The Escape Of Parley P. Pratt And His Fellow Prisoners From Missouri—The Close Of An Epoch.
Thursday, July 4, 1839.—I dictated history.
To show the situation of the prisoners at Columbia, Missouri, I quote from Elder Pratt’s “Persecution of the Saints”—
Parley P. Pratt’s Account of His Escape from Missouri.
Sister Phelps, Orson Pratt, and Sister Phelps’ brother came from Illinois on horseback and visited with us for several days. 1 On the fourth of July we felt desirous as usual to celebrate the anniversary of American liberty; we accordingly manufactured a white flag, consisting of the half of a shirt, on which was inscribed the word “Liberty,” is large letters, and also a large American eagle was put on in red; we then obtained a pole from our jailer, and on the morning of the fourth, this flag was suspended from the front window of our prison, overhanging the public square, and floating triumphantly in the air to the full view of the citizens who assembled by hundreds to celebrate the National Jubilee.
With this the citizens seemed highly pleased, and sent a portion of the public dinner to us and our friends, who partook with us in prison with merry hearts, as we intended to gain our liberties or be in paradise before the close of that eventful day.
While we were thus employed in prison, the town was alive with troops parading, guns firing, music sounding, and shouts of joy resounding on every side. In the meantime we wrote the following toast, which was read at their public dinner, with many and long cheers—
“The patriotic and hospitable citizens of Boone county: opposed to tyranny and oppression, and firm to the original principles of republican liberty; may they, in common with every part of our wide spreading country, long enjoy the blessings which flow from the fountain of American Independence.”
Our dinner being ended, our two brethren took leave of us and started for Illinois, (leaving Mrs. Phelps to still visit with her husband;) they had proceeded a mile or two on the road and then took into the woods, and finally placed their three horses in a thicket within one-third of a mile of the prison, and there they waited in anxious suspense until sundown. In the meantime we put on our coats and hats and waited for the setting sun.
With prayer and supplication for deliverance from this long and tedious bondage, and for a restoration to the society of our friends and families, we then sung the following lines—
Lord cause their foolish plans to fail,
And let them faint or die;
Our souls would quit this loathsome jail,
And fly to Illinois.
To join with the embodied Saints,
Who are with freedom blessed—
That only bliss for which we pant—
With them a while to rest.
Give joy for grief—give ease for pain;
Take all our foes away;
But let us find our friends again,
In this eventful day.
Thus ended the celebration of our National Liberty; but the gaining of our own was the grand achievement now before us. In the meantime, the sun was setting; the moment arrived—the footsteps of the jailer were heard on the stairs; every man flew to his feet, and stood near the door. The great door was opened, and our supper handed in through a small hole in the inner door, which still remained locked; but at length the key was turned in order to hand in the pot of coffee. No sooner was the key turned than the door was jerked open, and in a moment all three of us were out—and rushing down the stairs, through the entry, and out into the door yard, when Phelps cleared himself without injuring the jailor, and all of us leaped several fences, ran through the fields towards the thicket, where we expected to find our friends and horses.
In the meantime the town was alarmed; and many were seen rushing after us, some on horseback, and some on foot, prepared with dogs, guns, and whatever came to hand. But the flag of Liberty, with its eagle, still floated on high in the distance: and under that banner, our nerves seemed to strengthen at every step.
We gained the horses, mounted, and dashed into the wilderness, each his own way. After a few jumps of my horse, I was hailed by an armed man at pistol shot distance, crying, “d——you, stop, or I’ll shoot you!” I rushed onward deeper into the forest, while the cry was repeated in close pursuit, “d——you, stop, or I’ll shoot you,” at every step, till at length it died away in the distance. I plunged a mile into the forest—came to a halt—tied my horse in a thicket—went a distance and climbed a tree, to await the approaching darkness.
Being so little used to exercise, I fainted through over-exertion, and remained so faint for nearly an hour that I could not get down from the tree; but calling on the Lord, He strengthened me, and I came down from the tree. But my horse had got loose and gone. I then made my way on foot for several days and nights, principally without food, and scarcely suffering myself to be seen.
After five days of dreadful suffering with fatigue and hunger, I crossed the Mississippi and found myself once more in a land of freedom. Mr. Phelps made his escape also; 2 but King Follet was retaken and carried back. 3 Luman Gibbs continued in the prison; he had apostatized and turned traitor to the others.”
Chapter 28 Notes
1. This was really a rescuing party as the subsequent events clearly disclose. The plan of escape was as follows: Orson Pratt waited on the district judge and district attorney and obtained various papers and arranged for summoning witnesses from Illinois to attend a trial which had just been adjourned for some months. He was to procure and order from the court to take affidavits in Illinois in case the witnesses should object to come to the state from which they had been banished to attend the trial. This activity on the part of the prisoners for a trial, and their engaging a lawyer or two and paying part of their fees in advance to defend their case, served as a sufficient covering for the real intentions of the rescuing party. The papers were all prepared and placed in the hands of Orson Pratt, but the company of visitors were to remain until after the 4th of July celebration. Arrangements were also made by which Mrs. Phelps was to stay with her husband a few weeks in prison, engaging her board in the meantime in the family of the jailer who occupied part of the prison as a residence. When Orson Pratt and Mr. Clark, brother of Mrs. Phelps, departed, apparently on their mission to secure witnesses, they took Sister Phelps’ horse with them as if to take it back to Illinois, all of which, of course, served stillmore to conceal the real plot that was laid for the escape of the prisoners. (See Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt p. 268).
2. The account of Phelp’s escape is thus given by Parley P. Pratt: “Mr. Phelps made his escape much in the same manner as myself. He was at first closely pursued, but at length he out-distanced them all, and, once out of their sight, he struck directly into the road, and rode on toward Illinois. He had proceeded but a few miles on his way, when he was suddenly surrounded in the darkness of the night by a company of horsemen who were out in pursuit of the prisoners. They immediately hailed him, and cried out, ‘Say, stranger, G-d d—you, what is your name?’ He replied in the same rough and careless manner, ‘You d——d rascals, what is yours?’ On finding that he could ‘damn’ as well as themselves, they concluded he could not be a Mormon, while his bold and fearless manner convinced them that he was not a man who was fleeing for his life. They then begged his pardon for the rough manner in which they had accosted him, ‘Oh, you are one of the real breed. By G-d, no d——d Mormon could counterfeit that language, you swear real natteral; hurrah for old Kentuck. But whar mout you live, stranger?” He replied, “just up here; you mout a kno’d me, and then agin you moun’t. I think I’ve seed you all a heap o’ times, but I’ve been so d———d drunk at the fourth of Independence, I hardly know myself or anybody else, but harrah for old Kentuck; and what about the d——d Mormons?’ ‘What about ’em? egad, you’d a know’d that without axin’, if you’d a seed ’em run.’ ‘What! they re not out of prison, are they?” ‘Out of prison! yes, the d——d rascals raised a flag of liberty in open day, and burst out, and down stairs right into the midst of the public celebration, out-wrestling the d——d jailer, and outrunning the whole town in a fair foot race. They reached the timber jist as they war overtaken, but afore we could cotch ’em they mounted their nags, and the way they cleard was a caution to Crockett. We tul one on ’em, and seed the other two a few feet distant, rushin’ their nags at full speed, but we couln’t cotch ’em nor shoot ’em either; I raised my new Kentucky rifle, fresh loaded and primed, with a good percussion, and taking fair aim at one of their heads only a few yards distant, I fired, but the d——d cap burst, and the powder wouldn’t burn.’ ‘Well, now, stranger, that’s a mighty big story, and seems enemost impossible. Did you say you cotched one on ’em? Why I’d a tho’t you’d a kilt him on the spot; what have you done with him?’ ‘They tuk him back to prison, I suppose, but it was only the old one. If it had been one o’ them tother chaps we would a skinn’d ’em as quick as Crockett would a coon, and then eat ’em alive without leaving a grease spot.’
“This interview over, the horsemen withdrew and left Phelps to pursue his way in peace; * * * * and he finally arrived in Illinois in safety, having reached the ferry before his pursuers, and before the news of the escape had spread so far.” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt pp. 282-4).
“He had been surrounded, overpowered and taken at the time we were each separated from the others. He was finally rescued from the mob, and thrust alive into the lower dungeon and chained down to the floor. He remained in this doleful situation for a few days, till the wrath of the multitude had time to cool a little, and then he was unchained by the Sheriff and again brought in to the upper apartment and treated with some degree of kindness. They now laughed with him about his adventure, praised him for his bravery, and called him a good fellow. The truth of the matter was, they had no great desire to take the lives of any but those whom they had considered leaders; and since they had discovered that Mr. Follett and Mr. Phelps were not considered religious leaders among our society, they were in no great danger, except they should happen to be killed in the heat of excitement or passion. * * * * * Mr. Follet remained in confinement for several months, and finally was dismissed and sent home to Illinois, where he met his family, who had been expelled from the State of Missouri, in common with other, during his confinement.” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, pp. 288-9).
The escape of these prisoners form Missouri completed the expulsion of the Latter-day Saints from that state, and closed a great epoch in the history of the Church.