“How Will This End?,” chapter 31 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018)
Chapter 31: “How Will This End?”
Lydia Knight feared something was wrong when she heard wild whooping and yelling coming from the Missouri camp. She knew the prophet had gone there to negotiate peace. But the noise she heard sounded like a pack of wolves, hungry for prey.
Gazing anxiously out the window, Lydia saw her husband running toward the house. “Pray as you never prayed before,” Newel told her. The militia had captured the prophet.
Lydia felt weak. The night before, two veterans of the skirmish at the Crooked River had knocked at her door, looking for a place to hide. The Missouri militia had sworn to punish the Saints who had taken part in the fight, so harboring the men would put her family at risk. But she could not turn them away and had hidden them in her home.
Now she had to wonder if the men were safe enough. Newel would be gone again that night on guard duty. If the militia entered the city while he was away and found the men hiding in her home, they might kill them. And what would they do to her and the children?
As he left for the night, Newel warned her to be cautious. “Do not go outside,” he said. “Prowlers are around.”
Once Newel was gone, Lydia began to pray. When she and Newel had come west after the temple dedication, they had made a home and now had two children. It had been a good life before the mob attacks started. She did not want everything to fall apart.
She could still hear the distant shrieks of the Missourians. The noise made her flesh crawl, but praying calmed her. She knew that God ruled the heavens. Whatever happened would not change that.1
The next morning, November 1, 1838, Newel returned briefly to the house. George Hinkle had ordered the Saints’ forces to assemble at the town square. The Missouri militia was lined up outside their camp and in position to march on Far West.
“How will this end?” Lydia asked. “My heart is torn with anxious fears, and yet the Spirit tells me all will yet be well.”
“God grant it,” Newel said, picking up his rifle. “Goodbye, and God protect you.”2
While the Saints’ forces gathered in the square, General Lucas marched his troops to the prairie southeast of Far West and ordered them to stand ready to put down any resistance from the Saints. At ten o’clock that morning, George led his troops from the square and positioned them near the Missouri line. He then rode up to General Lucas, removed the sword and pistols from his belt, and handed them to the general.3
The Missourians brought out a writing desk and placed it in front of their line. George rode back to his men and ordered the Saints to approach the desk, one by one, and surrender their weapons to a pair of Missouri militia clerks.4
Surrounded and vastly outnumbered, Newel and the Saints had little choice but to comply. When his turn came to surrender his gun, Newel strode up to the desk and glared at General Lucas. “Sir, my rifle is my own private property,” he said. “No one has a right to demand it from me.”
“Lay down your arms,” said the general, “or I will have you shot.”
Furious, Newel gave up his rifle and returned to the ranks.5
After every Saint had been disarmed, the city stood defenseless. General Lucas marched the Saints’ forces back into Far West and held them as prisoners on the town square.
He then ordered his troops to seize the city.6
The Missouri militia wasted little time breaking into houses and tents, rummaging through chests and barrels, and searching for weapons and valuables. They carried off bedding, clothes, food, and money. Some built bonfires from house logs, fence rails, and barns. Others shot cattle, sheep, and hogs and left them to die in the streets.7
At the Knight house, Lydia braced herself as three militiamen approached the door. “Have you any men in the house?” one of them demanded.
“You have our men under guard,” Lydia said, blocking the way to her home. If she let him inside, he would find the men she was hiding.
“Have you any arms in the house?” he asked.
“My husband took his rifle with him,” Lydia said. Behind her, the children started to cry, frightened at the sight of the stranger. Drawing up her courage, Lydia turned back to the man. “Go away!” she shouted. “Do you not see how frightened my little ones are?”
“Well,” the man said, “have you no men or arms in the house?”
“I tell you again,” Lydia said, “my husband is a prisoner on the square, and he took his rifle with him.”
The man grumbled and stormed off with the others.
Lydia went back into her house. She was trembling, but the militiamen were gone and everyone in her house was safe.8
At the town square, under heavy guard with the rest of the Saints’ troops, Heber Kimball heard a familiar voice call his name. Looking up, he saw William McLellin, the former apostle, coming toward him. William was dressed in a hat and shirt decorated with garish red patches.9
“Brother Heber,” William said, “what do you think of Joseph Smith the fallen prophet now?” William had a group of soldiers with him. They had been moving from house to house, plundering the town at will.
“Look and see yourself,” William went on. “Poor, your family stripped and robbed, and your brethren in the same fix. Are you satisfied with Joseph?”10
Heber could not deny that things looked bleak for the Saints. Joseph was a captive, and the Saints were disarmed and under assault.
But Heber knew he could not forsake Joseph and the Saints, as William, Thomas Marsh, and Orson Hyde had done. Heber had stayed loyal to Joseph through every trial they had faced together, and he was determined to remain loyal even if that meant losing everything he owned.11
“Where are you?” Heber asked, turning the question back on William. “What are you about?” Heber’s testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and his refusal to abandon the Saints answered William’s question well enough.
“I’m more satisfied with him a hundredfold than ever I was before,” Heber continued. “I tell you Mormonism is true, and Joseph is a true prophet of the living God.”12
As the militia pillaged the town, General Lucas did nothing to stop his troops from terrorizing the Saints and taking their property. Across the settlement, Missouri militiamen were chasing Saints from their homes, cursing them as they fled into the streets. The troops whipped and beat those who resisted them.13 Some soldiers assaulted and raped women they found hiding in the houses.14 General Lucas believed the Saints were guilty of insurrection, and he wanted them to pay for their actions and feel the power of his army.15
Throughout the day, Lucas’s officers rounded up more church leaders. With the help of George Hinkle, troops forced their way into the home of Mary and Hyrum Smith. Hyrum was sick, but the troops drove him outside at the point of a bayonet and placed him with Joseph and the other prisoners.16
That evening, as General Lucas prepared to try the prisoners in a military court, a militia officer named Moses Wilson took Lyman Wight aside, hoping to convince him to testify against Joseph at the trial.
“We do not wish to hurt you nor kill you,” Moses told Lyman. “If you will come out and swear against him, we will spare your life and give you any office you want.”
“Joseph Smith is not an enemy to mankind,” Lyman said hotly. “Had it not been that I had given heed to his counsel, I would have given you hell before this time.”
“You are a strange man,” said Moses. “There is to be a court-martial held this night, and will you attend?”
“I will not, unless compelled by force.”17
Moses threw Lyman back in with the other prisoners, and General Lucas soon convened the court. Several militia officers participated, including George Hinkle. General Doniphan, the only lawyer present, opposed the trial, arguing that the militia had no authority to try civilians like Joseph.
Paying no attention to him, General Lucas proceeded with the trial and rushed through the hearing without any of the prisoners present. George wanted Lucas to show mercy to the prisoners, but the general instead sentenced them to be shot for treason. A majority of the officers present sustained the ruling.18
After the trial, Moses told Lyman the verdict. “Your doom is fixed,” he said.
Lyman looked at him contemptuously. “Shoot and be damned,” he said.19
Later that evening, General Lucas ordered General Doniphan to march Joseph and the other prisoners into the town square at nine o’clock the following morning and execute them in front of the Saints. Doniphan was outraged.20
“I will be damned if I will have any of the honor of it, or the disgrace of it,” he told the prisoners in private. He said he planned to withdraw with his troops before sunrise.21
He then sent a message to General Lucas. “It is cold-blooded murder. I will not obey your order,” he stated. “If you execute those men, I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God!”22
As promised, General Doniphan’s forces were gone the next morning. Rather than execute Joseph and the other prisoners, General Lucas ordered his men to escort them to his headquarters in Jackson County.23
Flanked by armed guards, Joseph was led through the ravaged streets of Far West to gather some belongings from his home. Emma and the children were in tears when he arrived, but they were relieved that he was still alive. Joseph begged his guards to let him visit with his family privately, but they refused.
Emma and the children clung to him, unwilling to part. The guards drew their swords and pried them away. Five-year-old Joseph held his father tightly. “Why can’t you stay with us?” he sobbed.24
A guard thrust his sword at the boy. “Get away, you rascal, or I will run you through!”25
Back outside, troops marched the prisoners through a crowd of Saints and ordered them to climb inside a covered wagon. The militia then surrounded the wagon, creating a wall of armed men between the Saints and their leaders.26
As Joseph waited for the wagon to roll away, he heard a familiar voice above the noise of the crowd. “I am the mother of the prophet,” Lucy Smith called out. “Is there not a gentleman here who will assist me through this crowd!”
The wagon’s heavy canvas cover prevented the prisoners from seeing outside, but at the front of the wagon, Hyrum pushed his hand under the cover and took his mother’s hand. The guards immediately ordered her back, threatening to shoot her. Hyrum felt his mother’s hand slip away, and it seemed that the wagon would roll out at any moment.
Just then, Joseph, who was at the back of the wagon, heard a voice on the other side of the canvas. “Mister Smith, your mother and sister are here.”
Joseph pushed his hand beneath the cover and felt his mother’s hand. “Joseph,” he heard her say, “I cannot bear to go till I hear your voice.”
“God bless you, Mother,” Joseph said, just before the cart lurched and drove away.27
Several nights later, the prisoners lay on the floor of a log house in Richmond, Missouri. After taking them to Jackson County, General Lucas had put them on display like animals before he was ordered to send them to Richmond for a legal hearing.
Now each man tried to sleep with a shackle around his ankle and a heavy chain binding him to the other prisoners. The floor was hard and cold, and the men had no fire to keep them warm.28
Lying awake, Parley Pratt felt sick as their guards told obscene stories about raping and killing Saints. He wanted to stand up and rebuke the men—to say something that would make them stop talking—but he kept silent.
Suddenly, he heard chains clank beside him as Joseph rose to his feet. “Silence, ye fiends of the infernal pit!” the prophet thundered. “In the name of Jesus Christ, I rebuke you and command you to be still! I will not live another minute and hear such language!”
The startled guards gripped their weapons and looked up. Joseph stared back at them, radiating majesty. “Cease such talk,” he commanded, “or you or I die this instant!”
The room went quiet, and the guards lowered their guns. Some of them retreated to the corners. Others crouched in fear at Joseph’s feet. The prophet stood still, looking calm and dignified. The guards begged his pardon and fell silent until their replacements came.29
On November 12, 1838, Joseph and more than sixty other Saints were taken to the Richmond courthouse to determine if there was enough evidence to try them on charges of treason, murder, arson, robbery, burglary, and larceny. The judge, Austin King, would decide if the prisoners would go to trial.30
The hearing lasted for more than two weeks. The star witness against Joseph was Sampson Avard, who had been a Danite leader.31 During the siege of Far West, Sampson had tried to flee Missouri, but the militia had captured him and threatened to prosecute him if he refused to testify against the prisoners.32
Eager to save himself, Sampson claimed that everything he had done as a Danite had been done under orders from Joseph. He testified that Joseph believed it was the will of God for the Saints to fight for their rights against the governments of Missouri and the nation.
Sampson also said that Joseph believed the church was like the stone spoken of by Daniel in the Old Testament, which would fill the earth and consume its kingdoms.33
Alarmed, Judge King questioned Joseph about Daniel’s prophecy, and Joseph testified that he believed it.
“Write that down,” the judge told his clerk. “It is a strong point for treason.”
Joseph’s attorney objected. “Judge,” he said, “you had better make the Bible treason.”34
The prosecution called more than forty witnesses to testify against the prisoners, including several former church leaders. Afraid of being prosecuted themselves, John Corrill, William Phelps, John Whitmer, and others had struck a deal with the state of Missouri to testify against Joseph in exchange for their own freedom. Under oath, they described outrages they had witnessed during the conflict, and all of them blamed Joseph.
The Saints’ defense, meanwhile, consisted of a few witnesses who did little to sway the judge’s opinion. Other witnesses could have testified in Joseph’s behalf, but they were harassed or scared away from the courtroom.35
By the time the hearing was over, five Saints, including Parley Pratt, were jailed in Richmond to await trial on murder charges related to the fight at Crooked River.
Those who remained—Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, Caleb Baldwin, and Alexander McRae—were transferred to a jail in a town called Liberty to await trial on charges of treason. If convicted, they could be executed.36
A blacksmith shackled the six men together and led them to a large wagon. The prisoners climbed in and sat on the rough wood, their heads barely above the high sides of the wagon box.
The journey took all day. When they arrived in Liberty, the wagon rolled through the center of town, past the courthouse, then north to a small, stone jail. The door stood open, waiting for the men in the cold of the December day.
One by one, the prisoners climbed down from the wagon and made their way up the steps to the entryway of the jail. A crowd of curious people pressed in around them, hoping to catch sight of the prisoners.37
Joseph was the last man off the wagon. As he reached the door, he looked at the crowd and raised his hat in polite greeting. He then turned and descended into the dark prison.38