Ep 147 – First They Came

On this episode, Governor Ford’s hands are tied. Sheriffs Reynolds and Wilson, who’d arrested Joseph Smith, appeal to the Governor to call out the state militia to rein in Jo. The Mormons sign petitions calling on the Governor to never issue a warrant for arrest on any Mormons ever again. The Mormons collect a packet of affidavits and statements to be sent to Governor Ford, attempting to obstruct the wheels of justice from grinding up the Prophet. After that, Jo has a curious little meeting with some Potawatomie Chiefs and then calls Orson Hyde on a mission to Russia.


HoC vol 5 Ch 25

Sheriff Reynolds letter to the press

Family Stories from the Trail of Tears

Andrew Jackson 1829 State of the Union Address

Joseph H. Jackson 1844 expose pamphlet

Show links:

Website http://nakedmormonismpodcast.com
Twitter @NakedMormonism
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Naked-Mormonism/370003839816311
Patreon http://patreon.com/nakedmormonism
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/

The July Nauvoo Municipal Court hearing had found that Joseph Smith should be free to go. He had been arrested by Sheriff Reynolds and Sheriff Wilson of Missouri and Illinois respectively and Jo’s legal counsel, Cyrus Walker, drew up a writ of habeas corpus for the prophet and filed a complaint against the warrants for arrest granted by the Governors of Missouri and Illinois. Jo was throwing punches in the big leagues here.

The court was chaired by justices all under Jo’s control; it was a kangaroo court that never would have sent their prophet and mayor out of the city to face the gallows in Jackson County, Missouri. At the most basic interpretation, the entire point of this court was to hear whether or not Jo was guilty of the crimes charged against him in Missouri. This court was crafted for the sole purpose of circumventing the judicial system in Missouri. The logic was that they would try Joseph Smith on the Missouri charges in their own court, find him not guilty, have him released on his writ of habeas corpus, then when he gets arrested again and actually extradited to Missouri, he could make a case for double jeopardy because the Nauvoo court had already found him not guilty, thus undermining the federal court system. But if I kill John Dehlin while he’s on a visit to Seattle and I get twelve of my podcaster friends together in a room to say that I’m not guilty or that he deserved it, that doesn’t exactly undermine the judicial system, it’s ignoring the system. But that’s what Jo was trying to do. The Nauvoo Court system had just enough legitimacy to be recognized by the state of Illinois, but at the end of the day, everybody knew that it was a sham court that would rubber stamp writs of habeas corpus for criminals in the city, especially their criminal prophet.

Sheriff Reynolds was not pleased with the outcome. He sent a letter to the Times Picayune out of New Orleans with his side of the story. He recounts capturing Jo, then being captured by Jo’s posse. Then he says this, from the 20 Jul 1843 number of the paper:

At Nauvoo I was compelled, by writ of habeas corpus, in the nature of an attachment, to give up the Prophet to the municipal court. I refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the court, and after going through a sham ex parte trial, the court discharged Joe on the insufficiency of the warrant, and also, as they allege, on the merits of the case. Be it known, that ‘holy Joe’ is himself presiding judge of the very court by a quorum of which he was discharged. I then repaired to Gov. Ford, for aid to assist in recapturing Joe—the Hon. Cyrus Walker still following, to counteract my movements! The Governor has taken the matter undner advisement, and what the result will be I do not know.

We’ll get into how Governor Ford responded to the kangaroo court momentarily, but for now, Jo was free, but the fight was long from over. The Sheriffs were currently in Carthage, trying to raise the local platoon of the Illinois state militia so they could march into Nauvoo with force and arrest Joseph Smith to be extradited. This option had only a small window of possible outcomes.

Governor Ford could grant them permission to take a division of the Illinois State militia. They could make it into town with that militia and immediately be run out of Nauvoo by the far-superior Nauvoo Legion. Then the Mormons would be in open defiance of state laws again like had happened in Missouri.

The state militia could make it to Nauvoo and try to arrest Jo, but he’d have intel way ahead of them and would be in hiding like he was for the last 6 months of last year and they’d never catch him. Even if they did catch him and put him under arrest, then what? How could a force of a few hundred militiamen get the commanding officer of an army of a few thousand armed men out of Nauvoo? It likely would have resulted in a battle at Nauvoo between the Illinois militia and the Mormon militia, then what?

Let’s forget all that and suspend all constraints. Say this militia made it to Nauvoo, arrested Joseph Smith, then was able to make their way out of Nauvoo without firing a shot, how far would they get from the kingdom before a posse of Danites rode them down and rescued the prophet? Would they even get across the Mississippi? This is how criminal empires work. Everybody trying to rein in the kingpin follows all the rules, but the kingpin doesn’t play by any set of rules and always has the advantage, as long as his army is loyal.

Governor Ford of Illinois was no idiot. He knew the ramifications of marching a state militia into Nauvoo, he wouldn’t grant permission this time, but everybody involved didn’t know that yet and even Ford was probably torn with what to do in real time.

In order to claim legitimacy of the Nauvoo court findings, a folder was compiled with the writs of arrest and the complaint filed by Cyrus Walker we read last week, along with a few new affidavits from Jo’s legal counsellors and Jo himself, and all of it was sent to the Governor with hopes he would see the Nauvoo court in a favorable light and not call out the militia. On the other hand, we don’t know what Sheriffs Wilson and Reynolds were telling the local militia in Carthage or what they were saying to Governor Ford in order to persuade him to call out the militia. Governor Ford was the plastic white matter network that was keeping the peace between the Mormons on one side, and the officers of the law trying to serve the due process of law on the other.

On the first day of the hearing, Jo had sent his close advisor and confidant, Stephen Markham, to follow the sheriffs to Carthage and find out what was going on. Markham returned the next day with the intel that the sheriffs intended to call out the militia, and it was decided to expedite the document collection process to send to Governor Ford.

The affidavit by Jo’s legal counsel is interesting. It includes his chief lawyer, Cyrus Walker, and also Messrs. Patrick, Southwick, and Wasson, who made their affidavit that Jo had been cordial and abiding by the system of law the entire time he was in custody of the sheriffs. The affidavit was made after a large congregation of Mormons had gathered in the grove on the morning of Sunday July 2nd, 1843, during which, “[the counsellors] spoke on the stand, stating that I [JS] had subjected myself to the law in every particular, and had treated my persecutors and kidnapers with courtesy and kindness, they also spoke on the unlawful conduct of my enemies.” Their public speech wasn’t recorded anywhere that I can find, but we can assume it was probably largely similar to their affidavit, from which I briefly quote from pg 571-2 of Vogel HoC vol 5.

Your affiants, as well as others in the company, at the same time [of Joseph Smith’s arrest], gave assurance and pledges to said Reynolds that his prisoner, the said Smith, should not escape form him; and the said Reynolds was satisfied, as he avowed, with the pledges aforesaid, and expressed himself to be so at the time, and fully consented that the said Smith might travel on said journey in the manner he did…

That no violence was offered to said Reynolds or Wilson; and that to the best of these affiants’ knowledge and belief, no threats or intimidation were made use of to influence and control their conduct, either during the journey to, or after their arrival at Nauvoo; said Reynolds and Wilson dined with said Smith at his own house, and were hospitably entertained; and after dinner, say in two hours after the arrival of the party in said city, a writ of habeas corpus was issued by the municipal court of the said city of Nauvoo in favor of said Smith, which was served upon said Reynolds…

That the said Smith did publicly declare in Nauvoo, to the people there assembled, that his honor was pledged that said Reynolds should be protected from violence, and requested every one to preserve his pledge inviolate.

These affiants state further that no violence or threats to their knowledge or belief were made use of towards the said Reynolds, or the said Wilson, either before or after their arrival at Nauvoo; but the numbers who met and accompanied the said Smith and his escort on the journey, conducted themselves in an orderly and peaceable manner, and manifested only their attachment to said Smith, and joy to find him safe in the custody of the laws of… Illinois.

This is an important detail. Joseph Smith had been responsible for riling the Mormons up to violence in the past. He’d given his grand speech in the grove after his safe return to Nauvoo telling the Mormons to let loose blood and thunder if ever they are persecuted again. He had a penchant for violent rhetoric and had capitalized on his arrest to excite the religious persecution narrative he’d been cultivating with the Mormons for over a decade by this point. It was necessary that the record showed that Jo never called for violence against these sheriffs.

What’s the alternative though? The simple fact that Jo had to tell the thousands of Mormons present to NOT hurt the sheriffs while they’re in town reveals that they were likely in a state of mind where they would have harmed the sheriffs if Jo hadn’t explicitly told them not to. That’s rather notable to understand the general public tenor in which these sheriffs were brought into Nauvoo under Jo’s control.

So, all these affidavits were compiled and sent to Governor Ford’s office to show that the whole Missouri situation was dealt with in the Nauvoo court and that Jo didn’t require extradition to Missouri for the case. Additionally, Jo was able to cobble together a petition to the Governor requesting he not issue any more writs of arrest against Jo, which petition was signed by 150 Nauvoo citizens. Jo directed his counselors and assistants to get the packet hand-delivered to Governor Ford as soon as they could. The Mormons had to stay ahead of any possible militia action raised by the Sheriffs if they were successful in their petition.

Never forget that information travelled at the speed of a horse at this time. During the Missouri-Mormon war in 1838, many events transpired as a result of limited information and people acting on said limited information. For example, Boggs signed the Mormon extermination order as a result of hearing the Mormons had aggressively attacked Captain Bogart at Crooked River. The reports had come to Boggs that nearly every Missouri militiaman had been killed by the Mormons, when only 2 had actually been shot. But, when the bullets started flying, all the Missouri militiamen scattered in all directions, each thinking their platoon had been slaughtered. Then each one of these guys went to the nearest town they could find and told people of the battle they’d just survived, reporting dozens of casualties. It was inaccurate intel, but Boggs acted on it by signing the extermination order. Had he waited a few days for proper intel to reach him, Boggs may not have acted so hastily and the history of the conflict may look significantly different.

The lack of immediate communication forced the Mormons and Joseph Smith to act quickly and deliberately, they didn’t know if a militia was on its way to Nauvoo, they had no idea how Governor Ford would react to the events following Jo’s arrest, they chose to act defensively and quickly instead of being blindsided like had happened in Missouri with the Haun’s mill massacre and the twin Mormon cities surrendering.

Stephen Markham had new intel that scared Jo.

Colonel Markham returned from Carthage in the evening, and reported that on his arriving at Carthage, he found that Reynolds and Wilson had filed their affidavits, that he (Markham) had with armed forces taken me out of their hands at the head of Elleston Grove; and that they had also got up a petition, which was signed by the inhabitants of Carthage, and sent it to Governor Ford by the hands of Reynolds and Wilson, requesting him to raise a posse comitatus, and they would come to Nauvoo and take me; they were to start by the mail early this morning, and Markham requested Jacob Backenstos to go with the mail to Governor Ford, and request him to suspend all proceedings, until documents would be got to show the true state of the case.

When Jacob Backenstos tried to accompany the mails, he hired a local Carthage carriage driver to take him to Quincy to meet with Governor Ford. The carriage rider was told by Sheriffs Reynolds and Wilson the intent of Backenstos and refused to take him to Springfield. Instead, Backenstos was forced to go to another guy in town and hire a horse to ride out behind the mails. Everything here was reactionary, everything the Sheriffs did was proactive to get Jo back into their custody; everything the Mormons were doing was to simply impede the progress of the sheriffs and the militia posse they called for.

With Stephen Markham bringing back this intel and Jacob Backenstos on his mission to tell the Governor to halt all action until they had all the information, Jo decided to take a proactive step. He called the twelve together to form a special counsel to spread the word that Jo was being persecuted again. The apostles called together all the elders they could gather to send them on a special mission to rally the Mormons and tell them of what had transpired in the previous week. There were still a lot of people who’d possibly received news reports that Jo had been arrested, but weren’t privy to the Nauvoo municipal court ruling that let Jo go free, or weren’t aware that an Illinois militia could be knocking on Nauvoo’s doorstep any day now.

Elders B. Young, O. Hyde, P. P. Pratt, John Taylor, Geo. A. Smith, Wilford Woodruff, and Willard Richards met at the Grove with the Elders, and it was decided that the following Elders go on a special mission to the following counties in the State of Illinois:--

Elijah Reed and Jesse Hitchcock, Adams and Pike.

Salmon Warner and Jeremiah Curtis, Calhoun and Jersey.

John Murdock, Vermillion

John L. Butler, Hamilton.


82 Elders in total going to 66 different locations throughout Illinois to spread the word on what had happened, and, of course, to tell them to be ready should Illinois play out like Missouri had just 5 years prior. They set out on their mission the evening of the 3rd of July, some of which is recounted in the History of the Church.

The following day was a big one. The 4th of July was always a big celebration for the Mormons. Fueling their patriotic spirit was the so-called persecution their prophet had just suffered the week previous. Somewhere from 10 to 15 thousand people gathered at the grove near the temple to hear an oration by the prophet and his assistants, food was served, drinks were had, a party ensued, and speeches were properly delivered. Also, Jo told the people that a new petition was circulating and he wished all to sign it, calling for the Governor to not arrest Joseph Smith or the Mormons ever again. This was similar to the petition signed by 150 people two days prior, but this petition was instead signed by upwards of 900 people calling on the governor to stay his judicious hand. This new petition was expedited to Ford the following day.

Put yourself in Governor Ford’s position. You have the Governor of Missouri calling for one of your citizens to be arrested and extradited to face criminal charges including conspiracy and treason against the union. Then you have the sheriffs who arrested him telling you that they need you to call out the state militia to bring Jo in. Then, on the other hand, you have petitions with over 1000 signatures, along with a packet of court proceedings clearing Jo’s name, urging you to not follow through with Governor Reynolds of Missouri’s arrest and extradition warrants. What do you do? This was Governor Ford’s response to this flood of petitions and affidavits landing on his desk.


Springfield, July 6th, 1843

Joseph H. Reynolds, esq., Sir: I have received your petition for a detachment of Illinois Militia to assist you in retaking Joseph Smith, Jr., representing him to have escaped from your custody after having been arrested on a warrant granted for his apprehension. I have also received a remonstrance and some affidavits adverse to the prayer of your petition. I have also to inform you that I had heard, before your arrival in this city of the escape of Smith, and rumors that he had been rescued by a military force. Deeming these remarks of sufficient importance to justify me in so doing, I did, on the 4th day of this present month, dispatch a trusty and competent person as my agent to collect information of the various matters contained in your petition; and you will I hope at once see the propriety of all action being suspended on my part until I can receive the most authentic and unquestionable information, as to the movements complained of.

I am most respectfully your obedient servant,


He did what a Governor is supposed to do, take a back seat and wait until more information comes. But the question then is, was this the action that the situation warranted, or was there something more he could have done?

Look, Governor Ford’s hands were kinda tied at this point. He didn’t have any good options allowed within the system, because Jo didn’t operate by the dictates of the system everybody else followed. The Governor had to act within the parameters of his office and the laws of Illinois and the federal constitution, but Jo had a bad habit for breaking those systems. How do you stop flagrant abuses of the legal system, while still using the legal system to stop said abuses? The fact of the matter is that Governor Ford had a limited tool kit to work with. He had sending special agents, and calling out the militia as his only two reasonable options. If the special agents couldn’t get Jo extradited, which Sheriffs Reynolds and Wilson didn’t, the only remaining option was either indifference, or radical escalation with military force. The escalation was a final resort, like punishing a person who double parks their car by blowing it up; but Jo was double-parking his T-90 tank here. Governor Ford didn’t want a religious military conflict on his hands because he knew that the Nauvoo Legion was under his control legally speaking, but they would stop at nothing to defend their prophet. The system of law simply was not equipped to deal with a Nauvoo Joseph Smith. So, Ford opted for the least resistant option of sending his own special agent to find out exactly what the hell was going on. Once he had solid intel, he could act with as much pragmatism as a state governor should.

As stated by Governor Ford himself, he was much abused for his hands-off approach to Joseph Smith and the Mormons at this time. The Mormons thought Ford should treat the situation with more tolerance and latitude as his predecessor, Governor Carlin, had done. Non-Mormons thought he was being too soft on the criminal empire; he just didn’t have any easy options. However, collecting more information and acting upon the new trustworthy intel is all well and good if this is the only thing going on. But Jo had many more irons in the fire to ensure his religious revolution. The blueprints had been drawn up, Talos was being constructed, the Mormon uprising seemed an inevitability in Jo’s mind because it was the will of God. Each ally he could make along the way would only strengthen his military and further ensure his success as the Yankee Mohamet, as popular media had labeled him.

In view of scorching the earth and building his theocracy on the ruins, Jo had a curious meeting, which was recounted by one of his close friends who attended the meeting, Wilford Woodruff, in his own journal. Before the details of the meeting between Jo and these gentlemen who called on him, a little historical background to preface it.

American expansionism was a controversial issue of the 1830s and 40s. One of the primary reasons Andrew Jackson was so highly revered, and thus elected as a populous president, was his violent hatred of, and strategic dealings with, Native Americans. Jackson had famously cobbled together Native tribes to war with other native tribes who were resilient to American imperialism. The term “racist” doesn’t begin to describe the viciousness with which Jackson ruled American politics. One of his campaign promises was to “civilize” the native populations and remove those who didn’t agree to being “civilized” in the European-American sense. He was elected in November of 1828, took office in January 1829, and gave his first State of the Union address on December 8, 1829.

The condition and ulterior destiny of the Indian tribes within the limits of some of our States have become objects of much interest and importance. It has long been the policy of Government to introduce among them the arts of civilization, in the hope of gradually reclaiming them from a wandering life. This policy has, however, been coupled with another wholly incompatible with its success. Professing a desire to civilize and settle them, we have at the same time lost no opportunity to purchase their lands and thrust them farther into the wilderness. By this means they have not only been kept in a wandering state, but been led to look upon us as unjust and indifferent to their fate. Thus, though lavish in its expenditures upon the subject, Government has constantly defeated its own policy, and the Indians in general, receding farther and farther to the west, have retained their savage habits. A portion, however, of the Southern tribes, having mingled much with the whites and made some progress in the arts of civilized life, have lately attempted to erect an independent government within the limits of Georgia and Alabama. These States, claiming to be the only sovereigns within their territories, extended their laws over the Indians, which induced the latter to call upon the United States for protection.

Under these circumstances the question presented was whether the General Government had a right to sustain those people in their pretensions. The Constitution declares that "no new State shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other State" without the consent of its legislature. If the General Government is not permitted to tolerate the erection of a confederate State within the territory of one of the members of this Union against her consent, much less could it allow a foreign and independent government to establish itself there…

There is no constitutional, conventional, or legal provision which allows them less power over the Indians within their borders than is possessed by Maine or New York. Would the people of Maine permit the Penobscot tribe to erect an independent government within their State? And unless they did would it not be the duty of the General Government to support them in resisting such a measure? Would the people of New York permit each remnant of the six Nations within her borders to declare itself an independent people under the protection of the United States? Could the Indians establish a separate republic on each of their reservations in Ohio? And if they were so disposed would it be the duty of this Government to protect them in the attempt? If the principle involved in the obvious answer to these questions be abandoned, it will follow that the objects of this Government are reversed, and that it has become a part of its duty to aid in destroying the States which it was established to protect.

Actuated by this view of the subject, I informed the Indians inhabiting parts of Georgia and Alabama that their attempt to establish an independent government would not be countenanced by the Executive of the United States, and advised them to emigrate beyond the Mississippi or submit to the laws of those States.

Just 6 months after that State of the Union address by Andrew Jackson, he signed the Indian Removal Act to break apart the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Cherokee, Muscogee, and various other loosely confederated tribes in the southeastern United States, forcing them to relocate. Jackson’s successor, Martin Van Buren, was largely responsible for putting the Removal Act into effect after the major Seminole wars had removed those tribes in 1832. Beginning in 1836, the Trail of Tears began, which sort of ran until 1850. The Indian Removal Act, Trail of Tears, and the larger idea of colonialism which created these, is truly the darkest stain on American history, possibly only taking second place to the African slave trade contemporary with these events. These were atrocities.

A historian in 2004 cobbled together dozens of stories from the Trail of Tears and published them in a book titled “Family Stories From the Trail of Tears”. This book included old letters, family reflections, and secondhand accounts of what took place. You’ll find a link in the show notes, but here’s a small sampling:

Agnew, Mary Cobb

My parents did not come to the Territory on the "Trail of Tears" but my grandparents on my mother's side did. I have heard them say that the United States Government drove them out of Georgia. The Cherokees had protested to the bitter end. Finally the Cherokees knew that they had to go some place because the white men would kill their cattle and hogs and would even burn their houses in Georgia. The Cherokees came a group at a time until all got to the Territory. They brought only a few things with them traveling by wagon train. Old men and women, sick men and women would ride but most of them walked and the men in charge drove them like cattle and many died enroute and many other Cherokees died in Tennessee waiting to cross the Mississippi River. Dysentery broke out in their camp by the river and many died, and many died on the journey but my grandparents got through all right.

I have heard my grandparents say that after they got out of the camp, and even before they left Georgia, many Cherokees were taken sick and later died.

Hicks, Herbert Worchester

Father's Name: Abijah Hicks, born March 2, 1819, married January 30, 1852 to Hanna Worcester and she was born January 29, 1834, at New Echota, Georgia.

My father and mother came with the Cherokees from Georgia and Tennessee in 1838. My mother was a daughter of Reverend Samuel A. Worcester, one of the first missionaries to the Cherokees back in Georgia and my father was a descendent of Charles Hicks, a Cherokee chief in the old Cherokee Nation in Georgia.

In 1835, after serving a term in the Georgia penitentiary, because of his firm fidelity to the tribe, my grandfather, Rev. Worcester, was forced to leave Georgia. His notice to evacuate follows:

Receives Formal Notice

It becomes my duty to give you notice to evacuate the lot of land No. 125, in the 14th District, of the third section, and to give the house now occupied by you to Col. William Handen, or whoever he may put forward to take possession of the same and that you may have ample time to prepare for the same, I will allow you until the 28th day of this month to do the same.

Hill, Mary

Many years ago, my grandmother, Sallie Farney, who was among those, that made the trip to the West from Alabama, often told of the trip as follows:

"In every way we were abundantly blessed in our every day life in the old country. We had our hunting grounds and all the things that are dear to the heart or interest of an Indian.

A council meeting was mostly composed of men, but there were times when every member of a town (tulwa) was requested to attend the meetings.

Many of the leaders, when unrest was felt in the homes, visited the different homes and gave encouragement to believe that Alabama was to be the permanent home of the Muskogee tribe. But many different rumors of a removal to the far west was often heard.

The command for a removal came unexpectedly upon most of us. There was the time that we noticed that several overloaded wagons were passing our home, yet we did not grasp the meaning. However, it was not long until we found out the reason. Wagons stopped at our home and the men in charge commanded us to gather what few belongings could be crowded into the wagons. We were to be taken away and leave our homes never to return. This was just the beginning of much weeping and heartaches.

We were taken to a crudely built stockade and joined others of our tribe. We were kept penned up until everything was ready before we started on the march. Even here, there was the awful silence that showed the heartaches and sorrow at being taken from the homes and even separation from loved ones.

Most of us had not foreseen such a move in this fashion or at this time. We were not prepared, but times became more horrible after the real journey was begun.

Many fell by the wayside, too faint with hunger or too weak to keep up with the rest. The aged, feeble, and sick were left to perish by the wayside. A crude bed was quickly prepared for these sick and weary people. Only a bowl of water was left within reach, thus they were left to suffer and die alone.

The little children piteously cried day after day from weariness, hunger, and illness. Many of the men, women, and even the children were forced to walk. They were once happy children - left without mother and father - crying could not bring consolation to those children.

The sick and the births required attention, yet there was no time or no one was prepared. Death stalked at all hours, but there was no time for proper burying of ceremonies. My grandfather died on this trip. A hastily cut piece of cotton wood contained his body. The open ends were closed up and this was placed along a creek. This was not the only time this manner of burying was held nor the only way. Some of the dead were placed between two logs and quickly covered with shrubs, some were shoved under the thickets, and some were not even buried but left by the wayside.

There were several men carrying reeds with eagle feathers attached to the end. These men continually circled around the wagon trains or during the night around the camps. These men said the reeds with feathers had been treated by the medicine men. Their purpose was to encourage the Indians not to be heavy hearted nor to think of the homes that had been left.

Some of the older women sang songs that meant, "We are going to our homes and land; there is One who is above and ever watches over us; He will care for us." This song was to encourage the ever downhearted Muskogees.

Many a family was forced to abandon their few possessions and necessities when their horses died or were too weary to pull the heavy wagons any further.

The Indian Removal Act authorized the American Militia to relocate over 15,000 Natives west of the Mississippi. Of those 15,000, some estimates say only half survived the Trail of Tears. What’s even more concerning is that the Trail of Tears was just the boil-over point. European colonialism was running at a constant rate throughout the entire settlement and expansion era of America beginning in the early to mid-1600s. Native tribes were constantly being exterminated and relocated. Some would resist, others would confederate with other tribes during their resistance, but all were put down. Some would sign treaties which were later violated by the government, others were never offered that option. This rolling boil was the constant for roughly two centuries by the time Joseph Smith and Mormonism became a thing, but the Indian Removal Act and the resulting Trail of Tears was the boil-over point that accelerated colonialism in America from that time forward. For the entire history of Mormonism, the Mormons always benefitted from Natives being removed from their lands. When they were settling in Missouri beginning in the early 1830s, they were only able to afford the land because the government had seized those lands from Natives and were selling it off for almost nothing. Similarly, Commerce, Illinois, which later became Nauvoo when the Mormons got the Nauvoo Charter rubber-stamped through the state legislature, was an area of diverse native settlements less than half a century before the Mormons put down roots there. The 20,000 acres of land they purchased in the Iowa territory was highly disputed and known as “the half-breed tract,” an area made possible for European-American settlement because of treaties the Government had signed with natives and later violated by exterminating them.

Beyond all of that, the Book of Mormon itself was written by Joseph Smith as a history of the Native Americans in order to Christianize the natives the way many religions were doing contemporary with the Mormons. If the Book of Mormon actually accomplished its initial intent, the Native Americans who read it would convert to Christianity and follow the prophet to overthrow the American government and build Zion, the New Jerusalem on the American Continent so the earth would be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory. That’s still a central article of faith of Mormonism. The first missionary effort was explicitly to proselytize to the Native Americans who’d recently been removed to a small town outside Jackson County, Missouri, where the mission was a complete and utter failure. From its inception, Mormonism has always benefitted from American imperialism.

So, why was this history and culture check necessary? Well, the meeting Jo had that I used as a jump-off point to discuss this subject was with some Pottawattamie chiefs. As recounted by Wilford Woodruff in his journal, this is how the meeting transpired between Jo and the chiefs:

[O]n the 2nd day of July, 1843, President Joseph Smith and several of the Twelve met those chiefs in the court-room, with about twenty of the Elders. The following is a synopsis of the conversation which took place as given by the interpreter.

The Indian orator arose and asked the Prophet if the men who were present were all his friends. Answer, [“]yes.[“]

He then said, “we as a people have long been distressed and oppressed, we have been driven from our lands many times; we have been wasted away by wars until there are but few of us left. The white man has hated us and shed our blood, until it has appeared as though there would soon be no Indian left. We have talked with the Great Spirit, and the Great Spirit has talked with us; we have asked the Great Spirit to save us and let us live; and the Great Spirit has told us that he had raised up a great prophet, chief and friend, who would do us great good, and tell us what to do; and the Great Spirit has told us that you are the man (pointing to the Prophet Joseph.) We have now come a great way to see you, and hear your words, and to have you to tell us what to do. Our horses have become poor traveling, and we are hungry; we will now wait and hear your words.”

The Potawatomi were yet one more tribe who suffered as a result of the Indian Removal Act. They had their own trail of tears, known as the Potawatomi “Trail of Death” in 1838. This trail began in Northern Indiana, an area known as Twin Lakes, passed all the way through Indiana on a southwestern route, straight through Illinois crossing the Mississippi at Quincy, through Missouri from east to west passing Independence, and then just over the border of Kansas to a town called Osawatomie. There was just shy of 1,000 Potawatomi Natives that were exterminated and official numbers list the death toll over 40 people, which you can be sure is a wildly understated number if it was anything like the Trail of Tears happening the same year.

Whenever we discuss how much the Mormons suffered during their extermination from Missouri to Illinois in late 1838 to early 1839, it’s worth noting that they at least retained possession of some of their land to be sold, retained the majority of their personal effects, and most importantly, they were allowed to live and migrate to Illinois under their own power and authority. When we compare it to what was going on everywhere else in the country with Native tribes being exterminated in the genocidal definition of the term, the Mormons got off pretty easy because they were white Christians. The Natives were killed, exterminated, and brutally removed from their lands, resulting in genocide, at the hands of frustrated white European Christian colonialists who wanted the Natives to build houses with white-picket fences and send their kids to western-culture schools and convert to their religion. When the natives refused to give up the culture and ritualism they’d been living for thousands of years, and the land they’d been living on for just as long, or even if they did agree to becoming “civilized,” they were killed or moved where Europeans weren’t settling at that very moment, only to be removed or killed again once frontier expansion reached the next reservation.

While we’ve only ever just mentioned the plight of the Natives in this show during our timeline, we should always recognize that this is the background upon which our historical timeline is laid. The plight of the Natives will factor more heavily into our timeline once we reach the Utah years.

With that in mind, the question is, why would these chiefs be meeting with Joseph Smith? If we go by Wilford Woodruff’s reporting of what he remembered the interpreter said, (you see how many margins of error I had to factor into that sentence), it was because their Great Spirit had led them to meet with a Prophet who the Great Spirit had raised up who would help them and tell them what to do. Any time that Native Americans were willing to reach out to a paleface for help, you know they truly had no other options.

Just consider what they may have heard about Joseph Smith that led them to ask for this meeting. They were living on the Native reservation just across the Kansas state line from Jackson County Missouri, Joseph Smith and the Mormons were the talk of everybody in Missouri. What might they have heard about this crazy bastard in the far-off land of Nauvoo? Jo had raised his own personal armies in multiple states, he’d flaunted the laws of every state he ever lived in, he’d committed treason against the constitution, he’d gathered a diverse group of people and had successfully established an immigration effort that was funneling thousands more Europeans into his kingdom on the Mississippi. He’d done all of these things while ignoring every system of law he’d ever fallen under, and yet had never been killed for his actions. Every time a Native chief, or group of chiefs, had ever tried anything like what Jo was able to do, they’d been subjugated, massacred, and removed from their lands by the government. I shouldn’t have to say it so obviously, but Jo was able to do all of that because he was a white Christian guy with friends in high places. The Potawatomie tried to resist the forged treaties of resettlement but were answered with violence by General Tipton of the Indiana militia, who surprise attacked their settlement under the guise of negotiation discussions. Once the group had surrendered, General Tipton burned their settlement to the ground, destroyed their crops, and killed most of their livestock to ensure that they wouldn’t make any attempt to resettle.

The fact of the matter is, Native Americans couldn’t do what Jo did because they were considered second-class citizens by the government and the culture that was imposed upon them. They were here for thousands of years before the genocidal slave-trader Columbus ever set sail, we must never forget that. What else could they do but seek the counsel of a white savior who hadn’t been killed when he’d done exactly what their friends and fellow chiefs had done and been killed for it? Here’s Jo’s response to them after understanding why they’d called upon him for this meeting, once again from the journal of Wilford Woodruff.

The Spirit of God rested upon the Lamanites, especially the orator. Joseph was much affected and shed tears; he arose and said unto them, “I have heard your words; they are true, the Great Spirit has told you the truth. I am your friend and brother, and I wish to do you good; your fathers were once a great people, they worshiped the Great Spirit, the Great Spirit did them good, he was their friend, but they left the Great Spirit, and would not hear his words or keep them. The Great Spirit left them, and they began to kill one another, and they have been poor and afflicted until now.

The Great Spirit has given me a book, and told me that you will soon be blessed again. The Great Spirit will soon begin to talk with you and your children; this is the book which your fathers made; I wrote upon it; (showing them the Book of Mormons) this tells me what you will have to do. I now want you to begin to pray to the Great Spirit. I want you to make peace with one another, and do not kill any more Indians; it is not good; do not kill white men, it is not good; but ask the Great Spirit for what you want, and it will not be long before the Great Spirit will bless you, and you will cultivate the earth and build good houses like the white men; we will give you something to eat and to take home with you.”

When the Prophet’s words were interpreted to the chiefs, they all said it was good. The chief asked, “How many moons would it be before the Great Spirit would bless them?” He told them not a great many.

At the close of the interview, Joseph had an ox killed for them, and they were furnished with some more horses; and they went home satisfied and contented.

That was the respite Jo offered to these Native chiefs, more of what they’d suffered for decades before Jo had his own city and army. More white European Christian colonialism. If they just stop killing each other and all the white folk that were taking their land, the Great Spirit would bless them. But every time they tried that they were squashed without resistance. Every time they tried to resist European-American expansionism, they were still squashed, but with resistance and scores of fallen warrior brothers. They could either accept their fate and make the marches demanded of them by the government, or they could resist and be killed, and still make those same marches, only in smaller numbers having watched their family members be cut down with swords and bullets. At least Jo gave them some meat and fresh horses for the 650 mile journey back to the reservation in Kansas. That, and a vacuous promise that their suffering would be over and the Great Spirit would bless them in “not a great many moons.”

The fact of the matter is that the dynamics of Native and European-American relations had shifted significantly in the 13 years Jo had been prophet. He wrote his Book of Mormon to Christianize the Natives while Andrew Jackson was on the campaign trail. 13 years and an Indian Removal Act later and Native American lands were becoming increasingly a thing of the distant past and location. Had Jo been granted this audience in the early 1830s he may have been more readily equipped to forge an alliance with Native tribes. But, by 1843, the possibility of alliances with Native Americans was so far from his mind, making the initial intent of the Book of Mormon a mere fascination of his early ministry, long-since abandoned in lieu of theocracy building. But, Jo was smart enough to leave the door open to a possible collaboration in the future, should the Potawatomie prove to be useful to him.

There is another iron Jo had in the fire that’s worth mentioning that was starting to get near proper forging temperature. For examining this iron, we turn to the expose by Joseph H. Jackson of 1844. As a quick recap, Jackson had joined the Mormons to gain Jo’s favor in order to expose the Mormon empire. Jo had sent Jackson on a mission to Missouri to break Pistol Packin’ Porter Rockwell out of prison and finish off the Boggs job, a mission he’d failed. Jackson is beginning to figure heavily into our timeline and has been an ancillary focus for the last 5 or so episodes. A salacious detail in his expose pamphlet reveals some much-deeper plans for properly arming Talos with some real empire-breaking firepower. But first, a curious little line in the History of the Church for July 4th, 1843:

About 1 a.m. Messrs. Walker, Patrick, Southwick, Markham and Lucien Woodworth started for Springfield, carrying with them the affidavits, petition, and the doings of the Municipal Court.

This was to take all the documents of the hearing to Governor Ford. Here’s the curious line:

At a very early hour people began to assemble at the Grove, and at 11 o’clock near 13,000 persons had congregated, and were addressed in a very able and appropriate manner by Elder O[rson] Hyde, who has recently been appointed on a mission to St. Petersburg, Russia.

Russia? What’s this about? When I was a kid in the church in Utah, I remember one of my neighbors was a travelling patriarch who made frequent trips to Russia to give patriarchal blessings, but I never thought about how much of a presence the church has there now and what the history of it is. Turns out the first Russian convert was baptized in 1895; Orson Hyde never made this mission to St. Petersburg. It wasn’t until 1989 that the church began an earnest missionary effort in Russia and after lobbying for a few changes in law and getting nationally recognized as a Russian-authorized religion, the Vyborg congregation was established in February of 1990. Then apostle, Rusty Nelson, dedicated the first Russian stake in Moscow in June 2011. This proposes an interesting question, what interest could Joseph Smith possibly have in Russia, and therefore call one of his most-trusted apostles on a specific mission there? Jo never did anything that wasn’t out of self-interest; how could his personal goals be served by a mission to Russia, which somehow were never revisited by the Brighamite church until more than half a century after his death?

From page 30 of his August 1844 expose, beginning with referencing Jo’s campaign for President of the United States:

The world is generally aware of the fact, that Joe Smith was a candidate for the Presidency. This has excited universal contempt and merriment; for no one conceived that Joe had any idea of his own success; but he had his even in this, which was more treasonable and deeper laid than a person unacquainted with him could imagine. His object was simply this: There was a Mr. Brown, formerly of Rushville, with whom I became acquainted in Nauvoo, soon after my arrival there. This man has a wonderful genius for invention, and has planned a sub-marine battery and steam fire ship, which, to all appearance, is capable of great execution. He stated to me, that he had been operating for 21 years, in perfecting this work, but had not the means to bring the matter before the nation, and that Joe made him a propusition, which had caused him to remove to Nauvoo. This proposition was, to furnish the means to take him, together with G. A. Adams and Orson Hyde, to Russia, where the invention would be laid before the Emperor; and as Joe had great faith in its success, he expected a large sum for the secret, Which Brown and Joe were to divide. This was palmed off on Brown, but was far from being Joe's real object. His real object, as he disclosed it to me, was this: He would first run for President, and thus be be able to prove to the Emperor of Russia his strength in the Union. He would then send G. A. Adams, Orson Hyde, and Brown to Russia, and after the utility of the invention had been fairly proved to the Emperor, Joe's proposition to him was to be submitted: which was to form a league for the overthrow of the powers that be. Now this may seem too ridiculous for any man to imagine possible; nevertheless, no one acquainted with the excessive vanity of Joe Smith, will doubt but that he in reality believed that he could form even so preposterous a union. Joe's idea was, that by the aid of Brown's invention, he could introduce himself to the Emperor, and having the strongest faith in the efficiency of the new discovery as an instrument of warfare; he imagined, that if His Majesty could once see the wonderful work, that he would be willing even to take him as a partner in the benefits, for the sake of its advantages. As wild as this scheme may seem, it is no wilder than many that have characterized Mormonism from its infancy.

Joseph had escaped the legal system once again and he had plenty of future plans to affect his religious revolution. Whether it was banding together Native American tribes to fight for him, raising the numbers of his own personal army to be able to contend with American militias, or to align with the Russian emperor once elected POTUS to build steam-powered submarines to overthrow the powers that be, Jo had a lot of hot irons in the fire. He proved himself untouchable by legal standard practices and his aspirations knew now bounds. Joseph Smith illustrates to us that the system is created to protect everybody when we all live under it, but certain people exist that the system is simply ill-equipped to deal with. Jo broke boundaries, he did things a different way than most, he wouldn’t be bound by the system of laws. Everything we’ve discussed in the past 8 episodes really illustrates that his assassination in 1844 was years overdue and perfectly deserved.

Copyright Ground Gnomes LLC subject to fair use. Citation example: "Naked Mormonism Podcast (or NMP), Ep #, original air date 03/21/2019"