Volume 7 Chapter 10 | BYU Studies

Volume 7 Chapter 10

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Chapter 10

Was Governor Ford Responsible for the Murder of the Prophet and Patriarch of the New Dispensation

"There had been various opinions about the complicity of the governor in the murder, some supposing that he knew all about it, and assisted or winked at its execution. It is somewhat difficult to form a correct opinion; from the facts presented it is very certain that things looked more than suspicious against him.

In the first place, he positively knew that we had broken no law.

Secondly. He knew that the mob had not only passed inflammatory resolutions, threatening extermination to the 'Mormons', but that they had actually assembled armed mobs and commenced hostilities against us.

Thirdly. He took those very mobs that had been arrayed against us, and enrolled them as his troops, thus legalizing their acts.

Fourthly. He disbanded the Nauvoo Legion, which had never violated law, and disarmed them, and had about his person in the shape of militia known mobocrats and violators of the law.

Fifthly. He requested us to come to Carthage without arms, promising protection, and then refused to interfere in delivering us from prison, although Joseph and Hyrum were put there contrary to law.

Sixthly. Although he refused to interfere in our behalf, yet, when Captain Smith went to him and informed him that the persons refused to come out, he told him that he had a command and knew what to do, thus sanctioning the use of force in the violation of law when opposed to us, whereas he would not for us interpose his executive authority to free us from being incarcerated contrary to law, although he was fully informed of all the facts of the case, as we kept him posted in the affairs all the time.

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Seventhly. He left the prisoners in Carthage jail contrary to his plighted faith.

Eighthly. Before he went he dismissed all the troops that could be relied upon, as well as many of the mob, and left us in charge of the 'Carthage Greys,' a company that he knew were mobocratic, our most bitter enemies, and who had passed resolutions to exterminate us, and who had been placed under guard by General Deming only the day before.

Ninthly. He was informed of the intended murder, both before he left and while on the road, by several different parties.

Incriminating Circumstances Against Governor Ford.

Tenthly. When the cannon was fired in Carthage, signifying that the deed was done, he immediately took up his line of march and fled. How did he know that this signal portended their death if he was not in the secret? It may be said some of the party told him. How could he believe what the party said about the gun signal if he could not believe the testimony of several individuals who told him in positive terms about the contemplated murder?

He has, I believe, stated that he left the 'Carthage Greys' there because he considered that, as their town was contiguous to ours, and as the responsibility of our safety rested solely upon them, they would not dare suffer any indignity to befall us. This very admission shows that he did really expect danger; and then he knew that these people had published to the world that they would exterminate us, and his leaving us in their hands and taking of their responsibilities was like leaving a lamb in charge of a wolf, and trusting to its humanity and honor for its safe-keeping.

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It is said, again, that he would not have gone to Nauvoo, and thus placed himself in the hands of the 'Mormons', if he had anticipated any such event, as he would be exposed to their wrath. To this it may be answered that the 'Mormons' did not know their signals, while he did; and they were also known in Warsaw, as well as in other places; and as soon as the gun was fired, a merchant of Warsaw jumped upon his horse and rode directly to Quincy, and reported, 'Joseph and Hyrum killed, and those who were with them in jail.' He reported farther that 'they were attempting to break jail, and were all killed by the guard.' This was their story; it was anticipated to kill all, and the gun was to be the signal that the deed was accomplished. This was known in Warsaw. The governor also knew it and fled; and he could really be in no danger in Nauvoo, for the 'Mormons' did not know it, and he had plenty of time to escape, which he did.

It is said that he made all his officers promise solemnly that they would help him to protect the Smiths; this may or may not be. At any rate, some of these same officers helped to murder them.

Argument in Favor of Governor Ford.

The strongest argument in the governor's favor, and one that would bear more weight with us than all the rest put together, would be that he could not believe them capable of such atrocity; and, thinking that their talk and threatenings were a mere ebullition of feeling, a kind of braggadocio, and that there was enough of good moral feeling to control the more violent passions, he trusted to their faith. There is, indeed, a degree of plausibility about this, but when we put it in juxtaposition to the amount of evidence that he was in possession of it weighs very little. He had nothing to inspire confidence in them, and everything to make him mistrust them. Besides, why his broken faith? Why his disregard of what was told him by several parties? Again, if he knew not the plan how did he understand the signal? Why so oblivious to everything pertaining to the 'Mormon' interest, and so alive and interested about the mobocrats? At any rate, be this as it may, he stands responsible for their blood, and it is dripping on his garments. If it had not been for his promise of protection, they would have protected themselves; it was plighted faith that led them to the slaughter; and, to make the best of it, it was a breach of that faith and a nonfulfillment of that promise, after repeated warning, that led to their death.

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Having said so much, I must leave the governor with my readers and with his God. Justice, I conceive, demanded this much, and truth could not be told with less; as I have said before, my opinion is that the governor would not have planned this murder, but he had not sufficient energy to resist popular opinion, even if that opinion led to blood and death.

Were National Characters Implicated in the Murder.

It was rumored that a strong political party, numbering in its ranks many of the prominent men of the nation, were engaged in a plot for the overthrow of Joseph Smith, and that the governor was of this party, and Sharp, Williams, Captain Smith, and others, were his accomplices, but whether this was the case or not I do not know. It is very certain that a strong political feeling existed against Joseph Smith, and I have reason to believe that his letters to Henry Clay were made use of by political parties opposed to Mr. Clay, and were the means of that statesman's defeat. Yet, if such a combination as the one referred to existed, I am not apprised of it.

While I lay at Carthage, previous to Mrs. Taylor's arrival, a pretty good sort of a man, who was lame of a leg, waited upon me, and sat up at night with me; afterwards Mrs. Taylor, mother, and others waited upon me.

Visitors to John Taylor.

Many friends called upon me, among whom were Richard Ballantyne, Elizabeth Taylor, several of the Perkins family, and a number of the brethren from Macedonia and La Harpe. Besides these, many strangers from Quincy, some of whom expressed indignant feelings against the mob and sympathy for myself. Brother Alexander Williams called upon me, who suspected that they had some designs in keeping me there, and stated that he had, at a given point in some woods, fifty men, and if I would say the word he would raise other fifty, and fetch me out of there. I thanked him, but told him I thought there was no need. However, it would seem that I was in some danger; for Colonel Jones, before referred to, when absent from me, left two loaded pistols on the table in case of an attack, and some time afterwards, when I had recovered and was publishing the affair, a lawyer, Mr. Backman, stated that he had prevented a man by the name of Jackson, before referred to, from ascending the stairs, who was coming with a design to murder me, and that now he was sorry he had not let him do the deed.

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There were others also, of whom I heard, that said I ought to be killed, and they would do it, but that it was too damned cowardly to shoot a wounded man; and thus, by the chivalry of murderers, I was prevented from being a second time mutilated or killed. Many of the mob came around and treated me with apparent respect, and the officers and people generally looked upon me as a hostage, and feared that my removal would be the signal for the rising of the 'Mormons'.

I do not remember the time that I stayed at Carthage, but I think three or four days after the murder, when Brother Marks with a carriage, Brother James Allred with a wagon, Dr. Ells, and a number of others on horseback, came for the purpose of taking me to Nauvoo. I was very weak at the time, occasioned by the loss of blood and the great discharge of my wounds, so when my wife asked me if I could talk I could barely whisper no. Quite a discussion arose as to the propriety of my removal, the physicians and people of Carthage protesting that it would be my death, while my friends were anxious for my removal if possible.

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Taylor's Painful Journey to Nauvoo.

I suppose the former were actuated by the above-named desire to keep me. Colonel Jones was, I believe, sincere; he had acted as a friend all the time, and he told Mrs. Taylor she ought to persuade me not to go, for he did not believe I had strength enough to reach Nauvoo. It was finally agreed, however, that I should go; but as it was thought that I could not stand riding in a wagon or carriage, they prepared a litter for me; I was carried downstairs and put upon it. A number of men assisted to carry me, some of whom had been engaged in the mob. As soon as I got downstairs, I felt much better and strengthened, so that I could talk; I suppose the effect of the fresh air.

When we had got near the outside of the town I remembered some woods that we had to go through, and telling a person near to call for Dr. Ells, who was riding a very good horse, I said, 'Doctor, I perceive that the people are getting fatigued with carrying me; a number of 'Mormons' live about two or three miles from here, near our route; will you ride to their settlement as quick as possible, and have them come and meet us?' He started off on a gallop immediately. My object in this was to obtain protection in case of an attack, rather than to obtain help to carry me.

Very soon after the men from Carthage made one excuse after another, until they had all left, and I felt glad to get rid of them. I found that the tramping of those carrying me produced violent pain, and a sleigh was produced and attached to the hind end of Brother James Allred's wagon, a bed placed upon it, and I propped up on the bed. Mrs. Taylor rode with me, applying ice water to my wounds. As the sleigh was dragged over the grass on the prairie, which was quite tall, it moved very easily and gave me very little pain.

When I got within five or six miles of Nauvoo the brethren commenced to meet me from the city, and they increased in number as we drew nearer, until there was a very large company of people of all ages and both sexes, principally, however, men.

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For some time there had been almost incessant rain, so that in many low places on the prairie it was one to three feet deep in water, and at such places the brethren whom we met took hold of the sleigh, lifted it, and carried it over the water; and when we arrived in the neighborhood of the city, where the roads were excessively muddy and bad, the brethren tore down the fences, and we passed through the fields.

Never shall I forget the differences of feeling that I experienced between the place that I had left and the one that I had now arrived at. I had left a lot of reckless, bloodthirsty murderers, and had come to the City of the Saints, the people of the living God; friends of truth and righteousness, thousands of whom stood there with warm, true hearts to offer their friendship and services, and to welcome my return. It is true it was a painful scene, and brought sorrowful remembrance to my mind, but to me it caused a thrill of joy to find myself once more in the bosom of my friends, and to meet with the cordial welcome of true, honest hearts. What was very remarkable, I found myself very much better after my arrival at Nauvoo than I was when I started on my journey, although I had traveled eighteen miles.

The next day, as some change was wanting, I told Mrs. Taylor that if she could send to Dr. Richards, he had my purse and watch, and they would find money in my purse.

Time Registrar of the Massacre.

Previous to the doctor leaving Carthage, I told him that he had better take my purse and watch, for I was afraid the people would steal them. The doctor had taken my pantaloon's pocket, and put the watch in it with the purse, cut off the pocket, and tied a string around the top; it was in this position when brought home. My family, however, were not a little startled to find that my watch had been struck with a ball. I sent for my vest, and, upon examination, it was found that there was a cut as if with a knife, in the vest pocket which had contained my watch. In the pocket the fragments of the glass were found literally ground to powder. It then occurred to me that a ball had struck me at the time I felt myself falling out of the window, and that it was this force that threw me inside. I had often remarked to Mrs. Taylor the singular fact of finding myself inside the room, when I felt a moment before after being shot, that I was falling out, and I never could account for it until then; but here the thing was fully elucidated, and was rendered plain to my mind. I was indeed falling out, when some villain aimed at my heart. The ball struck my watch, and forced me back; if I had fallen out I should assuredly have been killed, if not by the fall, by those around, and this ball, intended to dispatch me, was turned by an overruling Providence into a messenger of mercy, and saved my life. I shall never forget the feelings of gratitude that I then experienced towards my heavenly Father; the whole scene was vividly portrayed before me, and my heart melted before the Lord. I felt that the Lord had preserved me by a special act of mercy; that my time had not yet come, and that I had still a work to perform upon the earth.

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[Signed] John Taylor.

John Taylor's Notes

"In addition to the above I give the following:

Dr. Bernhisel informed me that Joseph, looking him full in the face, and as solemn as eternity, said, 'I am going as a lamb to the slaughter, but I am as calm as a summer's morning. I have a conscience void of offense toward God and man.' I heard him state, in reply to an interrogatory, made either by myself or some one in my hearing, in relation to the best course to pursue: 'I am not now acting according to my judgment; others must counsel, and not me, for the present,' or in words to the same effect.

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Comment on the Expositor Affair

The governor's remarks about the press may be partially correct, so far as the legal technicality was concerned, and the order of administering law. The proper way would perhaps have been for the city council to have passed a law in regard to the removal of nuisances, and then for the municipal court to have ordered it to be abated on complaint. Be this as it may, it was only a variation in form, not in fact, for the municipal court formed part of the city council, and all voted; and, furthermore, some time after the murder, Governor Ford told me that the press ought to have been removed, but that it was bad policy to remove it as we did; that if we had only let a mob do it, instead of using the law, we could have done it without difficulty, and no one would have been implicated. Thus the governor, who would have winked at the proceedings of a mob, lent his aid to, or winked at, the proceedings of mob violence in the assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith for removing a nuisance according to law, because of an alleged informality in the legal proceedings or a legal technicality.

I must here state that I do not believe Governor Ford would have planned the murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith; but being a man that courted popular opinion, he had not the firmness to withstand the mob, even when that mob were seeking to imbrue their hands in the blood of innocence; he lent himself to their designs and thus became a partaker of their evil deeds.

I will illustrate this vexed question with the following official paper, which appeared in the Deseret News, No. 30.

'Two of the brethren arrived this evening (June 13th, 1844), from Carthage, and said that about 300 mobbers were assembled there, with the avowed intention of coming against Nauvoo. Also that Hamilton [the hotel proprietor] was paying a dollar per bushel for corn to feed their animals.'

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The following was published in the Warsaw Signal Office; I insert it as a specimen of the unparalleled corruption and diabolical falsehood of which the human race has become capable in this generation:

'At a mass meeting of the citizens of Hancock county, convened at Carthage on the 11th day of June, 1844, Mr. Knox was appointed president, John Doty and Lewis F. Evans, vice presidents, and William Y. Head, secretary.

'Henry Stephens, Esq. presented the following resolutions, passed at a meeting of the citizens of Warsaw, and urged the adoption of them as the sense of this meeting:

Preamble and Resolutions

'Whereas information has reached us, about which there can be no question, that the authorities of Nauvoo did recently pass an ordinance declaring a printing press and newspaper published by the opponents of the Prophet a nuisance, and in pursuance thereof did direct the marshal of the city and his adherents to enter by force the building from whence the paper was issued, and violently (if necessary) to take possession of the press and printing materials, and thereafter to burn and destroy the same; and whereas, in pursuance of said ordinance, the marshal and his adherents, together with a mob of Mormons, did, after sunset on the evening of the 10th inst., violently enter said building in a tumultuous manner, burn and destroy the press and other materials found on the premises;

And whereas Hyrum Smith did, in the presence of the city council and the citizens of Nauvoo, offer a reward for the destruction of the printing press and materials of the Warsaw Signal, a newspaper also opposed to his interest;

And whereas the liberty of the press is one of the cardinal principles of our government, firmly guaranteed by the several Constitutions of the states as well as the United States;

And whereas Hyrum Smith has within the last week publicly threatened the life of one of our valued citizens, Thos. C. Sharp, the editor of the Signal:

Therefore, be it solemnly Resolved by the citizens of Warsaw in public meeting assembled,

That we view the recent ordinance of the city of Nauvoo, and the proceedings thereunder, as an outrage of an alarming character, revolutionary and tyrannical in its tendency, and being under color of law, as calculated to subvert and destroy in the minds of the community all reliance on the law.

Resolved, That as a community we feel anxious, when possible, to redress our grievances by legal remedies; but the time has now arrived when the law has ceased to be a protection to our lives and property; a mob at Nauvoo, under a city ordinance, has violated the highest privilege in our government, and to seek redress in the ordinary mode would be utterly ineffectual.

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Resolved, That the public threat made in the council of the city not only to destroy our printing press, but to take the life of its editor, is sufficient, in connection with the recent outrage, to command the efforts and the services of every good citizen to put an immediate stop to the career of the mad Prophet and his demoniac coadjutors. We must not only defend ourselves from danger, but we must resolutely carry the war into the enemy's camp. We do therefore declare that we will sustain our press and the editor at all hazards. That we will take full vengeance—terrible vengeance, should the lives of any of our citizens be lost in the effort. That we hold ourselves at all times in readiness to cooperate with our fellow citizens in this state, Missouri, and Iowa, to exterminate—UTTERLY EXTERMINATE, the wicked and abominable Mormon leaders, the authors of our troubles.

Resolved, That a committee of five be appointed forthwith to notify all persons in our township suspected of being the tools of the Prophet to leave immediately on pain of INSTANT VENGEANCE. And we do recommend the inhabitants of the adjacent townships to do the same, hereby pledging ourselves to render all the assistance they may require.

Resolved, That the time, in our opinion, has arrived when the adherents of Smith as a body, shall be driven from the surrounding settlements into Nauvoo; that the Prophet and his miscreant adherents should then be demanded at their hands, and if not surrendered, A WAR OF EXTERMINATION SHOULD BE WAGED, to the entire destruction, if necessary for our protection, of his adherents. And we do hereby recommend this resolution to the consideration of the several townships to the mass convention to be held at Carthage, hereby pledging ourselves to aid to the utmost the complete consummation of the object in view, that we may thereby be utterly relieved of the alarm, anxiety, and trouble to which we are now subjected.

Resolved, That every citizen arm himself, to be prepared to sustain the resolutions herein contained.

Mr. Roosevelt rose and made a brief but eloquent speech, and called upon the citizens throughout the country to render efficient aid in carrying out the spirit of the resolutions. Mr. Roosevelt then moved that a committee of seven be appointed by the chair to draft resolutions expressive of our action in future.

Mr. Catlin moved to amend the motion of Mr. Roosevelt so that the committee should consist of one from each precinct; which motion as amended, was adopted.

The chair then appointed the following as said committee: Colonel Levi Williams, Rocky Run precinct; Joel Catlin, Augusta; Samuel Williams, Carthage; Elisha Worrell, Chili; Captain Maddison, St. Mary's; John M. Ferris, Fountain Green; James Rice, Pilot Grove; John Carns, Bear Creek; C. L. Higbee, Nauvoo; George Robinson, La Harpe, and George Rockwell, Warsaw.

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On motion of Mr. Sympson, Walter Bagby, Esq. was requested to address the meeting during the absence of the committee. He spoke long and eloquently upon the cause of our grievances, and expressed his belief that the time was now at hand when we were individually and collectively called upon to repel the innovations upon our liberties, and suggested that points be designated as places of encampment at which to rendezvous our forces, that we may be ready, when called upon, for efficient action.

Dr. Barnes, one of the persons who went with the officers to Nauvoo for the purpose of arresting the rioters, having just arrived, came into the meeting, and reported the result of their proceedings, which was, that the persons charged in the writs were duly arrested, but taken from the officer's hands on a writ of habeas corpus from the municipal court and discharged, and the following potent words entered upon the records—HONORABLY DISCHARGED.

On motion of O. C. Skinner, Esq. a vote of thanks was tendered to Dr. Barnes for volunteering his services in executing said writs.

Francis M. Higbee was now loudly called for. He stated his personal knowledge of the Mormons from their earliest history, throughout their hellish career in Missouri and this state, which had been characterized by the darkest and most diabolical deeds which had ever disgraced humanity.

The committee appointed to draft resolutions brought in the following report, which after some considerable discussion, was unanimously adopted:

Report of the Committee

'Whereas the officer charged with the execution of a writ against Joseph Smith and others, for riot in the county of Hancock, which said writ said officer has served upon said Smith and others; and whereas said Smith and others refuse to obey the mandate of said writ; and whereas, in the opinion of this meeting, it is impossible for the said officer to raise a posse of sufficient strength to execute said writ; and whereas it is the opinion of this meeting that the riot is still progressing, and that violence is meditated and determined on, it is the opinion of this meeting that the circumstances of the case require the interposition of executive power: Therefore,

'Resolved, That a deputation of two discreet men be sent to Springfield to solicit such interposition.

'2d. Resolved, That a said deputation be furnished with a certified copy of the resolution, and be authorized to obtain evidence by affidavit and otherwise in regard to the violence which has already been committed and is still farther meditated.'

Dr. Evans here rose and expressed his wish that the above resolutions would not retard our operations, but that we would each one arm and equip ourselves forthwith.

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The resolutions passed at Warsaw were again read by Dr. Barnes, and passed by acclamation.

On motion of A. Sympson, Esq., the suggestion of Mr. Bagby appointing places of encampment, was adopted to wit: Warsaw, Carthage, Green Plains, Spilman's Landing, Chili, and La Harpe.

On motion, O. C. Skinner and Walter Bagby, Esqrs. were appointed a committee to bear the resolutions adopted by this meeting to his excellency the governor, requiring his executive interposition.

On motion of J. H. Sherman, a Central Corresponding Committee was appointed.

Ordered, That J. H. Sherman, H. T. Wilson, Chauncey Robinson, Wm. S. Freeman, Thomas Morrison, F. M. Higbee, Lyman Prentiss, and Stephen H. Tyler be said committee.

On motion of George Rockwell,

Resolved, That constables in the different precincts hold themselves in readiness to obey the officer in possession of the writs, whenever called upon, in summoning the posse.

On motion, the meeting adjourned.

John Knox, President.
John Doty
Lewis F. Evans
Vice Presidents.

W. Y. Head, Secretary.'

The following will conclude the 'Expositor Question';

Joseph Smith's Account of the Expositor Affair

Nauvoo, June 14th, 1844.

'Sir,—I write you this morning briefly to inform you of the facts relative to the removal of the press and fixtures of the Nauvoo Expositor as a nuisance.

'The 8th and 10th instant were spent by the city council of Nauvoo in receiving testimony concerning the character of the Expositor, and the character and designs of the proprietors.

'In the investigation it appeared evident to the council that the proprietors were a set of unprincipled, lawless debauches, counterfeiters, bogus-makers, gamblers, peace-disturbers, and that the grand object of said proprietors was to destroy our constitutional rights and chartered privileges; to overthrow all good and wholesome regulations in society; to strengthen themselves against the municipality; to fortify themselves against the church of which I am a member, and destroy all our religious rights and privileges by libels, slanders, falsehoods, perjury, etc. and sticking at no corruption to accomplish their hellish purposes; and that said paper of itself was libelous of the deepest dye, and very injurious as a vehicle of defamation, tending to corrupt the morals, and disturb the peace, tranquility, and happiness of the whole community, and especially that of Nauvoo.

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'After a long and patient investigation of the character of the Expositor, and the characters and designs of its proprietors, the Constitution, the Charter (see Addenda to Nauvoo Charter from the Springfield Charter, sec. 7), and all the best authorities on the subject (see Blackstone, 3, 5, and n, etc., etc.), the city council decided that it was necessary for the 'peace, benefit, good order, and regulations' of said city, 'and for the protection of the property', and for 'the happiness and prosperity of the citizens of Nauvoo', that said Expositor should be removed; and declaring said Expositor a nuisance, ordered the mayor to cause them to be removed without delay, which order was committed to the marshal by due process, and by him executed the same day, by removing the paper, press, and fixtures into the streets, and burning the same; all which was done without riot, noise, tumult, or confusion, as has already been proved before the municipality of the city; and the particulars of the whole transaction may be expected in our next Nauvoo Neighbor.

'I send you this hasty sketch that your excellency may be aware of the lying reports that are now being circulated by our enemies, that there has been a 'mob at Nauvoo', and 'blood and thunder', and 'swearing that two men were killed', etc. etc., as we hear from abroad, are false—false as satan himself could invent, and that nothing has been transacted here but what has been in perfect accordance with the strictest principles of law and good order on the part of the authorities of this city; and if your excellency is not satisfied, and shall not be satisfied, after reading the whole proceedings, which will be forthcoming soon, and shall demand an investigation of our municipality before Judge Pope, or any legal tribunal at the Capitol, you have only to write your wishes, and we will be forthcoming; we will not trouble you to file a writ, or send an officer for us.

'I remain, as ever, a friend to truth, good order, and your excellency's humble servant,

[Signed] Joseph Smith.

'His Excellency Thomas Ford.'" 1

Chapter 10.

1. See Tyler's History of the Mormon Battalion, Introduction, in which the Taylor document is published almost completely, also Captain Richard F. Burton's City of the Saints, 1862, Appendix 3, pp. 517-547. The letter inserted by Burton at pp. 526-7, however, is not the letter to which Joseph Smith took exception (see p. 78 this volume) but is the letter received from Governor Ford written on his arrival at Carthage June 21, 1844, in which he asks for a committee to be sent to him giving the Latter-day Saint version of the proceedings which had taken place in Nauvoo up to that time. B. H. R.