After Smith's Death - Rigdon's Last Days

The murder of the Smiths caused a panic, not among the Mormons,

but among the other inhabitants of Hancock County, who looked for

summary vengeance at the hands of the prophet's followers, with

their famous Legion to support them. The state militia having

been disbanded, the people considered themselves without

protection, and Governor Ford shared their apprehension. Carthage

was at once almost depopulated, the people fleeing in wagons, on

horseback, and on foot, and most of the citizens of Warsaw placed

the river between them and their enemies. "I was sensible," says

Governor Ford, "that my command was at an end; that my

destruction was meditated as well as the Mormons', and that I

could not reasonably confide longer in one party or the other."

The panic-stricken executive therefore set out at once for

Quincy, forty miles from the scene of the murder.

From that city the governor issued a statement to the people of

the state, reciting the events leading up to the recent tragedy,

and, under date of June 29, ordered the enlistment of as many men

as possible in the militia of Adams, Marquette, Pike, Brown,

Schuyler, Morgan, Scott, Cass, Fulton, and McDonough counties,

and the regiments of General Stapp's brigade, for a twelve days'

campaign. The independent companies of all sorts, in the same

counties, were also told to hold themselves in readiness, and the

federal government was asked to station a force of five hundred

men from the regular army in Hancock County. This last request

was not complied with. The governor then sent Colonel Fellows and

Captain Jonas to Nauvoo by the first boat, to find out the

intentions of the Mormons as well as those of the people of


Meanwhile the voice of the Mormon leaders was for peace. Willard

Richards, John Taylor, and Samuel H. Smith united in a letter

(written in the first person singular by Richards), on the night

of the murders, addressed to the prophet's widow, General Deming

(commanding at Carthage), and others, which said:--

"The people of the county are greatly excited, and fear the

Mormons will come out and take vengeance. I have pledged my word

the Mormons will stay at home as soon as they can be informed,

and no violence will be on their part. And say to my brethren in

Nauvoo, in the name of the Lord, be still, be patient; only let

such friends as choose come here to see the bodies. Mr. Taylor's

wounds are dressed and not serious. I am sound."

This quieting advice was heeded without even a protest, and after

the funeral of the victims the Mormons voted unanimously to

depend on the law for retribution.

While things temporal in Nauvoo remained quiet, there were deep

feeling and great uncertainty concerning the future of the

church. The First Presidency had consisted, since the action of

the conference at Far West in 1837, of Joseph and Hyrum Smith and

Sidney Rigdon. Two of these were now dead. Did this leave Rigdon

as the natural head, did Smith's son inherit the successorship,

or did the supreme power rest with the Twelve Apostles?

Discussion of this matter brought out many plans, including a

general reorganization of the church, and the appointment of a

trustee or a president. Rigdon had been sent to Pittsburg to

build up a church,* and Brigham Young was electioneering in New

Hampshire for Smith. Accordingly, Phelps, Richards; and Taylor,

on July 1 issued a brief statement to the church at large, asking

all to await the assembling of the Twelve.

"John Taylor so stated at Rigdon's coming trial. This, perhaps,

contradicts the statement in the Cannons' "Life of Brigham Young"

that Rigdon had gone there "to escape the turmoils of Nauvoo."

Rigdon arrived in Nauvoo on August 3, and preached the next day

in the grove. He said the Lord had shown him a vision, and that

there must be a "guardian" appointed to "build the church up to

Joseph" as he had begun it. Cannon's account, in the "Juvenile

Instructor," says that at a meeting at John Taylor's the next day

Rigdon declared that the church was in confusion and must have a

head, and he wanted a special meeting called to choose a

"guardian." On the evening of August 6, Young, H. C. Kimball,

Lyman Wight, Orson Pratt, Orson Hyde, and Wilford Woodruff

arrived from the East. A meeting of the Twelve Apostles, the High

Council, and high priests was called for August 7, at 4 P.m.,

which Rigdon attended. He declared that in a vision at Pittsburg

it had been shown to him that he had been ordained a spokesman to

Joseph, and that he must see that the church was governed in a

proper manner. "I propose," said he, "to be a guardian of the

people. In this I have discharged my duty and done what God has

commanded me, and the people can please themselves, whether they

accept me or not."

A special meeting of the church was held on the morning of August

8. Rigdon had previously addressed a gathering in the grove, but

he had not been winning adherents. As we have seen, he had

alienated himself from the men who had accepted Smith's new

social doctrines, and a plan which he proposed, that the church

should move to Pennsylvania, appealed neither to the good

judgment nor the pecuniary interests of those to whom it was

presented. Young made an address at this meeting which so wrought

up his hearers that they declared that they saw the mantle of

Joseph fall upon him. When he asked, "Do you want a guardian, a

prophet, a spokesman, or what do you want?" not a hand went up.

Young then went on to give his own view of the situation; his

argument pointed to a single result--the demolition of Rigdon's

claim and the establishment of the supreme authority of the

Twelve, of whom Young himself was the head. W. W. Phelps, P. P.

Pratt, and others sustained Young's view. Before a vote was

taken, according to the minutes quoted, Rigdon refused to have

his name voted on as "spokesman" or guardian. The meeting then

voted unanimously in favor of "supporting the Twelve in their

calling," and also that the Twelve should appoint two Bishops to

act as trustees for the church, and that the completion of the

Temple should be pushed.*

* For minutes of this church meeting, see Times and Seasons, Vol.

V, p. 637. For a full account of the happenings at Nauvoo, from

August 3 to 8, see "Historical Record" (Mormon), Vol VIII,


On August 15 Young, as president of the Twelve, issued an epistle

to the church in all the world in which he said:--

"Let no man presume for a moment that his [the Prophet's] place

will be filled by another; for, remember he stands in his own

place , and always will, and the Twelve Apostles of this

dispensation stand in their own place, and always will, both in

time and eternity, to minister, preside, and regulate the affairs

of the whole church." The epistle told the Saints also that "it

is not wisdom for the Saints to have anything to do with

politics, voting, or president-making at present."

Rigdon remained in Nauvoo after the decision of the church in

favor of the Twelve, preaching as of old, declaring that he was

with the brethren heart and soul, and urging the completion of

the Temple. But Young regarded him as a rival, and determined to

put their strength to a test. Accordingly, on Tuesday, September

3, he had a notice printed in the Neighbor directing Rigdon to

appear on the following Sunday for trial before a High Council

presided over by Bishop Whitney. Rigdon did not attend this

trial, not only because he was not well, but because, after a

conference with his friends, he decided that the case against him

was made up and that his presence would do no good.*

* For the minutes of this High Council, see Times and Seasons,

Vol. V, pp. 647-655, 660-667.

When the High Council met, Young expressed a disbelief in

Rigdon's reported illness. He said that, having heard that Rigdon

had ordained men to be prophets, priests, and kings, he and Orson

Hyde had obtained from Rigdon a confession that he had performed

the act of ordination, and that he believed he held authority

above any man in the church. That evening eight of the Twelve had

visited him at his house, and, getting confirmation of his

position, had sent a committee to him to demand his license. This

he had refused to surrender, saying, "I did not receive it from

you, neither shall I give it up to you." Then came the order for

his trial.

Orson Hyde presented the case against Rigdon in detail. He

declared that, when they demanded the surrender of his license,

Rigdon threatened to turn traitor, "His own language was,

'Inasmuch as you have demanded my license, I shall feel it my

duty to publish all your secret meetings, and all the history of

the secret works of this church, in the public journals.'* He

intimated that it would bring a mob upon us." Parley P. Pratt,

the member of Rigdon's old church in Ohio, who, according to his

own account, first called Rigdon's attention to the Mormon Bible,

next spoke against his old friend.

* Lee thus explains one of these "secret works": "The same winter

[1843] he [Smith] organized what was called 'The Council of

Fifty.' This was a confidential organization. This Council was

designated as a lawmaking department, but no record was ever kept

of its doings, or, if kept, they were burned at the close of each

meeting. Whenever anything of importance was on foot, this

Council was called to deliberate upon it. The Council was called

the 'Living Constitution.' Joseph said that no legislature could

enact laws that would meet every case, or attain the ends of

justice in all respells." --"Mormonism Unveiled," p.173.

After Amasa Lyman, John Taylor, and H. C. Kimball had spoken

against Rigdon, Brigham Young took the floor again, and in reply

to the threat that Rigdon would expose the secrets of the church,

he denounced him in the following terms:--

"Brother Sidney says, if we go to opposing him, he will tell our

secrets. But I would say, 'O, don't, brother Sidney! don't tell

our secrets--O, don't!' But if he tells our secrets, we will tell

his. Tit for tat. He has had long visions in Pittsburg, revealing

to him wonderful iniquity among the Saints. Now, if he knows of

so much iniquity, and has got such wonderful power, why don't he

purge it out? He professes to have the keys of David. Wonderful

power and revelations! And he will publish our iniquity. O, dear

brother Sidney, don't publish our iniquity! Now don't! If Sidney

Rigdon undertakes to publish all our secrets, as he says, he will

lie the first jump he takes. If he knew of all our iniquity why

did he not publish it sooner? If there is so much iniquity in the

church as you talk of, Elder Rigdon, and you have known of it so

long, you are a black-hearted wretch because you have not

published it sooner. If there is not this iniquity, you are a

blackhearted wretch for endeavoring to bring a mob upon us, to

murder innocent men, women and children. Any man that says the

Twelve are bogus-makers, or adulterers, or wicked men is a liar;

and all who say such things shall have the fate of liars, where

there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Who is there who has seen

us do such things? No man. The spirit that I am of tramples such

slanderous wickedness under my feet." *

* William Small, in a letter to the Pittsburg Messenger and

Advocate, p. 70, relates that when be met Rigdon on his arrival

at St. Louis by boat after this trial, Orson Hyde, who was also a

passenger and thought Small was with the Twelve, addressed Small,

asking him to intercede with Rigdon not to publish the secret

acts of the church, and telling him that if Rigdon would come

back and stand equal with the Twelve and counsel with them, he

would pledge himself, in behalf of the Twelve, that all they had

said against Rigdon would be revoked.

At this point the proceedings had a rather startling

interruption. William Marks, president of the Stake at Nauvoo,

and a member of the High Council (who, as we have seen, had

rebelled against the doctrine of polygamy when it was presented

to him) took the floor in Rigdon's defence. But it was in vain.

W. W. Phelps moved that Rigdon "be cut off from the church, and

delivered over to the buffetings of Satan until he repents." The

vote by the Council in favor of this motion was unanimous, but

when it was offered to the church, some ten members voted against

it. Phelps at once moved that all who had voted to follow Rigdon

should be suspended until they could be tried by the High

Council, and this was agreed to unanimously, with an amendment

including the words, "or shall hereafter be found advocating his

principles." After compelling President Marks, by formal motion,

to acknowledge his satisfaction with the action of the church,

the meeting adjourned.

Rigdon's next steps certainly gave substance to his brother's

theory that his mind was unbalanced, the family having noticed

his peculiarities from the time he was thrown from a horse, when

a boy.* He soon returned to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, where his

first step was to "resuscitate" the Messenger and Advocate, which

had died at Kirtland. In a signed article in the first number he

showed that he then intended "to contend for the same doctrines,

order of government, and discipline maintained by that paper when

first published at Kirtland," in other words, to uphold the

Mormon church as he had known it, with himself at its head. But

his old desire for original leadership got the better of him, and

after a conference of the membership he had gathered around him,

held in Pittsburg in April, 1845, at which he was voted "First

President, Prophet, Seer, Revelator, and Translator," he issued

an address to the public in which he declared that his Church of

Christ was neither a branch nor connection of the church at

Nauvoo, and that it received members of the Church of Latter-Day

Saints only after baptism and repentance.** In an article in his

organ, on July 15, 1845, he made assertions like these: "The

Church of Christ and the Mormons are so widely different in their

respective beliefs that they are of necessity opposed to one

another, as far as religion is concerned . . . . There is

scarcely one point of similarity . . . . The Church of Christ has

obtained a distinctive character."

* Baptist Witness, March I, 1875.

**Pittsburg Messenger and Advocate, p, 220.

Rigdon told the April conference that he had one unceasing

desire, namely, to know whether God would accept their work. At

the suggestion of the spirit, he had taken some of the brethren

into a room in his house that morning, and had consecrated them.

What there occurred he thus described:--

"After the washing and anointing, and the patriarchal seal, as

the Lord had directed me, we kneeled and in solemn prayer asked

God to accept the work we had done. During the time of prayer

there appeared over our heads in the room a ray of light forming

a hollow square, inside of which stood a company of heavenly

messengers, each with a banner in his hand, with their eyes

looking downward upon us, their countenance expressive of the

deep interest they felt in what was passing on the earth. There

also appeared heavenly messengers on horseback, with crowns upon

their heads, and plumes floating in the air, dressed in glorious

attire, until, like Elisha, we cried in our hearts, 'The chariots

of Israel and the horsemen thereof.' Even my little son of

fourteen years of age saw the vision, and gazed with great

astonishment, saying that he thought his imagination was running

away with him. After which we arose and lifted our hands to

heaven in holy convocation to God; at which time was shown an

angel in heaven registering the acceptance of our work, and the

decree of the Great God that the kingdom is ours and we shall


While the conference was in session, Pittsburg was visited by a

disastrous conflagration. Rigdon prayed for the sufferers by the

fire and asked God to check it. "During the prayer" (this

quotation is from the official report of the conference in the

Messenger and Advocate, p. i86), "an escort of the heavenly

messengers that had hovered around us during the time of this

conference were seen leaving the room; the course of the wind was

instantly changed, and the violence of the flames was stayed."

Rigdon's attempt to build up a new church in the East was a

failure. Urgent appeals in its behalf in his periodical were made

in vain. The people addressed could not be cajoled with his

stories of revelations and miraculous visions, which both the

secular and religious press held up to ridicule, and he had no

system of foreign immigration to supply ignorant recruits. He

soon after took up his residence in Friendship, Allegheny County,

New York, where he died at the residence of his son-in-law, Earl

Wingate, on July 14, 1876. In an obituary sketch of him the

Standard of that place said:--

"He was approached by the messengers of young Joseph Smith of

Plano, Ill., but he refused to converse or answer any

communication which in any way would bring him into notice in

connection with the Mormon church of to-day. It was his daily

custom to visit the post-office, get the daily paper, read and

converse upon the chief topics of the day. He often engaged in a

friendly dispute with the local ministers, and always came out

first best on New Testament doctrinal matters. Patriarchal in

appearance, and kindly in address, he was often approached by

citizens and strangers with a view to obtaining something of the

unrecorded mysteries of his life; but citizen, stranger and

persistent reporter all alike failed in eliciting any information

as to his knowledge of the Mormon imposture, the motives of his

early life, or the religious faith, fears and hopes of his

declining years. Once or twice he spoke excitedly, in terms of

scorn, of those who attributed to him the manufacture of the

Mormon Bible; but beyond this, nothing. His library was small: he

left no manuscripts, and refused persistently to have a picture

of himself taken. It can only be said that he was a compound of

ability, versatility, honesty, duplicity, and mystery."

One person succeeded in drawing out from Rigdon in his later

years a few words on his relations with the Mormon church. This

was Charles L. Woodward, a New York bookseller, who some years

ago made an important collection of Mormon literature. While

making this collection he sent an inquiry to Rigdon, and received

a reply, dated May 25, 1873. After apologizing for his

handwriting on account of his age and paralysis, the letter


"We know nothing about the people called Mormons now.* The Lord

notified us that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

were going to be destroyed, and for us to leave. We did so, and

the Smiths were killed a few days after we started. Since that, I

have had no connection with any of the people who staid and built

up to themselves churches; and chose to themselves leaders such

as they chose, and then framed their own religion.

* The statement has been published that, after Young had

established himself in Utah, be received from Rigdon an

intimation that the latter would be willing to join him. I could

obtain no confirmation of this in Salt Lake City. On the

contrary, a leading member of the church informed me that Young

invited Rigdon to join the Mormons is Utah, but that Rigdon did

not accept the invitation.

"The Church of Latter-Day Saints had three books that they

acknowledged as Canonical, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the

Commandments. For the existence of that church there had to be a

revelater, one who received the word of the Lord; a spokesman,

one inspired of God to expound all revelation, so that the church

might all be of one faith. Without these two men the Church of

Latter-Day Saints could not exist. This order ceased to exist,

being overcome by the violence of armed men, by whom houses were

beaten down by cannon which the assalents had furnished

themselves with.

'Thus ended the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and

it never can move again till the Lord inspires men and women to

believe it. All the societies and assemblies of men collected

together since then is not the Church of Jesus Christ of

Latter-Day Saints, nor never can there be such a church till the

Lord moves it by his own power, as he did the first.

"Should you fall in with one who was of the Church [of] Christ,

though now of advanced age, you will find one deep red in the

revelations of heaven. But many of them are dead, and many of

them have turned away, so there are few left.

"I have a manuscript paper in my possession, written with my own

hands while in my [Both. year}, but I am to poor to do anything

with it; and therefore it must remain where it [is]. During the

great fight of affliction I have had, I have lost all my

property, but I struggle along in poverty to which I am

consigned. I have finished all I feel necessary to write.

Respectfully,"SIDNEY RIGDON."*

* The original of this letter is in the collection of Mormon

literature in the New York Public Library. An effort to learn

from Rigdon's descendants something about the manuscript paper

referred to by him has failed.

Rigdon's affirmation of his belief in Smith as a prophet and the

Mormon Bible when he returned to Pennsylvania was proclaimed by

the Mormons as proof that there was no truth in the Spaulding

manuscript story, but it carries no weight as such evidence.

Rigdon burned all his old theological bridges behind him when he

entered into partnership with Smith, and his entire course after

his return to Pittsburg only adds to the proof that he was the

originator of the Mormon Bible, and that his object in writing it

was to enable him to be the head of a new church. Surely no one

would accept as proof of the divinity of the Mormon Bible any

declaration by the man who told the story of angel visits in


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