Road to Carthage 6 - Fury
On this episode, we examine fury as a motivating factor in early Mormonism.
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
We all get angry sometimes. Some of us more than others, some of us are lucky enough to almost never feel anger.
I have a small car I drive across the country for Mormon history conferences. For those in the know, it’s a first generation Miata, for everybody else; picture the smallest car you’ve seen and that’s a fitting comparison. It’s great. It’s a convertible, making it the perfect Seattle summer cruiser and a pretty good road tripper car if only the trunk space was a little bigger to fit more books. During one of our first cruises in the Miata, Annie and I were enjoying the sunshine and blasting some music, not a care in the world. Then, a person in a massive SUV with a commanding view of the road simply didn’t see us and pulled out in front of us. Queue slamming on the brakes, honking, and loud cursings at the carelessness of the ignorant driver who continued down the road unaware of our existence. After that, my fiance Annie, well… by the time you’re hearing this, my wife Annie, said we’re getting a rollbar to make it so we’re less certainly dead the next time that happens.
We felt anger. We were mad because that person did something that literally threatened our lives. We weren’t just inconvenienced by them, we were in actual danger, which evoked an immediate response we had little control over. The danger was averted, we calmed down, and we took actions to prevent that threat from becoming mortal danger in the future.
With only rare exceptions, we all feel angry. The stimuli are different for each of us, but the feeling inside is the same. We all act differently once that anger boils up. With that said, anger has an evil twin, wrath. Anger is in response to something that happens to us, a fleeting emotion that can be mitigated and compensated for. Wrath is deeper. Wrath drives us from feeling mad to seeking vengeance. Wrath is what remains when the anger evaporates and we want retribution.
Millennia of myths and folklore revolve around the spirits of those who die in anger; the wrath of those spirits will haunt us to the third and fourth generations as their blood cries out from the ground upon which they were slain. Anger makes us want to hurt somebody for a wrong committed against us or our loved ones; wrath makes us plot their death.
It’s an ugly side of the human condition but to deny it exists is to ignore a monster living within each and every one of us. Empires are built by dictators with a penchant for retribution against any person who harmed them or threatens their lust for power. Even the perfect Jesus violently threw the money changers out of the temple, cursed a tree for not being in the season thereof, and said “I came not to bring peace [on the earth], but a sword.” Joseph Smith died in a gunfight, and long shall his blood which was shed by assassins stain Illinois while the earth lauds his fame.
For a young man growing up in a home with scarce resources, sometimes anger; tantrums, outrage, would get him what he needed to survive. However, the young boy Joseph Smith also had a great deal of violence inflicted upon him at a tender and impressionable age.
From 1811 to 1814 there was a horrible typhoid epidemic. All seven children in the Smith family caught the disease, but Joe and his sister Sophronia were the worst afflicted. Sophronia was catatonic for nearly 3 months and Joe developed horrible, painful abscesses in his shoulder and his left leg. The abscess in his leg became infected, and a group of doctors from Dartmouth Medical College suggested the leg be amputated to save his life. The Smiths didn’t want to amputate, so one of the doctors, a surgeon named Nathan Smith, suggested an experimental procedure to remove the infected portion of the bone. To this, the Smith family agreed.
According to Joe’s mother, seven-year-old Joe refused to drink alcohol as a sedative. Instead he asked his father to hold him down during the surgery, and his mother to leave the room. Nathan Smith was an outstanding surgeon, in fact probably the only person in America who could have saved Joseph’s life at the time, and the surgery was successful. Dr. Smith removed nine pieces of bone, and fourteen more worked their way out of Joe’s leg before it fully healed.
In his book The Sword of Laban: Joseph Smith and the Dissociated Mind, surgeon Bill Morain argues that this extremely traumatic, extremely painful surgery during Joe’s childhood may have been the source of a lot of his later violent fantasies. To quote Dr. Morain,
Most of all, Joseph would have feared the amputation knife, that foot-long, sword-like instrument whose design had not appreciably changed in the hundreds of years since the primitive barber-surgeons. Most surgical instrument kits carried two or even three. That “sword”—its pain and its ultimate purpose—had haunted his dreams and daytime fantasies since it has been first (and for a second time) plunged into his leg. The sword would not cease occupying those fantasies, ever.
Dr. Morain also notes that it’s almost impossible for Joseph to have been as calm as Lucy describes, except on one very specific condition. This sort of calm “is typical of children who suffer repeated bouts of terrible trauma that they may enter a kind of trance or ‘self-hypnosis’ that protects against the emotional experience of the horror.” This self-induced trance is called “dissociation,” and it’s the same sort of trance that shamans and mediums enter in order to commune with the spirit world. If Joseph’s childhood trauma taught him this skill of putting himself in a trance, then he could have used the skill later in life for a kind of lucid dreaming to produce visions and revelations. Such a mental protectionism can also cause memory loss for the child who experiences the trauma such that they’re unable to actively recall the event, but other events may trigger the memories unpredictably.
After the traumatic leg surgery, Jo went to live for a while with his uncle Jesse in Salem, Massachusetts to recuperate by the sea. According to Dr. Morain,
It was probably in his exile at the seashore that the fantasies began, projected from within by an unspeakable horror he could not recall. As will be seen, these included huge, violent fantasies. Fantasies of wars. Fantasies of people in chaos who escape to the seashore. Fantasies of magic swords that dismember heads and arms. Fantasies of sons overthrowing fathers, princes killing kings, righteous killing unrighteous. Fantasies of towers, trees, serpents, flaming swords, pillars, cigar-shaped boats, sickles, and “stiff-necked” people. Fantasies of evil men brought to humiliation by young heroes. Fantasies of good fathers and evil fathers, of faithful women and whores. Fantasies of good armies and bad armies pushing one another to-and-fro like battles of ants. Fantasies of betrayal. Fantasies of darkness, of magic stones that light up the darkness. Fantasies of good white people and evil black people, of good white people becoming evil black people. Fantasies of princes being “bound with cords,” of “blood on garments,” of maggots eating flesh. Fantasies of destroying angels with drawn swords. The fantasies would flood out of his unconscious in hundreds of repetitive dreams and nightmares, in daydreams, in random sequences, in play, in speech, and in silence. They took over the inner life of Joseph Smith, Jr. as automatic pilot takes over an aircraft. In this state he limped into his future.
Simply put, a young boy going through a traumatic experience like this would forever have his mind shaped by the experience, even if he was unable to remember what took place. The survival mind created by this and other traumatic childhood experiences would emerge periodically throughout Jo’s life and ministry. Ep 68.
Fast-forward now to 1827 and Joe supposedly got the golden Book of Mormon plates. After Joe pulled the plates out of the ground, he claimed to have stashed them in a tree or a log. 10 days later, rumor around the neighborhood said that somebody had found and taken possession of Joe's plates. As soon as Emma told Joe about these rumors, he drank some tea and ran into the woods, got the plates from the log, wrapped them up in his jacket, and started walking home with the plates under his arm.
Now remember, these plates were made of gold. If you run the numbers on their reported dimensions, they would weigh about 230 pounds. Joe later allowed several people to lift the plates while they were wrapped in cloth or sitting inside a wooden box used for shipping glass (a glass box), and these witnesses reported that the plates were more like 40 to 60 pounds. That means that our best guess says Joe had a prop made out of sheet metal like tin, or something. That would explain how he could carry them home under an arm and others could lift and move them. I don’t know how much lifting weights you’ve done, dear listener, but it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between 60 pounds and 230 pounds. With that said, however, the next part is tough to believe.
According to Joe, as he was walking home, he was attacked by three guys in the woods. The first one sprung out from behind a tree and hit Joe on the back of his head with the butt of a gun. Walking through the woods and somebody unexpectedly hitting the back of your skull with a hard object are ingredients for a concussion and brain damage. But, Joe stayed on his feet, turned to face his attacker, and knocked the attacker down with a one-armed, god-power-infused megapunch! At that point, Joe began to run home at top speed. Then a second man attacked him, but Joe knocked this guy out with another one-armed megapunch, presumably while still running at top speed with the 230-lb plates under his arm. As Joe neared his house, a third attacker appeared from behind him. This person hit Joe on the back of the head with the butt of a gun again, but again Joe was unfazed, and turned around and issued yet another god-infused megapunch of doom for the night. He knocked this dude down like the others, but this time Joe dislocated his thumb, which he asked Big Daddy Cheese to reset for him once he got home. Ep 9.
This helps to contextualize what Dr. Morain meant with that passage about Joe having violent fantasies for the rest of his life. Maybe some form of altercation took place in the woods that night but we can clearly see how such an altercation turned into a legend in Jo’s mind almost immediately. He was his own hero.
Now that Joe had the plates he probably manufactured and sequestered in the forest for a brief time, he started to author the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is a pretty violent book, and we could spend all day talking about the violent stories contained in the pages. Whether it’s Ammon cutting off the arms of the Lamanites who’re having a little fun, the Nephites killing enough Lamanites to build a bridge, Moroni imprisoning and murdering thousands of political dissidents, Helaman grinding through army after army of Lamanites while not losing a single of his own soldiers, entire cities being buried by mountains or sinking into the ocean like Atlantis when Jesus was crucified, millions of soldiers murdering each other down to the last dozen men, human sacrifice as burnt offerings, there’s absolutely no shortage of deplorable atrocities within its pages.
But I want to focus on one story that’s unequivocally autobiographical and reveals the inner-workings of Jo’s mind better than any other story therein; the story of Nephi and Laban.
Nephi is sort of the main character of the first part of the Book of Mormon. He and his family sail from Vermont to New York… my mistake… from Israel to America, where Nephi becomes a king and a prophet. But before they leave, Nephi’s dad has a vision that God wants the family to steal a set of brass plates engraved with a copy of the Torah from a rich guy in town named Laban. So in keeping with this vision, Nephi creeps up to Laban’s house in the night. As he comes near the house, he sees a drunk guy lying on the ground, and he recognizes him as Laban. Laban has a sword sheathed at his hip, with a gold hilt and a steel blade. The Holy Spirit whispers to Nephi that he should draw the sword and cut off Laban’s head. Nephi hesitates, because he’s never killed anyone before and a passed-out drunk guy doesn’t really pose any kind of threat, but the Spirit says, he’s a bad guy, and the book is rightfully yours, and it’s for the greater good. So, Nephi draws the sword and chops of Laban’s head.
Here the story kind of falls apart, because if Nephi has cut off this guy’s head, then his clothes would be drenched in blood, and probably vomit from being passed-out drunk. But Nephi takes the clothes, puts them on, and somehow successfully impersonates Laban in order to get the brass plates from Laban’s servant named Zoram. Not only would his disguise be drenched in fluids, but his voice and face wouldn’t match Laban’s either, so I’m not sure how this part of the story makes any sense. Maybe it’s supposed to be a miracle, the gift of tongues and faces or something, or maybe it’s just childish writing by a 24 year-old who knows nothing about how the world works. But anyway, you see what Dr. Morain is getting at when he talks about Joe having violent fantasies about swords. This story also gives us some insight into Joe’s sense of morality: if someone has something you want and God gives you permission, then you can kill them even if they’re helpless and drunk. Oddly enough, the story of Laban is often taught in church, especially to little kids, that no matter what god commands, you must carry out his will. For any of you with believing family members, the story of Laban can present lots of fun exercises about human morality and how far a person is willing to go with their convictions. Ask them, “hey, if a voice in your head told you Sonia Johnson and Sam Young were enemies of the gospel, would you kill them?” You may have to massage the scenario a little bit. “If the prophet showed up with god at your doorstep telling you Mike Norton has revealed the secrets of the temple and therefore broken his covenant, would you blood-atone this evil man?” Or, maybe leave it up to them to dictate the parameters, “what would it take for you to murder somebody because god told you to?” Or just find some deseret nationalists on twitter and see what fantasies they’re furiously masturbating over.
Once we get into the Kirtland era of the church, we get to see how Joe dealt with real life enemies who posed actual threats in some way, instead of his fantasies of fighting off 3 grown men in the forest while running with 230 pounds of gold. Jo made his way to the city in early 1831 where the congregations of Hingepin Rigdon had converted to his church thanks to the first missionaries who passed through in autumn of 1830. Eps 14, 15, 24, 25. An existential threat to the prophet presented itself in September 1831 in the form of Jo’s second-in-command. Hingepin Sidney Rigdon was preaching in Kirtland one day and announced to the congregation that “the keys of the kingdom were taken from us.” This is according to the autobiography of Philo Dibble. On hearing that the keys had been taken away, “many of his hearers wept, and when some one undertook to dismiss the meeting by prayer he said praying would do them no good, and the meeting broke up in confusion.”
Well, Hyrum told Joe what Sidney had said, and Joe gathered all the Saints in a barn and announced, “I can contend with wicked men and devils--yes with angels. No power can pluck those keys from me, except the power that gave them to me; that was Peter, James and John. But for what Sidney [Rigdon] has done, the devil shall handle him as one man handles another.”
The meaning of Joe’s threat to have the devil handle Rigdon became clear about three weeks later, when Rigdon was lying in bed alone. “An unseen power lifted him from his bed, threw him across the room, and tossed him from one side of the room to the other. The noise being heard in the adjoining room, his family went in to see what was the matter, and found him going from one side of the room to the other, from the effects of which Sidney was laid up for five or six weeks.” To trace the sequence of events, Hingepin Rigdon, Jo’s second in command, preached the keys were taken, Jo said no they aren’t and the devil will deal with Sidney, then Rigdon gets beat within an inch of his life and he publicly repented after publicly attributing the beating to an invisible force. By the way, Jo had a long reputation for fighting as a kid and he was in his mid-20s here. Rigdon has no such history, instead spending more of his time with books than people, and he was nearing his 40s. Eps 25, 26
A little over half a year later, at the Sunday meeting on July 8, 1832, Joe demanded that Rigdon surrender his priesthood license because Rigdon had once again claimed that the keys of the kingdom were lost, and that he alone retained them. It’s almost like the keys were real, physical objects that could be given and taken away instead of some ethereal concept. Apparently, three weeks after this little tissy fit, Rigdon was reinstated into the church presidency, without a horrible beating as a rite of passage, like had been the case in late 1831. This time Joe was a little smarter with his response. Instead of reacting with violence, he secured his claim on the priesthood keys by dictating to a scribe the first-ever written account of his first vision, in which God appeared to him at age 16 and told him the world had turned away from God and the end was near. Ep 28.
While these power plays were underway in Kirtland, the Missouri church was dealing with some troubles of their own. The conflict between the Mormons and Missourians started in July 1833; the Missourians banded together and gave the Saints an ultimatum that they needed to clear out of Jackson County. There were several reasons for this. For one thing, about 1200 Mormons had moved into the county, and they were on the verge of being able to take political control of the government. For another thing, the Mormons were mostly anti-slavery Yankees, and the Missourians were afraid that the Mormons would bring free blacks into the state and stir up the Missourians’ slaves to rebellion. Having a bunch of abolitionists in Missouri government would only exacerbate these tensions. The Book of Mormon also prophesied that the natives would wipe out the white people in a bloody apocalypse, and the Missourians worried that the Mormons might try to make this prophecy come true, which was reasonable because the whole reason the Mormons made their way to Missouri in the first place was to preach to the nearby Native reservations. The Missourians formed a mob, burned the Church’s printing office and a bunch of haystacks and grain fields, and told the Mormons to get out or there’d be even worse treatment. The situation escalated in October and November, and a few men were killed or wounded in an exchange of gunfire. Missouri’s governor intervened and negotiated a truce between the two sides, giving the Mormons ten days to clear out. Not all the Missourians abided by the truce, and the Mormon refugees were routed by armed gangs as they evacuated the settlement.
This expulsion from Jackson County was awful, and it posed a huge problem for the Church. You see, Jackson County had been chosen by God as the site of the New Jerusalem and the latter-day temple. That was by revelation, God couldn’t get such a dire matter wrong, could he? The Missourians knew this, the Mormons knew this, and there wasn’t really an out for Jo here. It would look pretty bad for Joe to just choose some other site or say that god got it wrong in the first place. Instead Joe decided on a military strategy, establishing a pattern which would serve and enslave him for the rest of his ministry. At a meeting of the Kirtland high council on February 24, 1834,
Brother Joseph then arose, and said that he was going to Zion, to assist in redeeming it. He called for the voice of the Council to sanction his going, which was given without a dissenting voice. He then called for volunteers to go with him, when some thirty or forty volunteered to go, who were present at the Council. It was a question whether the company should go by water or by land, and after a short investigation it was decided unanimously that they go by land. Joseph was nominated to be the commander-in-chief of the armies of Israel, and the leader of those who volunteered to go and assist in the redemption of Zion.
By the time they left, Joe had gathered about a hundred young men and a bunch of baggage wagons. Because the wagons were full of supplies, the soldiers mostly traveled on foot. This caused some complaining on the part of the men. They would later be joined by another contingent, bringing their total numbers to just over 200 people including 10 women and a child. This is the story of the ill-fated Zion’s Camp. Eps 30, 31.
One man that seemed to be a dissenting voice throughout the entire military campaign was named Sylvester Smith. Whether he was the only dissenting voice, or was just the most vocal out of the bunch doesn't matter, because he became the poster-boy for murmuring against the prophet. One example given includes Sylvester complaining about the disgusting food they had to eat, while Jo enjoyed the best food. Joe responded that an evil spirit has come over the camp. The next day, every horse of every single man that was murmuring “was so badly foundered that we could scarcely lead them a few rods to water.” Once everybody stopped their murmuring, the horses healed up by noon that day, except for Sylvester Smith's horse, which died the next day. Yeah, Jo was petty enough to kill a horse out of spite even though there isn’t any direct evidence of it. Quick sidenote, this is also when Zelph, the white Lamanite warlord, was unearthed and Jo gave a revelation declaring his identity.
As the camp proceeded, the murmuring increased and Joe prophesied that the camp would be scourged by God unless they repented. This was, however, written looking back on the events after they happened so Jo could make any version of it look like he delivered on a prophecy. On June 4th-5th, as they crossed the Mississippi River, Joe's dog either growled at or bit Sylvester Smith, which only exacerbated the tensions and served as a microcosm of Jo’s terrible leadership. According to Heber C. Kimball’s journal, Joe heard about this, and declared that if a dog had growled at him, he would have just shown the dog who the master was. (The implication was that Sylvester was a dog who had growled at Joe, and Joe intended to discipline him.) Sylvester replied, “If that dog bites me, I'll kill him.” Joe retorted, “'If you kill that dog, I'll whip you.” And then he preached to the whole camp about how wicked Sylvester’s behavior was. It says something about Jo that he values his own dog more than the soldiers marching in lockstep behind his military leadership.
As the Mormons finished their river crossing, Luke Johnson rode up and warned that the Missourians had 400 men ready to ride out and meet the army of the Saints. This emboldened them, and they did some drilling and military exercises. On June 16 the citizens of Jackson County proposed a peaceful settlement, but the Mormons refused. The march resulted in rumors and falsely inflated numbers. Newspaper articles and word of mouth claimed that a thousand Mormon men, armed and ready for battle, were descending on Jackson County which amped up the pressure of peace arrangements between the Mormons who’d been removed from Jackson county and the anti-Mormon Missourians.
However, the whole time that Joe was marching to Missouri with an army, Double-Dub Phelps, Algernon Sidney Gilbert, and Party-boy Partridge were in constant contact with Governor Dunklin of Missouri and other officials to resolve everything peaceably. Governor Dunklin appointed John F. Ryland to oversee the negotiations. Ryland tried to get the Mormons to sell their land, and move to the adjacent Clay County, to the little town of Liberty. Double-Dub Phelps and Asid Gilbert continually refused this compromise claiming that it was unfair to the people that had been chased out of their homes that previous November.
One of the primary sticking points wasn't so much the land, but the guns and goods. In running the Mormons out of their homes, the mob disarmed them and stole all their stuff, especially their guns. Of course, today we can go pick up a gun for a couple hundred bucks, maybe cheaper if bought from a guy selling them out of the back of his van, but in the frontier days, a man's gun was an investment and his livlihood. The mob had taken 52 guns and 1 pistol, which the Mormons were… let’s just say perturbed about, possibly even moreso than their other possessions being stolen or destroyed.
That shouldn’t minimize the importance of the land though. The guns were a problem, but they could also be replaced by reparations or returned. The land itself, though, was Zion. It was holy land the Mormons valued more than other land and saw more value in than their non-Mormon neighbors. Jo would end up weaponizing the Zion land and would excommunicate people like W.W. Phelps for selling their Zion land, after which Jo would turn around and do the same thing to help finance the settlement in Illinois after the Missouri-Mormon War.
Meanwhile, things started to look worse for the Zion’s Camp expedition. Just as several hundred Missourians threatened to meet the Mormons in battle, some members of the camp started to come down with cholera. 14 men ended up dying of the disease. Joe knew he couldn’t fight the Missourians with an army stricken by cholera, so he received his convenient Fishing River revelation: “Therefore, in consequence of the transgressions of my people, it is expedient in me that mine Elders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion.”
On July 8th, after losing 14 people to cholera, never firing a shot at an enemy, starving and thirsting nearly to death many times, scaring a lot of people that thought there would be a huge shootout, and making things much worse than they were before the march, Joseph and the majority of the elders left Missouri, without actually resolving anything. Notably as well, one of the people who was negotiating the resettlement with the Missourians also owned a store in Independence which also served as the bishop’s storehouse. As he was negotiating with the Missourians, Zion’s camp decided to stay on his property while the leadership decided what to do and dealt with the cholera outbreak. This man came down with cholera brought by the soldiers and died. Algernon Sidney Gilbert became one of the first Mormons to actually die for the cause due solely to incompetence on Jo’s part.
Upon their return to Kirtland, Sylvester Smith accused Joe of criminal actions, the details of which don’t seem to exist. In reaction, a disciplinary council was held for Sylvester, who was persuaded to publish a confession admitting fault. 3 weeks later Sylvester published a statement rescinding his confession. 3 days after that, another council was called, and Sylvester signed another confession out of fear of punishment. Even in utter humiliation and defeat, Joe managed to control the narrative, blame Sylvester for the cholera, and crush Sylvester’s dissent. Ep 32. Never underestimate the power of a narcissistic tyrant with a god complex.
In 1835 and 1836, Joe got into some fights with members of his family that are worth discussing briefly. The first was with his brother-in-law Calvin Stoddard in June 1835. According to the Painesville Telegraph on June 22, the prophet was put in jail on a charge of assaulting Stoddard, but Stoddard initially couldn’t be obtained as a witness because, good Mormon that he was, he had been “suddenly induced to leave the State.” Eventually the court got ahold of Stoddard and made him testify. According to testimony from Stoddard and from Joe’s mother Lucy Mack Smith, Stoddard and Joe had gotten into an argument over whether there was water under a certain lot. Stoddard says there was, while Joe said there wasn’t. Stoddard called Joe a “damned false prophet,” which was a statement Joe could never tolerate and he “came up and struck him in the forehead with his flat hand -- the blow knocked him down, when Smith repeated the blow four or five times, very hard -- made him blind -- that Smith afterwards came to him and asked his forgiveness -- was satisfied -- had forgiven him -- would forgive any man who would injure him and ask his forgiveness.”
Joe and Calvin got into an argument about who was the better water witch, and it ended with Joe repeatedly bashing Calvin’s head against the ground so hard that Calvin temporarily went blind. It’s all good, though, you guys, because Joe asked for forgiveness and Calvin forgave him. God is so good to forgive his prophet of any trespasses against his children. Who needs criminal charges and legal punishment when god says it’s all good?
Joe also fought with his brother, William Smith. Let’s just be clear here, Crazy Willey was one of the quorum of the twelve, an apostle of the church. Willey’s induction into the Quorum of Apostles was a topic of heated debate as Bloody Brigham and NSSM Harris considered him too unpredictable and unworthy to be an apostle. In October of 1835, Joe and Willey had a fight that nearly ended in fisticuffs. The issue apparently wasn’t resolved because on December 16th 1835, Joe and Crazy Willey got into it again. Here’s Joe describing it in the History of the Church:
This evening, according to adjournment, I went to Brother William Smith’s to take part in the debate that was commenced Saturday evening last. After the debate was concluded, and a decision given in favor of the affirmative of the question, some altercation took place upon the propriety of continuing the debate fearing that it would not result in good. Brother William Smith opposed these measures, and insisted on having another question proposed, and at length became much enraged, particularly at me, and used violence upon my person, and also upon Elder Jared Carter, and some others, for which I am grieved beyond measure, and can only pray God to forgive him, inasmuch as he repents of his wickedness, and humbles himself before the Lord.
It’s even been claimed that the physical damage Crazy Willey inflicted on Joe that day was enough that Joe suffered from the effects until the day he died. The next day in the History of the Church starts out with “At home, quite unwell.” Crazy Willey apparently packed quite a punch, probably learned from his and Jo’s shared childhood in the impoverished Smith home. It wasn’t until the 29th of December, 2 weeks later, that Joe finally brought up formal charges against Crazy Willey which are as follows.
To the Honorable Presidency of the Church of Christ of Latter-day Saints, against Elder William Smith: 1st: Unchristianlike conduct in speaking disrespectfully of President Joseph Smith, Jun., and the revelations and commandments given through him. 2nd: For attempting to inflict personal violence on President Joseph Smith, Jun.
This little “altercation” led to Crazy Willey being disfellowshipped from the church, imagine that. Willie and Joe reconciled on January 2, 1836, after asking each other’s forgiveness, and then Crazy Willey returned to fellowship. At the end of the day, Joe and Crazy Willey’s biggest problem was probably that they were just too much alike. Jo had a habit of finding those types of men and using them until they were no longer a benefit then attacking them in one way or another. Whether, Oliver Cowdery, Hingepin Sidney Rigdon, Crazy Willey Smith, Frederick G. Williams, Doctor Sampson Avard, John C. Wreck-it Bennett, or any other names of close acolytes who were later pushed out of the movement, this pattern comes into focus.
Let’s fast-forward to about 1836, the year Charles Darwin completed his 5-year journey aboard the HMS Beagle. 1836 is a year when Joe’s fury took a darker and more violent turn. Jo had just returned from his treasure-digging trip in Massachusetts and the quorum of Apostles were devising an assassination plot against him. If not for Bloody Brigham riding out of Kirtland to meet Jo upon his return they may have been successful. Ep 37. Around this time that Jo established the Kirtland Bank, he also established an organization that was the precursor to the later Danites, the Mormon shadow enforcement squad. It was called the “Brother of Gideon society”. It’s existence is not very well documented and its actions are even more mysterious. In fact, virtually the only source on the Brother of Gideon society is witness of the gold plates and official Church historian John Goebbels Whitmer. He writes,
After Smith's return to Kirtland, Ohio [from Salem, Massachusetts], and after his ordering the first elders of the Church to go to Ohio, there to receive their endowments from on high, he hastened the finishing of the house at Kirtland which was commenced before he had gone to Zion to redeem her. He from this time began to be lifted up in the pride of his eyes, and began to seek riches and the glory of the world; also sought to establish the ancient order of things, as he and his counsellors, Rigdon and Hyrum Smith, pleased to call it. Therefore, they began to form themselves into a secret society which they termed the brother of Gideon, in the which society they took oaths that they would support a brother right or wrong, even to the shedding of blood. Thus those who belonged to this society were bound to keep it a profound secret, never to reveal, but ever to conceal these abominations from all and every person except those who were of the same craft. But these things could not be kept a secret, in consequence of betrayers who fell from their faith and revealed their secrets.
This era surrounding the Kirtland Safety Society bank marks a hard shift in Jo’s ministry. He transitions from partyboy with a following based around his cult of personality to an overt crime lord. Jo had shown an aversion toward laws his entire life, but once the KSS and the Brother of Gideon Society were formed, his actions trend far more towards secretive, clandestine, and revolutionary. He isn’t travelling halfway across the civilized country to hunt for treasure anymore, he’s forming secret alliances with blood oaths. He isn’t getting into scrapes with people that offend him anymore, he’s ordering Pistol Packing Porter to pay them a visit and do his bidding. He isn’t the self-appointed prophet of a charming fringe religious cult anymore, he’s the head of a crime syndicate with a street gang of thugs. Notably as well, most historians point to 1842 as the time in Jo’s life when he emulated Masonry with his endowment ceremony and sparked up these more clandestine groups. However, this Brother of Gideon society is clearly of Masonic origins and shows just how much Masonry had seeped into his religious praxis. Understandably though because the secretive nature of Masonry is very appealing to a person with such criminal tendencies as Joseph Smith. Ep 36.
This secret combination was more than just a boys club with special handshakes and death oaths of secrecy. In 1837, Joe was tried for attempted homicide against a guy named Grandison Newell. Ep 39. Newell had filed nearly a dozen lawsuits against the prophet by this time, so Joe had plenty of reason to be annoyed with him. That shouldn’t surprise anybody because Jo had run himself and his church into over a million dollars of 2020 money in debt. But trying to have one of his creditors assassinated was a new level for Joe. His transition from religious leader to a demagogue with purely corporate interests hit an important milestone in 1836-7.
Previous court hearings against Jo usually fell along the lines of him hoodwinking somebody on a business deal, or maybe calling a church leader into question for apostasy, or whatever the case may have been; but Grandison Newell charged that Jo tried to have him killed by commanding it done by two men, Marvel Davis and Solomon Denton. This situation sets itself apart as a defining moment in Mormon history and Jo’s leadership.
According to Denton’s testimony at trial, Joe told them that he had had a revelation that Newell should be killed and that God would justify the deed. Fortunately the assassins couldn’t bring themselves to go through with it, so Newell survived. Apostle Orson Hyde also testified that he had heard Joe make threatening comments about Newell. The court ultimately acquitted Joe because there wasn’t enough evidence, but as was the case in his previous trials in 1826 and 1830, the witness testimony is far more damning than the verdict of the court.
This was another of the many tensions which created sharp divisions among the Kirtland leadership. Eventually, the Parrishites marched into the Kirtland temple during a sermon and held the congregation up at gunpoint in a forceful bid to take over the leadership. A brawl ensued and legal complaints were filed all around. Ep 40. This, coupled with the Fanny Alger incident, Ep 33, the collapse of the KSS, Ep 38, NSSM testifying he never saw the plates with his natural eyes, Ep 40, brazen and self-serving power grabs by divine revelation, Ep 41, and massive debts incurred from terrible business practices and purchasing the mummies and other Egyptian artifacts, Ep 33, all these factors caused the Kirtland church to implode. Rival factions were formed known as the Parrishites, Brewsterites, and The Church of Christ run by Coe, Smalling, and Harris. These groups formally declared Jo to be a fallen prophet and the groups excommunicated each other. Jo, Rigdon, and the majority of the Quorum of Apostles lost the battle in the court of public opinion and were forced to flee Kirtland for Missouri, leaving the Temple and other church property in the hands of creditors and these rival factions.
Upon their arrival in Missouri, tensions only continued to escalate. These tensions had been boiling since the Mormons began settling in Missouri in 1831. The Missourians and Mormons had essentially reached a place of peaceful coexistence and nothing overtly combative happened from 1835-8. However, when Jo and Rigdon arrived, the peace was quickly broken for multiple reasons we’re about to discuss. First, the Mormons in Missouri had agreed to not have any more Mormon immigrate to Missouri. Those loyal to Jo followed him from Kirtland, bringing an influx of hundreds of Mormons to the Mormon settlements in Missouri, violating the treaty. Second, the Mormon leaders of the Missouri church posed a threat to Jo’s leadership and he excommunicated them. However, those were the men who’d negotiated peace with the Missourians. Their removal meant removal of the peacekeepers from the leadership and the Missourians bristled against this move. Third, the Mormons had agreed to remain in Caldwell county, which was formed for their settlement. When Jo and his revolutionary buddies arrived the Mormons immediately began expanding to Davies, Carrol, Boone, Lafayette, and Ray counties, thus violating more provisions of the treaty. And finally, fourth, the warlike rhetoric spewed by Jo and Rigdon quickly escalated for various reasons, not least of which was because the Mormons needed a common enemy to rally against and the Missourians had been long-time enemies of the Mormons there even though peace had been brokered for the 3 years before Jo and Rigdon came riding into town. Let’s break each of these elements down.
Up to this point, the Mormons had had a truce with the Missourians under which the Mormons were allowed to have Caldwell County all to themselves, and in return they promised not to expand into neighboring counties. In April 1838, Joe and Rigdon violated this truce by sending settlers into neighboring Daviess County to establish the town of Adam-ondi-Ahman, a second headquarters to serve as a twin to Far West in Caldwell county. In July 1837, W. W. Phelps notified the Saints in Kirtland that “public notice” had been given “by the mob in Davis county . . . for the Mormons to leave that county by the first of August and go into Caldwell.”
Joe and Rigdon knew that sending Mormons to settle the nearby counties was a provocative act. According to a deposition gathered in preparation for Joe and Rigdon’s trial for treason later that year,
as early as April , at a meeting, in Far West, of 8 or 12 persons, Mr. Rigdon, arose and made an address to them in which he spoke of having bo<u>rne persecutions & lawsuits & other privations, and did not intend to bear them any longer. That they meant to resist the law, and if a sheriff came after them with writs they would kill <him>. and if any body opposed them they would take off their heads. Geo W Harris who was present observed, you menat the head of their influence I suppose<?> Rigdon answered, he meant, that lump of flesh & bones called the skull or scalp.
According to Robert Snodgrass, Joe preached
That the time had now come that the Saints should <rise &> take the kingdom, <and they should> do it by the <sword of the > Spirit, and if not, by the sword of power
The Mormon War didn’t actually start until August after the Gallatin election, so if Joe and Rigdon were agitating for cutting off people’s heads in April, then that was long before any mobs came against them. This militant language that began as rhetoric was soon realized for the remainder of 1838. One wonders, was the rhetoric calculated to galvanize the Mormons, or did it come from a genuine place of tribalism? That’s a tough question because the results were the same but the motivation and intent is worth examination. The result may be the same, but the endgame was clearly different. That’s a complicated way to look at this and it takes into account three aspects of the Missouri-Mormon war, intention, result, and goals. If the goal was simply survival in the state, then warlike rhetoric was the worst thing the Mormon leadership could do as it ensured their removal. If, however, the goal was to take over the nation starting with Missouri, the intent is completely different and therefore the goal is revolutionary and far more dangerous than just survival and coexistence. This abstract consideration takes into account value judgments made by the Mormon leadership, Jo and Rigdon. Did they view the Mormons as their people that they’d go to incredible lengths to foster growth and wellbeing, or were the Mormons merely pawns in their overall goals of taking over the country? There’s no way we can know for sure what was in their minds as the Mormons waxed militant, but that question is important. What was the actual endgame for Jo and Rigdon? What was their real intention with escalating the relationship between the Mormons and the Gentile Missourians? The events of the Missouri-Mormon war could be construed to arrive at many different conclusions but what I see is a set of events which would be echoed in the Mormon settlement of Nauvoo; eventually leading to the state of Illinois arriving on the precipice of civil war. More on this line of thought in a while once we’ve discussed the war itself.
A primary aggressor in these tensions was none other than Hingepin Rigdon himself. In fact, it was Rigdon, not Governor Boggs, who first called for a “war of extermination.” In his famous 4th of July Oration, he declared,
We take God and all the holy angels to witness this day, that we warn all men in the name of Jesus Christ, to come on us no more forever. For from this hour, we will bear it no more, our rights shall no more be trampled on with impunity. The man or the set of men, who attempts it, does it at the expense of their lives. And that mob that comes on us to disturb us; it shall be between us and them a war of extermination; for we will follow them till the last drop of their blood is spilled, or else they will have to exterminate us: for we will carry the seat of war to their own houses, and their own families, and one party or the other shall be utterly destroyed.—Remember it then all MEN.
After Rigdon finished preaching, Joseph Smith got up and praised Rigdon’s speech as a “Decleration of Independance from all mobs and persecutions” which had been inflicted upon the Saints “time after time <un>til we could bear it no longer.” Remember, Boggs’s famous extermination order wasn’t issued until late October, nearly four months after Rigdon preached this sermon. Several Mormons later recognized Rigdon’s sermon as the main cause of the war between the Mormons and Missourians. It should also be noted that this famous… rather, infamous July 4th oration was printed from the Mormon press in Far West. If it was meant to be only an internal speech heard by the Mormons themselves, it would have remained as only an oral delivery. However, because it was printed and distributed among Mormons and non-Mormons, the Missourians understood the dire situation Rigdon and Jo were creating in the Mormon settlements. It was, indeed, Jo and Rigdon who fired the first oratorical shots in this war. Only after this was given and tensions continued escalating that Governor Lilburn Boggs adopted Rigdon’s language in his infamous Mormon Extermination Order that forced the Mormons out of the state at the point of a bayonet. This single datum is all you need to refute the claim that it was legal to murder Mormons in the state of Missouri until the 1970s; Jo and Rigdon themselves were responsible for the language used by the Governor to forcibly remove them.
Here’s a quote from Leland Gentry’s book, Fire and Sword: A History of Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri which illustrates my point:
Ebenezer Robinson insists that . . . it “exerted a powerful influence in arousing the people of the whole upper Missouri country.” . . . Said Brigham Young in 1844: “Elder Rigdon was the prime cause of our troubles in Missouri by his fourth of July oration.” Also in 1844, Jedediah M. Grant called Rigdon’s talk “the main auxiliary that fanned into a flame the burning wrath of the mobocratic portion of the Missourians.” This point of view seems particularly credible in light of Rigdon’s speaking of a “war of extermination” between the Saints and their enemies, the very words Governor Lilburn H. Boggs used in executive orders for the Mormons to leave the state.
Meanwhile, Smith and Rigdon were also setting up the secret organization known as the Daughters of Zion or the Danites. Originally, the purpose of the Danites was to punish Mormon dissenters like the ones who had driven Joe and Hingepin out of Kirtland. Some of the dissenters-- W. W. Phelps, John Whitmer, and Lyman E. Johnson-- had followed Joe and Rigdon west to set up a dissenter church in Missouri. Joe and Rigdon were not having this from men they previously considered confidants and co-conspirators. On June 17 Rigdon gave a sermon called the Salt Sermon, not to be confused with the July 4th oration although it commonly is, based on a verse from the biblical book of Matthew: “If the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” The July 4th oration was aimed at enemies of the church from the outside world, the Missourians. The Salt Sermon, however, was aimed squarely at dissenters from within the ranks. The dissenters were the salt in this metaphor, and the Danites were the ones doing the trodding underfoot. Here’s another quote from Leland Gentry’s book, Fire and Sword:
Some of the anti-Mormons have maintained that [Rigdon] told his listeners that the real saints should literally trample on the dissenters until their bowels gushed out. . . . How much of this represents the words of Rigdon one cannot say, . . . but this much is certain: Sidney’s ‘Salt Sermon’ was inflammatory and threatening.
And it’s not like Rigdon was way off the reservation here. His sermon echoed D&C 104:5, which said, “For I, the Lord, have decreed in my heart, that inasmuch as any man belonging to the order shall be found a transgressor, or, in other words, shall break the covenant with which ye are bound, he shall be cursed in his life and shall be trodden down by whom I will.” After Rigdon finished preaching, Joe apparently got up and endorsed what he had said. Jo had an opportunity to calm people down and cut off the escalation from that point forward but chose not to; because of that decision, over a hundred died and thousands suffered. I should note here, in our historical timeline Rigdon has taken a back seat. That’s because he was deliberately pushed to the sidelines after the Missouri-Mormon war by Jo himself. Prior to 1839, Rigdon’s power and influence over the church cannot be overstated. He was Jo’s second-in-command but their actual relationship would be better characterized as Rigdon had ideas and Jo often went along with them as the likeable charismatic who could help sway the masses in favor of Rigdon’s ideas. Rigdon became washed up during the Nauvoo era when Jo had lots of other friends who were just as revolutionary as him. Rigdon learned lessons during the Missouri-Mormon war that you can only push the system so far before it retaliates. Jo learned that you can only push the system so far before it completely breaks.
After Rigdon’s sermon, in response the Danites wrote up a resolution signed by 84 Mormon men that told the dissenters to leave town. Known as the Danite Manifesto, it said, “vengeance sleepeth not, neither does it slumber; and unless you heed us this time, and attend to our request, it will overtake you at an hour when you do not expect, and at a day when you do not look for it; and for you there shall be no escape; for there is but one decree for you, which is depart, depart, or a more fatal calamity shall befall you.” The first signature on this document was the name of Sampson Avard, whom Smith and Rigdon had made the nominal head of the Danite organization. When Danite violence later got exposed to the public, Avard became the fall guy that Smith and Rigdon blamed. This didn’t fly because he became the star witness for the prosecution in the November Court of Inquiry after defecting from the church; he became a hero among anti-Mormon Missourians. As a result of the Danite Manifesto, the dissenters were terrified, and they fled town to avoid being killed. Ep 43.
Throughout the summer of 1838, tensions continued to rise. Mormons continued settling in counties in violation of the treaty brokered among the Missouri church leadership, Ollie Cowdery, D-Day David Whitmer, John Goebbels Whitmer, and the Missourians. They’d been excommunicated and removed from the Mormon settlement by the Danite Manifesto meaning the Missourians had no reason to believe the Mormons would continue to honor any aspect of the treaty. The warlike rhetoric continued to escalate as well and the Mormons tried their best to exercise their constitutional right of democracy, which ruffled Missourian feathers even more. Eventually, the powder kegs the Mormons and Missourians were filling underneath their own homes were destined to ignite. This escalated to war on August 6, 1838, when Daviess County held its county election at Gallatin. The Missourian citizens of Daviess County feared that the Mormons would vote as a bloc and gain control of county politics, so some of them gathered at the polling place in the city of Gallatin to try to prevent the Mormons from voting. Ep 44. According to Leland Gentry,
John D. Lee stated that a brawl began shortly thereafter when a “drunken brute by the name of Richard Weldon” (or Welding) approached an old man by the name of Samuel Brown[.] . . . Weldon announced: “You are a damned liar Joseph Smith is a damned imposter,” then attacked the elderly Brown and “beat him severely.” A Latter-day Saint named Hyrum Nelson tried to separate the two but was hit on the head, shoulders, and face by “half a dozen men.” Riley Stewart, a Mormon, then picked up a piece of oak lumber and hit Weldon, reportedly breaking it on his skull. . . . Lee states that he and a few other Church members were lying on the grass near the polls when the uproar began. Lee saw John L. Butler, a stranger to him at that point, give the “Danite sign of distress.” Lee, accompanied by his friends, immediately joined the fight. . . . Several persons were seriously hurt in the melee, but none was killed. John D. Lee states that “nine men had their skulls broken, and many others were seriously injured in other ways.”
Historian Stephen LeSueur reconstructs it with some other vivid details including allusions to the Danite oath of vengeance and defending a brother in trouble, even at the cost of one’s own life.
Weldon then began striking Brown. When other Mormons attempted to restrain Weldon, five or six Missourians jumped into the fray. John L. Butler, a large and powerful Mormon, rankled at the abuse heaped upon his people. “The first thing that came to my mind was the covenants entered into by the Danties to the effect that they were to protect each other, etc.,” Butler recalled, “and I hollowed out to the top of my voice saying ‘O yes, you Danites, here is a job for us.’” When Butler gave the Danite signal of distress, about ten more Latter-day Saints ran to the defense of their brethren. Seeing this, forty or fifty Missourians stepped in to battle the Mormons.
“I had witnessed many knock-downs in my time, but none on so grand a scale,” wrote Joseph McGee, a non-Mormon observer of the fight. The participants used no guns, but struck at one another with whips, clubs, rocks, and knives. The Mormons rallied behind Butler, who wielded a large wooden club he found in a nearby pile of wood. “When I called out for the Danites a power rested upon me such as one as I never felt before,” Butler later wrote. “... I never struck a man the second time, and while knocking them down, I really felt that they would soon embrace the gospel.”
Everybody retreated from the battle before any life-threatening injuries. Missourians and Mormons alike had bloodied and fractured skulls, some broken bones, and a Mormon even fled with a knife sticking out of his back between his shoulder blades. The effects of this brawl extended far beyond the physical harm incurred by the participants as this was the spark that ignited the existing tensions into actual war.
A troubling aspect of the human condition now bears brief mention here. Where does this end? Jo, Rigdon, and the Mormon leadership had been cultivating the Mormons for years with rhetoric about enemies of the kingdom of god, the adversary trying to eradicate the gospel and bring about another great apostasy, the end of days is nigh at hand, persecution of god’s righteous people; for the Mormons, they’d been programmed for years to understand that a war was coming. This election-day fight was exactly the final sign they were looking for. For them, Jesus was returning any minute and they needed to sell their clothes for a sword and consecrate their property to the church as the evil of the world would soon be destroyed and the chosen would be exalted to reign at the right hand of the savior in Zion. This apocalyptic narrative pervades the church to this day, fasten your seatbelt, hang on through the bumps, and do what’s right. Your reward will be eternal. Enough of this programming and rhetoric and violence is the inevitable result. Vilification of one’s enemies, elitist complex of one’s own beliefs, and a warped view of the depravity of humanity lost to the adversary can only result in this unmitigated horror from misplaced superiority and holy wars. In my opinion, this kind of speech is far more dangerous than much of what we understand free speech laws to outlaw today. You tell a group of people to kill a specific person, like the leader of the wealthiest religion in America, that’s inciting violence and you’re liable. However, if you tell a group of people over generations that their enemy is at the gates trying to lead you astray or kill you; that the world is ending and your allegiance to the cause will be tested; that you must resist all appearance of evil and that you’ll agree to have yourself murdered if you reveal the secrets they tell you, and then people are murdered as a result of that rhetoric, it’s merely religious liberty being exercised. It’s a dangerous concept; it happens every day and there is no legal remedy for it that doesn’t involve “muh religious freedom” as a seemingly bulletproof defense. Rigdon and Jo had riled up the Mormons for years and people died because of it. The same thing happened in Utah under Bloody Brigham; he programmed them for over a decade that the end of the world was coming and the enemies were at the gates and when an unassuming caravan of immigrants passed through Utah on their way to California they were all murdered in cold blood. This escalation kills people. It could have been avoided, but instead of relaxing the tensions, it benefitted Jo and Rigdon to escalate and force more energy into the feedback loop and people died because of it. The blood of those people was on the hands of the prophet but he never suffered for the pain, anguish, and human cost for which he was responsible. HE LANGUISHED IN PRISON FOR 5 MONTHS!!! Well he should have been there the rest of his life or hung for committing treason and murder. I’ll have more to say on that at the end because it really is the fundamental moral question of today’s show.
This happens every day in fundamentalist Mormon groups. We’re reading Cleon Skousen’s The Naked Communist on GBP.
Back to the story.
Once the Gallatin election day brawl occurred, the Mormons took the offensive in the form of ceremonious preventative measures that resulted in intimidation. They gathered their forces and went to the homes of some of the prominent anti-Mormon leaders and elected officials, threatening them and their families and forcing them to sign statements that they would support the Mormons in the coming conflict. Let me just highlight how terrifying this would be if we saw it today. The Mormons gathered an armed militia and surrounded the homes of their enemies and forced them to sign documents under duress. Those enemies were elected government officials. Imagine BLM or an NRA group surrounding the home of their senator with guns in hand and forcing them to sign a manifesto that gave deference to that group over all other political and religious groups. Imagine a Muslim group doing that! How fast would the Department of Homeland Security show up with tear gas, tanks, and unmarked vans to make all of those people disappear? Notably as well, the Mormon cities didn’t allow any journalists or outsiders in the city limits for fear of giving their anti-Mormon neighbors the upper hand. Knowing the history of the Mormons in Missouri, it stuns me that any Mormon today opposes the protests we see happening in every major U.S. city for the past 2.5 months. Just two years ago Jo was secretly calling for the assassination of a guy he owed money to; he came a long way in that short time.
To make matters worse, neighboring Ray County sent a team of investigators, who urged the Saints to follow the law. The Saints told the investigators they were done with the law. A posse from Richmond tried to arrest Joseph Smith and Lyman Wight, but the Mormons mobilized their own posse to protect their leaders. Governor Boggs ordered the state militia to the area to keep the peace. This panicked Joe and Rigdon, who turned themselves in and were acquitted at a mock trial in September.
For a few days it seemed like the conflict might have been peacefully resolved, but then some of the Missourians’ houses were burned down. The Missourians said the Mormons did it, while the Mormons claimed it was a false flag operation in which the Missourians had burned their own houses down. It’s hard to determine facts in this conflict because neither are beyond possible and both are believable, although it’s hard to imagine a scenario where people burn down their own homes to… what... own the Morms? In response, Ray County sent a shipment of guns and ammo to the Missourians in Daviess County, and the Mormons intercepted it and armed their own militia with the guns. Yeah, the Mormons raided a state militia gun-supply caravan which also included a cannon. The state militia ordered both sides to stand down, but it was too late to calm the boiling tensions between the groups. Ep 45.
In late September, an agreement was briefly made between the Missourians and Mormons living in Daviess county. On September 26th, they had a meeting to appraise the value of the non-Mormons land and come to an agreement that the Mormons would buy out all the non-Mormon citizens living in Daviess county, essentially concentrating their numbers and opening up a bunch of property for the endless stream of refugees arriving from Ohio and Canada. Among them were Sarah and Marie Lawrence along with William and Jane Law. This agreement was perceived as a godsend by the Mormons as it would create a temporary holdout in the adjacent county to Caldwell. Most non-Mormons had run from Daviess county already, but the few remaining hold-outs weren’t so jovial about the agreement. And, of course, because so many people were selling property at the same time, it drove prices down to a fraction of what they should have been worth, so the non-Mormons drew the short straw in a conflict not concerning them. Not only were the Missourians selling their property at 1/4th the price it should be worth, Jo and Rigdon were buying it up on credit with church funds and selling it to Mormon refugees that were moving in at an inflated cost above what they’d purchased it for. Because that makes them super-duper good guys. Creating a refugee crisis and making money from the people who suffer from it. Jo and Rigdon were pretty much the proto Blackwater. Why did Jo wait until 1844 to run for president?!
However, this also created a downwind problem because it set a precedent. The Mormons agreed to buy the non-Mormons out of their property, thus making Daviess county an exclusive Mormon stronghold. Flip that equation around and now the Mormons are essentially obligated to agree to be bought out of their lands in counties where they DON’T hold the majority population. Separate but equal treatment for separate but equal people in different counties. That’s exactly what happened in DeWitt, Carroll county. By the end of September there were about 200 Mormons living in Dewitt who’d constructed a jerry-rigged town of wagons and tents with a few small permanent buildings. The Missourians who’d been living in Dewitt, long before the Mormons began pouring in, became increasingly frustrated and hateful of the Mormons there, especially given all the surrounding circumstances contributing to Missouri teetering on the edge of civil war. By September 20th, the Missourians were performing daily military drills in full view of the Mormons to posture their prowess. October 1st marked the first day of the actual siege of Dewitt. Within a few days, the Missourians gathered 500 armed men to siege the town. Then, a huge mistake happened. Jo and Rigdon with a massive battery of reinforcements showed up in DeWitt to try and administrate and dispel the tensions. This only invigorated the excitement of the anti-Mormons to chase them out of DeWitt to a critical tipping point.
By 10 October 1838, just two weeks after Victoria Woodhull, the first woman presidential candidate and civil rights activist, was born, the standing militias outside DeWitt posed an unstoppable force against the Mormon’s solidarity to defend DeWitt or die as an immovable object. George Hinkle, the Mormon defense commander in DeWitt realized the situation couldn’t be resolved favorably for the Mormons without massive bloodshed. A decision was made among Rigdon, Jo, and Hinkle that the surrender of DeWitt was the only possible option or the siege would starve the town until the anti-Mormon militias were merely waging battle upon walking corpses. The Mormons forfeited their weapons and property, and evacuated DeWitt. Understandably, this caused outcry among the Mormons who viewed this all as religious persecution because that’s what Rigdon and Jo were telling them, without recognizing they were merely being forced to uphold the precedent they’d set when buying the Missourians out of Davies county.
On returning to Far West at the head of all these refugees, Joe’s rhetoric in his sermons waxed militant and dire. He fell into simplistic language and vilification of the enemies of the Mormons with a buzzword calculated to shut down the complexity of the issue. The Mobocrats were the antifa of the day for Jo. According to George Walter, Joe declared that “it was a time of war, and . . . the militia was nothing but a mob, <that> the state of Missouri was a mob. & that the governor himself was a mob character… it <is> time to lay religion aside and take up <our> guns.” Thomas B. Marsh reported Joe saying, “he would yet tread down his enemies, and walk over their dead bodies; and if he was not let alone, he would be a second Mohammed to this generation, and that it would be one gore of blood from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean; that like Mohammed, whose motto in treating for peace was, 'the Alcoran or the Sword,' so should it be eventually with us, ‘Joseph Smith or the Sword.’”
The Danite meetings started to get really scary, too. Here’s a quote from the Reed Peck manuscript:
“The blood of my best friend must flow by my own hands if I would be a faithful Danite should the prophet command it,’ said A[lexander] McRae in my hearing. “If Joseph should tell me to kill Vanburen in his presidential chain I would immediately start and do my [work] to assassinate him[,] let the consequences be what they would[”]
Danite commander Sampson Avard organized the Danites into companies and gave them this order:
Know ye not brethren that it soon will be your privilege to take your respective companies and go out on a Scout on the borders of the settlements, and take to yourselves spoils of the ungodly Gentiles, for it is written [in the Doctrine and Covenants] “The riches of the Gentiles shall be consecrated to my people, the House of Israel;” thus waste away the Gentiles by robbing and plundering them of their property and in this way we will build up the Kingdom of God and roll forth the little stone that Daniel saw cut out of the Mountain without hands, until it shall fill the whole earth. For this is the very way that God designs to build up His Kingdom in the last days.”
That’s the scriptural justification from Jo’s own revelation which Jo and Avard used to justify what they would do next; to pillage and burn the homes and businesses of non-Mormons in Daviess county. Joe heard rumors that the mob had burned some Mormons’ houses in Daviess County, so he marched 100-150 armed men from Far West in Caldwell County to Adam-ondi-Ahman in Daviess County. About the time they arrived, there was a big snow storm. According to Joe’s history, he found the city full of refugees, including “Women and children, some in the most delicate condition. . . . My feelings were such as I cannot describe when I saw them flock into the village, almost entirely destitute of clothes, and only escaping with their lives.”
Jo put them there. They were in this situation because of him but I’d be willing to bet that that thought never crossed his mind. He was a solutions guy, not an abstract self-reflective guy! Somehow Joe had to feed and clothe all these people. His solution was to dispatch Apostle David Patten, known as Captain Fearnaught, because Mormons are so good with nicknames. Fearnaught with a bunch of troops rode to Gallatin, and the wild ram of the mountains, Lyman Wight, took off with a bunch of troops to Millport. The mission of these ragtag Mormon militiamen? Loot the non-Mormon towns. The citizens of Gallatin fled when Patten’s troops arrived, and Wight’s troops apparently found Millport already abandoned by the time they got there. They chased out the few remaining citizens, and then carried off all the possessions they could carry and burned Gallatin and Millport to the ground. The troops returned to Adam-ondi-Ahman with hogs, cattle, and piles of stolen furniture. Ep 46.
Looting solved the Mormons’ starvation problem in the short-term, but it created a different problem. General David R. Atchison of the Missouri militia had been mostly on the Mormons’ side up to this point, but on October 22 he sent a letter to Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs reporting that the Mormons had apparently lost their minds. This letter points out the failings when an insufficient information network transmits orders and military commands with little ability to immediately verify the veracity of such information.
Almost every hour I receive information of outrage and violence; of burning, and plundering in the county of Daviess; it seems that the Mormons have become desperate and act like mad-men, they have burned a store in Gallatin, they have burnt Millport, they have[,] it is said[,] plundered several houses and have taken away the arms from Diverse Citizens of that county. A cannon that was employed in the siege of De Witt in Carroll County, and taken for a like purpose to Daviess County, has fallen into the hands of the Mormons, it is also reported that the anti[-]Mormons have[,] when opportunity offered[,] disarmed the Mormons, and burnt several of their houses.
Atchison was one of the few who had his head on straight in the conflict and he declined to send his troops into Daviess County, because he felt it would just escalate the situation, and he didn’t think the optics would look great if the state militia were to drive the Mormons from the state. He and Alexander Doniphan were working constantly of behalf of the Mormons to deescalate when the Mormons themselves were doing nothing to help their own situation. Unfortunately for everybody, Governor Lilburn Boggs was done. Up till now, Governor Boggs had just been trying to keep the peace. But now he decided that it was finally time to clear out the rebel Mormon settlements. He removed General Atchison from command and ordered the other generals to raise hundreds more soldiers to overwhelm the Mormons.
A brief point worth mentioning; Governor Lilburn Boggs didn’t come to handle matters personally. In spite of multiple petitions from the Mormons and his own generals, Boggs remained in Richmond throughout this whole conflict and merely issued decrees based on the limited information he was receiving from his own men. This was Boggs’s blunder throughout the affair; he received information, some of it merely rumors, and acted on that information, opening the door for any of his underlings who were trying to make a name for themselves to escalate the conflict and take matters into their own hands.
On October 24, a unit under command of Captain Samuel Bogart captured a couple of Mormon spies, as the Mormons had done with Missouri militiamen. Believing that Bogart might execute the prisoners, Apostle David Patten led a group of Mormons in a raid to Crooked River where the militia was encamped to try to rescue them. Patten’s men set up an ambush and aggressively attacked Captain Bogart’s camp at 3 AM and routed them. These were the first actual shots fired in the conflict. The Mormons sustained losses. Three Mormons, including Apostle David W. Patten, Captain Fearnaught himself, were killed. At least one of the Missouri militiamen were also killed, many were wounded in the melee once all the firearms were discharged. This is known as the Battle of Crooked River.
This was an altogether unexpected attack for Bogart’s men. They scattered in all directions in the darkness, carrying with them stories of a Mormon massacre to any nearby village. While the actual numbers were minimal, the rumors claimed only a few of Bogart’s men survived. All these rumors found their way back to Governor Boggs who now considered the Mormons in open defiance and waging civil war on the citizens of his state.
To add complexity, Boggs was also receiving intel about the Mormon depredations across Davies and Carrol counties. At the same time, Thomas B. Marsh and Doctor Sampson Avard, two Danites and confidants of the inner circle of Mormon leadership, defected and filed affidavits about the existence of the Danites and the Mormon looting and burning throughout the state. Avard also retained a copy of the Danite Manifesto, the death threat against dissenters.
All these factors became the final straw for Boggs. On October 27, he put an anti-Mormon general named John B. Clark commander of the state militia, and he issued his famous Executive Order No. 44, also known as the “Mormon Extermination Order.” It says in part,
[This morning] I have received . . . information of the most appalling character, which entirely changes the face of things, and places the Mormons in the attitude of an open and avowed defiance of the laws, and of having made war upon the people of this state. Your orders are, therefore, to hasten your operation with all possible speed. The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace--their outrages are beyond all description. Ep 47
Three days after this order was issued, some Missouri militia troops committed the gruesome massacre at Haun’s Mill. Ep 48. Just a few days after that, with Far West surrounded by Missouri militia, Joseph Smith surrendered the town, and the Missourians took many of the Mormon leaders, including Joe and Sidney Rigdon, into custody to be tried for high treason against the state. The rest of the Saints were forced to flee from Missouri to Illinois, a third mass-exodus which occurred throughout the winter and into spring of 1838-39.
In November 1838, Missouri held a 17-day court of inquiry to collect evidence on the treason charges against Joe and the other Mormon leaders. This trial was exclusively for the purpose of indictment, not an actual jury trial on the facts. The judge only held this to determine if there was enough available evidence to move forward with a prosecution and jury trial. However, because no defense witnesses were called due to the function of the court of inquiry, it was claimed from that time forward in the Mormon persecution narrative that Missouri never let the Mormons call their own witnesses. They weren’t able to call witnesses because it wasn’t an actual jury trial, but that fact didn’t stop Jo from using the experience as a rally cry for the Mormons for the remainder of his life. The trial opened up with its star witness, Sampson Avard, who turned states’ evidence to avoid prosecution himself. Avard’s decision to flip on Joe may have been motivated by a belief that the Mormons’ surrender meant Joe was a false prophet. Among other things, Avard testified that “We were advised all the time to fight valiantly, and that the angels of the Lord would appear in our defense and fight our battles.” Also testifying against Joe were Apostles Thomas B. Marsh and Orson Hyde. Suffice to say, the testimony was damning, and Joe would have been easily convicted if he hadn’t bribed his way out of Liberty Jail and fled to Illinois. Missouri had him dead to rights and that’s why he never step foot back in the state from that time until his death. It’s also why so many different sheriffs and constables tried to extradite him to Missouri to answer for the charges. Jo was a slippery guy. Ep 50, 51.
Before we get into the Illinois era, I want to spend a bit of time on the trajectory of this conflict as it’ll help inform our discussion of Nauvoo. What was the intention and endgame plan for Jo and Rigdon? They were co-conspirators in waging open warfare against the state of Missouri and the Governor of the State had to handle the matters personally to keep his state from devolving into a years’ long conflict. There were clearly a lot of factors at play which caused this militaristic bend in the church. Starving refugees migrating to Missouri after planting season had already passed puts a lot of pressure on the leadership to keep those people fed during the coming winter. Stealing provisions and burning towns to the ground in their wake, the Mormons planned to loot their way through the coming winter but that obviously came at a cost. A divine revelation commanded that theft to be god’s will and the Mormons executed that will at the point of a gun and bayonet. The question really is, were Jo and Rigdon reacting to events around them, or was there a calculated plan to bring the state to the edge of war for other purposes? The Mormons had a long and troubled past with Missouri for half a decade before Jo and Rigdon got out there and formed the Danites and started preaching fire and brimstone, but was it all calculated to galvanize the Mormons against a common enemy and solidify that cult personality? Any group needs a common enemy to remain cohesive and Missouri mobocrats became that common enemy. Intent matters because it’s the difference between premeditated murder and manslaughter.
We understand the result, regardless of the intent, but where the intent comes back into focus is when we consider what the endgame was. Mormonism, from its inception, was a revolutionary sect. It sought to overthrow the powers that be and instate a religious empire to rule the world, preempting the second coming of Jesus and laying the governmental lattice upon which Jesus would build his kingdom of god on earth. These ideas are very much at the center of the church today, even though the language is cryptic and stated in less-defined and more ethereal ways. The intent of today’s prophets is just as at questions as the intent of Rigdon and Jo in early 1838. Were they preaching this apocalyptic and warlike rhetoric with the intent of preserving the wellbeing of their people, or were the Mormons merely pawns in a much larger game of world revolution? One is focused on the good of the people, the other is focused on aggrandizement of the leadership and the motivation matters. Jesus said love thy neighbor, not love thy big ass buildings and bank account. Were these Missouri Mormons viewed as people by the leadership, or soldiers? Are Mormons today viewed as people by the leadership, or walking checkbooks? Intent matters.
Let’s keep this question of intent in our minds as we navigate the final and most revolutionary era of Mormonism, Nauvoo. Ep 53, 54, 55, 56.
Once Jo bust out of jail and got settled in Illinois, he petitioned Congress for over a million dollars of reparations for the persecution that the Mormons had suffered in Missouri. He asked US President Martin Van Buren for help in getting this through Congress, but Van Buren told him, “Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.” Ep 58, 61.
Understandably, this infuriated the prophet. He was banking on that bailout money to pay for all the land contracts he’d signed to resettle the Mormons. Being denied the government teat, he’d be left to his own devices to build and expand the fledgling Mormon empire on the Mississippi. The Quincy Whig newspaper reported Jo’s reaction to President Van Buren’s denial: “He is not as fit[,] said he, as my dog, for the chair of state; for my dog will make an effort to protect his abused and insulted master, while the present chief magistrate will not so much as lift a finger to relieve an oppressed and persecuted community of freemen, whose glory it has been that they were citizens of the United States.” This rage certainly contributed to his later decision to run for president himself, like when another president roasted a TV personality in good fun who then decided to run for POTUS against everything the previous president stood for just to prove to all the libs what a good president looks like. Ep 71.
At this point in our timeline we need to introduce Thomas Coke Sharp. Ep 77. A Methodist minister’s son from Pennsylvania, Sharp graduated law school but didn’t make a very good lawyer because he was partially deaf. So instead he turned to the publishing business and started a newspaper called The Warsaw Signal, based in Warsaw, Illinois not far from Nauvoo. According to its masthead, the paper was “Devoted to politics, agriculture, literature, commerce, and general intelligence.”
This was the single closest paper to the new Mormon HQ of Nauvoo that wasn’t published by the Mormons themselves. If somebody in the nation wanted to know what those deluded religious fanatics were up to lately, they could go to the Times and Seasons, but that was a Mormon propaganda rag. They could use another large newspaper outlet, but most of those just reprinted articles from this one little source out of Hancock County written by Thomas Sharp. Eventually Sharp drew the ire of Jo’s younger brother, Crazy Willey, in his newspaper, the Wasp, when it would respond to Thomas Sharp’s articles in it’s column titled “The Stinger” wherein it would call Sharp, ThomASS, with the ASS capitalized.
On April 7, 1841, Sharp reported on the dedication of a new temple site in Nauvoo, Illinois the previous day. According to Sharp, “The number assembled is variously estimated; we should think however about 7000 or 8000, some say as high as 12,000. The Nauvoo Legion consisting of 650 men, was in attendance, and, considering the short time they have had to prepare, made a very respectable appearance. . . . Gen. [John C.] Bennett commanded the legion, under the direction of the Prophet, and acquitted himself in a truly officer-like manner.”
This article gained national media attention. Just imagine if you’d heard about the Mormons committing their militant acts of treason, raiding and burning non-Mormon settlements and military supply trains, which got them kicked out of Missouri and you read in a newspaper one day that they cost the state of Missouri $150,000, adjusted for inflation that’s just a hair under $4mn, then you see an article saying they have another army and just laid the cornerstone for their temple in Illinois, just as they had done in Missouri 2 years prior. What goes through your mind? Here’s how a Selma, Alabama newspaper interpreted this: “They [the Mormons] do not intend to be driven out of Illinois, as they were from Missouri.” Which was exactly right. Joe was building a fortress of civil and military power around himself in Nauvoo, and it took years for his enemies to crack it, though eventually they managed to, but doing so required murdering the guys responsible for the criminal behavior. Ep 66.
Joe’s great accomplice in building up this edifice of power was John C. Wreck-it Bennett, a fellow narcissist who had political and military experience that Joe lacked. Bennett converted in 1840 and helped Joe write the Nauvoo City charter soon after he arrived in the city. Joe made Bennett the mayor of Nauvoo and his second-in-command of the Nauvoo Legion. For a couple years, they were absolute best buds. Bennett even owned and operated a Nauvoo brothel with Joe’s tacit approval in addition to running the city’s abortion clinic to deal with temporal consequences of celestial marriage. Ep 67, 141, Bennett Meltdown 120-134.
But then Bennett got caught seducing women too openly and telling them that Joe had taught him that adultery wasn’t sinful. Joe went into damage control mode. He knew he needed to distance himself from Bennett and make an example of him. On May 14, 1842, Bennett’s last act as mayor was to sign an order for the destruction of all brothels in Nauvoo. Remember, Bennett owned one of Nauvoo’s brothels, so this order was specifically directed at his personal sex trafficking business. Ep 119. I would love to have been a fly on the wall in that city council meeting to figure out exactly what went down. 5 days later, Bennett resigned from the office of Mayor and membership in the church.
So it seems like Bennett initially participated in the damage control and cover-up to protect Joe’s reputation from the fallout from Bennett’s actions. In private, Joe talked about Bennett like they were still good friends and had parted on really good terms. But Bennett felt like Joe had thrown him under the bus and was growing too powerful, and within a month their relationship took a hard turn for the worse. Bennett went public with the sordid details of Joe’s “spiritual wife doctrine” in a series of letters published in the Sangamo Journal, and Joe had the Danites follow him to Carthage and threaten to murder him. Eventually all his letters were compiled with extensive other data and sold as a book titled History of the Saints. Listeners on the patreon-exclusive feed can listen to the entire book with my commentary.
Jo’s younger brother, Crazy Willey Smith, had started his own newspaper outlet called The Wasp, which took on anybody writing articles in opposition to the Mormons, and Thomas Coke Sharp of the Warsaw Signal was a frequent target of Crazy Willey’s Wasp propaganda. On June 25, 1842, the Wasp published this threat against Bennett: “Unless he [Bennett] is determined to bring SUDDEN DESTRUCTION upon himself FROM THE HAND OF THE ALMIGHTY, he will be silent.” Four days later, a group of Danites sneaked up on Bennett’s house in the night to try to kill him. But Bennett had been forewarned and armed himself to the teeth, and he scared the assassins off. Obviously working by direction of the prophet, assassins like this would have a few other notable failed attempts on the life of William Marks, the Laws, and other public defectors from the faith.
Joe built up the Nauvoo Legion to give Mormon military power a legal legitimacy that the Danites had lacked in Missouri. However, he also kept a few Danite henchmen around to conduct operations off the books. One of these was a childhood friend of Joseph. This man was short, stout, and liked his whiskey. His eyes were portals into black oblivion, and his receding hairline only revealed more of the demonic features comprising his face as the years wore on. He may have been 8 years Joseph’s junior, but he and Jo were rough and tumble scrappy young lads causing trouble in Palmyra since their friendship was forged. If you messed with Jo, you’d have to keep an eye on your back for his best friend and closest personal bodyguard, Orrin Pistol Packin’ Porter Rockwell. Ep 142.
Porter Rockwell had been the leader of the “Destroying Angel” company of the Danites throughout the 1838 Missouri-Mormon conflict. He’d participated in looting and burning the non-Mormon towns around the Mormon settlement and he never left Jo’s side as the standoff continued to heat up between the Missouri militia and the Mormon mob, ending in Jo’s arrest.
How does a pious prophet of the Lord deal with his sharpest critics? Thomas Sharp, editor of the Warsaw Signal, was met with public derision by the Mormon machine. Jo and his propaganda outlets constantly criticized Sharp for articles he wrote in the Signal. But there were a few people, like Grandison Newell and John C. Bennett, who posed enough of a threat for Joe to try to assassinate them. Another of those was ex-Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs, public enemy #1 in the eyes of the Mormons. The man who’d been pinned for the treatment of the Mormons during the Missouri-Mormon war, instead of the blame resting with Jo and Rigdon where it rightfully belonged. The vengeful arm of the lord would be swift and deadly.
Orrin Pistol Packin Porter Rockwell’s wife, Luana Rockwell, was 8 months pregnant with their fourth child. Port and Luana wanted to have the baby with Luana’s parents, then living in Independence, Missouri and in late February, Port packed up a wagon with a few provisions, sent the other 3 kids to live with some family friends for a few weeks, and they departed Nauvoo. On the evening of May 6th, 1842, Pistol Packin Porter tucked his wife away in bed as she nursed the new baby.
Port loved horses and carriages; he was an expert rider. He’d just got a new job in Independence taking care of a valuable stallion in order to financially support his family for the brief time they would be staying in Missouri until the baby was old enough to travel back to Nauvoo. Port saddled up and rode the couple miles under the cover of nightfall to the home of former Governor Lilburn Boggs. He loaded the pistol with a hot load, lots of extra powder and buckshot to make sure when Boggs was hit there would be no chance of his survival.
The Destroying Angel of Mormonism, the great Son of Thunder, crouched outside the office of Boggs’ home, peering in the window, eyeing his prey. Port saw the back of Boggs’ head lined up in the sight beads of his pistol loaded with buckshot. The hammer crashed into the cap, igniting the heavy load in the pistol’s chamber. The buckshot hit true to its target. Two small lead balls entered Boggs’ head, one implanting in his skull, the other breaking his jaw, and two more balls entered his throat, one entering his esophagus which he swallowed as he gasped in surprise at the gunshot and crashing window noises. A spell of incredible pain and trauma suddenly overtook his body, rendering him immediately unconscious. The shot was so powerful that the gun kicked out of Port’s hand and into a puddle beneath the broken window. He fled the scene without picking it up.
When the sheriff later discovered the gun, he showed it to a storekeeper named Uhlinger who recognized the weapon as one stolen from his shop. Uhlinger later said, “I thought the niggers had taken it, but that hired man of Ward’s—the one who used to work with the stallion—he came in to look at it just before it turned up missing!” That hired man of Ward’s was Pistol Packin Porter who’d hired on to take care of the valuable horse. The investigators had their first lead to who the assassin might be.
A mere 2 weeks later Pistol Packin Porter arrived back in Nauvoo off a Mississippi steamer having permanently left his wife with their new child back in Missouri. He was never seen by any of the locals in Missouri after the assassination attempt and he made the 300-mile journey back to Nauvoo in less than 2 weeks, arriving in Nauvoo 2 days before news of the assassination reached Nauvoo. Porter actually travelled from Missouri to Nauvoo faster than the news did, which was quite a feat. The next day, Joe announced Boggs’s death on the stand-- like Port, he wrongly assumed the assassination had been successful. Ep 109.
It wasn’t long before rumors started to fly about who was responsible. Thomas Coke Sharp heard from John C. Bennett, who had recently defected from the Church, that “[O.P. Rockwell] started suddenly from Nauvoo about two weeks before Boggs’s assassination; that he(Bennett) asked Joe where Rock[well] had gone, and that Joe replied that he had gone to Missouri to fulfil prophecies! He saysfurther that Rock[well] returned to Nauvoo on the very day that the news of Governor Bogg’s assassination arrived. Since that, the Prophet has presented said Rock[well] with a carriage and horse, or horses, and he had suddenly become very flush of money, and lives in style.”
The primary enemy of the Mormons gets shot, nearly dies from it as the shot should have been fatal, then the primary suspect is rolling around in a new carriage with plenty of whiskey money. If you did good for the prophet, he had your back. If you carried out his vengeful prophecies, you’d be handsomely rewarded.
Underscoring just how powerful and malevolent the Mormon kingdom on the Mississippi had become, a reprint of Sharp’s article in the Brooklyn Evening Star included this addendum:
“The Kaskaskian Republican contains a long account of a murder committed on the 2d of June, upon John Stephenson—a Mormon—and supposed to have been committed by Mormons who had called upon him for contributions to build the temple at Nauvoo, and been refused.” Jo’s Danites in full force to carry out his will by any means necessary.
Then there’s another addendum which discusses the hurdles to making him answer for the crimes as the Nauvoo Legion had been armed by state-provided weapons… and lots of them:
We have late information from Nauvoo. Joe Smith anticipates a requisition upon Gov. Carlin from Gov, Reynolds of Missouri, for his person; and is determined not to be given up. He has all the state arms,--some twenty or thirty cannon[s]—a large number of muskets, yagers, pistols and cutlasses—all belonging to the state, which he is prepared to use against the state authorities if they shall attempt to deliver him to Gov. Reynolds. Joe reiterates that he will not be given up—and the Mormons say that the Prophet shall not be taken while any of them are left to defend him.”
Crazy Willey Smith’s newspaper The Wasp was quite gleeful to see Boggs suffer at the end of an unknown assassin’s gunbarrel with articles like this, tacitly implicating Jo in the assassination plot. Willey quoted the Quincy Whig saying that “Smith too, the Mormon Prophet, as we understand, prophesied a year or so ago, his [Boggs’] death by violent means. Hence, there is plenty of foundation for rumor.” Jo did give that prophecy, also that Governor Carlin of Illinois would find himself in a ditch, which never did happen, but The Wasp denied he ever stated such things about either Governor. Here’s Joe’s response to the Quincy Whig article in The Wasp:
In your paper,… you have done me manifest injustice in ascribing to me a prediction of the demise of Lilburn W. Boggs,… by violent hands. Boggs was a candidate for the State Senate, and I presume fell by the hand of a political opponent, with “his hands and face yet dripping with the blood of murder;” but he died not through my instrumentality. My hands are clean and my heart pure, from the blood of all men. I am tired of the misrepresentations, calumny and detraction, heaped upon me by wicked men; and desire and claim, only those principles guaranteed to all men by the constitution and laws of the United States, and of Illinois.
Yes, Boggs was a public figure. He did have political enemies, but he wasn’t a controversial figure in any other regard beyond the Mormon issue; in fact he was pretty popular in Missouri. A letter to the editor of the Hawk Eye out of Missouri stated “Boggs, although so strongly accused by these renegades (Mormons), was one of the most inoffensive men I ever knew. I knew him well and for years, and I did not know with the exception of the Mormons, that he had a personal enemy on earth.” The fact of the matter is that The Wasp’s response was pure propaganda. By my understanding of the evidence, this was all Port and Jo’s work, no question about it. Historians today disagree, but largely based on belief of Jo’s statements against the overwhelming evidence pointing to him and Port as the responsible parties.
John C. Bennett composed a series of sensational letters for publication in the Sangamo Journal exposing Joseph Smith and telling what he knew of the Boggs affair. Bennett said Rockwell had been sent to kill Boggs on Joseph’s orders. “In the spring of the year Smith offered a reward of five hundred dollars to any man who would secretly assassinate Governor Boggs.” And after the attempt was made, Bennett related, “Smith said to me, speaking of Governor Boggs, ‘The Destroying Angel has done the work, as I predicted, but Rockwell was not the man who shot; the Angel did it.’” Port later showed up at Bennett’s house to threaten him for making these allegations. What Port took issue with wasn’t the claim that he had shot Boggs. It was the part about getting paid for it that he didn’t like. Porter said that if Bennett made such a claim again, he’d be back. That carried all the implications Bennett needed to be on high-alert that the Danites were working to make him disappear.
Port and Joe briefly got arrested for the Boggs assassination in 1842, but they escaped when the arresting officers left them temporarily in custody of a Mormon sheriff, and he, of course, let them go. When the Adams County officers returned to extradite the prisoners to Missouri for the crimes, Joe and Port were nowhere to be found. The sheriff tried tailing Emma to Joe’s hiding place, but Emma was a smart cookie who was really good at cleaning up her husband’s messes, and she gave the cops the slip.
Port later got arrested again in March 1843 when bounty hunters caught up with him in Philadelphia as he was headed back to Nauvoo to come out of hiding. They took two pistols and a bowie knife off him when they arrested him; then carried him back to St. Louis, where he was arraigned and then transported to jail in Jefferson City. He was confined to the Independence jail for quite a while as the state decided exactly what to do with him.
The fact of the matter is, the state wanted to charge him with assault with intent to kill, but they simply didn’t have evidence to prove it was Pistol Packin’ Port who pulled the trigger on Boggs. They also wanted to get him on the old charges with the Mormon depredations back in 1838 but they had even less evidence for that. They kept him locked up for a couple months, and then he tried to escape. He sawed through his chains, jumped his jailer, and made a run for it, but he was out of shape from his long confinement and couldn’t keep running. The sheriff recaptured him, and an angry mob gathered around wanting to lynch him. The sheriff clapped him in heavier chains and put him in solitary confinement for nearly a month with his wrists chained to his ankles. Finally, in late May, Port was brought to court. A grand jury failed to indict him on the assassination charge, but indicted him for trying to escape. He spent most of the rest of 1843 in chains before his eventual release and triumphant return near Christmas 1843 when Jo mistook Port for a Missourian causing trouble in his downstairs bar. Eps 142, 164.
While all this was going on in Missouri, back in Nauvoo Joe made the acquaintance of one Joseph H. Jackson. Jackson claims he was infiltrating the Mormons in order to expose Joe, but he represented himself to Joe as a desperado and potential criminal accomplice. He mentioned to Joe that he thought he could help Porter Rockwell escape. “Well,” said Joe, “if you will release Porter, and kill old Boggs, I will give you three thousand dollars.” According to Jackson,
Joe and I took a ride of some five miles on the prairie. All the way out and back, he pressed me to kill Boggs; and said that he would pay me well for it. Finally, I gave him a strong hint that I was in for the business -- knowing as I did, that if I hesitated he would suspect me of treachery, and thus, all my plans in relation to him would be frustrated. I therefore carried on my game by showing a bold front. All the while, he was urging the killing of Boggs, he insisted that it was the will of God, and in God's name he offered me a reward for his blood. This was all done with an air of sanctimonious gravity, and with a look of innocence, that would make one almost believe that the Prophet really thought, that he was acting under the command of Heaven. I was utterly astonished to see this man concoct the most hellish plans for murder and revenge, and yet, with pertinacity insist that it was right in the sight of God.
Jackson did go to Missouri at Joe’s behest, but he couldn’t get in to see Rockwell, and Boggs was out of town, so he couldn’t have carried out Joe’s plan even if he wanted to. His real plan, or so he claimed, had been to get in to see Rockwell and try to elicit a confession. Ep 144.
In June 1843, Joe was arrested again while visiting Emma’s sister in Dixon, Illinois. However, Joe’s bodyguard Stephen Markham was present when Missouri sheriff Joseph Reynolds and Illinois sheriff Harmon T. Wilson took Joe into custody. Markham alerted the Mormon troops back at Nauvoo, a mix of Danites and Nauvoo Legionnaires, who intercepted the sheriffs and liberated Joe by force. Eps 144-7. Joe had escaped accountability once again, but this latest arrest raised a question: how had the sheriffs known that he would be in Dixon?
As Joe headed into the last two years of his life, he faced a rising tide of dissent from within the Mormon community. With a growing number of Church leaders opposed to polygamy, Joe grew increasingly paranoid that someone might sell him out. In particular Joe focused on Hingepin Sidney Rigdon, who had been on the outs with Joe ever since his daughter Nancy rejected a polygamous marriage proposal from Joe in early 1842. Ep 117.
On August 13, 1842, Joe announced from the stand that “There is a certain man in this city who has made a covenant to betray and give me up and that too before the Gove[rnor] Carlin commenced his persecution. This testimony I have from gentlemen from a broad and I do not wish to give their names.” If Joe really did receive intelligence about a traitor in Church leadership who had entered a covenant to betray him, it almost certainly referred to Joseph H. Jackson. Jackson had made an agreement with Sheriff Harmon T. Wilson to help expose Joe and bring him to justice. This also fits because Jackson was nearly assassinated a couple months after this while riding a supply wagon while trying to infiltrate the Mormon leadership.
However, Joe apparently believed the traitor was Rigdon. Joe also had repeatedly accused Rigdon, Nauvoo’s postmaster, of withholding his mail or giving his mail to spies and enemies within the church. Also, Joe claimed that Rigdon isn’t really pulling his weight around here and I’m sick of carrying around this deadbeat. And so, he declared from the stand that he wanted Rigdon removed as a counselor in the First Presidency and disfellowshipped from the Church.
Historian Richard Van Wagoner, in his biography of Sidney Rigdon, suggests that Joe had an ulterior motive in making these accusations, money. A constant flow of money from a government contract was a delicious little treat Jo couldn’t stand watching somebody else consume:
From the earliest Nauvoo settlement years, Smith was envious that George W. Robinson then Sidney Rigdon held the financially lucrative position of postmaster. In the midst of the Bennett controversy Smith initiated a campaign to attain the postmastership for himself. He may have also wanted to monitor mail from such apostates as John C. Bennett, Francis Higbee, and George W. Robinson. Because postal matters and the Rigdon family were outside of his control, Smith attempted to slander the Rigdons by asserting that the mails were regularly plundered and mishandled.
Rigdon was allowed to respond to the allegations, and he denied all of it. He provided explanations for some specific cases when mail had been delayed, and then he
closed with a moving appeal to President Joseph Smith, concerning their former friendship, associations and sufferings; and expressed his willingness to resign his place, though with sorrowful and indescribable feelings. During this address, the sympathies of the congregation were highly excited.
The rest of the meeting included Almon W. Babbit, Hyrum Smith, and William Law all testifying on Rigdon's behalf. Jo stood up and made a final statement, saying he was satisfied now that Rigdon wasn’t a traitor and was willing to keep him in his post, but only if Rigdon promised to do better from now on.
A newspaper says that “‘Sidney Rigdon was brought up by the Prophet, and abused without measure,’ and that he had ‘cried for mercy like a whipped puppy.’” That may be an exaggeration, but Rigdon’s oration was convincing to Joe, who suddenly became very friendly to Rigdon. However, that still left him with the question: who was the traitor in Church leadership who had leaked information about Joe’s whereabouts to Sheriff Harmon T. Wilson?
One candidate he came up with was Emma Smith, his very own first wife. On November 5, 1843, Joe recorded in his journal that he “was taken suddenly sick at the dinner table. went to the door & vomited. <all dinner> jaws dislocated,— & raised fresh blood.—— eve[r]y symptom of pois[o]n[.]” Since Emma was the one who had served him dinner, Joe jumped to the conclusion that she was the culprit who had tried to poison him. According to Bloody Brigham Young in 1866, when he was amidst a constant multiple decades’-long character assassination campaign against Emma,
Not six months before the death of Joseph, he called his wife Emma into a secret council, and there he told her the truth, and called upon her to deny it if she could. He told her that the judgments of God would come upon her forthwith if she did not repent. He told her of the time she undertook to poison him, and he told her that she was a child of hell, and literally the most wicked woman on this earth, that there was not one more wicked than she. He told her where she got the poison, and how she put it in a cup of coffee; said he, “You got that poison so and so, and I drank it, but you could not kill me.” When it entered his stomach he went to the door and threw it off. He spoke to her in that council in a very severe manner, and she never said one word in reply.
Now, it seems pretty unlikely that Emma actually tried to kill him, and it also doesn’t seem like Joe stayed mad at her for very long. Bloody Brigham reports Joe saying she was the most wicked woman on earth, but Joe told several other people that she was the most virtuous woman on earth, and that he would do anything to save her. Historian Linda King Newell argues that Joe had frequent bouts of bloody vomiting, and that he probably had ulcers, and that in fact it was Emma who nursed him through many of these episodes of vomiting. She thinks that Emma probably managed to convince Joe that she wasn’t guilty. With that said, it’s not impossible Emma tried to poison him. She’d threatened divorce a few times and Jo had employed “harsh measures” to get those notions out of her head. She couldn’t charge him with adultery and survive it. If he died, sure she’d be sad but everything in her life that was causing her trouble would immediately be gone. There isn’t a bedrock on this poisoning issue and reasonable historians disagree. Ep 164.
Joe’s next two candidates to be the traitor were William Marks and William Law. Eps 178, 179.
William Law began as a run of the mill merchant and physician, but in Nauvoo he became a member of the Nauvoo City Council, and aide-de-camp to the Lieutenant-General of the Nauvoo Legion, meaning he was one of Jo’s personal military advisors in addition to being second counselor in the First Presidency to replace Frederick G. Williams after his death. Ep 135. In 1842, Joe considered William Law to be one of his warmest friends who met him in his time of need when Jo was hiding from the law. William Law had led the troop of Nauvoo Legionnaires who found Jo when he was in custody of sheriffs Wilson and Reynolds following his arrest in Dixon. Ep 144. But by late 1843, when A Christmas Carol was published by Charles Dickens, Jo and Law’s relationship was shifting. When Joe got up and told the Mormons to vote for the Whig candidate Cyrus Walker, William Law got up and publicly disagreed. Ep 162. And when Joe taught Law the doctrine of polygamy, Law rejected it instantly. Eps 148, 149.
According to Joseph H. Jackson, Law had always dismissed the rumors about polygamy as Gentile slanders. “When, however, this new revelation was made known to him, his eyes were opened, and at once, he indignantly rejected the doctrines as not of God, but of the Devil.”
Nauvoo stake president William Marks had a similar experience. Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith created more dissenters on August 12, 1843, when he read Joe’s celestial marriage revelation, now D&C 132, to the Nauvoo high council. Marks, who was present at the meeting and heard Hyrum read the revelation, “felt that it was not true.”
Joseph H. Jackson also claimed that Joe had tried to seduce both William Law’s wife Jane and William Marks’s 15-year-old daughter Sophia and had been rejected by both. William Law later denied that Joe had made an attempt on Jane, but he may have just been protecting Jane’s honor in Victorian-era America. There is corroboration for the claim about Sophia. Eliza Jane Churchill Webb wrote in a letter in 1876, “William Marks an influential man in the church, left because Joseph was determined to have his daughter Sophia Marks sealed to him.” (Credit John Dinger: https://rationalfaiths.com/joseph-smiths-indictment-for-adultery-and-fornication/?fbclid=IwAR2vEM7SKv6izmkyetXN7Yb9e1tIOyTANq-EfXErU_jfTFsAaU8p_WHDLQM)
So vehement were Law and Marks in rejecting the doctrine of polygamy that Joe started making plans to kill them. Jackson says Joe expressed “his determination to put Law out of the way, for he had become dangerous to the church of Jesus Christ, of Latter Day Saints, and that it was the will of God that he should be removed. He, however, wished to proceed in such a manner that he would be able to get Law's wife.” Joe also expressed a desire to kill William Marks. This is a dangerous pattern I’ve worked to highlight all episode; when somebody couldn’t be bought or silenced, they needed to be removed and Jo had an army of people behind him to complete such an act in different ways. Whether it was his captains in polygamy who’d get on a man’s good graces and mix a white powder with his drink, or Pistol Packin’ Porter on an escapade across state lines to shoot a man reading in his study, a little cabal of Mormons were willing to move mountains to carry out the will of the Lord’s prophet.
Joe explained how he intended to do the deed of removing William while acquiring Jane as yet another wife. He always had to escalate the danger and taboo nature of his pursuits. At his direction, the city council had given Jo power to raise a police force of 40 men, all of whom were Danites. These men swore an oath to protect Joe and his household “in every measure that I may deem lawful in the sight of God . . . Murder and Treason not excepted, so help you God.” This dedicated police force was the perfect weapon. Danites in uniform. Police captain Jonathan Dunham would select five men to do the work. Law and Marks would go missing, “and then I'll make a great noise about it, and call it persecutions. ‘Now,’ said he, ‘ain’t this a d--d good plan to get rid of traitors?’” Jackson knew he couldn’t just stand by and listen passively to this plot to kill a friend of his, so he spoke up in Law and Marks’s favor. According to Jackson, “Joe accused me of tying his hands, and said that he could do nothing if opposed.”
We know for a fact that this isn’t just a story Jackson made up, because the Church’s own records corroborate it. According to the History of the Church 6:149–52, seventeen days after he created the Nauvoo police force, Joe gave a speech to them in which he revealed that he intended to have the police kill traitors:
[Police] Captain [Jonathan] Dunham is the man to send after a thief. He will not come back, after following him a mile, to ask if he may shoot him, if he resists. Some men have strange ears and changeable hearts: they become transformed from their original purity and integrity, and become altogether different from what they were. . . . My life is more in danger from some little dough-head of a fool in this city than from all my numerous and inveterate enemies abroad. I am exposed to far greater danger from traitors among ourselves than from enemies without, . . . and if I can escape from the ungrateful treachery of assassins, I can live as Caesar might have lived, were it not for a right-hand Brutus. . . . [W]e have a Judas in our midst.
A few days later, William Law told Hyrum Smith that one of the Danite policemen had warned him that the police were watching him and might kill him if they saw any sign of disloyalty. Hyrum was aghast, because of course he was and Hyrum could do no wrong; he went to Jo, who said that the police must have misunderstood his instructions. The next day Joe held a city council meeting, at which Law testified that policeman Eli Norton had told him under a Masonic oath that Joseph had sworn another policeman, Daniel Carn, to kill Law within three months. Norton was called to the stand and waffled a little bit, saying that he had only an intimation of all this, not any specific knowledge. Then Carn was called up, and he denied having taken any private oath. Joe denied all of it too, and declared that “the Danite system never had any existence.” However, he also chastised the police for their failure to keep a secret. Ep 178.
Two days after this city council meeting, the issue arose again when William Marks complained to Hyrum Smith that he, too, had received multiple warnings that the police might try to kill him. According to William Law, Joseph “became very angry that any should have any fears or suspect that he would encourage such a thing, and said that he had a good mind to put them (the police) on us anyhow, we were such fools, or words to that effect.” This comment infuriated Wilson Law, William’s brother, so much that he drew his pistol and had to be restrained from blowing Joe away right then and there. Another city council meeting was held, in which several witnesses testified that Joe considered Marks a traitor and that policemen had been heard threatening to kill him. Joe denied that he intended to kill Marks, but he also made clear that he considered Marks to be a Satanic traitor, and he again chastised the witnesses for failing to keep a secret. Soon after this, Joe disbanded the police. Of course, these events all preceded the formation of William Law’s church which called Jo a fallen prophet and published the Nauvoo Expositor, the destruction of which killed the prophet and his brother. These events are tightly connected.
According to William Law later in his life, the conspiracy with the police wasn’t the only way Joe tried to kill him.
They tried to get rid of me in different ways. One was by poisoning. I was already out of the church when Hyrum called one day and invited me for the next day to a reconciliation dinner as he called it, to his house. He said Joseph would come, too. He invited me and my wife. He was very urgent about the matter, but I declined the invitation. Now I must tell you that I, in those dangerous days, did not neglect to look out somewhat for the safety of my person and that I kept a detective or two among those who were in the confidence of the Smiths. That very same evening of the day on which Hyrum had been to my house inviting me, my detective told me that they had conceived the plan to poison me at the reconciliation dinner. Their object was a double one. My going to the dinner would have shown to the people that I was reconciled and my death would have freed them of an enemy. You may imagine that I didn’t regret having declined that amiable invitation.
Law believed that six or seven other people who died at Nauvoo were poisoned by Joe. Ep 199. If we believe Jackson’s account, it was damned easy for one of Jo’s wives to poison those men with some white powder during their conjugal encounter. Ep 161.
As we head into the year 1844, things started to get pretty hot for Joe. One human only has so much ire to give before devolving into complete tyrannical madness. William and Wilson Law started to oppose Joe more and more openly. Charles A. Foster and Robert D. Foster had the Law brothers’ back, and so did Chauncey and Francis Higbee, who suspected that Joe had murdered their father two years earlier.
The Foster brothers had emigrated from England in 1831 and joined the Mormon church in Illinois in 1839. Robert Foster quickly entered Joe’s inner circle and served as his personal scribe when Joe went to Washington, D.C. to petition Congress. In D&C 124, the God-voice in Joe’s head commanded Robert Foster to build Joe a house.
Foster built him the Mansion House, but it became a sore spot because Joe constantly complained that he wasn’t building it fast enough. Joe also suspected Foster of passing information to John C. Bennett after Bennett left the Church and started publishing his serial exposes in the Sangamo Journal. Foster remained pretty loyal through 1843, partly because he made a lot of money buying and selling stock in the Nauvoo House Association. But the Foster brothers didn’t like the idea of polygamy, and by early 1844 they began to align themselves with the leadership who knew it was being practiced but opposed it. Apparently Willard Richards also tried to seduce Robert Foster’s wife, which may have sealed the breach. Ep 197.
The Higbee brothers, Francis and Chauncey, joined the LDS Church with their family in 1832 at ages 11 and 12. They moved to Missouri in 1833 and suffered through the expulsion from Jackson County, and in 1838 Francis fought in the Missouri Mormon War as a Danite. In Nauvoo, both Francis and Chauncey were appointed aides-de-camp in the Nauvoo Legion, which made them high-ranking assistants to Major General John C. Bennett.
When the sex scandal that brought down Bennett broke, Chauncey Higbee was implicated and excommunicated along with him. Francis Higbee was Nancy Rigdon’s boyfriend, and was not happy about Joe propositioning her, or sexually assaulting her to put it more accurately. So both the Higbee boys ended up siding with Bennett in his controversial departure form the Church and helping him collect affidavits to expose Joseph Smith. Joe was not happy and sent the Mormon propaganda mill into full spin mode to destroy the Higbees’ credibility. In a letter he wrote to Joe, Francis Higbee gives a sample of the sorts of things Joe had been saying about him:
It is said I seek the hours of the midnight assassin to seize my victim, when no one is near to bear witness of the crime or attest the unhallowed deed, that I sympathized with the afflicted and oppressed, that I may devour their vitals, that I seek the mantle of religion to envelop my scorpion body, that I may better practeice my nefarious designs.
Jo tried to stir up a mob against the Higbees by declaring them to be Satanic murderers, scorpions in human form. Projection much, Jo?
By March 24, 1844, Joe claimed to have received specific intelligence that this entire group of dissenters planned to assassinate him. He declared, “The names of the persons revealed at the head of the conspiracy are as follows:--Cha[u]ncey L. Higbee, Dr. Robert D. Foster, Mr. Joseph H. Jackson, [and] William and Wilson Law.” On April 18, 1844, Joe excommunicated the Laws and the Fosters in absentia, thus setting into motion the sequence of events that landed him in Carthage Jail. Ep 196.
Then one day near the end of April, Apostle Orson Spencer got into a fight with his brother Augustine Spencer. John P. Greene, the city marshal, ran up to the Foster brothers and Chauncey Higbee and said, you’re officers of the Nauvoo Legion and I’m deputizing you to help me arrest Augustine Spencer for assault. The Fosters refused because the battle lines had been drawn and anybody working on official church or city business was no friend of these men. Joe walked up behind them and ordered them to help, but they refused again. The argument became heated, and Charles drew his pistol and aimed it at Joe’s chest. Joe’s bodyguard, Porter Rockwell, grabbed the gun and disarmed Charles, saving Joseph’s life. Charles shouted that if Porter hadn’t stopped him, he would have killed Joe and felt like a hero for ridding the world of a tyrant. That time would come, but not yet, Ol’ Chucky boy.
In a contentious court hearing over this incident, the Fosters and Higbee were convicted of disturbing the peace and fined $100. After the trial, Joe basically told Robert Foster that if he didn’t shut his mouth, his blood would be spilled. And in a private meeting of the Council of Fifty, Joe declared “that Foster and the Higbees were . . . all given to the buffetings of Satan.” He cashiered Robert from the Nauvoo Legion and nullified all land contracts with his name on them putting pressure on the Fosters to simply cut their losses and leave the city. They didn’t.
These dissenters weren’t going to take this lying down. On May 7, 1844, Joe recorded a momentous event in his journal: “An opposition printing press arrived at Dr [Robert D.] Fosters fr[o]m Columbus ohio.” This was the printing press for the Nauvoo Expositor, a newspaper that the dissenters founded in order to expose Joseph Smith and publish his crimes to the world. The Nauvoo Expositor published only one issue, dated June 7, 1844. It revealed some details of Joe’s secret practice of polygamy, and it also denounced Joe’s interference in politics and his tyrannical style of Church governance. It also served as a charter for a new church they founded, called the True Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, to both compete with Jo’s church and to provide a safe haven and outlet for fellow Mormon dissenters.
Notably, the Council of Fifty had their final meeting before Jo and Hyrum’s deaths on May 31st, 1844 while the Nauvoo Expositor was published on June 7th. Page after page in the Council of Fifty minute book, kept by Quilliam Claypen, are filled with treasonous screeds about the overthrow of the government. One of the stated purposes of the Nauvoo Expositor was to show the world how much power Joseph Smith had gained and how dangerous he really was. No single document detailed his power and his ultimate goals more than the Council of Fifty minutes. These are the minutes Jo would instruct Quilliam Claypen to burn or bury as he was being taken to Carthage.
The day the Nauvoo Expositor was published and disseminated the City Council was in almost constant meetings about how to handle the situation. At this meeting, Joe and Hyrum Smith leveled a bunch of accusations against William Law, including that he was a counterfeiter, that he maliciously forced Joe to pay a $40 debt he owed him, that he had brought a whore from Canada, that he had confessed to adultery, that he offered to pay Joseph Jackson $500 to assassinate Joe, and that he had betrayed Joe to a band of Missourians. They also claimed that Francis Higbee had a sexually transmitted disease, and that Joseph Jackson was always trying to borrow money, had stolen some jewelry, and had tried to recruit people into the counterfeiting business. Most of these allegations were straight-up lies, but there are enough half-truths here that it’s really hard to distinguish the fact from the fiction. The intention behind all of it, of course, was to justify the decision they’d already made, which was to silence the dissenters’ right to free speech by fascist and tyrannical decree.
Finally, Joe suggested that the city council pass an ordinance to prevent libelous publication and conspiracy against the peace of the city. Two days later, the council passed such a law and declared the Expositor a public nuisance and ordered the printing press destroyed. One thing Joseph Smith said during this meeting that proved to be pretty prophetic was this: he “would rather die to morrow and have the thing smashed,--than live & have it go on.” I’ve never seen a prophecy from Joseph Smith come true so spectacularly and accurately as this. Equally prophetic was a warning from Francis Higbee: “the Inhaba[n]tes of ths city is done the minut a hand is laid on this press.” The council ignored this warning, and Joe immediately dispatched an order to City Marshal John P. Greene to destroy the press. Joe also called out Major General Jonathan Dunham with the entire Nauvoo Legion to quell any unrest. That very evening, dozens or even hundreds of men stormed the Expositor office and destroyed and burned the press and probably stole some property while they were at it. Ep 202.
Resentment against the Mormons had been brewing in nearby non-Mormon towns for years by this point. In January 1844 there had been a brawl in the non-Mormon town of Carthage when Nauvoo constables showed up there to arrest a guy named Milton Cook on a bastardy charge. A lot of non-Mormons who believed that the Nauvoo legal system was corrupt had turned out to prevent the Nauvoo constables from arresting Cook. A couple days later, the citizens of Carthage held a public meeting, presided over by an Illinois militia colonel named Levi Williams, in which they resolved to organize themselves into companies of minutemen to defend Carthage from any aggression by Mormon forces from Nauvoo. In the newspaper of nearby Warsaw, Illinois, there ensued a lively debate between various editorialists about whether some kind of compromise with the Mormons might be desirable, or whether they should just be driven from the state as had happened in Missouri just 6 years prior.
That resentment finally spilled over after the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor press. The Warsaw Signal by Thomas Coke Sharp issued numerous daily extras covering every piece of intel they received about the city council meetings and the destruction of the press under headlines like “unparallelled outrage at Nauvoo.” Sharp was outraged, but his articles merely captured the prevailing outrage ruling the non-Mormon settlements bordering Nauvoo. Here’s Sharp’s commentary on this event: “We have only to state, that this is sufficient! War and extermination is inevitable! Citizens ARISE, ONE and ALL!!! -- Can you stand by, and suffer such INFERNAL DEVILS!! to ROB men of their property and RIGHTS, without avenging them. We have no time for comment, every man will make his own. LET IT BE MADE WITH POWDER AND BALL!!!”
Joe and Hyrum Smith responded to this issue of Thomas Sharp’s paper by offering a reward for the destruction of his printing press of the Warsaw Signal, which was apparently no idle threat and certainly didn’t do anything to settle down the situation. The anti-Mormons were now invigorated by the same fire that put the Expositor to destruction. This was an outrage which couldn’t be tolerated and Thomas Sharp was calling for open warfare with the Mormon settlement. The anti-Mormon party, of which Thomas Sharp was one of the founders, met the evening after the Expositor was burned to deliberate about how to handle this issue. The meeting resolved, among other things, “That the time, in our opinion has arrived, when the adherents of Smith, as a body, should be driven from the surrounding settlements, into Nauvoo, That the Prophet and his miscreant adherents should then be demanded at their hands, and if not surrendered, A WAR OF EXTERMINATION SHOULD BE WAGED, to the entire destruction, if necessary for our protection, of his adherents.” The committee resolved to send this resolution to governor Thomas Ford. The logic was to consolidate all the Mormons in nearby settlements to Nauvoo, after which the Illinois militia forces would lay siege to the city until surrender could be affected and the Mormons removed from Illinois wholesale.
There are dark echoes of Missouri here. The people of Illinois had initially welcomed the Mormons with open arms and felt sympathy for the persecution they had suffered in Missouri. But now, just a few months shy of six year later, the Illinoisans were fed up with the Mormons and were ready to hit the replay button on the whole Mormon War all over again.
Back in Nauvoo, Joe was up to his usual machinations to get off the hook. He agreed to be arrested by a city officer from Carthage, David Bettisworth. But, of course, he used his right of habeas corpus to have the case heard by a Mormon court in Nauvoo. Constable Bettisworth wasn’t happy about this, but he complied with the order, and the Nauvoo court’s proceedings and verdict were exactly what you would expect, Jo was completely exonerated.
This time, though, Jo’s legal hijinks weren’t going to be enough. He was a slippery guy when it came to the law, but that luck and prowess was bound to run out eventually. The anti-Mormons were ready to flip over the game board with this latest outrage. People can only tolerate so many scandals before they completely revolt and say enough is enough. The Mormons and the anti-Mormons both sent a flurry of letters to Illinois governor Thomas Ford. But the anti-Mormons weren’t going to wait for approval from the governor to act. The citizens of Carthage held a bunch of training exercises for their militia while gathering forces, and the citizens of Warsaw shipped in crates of armaments. 30 miles south of Nauvoo was the Morley settlement, also known as Yelrom. The anti-Mormons delivered an ultimatum to the settlement’s citizens that they could either enlist to help take Joe into custody, or give up their armaments and evacuate the settlement. They gave them 24 hours to decide.
Joe was many things; stupid wasn’t one of them. He knew this was trouble. But he also knew he was in a strong position. He had 3,500 armed men at his disposal. He ordered out the Nauvoo Legion and put the city under martial law, and he sent letters asking for reinforcements from other Mormon communities including Yelrom. Joe knew things were getting too hot, so he tried to put Hyrum and family on a steamboat to Cincinnati so that Hyrum could meet with the president seeking help and eventually live to avenge Jo’s blood if he were killed. Hyrum refused to go. Joe also sent away Hingepin Sidney Rigdon to provide for continuity of leadership. Rigdon was Joe’s presumptive successor, although of course Brigham Young would later usurp that role in a dramatic public display outside the scope of this podcast.
What was Governor Thomas Ford to do? Obviously his first priority was to keep the peace among the citizens of his state. He also knew that the Nauvoo Legion had more men, guns, and supplies than the Illinois state militia did, so an all-out war would likely be a losing proposition. Besides, the Mormons could subsist through a prolonged war by raiding and pillaging local non-Mormon settlements as they’d done in Missouri. Not only did Jo and the Mormons learn a lot from their Missouri experience, but Governor Ford did as well. He decided to go to Carthage to see for himself what was going on, and to see if he could defuse the situation. He wouldn’t repeat the mistakes of Governor Boggs and end up bedridden the rest of his life from an assassin’s gunshot. He needed to handle matters personally. His plan was to try Joe before a court-martial of the state militia for unofficerly conduct. The charge was designed to sound non-threatening, but the reality is that a court-martial technically had the authority to execute Joe on the spot if it found him guilty of treason. In case anybody is wondering, yes, Jo was absolutely guilty of treason by sedition. Had he stood trial he would have been executed, but a vigilante mob took control of the situation before such a verdict could be made.
Governor Ford’s arrival in Carthage on the 21st of June was widely celebrated by the anti-Mormons expecting the law would finally be enforced for a change. Ford exchanged letters with Jo and set up his officers in tents around the city. Ford realized the immediacy and danger of the situation once he spent time talking to citizens in Carthage and receiving intel from all around Hancock and Adams Counties about what was going on. He stationed militia units at Carthage and Warsaw.
Joe hit the governor with a barrage of propaganda, including letters laying out the Mormons’ case and accompanying affidavits about acts of violence committed by the anti-Mormons. In addition to proving his own innocence and the deceit of his enemies, he also hoped to show the governor that it would be too dangerous for Jo to come to Carthage for a court martial. Carthage had been dealing with Mormon lawlessness in general for half a decade so Jo was right to be suspect of Ford’s ability to keep him safe in any capacity, court martial or otherwise.
Governor Ford replied to Joe. He laid out the facts of the case as he understood them, and expressed his “opinion that your conduct in the destruction of the press was a very gross outrage upon the laws and the liberties of the people. It may have been full of libels, but this did not authorize you to destroy it.” In addition to violating the Constitutional right and free speech and the protection against unreasonable search and seizure, Joe had also abused the concept of habeas corpus. “In the particular case now under consideration, I require any and all of you who are or shall be accused, to submit yourselves to be arrested by the same constable, by virtue of the same warrant, and be tried before the same magistrate whose authority has heretofore been resisted. Nothing short of this can vindicate the dignity of violated law, and allay the just excitement of the people.” Anything short of that might lead to civil war, and Ford refused to order the state militia to defend the Saints if they remained in defiance of the law. Notably as well, this letter nullified Jo’s Nauvoo Municipal Court hearing that exonerated him of the initial charges. Ford chose his battlefield and simply ignoring Jo’s corruption in addition to the alleged crimes was clearly the easiest path to simply get Jo into state custody in Carthage.
Joe replied with a letter that tried to refute Ford’s letter point by point. He pointed to legal precedents for the destruction of printing presses, and he refused to come to Carthage for trial “the appearance of the mob forbids our coming; we dare not do it.”
In the History of the Church, Joe recorded Governor Ford’s reaction to this letter:
He treated our delegates very rudely; my communications that were read to him were read in the presence of a large number of our worst enemies, who interrupted the reader at almost every line with “that’s a damned lie,” and “that’s a God damned lie.” He never accorded to them the privilege of saying one word to him only in the midst of such interruptions as “you lie like hell” from a crowd of persons present; these facts show conclusively that he is under the influence of the mob spirit, and is designedly intending to place us in the hands of murderous assassins, and is conniving at our destruction; or else that he is so ignorant and stupid that he does not understand the corrupt and diabolical spirits that are around him.
So the governor refused to accept Joe’s arguments, which made him either evil or stupid in Joe’s opinion. For his part, the governor believed Joe was a damned liar, and… well... he wasn’t wrong.
Jo surrendered days after the deadline Ford directed and he was interred in Carthage Jail on charges of riot and treason. This was his home for the short remainder of his life. He will leave this earth a legend, the only way to never die.
What we do with anger says a lot about us as individuals. We lash out, react in the moment; we cry, yell, hit, scream, kick, we inflict harm to answer the perceived harm we suffered. Some of us, however, don’t react in the moment. Or, maybe we do, but we just put a little of that anger in a reserve tank for when we need it later. When everything in the world is God’s design, each slight against you is the work of the adversary. A person accumulates enough of these difficulties and every person who opposes them is satan incarnate. A god complex is soon to follow. To my enemies, you stand for everything I live to cleanse, I’ll see you on the battlefield. RIP Mitch Lucker.
What our anger causes us to do teaches us about ourselves. The actions which result from our wrath teaches us even more. We can channel that deep emotion to accomplish all sorts of things, but what fruit comes from the tree of wrath? This brings us to our central question when we examine Jo’s anger and wrath, his intent and endgame.
Everything we discussed today hinges on the question of intent. From its inception, Mormonism sought to be the final religious revolution the world would need before the second coming. That intent would result in the purification of all heretics from corporeal existence, which is just a pleasant way to say genocide of those who chose unbelief in the totalitarian system. Those not drenched in the cleansing blood of the savior shall be marked infidels and die. A conviction of religious identity and superiority drove this, but luckily for Joseph Smith, his wrath could be expressed as the divine and holy will of the almighty god, never to be questioned, only to be complied with or fall to the overwhelming power of the wrathful arm of the divine. We spend so much time talking about Joseph Smith and his buddies digging for buried treasure in the forests of Palmyra or Harmony, but completely ignore the path upon which he placed himself in that process. Joseph Smith didn’t see himself as just a revolutionary, but the final revolutionary that would bring the whole goddamn world to its knees. He regarded himself a Mohammaed, a Bonaparte, and finally, a savior unto himself.
Episode 170 of this podcast envisioned a dystopian future of Mormon theocracy where the prophet accomplished his greatest designs. Compliance with his designs was the only acceptable option, the alternative resulted in warfare, bloodshed, and assassinations. Jo was a bloodthirsty and wrathful tyrant with misanthropic and elitist motives.
When the idea for this podcast was gestating 6 years ago, wrath was a powerful motivating force in my life. I was wronged by Mormonism. It gave me a life I never signed up for. It robbed me of my humanity. It repressed my deepest human tendencies and only a scorched earth would absolve the religion of its guilt.
The catharsis I’ve experienced resulted from having a productive outlet for that wrath. People who don’t have the tools available to them to process their grief and anger devolve into a vicious cycle of dread and loathing for what makes us human. We embrace our humanity and we become the best versions of ourselves. Joseph Smith never had a healthy or productive outlet for his wrath; as a result, everything he did was an expression of that caustic and ugly side of his humanity.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a worldwide religion to bring to its knees. Time to burn it the fuck down with truth.
Copyright Ground Gnomes LLC subject to fair use. Citation example: "Naked Mormonism Podcast (or NMP), Ep #, original air date 08/13/2020"