Nauvoo Untold Stories – 2017 Highlights

The first weekend in February is when Nauvoo hosts two events.

One is the Saturday recreation of the 1846 exodus, when the Mormons fleeing Illinois traveled down Parley Street to the Mississippi. The annual celebration starts in the Family Living Center (with food), then all march out to the landing in the cold. Nice words are said, then folks return to their parked cars and head home. It’s definitely something worth doing at least once.

In recent years, the Nauvoo Untold Stories Symposium is held Friday and Saturday, with evening presentations on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It’s a great mix of folk history and cherishing the lore of the main religious and ethnic groups that have passed through Nauvoo. This year featured exploration of DNA, the Smith burial grounds, German cookies, Joseph Smith’s plans to escape Carthage, and other good stuff.


Ugo Perego is hilarious. He shared with us information on how DNA works for genealogy, as well as asides about being sired by Huns and his Metallica ring tone going off during the blessing of the sacrament. He covered the basics of DNA that traces the pure maternal line, the pure paternal line, and the autosomal “stuff” that cousins share.

There are many companies out there, and I was curious about which he would recommend. All will do a credible job of measuring DNA. But he noted that Ancestry ties in their extensive genealogy-related focus where 23 And Me leans towards understanding the biological implications of select DNA markers.

There weren’t earth-shaking results, as occurred when Ugo presented the autosomal results between the Smith descendants and the Josephine Lyons descendants in June 2016 at MHA. But it was definitely a highlight.

Burying Joseph and Family

Lachlan McKay, CoC Apostle and descendant of Joseph Smith Jr., talked about the Smith family burial ground and the confusion regarding who was buried where and when.

Emma’s decision to rebury Joseph and Hyrum without inviting Mary Fielding Smith to be involved contributed to the intense rivalry between the descendants of Joseph and Hyrum in succeeding generations. But Lach clarified the cause of Emma’s secrecy: knowledge that at least the Strangites and possibly Brigham Young wished to obtain Joseph’s body to attract the wavering faithful.

A record from Joseph L. Heywood suggests that Emma always planned to have Joseph interred under a structure, but the bee house where Joseph and Hyrum would eventually be interred first had to be constructed. A bee house was an outbuilding (housing bees, obviously) with a brick cellar, where potatoes would be stored. Once Emma was gone, her sons remembered that Joseph was buried under an outbuilding, but misremembered the building as being the springhouse.

Around the time the dam was constructed at Keokuk, RLDS President F. M. Smith (Joseph’s grandson) was attending an RLDS reunion at Nauvoo in 1927 and recalled the desire Joseph Smith Sr. had of a family burial plot. So in January 1928, when the river tends to run low, they began the attempt to locate Joseph’s remains under the spring house.

When it was clear the remains weren’t under the spring house, excavation of the entire property commenced. In this manner Emma was found to have been buried under open ground, rather than under her nearby gravestone. The foundation of the old bee house was eventually discovered, with the remains of two men. The identities of the bodies were originally mistaken, so Joseph and Hyrum were swapped by accident. The rapprochement between the CoC and LDS communities eventually led to information sharing that clarified that the hole in one skull was on the wrong side for that set of remains to belong to Hyrum.

It was mentioned that the remains of Samuel Smith have yet to be located. It is believed he was relocated to the Smith property, but the exact location of the remains has yet to be determined.

If you are like me, you have read the angry response the Joseph Fielding Smith family had to the RLDS presumption in moving Hyrum’s remains. But apparently these days the Smith cousins are more known for their cooperation and mutual generosity.


Durrell Nelson not only spent the year collecting stories of family cookie recipes, he baked select examples and provided baggies for each attendee to sample while he discussed each sort.

Back in the day, cookie recipes would make hundreds of cookies. The most delicate cookies were made using hartshorn, a product made from hart horns which smells like ammonia when baked. Because heat, rather than moisture, activates hartshorn, the cookies have a unique crumble.

If you haven’t done so, I urge you to contact family and quiz them about the recipes the family treasured in the years before McDonald’s and freezer meals made actual cooking a rare event.

Joseph’s Escape Plan

Joseph Johnstun is a fabulous historian, with a brain full of arcane knowledge about Carthage and Nauvoo.

It is true Joseph expected to be gunned down when he surrendered himself to custody. In that vein he made the comment about going like a lamb to the slaughter. He also delayed his departure so that he would be traveling the road to Carthage on June 24, the day Masons regard as the day John the Baptist was martyred. Being killed on June 24 would have left a powerful message.

But on June 25 Joseph was still alive. Joseph and those with him in the jail undertook a study of the various escapes chronicled in the Book of Mormon and subsequently tried to ply their guards with wine. Apparently Governor Ford really wanted Joseph to escape to the west, if completely unable to openly advocate for or facilitate such an escape. But Ford did ensure that the Smiths had the lightest possible guard, in part by encouraging folks to keep silent about the credible threats being made to kill the Smiths. Peasant clothing that could facilitate disguise and fast travel were being smuggled into the jail. And Joseph expected his friends to come from Nauvoo to set him free.

Joseph was so confident on June 27th that the approaching group was friendly that he came out on the second story landing to greet them. But when he saw who had actually arrived, he punched the lead fellow three times in the face. Joseph apparently ducked into the room just in time to avoid being hit by the volley of shots that ensued.

It seems credible that Joseph could have escaped, had the attackers waited until the next day or even later that night.

Joseph’s Death

I shared my hypotheses about the killing of Hyrum and Joseph, which include the possibility that Hyrum and Joseph were shot by someone using sniper methods, the idea that the force shifting John Taylor from the window to the floor was likely Joseph Smith, the possibility that the shooter used reflected sunlight to enhance their accuracy, and the possibility that young William Hamilton was more than a casual observer.

A new insight regarded the reported firing squad. It is not clear if Joseph had survived the initial shots and fall. But it is not uncommon for those who were forced to shoot from a distance to approach the bodies of their victims and “ensure” the dead are really dead, rather than feigning.

I also explained why we should be suspicious of Lyman O. Littlefield’s pamphlet, which was used to destroy the credibility of the only witness whose testimony could have helped convict any of the conspirators. Lyman O. Littlefield had been one of those reported to be pressuring women to participate in illicit intercourse, back in 1842, a trait Lyman had in common with more prominent conspirators like Chauncy and Francis Higbee and likely William Law. It is ironic that Littlefield would become a minor Mormon celebrity for his pamphlet, resulting in him traveling to Utah and becoming renowned as a historian.

Germans in Nauvoo

After the Mormons left Nauvoo, the town was discovered by Europeans seeking good lands at affordable prices. The Icarians left very soon after they arrived, but Germans gathered to Nauvoo in sufficient numbers that Nauvoo became known as the most German-speaking of any town in Illinois. Being able to communicate in German was a necessary skill for merchants and tradesmen. And dozens of extended German families still reside in Nauvoo.

Walking Tour of Nauvoo

Those who remained in Nauvoo were proud of their own history. In 2011 “The Way We Were Walking Tour” developed by Karen Ihrig-Gilbert and Gene Shurts won the Illinois Governor’s Home Town Award for it’s excellent preservation of the history of the Mulholland Business District from 1850 to 1950. The fabulous illustrated histories they assembled can be found at The Way We Were Walking Tour.

Because of Karen and Gene, I had been able to determine with precision who had lived in the home I now own on Mulholland. And in that vein, I was able to find out that the fellow sitting next to me at dinner had been married to the niece of the lady who lived in my new home until the year I was born. The world became suddenly smaller and more friendly.

And More

In addition to the formal presentations, there were the other golden nuggets of information passed between friends and new acquaintances. So now I know the location of the railroad shanties, where the conspirators gathered en route to shooting Joseph. I learned a bit about why the Nauvoo University ceased operation in 2010. I learned what “robber cows” are (cows that cost more to feed than they produce in salable product) and why an eighth grade student in a one room school house would need to know how to detect them.

In a place like Nauvoo, it is easy to see how each individual makes a difference in the future of their family and their region. It’s a lesson worth learning and cherishing.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

2 thoughts on “Nauvoo Untold Stories – 2017 Highlights

  1. I enjoyed this, Meg. Thank you for taking the time to post. I could feel your delight in being there.

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