On the warm afternoon of 28 June 1844, a small group of saddened men plodded down the road from Carthage to Nauvoo, Illinois. The significant events of the last few days were winding down now to this silent procession which bore the bodies of two men back to the “holy city” which they had founded and governed. What had seemed impossible to many Mormons had happened—Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and his brother Hyrum were dead.
Since 1844, this killing of the Mormon prophet has been the subject of extensive historical research by both Mormon and non-Mormon scholars; and yet, we still have had very little information regarding one important aspect of this whole phenomenon, that is, the reaction to the murder by the general public. While some historians have dealt with the response of Illinois newspapers to the incident, few, if any, have closely examined the reaction of the national press to the killing. In order to help fill this gap in Mormon studies, this article will examine the way in which the nation’s press reacted to the slaying of Joseph Smith and his brother and will suggest some reasons for the attitude of most newspapers regarding this particular incident.