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Cover image via Find a Grave.
Author Ted Gibbons passed away recently, after a long battle with cancer. In honor of his memory and the wonderful insights he shared here on Meridian, we will continue to publish his work periodically.
Historical records indicate that the attack on the jail at Carthage, Illinois that resulted in the martyrdom of the Prophet and the Patriarch was carried out by a mob composed mostly of the disbanded troops of the Warsaw Militia. The names of many of the participants are given in History of the Church, vol. vii, pages 143-145. I have had a careful look at those names trying to find someone named Brooks. He is at the center of an enigma that has puzzled me for a few years. Perhaps you will find the narrative as interesting as I did, and perhaps one or more of you will be able to give me some information.
I know this much because I have seen it and photographed it. There is a grave at the rear of the Peoa, Utah cemetery. The grave lies beneath a large stone. On the stone is a metal plaque with these words inscribed:
BROOKS Participant in the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
I have heard the following but have no correlating sources:
The rock over the grave rolled from the mountain behind the cemetery at some point in time—I have no idea when—and stopped directly over the grave. Those who care for the graveyard determined not to move the stone, but rather to leave it as a marker. The plaque was fastened to the rock and left there in that form.
I have also heard that “Brooks” was a miner who came west and spent some time in Park City. How he got to Peoa, I do not know. Why he came to Utah and lived among Mormons, I do not know. How he was associated with the mob in Carthage, I do not know. If any of you have any information on any of these matters, leave a comment below.
I have often reflected on the motivation of those who climbed the stairs and fired their guns into the bodies of the men incarcerated in that Illinois Jail. Our own history and the secular histories of contemporaries are so divergent in their conclusions that it is difficult to discern the incentives that filled the hearts of the attackers with such resolute bitterness.
Some men were brought to trial for this loathsome deed, but no one was convicted. We are left to rely on the same considerations of those church members who were there at the time, and who were left to deal with a loss much more intimate and personal than our own.
In the streets about the Mansion ten thousand sorrowing people were assembled, and these were addressed by several leading citizens, among whom were the counsel for the murdered men, Messrs. Reid and Wood; also W. W. Phelps, Stephen Markham and Dr. Willard Richards. The latter admonished the people “to keep peace, stating that he had pledged his honor and his life for their good conduct.” The people then “with one united voice resolved to trust to the law for a remedy of such a high-handed assassination, and when that failed, to call upon God to avenge them of their wrongs (B.H. Roberts: Comprehensive History of the Church, vol 2, p. 292).
Editor’s Note: In finding a photograph to illustrate this article, I came upon the following fascinating additional insights as printed on FindaGrave.com:
Regarding those involved in the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum Smith, Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill in their book, Carthage Conspiracy: The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith, stated:
“A persistent Utah myth holds that some of the murderers of Joseph and Hyrum Smith met fittingly gruesome deaths–that Providence intervened to dispense the justice denied in the Carthage trial. But the five defendants who went to trial, including men who had been shown to be leaders in the murder plot and others associated with them, enjoyed notably successful careers” (p. 217).
Below is an affidavit that adds some further knowledge about this mysterious individual:
Affidavit of William H. Chappell, now residing in Coalville, Summit County, Utah, concerning a member of the mob that killed the Prophet Joseph Smith.
About the year 1892, when I was eighteen years of age(having been born on the 29th of April, 1874), and living in what was then known as East Coalville ward (but now known as Cluff ward), an old man by the name of Brooks moved into that neighborhood and lived neighbor to my father, William E. Chappell. This old man had a son by the name of Alf Brooks who was some four years older than I. As I remember, it was a little log house in which he lived. The old man used to come to my father’s home, sit on the porch and talk to my father. The conversation turned to pioneer stories and of Joseph Smith the Prophet. On one particular evening after my father had talked about Joseph Smith, the old man Brooks said: “Mr. Chappell, I saw the last bullet shot into the old boy.” After Mr. Brooks had gone to his cabin, my father said: “No wonder he is a miserable old soul. If he saw the last bullet shot into Joseph Smith, he was in that mob. If he was in that mob, it has been prophesied that he will suffer all kinds of torment, his limbs shall rot off of his body and he will not have courage to take his own life.”
Before this conversation occurred, I had taken no notice of the old man but I had been rather friendly and chummy with his son; but after this conversation I took particular notice of the old man and how he suffered…The old man was crippled and could walk only with the aid of two sticks- one in each hand and without the aid of these he was totally helpless and unable to walk. The cause of this crippled condition was unknown to me. The son would drive the old man up to the coal mine dump about three or four hundred yards from their cabin like he would drive cattle and fill sacks with coal, tie the sacks on the old man’s back and drive him back to the cabin. The old man would beg his son not to fill the sacks too full of coal. If he would not go fast enough the son would whip him with his belt which he had taken from the father before going for the coal. They lived in this cabin for some two years and then moved to Coalville, into a house near where the present Beth White hot dog stand is now located. While living here his toes rotted off his feet.
Later, a Dr. Cannon, then living in Coalville, and who owned a ranch in Weber canyon about eight miles above Oakley, made arrangements with this old man and his son to start a chicken ranch on Dr. Cannon’s premises, onto which the father and son moved. About that time my sister, Elizabeth Chappell, married Thomas Wilde and he owned a ranch adjoining Dr. Cannon’s and lived about four hundred yards from where the old man and his son lived. In the spring, Dr. Cannon made inquiry concerning the disappearance of the chickens on the farm and the old man replied that “The skunks had eaten them up.” To which Dr. Cannon replied: “You are the biggest skunk.”
The son would often leave his father for three or four days and sometimes a week without any food. I was up to my brother-in-law’s ranch one fall, in November, when an eight inch snow fell, the weather clearing up in the afternoon, and dropping to zero weather by night. My brother-in-law and I took over an extra quilt and some supper to the old man and also chopped wood which we piled close to the stove so that he could handily keep the fire going during the night without getting out of bed. After returning home later in the night, I heard him screaming. I awoke my brother-in-law and he said: “Don’t take notice of him; he always screams like that.” When we got up the next morning, we looked towards his cabin and saw that the house was gone.
We immediately went to where his cabin had been and found it had burned to the ground during the night. All of the old man’s clothes had burned off of him and he was burned all over his body from his feet to the top of his head. He was alive and lay curled up in the ashes of the burned cabin, trying to keep warm. We secured some quilts and with team and sleigh we took him to Peoa where we found the son. The people of Peoa took up a collection which amounted to five dollars, gave it to the son and told him to go to Park City for the particular medicine he was directed to buy. With the money the son bought liquor and became drunk and did not return for four days. The old man died on the fourth day after he was burned, before his son returned. His remains were interred in the Peoa cemetery. The son was ordered out of the country and he left immediately for parts unknown.
Signed: William H . Chappell
State of Utah
County of Summit.
William H. Chappell being duly sworn, deposes and says that the foregoing statement is a true recital of events as they occurred and happened according to his knowledge to which other living witnesses can also testify.
In witness whereof, he has set his hand and signature this 28th day of September, 1948. Chas L. Frost, County Clerk in and for the County of Summit, State of Utah.
Coalville, Utah, November 6, 1948
I, Joseph H. Wilde, was present when my brother, Thomas Wilde and others, took the blankets to the cabin to cover the old man as stated in the above affidavit. The old man was an habitual user of chewing tobacco and upon this occasion my brother had purchased a plug for him and presented it to him. The old man thought it was a revolver that was being shoved towards him and exclaimed: “For God’s sake don’t shoot me.” I was a little boy when these things happened but I can distinctly remember the old man referring to the Prophet Joseph Smith as “old Joe Smith.” Although this man was implicated in the murder of the Prophet Joseph, yet the Latter-day Saints who resided in this vicinity were very considerate and brought food and clothing to him, particularly was this true of my brother Thomas Wilde who resided but a short distance from the cabin in which the old man, Mr. Brooks, lived. His son, Alf Brooks, helped my brother during the haying season and ate dinner at his home when so employed.
Signed : Joseph H. Wilde
Signature witnessed by:
Mrs. Joseph H. Wilde
N. B. Lundwall