Volume 6 Chapter 29


The Prophet Starts for The Rocky Mountains—The Counsel of False Brethren—The Return to Nauvoo—The Surrender and Arrival at Carthage.


[Page 547]

An account of the arrest, imprisonment and martyrdom of President Joseph Smith and Patriarch Hyrum Smith in Carthage jail, Hancock county, Illinois, as collected from the journal kept at the time by Willard Richards and the statements published by John Taylor, Messrs. Reid and Woods and John S. Fullmer, and the writings and statements of Dan Jones, Cyrus H. Wheelock, Stephen Markham and many other persons, who were personally acquainted with the transactions. 1By the Historian. 2

The Warning to Flee to the Rocky Mountains.

Saturday, June 11, 1844.—About 9 P.M. Hyrum came out of the Mansion and gave his hand to Reynolds Cahoon, at the same time saying, “A company of men are seeking to kill my brother Joseph, and the Lord has warned him to flee to the Rocky Mountains to save his life. Good-by, Brother Cahoon, we shall see you again.” In a few minutes afterwards Joseph came from his family. His tears were flowing fast. He held a handkerchief to his face, and followed after Brother Hyrum without uttering a word.

Between 9 and 10 P.M. Joseph, Hyrum and Willard, while waiting on the banks of the river for the skiff, sent for William W. Phelps, and instructed him to take their families to Cincinnati by the second steamboat, arriving at Nauvoo; and when he arrived there to commence petitioning the President of the United States and Congress for redress of grievances, and see if they would grant the Church liberty and equal rights. Joseph then said: “Go to our wives, and tell them what we have concluded to do, and learn their feelings on the subject; and tell Emma you will be ready to start by the second steamboat, and she has sufficient money wherewith to pay the expenses. If you ascertain by tomorrow morning that there is anything wrong, come over the river to Montrose, to the house of Captain John Killien, and there you will learn where we are.”

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About midnight, Joseph, Hyrum and Dr. Richards called for Orrin P. Rockwell at his lodgings, and all went up the river bank until they found Aaron Johnson’s boat, which they got into, and started about 2 a. m to cross the Mississippi river. Orrin P. Rockwell rowed the skiff, which was very leaky, so that it kept Joseph, Hyrum and the doctor busy baling out the water with their boots and shoes to prevent it from sinking.

Preparations for the Western Journey.

Sunday, 23.—At daybreak arrived on the Iowa side of the river. Sent Orrin P. Rockwell back to Nauvoo with instructions to return the next night with horses for Joseph and Hyrum, pass them over the river in the night secretly, and be ready to start for the Great Basin in the Rocky Mountains.

Joseph, Hyrum and Dr. Richards walked up to Captain John Killien’s house, where they arrived at sunrise; but he not being at home, they went from thence to Brother William Jordan’s. About 9 A.M. Dr. Bernhisel came over the river to visit Joseph; also Reynolds Cahoon, who made some explanations respecting Governor Ford’s letter.

Arrival of Constable’s Posse.

Early in the morning a posse arrived in Nauvoo to arrest Joseph, but as they did not find him, they started back to Carthage immediately, leaving one man of the name of Yates behind them, who said to one of the brethren that Governor Ford designed that if Joseph and Hyrum were not given up, he would send his troops and guard the city until they were found, if it took three years to do it.

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Emma’s Message to the Prophet.

At 1 P.M. Emma sent over Orrin P. Rockwell, requesting him to entreat of Joseph to come back. Reynolds Cahoon accompanied him with a letter which Emma had written to the same effect, and she insisted that Cahoon should persuade Joseph to come back and give himself up. When they went over they found Joseph, Hyrum and Willard in a room by themselves, having flour and other provisions on the floor ready for packing.

Reynolds Cahoon informed Joseph what the troops intended to do, and urged upon him to give himself up, inasmuch as the Governor had pledged his faith and the faith of the state to protect him while he underwent a legal and fair trial. Reynolds Cahoon, Lorenzo D. Wasson and Hiram Kimball accused Joseph of cowardice for wishing to leave the people, adding that their property would be destroyed, and they left without house or home. Like the fable, when the wolves came the shepherd ran from the flock, and left the sheep to be devoured. To which Joseph replied, “If my life is of no value to my friends it is of none to myself.”

Consultation with Rockwell.

Joseph said to Rockwell, “What shall I do?” Rockwell replied, “You are the oldest and ought to know best; and as you make your bed, I will lie with you.” Joseph then turned to Hyrum, who was talking with Cahoon, and said, “Brother Hyrum, you are the oldest, what shall we do?” Hyrum said, “Let us go back and give ourselves up, and see the thing out.” After studying a few moments, Joseph said, “If you go back I will go with you, but we shall be butchered.” Hyrum said, “No, no; let us go back and put our trust in God, and we shall not be harmed. The Lord is in it. If we live or have to die, we will be reconciled to our fate.”

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After a short pause, Joseph told Cahoon to request Captain Daniel C. Davis to have his boat ready at half-past five to cross them over the river.

Joseph and Hyrum then wrote the following letter:

Letter:—Joseph and Hyrum Smith to Governor Ford—Consenting to go to Carthage.

Bank of the River Mississippi,

Sunday, June 23rd, 1844, 2 P.M.

His Excellency Governor Ford:

Sir.—I wrote you a long communication at 12 last night, expressive of my views of your Excellency’s communication of yesterday. I thought your letter rather severe, but one of my friends has just come to me with an explanation from the captain of your posse which softened the subject matter of your communication, and gives us greater assurance of protection, and that your Excellency has succeeded in bringing in subjection the spirits which surround your Excellency to some extent. And I declare again the only objection I ever had or ever made on trial by my country at any time, was what I have made in my last letter—on account of assassins, and the reason I have to fear deathly consequences from their hands.

But from the explanation, I now offer to come to you at Carthage on the morrow, as early as shall be convenient for your posse to escort us into headquarters, provided we can have a fair trial, not be abused nor have my witnesses abused, and have all things done in due form of law, without partiality, and you may depend on my honor without the show of a great armed force to produce excitement in the minds of the timid.

We will meet your posse, if this letter is satisfactory, (if not, inform me) at or neat the Mound, at or about two o’clock tomorrow afternoon. which will be as soon as we can get our witnesses and prepare for trial. We shall expect to take our witnesses with us, and not have to wait a subpoena or part at least, so as not to detain the proceedings, although we may want time for counsel.

We remain most respectfully, your Excellency’s humble servants,

Joseph Smith,

Hyrum Smith.

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Also wrote to Horace T. Hugins, Esquire:

Letter: Joseph Smith to H. T. Hugins—Engaging Counsel.

Nauvoo, Sunday, June 23, 1844.

H. T. Hugins, Esq:

Sir.—I have agreed to meet Governor Ford at Carthage tomorrow to attend an examination before Justice Morrison, and request your attendance professionally with the best attorney you can bring.

I meet the Governor’s posse on the Mound at 10 A.M.; in Carthage at 12 noon. Do not fail me, and oblige,

Yours respectfully,

Joseph Smith.

per W. Richards, Clerk.

P.S.—Dr. J. R. Wakefield I wish as witness, &c.

And also to Dr. J. Wakefield as follows:

Letter: Joseph Smith to J. R. Wakefield Soliciting Latter’s Attendance as Witness.

Nauvoo, June 23, 1844.

Dr. J. R. Wakefield:

Sir.—I would respectfully solicit your attendance at court in Carthage tomorrow at 12 noon, as witness in case “State of Illinois on complaint of Francis M. Higbee, versus Joseph Smith and others.” Dear sir, do not fail me, and oblige your old friend,

Joseph Smith,

per Willard Richards, Clerk.

P. S.—Esq. Hugins and co-partner are expected. We meet the Governor’s posse on the Mound at 10 A.M.: at Carthage at 12 noon. Bearer will give particulars.

The Prophet Returns to Nauvoo.

About 4 P.M. Joseph, Hyrum, the Doctor and others started back. While walking towards the river, Joseph fell behind with Orrin P. Rockwell. The other shouted to come on. Joseph replied, “It is of no use to hurry, for we are going back to be slaughtered,” and continually expressed himself that he would like to get the people once more together, and talk to them tonight. Rockwell said if that was his wish he would get the people together, and he could talk to them by starlight.

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It was the strong persuasions of Reynolds Cahoon, Lorenzo D. Wasson and Hiram Kimball, who were carrying out Emma’s instructions, that induced Joseph and Hyrum to start back to Nauvoo. They re-crossed the river at half-past five. When they arrived at the Mansion in Nauvoo, Joseph’s family surrounded him, and he tarried there all night, giving up the idea of preaching to the Saints by starlight.

Vacillation of Governor Ford.

He sent the letter of this date to Governor Ford by Col. Theodore Turley and Elder Jedediah M. Grant, who carried it to Carthage, where they arrived about 9 P.M. They gave the letter to Governor Ford, who first agreed to send a posse to escort General Smith in safety to Carthage. Immediately afterwards Mr. Skinner came in and made a very bitter speech to the Governor, in which Wilson Law and Joseph H. Jackson joined, telling him naught but lies, which caused Elder Grant to ask if messengers to him were to be insulted in that manner. The Governor treated them coldly, and rescinded his previous promise, and refused to send or allow an escort to go with Joseph, as he said it was an honor not given to any other citizen. He would not allow the messengers to stay in Carthage through the night, but ordered them to start at 10 o’clock, and return to Nauvoo with orders for General Smith to be in Carthage at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning without an escort; and he threatened that if General Smith did not give himself up at that time, that Nauvoo would be destroyed and all the men, women and children that were in it. Messrs. Grant and Turley immediately started; but on account of their horses being wearied, they did not arrive in Nauvoo until about four A.M. of the 24th, when they went to General Smith to report to him the state of excitement in Carthage. He would not hear one word of the warning, as he was determined to go to Carthage and give himself up to the Governor.

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At night Joseph conversed with Captain Anderson, who reported that the mob at Warsaw had stopped his boat, and threatened to fire into her with his cannon. He gave the following certificate:

Certificate: Captain Anderson—on Retention of People in Nauvoo.

Nauvoo, June 23rd, 1844.

This is to certify that on Tuesday morning last, I stated to General Joseph Smith that the number of passengers leaving that day might produce the effect on the public mind that they were afraid of being attacked, and prove injurious; and I further observed, in order to preserve peace and good order, that it would be better to use his endeavors to retain those in the city until the excitement should abate.

George C. Anderson,

Captain steamer Osprey.

Joseph received the following letter:

Letter: Ed. Johnston to Joseph Smith—About Counsel.

Sunday Evening, June 23rd, 1844.

General Joseph Smith:

Sir.—I have this moment received your favor of this day per the hands of Mr. Adams. I regret to say, in reply, that I am now awaiting every moment a boat for St. Louis, whither my business requires me to go, and which, of course will deter me from acceding to your request. I have introduced Mr. Adams to a friend who is entirely competent to do full justice to your cause.

In great haste, yours respectfully,

Ed. Johnston.

Port Madison, Iowa.

Preparations for Going to Carthage.

Preparations are making for an early start tomorrow morning for Carthage. Joseph gave directions to gather some horses for the purpose of carrying him and his friends to Carthage tomorrow.

Although the Governor has threatened to send his troops into the city, none have appeared as yet.

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Defendants in the Expositor Case.

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Monday, 24.—Francis M. Higbee having sworn out a writ before Thomas Morrison, a justice of the peace at Carthage on the 11th instant, against Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Samuel Bennet, John Taylor, William W. Phelps, John P. Greene, Stephen C. Perry, Dimick B. Huntington, Jonathan Dunham, Stephen Markham, William W. Edwards, Jonathan Holmes, Jesse P. Harmon, John Lytle, Joseph W. Coolidge, David Harvey Redfield, Orrin P. Rockwell and Levi Richards for riot, in destroying the Nauvoo Expositor press, the property of William and Wilson Law and others, on the 10th instant, and Governor Ford having sent word by the posse that those eighteen persons should be protected by the militia of the state, they, upon the assurance of that pledge at half-past six A.M. started for Carthage, Willard Richards, Dan Jones, Henry G. Sherwood, Alfred Randall, James Davis, Cyrus H. Wheelock, A. C. Hodge and several other brethren, together with James W. Woods as counsel, accompanying them.

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Incidents en route for Carthage.

When they arrived at the top of the hill, Joseph sent Rockwell with a horse for Dr. Southwick, a Southern gentleman who had been staying some days at the Mansion, and who wished General Joseph Smith to buy considerable property in Texas; but Ed. Bonny took possession of the horse, so that Dr. Southwick could not then go.

Joseph paused when they got to the Temple, and looked with admiration first on that, and then on the city, and remarked, “This is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens; little do they know the trials that await them.” As he passed out of the city, he called on Daniel H. Wells, Esq., who was unwell, and on parting he said, “Squire Wells, I wish you to cherish my memory, and not think me the worst man in the world either.”

Meeting with Captain Dunn.

At ten minutes to 10 A.M. they arrived at Albert G. Fellows’ farm, four miles west of Carthage, where they met Captain Dunn with a company of about sixty mounted militia, on seeing which Joseph said, “Do not be alarmed, brethren, for they cannot do more to you than the enemies of truth did to the ancient Saints—they can only kill the body.” The company made a halt, when Joseph, Hyrum and several others went into Fellows’ house with Captain Dunn, who presented an order from Governor Ford for all the state arms in possession of the Nauvoo Legion, which Joseph immediately countersigned.

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A Pathetic Prophecy.

Henry G. Sherwood went up to Joseph and said, “Brother Joseph, shall I return to Nauvoo and regulate about getting the arms and get the receipts for them?” Joseph inquired if he was under arrest, or expected to be arrested. Sherwood answered “No,” when Joseph directed him to return ahead of the company, gather the arms and do as well as he could in all things. Joseph then said to the company who were with him, “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am calm as a summer’s morning. I have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward all men. If they take my life I shall die an innocent man, and my blood shall cry from the ground for vengeance, and it shall be said of me ‘He was murdered in cold blood!'” He then said to Father Sherwood, “Go, and God bless you.” Sherwood then rode as swiftly as he could to Nauvoo.

Esquire Woods left the company there, and continued his journey to Carthage.

This order for the delivery of the state arms was evidently designed to drive the citizens of Nauvoo to desperation, so that in the heat of their indignation they might commit some overt act which the Governor could construe into treason, and thus have a shadow of excuse for his mob militia to destroy the Mormons.

Dunn’s Request that the Prophet Return to Nauvoo:

Captain Dunn requested the company to return to Nauvoo to assist in collecting the arms, and pledged his word as a military man, that Joseph and his friends should be protected even if it were at the expense of his own life, and his men responded to the pledge by three cheers. Captain Dunn, no doubt feared that the order of the Governor would excite the inhabitants of Nauvoo beyond endurance, and therefore chose to depend on the well-known integrity of General Smith than to risk the chances of exciting the feelings of a much-abused people. At the same time Joseph sent a messenger to the Governor with the following letter:

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Letter: Joseph Smith to Governor Ford—Explaining his Return to Nauvoo.

Four Miles West of Carthage Mound,

Hancock County, Illinois,

Monday, 10 o’clock.

His Excellency Governor Ford:

Dear Sir.—On my way to Carthage to answer your request this morning, I here met Captain Dunn, who has here made known to me your orders to surrender the state arms in possession of the Nauvoo Legion, which command I shall comply with; and that the same may be done properly and without trouble to the state, I shall return with Captain Dunn to Nauvoo, see that the arms are put into his possession, and shall then return to headquarters in his company, when I shall most cheerfully submit to any requisition of the Governor of our state.

With all due respect to your Excellency, I remain your obedient servant.

Joseph Smith.

He also issued the following order:

Order: Joseph Smith to General Dunham—Complying with Governor Ford’s Demand for State Arms.

Headquarters Nauvoo Legion,

Prairie Four Miles West of Carthage,

June 24th, 1844, 10 o’clock and 10 minutes.

To Major-General Jonathan Dunham and all commissioned and non-commissioned officers and privates of the Nauvoo Legion:

You are hereby ordered to comply strictly with the within order of the Commander-in-Chief, Governor Ford.

Joseph Smith.

Lieut.-Gen. Nauvoo Legion.

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And requested that the state arms should be taken to the Masonic Hall without delay.

Messenger Sent to Carthage.

Hyrum then said to Abram C. Hodge, “You go on into Carthage and see what is going on, and hear what is said on this matter.”

Joseph and his company then returned with Captain Dunn, and arrived in Nauvoo at half-past two P.M.

When Hodge arrived at Carthage, he met with Rev. Mr. Dodge, who had some time previously been very kindly treated by Hyrum. He warned Hodge that as sure as Joseph and Hyrum came to Carthage, they would be killed. Hodge also saw Hamilton, the innkeeper, who, pointing to the Carthage Greys, said, “Hodge, there are the boys that will settle you Mormons.” Hodge replied, “We can take as many men as there are there out of the Nauvoo Legion, and they would not be missed.”

Surrender of State Arms.

When the fact of the order for the state arms was known in Nauvoo, many of the brethren looked upon it as another preparation for a Missouri massacre, nevertheless, as Joseph requested that it should be complied with, they very unwillingly gave up the arms.

About 6 P.M., when all the states’ arms were collected, and the company were ready to start, Captain Dunn and Quartermaster-General Buckmaster made a short speech, expressing their gratitude at the peaceable conduct of the citizens of Nauvoo, and that while they thus conducted themselves they would protect them.

It appears that Governor Ford feared that the Nauvoo Legion, although disbanded, might avenge any outrage that might hereafter be committed on the persons of their leaders, and so thought he had better disarm them as he had previously disbanded them; yet the mob was suffered to retain their portion of the state’s arms, even when within a half-day’s march of Nauvoo, and they in a threatening and hostile attitude, while the Nauvoo Legion had not evinced the least disposition whatever, except to defend their city in case it should be attacked; and they had not set a foot outside the limits of the corporation.

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The Prophet’s Farewell to his Family.

Joseph rode down home twice to bid his family farewell. He appeared solemn and thoughtful, and expressed himself to several individuals that he expected to be murdered. There appeared no alternative but that he must either give himself up, or the inhabitants of the city would be massacred by a lawless mob under sanction of the Governor.

Looking Back-Sadness.

The company (about fifteen) then started again for Carthage, and when opposite to the Masonic Hall, Joseph said, “Boys, if I don’t come back, take care of yourselves; I am going like a lamb to the slaughter.” When they passed his farm he took a good look at it, and after they had passed it, he turned round several times to look again, at which some of the company made remarks, when Joseph said: “If some of you had got such a farm and knew you would not see it any more, you would want to take a good look at it for the last time.” When they got to the edge of the woods near Nauvoo, they met A. C. Hodge returning from Carthage. He reported to Hyrum what he had heard in Carthage, told him what his feelings were and said, “Brother Hyrum, you are now clear, and if it was my duty to counsel you, I would say, do not go another foot, for they say they will kill you, if you go to Carthage,” but as other persons gathered around, nothing further was said. About this time Joseph received the following letter:

Letter: Messrs. Reid and Woods to Joseph Smith—Documents for Defense.

Carthage, 5 o’clock P.M.

General Joseph Smith:

Dear Sir.—In accordance with previous arrangements with Elder Adams, I am here at your service; and it will be necessary for us to have, on the examination here before the justice, a certified copy of the city ordinance for the destruction of the Expositor press, or a copy which has been published by authority. We also wish the original order issued by you to the marshal for the destruction of said press, and such witnesses as may be necessary to show by whom the press was destroyed, and that the act was not done in a riotous or tumultuous manner.

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Yours respectfully,

H. T. Reid.

Dear Sir.—I concur fully as to the above, and will add, from an interview with Governor Ford, you can, with the utmost safety, rely on his protection, and that you will have as impartial an investigation as could be expected from those opposed to you. The excitement is much allayed, and your opponents (those who wish to make capital out of you) do not want you to come to Carthage. Mr. Johnson has gone east, and that will account for Mr. Reed being here.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

James W. Wood.

Carthage, 24th June, 1844.

The Prophet’s Arrival at Carthage.

The company arrived at Fellows’ house, four miles west of Carthage, about 9 P.M., where they stopped about half an hour, and partook of such refreshments as they had brought with them. Captain Dunn and his company of mounted militia, returning with the state arms from Nauvoo, joined them here, and escorted them into Carthage, where they arrived at five minutes before 12 at night, and went to Hamilton’s tavern. While passing the public square many of the troops, especially the Carthage Greys, made use of the following expressions, which were re-echoed in the ears of the Governor and hundreds of others, “Where is the damned prophet?” “Stand away, you McDonough boys, and let us shoot the damned Mormons.” “G—d—you, old Joe, we’ve got you now.” “Clear the way and let us have a view of Joe Smith, the prophet of God. He has seen the last of Nauvoo. We’ll use him up now, and kill all the damned Mormons.” The rear platoon of the Carthage Greys repeatedly threw their guns over their heads in a curve, so that the bayonets struck the ground with the breech of their guns upward, when they would run back and pick them up, at the same time whooping, yelling, hooting and cursing like a pack of savages.

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The Governor Pacifies the Mob.

On hearing the above expressions, the Governor put his head out of the window and very fawningly said, “I know your great anxiety to see Mr. Smith, which is natural enough, but it is quite too late tonight for you to have the opportunity; but I assure you, gentlemen, you shall have that privilege tomorrow morning, as I will cause him to pass before the troops upon the square, and I now wish you, with this assurance, quietly and peaceably to return to your quarters.” When this declaration was made, there was a faint “Hurrah for Tom Ford,” and they instantly obeyed his wish.

The Apostates at Carthage.

There was a company of apostates also quartered at Hamilton’s hotel—namely William and Wilson Law, the Higbees and Fosters, Augustine Spencer, Henry O. Norton, John A. Hicks, (formerly president of the Elder’s quorum) and others.

Hicks stated to C. H. Wheelock that it was determined to shed the blood of Joseph Smith by not only himself, but by the Laws, Higbees, Fosters, Joseph H. Jackson, and many others, whether he was cleared by the law or not. Jackson talked freely and unreservedly on that subject, as though he were discoursing upon the most common occurrence of his life. Said he, you will find me a true prophet in this respect. Wheelock told Ford what Hicks had said, but he treated it with perfect indifference, and suffered Hicks and his associates to run at liberty and mature their murderous plans.

A writ was also issued by Robert F. Smith against Joseph W. Coolidge on complaint of Chauncey L. Higbee, charging him with the illegal detention of Charles A. Foster.

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1. This is the title of the first Compilation of Data as it appears in the Millennial Star, Vol. 24, p. 332. A Second Compilation was made by the Church Historian, extending from the 22nd of June to the 8th of August, 1844, at which time the Twelve were accepted for the time as the Presiding Council of the Church; and the claims of Sidney Rigdon rejected.

2. George A. Smith was the Historian from 1854 to 1875. Consequently this Compilation was made under his supervision.