Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Glimpse of past captured by Nauvoo document

Collector obtains Gov. Ford's order to disarm Nauvoo Legion
Published: Saturday, Jan. 7, 2006

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On the morning of June 24, 1844, Joseph Smith "and the members of the city council, accompanied by a few friends, started for Carthage, Ill., to give themselves up" (History of the Church: 2:248).

Photo by John Hart
Brent Ashworth displays document originally saved by Wilford Woodruff.

That journey was precipitated by Illinois Gov. Thomas Ford, who had ordered them to appear in court at Carthage on charges relating to the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor press.

Earlier, the group had asked for a different court, protesting that many in Carthage had sworn to kill Joseph Smith. Ignoring the request, Gov. Ford "advised them to bring no arms, and pledged his faith as governor, and that of the state, to protect those who would go to Carthage for trial" (History of the Church, p. 245).

Instead, Joseph and Hyrum started west, believing that if they were gone, the antagonism against Nauvoo would subside. But they were persuaded by friends to return. As the group continued toward Carthage, it was met four miles outside the city by a company of 60 mounted militiamen under command of Capt. James E. Dunn, with an order from Gov. Ford to disarm the Nauvoo Legion.

The Prophet who accepted the order without argument, saw that it was countersigned to the Nauvoo Legion in the handwriting of Willard Richards, and then he signed it.

This is believed to be the third to last signature of Joseph Smith. The original document has long been in the hands of private collectors. But it came to light recently after being acquired by Brent Ashworth, a longtime collector of Church artifacts in Provo, Utah.

The yellowed paper, with ink bleeding through, and part of it missing, offers several insights into that sad chapter of history, said Brother Ashworth.

It was at that time, about 9:50 a.m., that the Prophet uttered the famous, prophetic words:

"I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; But I am calm as a summer's morning. . . . I shall die innocent, and it shall yet be said of me — he was murdered in cold blood."

"This shows the great courage of the Prophet, as he is facing his enemies," said Brother Ashworth. "Carthage was a hotbed of his enemies — he was a great man."

Photo by John Hart
Staying in Carthage, Illinois Gov. Tom Ford orders Nauvoo Legion to turn in its weapons. As a safeguard, Joseph Smith was asked to attend the disarming before turning himself in at Carthage.

The order also suggests that disarming the Nauvoo Legion at such a dangerous time "smacked of treachery" (History of the Church, p. 250).

At the request of the anxious captain, Joseph and the group returned with him to Nauvoo. The document lists such munitions as three cannons and carriages, 67 rifles, 39 pairs of pistols, 67 horse sabres and other arms. The group then turned again toward Carthage and arrived about midnight — receiving profane threats from the Carthage Greys as they rode into town. They stayed that night in the same hotel as Gov. Ford.

While the subsequent events of history are well-known, the document has its own history. After the martyrdom, Wilford Woodruff took possession of the order. As was his practice, he added value to it by putting with it a piece of the scarf worn by Joseph Smith, and a lock of hair of Lucy Mack Smith. He brought the relics west and kept them in his possession, and they remained in his family after his death in 1898.

The document and accompanying relics were sold at Goodspeed's Book Shop in Boston, Mass., in 1968 to a Utah collector.

Brother Ashworth said that after that collector died about two years ago, members of his family "contacted me through a mutual friend, and asked, 'Are you still interested in this?' We were able to work out a transaction. It is a wonderful little relic from that time. I am sure (these relics) will eventually go to the Church."

Photos by John Hart
Signature of Joseph Smith authorizes compliance with governor's order.

E-mail to: jhart@desnews.com