Introduction to State of Illinois v. Owsley et al.
State of Illinois v. Owsley, Howard, and Strother
Nauvoo, Hancock Co., Illinois, Justice of the Peace Court, 11 July 1840
On 11 July 1840, JS appeared as a witness before , a , Illinois, justice of the peace, in legal proceedings against John H. Owsley, who was accused of four Latter-day Saints and forcibly taking them across the into . Three days earlier, vigilantes from Tully, Missouri—a Mississippi River town approximately thirty miles southwest of , Illinois—abducted Latter-day Saints , , , and . After carrying their captives into Missouri, the vigilantes beat them and coerced them into confessing that they had stolen about $2,000 in property from Tully residents.
Meanwhile, three Tully citizens—Owsley, James Howard, and John M. Strother—went to intending to locate some of the property that they believed had been stolen from them. While there, the three men met with JS and other Nauvoo residents and evidently referenced statements made by the kidnapped church members to support the claim that the stolen property was in the city. , having heard the comments by the Missourians, filed a complaint before , asserting that “certain citizens” of had been “unlawfully illegally and forcibly taken from this state into another &c.” Wells issued a warrant, on which constable Lewis Robison arrested Owsley. Robison also detained Howard and Strother, who, although evidently not named in the warrant, were apprehended “on suspicion of being engaged in the same affair.”
On 11 July 1840, the defendants appeared before for a preliminary examination to determine if there was sufficient evidence to send the case to the Circuit Court. , an attorney from , Illinois, served as prosecutor. Several witnesses, including JS, provided testimony. JS evidently testified that the three defendants had confessed to him their involvement in the abductions. Despite this testimony, Wells discharged Howard and Strother. According to Little, the justice believed there was insufficient evidence to hold them, and he permitted them to testify on behalf of Owsley. After hearing their testimonies, Wells also discharged Owsley, possibly for lack of evidence. Owsley and Howard later claimed that they “were providentially enabled to prove where they were at the time those Mormons should have been abducted.”
News of the kidnappings created an uproar in . Two of the captives, and , escaped or were permitted to return to and swore affidavits before during the next week, recounting their experience. Church members in Nauvoo petitioned Illinois governor to demand that officials apprehend and extradite the accused kidnappers to stand trial in Illinois. Carlin agreed to do so, sending an agent to meet with Missouri governor in August 1840. Boggs evidently agreed to honor Carlin’s requisition on the condition that the Illinois governor would in turn apprehend and extradite JS and five other Latter-day Saints—including Brown—to answer charges from the 1838 conflict between church members and their antagonists in Missouri, resulting in Extradition of JS et al. for Treason and Other Crimes.
Calendar of Documents
This calendar lists all known documents created by or for the court, whether extant or not. It does not include versions of documents created for other purposes, though those versions may be listed in footnotes. In certain cases, especially in cases concerning unpaid debts, the originating document (promissory note, invoice, etc.) is listed here. Note that documents in the calendar are grouped with their originating court. Where a version of a document was subsequently filed with another court, that version is listed under both courts.
10 July 1840
Seymour Brunson, Complaint, Nauvoo, Hancock Co. IL
10 July 1840. Not extant.
10 July 1840
Daniel H. Wells, Warrant, to Lewis Robison, for John Owsley, Nauvoo, Hancock Co., IL
10 July 1840. Not extant.
10–11 July 1840
Docket Entry, Nauvoo, Hancock Co., IL
10–11 July 1840; Daniel H. Wells, Docket Book, 40, CHL; handwriting of Daniel H. Wells.
Letter, H. M. Woodyard and Others to Lilburn W. Boggs, 24 July 1840; Alanson Brown, Affidavit, Hancock, Co., IL, 13 July 1840; James Allred, Affidavit, Hancock, Co., IL, 16 July 1843, in Times and Seasons, July 1840, 1:141–142; Boyce, History, ca. 1845, CHL. Theft became an issue among Latter-day Saints during the 1838 conflict between church members and their antagonists in Missouri. The problem persisted after the Saints relocated to Illinois, with some church members reportedly believing that stealing from Missourians was permissible. In November 1841, five church members, including Alanson Brown, were excommunicated for stealing. (Historical Introduction to Affidavit, 29 Nov. 1841.)
Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.
Boyce, Benjamin. History, ca. 1845. CHL. MS 21306.
Docket Entry, 10–11 July 1840 [State of Illinois v. Owsley et al.]. Illinois law defined kidnapping as forcibly taking or arresting anyone and carrying them “into another country, state, or territory . . . without having established a claim according to the laws of the United States.” The crime was punishable with one to seven years in the penitentiary “for each person kidnapped, or attempted to be kidnapped.” Under common law, in cases involving felony, “the supposed offender may be apprehended without warrant, if such a crime has been actually committed, and there is reasonable ground to suspect him to be guilty.” A peace officer, acting without a warrant, “would be justified, if he acted on the information of another.” (An Act relative to Criminal Jurisprudence [26 Feb. 1833], Public and General Statute Laws of the State of Illinois , p. 207, sec. 56; Chitty, Practical Treatise on the Criminal Law, p. 15.)
The Public and General Statute Laws of the State of Illinois: Containing All the Laws . . . Passed by the Ninth General Assembly, at Their First Session, Commencing December 1, 1834, and Ending February 13, 1835; and at Their Second Session, Commencing December 7, 1835, and Ending January 18, 1836; and Those Passed by the Tenth General Assembly, at Their Session Commencing December 5, 1836, and Ending March 6, 1837; and at Their Special Session, Commencing July 10, and Ending July 22, 1837. . . . Compiled by Jonathan Young Scammon. Chicago: Stephen F. Gale, 1839.