We’re continuing our conversation with Brian Stutzman, and we’ll talk about the trial of Joseph and Hyrum Smith’s murders. Was justice served or was it a kangaroo court?
Brian: The martyrdom happened June 27th, [1844.] Thomas Sharp came back to Warsaw and after his night of drinking and bragging at the Warsaw House, within the next couple days, he writes a 32-page pamphlet and publishes it in the Warsaw Signal‘s press office. He defends the martyrdom and defends the action. See there’s a political thinking called reserved rights. It basically said that in a small community, if the government doesn’t take action, the citizens have reserved rights, the right to take action among themselves. Well, in the first week of July of 1844, right in his newspaper, he writes about the martyrdom and he defends the actions of the mob. He says, “We regret, and we still regret,” he starts out by saying we the citizens of Warsaw are law abiding community. But we regret we still regret the actions we had to take. We didn’t participate in murder. We participated in extra judicial executions and anybody familiar with the facts, would agree that we were in the right.” He publishes this for whole world to see.
GT: Wow. A lynching.
Brian: A lynching, a legal lynching. Then, as we talked about later on, the trial was not for who pulled the trigger, but who were the soul of the movement. You can say that Thomas was not the soul of the movement. Well, years later, somebody asked Thomas Sharp, “So did you kill Joseph Smith?” His answer was, “Well, the jury said not.” Acquittal meant that these leaders, these people could go on with normal lives. Thomas Sharp, for instance, when Warsaw incorporated and became a town, he was elected the first mayor of Warsaw in 1853.
GT: This is after Joseph was killed. I do want to ask, what was Governor Ford’s reaction to the verdict?
Brian: He writes about it in his history. I think he thinks it’s a miscarriage of justice. But what are you going to do? The saints already know that it’s farcical, they know that.
GT: Would it have helped if John Taylor or others had testified?
Brian: They probably would have been killed.
GT: You think so?
Brian: The mob put 1000 people outside of Carthage to prevent anyone from coming in during trial week. They were not going to let the Mormon people come. They would kill them first.
GT: So it was a total kangaroo court.
Brian: It was a kangaroo court. So Thomas Sharp goes on, becomes mayor three times, becomes a judge. He’s not convicted, but everybody knows.
Following the acquittal of the murderers of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, what happened to the town of Warsaw, Illinois. Was it a boom-town, a bust, or both?
Brian: After the church left the area in 1846-47, and moved West, Warsaw prospered for about 30 years because of these rapids. The lightening had to happen. Then in 1877, the government spent $4.5 million at the time and built an eight mile canal on the other side of the river from Keokuk north and it made it so most river boats didn’t have to stop anymore at Warsaw they could just march right up the Mississippi. Within a couple decades, the population of Warsaw went from 4500 down to 2000. Now imagine a frontier town with houses and buildings and stores and hotels for 4500, and all of the sudden, within a couple decades, you’re down to 2000. You’ve got a lot of empty real estate. That continued to decline. Today there’s 1550 people on the last census. They’ve got a lot of old, decrepit broken-down buildings.
Brian also tells a chilling story about early Mormon convert Dan Jones.
Brian: They’re lying on the floor and Joseph offers his arm to Dan for a pillow. They’re sitting there talking about life and death and asked if they were ready to die. They suspected that the end might be there. Dan says, “Well, I think I’m ready to die.” Joseph gives his last prophecy. He gives it to Dan Jones, who was converted because of Thomas Sharp and had just talked to Frank Worrell. Joseph says, “Dan you will yet see Wales and fulfill the mission appointed to you.”
Brian This is that night. The next morning Dan Jones is in the jail. Joseph says, “I’m not feeling good about things. Will you go and get my attorney down in Quincy?” Dan says, “Sure, I’ll leave,” and as he leaves. He goes down the stairs and gets on his horse, and as he leaves he’s shot at by some anti-Mormon mobster. He gets so turned around, he actually takes the wrong road out of town, not to Quincy and he later learns that there was a mob of several hundred people just down the road waiting to kill him, if he went down to Quincy. The mob was on the correct road. Dan got confused and turned and went down the wrong road and it saved his life. Otherwise, he would have been killed.
This is our final conversation with Brian Stutzman, and we’ll talk about Warsaw, Illinois today. Brian thinks this should be a must-stop for church history buffs. We’ll also discuss how Brian came to love the city, and how he came there and how he would like to restore the city to its historic roots.
Brian: I drove into town and saw this building. It says Thomas Sharp, Warsaw Signal. Little did I know that the Lutherans help fund that building. How ironic. In 1987, there was a Mormon historian from Nauvoo named Michael Trap. He came down and he gathered some people together and says, “You know what, you got some history here. Maybe it’s the dark side of Mormon history. But let’s take this old grocery store.” I think it was built in 1880, “and we’ll raise some money and we’ll make it look like it would have an 1840. We’ll get an old press in here.”
So I really enjoy getting to know the good people. They had me speak at their historical society last year when my book was in the first edition. There’s a ton–1550 people, we had over 100 people together at the high school and I gave a little presentation on the overview of my book. This sweet old lady comes up and says, “Will you move here to Warsaw?” Because I told them at the end of my presentation I said, “You need to promote your town. You’ve got a story to tell. There’s a tragic triangle here. Thousands, millions of people know about Nauvoo. Thousands, millions of people know about Carthage. Nobody’s heard of Warsaw. When people go, they’re only seeing two thirds of what they should see. You need to come down. You need to invite LDS tourists to come here. You need to have a sign that says this is where Willard Richards and Brigham Young we’re going to build a Mormon community at our request that people of Warsaw’s request, even though the local histories, including 1880 Thomas Greg said that they almost fell into the hands of the Mormons.”
He also tells about a beloved Mormon family in Warsaw. What are your thoughts about the trial? Do you agree with Brian that Warsaw should embrace its anti-Mormon roots?