The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt – Revised and Enhanced Edition
Edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor
Treatment of the prisoners - Visit the temple lot – Gain my freedom – Temptation - Voluntary return to bondage - Leave Independence – Conduct of the guards - Fall into the hands of Col. Price and guards – Arrive at Richmond - Chains - Interview with Gen. Clark – Dialogue – Inconceivable absurdities.
November 4, 1838-November 10, 1838
This ceremony being finished, a vacant house was prepared for our reception, into which we were ushered through the crowd of spectators which thronged every avenue.
The troops were then disbanded. In the meantime we were kept under a small guard, and were treated with some degree of humanity, while hundreds flocked to see us day after day. 1 We spent most of our time in preaching and conversation, explanatory of our doctrines and practice. Much prejudice was removed, and the feelings of the populace began to be in our favor, notwithstanding their former wickedness and hatred.
In a day or two we were at liberty to walk the streets without a guard. We were finally removed from our house of confinement to a hotel, where we boarded at the public table, and lodged on the floor, with a block of wood for a pillow. We no longer had any guard; we went out and came in when we pleased – a certain keeper being appointed merely to watch over us, and look to our wants.
With him we walked out of town to the westward, and visited the desolate lands of the Saints, and the place which, seven years before, we had dedicated for the building of a Temple. This was a beautiful rise of ground, about half a mile west of Independence centre. When we saw it last it was a noble forest, but our enemies had since robbed it of every vestige of timber, and it now lay desolate, or clothed with grass and weeds.
O, how many feelings did this spot awaken in our bosoms! Here we had often bowed the knee in prayer, in bygone years. Here we had assembled with hundreds of happy Saints in the solemn meeting, and offered our songs, and sacraments, and orisons. But now all was solemn and lonely desolation. Not a vestige remained to mark the spot where stood our former dwellings. They had long since been consumed by fire, or removed and converted to the uses of our enemies.
While at Independence we were once or twice invited to dine with General Wilson and some others, which we did.
While thus sojourning as prisoners at large, I arose one morning when it was very snowy, and passed silently and unmolested out of the hotel, and as no one seemed to notice me, or call me in question, I thought I would try an experiment. I passed on eastward through the town; no one noticed me. I then took into the fields, still unobserved. After travelling a mile I entered a forest; all was gloomy silence, none were near, the heavens were darkened and obscured by falling snow, my track was covered behind me, and I was free. I knew the way to the States eastward very well, and there seemed nothing to prevent my pursuing my way thither; thoughts of freedom beat high in my bosom; wife, children, home, freedom, peace, and a land of law and order, all arose in my mind; I could go to other States, send for my family, make me a home and be happy.
On the other hand, I was a prisoner in a State where all law was at an end. I was liable to be shot down at any time without judge or jury. I was liable to be tried for my life by murderous assassins, who had already broken every oath of office and trampled on every principle of honor or even humanity. Hands already dripping with the blood of aged sires, and of helpless women and children, were reaching out for my destruction. The battle of Crooked River had already been construed into murder on the part of the brave patriots who there defended their lives and rescued their fellow citizens from kidnappers and land pirates, while the pirates themselves had been converted into loyal militia.
To go forward was freedom, to go backward was to be sent to General Clark, and be accused of the highest crimes, with murderers for judge, jury and executioners.
“Go free!” whispered the tempter.
“No!” said I, “never, while brother Joseph and his fellows are in the power of the enemy. What a storm of trouble, or even of death, it might subject them to.”
I turned on my heel, retraced my steps, and entered the hotel ere they had missed me. As I shook the snow off my clothes the keeper and also brother Joseph inquired where I had been. I replied, just out for a little exercise. A walk for pleasure in such a storm gave rise to some pleasantries on their part, and there the matter ended.
There was one thing which buoyed up our spirits continually during our captivity: it was the remembrance of the word of the Lord to brother Joseph, saying, that our lives should all be given us during this captivity, and not one of them should be lost. I thought of this while in the wilderness vacillating whether to go or stay, and the thought struck me: “He that will seek to save his life shall lose it; but he that will lose his life for my sake shall find it again, even life eternal.”2 I could now make sure of my part in the first resurrection, as I had so intensely desired when about eleven years old. But, O, the path of life! How was it beset with trials!
At length, after repeated demands, we were sent to General Clark, at Richmond, Ray County.3 Generals Lucas and Wilson had tried in vain for some days to get a guard to accompany us. None would volunteer, and when drafted they would not obey orders; for in truth, they wished us to go at liberty. At last a colonel and two or three officers started with us, with their swords and pistols, which were intended more to protect us than to keep us from escaping. On this journey some of us rode in carriages and some on horseback. Sometimes we were sixty or eighty rods in front or rear of our guards, who were drinking hard out of bottles which they carried in their pockets.
At night, having crossed the Missouri River, we put up at a private house. Here our guards all got drunk, and went to bed and to sleep, leaving us their pistols to defend ourselves in case of any attack from without, as we were in a very hostile neighborhood. Next morning we rode a few miles, and were met by an express from General Clark, which consisted of one Colonel Sterling Price and a guard of soldiers. This company immediately surrounded us with poised pieces, in regular military order, as if we had been Bonaparte and staff on the way to St. Helena; thinking, perhaps, that if we should escape, the whole United States and all Europe would be immediately overthrown.
In this manner we were escorted to Richmond, the headquarters of General Clark and his army of three or four thousand men. Here, as usual, we had to endure the gaze of the curious, as if we had been a caravan of animals for exhibition. Troops were paraded to receive us, which, as we approached, opened to the right and left, thus forming a long avenue, through which we passed into a block house, and were immediately put in chains, under a strong guard, who stood over us continually with poised pieces, cocked and primed. Colonel Price continued in the superintendence of the prisoners and the guards.
General Clark at length called to see us. He seemed more haughty, unfeeling, and reserved than even Lucas or Wilson had been when we first entered their camp. We inquired of the general what were his intentions concerning us. I stated to him that we had now been captives for many days, and we knew not wherefore, nor whether we were considered prisoners of war or prisoners of civil process, or “prisoners of hope.”
At the same time remarking, that all was wrapt in mystery; for, as citizens of the United States and of Missouri, in time of peace, we could in nowise be considered as prisoners of war; and, without civil process, we were not holden by civil authority; and as to being “prisoners of hope,” there was not much chance to hope, from our present appearances!
He replied that “we were taken to be tried.”
“Tried? By what authority?”
“By court martial.”
“What! Ministers of the gospel tried by court martial! Men who sustain no office in military affairs, and who are not subject by law to military duty; such men to be tried by court martial! And this in time of peace, and in a republic where the constitution guaranteed to every citizen the right of trial by jury?”
“Yes. This is in accordance with the treaty of stipulations entered into at Far West at the time of the surrender, and as agreed to by Colonel Hinkle, your commanding officer.”
“Colonel Hinkle, our commanding officer! What had he to do with our civil rights? He was only a colonel of a regiment of the Caldwell County Militia.”
“Why! was he not the commanding officer of the fortress of Far West, the headquarters of the Mormon forces?”
“We had no ‘fortress’ or ‘Mormon forces,’ but were part of the State militia.”
At this the general seemed surprised, and the conversation ended.
We were astonished above measure at proceedings so utterly ignorant and devoid of all law or justice. Here was a Major-General, selected by the Governor of Missouri, and sent to banish or exterminate a religious society. And then, to crown the whole with inconceivable absurdity, said religious society is converted by this officer and his associates into an independent government, or foreign nation. And last, and equally absurd, the State of Missouri assumed her independence of the Federal Government so far as to treat with this imaginary “Mormon Empire,” or foreign nation.
A colonel of militia, subordinate to the general then in the field, is converted into a foreign minister, an envoy extraordinary, in behalf of the “Mormon Empire,” to enter into treaty stipulations with his Missouri majesty’s forces, under Generals Lucas, Wilson and Clark!
The City of Far West, the capital of “Mormonia,” is the “Ghent,” where this treaty of peace is ratified. The standing army of the conquered nation stack their arms, which are carried in triumph to Richmond. Preachers of the gospel are converted into “noble” or “royal prisoners,” chained to the car of the victorious champions to be led captive as sport for the Philistines, or to be shot or hung at pleasure, while the residue of the inhabitants of the fallen empire – men, women and children – are to have their real estate and all other goods confiscated, and themselves banished the State on pain of death. A few, however, are selected from among these exiles to be imprisoned or executed at the mere dictation of a Nero or a Nicholas.
Was this in America, in the nineteenth century? Were these scenes transacted in a constitutional republic? Yes, verily, and worse, – a tale of horror, of woe, of long years of lawless outrage and tyranny is yet to be told, of which this is a mere stepping stone or entering wedge.
1 In a letter to his wife Mary Ann dated November 9, 1838, from Independence, Parley wrote: “I pray the Lord God bless and preserve you and us and speedily restore us to the bosom of our families. We know not what will be done with us … but be assured that whether we meet again in this world or not, I trust in the Living God whether in life or in death, and I feel resigned to his will, and I fear not those who can only kill the body. Indeed, I would hail death as a welcome messenger, the hour of death as the hour of happy deliverance, and the grave as a sweet place of rest … were it not for the tender strings which bind me to my family; it is for you and the little ones, that I still desire to live; and my prayer to God is that he will preserve me and my family and let us live in each other’s embraces, or take us all to himself; where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest” (Parley P. Pratt to Mary Ann Pratt, November 9, 1838, Letters, 1838-1839).
2 Mark 8:35.
3 General John B. Clark (1802-85), the recipient of Boggs’ extermination order, had been appointed supreme commander of the forces that were to remove the Mormons from Missouri. He did not arrive in Far West to meet the prisoners – Joseph and Hyrum, Parley, Sidney Rigdon, George Robinson, Alexander McRae, Lyman Wight, Caleb Baldwin, and others – but met with them later.
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