordeal, rode to the local justice of the peace and sued a writ of habeas corpus and filed a complaint of assault and threatening Jo’s life. This led to the Sheriffs Reynolds and Wilson being arrested by the Dixon constable, while Jo was arrested by them. Then, Sheriff Wilson did some legal trickery. Sheriff Wilson was a constable of Carthage, Illinois, and beholden to follow the laws of Illinois. However, Sheriff Reynolds was a Sheriff of Jackson County, Missouri, and therefore was only on assignment to bring his target to Missouri and not subject to the same laws as Sheriff Wilson. So, Wilson transferred Jo to the custody of Sheriff Reynolds, all while the sheriffs were in the custody of the Dixon city constable. This pushed the case of Jo’s custody to the Missouri Sheriff and therefore into the jurisdiction of the Missouri courts, thus nullifying the writ of habeas corpus Stephen Markham had attained for Jo. However, now the issue of the sheriffs being in the custody of the Dixon constable was something they had to deal with, meaning they sent their own messenger before the local justice of the peace to get their own writ of habeas corpus.
What all of this amounts to is Jo buying time. Undoubtedly, Emma and the people the Smiths were staying with in Inlet, Illinois were on their way back to Nauvoo to alert Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith, and Bloody Brigham Young of the fact that Jo was in custody of a Missouri Sheriff. Once that intel got to Nauvoo, the Legion would be brought out in full force and the sheriffs were as good as dead, and Jo as good as free. But, it was 170-mile journey from inlet to Nauvoo, and this information moved at the speed of horse, meaning they were about 4-5 days away with a fast rider from learning that Jo was captured and doing anything about it.
Stephen Markham brought back the writ of habeas corpus for Joseph to present it to the sheriffs. They let him in the room and he conveniently snuck a pistol into Jo’s pocket. This was not the first, nor the last time that a friend of the prophet would smuggle a pistol to him while he was under arrest.
A jack-Mormon, Cyrus Walker, was a lawyer who was out electioneering as a Whig candidate for Illinois’s sixth congressional district. He was somebody Jo wanted by his side to help with these legal troubles. Jo sent Stephen Markham to find Cyrus Walker out on the election trail. Walker told Markham that he was too busy to represent Jo in this most recent legal spat. Then Markham told Walker that Jo would make it worth his while to go help him out in his time of need.
Mr. Cyrus Walker…, told me that he could not find time to be my lawyer, unless I would promise him my vote. He being considered the greatest criminal lawyer in that part of Illinois, I determined to secure his aid, and promised him my vote [and the entire Mormon voting bloc (democracy in action folks)]. He afterwards went to Markham and joyfully said, “I am now sure of my election, as Joseph Smith has promised me his vote, and I am going to defend him.”
In response to the change in custody from Sheriff Wilson of Illinois to Sheriff Reynolds of Missouri, a new writ of habeas corpus was sued, this time in Lee County district, instead of just the small jurisdiction of Dixon city. This writ also alleged $10,000 in damages by the constables to Jo’s person. The county justice of the peace, another Jack Mormon sympathetic to the plight of the Mormons, and possibly seeking reelection by gaining the Mormons’ favor, placed Sheriffs Wilson and Reynolds into the custody of the Lee county sheriff, held on $10,000 bond. This forced the Sheriffs to send a petition to Jackson County, Missouri to have their bond removed by Governor Reynolds of Missouri. All of this just bought more time.
In order to sort out this mess, Sheriffs Reynolds and Wilson had to take Jo to a hearing before Judge Caton, while still in custody of the Lee county sheriff. They made it to a town just outside of Ottawa, Illinois named PawPaw Grove, where there was a hotel. This was south and slightly east along the highway from Dixon where they had initially held Jo. The Sheriffs chose to confine Jo in the small hotel there for the night.
They were further south than Dixon, meaning the population of nearby towns was increasingly Mormon the closer to Nauvoo the approached. When the Sheriffs and Jo got to town, a mob slowly formed around the hotel, wondering why Joseph Smith was under arrest and if these two sheriffs were just Missouri mobocrats coming to kidnap and kill their prophet. They wanted to hear Jo speak, but the Sheriffs wouldn’t let him, because who knows what he might say, who knows how effective he’d be at riling them up. They didn’t know what to expect. Before I read this next quote, always keep in mind the ideological divides between Republican abolitionist Illinoisans and Slave-owning states’ rights, blue blooded Jacksonian Democrat Missourians in this exchange. The divide back then across that one state line is like California is to Utah today if Salt Lake City dropped off the face of the planet.
Sheriff Reynolds entered the room and said, pointing to me, “I wish you to understand, this man is my prisoner, and I want you should disperse; you must not gather round here in this way.” <obviously fearing a mob uprising and his own lynching> Upon which Mr. David Town, an aged gentleman who was lame, and carried a large hickory walking-stick, advanced towards Reynolds, bringing his hickory upon the floor, and said, “You damned infernal puke, we’ll learn you to come here and interrupt gentlemen; sit down there (pointing to a very low chair) and sit still; don’t open your head ‘till General Smith gets through talking. If you never learned manners in Missouri, we’ll teach you that gentlemen are not to be imposed upon by a nigger-driver; you cannot kidnap men here, if you do in Missouri, and if you attempt it here, there’s a committee in this grove that will sit on your case, and, sir, it is the highest tribunal in the United States, as from its decision there is no appeal.”
Jo was allowed to speak after this old guy got in the faces of the sheriffs. Him talking about the highest tribunal in the United States, he wasn’t talking about the Supreme Court, he was talking about the Destroying Angels. Sheriffs Wilson and Reynolds knew they if they made any mistakes with Jo in their custody that the Danites would be upon them.
The judge who was supposed to hear the cases of habeas corpus writs, both on behalf of Jo and of the two sheriffs who had been arrested, was on a visit to New York, so he couldn’t hear their case. But they couldn’t go any further without resolving the issues of arrest and habeas corpus writs, so they went back North to Dixon, Illinois and threw Jo into the same room they’d held him in two days prior. Throughout all of this, time was on Jo’s side. Every day they didn’t get closer to the Missouri border was another day the Danites could formulate a plan to spring Jo from Reynolds and Wilson’s custody.
William Clayton, Jo’s closest personal assistant and scribe, had left Inlet for Nauvoo as soon as Jo was arrested to tell the leadership in Nauvoo of what was going on with their prophet. On the day that Jo and the sheriffs arrived in Dixon, William Clayton arrived in Nauvoo and immediately told Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith of what had happened to his brother. Hyrum called a special meeting in the Masonic Hall, but it was moved to the grove because too many people showed up.
[M]y brother Hyrum went to the stand and requested the brethren to meet him at the Masonic Hall in thirty minutes.
The brethren immediately went there in such great numbers that one fourth of them could not get into the room, so they adjourned to the green and formed a hollow square, when my brother Hyrum informed them that Elder William Clayton had arrived about 2, and told him that Joseph H. Reynolds, sheriff of Jackson County, Missouri, and Harmon T. Wilson, of Carthage, had come upon me by surprise and arrested me, and related the occurrences, as far as known, up to my arrival in Dixon. He wanted a company to go up to my assistance, and see that I had my rights. He called for volunteers, when upwards of 300 volunteered, from whom they selected such as were wanted.
Generals Law and C[harles] C. Rich started the same evening, with a company of about 175 men on horseback. Previous to starting, Elder Wilford Woodruff went to the company and donated a barrel of rifle powder, when every man filled his horn or flask… About 75 on board the Maid of Iowa, with Captain Dan Jones, went up the Illinois river for Peoria, and to examine the steamboats, suspecting I might be a prisoner on board one of them, as they supposed me on the road to Ottawa.
The Danites were officially mobilized on land and water in search of Jo. The only information they were going on had come from William Clayton who told them they were taking Jo to Dixon. From Dixon they could travel by water or land, but both routes would run by Nauvoo, making it a dangerous situation for the sheriffs. However, they didn’t have much say in the matters because they were under arrest of the Constable of Lee county, who worked under the shadow command of Joseph Smith. So, after the writs of habeas corpus for Jo were returned as invalid because the judge wasn’t there to hear the case, Jo acquired a new writ of habeas corpus which was to be heard in front of Judge Stephen A. Douglas at Quincy, Illinois. Stephen A. Douglas was a long-time friend of the Mormons because it was politically advantageous at the time. He’d helped pass the Nauvoo Charter, he’d chaired a number of municipal court hearings relative to Mormon matters, he was a Jack Mormon. This would come as a liability to him on the campaign trail against Abraham Lincoln in about a decade and a half from where our timeline currently resides. Needless to say, Jo must have been elated to get this new writ to appear in front of Douglas because he knew if he were granted the hearing, without being dragged into Missouri first, he was home free because Douglas would grant the habeas corpus writ.
With the change of power into Jo’s hands, he now dictated the actions of the posse, even though he was in custody of the sheriffs. Jo hired a man named Lucien P. Sanger to carry them by coach to Quincy, Illinois, where they would appear before Judge Stephen A. Douglas. But, he was still smart enough to protect against any funny business that Sheriffs Wilson or Reynolds might cook up on the 260 mile journey there.
After these arrangements were made, I sent [Stephen] Markham with a letter to Gen. Wilson Law, directing him to meet me at Monmouth on Wednesday evening with sufficient force to prevent my being kidnapped into Missouri, as I well knew that the whole country was swarming with men anxious to carry me there and kill me without any shadow of law or justice, although they well knew that I had not committed any crime worthy of death or bonds.
This intel was making its way back to General Wilson Law, a Major-General of the Nauvoo Legion, possibly also a member of the Danites. If there was a time in Jo’s history when he needed Pistol Packin’ Porter Rockwell, this was it. Unfortunately, Port was still languishing in Missouri jails because Joseph Jackson hadn’t been successful in his mission. However, Port received some intel of his own that Jo was arrested. From Port’s own account after he returned to Nauvoo in vol 6 of the Vogel History of the Church.
About the time that Joseph was arrested by Reynolds at Dixon, I knowing that they were after him, and no means under heaven of giving him any information, my anxiety became so intense upon the subject, knowing their determination to kill him, that my flesh twitched on my bones; I could not help it, twitch it would. While undergoing this sensation, I heard a dove light on the window in the upper room of the jail, and commence cooing, and then went off. In a short time he came back to the window, where a pane was broken; he crept through between the bars of iron, which were about 2 ½ inches apart.
I saw it fly round the trap-door several times; it did not alight, but continued cooing until it crept through the bars again, and flew out through the broken window.
I relate this, as it was the only occurrence of the kind that happened during my long and weary imprisonment; but it proved a comfort to me,--the twitching of my flesh ceased, and I was fully satisfied from that moment that they would not get Joseph into Missouri, and that I should regain my freedom.
Jo’s most trusted Destroying Angel, locked in prison, chained hands to ankles, freezing cold with no eatable food, no money to purchase coal to burn to keep him warm, while he knew Sheriff Reynolds was on his way to Dixon to arrest Jo. A single dove flying around his cell was comfort he desperately needed to lift his anxiety. If only Joseph Jackson had been able to break him out, but that was never Jackson’s true intent. He was there to infiltrate the Mormons, and he wanted to meet with Sheriff Reynolds before Reynolds made his arrest. However, Reynolds either wasn’t aware of that fact, or considered Jackson to be totally in league with the Mormons. Jackson’s loyalties would be tested with Jo in custody of Sheriffs Reynolds and Wilson. Once again from his expose of August 1844:
About the time this Bogus business commenced, H. T. Wilson returned from the South, and in company with him was Mr. Reynolds the agent of Missouri, bearing a requisition from the Governor of that State. When he returned, he heard reports in circulation that I had actually Joined the Mormons, which so much diminished his confidence in me, that he did not come to see me, as he promised he would do. At this time, Joe was on a visit to Dixon's Ferry, and Wilson and Reynolds proceeded hither, reporting as they journeyed that they were Mormon preachers. In the mean time, word of what was on foot, reached Nauvoo directly from Springfield; from whom I do not know; but at all events, Stephen Markham and William Clayton were dispatched to Dixon, to warn Joe, or to bring back word of what took place. In a few days Clayton returned, bringing news that Joe was arrested, and an order immediately issued from Hyrum, for parties to start out to rescue Joe. One party, I was placed in and was compelled to go to prevent suspicion on myself. It consisted of twenty-five men. -- Our directions were to proceed directly to Dixon and release Joe at all hazards. I acted as pilot, and Doctor Foster proceeded ahead to reconnoiter. We were all armed with side arms.
Now, Joseph Jackson was a commissioned officer of the Danites, headed out to break the prophet out of state custody at all hazards. Jackson and nearly 200 other men were canvassing the entire state of Illinois in search for the prophet. No cell phones, so Wilson Law or Hyrum Smith couldn’t just send a text to Jo, hey, where you at? They had to travel all the major highways and attempt to cover the backroads in case the sheriffs were trying to outsmart them, all while another company proceeded up the Mississippi toward Davenport and Dixon to try and apprehend them should they be travelling by steamer. The night watch of the Nauvoo Legion was doubled and there was a constant guard out in case Governor Ford decided to capitalize on the missing prophet opportunity to break down the city walls with an Illinois militia.
What this all amounts to is Jo having every single base covered. He had his people covering the entire state on all major roads looking for him. He had people up and down the Mississippi ready to rescue him. All his boys were armed to the teeth and ready for action. Sure, he was in custody of the two sheriffs, but they were in the custody of his boy and they were headed within a few miles of Nauvoo for a habeas corpus hearing that would be chaired by somebody who’d shown broad fealty to the Mormons since their settlement in Nauvoo. His primary Destroying Angel may not have been there to help but dozens of men were there to step into Pistol Packin’ Porter’s place and give their life for Jo’s. More than anything, he had time on his side. And, beyond all of these variables being in his control, he also had a pistol smuggled on his person, which was force multiplied by his element of surprise. All it would take is a little bit of chaos and the sheriffs turning their back on him for just a moment and he could kill them himself.
Consider the circumstance from the Missouri government’s position. Sheriffs Reynolds and Wilson had a very slim chance of success. Not only did they have to cross the entire state through increasingly dense Mormon cities without a Mormon mob exerting their own vigilante justice, but after making the trip they had to get a favorable ruling on their own writ of habeas corpus without Jo’s being granted in a hostile court, and then they had to get him across the Mississippi and the state line of Missouri without being overrun by Danites who would certainly kill them if their paths crossed.
This is how the Mormon mafia worked. Government officials who were supposed to keep demagogues in check were playing by the rules, while Jo picked and chose what rules he and his cronies would follow. There is no winning against a kingpin this powerful and Jo would NEVER willingly give up this much power. Nothing short of a military coup, or an open battle between the Illinois militia and the rebel Mormon militia, would ever unseat this despotic regime. Praise to this man? This is the guy Mormons sing their praises to and bear their testimonies about every month? This was not religious persecution, this was the due process of law; a system we all agree to abide by but apparently fails its quality control mechanisms when it suffers such flagrant abuse at the hands of one sociopath. That’s how criminal empires are built. Small degrees of abusing the rule and order of law until a critical mass is reached where no system, regardless of how robust, can stop the wheels of revolution from turning. Sure, you get whistleblowers and rogue lawyers sounding the alarm, but by that time it’s far too late. The damage has been done. In 1843, much like 2019, it’s just too late.
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