Coming of Age in Brookville has its exciting moments, as well: this chapter deals with the assassination of presidential candidate. You might not have heard about all this, even if you went to school in the US. It's really a hole in history.
Chapter 13: Wars and Rumours of Wars
July 31, 1844, Wednesday.
It all started when the stagecoach driver dropped the mail off at John Dougherty's post office. He had an extra copy of a German-language newspaper from Reading, Pennsylvania, called Der Liberale Beobachter und Berks, Montgomery und Schuylkill Caunties [sic] Allgemeine Anzeiger, which more or less means 'The liberal observer and general advertiser for Berks, Montgomery, and Schuylkill counties.' Whoever published it couldn't spell very well, either in English or in German, thought Jim. Still, it was something to read.
This issue was from July 16, and had some really startling news in it.
'Hey! Mr Dougherty!' Jim called. 'That Joseph Smith is dead!'
'What?' Everybody in the room crowded around. After all, the death of a presidential candidate in an election year was news. Dougherty looked over Jim's shoulder. 'You'd better read it to us, Jim,' he said. Jim did his best.
' The news from Nauvoo has been confirmed, and we can now say that Joe Smith, the greatest prophet of our time...'
There were hoots at that. 'Greatest prophet, my hat,' snorted Zeke Gardner. 'Greatest humbug, more like.' He was shushed, not out of respect for 'Joe Smith', but because the rest wanted to hear the news.
'…is…' Er, maustod, thought Jim? 'er, dead as a doornail.'
There was a collective intake of breath.
'Probably smitten by the Almighty,' growled Daniel North, who was in the shop to pick up his mail and looking none the worse for his bear encounter earlier in the year.
' He fell, hit by a large number of bullets, while he was trying to escape from the jail in Carthage, in the company of his brother and another one of the leaders. Their bodies were brought to Nauvoo, and a great fear fell on the followers of the prophet, from which dangerous consequences were to be expected. The Mormons have armed themselves, in order to repel all hostile attacks, and it is expected that the society 'of saints of our days' will be dissolved soon.'
'Amen,' said Daniel North. 'I pray it will. And not a minute too soon! Those pirates got my brother-in-law mixed up with that mess. Before we could get him to come home, he'd lost everything he owned. Pert near lost his family, too.'
'Who are the Mormons?' Jim wanted to know. 'All I know is that Joseph Smith was runnin' for president and had his own religion. Where did he come from, anyway?'
'Upstate New York,' was the grim answer.
Everybody groaned. 'That explains a lot,' snorted Zeke Gardner. 'Ever' bit of craziness in the country starts up in the Burned-Over Districk. They talk to dead people. They swap wives. They howl at the moon up there. There are too many religions in that place.'
More than here? thought Jim, with Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Lutherans and Campbellites? But he didn't say anything.
Daniel North nodded. 'But they wa'n't enough religions up there but Joe Smith had to make up another'n. He started out as a dowser.'
'Ain't nothin' wrong with dowsin',' opined old Josiah Ferguson, who hadn't seemed to be listening, but was. 'That's how I found my well.' The others agreed that there was, indeed, nothing wrong with finding water with a forked stick. It was a proven science.
North shrugged. 'Sure, for water. But Smith and his folks went around dowsing for 'buried treasure'. They got it into their heads that the ancient Injuns buried gold somewhere.'
There was laughter at this. 'Pottery, mebbe, or a cache o' arrerheads,' commented Zeke.
North went on, 'So one day, Smith claimed he found a new Bible. One that was thousands of years old.' As Jim started to interrupt with a question, '…no, not on paper. On gold tablets. Course, ain't nobody seen them tablets, 'cause an angel took 'em away.' There was widespread skepticism at this: everyone knew real Bibles were printed in Philadelphia.
'He got a bunch of people from up there, includin' Sam, my brother-in-law, to move with him to Kirtland, in the Ohio country. And they built a town. Even printed their own money.'
There were groans at this: distrust of bank money was widespread after the recent panic. 'That's what got 'em in trouble,' North went on. 'When some bidnessman in Pittsburgh tried to make 'em cash out their notes, the whole scheme unravelled. People lost their savin's. We finally got my brother-in-law to come home with us. He's doin' better now, over in Shippenville.'
'But how did these Mormons end up in Illinois?' Jim wanted to know.
'When they got run out o' Ohio, they went to Missourah,' was the answer. 'But their repitation had pre-ceded 'em. Nobody in Missourah wanted anythin' to do with 'em. Wars broke out: the other settlers on the one side, armed Mormons on the other. Blood shed on both sides.'
This news was received soberly. Nobody wanted a religious war. It was unthinkable. 'So they went back across the Mississippi?' Jim prompted, and Daniel North nodded.
'They did; and started buildin' another 'temple' in this place in Illinois they called Nauvoo.'
'What's that mean?' asked Zeke.
North shrugged, 'Danged iffn I know. I'm sure it means somethin' complimentary to the Mormons. Anyway, the way I heard it from the drovers, who heard it from the wagon masters, was that the Mormon militia and the settlers in Illinois clashed somethin' fierce. There's about 10,000 or more people in that Nauvoo1, which is a big place. They arrested Smith, I dunno on what charge…'
'Makin' up his own Bible?' ventured Josiah.
Jim shook his head. 'Couldn't be that. That's protected by the Constitution.'
Everybody stared at Jim, and Zeke Gardner said incredulously, 'You're not tellin' me that it's legal, in these United States, to write your own Bible?'
Jim held up his hands in defence. 'I didn't make it up, Mr Gardner. The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. It don't say the religion has to make sense, or use the real Bible, or anythin' like that. I guess that's why there's so many new religions comin' out of New York. They're exercisin' their Constitutional rights to freedom of religion.'
'Their Constitutional rights to organised idiocy,' grumbled Gardner. In the end, they all agreed that they hoped the Mormons went somewhere other than Illinois. They also fervently hoped that the Mormons didn't come back through Pennsylvania to resettle. The controversy between the Methodists and the Methodist Episcopals was bad enough, in their opinion.
'There will be wars and rumours of wars,' quoted Josiah Ferguson, 'but the end is not yet.'