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Theodore Turley: A Biography
Richard E. Turley, Jr.

[This is another in a continuing series of newsletter articles that together will make up the first rough draft of a biography of Theodore Turley. The draft will undergo considerable revision before being published in book form. I invite all family members to read it critically, make suggestions, and offer additional information for possible inclusion. Feel free to e-mail me.]

8 Fleeing Far West, 5-18 April 1839

Theodore Turley and Heber C. Kimball arrived in Far West, Missouri, on 5 April 1839 with orders from Joseph Smith to move the remaining Latter-day Saints from the town as quickly as possible.1 By the spring of 1839, the saints who remained in Far West were primarily refugees too poor to move further and members of the Committee on Removal, the group charged with helping the poor reach safety. Theodore and Heber were among the latter group. The day they arrived back in Far West after visiting the Prophet, conditions for the saints in northwestern Missouri grew even more serious.

According to the published History of the Church, “This day a company of about fifty men in Daviess county swore that they would never eat or drink, until they had murdered ‘Joe Smith.’ Their captain, William Bowman, swore, in the presence of Theodore Turley, that he would ‘never eat or drink, after he had seen Joe Smith, until he had murdered him.'”2

Theodore and the other saints who remained in Far West faced persecution and the threat of death if they did not leave. One matter used to taunt them was a revelation Joseph Smith had received on 8 July 1838. The revelation, now know as section 118 of the Doctrine and Covenants, was directed to the members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.

The last three verses of the revelation read as follows:

4 And next spring let them depart to go over the great waters, and there promulgate my gospel, the fulness thereof, and bear record of my name.

5 Let them take leave of my saints in the city of Far West, on the twenty-sixth day of April next, on the building-spot of my house, saith the Lord.

6 Let my servant John Taylor, and also my servant John E. Page, and also my servant Wilford Woodruff, and also my servant Willard Richards, be appointed to fill the places of those who have fallen, and be officially notified of their appointment.

The day Theodore Turley arrived back in town from his visit to Joseph Smith, eight men confronted him in the office used by the Committee on Removal. Among the eight antagonists were Samuel Bogart, one of the saints’ chief persecutors, and John Whitmer, one of eight witnesses who had testified that Joseph Smith had shown him the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. In the difficulties of 1838, Whitmer had become separated from the main body of the Church and was considered an apostate.

When the eight men confronted Theodore, they showed him the revelation with its instructions for the members of the Twelve to depart on their trans-oceanic missions from the temple lot in Far West on 26 April 1839. When confronted with the revelation, Theodore responded, “Gentlemen, I am well acquainted with it.”

The eight replied, “Then you, as a rational man, will give up Joseph Smith’s being a prophet and an inspired man? He and the Twelve are now scattered all over creation; let them come here if they dare; if they do, they will be murdered. As that revelation cannot be fulfilled, you will now give up your faith.”

Unwilling to accede to their request, Theodore leaped to his feet and declared, “In the name of God that revelation will be fulfilled.”

Some in the room laughed at his declaration. John Whitmer, apparently shamed by Theodore’s courage, hung his head. The more defiant in the group threatened, “If they (the Twelve) come, they will get murdered; they dare not come to take their leave here; that is like all the rest of Joe Smith’s d–n prophecies.” The antagonists kept up their taunting, trying to persuade Theodore to renounce his faith. They pointed out that John Corrill, a trusted Church official who had recently been excommunicated, planned to write an exposé about the Church under the title Mormonism Fairly Delineated. “[H]e is a sensible man,” they goaded, “and you had better assist him.”3

Theodore refused to budge. “Gentlemen,” he said, “I presume there are men here who have heard Corrill say, that ‘Mormonism’ was true, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and inspired of God. I now call upon you, John Whitmer: you say Corrill is a moral and a good man; do you believe him when he says the Book of Mormon is true, or when he says it is not true? There are many things published that they say are true, and again turn around and say they are false.”

Pricked by this comment, Whitmer asked, “Do you hint at me?”

Theodore answered, “If the cap fits you, wear it; all I know is that you have published to the world that an angel did present those plates to Joseph Smith.”

Whitmer affirmed his published testimony: “I now say, I handled those plates; there were fine engravings on both sides. I handled them.” He described the plates further and acknowledged that “they were shown to me by a supernatural power.”

Hearing this testimony, Theodore asked, “Why is not the translation now true?”

Whitmer could answer only that since he could not read the engravings on the gold plates, he couldn’t be sure the translation was correct.4

The same eventful day, the Committee on Removal, of which Theodore was a member, met to continue its work. Concerned not only about the poor who remained in Far West but also the Church leaders imprisoned in Liberty and Richmond, Missouri, the committee took steps to relieve their wants. The History of the Church describes the work of the committee on this day as follows:

The committee [on removal of the Saints from Missouri] met, and Brother William Huntington made report of his journey to Liberty on business of the committee.

The subject of providing some clothing for the prisoners at Richmond was discussed, and the propriety of sending two brethren to Liberty, to make sales of some lands, was taken up, and Elders H. G. Sherwood and Theodore Turley were appointed.

A bill of clothing for the Richmond prisoners having been made up, was presented and given to those appointed to go to Liberty, that they might procure the goods on the sales of land.5

The next day, Saturday, 6 April, two events occurred that would prevent the intended relief from being given. First, the judge overseeing Joseph Smith and the others held at Liberty Jail elected to send them north into Daviess County under a guard of ten men. Second, the saints in Caldwell County, of which Far West was the county seat, received an ultimatum from a Daviess County mob to leave before the following Friday.

The latter emergency prompted the Committee on Removal to meet again. The committee decided to defer sending Elders Sherwood and Turley to Liberty. Instead, Elder Sherwood was sent to Illinois to borrow teams from the saints there. Meanwhile, Theodore and the others would try to hire all the teams they could to move the remaining saints from Far West to Tenney’s Grove, a settlement about twenty-five miles outside of Far West.6

On Sunday, 7 April, the committee met at Theodore Turley’s. Erastus Snow, who had been sent to Jefferson City to visit judges there, reported to the committee on his efforts. The committee also listened to the contents of a letter sent by Joseph Smith and his fellow prisoners. Two members of the committee, Daniel Shearer and Heber C. Kimball, were appointed to find legal aid for the prisoners when they were tried in Daviess County. Concerned about the welfare of the prisoners, who were still being guarded across the prairie, the committee offered a man thirty dollars if he would convey a letter to the prisoners and bring back a response.7

The next day, the guards transporting Joseph Smith and his fellow prisoners finally arrived at their destination in Daviess County roughly a mile from Gallatin, the place where anti-Mormons had sought to keep the Latter-day Saints from voting a few months earlier. The guard delivered the prisoners into the keeping of the county sheriff and his guard, which included William Bowman, the man who just three days earlier had bragged to Theodore Turley that he would neither eat nor drink after seeing Joseph Smith until he had murdered him.8

As the guard from Liberty made its way back to Clay County that night, part of the group got separated from the rest and arrived in Far West. They got caught in a fence but were helped out of the predicament by one of the Latter-day Saints, Stephen Markham, who obtained from them a copy of a letter Joseph Smith had written to the Committee on Removal. With the delivery of this letter, the committee members knew Joseph and the others had arrived at their destination in Daviess County.9

The committee dispatched Brother Markham to Daviess County with means to help relieve the prisoners from their destitute condition. Meanwhile, a grand jury, described in the History of the Church as being drunken, began meeting at Elisha B. Creekmore’s house near Gallatin. The grand jury would indict five of the prisoners for riot, arson, burglary, treason, and receiving stolen goods. After a journey that required him to swim several streams, Markham reached the prisoners Tuesday afternoon, bringing with him a copy of a statue passed by the Missouri legislature that would make possible a change of venue for them based on their own affidavits.10

On Wednesday, 10 April, Markham sought to provide evidence to counter the one-sided testimony that the grand jury was hearing, but he was not allowed to do so. The next day, Thursday, he was finally allowed to testify, but after he did so, the captain of the new guard, who was a notorious mobber, and several others threatened his life. That evening back in Far West, the Committee on Removal met and assigned Heber C. Kimball to travel to Daviess County to seek government protection from the mobs that threatened to attack Far West from that county the following day.11

During the night, Joseph Smith had a vision in which he saw that he would soon escape from captivity and that Stephen Markham was in grave physical danger. Early Friday morning, as counseled by the Prophet, Markham fled from Daviess County eluding pursuers who wished to shoot him. By 9:00 a.m., he had arrived in Far West carrying the prophetic warning of Joseph Smith to be cheerful but get out of the country as quickly as possible.12

Saturday, Markham left for Independence to wrap up the Church’s affairs there. The next day, the Committee on Removal met to figure out how to get the remaining destitute saints from Far West. That day, they managed to move thirty-six families to Tenney’s Grove. Because these families were poor and unable to fend for themselves, the committee appointed a few men to furnish wood for them, and Theodore Turley was assigned the onerous responsibility of providing food for them until they could cross the state and the Mississippi River to Quincy, Illinois, where the Latter-day Saint refugees had gradually been gathering. Meanwhile, Heber C. Kimball, being a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, had become a target of the mob. He had to hide in the cornfields during the day and meet with the other committee members at night.13

By Monday, 15 April, only a few Latter-day Saint families remained in Far West. The Committee on Removal met to make final arrangements for moving those families. Meanwhile, Joseph Smith and the other prisoners had managed to obtain a change of venue to Boone County because of the extreme anti-Mormon prejudice in Daviess County. On this Monday, they began their journey to Boone County under a strong guard.14

The following evening, as the prisoners and their guards camped for the night, it became apparent the guards had no intent to carry the prisoners any further. According to a later affidavit of Hyrum Smith, Joseph’s brother, “while there the sherriff . . . said [the] Judge . . . told him never to carry us to Boone county . . . ; and, said he, I shall take a good drink of grog, and go to bed, and you may do as you have a mind to. Three others of the guards drank pretty freely of the whisky, sweetened with honey. They also went to bed, and were soon asleep and the other guard went along with us, and helped to saddle the horses. Two of us mounted the horses [for which the prisoners had already paid with their clothing], and the other three started on foot, and we took our change of venue for the State of Illinois; and in the course of nine or ten days arrived safely at Quincy.”15

As the prisoners fled toward Quincy, the situation of Theodore Turley and the other members of the Committee on Removal who remained in Far West went from serious to critical, perhaps because word of Joseph Smith’s escape had begun to spread. On Thursday morning, 18 April, Heber C. Kimball came out of hiding to warn the members of the committee to conclude their business and flee for their lives. As he crossed the public square to deliver this warning, a group of ruffians on horseback encountered him, and with Theodore Turley and others looking on, challenged Heber. They asked with an oath if Heber were a Mormon. “I am a Mormon,” he acknowledged.

Hearing this answer, they replied, “Well, — you, we’ll blow your brains out, you — Mormon.” They then tried to trample him with their horses.16

Heber managed to escape and deliver his warning. A few minutes later, a dozen men, including some of the ruffians Heber had just encountered, entered Theodore’s business with loaded rifles. According to the account in the History of the Church,

They broke seventeen clocks into match wood. They broke tables, smashed in the windows; while Bogart (the county judge) looked on and laughed. One Whitaker threw iron pots at Turley, one of which hit him on the shoulder, at which Whitaker jumped and laughed like a madman. The mob shot down cows while the girls were milking them. The mob threatened to send the committee to hell jumping,” and “put daylight through them.”

With the mobbers hovering like vultures, Theodore and the other committee members gathered up what they could and left town within an hour. The mobbers then looted and pillaged.

The History of the Church recounts,

One mobber rode up, and finding no convenient place to fasten his horse, shot a cow that was standing near, and while the poor animal was yet struggling in death, he cut a strip of her hide from her nose to the tip of her tail, this he tied round a stump, to which he fastened his halter.17

In leaving Caldwell County, Theodore sacrificed most of the property he had accumulated through a lifetime of hard work. In an affidavit filed less than three weeks after leaving Far West, Theodore listed his losses, which included those suffered over the previous months. They included a blacksmith shop; a gunsmith shop; ten acres of land near town; a house, garden, well of water, stable, and similar improvements; a town lot; two horses with bridles and saddles; harnesses; and tools. In addition, he claimed a thousand dollars in losses sustained by the breaking up of his business, and another thousand dollars for the abuse he and his family of ten suffered in being driven from the state. All together, his claimed losses totaled $3,050.18

In a journal summary written a few months after these events, Theodore would describe the property he left behind and lament that he and his family were “unriteously Driven from the Same with about Ten Thousand Soles in Company Trusting Till God Shall redeem us from the [u]njustic of man.”19 Though driven, they were not defeated. And before leaving the vicinity for good, Theodore would return to see the fulfillment of Joseph Smith’s prophecy that he had so adamantly defended.

[Next issue: “Prophecy Fulfilled, 18-26 April 1839”]

Draft of 5 January 1997
© 1998 by Richard E. Turley, Jr. (Reprinted with permission.)
Originally published in the January 1998 Theodore Turley Family Organization Newsletter

  1. History of the Church, 3:306.
  2. History of the Church, 3:306. Although it is difficult to gauge how serious Bowman was when he made the oath, later events suggest that he may have sworn simply to impress his rough friends or to frighten the saints into leaving the state before they were better prepared. Bowman was among those who apparently allowed Joseph Smith and the other prisoners to escape from the state later in the month. History of the Church, 3:321. In any case, at the time, Theodore and the other saints had no way of knowing Bowman would not fulfill his murderous oath.
  3. History of the Church, 3:306-7. Corrill’s book was published that year in St. Louis as A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, (Commonly Called Mormons;) Including An Account of Their Doctrine and Discipline; with the Reasons of the Author for Leaving the Church.
  4. History of the Church, 3:307-8.
  5. History of the Church, 3:308.
  6. History of the Church, 3:308-9, 319.
  7. History of the Church, 3:309.
  8. History of the Church, 3:306, 309.
  9. History of the Church, 3:309.
  10. History of the Church, 3:309-15; Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984), 431.
  11. History of the Church, 3:310, 313-16.
  12. History of the Church, 3:316.
  13. History of the Church, 3:319.
  14. History of the Church, 3:319; Jessee, Personal Writings, 431.
  15. Hyrum Smith, Affidavit, 1 July 1843, as quoted in History of the Church, 3:321, 423.
  16. History of the Church, 3:322; President Heber C. Kimball’s Journal (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882), 72.
  17. History of the Church, 3:322-23. Cf. President Heber C. Kimball’s Journal, 73, and Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1888), 261-62, in which the location of this event is described as the “tithing house.”
  18. Theodore Turley petition sworn 7 May 1839 before the clerk of the circuit court of Adams County, Illinois, copy of original in my possession. This petition has been printed in Clark V. Johnson, ed., Mormon Redress Petitions: Documents of the 1833-1838 Missouri Conflict (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1992), 368.

    A few months later, he summarized his losses in his mission journal as follows: “I left Colwell [Caldwell County] a Dwelling House and Stable Gardin well of water with coveninces a work Shop well fitted up Ten acres of Timber Land & Two Town Lots.” Theodore Turley Mission Journal, p. 2, Special Collections, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

  19. Theodore Turley Mission Journal, p. 2, Special Collections, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.