Volume 7 Chapter 3 | BYU Studies

Volume 7 Chapter 3


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Chapter 3

Governor Ford's Visit to Nauvoo—Fears on the Way—Insulting Speech to the Citizens—Resented—Hears of the Assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith

" 'Having ordered the guard, and left General Deming in command in Carthage, and discharged the residue of the militia, I immediately departed for Nauvoo, eighteen miles distant, accompanied by Colonel Buckmaster, quartermaster-general, and Captain Dunn's company of dragoons.

Uncertainty of the Reflections and Actions of Governor Ford.

After we had proceeded four miles, Colonel Buckmaster intimated to me a suspicion that an attack would be made upon the jail. He stated the matter as a mere suspicion, arising from having seen two persons converse together at Carthage with some air of mystery. I myself entertained no suspicion of such an attack; at any rate, none before the next day in the afternoon, 1 because it was notorious that we had departed from Carthage with the declared intention of being absent at least two days. 2 I could not believe that any person would attack the jail whilst we were in Nauvoo, and thereby expose my life and the life of my companions to the sudden vengeance of the Mormons upon hearing of the death of their leaders. Nevertheless, acting upon the principle of providing against mere possibilities, I sent back one of the company with a special order to Captain Smith to guard the jail strictly, and at the peril of his life, until my return.

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We proceeded on our journey four miles further. By this time I had convinced myself that no attack would be made on the jail that day or night. I supposed that a regard for my safety, and the safety of my companions, would prevent an attack until those to be engaged in it could be assured of our departure from Nauvoo. I still think that this ought to have appeared to me to be a reasonable supposition.

I therefore determined at this point to omit making the search for counterfeit money at Nauvoo, and defer an examination of all the other abominations charged on that people, in order to return to Carthage that same night, that I might be on the ground, in person, in time to prevent an attack upon the jail, if any had been meditated. To this end we called a halt; the baggage wagons were ordered to remain where they were until towards evening, and then return to Carthage.

Governor Ford in Nauvoo.

Having made these arrangements, we proceeded on our march, and arrived at Nauvoo about four o'clock of the afternoon of the 27th day of June. As soon as notice could be given, a crowd of the citizens assembled to hear an address which I proposed to deliver to them. The number present has been variously estimated from one to five thousand.

In this address I stated to them how and in what their functionaries had violated the laws; also the many scandalous reports in circulation against them, and that these reports, whether true or false, were generally believed by the people. I distinctly stated to them the amount of hatred and prejudice which prevailed everywhere against them, and the causes of it, at length.

I also told them, plainly and emphatically, that if any vengeance should be attempted openly or secretly against the persons or property of the citizens who had taken part against their leaders, that the public hatred and excitement was such, that thousands would assemble for the total destruction of their city and the extermination of their people, and that no power in the state would be able to prevent it.

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People of Nauvoo Resent Charges.

During this address some impatience and resentment were manifested by the Mormons at the recital of the various reports enumerated concerning them, which they strenuously and indignantly denied to be true. They claimed to be a law-abiding people, and insisted that as they looked to the law alone for their protection, so were they careful themselves to observe its provisions.

Upon the conclusion of this address I proposed to take a vote on the question, whether they would strictly observe the laws even in opposition to their Prophet and leaders. The vote was unanimous in favor of this proposition.

The anti-Mormons contended that such a vote from the Mormons signified nothing; and truly the subsequent history of that people showed clearly that they were loudest in their professions of attachment to the law whenever they were guilty of the greatest extravagances; and, in fact, that they were so ignorant and stupid about matters of law that they had no means of judging of the legality of their conduct only as they were instructed by their spiritual leaders. 3

Word of the Assassination of the Prophet Received.

A short time before sundown we departed on our return to Carthage. When we had proceeded two miles, we met two individuals, one of them a Mormon, who informed us that the Smiths had been assassinated in jail, about five or six o'clock of that day. The intelligence seemed to strike every one with a kind of dumbness. As to myself it was perfectly astounding, and I anticipated the very worst consequences from it.

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The Mormons had been represented to me as a lawless, infatuated and fanatical people, not governed by the ordinary motives which influence the rest of mankind. If so, most likely an exterminating war would ensue, and the whole land would be covered with desolation.

Acting upon this supposition, it was my duty to provide as well as I could for the event. I therefore ordered the two messengers into custody, and to be returned with us to Carthage. This was done to get time to make such arrangements as could be made, and to prevent any sudden explosion of Mormon excitement before they could be written to by their friends at Carthage.

I also dispatched messengers to Warsaw, to advise the citizens of the event. But the people there knew all about the matter before my messengers arrived. They, like myself, anticipated a general attack all over the country. The women and children were removed across the river, and a committee was dispatched that night to Quincy for assistance.

False Rumors at Quincy and Warsaw.

The next morning, by daylight, the ringing of the bells in the city of Quincy announced a public meeting. The people assembled in great numbers at an early hour. The Warsaw committee stated to the meeting that a party of Mormons had attempted to rescue the Smiths out of jail; that a party of Missourians and others had killed the prisoners to prevent their escape; that the governor and his party were at Nauvoo at the time when intelligence of the fact was brought there; that they had been attacked by the Nauvoo Legion, and had retreated to a house where they were then closely besieged; that the governor had sent out word that he could maintain his position for two days, and would be certain to be massacred if assistance did not arrive by the end of that time.

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It is unnecessary to say that this entire story was a fabrication. It was of a piece with the other reports put into circulation by the anti-Mormon party, to influence the public mind and call the people to their assistance. The effect of it, however, was that by ten o'clock on the 28th of June, between two and three hundred men from Quincy, under the command of Major Flood, embarked on board of a steamboat for Nauvoo, to assist in raising the siege, as they honestly believed.

As for myself, I was well convinced that those, whoever they were, who assassinated the Smiths, meditated in turn my assassination by the Mormons. The very circumstances of the case fully corroborated the information which I afterwards received, that upon consultation of the assassins it was agreed amongst them that the murder must be committed whilst the governor was at Nauvoo; that the Mormons would naturally suppose that he had planned it; and that in the first outpouring of their indignation they would assassinate him by way of retaliation; and that thus they would get clear [rid] of the Smiths and the governor all at once. They also supposed, that if they could so contrive the matter as to have the governor of the state assassinated by the Mormons, the public excitement would be greatly increased against that people, and would result in their expulsion from the state at least.

The Governor's Plight.

Upon hearing of the assassination of the Smiths, I was sensible that my command was at an end, that my destruction was meditated as well as that of the Mormons, and that I could not reasonably confide longer in the one party or in the other.

The question then arose, what would be proper to be done. A war was expected by everybody. I was desirous of preserving the peace. I could not put myself at the head of the Mormon force with any kind of propriety, and without exciting greater odium against them than already existed. I could not put myself at the head of the anti-Mormon party, because they had justly forfeited my confidence, and my command over them was put an end to by mutiny and treachery. I could not put myself at the head of either of these forces, because both of them in turn had violated the law, and, as I then believed, meditated further aggression. It appeared to me that if a war ensued, I ought to have a force in which I could confide, and that I ought to establish my headquarters at a place where I could learn the truth as to what was going on.

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The Governor Establishes Headquarters at Quincy.

For these reasons I determined to proceed to Quincy, a place favorably situated for receiving the earliest intelligence, for issuing orders to raise an army if necessary, and for providing supplies for its subsistence. But first, I determined to return back to Carthage and make such arrangements as could be made for the pacification and defense of the country.

When I arrived there, about ten o'clock at night, I found that great consternation prevailed. Many of the citizens had departed with their families, and others were preparing to go. As the country was utterly defenseless, this seemed to me to be a proper precaution. One company of the guard stationed by me to guard the jail had disbanded and gone home before the jail was attacked, and many of the Carthage Greys departed soon afterwards.

General Deming, who was absent in the country during the murder, had returned. He volunteered to remain in command of a few men, with orders to guard the town, observe the progress of events, and to retreat if menaced by a superior force.

Here, also, I found Dr. Richards and John Taylor, two of the principal Mormon leaders, who had been in the jail at the time of the attack, and who voluntarily addressed a most pacific exhortation to their fellow citizens, which was the first intelligence of the murder which was received at Nauvoo. I think it very probable that the subsequent good conduct of the Mormons is attributable to the arrest of the messengers, and to the influence of this letter.

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Having made these arrangements, I departed for Quincy. On my road thither, I heard of a body of militia marching from Schuyler, and another from Brown [counties]. It appears that orders had been sent out in my name, but without my knowledge, for the militia of Schuyler county. I immediately countermanded their march, and they returned to their homes.

When I arrived at Columbus, I found that Captain Jonas had raised a company of one hundred men, who were just ready to march. By my advice they postponed their march to await further orders.

I arrived at Quincy on the morning of the 29th of June, about eight o'clock, and immediately issued orders, provisionally, for raising an imposing force, when it should seem to be necessary.

Demands Upon the Governor to Expel the Saints from Illinois.

I remained at Quincy for about one month, during which time a committee from Warsaw waited on me, with a written request that I would expel the Mormons from the state. It seemed that it never occurred to these gentlemen that I had no power to exile a citizen; but they insisted that if this were not done, their party would abandon the state. This requisition was refused, of course.

During this time also, with the view of saving expense, keeping the peace, and having a force which would be removed from the prejudices in the country, I made application to the United States for five hundred men of the regular army, to be stationed for a time in Hancock county, which was subsequently refused. 4

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During this time also, I had secret agents amongst all parties, observing their movements, and was accurately informed of everything that was meditated on both sides. It appeared that the anti-Mormon party had not relinquished their hostility to the Mormons, nor their determination to expel them, but had deferred further operations until the fall season, after they had finished their summer's work on their farms.

Perplexities of Governor Ford—Political Parties.

When I first went to Carthage, and during all this difficult business, no public officer ever acted from purer or more patriotic intentions than I did. I was perfectly conscious of the utmost integrity in all my actions, and felt lifted up far above all mere party considerations. But I had scarcely arrived at the scene of action before the whig press commenced the most violent abuse, and attributed to me the basest motives.

It was alleged in the Sangamon Journal, and repeated in the other whig newspapers, that the governor had merely gone over to cement an alliance with the Mormons; that the leaders would not be brought to punishment, but that a full privilege would be accorded to them to commit crimes of every hue and grade, in return for their support of the democratic party. I mention this not by way of complaint, for it is only the privilege of the minority to complain, but for its influence upon the people.

I observed that I was narrowly watched in all my proceedings by my whig fellow citizens, and was suspected of an intention to favor the Mormons.

I felt that I did not possess the confidence of the men I commanded, and that they had been induced to withhold it by the promulgation of the most abominable falsehoods.

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I felt the necessity of possessing their confidence, in order to give vigor to my action, and exerted myself in every way to obtain it, so that I could control the excited multitude who were under my command. I succeeded better for a time than could have been expected; but who can control the action of a mob without possessing their entire confidence?

It is true, also, that some unprincipled democrats all the time appeared to be very busy on the side of the Mormons, and this circumstance was well calculated to increase suspicion of every one who had the name of democrat.

Movements of the Mob from Warsaw.

It was many days after the assassination of the Smiths before the circumstances of the murder fully became known. It then appeared that, agreeably to previous orders, the posse at Warsaw had marched on the morning of the 27th of June in the direction of Golden's Point, with a view to join the force from Carthage, the whole body then to be marched into Nauvoo.

But by the time they had gone eight miles, they were met by the order to disband; and learning at the same time that the governor was absent at Nauvoo, about two hundred of these men, many of them being disguised by blacking their faces with powder and mud, hastened immediately to Carthage.

There they encamped, at some distance from the village, and soon learned that one of the companies left as a guard had disbanded and returned to their homes. The other company, the Carthage Greys, was stationed by the captain in the public square, a hundred and fifty yards from the jail, whilst eight men were detailed by him, under the command of Sergeant Franklin A. Worrell, to guard the prisoners.

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The Attack Upon the Prison.

A Communication was soon established between the conspirators and the company, and it was arranged that the guard should have their guns charged with blank cartridges, and fire at the assailants when they attempted to enter the jail.

General Deming, who was left in command, being deserted by some of his troops, and perceiving the arrangement with the others, and having no force upon which he could rely, for fear of his life retired from the village,

The conspirators came up, jumped the slight fence around the jail, were fired upon by the guard, which, according to arrangement, was overpowered immediately, and the assailants entered the prison, to the door of the room where the two prisoners were confined, with two of their friends, who voluntarily bore them company.

An attempt was made to break open the door, but Joe Smith being armed with a six-barrelled pistol, furnished by his friends, fired several times as the door was bursted open, and wounded three of the assailants. At the same time several shots were fired into the room, by some of which John Taylor received four wounds, and Hyrum Smith was instantly killed.

Joe Smith now attempted to escape by jumping out of the second story window, but the fall so stunned him that he was unable to rise; and being placed in a sitting posture by the conspirators below, they dispatched him with four balls shot through his body.

Thus fell Joe Smith, the most successful impostor in modern times. 5'" * * * * *

Chapter 3.

1. Italics are the Church Historians', George A. Smith and Wilford Woodruff. B. H. R.

2. The governor is most unfortunate here in his admissions that he did not expect an attack "until the afternoon of the next day" following his departure for Nauvoo: for since he had made provision for being absent in Nauvoo "two days" then he did expect, from the language he here uses, that an attack would be made upon the jail and the prisoners on the second day after his departure, and while he would still be absent from Carthage. B. H. R.

3. Governor Ford is not testified in making these observations based on anything in the "subsequent history" of the people. Examination of their conduct in "subsequent history" will reveal the fact that they had as an intelligent understanding of law as a community, far exceeding the average of American community in respect to things of the law. B. H. R.

4. The application here referred to by Governor Ford was unquestionably mere subterfuge. It is true he made application for a United States force of 500 men, but he made it in such form that it could not be otherwise than that he knew that the requisition would not be granted, for he made application for it at the wrong source: namely he wrote to Colonel S. W. Kearney (U. S. A.) Commander of the Third Military Department of the United States, at St. Louis, and made the application for the above mentioned force to him instead of making application to the President of the United States; and this fact General Kearney mentioned in his letter replying to Governor Ford, a copy of which reply Governor Ford included in his letter to the General Authorities of the Church at Nauvoo. Kearney's letter bears date of July 11, 1844, and in it he said to Governor Ford: "I have not the power of complying with your request, but will forward by tomorrow's mail a copy of your communication to be read before the authorities in Washington City." The letter of Governor Ford, explaining this matter, including also Kearney's letter will be found in The Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Century I, vol. 2, pp. 302-7. B. H. R.

5. Here ends the former Church Historians' (George A. Smith and Wilford Woodruff) quotation from Ford's History of Illinois. B. H. R.