Mary Ann is one of my favorite permas here at Wheat & Tares. (To be honest, all of the permas here are SUPER cool.) But Mary Ann has uncovered a crime drama that I think is made to be a movie. It doesn’t involve spies, per se, but is right up there with any spy thriller. Who can you trust? Were Church leaders involved in counterfeiting? And murder? (Ok, not murder), but this is an amazing, covoluted story that has never been told is such detail until now! I’m just giving a taste here, but you’ve got to check out this stranger than fiction true story. And don’t forget the Wooden Leg Myth that she tackled previously that won a Wheaties award.

Were Church Leaders Conterfeiters?

Mary Ann  18:32  But, the more I learned about the counterfeiting accusations, and who had Theodore Turley arrested, and who was making the accusations? You unravel this huge story of this entire criminal subculture in Nauvoo, that was just fascinating. I had never seen really explored very well. Because you typically had more hostile people, kind of, like with Kathleen Melonakos, who kind of take everything at face value, “So, all the accusations are true, obviously, and so yes, the church leaders in Nauvoo were heading up this massive criminal empire. So, of course, they were involved with organizing theft rings and counterfeiting rings, and all of this stuff.”

Mary Ann  19:26  But then, typically, you would have the other side of the coin, you’d have the people defending the church, who would be like, “No. These were all false accusations.” And so, they would just dismiss everything. To me, I wanted to try to figure out, “Okay, what’s the truth here?”

GT  19:40  Yes. What’s true and what’s false?

Mary Ann  19:42  What’s true, and what’s false? Was this all just false accusations? And so that was my foray into it.

GT  19:49  So you presented this at Mormon History Association.

Mary Ann  19:51  I did. Yeah. I mean, you only have 20 minutes to do a presentation, right?

GT  19:57  So, we can go longer here.

Mary Ann: When the Mormons come in from Missouri, this is frontier territory. In the frontier, they had so many problems with criminal gangs at this time. That’s something that I don’t think a lot of people quite realize. So, while the Mormons are coming up, you have, actually, in the early years of the Mormon period in Nauvoo, you actually have major criminal gangs who–vigilante groups, local groups are actually cracking down on major criminal gangs up in Northern Illinois, over in Ohio, and even down in Keokuk, Iowa. So, just as they’re cracking down on the criminal gangs, eventually, by the mid-Nauvoo period, you have a lot of these outside criminals who are now congregating in Nauvoo. So, Nauvoo then becomes a big criminal haven.

GT  23:20  Is this because of the Nauvoo city charter? One of the things Joseph did to protect himself was to say, “Hey. We don’t recognize any other arrest warrants. Nauvoo has to approve it first.” And so that was helpful for these criminals.

Mary Ann  23:37  Yes, it was very helpful. So, that definitely was a big draw for a lot of people. There were criminals. There were Mormon criminals and non-Mormon criminals in Nauvoo, early, but you don’t really get the organized criminal gangs until a bit later. But, yes, so if people don’t know, so Missouri kept trying to extradite Joseph Smith, and so they kept firming up the laws in Nauvoo to protect Joseph Smith more, making it harder for outsiders to come in and arrest anyone inside Nauvoo.

GT  24:11  Not just Joseph.

Mary Ann  24:12  Well, they made the rules to protect Joseph, but it ended up protecting criminals, too. So, you get a lot of criminals who start coming into Nauvoo, especially around 1843 and later, who just find Nauvoo very attractive, suddenly.

GT  24:33  The long arm of the law doesn’t reach into Nauvoo.

Mary Ann  24:37  Yeah, it doesn’t. Several of them start being really good friends with Joseph Smith, because they know if you can be really good friends with Joseph Smith, you can be protected from the law. We have several situations where Joseph Smith does step in to protect people, and surrounding communities get angry, very angry.

GT  25:01  Is there evidence that Joseph was aware that these guys were criminals?

Mary Ann  25:06  On one of them, yeah. There’s a story of a guy named Jeremiah Smith. He comes in and he had defrauded the government out of $4,000. He had claimed it. It was supposed to go to a different Jeremiah Smith. But he had claimed the money for himself. He had taken the money. So, he was very clearly guilty. This happened, I believe, in the beginning of 1844. Joseph Smith actually wrote out a writ of habeas corpus, before he was ever arrested, before Jeremiah Smith was ever arrested. Habeas corpus is when you’re arrested, but then you want to claim that there was a problem with the arrest. So, he had actually given this guy basically a “Get Out of Jail Free” card before he was ever even arrested. That just infuriated people. But, yes, Joseph was aware that there were people who were criminals.  Initially–there’s a really good article from the John Whitmer Historical Society journal by Bill Shepard. He’s one of the few people that’s really written some really good stuff on the crime in Nauvoo.

Joseph Jackson: Informant Plays Both Sides

Mary Ann  28:30  So, yeah. They made a lot of enemies during that time, and the criminals took advantage of it. If they were caught, they would say, “Well, the Mormons made me do it.” Or, if Mormons caught them, they’d be like, “Oh, no. It’s false accusations that these Gentiles are making, because, you know, they hate us.” So, the criminals would just totally take advantage of the situation. And it just made things worse.

GT  28:59  So, the leaders were sort of aware of some of the counterfeiting activity and if it benefited them, they would turn a blind eye?

Mary Ann  29:11  Yeah, Bill Shepard brings us out in his article. Joseph Smith apparently had this idea that he didn’t really want to crack down hard on people who had a shady past. He wanted to give them time to repent. He believed strongly in the principle of agency, maybe because he had some shady stuff in his past. I don’t know. So, he tended to be very tolerant of people, even if he knew that they had done some bad stuff in the past, and he wouldn’t try to publicly embarrass them, unless they came after him. And then, he would unleash it.

Mary Ann  29:46  There was definitely some covering up. The first indication you get, people were passing counterfeit money, but the first indication you get that people are actually starting to manufacture counterfeit coins in Hancock County is in August of 1842. We get this non-Mormon who gets caught with these dies for making [money.] So, you had counterfeiting going on with paper money. You had counterfeiting going on with metal coins, and they were a little bit different processes. Usually with the paper money, people would purchase it from the good printers, who could print the high quality, so they would usually purchase the money. They didn’t usually manufacture it there. But there were enough blacksmiths, enough people that knew how to deal with metal, that as long as you got some good quality dies, you could actually manufacture your own metal coins.

3 Counterfeiting Operations in Nauvoo

Mary Ann  57:19  So yes, absolutely, there were counterfeiting operations going on in Nauvoo. They actually called the money Nauvoo bogus. Bogus was a term that they would use for counterfeit coins. The quality of some of the counterfeit money coming out of Nauvoo was so good that they would talk about how it was really a good quality of coin, but it was counterfeit. So, Nauvoo, absolutely, had a reputation for producing counterfeit coin. But even fairly late in the game, if you got farther out from Nauvoo, you had people who had a little bit more realistic view in saying, “It’s probably not the Mormons. There’s probably other people, or more organized gangs that are in there.”  Because a Chicago paper mentioned it. They’re like, “Because, we’ve had issues with, definitely, organized gangs and stuff. So, we don’t necessarily think it’s the Mormons, but there’s definitely criminal stuff going on that’s based in Nauvoo.” But, again, because of that Nauvoo Charter, you actually have criminals who are coming in who are purchasing land in Nauvoo, who are joining the church, in some cases. It does seem to be after this 1843, after Joseph Smith has definitely proven that he can get out of extradition, that they’re tightening up the charter to make it harder to arrest people inside Nauvoo. And what’s fascinating is Edward Bonney was a criminal. In his exposè, he is very upfront with the fact that criminals came to Nauvoo to avoid getting caught, to avoid getting arrested. What’s funny is, of course, he doesn’t claim he’s one of those, but he really was one of those criminals that came to Nauvoo to avoid being arrested. So, that is something people do need to realize. Nauvoo was a haven. Nauvoo was seen as a criminal haven for good reason. So, there were a lot of problems of both Mormons and non-Mormons, criminal activities going on in and around Nauvoo.

[End Part 1]

Mob Murders on Mississippi

Mary Ann  03:22  So, then we get into the summer of 1845. There’s a lot of criminal gang activity that gets exposed in Nauvoo in the summer of 1845. The first problem is, we get what’s called the Miller-Leiza murders over in Lee County, Iowa. Lee County is directly across the river from Nauvoo. You have three guys from Nauvoo, who are all Mormon, go over and they’re robbing people at night. They’re coming in. They’re scaring people. They’re trying to rob them. There are all these robberies happening. One of the robberies goes bad. And it’s this Reverend, this German minister, John Miller, and he has him[self] and his wife and then he has his two daughters and their husbands all in the house. These guys come in, William and Stephen Hodges, and this guy, Thomas Brown. They all come into the house and they’re threatening them and they’re saying they’re going to kill them, if they don’t give them all the money.  Because they’ve heard that this guy has like $2,000 in his house, and so they’re trying to get this money.

Mary Ann  04:40  But, it ends up Miller starts fighting back and Leiza starts fighting back, and so they end up killing Miller and Leiza. It’s brutal. They kill Miller, and then they mortally wound Leiza, but he ends up surviving, just barely, but his wounds eventually kill him. But one of them ends up leaving his cap there. William Hodges leaves his cap there, and they run back, and they go back to Nauvoo. So, suddenly, the people are in the area are infuriated. They’re like this is–because robbery is one thing. Murder, that’s a whole different story. That was one thing that a lot of the thieves at the time knew. You can threaten people. You can do all you want, but you do not kill people, because the citizens wouldn’t stand for it. So, there’s this massive manhunt. There’s this $500 reward, which gets put up by the people to find these murderers. And that’s a lot of money back then.

Mary Ann  05:49  So, by this point, Edward Bonney and Dr. Williams, and some other people are living in Iowa. Edward Bonney starts getting this idea of like, “I can work with some other people. We can get that $500 reward.” Because he already has a pretty good idea of who did it. So, in his book, he basically takes all of the credit himself. He’s like, “Oh,” like when he sees the fur cap, he’s like, “Oh, I saw a guy in Nauvoo, who was wearing that cap.” So, that’s what he tells the sheriff. He’s trying, so he totally talks about how he’s the hero. He’s the guy. So, he tells the sheriff who it is, and it’s all because of him they’re able to capture the guys in Nauvoo. It was unusual, because the Mormons did allow the people from Iowa to come into Nauvoo to take them, but there was kind of a standoff. Of course, Bonney is the one. He claims that he was able to calm everything down and the Mormons actually do allow these two brothers to get taken from Nauvoo to go back for to get prosecuted for this murder.

Going after Edward Bonney & Mormon Leaders

Mary Ann  27:44 Of course, the community is furious. They want justice, immediate justice. So, these three guys, even though only one of them was there at the time that they were murdered, there’s this massive trial. Of course, John Long and Aaron Long, both based in Nauvoo. Granville Young was a frequent visitor of Nauvoo. They were all part of that Nauvoo criminal gain. The three guys end up getting convicted and hung. They’re sentenced to be hung. They end up getting hung. But before they’re hung, the criminal people, there’s a lot of people mad at Edward Bonney, now. Because Edward Bonney, now, has facilitated, he’s like this massive hero in the community. His name is plastered all over the newspapers as this incredible bounty hunter, this wonderful man who brought Davenport’s killers to justice.

Mary Ann  28:47 You have the people, the criminal gangs down in Nauvoo are ticked. They are so mad at him. Also, because you have these guys, Aaron Long and Granville Young… John Long and the other two, they’re like 19, 20 in their early 20s. So, they’re fairly young kids. You have a lot of the older guys, who are mad that these young kids are getting killed, because Edward Bonney turned them in, basically. So, you start getting this conspiracy. This guy down in Iowa named Silas Haight, he ends up working and he has this plan to get these three guys–if not off, at least, maybe he can get their sentences at least lessened or something. So, his plan is to have the three of them turn state’s evidence against Edward Bonney. He wants to have Bonney convicted. Because he knows, because he was associated with a criminal gang. Silas Haight knows that Edward Bonney was a counterfeiter. He knows he was part of all the criminal activity. So, he orchestrates his plan where he’s going to get Bonney indicted in Iowa, for murder, for helping out on the Miller/ Leiza murders with the Hodges for counterfeiting. [Haight wants Bonney indicted] for, basically, three counts of counterfeiting, having presses and then passing counterfeit money. So, he goes, and he’s able to get Dr. Williams to testify against Bonney. It’s likely he set up Dr. Williams to also get caught, which is probably why Dr. Williams agreed to testify against Edward Bonney, just because of some other reasons.

Mary Ann  30:37  Again, this is, like you said, it’s very convoluted. And it is hard to piece all this stuff together. But he’s able to get these indictments. But, at the same time, because they really need a trial to happen. They need a trial to happen to get an opportunity for these three guys who are about to be killed. They are two weeks away from getting hung. They need a trial to happen. So, these three guys can testify against Bonney, because then that’ll pause…

GT  31:05 To save their own lives.

Mary Ann  31:09  That will save their lives. Silas Haight books it back down to Lee County, Iowa, because the term is almost over, the court term is almost over. So, he’s able to get–he probably arranges for Dr. Williams to get caught. But then, that way Dr. Williams will testify against Edward Bonney. He gets Bill Hickman and some of the other gang from…

GT  31:31  Wild Bill Hickman?

Mary Ann  31:32  Wild Bill Hickman, who was also part of the criminal gangs, he gets him to testify against Edward Bonney. That’s how they get the murder charge on him. At the same time, you also have Dr. Williams testify that a bunch of church leaders were counterfeiting as well. I suspect part of that was to try to guarantee a trial would take place. Because, at the time, there was so much anti-Mormon sentiment, this was October 1845. The Church leaders had already agreed, by this point, that they would be leaving in the spring. And there’s all this other stuff happening in Hancock County.

How Counterfeiting Affected Mormon Exodus

Mary Ann  51:22 About the same time, you have the Illinois Governor starts realizing that maybe he can use this to his advantage. So, he sends a letter to Jacob Backenstos, who’s the Sheriff of Hancock County. He heavily implies that the federal government may be sending in U.S. troops to enforce these federal writs. And he has no control over what the federal government is going to do. So, he purposely starts playing up this risk that federal troops, any day, are going to be marching into Nauvoo. It spooks the leaders enough, but, because of enough other things that are going on that they start moving up the timeline for leaving. Their first priority is to get everyone who has arrest warrants out, for them need to leave first. They and their families need to get out of town first. But that’s why they end up having to leave at such a horrible time. The governor admitted, later. He wrote a history of Illinois, and he totally admits he overplayed the risk of the federal troops coming in. But he’s like, “I wanted them out, I wanted them out.”

Mary Ann  52:34 So, it’s funny, because you actually had Major Warren initially, who didn’t want to enforce the arrest warrants, because he was worried it would delay them leaving. But, then later on, you have the Illinois governor who’s like, “Okay, we can use this to our advantage. We can do this.” So historically, a lot of historians have thought that the counterfeiting charges that were done in both Iowa and in Springfield at the federal level, were a ploy by government officials to get the saints out of Illinois sooner. That was my argument for the Mormon History Association presentation was that no, the counterfeiting accusations are actually this ploy by these other criminals to try to get back at Bonney, try to get a trial, try to save these three guys, initially, but now trying to get these other guys off the hook, because now they have counterfeiting charges against them.

Mary Ann  53:31  So, yeah. It was not the governor who initially did the counterfeiting charges. It had very little to do with that, but the governor used it. He did use it later on. Most of the Mormons–so the only person of the 12 men who were indicted, who eventually does go to trial, most of the Mormons, obviously, they leave. They go west. Silas Haight and Edward Bonney still go after Theodore Turley. There’s evidence that they’re still trying to catch him before the Iowa courts are trying [suspects.] Because, again, he can testify against Bonney. And Bonney wants to get to him before he could testify against him. But eventually, Bonney is put on trial. And this is where you have Dr. Williams and Silas Haight testify against him and they have some other guys testify against him. This is where you have guys from the Hancock County grand jury who come in and say, “Yeah, Dr. Williams testified to us and he gave no indication that Edward Bonney was involved. He gave no indication.” So, eventually, Edward Bonney gets off the hook, more because Dr. Williams and Silas Haight, they’re able to prove that they’re [Haight and Williams are] not super trustworthy witnesses. It’s clear that they had a motive, that they were trying to go after Bonney. They were trying to get Bonney convicted.

Mary Ann has been approached by a few publishers to make a book out of this. I hope she does! With all the subterfuge and criminals turning in criminals, I think a movie could be made!

Were you aware that these counterfeiting charges are the reason why Brigham instructed to leave in that cold winter of 1846?