The prisoners — Second interview with General Clark — Inquisition — Sickness of Elder Rigdon — Colonel Price and guards —Their conduct — Rebuke by Joseph Smith — Trial — Similarity between King Herod and Governor Boggs — Judge Austin A. King in open court threatens a wholesale extermination of the “Mormons” — Other prisoners obtained by stratagem — Advice of General Doniphan, attorney for the prisoners — Decision — Disposal of the prisoners — Flight of the Church to Illinois — Conduct of the outlaws — My family visits me in prison.
November 9, 1838–November 28, 1838
I must not forget to state that when we arrived in Richmond as prisoners there were some fifty others, mostly heads of families, who had been marched from Caldwell on foot (distance 30 miles), and were now penned up in a cold, open, unfinished court house, in which situation they remained for some weeks, while their families were suffering severe privations.
The next morning after our dialogue with General Clark he again entered our prison and informed us that he had concluded to deliver us over to the civil authorities for an examining trial. He was then asked why he did not do away with the unlawful decree of banishment , which was first ordered by General Lucas, in compliance with the Governor’s order, and which compelled thousands of citizens to leave the State. Or upon what principle the military power aided the civil law against us, while at the same time it caused our families and friends to be murdered, plundered and driven, contrary to all law?
He replied that he approved of all the proceedings of General Lucas, and should not alter them. I make this statement because some writers have commended Clark for his heroic, merciful, and prudent conduct towards our society, and have endeavored to make it appear that Clark was not to be blamed for any of the measures of Lucas.
The Court of Inquiry now commenced, before Judge Austin A. King. This continued from the 11th to 28th of November, and our brethren, some fifty in number, were penned up in the cold, dreary court house. It was a very severe time of snow and winter weather, and we suffered much. During this time Elder Rigdon was taken very sick, from hardship and exposure, and finally lost his reason; but still he was kept in a miserable, noisy and cold room, and compelled to sleep on the floor with a chain and padlock round his ankle, and fastened to six others. 1 Here he endured the constant noise and confusion of an unruly guard, the officer of which was Colonel Sterling Price, since Governor of the State.
These guards were composed generally of the most noisy, foulmouthed, vulgar, disgraceful rabble that ever defiled the earth. While he lay in this situation his son-in-law, George W. Robinson, the only male member of his family, was chained by his side. Thus Mrs. Rigdon and her daughters were left entirely destitute and unprotected. One of his daughters, Mrs. Robinson, a young and delicate female, with her little infant, came down to see her husband, and to comfort and take care of her father in his sickness. When she first entered the room, amid the clank of chains and the rattle of weapons, and cast her eyes on her sick and dejected parent and sorrow worn husband, she was speechless, and only gave vent to her feelings in a flood of tears. This faithful lady, with her little infant, continued by the side of her father till he recovered from his sickness, and till his fevered and disordered mind resumed its wonted powers.
In one of those tedious nights we had lain as if in sleep till the hour of midnight had passed, and our ears and hearts had been pained, while we had listened for hours to the obscene jests, the horrid oaths, the dreadful blasphemies and filthy language of our guards, Colonel Price at their head, as they recounted to each other their deeds of rapine, murder, robbery, etc., which they had committed among the “Mormons” while at Far West and vicinity. They even boasted of defiling by force wives, daughters and virgins, and of shooting or dashing out the brains of men, women and children.
I had listened till I became so disgusted, shocked, horrified, and so filled with the spirit of indignant justice that I could scarcely refrain from rising upon my feet and rebuking the guards; but had said nothing to Joseph, or any one else, although I lay next to him and knew he was awake. On a sudden he arose to his feet, and spoke in a voice of thunder, or as the roaring lion, uttering, as near as I can recollect, the following words:
“SILENCE, ye fiends of the infernal pit. In the name of Jesus Christ I rebuke you, and command you to be still; I will not live another minute and bear such language. Cease such talk, or you or I die THIS INSTANT!”
He ceased to speak. He stood erect in terrible majesty. Chained, and without a weapon; calm, unruffled and dignified as an angel, he looked upon the quailing guards, whose weapons were lowered or dropped to the ground; whose knees smote together, and who, shrinking into a corner, or crouching at his feet, begged his pardon, and remained quiet till a change of guards.
I have seen the ministers of justice, clothed in magisterial robes, and criminals arraigned before them, while life was suspended on a breath, in the Courts of England; I have witnessed a Congress in solemn session to give laws to nations; I have tried to conceive of kings, of royal courts, of thrones and crowns; and of emperors assembled to decide the fate of kingdoms; but dignity and majesty have I seen but once, as it stood in chains, at midnight, in a dungeon in an obscure village of Missouri.
In this mock Court of Inquiry the Judge could not be prevailed on to examine the conduct of murderers and robbers who had desolated our society, nor would he receive testimony except against us. By the dissenters and apostates who wished to save their own lives and secure their property at the expense of others, and by those who had murdered and plundered us from time to time, he obtained abundance of testimony, much of which was entirely false. Our Church organization was converted by such testimony into a temporal kingdom, which was to fill the whole earth and subdue all other kingdoms.
This Court of Inquisition inquired diligently into our belief of the seventh chapter of Daniel concerning the kingdom of God, which should subdue all other kingdoms and stand forever. And when told that we believed in that prophecy, the Court turned to the clerk and said: “Write that down; it is a strong point for treason.” Our lawyer observed as follows: “Judge, you had better make the Bible treason.” The Court made no reply.
These texts and many others were inquired into with all the eagerness and apparent alarm which characterized a Herod of old in relation to the babe of Bethlehem, the King of the Jews.
The ancient Herod, fearing a rival in the person of Jesus, issued his exterminating order for the murder of all the children of Bethlehem from two years old and under, with a view to hinder the fulfilment of a prophecy which he himself believed to be true.
The modern Herod (Boggs), fearing a rival kingdom in “the people of the Saints of the Most High,” issued his exterminating order for the murder of the young children of an entire people, and of their mothers as well as fathers, while this Court of Inquisition inquired as diligently into the one prophecy as his predecessor did into the other. 2 These parallel actions go to show a strong belief in the prophecies on the part of the actors in both cases. Both believed, and feared, and trembled; both hardened their hearts against that which their better judgment told them was true. Both were instigated by the devil to cause innocent blood to be shed. And marvellously striking is the parallel in the final result of the actions of each.
The one slew many young children, but failed to destroy the infant King of the Jews.
The other slew many men, women and children, but failed to destroy the Kingdom of God.
The one found a timely refuge in Egypt.
The other in Illinois.
Jesus Christ fulfilled his destiny, and will reign over the Jews, and sit on the throne of his father, David, forever.
The Saints are growing into power amid the strongholds of the mountains of Deseret, and will surely take the Kingdom, and the greatness of the Kingdom, under the whole Heaven.
Who can withstand the Almighty, or frustrate his purposes? Herod died of a loathsome disease, and transmitted to posterity his fame as a tyrant and murderer. And Lilburn W. Boggs is dragging out a remnant of existence in California, with the mark of Cain upon his brow, and the fear of Cain within his heart, lest he that findeth him shall slay him. He is a living stink, and will go down to posterity with the credit of a wholesale murderer. 3
The Court also inquired diligently into our missionary operations. It was found, on investigation, that the Church had sent missionaries into England and other foreign countries. This, together with our belief in the Bible, was construed into treason against the State of Missouri, while every act of defence was set down as murder, etc. The Judge, in open court, while addressing a witness, proclaimed, that if the members of the Church remained on their lands to put in another crop they should be destroyed indiscriminately, and their bones be left to bleach on the plains without a burial. Yes, reader, the cultivation of lands held by patents issued by the United States land office, and signed by the President of the Republic, was, by Judge Austin A. King, in open court, pronounced a capital offence, for which a whole community were prejudged and sentenced to death. While those who should be the instruments to execute this sentence were called by the dignified name of citizens, and these good citizens afterwards elected that same Judge for Governor of the State.
The Judge inquired of the prisoners if they wished to introduce any witnesses for the defence. A list of names was supplied by the prisoners, when, who should be selected to go to Far West to obtain and bring them before the Court, but the identical bandit, Bogart, and his gang, who were defeated by us in the battle of Crooked River, after they had become famous for kidnapping, plundering and murdering!
Of course, every man in Caldwell would flee from such a gang if they could; but he succeeded in capturing a few of our friends, whose names were on the list, and bringing them before the Court, when, instead of being sworn, they were immediately ordered to prison to take their trial. Others were sent for, and, as far as found, shared the same fate. This manoeuver occupied several days, during which the Court was still in session, and the fate of the prisoners suspended.
At length the Judge exclaimed to the prisoners: “If you have any witnesses bring them forward; the Court cannot delay forever — it has waited several days already.” A member of the Church, named Allen, was just then seen to pass the window. The prisoners requested that he might be introduced and sworn. He was immediately called in and sworn. He began to give his testimony, which went to establish the innocence of the prisoners, and to show the murders, robberies, etc., committed by their accusers. But he was suddenly interrupted and cut short by cries of “Put him out;” “Kick him out;” “G—d d—n him, shoot him;” “Kill him, d—n him, kill him;” “He’s a d—d Mormon.”
The Court then ordered the guard to put him out, which was done amid the yells, threats, insults and violence of the mob who thronged in and around the court house. He barely escaped with his life. Mr. Doniphan, attorney for the defence, and since famed as a general in the Mexican war, finally advised the prisoners to offer no defence; “for,” said he, “though a legion of angels from the opening heavens should declare your innocence, the Court and populace have decreed your destruction.” Our attorney offered no defence, and thus the matter of our trials was finally submitted.
By the decision of this mock Court some twenty or thirty of the accused were dismissed, among whom was Amasa Luman Gibbs, 4 Darwin Chase, Norman Shearer and myself and themselves and bail both forced to leave the State, thus forfeiting the bail bonds, while Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, Caleb Baldwin and Alexander McRay 5 (all heads of families) were committed to the jail of Clay County on the charge of treason; and Morris Phelps, Luman Gibbs, Darwin Chase, Norman Shearer and myself were committed to the jail of Richmond, Ray County, for the alleged crime of murder, said to be committed in the act of dispersing the bandit, Bogart, and his gang.
This done, the civil and military authorities dispersed, and the troubled waters became a little more tranquil.
As our people were compelled by the memorable “Treaty of Far West” to leave the State by the following spring, they now commenced moving by hundreds and by thousands to the State of Illinois, where they were received in the most humane and friendly manner by the authorities, and by the citizens in general. 6 In the meantime bands of murderers, thieves and robbers were roaming unrestrained among the unarmed and defenceless citizens, committing all manner of plunder, and driving off cattle, sheep and horses, abusing and insulting women.
My wife and children soon came to me in prison, and spent a portion of the winter in the cold, dark dungeon, where myself and fellow prisoners were frequently insulted and abused by our dastardly guards, who often threatened to shoot us on the spot, and who made murder, robbery and whoredoms with negro slaves their daily boast.
1 From correspondence of the Prophet Joseph to his wife, Emma, we learn who these brethren were: “Brother Robison [George W. Robinson, son-in-law of Sidney Rigdon] is chained next to me. He has a true heart and a firm mind. Brother Wight [Lyman Wight] is next. Br. Rigdon, next; Hyrum, next; Parley, next; Amasa [Amasa Lyman], next; and thus we are bound together in chains as well as the cords of everlasting love. We are in good spirits and rejoice that we are counted worthy to be persecuted for Christ’s sake” (Smith, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 368; spelling standardized). Others who were at this time imprisoned include Alexander McRae, Caleb Baldwin, Morris Phelps, Luman Gibbs, Darwin Chase, and Norman Shearer.
2 Joseph Smith wrote of Boggs: “All earth and hell cannot deny that a baser knave, a greater traitor, and a more wholesale butcher, or murderer of mankind ever went untried, unpunished, and unhung” (Smith, History of the Church, 1:435).
3 Ironically, Boggs was on the trail west just a day or two ahead of the vanguard company led by Brigham Young in the spring and summer of 1847. Boggs had arrived at Fort Laramie just before Brigham Young and warned the post commander, Bordeaux, “against the Mormons, telling him to take care of his ‘horses and cattle or the Mormons would steal them.’ It was a hard accusation, borne of meanheartedness, but even harder for Bordeaux to take seriously because Boggs was having so much trouble with his own company. Fighting and contention among them had risen to such a pitch that many had deserted, and Bordeaux had told the ex-governor that no matter how bad the Mormons were, they could not be any worse than he and his men” (Proctor, The Gathering, 132).
4 This part of the original manuscript has been destroyed, but it appears here that Parley meant two separate people: Amasa Lyman and Luman Gibbs.
5 Alexander McRae.
6 Twelve thousand Saints were driven from Missouri, many of them ending up in the small village of Quincy (population eighteen hundred). The people of Illinois were kind-hearted and hospitable to the Saints during the first few years of their stay.