Ben Crowder

Essentials in Church History by Joseph Fielding Smith

Chapter 33

Missouri’s Third Attempt to Capture Joseph Smith

Conspiracy Against Joseph Smith

When John C. Bennett wrote to Sidney Rigdon and Orson Pratt, saying he was on his way to Missouri to obtain a new requisition for Joseph Smith and others, it was not an idle threat. Not many weeks had passed before reports reached Nauvoo that new indictments had been found against President Smith, based on the old Missouri charges, and that John C. Bennett was making desperate threats. Moreover, Bennett must have had some definite information which caused him to say that Governor Ford would acknowledge the new requisition. A conspiracy, evidently, was on foot, in which the governors of the two states were to play their parts. Further evidence that Governor Ford was a party to the conspiracy is discovered in a communication dated June 10, 1843, from Sam C. Owens of Independence, to the governor of Illinois. Owens, one of the bitterest persecutors of the Saints in Missouri, stated in his letter that John C. Bennett had authorized him to write to Governor Ford, “without hesitation” in regard to the charges against Joseph Smith. “At the last term of the circuit court of Daviess County,” he wrote, “an indictment was found by the grand jury against Joseph Smith for treason against the state,” and necessary papers were on the way to Governor Thomas Reynolds, who, on receipt thereof, would issue a requisition, and Mr. Joseph H. Reynolds would be sent as a special agent “to attend to the business.” Owens also said that “Dr. Bennett further writes that he has made an agreement with Harmon T. Wilson, of Hancock County (Carthage seat of justice), in whose hands he wishes the writ that shall be issued by you to be put. From the tenor of his letter I am induced to believe that he has made the same suggestion to you.”

A Warrant for His Arrest

June 13, 1843, Governor Reynolds issued the requisition and Joseph H. Reynolds was dispatched to Illinois. Governor Ford lost no time in issuing the warrant for the arrest and placed it in the hands of Harmon T. Wilson, who, with Reynolds, immediately started for their prisoner. The night before the warrant was issued Governor Ford incidentally remarked to Judge James Adams that the next day he would issue such a writ. Judge Adams sent an express at once to Nauvoo to warn the Prophet of impending danger. His message arrived in the evening of Sunday, June 18, but President Smith was not at home. On the 13th, he and his family had gone north to visit with Mrs. Wasson, sister of Emma Smith, who resided near Dixon, Lee County, Illinois. Hyrum Smith sent William Clayton and Stephen Markham on horse back with all speed to warn his brother Joseph. They arrived at Wasson’s on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 21, a distance of two hundred and twelve miles. Hearing their report, Joseph said: “I have no fear. I shall not leave here; I shall find friends, and Missourians cannot hurt me, I tell you in the name of the Lord.” He cancelled an appointment to preach in Dixon, and concluded to remain with the Wassons, fearing that if he started for home he might fall into the hands of his enemies where he had no friends.

His Arrest by Reynolds and Wilson

From some source Reynolds and Wilson learned that Joseph was at Dixon and thither they went with haste. On the way to Wasson’s they passed William Clayton, who had been sent to spy out the land, but as they were disguised, Clayton did not know them. Arriving at their destination the sheriffs represented themselves to be “Mormon” elders and were directed to the Wasson home. President Smith was in the yard when they arrived. Springing upon him like fiends, and without showing any papers for his arrest, they pointed cocked pistols at his head and with many vile oaths, threatened to shoot him if he stirred. They repeatedly jabbed the muzzles of their pistols in his ribs, and were for hurrying him off to Dixon without giving him a chance to say farewell to his family or friends, or obtain his hat and coat. Stephen Markham grabbed the horses by the bits and held them saying: “There is no law on earth that requires a sheriff to take a prisoner without his clothes.” They threatened to shoot him, but he paid no heed to their threats, and Emma Smith brought her husband his hat and coat. As the wagon rolled away, Joseph called to Markham to go to Dixon and secure a writ of habeas corpus. On the way the officers repeatedly thrust their pistols in the Prophet’s sides with accompanying oaths of blasphemy, and did not desist until shortly before reaching Dixon, when Markham, who had overtaken them, upbraided them for their cowardice and brutal treatment of their prisoner, who was defenseless.

Arriving at Dixon, the officers placed their prisoner in a room of the tavern, and ordered fresh horses to be ready in five minutes. Joseph asked them if he could interview counsel, but was cruelly treated for his request. A man passed the window and the Prophet shouted to him to secure him a lawyer, for he was falsely imprisoned. Attorney Edward Southwick came to the door, but it was shut in his face, with a threat. Shepherd G. Patrick, another attorney, also came and was insulted in like manner. The neighborhood was soon aroused, and Mr. Dixon, owner of the house, with some friends surrounded the door and threatened violence to the inhuman sheriffs if they did not alter their brutal course. This had a sobering effect upon them, and lawyers Southwick and Patrick came into the room. President Smith showed them his bruised sides, and asked them to obtain a writ of habeas corpus. A messenger was sent by Mr. Dixon to Mr. Chamberlain, master-in-chancery, who lived some six miles away, and another messenger was sent for Attorney Cyrus Walker, who happened to be campaigning near that place. Walker, Whig candidate for Congress, said he would come provided Joseph Smith would promise to vote for him, which the latter said he would do. This promise, Walker thought, would give him the united vote of the “Mormon” people, which would insure his election. About eight o’clock the master-in-chancery arrived and issued a writ of habeas corpus returnable before Judge John D. Caton, of the ninth judicial district, at Ottawa, which was served on Reynolds and Wilson. The same day William Clayton was sent by the Prophet to notify his brother Hyrum, and get assistance.

Reynolds and Wilson Under Arrest

Stephen Markham went before a justice of the peace and obtained a warrant for Reynolds and Wilson for threatening his life. He later obtained other warrants from the circuit court of Lee County against them for threatening the life of Joseph Smith, and for false imprisonment, claiming ten thousand dollars damages, on the ground that the writ issued by Governor Ford was a void writ in law. As they could not obtain bondsmen outside of Missouri, they were taken into custody by Sheriff Campbell of Lee County. They also obtained a writ of habeas corpus and under these circumstances the entire party, including the lawyers and Mr. Dixon, started for Ottawa.

President Joseph Smith’s Discourse at Pawpaw Grove

Saturday night, June 24, they arrived at Pawpaw Grove, thirty-two miles distant from Dixon, and the following morning the people assembled at the hotel and requested that the Prophet preach. To this Reynolds objected, saying that Joseph Smith was his prisoner, and the people must disperse. They had witnessed his abuse of his prisoner, and a Mr. David Town, an aged gentleman, who was lame, advanced and gave Reynolds to understand that he could not interrupt gentlemen. Bringing his heavy walking stick down with a thud, he said:

“You—Infernal puke, we’ll learn you to come here and interrupt gentlemen. Sit down there (pointing to a very low chair), and sit still. Don’t open your head till General Smith gets through talking. If you never learned manners in Missouri, we’ll teach you that gentlemen are not to be imposed upon by a nigger-driver. You cannot kidnap men here, if you do in Missouri; and if you attempt it here, there’s a committee in this grove that will sit on your case; and, sir, it is the highest tribunal in the United States, as from its decision there is no appeal!”

Reynolds very meekly and in fear took the seat while President Smith addressed the people for one hour and a half.

The Issuing of New Writs

It was learned that Judge Caton was in New York, so they all returned to Dixon, where new writs were obtained, made returnable before the nearest tribunal in the fifth judicial district, at Markham’s request. Provision was now made to go to Quincy, where Judge Stephen A. Douglas was holding court. Twice on the way Reynolds and Wilson engaged in plots to raise mobs and carry Joseph Smith to the mouth of Rock River where there was a company from Missouri waiting to receive him; but each time the plans were discovered and foiled.

On the way Joseph convinced Sheriff Campbell and the attorneys that the court of Nauvoo was nearer than that of Quincy, and had full power to try his case, and hither they bent their way. Reynolds and Wilson endeavored to get Sheriff Campbell, who had them in custody, to go by way of Rock River, to Quincy, not knowing that their plots were discovered, saying that they would never go through Nauvoo alive. Joseph Smith pledged his word of honor that they would not be molested, and the journey was resumed by land in the direction of Nauvoo.

A Party to the Rescue

William Clayton arrived in Nauvoo on Sunday, June 25, 1843, and at the afternoon meeting in the temple Hyrum Smith requested to see all the brethren. He informed them of his brother Joseph’s arrest, and called for volunteers to go to his assistance. That evening a company of about one hundred and seventy-five men left on horseback. Wilson Law refused to go unless his expenses could be met, whereupon President Brigham Young went to work and raised seven hundred dollars by subscription. About seventy-five men on board the Maid of Iowa, under Captain Dan Jones, went down the Mississippi to the mouth of the Illinois River, thence up that river toward Peoria, to examine the steamboats, suspecting the Prophet might be forced on one of them to be carried down the river to Missouri.

Shortly after the party with the Prophet left Geneseo on the 27th, the advance guard of the brethren, nine in all, from Nauvoo came up, and Reynolds and Wilson began to tremble fearing for their lives. Reynolds asked if “Jim” Flack was in the crowd. When he was informed that he would be present the next day, the criminal sheriff replied: “Then I am a dead man; for I know him of old.” When Stephen Markham, who had gone to locate the brethren from Nauvoo, rode up, Reynolds said, “Do I meet you as a friend? I expected to be a dead man when I met you again,” but he was assured that he would not be hurt. Thursday, June 29, James Flack with others of the brethren met the company a short distance south of Monmouth. President Joseph Smith took Flack to one side and charged him not to harm Reynolds, for he had given his word of honor that he would not be injured. This Flack promised to do although he had cause for vengeance.

Arrival at Nauvoo

Other bodies of men from Nauvoo joined the company from time to time and when they reached that place there were about one hundred and forty riding on horse back, who were joined by the populace in procession and thus they marched into the town. President Smith was greeted with cheers and the firing of cannon. He was still a prisoner in the hands of Reynolds and Wilson, and they in turn were prisoners in the hands of Sheriff Campbell. The Prophet took them to his house and placed Reynolds and Wilson at the head of the table, where about fifty persons were served. This was a very different reception from the one he had received from these men when they took him prisoner in Lee County, at the Wasson home.

The Trial Before the Municipal Court

The same day they arrived in Nauvoo the municipal court convened, and a requisition was made on Reynolds to return the writ, but he refused to recognize the summons, whereupon the Prophet petitioned the court for a writ of habeas corpus to be directed to Reynolds, commanding him to bring his prisoner before the court. The summons was issued and Reynolds complied with the attachment and delivered the Prophet into the hands of the marshal of the city. That afternoon President Smith addressed the people at great length, declaring that he would not peacefully submit again to such ill-treatment. While he was speaking Reynolds and Wilson with a lawyer named Davis, of Carthage, left for that place threatening to raise the militia and come again and take President Smith out of Nauvoo.

Saturday, July 1, 1843, the court convened to examine the writ of habeas corpus. Messrs. Cyrus Walker, Shepherd G. Patrick, Edward Southwick and a Mr. Backman defended Joseph Smith while Attorney Mason was counselor for Reynolds. Witnesses were examined and the case tried on its merits, Hyrum Smith, Parley P. Pratt, Brigham Young, George W. Pitkin, Lyman Wight and Sidney Rigdon giving testimony, at the conclusion of which the prisoner was discharged.

The Citizens of Lee County Thanked

July 1, 1843, a mass meeting of the citizens of Nauvoo was held in the assembly hall and it was “unanimously resolved that Messrs. Sager and Dixon, of the town of Dixon, and the citizens of Dixon, Pawpaw Grove, and Lee County, receive the warmest thanks for the firm patriotism, bold and decided stand taken against lawless outrage and the spirit of mobocracy, as manifested in the arrest or capture of General Joseph Smith, while on a visit to his friends in that district of country.”

Reynolds’ Further Attempt to Obtain Joseph Smith

The proceedings of the municipal court of Nauvoo in this case were promptly forwarded to Governor Ford, with affidavits from the attorneys and others bearing upon the case and the kindly treatment Reynolds and Wilson had received in Nauvoo. Judge James Adams came from Carthage with the information that Reynolds and Wilson were exciting the people there to mobocracy, and petitioning the governor for a posse forcibly to take Joseph Smith, on the grounds that he had been unlawfully taken out of their hands. A remonstrance against the Carthage proceedings was prepared and forwarded to Carthage by Messrs. Southwick and Patrick, and a petition was sent to Governor Ford praying him not to issue any more writs.

Governor Ford refused to comply with the request of Sheriff Reynolds, and subsequently, when Governor Reynolds of Missouri requested him to call out the militia—a method they had of doing in Missouri—to retake Joseph Smith, Governor Ford replied that Joseph Smith had been tried before the municipal court of Nauvoo on a writ of habeas corpus, and discharged from arrest. He, as governor, had fully executed the duty which the laws imposed, and had not “been resisted either in the writ issued for the arrest of Smith or in the person of the officer appointed to apprehend him,” and the constitution would not permit him to take such action, as the Missouri official proposed.

The Case of O. P. Rockwell

Orrin Porter Rockwell, who was accused as the principal in the shooting of ex-Governor Boggs, went into retirement with the Prophet when Governor Ford issued papers for his extradition. He traveled east as far as New Jersey where he remained for some time. Following the discharge of President Joseph Smith by Judge Pope, Rockwell concluded to return to Nauvoo, evidently by way of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. In St. Louis he was recognized by Elias Parker who had him placed under arrest, March 4, 1843. They carried him to Independence in chains, where he was placed under bonds in the sum of five thousand dollars, which they knew he could not raise, as no person outside of Missouri would be accepted by the court as bondsman. In the custody of the notorious Joseph H. Reynolds, sheriff of Jackson County, he was cast into prison bound hand and foot. Here he remained a prisoner for eight months. March 15, 1843, the Prophet wrote: “I prophesied in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that Orrin Porter Rockwell would get away honorably from the Missourians.”

On Christmas evening, 1843—the last Christmas day Joseph and Hyrum Smith celebrated on earth—a large party assembled at the Prophet’s home, and spent the time in music, dancing and a social visit. During the festivities, a man with long shaggy hair, apparently drunk, came in and acted like a Missourian. A scuffle ensued and the Prophet had an opportunity to see the stranger’s face. To his great surprise and joy he discovered his “long-tried, warm, but cruelly persecuted friend, Orrin Porter Rockwell.” The party came to order while Rockwell related in detail his experiences and sufferings while in Missouri.

Orrin P. Rockwell’s Story

The story is too long to tell in full at this point. It is sufficient to relate the following incidents. When he arrived in Independence a large crowd had gathered and suggested hanging him at once, but he was placed in jail. In two or three days he underwent a mock trial, where false witnesses testified against him. The magistrate said he found no evidence against him, but placed him in prison for safe keeping, where Sheriff Reynolds chained him hand and foot. One time he was able to escape, but was recaptured and only by the providence of the Lord was saved from being hanged. About the time that President Smith was demanded by the governor of Missouri, Reynolds, the sheriff, came to Rockwell and said that he had discovered from letters that Joseph Smith had unlimited confidence in Rockwell, and if Rockwell would only “tote him out by riding or any other way,” so that the Missourians might apprehend him, Rockwell might please himself whether he stayed in Illinois or returned to Missouri, they would protect him, and any pile that he would name the citizens of Jackson County, would club together and raise. “You only deliver Joe Smith into our hands, and name your pile.” Rockwell replied: “I will see you all damned first, and then I won’t.”

The time of further trial was continually delayed, but on the 13th of December, he was taken before the court and tried—not on the charge of shooting Boggs, but for breaking jail! He was found guilty and sentenced to “five minutes’ imprisonment in the county jail,” but was kept there five hours, while his enemies tried to think of some other charge to make against him. He was finally released and with great difficulty made his way to Nauvoo, where he arrived that Christmas night.