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As early as 1843, the Prophet Joseph Smith was aware of plots to have him silenced, whether by placing him back in jail or killing him.
In September 1843, Joseph Smith was shown a copy of a letter from Samuel Owens of Independence, Missouri, and wrote in his journal, “To show the wickedness and rascality of John C. Bennett and the corrupt conspiracy formed against me in Missouri and Illinois, I insert the following under date of the letter. (June 10, 1843)” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church Vol. 5 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1978), 422). According to the letter, Owens, who was determined to have the prophet arrested on false charges and returned to Missouri, had been in contact with people such as John Bennett, Governor Reynolds, Governor Ford, Harmon Wilson of Carthage, Illinois, and Joseph Reynolds of Missouri. But these weren’t the only men involved. After further research, it has been verified, the “corrupt conspiracy” discovered by Joseph Smith included many other enemies of the Church, who conspired together to plan the martyrdom and force the exodus of the Saints. Enemies of the Church became desperate, wanting their illegal acts kept secret even while they plotted to kidnap Joseph. But after several unsuccessful kidnapping attempts, they determined to murder the prophet instead.
However, the reasons for killing the Prophet go far beyond a hatred of the Church and its beliefs. Here are just a few of those intriguing insights behind the plot to murder Joseph Smith.
1.William Clark, formerly of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the Chouteau family were afraid that if Mormons moved to Missouri, it would upset some dishonest business deals Clark and the Chouteaus relied on.
Shortly after the Church was officially organized, Oliver Cowdery wrote to U.S. Superintendent of Indian Affairs William Clark on February 14, 1831, seeking permission to teach the Native Americans in Kansas Territory, near Jackson County, Missouri. Clark didn’t respond to Cowdery’s request, and the missionaries were forced to leave.
As a result of the 1830 Indian Relocation Act, many Indian tribes were forced to remove to Kansas and Oklahoma Territories. During that time, Clark, Senator Thomas Benton (former Chairman of the Senate Committee of Indian Affairs), and Pierre Chouteau and certain members of his family were associated together in what their local newspaper identified as the “Little Junto” (or “St. Louis Junto”).
Often, Chouteau family members, as federal Indian Agents, would negotiate treaty terms with tribal leaders and secure large annual government annuities to pay for the Native Americans’ relocation, with approval from Clark and Benton. The Native Americans would in turn purchase goods at inflated prices at the various Chouteau family trading posts using these government funds, funneling large amounts of money into the pockets of the Chouteaus, Clark, and Benton.
As Mormon communities continued to expand in Missouri, members of the St. Louis Junto continued to fear the Mormons would return to Jackson County and challenge their trade monopoly. On May 12, 1836, Francois Chouteau of Jackson County wrote to his uncle Pierre Menard, “Apparently we are going to wage war here very soon with the Mormons. They have a force of 2000 men in Clay County who are organizing and making the arrangements necessary to attack us in Jackson County… It appears that they are disposed to retake possession of their land by force… we are determined to fight to the end rather than consent that the Mormons remain here” (Dorothy Brandt Marra, Cher Oncle, Cher Papa (Kansas City: University of Missouri, Western Historical Manuscript Collection, 2001) 154). Even after the Saints settled in Nauvoo, St. Louis Junto members still feared the Mormons might return as Joseph Smith was eagerly pursuing the various Redress Petitions in Congress for reparations and the right to return to their lands in Missouri.
2. Local Independence merchants felt threatened by the gathering Saints.
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