- Historic Sites
The Death Of The Prophet
The Mormons grow in numbers, but persecution makes them wanderers. Then a burst of violence results in
December 1962 | Volume 14, Issue 1
As he watched his messenger gallop away Joseph said: “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer morning. I have a conscience void of offense towards God and towards all men. I shall die innocent and it shall be said of me, ‘He was murdered in cold blood.’”
A few moments later, however, at the urgent request of the troopers’ captain, General Smith decided to return to the city to aid in the execution of the order. Some of the Mormon company rode on to Carthage. The rest began with him the long ride back home. When they reached Nauvoo the Legionnaires were already bringing their weapons to the Masonic Hall. During his wait for completion of the order Joseph twice rode to the Mansion House to say good-by to his family. All arms had been delivered before six o’clock, when the final journey to Carthage began. As he passed his farm on the edge of the town Joseph stopped.
It was nearly July, but his corn, drowned out early by heavy showers and then replanted, was short. He watched it climbing green from the wet earth into late-afternoon sunlight while about fifteen riders gradually assembled about him. Then his long hands tightened on his rein.
“If some of you had such a farm and knew you would not see it any more,” he said, “you would want to take a good look at it for the last time.” After these words he and his silent companions rode off into the swiftsettling dusk.
It was ten o’clock when they were back at the Mound. There they stopped at a farmhouse to eat and drink the refreshments they had brought from home in their saddlebags. The troopers who had received the Legion’s arms caught up with them here. They would act as guards for the Mormons as they entered Carthage. It was midnight as the procession reached the square where the town’s militia, the Carthage Grays, awaited it. The tired escort slumped in their saddles as they rode wearily by, with their even more exhausted prisoners placed for safety inside their columns.
From the crowd in the square came drunken cries of derision and hatred: “Where’s the damn prophet?” “Clear the way and show us Joe Smith, Prophet of God.” “God damn you, old Joe, we’ve got you now!”
The column stopped before the Hotel Hamilton, and the jeering of the crowd increased. A second-story window rose with a sharp crack.
“Gentlemen,” said the high, thin voice of the Governor of Illinois, “I know your anxiety to see Mr. Smith, which is natural enough, but it is quite too late tonight for you to have that 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 now I wish you, with this assurance, quietly and peacefully to return to your quarters.”
The window closed, and the crowd wandered away, while hostlers led the horses of the guests to the barn.
On the next morning the Governor made good his promise. He issued an early order calling upon all troops in Carthage to assemble near the courthouse, and there to form a hollow square. In the meantime Joseph and Hyrum were put under arrest on a new charge, that of treason against the state of Illinois for having called out the Mormon militia unit—the Legion of Nauvoo—in the previous week.
At a little before ten o’clock the Governor climbed on an old table in the middle of the formation and appealed for order and correct behavior. Then the officer in command of the troops, General Deming, and Joseph and Hyrum Smith entered the square. Leading the way, Governor Ford introduced the brothers as “General Joseph Smith” and “General Hyrum Smith.” The Carthage Grays yelled loud protest. Their officers threw their hats in the air, drew their swords, yelled profane epithets at the Mormons. The Governor remonstrated with them politely and with the aid of General Deming quieted the demonstration.
The rest of the day was spent at the Hamilton House in legal arguments between the Mormons, the Governor, and Carthage local authorities. It ended, despite bitter protests, in the Mormon generals and several of their Mormon friends being escorted, “for their security,” by a militia detachment to the Carthage jail.
The jail was a sturdy two-story building. Its walls were of stone, and its hand-hewn oak beams were heavy and strong. A wooden staircase led from the first floor, which contained the jailer’s quarters, to cells above and one large, unbarred, informal chamber which held a bed and chairs. The two generals, voluntarily accompanied by five followers (against whom no charges had been lodged), found this the most suitable room for the group. The jailer made other rooms available, and all were treated with courtesy. They found the conversation on that Tuesday night “amusing,” and they were all in better spirits as they stretched themselves on the wide floorboards to sleep.
On the morning of Wednesday, the twenty-sixth, Governor Ford came to the jail, and he and Joseph had a long debate on the issues involved in the charges. Ford proved to be a stickler for the law as he interpreted it, and Joseph’s efforts to persuade him that the orders for destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor press and the calling out of the Legion to establish martial law were in the interests of the public safety made little impression. The Governor left, and Joseph devoted the next few hours to correspondence.