Mormon History

Fugitive William Smith - 1854

Daily Missouri Republican April 26, 1854


On last Tuesday the sheriff of Lee Co., Illinois arrived in this city in pursuit of William Smith, a fugitive from justice. Smith, it appears was committed to jail in Hancock Co., Illinois some time since, on a charge of highway robbery, and subsequently broke jail and went to Lee County where, after staying sometime, he became acquainted with two young ladies, sisters, and accomplished their ruin, after which he fled to this city. The sheriff, in the company of Officers Grant and Guion, after a search, arrested Smith yesterday at a house on Market St. between seventh and eighth, and he was taken back into custody of the sheriff. Smith is a large and powerfully built man, with god manners, and about 45 years of age.

Note 1: This "powerfully built man" was William B. Smith, one of the few scrappers who ever bested his older brother (Joseph Smith, jr.) in hand-to-hand combat. William's brief career as a highwayman seems to have been overlooked by the Reorganized LDS, when they later fellowshipped him as a member in god standing.

Note 2: For more on William's civil and financial difficulties at this time, see Stanley B. Kimball's "New Light on Old Egyptiana: Mormon Mummies, 1848-71," in Dialogue 16:4 (Winter 1983), pp. 72-90. Dr. Kimball speculates that during 1854, "possibly while a fugitive on the Illinois River," that William Smith "sold or leased the Egyptian antiquities" which had long been on public display among the Mormons. According to Kimball, during this period, "William was seldom gainfully employed, was often in financial straits, and owned very little. For example, when he was fined $25 in an 1848 assault case, the Lee County sheriff reported to the court his inability to find 'any goods or chattels of the said William Smith whereof I may by distress and sale levy the sum of twenty-five dollars fine.'"

Note 3: William moved to Lee County (roughly half way between Nauvoo and Chicago) in late 1848 or early 1849 and remained in the area until 1854. In 1850 he became involved in a divorce case with his wife, Roxie Ann Grant Smith (the great aunt of LDS President Heber J. Grant), in Lee County. Shortly thereafter William was formally charged with "adultery, fornication... bastardy, and rape," in the course of his personal involvement with a certain Mrs. Rosa A. Hook. William's troubles in this matter were reported by the local Dixon Telegraph, as early as Apr. 9 1853, with additional reports published in its issues of Apr. 30, 1853, Mar. 9, 1854, and May 4, 1854. The divorce became final in 1853; the next year most of the charges against Smith were dropped, but he was required to post a $1,000 bond on the rape charge. Smith fled Lee County and made his way to Saint Louis. There (as is stated in the Apr. 26th article above) he was arrested, brought back to Dixon in Lee County, and there incarcerated. See also contemporary issues of the St. Louis Daily Evening News, the St. Louis Intelligencer and the Belleville Tribune for the arrest notice. Whether or not William actually committed "highway robbery" in Hancock County (where Nauvoo is located) remains unknown, but he very likely passed through that place, as a fugitive on his way to St. Louis. William's temporary disposal of the "Mormon mummies" in 1854, along with their formal sale in 1856, was very likely related to his dire legal and financial situation at that time.