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On June 27th, 1844 Joseph rises from bed at 5:30 a.m. The sole window in the east wall allows him to view his last sunrise. Before sunset, the window will become a passage to another realm of existence.
As soon as all of the men stir, Joseph Smith tells Dan Jones to go downstairs and ask the guards the “cause of the disturbance in the night.” A bitter man, an officer of the guard, and a member of the Carthage Greys, Frank Worrell tells Dan Jones abruptly, “We have had too much trouble to bring Old Joe here to let him ever escape alive, and unless you want to die with him you had better leave before sundown; and you are not a damned bit better than him for taking his part.” And then in a more threatening and mocking tone, Worrell declares, “You’ll see that I can prophesy better than Old Joe, for neither he nor his brother, nor anyone who will remain with them will see the sun set today.”
This is an excerpt from The Assassination of Joseph Smith: Innocent Blood on the Banner of Liberty by Ryan Jenkins.
Worrell knows his murderous friends are gathering in Warsaw just to the west of Carthage. The plan has been laid, and Worrell is confident the hour of killing Joseph is nigh.
Dan Jones doesn’t question Worrell’s intentions. He immediately goes to Governor Ford at the Hamilton House. While en route, he hears a man standing before an assemblage giving a speech. “Our troops will be discharged this morning in obedience to orders, and for a sham we will leave the town; but when the Governor and the McDonough troops have left for Nauvoo this afternoon, we will return and kill those men, if we have to tear the jail down.” The man’s speech gets “three cheers from the crowd.” In some regards, the boastful declaration is only partly true. Carthage Jail is a unique structure built from native red limestone and is only five years old. The man giving the fiery speech is flexing more of his tongue than his muscles. The jail will stand through the coming onslaught of assassins.
Jones immediately conveys to Governor Ford all that he has heard from Worrell and the man giving the speech. Without much emotion, Ford blows Jones off. “You are unnecessarily alarmed for the safety of your friends, sir, the people are not that cruel.”
Dan Jones is beside himself. He boldly confronts the governor. “The Messrs. Smith are American citizens, and have surrendered themselves to your Excellency upon your pledging your honor for their safety; they are also Master Masons, and as such I demand of you protection of their lives.” Jones emphasizes that better men be granted to guard his friends and not “professed assassins.”
Jones’s words leave Ford pale in the face and nearly speechless. Jones continues his demand and warning to the executive of the state. “If you do not do this, I have but one more desire, and that is if you leave their lives in the hands of those men to be sacrificed”—a quailing Ford musters in a hurried tone, “What is [your desire], sir?”
“It is . . . that the Almighty will preserve my life to a proper time and place, that I may testify that you have been timely warned of their danger.” Dan Jones has Ford pinned. He rushes back to the jail, clearly understanding Ford’s position and plans. The guards refuse him entrance. Seeking a pass to reenter the jail, he returns to the Hamilton House. But Governor Ford is done with Dan Jones. The man is showing a remarkable stand in behalf of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Ford needs to rid himself of the man. He rejects Jones’s request.
Dan Jones then witnesses another scene of injustice all in the hearing and in the sight of the governor. While Ford is “standing in front of the McDonough troops, who [are] in line ready to escort him to Nauvoo,” those acting more mob than militia pretend they are disbanding. They are at the rear of the McDonough troops and can be heard by all “that they were only going a short distance out of town, when they would return and kill old Joe and Hyrum as soon as the Governor was far enough out of town.”
It is impossible to not have heard the words of the murders. Jones looks at the governor for a response. Ford says and does nothing.
Mormon apostate Chauncey L. Higbee confronts Jones, “We are determined to kill Joe and Hyrum, and you had better go away to save yourself.” Jones stands in awe at the events unfolding. He puts forth his influence and bravery to stop the madness. His life is not in danger. He is granted the desire of his heart to live and testify of the injustice he is witnessing.
It is now 7 a.m. Joseph, Hyrum, and the remaining few have breakfast. A Mr. Crane eats with them and wants to know if the reports he heard about Joseph Smith fainting three times before the troops on Tuesday is true. “He is told it is a false report.”
Cyrus Wheelock, another unwavering Mormon, approaches Governor Ford by 8 a.m. Ford has softened a bit, with the fiery Jones not in his presence. He grants Wheelock a pass to see his friends in jail.
Joseph Smith is anxious to get a letter off to his wife. With the help of Willard Richards, he conveys some final sentiments.
Dear Emma.—The Governor continues his courtesies, and permits us to see our friends. We hear this morning that the Governor will not go down with his troops today to Nauvoo, as we anticipated last evening; but if he does come down with his troops you will be protected; and I want you to tell Brother Dunham to instruct the people to stay at home and attend to their own business, and let there be no groups or gathering together, unless by permission of the Governor, they are called together to receive communications from the Governor, which would please our people, but let the Governor direct.
Brother Dunham of course will obey the orders of the government officers, and render them the assistance they require. There is no danger of any extermination order. Should there be a mutiny among the troops (which we do not anticipate, excitement is abating) a part will remain loyal and stand for the defense of the state and our rights. There is one principle which is eternal; it is the duty of all men to protect their lives and the lives of the household, whenever necessity requires, and no power has a right to forbid it, should the last extreme arrive, but I anticipate no such extreme, but caution is the parent of safety.
And then in a melancholy postscript he writes:
P. S.—Dear Emma, I am very much resigned to my lot, knowing I am justified, and have done the best that could be done. Give my love to the children and all my friends, Mr. Brewer, and all who inquire after me; and as for treason, I know that I have not committed any, and they cannot prove anything of the kind, so you need not have any fears that anything can happen to us on that account. May God bless you all. Amen.
Joseph Smith’s attorneys arrive midmorning. They tell him that the governor is not taking the whole army to Nauvoo, only a portion. Sometime before they arrive, a meeting has taken place with Ford, his officers, and several other men. A friend of the Mormons—Dr. Southwick, who has recently arrived from Louisiana—was in the meeting to learn of the subject matter. He tells Stephen Markham, who is still close to the Prophet in jail, that the “purport of the meeting was to take into consideration the best way to stop Joseph Smith’s career, as his views on government were widely circulated and [were taking] like wildfire.” Southwick heard them argue that “if he, [Joseph Smith], did not get into the Presidential chair this election, he would be sure to the next time; and if Illinois and Missouri would join together and kill him, they would not be brought to justice for it.” Dr. Southwick assures Stephen Markham that Governor Ford and Robert Smith were in the meeting.
Joseph and Hyrum are about to be left solely in the hands of the Carthage Greys. Many of them were under arrest two days earlier for “insulting the commanding general, and whose conduct had been more hostile to the prisoners than that of any other company.” Now they are left unfettered to carry out their evil deed. To protect the road coming into Nauvoo, Governor Ford assigns two hundred men eight miles out of town on the Warsaw Road “under the control of Levi William, a notoriously sworn enemy to Joseph.” On this road later in the day, drunken men seeking to kill Joseph Smith will make their way to Carthage. Levi Williams will not stop them but will join them.
Ford is aware of the looming actions. So is Cyrus Wheelock. He is about to use his pass to visit his friends and then return to Nauvoo just ahead of Ford and the troops. To Ford, Wheelock expresses, “Sir . . . you have heard sufficient to justify you in the belief that their enemies would destroy them if they had them in their power; and now, sir, I am about to leave for Nauvoo, and I fear for those men; they are safe as regards to the law, but they are not safe from the hands of traitors, and midnight assassins who thirst for their blood and have determined to spill it.”
Then with strong emotion, Wheelock says in an earnest voice, “Under these circumstances I leave with a heavy heart.”
Ford then admits to Wheelock that the pressure he is getting from Joseph’s enemies is conflicting him. “I was never in such a dilemma in my life.” Ford is siding with the wrong side of justice and decency. The political pressure, the praise and threats to his person, and the secret meetings to stop Joseph Smith’s religious and political career are mounting on his mental faculties. Ford tries to assure Wheelock, “Your friends shall be protected, and have a fair trial by the law; in this pledge I am not alone; I have obtained the pledge of the whole of the army to sustain me.” But Ford knows that army is about to set off to Nauvoo and leave Joseph hauntingly alone in Carthage Jail in the shadows of the Carthage Greys.
Having spoken his mind, Cyrus Wheelock somberly makes his way to the jail to see his friends for the last time. He has Ford’s pass and easily gets entrance. Because of the wet weather of the morning, Wheelock is wearing an overcoat. Inside the coat he has slipped “an Ethan Allen dragoon-style pepperbox pistol into his pocket,” apparently belonging to John Taylor, who still sits in jail with the Smith brothers. It is a “six-shooter.” Wheelock places the gun into Joseph’s pocket. “Should you not retain it for your own protection?” Joseph asks Wheelock. He declines and considers the situation providential. “Most other persons had been very rigidly searched” the past two days when they made visits. Joseph then turns to Hyrum and hands him a single barrel pistol he had been given by John S. Fullmer. “You may have use for this,” he tells Hyrum. To which Hyrum honestly responds, “I hate to use such things or to see them used.”
“So do I,” says Joseph, “but we may have to, to defend ourselves.”
Hyrum—without protest—takes the pistol.
Joseph stresses to Wheelock that upon his return to Nauvoo he is to urge all commanders of the Nauvoo Legion to not instigate any military action. He is also charged by his prophet-friend to tell all the Saints to “remain perfectly calm and quiet” as the events unfold. And then what might be considered Joseph’s last sermon, and before a small audience, he teaches:
Our lives have already become jeopardized by revealing the wicked and bloodthirsty purposes of our enemies; and for the future we must cease to do so. All we have said about them is truth, but it is not always wise to relate all the truth. Even Jesus, the Son of God had to refrain from doing so, and had to restrain His feelings many times for the safety of Himself and His followers, and had to conceal the righteous purposes of His heart in relation to many things pertaining to His Father’s kingdom. When still a boy He had all the intelligence necessary to enable Him to rule and govern the kingdom of the Jews, and could reason with the wisest and most profound doctors of law and divinity, and make their theories and practice to appear like folly compared with the wisdom He possessed; but He was a boy only, and lacked physical strength even to defend His own person, and was subject to cold, to hunger and to death. So it is with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; we have the revelation of Jesus, and the knowledge within us is sufficient to organize a righteous government upon the earth, and to give universal peace to all mankind, if they would receive it, but we lack the physical strength, as did our Savior when a child, to defend our principles, and we have of necessity to be afflicted, persecuted and smitten, and to bear it patiently until Jacob is of age, then he will take care of himself.
In silence, the small audience contemplates the message.
So much goes unsaid. Wheelock is then given a list of names of men who should come to Carthage by Saturday to be witnesses in the trial. The prisoners give verbal messages to Wheelock to take back to their families in Nauvoo. Willard Richards, secretary, purposes they be written down, fearing they may be forgotten. Hyrum Smith places his hands on Wheelock’s shoulders and fastens his eyes upon him. “With a look of penetration” he says aloud for all in the room to hear, “Brother Wheelock will remember all that we tell him, and he will never forget the occurrences of this day.”
As Cyrus Wheelock’s interview with Joseph ends, Governor Ford lines up his men to March to Nauvoo.
Read What Happened Next: Joseph's Final Day - Late Morning - Early Afternoon