Essential Parley P. Pratt
Foreword by Peter L. Crawley
The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, One of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Embracing His Life, Ministry and Travels, with Extracts, in Prose and Verse, from His Miscellaneous Writings. Edited by His Son, Parley P. Pratt.
(New York: Published for the Editor and Proprietor by Russell Brothers, 1874.)
[p.206]October 31, 1838.–In the afternoon we were informed that the Governor had ordered this force against us, with orders to exterminate or drive every “Mormon” from the State. As soon as these facts were ascertained we determined not to resist anything in the shape of authority, however abused. We had now nothing to do but to submit to be massacred, driven, robbed or plundered, at the option of our persecutors.
Colonel George H. Hinkle, who was at that time the highest officer of the militia assembled for the defence of Far West, waited on Messrs. J. Smith, S. Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, L. Wight, George Robinson and myself, with a request from General Lucas that we would repair to his camp, with the assurance that as soon as peaceable arrangements could be entered into we should be released. We had no confidence in the word of a murderer and robber, but there was no alternative but to put ourselves into the hands of such monsters, or to have the city attacked, and men, women and children massacred. We, therefore, commended ourselves to the Lord, and voluntarily surrendered as sheep into the hands of wolves. As we approached the camp of the enemy General Lucas rode out to meet us with a guard of several hundred men.
The haughty general rode up, and, without speaking to us, instantly ordered his guard to surround us. They did so very abruptly, and we were marched into camp surrounded by thousands of savage looking beings, many of whom were dressed and painted like Indian warriors. These all set up a constant yell, like so many bloodhounds let loose upon their prey, as if they had achieved one of the most miraculous victories that ever graced the annals of the world. If the vision of the infernal regions could suddenly open to the mind, with thousands of malicious fiends, all clamoring, exulting, deriding, blaspheming, mocking, rail-[p.207]ing, raging and foaming like a troubled sea, then could some idea be formed of the hell which we had entered.
In camp we were placed under a strong guard, and were without shelter during the night, lying on the ground in the open air, in the midst of a great rain. The guards during the whole night kept up a constant tirade of mockery, and the most obscene blackguardism and abuse. They blasphemed God; mocked Jesus Christ; swore the most dreadful oaths; taunted brother Joseph and others; demanded miracles; wanted signs, such as: “Come, Mr. Smith, show us an angel.” “Give us one of your revelations.” “Show us a miracle.” “Come, there is one of your brethren here in camp whom we took prisoner yesterday in his own house, and knocked his brains out with his own rifle, which we found hanging over his fireplace; he lays speechless and dying; speak the word and heal him, and then we will all believe.” “Or, if you are Apostles or men of God, deliver yourselves, and then we will be Mormons.” Next would be a volley of oaths and blasphemies; then a tumultuous tirade of lewd boastings of having defiled virgins and wives by force, etc., much of which I dare not write; and, indeed language would fail me to attempt more than a faint description. Thus passed this dreadful night, and before morning several other captives were added to our number, among whom was brother Amasa Lyman.
We were informed that the general officers held a secret council during most of the night, which was dignified by the name of court martial; in which, without a hearing, or, without even being brought before it, we were all sentenced to be shot. The day and hour was also appointed for the execution of this sentence, viz.: next morning at 8 o’clock, in the public square at Far West. Of this we were informed by Brigadier-General Doniphan, who was one of the council, but who was so violently opposed to this cool blooded murder that he assured the council that he would revolt and withdraw his whole brigade, and march them back to Clay County as soon as it was light, if they persisted in so dreadful an undertaking. Said he, “It is cold blooded murder, and I wash my hands of it.” His firm remonstrance, and that of a few others, so alarmed the haughty murderer and his accomplices that they dare not put the decree in execution.
Thus, through a merciful providence of God our lives were spared through that dreadful night. It was the common talk, and even the boast in the camp, that individuals lay here and there unburied, where they had shot them down for sport. The females they had ravished; the plunder they had taken; the houses they had burned; the horses they had stolen; the fields of grain they had laid waste, were common topics; and were dwelt on for mere amusement, or, as if these deeds were a stepstone to office; and it is a fact that such deeds were so considered.
[p.208]No pen need undertake to describe our feelings during that terrible night, while there confined—not knowing the fate of our wives and children, or of our fellow Saints, and seeing no way for our lives to be saved except by the miraculous power of God. But, notwithstanding all earthly hopes were gone, still we felt a calmness indescribable. A secret whispering to our inmost soul seemed to say: “Peace, my sons, be of good cheer, your work is not yet done; therefore I will restrain your enemies, that they shall not have power to take your lives.”
While thus confined, Wm. E. McLellin, once my fellow laborer in the gospel, but now a Judas, with hostile weapon in hand to destroy the Saints, came to me and observed: “Well, Parley, you have now got where you are certain never to escape; how do you feel as to the course you have taken in religion?” I answered, “that I had taken that course which I should take if I had my life to live over again.” He seemed thoughtful for a moment, and then replied: “Well—I think, if I were you, I should die as I had lived; at any rate, I see no possibility of escape for you and your friends.”
Next morning Gen. Lucas demanded the Caldwell militia to give up their arms, which was done. As soon as the troops who had defended the city were disarmed, it was surrounded by the enemy and all the men detained as prisoners. None were permitted pass out of the city—although their families were starving for want of sustenance; the mills and provisions being some distance from the city.
The brutal mob were now turned loose to ravage, steal, plunder and murder without restraint. Houses were rifled, women ravished, and goods taken as they pleased. The whole troop, together with their horses, lived on the grain and provisions. While cattle were shot down for mere sport, and sometimes men, women and children fared no better. On the third morning after our imprisonment we were placed in a wagon, in order for removal. Many of the more desperate then crowded around, cocked their rifles, and singling us out presented them to our breasts, and swore they would blow us through. Some guns were snapped, but missed fire, and the rest were in a small degree restrained by the officers, and we still lived.
We were now marched to Far West, under the conduct of the whole army; and while they halted in the public square, we were permitted to go with a guard for a change of linen and to take final leave of our families, in order to depart as prisoners to Jackson County, a distance of sixty miles.
This was the most trying scene of all. I went to my house, being guarded by two or three soldiers; the cold rain was pouring down without, and on entering my little cottage, there lay my wife sick of a fever, with which she had been for some time confined. At her breast was our [p.209]son Nathan, an infant of three months, and by her side a little girl of five years. On the foot of the same bed lay a woman in travail, who had been driven from her house in the night, and had taken momentary shelter in my hut of ten feet square—my larger house having been torn down. I stepped to the bed; my wife burst into tears; I spoke a few words of comfort, telling her to try to live for my sake and the children’s; and expressing a hope that we should meet again though years might separate us. She promised to try to live. I then embraced and kissed the little babes and departed.
Till now I had refrained from weeping; but, to be forced from so helpless a family, who were destitute of provisions and fuel, and deprived almost of shelter in a bleak prairie, with none to assist them, exposed to a lawless banditti who were utter strangers to humanity, and this at the approach of winter, was more than nature could well endure.
I went to Gen. Moses Wilson in tears, and stated the circumstances of my sick, heart-broken and destitute family in terms which would have moved any heart that had a latent spark of humanity yet remaining. But I was only answered with an exultant laugh, and a taunt of reproach by this hardened murderer.
As I returned from my house towards the troops in the square, I halted with the guard at the door of Hyrum Smith, and heard the sobs and groans of his wife, at his parting words. She was then near confinement; and needed more than ever the comfort and consolation of a husband’s presence. As we returned to the wagon we saw S. Rigdon taking leave of his wife and daughters, who stood at a little distance, in tears of anguish indescribable. In the wagon sat Joseph Smith, while his aged father and venerable mother came up overwhelmed with tears, and took each of the prisoners by the hand with a silence of grief too great for utterance.
In the meantime, hundreds of the brethren crowded around us, anxious to take a parting look, or a silent shake of the hand; for feelings were too intense to allow of speech. In the midst of these scenes orders were given and we moved slowly away, under the conduct of Gen. Wilson and his whole brigade. A march of twelve miles brought us to Crooked River, where we camped for the night. Here Gen. Wilson began to treat us more kindly; he became very sociable; conversing very freely on the subject of his former murders and robberies committed against us in Jackson. He did not pretend to deny anything; but spoke upon the whole as freely as if he had been giving the history of other ages or countries, in which his audience had no personal concern. Said he:
“We Jackson County boys know how it is; and, therefore, have not the extremes of hatred and prejudice which characterize the rest of the [p.210]troops. We know perfectly that from the beginning the Mormons have not been the aggressors at all. As it began in ’33 in Jackson County, so it has been ever since. You Mormons were crowded to the last extreme, and compelled to self-defence; and this has been construed into treason, murder and plunder. We mob you without law; the authorities refuse to protect you according to law; you then are compelled to protect yourselves, and we act upon the prejudices of the public, who join our forces, and the whole is legalized, for your destruction and our gain. Is not this a shrewd and cunning policy on our part, gentlemen?
“When we drove you from Jackson County, we burned two hundred and three of your houses; plundered your goods; destroyed your press, type, paper, books, office and all—tarred and feathered old Bishop Partridge, as exemplary an old man as you can find anywhere. We shot down some of your men, and, if any of you returned the fire, we imprisoned you, on your trial for murder, etc. Damn’d shrewdly done, gentlemen; and I came damn’d near kicking the bucket myself; for, on one occasion, while we were tearing down houses, driving families, and destroying and plundering goods, some of you good folks put a ball through my son’s body, another through the arm of my clerk, and a third pierced my shirt collar and marked my neck. No blame gentlemen; we deserved it. And let a set of men serve me as your community have been served, and I’ll be damn’d if I would not fight till I died.
“It was repeatedly insinuated, by the other officers and troops, that we should hang you prisoners on the first tree we came to on the way to Independence. But I’ll be damn’d if anybody shall hurt you. We just intend to exhibit you in Independence, let the people look at you, and see what a damn’d set of fine fellows you are. And, more particularly, to keep you from that G-d damn’d old bigot of a Gen. Clark and his troops, from down country, who are so stuffed with lies and prejudice that they would shoot you down in a moment.”
Such was the tenor of the conversation addressed by Gen. Wilson to his prisoners. Indeed, it was now evident that he was proud of his prey, and felt highly enthusiastic in having the honor of returning in triumph to Independence with his prisoners, whom his superstition had magnified into something more than fellow citizens–something noble or supernatural, and worthy of public exhibition.
As we arose and commenced our march on the morning of the 3d of November, Joseph Smith spoke to me and the other prisoners, in a low, but cheerful and confidential tone; said he: “Be of good cheer, brethren; the word of the Lord came to me last night that our lives should be given us, and that whatever we may suffer during this captivity, not one of our lives should be taken.” Of this prophecy I testify in the name of the Lord, and, though spoken in secret, its public fulfilment and the miraculous escape of each [p.211]one of us is too notorious to need my testimony. In the after part of the day we came to the Missouri River, which separated us from Jackson County. Here the brigade was halted and the prisoners taken to a public house, where we were permitted to shave, change our linen, and partake of some refreshment. This done, we were hurried to the ferry and across the river with the utmost haste, in advance of the troops. This movement was soon explained to us. The truth was, Gen. Clark had now arrived near the scene of action, and had sent an express to take us from Gen. Wilson and prevent us from going to Jackson County—both armies being competitors for the honor of possessing the wonderful, or, in their estimation, royal prisoners.
Clark and his troops, from a distance, who had not arrived in the city of Far West till after our departure, were desirous of seeing the strange men whom it was said had turned the world upside down and of possessing such a wonderful trophy of victory, or of putting them to death themselves. On the other hand, Wilson and his brigade were determined to exhibit us through the streets of Independence as a visible token of their own achievements. Therefore, when demanded by Gen. Clark’s express, they refused to surrender us; and hurried us across the ferry with all possible despatch. Marching about a mile, we encamped for the night in the wilderness, with about fifty troops for our guard—the remainder not crossing the ferry till the next morning.
Some of the neighboring citizens visited us next morning—it being Sunday. One of the ladies came up and very candidly inquired of the troops which of the prisoners the “Mormons” worshipped? One of the guards pointing to Mr. Smith with a significant smile, said, “This is he.” The woman, then turning to Mr. Smith, inquired whether he professed to be the Lord and Saviour?
Do not smile, gentle reader, at the ignorance of these poor innocent creatures, who, by the exertions of a corrupt press and pulpit, are kept in ignorance and made to believe in every possible absurdity in relation to the Church of the Saints. Mr. Smith replied, that he professed to be nothing but a man, and a minister of salvation, sent by Jesus Christ to preach the gospel. After expressing some surprise, the lady inquired what was the peculiar nature of the gospel, as held by himself and his Church? At this the visitors and soldiers gathered around, and Mr. Smith preached to them faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance towards God, reformation of life, immersion in water, in the name of Jesus Christ, for remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.
All seemed surprised, and the lady, in tears, went her way, praising God for the truth, and praying aloud that the Lord would bless and deliver the prisoners.
[p.212]At ten o’clock the brigade had all crossed the river, and come up with us. We were then marched forward in our carriages, while the troops were formed into a front and rear guard, with quite a martial appearance. As we passed along through the settlements hundreds of men, women and children flocked to see us. General W. often halted the whole brigade to introduce us to the populace, pointing out each of us by name. Many shook us by the hand, and, in the ladies at least, there appeared some feelings of human compassion and sympathy.
In this way we proceeded till we arrived at Independence. It was now past noon, and in the midst of a great rain; but hundreds crowded to witness the procession, and to gaze at us as we were paraded in martial triumph through the principal streets, the bugles sounding a blast of triumphant joy.
This ceremony being finished, a vacant house was prepared for our reception, into which we were ushered through the crowd of spectators which thronged every avenue.
The troops were then disbanded. In the meantime we were kept under a small guard, and were treated with some degree of humanity, while hundreds flocked to see us day after day. We spent most of our time in preaching and conversation, explanatory of our doctrines and practice. Much prejudice was removed, and the feelings of the populace began to be in our favor, notwithstanding their former wickedness and hatred. In a day or two we were at liberty to walk the streets without a guard. We were finally removed from our house of confinement to a hotel, where we boarded at the public table, and lodged on the floor, with a block of wood for a pillow. We no longer had any guard; we went out and came in when we pleased—a certain keeper being appointed merely to watch over us, and look to our wants.
With him we walked out of town to the westward, and visited the desolate lands of the Saints, and the place which, seven years before, we had dedicated for the building of a Temple. This was a beautiful rise of ground, about half a mile west of Independence centre. When we saw it last it was a noble forest, but our enemies had since robbed it of every vestige of timber, and it now lay desolate, or clothed with grass and weeds.
O, how many feelings did this spot awaken in our bosoms! Here we had often bowed the knee in prayer, in bygone years. Here we had assembled with hundreds of happy Saints in the solemn meeting, and offered our songs, and sacraments, and orisons. But now all was solemn [p.213]and lonely desolation. Not a vestige remained to mark the spot where stood our former dwellings. They had long since been consumed by fire, or removed and converted to the uses of our enemies.
While at Independence we were once or twice invited to dine with General Wilson and some others, which we did.
While thus sojourning as prisoners at large, I arose one morning when it was very snowy, and passed silently and unmolested out of the hotel, and as no one seemed to notice me, or call me in question, I thought I would try an experiment. I passed on eastward through the town; no one noticed me. I then took into the fields, still unobserved. After travelling a mile I entered a forest; all was gloomy silence, none were near, the heavens were darkened and obscured by falling snow, my track was covered behind me, and I was free. I knew the way to the States eastward very well, and there seemed nothing to prevent my pursuing my way thither; thoughts of freedom beat high in my bosom; wife, children, home, freedom, peace, and a land of law and order, all arose in my mind; I could go to other States, send for my family, make me a home and be happy.
On the other hand, I was a prisoner in a State where all law was at an end. I was liable to be shot down at any time without judge or jury. I was liable to be tried for my life by murderous assassins, who had already broken every oath of office and trampled on every principle of honor or even humanity. Hands already dripping with the blood of aged sires, and of helpless women and children, were reaching out for my destruction. The battle of Crooked River had already been construed into murder on the part of the brave patriots who there defended their lives and rescued their fellow citizens from kidnappers and land pirates, while the pirates themselves had been converted into loyal militia.
To go forward was freedom, to go backward was to be sent to General Clark, and be accused of the highest crimes, with murderers for judge, jury and executioners.
“Go free!” whispered the tempter.
“No!” said I, “never, while brother Joseph and his fellows are in the power of the enemy. What a storm of trouble, or even of death, it might subject them to.”
I turned on my heel, retraced my steps, and entered the hotel ere they had missed me. As I shook the snow off my clothes the keeper and also brother Joseph inquired where I had been. I replied, just out for a little exercise. A walk for pleasure in such a storm gave rise to some pleasantries on their part, and there the matter ended.
There was one thing which buoyed up our spirits continually during our captivity: it was the remembrance of the word of the Lord to brother Joseph, saying, that our lives should all be given us during this [p.214]captivity, and not one of them should be lost. I thought of this while in the wilderness vacillating whether to go or stay, and the thought struck me: “He that will seek to save his life shall lose it; but he that will lose his life for my sake shall find it again, even life eternal.” I could now make sure of my part in the first resurrection, as I had so intensely desired when about eleven years old. But, O, the path of life! How was it beset with trials!
At length, after repeated demands, we were sent to General Clark, at Richmond, Ray County. Generals Lucas and Wilson had tried in vain for some days to get a guard to accompany us. None would volunteer, and when drafted they would not obey orders; for, in truth, they wished us to go at liberty. At last a colonel and two or three officers started with us, with their swords and pistols, which were intended more to protect us than to keep us from escaping. On this journey some of us rode in carriages and some on horseback. Sometimes we were sixty or eighty rods in front or rear of our guards, who were drinking hard out of bottles which they carried in their pockets.
At night, having crossed the Missouri River, we put up at a private house. Here our guards all got drunk, and went to bed and to sleep, leaving us their pistols to defend ourselves in case of any attack from without, as we were in a very hostile neighborhood. Next morning we rode a few miles, and were met by an express from General Clark, which consisted of one Colonel Sterling Price and a guard of soldiers. This company immediately surrounded us with poised pieces, in regular military order, as if we had been Buonaparte and staff on the way to St. Helena; thinking, perhaps, that if we should escape, the whole United States and Europe would be immediately overthrown.
In this manner we were escorted to Richmond, the headquarters of General Clark and his army of three or four thousand men. Here, as usual, we had to endure the gaze of the curious, as if we had been a caravan of animals for exhibition. Troops were paraded to receive us, which, as we approached, opened to the right and left, thus forming a long avenue, through which we passed into a block house, and were immediately put in chains, under a strong guard, who stood over us continually with poised pieces, cocked and primed. Colonel Price continued in the superintendence of the prisoners and the guards.
General Clark at length called to see us. He seemed more haughty, unfeeling, and reserved than even Lucas or Wilson had been when we first entered their camp. We inquired of the general what were his intentions concerning us. I stated to him that we had now been captives for many days, and we knew not wherefore, nor whether we were considered prisoners of war or prisoners of civil process, or “prisoners of hope.” At the same time remarking, that all was wrapt in mystery; for, as citizens of the United States and of Missouri, in time of peace, we [p.215]could in nowise be considered as prisoners of war; and, without civil process, we were not holden by civil authority; and as to being “prisoners of hope,” there was not much chance to hope, from our present appearances!
He replied that “we were taken to be tried.”
“Tried? By what authority?”
“By court martial.”
“What! Ministers of the gospel tried by court martial! Men who sustain no office in military affairs, and who are not subject by law to military duty; such men to be tried by court martial! And this in time of peace, and in a republic where the constitution guaranteed to every citizen the right of trial by jury?”
“Yes. This is in accordance with the treaty of stipulations entered into at Far West at the time of the surrender, and as agreed to by Colonel Hinkle, your commanding officer.”
“Colonel Hinkle, our commanding officer! What had he to do with our civil rights? He was only a colonel of a regiment of the Caldwell County Militia.”
“Why! was he not the commanding officer of the fortress of Far West, the headquarters of the Mormon forces?”
“We had no `fortress’ or `Mormon forces,’ but were part of the State militia.”
At this the general seemed surprised, and the conversation ended.
We were astonished above measure at proceedings so utterly ignorant and devoid of all law or justice. Here was a Major-General, selected by the Governor of Missouri, and sent to banish or exterminate a religious society. And then, to crown the whole with inconceivable absurdity, said religious society is converted by this officer and his associates into an independent government, or foreign nation. And last, and equally absurd, the State of Missouri assumed her independence of the Federal Government so far as to treat with this imaginary “Mormon Empire,” or foreign nation. A colonel of militia, subordinate to the general then in the field, is converted into a foreign minister, an envoy extraordinary, in behalf of the “Mormon Empire,” to enter into treaty stipulations with his Missouri majesty’s forces, under Generals Lucas, Wilson and Clark!
The City of Far West, the capital of “Mormonia,” is the “Ghent,” where this treaty of peace is ratified. The standing army of the conquered nation stack their arms, which are carried in triumph to Richmond. Preachers of the gospel are converted into “noble” or “royal prisoners” chained to the car of the victorious champions to be led captive as sport for the Philistines, or to be shot or hung at pleasure, while the residue of the inhabitants of the fallen empire—men, women and children–are to have their real estate and all other goods confiscated, [p.216]and themselves banished the State on pain of death. A few, however, are selected from among these exiles to be imprisoned or executed at the mere dictation of a Nero or a Nicholas.
Was this in America, in the nineteenth century? Were these scenes transacted in a constitutional republic? Yes, verily, and worse,–a tale of horror, of woe, of long years of lawless outrage and tyranny is yet to be told, of which this is a mere stepping stone or entering wedge… .
I must not forget to state that when we arrived in Richmond as prisoners there were some fifty others, mostly heads of families, who had been marched from Caldwell on foot (distance 30 miles), and were now penned up in a cold, open, unfinished court house, in which situation they remained for some weeks, while their families were suffering severe privations.
The next morning after our dialogue with General Clark he again entered our prison and informed us that he had concluded to deliver us over to the civil authorities for an examining trial. He was then asked why he did not do away with the unlawful decree of banishment, which was first ordered by General Lucas, in compliance with the Governor’s order, and which compelled thousands of citizens to leave the State. Or upon what principle the military power aided the civil law against us, while at the same time it caused our families and friends to be murdered, plundered and driven, contrary to all law?
He replied that he approved of all the proceedings of General Lucas, and should not alter them. I make this statement because some writers have commended Clark for his heroic, merciful, and prudent conduct towards our society, and have endeavored to make it appear that Clark was not to be blamed for any of the measures of Lucas.
The Court of Inquiry now commenced, before Judge Austin A. King. This continued from the 11th to 28th of November, during which we were kept most of the time in chains, and our brethren, some fifty in number, were penned up in the cold, dreary court house. It was a very severe time of snow and winter weather, and we suffered much. During this time Elder Rigdon was taken very sick, from hardship and exposure, and finally lost his reason; but still he was kept in a miserable, noisy and cold room, and compelled to sleep on the floor with a chain and padlock round his ankle, and fastened to six others. Here he endured the constant noise and confusion of an unruly guard, the officer of which was Colonel Sterling Price, since Governor of the State.
[p.217]These guards were composed generally of the most noisy, foul-mouthed, vulgar, disgraceful rabble that ever defiled the earth. While he lay in this situation his son-in-law, George W. Robinson, the only male member of his family, was chained by his side. Thus Mrs. Rigdon and her daughters were left entirely destitute and unprotected. One of his daughters, Mrs. Robinson, a young and delicate female, with her little infant, came down to see her husband, and to comfort and take care of her father in his sickness. When she first entered the room, amid the clank of chains and the rattle of weapons, and cast her eyes on her sick and dejected parent and sorrow worn husband, she was speechless, and only gave vent to her feelings in a flood of tears. This faithful lady, with her little infant, continued by the side of her father till he recovered from his sickness, and till his fevered and disordered mind resumed its wonted powers.
In one of those tedious nights we had lain as if in sleep till the hour of midnight had passed, and our ears and hearts had been pained, while we had listened for hours to the obscene jests, the horrid oaths, the dreadful blasphemies and filthy language of our guards, Colonel Price at their head, as they recounted to each other their deeds of rapine, murder, robbery, etc., which they had committed among the “Mormons” while at Far West and vicinity. They even boasted of defiling by force wives, daughters and virgins, and of shooting or dashing out the brains of men, women and children.
I had listened till I became so disgusted, shocked, horrified, and so filled with the spirit of indignant justice that I could scarcely refrain from rising upon my feet and rebuking the guards; but had said nothing to Joseph, or any one else, although I lay next to him and knew he was awake. On a sudden he arose to his feet, and spoke in a voice of thunder, or as the roaring lion, uttering, as near as I can recollect, the following words:
“SILENCE, ye fiends of the infernal pit. 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. Cease such talk, or you or I die THIS INSTANT !”
He ceased to speak. He stood erect in terrible majesty. Chained, and without a weapon; calm, unruffled and dignified as an angel, he looked upon the quailing guards, whose weapons were lowered or dropped to the ground; whose knees smote together, and who, shrinking into a corner, or crouching at his feet, begged his pardon, and remained quiet till a change of guards.
I have seen the ministers of justice, clothed in magisterial robes, and criminals arraigned before them, while life was suspended on a breath, in the Courts of England; I have witnessed a Congress in solemn session to give laws to nations; I have tried to conceive of kings, of royal [p.218]courts, of thrones and crowns; and of emperors assembled to decide the fate of kingdoms; but dignity and majesty have I seen but once, as it stood in chains, at midnight, in a dungeon in an obscure village of Missouri.
In this mock Court of Inquiry the Judge could not be prevailed on to examine the conduct of the murderers and robbers who had desolated our society, nor would he receive testimony except against us. By the dissenters and apostates who wished to save their own lives and secure their property at the expense of others, and by those who had murdered and plundered us from time to time, he obtained abundance of testimony, much of which was entirely false. Our Church organization was converted by such testimony into a temporal kingdom, which was to fill the whole earth and subdue all other kingdoms.
This Court of Inquisition inquired diligently into our belief of the seventh chapter of Daniel concerning the kingdom of God, which should subdue all other kingdoms and stand forever. And when told that we believed in that prophecy, the Court turned to the clerk and said: “Write that down; it is a strong point for treason.” Our lawyer observed as follows: “Judge, you had better make the Bible treason.” The Court made no reply.
These texts and many others were inquired into with all the eagerness and apparent alarm which characterized a Herod of old in relation to the babe of Bethlehem, the King of the Jews.
The ancient Herod, fearing a rival in the person of Jesus, issued his exterminating order for the murder of all the children of Bethlehem from two years old and under, with a view to hinder the fulfilment of a prophecy which he himself believed to be true.
The modern Herod (Boggs), fearing a rival kingdom in “the people of the Saints of the Most High,” issued his exterminating order for the murder of the young children of an entire people, and of their mothers as well as fathers, while this Court of Inquisition inquired as diligently into the one prophecy as his predecessor did into the other. These parallel actions go to show a strong belief in the prophecies on the part of the actors in both cases. Both were instigated by the devil to cause innocent blood to be shed. And marvellously striking is the parallel in the final result of the actions of each.
The one slew many young children, but failed to destroy the infant King of the Jews.
The other slew many men, women and children, but failed to destroy the Kingdom of God.
The one found a timely refuge in Egypt.
The other in Illinois.
[p.219]Jesus Christ fulfilled his destiny, and will reign over the Jews, and sit on the throne of his father, David, forever.
The Saints are growing into power amid the strongholds of the mountains of Deseret, and will surely take the Kingdom, and the greatness of the Kingdom, under the whole Heaven.
Who can withstand the Almighty, or frustrate his purposes? Herod died of a loathsome disease, and transmitted to posterity his fame as a tyrant and murderer. And Lilburn W. Boggs is dragging out a remnant of existence in California, with the mark of Cain upon his brow, and the fear of Cain within his heart, lest he that findeth him shall slay him. He is a living stink, and will go down to posterity with the credit of a wholesale murderer.
The Court also inquired diligently into our missionary operations. It was found, on investigation, that the Church had sent missionaries into England and other foreign countries. This, together with our belief in the Bible, was construed into treason against the State of Missouri, while every act of defence was set down as murder, etc. The Judge, in open court, while addressing a witness, proclaimed, that if the members of the Church remained on their lands to put in another crop they should be destroyed indiscriminately, and their bones be left to bleach on the plains without a burial. Yes, reader, the cultivation of lands held by patents issued by the United States land office, and signed by the President of the Republic, was, by Judge Austin A. King, in open court, pronounced a capital offence, for which a whole community were prejudged and sentenced to death. While those who should be the instruments to execute this sentence were called by the dignified name of citizens, and these good citizens afterwards elected that same Judge for Governor of the State.
The Judge inquired of the prisoners if they wished to introduce any witnesses for the defence. A list of names was supplied by the prisoners, when, who should be selected to go to Far West to obtain and bring them before the Court, but the identical bandit, Bogart, and his gang, who were defeated by us in the battle of Crooked River, after they had become famous for kidnapping, plundering and murdering!
Of course, every man in Caldwell would flee from such a gang if they could; but he succeeded in capturing a few of our friends, whose names were on the list, and bringing them before the Court, when, instead of being sworn, they were immediately ordered to prison to take their trial. Others were sent for, and, as far as found, shared the same fate. This manoeuvre occupied several days, during which the Court was still in session, and the fate of the prisoners suspended.
At length the Judge exclaimed to the prisoners: “If you have any witnesses bring them forward; the Court cannot delay forever—it has [p.220]waited several days already.” A member of the Church, named Allen, was just then seen to pass the window. The prisoners requested that he might be introduced and sworn. He was immediately called in and sworn. He began to give his testimony, which went to establish the innocence of the prisoners, and to show the murders, robberies, etc., committed by their accusers. But he was suddenly interrupted and cut short by cries of “Put him out;” “Kick him out;” “G-d d—n him, shoot him;” “Kill him, d—n him, kill him;” “He’s a d—d Mormon.”
The Court then ordered the guard to put him out, which was done amid the yells, threats, insults and violence of the mob who thronged in and around the court house. He barely escaped with his life. Mr. Doniphan, attorney for the defence, and since famed as a general in the Mexican war, finally advised the prisoners to offer no defence; “for,” said he, “though a legion of angels from the opening heavens should declare your innocence, the Court and populace have decreed your destruction.” Our Attorney offered no defence, and thus the matter of our trials was finally submitted.
By the decision of this mock Court some twenty or thirty of the accused were dismissed, among whom was Amasa Lyman. Some twenty others were suffered to be bailed out, and themselves and bail both forced to leave the State, thus forfeiting the bail bonds, while Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, Caleb Baldwin and Alexander McRay (all heads of families) were committed to the jail of Clay County on the charge of treason; and Morris Phelps, Lyman Gibbs, Darwin Chase, Norman Shearer and myself were committed to the jail of Richmond, Ray County, for the alleged crime of murder, said to be committed in the act of dispersing the bandit, Bogart, and his gang.
This done, the civil and military authorities dispersed, and the troubled waters became a little more tranquil.
As our people were compelled by the memorable “Treaty of Far West” to leave the State by the following spring, they now commenced moving by hundreds and by thousands to the State of Illinois, where they were received in the most humane and friendly manner by the authorities, and by the citizens in general. In the meantime bands of murderers, thieves and robbers were roaming unrestrained among the unarmed and defenceless citizens, committing all manner of plunder, and driving off cattle, sheep and horses, abusing and insulting women.
My wife and children soon came to me in prison, and spent a portion of the winter in the cold, dark dungeon, where myself and fellow prisoners were frequently insulted and abused by our dastardly guards, who often threatened to shoot us on the spot, and who made murder, robbery and whoredoms with negro slaves their daily boast… .
[p.221]On the 17th of March, 1839, my wife took leave of the prison with her little children, and, with a broken heart, returned to Far West, in order to get passage with some of the brethren for Illinois. She tarried in Far West a month. All the Society had gone from the State, but a few of the poor and widows, and the Committee who tarried behind to assist them in removing. About the middle of April a gang of robbers entered Far West armed, and ordered my wife, and the Committee, and the others to be gone by such a time, or they would murder them. This gang destroyed much furniture and other property.
Thus my wife was driven away according to the Governor’s previous order, while I was still detained in a filthy dungeon. My family were conveyed to Quincy, Illinois, distance two hundred and eighty miles, by David W. Rogers of New York, who is a descendant of the celebrated martyr, John Rogers, of Smithfield celebrity, England.
On the 20th of April, 1839, the last of the Society departed from Far West. Thus had a whole people, variously estimated at from ten to fifteen thousand souls, been driven from houses and lands and reduced to poverty, and had removed to another State during one short winter and part of a spring. The sacrifice of property was immense—including houses, lands, cattle, sheep, hogs, agricultural implements, furniture, household utensils, clothing, money and grain. One of the most flourishing counties in the State and part of several others were reduced to desolation, or inhabited only by marauding gangs of murderers and robbers.
On the 24th of April our cases came before the Grand Jury of the county of Ray; which Grand Jury, the reader is aware, would be naturally composed of our persecutors and their accessories; and at whose head was the same Judge King who had presided in the former mock trial and Inquisition which committed us to prison… .
… At the end of this extraordinary mock trail or inquisition, which lasted over two weeks, I was unchained from Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and the others, and being separated from them, was conducted to a gloomy, dark, cold and filthy dungeon in Richmond, Ray County, where I was doomed to spend the winter and spring, and await a further trial; while they shared a similar fate in a place called Liberty, in Clay County.
When I first entered the dungeon there were some twenty men, mostly heads of families, who had been torn from their families in those [p.222]awful times, and thrust into prison. It was not only crowded to suffocation, without a chair, stool, bench, bed, furniture or window light, but just then completely filled with smoke by a fire which was lighted in a stove without a pipe, or any conductor for the smoke to pass out, except at the crevices between the timbers, where the winter storm was passing in. When my guard conducted me to the door of this miserable cell it grated on its huge hinges and opened like the pit yawning to receive me; a volume of thick smoke issued forth and seemed to forbid my entrance; but, urged in my rear by bayonets and loaded pistols in the hands of savage beings, I endeavored to enter, but was forced to retreat again outside of the door to breathe for a moment the free air. At this instant several pistols were cocked and presented at my head and breast, with terrible threats and oaths of instant death if I did not go in again. I told them to fire as soon as they pleased, for I must breathe a moment or die in the attempt. After standing a few moments, I again entered the prison, and threw myself down, my face to the floor, to avoid the smoke. Here I remained for some time, partly in a state of insensibility; my heart sickened within me, and a deathlike feeling came over me, from which I did not wholly recover for several days.
I arose, however, as soon as I was able, and began to speak to and recognize my fellow prisoners—most of whom were my neighbors and acquaintances. The door was now locked, bolted and barred, and several guards placed before it. The fire died away, and the smoke gradually cleared away from the dungeon; but the floor formed a hard and cold winter lodging.
In a few days all those in our prison, except five, were released on bail, and themselves and bail banished from the State, with the rest of the Society; thus compelling them to forfeit their bail bonds, which amounted in all to many thousand dollars. The five who remained were Morris Phelps, Darwin Chase, Norman Shearer, Luman Gibbs and myself. Two of these were finally dismissed–being boys scarcely out of their teens. But another was soon added by the name of King Follet.
This made our final number four. One of this number viz.: Luman Gibbs, denied the faith and turned a traitor to the others; becoming their most inveterate enemy. This was in order to save his life and gain his liberty. However, he was still kept in prison as a spy upon us, lest it should be said that it was wholly a religious persecution; but he was treated very well, and went out to dine with the Sheriff or others, or to spend a day with his wife whenever it pleased him to do so. Our food was of the most unwholesome kind, and scant at that; consisting of bones and remnants of meat, coarse corn bread, and sometimes a little coffee. We generally partook of our meals in a standing position, using our fingers instead of knives, forks or plates. A tin cup served us for our [p.223]coffee. We were guarded very strictly, both by night and day, by two or three men with loaded pistols.
These consisted of the most unprincipled, profligate villains that could be found anywhere. They would swear, drink, gamble, and sing the most obscene and disgusting songs. They would boast of shooting the Mormons; robbing and plundering them; committing rapes, etc. They would also insult every female slave or black woman who might happen to come within hearing, and then boast of their criminal connections with them. The blasphemy; the noisy grumbling; the blackguard chit chat; doleful lullaby and vulgar songs of these guards grating daily upon our ears, seemed like the howls and wailings of the damned, or like wandering spirits and demons hovering around to torment us. What greatly added to our affliction, as if to complete our hell, the old apostate, Gibbs, became very quarrelsome and noisy—not only to us, but with his wife also, who sometimes came into the prison to spend a few days with him. He was a hard faced, ill formed man, of about fifty years of age; full of jealousy, extremely selfish, very weak minded, and, withal, a little love cracked; and, I may say, that he seemed not to possess one redeeming quality.
His wife was about the same age, and withal, a coarse, tall, masculine looking woman, and one of whom he had no reason to complain or be jealous. True, she did not love him—for no female could possibly do that; but then no one else would love her, nor was she disposed to court their affections. However, he was jealous of her, and, therefore, abused her; and this kept a constant and noisy strife and wrangling between them whenever she was present.
Whole nights were spent in this way, during which no one in or about the prison slept. After a quarrel of some two or three days and nights between them, he would attempt to regain her love, and a conversation like the following would ensue. Luman, drawing down his face and drawling his words with a loud and doleful tone, commenced as follows:
“Now, Phila, won’t you love me? Come; here’s my watch, and here’s all the money I’ve got!” Then turning to us he would exclaim: “Boys, I’ll tell you all about it; the fact is, she never did love me; she only married me out of pity—we being members of the Baptist church together in Vermont.” Then again addressing his wife: “Come now, Phila; won’t you love me? O, that I had been born a rich man! I would give you a dollar a minute to love me.”
Phila would then laugh and call him “a silly old fool.” Whereupon he would turn away in a rage, and exclaim: “Go along away, you—, you! Nobody wants your love, no how!”
On one occasion they had quarreled and kept us awake all night, [p.224]and just at break of day we heard a noise like a scuffle and a slamming against the wall; next followed a woman’s voice, half in a laugh and half in exultation:—”Te-he-he-he, Luman, what’s the matter? What’s the matter, Luman?” Then a pause, and afterwards a man’s voice in a grum, sorry, and rather a whining tone was heard at a distance from the bed, exclaiming: “Now, I swan, Phila, that’s tu bad.”
The truth of the matter was this: She had braced her back against the wall, and with both her feet placed against his body, had kicked him out of bed, and landed him upon the opposite side of the room.
Such scenes as these and all the folly of the guards served to enhance the misery of imprisonment, and to render our sufferings complete. We tried to keep them quiet, but tried in vain. Neither threats nor persuasion, coaxing nor reasoning had any influence over them. This miserable specimen of humanity was a peculiar favorite of the Sheriff and guards, and other citizens of Richmond. He was considered by them as the only honest, good, deserving man in the prison. They often expressed pity for him, and wished he was at liberty. He, in turn, watched our movements closely, and was ready to betray us on the least show, on our part, of any meditated plan of escape.
Under these painful circumstances we spent a long and dreary winter. Our whole community, who were not in prison, were forced out of the State, with the loss of homes, property, and many lives. They fled by thousands to Illinois.
My wife visited me several times in prison; but at length the period expired that the State authorities had stipulated for every Mormon to be gone, and my wife and children, and a few others who remained behind, were obliged to fly or be exterminated, as bands of armed men were roaming amid the deserted settlements, robbing, plundering, destroying property, and threatening all who remained.
My fellow prisoners, who had been separated from me and sent to the prison at Liberty, had also effected their escape, and had fled to Illinois to join their families. In short, all were gone, except King Follett, Morris Phelps and myself, and the old apostate, who was left to torment us.
Alone in a State which was wholly governed by an open banditti of murderers and robbers, we seemed abandoned to our fate, and doomed to suffer that full weight of vengeance and fury which seemed in reserve for an entire people; but that people were now beyond their reach; all the fury of the storm, therefore, seemed now to beat upon our heads. We were daily threatened with assassination, without the form of a trial; and were repeatedly told that we never should escape alive from the State. Our guards were doubly vigilant, while the Sheriff took every possible precaution. Luman, the apostate, was also in constant watchfulness, and busy in forming plans for escape; then accusing us and [p.225]pretending to reveal wonderful things to our keepers in regard to our plans; which, in fact, only existed in his lying brain. This increased the severity of our confinement, and seemed to preclude the possibility of escape.
To be tried without friends or witnesses, or even with them, by a set of “Gadianton robbers” and murderers, who could drive out and murder women and children, was but to be condemned and executed; to tarry there and drag out a miserable life, while our wives and children wandered abroad in a land of strangers, without the protection of husbands and fathers, was worse than to die ten thousand deaths.
Under these circumstances, and half way between hope and despair, I spent several days in fasting and prayer, during which one deep and all absorbing inquiry, one only thought, seemed to hold possession of my mind. It seemed to me that if there was a God in Heaven who ever spake to man on earth I would know from him the truth of this one question. It was not how long shall I suffer; it was not when or by what means I shold be delivered; but it was simply this: Shall I ever, at any time, however distant it may be, or whatever I may suffer first; shall I ever be free again in this life, and enjoy the society of my dear wife and children, and walk abroad at liberty, dwell in society and preach the gospel, as I have done in bygone years?
Let me be sure of this and I care not what I suffer. To circumnavigate the globe, to traverse the deserts of Arabia, to wander amid the wild scenes of the Rocky Mountains to accomplish so desirable an object, would seem like a mere trifle if I could only be sure at last. After some days of prayer and fasting, and seeking the Lord on the subject, I retired to my bed in my lonely chamber at an early hour, and while the other prisoners and the guard were chatting and beguiling the lonesome hours in the upper apartment of the prison, I lay in silence, seeking and expecting an answer to my prayer, when suddenly I seemed carried away in the spirit, and no longer sensible to outward objects with which I was surrounded. A heaven of peace and calmness pervaded my bosom; a personage from the world of spirits stood before me with a smile of compassion in every look, and pity mingled with the tenderest love and sympathy in every expression of the countenance. A soft hand seemed placed within my own, and a glowing cheek was laid in tenderness and warmth upon mine. A well known voice saluted me, which I readily recognized as that of the wife of my youth, who had for near two years been sweetly sleeping where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest. I was made to realize that she was sent to commune with me, and answer my question.
Knowing this, I said to her in a most earnest and inquiring tone: Shall I ever be at liberty again in this life and enjoy the society of my [p.226]family and the Saints, and preach the gospel as I have done? She answered definitely and unhesitatingly: “YES!” I then recollected that I had agreed to be satisfied with the knowledge of that one fact, but now I wanted more.
Said I: Can you tell me how, or by what means, or when I shall escape? She replied: “THAT THING IS NOT MADE KNOWN TO ME YET.” I instantly felt that I had gone beyond my agreement and my faith in asking this last question, and that I must be contented at present with the answer to the first.
Her gentle spirit then saluted me and withdrew. I came to myself. The doleful noise of the guards, and the wrangling and angry words of the old apostate again grated on my ears, but Heaven and hope were in my soul.
Next morning I related the whole circumstance of my vision to my two fellow prisoners, who rejoiced exceedingly. This may seem to some like an idle dream, or a romance of the imagination; but to me it was, and always will be a reality, both as it regards what I then experienced and the fulfilment afterwards.
In order to show some pretence of respect for some of the forms of law, Judge Austin A. King now entered our prison and took our testimony, preparatory to a change of venue. I shall never forget this interview. There stood our Judge, face to face with those who, by his cruelty and injustice, had lived a cold half year in a dungeon. He refused to look us in the eye; hung his head and looked like a culprit before his betters about to receive his doom. The looks of guilt and misery portrayed in his countenance during that brief interview bespoke more of misery than we had suffered during our confinement. I actually pitied him in my heart. With an extraordinary effort and a voice scarcely audible, he administered the oaths and withdrew.
By means of this change we were finally to be removed one hundred miles down the country, and confined in the prison at Columbia, Boone County, to await a final trial.
A long, dreary winter and spring had now passed away, and the time drew near for our removal. We looked forward to the change with some degree of hope and expectation, for it could not be for the worse, and might, perhaps, be for the better. At any rate, the journey would give us a chance to leave our dark and loathsome dungeon, and look upon the light of day, the beauties of nature, and to breathe the untainted air.
The morning of the departure at length arrived. Mr. Brown, the Sheriff, entered our prison with a fierce and savage look and, bidding us hold out our hands, coupled us together in pairs, with irons locked on our wrists, and marched us out; and, amid a throng of people, placed [p.227]us in a carriage. Accompanied with four guards on horseback, with loaded pistols, we bid farewell to Richmond.
It was a pleasant morning in early summer, when all the freshness and beauty of spring seemed blended in rich profusion, with the productions peculiar to the season as it advanced towards maturity. The leaves on the trees were full grown, and the forest presented a freshness of beauty and loveliness which reminded me of Paradise. The plains were covered with a coat of green, and the wild flowers of the prairie, blooming in all their variety, sent forth a perfume which mingled with every zephyr, and wafted sweet odors on every breeze. To prisoners who had breathed only a tainted air for half a year the very ground itself seemed to send forth a sweetness which was plainly perceptible to the senses. We enjoyed our ride through that delightful country more than any being could who had never been confined for weary months in a dreary dungeon.
The day at length closed, and we were taken into a house and stretched upon our backs on the floor, all fastened together with wrist and ankle irons in such a manner that we could not turn nor change our position. The doors and windows were then made fast, and the sentinels on duty guarded us by turns until morning. This was our night’s rest after forty miles travel.
The next day proved extremely rainy, with heavy thunder; but still we travelled. In the course of the day we came to a stream which was swollen by the rains to that degree that we had to swim over it and stem a swift current. This hindered us for some hours—in crossing over with horses, wagons, baggage, etc.; and as all of us were engaged in this business, our chains were taken off for the time.
When we had crossed over, put on our clothes, and replaced the baggage, saddles, arms, etc., ready for a start, it was night, and we were very weary and hungry, having had no refreshments during the day. The rain was also pouring in torrents, and the night setting in extremely dark. Four miles of wild country, partly covered with forests and underwood, still lay between us and the nearest house. Through the hurry of the moment, or for some other reason, they neglected to replace our irons, and our limbs were free. The carriage drove through a thick forest during the extreme darkness, and was several times on the eve of upsetting. This caused us to assume a position for saving ourselves by rising upon our feet ready to jump out in case of the carriage upsetting.
The Sheriff and guards seeing this, road close on each side, and, cocking their pistols, swore they would shoot us dead if we attempted to leave the carriage, and that if it upset they would shoot us anyhow, for fear we might attempt to escape.
[p.228]After two days more of rain, hail and travel, we arrived at Columbia, where we were immediately thrust into a gloomy dungeon filled with darkness, filth and cobwebs; the naked floor was our lodging. We had travelled hard, through rain and fatigue, for several days, and on the last day had rode till sundown without refreshment. We were extremely hungry and weary, but received no refreshment, not even a drink of water, till late in the evening, when our new keeper, Mr. John Scott, visited us with some buttermilk and bread; but we were now too much exhausted and too low spirited to eat. We thanked him for his kindness, and sank down exhausted on the floor, where we rested as well as we could till morning. We saw no more of Sheriff Brown or his guards, and will now take final leave of them, merely observing that they made it a point to insult every black woman they met on the way, frequently turning aside with them into the woods and fields. On returning to the company they would boast and glory in their criminal intercourse with them.
After spending one night in our new dungeon we were called on by the Sheriff to come up into a more comfortable apartment, and were treated with some degree of humanity. We were no longer troubled with guards, and even Luman and Phila behaved much better. We had been in our new situation something like a month, when we were visited by some friends from Illinois, from whom we learned the fate or our families and friends.
The wife of Mr. Phelps rode one hundred and sixty miles on horseback, accompanied by her brother, a young man named Clark. They arrived in Columbia and paid us a visit in prison about the 1st day of July. My brother Orson also arrived on horseback about the same time. With these friends we had a good visit for some days—they being permitted to stay in the prison with us. They also brought a letter from my wife, by which I learned that she made her escape from Far West to Quincy, Illinois, with her children and some of her goods, by the aid of Mr. David Rogers, of New York. During this journey they were much exposed to hardships and trouble, having to camp by the way, in company with other women and children who were in a like condition. On crossing a swollen stream, Mrs. Pratt had left the carriage to cross on a foot bridge, leaving the children to ride through it. She had just crossed over and turned to look back, to see whether the carriage came through in safety, when she discovered a little girl’s bonnet floating down the stream, and, on examination, as the carriage rose the bank, her daughter, a girl of six years old, was missing from the carriage. The next moment she saw her floating down the swift current. She gave the alarm to Mr. Rogers, the driver, who instantly dropped the reins and sprang after her into the stream.
[p.229]At this instant the horses, being high spirited and active, began to run, and would probably have dashed themselves and the carriage, goods, and the other child to pieces but for the timely interference of a large prong of a tree, which caught the carriage with such a strong hold that all was brought to a stand. In the meantime Mr. Rogers succeeded in rescuing the child and bringing her safe to shore.
She had, as she stated, pitched head foremost out of the carriage into the water. One of the wheels ran over her, and crushed her fast into the mud at the bottom of the stream; but as it rolled over she caught the spokes with her hands, and by this means the same weight that crushed her down brought her to the surface and saved her life. On examination the marks of the wheel was distinctly seen on both her thighs, which were seriously injured and nearly broken.
After a wearisome journey and various toils and dangers, they at length arrived at Quincy, Illinois, where Mrs. Pratt rented a small house, and by the sale of a few books, with the use of her two cows, which some of the brethren had brought from Missouri for her, she was making shift to live from day to day. She still expressed some faint hopes of seeing her husband again in a land of liberty, although at present there was little ground to hope, and she was sometimes nearly in despair.
Such was the news brought us by the arrival of our friends in the prison at Columbia on the 1st of July, 1839, after eight months of weary confinement. Previous to their arrival the Lord had shown me in a vision of the night the manner and means of escape. And, like Pharaoh’s dream, the thing had been doubled—that is shown to me on two occasions in the same manner.
Mrs. Phelps had the same thing shown to her in a vision previous to her arrival; my brother, Orson Pratt, also came to us with a firm impression that we were about to be delivered. He even predicted that we should go to Illinois, when he should return there. As we sat pondering upon these things, and comparing our visions and manifestations of the spirit on this subject, my brother Orson opened the Book of Mormon, when the first sentence that caught his eye was the words of Ammon to King Lamoni: “Behold, my brother and my brethren are in prison, in the land of Middoni, and I go to deliver them!” This was indeed a similar instance to ours. Ammon, on that occasion had an own brother in prison, and also brethren in the ministry, and did deliver them. Our case was exactly similar, not in Middoni, but in Missouri. And, what was still more strange, in a book of six hundred pages, this was the only sentence which would have fitted our case.
He now began in earnest to make arrangements for our escape. If there had been no strong bolts and bars to overcome, still there was one serious obstacle which a miracle alone could immediately remove, which [p.230]was this: I was then very sick and scarcely able to stand on my feet, or to go up and down from the upper room, where we were in the day time, to the dungeon where we slept.
It was the second of July, and our friends could only make an excuse for staying to spend the great national holiday with us (the 4th) before they must leave or excite the suspicions and ill will of the people; and, as that day had been a lucky one for our fathers and our nation, we had determined on that time as the proper one to bid farewell to bondage and gain our liberty. In short, we had determined to make that notable day a jubilee to us, or perish in the attempt. We, therefore, prayed earnestly to the Lord, that if he had determined to favor our plan, he would heal and strengthen me, and give us all courage to act well our part. Through the ministration of the ordinance appointed for healing, I was instantly healed, and from that moment began to feel as strong and fearless as a lion.
Our plan was this: My brother, Orson Pratt, was to wait on the Judge and Attorney, and obtain various papers and arrangements for summoning witnesses from Illinois to attend our trial, which had just been adjourned for some months to come. He was also to procure an order from the Court to take affidavits in Illinois, in case the witnesses should object to come to the State from which they had been banished, in order to attend the trials.
These active preparations on our part to defend our case, together with engaging a lawyer or two, and paying a part of their fees before hand, served as a sufficient blindfold to cover our real intentions. This done, and the papers all prepared in the hands of my brother, he and Mrs. Phelps and her brother were to stay with us until the 4th, and after celebrating the day with a dinner in the prison (which we obtained leave to do), he and the young Mr. Clark were to take leave with their horses, and also with the horse and saddle on which Mrs. Phelps had ridden, on pretence of taking him home with them to Illinois, while she stayed with her husband a few weeks in the prison; in the meantime engaging her board in the family of the keeper, who occupied part of the building in connection with the prison.
This measure, on the part of Mrs. Phelps, served the double purpose of lulling them into serenity, and also of furnishing a third horse; as there were three of us. These three horses were to be stationed in a thicket, or forest, about half a mile from the prison, and there the two friends were to await, in readiness for us to mount, should we be so fortunate as to reach the thicket alive.
Sundown, on the evening of the fourth, was the moment agreed upon, and if we did not then appear they were to give us up for lost, and make the best of their way to Illinois and inform our friends that [p.231]we had gone to Paradise in attempting to come to them. The reason for appointing this hour was this: Our door would be opened at sundown to hand in our supper, and we must then make the attempt as our only chance; for it was customary to lock us up in the lower dungeon as soon as the shades of evening began to appear.
This plan all matured, and the arrangements completed with the court and the lawyers, the fourth of July dawned upon us with hope and expectation. While the town and nation were alive with the bustle of preparation for the celebration of the American Jubilee, and while guns were firing and music sounding without, our prison presented a scene of scarcely less life and cheerfulness; for we were also preparing to do proper honors to the day. We had prevailed on the keeper to furnish us with a long pole, on which to suspend a flag, and also with some red stripes of cloth. We then tore a shirt in pieces, and took the body of it for the ground work of a flag, forming with the red stripes of cloth an eagle and the word “Liberty,” in large letters. This rude flag of red and white was suspended on the pole from the prison window, directly in front of the public square and court house, and composed one of the greatest attractions of the day. Hundreds of the people from the country, as well as villagers who were there at the celebration, would come up and stare at the flag, and reading the motto, would go swearing or laughing away, exclaiming, “Liberty! Liberty! What have the Mormons to do with celebrating liberty in a damned old prison?”
In the meantime active preparations were in progress for our public dinner; and with the contributions of our friends who were to partake with us, and a portion served from the public table of the citizens of the town, we had a plentiful supply. And, as we considered it was to be a day of release, we partook of our feast with much cheer, and with thankful as well as social feelings, which I think have been seldom if ever surpassed.
O ye sons of Columbia, at home and abroad! Think back to the fourth of July, 1839; call to mind your feast in honor of national freedom, and ask yourselves the question, whether in all your pomp and show of joy and social glee, you felt anything compared withour feelings, or the interest excited during that feast.
Eight months and four days we had been deprived of the sweets of that liberty which a whole nation was then engaged in celebrating; and we felt that:
Now’s the day, and now’s the hour,
To trample on a tyrant’s power;
To burst at once the prison’s gloom,
Or find a martyr’d hero’s tomb.
[p.232]The dinner over, our brethren took a final leave of us and our prison, loaded with love, respects, compliments and messages to our families and friends in Illinois. All these, together with the goodbyes and farewells, were heard and witnessed by the keeper’s family, and served the purpose for which they were intended, viz.: To lull them into security, and to remove all possible ground of suspicion as to our intentions.
After riding out of town a mile or two in the forest, on the road towards Illinois, they turned off into the thick leaved wilderness, and made their way in secret, as best as they could, to the thicket agreed upon, within about half a mile of the prison; where, with horses saddled and bridle reins in hand, they awaited in anxious suspense the slow progress of the setting sun.
The prison at Columbia was situated in the same square with the court house, being on the north edge of the town. Between it and the wilderness, where our friends held the horses in waiting, there were several fields and fences, say for the distance of half a mile, consisting of meadow and pasture land, and all in full view of the town. The prison consisted of a block house, two stories high, with two rooms below and two above. The keeper and his family occupied one end, and the other was used as the prison–the only entrance being through the lower room of the dwelling part, which was occupied by the family, and then up a steep flight of stairs, at the head of which was a heavy oaken door, ironed, locked and bolted as if to secure a Bonaparte or a Samson. On the inside of this was still another door, which was but slender, with a square hole near the top, of sufficient size to hand in the food and dishes of the prisoners.
The large, heavy door had always to be opened when food, drink, or other articles were handed in; and while open, the inner door served as a temporary guard to prevent prisoners from escaping, and was not always opened on such occasions, the food being handed through the hole in the top of the door, while the door itself remained locked. However, as a fortunate circumstance for us, the coffee pot when filled would not easily slip through the hole in the door, and, rather than spill the coffee and burn his fingers, the keeper would sometimes unlock and open the inner door, in order to set in this huge and obstinate pot; and once in, the door would immediately close, and the key be turned, while the outer door would perhaps stand open till the supper was finished, and the dishes handed out.
[p.233]Now, our whole chance of escape depended on the question, whether the inner door would be opened that evening, or the coffee pot squeezed in at the hole in the top. Mrs. Phelps and Mrs. Gibbs were in the upper room of the keeper’s apartment, near the head of the stairs, and only a log or timber partition between us and them, and several open crevices in the same, so that we could easily communicate with them. One of them was waiting the issue of the great scene about to be enacted with almost breathless interest and feverish anxiety, as on the good or ill success of that moment depended her future hopes through life, while the other was totally ignorant of the whole affair. In a far corner of our prison sat Luman, the old apostate, entirely ignorant of the whole plan, and with no other anxiety than a slight wish for the sun to go down, that he might enjoy his supper and the society of his dear “Phila” in his curtained bed in the upper room, while we were locked in the dungeon below to sleep on an oak floor, amid cobwebs and filth.
The citizens of the town were now some of them gathering in small groups outside of their doors to enjoy the quiet of a summer evening, to smoke a cigar or chat over the merits of the celebration; while others were on horseback, to enjoy an evening’s ride or to return to their homes. Bands of music, or rather an occasional beat of the drum, or blast of the bugle, was still to be heard in the distance; while a few soldiers, or rather militia in uniform, were hurrying to and fro. Groups of boys were playing about the square, and last, though not least, our flag was still on high, with “Liberty” and the eagle in bold colors waving to the night breeze. This had so attracted the attention of the little fellows that once and again they begged of us to make them a present of it; but we told them we could not spare it till the next morning—the fact is, we were not willing to surrender our castle before the time, or till we made good our retreat.
As the sun began to decline behind the long range of forest which bounded the western horizon, and the lengthened shadows of the tall trees were thrown over our prison, we called upon the Lord to prosper us and open our way, and then sang aloud the following lines:
Lord, cause their foolish plans to fail,
And let them faint or die:
Our souls would quit this poor old jail,
And fly to Illinois—
To Join with the embodied Saints,
Who are with freedom blest:
That only bliss for which we pant,
With them awhile to rest.
[p.234]Give joy for grief—give ease for pain,
Take all our foes away;
But let us find our friends again
In this eventful day.
These lines were sung several times over, with the spirit and with the understanding also, and very loud and distinct—being heard by the old apostate and his wife, and by the keepers of the prison; but the doctrine of spiritualizing had become so prevalent that neither this, nor the flag of liberty, nor any other Scripture seemed to them to have any literal meaning, till they found too late the true interpretation by the fulfilment.
The sun was now setting, and the footsteps of the old keeper were heard on the stairs—the key turned, the outer door grated on its huge hinges, while at the same moment we sprang upon our feet, hats and coats on (rather an unusual dress for a hot day in July—for, by the bye, my hat proved to be a fur cap, which I wore when first taken in November previous), and stood by the door to act the part of waiters in receiving the dishes and food for supper, and placing them on the table. Dish after dish was handed in through the small aperture in the door, and duly received and placed upon the table by us, with as much grace and as calm countenances as if we thought of nothing else but our suppers. And I will now venture to say that famishing men never watched the movements of a coffee pot with more anxiety than we did on this occasion. At length the other dishes all being handed in, the huge pot made its appearance in the hole in the top of the door, but one of us cried out to the keeper—”Colonel, you will only spill the coffee by attempting to put it through, besides, it burns our fingers; it will be more convenient to unlock and hand it in at the door.” With this it was lowered down again, and the key turned on the inner door.
In this, as in most other fields of battle, where liberty and life depend on the issue, every one understood the part assigned to him and exactly filled it. Mr. Follett was to give the door a sudden pull, and fling it wide open the moment the key was turned. Mr. Phelps being well skilled in wrestling was to press out foremost, and come in contact with the jailer; I was to follow in the centre, and Mr. Follett, who held the door, was to bring up the rear, while sister Phelps was to pray.
No sooner was the key turned than the door was seized by Mr. Follett with both hands; and with his foot placed against the wall, he soon opened a passage, which was in the same instant filled by Mr. Phelps, and followed by myself and Mr. Follett. The old jailer strode across the way, and stretched out his arms like Bunyan’s Apollion, or like the giant Despair in Doubting Castle, but all to no purpose. One or [p.235]two leaps brought us to the bottom of the stairs, carrying the old gentleman with us headlong, helter skelter, while old Luman sat and laughed in his corner of the prison, and Mrs. Phelps exclaimed “O Lord God of Israel, thou canst help.” Old Mrs. Gibbs looked on in silent amazement, while the jailer’s wife acted the part of the giant Despair’s wife, Diffidence, and not only assisted in the scuffle, but cried out so loud that the town was soon alarmed. In the mean time we found ourselves in the open air, in front of the prison and in full view of the citizens, who had already commenced to rally, while Mr. Phelps and the jailer still clinched fast hold of each other like two mastiffs. However, in another instant he cleared himself, and we were all three scampering off through the fields towards the thicket. By this time the town was all in motion. The quietness of the evening was suddenly changed into noise and bustle, and it was soon evident that the thrilling scenes of the great drama of the 4th of July, and of the Columbian celebration of liberty were yet to be enacted. The streets on both sides of the fields where we were running were soon thronged with soldiers in uniform, mounted riflemen, footmen with fence stakes, clubs, or with whatever came to hand, and with boys, dogs, etc., all running, rushing, screaming, swearing, shouting, bawling and looking, while clouds of dust rose behind them. The cattle also partook of the general panic and ran bellowing away, as if to hide from the scene. The fields behind us also presented a similar scene. Fences were leaped or broken down with a crash; men, boys and horses came tumbling over hedge and ditch, rushing with the fury of a whirlwind in the chase; but we kept our course for the thicket, our toes barely touching the ground, while we seemed to leap with the fleetness of a deer, or as the young hart upon the mountains.
Our friends who had stood waiting in the thicket, had watched the last rays of the sun as they faded away, and had observed the quiet stillness of the evening as it began to steal over the distant village where we were confined; and had listened with almost breathless anxiety for the first sound which was to set all things in commotion, and which would say to them in language not to be misunderstood, that the struggle had commenced. For some moments after the last golden beam had disappeared they listened in vain. The occasional lowing of a cow as she came home from the woodland pasture, impatient for her calf and the milkmaid to ease her of her rich burthen; the mingled sound of human voices in the distance in common conversation, the merry laugh of the young beaux and their sweethearts, the quiet song of the whippoorwill, mingled with the merry notes of the violin, the thrill of the bugle, or the soft and plaintive notes of the flute, stole upon the silence of the evening, and were occasionally interrupted by the clatter of hoofs, as a few of the citizens were retiring from the enjoyments of a public day to their own [p.236]peaceful homes in the country. These, and the beatings of their anxious and almost bursting hearts, were the only sounds which fell upon their ear, till suddenly they heard a rumbling and confused noise, as of footsteps rushing down the stairs of a prison, then a shrill cry of alarm from Mrs. Diffidence, the giantess, and soon followed by the shouts and rush of men, dogs, horses and prisoners towards the spot where they were located. They then sprang forward to the edge of the fields and ran back again to the horses, and again returned, as if the using of their own limbs would serve to add nimbleness to those of the prisoners, and to quicken their speed.
As soon as the prisoners drew near, they were hailed by their friends, and conducted to the horses. They were breathless and nearly ready to faint; but in a moment they were assisted to mount, and a whip and the reins placed in their hands, while the only words interchanged were—”Fly quickly, they are upon you!” “Which way shall we go?” “Where you can; you are already nearly surrounded.” “But what will you do? they will kill you if they cannot catch us.” “We will take care of ourselves; fly, fly, I say, instantly.” These words were exchanged with the quickness of thought, while we were mounting and reining our horses; in another instant we were all separated from each other, and each one was making the best shift he could for his own individual safety.
I had taken about the third jump with my horse when I encountered a man rushing upon me with a rifle, and, taking aim at my head, he said “G-d d–n you, stop, or I’ll shoot you.” He was then only a few paces from me, and others were rushing close in his rear, but I turned my horse quickly in another direction, and rushed with all speed into the thickest of the forest, followed for some minutes by him and his dog; but I soon found myself alone, while I could only hear the sound of distant voices, the rushing of horsemen in every direction, with the barking of dogs. What had become of my companions or our friends I knew not. I rode on at full speed for a full mile or more, when the woods terminated, and no alternative was left for me but to go either to the right or to the left into one of the public highways where I would be every moment exposed to my pursuers, or go over the fence and pass through the open fields to the wilderness beyond, or, on the other hand, to turn back into the heart of the forest, partly towards the town and prison from whence I had escaped. As horse’s feet and men’s voices were already heard along the highways which lay on each side of me, I determined upon the latter. I, therefore, changed my course, took my back track, and plunged into the depth of the forest. I then dismounted, tied my horse in a thicket, walked some distance from him and climbed a tree—intending to wait in this situation amid the concealment of the thick foliage till the darkness of evening would enable me to proceed [p.237]with safety. Seating myself in one of its forked branches, and placing my arms in two other similar forks, I was supported from falling, although in a moment after I had ceased my exertions I fainted away. In this situation I remained for some time, without the least power to change my position or help myself; my breath was gone through over exertion, and my mouth and throat parched with a burning thirst, my stomach sickened, and as I began again to breathe I was seized with vomiting, and threw up nearly all the food which my stomach contained. I then gradually recovered my strength till I could speak, when I began to call on the Lord, saying, “O Lord, strengthen me this once, deliver me from my persecutors and bring me in safety to a land of liberty, and I will praise thy name and give thee all the glory, and the remnant of my days shall be wholly devoted to thy service; for surely my life is now at stake, and if preserved, it is thy gift, therefore I shall owe it all to thee.”
The darkness of evening was now fast setting in, and every moment seemed to increase my safety and security from immediate discovery, although I could still hear the distant sound of tramping horses, and the voices of men and dogs in pursuit, and sometimes so near that I could distinguish some of their words. It was a dark and moonless evening, the sky was only lighted by the glimmer of a few stars partly obscured by the clouds, and the thick foliage of the forest increased the gloom, and served to render the darkness nearly complete. I now came down from the tree and felt my way to the place where I had tied my horse, but as good or ill luck would have it, he had loosed himself and gone, leaving me to my fate. I then groped my way amid the dark shades of the forest to a small stream of warm, muddy water, and, stooping down, partly quenched my thirst. I then made my way to the highway and commenced my journey on foot, carefully watching on either hand lest I should be surprised and taken.
I was an entire stranger to the country—having no guide but the polar star. My road lay nearly northward and upwards of a hundred miles of a wild country, peopled only by enemies, still lay between me and a State where the principles of freedom yet prevailed in a sufficient degree to insure my safety. If I could make my way through this wilderness of enemies, on foot, after the weakness and debility caused by eight months’ confinement, and after the fatigues of my evening’s race, and neither inquire the way nor make my appearance at any house for entertainment and refreshment, then I should still have the great Mississippi river to ferry over, and be liable to be discovered and retaken in the act, while in sight of liberty. The thoughts of these dangers, the anxious inquiries of my mind as to what had become of my fellow prisoners and friends, which I had no means of satisfying, and the hopes and expectation of soon meeting my family and friends in a land of [p.238]liberty, alternately occupied my mind as I slowly pursued my solitary way during that dark and, to me, eventful night.
[Publisher’s note: Parley Pratt subsequently escaped to Quincy, Illinois, where he was reunited with his wife and family. Morris Phelps also escaped unharmed, but King Follett was captured, held a few months, then released. Orson Pratt and the Clark boy escaped after hiding in a ravine. The women were taunted but not imprisoned. All eventually helped settle the new Mormon headquarters in Nauvoo, Illinois.]