Exterminating ­order —­ Betrayal and imprisonment of Joseph Smith and others —­ Camp of the enemy — Howlings of the damned — The enemy boast of the highest crimes — Secret inquisitory trial of the prisoners —­ Sentence of death! — How reversed —­ A Judas —­ Surrender of Far West — Attempt to assassinate the ­prisoners — Farewell scenes —­ Captives removed to Jackson County — General Clark demands the prisoners — Refusal to surrender them — Cross the Missouri River — Visitors — Preaching in camp by President Smith — Arrive at ­Independence — Public exhibition of the prisoners.

October 31, 1838–November 4, 1838

October 31, 1838.  In the afternoon we were informed that the Governor had ordered this force against us, with orders to exterminate or drive every “Mormon” from the State. As soon as these facts were ascertained we determined not to resist anything in the shape of authority, however abused. We had now nothing to do but to submit to be massacred, driven, robbed or plundered, at the option of our persecutors.

Colonel George M. Hinkle, who was at that time the highest officer of the militia assembled for the defence of Far West, waited on Messrs. J. Smith, S. Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, L. Wight, George Robinson and myself, with a request from General Lucas that we would repair to his camp, with the assurance that as soon as peaceable arrangements could be entered into we should be released. We had no confidence in the word of a murderer and robber, but there was no alternative but to put ourselves into the hands of such monsters, or to have the city attacked, and men, women and children massacred. We, therefore, commended ourselves to the Lord, and voluntarily surrendered as sheep into the hands of wolves. As we approached the camp of the enemy General Lucas rode out to meet us with a guard of several hundred men.

The haughty general rode up, and, without speaking to us, instantly ordered his guard to surround us. They did so very abruptly, and we were marched into camp surrounded by thousands of savage looking beings, many of whom were dressed and painted like Indian warriors. These all set up a constant yell, like so many bloodhounds let loose upon their prey, as if they had achieved one of the most miraculous victories that ever graced the annals of the world. If the vision of the infernal regions could suddenly open to the mind, with thousands of malicious fiends, all clamoring, exulting, deriding, blaspheming, mocking, railing, raging and foaming like a troubledsea, then could some idea be formed of the hell which we had entered.

In camp we were placed under a strong guard, and were without shelter during the night, lying on the ground in the open air, in the midst of a great rain. The guards during the whole night kept up a constant tirade of mockery, and the most obscene blackguardism and abuse. They blasphemed God; mocked Jesus Christ; swore the most dreadful oaths; taunted brother Joseph and others; demanded miracles; wanted signs, such as: “Come, Mr. Smith, show us an angel.” “Give us one of your revelations.” “Show us a miracle.” “Come, there is one of your brethren here in camp whom we took prisoner yesterday in his own house, and knocked his brains out with his own rifle, which we found hanging over his fireplace; he lays speechless and dying; speak the word and heal him, and then we will all believe.” “Or, if you are Apostles or men of God, deliver yourselves, and then we will be Mormons.”

Next would be a volley of oaths and blasphemies; then a tumultuous tirade of lewd boastings of having defiled virgins and wives by force, etc., much of which I dare not write; and, indeed, language would fail me to attempt more than a faint description. Thus passed this dreadful night, and before morning several other captives were added to our number, among whom was brother Amasa Lyman.

We were informed that the general officers held a secret council during most of the night, which was dignified by the name of court martial; in which, without a hearing, or, without even being brought before it, we were all sentenced to be shot. The day and hour was also appointed for the execution of this sentence, viz: next morning at 8 o’clock, in the public square at Far West. [1] Of this we were informed by Brigadier-General Doniphan, who was one of the council, but who was so violently opposed to this cool blooded murder that he assured the council that he would revolt and withdraw his whole brigade, and march them back to Clay County as soon as it was light, if they persisted in so dreadful an undertaking. Said he, “It is cold blooded murder, and I wash my hands of it.”[2] His firm remonstrance, and that of a few others, so alarmed the haughty murderer and his accomplices that they dare not put the decree in execution.

Thus, through a merciful providence of God our lives were spared through that dreadful night. It was the common talk, and even the boast in the camp, that individuals lay here and there unburied, where they had shot them down for sport. The females they had ravished; the plunder they had taken; the houses they had burned; the horses they had stolen; the fields of grain they had laid waste, were common topics; and were dwelt on for mere amusement, or, as if these deeds were a stepstone to office; and it is a fact that such deeds were so considered.

No pen need undertake to describe our feelings during that terrible night, while there confined — not knowing the fate of our wives and children, or of our fellow Saints, and seeing no way for our lives to be saved except by the miraculous power of God.[3] But, notwithstanding all earthly hopes were gone, still we felt a calmness indescribable. A secret whispering to our inmost soul seemed to say: “Peace, my sons, be of good cheer, your work is not yet done; therefore I will restrain your enemies, that they shall not have power to take your lives.[4]

While thus confined, Wm. E. McLellin, once my fellow laborer in the gospel, but now a Judas, with hostile weapon in hand to destroy the Saints, came to me and observed: “Well, Parley, you have now got where you are certain never to escape; how do you feel as to the course you have taken in religion?” I answered, “that I had taken that course which I should take if I had my life to live over again.” He seemed thoughtful for a moment, and then replied: “Well — I think, if I were you, I should die as I had lived; at any rate, I see no possibility of escape for you and your friends.”

Next morning Gen. Lucas demanded the Caldwell militia to give up their arms, which was done. As soon as the troops who had defended the city were disarmed, it was surrounded by the enemy and all the men detained as prisoners.


None were permitted to pass out of the city — although their families were starving for want of sustenance; the mills and provisions being some distance from the city.

The brutal mob were now turned loose to ravage, steal, plunder and murder without restraint. Houses were rifled, women ravished, and goods taken as they pleased. The whole troop, together with their horses, lived on the grain and provisions. While cattle were shot down for mere sport, and sometimes men, women and children fared no better. On the third morning after our imprisonment we were placed in a wagon, in order for removal. Many of the more desperate then crowded around, cocked their rifles, and singling us out presented them to our breasts, and swore they would blow us through. Some guns were snapped, but missed fire, and the rest were in a small degree restrained by the officers, and we still lived.

We were now marched to Far West, under the conduct of the whole army; and while they halted in the public square, we were permitted to go with a guard for a change of linen and to take final leave of our families, in order to depart as prisoners to Jackson County, a distance of sixty miles.

This was the most trying scene of all. I went to my house, being guarded by two or three soldiers; the cold rain was pouring down without, and on entering my little cottage, there lay my wife sick of a fever, with which she had been for some time confined. At her breast was our son Nathan, an infant of three months, and by her side a little girl of five years. On the foot of the same bed lay a woman in travail, who had been driven from her house in the night, and had taken momentary shelter in my hut of ten feet square — my larger house having been torn down. I stepped to the bed; my wife burst into tears; I spoke a few words of comfort, telling her to try to live for my sake and the children’s; and expressing a hope that we should meet again though years might separate us. [5] She promised to try to live. I then embraced and kissed the little babes and departed.

Till now I had refrained from weeping; but, to be forced from so helpless a family, who were destitute of provisions and fuel, and deprived almost of shelter in a bleak prairie, with none to assist them, exposed to a lawless banditti who were utter strangers to humanity, and this at the approach of winter, was more than nature could well endure.

I went to Gen. Moses Wilson in tears, and stated the circumstances of my sick, heart-broken and destitute family in terms which would have moved any heart that had a latent spark of humanity yet remaining. But I was only answered with an exultant laugh, and a taunt of reproach by this hardened murderer.

As I returned from my house towards the troops in the square, I halted with the guard at the door of Hyrum Smith, and heard the sobs and groans of his wife, at his parting words. She was then near confinement; and needed more than ever the comfort and consolation of a husband’s presence. As we returned to the wagon we saw S. Rigdon taking leave of his wife and daughters, who stood at a little distance, in tears of anguish indescribable. In the wagon sat Joseph Smith, while his aged father and venerable mother came up overwhelmed with tears, and took each of the prisoners by the hand with a silence of grief too great for utterance.[6]

In the meantime, hundreds of the brethren crowded around us, anxious to take a parting look, or a silent shake of the hand; for feelings were too intense to allow of speech. In the midst of these scenes orders were given, and we moved slowly away, under the conduct of Gen. Wilson and his whole brigade. A march of twelve miles brought us to Crooked River, where we camped for the night. Here Gen. Wilson began to treat us more kindly; he became very sociable; conversing very freely on the subject of his former murders and robberies committed against us in Jackson. He did not pretend to deny anything; but spoke upon the whole as freely as if he had been giving the history of other ages or countries, in which his audience had no personal concern. Said he:

“We Jackson County boys know how it is; and, therefore, have not the extremes of hatred and prejudice which characterize the rest of the troops. We know perfectly that from the beginning the Mormons have not been the aggressors at all. As it began in ’33 in Jackson County, so it has been ever since. You Mormons were crowded to the last extreme, and compelled to self-defence; and this has been construed into treason, murder and plunder. We mob you without law; the authorities refuse to protect you according to law; you then are compelled to protect yourselves, and we act upon the prejudices of the public, who join our forces, and the whole is legalized, for your destruction and our gain. Is not this a shrewd and cunning policy on our part, gentlemen?

When we drove you from Jackson County, we burned two hundred and three of your houses; plundered your goods; destroyed your press, type, paper, books, office and all — tarred and feathered old Bishop Partridge, as exemplary an old man as you can find anywhere. We shot down some of your men, and, if any of you returned the fire, we imprisoned you, on your trial for murder, etc. Damn’d shrewdly done, gentlemen; and I came damn’d near kicking the bucket myself; for, on one occasion, while we were tearing down houses, driving families, and destroying and plundering goods, some of you good folks put a ball through my son’s body, another through the arm of my clerk, and a third pierced my shirt collar and marked my neck. No blame, gentlemen; we deserved it. And let a set of men serve me as your community have been served, and I’ll be damn’d if I would not fight till I died.

“It was repeatedly insinuated, by the other officers and troops, that we should hang you prisoners on the first tree we came to on the way to Independence. But I’ll be damn’d if anybody shall hurt you. We just intend to exhibit you in Independence, let the people look at you, and see what a damn’d set of fine fellows you are. And, more particularly, to keep you from that G—d damn’d old bigot of a Gen. Clark and his troops, from down country, who are so stuffed with lies and prejudice that they would shoot you down in a moment.” [7]

Such was the tenor of the conversation addressed by Gen. Wilson to his prisoners. Indeed, it was now evident that he was proud of his prey, and felt highly enthusiastic in having the honor of returning in triumph to Independence with his prisoners, whom his superstition had magnified into something more than fellow citizens — something noble or supernatural, and worthy of public exhibition.

As we arose and commenced our march on the morning of the 3d of November, Joseph Smith spoke to me and the other prisoners, in a low, but cheerful and confidential tone; said he: “Be of good cheer, brethren; the word of the Lord came to me last night that our lives should be given us, and that whatever we may suffer during this captivity, not one of our lives should be taken.” Of this prophecy I testify in the name of the Lord, and, though spoken in secret, its public fulfilment and the miraculous escape of each one of us is too notorious to need my testimony.

In the after part of the day we came to the Missouri River, which separated us from Jackson County. Here the brigade was halted and the prisoners taken to a public house, where we were permitted to shave, change our linen, and partake of some refreshment. This done, we were hurried to the ferry and across the river with the utmost haste in advance of the troops. This movement was soon explained to us. The truth was, Gen. Clark had now arrived near the scene of action, and had sent an express to take us from Gen. Wilson and prevent us from going to Jackson County — both armies being competitors for the honor of possessing the wonderful, or, in their estimation, royal prisoners.

Clark and his troops, from a distance, who had not arrived in the city of Far West till after our departure, were desirous of seeing the strange men whom it was said had turned the world upside down and of possessing such a wonderful trophy of victory, or of putting them to death themselves.[8] On the other hand, Wilson and his brigade were determined to exhibit us through the streets of Independence as a visible token of their own achievements. Therefore, when demanded by Gen. Clark’s express, they refused to surrender us; and hurried us across the ferry with all possible despatch. Marching about a mile, we encamped for the night in the wilderness, with about fifty troops for our guard — the remainder not crossing the ferry till the next morning.

Some of the neighboring citizens visited us next morning — it being Sunday. One of the ladies came up and very candidly inquired of the troops which of the prisoners the “Mormons” worshipped? One of the guards pointing to Mr. Smith with a significant smile, said, “This is he.” The woman, then turning to Mr. Smith, inquired whether he professed to be the Lord and Saviour? Do not smile, gentle reader, at the ignorance of these poor innocent creatures, who, by the exertions of a corrupt press and pulpit, are kept in ignorance and made to believe in every possible absurdity in relation to the Church of the Saints.[9]

Mr. Smith replied, that he professed to be nothing but a man, and a minister of salvation, sent by Jesus Christ to preach the gospel. After expressing some surprise, the lady inquired what was the peculiar nature of the gospel, as held by himself and his Church? At this the visitors and soldiers gathered around, and Mr. Smith preached to them faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance towards God, reformation of life, immersion in water, in the name of Jesus Christ, for remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.

All seemed surprised, and the lady, in tears, went her way, praising God for the truth, and praying aloud that the Lord would bless and deliver the prisoners.

At ten o’clock the brigade had all crossed the river, and come up with us. We were then marched forward in our carriages, while the troops were formed into a front and rear guard, with quite a martial appearance. As we passed along through the settlements hundreds of men, women and children flocked to see us. General W. often halted the whole brigade to introduce us to the populace, pointing out each of us by name. Many shook us by the hand, and, in the ladies at least, there appeared some feelings of human compassion and sympathy.

In this way we proceeded till we arrived at Independence. It was now past noon, and in the midst of a great rain; but hundreds crowded to witness the procession, and to gaze at us as we were paraded in martial triumph through the principal streets, the bugles sounding a blast of triumphant joy.


[1] During the course of this horrible night, General Moses Wilson, a former mobster who had taken an active role in driving the Saints from Jackson County, pulled aside Lyman Wight and told him of the death sentence. In reply, Lyman said he believed Joseph Smith to be the most philanthropic man he’d ever known and the best friend Wilson ever had. If it weren’t for Joseph Smith, Lyman said, “I would have given you hell before this time, with all your mob forces.” Wilson then asked Lyman if he would deny his friendship to Joseph or his ties to the “gold bible.” Lyman replied, “I will not.” Wilson said, “I regret to tell you your die is cast; your doom is fixed; you are sentenced to be shot tomorrow morning on the public square in Far West, at eight o’clock.” Lyman looked Wilson squarely in the eyes and said, “Shoot, and be damned” (Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:489; Smith, History of the Church, 3:446).

[2] General Alexander Doniphan’s full reply and brave, insubordinate rejection of the order from his superior officer, General Samuel D. Lucas, was: “It is cold-blooded murder. I will not obey your order. My brigade shall march for Liberty tomorrow morning, at 8 o’clock; and if you execute these men, I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God” (Smith, History of the Church, 3:190–91n).

[3] Lucy Mack Smith described the scene as she remembered it: “At the time when Joseph went into the enemy’s camp, Mr. Smith and myself stood in the door of the house in which we were then living, and could distinctly hear their horrid yellings. Not knowing the cause, we supposed they were murdering him. Soon after the screaming commenced, five or six guns were discharged. At this Mr. Smith, folding his arms tight over his breast and grasping his sides, cried, groaning with mental agony, ‘Oh, my God! my God! they have murdered my son and I must die, for I cannot live without him!’

“I was unable to answer him. In all our other troubles I had been able to speak a word of consolation to him, but now I could do nothing but mingle my cries and groans with his. Still, the shrieking and screaming continued. No tongue can ever express the sound that was conveyed to our ears nor the sensations that were produced in our hearts.

It was like the screeching of a hundred owls mingled with the howling of an army of bloodhounds and the screaming of a thousand panthers all famishing for the prey which was being torn piecemeal among them.

“My husband was immediately taken sick and never regained his health afterwards, although he lived two more years” (Smith, Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith, 405-6).

[4] Lucy Mack Smith also received spiritual comfort: “For some time nothing was heard in the house but sighs and groans, as we thought we had seen Joseph and Hyrum for the last time. But in the midst of my grief, I found consolation that surpassed all earthly comfort. I was filled with the Spirit of God and received the following by the gift of prophecy: ‘Let your heart be comforted concerning your children, for they shall not harm a hair of their heads, and before four years, Joseph shall speak before the judges and great men of the land and his voice shall be heard in their councils. And in five years from this time he will have power over all his enemies” (Smith, Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith, 407–8).

[5] Parley was imprisoned or in captivity from October 31, 1838, until July 4, 1839.

[6] Lucy Mack Smith, writing of her attempt with her youngest daughter, Lucy, to see Joseph and Hyrum, recalled: “When we came within about four hundred yards of the wagon, we could go no farther because they were surrounded by men. ‘I am the mother of the Prophet,’ I cried, ‘and is there not a gentleman here who will assist me through this crowd to that wagon that I may take a last look at my children and speak to them once more before they die?’ One individual volunteered to make a pathway through the army, and we went on through the midst of swords, muskets, pistols, and bayonets, threatened with death at every step, until at last we arrived at the wagon. The man who accompanied me spoke to Hyrum, who was sitting in the front, and told him his mother was there and wished him to reach his hand to her. He did so, but I was not permitted to see him, for the cover of the wagon was made of very heavy cloth and tied closely down in front and nailed fast at the sides.

“We merely shook hands with him and the other prisoners who sat in the forepart of the wagon, before several of the men in the mob exclaimed, ‘Drive over them,’ calling to us to get out of the way, swearing at us and threatening us in the most dreadful manner.

“Our friend then conducted us to the hinder part of the wagon where Joseph was, and said, ‘Mr. Smith, your mother and sister are here and wish to shake hands with you.’ Joseph crowded his hand through between the wagon and cover where it was nailed down to the end board. We caught hold of his hand, but he did not speak to us. I could not bear to leave him without hearing his voice. ‘Oh, Joseph,’ said I. ‘Do speak to your poor mother once more. I cannot go until I hear you speak.’

“‘God bless you, Mother,’ he sobbed out. Then a cry was raised and the wagon dashed off, tearing my son from us just as Lucy was pressing his hand to her lips to bestow upon it a sister’s last kiss — for we knew that they were sentenced to be shot” (Smith, Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith, 406–7).

[7] The Prophet Joseph made this brief comment about Moses Wilson in his history dated March 31, 1834: “This day, Ira J. Willis, a young man who had been in the Church for some time, and who was driven from Jackson county into Clay county … was caught by that unhung land pirate and inhuman monster, Moses Wilson, and whipped in a most cruel and savage manner, while surrounded by some half dozen of the old mobbers. This was an unpardonable act … May God reward Moses Wilson according to his works” (Smith, History of the Church, 2:46).

[8] See Acts 17:6.

[9] Joseph Smith had lamented in his history about the people of this western frontier: “Our reflections were many, coming as we had from a highly cultivated state of society in the east, and standing now upon the confines or western limits of the United States, and looking into the vast wilderness of those that sat in darkness; how natural it was to observe the degradation, leanness of intellect, ferocity, and jealousy of a ­people that were nearly a century behind the times, and to feel for those who roamed about without the benefit of civilization, refinement, or religion” (Smith, History of the Church, 1:189).