It’s September of 1845, a year and a half after Joseph’s death. You’ll remember at this point that the Mormons in Hancock County, Illinois are under attack again and their houses are being burned down. And as a result, Brigham Young is sending out rescue teams to bring refugees into Nauvoo.
One of the men bringing in Mormon refugees is Joseph’s friend, Porter Rockwell.
I’m Stephen Dethloff and this is the Strangers and Pilgrims podcast telling the story of the Death of the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith.
One day in September of 1845, Porter is leading a group of Mormon refugees through Warsaw’s railroad shanties to Nauvoo. These are probably the same railroad shanties you’ll remember from episode 7 where Thomas Sharp rallied a mob to march to Carthage and Kill Joseph. The railroad shanties where Thomas said he was going to kill Joseph that day and “If the Governor tries to stop me, I’ll take his head from off his shoulders.”
Well, as Porter is shepherding these Mormons who have just lost their property up to Nauvoo the Sheriff of Hancock County gallops through on his horse. Now, as a sidenote, the Sheriff was actually in the process of moving to Nauvoo, too. The mobs had claimed that he was too friendly with the Mormons and so they were threatening his family, and his own life.
And, that’s how thinly justice was being served in Hancock County – the county sheriff -- Sheriff Backenstos had to, as a refugee, move his family into the safety of Nauvoo – because the mob could not be contained.
Well, the Sheriff rides through the railroad shanties past Porter and tells Porter and a man with Porter named John Redding that the mob is after him. And, he commands the men in the name of the people of the state to protect him.
Porter and John turn to see four men riding down hill on horseback, chasing the Sheriff. At the head of this group is a man named Frank Worrell.
Now, really quickly, we talked about how, outside of the Carthage Jail, while Joseph was inside, upstairs in the sitting room, there was a group of guards that were guarding the jail to protect Joseph from the mobs. And, these guards were members of the Carthage Grays – the Carthage Grays being Carthage’s militia that was called protect Joseph from the mob.
A lieutenant in the Carthage Militia was a man named Frank Worrell. He was the captain of those guards stationed directly outside Carthage jail.
You might remember from Episode 7, this is the captain who told Dan Jones, “You know, we have had too much trouble bringing Joe smith here to ever let him escape alive. Unless you want to die with him, you’d better leave before sundown.”
In fact, Frank Worrell was sitting outside on the steps of Carthage Jail when the mob rushed him, and his men, and ran up the stairs to kill Joseph. During the trial for murder of Joseph Smith, as captain of the guard at the door, Frank was cross-examined as a witness and asked if it was true that the Carthage Grays had loaded their guns with blanks, so that when the mob rushed the jail, any shots fired in resistance would only be for show.
In response to that question Worrell said, “I will not answer it.” As the prosecuting attorney pressed Worrell for an answer the judge stepped in and said that Worrell was not required to answer that question if it would incriminate himself. And, so, Worrell pleaded the fifth – he said he couldn’t answer that question on grounds that it would incriminate himself.
So, the mob has started attacking Mormons again. Porter Rockwell is helping bring in some who have had their houses burned. And, the Sheriff, being chased by the mob, has told Porter to protect him from Frank Worrell and these three other horsemen chasing him.
The Sheriff turns around and commands these men to stop. And, instead, this mob of men starts to raise their guns towards him. So, Porter raises his gun, fires a shot, and hits Worrell right in the abdomen. Worrell gets thrown off his horse four feet in the air by the gunshot and dies.
Porter says, to a man nearby, “I got him. I was afraid my rifle couldn’t reach him, but it did, thank God.”
Half a year later, Brigham Young and the Mormons have left Nauvoo and are scattered across Iowa as refugees, and they’re starting to work their way out west, and Porter has been called by Brigham Young to be a messenger between the wagon trains in Iowa and Nauvoo.
And, on one of these trips from Iowa into Nauvoo Porter is caught and arrested for the murder of Frank Worrell. Porter was thrown in jail, again, for months. He is eventually acquitted of all charges, though, when Sheriff Backenstos was subpoenaed as a witness in Porter’s trial, and testified that he ordered Porter to shoot Worrell. So, Porter is let go.
As Porter was walking back west – out to Iowa – from trial for the murder of Worrell, he was going through the deserted streets of Nauvoo when he ran into Joseph Smith III – the oldest son of Joseph Smith. Who, at this point, is 13 years old. Regarding this meeting, Joseph Smith III wrote, “I saw [Porter] coming down the street and I ran across our yard, climbed the fence, and jumped down on the other side close by him, greeting him and extending my hand. He shook it warmly, put an arm affectionately across my shoulders, and said, with much emotion, ‘Oh, Joseph, Joseph! They have killed the only friend I ever had!”
Joseph Smith III remains in Nauvoo, along with his mother and his brothers and sister, while the majority of the Mormons left for Utah. His mother, Emma Smith dies in Nauvoo at the age of 74 in April of 1879. This was 35 years after Joseph Smith III’s father died. Emma had been married to Joseph for 17 years early in her life, but for the last 32 years had been married to her second husband, Lewis Bidamon. Before she died Emma had told her son to bury her next to her first husband Joseph – next to him in his unmarked grave.
Joseph and Emma had eleven children – five of whom survived into adulthood. After their father’s death, all the children stayed in Nauvoo, Illinois with their mother. The youngest child, David Hyrum Smith, was born five months after his father’s death. The boys grew up to become leaders in the Reorganized Church that Joseph Smith III led.
I’d like to read you parts of a letter that Emma wrote to Joseph while he was in liberty jail. Emma wrote this letter to Joseph while she was living in Illinois as a refugee, in the house of a man named John Cleveland.
Her letter says:
Having an opportunity to send by a friend I make an attempt to write, but I shall not attempt to write my feelings altogether, for the situation in which you are, the walls, bars, and bolts, rolling rivers, running streams, rising hills, sinking vallies and spreading prairies that separate us, and the cruel injustice that first cast you into prison and still holds you there, with many other considerations, places my feelings far beyond description.
Was it not for conscious innocence, and the direct interposition of divine mercy, I am very sure I never should have been able to have endured the scenes of suffering that I have passed through, since what is called the Militia, came in to Far West, under the ever to be remembered Governor’s notable order; an order fraught with as much wickedness as ignorance and as much ignorance as was ever contained in an article of that length; but I still live and am yet willing to suffer more if it is the will of kind Heaven, that I should for your sake.
We are all well at present, except Fredrick who is quite sick. Little Alexander who is now in my arms is one of the finest little fellows, you ever saw in your life, he is <so> strong that with the assistance of a chair he will run all round the room.
No one but God, knows the reflections of my mind and the feelings of my heart when I left our house and home, and allmost all of every thing that we possessed excepting our little Children, and took my journey out of the State of Missouri, leaving you shut up in jail that lonesome prison. But the reflection recollection is more than human nature ought to bear, and if God does not record our sufferings and avenge our wrongs on them that are guilty, I shall be sadly mistaken.
The daily sufferings of our brethren in travelling and camping out nights, and those on the other side of the river would beggar the most lively description.
The people in this state are very kind indeed, they are doing much more than we ever anticipated they would; I have many more things I could like to write but have not time and you may be astonished at my bad writing and incoherent manner, but you will pardon all when you reflect how hard it would be for you to write, when your hands were stiffened with hard work, and your heart convulsed with intense anxiety.
But I hope there is better days to come to us yet, Give my respects to all in that place that you respect, and am ever your’s affectionately.
Regarding Emma, Joseph’s mother, Lucy, said, “I have never seen a woman in my life, who would endure every species of fatigue and hardship, from month to month, and from year to year, with that unflinching courage, zeal, and patience, which she has ever done; for I know that which she has had to endure—she has been tosse upon the ocean of uncertainty—she has breasted the storms of persecution, and buffeted the rage of men and evils, which would have borne down almost any other woman. It may be, that many may yet have to encounter the same—I pray God, that this may not be the case; but should it be, may they have grace given them according to their day, even as has been the case with her.”
On May 10th 1869 – 25 years after the death of Joseph, and 22 years after the Mormons settled the isolated deserts and mountains of Utah, the Jupiter train, on the Central Pacific Line, and the No 119 train on the Union Pacific Line met each other in Promontory, Utah – just 87 miles north of Salt Lake City. It was the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. A ceremonial spike was driven into the last rails of the tracks to commemorate the achievement.
This railroad was viewed enthusiastically by the Mormons, but also cautiously. They had, after all, settled in Utah to try and distance themselves from any neighbors who might become angry with their religion or its practices and continue the persecution they left Nauvoo to avoid.
At the same time, a lot of the Mormons enemies, looked with great excitement at the coming of the railroad. They looked at it as something that would start to chip away at the Mormon’s community.
At the time the railroad comes to town, one of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles is a man named George Cannon. In a speech to the Mormons, George talks about the excitement caused by the railroad among the enemies of the Mormon church.
George says, “We are told—openly and without disguise, that when the railroad is completed there will be such a flood of so-called “civilization” brought in here that every vestige of us, our church and institutions shall be completely obliterated.’
He then parallels these dangers with the dangers posed by the Nauvoo Expositor. George was 17 years old when the Nauvoo Expositor was destroyed. When he was living in Nauvoo he was one of the immigrants who arrived there from Great Britain.
George says, “It was on the 10th of June, 1844, I had occasion to go to the City Council of Nauvoo. While there, the subject under discussion, was the declaring of the “Nauvoo Expositor” a nuisance. Doubtless many of you recollect that paper, one number of which was issued by the Laws and other apostates. You who do not recollect the paper may recollect reading about it. There was some excitement at the time in the Council. They had passed an ordinance declaring it a nuisance, and empowering the City Marshal, John P. Green, to abate it. Joseph and Hyrum were in conversation at one of the windows of the room. Hyrum remarked to Joseph: “Before I will consent to have that paper continue to defame our wives, sisters and daughters, as it has done, I will lay my body on the walls of the building.”
George Q. Cannon then goes on to say, “The sentiment as he uttered it, ran through me. I felt as he did.’
In 1905, on the 100th anniversary of the Birth of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Joseph F., Joseph’s nephew, was then prophet and leader of the Mormon Church.
Joseph F. Smith was 5 when his father, Hyrum, died. He was 7 when he drove an oxen team across the frozen Mississippi River from Iowa into Nauvoo as a refugee. He was 13 when his mother died and left him an orphan in Utah Territory.
Now, 67 years old Joseph F. Smith is the prophet and leader of the Mormon religion and he has gone back east to his Uncle Joseph’s birthplace in Vermont. And, he dedicates a monument there on land that the church purchased to commemorate the prophet Joseph. The monument is an obelisk that is 38 ½ feet tall – one foot for each year of the Prophet’s life.
Around this time, other important church historical sites were being purchased.
In 1903, the Mormon Church, in Salt Lake City, Utah, purchased Carthage Jail – the location of Joseph and Hyrum’s death. A husband and wife caretaker lived on the bottom floor – where the jailor and his family had lived 60 years earlier. The top was kept as a jail that people could go and visit to learn about the death of Joseph and Hyrum. The caretaker would show people around and share the story of the prophet’s death.
Even though the death of his uncle and father were tragic, Joseph F. Smith would later find a silver lining in it. He said
“When the Prophet Joseph Smith was assassinated the press and pulpit universally joined in predicting the end of “Mormonism.” But instead of their being any truth in their predictions, “The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church;” for the church grew as fast as it had ever done before, and it took deeper and firmer root. Men were no longer dependent upon the Prophet, the man of God to guide them; they began to stand upon their own foundation, to seek more earnestly after God themselves, and to know for themselves, and not to be dependent upon the voice of man.”
Our telling of the story of the Death of Joseph Smith ends in December of 1843 with Porter Rockwell in jail in Independence, Missouri. This is six months before Joseph Smith’s murder.
The Missourian’s have Porter Rockwell in jail – but who they really wants is Joseph Smith.
But, Porter is one of Joseph’s best friends. In fact you’ll remember that Porter told Joseph’s son that his father was the only friend he ever had. They grew up just down the road from each other in upstate New York. Their families are friends. Porter was one of the earliest converts to the Mormon religion, which Joseph Smith founded. And, Joseph trusts Porter. So, these men in Missouri are hoping they can get to Joseph Smith through Porter so they can kill him.
And, Porter knows this. And while he is in jail, the thought of Joseph getting brought back into Missouri and being murdered is giving him great anxiety.
Concerning this anxiety, porter said:
“My anxiety became so intense upon the subject, knowing their determination to kill him, that my flesh twitched on my bones. I could not help it; twitch it would. While undergoing this sensation, I heard a dove alight on the window in the upper room of the jai, and commence cooing, and then went off. In a short time, he came back to the window, where a pane was broken: he crept through between the bars of iron, which were about two and-a-half inches apart. I saw it fly around the trap door several times. It did not alight, but continued cooing until it crept through the bars again, and flew out through the broken window.
I relate this as it was the only occurrence of the kind that happened during my long and weary imprisonment: but it proved a comfort to me: the twitching of my flesh ceased, and I was fully satisfied from that moment that they would not get Joseph into Missouri, and that I should regain my freedom.”