Photograph of Nauvoo in the middle 1840s with the Mormon Temple in the background
After a lengthy period of conflict between the Mormons in Nauvoo, Illinois, and their non-Mormon neighbors, they negotiated a treaty, dated September 16, 1846, which gave the remaining Mormons five days to leave the city. A few days after this, on September 19, a correspondent for the Burlington Hawkeye, published in Iowa Territory about 30 miles north of Nauvoo on the Mississippi River, witnessed this evacuation scene and wrote a brief account. He signed the article “CHE MO KO MON,” a Sauk term meaning “White Man,” so his identity is unknown. His letter to the editor, entitled, “Nauvoo. The Day After It was Evacuated,” appeared in the September 24, 1846, issue of the Burlington Hawkeye.
This article is a very effective piece of writing, largely because of the immediacy that it conveys. The author apparently wrote his account in the sanctuary of the Nauvoo Temple, after witnessing the results of the conflict and the still-ongoing evacuation. He caught the eerie quiet of the deserted streets and the incongruity of soldiers and armaments in a sacred building that proclaimed on its wall, “The Lord is our Sacrifice.” Also, he captured the suffering of hundreds of people by depicting a few cases of distress that came to his attention.
Another notable aspect of this remarkable piece of writing is that the author does not condemn the non-Mormons for their inhumanity or criticize the Mormons for their fanaticism, but rather, he suggests that both were responsible for the human tragedy that he witnessed. A poor widow from Yorkshire, whom he encountered on the street, was in distress not only because she and her family must leave, but also because her husband “gave all his money to the church.” She clearly felt abandoned, if not exploited, by the church and the circumstances of the exodus.
While the author roamed through the defeated and occupied town, he recalled the Mormon prophet, whom he noted had reveled in “military glory.” Also, by referring to Nauvoo as a “doomed city,” he invited the reader to reflect on the reasons for its evacuation. Whoever he was, CHE MO KO MON wrote perhaps the finest newspaper item related to the Mormon conflict in Illinois in the 1840s.
DEAR HAWK—My powers of description are totally inadequate to give your readers any just conception of the “scenes” that now present themselves on every hand in this vicinity. On either shore of the Mississippi may be seen a long line of tents, wagons, cattle, &c., with numberless wretched specimens of humanity. Since the armistice or “treaty” the Mormons are crossing in almost breathless haste. Three or four “flats” are running constantly, both day and night. This morning, Saturday, 19th, at the solicitation of Capt. Vrooman, of the Fort Madison Guards, I crossed the river from Montrose, to take a peek at this City of Desolation. We proceeded to the Mansion House, where we met with a small detachment of soldiers and a number of strangers. From thence we went to the Temple. On entering the vestibule of this renowned edifice, a singular spectacle presented itself. The seats of the High Priests of the “Twelve” and of the “seventy” were occupied by a grim visaged soldiery. Some lay sleeping on their “arms,” and others lay rolled up in their blankets. On every hand lay scattered about in beautiful confusion, muskets, swords, cannon balls and terrible missiles of death. Verily, thought I, how are the holy places desecrated! I thought of old Oliver Cromwell, when he drove the horses of his army through the “cloisters” of the Worcester Cathedral, and appropriated the Baptismal fount as a manger.
I am penning this scrawl to you in the upper seat of the Sanctuary. Over my head there is an inscription in large gold letters, “The Lord is our Sacrifice”; on my right lie three soldiers asleep, resting on their arms—my feet are resting on a pile of chain shot—and a keg of powder, just discovered, lies at my elbow.
I left the Temple “solitary and alone,” to perambulate the desolate city. All was still and hushed as the charnel house.—Not a human being was seen. Houses appeared suddenly deserted, as though the inmates had precipitately fled from a pestilence or the burning of a volcano. Some had windows open and the flowers blooming the casements, but no fair hand was there, and no breath was heard, save the rustling zephyrs of heaven. It appeared as if the vengeance of the Almighty rested upon this doomed city.
Nauvoo, Illinois, as seen across the Mississippi River from Iowa in the 1840s.
I roamed over the vast Parade Ground where, four years ago, I beheld the soi distant “Prophet” review his Legion of 3000 strong, in all the “pride and circumstance” of military glory. Where now is the Prophet? Let the Plains of Carthage answer! And where the multitudes that shouted hosannas to his name? Verily, thought I, “truth is stranger than fiction.” I returned again through the desolate streets to the Mansion House. One solitary being, with a child in her arms, stood at the corner of a street, and saluted me with an imploring and almost frantic look.
“Pray, sir, are you one of the committee,” said she.
When I replied that I was a stranger, her eyes filled with tears. She related her history. Tis soon told, and is the history of hundreds.
We came from Yorkshire, England, my husband died eighteen months after our arrival. He gave all his money to the church.”
“Where are your friends,” said I.
“I have none—not one. The soldiers say I must leave in two hours. This child is sick, and my other is a cripple.” She had flour enough for but one dinner!
On the Montrose side of the Mississippi, many of the scenes were heartbreaking. I stopped at the door of one tent, arrested by the subdued sobs of a young mother, whose heart was broken with grief. By her side lay her infant, a corpse. She had neither friend or relative to bury her child, nor a mouthful of food to eat.
I was convinced that Gen. Brockman, to his honor be it spoken, conducted [the evacuation] with marked distinction and humanity; and the night the army took possession of the city, not a rail was disturbed or a particle of property molested. Although they encamped adjoining an extensive orchard of choice fruit, not a hand was laid upon it. The boat is leaving for Montrose and I must drop my pen. Perhaps more anon from your faithful chronicler.
CHE MO KO MON.