Thomas Ford Governor of Illinois, at the time of the trouble which resulted in the death of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, was a man of much ability. He was one of the ablest jurors in the State, a man of singularly clear philosophical mind, largely endowed by nature with a vigorous, comprehensive intellect, reinforced by fair education and much study. In stature he was small, with thin, homely features, deepset gray eyes, and a long nose turned slightly at the point to one side. Well supplied with vanity and self-esteem, his prejudices were invincible, and his arrogance at times intolerable and ludicrous. As insignificant in body and soul as he was admirable in mental power, lacking in physical and moral courage, vindictive, obstinate, and spiteful, he hated those he could not control, and when opportunity offered, caused them to feel the sting of his resentment. His spirit of vengeance outlived the lapse of time. He might forget a benefaction but never forgive an injury."1
His course with the Latter Day Saints in Illinois vacillated dangerously between his convictions of justice, what sense of gratitude he had, and moral and physical fear, with a strong leaning towards the latter. Hearing of the tragedy at Carthage, he hastened there with all speed, to find the city mostly emptied of inhabitants. "As the country was utterly defenseless, this seemed to be a proper precaution." Even the county records were taken from the courthouse at Carthage and removed to another location in the dead of night.
Gregg well describes the rather ridiculous situation of that night:
On the morning of the 28th of June, 1844, the sun rose on as strange a scene as the broad Hancock prairies had ever witnessed. At the three corners of a triangle, eighteen miles asunder, two of them resting on the Mississippi, stood a smitten and mourning city and two almost deserted villages, with here and there a group of questioning men, anxious to obtain the news of the night. These were Nauvoo and the villages of Carthage and Warsaw. Toward the two villages the more courageous ones who had fled the evening before were now returning, tired and worn, to find their several homes unsacked and untouched, and their streets untrodden by a vengeful and infuriated foe. The wet and heavy roads leading to the county seat from the east and south were being again traversed by the refugees of the night, now returning where they had so lately fled in terror. The blue waves of the Mississippi rolled peacefully past the stricken city as when, a few days before, its shores resounded to the Legion's martial tread. All the people knew that a great crime had been committed, by whom they dared not guess; and they knew not how, upon whom, where, or in what manner, retribution might fall!2
Life soon gained a measure of normalcy, and the "anti-Mormon" papers, led as in the past by the Whig Sangamon Journal and Warsaw Signal, continued their rabid publication, suggesting now the absolute expulsion of the "Mormons." The agitation continued until the Latter Day Saints finally agreed to evacuate Nauvoo by the spring of 1846. "Quit their freedom among freemen and go where the land, the elements, and the worship of God are free." Early in February the first wagons crossed the Mississippi. Ford says:
During the winter of 1845-6, the Mormons made the most prodigious preparations for removal. All the houses in Nauvoo, and even the Temple, were converted into workshops; and before spring more than twelve thousand wagons were in readiness. The people from all parts of the country flocked to Nauvoo to purchase houses and farms, which were sold extremely low, lower than the prices at a sheriff's sale, for money, wagons, horses, oxen, cattle, and other articles of personal property which might be needed by the Mormons in their exodus into the wilderness. By the middle of May it was estimated that sixteen thousand Mormons had crossed the Mississippi and taken up their line of march with their personal property, their wives and little ones, westward across the continent to Oregon or California, leaving behind them in Nauvoo a small remnant of a thousand souls, being those who were unable to sell their property, or who, having no property to sell, were unable to get away.3
But these newcomers, determined upon gaining possession of Nauvoo "never ceased from strife and outrage,"4 until only a comparative few remained. In truth, their courage increased as the number of their victims diminished.
The Illinois people were so anxious to have Nauvoo evacuated that they finally attacked the town with an armed mob. On September 12, 1846, occurred the battle of Nauvoo. The valiant defense of the Saints is thus described by Bancroft:
On the 10th of September the posse, now more than a thousand strong, with wagons, equipments, and every preparation for a campaign, approached Nauvoo and encamped at Hunter's farm.
At this time there were in the city not more than a hundred and fifty Mormons and about the same number of Gentiles, or as they were termed, "new citizens," capable of bearing arms, the remainder of the population consisting of destitute women and children and of the sick. Many of the Gentiles had departed, fearing a general massacre, and those who remained could not be relied upon as combatants, for they were of course unwilling to risk their lives in a conflict which if successful, would bring them no credit. Nothing daunted, the little band, under command of Colonels Daniel H. Wells and William Cutler, took up its position on the edge of a wood in the suburbs of Nauvoo, and less than a mile from the enemy's camp.
Before hostilities commenced, a deputation from Quincy visited the camp of the assailants, and in vain attempted to dissuade them from their purpose. No sooner had they departed, than fire was opened on the Mormons from a battery of six-pounders, but without effect. Here for the day matters rested. At sunrise the posse changed their position, intending to take the city by storm, but were held in check by Captain Anderson at the head of thirty-five men, termed by the Saints the Spartan band. The enemy now fired some rounds of grape shot, forcing the beseiged to retire out of range; after some further cannonading, darkness put an end to the skirmish, the Mormons throwing up breastworks during the night.
On the morning of the 12th the demand of unconditional surrender was promptly rejected; whereupon, at a given signal, several hundred men who had been stationed in ambush, on the west bank of the river to cut off the retreat of the Mormons, appeared with red flags in their hands, thus portending massacre. The assailants now opened fire from all their batteries, and soon afterward advanced to the assault, slowly, and with the measured tramp of veterans, at their head being Constable Carlin and the Reverend Brockman, and unfurled above them the Stars and Stripes. When within rifle range of the breastworks, the posse wheeled toward the south, attempting to outflank the Saints and gain possession of the temple square. But this movement had been anticipated, and posted in the woods to the north of the Mormon position lay the Spartan band. Leading on his men at double quick, Anderson suddenly confronted the enemy and opened a brisk fire from revolving rifles. The posse advanced no farther, but for an hour and a half held their ground bravely against the Spartan hand, the expense of ammunition in proportion to casualties being greater than has yet been recorded in modern warfare. Then they retreated in excellent order to the camp. The losses of the Mormons were three killed and a few slightly wounded; the losses of the Gentiles are variously stated. Among those who fell were Captain Anderson and his son, a youth of sixteen, the former dying, as he had vowed that he would die, in defense of the holy sanctuary.5
But there was no alternative. On the 17th of September, the ill-prepared remnant crossed the Mississippi and camped on the other side.
Bancroft sums up the situation as follows:
It was indeed a singular spectacle, as I have said, this upon the western border of the world's greatest republic in the autumn of 1846. A whole cityful, with other settlements, and thousands of thrifty agriculturists in the regions about, citizens of the United States, driven beyond the border by other citizens: not by reason of their religion alone, though this was made a pretense; not for breaking the laws, through this was made a pretense; not on account of their immorality, for the people of Illinois and Missouri were not immaculate6 in that respect; nor was it altogether on account of their solid voting and growing political power, accompanied ever by the claim of general inheritance and universal dominion, though this last had more to do with it probably than all the rest combined, notwithstanding that the spirit of liberty and the laws of the republic permitted such massing of social and political influence, and notwithstanding the obvious certainty that any of the Gentile political parties now playing the role of persecutors would gladly and unscrupulously have availed themselves of such means for the accomplishment of their ends. It was all these combined, and so combined as to engender deadly hate. It gave the Mormons a power in proportion to their numbers not possessed by other sects or societies, which could not and would not endure it; a power regarded by the others as unfairly acquired, and by a way and through means not in accord with the American idea of individual equality, of equal rights and equal citizenship. In regard to all other sects within the Republic, under guard of the Constitution, religion was subordinated to politics and government; in regard to the Mormons, in spite of the Constitution, politics and government were subordinated to religion.7
While preparing for an article upon the question of why the Saints were driven from Nauvoo, Honorable Orville F. Berry called on several prominent men acquainted with the difficulties, first upon Honorable George Edmunds, one of the finest and most able lawyers in western Illinois. He admitted that he had seen Joseph Smith but once, and that many years before on his way to Kirtland from New York, and that he had never seen Hyrum. Berry said, "I would like a brief, concise statement of the immediate cause leading up to the killing of the Smiths." Judge Edmunds answered, "The impression that I have and always have had since I came here is that politics were largely at the base of the trouble. Had the Mormon population voted for Walker, as Walker supposed they would--he having Joseph's promise to vote for him--the trouble with the Mormons would not have culminated when it did." To the request: "Give me your idea of the justice or injustice of driving the Mormons out of Hancock County," he answered, "I can say for the Mormon population, so far as I knew them, that I think I never knew so industrious, frugal, and virtuous a set of people as they were."
Judge Thomas C. Sharp, whose editorial effusions had more than anything else to do with inflammation of public opinion against the Latter Day Saints, and whom rumor connected still more closely with the actual acts of violence, also gave Honorable O. F. Berry to understand that the trouble was mainly political, and protested in his maturer years that he was "not even favorable" to the manner in which the Smiths met their death. Berry sums up his conclusion by saying:
After a careful examination of the conditions preceding and after the death of Joseph Smith, my belief is that it was not religious controversies that led to the Mormon trouble in Hancock County and adjoining counties, but that it was purely political. The writer believes from well-established facts that have come to him from interviews with men in active life, that a majority of the people here known as Mormons were good citizens, but that it is equally true there were among them men who no doubt used the church to cover up their own wickedness. This has always been true, and will continue to be in some degree. The writer is satisfied from evidence entirely satisfactory to him that Joseph and Hyrum Smith did not teach and preach the doctrine of polygamy.8
But be the cause of their expulsion what it might be, the situation was now desperate for many of them. Bancroft continues:
...the last of the Mormon host that now lay huddled to the number of 640 on the western bank of the river in sight of the city; if the first departures from Nauvoo escaped extreme, hardships, not so these. It was the latter part of September, and nearly all were prostrated with chills and fevers; there at the river bank, among the dock and rushes, poorly protected, without the shelter of a roof or anything to keep off the force of wind or rain, little ones came into life and were left motherless at birth. They had not food enough to satisfy the cravings of the sick, nor clothing fit to wear. For months thereafter there were periods when all the flour they used was of the coarsest, the wheat being ground into coffee and hand mills, which only cut the grain; others used a pestle; the finer meal was used for bread, the coarser made into hominy. Boiled wheat was now the chief diet for sick and well. For ten days they subsisted on parched corn. Some mixed their remnant of grain with the pounded bark of the slippery elm, which they stripped from the trees along their route.9
The most graphic picture of the scene has been given by Colonel Thomas Kane:
A few years ago, ascending the Upper Mississippi in the autumn when its waters were low, I was compelled to travel by land past the region of the rapids. My road lay through the Half Breed Tract, a fine section of Iowa, which the unsettled state of its land titles had appropriated as a sanctuary for coiners, horse thieves and other outlaws. I had left my steamer at Keokuk, at the foot of the Lower Fall, to hire a carriage, and to contend for some fragments of a dirty meal with the swarming flies, the only scavengers of the locality. From this place to where the deep water of the river returns, my eye wearied to see everywhere sordid vagabond and idle settlers, and a country marred, without being improved by their careless hands.
I was descending the last hillside upon my journey when a landscape in delightful contrast broke upon my view. Half encircled by a bend of the river, a beautiful city lay glittering in the fresh morning sun; its bright new dwellings set in cool, green gardens ranging up around a stately dome-shaped hill, which was crowned by a noble marble edifice, whose high tapering spire was radiant with white and gold. The city appeared to cover several miles; and beyond it, in the background, there rolled off a fair country, chequered by the careful lines of fruitful husbandry. The unmistakable marks of industry, enterprise, and educated wealth everywhere made the scene one of singular and most striking beauty.
It was a natural impulse to visit this inviting region. I procured a skiff, and, rowing across the river, landed at the chief wharf of the city. No one met me there. I looked, and saw no one. I could hear no one move; though the quiet everywhere was such that I heard the flies buzz, and the water ripples break against the shallow of the beach. I walked through the solitary streets. The town lay as in a dream, under some deadening spell of loneliness from which I almost feared to wake it; for plainly it had not slept long. There was no grass growing up in the paved ways; rains had not entirely washed away the prints of dusty footsteps.
Yet I went about unchecked. I went into empty workshops, ropewalks,10 and smithies. The spinner's wheel was idle; the carpenter had gone from his work bench and shavings, his unfinished sash and casing. Fresh bark was in the tanner's vat, and the fresh chopped lightwood stood piled against the baker's oven. The blacksmith's shop was cold; but his coal heap, and ladling pool, and crooked water horn, were all there, as if he had just gone off for a holiday. No work people anywhere looked to know my errand. If I went into the gardens, clinking the wicket-latch loudly after me, to pull the marigolds, heart's-ease, and lady's-slippers, and draw a drink with the watersodden well-bucket and its noisy chain; or, knocking off with my stick the tall heavy-headed dahlias and sunflowers, hunted over the beds for cucumbers and love-apples--no one called out to me from any open window, or dog sprang forward to bark an alarm. I could have supposed the people hidden in the houses; but the doors were unfastened; and when at last I timidly entered them, I found dead ashes white upon the hearths, and had to tread a-tiptoe, as if walking down the aisle of a country church, to avoid rousing irreverent echoes from the naked floors.
On the outskirts of the town was the city graveyard; but there was no record of plague there, nor did it in anywise differ much from other Protestant American cemeteries. Some of the mounds were not long sodded; some of the stones were newly set, their dates recent, and their black inscriptions glossy in the mason's hardly dried lettering ink. Beyond the graveyard, out in the fields, I saw, in one spot hard by where the fruited boughs of a young orchard had been roughly torn down, the still smouldering remains of a barbecue fire, that had been constructed of rails from the fencing around it. It was the latest sign of life there. Fields upon fields of heavy-headed yellow grain lay rotting ungathered upon the ground. No one was at hand to take in their rich harvest. As far as the eye could reach, they stretched away--they sleeping too in the hazy air of autumn.
Only two portions of the city seemed to suggest the import of this mysterious solitude. On the southern suburb, the houses looking out upon the country showed, by their splintered woodwork, and walls battered to the foundation, that they had lately been the mark of a destructive cannonade. And in and around the splendid temple, which had been the chief object of my admiration, armed men were barracked, surrounded by their stacks of musketry and pieces of heavy ordnance. These challenged me to render an account of myself, and why I had had the temerity to cross the water without a written permit from a leader of their band.
Though these men were more or less under the influence of ardent spirits, after I had explained myself as a passing stranger, they seemed anxious to gain my good opinion. They told the story of the Dead City; that it had been a notable manufacturing and commercial mart, sheltering over twenty thousand persons; that they had waged war with its inhabitants for several years, and had been finally successful only a few days before my visit, in an action fought in front of the ruined suburb; after which, they had driven them forth at the point of the sword. The defense, they said, had been obstinate, but gave way on the third day's bombardment. They boasted greatly of their prowess, especially in this battle, as they called it; but I discovered they were not of one mind as to certain of the exploits at had distinguished it; one of which, as I remember, was, that they had slain a father and his son, a boy of fifteen, not long residents of the fated city, whom they admitted to have borne a character without reproach.
They also conducted me inside the massive sculptured walls of the curious temple, in which they said the banished inhabitants were accustomed to celebrate the mystic rites of an unhallowed worship. They particularly pointed out to me certain features of the building, which, having been the peculiar objects of a former superstitious regard, they had, as a matter of duty sedulously defiled and defaced. The reputed sites of certain shrines they had thus particularly noticed; and various sheltered chambers, in one of which was a deep well, constructed, they believed, with a dreadful design. Beside these, they led me to see a large and deep-chiseled marble vase or basin, supported upon twelve oxen, also of marble, and of the size of life, of which they told some romantic stories. They said the deluded persons, most of whom were emigrants from a great distance, believed their Deity countenanced their reception here of a baptism of regeneration, as proxies for whomsoever they held in warm affection in the countries from which they had come. That here parents "went into the water" for their lost children, children for their parents, widows for their spouses, and young persons for their lovers; that thus the Great Vase came to be for them associated with all dear and distant memories, and was therefore the object, of all others in the building, to which they attached the greatest degree of idolatrous affection. On this account, the victors had so diligently desecrated it, as to render the apartment in which it was contained too noisome to abide in.
They permitted me also to ascend into the steeple, to see where it had been lightning struck on the Sabbath before, and to look out, east and south, on wasted farms like those I had seen near the city, extending till they were lost in the distance. Here, in the face of the pure day, close to the scar of the Divine Wrath left by the thunderbolt, were fragments of food, cruses of liquor, and broken drinking vessels, with a brass drum and a steamboat signal bell, of which I afterwards learned the use with pain.
It was after nightfall, when I was ready to cross the river on my return. The wind had freshened since the sunset, and the water beating roughly into my little boat, I hedged higher up the stream than the point I had left in the morning, and landed where a faint glimmering light invited me to steer.
Here, among the dock and rushes, sheltered only by the darkness, without roof between them and sky, I came upon a crowd of several hundred human creatures, whom my movements roused from uneasy slumber upon the ground.
Passing these on my way to the light, I found it came from a tallow candle in a paper funnel shade, such as is used by street vendors of apples and peanuts, and which flaming and guttering away in the bleak air off the water, shone flickeringly on the emaciated features of a man in the last stage of a bilious remittent fever. They had done their best for him. Over his head was something like a tent, made of a sheet or two, and he rested on a but partially ripped open old straw mattress, with a hair sofa cushion under his head for a pillow. His gaping jaw and glazing eye told how short a time he would monopolize these luxuries; though a seemingly bewildered and excited person, who might have been his wife, seemed to find hope in occasionally forcing him to swallow, awkardly, sips of the tepid river water from a burned and battered bitter-smelling tin coffee pot. Those who knew better had furnished the apothecary he needed; a toothless old baldhead, whose manner had the repulsive dullness of a man familiar with death scenes. He, so long as I remained, mumbled in his patient's ear a monotonous and melancholy prayer, between the pauses of which I heard the hiccough and sobbing of two little girls, who were sitting upon a piece of driftwood outside.
Dreadful indeed, was the suffering of these forsaken beings; bowed and cramped by cold and sunburn, alternating as each weary day and night dragged on, they were almost all of them, the crippled victims of disease. They were there because they had no homes, nor hospital, nor poorhouse, nor friends to offer them any. They could not satisfy the feeble cravings of their sick; they had not bread to quiet the fractious hunger cries of their children. Mothers and babes, daughters and grandparents, all of them alike, were bivouacked in tatters, wanting even covering to comfort those whom the sick shiver of fever was searching to the marrow.
These were the Mormons, in Lee County, Iowa, in the fourth week of the month of September, in the year of our Lord, 1846. The city--it was Nauvoo, Illinois. The Mormons were the owners of that city and the smiling country around. And those who had stopped their plows, who had silenced their hammers, their axes, their shuttle, and their workshop wheels; those who had put out their fires, who had eaten their food, spoiled their orchards, and trampled under foot their thousands of acres of unharvested bread; these were the keepers of their dwellings, the carousers in their temple, whose drunken riot insulted the ears of the dying.
I think it was as I turned from the wretched night watch of which I have spoken, that I first listened to the sounds of revel of a party of the guard within the city. Above the distant hum of the voices of many, occasionally rose distinct the loud oath-tainted exclamation, and the falsely intonated scrap of vulgar song; but lest this requiem should go unheeded, every now and then, when their boisterous orgies strove to attain a sort of ecstatic climax, a cruel spirit of insulting frolic carried some of them up into the high belfry of the temple steeple, and there with the wicked childishness of inebriates, they whooped, and shrieked, and beat the drum that I had seen, and rang in charivaric unison their loud-tongued steamboat bell.
They were, all told, not more than six hundred and forty persons who were thus lying on the river flats. But the Mormons in Nauvoo and its dependencies had been numbered the year before at over twenty thousand. Where were they?11
Some of them, a large number, had as Colonel Kane said, "last been seen, a mournful train, carrying their sick and wounded, halt and blind, to disappear behind the western horizon, pursuing the phantom of another home!" They were to find that home and build there another great city, but except those of them who came back in later years, their story is not ours.
Back in that deserted city, near the water's edge, stood the Mansion House, not long since completed, home of a tall, darkhaired widow and her five children, an arrogant little beauty of fifteen, the adopted daughter Julia; a solemn brown-eyed boy of nearly fourteen, Joseph; Frederick, past ten, merry and sunny, with the brown eyes of his mother; Alexander, a lad of blue eyes like his father; and the little brother, baby David, loved and loving of them all, who was not quite two, for he was born after the cruel death of his father. Calmly, with a quiet courage, this woman, when nearly all had left, stayed on, (except for a few months' refuge up the river at Fulton City) and reared her family in the deserted city. Her boys played and studied with the boys of the new citizens. She baked cookies for them all. Time passed. Emma had no enemies in Nauvoo. She found herself and her children respected by all. She never spoke of religion, for although she still cherished in her heart the principles of the church her husband founded, she had come to the time when she had lost some of the illusions her friends still cherished, and had reluctantly bade them good-by at the parting of the roads.
1 Doctor J. P. Snyder in "Forgotten Statesmen of Illinois,"
Transactions of Illinois Historical Society, 1909, page 224.
2 Gregg's Prophet of Palmyra, pages 281, 282.
3 Governor Ford's History of Illinois, page 412. This book was written in an effort to justify himself in the eyes of his fellow politicians, and must be so interpreted. He himself in the closing paragraph of his book tells how he has "had to encounter bitter opposition to his administration, and enmities have sprung up personally against himself, which he hopes will not last forever." For "he is possessed of such sensibility that it is painful to him to be the subject of such unmerited obloquy; and for this reason and this alone, he hopes that when those of his fellow citizens who have disapproved of his administration in these particulars have time to look into the merits of these measures, and see how they have lifted the State from the abyss of the despair and gloom to a commanding and honorable position among her sister States of the Union, they will not remember their wrath forever" (closing words of Ford's History of Illinois). Despite this rather pathetic close to his book which he wrote while he was living in greatly reduced circumstances at Peoria in obscurity as his sole legacy to his orphan children--it was noted for its bitter and scathing quality. He died November 3, 1850, leaving his motherless children destitute, according to Isabel Jamieson in her Literature and Literary People of Early Illinois. Two of his sons, Tom and Sewall Ford, under the alias of Charley and Tom Smith, were lynched at Wellington, Kansas, in 1874, as horse thieves. Whether or not they were guilty, the law left them as unprotected as the their father did Joseph and Hyrum Smith at Carthage. A daughter, Anna, who had married an officer in the Mexican War during her father's term of Office, finally died in indigent circumstances at a Deaconess Hospital in Lincoln, Illinois.
4 Bancroft's History of Utah, page 226.
5 Bancroft's History of Utah, pages 228-230.
6 One of the most prominent political tormenters of the Latter Day Saints being asked, during a political speech, if he were guilty of some gross immorality, said to have replied, "Yes, but what in h-- has that to do with the Kansas-Nebraska Bill?"
7 Bancroft's History of Utah, pages 231, 232.
8 Honorable Orville F. Berry in "The Mormon Settlement in Illinois." from Illinois History Transactions of the Illinois Historical Society 1906, page 92.
9 Bancroft's History of Utah pages 232, 233.
10 Ropewalks. Referring to Egan's rope factory near the river.
11 Smucker's History of the Mormons, pages 217-223; Church History, Volume 3, pages 173-179.