Visiting the Nauvoo, Illinois area this week, I took a tour of Carthage Jail on Tuesday. Many thanks to Sister B. for accommodating my arrival after hours (new winter hours close the site at 4:00 p.m.). I did not get to see the film, but my friend and I were treated to an unhurried, private tour of the jail led by a veteran missionary (this is Sister B.’s sixth mission for the Mormon Church!). Here are a few things I learned from Sister B. and an elder who stuck his head into the dungeon cell for a few minutes during our tour.
- The construction of the jail was begun in 1838, just about the time the Saints were being run out of Missouri, and completed in 1841. They built the jail just so they could kill the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum.
- Joseph was jailed on a false charge of treason. In bypassing the Governor and calling out the militia (the Nauvoo Legion) he was only doing what all the other towns had done. The other towns’ officials didn’t get in any trouble; only Joseph got arrested.
- Joseph Smith did not destroy the Nauvoo Expositor newspaper, he only ordered it done. Besides, someone else in the area had had his press destroyed five times and nobody did anything about it. Only Joseph ever got in trouble for these things.
- Sister B. did not know the Prophet had 33 wives but, she said, lots of people had three or four wives and nobody thought anything of it. Yet when Joseph did it everybody got upset.
- One thing Sister B. was absolutely sure of: The Prophet did not marry other men’s wives. It just didn’t happen. No way. A prophet would not do such things.
- Joseph Smith did have a gun in the jail (she admitted), but he didn’t plan to shoot anybody and he didn’t shoot anybody. In fact, Sister B. has a gun at home, but she isn’t planning to shoot anyone, either.
- The jailer could see just by looking at Joseph that the Prophet was no ordinary man. Sister B. explained that John 8:12 says, “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of Christ” [sic]. Joseph Smith glowed with that light; the jailer could see it, so he treated Joseph differently, with tender care.
I’ve toured Carthage Jail many times, yet every time I go I learn something new.
It’s a shame that much of what I learn is rooted in pure emotion rather than in historical fact.