Orville Browning

Orville Browning

Orville Browning was born in Kentucky in 1806. After attending Augusta College he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1831. That year he moved to Quincy, Illinois, where he worked as a lawyer.

Browning joined the Whig Party and was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1836. Eight years later he was elected to the House of Representatives but was defeated by Stephen A. Douglas in 1844. Attempts in 1850 and 1852 also ended in failure. Browning opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and in 1854 joined the Republican Party.

On the outbreak of the American Civil War Browning supported an aggressive policy towards the Confederacy. He clashed with Abraham Lincoln over his treatment of Major General John C. Fremont. On 30th August, 1861, Fremont, the commander of the Union Army in St. Louis, proclaimed that all slaves owned by Confederates in Missouri were free. Lincoln asked Fremont to modify his order and free only slaves owned by Missourians actively working for the South. When Fremont refused, he was sacked and replaced by the conservative General Henry Halleck. In a letter to the president Browning argued that Fremont's proclamation "does not deal with citizens at all but with public enemies."

Browning was keen to be appointed to the Supreme Court. This might explain Browning's increasing conservatism during the American Civil War. He became a government loyalist defending its policy of arbitrary arrests and he made a series of speeches attacking the Radical Republicans. Despite this new approach, Abraham Lincoln refused to nominate Browning. In the 1864 Browning refused to campaign for Lincoln but it not known how he voted.

In 1866 President Andrew Johnson appointed Browning as his Secretary of the Interior. He remained in office until Johnson lost power in 1869. Later that year Browning became a special attorney for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. Orville Browning died in 1881.


Browning was born February 10, 1806 in Cynthiana, Kentucky. He was a veteran of the Black Hawk War. Browning was a Whig delegate to the anti-Nebraska convention held at Bloomington, Illinois, in May 1856. This convention laid the foundations of the Republican Party.

Browning was appointed to fill the U.S. Senate seat of Stephen A. Douglas after Douglas' untimely death. Browning's bid for re-election as Senator from Illinois failed in 1862, leaving Abraham Lincoln with no personal friends in Congress. It was rumored that Lincoln was considering appointing Browning Secretary of the Interior to replace Caleb Blood Smith, but he did not become Secretary of the Interior until the Johnson administration.

President Andrew Johnson appointed him Secretary of the Interior serving from 1866 to 1869. Browning entered into a private law and lobbying practice in Washington, D.C., after the war, partnering with Thomas Ewing Sr. and his son, Thomas Ewing Jr.. Browning died August 10, 1881 and is buried in Woodland Cemetery, Quincy, Illinois.

In 1844, Browning successfully defended five men who had been accused of the murder of Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the Latter Day Saint movement.


Letter to Mrs. Orville Browning

Without appologising[sic] for being egotistical, I shall make the history of so much of my own life, as has elapsed since I saw you, the subject of this letter. And by the way I now discover, that, in order to give you a full and inteligible [sic] account of the things I have done and suffered since I saw you, I shall necessarily have to relate some that happened before.

I was, then, in the autumn of 1836, that a married lady of my acquaintance, and who was a great friend of mine, being about to pay a visit to her father and other relatives residing in Kentucky, proposed to me, that on her return she would bring a sister of hers with her, upon condition that I would engage to become her brother-in-law with all convenient dispatch [sic] I, of course, accepted the proposal for you know I could not have done otherwise, had I really been averse to it but privately, between you and me, I was most confoundedly well pleased with the project. I had seen the said sister some three years before, thought her intelligent and agreeable, and saw no good objection to plodding life through hand in hand with her. Time passed on, the lady took her journey, and in due time returned, sister in company sure enough. This stomached me a little for it appeared to me, that her coming so readily showed that she was a trifle too willing but on reflection it occurred [sic] to me, that she might have been prevailed on by her married sister to come, without any thing concerning me ever? having been mentioned to her and so I concluded that if no other objection presented itself, I would consent to waive this. All this occurred to me upon my hearing of her arrival in the neighbourhood for, be it remembered, I had not yet seen her, except about three years previous, as before mentioned.

In a few days we had an interview, and although I had seen her before, she did not look as my immagination [sic]had pictured her. I knew she was over-size, but she now appeared a fair match for Falstaff I knew she was called an “old maid,” and I felt no doubt of the truth of at least half of the appellation [sic] but now, when I beheld her, I could not for my life avoid thinking of my mother and this, not from withered features, for her skin was too full of fat to permit its contracting in to wrinkles but from her want of teeth, weather-beaten appearance in general, and from a kind of notion that ran in my head, that nothing could have commenced at the size of infancy, and reached her present bulk in less than thirtyfive or forty years and, in short, I was not all pleased with her. But what could I do? – I had told her sister that I would take her for better or for worse and I made a point of honor and conscience in all things, to stick to my word, especially if others had been induced to act on it, which in this case, I doubted not they had, for I was now fairly convinced, that no other man on earth would have her, and hence the conclusion that they were bent on holding me to my bargain. Well, thought I, I have said it, and, be consequences what they may, it shall not be my fault if I fail to do it. At once I determined to consider her my wife and this done, all my powers of discovery were put to the rack, in search of perfections in her, which might be fairly set-off against her defects. I tried to imagine [sic] she was handsome, which, but for her unfortunate corpulency, was actually true. Exclusive of this, no woman that I have seen, has a finer face. I also tried to convince myself, that the mind was much more to be valued than the person and in this, she was not inferior, as I could discover, to any with whom I had been acquainted.

Shortly after this, without attempting to come to any positive understanding with her, I set out for Vandalia, where and when you first saw me. During my stay there, I had letters from her, which I did not change my opinion of either her intelect or intention but on the contrary, confirmed it in both.

All this while, although I was fixed “firm as the surge repelling rock” in my resolution, I found I was continually repenting the rashness which had led me to make it. Through life I have been in no bondage, either real or imaginary, from the thraldom of which I so much desired to be free. After my return home, I saw nothing to change my opinion of her in any particular. She was the same and so was I. I now spent my time between planing [sic] how I might get along through life after my contemplated change of circumstances should have taken place and how I might procrastinate the evil day for a time, which I really dreaded as much—perhaps more, than an irishman [sic] does the halter.

After all my suffering upon this deeply interesting subject, here I am, wholly unexpectedly, completely out of the “scrape” and I now want to know, if you can guess how I got out of it. Out clear in every sense of the term no violation of word, honor or conscience. I dont believe you can guess, and so I might as well tell you at once. As the lawyers say, it was done in the manner following, towit. After I had delayed the matter as long as I thought I could in honor do, which by the way had brought me round into the last fall, I concluded I might as well bring it to a consummation [sic] without further delay and so I mustered my resolution, and made the proposal to her direct but, shocking to relate, she answered, No. At first I supposed she did it through an affectation of modesty, which I thought but ill-become her, under the peculiar circumstances of her case but on my renewal of the charge, I found she repeled[sic] it with greater firmness than before. I tried it again and again, but with the same success, or rather with the same want of success.

I finally was forced to give it up, at which I very unexpectedly found myself mortified almost beyond endurance. I was mortified, it seemed to me, in a hundred different ways. My vanity was deeply wounded by the reflections, that I had so long been too stupid to discover her intentions, and at the same time never doubting that I understood them perfectly and also, that she whom I had taught myself to believe nobody else would have, had actually rejected me with all my fancied greatness and to cap the whole, I then, for the first time, began to suspect that I was really a little in love with her. But let it all go. I’ll try and out live it. Others have been made fools of by the girls but this can never with truth be said of me I most emphatically, in this instnace, made a fool of myself. I have now come to the conclusion never again to think of marrying and for this reason I can never be satisfied with any one who would be block-head enough to have me.

When you receive this, write me a long yarn about something to amuse me. Give my respects to Mr. Browning.


Orville Brown

Throughout the long and, at times, confusing history of professional wrestling, deserving names often slip through the cracks of the sport’s collective memory. Although he was unquestionably one of the biggest stars of his era, Orville Brown, the eleven-time Midwest Wrestling Association World champion and first-ever NWA World Heavyweight champion, is sometimes overlooked when historians recount the great title lineage of the National Wrestling Alliance. That said, the rugged Kansas farmer turned wrestling champion is absolutely deserving of history’s acknowledgement, for a number of reasons, and he made an indelible mark on the early years of professional wrestling.

Orville Brown was born in the small Midwestern town of Sharon, Kansas on March 10, 1908. Life was not easy for the young Brown, who grew up fatherless and, when his mother passed away, was orphaned at the tender age of 11. Education became secondary to earning a living and he soon dropped out of school to work full-time on the farm. During this time, the teenage Brown developed into a talented cowboy, competing in — and winning — rodeo events throughout Kansas and the neighboring areas. Although the sport of bronco riding and steer bulldogging was nowhere as lucrative as it would become in later years, the extra income he earned as a rodeo cowboy helped greatly and by the time he had reached his eighteenth birthday, Orville Brown had amassed quite a reputation in the sport. His ever-increasing size, though, became a hindrance to his continued success in the rodeos and eventually led to Brown withdrawing from the game and returning to life as a farmer and blacksmith.

Frontier, freestyle wrestling was a way of life for early twentieth century men in rugged, rural states like Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, and Missouri. Unsophisticated, violent, and free of restrictive rules, “catch wrestling” was reflective of the Midwestern men who were its primary practitioners and every town, big or small, had dozens of skilled, dangerous local grapplers who, after a hard day of work, would gather to face off against each other for prize money. Orville Brown certainly fit into this mold and early in 1931, while still in his early-twenties, he came into contact with a local promoter/trainer named Ernest Brown (no relation) who saw potential in the brawny 6𔃻″ 230 lb. blacksmith. He soon convinced Orville that he had the physical tools needed to earn a good living as a professional wrestler and began preparing him for a career in the profession. Following an extended period of training, Brown had his first professional match in October of 1931, which he won, and began wrestling regularly throughout the region. Before long, he amassed an impressive win/loss record and eventually went undefeated in his first 72 matches, many of which were legitimate contests. It was while competing in Kansas that Abe Coleman, who was a well-known wrestling celebrity at the time, saw Brown and befriended the impressive young grappler. Just as Ernest Brown had seen potential in Orville, Coleman did as well and he informed the powerful St. Louis promoter Tom Packs that he’d found a new star in the making. By 1933, Brown was being booked in Packs’ prestigious territory and doing quite well against the promotion’s more experienced competition. Convinced that Brown had the size, skill and attitude that it took to become a major star, Packs sent his new protégé to the east coast in order to further his training and gain more experience. Under the capable guidance of veteran matman George Zaharias, the talented young Brown learned and improved, starting at the bottom of the cards and working his way up.

Orville Brown & Son Richard

While competing in the Baltimore area, Brown began facing more advanced competition, including well-known opponents such as Zaharias, Everett Marshall, Karl Sarpolis and Jim Browning, among others. It was also during this time period that he finally suffered his first defeat, on November 3, 1933, against former World champion Dick Shikat. Undeterred by the loss, Brown continued wrestling and improving while defeating a string of mid-level regional stars. By the Spring of 1934 he had returned to the Midwest and had his first series of bouts in the city he would eventually become synonymous with, Kansas City, Kansas. It was there that he achieved the biggest victory of his young career when, on May 14, 1934, he defeated the future World champion Everett Marshall, which in turn set up a bout with top contender Ray Steele. Held on May 28, 1934, he would go on to lose his match with the more experienced Steele, however, by putting on a good showing for himself, Brown lost none of his momentum in the eyes of the matchmakers or fans. A popular babyface, Brown was promoted as a rugged ex-cowboy and a solid family man, both of which were true, and he received a great deal of positive coverage in the national press.

Soon, Orville Brown had wrestled in enough territories to garner the box-office clout required to receive a shot at the World championship and he faced reigning titleholder Jim Londos on several occasions during 1935. Their encounter on April 12 in Detroit drew over 13,000 spectators and grossed $21,217, very impressive figures for the time. Wrestling to a ninety-minute draw, a rematch was scheduled for June 5, again in Detroit, at Navin Field. That bout drew another large crowd of 11,572 with a gate of $16,213, however, this time around Brown was defeated by the champion after 73 minutes of hard-fought action. From this point on, however, Orville Brown was seen as a legitimate national wrestling star who faced only the best competition. Even though his undefeated streak was no longer a factor and he occasionally lost a match here and there, Brown won (or, went to a draw with) just as many, competing against top names including Dick Shikat, John Pesek, Frank Sexton, Ray Steele, and Ed “Strangler” Lewis, which firmly cemented his position as a major name within the business.

As the 1930s became the 1940s, Brown forged a friendship on the east coast with Bobby Bruns, a wrestler that would go on to be one of the major players in his career. While they appeared to be bitter rivals who feuded all across the country, away from the spotlight Bruns and Brown were close friends and, over time, longtime business partners. Between 1940-1948, Bruns and Brown traded the prestigious Midwest Wrestling Association World championship no less than four times. All total, Orville Brown held the M.W.A. World title on eleven different occasions, taking on, and defeating, challengers such as Bruns, Sky Hi Lee, Fred Blassie, the Swedish Angel, Ed Lewis, Joe Cox, Ray Eckert, Ronnie Etchison, Lord Albert Mills and many others. During this time period, he also formed a working relationship with the notorious promoter Jack Pfefer, which would play a role in Brown’s career once he joined George Simpson and took control of the Kansas City territory. The territory, which also included Topeka, Wichita and St. Joseph, Missouri, was one of the more lucrative regions in the country at the time and, when faced with a promotional war, Brown called on Pfefer and his east coast talent connections to overcome his opposition. Meanwhile, in 1947 a group of investors that included Canadian promoters Frank Tunney, Eddie Quinn, Lou Thesz, Bobby Managolf and Bill Longson bought the St. Louis promotion from Tom Packs, who was retiring. A territorial war then took place in St. Louis between this group and the less established promotion of Sam Muchnick, who was (at least temporarily) helped by Jack Pfefer. For many months, the battle was fairly even, although the Thesz-led group held an advantage. So, when Des Moines promoter Pinkie George presented Muchnick with the idea of forming a coalition of several Midwestern promoters, it made a great deal of sense. George (Iowa), Muchnick (St. Louis), Tony Stecher (Minneapolis), Max Clayton (Omaha) and Orville Brown (Kansas City) met in Waterloo, Iowa in 1948 to discuss a partnership and the National Wrestling Alliance was born. On July 14, 1948 the promoters all agreed to name Orville Brown as the first NWA World Heavyweight champion and he immediately set about establishing the new championship, travelling to each member’s regions and defending the title against the top challengers, which included men like Bill Longson, Bronko Nagurski, Don Eagle, Ali Baba and many others.

Brown’s greatest rival during the first year of his NWA title run was the flamboyant “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers. After Muchnick brought him in to St. Louis, Rogers proved himself to be a major draw in the Gateway City and, ultimately, the deciding factor in Muchnick’s St. Louis wrestling war with Thesz. Rogers went on to receive several title matches against Brown, in cities like Wichita, Cleveland, Hollywood and Kansas City, with the two headliners drawing large crowds wherever they wrestled. Although Brown always walked out of the ring with his championship intact, it was usually not a result of pinfall victories and many of their encounters resulted in time-limit draws, count-out decisions or disqualifications that kept both men strong in the eyes of the fans.

Once Muchnick’s promotional war with Thesz had ended and the two sides began working together, plans were put into place that would have Brown and Thesz engage in a lengthy series of matches, with both men gaining title victories over one another. The two Midwestern matmen had faced off in previous years, wrestling to three time-limit draws against each other. However, when they were programmed to battle over the NWA championship, a clear cut winner would be necessary. A plan was laid out wherein Brown would win their first championship encounter, scheduled for Thanksgiving Day on November 25, 1949, and win subsequent rematches throughout the various NWA territories. Then, at some point during 1950, Thesz would defeat Brown for the title and the two would again engage in a new series of rematches, with Thesz defending the championship successfully. After that, it was agreed that the NWA members would decide who would continue to carry the belt, based on what was best for the Alliance as a whole.

But, on October 31, 1949, those plans all came to an abrupt, unexpected end. Following a title defense in Des Moines against his on-screen enemy and off-screen partner Bobby Bruns, the two were heading home in Brown’s Cadillac when tragedy struck. Unbeknownst to Brown, a semi trailer had stalled on the road ahead them and as they came over a hill driving at a high rate of speed, the inevitable took place and Brown’s vehicle slammed head-on into the truck, with disastrous results. Bruns was the luckier of the two, escaping the accident with a broken shoulder and serious damage to his arms. Brown, however, barely escaped decapitation. The frame of the trailer tore the roof off of his vehicle and Brown received a near-fatal blow to the head that resulted in brain damage for the NWA champion. Thankfully, both men survived and, with rehabilitation and time, recovered to a certain degree. That said, neither were ever the same again and business in the area suffered greatly when the press got wind of the fact that the two “enemies” were traveling in the same car together at the time of the accident.

Following a year of rehab, Brown actually attempted to make a comeback in the ring. Although he worked extremely hard to regain the use of his semi-paralyzed limbs and had made tremendous progress in that sense, the damage done to his brain resulted in a loss of motor skills that he simply could not overcome. While, thankfully, he was able to continue his duties as a promoter, as well as master everyday tasks such as walking, driving, hunting, etc., the complex skills needed to perform inside of a ring were beyond his capabilities and Brown was quickly forced to abandon his dream of making a comeback to wrestling. As for his NWA World championship, Brown was obviously forced to relinquish the title.On November 27, 1949, the Alliance awarded the belt to Brown’s #1 contender, Lou Thesz, who, over time, would go on to transform the newly-created World title into the most prestigious championship in the sport.

Orville Brown is a member of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame (2005)


--> Browning, Orville Hickman, 1806-1881

From Quincy, Illinois served as state senator, 1836-1841 and state representative, 1842-1843, delegate to the anti-Nebraska convention in Bloomington, Ill. in 1856 and to the Republican National Convention in 1860, appointed to the U.S. Senate to fill Stephen A. Douglas' seat when he died, and appointed Secretary of the Interior by President Johnson. Formed a law firm in Washington, D.C. in 1863 and practice there until 1866. Returned to Quincy, Ill. in 1869 to practice there.

From the description of Papers, 1843-1888. (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library). WorldCat record id: 56434052

Quincy, Illinois, lawyer served in Black Hawk War, 1832 state congressman, 1836-1844 helped organize Republican party appointed U.S. senator to fill Stephen A. Douglas' unexpired term, 1861-1863 secretary of the interior, 1866-1869.

From the description of Letter : Springfield, Ills., to C[harles] Gibson, St. Louis, Mo., 1860 Feb. 8. (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library). WorldCat record id: 27819143

From the description of Letter: Senate Chamber, [Washington, D.C.], to C[aleb] B. Smith, 1862 Feb. 22. (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library). WorldCat record id: 27819147

From the description of Legal document: Quincy, Illinois, 1838 June 23. (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library). WorldCat record id: 27819193

From the description of Letter: Washington, D.C., to Annie Jonas, Quincy, Ills., 1864 June 2. (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library). WorldCat record id: 27819160

From the description of Letter : Quincy, [Ill.], to [Almeron] Wheat and [Frederick] Marcy, Quincy, [Ill.], 1874 Feb. 21. (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library). WorldCat record id: 27819188


A historical view of Illinois School for the Deaf

It started years ago on a steamboat ride across the mighty Mississippi River. In 1838, Senator Orville H. Browning of Quincy made that water transport, meeting an educated deaf man from Kentucky on the way. The tale is told that Browning was curious as to how this deaf man received such an education, being that there were only five institutions at that time which gave education to citizens that were deaf. This fellow traveler made such an impression on the senator that he introduced a bill into the Illinois Senate to create what would become Jacksonville’s Illinois School for the Deaf (ISD). This bill was presented on Wednesday, February 13, 1839, as an act to establish the Illinois Asylum for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb. Just 10 days later, the bill was passed. Governor Thomas Carlin signed Browning’s bill on February 23, 1839. It is noted that Abraham Lincoln was one of those who voted in the affirmative as a representative, supporting the bill.

Governer Carlin then selected a Board of Trustees to administer the school and figure out the first steps towards its conception. Board member Dr. Julian M. Sturtevant addressed this task by sending Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet a letter asking 13 questions in order to obtain Gallaudet’s input on starting the school Gallaudet was the co-founder and principal for the first institution for the education of the deaf in North America, the American School for the Deaf. The original correspondences to Gallaudet were actually found in ISD’s Media Center! Dr. Mickey Jones (now retired from ISD after serving 19 years as the Director of the Evaluation Center) says, “Maybe 12 years ago, I went to the Media Center and looked for things that hadn’t been looked at for 50 years.” It was at that time that Dr. Jones discovered not only Gallaudet’s letters, but also found a large sleeve full of letters dating from 1838 to 1850, which included two pieces of mail soliciting advice from Senator Browning to the Kentucky School for the Deaf Superintendent John Jacobs.

Finally, the board had gathered enough guidance and was ready to build. The citizens of Jacksonville and the local vicinity collected $979.50 by 1842 to purchase seven acres of land for use by the Illinois Asylum for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb. “In April (of 1842) the Board advertised for bids for the construction of a brick building, with stone foundation, 86 feet long, 56 feet wide, 3 stories and an attic high, to contain 32 rooms. The cost was expected to be under $12,000.” (Source: Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, December 1942) Complications arose and the first building for the school, which is now the (later rebuilt) south wing of ISD’s Main Building, was not completed until 1845.

The Board had chosen Thomas Officer as the first superintendent and the doors were opened on January 26, 1846, to four children. Officer was the Superintendent/Teacher/Principal – “He was the whole program,” says Dr. Jones. At the start of the second term, 14 students had joined. The school was growing. In 1855, the school had 107 enrolled students. However, there was a conflict of beliefs. Dr. Jones loosely describes the conflict as the board making politically-based decisions, while Superintendent Officer fought to have teachers who could sign and better the school. The end result was that by the spring of 1856, only 22 students remained and the board had forced out Officer, who had officially resigned on October 16, 1855.

Philip G. Gillett, of Indianapolis, was appointed the second superintendent on April 26, 1856. He was only 24 and initially added to the complex problems of the school, as the “town was scared of this young, beardless kid,” expressed Dr. Jones with some amusement. But, soon the school acquired a fresh, new board and “everything was put back on track.” The first female teacher, Elizabeth Lawrence, was hired in the fall. Seven new buildings were erected during Gillett’s term, the curriculum was expanded and Gillett “brought order to chaos.” The young Gillett ended up leading the school for 37 years, and at the time of his departure enrollment had climbed to nearly 500 students with 42 teachers on staff.

Over the years, the administration changed, the campus changed, the students changed, and even the name changed to Illinois Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb in 1849, and finally to Illinois School for the Deaf in 1903. ISD is rich in so much more history than is written here. The school has certainly evolved over time and the face of the student has changed with the times. The Illinois School for the Deaf has become a home and resource for students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

(NOTE: A special thank you to Dr. Mickey Jones. Dr. Mickey Jones is retired from the Illinois School for the Deaf after serving 19 years as the Director of the Evaluation Center, but his fascination for learning about the history of the school has kept him not only connected with the school, but also has made him quite the resource on the topic. Over the years, he has compiled or re-discovered much of the history used in the writing of this article.)


Letter to Orville Browning (September 22, 1861)

Wrong in principle, Frémont ’s proclamation was ruinous in practice. ‘No doubt the thing was popular in some quarters,’ Lincoln told Browning, ‘and would have been more so if it had been a general declaration of emancipation. The Kentucky Legislature would not budge till that proclamation was modified and Gen. Anderson telegraphed me that on the news of Gen. Frémont having actually issued deeds of manumission, a whole company of our Volunteers threw down their arms and disbanded. I was so assured, as to think it probable, that the very arms we had furnished Kentucky would be turned against us.’ The president hastened to add that Browning ‘must not understand I took my course on the proclamation because of Kentucky. I took the same ground in a private letter to General Frémont before I heard from Kentucky.'”

“Yet when Lincoln became president, he assured Southerners that he had no intention of interfering with slavery in their states. When the war broke out, he reassured loyal slaveholders on this score, and revoked orders by Union generals emancipating the slaves of Confederates in Missouri and in the South Atlantic states. This was a war for Union, not for liberty, said Lincoln over and over again—to Greeley in August 1862, for example: ‘If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it.’ In a letter to his old friend Senator Orville Browning of Illinois on September 22, 1861—ironically, exactly one year before issuing the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation—Lincoln rebuked Browning for his support of General John C. Frémont’s order purporting to free the slaves of Confederates in Missouri. ‘You speak of it as being the only means of saving the government. On the contrary it is itself the surrender of government.’ If left standing, it would drive the border slave states into the Confederacy. ‘These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us. We would as well consent to separation at once, including the surrender of this capitol.’ To keep the border states—as well as Northern Democrats—in the coalition fighting to suppress the rebellion, Lincoln continued to resist antislavery pressures for an emancipation policy well into the second year of the war.”

—James M. McPherson, “The Hedgehog and the Foxes,” The Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 12, 1991.


Sectarianism at Knox College

During the decades of the 1840s and 1850s, the Congregationalists and Presbyterians affiliated with Knox College frequently debated diminutive religious differences between their two sects. This ongoing dispute culminated in a personal feud between the College's second president, the Congregationalist Jonathan Blanchard, and its founder, Presbyterian George Washington Gale, for denominational control of the College's administration.

In early 1845, Knox College founder and trustee George Washington Gale led the College's Board of Trustees in asking for the resignation of Reverend Hiram Huntington Kellogg from the office of President of the College. Kellogg had been one of the principal proponents of Gale's plans to establish a religious college in the West, serving on the exploratory committee responsible for the logistics of Galesburg's settlement and as a member of the College's board of trustees before his selection as its first president. Ostensibly, Kellogg's dismissal was prompted by several years of financial duress for the College under his stewardship in fact, Kellogg's resignation was affected by political and religious considerations beyond his efficacy as a fundraiser. Personally, Gale had grown aggravated with Kellogg's progressively vocal congregationalism, which he viewed as an encroachment to the traditionally Presbyterian administration of the College.

Kellogg's resignation signaled the formal inauguration of a sectarian schism between the Congregationalists and the Presbyterians affiliated with Knox College. The Congregationalists believed that the Presbyterians, represented within the community by Gale, were morally obligated to cease affiliation with their national governing body -- the national Assembly -- on the basis that it was composed, in part, of southern churches that endorsed slavery. The controversy came to a head during the presidency of Kellogg's successor, Jonathan Blanchard, who personally agitated against Presbyterianism and its stalwart, George Washington Gale.

Galesburg's settlers were a combination of Congregationalists and Presbyterians. In the settlers' home of Whitesboro County, New York, the two denominations functioned as one due to the "Plan of the Union," an arrangement which organized the two congregations under a single minister. Gale opted not to follow this arrangement in regards to his venture in Galesburg. He felt the hierarchy of the Presbyterian Church would prove more beneficial to the College, and thus they should assume the predominant role in the College's affairs. Trustees Silvanus Ferris and Nehemiah Losey supported Gale's decision, stating that the College should be "under the influence and direction chiefly -- but not exclusively -- of that denomination [Presbyterianism]." Shortly after Galesburg's foundation, however, the national Presbyterian Assembly was shook by internal dissension, presenting a significant challenge to the church's stability.

A contingent of Northern churches boycotted the 1838 Presbyterian National Assembly, affecting a philosophically-rooted rift within the national church. The underlying cause of this split was the organization of the national church itself Presbyterian churches were subordinate to a regional synod, which deferred to a national assembly including both southern and northern churches. The national assembly, in an effort to appease its southern membership, abstained from condemning the practice of slavery despite vehement and principled objections from a significant number of the Northern congregations. For these Presbyterians -- George Washington Gale and the Galesburg settlers included -- the national assembly's policy on slavery was not defensible as a moral doctrine. They left with the Assembly, but stopped shy of disassociating with Presbyterianism, instead forming a separate faction referred to as the "New-School" Presbyterians. The New-School Presbyterians' continued communion with the Presbyterian Church bothered some of the more idealist congregants -- such as Jonathan Blanchard and Hiram Kellogg -- who converted to Congregationalism, which provided more local autonomy.

Like Kellogg, Jonathan Blanchard was ordained a Presbyterian minister, but his strong moral objection to slavery led him to identify as a Congregationalist after the split in the Presbyterian Assembly. Educated at Middlebury College, where he received a Bachelor's degree in 1832, Blanchard pursued postgraduate studies at Andover in 1834 and Cincinnati's Lane Theological Seminary in 1837. While at Lane, Blanchard was active in the college's abolitionist culture, preaching in black churches and lecturing in front of the city's Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society. Following his studies there, Blanchard began a pastorate at Cincinnati's Sixth Presbyterian Church, gaining an audience from which he would subsequently establish himself as a nationally renowned abolitionist in the following years. Blanchard believed slavery "was defying God," and advocated its immediate abolition. Strong convictions about the inherent evil of slavery characterized him throughout life Blanchard did not censor his opinions, radical at the time, despite the considerable criticism he received for them. Abolitionism was widely detested in Antebellum America, derided by opponents and advocates of slavery alike. It was a reality Blanchard was all too cognizant of, as during his time in Cincinnati Blanchard witnessed "three days and nights in the power of a mob" that targeted abolitionist printing presses for destruction.

Blanchard's stature appealed to Gale in his search for a candidate to fill Kellogg's vacancy. With Kellogg's parting endorsement, Gale and the board of trustees extended an invitation to Blanchard to become the College's second president, and he accepted. As Earnest Calkins describes the hiring, "It was [Blachard's Presbyterianism] as much as his eminence and influence that made Gale so eager to have him as President of the College." But if Gale had anticipated a Presbyterian president, Blanchard did not fulfill his expectations. Blanchard's piety pivoted on the slavery issue, which extended to encompass his disapproval of not only it's practice, but tacit approval of it which is how he came to interpret the reluctance of the New-School Presbyterians to dissociate with the Presbyterian Church.

Blanchard's utter lack of tolerance for slavery and all association with it predisposed him towards the College's Congregationalists. Unlike Presbyterianism, Congregationalist churches were autonomously governed this meant individual churches could dictate their own responses to the issue of slavery. Blanchard's support of the Congregationalists exacerbated tensions with the Presbyterians and caused Blanchard to run personally afoul of George Washington Gale, who had come to resent the Congregationalists and Blanchard individually. The temperament of the two men accentuated their religious differences. Blanchard was fiery and uncompromising, willing to agitate for his moral beliefs Gale was more than willing to meet his challenge. Gale construed the criticism of Presbyterians on the slavery issue as a threat to their influence within the College, and used his influence to check Congregationalism within the College.

The first open sign of struggle between the two sects came three years after Blanchard's appointment in 1849. In an effort to secure Presbyterian control of the College's board of trustees, Gale nominated his son, Washington Selden Gale, and a sympathetic attorney, Orville H. Browning, for election to the board. There had previously been a numerical balance between Presbyterians and Congregationalists on the board, but the election of Orville Gale and Brown compromised this equilibrium. Blanchard, understanding the implications of the elections, resigned to protest the explicit power grab by the Presbyterians, only to withdraw his resignation when the elections were successfully challenged. In a counter-protest, the Presbyterians walked out on the proceedings to protest the annulment of their candidates' elections, only to then have the Congregationalists, with a minimal quorum, elect six new members in their absence. Unable to come to an understanding, the two parties had to resort to legal channels to resolve the disputed elections, at which point the second round of elections were also declared null by a circuit court judge.

As the situation on the Board of Trustees and within the College became more polarized , Galesburg as a community felt the effects of the religious contest. In 1851, Gale and the Presbyterians withdrew from the Old First Church, which had housed both the Congregationalists and the Presbyterians, and formed the First Presbyterian Church exclusively for Galesburg's Presbyterians. Galesburg's first newspapers served as another outlet for the sectarian struggle. The Knox Intelligencer supported Gale, while the Northwestern Gazetteer backed Blanchard both papers, however, expressed concern about the College's future viability in light of the growing religious tensions, and were pleased when a "compromise" was reached between the board members in the wake of the illegal elections in 1849. The compromise, which took the form of an informal gentleman's agreement, was designed to maintain a permanent equilibrium on the board, a balance of power between both sects to minimize partisan politics.

In 1853, trustee Flavel Bascom, a Congregationalist, moved to officially adopt the principle of the compromise within the language of a resolution, but the motion was tabled. The following year in 1854, Orville Browning, a Presbyterian, successfully passed a similar resolution. In Galesburg, evidence that the sectarian divide was growing larger came with the formation of a yet another new church, when forty-seven parishioners, expelled from the Old First Church in 1855, formed a new Congregational Church, later known as the "Brick Church." The parishioners of Brick Church, in rebuttal, enlisted the services of outspoken Congregationalist Edward Beecher, the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, to serve as minister and representative.

In June 1856, the election of a new Presbyterian member to the board gave Gale's Presbyterians a majority, and in June 1857, with tensions rising in the town, all civility collapsed. Compromise endured only so long as the Board was equally composed of Congregationalists and Presbyterians, but the underlying philosophical differences between board members of the two denominations had remained, festering. With the upper hand, a committee chaired by Presbyterian Orville Browning was appointed to take decisive action on the "differences" between Blanchard and Gale, and on June 24, the committee requested the resignation of both Jonathan Blanchard as President and George Washington Gale as Professor of Belles-Lettres, a secondary capacity he held in addition to his position as a board member. A narrow 11-10 vote sponsored the board's request, and in response both men resigned.

The Board's request feigned equal treatment by asking for the mutual resignations of both men, but allowed Gale to retain his position as a trustee of the College while severing Blanchard's ties with the school completely. This fact, not lost on many, prompted a public outcry from students and townspeople alike. Several students transferred away from Knox following Blanchard's dismissal, and all but one of the members of the graduating class refused to deliver their speeches at the 1857 commencement exercises in an act of poignant protest. Knox students were so critical of Blanchard's dismissal that the board was compelled to retain Blanchard as president for another year so as to pacify them.

Blanchard stayed on for one more year and then resigned he then moved to Wheaton, Illinois, and founded Wheaton College. This did not, however, immediately quell the sectarian struggle. Even with the Congregationalists' spokesman gone, the controversy surrounding his dismissal and the search for his replacement extended the religious discourse. The trustees eventually replaced Blanchard with Presbyterian Harvey Curtis, but his appointment was the last that was religiously decided. Recognizing the damage that sectarianism had done to the College, the trustees decided in 1862 that the "election of teachers, professors, and trustees should be controlled by a reference to the good of this institution rather than the denominational bearing such election may be supposed to have."

Sectarianism exacted a heavy toll on the College and had a significant influence on its future. Blanchard's term in office was very successful, and his dismissal left the school without a talented executive. President Harvey Curtis's administration did not take the activist role in social affairs that Kellogg and Blanchard's had, and the College and town's reputation as an abolitionist haven diminished in the coming years. The longest-reaching consequence of the College's sectarianism during the 1840s and 1850s, however, was a gradual shift towards secularism. The Board of Trustees' 1862 decision to "avoid all denominational contests and rivalry" changed the way religion was viewed within the College in 1868, the Board of Trustees unanimously elected the Reverend Gulliver, a Congregationalist, as president. Although it wouldn't be until after the Second World War that Knox officially dropped its religious affiliation, the sectarian schism curtailed the future role of religion at the College. The absence of religious conflict ensured that the college could move forward rather than risk fragmentation.

Grant Forssberg '09

Bibliography

Archival Sources:

"A Circular. To the Students of Knox College in the Different Departments," Local History Series, Box 2, "Schism" Seymour Library Special Collections and Archives, Knox College, Galesburg, IL.

Affidavit of Silvanus Ferris, Geo. W. Gale, and N.H. Losey Regarding the Religious Orientation of Knox College, Local History Series, Box 2, "Schism" Seymour Library Special Collections and Archives, Knox College, Galesburg, IL.

Blanchard, Jonathan. "My Life Work," Presidents Series, Jonathan Blanchard, Biographies, Seymour Library Special Collections and Archives, Knox College, Galesburg, IL.

Elder, Lucius W. "The Schismatic Troubles of 1857," The Knox Student January, 1927, 10-11.

"Hon. O.H. Browning and His Relations to the C.B. & Q and Knox College," Register Mail, 1850-1851, Trustee Series, Orville H. Browning, Knox College Special Collections and Archives, Galesburg, IL.

"Letter from O.H. Browning to W.S. Gale dated July 12, 1849," Trustees Series, Orville H. Browning, Seymour Library Special Collections and Archives, Galesburg, IL.

"Meeting of the Trustees of Knox College, June 23, 1868," Local History Series, Box 2, "Schism-Original Letters" Seymour Library Special Collections and Archives, Knox College, Galesburg, IL.

Samuel Guild Wright Diary, Box 1, MSS# 98, Seymour Library Special Collections and Archives, Knox College, Galesburg, IL "Meeting of the Knox College Board of Trustees," April 29, 1849," Knox College Special Collections and Archives, Galesburg, IL.

Calkins, Ernest Elmo. They Broke the Prairie New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1937

Muelder, Hermann R. Fighters for Freedom: A History of Anti-Slavery Activities of Men and Women Associated with Knox College, New York: Columbia University Press, 1959

Muelder, Hermann. Missionaries and Muckrakers: The First Hundred Years of Knox College. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984.


High-resolution images are available to schools and libraries via subscription to American History, 1493-1943. Check to see if your school or library already has a subscription. Or click here for more information. You may also order a pdf of the image from us here.

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC05788.01 Author/Creator: Smet, Pierre-Jean de (1801-1873) Place Written: St. Louis, Missouri Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 10 September 1867 Pagination: 3 p. 24.8 x 20 cm.

Writes to Secretary of the Interior Browning a detailed description of diplomatic activities among the Indian tribes in the Missouri River country during the Sioux wars of the 1860s. Outlines his expenses and outlays during his visit with the Indians. Discusses his visit with the Tanton tribe of the upper Missouri, who he describes as "in a prosperous condition." Describes visits with several other and diplomatic maneuvering related to establishing reservations. Written from St. Louis University.


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The Carthage Conspiracy Trial: An Account
by Douglas O. Linder (2010)

Nauvoo, Illinois, as seen across the Mississippi River from Iowa in the 1840s

One of the most consequential crimes in United States history occurred on a summer day in 1844 when a mob stormed a jail in Carthage, Illinois and murdered two of its occupants, Joseph Smith, Jr. and his brother, Hyrum. The killing of Joseph Smith, the charismatic founding prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, America's most important homegrown religion, led to a schism among Mormons and the trek west to Utah of Brigham Young and his followers. The story of the 1844 murders (or "martyrdoms," as they are often called in LDS accounts) and the trial that followed is much less known than it deserves to be--largely owing to the over-sensitivity of American textbook writers on all matters religious. Events so pivotal in the history of the Mormon Church, which today boasts a worldwide membership of over 14 million and exerts an important influence on debates of moral issues ranging from same-sex marriage to gambling to euthanasia, deserve a broader understanding.


The early 1840s were a time of growing tension between Mormon and non-Mormon settlers in Hancock County, Illinois. In April 1839, Joseph Smith, having escaped from a Missouri jail where he was being held on state treason charges, arrived in northwestern Illinois, near the banks of the Mississippi River, to join Mormons who had begun to locate there in large numbers. Soon, the new city of Nauvoo was established and became a magnet for Mormons from the eastern U.S., Canada, and Europe. By 1844, Nauvoo, with a population of 12,000, rivaled Chicago for the title of the largest city in the state of Illinois.

The growing Mormon economic and political influence in Hancock County did not sit well with all county residents. In 1841, Thomas C. Sharp of Warsaw, Illinois organized an anti-Mormon political party and began publishing vitriolic editorials in his Warsaw Signal newspaper attacking Joseph Smith's concentration of power, the creation of a Mormon military force called The Nauvoo Legion, and Mormon land speculation. From within the Mormon population there was dissension too, with former church leader John C. Bennett publishing charges that Smith and other church officials were practicing polygamy.

Conflict further escalated in 1843 following the arrest of Joseph Smith by Illinois deputies who sought to send Smith back to Missouri to face charges pending there. Following Smith's rescue by the Nauvoo Legion, the Mormon-dominated Nauvoo City Council adopted an ordinance authorizing review by the mayor of all legal process issuing from outside the city. The city council's action inflamed anti-Mormon sentiment, with Sharp and others complaining that Smith "was above the law."

In the spring of 1844, tensions finally overflowed into violence. In May, a group of about 300 dissenting Mormons headed by former Mormon counselor William Law started holding meetings to voice their outrage over the practice of polygamy and Smith's ever-growing theocratic power in Nauvoo. Among the actions advocated by the group was repeal of the Nauvoo Charter, the state document empowering Nauvoo to exercise legal authority. On June 7, William Law and six associates published what would be the first and only issue of the Nauvoo Expositor , a newspaper created to expose the "abominations and whoredoms" of Smith and other high church officials.



Publication of the Nauvoo Expositor prompted an emergency meeting of the Nauvoo City Council to consider what if any action should be taken against what most city council members considered to be a libelous and incendiary newspaper. On June 10, the Council adopted an ordinance ("Ordinance Concerning Libels") that declared the Expositor to be a public nuisance. Immediately following the Council's action, Nauvoo Mayor Joseph Smith issued an order authorizing the destruction of the paper's publications, press equipment, and type: "You are hereby commanded to destroy the printing press from whence issues the Nauvoo Expositor , and to pi the type of said printing establishment in the street, and burn all the Expositors and libelous handbills found within said establishment." At about eight o'clock that evening, Smith's order was carried out.

The destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor whipped anti-Mormon feelings in Hancock County into a frenzy. In Carthage, citizens met and adopted a resolution expressing outrage with Smith's order and with a decision of the Nauvoo Municipal Court dismissing an arrest warrant for Smith, on the charge of inciting a riot, that had been issued the day before by a Hancock County judge. The resolution castigated "the wicked and abominable Mormon leaders" who were behind the destruction of the paper and warned that "a war of extermination" might be necessary. In response to the resolution issuing from Carthage, Smith wrote to Governor Thomas Ford inviting him to come to Nauvoo to help resolve the growing controversy and met with the Nauvoo Legion instructing them to resist if a mob of anti-Mormons attacked the town. Governor Ford declined the invitation. Rumors of an imminent assault on Nauvoo circulated in the town.


Four days after giving a final speech to the Nauvoo Legion in which Smith declared, "I am willing to sacrifice my life for your preservation," he and his brother Hyrum and a small band of followers crossed the Mississippi River into Iowa, their first stop on a planned journey that would take them to safety in the Rocky Mountains. The next day, however, Smith aborted his journey and returned to Nauvoo after becoming convinced that his surrender to Illinois authorities was the only hope for preventing an anti-Mormon mob from attacking Nauvoo.
According to the account of Willard Richards, Smith said to his companions, "I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am as calm as a summer's morning. I have a conscience void of an offense toward God and toward all men. If they take my life, I shall die an innocent man." On June 25, after meeting with Governor Ford in Carthage, Joseph and Hyrum agreed to voluntarily submit to arrest on the charge of inciting a riot at the building housing the Nauvoo Expositor . Later in the day, a second charge was added--treason!--and Justice of the Peace Robert Smith ordered the two Smiths to be held without bail in the Carthage Jail until a hearing, scheduled for June 29, could be held.


On the afternoon of June 27, Smith's fears were realized. One of his Mormon cell mates, John Taylor, provided an eyewitness account:

Brother Joseph as he drew nigh to Hyrum, and, leaning over him, exclaimed, "Oh! my poor, dear brother Hyrum!" He, however, instantly arose, and with a firm, quick step, and a determined expression of countenance, approached the door, and pulling the six-shooter left by Brother Wheelock from his pocket, opened the door slightly, and snapped the pistol six successive times. Only three of the barrels, however, were discharged. I afterwards understood that two or three were wounded by these discharges, two of whom, I am informed, died. The firing of Brother Joseph made our assailants pause for a moment. Very soon after, however, they pushed the door some distance open, and protruded and discharged their guns into the room, when I parried them off with my stick, giving another direction to the balls.

It certainly was a terrible scene. Streams of fire as thick as my arm passed by me as these men fired, and, unarmed as we were, it looked like certain death. I remember feeling as though my time had come, but I do not know when, in any critical position, I was more calm, unruffled, energetic, and acted with more promptness and decision. It certainly was far from pleasant to be so near the muzzles of those firearms as they belched forth their liquid flames and deadly balls. While I was engaged in parrying the guns, Brother Joseph said, "That's right, Brother Taylor, parry them off as well as you can." These were the last words I ever heard him speak on earth. The first thing that I noticed was a cry that he had leaped out of the window. A cessation of firing followed, the mob rushed downstairs, and Dr. Richards went to the window.

The Carthage Greys, the local militia, arrived at the jail just as members of the mob, with their blackened faces, fled the scene. No attempt was made to apprehend any of the fleeing men.

In Nauvoo, "the very streets seemed to mourn," according to one Mormon resident. Town leaders called for calm. On July 1, the Nauvoo City Council adopted a resolution urging private citizens not to seek "private revenge on the assassinators of General Joseph Smith." Meanwhile, editorializing in his Warsaw Signal , Thomas Sharp called the killings a regrettable but justified response to the threat that the Smiths posed for liberty.

With sentiment in the county on the question of whether to prosecute any of the Smith brothers' killers decidedly mixed, the final decision hinged on the August 1844 election to fill Hancock County offices. When the final votes were counted, Mormon-backed candidates swept to office, including Minor Deming, who became the new sheriff of Hancock County. Soon after his election victory, Deming declared that 200 to 300 people were involved in the Smith murders, and that his office would launch an investigation with an eye to prosecuting those most responsible for the killings. When Governor Ford and a military force of 450 men arrived in the county the following month, many of those most implicated in the murders decided the time was right to flee to Missouri.

On September 22, attorney Murray McConnell, a special agent appointed by the governor, arrived in Nauvoo and began taking testimony from witnesses. Among those McConnell heard from was John Taylor, who implicated Levi Williams, commander of the 59th Regiment of the Illinois Militia, and Warsaw Signal publisher Thomas Sharp. Other testimony suggested the guilt of several prominent dissenters, including Nauvoo Expositor publisher William Law, and Robert and Charles Foster. Arrest warrants were issued for these and several other men. When initial attempts to secure arrests failed, Governor Ford posted $200 rewards each for the arrests of three of the men believed most responsible, Sharp, Williams, and Joseph Jackson, who--in a letter--had confessed his role in the plot.

With the most sought-after men safely on the Missouri side of the Mississippi, Illinois officials were forced to negotiate with the fugitives. Only after Governor Ford made several key concessions, such as a promise of a reasonable bail and no state resistance to a motion for a change of venue, did Levi Williams and Thomas Sharp agree to cross the river and surrender. Governor Ford, heavily criticized in some quarters for entering into "a treaty" with the accused murderers, explained that the "anti-Mormon prejudices" of the men under his command left him with little choice, and that the agreement provided the best hope to "vindicate the violated honor and broken pledge of the state."

In October, a grand jury handed down indictments against nine men for conspiracy to murder Joseph and Hyrum Smith. The three indicted men most closely linked to the actual shootings fled the county and were never arrested. An eyewitness to the murders, Jeremiah Willey, said that John Wills, Gallaher (a man whose first name has fallen out of the historical record), and William Voras were among the men that broke into the jail room. Willey reported that Gallaher shot Joseph Smith in the back as he ran to the window. Wills, Gallaher, and Voras all received wounds when they were shot through the cell door by Joseph Smith. In the end, just five of the nine indicted men would face trial: Levi Williams, Thomas Sharp, Mark Aldrich, Jacob Davis, and William Grover. In accordance with an agreement reached by the prosecution and the defense, that trial would not begin until the May 1845 term of court.

Two developments would greatly complicate an already difficult case for the prosecution. The first and most important was the decision of Mormons to not participate in the trial for fear that they might suffer the same fate as their fallen leaders. In an editorial in the Nauvoo Neighbor , a Mormon publication, eyewitness to the murders John Taylor urged his fellow Latter Day Saints to refuse to testify because "state officials were not trustworthy when it came to protecting them." As a result of this widespread concern, and an unwillingness of prosecutors to compel the participation of reluctant witnesses, the prosecution lost its potentially most important testimony. The second development undermining the prosecution case was the publication, just a couple of weeks before trial, of a 24-page booklet detailing the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. The booklet was written and sold by William M. Daniels, the man the prosecution counted as its star witness.

Unfortunately for the prosecution, Daniels' published account of the murders provided terrific material for the defense attorneys planning their cross-examination of Daniels. Especially helpful to the defense cause were several assertions in Daniels' booklet that seemed at odds both with other accounts of the storming of the jail and with common sense.
For example, Daniels--almost alone among witnesses--had Joseph Smith surviving his fall from the second-floor jail window, and adopting a Christ-like countenance:

When President Smith had been set against the curb, and began to recover, from the effects of the fall, Col. Williams ordered four men to shoot him. Accordingly, four men . made ready to execute the order. While they were making preparations, and the muskets were raised to their faces, President Smith’s eyes rested upon them with a calm and quiet resignation. He betrayed no agitated feelings and the expression upon his countenance seemed to betoken his only prayer to be: “O, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

In the account of Daniels, after the four men carried out Williams execution order, a pillar of light came down from the heavens to save the prophet from imminent mutilation. (No other witness reported seeing such a pillar, and Mormon historians have concluded that the pillar was an invention of Daniels.) As Daniels described the scene:

The ruffian. now secured a bowie knife for the purpose of severing his head from his body. He raised the knife and was in the attitude of striking, when a light, so sudden and powerful, burst from the heavens upon the bloody scene, (passing its vivid chain between Joseph and his murderers,) that they were struck with terrified awe and filled with consternation. This light, in its appearance and potency, baffles all powers of description. The arm of the ruffian, that held the knife, fell powerless the muskets of the four, who fired, fell to the ground, and they all stood like marble statues, not having power to move a single limb of their bodies.


In the account of witness William Daniels, a pillar of light prevents the mutilation of Joseph Smith

Would Daniels insist at trial that the incredible portions of his account were accurate and thus face ridicule, or would he admit to embellishment or downright lies? Either prospect had to be a major concern to prosecutor, and former state attorney general, Josiah Lamborn.

On the morning of May 21, 1845, in a two-story brick courthouse in Carthage, the case of People v Levi Williams was called. Standing trial before Judge Richard M. Young were five Hancock County residents accused of conspiring to murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith open. They were defended by a team of lawyers that included Orville H. Browning, called "perhaps the ablest speaker in the state." Ironically, Browning had represented Joseph Smith in his successful effort to fight extradition to Missouri. Joining Browning at the defense table were Colonel William A. Richardson, Calvin A. Warren, and Archibald Williams.

On the first day of the trial the defense played its key card. It moved that the panel of potential jurors chosen by the Mormon-dominated county's commissioners be discharged on the grounds of prejudice against the defendants and they be replaced by a new panel chosen by a court-appointed panel of elisors. The novelty of the defense proposal, and the lack of caselaw supporting it, proved surmountable obstacles for Judge Young, who granted the motion. A new array of potential jurors was quickly selected from among bystanders at the court. Only four of the ninety-six men chosen for the panel were Mormons. Judge Young's decision only served to reinforce the general feeling among the county's Mormon population that the justice system was stacked against them and they should have nothing to do with the trial.

In his opening argument to the jury of twelve non-Mormon men, Prosecutor Josiah Lamborn called the five defendants "the movers and instigators of that mob who committed the crime." Lamborn declared, "The guilt of this crime hangs over you as a blight and a curse which is destroying your character, and gnawing at the root of your prosperity." There can exist, he said, "no equal rights, no patriotism" when mob murder is "permitted to exist."

On the day of the murders in Carthage, witness John Peyton marched towards Nauvoo with other members of the Warsaw militia. He told jurors what happened after the militia reached "the railroad shanties," a landmark about six miles from Warsaw. Peyton testified that Colonel Levi Williams discharged the three companies of militia (one lead by Grover, one by Davis, and a third from the town of Green Plains) at the shanties and then "beat up" for volunteers to go to Carthage. Peyton said that battalion commander Mark Aldrich told the men that the time had come to "do something to stop" the Mormon power grab in Hancock County. Peyton, however, refused to say that any of the defendants specifically incited the killing of the Smiths. "I could not tell what their intention was," Peyton replied in a response to a question from Lamborn. The witness testified that, after the speeches by Williams and Aldrich, about a hundred armed men (including Williams, Aldrich, Thomas Sharp and William Grover) set off for Carthage, ten miles to the east. Defendant Jacob Davis, Peyton said, did not join the march and instead headed toward home. Following Peyton to the stand, George Walker told jurors that Jacob Davis, in explaining to others at the time why he headed home and not to Carthage said: "[I'll] be damned if [I] would go kill a man that was confined in prison."

The prosecution took a risk in calling anti-Mormon activist Franklin Worrell. Worrell had reportedly warned a Mormon who visited the jail on the day before the murders, "We have had too much trouble to bring Old Joe here to let him escape alive, and unless you want to die with him you better leave before sundown." Unsurprisingly, Worrell would admit to no such advice on the witness stand, but he did testify to watching men disguise themselves "by wetting their hands in powder, and then putting their hands on their faces." He described how the mob approached the jail and how "they made a rush for the door." Worrell testified there was "so much noise or smoke that I could not see or hear anything what was said or done." Committing what was quite obviously perjury, Peyton claimed he "did not see any of the defendants at the jail." The hostile witness proved for the prosecution only what was already conceded--that a mob killed Joseph and Hyrum Smith--but did nothing to incriminate any of the five defendants. After hearing from a few other witnesses, Lamborn recalled Worrell to the stand to ask, "Do you know if the Carthage Greys that evening loaded their guns with blank cartridges?" Two defense attorneys immediately rose to advise Worrell from answering the question. Young offered that Worrell could refuse to answer if he felt that by so doing he might incriminate himself--a suggestion that Worrell accepted. The obvious implication of Worrell's assertion of the privilege against self-incrimination is that at least some of the Carthage guards were willing participants in the plot to kill the Smiths.

The next three prosecution witnesses, members of the Carthage Greys who were assigned guard duty, placed Aldrich, Williams, and Sharp in Carthage just before the five o'clock assault on the jail. The witnesses described a chaotic scene around the jail and then Joseph Smith's fall from the second-floor window. By the time the troops reached the jail, according to the witnesses, the Smiths were dead and the mob was beating a hasty retreat. None of the three witnesses reported overhearing any conversations that would specifically tie any of the defendants to the actual murders.

Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated witness for the state was twenty-four-year-old William Daniels, a recent convert to Mormonism and author of the booklet about the murder of Joseph Smith that included several sensational elements. In the account Daniels gave the jury, Thomas Sharp spoke at the shanties of "the necessity of killing the Smiths to get rid of the Mormons." Shortly after Sharp's speech, Daniels testified, volunteers willing to kill the Smiths stepped forward. The first volunteer was defendant William Grover, who was so enthusiastic about the effort that he said "he would come alone" if need be to get the job done. Daniels told the jury that from sixty to one hundred met set off on foot for Carthage. They did so, Daniels testified, with the knowledge that the jail guards would be carrying guns with blank cartridges. Daniels said that immediately before the attack on the jail was launched, Williams yelled, "Rush in, boys, there's no danger." Daniels reiterated his belief that Joseph Smith and not yet been shot when he fell from the second-floor window and that "three or four" shots were fired after he fell.

Lamborn, anticipating that the defense would use Daniels' booklet as the centerpiece of their cross-examination, asked the witness if he was in fact the author. Daniels answered, "Lyman Omar Littlefield is the author," adding, "I suppose he got it from what I told him--I told him the story a good many times." Lamborn knew that the "pillar of light" that saved Joseph Smith from an imminent mutilation would require some explaining, so he took the initiative. "Explain it to us," Lamborn urged his witness. "It was represented in the book rather different than it was," Daniels replied. The prosecutor suggested that the light might have "been the reflection of a musket," but Daniels resisted conclusions: "I don't say what it might have been." Whatever its source, Daniels told the jury, "I was considerably excited."

Orville Browning's effective cross-examination exploited both inconsistencies and implausibilities in the several accounts Daniels had given of the murders. His questions reminded the jury that, according to his own account, Daniels had advance knowledge of the plot, yet took no action to warn the Smiths or authorities who might have prevented the murders. Browning got Daniels to say, "The facts in the book are about as right as I could tell them"--an admission that undermined the prosecution's efforts to tie the account in the booklet to Lyman Littlefield instead of its witness. Browning elicited testimony that contradicted the account in the booklet in several particulars. For example, while the booklet reports that Joseph Smith mortally wounded three men, on the stand Daniels testified only that he saw three members of the mob wounded in the attack.

Browning saved his heaviest ammunition for his questioning of the Daniels/Littlefield account concerning a the appearance of a miraculous pillar of light just as a ruffian was ready to sever Smith's head with a bowie knife:

Browning then read from the Littlefield/Daniels account, with its description of a frightened and paralyzed bowie knife-wielding assailant. Daniels responded by telling jurors that he told Littlefield after publication of the book that it contained several mistakes. Minutes later, Browning asked Daniels if he ever told anybody "that you had written a book and expected to make a great sum of money out of it?" Daniels answered, "I don't know that I did or did not."

Eliza Jane Graham, a thirty-three-year old Mormon woman from Nauvoo, appeared nervous as she testified about what she saw at the Warsaw House, an inn run by her aunt and where she worked as an employee. Graham told jurors that around dusk on the night of the murders, Thomas Sharp and another man appeared at the Warsaw House. Sharp asked for a glass of water and announced, "We have finished the leading heads of the Mormon Church." Later that night, according to Graham, Davis and Grover showed up at the tavern and openly discussed the killing of the Smiths. Grover even bragged that he had been the actual killer of "Old Jo," as he called Joseph Smith. Browning used his cross-examination of Graham to raise doubts about her ability to recall the exact words of a conversations from the previous year and to suggest that, as a Mormon, she might have an interest in incriminating the defendants.

The last witness of real significance presented by the prosecution was eighteen-year-old Benjamin Brackenbury, who spent the day of the murders working as a baggage wagon driver in the Warsaw militia. Brackenbury testified that as volunteers marched toward Carthage they were met by a messenger sent by the Carthage Greys, who reported to the men, "Now is the time to rush on: the Governor is gone to Nauvoo and there is nobody is Carthage but what you can put dependence on." Brackenbury, alone among the state's witnesses, placed all five of the defendants near Carthage shortly before the murders. At the time shots rang out from the jail, Brackenbury was stationed about a quarter mile away in his wagon. He watched as men ran back from the direction of the jail. "They said they had killed the Smiths," Brackenbury testified. Asked if Grover was among the men returning from the jail, Brackenbury answered: "Yes, he said he had killed Smith, that Smith was a damned stout man, and that he went into the room where Smith was, and that Smith had struck him twice in the face." Brackenbury confirmed earlier testimony that three members of the mob--Wills, Voras, and Gallaher--had been injured during the assault. Browning's cross brought an admission from Brackenbury that "I had something to drink that day and had taken enough to make me feel nice." Browning scored points with the concession from the witness, "I should have remembered things better if I had not felt so [nice]." Brackenbury also didn't help the prosecution when he described his present occupation as "loafering."

The Defense's Case and Closing Arguments

Over the course of just a single day, the defense presented its sixteen witnesses. No defendants testified, and no witnesses were called to offer alibis. Instead, the defense focused its efforts on impeaching the three key witnesses presented by the prosecution: Daniels, Graham, and Brackenbury. Former grand jury foreman James Reynolds, for example, was called to testify that Brackenbury's testimony before the grand jury the previous fall differed in several particulars from his testimony at the trial. Three witnesses testified that Daniels had told them the night of the murders that he participated in the actual assault on the jail, something he denied in his trial testimony. Charles Andrews, Daniels's brother-in-law, told jurors that Daniels had bragged that he could get $1000 from the state for testifying at the trial. Four other witnesses said they heard similar stories from Daniels about a pay-to-talk deal. The defense's final witness was Ann Fleming, the proprietor of the Warsaw House where Eliza Graham worked. Fleming contradicted Graham's testimony that Sharp had called for a glass of water and announced the Smiths were dead. She testified that she could not recall seeing either Sharp or Grover at her tavern that evening. On that high note, the defense rested.

On a Wednesday evening, with a single candle lighting the faces of the twelve jurors, Josiah Lamborn began his closing argument for the state by offering a series of startling concessions. He admitted that William Daniels, generally considered to be the state's star witness, "has made statements which ought to impeach his evidence before any court." As a result, Lamborn said, he "therefore excludes Daniels' evidence from consideration by the jury." He then waved off the evidence of Benjamin Brackenbury: "Brackenbury was drunk, is a loafer and perjured himself before the grand jury." Finally, and most surprisingly, he dismissed the evidence of the last of his three key witnesses, Eliza Graham. Although he said he was "sincerely of the opinion that she spoke the truth," the testimony of several contradicting witnesses convinced him that he should "give her up." Then Lamborn begin dropping whole cases against some of the defendants. Lamborn said that although he "had not a particle" of doubt as that Davis was a member of the murder conspiracy, "there is no legal evidence to convict him." The same went for Grover even though, Lamborn said, "I verily believe he was at the jail with a gun." The cause of Lamborn's shocking concessions is not known, but speculation has ranged from fear for his own life (the courtroom crowd was overwhelmingly pro-defense) to an effort to win points from the jury for his impartiality to the promise of a pay-off by acquitted defendants or their supporters. After writing off the better part of his case, Lamborn limped along for another hour or so, suggesting that there still might be enough evidence to convict each of the three remaining defendants, Sharp, Aldrich, and Williams.


After Lamborn's anemic close, the defense probably could well have foregone offering its own. Nonetheless, three members of the defense team stood to deliver arguments. Calvin Warren told jurors, "If these men are guilty, then are every man, woman and child in the county guilty. The same evidence that has been given against the defendants could have been given against hundreds of others." Onias Skinner used his time with the jury to attack the prosecution's witnesses. He reminded them of the "absurd and stultifying statements. [that] sent successive sensations of mirth and disgust through this audience and shocked the jury and every spectator at their utter depravity and degradation." Skinner proceeded to argue that the evidence failed to support finding that a conspiracy existed to murder the Smiths, and that the actual murders could well have been committed by men with whom the defendants had no connection. Finally, Orville Browning rose to denounce "the crusade commenced against these defendants" and to suggest to the jury that by their acquittals they will "restore peace" to the county and prevent "a bloody and terrible war" that could result from their decision to convict.

At 11:30 on May 30, 1845, the jury began its deliberations. Two hours later, the jury reported its verdict: acquittals for all five defendants.

Few Mormons in Nauvoo were surprised with the jury's decision. Brigham Young wrote in his journal that the verdict was just as he "had anticipated." A story on the trial in the Nauvoo Neighbor noted that convictions never are to be expected in "martyr cases." The trial outcome, to a large extent, vindicated the prediction Browning made in his closing argument: it restored a measure of peace to Hancock County.

In the fall, a jury also acquitted a group of Mormons charged with the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor . In his History of Illinois , Governor Thomas Ford, reflecting on the two 1845 trials, wrote, "No one would be convicted of any crime in Hancock and this put an end to the administration of the criminal law in that distracted county."

In February 1846, Brigham Young announced to his Mormon followers in Nauvoo that the time had come to begin their long-anticipated exodus, and wagons full of Latter-Day Saints crossed the ice-covered Mississippi, the first leg on a westward journey that eventually took them to Salt Lake City.


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