Episode 6 - Across the Mississippi
The last we left Joseph Smith, he, Hyrum, Porter and Willard were paddling across the Mississippi River in the dark of the night. Joseph, Hyrum, and Willard each have one of their boots off and are bailing out the leaky boat as Porter paddles them along.
I am Stephen Dethloff, and this is the Strangers & Pilgrim’s podcast telling of the Death of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
By the time Joseph and his travel partners get across the Mississippi river the sun has started to come up. But, they’ve escaped from the authority of Governor Ford. They’re in Iowa. Joseph tells everyone, again, that the mobs and apostates only want to kill him – Joseph. He tells them that the Lord has shown him what to do. And, that if Joseph Smith leaves – and goes into hiding – that soon all the conflict will die down and the mobs will quiet and all the people of Nauvoo will be safe.
Back in Nauvoo, John Taylor wakes up and learns that Joseph is gone. John is terrified. He starts to pack up all his notes, his books, and papers. He tells his wife that he must go to Canada to keep safe – not to keep himself, but the church documents and writings of the prophet.
Across town there is a knock at Emma Smith’s door. She opens it to see a posse of 20 men who have come to arrest Joseph Smith and escort him to Carthage. She tells the posse that her husband isn’t there. They go into her house and search the property just to be sure he isn’t hiding in any back rooms. After they’re certain that he isn’t at home they go back to Carthage to report to Governor Ford, but they leave behind one of the men to keep an eye on the property and keep a look out for Joseph in case he shows back up.
But, Joseph isn’t planning on coming back. He is planning on going with Hyrum further out west. Over the Rocky Mountains. Joseph has decided that he is going to go out west and find a place which the Mormons can settle. Somewhere far away from anyone else so there is no persecution. So his new, little church can have a few moments of peace. Time to grow and put down roots. Joseph is hoping that by the time he and his brother get back to Nauvoo, that the mob will have calmed down to the point that he can leave with settlers back out west.
Now, this idea to go out west didn’t come out of nowhere. Joseph had been thinking about it for a while now. Two years earlier, Joseph Smith was having a conversation with some of the brethren of the church. This was in the summer of 1842. Joseph and the brethren were talking about the history of their persecutions in Missouri, and what he called the “constant annoyance,” which had followed them into Illinois. At this point, in 1842, the persecution in Nauvoo had not reached the fever pitch it was at now.
But, back in 1842, as they’re recounting this constant annoyance, Joseph prophesied that the Saints would continue to suffer much affliction and would eventually be driven to the Rocky Mountains. He prophesied that many of the members would apostatize – or leave the church and stop believing his teachings – he prophesied others would be put to death by the church’s persecutors. He prophesied that the Saints would make settlements and build cities and become a mighty people in the midst of the Rocky Mountains.
So, leaving Nauvoo for the Rocky Mountains is something that Joseph had on his mind for at least 2 years. But, he has been thinking about it recently, too. The night that Joseph met the two boys crawling on the banks of the Mississippi river. After they had been sent as spies to William Law’s secret meeting. We talked about that back in episode 2. Well, there, on the river bank, he told those boys there that he was probably going to have to go to the Rocky Mountains.
And even just earlier in the day he had been talking about it. In the last episode we talked about how Joseph Smith was walking down by the Mississippi River with his bodyguard, Stephen Markham, while they waited for John Taylor and Dr. Bernhisel to get back from speaking with Governor Ford. And the 3oo guards are all around all the way up to his house. Well, even in that conversation, before they got the letter back from Governor Ford telling him that he must go to Carthage for court, Joseph tells Stephen Markham that he is probably going to leave soon for the Rocky Mountains.
So, this idea to leave for the Rocky Mountains might seem like it came out of nowhere. But, it had been in Joseph’s mind for a long time. The only part of it that probably came as a surprise was that he decided to leave right then and there that night with no notice or preparation.
So, Joseph and his brother Hyrum and Willard Richards are hiding out in the house of one of the members of the Mormon Church who live in Iowa. That’s their base camp – their jumping off point – to travel out west.
Porter Rockwell goes back into Nauvoo to tell Emma where Joseph is going and to get some horses for Joseph and Hyrum for their trip. Porter also goes back to suggest to Emma that she should go back east to Portsmouth, Ohio to lay low for a while. So, Porter gets back and is talking to Emma. Stephen Markham is there, too. And, in comes Reynolds Cahoon. You’ll remember him from last night. He was the man sent down to guard the gate and momentarily kept Secretary of State Calhoun’s sons from meeting with the prophet.
Well, he has heard the Prophet has left and he is furious. He has come to talk to Emma about it. Reynolds and some other church members who have come to visit Emma with him are tired of running. They, like most of the other early converts to the religion, were driven from Ohio to Missouri and from Missouri to Illinois. All the while having their property and land stolen from them. They tell Emma they do not want to leave again. They don’t want to leave their property and land behind anymore. These men had reached their breaking points.
Stephen and Porter, who are there listening to Reynold’s complaints, are angry with him and the other men for not supporting Joseph. Stephen tells Reynolds to mind his own business and let Joseph alone. He tells the brethren that Joseph has left him with specific orders and that he will die before he varies from them.
Porter, too, angrily tells Reynolds that he will always throw in his lot with Joseph, and that he can’t be expected to try and help Reynolds convince Joseph to stay.
Reynolds and the men, however, convince Emma to write a letter to Joseph. And, in the letter Emma asks her husband to come back to Nauvoo.
So, then, Reynolds and the other men go back into Iowa to speak with Joseph. Reynolds brings Emma’s letter with him. Porter goes with them, too.
They get to the house Joseph is hiding in and go back to a room to find him, and Hyrum, and Willard Richards sitting on the floor packing burlap bags to go out west. They’re scooping in beans, cornmeal, all the provisions they might need for their trip. To me this is another amazing moment. The man who is the mayor of the largest city in Illinois. The General of the state’s largest militia. A presidential candidate. And, the prophet of a growing religion who talks with God. Is sitting on a floor in an empty room. Scooping beans into a burlap sack. Getting ready to flee into the wilderness. That must have been quite the sight for the men who were there with him.
Reynolds comes into the room and tells Joseph that the Governor, earlier that morning, had sent in his posse to arrest him, and bring him to Carthage. He tells Joseph that if he does not come back that they will lay siege around the city until he does.
Joseph, repeating his earlier claim, tells Reynold that even if they do lay the city to siege, they will not do it forever. And, that they will not harm any of the citizens. Joseph tells Reynolds they are only after himself and Hyrum, and that if they both leave their anger will soon melt and they will be distracted by other things.
This infuriates Reynolds. He tells Joseph that if he leaves Nauvoo, the mob won’t actually have their anger abated, but instead all of their property will once again be destroyed and they will be left without house or home.
Reynolds gives Joseph’s Emma’s letter. He reads it. But, even the letter from his wife doesn’t dissuade him from leaving. He tells Reynolds he knows his own business and gives the letter to Hyrum to read.
Reynolds calls Joseph Smith a coward. He says, “It is true. When the wolves come, the shepherd runs form the flock, leaving the sheep to be devoured.”
This hit Joseph hard.
We talked about Brigham Young standing up for Joseph Smith in Kirtland. When everyone else around him was claiming Joseph Smith was a Fallen Prophet – Brigham was one of the men in Kirtland who would not. We talked about Orson Hyde and Thomas B. Marsh, apostles who left the church in Missouri. And, even though they both ended up coming back, they co-signed an affidavit that ended up helping get Joseph put in jail for 6 months. Most recently we’ve talked about William Law. One of the other 2 men who, along with Joseph, formed the highest governing body of the Mormon Church. Who now was actively seeking to kill him.
Many other leaders of the Mormon church – Joseph Smith’s close friends – had left over the last 14 years of Joseph’s life. I think it was just so much. And when I think of Joseph Smith, especially in this moment, I think of the loneliness of leadership. He was the prophet of God. He was the one direct link between God and man. He was rejected over and over again. His friends have come to him and told him to walk back to what he insists is his death.
This podcast is about strangers and pilgrims. And, sometimes I probably romanticize, too much, being a stranger or a pilgrim. And talk about how amazing it is – as a concept.
The term “Strangers and Pilgrims” comes from the Bible. It is used to refer to prophets from the Old Testament who spent their whole lives trying to serve God and not man. Trying to learn the will of God, and to follow his will.
And, because God’s ways are not man’s ways, as these Old Testament prophets went around following God’s will they became strangers to society and pilgrims on the earth. The prophets are people that are in the world but not of the world.
Shortly before his death, referring to these kinds of people, Jesus explained to his apostles that the world hated them because they were not of the world.
And, because they’re hated, Strangers and Pilgrims suffer great trials. They’re mocked. They’re beaten. They’re put in prisons. A lot of them are ultimately killed. Their heads are cuts off. They’re thrown into fires. They’re executed.
And, I think it’s easy to look back at it now and say, “well, of course you had to go through the hard parts. But, look at all the good things that came out of it.” But, its hard. In the moment its happening, the persecutions and struggles that strangers and pilgrims go through are real. And, I think, at this moment, Joseph is sad and lonely. It’s the loneliness of leadership.
He is leaving to find a place for his persecuted people to flee to. He is looking for support from the members of his church. He is looking for them to trust him. And, follow him. And, he had followers – Porter, Stephen, Brigham. And, to be fair, even these men who were now opposing him had followed him for the last 14 years from state to state, through all sorts of persecutions and trials. But, I think these men just hit their breaking point. This was a trial of faith for a lot of them. The city was under martial law. Mobs and militias in Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa were all starting to take up arms. And, so, here they come, feeling like what the prophet was doing was cowardly.
In the Old Testament, Moses, the Prophet, frees his people the Israelites from bondage. You probably know the story. Through a series of miracles the Lord, through Moses, helps the Israelites escape from Egypt where they had been slaves. And, he leads them through the wilderness to a promised land. The scriptures say that God led them with the pillar of a cloud in the morning, and a pillar of fire by night.
The Lord, while these people are traveling around in the wilderness, feeds them with Manna from heaven. Manna falls from the sky on a nightly basis. The Israelites, in the morning, gather this manna to eat. It’s a miracle its there. They have nothing else to eat as they’re traveling around in the wilderness. It literally gives them life. And what do the freed slaves do about it? They complain.
They complain the manna isn’t meat. They say, “In Egypt. When we were slaves we ate fish, cucumbers, melons, onions, and garlic. We had meat. Here, we have nothing but manna.” They say that it would be better if they just had been kept as slaves back in egypt. They tell the man who freed them. And, the men who represents the God that freed them, that they’d just rather be slaves.
And, at night, they sit in their tents and cry. They cry because they’re sad that they only have manna to eat – manna that miraculously falls from heaven – as they travel to the promised land. And Moses sits in his tent at night and listens to these people he saved, and says, “Please God. Kill me, please. I cannot do this alone.” That’s the loneliness of leadership. That’s what it means to be a stranger and pilgrim. It means that even your followers, sometimes, choose not to follow you.
I think Joseph, as a prophet of God and the leader of a people, must have gone through similar feelings as Moses did.
Joseph has just been called a coward by some of his followers as he sits in this room packing his burlap sack with beans. Hyrum finishes reading Joseph letter from Emma. Joseph asks his Brother what they should do. Hyrum says, “Let us go back and give ourselves up and see the thing out.”
Joseph tells Hyrum, “If you go back. I will go with you. But, we shall be butchered.”
Joseph and his friends cross back over the river and get to Nauvoo at 5:30 in the evening. Hyrum’s five year old son, Joseph F. Smith, is standing there waiting for them as they cross back. He is excited to see his Father. Joseph F. Smith was born in the middle of the Mormons persecution in Missouri. He was born 2 weeks after his father, Hyrum, was taken into prison along with his uncle Joseph. The first time his father saw him was when Joseph F. was brought by his mother to Liberty Jail to visit him. From there, little Joseph F. crossed into Illinois in the middle of winter with his mother. Probably in a similar fashion to how his aunt, Emma, crossed into Illinois – over the frozen Mississippi River. He has known persecution most of his life.
As they get back to Nauvoo Joseph stops Porter – who he has been walking close to the whole way back – and says, “I want you to promise me that you will not go to Carthage at all.” Joseph knew how loyal Porter was to him. He knew how much Porter loved him. And Joseph did not want him to go along to Carthage. Because he knew that if he went, he would not leave Joseph’s side. We can only assume that Joseph thought it would mean Porter would also die. In the same way that Joseph told Wilford Woodruff, one of the members of the Quorum of the 12 apostles, that if he did not leave to electioneer for his presidential campaign, that Wilford would be killed. So, Joseph made Porter promise that he would stay in Nauvoo, and so Porter would.
As they get home their families are their waiting for them. Happy to see their husbands return. Hyrum gets home and sees his daughter, Lovina, and her boyfriend together. He asks her, as a dad might say, “When are you going to be married?” Lovina admits that they want to be married, but tells her Dad they were waiting for him to do it – so whenever he has the time to marry them they will.
Hyrum tells her that it will have to be today, then, because he does not know that he will ever have another time to marry them. So, Hyrum shaves and changes into some nicer clothes for the wedding. While he does Joseph Smith plays with his young Nephew, Joseph F., for a while. And, that evening, maybe into the night, they have a wedding. And Hyrum officiates it.
It must have been an emotional event for the Bride’s uncle. Being surrounded by people happy to see him back home. Happy to see Lovina married. All the while certain he is heading towards his death.
The next morning, early in the morning, Governor Ford’s posse is back at Joseph Smith’s house to take him into Carthage. The Posse is there to force Joseph Smith to go to Carthage, but also to protect him on the way there. Because, you’ll remember, in the Governor’s meeting with John Tayor and Dr. Bernhisel that he promised them he would protect Joseph getting to Carthage.
Outside their house, Joseph kisses each of his children goodbye, and walks off through his house’s gate to join the other men who would go with him to Carthage. They left on horseback. In the party were Willard Richards, John Taylor – who had not yet run off to Canada before Joseph made it back to Nauvoo. Joseph’s bodyguard Stephen Markham was there, and some others.
As they leave the city they stop and say goodbye to people. Joseph stops at one man’s house and calls on him. A man named Daniel H. Wells. Daniel Wells was not a Mormon. In fact, he had lived in Nauvoo before the Mormons ever showed up there. He lived in the Nauvoo area back when it was called Commerce.
Daniel H. Wells, Esquire was a Justice of the Peace in Hancock County. Back in Episode 4 we talked about how, after the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor Joseph went to court twice. Well, Judge Wells was the judge at Joseph’s 2nd trial.
Joseph stops on his way out of town to visit Judge Wells. They had served together as leaders in the Nauvoo Legion, and had been friends outside of that. Joseph grabs Daniel by the hand, and says, “I wish you to cherish my memory. And not think me the worst man in the world either.”
On top of the hill in Nauvoo was a Mormon religious building – the Nauvoo Temple. As this party passes by the temple Joseph stops to look back over the city he is leaving behind.
Now, the Nauvoo Temple, at the time, is under construction – it is only half of a limestone shell – the outside of the building, is covered in scaffolding.
But, even under construction the temple is a significant building. It is a central part of the Mormon settlement in Nauvoo, as other temples were in previous Mormon settlements, and the temple is a central part of the Mormon religion. The temple was a special meeting house. The House of the Lord – a place where God and angels could come and visit men. And a place where men and women could go and fast, and pray, and receive special direction and revelation.
The first Mormon temple was built in Kirtland, Ohio – 8 years before Joseph Smith was killed. Joseph Smith was commanded by God in a revelation to build the temple. It took Joseph Smith and the Mormons four years to build that temple. And, for four years, these financially poor Mormons in Kirtland, Ohio worked all day long on the temple with their own hands. Joseph Smith was foreman of the quarry where the stone for the temple walls were cut.
Joseph’s wife, Emma, oversaw all the women sewing clothes for the men building the temple. While the temple was being built in Ohio from 1832 to 1836, church members would often work all day on the temple, and then stay up all night guarding the temple with their guns. Having to protect it from mobs who were trying to destroy it. Even back then mobs were regularly out trying to hurt Mormons and destroy the temple. Even in Ohio Joseph Smith had a personal bodyguard day and night to protect him from mobs trying to kill him.
Now, the Kirtland Temple was built so that the Lord and other heavenly angels would have a place to come and visit with the Saints. So, after the building was finished it was dedicated. On the day it was dedicated, “a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing, mighty wind,” it ‘filled the temple.” The room was filled with angels, and there were many manifestations of the Holy Spirit. And of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit like the Apostle Paul talked about in the Bible.
A week later, other heavenly visitors came to see Joseph Smith there. Jesus appeared. Moses, Elias and Elijah from the Bible came to Joseph Smith.
But, two years after that temple in Kirtland is built, Joseph Smith is driven out of Ohio. We talked in the last episode about how he was run out of town on a horse, and his wife followed closely behind with their children.
Joseph moves to the Mormon settlement of Far West Missouri. He escaped from Kirtland in January. Two months later he gets to Far West, Missouri and he receives a commandment from the Lord that a temple is going to be built there. In July of 1838 – on the Fourth of July actually the cornerstones for the Far West Temple were laid.
Pertinent to our story, actually, at that corner stone ceremony, Sidney Rigdon – remember Sidney Rigdon is the other man in the church’s First Presidency – the church’s highest governing body – we haven’t talked a lot about him in this story. But, at that corner stone ceremony, on the fourth of July, Sidney Rigdon gave a riotous speech known as the Salt Sermon.
We don’t have a record of the speech, but it was based on part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The part where Jesus said, “Ye are the salt of the earth. If the salt hath lost its savor, it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men.”
And, essentially, Sidney takes that principle and draws it out. He equates the men and women in the church, who no longer believed in Joseph Smith or his teachings, to salt that was no longer salty – and so wasn’t worth anything but being thrown on the ground and stepped on.
This speech caused the Mormons to start to weed out their own members who no longer believed. And, a lot of members are excommunicated from the church – a lot of leaders actually, are excommunicated, too. The speech also encouraged some to, instead of being at the receiving end of persecution, to start to fight back – to fight the mobs.
So, this speech kind of starts to escalate the tensions between the Mormons and the Mobs in Missouri and it ends up with, you know, what we have talked about – fights, murders, rapes, robberies, the massacre at Haun’s Mill, and finally, the Governor’s Extermination order, and Joseph being taken from the city in chains.
The temple in Far West was never built. The four cornerstones, however, are left behind. Another temple, too, was never built in Missouri. This one in Independence – the city were Porter Rockwell sat in jail at the beginning of our story. That one had corner stones laid, but the Mormons were also ran out of town before they could start construction.
So, the Mormons, now living in Nauvoo, have been chased away from three temples – one in Ohio and two in Missouri. And, now, they’re building a fourth. In Nauvoo. And, just like in Kirtland, a lot of the daily lives of the Saints here involve building the temple. Constructing the temple. It is a central activity. At the time men either worked on site building it, or at the quarry cutting stone. They worked every 10 days – as a tithing of their labor.
So, sitting on horseback, looking out over the city of Nauvoo. Joseph Smith is standing in front of this great symbol. It symbolizes their commitment to practice their religion. It represents their revelations and their connection to heaven. It represents a sacrifice of their time, and their money. And, it represents their refusal to give in to the mobs, because just as the mobs keep driving them away from their temples, the Mormon refugees keep resettling and rebuilding.
As Joseph sits on his horse next to this temple he looks out over the city and says, “this is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens; little do they know the trials that await them.”
Joseph, and other church leaders, and Governor Ford’s posse make it a few miles down the road when they are stopped by a leader in the state militia with a large body of men on horseback. Seeing the large crowd, and fearing that they are going to be killed right there, John Taylor asks Joseph, “Will we not even make it to Carthage?” Joseph, in response, tells John, “Do not be alarmed. They can only kill the body.”
The leader of this militia group rides up to Joseph Smith – the leader of the Nauvoo militia, and tells him that he has an order from Governor Ford for the surrender of all the state arms in possession of the Nauvoo Legion.
They’re there to take the Mormon’s guns. Now, they’re not taking their personal guns. They’re just taking their state-issued militia weapons. And, not only is the Governor taking the weapons of the militia in Nauvoo – but he is taking the weapons from the militias in all the surrounding cities. Remember, he is in Carthage to prevent a civil war in Hancock County.
This must have terrified Joseph and his friends there. Remember, Joseph hearing that the Mormons near Warsaw were having their weapons stolen was one of the factors that led him to declare Martial Law in Nauvoo.
Joseph asks that, at the very least, he be allowed to return to Nauvoo with them to see that everything is done in order. He is worried that if the Nauvoo Legion sees these men from Carthage there to take their guns that they might fight back, or be difficult. He feels that if he goes back with them then the men won’t feel as threatened.
At the same time that the Nauvoo Legion is giving their arms back to the State – to be locked up inside some warehouse somewhere, the Warsaw militia has gathered to have their weapons collected. And, they, like the Nauvoo Legion, are being disbanded as a military unit. Well, the citizens of Warsaw are not having it. They’re rebelling. They’re keeping their arms. They will not be kept weaponless.
So, you have the militia men in Warsaw who have ignored Governor Ford’s directions. The Mormons are keeping Governor Ford’s directions and are now turning in their weapons. And you start to see this imbalance of power. The Mormons, like in Missouri, have given up their weapons and have put themselves at the mercy of the Government.
And to highlight this difference between Warsaw and Nauvoo, as Joseph is standing there watching the Nauvoo Legion file by and turn in their muskets, he sees a lot of them crying. A lot of them fighting back tears. He says, probably to Hyrum next to him, “These men are too good, too quiet and law abiding for this rough generation.”
He then shouts out, “Boys!” Which, is what he called the men in his militia – boys. He shouts out, “Boys! Don’t be cast down. I will come back again. As soon as I can.”
Later that night, as he was finally riding out of Nauvoo, he would tell the gathered Nauvoo Legion – a little more tempered, “Boys, if I don’t come back, take care of yourselves.”
Now, taking back these weapons has taken all day. And, within the course of that day Joseph Smith has snuck back home three times to say goodbye to Emma and his kids. Three times. That means four times during the day Joseph has said goodbye to his family for what he probably felt was the last time. While he was there those last three times he begged Emma to go with him to Carthage. But, she was pregnant, and had children to look after, and insisted she could not go.
Emma then asks her husband for a blessing. A blessing, in the Mormon church, is when someone with the Priesthood lays their hands on another persons heads and, as directed by the Holy Spirit, gives that person a revelation of comfort, or guidance, or maybe gives them a promise of some sort. Joseph, however, tells Emma that he doesn’t have time. He tells her to write out a blessing on a piece of paper and that when he gets back he will sign it.
Almost 12 hours after Joseph originally started off for Carthage earlier in the morning, he heads off to Carthage again with the rest of his party.
When they finally arrive in Carthage it is dark. It’s after 9pm. They ride up to the Hamilton House – which, again, is the hotel there where everyone is staying.
In fact, at the same time that Joseph Smith is riding up to the outside of the hotel, inside are William Law, and his business partners, and the leaders of William’s church, and co-conspirators in Joseph’s destruction. And, they are now openly talking about killing Joseph. Openly talking about his murder, not only amongst themselves, but with some of these other men who have gathered to kill Joseph, who were never members of the Mormon Church. Men who they’ve met up with and become friends through their common enemy.
Well, outside, a large group of the local militia, who call themselves the Carthage Grays, are standing outside waiting for Joseph’s arrival. And, they see this large group of men show up on horseback and they start shouting, “Where is the damned prophet!?” They’re shouting “Old Joe, we’ve got you now! You’ve seen the last of Nauvoo!”
They’re hooting and hollering and throwing their muskets in the air so that they land down with their bayonets stuck in the ground, like they’re throwing a javelin.
So, this posse that was sent to escort Joseph into the city starts to push through this angry crowd of men and all the noise and shouting causes a window to open up in the Hamilton House, and Governor Ford sticks his head out.
He tells the men gathered below, “It is quite too late tonight for you to have the opportunity to meet Joseph Smith. But, I assure you you will have that privilege tomorrow morning, gentlemen. Before he is scheduled in court.”
And with that the Mob breaks out into chants of “Hurrah for Tom Ford, Hurrah for Tom Ford.”
It is the middle of the night on Monday, June 24, 1844. Joseph Smith and his friends go into the Hamilton House to sleep, like they’re sleeping in a pit of vipers. Surrounded by enemies. It is 3 days before he is murdered.
ON THE NEXT EPISODE
The death of the Prophet Joseph Smith.