01 August 2012

Mormons Migrate to Illinois

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, 2003, Excerpts

Joseph Smith was sixteen miles away when the carnage occurred at Haun’s Mill, supervising the defense of Far West, which was being surrounded by ten thousand Missouri troops. The Saints were forced to accede to the conditions of their surrender, and once they had been disarmed they became easy prey for Missourians bent on revenge. Their possessions were plundered, their cabins torn down and burned for firewood, their livestock shot for amusement. Mormon men were indiscriminately beaten; rapes of women and girls were reported. And on top of everything else, they were told that they had just a few months – until the spring of 1839 – to leave the state.

It proved to be a difficult winter for the Saints. As the faithful endured famine and crippling cold, anticipating their forced departure from Missouri, Joseph remained locked up along with nine other Mormon leaders indicted for treason and murder. As the winter wore on, the tide of public opinion began to turn in the Saints’ favor. Details of the Haun’s Mill Massacre were reported in various Missouri newspapers, prompting calls for an investigation. The ongoing incarceration of Joseph and his brethren became a growing embarrassment for Governor Boggs, the legislature, and local officials, who were increasingly reluctant to bring the accused to trial lest the Saints win an acquittal.

To save face, the sheriff responsible for guarding the jailed Mormons was encouraged by those in power to accept an $800 bribe, get drunk, and conveniently fall asleep, thereby allowing the prisoners to escape. On April 6, 1839, Joseph and his nine cell mates slipped away into the night and fled cross-country to rejoin their fellow Saints, most of whom had by then completed their exodus from Missouri and were safely across the Illinois state line.

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