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C h a p t e r E i g h t An American Exodus Mormons and the Westward Trek For Joseph Smith, the end came on a muggy June day in 1844. The Mormon prophet, beset by jeering mobs and facing punishment from hostile civil authorities , was in jail in Carthage, Illinois, along with his brother, Hyrum. Illinois ’s governor had promised to protect the Smiths, instructing all but one of the various local militias to disband: the Carthage Greys, however, had orders to keep Joseph and Hyrum Smith alive. It was not an easy mission. Threatening crowds repeatedly gathered outside, and the nervous town jailer moved his two prisoners to his own quarters on the second floor, where they would presumably be safer. These efforts to protect the Smiths accomplished little. On June 27, some 125 former militiamen assembled outside the six-room jail and prepared to enter. They had an important ally—the Carthage Greys, derided by Joseph Smith’s father as “our bitterest enemies.” Only seven members of the Greys were on hand to guard the front entrance, and they loaded their weapons not with bullets but with blanks. When the mob approached with blackened faces, the Greys fired into the crowd, then stepped aside to let the attackers through. The men forced their way upstairs and began firing into the bedroom where the Smiths and two visiting Mormon apostles readied to defend themselves. Hyrum Smith was the first to die. A bullet fired through the door hit him in the neck, severing his spinal cord. As the militiamen entered the room, Joseph retreated to the window and prepared to jump but was struck by four bullets. Crying “O Lord, my God!” he fell through the window and toppled to the ground below, where he was shot again and bayoneted.1 Brigham Young was half a continent away when the attack occurred. He did not learn of Smith’s murder until mid-July, nineteen days later. Stunned and horrified by the news and fearing for Mormonism’s future, Young rushed back to the Mormon capital of Nauvoo, Illinois. His first task was to gain 216 Journeys of the Pure control of the church that Joseph Smith had founded fourteen years earlier. The second, more daunting challenge was to ensure that Mormonism would survive. Young, president of the powerful Quorum of the Twelve, never doubted that he was the man to achieve both tasks. On August 8, six weeks after the storming of the Carthage jail, Young stood before the Saints in Nauvoo and confidently explained why he was the best person to succeed the beloved prophet. At first glance, his confidence seemed misplaced, for Young bore little resemblance to the charismatic prophet. Smith was handsome and trim; Young was short and doughy. Smith was a dreamer and impulsive; Young was a methodical organizer. The gathered Saints were familiar with these differences—Young had been a church member and a respected leader since 1832. Given the great differences between the two men, Young delivered a performance that astonished his audience. “Brigham Young arose and roared like a young lion, imitating the style and voice of Joseph, the Prophet,” one witness recalled. “Many of the brethren declared that they saw the mantle of Joseph fall upon him. I myself . . . imagined that I saw and heard a strong resemblance to the Prophet in him, and felt that he was the man to lead us.” Another witness proclaimed, “As soon as [Young] spoke I jumped upon my feet, for in every possible degree it was Joseph’s voice, and his person, in look, attitude, dress and appearance; [it] was Joseph himself, personified; and I knew in a moment the spirit and mantle of Joseph was upon him.”2 Having gained control of the church, Young turned his attention to saving Mormonism. The assassination left the faithful angry and bitter, the last straw for a movement that had faced repeated persecution since the church’s earliest days. Mormons were not pacifists. Smith’s burly bodyguard, Porter Rockwell, was one of the first to lash out against Mormonism’s tormentors. On September 16, 1845, he shot and killed Frank Worrell, the lieutenant who commanded the Carthage Greys. A few days later, a party of Mormons captured a man suspected of burning Mormon homes and “castrated him, cut his throat, sliced off one of his ears, and shot him two or three times.” These acts of revenge may have been emotionally satisfying, but...


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