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CRISIS AT KIRTLAND
Murderous Threats and Plots, 1835-1837
by Dale R. Broadhurst
---( March 2001 )---
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MURDEROUS THREATS & PLOTS
Section 1: Information & Analysis
From Historical Writers
1-A. Wilhelm von Wymetal
(Salt Lake City, Tribune Printing and Publishing Company 1886)
Chapter VI: Affidavits of Fanny Brewer and Others.
The following documents help to illustrate the characters of Joe, Hyrum and William Smith, Brigham Young, and other leading Saints...
1-B. James H. Kennedy
Early Days of Mormonism...
(NYC: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1888)
Chapter VII: Enemies Without and Within
An occurrence that had its culmination in the early days of this year , did not allay the feeling of enmity and distrust already prevalent in the outer world. Grandison Newell, a prominent farmer in Kirtland township, who lived a mile and a half from the village, had for a long time been an avowed enemy of Smith and the Mormons, and lost no chance to make his dislike apparent in his acts. A young man who had been a member of the Mormon Church, but had departed from and denounced it, gave Newell such information as led him, on April 13, 1837, to lodge a complaint before Justice Flint, of Painesville, charging Smith with conspiring to take his life. Giving form and substance to the grave rumors that had been for a long time afloat as to the dangers to be apprehended from the Mormon Church, this charge caused the wildest excitement. The hearing was awaited with the deepest interest. It occurred on June 3d. The young man above referred to -- whose name appears in none of the records -- made oath that Smith had directed himself and a fellow Mormon named Davis, to take Newell's life, declaring him to be an avowed enemy to the true faith, who ought to be out out of the way, and that on two occasions they had gone to the complainant's residence at night, with a purpose of carrying out their instructions, but had not found him at home.
This evidence made a sensation, and the Mormons used every means in their power to break its effect. Rigdon, Cowdery, Hyde, and other prominent members of their church were placed upon the stand, and made as good a case for Smith as the circumstances would admit. [[* In this trial, Gen. J. H. Payne, of Painesville, appeared for Newell, and in a quizzical way asked each of the Mormon witnesses if he believed Joe Smith to be a true prophet. The answer upon each occasion was an emphatic "Yes." When Rigdon was reached with the same inquiry, he sat back in his chair and cooly responded: "Well, I guess he is as much of a Prophet as you are, General, or Eber D. Howe" -- the latter's book against Mormonism having already appeared.]]
The court appears to have believed there was some foundation for the charge, as Smith was placed under bonds of five hundred dollars to keep the peace, and appear the next term of court. Rigdon, L. W. Denton [sic], and Orson Hyde were accepted as bail. On the final hearing, Smith was discharged, the evidence not being considered sufficient to make good the charge....
If Kennedy's sources can be trusted, LDS High Priest Soloman W. Denton was the "young man" spoken of "who had been a member of the Mormon Church, but had departed from and denounced it..." The other possible inside source for information on the murder plot would have been Denton's co-conspirator, LDS Seventy Marvel C. Davis. M. C. Davis, however, appears to have still been a member of the LDS Church prior to Newell's filing his charges on April 13, 1837. Assuming that Denton was indeed the "young man" spoken of, his defection from the Mormon cause must have occurred between late February (when Hyrum Smith testifies to having interviewed him in the still open Kirtland Bank) and early April (when Newell made the decision to file a complaint against Joseph Smith for attempted murder). According to Denton's own sworn statement, he was "excommunicated about two months" prior to June 3, 1837 (i. e. about the beginning of April) for "lack of faith, non-observance of duties and contempt of the quorum of High Priests." Denton further states that he "left Kirtland about five weeks" prior to June 3 (i. e. about the end of April). The period between his excommunication and his departure for Michigan coincides perfectly with the mid-April period when Newell learned of Denton's role in the murder plot and decided to press charges against Smith.
Kennedy's assertion, that the would-be assassins had " on two occasions" secretly approached "the complainant's residence at night," helps elucidate other testimony regarding the murder plot. According to Newell's 1837 reconstruction of events (dependent upon information provided him by Denton) "...two of the saints of the latter day... meet in the night, at a little distance from my house... with a determination to kill me. But ... [after] a little cool reflection... they were restored to their right minds, and ... [did not] "stain their souls with a crime so horrible." And, according to a much later, second-hand report from the brother of LDS Bishop N. K. Whitney, M. C. Davis (presumably in company with Denton) "went up to Newel's house, and when he stepped out of the door, before going to bed, he tried to raise his rifle and shoot him but he had not the strength." Whitney supplements the story of this failed attempt upon Grandison Newell's life with a second account, obtained from Newell himself, saying that when Newell "was coming home from Painesville one night, he... passed ... [the] turn off [to his home]... and escaped being murdered as men were waiting to kill him..." These two stories complement Kennedy's allegation that there were two failed nighttime attempts upon Newell's life and that (in at least one of those instances) the assassins had not found Newell at home.
1-C. Arthur B. Deming
Death Blow to Mormonism
(c. 1888, never published)
1-D. Thomas Gregg
The Prophet of Palmyra
(NYC: John B. Alden, 1890)
Appendix: Dissenters and Priests
(From the Elders' Journal.)
1-E. William A. Linn
The Story of the Mormons
Book 2 Chapter VI : Last Days at Kirtland
While Smith was thus fighting leading members of his own church, he was called upon to defend himself against a serious charge in court. A farmer near Kirtland, named Grandison Newell, received information from a seceding Mormon that Smith had directed the latter and another Mormon named Davis to kill Newell because he was a particularly open opponent of the new sect. The affidavit of this man set forth that he and Davis had twice gone to Newell's house to carry out Smith's order, and were only prevented by the absence of the intended victim. Smith was placed under $500 bonds on this charge, but on the formal hearing he was discharged on the ground of insufficient evidence. [[1 Fanny Brewer of Boston, in an affidavit published in 1842, declared, "I am personally acquainted with one of the employees, Davis by name, and he frankly acknowledged to me that he was prepared to do the deed under the direction of the prophet, and was only prevented by the entreaties of his wife." end1]]
1-F. Eva L. Pancoast
"Mormons at Kirtland"
(unpublished MA thesis, Western Reserve University, 1929)
Chapter XIV: The Mormons Leave Kirtland
Smith had troubles other than financial during this period. The May 26, 1837 issue of the Painesville Telegraph contained Letter No. 2 from Grandison Newell, addressed to Sidney Rigdon. The Telegraph containing Letter No. 1 was not in the files so it was impossible to find what it was about, Letter No. 2, however, stated that Smith had hired two men to kill Mr. Newell, by the promise of great temporal and spiritual power as their reward. The Telegraph of June [sic] 16, 1837, yielded the information that the "Prophet was apprehended a short time since on the charge of inducing two of his followers to destroy the life of Mr. Newell. He was tried before the County Court last Friday and acquitted." [[514. Painesville Telegraph, May 16, 1837, May 26, 1837]]
The June 9, 1837 number, however, stated under the caption, "Testimony of State vs, Smith for inciting murder," that Denton and Davis seem to have been incited to murder by Smith. Newell had threatened to proceed against their bank and Smith hoped he would be put out of the way. The case was ended for the time by requiring Smith to put of $500 bonds for his appearance at court; and Rigdon, Hyde and Denton $50 for their appearances as witnesses in the case." [[515. Painesville Telegraph, June 9, 1837]]
On June 30, 1837, another letter from Mr. Newell appeared protesting the acquittal of Smith. The judge discharged Davis, Denton and Smith, and dismissed the case "because Newell hates the Mormons." Denton's
testimony had stated that Smith first told him to kill Newell in the spring of 1835 (which was before the bank trouble) because he was a particularly open opponent of the new sect.
Whether this attempt really was made back in 1835 was not proved, although the witness, Denton, testified that Davis and himself went to Newell's house to carry out Smith's order and were only prevented by the absence of the intended victim....
1-G. Brigham H. Roberts
Comprehensive History of Church...Vol.1
(Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)
Chapter XIV: Disaster in Kirtland
Note 32. Grandison Newell (a non-"Mormon") lodged a complaint before Justice Flint, of Painsville, charging the Prophet with conspiring to take his life. Much reliance was placed on Parrish's testimony by the Prophet's enemies, and the above answer was quite disconcerting to them. The Justice in the preliminary hearing placed the Prophet under five hundred dollar bonds to keep the peace and to appear at the next term of court. "On the final hearing;" remarks Kennedy, "Smith was discharged, the evidence not being sufficient to make good the charge." (Early Days of Mormonism, p. 157-8).
1-H. Fawn M. Brodie
No Man Knows My History...
(NYC: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1945)
Chapter XIV: Disaster in Kirtland
Joseph threatened to excommunicate any Saint who brought suit against a brother in the church, and ordered [Parley P.] Pratt to trial before the High Council on May 29. But the council itself was racked with schism, and the meeting broke up in disorder. [[ History of the Church, Vol. II, p. 486.]]
Meanwhile, Grandison Newell, the most bellicose anti-Mormon in Ohio, who had gleefully watched the church's financial structure collapse, determined to smash Joseph's personal prestige forever. He wrote open letters to the Painesville Telegraph on May 16 and 26 accusing the prophet of inciting two Mormons, named Denton and Davis, to kill him so that he would not proceed against the bank. Desperately shaken by this climax to four months of continuing calamity, Joseph wrote in his journal: "It seemed as though the powers of earth and hell were combining their influence in an especial manner to overthrow the Church at once, and make a final end." Heber Kimball was probably not exaggerating much when he said that at this time "there were not twenty persons on earth that would declare that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God." [[ In a sermon delivered September 28, I856. Journal of Discourses, Vol. IV, p. 105.]]
Since Grandison Newell was known publicly as "the Mormon Persecutor," many suspected that his suit against the prophet was concocted out of pure malice. When the court convened early in June, it was clear that he had no case, and few were surprised when the judge dismissed the suit for want of evidence. [[§ For a complete history of this case see the Painesaille Telegraph, May 19, 26, and June 9, 16, 30, 1837; also the Painesville Republican, July 6, 1837.]]
The Newell attack served to win Joseph a good deal of sympathy from his own people. Apostles T. B. Marsh and Orson Hyde, who had been sharply critical of the banking failure, confessed their sins and begged forgiveness. Even Pratt was reconciled...
Brodie uncovers a particle of probable truth in her stating that "The Newell attack served to win Joseph a good deal of sympathy from... Orson Hyde, who had been sharply critical... and begged forgiveness." Hyde appears to have been a reticent prosecution witness who offered ambiguous testimony at the June 3, 1837 hearing at Painesville. Hyde was soon after reconciled with Smith and his court testimony did little to help support Newell's allegations of an 1835 Mormon plot against his life. It is entirely possible that Hyde, then standing in the middle ground between dissenters like Warren Parrish, Luke S. Johnson, and John F. Boynton and those Mormons more loyal to Joseph Smith, Jr., used his testimony in court to gain some leverage over Smith's policy and actions following the collapse of the Kirtland Bank. If so, then his subsequent begging for "forgiveness" from Smith may have included a crocodile tear or two.
Brodie's Smith biography reached a wide audience and readers for generations have tended to accept a great deal of her interpretation of Mormon history as being basically true. At least in the case of the Grandison Newell charges against Smith, the legal proceedings resulting from those charges, and the testimony presented in court, Brodie is an unreliable source. Her summation, that "The Newell attack served to win Joseph a good deal of sympathy from his own people," is, however, probably correct. As he had done in the instance of the similar (but mirrored) circumstances of the 1834 court proceedings against D. P. Hurlbut, Smith managed to rally the Saints to his cause and to emerge from the legal battle as a winner. Joseph Smith, Jr. appears to have possessed a unique talent (perhaps dependent largely upon his highly-paid lawyers) of being able to turn the broken eggs of Mormon discontent into the savory ommlettes of religious unity -- at least temporarily.
1-I. Willis Thornton
"Gentile and Saint at Kirtland"
The Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly
LXIII: 1 (January 1954)
Every opponent outside the church seized the moment to press every sort of legal claim, and the sheriff became a daily visitor. He was really no stranger to Kirtland, for the Kirtland Mormons had always been what is today called "litigation-prone." Dr. Philastus Hurlbut, the apostate enemy, was accused of a plot to kill Smith, but the somewhat bored court, finding no particular evidence in support, placed Hurlbut on $200 bond to keep the peace. Then Smith was accused of plotting to kill Grandison Newell, an inveterate enemy of the Mormons, but again there was no credible evidence, and Smith was in turn placed on a peace bond. In view of the turn of affairs took later on in Missouri, these accusations look more serious than they were on either side; and partisans of either side still take them seriously. The fact remains that in neither case was serious evidence presented that led the courts to take a more than perfunctory view of the accusations.
1-J. Robert K. Fielding
"The Growth of the Mormon Church Kirtland"
(unpublished MA thesis, Indiana University, 1957)
Chapter X: The Exodus From Ohio
[Grandison Newell demonstrated] his public disapprobation toward the Mormons by entering his own complaint in April of 1837. The case came to trial in June and attracted the greatest interest of residents of the Western Reserve. Prominent Mormons were called to the stand where they gave damaging testimony and aired their private feelings. Warren Parrish's testimony was widely anticipated and, in view of the rift between the two men, it was expected to be a thorough denunciation of Mormonism and of Joseph Smith, When Parrish was asked if he knew of anything derogatory in Smith's character, he disappointed his audience by replying he did not. [[19 This is Sidney Rigdon's version of the testimony. See Elders' Journal, August, 1838. The court record is only a brief summary of the proceedings. See note 21,]]
Orson Hyde was less disappointing. He testified that the previous February, in the office of the Kirtland Bank, he had heard Smith say that Newell, if he commenced suits for unlawful banking against any of the Mormons, ought to be put "where the crows could not find him," [[20 This is Grandison Newell's version. See Painesville Telegraph, June 29, 1837.]]
Sidney Rigdon stated during the trial that two years earlier, he had learned of designs against Newell's life by two Mormons named Davis and Denton, the latter a young man boarding in Joseph Smith's home, but that Smith had assured him that he had thwarted the plot by his influence...
1-K. Max H. Parkin
"Mormon Political Involvement in Ohio"
Vol. 9 No. 4 (Summer 1969)
Politics and the Great Trial
One of the most menacing and potentially dangerous events with an apparent political bearing which occurred with the Mormons in Ohio was a complaint by Grandison Newell, charging Joseph Smith with a conspiracy to assassinate him. Newell, a prosperous manufacturer who lived two miles from Kirtland in Mentor, had demonstrated contempt for the Latter-day Saints by participating in economic boycotts against Mormon workmen and merchants, by threatening a mob attack upon the Mormon community, and by hindering the missionary effort. Because the Mormons suffered from Newell's malevolence, they in return had little affection for the wealthy industrialist. In May 1837, at a time of national economic turbulence when Joseph's popularity even within the Church was beginning to decline, Newell disclosed his intention to prosecute Joseph for masterminding a conspiracy to kill him. To Sidney Rigdon, Newell wrote, "Your bosom associate is the impostor Smith, the impious fabricator of gold bibles--the blasphemous forger of revelations with which he swindles ignorant people out of their hard-earned property." [[44 Grandison Newell, Letter to Sidney Rigdon, Painesville Telegraph, III, No. 21 (May 26, 1837), n.p. end44]]
After expressing his hatred for the Mormon Prophet, Newell presented the heart of his complaint by accusing Joseph Smith of being an accessory to a conspiracy to take his life. To Rigdon he continued,
Emboldened by success in his wicked schemes, he [Joseph Smith] hesitates not to use his authority as the revelator of the will of Heaven, to incite his followers to remove those who have opposed his treachery and fraud, by assassination. Deluded and frantic by his pretended revelation, that it was the will of God, that I should be destroyed, two of the saints of the latter day, by concert, and under the express direction of their prophet, this high priest of satan, meet in the night, at a little distance from my house, with loaded rifles, and pistols, with a determination to kill me. But as they drew near the spot where the bloody deed was to be performed, they trembled under the awful responsibility of committing murder, a little cool reflection in darkness and silence, broke the spell of the false prophet -- they were restored to their right minds, and are now rejoicing that they were not left to the power of the devil and co-adjutor Smith, to stain their souls with a crime so horrible. While these scenes were planned by the prophet, and promises of great temporal and spiritual good lavished upon these two men, by him, to stimulate them to assassinate me in my own house, in the midst of my family, and in a moment when I was defenseless and suspecting no danger. [[45 Ibid.]]
Newell's accusation was no idle threat. He registered a complaint with Justice Flint of Painesville, who issued a warrant for the arrest of the Mormon Prophet. Self-appointed individuals in Painesville who organized themselves into an unofficial committee proceeded to Kirtland to apprehend the Prophet and remove him to Painesville for trial. But the posse did not find Joseph in Kirtland. Believing the Mormons had concealed him, the committee demanded the leaders to surrender the Prophet to them. When convinced that Joseph was not in Kirtland, the committee members speculated that he would never return; nevertheless, before the month ended, Joseph returned to Kirtland, prepared his case, and traveled to Painesville accompanied by a sizable entourage of witnesses on Tuesday, May 30. Because the prosecution was not ready for him, the trial was postponed until the following Saturday to provide sufficient time for the state to secure evidence in the case. Then, on June 3, 1837, the trial --advertised as "THE STATE OF OHIO, vs. JOSEPH SMITH, JR. alias THE PROPHET" [[46 Painesville Telegraph, III, No. 23 (July 9, 1837), n.p. end46]] -- was held in the Methodist chapel in Painesville before a crowd of anxious spectators highly anticipating the disclosure of "the murderous projects of the modern prophet," as the press in Columbus (the state capital) reported the case. [[47 Ohio Statesman, I, No. 1 (July 5, 1837), n.p. end47]]
At the trial, the court heard testimony regarding the charge that Joseph Smith had induced Solomon H. Denton and a Mr. Davis to shoot Grandison Newell in his house in Mentor. Although the alleged confederates had both been Mormons, Davis never wholly committed himself to the rules of the Mormon society and young Denton, who had resided in the Smith home since 1835 while working in the Church printing office, was excommunicated from the Church a few months prior to the June trials. [[48 Painesville Telegraph, III, No. 23 (June 9, 1837), n.p. See also The Return (Iowa), I, No. 7 (July, 1889), p. 104. end48]]
Other witnesses, including Orson Hyde, Newell K. Whitney, Luke S. Johnson, Warren Parrish, Sidney Rigdon, and Hyrum Smith, responded. Warren Parrish, perhaps the most hopeful witness for the prosecution, a former scribe of Joseph Smith's and a current officer in the Mormon Bank, was having trouble with the Church. Grandison Newell expected Parrish to give incriminating evidence against Joseph Smith, but he was visibly shaken -- witnesses reported -- when Parrish refused to incriminate his leader but instead testified that he had often heard the Mormon Prophet "exhort his people to do no violence." [[49 Ibid. See also Elders' Journal, I, No. 4 (August, 1838), p. 58. end49]]
If Parrish's testimony pleased the Prophet, not all of the testimonies eulogized him. But the editor of the Republican, Horace Steel, reported that the testimonies rather than being detrimental tended "to raise Joseph Smith in the estimation of men of candor." [[50 Ohio Statesman, I, No. (July 5, 1837) cited the editor of the Painesville Republican. end50]]
Nevertheless while charging Joseph Smith a five hundred dollar bail bond and Rigdon, Hyde, and Denton fifty dollars bail each, Judge Flint ordered them to appear before the Court of Common Pleas the following week for further execution of the case.
The verdict at the second trial, which was held in the court house at Chardon, Friday, June 9, and presided over by Judge Humphery, came as a surprise to Newell. Insinuating that Grandison Newell's hatred for the Mormons induced the charges rather than the fear of assassination, Judge Humphrey acquitted the defendant. [[51 Painesville Telegraph, III, No. 26 (June 30, 1837), n.p. end51]]
But unwilling to abandon the case, the plaintiff carried it to the people in the pages of the Telegraph where he reviewed at length the evidence presented at the two trials. "Why did Orson Hyde testify that Smith told him that I ought to be put where the crows could not find me; that it would be no sin to kill me?" he asked. [[52 Ibid.]]
And he re-hashed numerous other points in the case. After Newell's article appeared in the papers, the editor of the Painesville Republican posed some questions for Newell to answer: "Why was the trial held in Painesville before Justice Flint, unfriendly to the politics of the Mormons?" inquired the Democrat editor. [[53 Painesville Republican, I, No. 34 (July 6, 1837), n.p.]]
While accusing Newell with fabricating the murder charges not only to persecute the Mormons but also to receive any political advantage the trial would give, editor Steel of the Republican said,
Mr. Newell resides in Mentor, about seven miles from Painesville and within two miles of the Mormon settlement, where Joseph Smith, Jr. resides. In preferring his complaint against Smith -- why did he depart from the common practice, and drag Mr. Smith and his witnesses through his own town a distance of nine miles from home, to Painesville, when there are two Justices of the Peace in Mentor, where he resides. I asked again, why was Mr. Flint selected to sit in judgment in this case. Those who know the circumstances have reason to say, in answer to those questions, that it was done, first the more to harass the Mormons -- secondly, that it was desirable to have it before a man favorable to the complainant's views -- and thirdly, that is was designed to have a political bearing, and the better to affect this object, one who has hitherto been one of the principal leaders of the opposition, was stationed in a conspicuous position during the trial for that purpose. (Italics mine.) [[54 Ibid --- ]]
[[Note: for a more detailed version of Parkin's report on the 1837 Joseph Smith trial. etc., see Section 8, below.]]
1-L. Marvin S. Hill, et al.
"The Kirtland Economy Revisited:
A Market Critique of Sectarian Economics"
Vol. 17 No. 4 (Summer 1977)
The most interesting feature of the Rounds cases that were prosecuted against Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon and that established the illegality of the Society is their apparent sponsorship. So far as we are aware, Samuel D. Rounds is a person having no prominence, or dealings with Joseph Smith for the Church and its members, except for these law suits. His name simply appears nowhere else. The Geauga County Execution Docket, however, states that the judgments against Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were assigned to Grandison Newell, who sought to collect them, and did obtain partial satisfaction in the amount of $605. Newell was a bitter enemy of Joseph Smith and the Mormons. In June 1837, Newell charged Joseph Smith with attempted murder, for which Smith was tried and acquitted in Painesville. It apparently was general knowledge at the time that Newell was behind Round's lawsuits against the Society, for a contemporary citizen of Kirtand, reprinting in his personal reminiscences a letter from him to the Painesville Telegraph (that evidently was never published), says: "The facts are that Perkins and Osborne were attorneys for Granison [sic] Newell in the prosecution of Smith and Rigdon for illegal banking." [[95 Christopher Crary, Pioneer and Personal Reminiscences. Marshalltown, Iowa, Marshall Printing Co., 1893), p. 80. end95]]
1-M. Dale W. Adams
"Chartering the Kirtland Bank"
Vol. 23 No. 4 (Fall 1983)
A month after the [Kirtland Safety Society] bank opened a writ was sworn out against Joseph Smith, Jr., and Sidney Rigdon by Samuel D. Rounds, a front man for Grandison Newell. [[16 Ibid. Grandison Newell claimed to have spent $1000 in court actions against the Mormons in 1837, and in addition gave Samuel Rounds $100 for his trouble (see unpublished mansucript by Mrs. Mary Newell, "Thomas Newell and His Descendants," dated 1878, on file in the Lake County Historical Library, mentor, Ohio). end16]]
The writ accused the two Mormon leaders of illegal banking and issuing unauthorized bank paper. A hearing on 24 March 1837 postponed the trial on this case until the fall session of the court. At the jury trial in October 1837, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were found guilty and fined $1,000 each plus some court costs, a fine they appealed. [[17 See Court of Common Pleas, "Record Book U," Geauga County, Ohio, pp. 353 ff.]]
A flurry of law suits, charges, countercharges, arrests, and threats of arrests swirled around the founders of the bank from March through December. The storm abated only when many of the founders of the bank and principal Church leaders fled Kirtland in 1837 and 1838.
It is likely that Orson Hyde got a very frosty reception from [Ohio Legislators] Ford, Rockwell, and Grander. They may even have told him that under no circumstances would they support a charter for the "Mormon Bank" in Kirtland. Two reasons could have been behind the reaction. First, three Whig representatives could not have been enthusiastic about promoting a bank for Democrats in Kirtland
Even more importantly, all three of these Geauga legislators had close contacts with the rabid Mormon hater, Grandison Newell, who almost single-handedly drove the Mormons out of Kirtland. Both Rockwell and Granger were involved with Newell in building a railroad from Fairport to Wellsville, Ohio. [[28 ??? data missing in original]]
1-N. Phillip R. Legg
Oliver Cowdery, The Elusive Second Elder of the Restoration
Independence: Herald Publishing House, 1989
Chapter 8: Trouble Brewing in Kirtland 1836-1838
Before the [Kirtland Safety Society] signs of failure were visible, a union was formed with the Monroe Bank of Michigan Terriritory, and Oliver was sent to serve as the vice-president... [The Kirtland Bank closed its doors by Jan. 27, 1836]; Oliver's bank of Monroe lasted a little longer, however. By the end of March, "with only $1,026 left in specie, it suspended payment for sixty days." [[7 Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Lnows My History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 197]] Many thought the bank would reopen, but it failed to do so after the passage of sixty days...
[On Feb. 1, 1837] the Messenger and Advocate became the property of Joseph and Sidney Rigdon. The notice in the Messenger and Advocate read:
The late firm of O. Cowdery & Co. is this day dissolved by mutual concent [sic]. The entire establishment is now owned by Joseph Smith Jr. and Sidney Rigdon. W. A. Cowdery takes the editorial chare... [[8 Notice in Messenger and Advocate 3, no. 5 (February 1837): 458.]]
Comment 2: Legg's short account regarding the Mormon connection with the Monroe bank helps to confirm that portion of Hyrum Smith's June 3, 1837 testimony, saying that he accompanied his brother "to Michigan last February" and that, "on their return," they went to the Kirtland bank and "there met Denton..." The date of the Smith brothers' return from Michigan must have been on or very shortly before Feb. 19, 1837. On that date Wilford Woodruff recalled Joseph Smith speaking and saying that he "had been absent from Kirtland on business for the Church."
1-O. D. Michael Quinn
The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power
Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994
In an incident about which Smith's personal diary and official history are completely silent, he was acquitted in June 1837 of conspiring to murder anti-Mormon Grandison Newell. The silence may be due to the fact that two of Smith's supporting witnesses in the case, both apostles, acknowledged that the prophet discussed with them the possibility of killing Newell. Apostle Orson Hyde testified that "Smith seemed much excited and declared that Newell should be put out of the way, or where the crows could not find him; he said destroying Newell would be justifiable in the sight of God, that it was the will of God, &c."
On the other hand, Fawn Brodie relates that, following his June 1837 acquittal, Joseph Smith, Jr., "... shaken by this climax to four months of continuing calamity, Joseph wrote in his journal: 'It seemed as though the powers of earth and hell were combining their influence in an especial manner to overthrow the Church at once, and make a final end.'" This quote, as it appears in the RLDS Church History (Vol. 2., p. 93) is taken from the Millennial Star, (Vol. 16, p. 11), where its sentiments are linked to a period of weeks, or even months, prior to June -- to a time when "banking institutions refused the 'Kirtland Safety Society's' notes." As this time frame was more likely the first few weeks of 1837, Quinn appears to be correct in saying that Smith said nothing of his June 1837 acquital in any diary or journal belonging to him.
Hyde tried to be helpful by adding that he had "never heard Smith use similar language before," and insisted: "I have known him for
some time and think him to be possessed of much kindness and humanity towards his fellow beings." Likewise, Apostle Luke S. Johnson acknowledged to the court that Smith had said "if Newell or any other man should head a mob against him, they ought to be put out of the way, and it would be our duty to do so." However, Johnson also affirmed: "I believe Smith to be a tender-hearted, humane man."
Whether or not the court agreed with that assessment, the judge acquitted Smith because there was insufficient evidence to support the charge of conspiracy to commit murder. [[45 Painesville Telegraph (Painesville, OH), 9 June 1837; Court of Common Pleas book T, 52-53 (5 June 1837), Geauga County Court House, Chardon, Ohio; Edwin Brown Firmage and Richard Coilin Mangrum, Zion in the Courts: A Legal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 55-56, 384n17; and a brief discussion of the case in B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), 1:405. end45]]
1-P. Richard S. Van Wagoner
Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess
SLC: Signature Books 1994
... Smith and Rigdon soon found themselves entrapped in a hopeless vortex of legal entanglements. The 1 February 1837 Cleveland Weekly Gazette first raised serious questions about the Kirtland Safety Society bank which, despite several attempts, was never legally chartered. [[47Rigdon and Smith must have been encouraged by trusted associates outside the Mormon community, perhaps local Democratic party leaders, to expect they would be granted a charter. After the first attempt failed, Orson Hyde again applied on 10 February 1837. The eleven Mormon names attached to this application included Rigdon, Smith, Whitney, Warren Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, and Oliver Cowdery. Non-Mormon signatures included Benjamin Adams (Painesville postmaster and local Democrat leader), Nehemiah Allen (prominent citizen of nearby Willoughby), Benjamin Bissell (Rigdon's and Smith's personal lawyer, also a prominent Democrat), Horace Kingsbury (prominent Painesville citizen and Democrat), and H. A. Sharp (prominent Willoughby citizen). Despite this list of supporters, the charter bid again failed. --- Church leaders did obtain a charter for the Monroe Bank in Michigan territory at this time, which added to their circulation of currency. According to Wilford Woodruff, during a meeting in the Kirtland temple on 31 January 1837, Smith announced that the First Presidency had "bought the Monroe charter & we all lent a hand in establishing it, that it might be ben[e]ficial to us in forwarding the building of the temporal Kingdom" (Kenney, 1:124). end47]]
Recognizing this, Samuel D. Rounds, a front man for a prosperous Kirtland farmer and businessman, Grandison Newell, swore out a writ against Rigdon and Smith shortly after the bank's opening. [[48 Newell, who claimed to have spent $1,000 in court actions against Mormons during 1837, gave Rounds $100 for his trouble (see unpublished manuscript by Mrs. Mary Newell, "Thomas Newell and His Descendants," 1878, on file in the Lake County Historical Library, Mentor, Ohio). end48]]
The writ accused the two of illegal banking in defiance of the 1816 Ohio statutes. A hearing on 24 March 1837 postponed the trial until the fall session of the court. At the jury trial in October 1837 Rigdon and Smith were both found guilty and fined $1,000 each plus court charges. Although they appealed, both fled the state before their court date. [[See Common Pleas, Record Book U, Geauga County, Ohio, 353f. end49]]
Rounds's writ was only one of a deluge filed against Rigdon, Smith, and other church leaders in 1837. E. D. Howe, editor of the nearby Painesville Telegraph, later explained the reasoning behind the legal harassment:
All [the Mormons'] vain babblings and pretensions were pretty strongly set forth and noticed in the columns of the TELEGRAPH. in view of all their gaseous pretensions the surrounding country was becoming somewhat sensitive, and many of our citizens thought it advisable to take all the legal means within their reach to counteract the progress of so dangerous an enemy in their midst, and many law suits ensued. [[50 E. D. Howe, Autobiography and Recollections of a Pioneer Printer (Painesville, OH: Telegraph Steam Printing House, 1878), 45. end50]][p. 193]
... One of the malevolent men Woodruff alluded to was evidently Grandison Newell, the wealthy industrialist who lived in nearby Mentor. For unknown reasons, Newell made the oppression of Mormonism his personal vendetta and wanted Rigdon in his camp. "Your bosom associate," began his 1837 letter to Rigdon, "is the imposture[r] Smith, the impious fabricator of gold bibles -- the blasphemous forger of revelations, with which he swindles ignorant people out of their hard-earned property." Newell's diatribe claimed that two well-armed men "under the express direction of their prophet" had waited outside the Newell home, and "in a moment when I was defenseless and suspecting no danger" planned to assassinate him. The two alleged gunmen, Solomon H. Denton and a Mr. Davis, lost their nerve and, according to Newell, left the scene. [[6 Newell to Rigdon, published in the 26 May 1837 Painesville Telegraph. end6]]
And, even if some of the 1837 testimony directed against Smith can be taken seriously, what is related there does not appear to provide the Mormon leader with sufficient reason to desire the man's untimely death. It is not at all unlikely that there was some deeper, so-far undisclosed mutual animosity shared by the two men. Perhaps Smith recalled, in 1835, that Newell had been a primary supporter of the claims for the Solomon Spalding authorship of the Book of Mormon. Tied up with D. P. Hurlbut's publicizing of those claims in 1833 was Smith's expressed fear that Hurlbut was attempting to kill him. Perhaps Hurlbut did make such threats, and in the process boasted of the protection extended to him by Grandison Newell. Perhaps Hurlbut even relayed back to Newell an imagined death threat from Smith, thus compounding Newell's suspicions concerning the Mormon threat, both to his community and to him personally. Further speculation would be useless, but an explanation of Van Waggoner's observation of "unknown reasons," is probably to be found in some such extenuation of hostility on both sides.
Newell brought charges against Smith before Judge Flint of Painesville. A group of Newell's friends rode to Kirtland to apprehend the prophet, but he eluded the vigilantes. The 3 June trial, The State of Ohio, vs. Joseph Smith, Jr., alias The Prophet, was held in Painesville's Methodist church before a large crowd of spectators anxious to witness a disclosure of the "murderous projects of the modern prophet," reported the 5 July 1837 Ohio Statesman. Rigdon testified that "information came to him from some quarter" that Davis and Denton "entertained
designs against" Newell's life. He told Smith, he said, and afterwards the prophet informed him that "through his influence Davis and Denton had laid aside their purpose." [[7Painesville Telegraph, 30 June 1837.]]
Despite the lack of incriminating evidence, Justice Flint ordered Smith bound over to the Court of Common Pleas.
The second trial was held at Chardon on 9 June, presided over by Judge Humphrey. After hearing the evidence, the judge acquitted the defendant on grounds that Newell's hatred for Smith induced his action against the defendant rather than fear of assassination. [[8 Ibid., 16 June 1837.]]
Newell, dissatisfied with the decision, wrote a plea to the citizenry which was published in the 30 June 1837 Painesville Telegraph. Public opinion rested unexpectedly in Smith's favor, and the matter was quietly dropped. [[9 For a full treatment of this incident, see Max H. Parkin, Conflict at Kirtland: A Study of the Nature and Causes of External and Internal Conflict of the Mormons in Ohio Between 1830 and 1838 (Salt Lake City: Department of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion, 1967), 213-19. end9]]
1-Q. Milton V. Backman, Jr.
The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio 1830-1838.
SLC: Deseret Book 1983
Enemies of the Church continually harassed him [Smith], indicting him on one charge after another. Grandison Newell, for example, one of the most outspoken critics of the Church in Geauga County, brought a suit against the Prophet, charging him with instructing two other members of the Church to kill Newell in harmony with the will of God. Joseph's actions, Newell alleged, were aimed at preventing him from prosecuting the Mormon leader for his involvement in the Kirtland Safety Society. The court convened in June, and after hearing various testimonies, the judge ruled there was no reliable evidence sustaining Newell's complaint and suggested that his hatred towards the Mormon leader, not his fear of a threat on his life, had induced the prosecution. [[41 Painesville Telegraph, June 30, 1837, p. 3; Journal of Joseph Fielding, p. 12. end41]]
1-R. Wayne Cowdrey, et. al.
The Spalding Enigma...
(Los Angles, privately published CD-ROM book, 1999)
As to whether Sidney Rigdon ever considered Joseph Smith a true prophet of God or whetehr he knew the whole thing to be nothing more than a sacm, we have uncovered yet another fascinating bit of evidence, again from the lips of Rigdon himself, and this time given under oath in a court of law.
During a June, 1837, court proiceeding concerning the complaint of one Grandison Newell of Kirtland to the effect that Joseph Smith had given orders to have him (Newell) killed:
"Gen. J. H. Payne, of Painesville, appeared for Newell, and in a quizzical way asked each of the Mormon witnesses if he believed Joe Smith to be a true prophet. The answer upon each occasion was an emphatic "Yes." When Rigdon was reached with the same inquiry, he sat back in his chair and cooly responded: "Well, I guess he is as much of a Prophet as you are, General, or Eber D. Howe" [[56 Kennedy, J. H. Earky Days of Mormonism: Palmyra, Kirtland and Nauvoo, (NY: Chas. Scribner's Sons, 1888) pp. 157-158...]]
Thus Sidney Rigdon stands condemned, not only by the words of others, but by the words of his own mouth...