". . . So much confusion for the last two or three weeks. The way the Mormons have shelled out of Nauvoo is a sight. I hope not to see many such scenes. Montrose and all Iowa is perfectly lined with them, women and children suffering beyond endurance. I have just arrived from the scene of action."1
So wrote an eyewitness to the tragic spectacle of yet another expulsion of the Latter-day Saints in their short, turbulent 16-year history, this last time from their beloved templed City of Joseph on the Mississippi River - Nauvoo, Ill.
The shots that felled the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, in Carthage Jail in June 1844 was really aimed at the heart of Mormonism - and Brigham Young knew it. As leader of the Church by right of his senior position as president of the Quorum of the Twelve, he saw more clearly than most that for the Church to survive the encircling climate of hostility and lawless brutality, the only way was out.2
By signing an agreement in late September 1845 with the so-called Quincy Committee, led by such men as S. M. Bartlett, editor of the "Quincy Whig" and representing many of the most vocal and agitated anti-Mormon settlers living south of Nauvoo, President Young promised to get his people out of the city by the following May in return for a pledge of safety and non-interference.
But for the Mormons' most bitter enemies, the Quincy Resolutions fell far short of their sordid expectations. Meeting five days later in Carthage, Ill., several hundred other "Antis," mostly from townships east of Nauvoo, drew up yet another resolution of their own, the Carthage Convention. This both condemned the Latter-day Saints for a multitude of allegedly illegal acts and justified their use of raw military force (i.e., "to adopt a military organization") to expel the Mormons from the state should the May deadline pass without sufficient action.
If the Quincy Resolutions represented an agreement by the Latter-day Saints to surrender and to leave, the Carthage Convention was a blatantly illegal call for unilateral mob rule aimed at armed intervention, expulsion and destruction.3
To show their earnest intent as well as to escape further assassination attempts upon his life and to pre-empt a rumored intervention by the U.S. Army of the West, Brigham Young and the so-called Company of the Twelve that had swollen in numbers to some 2,500 vanguard Latter-day Saints, left Nauvoo in early February 1846 on the first leg of their journey to the West.
During the spring of 1846, following their blueprint of departure, several thousand left Nauvoo at various intervals and in companies of varying sizes. Between the first of May and the end of June, 6,000 to 7,000 left Nauvoo leaving only "six hundred brethren to defend the city."4 Six weeks later, less than 1,000 remained behind to settle the score with the impatient and encircling enemy. Yet this obvious effort at compliance and departure meant little to the unforgiving spirit of mobocracy that had seized the hearts of so many residents of Hancock County. By mid-May the Quincy Committee's deadline had come and gone and a state of fear, bordering on panic, gripped those relatively few who were either too sick to leave or too foolish to stay.
The Battle of Nauvoo was the final chapter in the forceful expulsion of the Mormons from Nauvoo. The so-called Anti-Mormon Party, or, as they preferred to call themselves, the "Regulators," were bent on driving the remaining citizens out by force despite the well-known fact that most had gone and the rest were making plans to do so.
Some 600 to 1,000 strong, the Regulators were led first by Col. John Singleton and later by John Carlin of Carthage. The core of this unlawful mob was none other than the notorious Carthage Greys, who had played such a prominent role in the murders of Joseph and Hyrum two years before.
On the other side, two groups defended the city: the "Spartan Band" of heavily armed Latter-day Saints, and the "Kill Devils" made up of several of the so-called "new citizens," that is recent non-Mormon move-ins who had a vested interest in preserving property values.
Gov. Thomas Ford, sensing imminent conflict, commissioned Major James R. Parker of the 32nd Regiment of the Illinois State Militia to order all the would-be combatants to return to their homes and "preserve the peace." Parker, seeing the determination of Carlin's force to wreak havoc on the city regardless of executive order, and sensing Ford's reluctance to dispatch a large regiment of neutral militiamen, followed the course of political expediency by signing a treaty with Singleton which called for peace and disarmament. Singleton and Parker then quit the field and the Regulators chose Col. Thomas Brockman ("Old Tom") to finish what Singleton had refused to do.
On Sept. 10, 1846, Brockman ordered the first assault on the city complete with cannon fire, driving families out of their homes and down toward the river. The first real exchange of volleys came two days later, on Sept. 12, and for the next four days the bell tower porch of the Nauvoo Temple served as an ideal perch from which to view the several forays and skirmishes across roadways, backyards and cornfields. Nauvoo's defenders responded with cannon fire of their own. Despite a valiant resistance in which few men were killed on either side, by Sept. 16 the Nauvoo defenders had agreed to surrender the city.
The "Articles of Accommodation, Treaty and Agreement" - drawn up between the Nauvoo Trustees (John S. Fullmer, Almon W. Babbitt and Joseph L. Heywood) on the one side and Brockman and Carlin on the other and chaired by Andrew Johnson of the Quincy Committee) - stipulated the immediate surrender of the city and of all arms in return for a pledge of safety and protection for people and property. The defenders soon disbanded and about 3 p.m. on Sept. 17 the mob, numbering more than 1,500, marched into the city, down Mulholland Street to the temple, then to Main Street and down to Parley Street where Henry I. Young gave up the temple keys to Johnson.
The invaders, however, showed little respect for temple or treaty. Parties of armed men ransacked and desecrated the temple while others roamed around the city ordering families to leave within two hours or other short notice. Many of the sick were treated with cruelty and families were molested while burying their dead. Others went from house to house plundering cow yards, pigpens, hen roosts, and bee stands, tearing up floors and otherwise destroying property with impunity.
Meanwhile an unidentified preacher ascended the temple tower and proclaimed with a loud voice, "Peace, Peace, Peace to the inhabitants of the Earth, now the Mormons are driven."5
This scene of confusion, fear and injustice will never be forgotten in Mormon history. "In every part of the city," one non-Latter-day Saint witness recorded, "Scenes of destitution, misery and woe met the eye. Families were hurrying away from their homes, without a shelter, without means of conveyance, without tents, money, or a day's provision, with as much of their household stuff as they could carry in their hands. Sick men and women were carried upon their beds, weary mothers with helpless babes dying in their arms hurried away - all fleeing, they scarcely knew or cared whither, so it was from their enemies, whom they feared more than the waves of the Mississippi, or the heat and hunger and fingering life and dreaded death of the prairies on which they were about to be cast. The ferry boats were crowded, and the river bank was lined with anxious fugitives, sadly awaiting their turn to pass over and take up their solitary march to the wilderness."6
On the very day the Nauvoo War broke out, several men volunteered to leave Winter Quarters and return to Nauvoo with teams to "bring up the poor Saints" as soon as their hay was cut, their lots surveyed, and cabins erected for their own immediate families. Orville M. Allen was appointed foreman of the first such relief company.
Said Brigham Young in his call for help: "I have felt sensibly there was a good deal of suffering among the Saints in Nauvoo, as there has been amongst us but the Lord God who has fed us all the day long, has his care still over us and when the Saints are chastened enough, it will cease. I have never believed the Lord would suffer a general massacre of this people by a mob. If ten thousand men were to come against us, and no other way was open for our deliverance, the earth would swallow them up."7
In addition to Allen, James Murdock also set out to travel the 327 miles back across Iowa in express-like fashion with scores of spare teams of horses and mules with instructions to save as many as possible.
Their missions of mercy will ever stand tall in the annals of Mormon and Iowa history. On Oct. 7 Allen reached the so-called "misery camps" at Montrose where he found more than 300 men, women and children bivouacked on the western banks of the Mississippi subsisting on boiled and parched corn and river water. Some had died; others were falling victim to exposure, typhus and other fevers. Allen soon gathered up a company of 157 souls in 28 wagons.
Such set the stage for an incident that many saw as nothing less than miraculous. Thomas Bullock, official clerk to the Quorum of the Twelve and with a sick and starving family of his own there at Montrose, recorded the following:
"This morning we had a direct manifestation of the mercy and goodness of God. A large, or rather several large flocks of quails, flew into camp. . . . Some fell on the wagons, some under, some on the breakfast tables. The boys and the brethren ran about after them and caught them alive with their hands. . . . Every man, woman and child had quails to eat for their dinner and after dinner the flocks increased in size. . . ."8 Meanwhile, close behind, Murdock's rescue company finished what Allen had begun, bringing all that remained out of the poor camps of Nauvoo.
And so the winter came upon a dazed and disoriented people now hunkering down all across Iowa from Keosaqua in the east to Council Bluffs in the west and across the Missouri to Winter Quarters, making ready winter camps in wagon beds, sod huts, ground holes and flimsy cabins. Still uncertain of why it had all happened and where they would now go, these sudden refugees faced a bleak and uncertain future. Though some quit the Church, most stayed on in faithful hope of a brighter day and a better land. Perhaps Isaac Haight, one of their number, captured their determination best:
"Here we are exiled from the United States and without a home, dwelling in tents and wagons exposed to the inclemency of the weather. We are even like the Saints of old having no abiding city but are wanderers and pilgrims on the earth but we count the present suffering not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to his Saints."9
Sources: Article given in part at the recent Iowa Mormon Trails History Symposium in Des Moines. The more-expanded article will soon be published by BYU as "Dadda, I Want to Get Out of This Country."
1 James L. Blanchard to William Smith, Nov. 6, 1846, Beinecke Library, Yale University.
2 For a more detailed account, see the author's book "Mormons at the Missouri, 1846-1852," "And Should We Die" (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987). His new book, a definitive study of the Mormon exodus from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley, is forthcoming.
3 Josiah B. Convers, "A Brief History of the Hancock Mob in the Year 1846" (St. Louis, Cathcart and Prescott, 1846), pp. 17-21. Convers, a Quincy physician, deplored and condemned the rising anti-Mormon sentiment, as did many other local leaders.
4 John S. Fullmer to Brigham Young, June 26 1846, Brigham Young Papers, LDS Church Historical Dept.
5 Journal History, Sept. 18, 1846.
6 Convers, "A Brief History of the Hancock Mob," p. 72.
7 Journal History, Sept. 27, 1846.
8 Journal of Thomas Bullock, Oct. 9, 1846.
9 Journal of Isaac Chauncey Haight, Sept. 16, 1846.