A Man named Townsend

The following story comes from Parley P. Pratt:

Captain Lawn and his troops had marched about twelve miles towards home when the news reached them of the martyrdom! At this he exclaimed: “O that I had known of this massacre, so soon to transpire! I would have remained, and, when the first ball was fired at the Smiths, I would have fired the second through the body of the villain who fired it or died in the attempt.” A man named Townsend, living in Iowa, near Fort Madison, was one of the mob who assaulted and forced in the jail door. The pistol discharged by Joseph Smith wounded him in the arm, near the shoulder, and it continued to rot without healing until it was taken off and even then it would not heal.

About six months after he was shot Mrs. Lawn saw his arm and dressed it. He was then gradually rotting and dying with the wound. He stayed over night with Mrs. Lawn’s father, and groaned through the night without sleeping. He asked the old gentleman what he thought of Joseph Smith being a Prophet? He replied that he did not know. “Well,” said Townsend, “I know he was a Prophet of God! And, oh, that I had stayed at home and minded my own business, and then I would not have lost my life and been tormented with a guilty conscience, and with this dreadful wound, which none can heal!” He died two or three months afterwards, having literally rotted alive!

James Head, of McComb, was also one of the murderers at the Carthage Jail; he was heard by Captain Lawn and others to boast of it afterwards, and Captain Lawn drew a pistol and chased him; but he ran away. He was always gloomy and troubled from the time he helped to murder the Smiths, and frequently declared that he saw the two martyrs always before him! He had no peace.

A colonel of the Missouri mob, who helped to drive, plunder and murder the Mormons, died in the hospital at Sacramento, 1849. Beckwith had the care of him; he was eaten with worms a large black headed kind of maggot—which passed through him by myriads, seemingly a half pint at a time! Before he died these maggots were crawling out of his mouth and nose! He literally rotted alive! Even the flesh on his legs burst open and fell from the bones! They gathered up the rotten mass in a blanket and buried him, without awaiting a coffin!

A Mr. ________, one of Missouri mob, died in the same hospital about the same time, and under the care of Mr. Beckwith. His face and jaw on one side literally rotted, and half of his face actually fell off! One eye rotted out, and half of his nose, mouth and jaw fell from the bones! The doctor scraped the bones, and unlocked and took out his jaw from the joint round to the center of the chin. The rot and maggots continued to eat till they ate through the large or jugular vein of his neck, and he bled to death! He, as well as Townsend, stank so previous to their death that they had to be placed in rooms by themselves, and it was almost impossible to endure their presence, and the flies could not be kept from blowing them while alive!

Wm. T. Head, an officer in Captain Lawn’s company, and tarrying in Carthage, testified that he saw a certain man raise a large knife to strike off the head of Joseph, when, all at once, and in the midst of a clear day, with no cloud in sight, “a terrible clap of thunder rolled heavily, and forked lightnings flashed in the face of the murderers, and perfectly paralyzed a number of them.” The ruffian, who had raised his knife and had sworn with a dreadful oath to take the head off Joseph, stood perfectly paralyzed, his arm uplifted with the knife suspended in air, and could not move a limb. His comrades carried him off, and all fled in terror from the scene.

These particulars, and many others, were related to me by brother Beckwith previous to his death, and afterwards by his widow and father-in-law, and others who were conversant with them, and are believed to be correct.

Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1985), 390-92.

Note: While there is no reason to doubt that suffering and punishment fell to many in the murdering mob, it is clear that many escaped judgments during their lifetimes. See for example Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy: The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1979), 217-20.

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