When war between the Latter-day Saints and "the Missouri mob" seemed inevitable in October 1838, five Church officials approached the camp of General Samuel D. Lucas, commander of the Missouri Militia, under a flag of truce to negotiate a settlement. The five were Joseph Smith, President of the Church; Sidney Rigdon, member of the First Presidency; Parley P. Pratt, member of the Council of Twelve Apostles; and George W. Robinson, general Church recorder and clerk to the First Presidency. General Lucas, instead of discussing the conflict, took the occasion to place the five leaders in jail. The next morning Hyrum Smith, brother of the Prophet, and Amasa Lyman, a member of the Council of Twelve, were imprisoned with them. The seven men were then sentenced by a secret court to death by a firing squad, but Alexander Doniphan, the militia officer charged with executing them, refused to do so and the prisoners were taken to Jackson County, Missouri, to await further orders. After four days in Independence the prisoners were then conducted to Richmond, Missouri, to await trial.
At the end of the Court of Inquiry in Richmond in late November of 1838, Joseph Smith and five others were sent to the jail at Liberty, Missouri, to await further trial. The five with the Prophet were Sidney Rigdon; Lyman Wight; Hyrum Smith; Alexander McRae, a large thirty-one-year-old captain of the Missouri Militia who had been active in the defense of the Saints; and Caleb Baldwin, a veteran of the War of 1812, who at forty-seven was the oldest of the prisoners.