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The History of Warsaw Illinois Including the Mormon Period

The History of Warsaw Illinois Including the Mormon Period

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The History of Warsaw Illinois Including the Mormon Period

319 pages
3 heures
Sep 16, 2018


Warsaw, Illinois was the hot bed of Anti-Mormon activities in the 1840's, and was the home of the mob that killed Joseph Smith. However, this sleepy Mississippi River town has a fascinating history both before and after the 7 years the Mormons were nearby. Home to two early forts, Warsaw became a bustling port town only to be arrested in it's growth by 3 distinct economic events. Today, the town is a shadow of its' former self. With 200 years of interesting history, this book describes Warsaw's distinct time periods with a focus on the events surrounding the Mormon period. Home to 4 of the 5 men who stood trial for the murder of Joseph Smith, this book tells of the reasons for local hostilities, the events of Smith's murder, and the sensational trial after. Warsaw was home to 4 presidential candidates as well. This is the first history of Warsaw, Illinois.

Sep 16, 2018

À propos de l'auteur

Author of history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Nauvoo period.

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The History of Warsaw Illinois Including the Mormon Period - Brian Stutzman



Chapter 1: Why Warsaw?

Warsaw is a river town with a fascinating and rich history that has longed to be shared. The Macomb Daily Journal wrote on February 4, 1978, that Historically, Warsaw began as a military outpost, became a thriving Mississippi River port and industrial center… played a lead role in events which culminated in the murder of Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith, made serious bids to become both the seat of Hancock County and the nation’s capital, then declined rapidly into obscurity along with the river traffic upon which it had depended for 50 years.

Mormon Troubles Period: 1839-1846

Why is there outside historical interest in Warsaw? Clearly, it is its role in the conflict with the Mormons in the 1840s. Indeed, Mormon history in Illinois runs mainly through the towns of Nauvoo, Carthage, and Warsaw. All three towns are 18 miles apart and comprise what some historians have called the Tragic Triangle referencing the murder of the Mormons’ first president and prophet, Joseph Smith.

The Tragic Triangle

To be sure, for Mormons, the town of Warsaw, Illinois was known, in part, as the gathering place of the mob that martyred their church’s first prophet. In the 1840s members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints settled in the nearby town of Nauvoo and Warsaw became the center of the opposition to them.

The Mormons that lived in Hancock County in the 1840s felt they faced years of immoral, illegal, and fraudulent persecution. At the same time, the locals, sometimes called old settlers, often felt threatened both economically and politically by the growing religious group in Nauvoo. Many were jealous of the growing power of the leaders of the Mormon faith and specifically the influence and notoriety of Joseph Smith. Therefore, some old settlers felt completely justified in their opposition and even persecution of the members of the Church of Jesus of Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Not all interactions were negative between the Mormons and the residents of Warsaw. There were even some unique ties between the Mormons and those opposed to them. For example, Thomas Sharp, clearly the leader in the anti-Mormon movement, married into a family that included a Mormon missionary. Even with that, Sharp’s newspaper, the Warsaw Signal, published many negative articles. In June of 1844, Sharp culminated his writings with a printed plea for the anti-Mormon community to make their feelings about the Mormon leaders be known with Powder and Ball. A few days later, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum lay dead at Carthage Jail, killed by a mob that originated in Warsaw.

The murder of Joseph Smith is the most studied event in the history of Illinois. Because much of this conflict occurred in Warsaw, the telling of the tensions, murder, trial, and aftermath is included in this work. Concerning that trial, Warsaw was home to the key witness for the prosecution, Eliza Graham, a Mormon. She would marry John Pack, a Mormon pioneer who eventually helped establish the University of Utah. Eliza’s aunt, also of Warsaw, would be the star witness for the defense.

After the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, the county came close to an all-out civil war with murders and plundering on both sides of the conflict. This upheaval was fostered by Governor Thomas Ford’s ineffective leadership and lack of resolve. Ford’s weak political governance also contributed to the Battle of Nauvoo and the eventual expulsion of the Mormon people from Illinois, an event that caused great loss of life and property. It should be noted, however, that not all Warsaw residents in the 1840s took up arms against the Mormons.

Today, many decades later, most people of Warsaw are friendly and even curious as to why so many Mormon visitors come to Hancock County each year. Likewise, Mormons come with no ill will but simply to study history. Even at the dedication of the rebuilt Nauvoo LDS Temple in 2002, LDS church President Gordon B. Hinckley specifically said if God was ever not happy with the area, or there had ever been any condemnation from God, that President Hinckley felt that God had lifted it. Certainly, a new era of study, respect, and even kindness has begun on both sides.

The Boom and Bust

After the Mormons were expelled from Hancock County, Warsaw experienced an economic boom for a few decades and then an economic collapse. Today the town is only a shadow of its former self. Home to two important early military forts, Warsaw grew and blossomed in the mid-1800s. The rich soil helped farming to thrive. Factories were built to make shoes, buttons, pickles, and farm implements. The river and the accompanying steam boating were the lifeblood of Warsaw. Some thought this town was destined to eclipse Chicago in size and wealth, and by 1869 the town leaders even aspired for Warsaw to be the capital of the United States! At its peak, Warsaw was a booming river town with much commerce and industry. The community also put a high priority on the arts, literacy, education, and culture. A library and an opera house were built.

But success for Warsaw was short-lived. Changes in river traffic, due to the construction of a side canal on the other side of the Mississippi River in 1877, and the later completion of the mighty Keokuk Dam just up the river in 1913, caused the economy of Warsaw to tumble toward near ruin. Later, Warsaw factories closed, businesses left, and many abandoned buildings fell into severe states of disrepair. By 2014, the town had shrunk to about 1500 residents. At this time there were no less than 18 buildings or homes abandoned and many were partially collapsed. A drive down Main Street today reveals a town that is a mere shadow of what it once was.

In 1978, the Macomb Daily Journal summarized the rise and fall, saying Warsaw grew rapidly into one of the major Mississippi River shipping points. By 1837, at least two hotels flourished there, and by 1859 there were more than 40 mercantile establishments. Industrial growth was rapid as numerous mills, foundries, factories, distilleries and at least one winery was located there… The population reportedly reached as high as 15,000 [although more likely about 3800] … But as river traffic assumed less importance after 1870 and the city’s efforts to attract a major railroad failed, decline set in. It continued that Warsaw was a remarkable example of a flourishing city arrested in its prime and subjected to negative growth for at least a century; a city of wealth and growing commercial importance suddenly thrust into a stagnant backwater. In 1972, Ken Speed, the editor of the Warsaw Bulletin noted Warsaw has been sitting in a stagnant pool of declining business, decreasing growth and general deterioration.

Warsaw of Late

In 1980, a new town doctor moved to Warsaw with his large family and they quickly made many friends. They were Mormon and helped heal old wounds. Many residents still fondly remember the Lowell Barrowes family. Their kids were smart, popular, good-looking, yet humble and kind. The Barrowes children were homecoming royalty at school, had leads in community musicals, excelled in sports, and made the honor roll at Warsaw High School. When the Barrowes family moved from Warsaw eleven years later, the local newspaper wrote a front-page article highlighting the contributions this Mormon family had made to the community of Warsaw.

Today, Warsaw is a bedroom community to the industries and businesses of nearby Keokuk, Iowa. Its former aspirations to grow and dominate the regional economy and political scene seem like a distant dream. The town has long held out hope for community renewal but prospects look bleak. There have been political battles between those who want to spruce up the town and those that don’t want change. Indeed, locals have said there is a great cultural divide between people that come from old settler families and those that have moved in more recently.

This cultural divide has caused conflict in the community’s vision of what Warsaw should be and what Warsaw can become. Further, like many small communities, many younger residents continue to leave after high school to find educational and economic opportunities elsewhere, which has further depleted Warsaw’s chances for a re-birth.

But even with these economic challenges, Warsaw remains an amazing place. It sits on one of the most beautiful bends of the Mississippi River near the most western point of Illinois, sometimes called the Western Bulge. The town is on a prime spot and sits on a series of bluffs that offer stunning vistas into three states.

Called the Crystal City on the Point, Warsaw attracts bird watchers, fishermen, hunters, and outdoorsmen. Eagles nest and geese descend, sometimes by the thousands. Wild mushrooms also abound in the spring. Further, the area has produced a treasure trove of Indian artifacts and is a rich resource for geologists studying geodes and land formations. Warsaw’s location on the scenic Great River Road attracts tourists, especially bikers, who are often found grabbing lunch or a drink in one of Warsaw’s bars.

The story of Warsaw, at least for many of its residents, is not just about any single specific era. Warsaw has over 200 years of interesting stories and events and is so much more than just the seven tumultuous years of conflict with the Mormons during the 1840s. This is the story, at least in part, of the fascinating river town named Warsaw.

Chapter 2: The Three R’s

The River

Warsaw is and always has been a river town. Like Nauvoo, Keokuk, and others, Warsaw has been shaped by the Father of all Waters, the mighty Mississippi River. First-time visitors are often amazed at the sheer size and majesty of the river known as the The Big Muddy which, at certain points, can be over a mile wide. During earlier times, the river was especially important as it was the primary means of transporting both goods and people.

The importance and influence of the river will appear over and over in the history of Warsaw. The Mississippi contributed to the settlement, the economy, and for many years the way of life in Warsaw. In fact, the river was the leading contributor to both the rise and fall of Warsaw.

The Rapids

In Warsaw’s early history, the nearby Des Moines Rapids made Warsaw economically important. For years these rapids posed a significant hazard to transportation. Rock formations in the river created the rapids. These rocks made the Mississippi very shallow at spots and especially dangerous for river traffic and shipping. As will be discussed later, steamships often had to unload their cargo at one end of the rapids, traverse the rapids empty, and reload their cargo at the other end in a process called lightening or lightering.

At this time the Des Moines Rapids stretched for about 12 miles north of Warsaw. In the mid-1800s, much money and efforts were devoted to tame these rapids. Because the river was so important, the United States Government built two forts in Warsaw in the early 1800s to help defend it.

Limestone outcropping as seen on the road between Warsaw and Nauvoo (photo by the Author)

The Rock

Rock formations along the riverbank, and further inland, influenced Warsaw as well. Cliffs and bluffs created out of limestone and other rocks formations are especially visible on the Great River Road between Warsaw and Nauvoo. Some of these outcroppings between Warsaw and Nauvoo contain what geologists have labeled Warsaw Shale, a type of limestone unique to the area.

Along with limestone, various types of rocks are found in local quarries. These quarries have supplied rock for many area buildings including the John Wilcox House in Warsaw, the Carthage Jail, and the original Mormon Temple in Nauvoo. Also, a rich supply of local minerals has produced fertile farmland and farming remains a key industry in the area.

The bluffs and cliffs in the area were created centuries ago when glaciers carved out the Mississippi River valley. Part of Warsaw, known as Upper Warsaw, sits on a bluff. Eighteen miles upriver the Mormon Temple also sits on a bluff. By-products of this glacial activity include the creation of geodes, which are found in abundance in the Warsaw area. Geodes are hard, round rocks that often have beautiful crystals inside.

In the mid-1800s Warsaw native Amos Worthen, Illinois’ 3rd State Geologist, wrote A fine section of the geode bed is exposed just above the steamboat landing at Warsaw, where its whole thickness may be seen in the bluff above the railroad grade, and there is no locality known in the west where a few hours labor of a good collector would be rewarded by so large a variety of these finely crystallized specimens.

Today, many consider the region the most famous geode-collecting area in the world. Warsaw has a city park named Geode Park and close by is an area called Crystal Glen. There are even swap meets and Geode Days festivals in the region that focus on selling and trading these crystal rocks. Be aware, however, that collecting these specimens may be illegal in some areas.

The ancient glacier activity left the area hilly. In some parts the land is uneven and has numerous ravines. Some of these ravines are home to various streams, which provided drinking water and fish for early settlers. The streams also attracted animals, which made for plentiful hunting due to an abundance of deer, wild turkey, ducks, and geese. Also, a large amount of mink, raccoon, and bear made the Warsaw area home and supplied many pelts. Starting in the 1850s, residents began spending considerable time and effort working to flatten out these ravines in and around Warsaw.

In 1974, the Warsaw Chamber of Commerce sponsored a contest in the local schools to create a slogan that represents Warsaw. The winning slogan was The Crystal City on the Point due to the plentiful geodes nearby while including the words the point, the nickname for the Fort Edwards area. Today, Warsaw still is called the The Crystal City on the Point.

Area geologists have put together a day trip in and around Warsaw with several stops at interesting locations. The route explores many geographical features of the area. This free guide is found online by searching A Guide to the Geology of the Hamilton-Warsaw Area, Hancock County, Illinois.

Chapter 3: Indians and Forts

Warsaw has been inhabited for thousands of years by various Indian tribes at different times. These tribes include the Sack, Fox, Hopewell, and the Winnebago. They often roamed the area in search of food which was obtained by hunting, fishing, and farming. The east part of Main Street in Warsaw was originally a buffalo trace. The animals in the region in the early years would make their way through the area to the foot of the Des Moines Rapids. There they would cross the Mississippi to get to the feeding grounds in Iowa and Missouri.

One particular group of Native Americans, known as Mound Builders, built many mounds nearby. Early Warsaw geologist Amos Worthen owned land which was south of Warsaw at Shumhart’s Creek. On Worthen’s property were several mounds, all in a row, which contained many artifacts, including bowls, hammerstones, bones, and remains of fire. In 1949, the local paper noted the location of numerous nearby Indian mounds, and many were filled with artifacts such as pottery and arrowheads.

A large Indian population once lived in the area and vast amounts of arrowheads and relics have been collected. William Piedrit, who in 1900 built the home on Main Street where the Warsaw House once stood, had a massive collection of Mound Builder and other Indian artifacts. In the 1883 Illinois Horticulture Society’s Annual report highlighting the fall county fair held at Warsaw, Mr. Piedrit is listed as displaying a cabinet of Indian relics, containing hundreds of specimens, ranging from a diminutive arrowhead to an immense battle ax.

On April 24, 1891, the Warsaw Messenger wrote, It is not generally known that William Piedrit is the possessor of the largest and most valuable collection of Indian curiosities and relics of the mound-builders there is in the United States… The article said Mr. Piedrit had some 10,000 arrowheads, 5000 axes, and many other items.

Privately collected Arrowheads (photo courtesy of Gerald James)

Mounds were once common in the region but most were eventually plowed down, leveled, and farmed over. However, many artifacts are still being found and collected. For example, Mr. Gerald James, who at the time of this writing, lives a few miles southeast of Warsaw in Sutter, has collected over 3,000 arrowheads, mostly in washed-out gullies and ravines.

Besides the Mound Builders, the Winnebago tribe spent winters in Warsaw around Wishing Spring. This spring is near Fourth Street by Ralston Park behind the present-day Warsaw Medical Clinic. The spring received its name from a legend about an ill Chieftain. This Chieftain had a lover who dreamt that the sick Chieftain would be healed if he bathed in a pool of red water. So, this maiden went to the spring and put a knife in her heart. This act turned the water red with her blood. When the Chieftain's nurse brought him to the Wishing Spring to bathe, she dipped him in this bloody red water and he was healed. This Winnebago legend goes on to say that lovelorn maidens who wander to this spring when the moon shines over the river obtain the desire, or wish, of their hearts. Hence the spring is named Wishing Spring.

One important local Indian was Peace Chief Lui Va Mac a Te a. According to the September 3, 1881, Warsaw City Bulletin, this Peace Chief presided over both Chief Blackhawk, who desired war, and Chief Keokuk, whom the Iowa town is named after, who wanted peace. In the fall of 1829, Lui Va Mac a Te a was camping on the banks of the river in lower Warsaw when he fell into a campfire. A short time later, he died from injuries he received from this accident. The Peace Chief was then buried near Fort Edwards. He was 75 years old.

Upon hearing of Lui Va Mac a Te a’s death, Blackhawk formed a group that was involved in several skirmishes with the newly arriving white settlers. Blackhawk’s group was named the British Band because they often carried a British flag. Among those who fought against Blackhawk were young Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, and Zachary Taylor. While no fighting of the skirmishes that would be labeled the Blackhawk War occurred in Warsaw proper, there was great apprehension of danger in the area. This fear caused several families to seek protection in the old Fort Edwards structure while other settlers temporarily left the area until tensions simmered down.

During this time, white settlers began moving into lands previously occupied by Native Americans. Although crudely written by today’s standards, the September 20, 1920, Peoria Journal described this settlement movement this way: It was in the beginning of the eighteenth century that red skins were fishing and hunting along the banks of the Mississippi River. The Indians danced joyously around their campfires until they were suddenly interrupted by the coming of the white face to settle along the river. Then, instead of dancing the dance of happiness, it was the dance of war. Out of the night they fell upon the whites and slaughtered them to the earth. One of the chief locations of the white people was at the site where the small city of Warsaw stands at the present time.


One Indian mound of special interest to members of the Mormon Church was found about 85 miles southeast of Warsaw and dug open in 1834. After some church members were harassed in Missouri, Joseph Smith gathered a group in Kirtland, Ohio to go and lend aid. This group was known as Zion’s Camp, and during their journey, they traveled through Illinois.

On June 3, 1834, while passing through Griggsville, Illinois, a mound was found and dug open. Bones and an arrowhead were unearthed. Smith identified these bones as belonging to a righteous Chieftain-Warrior named Zelph, who was from a group called the Lamanites. This Lamanite group is prominent in the scripture known as the Book of Mormon.

The Forts

Near the end of the War of 1812 a young military leader named Zachary Taylor was assigned to come to the area. Nicknamed Rough and Ready, Taylor would later serve as the 12th president of the United States. It was in September of 1814 when Taylor and his men came up the Mississippi River. When they arrived, they built an outpost on what was considered the western frontier of a young and growing nation. Their outpost was named Fort Johnson, after Colonel Richard Johnson, who would later become vice-president to Martin Van Buren.

After a few short months, the troops were running low on supplies and a decision was made to abandon the fort. They left on October 22, 1814. As the troops left the area, they burned the blockhouses, destroyed the fort, and retreated down the river. Fort Johnson was

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