Visit from Judge King — Change of venue — Handcuffs — Departure from the prison — Journey —Arrival in Columbia, Boone County — Enter another prison —Treatment — Arrival of friends — News from my family — Impressions of the Spirit — Plan and preparations for escape — Fourth of July celebration — Flag — Public dinner — Now’s the day — Our friends take leave — Rendezvous.
March 25, 1839–July 4, 1839
This is a continuation of Chapter 31. To read part 1,
In order to show some pretence of respect for some of the forms of law, Judge Austin A. King now entered our prison and took our testimony, preparatory to a change of venue. I shall never forget this interview. There stood our Judge, face to face with those who, by his cruelty and injustice, had lived a cold half year in a dungeon. He refused to look us in the eye; hung his head and looked like a culprit before his betters about to receive his doom. The looks of guilt and misery portrayed in his countenance during that brief interview bespoke more of misery than we had suffered during our confinement. I actually pitied him in my heart. With an extraordinary effort and a voice scarcely audible, he administered the oaths and withdrew. 1
By means of this change we were finally to be removed one hundred miles down the country, and confined in the prison at Columbia, Boone County, to await a final trial.
A long, dreary winter and spring had now passed away, and the time drew near for our removal. We looked forward to the change with some degree of hope and expectation, for it could not be for the worse, and might, perhaps, be for the better. At any rate, the journey would give us a chance to leave our dark and loathsome dungeon, and look upon the light of day, the beauties of nature, and to breathe the untainted air.
The morning of the departure at length arrived. Mr. Brown, the Sheriff, entered our prison with a fierce and savage look, and, bidding us hold out our hands, coupled us together in pairs, with irons locked on our wrists, and marched us out; and, amid a throng of people, placed us in a carriage. Accompanied with four other guards on horseback, with loaded pistols, we bid farewell to Richmond.
It was a pleasant morning in early summer, when all the freshness and beauty of spring seemed blended in rich profusion, with the productions peculiar to the season as it advanced towards maturity. The leaves on the trees were full grown, and the forest presented a freshness of beauty and loveliness which reminded me of Paradise. The plains were covered with a coat of green, and the wild flowers of the prairie, blooming in all their variety, sent forth a perfume which mingled with every zephyr, and wafted sweet odors on every breeze. To prisoners who had breathed only a tainted air for half a year the very ground itself seemed to send forth a sweetness which was plainly perceptible to the senses. We enjoyed our ride through that delightful country more than any being could who had never been confined for weary months in a dreary dungeon.
The day at length closed, and we were taken into a house and stretched upon our backs on the floor, all fastened together with wrist and ankle irons in such a manner that we could not turn nor change our position. The doors and windows were then made fast, and the sentinels on duty guarded us by turns until morning. This was our night’s rest after forty miles travel.
The next day proved extremely rainy, with heavy thunder; but still we travelled. In the course of the day we came to a stream which was swollen by the rains to that degree that we had to swim over it and stem a swift current. This hindered us for some hours—in crossing over with horses, wagons, baggage, etc.; and as all of us were engaged in this business, our chains were taken off for the time.
When we had crossed over, put on our clothes, and replaced the baggage, saddles, arms, etc., ready for a start, it was night, and we were very weary and hungry, having had no refreshments during the day. The rain was also pouring in torrents, and the night setting in extremely dark. Four miles of wild country, partly covered with forests and underwoods, still lay between us and the nearest house. Through the hurry of the moment, or for some other reason, they neglected to replace our irons, and our limbs were free. The carriage drove through a thick forest during the extreme darkness, and was several times on the eve of upsetting. This caused us to assume a position for saving ourselves by rising upon our feet, ready to jump out in case of the carriage upsetting.
The Sheriff and guards seeing this, rode close on each side, and, cocking their pistols, swore they would shoot us dead if we attempted to leave the carriage, and that if it upset they would shoot us anyhow, for fear we might attempt to escape.
After two days more of rain, hail and travel, we arrived at Columbia, where we were immediately thrust into a gloomy dungeon filled with darkness, filth and cobwebs; the naked floor was our lodging. We had travelled hard, through rain and fatigue, for several days, and on the last day had rode till sundown without refreshment. We were extremely hungry and weary, but received no refreshment, not even a drink of water, till late in the evening, when our new keeper, Mr. John Scott, visited us with some buttermilk and bread; but we were now too much exhausted and too low spirited to eat. We thanked him for his kindness, and sank down exhausted on the floor, where we rested as well as we could till morning. We saw no more of Sheriff Brown or his guards, and will now take final leave of them, merely observing that they made it a point to insult every black woman they met on the way, frequently turning aside with them into the woods and fields. On returning to the company they would boast and glory in their criminal intercourse with them.
After spending one night in our new dungeon we were called on by the Sheriff to come up into a more comfortable apartment, and were treated with some degree of humanity. We were no longer troubled with guards, and even Luman and Phila behaved much better. We had been in our new situation something like a month, when we were visited by some friends from Illinois, from whom we learned the fate of our families and friends.
The wife of Mr. Phelps rode one hundred and sixty miles on horseback, accompanied by her brother, a young man named Clark. They arrived in Columbia and paid us a visit in prison about the 1st of July.
My brother Orson also arrived on horseback about the same time. With these friends we had a good visit for some days — they being permitted to stay in the prison with us. They also brought a letter from my wife, by which I learned that she made her escape from Far West to Quincy, Illinois, with her children and some of her goods, by the aid of Mr. David Rogers, of New York. During this journey they were much exposed to hardships and trouble, having to camp by the way, in company with other women and children who were in a like condition.
On crossing a swollen stream, Mrs. Pratt had left the carriage to cross on a foot bridge, leaving the children to ride through it. She had just crossed over and turned to look back, to see whether the carriage came through in safety, when she discovered a little girl’s bonnet floating down the stream, and, on examination, as the carriage rose the bank, her daughter, a girl of six years old, 2 was missing from the carriage. The next moment she saw her floating down the swift current. She gave the alarm to Mr. Rogers, the driver, who instantly dropped the reins and sprang after her into the stream.
At this instant the horses, being high spirited and active, began to run, and would probably have dashed themselves and the carriage, goods, and the other child 3 to pieces but for the timely interference of a large prong of a tree, which caught the carriage with such a strong hold that all was brought to a stand. In the meantime Mr. Rogers succeeded in rescuing the child and bringing her safe to shore.
She had, as she stated, pitched head foremost out of the carriage into the water. One of the wheels ran over her, and crushed her fast into the mud at the bottom of the stream; but as it rolled over she caught the spokes with her hands, and by this means the same weight that crushed her down brought her to the surface and saved her life. On examination the marks of the wheel were distinctly seen on both her thighs, which were seriously injured and nearly broken.
After a wearisome journey and various toils and dangers, they at length arrived at Quincy, Illinois, where Mrs. Pratt rented a small house, and by the sale of a few books, with the use of her two cows, which some of the brethren had brought from Missouri for her, she was making shift to live from day to day. She still expressed some faint hopes of seeing her husband again in a land of liberty, although at present there was little ground to hope, and she was sometimes nearly in despair.
Such was the news brought us by the arrival of our friends in the prison at Columbia on the 1st of July, 1839, after eight months of weary confinement. Previous to their arrival the Lord had shown me in a vision of the night the manner and means of escape. And, like Pharaoh’s dream, the thing had been doubled — that is shown to me on two occasions in the same manner. 4
Mrs. Phelps had the same thing shown to her in a vision previous to her arrival; my brother, Orson Pratt, also came to us with a firm impression that we were about to be delivered. He even predicted that we should go to Illinois, when he should return there. As we sat pondering upon these things, and comparing our visions and manifestations of the spirit on this subject, my brother Orson opened the Book of Mormon, when the first sentence that caught his eye was the words of Ammon to King Lamoni: “Behold, my brother and my brethren are in prison, in the land of Middoni, and I go to deliver them!” 5 This was indeed a similar instance to ours. Ammon, on that occasion had an own brother in prison, and also brethren in the ministry, and did deliver them. Our case was exactly similar, not in Middoni, but in Missouri. And, what was still more strange, in a book of six hundred pages, this was the only sentence which would have fitted our case.
He now began in earnest to make arrangements for our escape. If there had been no strong bolts and bars to overcome, still there was one serious obstacle which a miracle alone could immediately remove, which was this: I was then very sick and scarcely able to stand on my feet, or to go up and down from the upper room, where we were in the day time, to the dungeon where we slept.
It was the second of July, and our friends could only make an excuse for staying to spend the great national holiday with us (the 4th) before they must leave or excite the suspicions and ill will of the people; and, as that day had been a lucky one for our fathers and our nation, we had determined on that time as the proper one to bid farewell to bondage and gain our liberty. In short, we had determined to make that notable day a jubilee to us, or perish in the attempt. We, therefore, prayed earnestly to the Lord, that if he had determined to favor our plan, he would heal and strengthen me, and give us all courage to act well our part. Through the ministration of the ordinance appointed for healing, I was instantly healed, and from that moment began to feel as strong and fearless as a lion.
Our plan was this: My brother, Orson Pratt, was to wait on the Judge and Attorney, and obtain various papers and arrangements for summoning witnesses from Illinois to attend our trial, which had just been adjourned for some months to come. He was also to procure an order from the Court to take affidavits in Illinois, in case the witnesses should object to come to the State from which they had been banished, in order to attend the trials.
These active preparations on our part to defend our case, together with engaging a lawyer or two, and paying a part of their fees beforehand, served as a sufficient blindfold to cover our real intentions. This done, and the papers all prepared in the hands of my brother, he and Mrs. Phelps and her brother were to stay with us until the 4th, and after celebrating the day with a dinner in the prison (which we obtained leave to do), he and the young Mr. Clark were to take leave with their horses, and also with the horse and saddle on which Mrs. Phelps had ridden, on pretence of taking him home with them to Illinois, while she stayed with her husband a few weeks in the prison; in the meantime engaging her board in the family of the keeper, who occupied part of the building in connection with the prison.
This measure, on the part of Mrs.
Phelps, served the double purpose of lulling them into serenity, and also of furnishing a third horse; as there were three of us. These three horses were to be stationed in a thicket, or forest, about half a mile from the prison, and there the two friends were to await, in readiness for us to mount, should we be so fortunate as to reach the thicket alive.
Sundown, on the evening of the fourth, was the moment agreed upon, and if we did not then appear they were to give us up for lost, and make the best of their way to Illinois and inform our friends that we had gone to Paradise in attempting to come to them. The reason for appointing this hour was this: Our door would be opened at sundown to hand in our supper, and we must then make the attempt as our only chance; for it was customary to lock us up in the lower dungeon as soon as the shades of evening began to appear.
This plan all matured, and the arrangements completed with the court and the lawyers, the fourth of July dawned upon us with hope and expectation. While the town and nation were alive with the bustle of preparation for the celebration of the American Jubilee, and while guns were firing and music sounding without, our prison presented a scene of scarcely less life and cheerfulness; for we were also preparing to do proper honors to the day.
We had prevailed on the keeper to furnish us with a long pole, on which to suspend a flag, and also some red stripes of cloth. We then tore a shirt in pieces, and took the body of it for the ground work of a flag, forming with the red stripes of cloth an eagle and the word “Liberty,” in large letters. This rude flag of red and white was suspended on the pole from the prison window, directly in front of the public square and court house, and composed one of the greatest attractions of the day. Hundreds of the people from the country, as well as villagers who were there at the celebration, would come up and stare at the flag, and reading the motto, would go swearing or laughing away, exclaiming, “Liberty! Liberty! What have the Mormons to do with celebrating liberty in a damned old prison?”
In the meantime active preparations were in progress for our public dinner; and with the contributions of our friends who were to partake with us, and a portion served from the public table of the citizens of the town, we had a plentiful supply. And, as we considered it was to be a day of release, we partook of our feast with much cheer, and with thankful as well as social feelings, which I think have been seldom if ever surpassed.
O ye sons of Columbia, at home and abroad! Think back to the fourth of July, 1839; call to mind your feast in honor of national freedom, and ask yourselves the question, whether in all your pomp and show of joy and social glee, you felt anything compared with our feelings, or the interest excited during that feast.
Eight months and four days we had been deprived of the sweets of that liberty which a whole nation was then engaged in celebrating; and we felt that:
Now’s the day, and now’s the hour,
To trample on a tyrant’s power;
To burst at once the prison’s gloom,
Or find a martyr’d hero’s tomb.
The dinner over, our brethren took a final leave of us and our prison, loaded with love, respects, compliments and messages to our families and friends in Illinois. All these, together with the goodbyes and farewells, were heard and witnessed by the keeper’s family, and served the purpose for which they were intended, viz: To lull them into security, and to remove all possible ground of suspicion as to our intentions.
After riding out of town a mile or two in the forest, on the road towards Illinois, they turned off into the thick leaved wilderness, and made their way in secret, as best they could, to the thicket agreed upon, within about half a mile of the prison; where, with horses saddled and bridle reins in hand, they awaited in anxious suspense the slow progress of the setting sun.
1 About this time the Quorum of the Twelve had determined to fulfill the revelation that had been given to the Prophet Joseph that on April 26, 1839, the Twelve should “re-commence laying the foundation” of the temple in Far West and leave on their mission from that place (see D&C 115:11). Wilford Woodruff recorded: “Having determined to carry out the requirements of the revelation, on the 18th of April, 1839, I took into my wagon Brigham Young and Orson Pratt; Father Cutler took into his wagon John Taylor and George A. Smith, and we started for Far West. On the way we met John E. Page, who was going with his family to Quincy, Illinois … He then … accompanied us on our way. On the night of the 25th of April we arrived at Far West, and spent the night at the home of Morris Phelps. He had been taken a prisoner by the mob, and was still in prison.
“On the morning of the 26th of April, 1839, notwithstanding the threats of our enemies that the revelation which was to be fulfilled this day should not be fulfilled; notwithstanding ten thousand of the Saints had been driven out of the state by the edict of the governor; and notwithstanding the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum Smith, with other leading men, were in the hands of our enemies in chains and in prison, we moved on to the Temple grounds in the city of Far West, held a council, and fulfilled the revelation and commandment given to us … we laid the southeast chief cornerstone of the Temple, according to revelation …
“While on our way to fulfill the revelation, Joseph, the Prophet, and his companions in chains were liberated, through the blessings of God, from their enemies and prison, and passed us. We were not far distant from each other, but neither party knew it at the time. They were making their way to their families in Illinois, while we were traveling to Far West into the midst of our enemies” (Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, 101–2). Parley remained in prison during this time.
2 Mary Ann Stearns, six-year-old daughter of Mary Ann Frost and her first husband, Nathan Stearns.
3 This other child was six-month-old Nathan Pratt, first son of Parley and Mary Ann. Parley’s firstborn son, Parley Jr., age two, was being taken care of by a nurse and apparently was not with them at this time.
4 See Genesis 41:1–8.
5 Alma 20: 3.