Mormonism: “The Big Con?” (pt 9: Who Shot Governor Boggs?)

Editorial note: I am organizing my various series to cut down on Home Page clutter. The series will still be found all on a single page under their original title. However I want the different posts readily available. Therefore, I’m also adding them as individual posts.


Hello and welcome.

This time, we’ll take a look at an attempted murder that Joe may or may not have something to do with. (My money’s on “may”.) We’ll meet another “interesting” Mormonite: “God’s gunslinger”: Orrin Porter Rockwell, the “holy hit man” himself. (I call him “Opie”.)

We’ll explore more than a bit of legal maneuvering and discover at least one of the perks of being “head honcho” in a theocracy. Dr. John will be here. And we’ll have guest appearances by Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Elvis and some nice Mormon girls.

If you’re new to the series, you might want a bit of background to fully understand what the hell’s going on:

Who shot Governor Boggs?

Closest public official I could find. Plus, it’s Eric fuckin’ Clapton!


Mormon Chronology



Lilburn Boggs (1796-1860)

Lilburn Boggs (1796-1860)

(5/6/1842) Someone shoots Missouri’s ex-Governor, Lilburn Boggs through a window of his home in Independence, MO. (Aka Zion, aka Garden of Eden)

The governor is shot in the head, but he survives. (Hey, he’s a politician. There’s nothing vital to hit up there.) Whoever shoots him gets away.

The sheriff finds a revolver outside the window, still loaded with buckshot. The gun is identified as having been stolen from a local store owner. The owner believes the gun was stolen by a man named Brown, “that hired man of Wards”.

By the time the sheriff gets out to talk to Mr “Brown”, he’s high-tailed it out of the area.

Mr. “Brown”, it turns out, is Orrin Porter Rockwell. (O.P.R. or Opie for short) Mr. Rockwell is not only a Mormonite, he’s also a former Danite leader and he’s Joe’s bodyguard and reputed hit man. He’s been called “God’s gunslinger”. (Well, I just did, anyway.)

Not quite sure why Big D would require a hit man, but Joe seems to think he needs one. And, don’t hand me that “instrument of God’s justice” or “the Lord’s righteous avenger” bullshit. If B.D. wants somebody rubbed out, he’s damn capable of doing a little DIY.

Before we go farther, let me make a couple of points clear. There are other suspects with motive and opportunity. And, there’s evidence of anti-Mormonite skullduggery in the investigation.

For one thing, General Samuel Lucas (He’s the one that ordered Joe’s execution after a sham trial back in episode 6.) is heavily involved in the investigation.

Since no one saw the shooter, there’s no physical evidence other than the gun, and it’s still 15 years before the British start using fingerprints for identification and 60 years before the U.S. really gets around to it, this is going to be a tough nut to crack.

On the other hand, Opie is in the area and then out before anyone comes looking, and he’s one of them thar nigger-lovin’ Mormonites who’ve vowed revenge on the governor. He’s bound to be guilty! Hang the son’a’bitch!Porter Wanted PosterThe wounded ex-governor thinks whoever did it, Joe has something to do with it. He signs an affidavit stating that he thinks Joe “was accessary [sic] before the fact of the intended murder” State of Missouri, Affidavit of Lilburn W. Boggs, Jackson County, Missouri, July 20, 1842

As for yours truly, do I think Rockwell is guilty? For a number of reasons, including the fact that it fits his pattern, I do. You’ll see what I’m referring to over the next several episodes.

However it is entirely possible it was someone else. In any case, I’m not here to make or break the case against Opie. I’m just here to tell the story, with snarks, both appropriate and un.

I’ve seen claims that the only reason that Opie was in Missouri in the first place, was so that his wife could be with her family when she gave birth to her 4th child. There’s one itsy, bitsy, teeny, weeny little problem with this explanation. His wife gave birth to Sarah, her 4th child, on March 25, 1841, and he didn’t go to Independence until May of ’42. (On a totally unrelated(?) side note, Opie’s wife, Luana, dumps him in 1845.)

(5/11/1842) Just after the news of the attempted assassination reaches Nauvoo, the church announces that Dr. John is being disfellowshipped. (kicked out) I’ll explore the charges next episode, “Here Come the Brides“. (Told you there was some crossover.) Orson Hyde refuses to sign the announcement. I’ll explain that next time as well.

Due to the timing of the disfellowshipment, as well as other reasons, it’s my opinion that the items that get Dr. John “the boot” aren’t in the charges. I think it’s partially his personal reaction to the Boggs shooting. Like Apostle Tom, back in the 1838 Mormon War, he seems to come to the conclusion that scams are one thing, murder is another. I’ll pontificate on the other possible reason(s) next episode.

Dr. John is also stripped of his religious, education, military and political offices as well.

The doctor doesn’t take his dismissal lightly. Thus begins a battle (make that a WAR) that Joe will ultimately lose. (Not entirely because of the doctor, but he is definitely a major player.) Joe’s beaten back challenges from people like Apostle Tom or Ollie, but Dr. John is in a whole ‘nother league.

I’ll be sourcing the good doctor a bit in this and the next few posts. Why? You ask, knowing that I know he’s a grifter. Well, yah, but so’s Joe. A lot of this gets collaborated by other parties. For the rest of it, I went with the logical scenario based on what we’ve found out about Joe since before the days of Big Daddy and the “holy spooks”. Also, either the doctor and all the rest of those former insiders aka “apostates” are out to get Joe, or just maybe Joe has a good deal of culpability.

(5/19/1842) Joe makes himself mayor and forms a 20 man cadre of bodyguards (the “Lifeguards”). The cadre is composed of ex-Danites and headed by our Opie.

In a conversation with David Kilbourne, Dr. John says Joe prophesied at a meeting that Boggs would die violently. When Opie left Nauvoo in early May (before the disfellowshipment) Dr. John asked Joe where his bodyguard was. Joe is said to reply that he had “gone to fulfill prophecy that Boggs would not die in his bed.” Postmaster David Wells Kilbourne to Missouri Governor Thomas Reynolds, July 12, 1842

The first week of July, Opie gives the doctor a visit. He tells him that he has nothing to do with shooting the governor and “If you say that Joe Smith gave me fifty dollars and a wagon to shoot Boggs, I can whip you, and will do it in a crowd.” St. Louis American Bulletin, July 14, 1842

(7/5/1842) Joe gets the Nauvoo City Council to pass a habeas corpus ordinance, stating that no Nauvoo citizen “shall be taken out of the city by any writs without the privilege of investigation before the municipal court, and the benefit of a writ of habeas corpus.” (Very convenient, since Joe picked the court judges. Not only that, JOE IS THE CHIEF JUDGE!)

(7/22/1842) In response to ex-governor Boggs, current governor Reynolds signs an requisition for extradition stating “one Joseph Smith is a fugitive from Justice, charged with being accessary [sic] before the fact, to an assault with intent to kill, made by one O. P. Rockwell on Lilburn W Boggs in this State, and it is represented to the Executive Department of this State, has fled to the State of Illinois.” State of Missouri, Requisition of Thomas Reynolds, Jackson County, Mo., July 22, 1842,

Let’s all play “Looking for Loopholes”! There’s a slight error in the statement that Joe’s “legal beagles” quickly find. (Mistake #1) See if you can figure out what it is. If not, Emma will point it out shortly.

(8/8/1842) Undersheriff Tom King and a posse arrive in Nauvoo to arrest Joe & Opie. They’re worth $1,300 ($30,505 in our inflated funds) back in Missouri. They’re both lodged in Nauvoo’s “Iron Bar Inn”. Joe immediately applies for a writ of habeas corpus.

The idea that a municipality could declare superiority to a claim by a sovereign state, surprises King, and he heads back to Missouri for more instructions, taking the warrants with him. (Mistake #2.)

When he gets back, a very pissed off governor lets him know in no uncertain terms that municipal courts do not have the authority to override a warrant signed by a state governor. Plus, in this particular case, since Joe’s alleged crime had nothing to do with any city ordinance, habeas corpus doesn’t apply. The council’s counter-argument is that ‘habeas’ covers the arrest if not the crime.

While King is gone, the city council passes another “habeas” ordinance, broadening it even farther. Now, even if everything is legal and proper, the court can deny extradition if the action is brought through “private pique, malicious intent, or religious or other persecution, falsehood or misrepresentation.” Nauvoo City Council Minutes, August 8, 1842 Guess who gets do decide that? (If you didn’t say “Joe’s judges”, have your doctor check you for ADD.)

The non-Mormonite press blasts the expanded “habeas” ordinance. The Warsaw Signal prints the ordinance and writes: “We copy the above ordinances in order to show our readers the barefaced affrontery [sic] with which the holy brotherhood at Nauvoo set at defiance the civil authorities of the State.”

Also, while King is away, Joe’s lawyers challenge the incarcerations. They argue that without the warrants, the marshal has no authority to hold Joe or Rockwell. The court agrees. (Surprise! Surprise!) Joe is released and pulls his patented “urgent business elsewhere” routine and heads out “on the road, again” before King gets back.

(If you’re a regular reader, you knew that was coming.)

Joe keeps on the move for several months, hiding out in “safe houses” in Illinois and Iowa.

Rockwell heads for Pennsylvania and then on to New Jersey. He tries to find work, but I guess there isn’t much call for gunslingers. (In New Jersey???) He gets depressed and he misses his Joe.

Emma appeals to Illinois Governor Carlin on the grounds that the Missouri order states that Joe has fled to the State of Illinois.” (See mistake #1) Since Joe was already in Illinois when the crime was committed, ipso facto, (Although, I really don’t think she said “ipso facto”.) he couldn’t have “fled”. The governor replied that Joe was entitled to a writ by the circuit court, but not any Nauvoo court: “…to claim the right of a hearing before the municipal court of the city of Nauvoo is a burlesque upon the charter itself.” Jessee: Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:476–77

This doesn’t work for Joe at all.

Don’t start thinking “If Joe is innocent, why doesn’t he just go to Missouri and clear his name?” There is no possible way Joe would get a fair trial. This is Missouri! To much bad blood and too little healing time. Plus, according to Executive Order 44, a Missouri Mormonite, is a dead Mormonite. General Lucas would finely get his wish. (I don’t much care for Joe, but I’m a huge fan of court neutrality.)

Be that as it may, from a p.r. standpoint, The Nauvoo City Council, Joe’s judges and his loophole loving lawyers are not doing the Mormonite cause any favors. “No termination of the affair could be less satisfactory than the one which has taken place. If [Smith] had resisted, we should have had the sport of driving him and his worthy clan out of the State en masse, but as it is we are mortified that there is no efficacy in the law to bring such a scamp to justice.” “Recent Attempt to Arrest the Prophet,” Warsaw Signal, p 3; (7/13/1842)

(9/9/1842) The council passes an ordinance that allows the municipal court to make writs of habeas corpus “returnable forthwith”. That means the court can issue the writ and immediately adjudicate it. (No sense wasting time before you throw out the extradition requisition.)

(11/14/1842) The council adds a $1,000 fine and a one year jail term for anyone who dares arrest Joe or anyone else the court doesn’t want arrested. So, in essence, Nauvoo has placed their “laws” above that of any other government entity, municipal, state or federal. (The constitution has more than a word or two to say about this.)

In December, there’s a new governor in Illinois, largely because of a solid Mormonite voting bloc in the election. (Joe decides – they vote!)

(12/9/1842) Joe’s bro Hyrum leads a delegation to Springfield to argue that the extradition requisition should be dumped.

Governor Thomas FordTom Ford, the new governor, tells them that he thinks the extradition requisition is shaky, but he doesn’t want to second guess the previous gov. He tells them that he’ll consult with the state supreme court judges and see what they think.

The judges agree that Joe is not a fugitive from justice. Since he wasn’t in Missouri at the time, he couldn’t have fled. However, they’re split as to whether governor Ford has any standing to intervene in the case.

Ford writes a letter outlining the judges’ opinion and gives it to the Mormonite delegation. The U.S. attorney also writes a letter agreeing with the court. In the letter he tells Joe to “come here without delay and you do not run the least risk of [not] being protected while here and of [not] being dis-charged by the Sup. Court by Habeas Corpus.” He goes on to state “I have also a right to bring the case before the U.S. [District] Court now in Session here, and there you are certain of obtaining your discharge—I will stand by you and see you safely delivered from your arrest.” Jessee: Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:505-6

(12/26/1842) Joe turns himself in to the Nauvoo Legion (of which he’s the commander). Arriving in Springfield with his entourage on the 30th, he moves in with a Mormonite judge (James Adams) for the duration of the legal proceedings.

While lodged with the judge, one conversation turns to slavery. Orson Hyde asks him what he would tell a slave owner that joined the church? Joe replies, “I have always advised such to bring their slaves into a free country, set them free, educate them & give them their equal rights.” Smith: Journal, December 30, 1842 (Which just goes to prove, that like a busted clock that’s right twice a day, even Joe is right some of the time.) When Brigham (the bigot) takes over in a few years, he’ll have an entirely different take on the subject.

(12/31/1842) Joe receives a writ of habeas corpus from the federal court and his bail is set at $4,000 (Nowadays, that would be about 93,900 simoleons.) Joe’s boys immediately post bail. (Joe has come a long way financially since having to extort Marty Harris for BoM publishing money.)

The extradition hearing becomes the 19th century version of “must see tv”. The courtroom is packed. Mary Todd Lincoln even has a choice seat up next to the judge.

(1/5/1843) After ruling on jurisdictional and other arguments, the judge hands down his decision: Since Joe wasn’t in Illinois, he couldn’t have fled from Illinois, so the extradition requisition is refused. Joe is free to go.

This is a thin victory for Joe. He wanted to be freed based on the merits of the case. Instead, it was a win by technicality.

Hearing that Joe “beat the rap”, Opie decides it’s safe to come home to Nauvoo. BIG MISTAKE!

(3/4/1843) Bounty hunter, Robert A. Fett (*), spots Rockwell boarding a boat in St. Louis and grabs him. ((*) Just yanking your chain, Jedi wannabees. Live long and prosper and may the schwartz be with you!)

Opie gets a free trip to Independence and an all expense paid, nine month vacation in the local “stoney lonesome” awaiting a grand jury hearing.Cell blockHe tries to bust out a couple of times, but no luck. (I’m surprised he wasn’t shot while “escaping”.)

Once the hearing does commence, the state of Missouri has a slight problem: There’s no evidence connecting Rockwell to the crime. The mere fact that he was in the area doesn’t quite cut it.

And then there’s Opie’s statement on the stand: “I never shot at anybody, if I shoot they get shot! … He’s still alive, ain’t he?”, Which begs the question, how many people has he shot through a window? (The glass would slightly shift the image.)

(12/13/1843) The grand jury refuses to indict and Rockwell is released.

(12/25/1843) Joe’s throwing a Christmas bash and someone knocks on his door. “A man apparently drunk, (Doesn’t anybody practice “The Word of Wisdom”?) with his hair long and falling over his shoulders come in and acted like a Missourian. I commanded the Capt[ain] of the police to put him out of doors. In the scuffle, I looked him full in the face and to my great supprize [sic] and Joy untold I discovered it was Orrin Porter Rockwell” Smith: Journal, December 25, 1843 Opie’s back with his Joe, and all’s right in his twisted little world.Porter PosterWith that we come to the end of another saga in the life of Joe. Whether he gave the assassination order or not will be argued as long as its important enough to be argued about. However, to my way of thinking, the bigger question remains: WHY THE HELL DOES BIG DADDY NEED A HIT MAN?

Make no mistake about it. Whether or not Opie did this particular deed, that’s what he is.

We’ll cross paths with “God’s gunslinger” again as we travel down the timeline, but next episode we segue from violence to sex as Joe and the gang sorta come clean about their extra-marital diddling, and start practicing it BIG TIME! This one’s got bunch of fun stuff: poligamy, polyandry, sibling sex, pissed off first husbands, and at least one pissed off first wife. (Things haven’t changed that much since Fanny Alger.) Speaking of old bed buddies, remember Marinda? She’s baaack!

In the meantime, have you heard the one about the bigamist with two failed marriages?

His first wife left him and his second one won’t! (RIM SHOT)


p.s.: If my ramblings don’t revolt you, I’ve got a FaceBook page (“Grouchy’s Grumbles”) you might enjoy. Better yet, you might “like” it. It’s free (and worth every cent) and almost completely painless (other than the usual bad jokes).

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