Mormon History

Arrest and Murder of General Joe Smith - 1844

Warsaw Signal June 29, 1844

On Thursday evening Gov. Ford had given orders that all the troops should march to Nauvoo on Friday. On Thursday, the army was to rendezvous at Golden's Point about 5 miles from the city. The object for this visit was not made known, but rests entirely on surmise. On Thursday morning a council of officers was called in Carthage, and on account of the desire of the troops from Schuyler and McDonough, to return home, and the fear that if the army were marched into Nauvoo, it could not be controlled, it was determined immediately to disband the troops. This was accordingly done, with the exception of the Carthage and Augusta troops, and a company under Capt. Singleton, who had possession of Nauvoo. The troops from other counties who had been disbanded, immediately returned to their homes, and Gov. Ford, accompanied by the Augusta Dragons, took up the line of march for Nauvoo.

About four o'clock, P. M., a company of about one hundred armed men, marched to the jail in Carthage, and demanded the prisoners. A rush was made on the guards, who fired, but hurt nobody. They were immediately secured, and the men rushed up stairs to the room of the prisoners. For about two minutes, [the] discharge of fire arms within the jail was very rapid. Finally Joe raised the window, exclaimed, "oh my God," and threw himself out. He fell heavily on the ground, and was soon despatched. Hiram was shot in the jail. There were two other prisoners, Dr. Richards who we learn was not hurt, and J. Taylor, editor of the Nauvoo Neighbor, who received five balls in his arms and legs. Immediately on the work being done, the men fled.

It was expected that as soon as the news reached Nauvoo, the Mormons would take vengeance on Carthage and Warsaw. The Messenger, however, who started for Nauvoo met Gov. Ford returning to Carthage, and was not permitted to go further. The Governor sent for Capt. Singleton's men, who were in Nauvoo, and proceeded to Carthage. The Public Records were removed to Augusta, and the women and children sent out of the town. Gov. Ford left for Augusta, and we learn this morning that he had proceeded to Quincy.

In Warsaw, as soon as the news of the death of the two Smiths was received, every thing was placed in an attitude for defence, and the inhabitants of the surrounding country requested to come to our aid.

A portion of the women and [children] passed over the river. On Friday afternoon five companies from Quincy being about two hundred and fifty in number arrived on the Boreas. Many from Missouri and Iowa have also come to our aid. We have three cannon, plenty of ammunition, and we are fully prepared for any attack which the Mormons can make.

By the stage driver from Nauvoo, we learn that about thirty men were sent for the dead bodies of Joe and Hyrum, and that they were to be buried on the same evening, with military honors.

What will be the final issue is yet to be ascertained -- various [surmises] are afloat; but our opinion is, that either the old citizens or the Mormons must leave. The county cannot be quieted until the expulsion of one or the other is effected.

We neglected to mention in the proper place, that on Monday last, about half of the arms belonging to the State in possession of the Mormons, were taken from them, and all the cannon.

The prisoners were not in cells, but in the private room of the jailer, the windows of which were not barred.

Sangamo Journal July 11, 1844


At the request of many persons who wish that the truth may go forth to the world in relation to the late murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, by a band of lawless assassins, I have consented to make a statement of the facts so far as they have come to my knowledge, in an authentic shape, as one of the attorneys employed to defend the said Smiths against the charges brought against them; and other persons at Carthage in the State of Illinois.

On Monday the 24th inst., at the request of Gen. Smith I left Fort Madison in the Territory of Iowa and arrived at Carthage where I expected to meet the General, his brother Hyrum and the other persons implicated with them; they arrived at Carthage late at night and next morning voluntarily surrendered themselves to the constable, Mr. Bettersworth, who held the writ against them on a charge of riot for destroying the press, type and fixtures of the Nauvoo Expositor, the property of William and Wilson Law, and other dissenters, charged to have been destroyed on the 10th inst.

Great excitement prevailed in the county of Hancock, and had extended to many of the surrounding counties. A large number of the militia of several counties were under arms at Carthage the Head Quarters of the commanding Gen. Deming; and many other troops were under arms at Warsaw and other places in the neighborhood. The Governor was at Head Quarters in person, for the purpose [of] seeing that the laws of the land were executed and had pledged his own faith and the faith of the State of Illinois that the Smiths and the other persons concerned with them should be protected from personal violence, if they would surrender themselves to be dealt with according to law. During the two succeeding says his Excellency repeatedly expressed to the legal counselors of the Smiths his determination to protect the prisoners and to see that they have a fair and impartial examination [as] far as depended on the Executive of the State. On Tuesday morning soon after the surrender of the prisoners on the charge of riot, Gen. Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were both arrested on a charge of treason against the State of Illinois. The affidavits upon which the writs [were] issued were made by Hyrum Norton and Augustine Spencer.

On Tuesday afternoon the two Smiths and other persons, on the charge of riot, appeared before R. F. Smith, a justice of the peace residing at Carthage, and by advice of counsel, in order to prevent if possible, any increase of excitement, voluntarily entered into recognizance in the sum of five hundred dollars each with unexceptionable security for their appearance at the next term of the Circuit Court for said county. The whole number of persons recognized is fifteen, most if not all of them leading men in the Mormon church.

Making out the bonds and justifying bail necessary consumed considerable time, and when this was done it was near night, and the Justice adjourned his court over without calling on the Smiths to answer to the charge of treason or even intimating to their counsel of the prisoners that they were expected to enter into the examination that night. In less than an hour after the adjournment of the court, constable Bettersworth who had arrested the prisoners in the morning, appeared at Hamilton's Hotel, at the lodgings of the prisoners and their counsel and insisted that the Smiths should go to jail. Mr. Woods of Burlington, Iowa, and myself, as counsel for the prisoners; insisted that they were entitled to be brought before the justice for examination before they should be sent to jail. The constable to our surprise, there-upon exhibited a mittimus from said justice as follows:


State of Illinois, Hancock County.

The people of the State of Illinois to the keeper of the jail of the said county, greeting:

Whereas Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith of the county aforesaid have been arrested upon the oath of Augustine Spencer and Henry O. Norton, for the crime of treason, and have been brought before me as a Justice of the Peace in and for said county, for trial at the seat of Justice there of, which trial has been necessarily postponed by reason of the absence of material witnesses, to wit Francis M. Higbee and others; therefore I command you in the name of the people to receive the said Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith into your custody in the jail of the county aforesaid, there to remain until discharged by due course of law.

Given under my hand and seal this 25th day of June, A. D. 1844.
                                     R. P. SMITH, J. P.  {L. S.}

His Excellency did not think it within the sphere of his duty to interfere, and the prisoners were removed from their lodgings to jail. The recitals of the mittimus before the justice for trial, and it there appearing that the necessary witnesses of the prosecution were absent, is wholly untrue, unless the prisoners could have appeared before the justice without being present in person or by counsel; nor is there any law of Illinois within my knowledge which permits a justice to commit persons charged with crimes, to jail without examination as to the probability of their guilt.

On Wednesday forenoon the Governor in company with one of his friends visited the prisoners at the jail, and again assured them that they should be protected from violence, and told them if the troops marched the next morning to Nauvoo as his Excellency then expected they should be taken along, in order to insure their personal safety.

On the same morning, some one or more of the counsel for the prosecution, expressed their wish to me, that the prisoners should be brought out of jail for examination; they were answered that the prisoners had already been examined, and that the justice and constable had no further control of the prisoners and that if the prosecutors wished the prisoners brought out of jail, they should bring them out on a writ of Habeas Corpus or some other due course of law. The constable after this conversation went to the jail with the following order to the jailer:


State of Illinois, Hancock County. ss.

To David Bettersworth, constable of said county:

You are commanded to bring the bodies of Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith from the jail of said county, forthwith before me at my office for an examination on the charge of treason, they having been committed for safe keeping until trial could be had on such examination and the state now being ready for such examination.

Given under my hand and seal this 26th day of June 1844.
                                     R. P. SMITH, J. P.  {L. S.}

And demanded the prisoners, but as the jailer could find no law authorizing a justice of the peace, to demand prisoners committed to his charge, he refused to give them up, until discharged from his custody by due course of law. Upon the refusal to give up the prisoners the company of Carthage Greys marched to the jail, by whose orders I know not, and compelled the jailer against his will and conviction of duty, to deliver the prisoners to the constable, who, forthwith, took them before Justice Smith, the Captain of the Carthage Greys. The counsel for prisoners then appeared, and asked for subpoenas for witnesses on the part of the prisoners, and expressed their wish to go into the examination soon, as witnesses could be brought from Nauvoo to Carthage; the justice thereupon fixed the examination for 12 o'clock, on Thursday the 27th inst.; whereupon, the prisoners were remanded to prison. Soon after a council of the military officers was called by the Governor, and was determined to march the next morning, the 27th inst. to Nauvoo, with all the troops, except one company which was to be selected by the Governor from the troops whose fidelity was more to be relied on to guard the prisoners, whom it was determined should be left at Carthage. On Thursday morning, another consultation of officers took place, and the former orders for marching to Nauvoo with the whole army, were countermanded. One company were ordered to accompany the Governor, to Nauvoo, the Carthage Greys, who had but two days before, been under arrest for insulting the commanding General, and whose conduct had been more hostile to the prisoners, and the other troops including those rendezvoused at Golden's Point from Warsaw, and who had been promised that they should be marched to Nauvoo were disbanded. A guard of only eight men were stationed at the jail, whilst the rest of the Greys were in camp at a quarter of a mile's distance, and whilst his excellency was haranguing the peaceable citizens of Nauvoo, and asking them to give up all their own arms, the assassins were murdering the prisoners in jail, whom the Governor had pledged himself and the State to protect.