The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt – Revised and Enhanced Edition
Edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor

Chapter 28

Joseph Smith and his fellow prisoners in Clay County – Mock trial in the county of Davies – Final escape -­ Their arrival in Illinois.

November 1838-April 1839

This chapter is an extract from the statement of Hyrum Smith, one of the prisoners, given under oath, before the Municipal Court of the city of Nauvoo, Illinois, in the summer of 1843. [1]

“The next morning after the close of this mock court (held at Richmond, Judge Austin A. King presiding), a large wagon drove up to the door of our prison house, and a blacksmith entered with some chains and handcuffs. He said his orders from the Judge were to handcuff and chain us together. He informed us that the Judge made out a mittimus [2] and sentenced us to jail for treason; he also said that the Judge had stated his intention to keep us in jail until all the Mormons were driven from the State; and that the Judge had further stated that if he let us out before the Mormons had left the State there would be another d-d fuss kicked up. I also heard the Judge say myself, while he was sitting in his pretended court, ‘that there was no law for us, or any of the Mormons in the State of Missouri; that he had sworn to see then exterminated, and to see the Governor’s order executed to the very letter, and he would do so.

“However, the blacksmith proceeded to put the irons upon us. We were then ordered into the wagon and drove off for Clay County. As we journeyed along the road, we were exhibited to the inhabitants. This public exhibition lasted until we arrived at the town of Liberty, Clay County. There we were thrust into prison again, and locked up; and were held there in confinement for the space of six months. [3]

“Our place of lodging was the square side of hewed white oak logs, and our food was anything but good and decent. Poison was administered to us three or four times. The effect it had upon our systems was, that it vomited us almost to death, and then we would lay some two or three days in a torpid, stupid state, not even caring or wishing for life.

“The poison would inevitably have proved fatal had not the power of Jehovah interposed in our behalf, to save us from their wicked purpose. We were also subjected to the necessity of eating human flesh! for the space of five days, or go without food, except a little coffee or a little corn bread. I chose the latter alternative. None of us partook of the flesh except Lyman Wight. We also heard the guard which was placed over us, making sport of us, saying that ‘they had fed us upon Mormon beef.’ [4]

“I have described the appearance of this flesh to several experienced physicians, and they have decided that it was human flesh. We learned afterwards through one of the guards that it was supposed that such acts of cannibalism as feeding us with human flesh would be considered a popular deed. But those concerned, on learning that it would not take, tried to keep it secret; but the fact was noised abroad before they took that precaution.

“While we were incarcerated in prison we petitioned the Supreme Court of the State of Missouri for habeas corpus twice, but we were as often refused by Judge Reynolds, who is now Governor of that State.

“We also petitioned one of the county judges for a writ of habeas corpus. This was granted in about three weeks afterwards; but we were not permitted to have any trial. We were only taken out of jail, and kept out for a few hours, and then remanded back again. [5] In the course of three or four days after that time Judge Turnham came into the jail in the evening, and said he had permitted Mr. Rigdon to get bail; but said he had to do it in the night, and had also to get away in the night, and unknown to any of the citizens, or they would kill him; for they had sworn to kill him if they could find him. And, as to the rest of us, he dare not let us go for fear of his own life, as well as ours.

“He said it was hard to be confined under such circumstances, for he knew we were innocent men, and the people also knew it; and that it was only persecution and treachery, and the scenes of Jackson County acted over again, for fear we would become too numerous in that upper country. He said, ‘the plan was concocted from the Governor down to the lowest judge, and that that wicked Baptist priest, Riley, was riding into town every day to watch the people – stirring up the minds of the people against us all he could – exciting them, and stirring up their religious prejudices against us, for fear they would let us go.’

“Mr. Rigdon, however, got bail and made his escape to Illinois. [6] The jailor, Samuel Tillory, told us also ‘that the whole plan was concocted from the Governor down to the lowest judge in that upper country early the previous spring; and that the plan was more fully matured at the time General Atchison went down to Jefferson County with Generals Wilson, Lucas and Gillum.’ This was sometime in September, when the mob was collected at De Witt. He also said that the Governor was now ashamed enough of the whole transaction, and would be glad to set us at liberty if he dared to do it; ‘but,’ said he, ‘you need not be concerned, for the Governor has laid a plan for your release.’ He also said that Mr. Birch, the State’s Attorney, was appointed to be Circuit Judge in the district including Davies County, and that he (Birch) was instructed to fix the papers so that we would be clear from any encumbrance in a very short time.

“Sometime in April we were taken to Davies County, [7] as they said, to have a trial; but when we arrived at that place, instead of finding a court or a jury, we found another Inquisition; and Birch, who was the District Attorney, the same man who was one of the ‘court martial’ when we were sentenced to death, was now the Circuit Judge of that pretended court, and the Grand Jury that were impanelled were at the massacre at Haun’s Mill, and lively actors in that awful, solemn, disgraceful, cold-blooded murder. All the pretence they made of excuse was ‘they had done it because the Governor ordered it done.’

“The same jury sat as a jury in the day time, and were over us as a guard by night. They tantalized and boasted over us of their great achievements at Haun’s Mill and at other places; telling us how many houses they had burned, and how many sheep, cattle and hogs they had driven off belonging to ‘Mormons,’ and how many rapes they had committed, etc.

“These fiends of the lower region boasted of these acts of barbarity and tantalized our feelings with them for ten days. We had heard of these acts of cruelty previous to this time; but we were slow to believe that such acts had been perpetrated.

“This Grand Jury constantly celebrated their achievements with grog and glass in hand, like the Indian warriors at the war dances, singing and telling each of their exploits in murdering the ‘Mormons,’ in plundering their houses, and carrying off their property. All this was done in … presence of Judge Birch, who had previously said in our hearing: ‘That there was no law for the Mormons in the State of Missouri.’

“After all these ten days of drunkenness we were informed that we were indicted for ‘treason! murder! arson! larceny! theft and stealing!!’ We asked for a change of venue from that county to Marion County; but they would not grant it. But they gave us a change of venue from Davies to Boone County, and a mittimus was made out by the pretended Judge Birch, without date, name or place. They fitted us out with a two horse wagon and horses, and four men, besides the Sheriff, to be our guard – there were five of us.

“We started from Gallatin, the sun about two hours high, p.m., and went as far as Diahman that evening, and stayed till morning. There we bought two horses of the guard, and paid for one of them in clothing which we had with us, and for the other we gave our note.

“We went down that day as far as Judge Morin’s – a distance of some four or five miles. There we stayed until morning, when we started on our journey to Boone County, and travelled about twenty miles. There was bought a jug of whiskey, of which the guard drank freely. While there the Sheriff showed us the mittimus, before referred to, without date or signature, and said that Judge Birch told him never to carry us to Boone County, and to show the mittimus; and, said he, I shall take a good drink of grog and go to bed, and you may do as you have a mind to. Three others of the guard drank pretty freely of whiskey sweetened with honey; they also went to bed and were soon asleep. The other guard went with us and helped us to saddle our horses. Two of us mounted the horses and the other three started on foot, and thus we took our change of venue for the State of Illinois. [8]

“In the course of nine or ten days we arrived safely in Quincy, Adams County, where we found our families [9] in a state of poverty, although in good health – they having been driven out of the State previously by the murderous militia under the exterminating order of the Executive of Missouri. And now the people of that State, or a portion of them, would be glad to make the people of this State believe that my brother Joseph has committed treason, and this they seek to do for the purpose of keeping up their murderous and hellish persecution. They seem to be unrelenting in thirsting for the blood of innocence, for I do know most positively that my brother Joseph has committed no treason, nor violated one solitary item of law or rule in the State of Missouri.

“But I do know that the Mormon people, en masse, were driven out of that State, after being robbed of all they had, and that he barely escaped with his life. And all this in consequence of the exterminating order of Governor Boggs; the same being confirmed by the Legislature of that State.

“And I do know, so does this Court and every rational man who is acquainted with the circumstances, and every man who shall hereafter become acquainted with the particulars thereof, will know that Governor Boggs and Generals Clark, Lucas, Wilson and Gillum, also Austin A. King, have committed treasonable acts against the citizens of Missouri, and did violate the Constitution of the United States, and also the Constitution and laws of the State of Missouri, and did exile and expel, at the point of the bayonet, some twelve or fourteen thousand inhabitants of the State, and did murder some three or four hundred of men, women and children in cold blood in the most horrid and cruel manner possible.

“And the whole of it was caused by religious bigotry and persecution, and because the Mormons dared to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience and agreeably to His Divine Will, as revealed in the Scriptures of eternal truth; and had turned away from following the vain traditions of their fathers and would not worship according to the dogmas and commandments of those men who preach for hire and divine for money, and teach for doctrines the commandments of men, expecting that the Constitution of the United States would have protected them therein.

“But, notwithstanding the Mormon people, had purchased upwards of two hundred thousand dollars’ worth of land, most of which was entered and paid for at the Land Office of the United States, in the State of Missouri, and although the President of the United States has been made acquainted with these facts and the particulars of our persecutions and oppressions by petitions to him and to Congress, yet they have not even attempted to restore the Saints to their rights, or given any assurance that we may hereafter expect redress from them.

“And I do also know, most positively and assuredly, that my brother, Joseph Smith, Junior, has not been in the State of Missouri since the spring of the year 1839. And further this deponent saith not.

“Hyrum Smith.”


[1] Hyrum Smith’s report was first published in full in the Times and Seasons on July 1, 1843. It is also included in Lucy Mack Smith’s history of her son (Smith, Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith, 369-402).

[2] A warrant of commitment to prison.

[3] “We” is the entire First Presidency (Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Hyrum Smith) as well as Parley.

[4] George A. Smith reported: “Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Alexander McRae, Lyman Wight and others were for several months thrust into prison, and in one instance, while there, were fed on human flesh and tantalized with the inquiry, ‘How they liked Mormon beef’ – it being the flesh of some of their murdered brethren” (in Journal of Discourses, 13:108). A history of Lyman Wight indicates that he testified “of the sufferings of Joseph Smith and his fellow prisoners, concerning which he said, ‘We were committed to Liberty jail under the care of Samuel Tillery, Jailor; we were received with a shout of indignation and scorn by the populace. The jailor sent for a mittimus some days after. His tender mercies were intolerable; he fed us on a scanty allowance of filthy and unpalatable food, and for five days on human flesh; from extreme hunger I was compelled to eat it.’ The guards inquired, ‘How do you like Mormon beef?'” (Lyman Wight, “History of Lyman Wight,” Millennial Star 27 [29 July 1865]: 471).

[5] For January 1, 1839, the Prophet recorded: “The day dawned upon us as prisoners of hope, but not as sons of liberty. O Columbia, Columbia! How thou art fallen! ‘The land of the free, the home of the brave!’ ‘The asylum of the oppressed’ – oppressing thy noblest sons, in a loathsome dungeon, without any provocation, only that they have claimed to worship the God of their fathers according to His own word, and the dictates of their own consciences” (Smith, History of the Church, 3:245).

[6] Sometime around the end of January 1839, Sidney Rigdon was let out of jail on a writ of habeas corpus. The mob had sworn that if any of the prisoners got out of the jail, they would be killed. It appears that the intention of the mob was to kill Sidney, yet, as Joseph recorded, “through the friendship of the sheriff, Mr. Samuel Hadley, and the jailor, Mr. Samuel Tillery, he was let out of the jail secretly in the night … ; and being solemnly warned by them to be out of the state with as little delay as possible, he made his escape. Being pursued by a body of armed men, it was through the direction of a kind Providence that he escaped out of their hands, and safely arrived in Quincy, Illinois” (Smith, History of the Church, 3:264).

[7] The prisoners were removed from the jail on April 6, 1839, after 127 days of imprisonment.

[8] Bill Bowman had been the sheriff of Daviess County and now helped Joseph and Hyrum obtain horses to make their escape to Illinois. For this act of kindness, “a mob headed by Obadiah Jennings, the same ruffian who had spearheaded the massacre at Haun’s Mill, rode Bill ‘on an iron bar until they killed him'” (Brown, The Mormon Trek West, 121).

[9] Lucy Mack Smith told Edward Partridge that she would see her sons before the next night. This was after months of separation and no word of their escape. “That night upon lying down on my bed to go to sleep,” she recorded, “I saw my sons in vision on the prairie in Missouri. They appeared to be very tired and hungry. They had but one horse, and I saw them stop and tie him to the burnt stub of a sapling, after which they lay down on the ground to rest themselves. Oh, how pale and faint they looked! I sprang up in bed. ‘Oh, Father,’ I said, ‘I see Joseph and Hyrum, and they are so weak they can scarcely stand, and now they are lying on the cold ground asleep. Oh, how I want to give them something to eat!’ . . . My soul was grieved, and I could not sleep, so I arose from my bed and spent the night walking the floor.

“The next day I commenced making preparations for their reception as confidently as though I had received word that they would be there for supper, but the day was so long and so tedious that in the afternoon near sunset, I went upstairs to consult with Lucy about my cooking. As we came down, she was before me, and when she came to the bottom of the stairs, she screamed out, ‘There is Elder Baldwin. Oh, my brothers,’ said she, ‘where are they?’ This was Caleb Baldwin, who had been in prison with my sons. He told us that Hyrum and Joseph were then on their way over the river and would soon be in Quincy. . . .

“Hyrum and Joseph landed soon after and went immediately to see their families. They, with their wives and the rest of our connections, spent the next day with us. . . . Our friends swarmed around us, and we spent the day in eating and drinking and making merry. During the afternoon, I asked Joseph in the presence of the company if they were not on the prairie the night previous in the situation that I saw them in vision. They replied that they were” (Smith, Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith, 420-22).