John Hay Atlantic Monthly Article
Cultures In Conflict,
|Excerpt from Cultures
in Conflict on John Hay.
John Hay on the Trial of the Smiths' Assassins
John Hay (1838-1905) was born in Salem, Indiana, but moved as a small boy with his family to Warsaw, Illinois, in 1841. His father, Charles Hay, was a physician there, and although he apparently did not participate in the mob violence, it was undoubtedly from his father that the younger Hay got much of his information about the Mormon conflict. Dr. Hay tutored his son in Latin and Greek and then sent him to a private school in Pittsfield, Illinois State University (now Concordia College) in Springfield, and eventually to Brown University, where he received a master's degree in 1858. Hay became one of Lincoln's private secretaries, and after the president's assassination, served as a diplomat in Paris, Vienna, Madrid, and London. He later was secretary of state for presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt and was responsible for the Open Door policy that initiated free trade with China. Also a noted literary figure, Hay's most famous works are a series of dialect poems called Pike County Ballads and a multivolume life of Lincoln, coauthored with John G. Nicolay.
Hay was living in Warsaw in 1844 and 1845, viewing the Mormon conflict through the lens of a non-Mormon child near the action. He used his literary talent to illuminate the conflict, writing this story about the events in 1869. It is a curious mixture of personal recollection, family and community memoirs, and research. As a non-Mormon account by someone who felt close to the event but was not an eyewitness, it offers valuable insights, especially into the trial of the Smiths' murderers. Hay paints Thomas Ford as the tragic figure in this morality play. The Illinois governor was obsessed with bringing the murderers to justice. For reasons both psychological and legal, he had to succeed in at least bringing them to trial. With the help of troops he sent to Hancock County, the accused, murderers were arrested and civil authorities from outside the area placed them on trial. The tense and perjury-ridden trial revealed only that the court could not be effective in Hancock County. This account comes from John Hay, "The Mormon Prophet's Tragedy," Atlantic Monthly (December 1869) 671-78.
The Mormon Prophet's Tragedy
THE MORMON PROPHET'S TRAGEDY.
As early as 1838, the prophet Joe Smith seems to have adopted that fascinating theory, "that all pretty women have the right to charm us, and the wife's claim of mere priority should not injure the just pretensions of others to our admiration." Joseph had never read Molière, nor anybody else, and so he did not copy either the language or manner of the irresistible Signor Tenorio. His lover's-mood was "more condoling," but not less effective for the flavor of cant there was in it. His weapons were direct revelations and promises of mansions in the sky. His wooing prospered in spite of the buxom and protesting Emma, his lawful wife, who exhibited a natural though purely eclectic scepticism in regard to those special revelations.
In the spring of 1844, in Nauvoo, the prophet saw the wife of Dr. Foster, admired her, and, led by his evil genius, marched to conquest and found defeat. Her reception of him was what Jomini would call "defensive, with offensive return." She supplemented Lucretia with Xanthippe, and her husband, the doctor, found that something must be done. He talked the thing over with Mr. Law, whose placens uxor had received and declined the same saintly overtures, and they came to the eminently American conclusion that the light should be turned upon such an iniquity. They bought press and types, and appealed to that court of final resort for all of Anglo-Saxon blood, printer's-ink.
The first and last number of the "Nauvoo Expositor" was published upon the 7th of June, and I have had the good fortune to see a copy of this sole edition. The "Expositor's" motto is, "The Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth." The names of the publishers, printed defiantly at the head of its columns, are William and Wilson Law (who in the advertising page promise to grind the grist of the needy one day in the week toll-free at their mill), Charles Ivins, Francis M. Higbee (whose betrothed, the bright-eyed Nancy Rigdon, had also been unsuccessfully wooed by the prophet), Chauncey L. Higbee, brother of Francis, not a Mormon, I believe, but an adventurous young lawyer of Nauvoo, always a thorn in the side of the prophet, and later a distinguished legislator and judge in Southern Illinois, Robert D. Foster, and Charles, his brother.
The first article of the "Expositor" is the "Last Man" of Campbell; then comes a solitary horseman riding in the sunset; then a facetious article in praise of cheerfulness, in which occurs a remark showing close and subtle observation. "You never saw a man cut his throat with a broad grin on his face: it's a great preventative [sic] of suicide." These lighter matters disposed of, the "Expositor'' girds on its armor and gives a half-dozen dreadful columns to the preamble, resolutions, and affidavits of the seceders from the church at Nauvoo. This document, though intensely relished at that day, would be very dull reading now. There are only two things worth noting in it, one, the bold and distinct allegations of the open and cynical licentiousness of Smith and his apostles; the other, the earnestness with which, even amidst the wreck of their personal illusions, the seceders still hold to their faith in the original imposture. It is touching to see how desperately they fight against their own doubts and suspicions of the utterances that proceed from so foul a source. They say: "As for our acquaintance with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we know no man nor set of men can be more thoroughly acquainted with its rise, its organization, and its history, than we have every reason to believe we are. We all verily believe, and many of us know of a surety, that the religion of the Latter-Day Saints, as originally taught by Joseph Smith, which is contained in the Old and New Testaments, Book of Covenants, and Book of Mormon, is verily true; and that the pure principles set forth in those books are the immutable and eternal principles of Heaven, and speaks [sic] a language which when spoken in truth and virtue sinks deep into the heart of every honest man."
Mr. Hepworth Dixon, who has the convenient faculty of believing everything that is picturesque, and rejecting unmanageable evidence with an airy tant pis pour les faits, represents the system of polygamy as an emanation of the political genius of Brigham Young, invented as a means of government, and accepted with blind faith by the pure-minded elders of Utah. He says: "Who shall say they are insincere? Young told me that in the early days of this strange institution he was much opposed to plural households, and I am confident that he speaks the truth. Among the Mormon presidents and apostles, we have not seen one face on which liar and hypocrite were written. Though we daily meet with fanatics, we have not seen a single man whom we can call a rogue." It is inconsistent with Mr. Dixon's theory of Smith's mystic fanaticism, to admit the stories of his robust profligacy. So he simply denies them. But no fact is more notorious than that Smith's daily life had established polygamy in Nauvoo long before Rigdon had invented his jargon of spiritual wives, or Hiram received his revelation to, justify it. The elders of the church, Brigham and others, clamored rebelliously against the prophet's exclusive license, and together they began cautiously to lay the foundation of the new doctrine, which, properly arranged, should prove a strength instead of weakness to the church. Begging Mr. Dixon's pardon they were "liars and hypocrites." In the great hierarchy at Nauvoo there were no fanatics; the flocks were sheep, but the keepers were wolves. This doctrine of spiritual wives was the result, not the cause, of the lewd lives of Smith, Young, and their fellow-blackguards, and was invented to justify the immorality which the ignorance and credulity of their female worshippers rendered so easy, to serve in the future as a bait for the rascal few, and to blind the eyes of the honest and stupid mass.
In the very year 1844 the attempt was made, to ingraft this abomination upon the creed of the church. The affidavits of William Law and his wife, and of Austin Cowles, Published in the "Expositor," establish the fact that Hiram Smith had read to them a pretended revelation of the dogma of "a plurality of wives, and of the sealing up of persons to eternal life against all sin, save that of shedding innocent blood," innocent blood meaning the blood of Mormons. In the case of Sister Law, the revelation was strengthened by assurances of damnation to any woman who objected to her husband's embracing the new doctrine.
It is true that Joe Smith after the publication of these affidavits took fright at the storm of disgust they produced, and desisted from the attempt to inculcate the new doctrine. But he never distinctly denied the authenticity of the revelation. On the contrary, during one of those singular trials in his own municipal court, he stated squarely, "Brother Hiram is a prophet of the Lord; and when the Lord speaks let the earth tremble." In all Smith's curious history, there is no fact more clearly established than this effort to legalize and consecrate his immoral life. It formed the first link of that chain of circumstances which within a few days dragged him to his doom.
It was clear that a crisis had arisen in his fortunes. A clearer-headed man than he might well have hesitated as to the course most expedient to pursue. To disregard this sudden and vigorous attack might prove fatal to his prestige. We may smile at the lame grammar and turgid rhetoric of the "Expositor," but it was a better paper than Smith's organ, the "Neighbor." Parmi les aveugles le borgne est roi. A little brains went farther in Nauvoo than anywhere else on earth. Contemptible as the " Expositor " was, Smith could not despise it. To resort to violence might lead to bloody reprisals. But his rowdy instincts decided the question. He procured from his corrupt and servile municipal court an order declaring the new journal a public nuisance. A party of his myrmidons destroyed the press and pied the offending types.
This act was Smith's death-warrant. Thereafter the mob could say to the prophet, The villany you teach me I will execute.
Smith's official paper, the "Neighbor," gave a full account of the proceeding. The article ends in these words, which bear a curious family likeness to the protests forever made by slaveholders, and other enemies of the human race, against the reprisals of law and justice. They want nothing more than to be let alone. "And in the name of freemen, and in the name of God, we beseech all men who have the spirit of honor in them to cease from persecuting us collectively or individually. Let us enjoy our religion, rights, and peace, like the rest of mankind. Why start presses to destroy rights and privileges, and bring upon us mobs to plunder and murder? We ask no more than what belongs to us, — the rights of Americans."
Foster and Law fled, like the vanquished Marius, to Carthage. Although the county authorities, who had been elected on the Democratic ticket and had received the solid Mormon vote, were disposed to deal as gently as possible with the autocrat of Nauvoo, they could not refuse the warrants of arrest for which the fugitives applied. These were granted against Joseph and Hiram Smith, and sixteen others of the rioters. But when the deputy-sheriff went to Nauvoo the Mormons smiled at his simplicity, and went through the forms of arrest, habeas corpus, trial, and acquittal before that singular municipal court of which the prophet was judge, jury, counsel, and prisoner, with a promptness and celerity that astonished the officer. They then sent him back to Carthage, with significant admonitions.
These occurrences gave rise to an excitement in the county which one regarding the matter calmly from this distance finds it difficult to account for. Public meetings were held in every precinct. Volunteer companies sprang up everywhere at the tap of a drum. There was drilling on every common, and hoarse eloquence in all the schoolhouses. Expresses were riding on all the roads with imperfectly defined purposes. The brigadier-general commanding the militia ordered a levy en masse in the adjoining counties. The newspapers of the county grew hysterical with exclamation-points and "display-type." The Warsaw "Signal," published at the head-quarters of the anti-Mormons, by Mr. Thomas C. Sharp, was simply frantic in its issue of the 12th June. Here is an extract. I regret not to be able to give the eccentricities of lettering by which the words seem to shriek on the page. A letter from Foster relates the destruction of the "Expositor" press. The "Signal" adds: "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!!!"
This fine frenzy of the "Signal" was not on the whole unaccountable. At a public meeting in Nauvoo, the day before, Joe Smith alluded darkly to other sinners that might tempt his wrath too far, and, in that crimson rhetoric peculiar to the latitude and hour, denounced the ultimate pains upon all who "were not willing to wade knee-deep in blood to do his bidding." His brother Hiram, being only chief priest and deputy prophet, was less reserved. He promised full immunity to any adventurous saint who should go to Warsaw and do so and more also to the heretic "Signal," adding, with a brilliancy of wit unusual to the guild of prophets: "If long-nosed Sharp don't look out, he will git a pinch of snuff that will make him sneeze!" In this flash of intolerable brightness, the genius of Hiram closed its work in this world. He never made another speech.
Of course the destruction of the "Expositor" was not enough, of itself, to kindle so intense a popular passion. It takes a great deal of hammering to heat an iron bar, but it reddens very rapidly at last. For four years the entire county had been kept in a state of unwholesome excitement by these people. After all that may be said of the faults of both sides, it is impossible to deny that the Mormons were bad neighbors. The large majority were ignorant, honest, hard-working folk, who were harmless and peaceable. But the thieves and vagrants, who in other communities are feræ naturæ, were in Nauvoo patronized and protected, for several reasons. The city charter, granted by the legislature in a sordid subserviency, gave to the municipal court a wide jurisdiction. The accused Mormon always appealed to this court for protection against the persecuting gentile, and he always got off scot-free. Smith rather enjoyed defying the outside world, and perhaps felt also a secret sympathy with loafers in trouble. For years scarcely a criminal had been brought out of Nauvoo. The evil was growing every day less endurable. The Mormon vote, being always cast solid, was all-powerful in the county and of no slight importance in the State. It was invariably cast for the Democratic ticket, as is the Fenian vote to-day. And, like the Fenian vote, it had a demoralizing influence on both parties; the one making dishonorable advances to gain it, and the other making humiliating concessions to retain it. By this means the Mormons ruled the county. The sworn officers of the law connived at the high-handed contempt with which the mayor and common council of Nauvoo treated the laws of the State.
Intoxicated with so abnormal a power, surrounded by knaves that flattered him and dupes that worshipped him, Smith began to develop vices that were truly royal. He appropriated the exclusive right to deal in real estate, to sell liquor, to marry, and to give in marriage. He was too ignorant to look far beyond his own horizon. "He thought the rustic noises of his burgh the murmur of the world." He discovered in 1844 that the other Presidential aspirants were all unsatisfactory, and announced himself in the Nauvoo "Neighbor" as candidate for the Presidency, and a creature of his, named Bennet, for the Vice-Presidency. He went so far as to have views, and to publish them. He sent out missionaries to advocate his claims. He still nominally adhered to the Democratic party, however, and is credited with the paternity of a poem published in the "Neighbor," which concludes with these luminous lines:—
"O, sustain ye Democracy throughout the land,
Of late he had grown more violent and open in his lawlessness. He had sent a band of his followers into Missouri, to kidnap the witnesses in a case where a Mormon thief was to be tried. He had brutally assaulted and beaten a county officer in the streets of Nauvoo. He stood indicted in the courts for perjury, in having sworn to a purely imaginary charge of murder, against a gentleman whom he wanted to drive out of Nauvoo. That absurd ecclesiastical court of his had repeatedly discharged men accused of grave offences, and warned the officers against any attempt to rearrest them.
It was this arrogant sense of his own power that at last destroyed him. At first he treated the sheriff's warrant with contempt. At the second summons, he told the officer he would op the next day with him to Carthage. He did not keep his appointment. The officer went back to Carthage alone. But a day or two afterwards, the Smiths came riding into Carthage unattended, except by their common council and the others accused of riot, and gave themselves up to the county authorities. They were taken before a justice of the peace, and entered into recognizance to appear at court. They were at once discharged; but the Smiths were immediately rearrested on a charge of treason, — levying arms against the government of the State, — and recommitted to the county jail.
The prospect was still not bad for them. The sheriff was their friend. They were sure of a favorable jury. The governor a man of the best intentions, that accomplished nothing but patching the infernal pavement had come over to Hancock County to preserve law and order. The Smiths were sure of a speedy trial and acquittal. And the whole tiresome play was to begin again. There was only one way of getting out of the groove. The Deus ex machina, who alone could settle matters, was the mob.
There was a large body of militia at Carthage, and a small regiment at Warsaw. The governor; not knowing how to employ their idle hands, ordered them to rendezvous at Golden's Point. He sent Singleton to Nauvoo to take command of the legion raised by Smith. Singleton, on his arrival, found two thousand men armed and equipped. Though a little dismayed by the apparition, he inspected them and reported to the governor.
During this day or two the governor seemed plagued by the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet. He changed his mind every hour, with the best intentions. When the troops had started for Golden's Point, he began to doubt, as he well might. They were going to Nauvoo to search for "bogus" (a noun which in that day was used to denote an ingenious imitation of the current coin, manufactured in the city of the Saints), and to overawe the Mormons by a calm display of force. What if they searched for other things, and did not content themselves with a calm display? These thoughts so agitated Governor Ford, that he wrote an order on the 27th, countermanding former orders, and disbanding the militia. He then mounted his horse and rode to Nauvoo, to deliver a firm and paternal address to the Mormons. All this was done with the best intentions.
On the morning of the 27th June, the regiment of Colonel Levi Williams started from Warsaw, in obedience to the call of the governor to rendezvous at Golden's Point, a settlement in the vicinity of Nauvoo. They went out in high glee, fully expecting to march to the city of the Saints, and not doubting that before they left it some occasion would arise which would make it necessary to remove this standing scandal from the face of the earth. There were none but words of law and order on their lips; but every man clearly understood that Nauvoo was to be destroyed before they returned. A public meeting in Warsaw had unanimously "Resolved, that we will forthwith proceed to Nauvoo and exterminate the city and its people"; a manifesto which seemed too peppery even for the palate of Mr. Sharp, editor of the "Signal," who, when he published it, added the saving clause, "if necessary." "Of course it will be necessary," said these law-abiding militia-men as they marched out of Warsaw on the Nauvoo road.
Order reigned in Warsaw for the men were all gone. The whole male adult population, with trifling exceptions, were in Williams's regiment. Among the captains were William N. Grover, afterwards a distinguished lawyer of St. Louis, and United States Attorney for Missouri, an eminently respectable and conservative man; Thomas C. Sharp, editor of the "Signal," who also on this day sowed the last of his wild oats, and was afterwards principal of the public school, and greatly esteemed as county judge; Jacob C. Davis, then State senator, afterwards member of Congress from that district.
They arrived near noon at some deserted shanties, about seven miles from Warsaw, that had been built and abandoned in that flurry and collapse of internal improvements that passed over the State in 1838. There they were met by Mr. David Matthews, a well-known citizen of Warsaw, who had ridden rapidly from Carthage with an order from the governor, disbanding the regiment. The governor, fearing he could not control the inflammable material he had gathered together, had determined to scatter it again.
Colonel Williams read the governor's order. Some of the anti-Mormon warriors, blessed with robust Western appetites, looked at the sun, and concluded they could get home by dinnertime, and under the influence of this inspiring idea started off at quick step. Captain Grover soon found himself without a company. Captain Aldrich essayed a speech calling for volunteers for Carthage. "He did not make a fair start," says the chronicle, "and Sharp came up and took it off his hands." Sharp, being a spirited and impressive talker, soon had a respectable squad about him. Captain Davis, on the contrary, was sorely perplexed. It was heavy weather for him. He was a professional politician, and clearly loved both Mormon and anti-Mormon votes. He was so backward in coming forward that his company left him in disgust, and followed the fiery Grover, whose company had gone home to dinner. Davis still could not make up his mind to go home, but "got into Calvin Cole's wagon and followed the boys at a distance"; so that he had at last the luck to be in at the closing scene, and the honor to be indicted with the rest. The speeches of Grover and Sharp were rather vague; the purpose of murder does not seem to have been hinted. They protested against "being made the tools and puppets of Tommy Ford." They were going to Carthage to see the boys, and talk things over. Some of the cooler heads, such as Dr. Hay, surgeon of the regiment, denounced the proceeding and went at once back to Warsaw.
While they were waiting at the shanties, a courier came in from the Carthage Grays. It is impossible at this day to declare exactly the purport of his message. It is usually reported and believed that he brought an assurance from the officers of this company that they would be found on guard at the jail where the Smiths were confined; that they would make no real resistance, merely enough to save appearances.
This message was not communicated to the men. They followed their leaders off on the road to Carthage, with rather vague intentions. They were annoyed at the prospect of their picnic coming so readily to a close, at losing the fun of sacking Nauvoo, at having to go home without material for a single romance. Nearly one hundred and fifty started with their captains, but they gradually dwindled in number to seventy-five. These trudged along under the fierce summer sun of the prairies towards the town where the cause of all the trouble and confusion of the last few years awaited them. They sang on the way a rude parody of a camp-meeting hymn called in the West the "Hebrew Children":
"Where now is the Prophet Joseph?
The farther they walked the more the idea impressed itself upon them that now was the time to finish the matter totally. The unavowed design of the leaders communicated itself magnetically to the men, until the entire. company became fused into one mass of bloodthirsty energy. By an excess of precaution, they did not go directly, into the town, but made a long detour, so as to come in by the road leading from Nauvoo.
The jail where the Smiths were confined is situated at the extreme northwestern edge of the dismal village, at the end of a long, ill-kept street whose middle is a dusty road and whose sides are gay with stramonium and dog-fennel. As the avengers came in sight of the mean-looking building that held their prey, the sleeping tiger that lurks in every human heart sprang up in theirs, and they quickened their pace to a run. There was no need of orders, no possibility of checking them now. The guards were hustled away from the door, good-naturedly resisting until they were carefully disarmed. Their commander, Lieutenant Frank Worrell, afterwards gave this testimony on the trial, which we copy for its curious and cynical bonhomie:
"I was one of the guards at the jail. Saw Smith when he was killed. Saw none of the defendants at the jail. Suppose there were one or two hundred there. They stayed three or four minutes. They formed in front of the jail and made a rush. Knew none that came up..... Heard nothing that was said..... Saw Smith die, was within ten feet of him..... Perhaps a minute after he fell I saw him die..... I was pushed and shoved some fifty feet..... Did not see Sharp, Grover, or Davis. It was so crowded I could not see much. I know about one third of the men in the county, but none at the jail. I might have been some scared."
It would be difficult to imagine anything cooler than this quiet perjury to screen a murder. Yet the strangest part of this strange story is that Frank Worrell was a generous young fellow, and the men with whom he carried out the ghastly comedy of attack and resistance at the door of the prison Sharp and Grover were good citizens, educated and irreproachable, who still live to enjoy the respect and esteem of all who know them. There is but one force mighty enough in the world to twist such minds and consciences so fearfully awry; and that is the wild suspicion bred of civil strife. A few months of this miniature war in Hancock County had sufficed to possess many of the prominent actors with the spirit of demons; and in the mind of any anti-Mormon there was nothing more criminal in the shooting of Smith than in the slaying of a wolf or panther.
This jolly, good-natured Worrell was himself murdered by Mormon assassins not long after. He was riding with a friend. A shot was heard from a thicket. "That was a rifle!" said the friend. "Yes, and I 've got it," said Worrell, coolly. He fell from his horse and died. I have seen, as a child, his grave at Warsaw. A rude wooden head-board, bearing this legend, "He who is without enemies is unworthy of friends," not very orthodox, but perhaps as true as most epitaphs.
While Worrell, little thinking of his tombstone, was struggling with his friendly assailants, as many as the narrow entry would hold had rushed into the open door and up the cramped little stairs. Smith and his brother had been that day removed from their cells and given comparative liberty in a large airy room on the first floor above. This afternoon they were receiving the visits of two Mormon brethren, Richards and Taylor. They heard the row at the door and the rush on the stairs, and instinctively barred their door by pressing their weight against it. The mob fired at the door. Hiram Smith fell, exclaiming, "I'm a dead man." Taylor crawled under the bed, with a bullet in the calf of his leg. Richards hid himself behind the opening door, in mortal terror. He afterwards lied terribly about the affair, saying he stood calmly in the centre of the room, warding off the bullets with a consecrated wand.
Joe Smith died bravely. He stood by the jamb of the door and fired four shots, bringing his man down every time. He shot an Irishman named Wills, who was in the affair from his congenital love of a brawl, in the arm; Gallagher, a Southerner from the Mississippi Bottom, in the face; Voorhees, a half-grown hobbledehoy from Bear Creek, in the shoulder; and another gentleman, whose name I will not mention, as he is prepared to prove an alibi, and besides stands six feet two in his moccasins.
Smith had two loaded six-barrelled revolvers in his room. How a man on trial for capital offences came to be supplied with such luxuries is a mystery that perhaps only one man could fully have solved; and as General Deming, the Jack-Mormon sheriff, died soon after, and left no explanation of the matter, investigation is effectually baffled. But the four shots which I have chronicled, and two which had no billet, exhausted one pistol, and the enemy gave Smith no time to use the other. Severely wounded as he was, he ran to the window, which was open to receive the fresh June air, and half leaped, half fell, into the jail yard below. With his last dying energies he gathered himself up, and leaned in a sitting posture against the rude stone well-curb. His stricken condition, his vague wandering glances, excited no pity in the mob thirsting for his life. They had not seen the handsome fight he had made in the jail; there was no appeal to the border chivalry (there is chivalry on the borders, as in all semi-barbarous regions). A squad of Missourians who were standing by the fence levelled their pieces at him, and, before they could see him again for the smoke they made, Joe Smith was dead.
Meanwhile, the Carthage Grays were approaching. They had been called out half an hour before, and formed on the Court-House Square, by Captain Robert Smith, with great precision and a deliberation that gives rise, under the circumstances, to somewhat wide conjecture. Captain Smith had not previously been regarded as a martinet, but this afternoon he could have given points to a Potsdam corporal. He stopped his company half a dozen times, to remonstrate against defects in their alignment; and it is owing to his extreme conscientiousness about discipline that they arrived at the jail when all was over. Let me add that Captain Smith (for it seemed fated that everybody connected with this affair should have greatness thrust upon him) became in the great war General Robert F. Smith, and marched his troops from Hancock County to the Atlantic with more speed, if less science, than he displayed in leading his squad that day from the Court-House to the jail.
The moment the work was done, the calmness of horror succeeded the fever of fanatical rage. The assassins hurried away from the jail, and took the road to Warsaw in silence and haste. They went home at a killing pace over the wide dusty prairie. Warsaw is eighteen miles from Carthage; the Smiths were killed at half past five: at a quarter before eight the returning crowd began to drag their weary limbs through the main street of Warsaw, at such an astounding rate of speed had the lash of their own thoughts driven them.
The town was instantly put in such attitude of defence as its limited means permitted. The women and children were ferried across the river to a village on the Missouri shore. The men kept guard night and day in the hazel thickets around the town. Everybody expected sudden and exemplary vengeance from the Mormons.
Nothing of the kind took place. The appalling disaster that had fallen upon the church gave rise to no spirit of revenge. It was long before the Mormons recovered from the stupor of their terror and despair. A delegation went to Carthage to receive their dead. They brought them home and buried, them with honors becoming the generals of the legion. The seceders, panic-stricken, fled from Nauvoo and never returned.
The reaction now began. At the August elections, the Jack-Mormon ticket, as it was called, bearing candidates favorable to the Mormons, was chosen by an unexampled majority. The press of the State was unanimous in its condemnation of the Warsaw men, with a few exceptions, when special correspondents had visited the county. These were almost invariably apologists of the killing. It is curious to note the sudden change of the anti-Mormon journals from the fierce and aggressive tone which they held the week before, to the sullen attitude of self-defence they assumed the week after the Carthage tragedy. Here is an extract from an article by Sharp in the "Signal," which may show how much easier it is to kill a man than to justify the killing:
"The St. Louis 'Gazette' says that the men that killed the Smiths were a pack of cowards. Now our view of the matter is, that instead of cowardice they exhibited foolhardy courage, for they must have known or thought that they would bring down on themselves the vengeance of the Mormons. True, the act of an armed body going to the jail and killing prisoners does appear at first sight dastardly, but we look at it as though these men were the executioners of justice; and their act is no more cowardly than is the act of the hangman in stretching up a defenceless convict who is incapable of resistance. If any other mode could have been devised, or any other time selected, it would have been better; but as we have heard others say, we are satisfied that it is done, and care not to philosophize on the modus operandi."
It was impossible that the matter should be allowed to pass entirely unnoticed by the law. Besides, Governor Ford, who considered the murder a personal disrespect to himself, was really anxious to bring the perpetrators to justice. Bills of indictment were found at the October term of court against Levi Williams, Mark Aldrich, Jacob C. Davis, William N. Grover, Thomas C. Sharp, John Willis, William Voorhees, William Gallagher, and one Allen. They were based on the testimony of two idle youths, named Brackenbury and Daniels, who had accompanied the expedition from Warsaw to Carthage on the 27th of June, and had seen the whole affair. Having a natural disinclination to work, they lived as long as they could by exploiting this rare experience. Their evidence being worse than useless in Warsaw, they went to Nauvoo, professed Mormonism, and had their board paid by the faithful, to secure their attendance at the trial. Brackenbury formed an alliance with a sign-painter, who executed in the highest style of Nauvoo art a panorama of the prophet's Death and Ascension, which they exhibited to the great edification of the Mormons and to such profit that the artist soon died of the trembling madness, and Brackenbury fell heir to the canvas and the fees. Daniels collaborated with a scribbler named Littlefield a most remarkable pamphlet on the same subject, stuffed full of miracles, and inventions more stupid than the truth.
Murray McConnell, who appeared in behalf of the governor to prosecute (and who was himself mysteriously assassinated twenty-four years later, as if a taint of blood were on all connected with this drama), made an arrangement with the defendants' counsel, by which the defendants agreed to appear voluntarily at the next May term, the State not being ready with its evidence. But towards the end of November, the vote of Davis becoming inconvenient to the leaders of the Senate, this convention was violated, and orders made for writs instanter against Davis and the rest. They were treated with contempt. Davis kept his seat in the Senate, and when the sheriff came to Warsaw he was received with that jocose discourtesy which so often in the West indicates a most sinister state of public feeling. He could find no trace of the men he was looking for. Nobody had seen or heard of them for weeks. In every shop he entered, he saw a loaded rifle, or a man oiling a gun lock or moulding bullets. In the morning, when he mounted his horse to ride away, he found his mane and tail shaved bare as the head of a dervish. Hurrying out of the hostile neighborhood, he passed a crowd of grinning loungers.
"My horse was in bad company last night," he said, with a wretched attempt at good-natured indifference.
"Most generally is, I reckon," was the unfeeling retort; and the chief executive officer of the county left the mutinous town to itself.
The next May, all the defendants appeared, according to agreement, to stand their trial. They began by filing their affidavit that the county commissioners who selected the array of jurors for the week were prejudiced against them; that the sheriff and his deputies were unfitted by prejudice to select the talesmen that might be required. They therefore entered a motion to quash the array of jurors, to set aside the sheriff and his deputies, and to appoint elisors to select a jury for the case. After argument, this was done. The elisors presented ninety-six men, before twelve were found ignorant enough and indifferent enough to act as jurors.
A large number of witnesses were examined, but nothing was elicited against the accused from any except Brackenbury, Daniels, and a girl named Eliza Jane Graham. The two first had been lying so constantly for some months professionally, the one in his pamphlet, the other in his raree-show, that they had utterly forgotten where they started from, and so embroidered their original facts with more recent fictions, that their evidence went for nothing. Besides, the showman Brackenbury thought that the pamphleteer Daniels had received more attention than himself from the polite world of Nauvoo, and was consequently stung by jealousy to contradict in his evidence all that Daniels had sworn to. The evidence of Miss Graham, delivered with the impetuosity of her sex, was all that could be desired and more too. She had assisted in feeding the hungry mob at the Warsaw House as they came straggling in from Carthage, and she could remember where every man sat, and what he said, and how he said it. Unfortunately she remembered too much. No one accused her of wilful perjury. But her nervous and sensitive character had been powerfully impressed by the influence of Smith, and, brooding constantly upon his death, she came at last to regard her own fancies and suspicions as positive occurrences. A few alibis so discredited her evidence, that it was held to prove nothing more than her own honest and half-insane zeal.
The case was closed. There was not the a man on the jury, in the court, in the county, that did not know the defendants had done the murder. But it was not proven, and the verdict of NOT GUILTY was right in law.
And you cannot find in this generation an original inhabitant of Hancock County who will not stoutly sustain that verdict.
There was very little excitement about the matter. The Mormons were
not vigorous in the prosecution. Their leaders were already involved in
the squabbles and intrigues of the succession. The prophet's brother,
William Smith, was an aspirant. But he was a weak, indolent, good-natured
sensualist, and was readily bought off and sup pressed. He carried on
for some time a flourishing trade in " patriarchal blessings."
He had probably never heard of Tetzel, and yet the old Dominican
himself could scarcely have systematized his traffic better. He
advertises in the "Neighbor": " Common blessings, 50 cents ; Extraordinary
blessings, $1.00; Children, half price ; women, gratis." Rigdon
made a desperate stand for the prophet's mantle. But he was defeated
also, and, being recalcitrant, was sol emnly "given over to be
buffeted of the Evil One for a thousand years." The coolest and
most unbelieving of them all succeeded to the autocracy- Brigham Young,
whether guided by in stinct or reason I do not know, avoided the fatal
mistake of Smith, who turned back from Missouri to Illinois, and the
crazy fantasy of Rigdon, who would have gone from Illinois to
Pennsylvania. Tribes and religions cannot travel against the sun. Young,
during the troubled year that followed, exerted himself to gather all
the reins of gov ernment into his own hands ; and there was not in all
the slavish East a despot more absolute than he when at last he
started, with his wives and his servants and his cattle, to lead his
people into the vast tolerant wilderness.
Go to Nauvoo Expositor Excerpts
Go to Joseph Smith's Death
Go to Online Resources
Home | FAQs | What's New | Topical Index | Testimony | Newsletters | Online Resources | Online Books | Booklist | Order/Contact | Email | Other Websites