Nauvoo high council, Minutes, and JS, Discourse, [, Hancock Co., IL], 19 Feb. 1843. Featured version copied [ca. 19 Feb. 1843] in “Minutes of the High Council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints of Nauvoo Hancock County Illinois from the 20th of May 1842 to the 19th February 1843,” pp. 32–34; handwriting of ; Nauvoo High Council Minutes, CHL. Includes redactions.
The featured document is in a notebook containing seventeen leaves that measure 11½ × 7–7¾ inches (29 × 18–20 cm). Each page is ruled with thirty-five printed lines (now faded) with header space. The leaves have been bound together with a string in a single gathering. Skipping the first page, paginated the notebook 2–34 and inscribed the minutes using blue and black ink. The upper and lower outside corners of the notebook are missing, apparently from damage caused by a rodent.
At some point prior to April 1855, Stout transferred the minutes to the Church Historian’s Office (now CHL), suggesting continuous institutional custody.
“Inventory. Historian’s Office. 4th April 1855,” , Historian’s Office, Catalogs and Inventories, 1846–1904, CHL.
Historian’s Office. Catalogs and Inventories, 1846–1904. CHL. CR 100 130.
On 19 February 1843, JS presided over an ecclesiastical trial for and held by the in , Illinois. According to JS’s journal, Law and Nickerson “had been fighting [for] some time p[r]evious” over ownership of two of the largest in the across from Nauvoo. The islands were sold in 1842 after the District Court for the Territory of ruled in 1841 regarding conflicting property titles in the “” in , Iowa Territory. The court decreed that the entire tract, which included the islands in the Mississippi, should be divided into 101 parcels of equal value and then distributed to legitimate claimants. As the judgment was carried into effect, the commissioners appointed to divide the land argued that the many islands in the Mississippi and could not be divided equally. Instead, they recommended that the islands be sold at a public auction held in April 1842.
Before the auction, believed that he had entered into an arrangement with to purchase islands 8 and 9—the largest islands for sale—and Nickerson had even given Morrison money for the purchase. At the auction, however, Morrison partnered with , and shortly thereafter the two men received a deed to the islands. Nevertheless, it appears Nickerson assumed that Morrison had made the purchase in Nickerson’s name and that Nickerson was the rightful owner of the islands. This issue came to a head sometime in winter 1842–1843, when Nickerson attempted to harvest lumber from one of the islands. later recalled witnessing an argument between Law and Nickerson at Law’s store in which Law accused Nickerson of trespassing on his island and stealing lumber. As the disagreement became more heated, about a half dozen men—including —joined the argument in support of Law. Ultimately, the two men came to blows, and the other men had to physically separate them.
After the fight, and , who were both members, preferred charges against each other to the high council, which met to hear the combined case on 19 February 1843 in the main room of the upper story of JS’s . JS and attended and presided over the meeting alongside Nauvoo president and Marks’s counselor . Although Hyrum Smith occasionally attended the high council meetings, which were often (though not in this case) held in his office, this is the only time JS’s attendance was noted in the official high council minutes from September 1842 to February 1843. It is unclear why JS attended this particular trial, though it may have had something to do with his brother’s role in the earlier conflict. Alternatively, JS may have particularly objected to the crowd’s actions during the fight between Law and Nickerson. The trial opened at nine o’clock in the morning and lasted until well after midnight due to the number of witnesses and the complexity of the case. JS’s journal described the experience as “listening to the proof of a great Big nothing.” Ultimately, JS expressed his disagreement with the district court’s decision to sell the islands but directed the two men to come to some compromise and honor Nickerson’s claim. Law and Nickerson agreed to JS’s conditions and then “shook hands in token of settlement of all diffculties.” Although the minutes repeatedly refer to “Brs Laws” (plural), suggesting that Wilson Law’s brother was likewise involved in the dispute, this was apparently an error. Extant legal and property records, the account of the trial in JS’s journal, and later reminiscences refer only to Wilson Law’s involvement.
, the clerk of the , kept the minutes for the meeting, presumably taking notes during the meeting that he later refined as he copied them into the high council’s minute book.
Nickerson may have been motivated by family interests to press his claim in January 1843. On 10 January 1843, Nickerson’s brother, Levi, purchased sixty-five acres on island 7, the third largest island across from Nauvoo, where he was apparently already living at the time of purchase. (Lee Co., IA, Land Records, 1836–1961, vol. 3, p. 575, 10 Jan. 1843, microfilm 959,239, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL.)
For example, JS’s journal recorded that one day earlier JS had attended the high council trial of Josiah Ells, but there is no record of JS’s attendance in the high council minutes for that date. (See JS, Journal, 18 Feb. 1843; and Nauvoo Stake High Council Minutes, 18 Feb. 1843, 31–32.)
Nauvoo Stake High Council Minutes, ca. 1839–ca. 1843. Fair copy. In Oliver Cowdery, Diary, Jan.–Mar. 1836. CHL.
The day after the high council meeting, while presiding over a session of the mayor’s court, JS saw two boys fighting out of the window. He promptly halted the court, went outside, and separated the two boys, all while lecturing the bystanders “for not interfering in such cases” and humorously stating that “no body is allowed to fight in this city but me.” (JS, Journal, 20 Feb. 1843.)
Mason, “Decree in Partition of the Half Breed Tract,” 455; Lee Co., IA, Land Records, 1836–1961, vol. 3, pp. 352–353, 14 May 1842, microfilm 959,239, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL; JS, Journal, 19 Feb. 1843; “The Memoirs of President Joseph Smith,” Saints’ Herald, 4 Dec. 1934, 1544–1545.
Mason, Charles. “Decree in Partition of the Half Breed Tract in Lee County, Iowa, 1840.” Annals of Iowa 14, no. 6 (Fall 1924): 424–460.
U.S. and Canada Record Collection. FHL.
Saints’ Herald. Independence, MO. 1860–.
be plaintiff. One were appointed to speak on a side viz. (7 and (8 .
There were a great many witnesses on both sides and a very long trial ensued which lasted from 9 o’clock A.M. till midnight. The essential grounds of difficulty was concerning the title to some of the in the , both parties supposing they had a good right to the same island or a part of an island. The matter was as follows. There had been a decree, in the Court of in , to sell the said islands as a part of the of land and put in money with , to buy his claim, who was to bid it off for him & make a deed to , which he did not do but sold the island to Brs Laws & did did not reserve the claim for which he had purchased with s money neither did he let Brs Laws know the situation of ’s Claim. Neither party knew the situation of the others claim and each <party> supposed the other to be trespassing on his claim. Moreover there was a Law in the Teritory of which guarenteed to each actual settler his claim on certain conditions by which law had a good title to his claim.
President Joseph Smith spoke at length on the subject clearly showing the situation of the affair, and what was the true nature of the titles to the islands. That they did not belong to the and also that the Court of Chancery had no right to sell them. That they were refused lands which the goverment did not see fit to do any thing with consequently were free plunder or belonged to the actual setler &c although, as they were to be sold, it was best that th[e] brethren buy them to avoid any difficulty with those ou[t] of the , who might buy them &c
As the matter appointed appeared to be, whether should give a title to his claim according to the money he put in or not (i. E.) a title from the Court [p. 33]
According to the 1834 guidelines for high councils, when a high council met to judge a case the members were to first determine whether it was a difficult case. If they determined it was not, then only two counselors would be chosen to advocate during the trial. (Revised Minutes, 18–19 Feb. 1834 [D&C 102:13].)
Although the minutes state the trial lasted from nine in the morning to midnight, JS’s journal states that it lasted “from 9 A.M. to 1 P.M.” Willard Richards’s use of “P.M” in the journal is almost certainly an error. (JS, Journal, 19 Feb. 1843.)
Iowa Territory had passed several liberal laws regarding property claims on public land. These laws recognized as “valid in law or equity” all contracts or promises “either written or verbal” pertaining to claims on public land and allowed squatters the right to sue others for trespass on their claims. (An Act to Provide for the Collection of Demands Growing out of Contracts for Sales of Improvements on Public Lands [15 Jan. 1839]; An Act to Prevent Trespass and Other Injuries Being Done to the Possession of Settlers on the Public Domain [25 Jan. 1839], Statute Laws of the Territory of Iowa, pp. 388–389.)
The Statute Laws of the Territory of Iowa, Enacted at the First Session of the Legislative Assembly of Said Territory, Held at Burlington, A. D. 1838–’39. Dubuque, Iowa Territory: Russell and Reeves, 1839. Reprint, Des Moines: Historical Department of Iowa, 1900.
JS was likely referring to the popular conception of “refuse lands,” although his understanding of this designation appears unique. United States senator Thomas Hart Benton from Missouri popularized the idea of “refuse lands” with an 1824 bill that proposed significantly lowering the price of any public land not purchased within five years of being surveyed, reasoning that such land must be of too poor quality for settling. Although Benton’s bill did not pass, the concept remained popular—especially in western frontier states like Illinois—and there were several later attempts to pass similar legislation, though none succeeded.a In contrast to this common understanding of refuse lands, JS used the term here to refer to lands that had never been surveyed and therefore could not be sold. He stated this more clearly in April 1843 at a special churchconference while discussing land claims on the islands. There he reported that “Dr Galland said those Islands dont belong to any body, they were throon [thrown] out of U.S. survey.— hence no man had a claim.”b JS may have been correct on this point, as the 1833 survey of the IowaHalf-Breed Tract did not include any of the islands in the Mississippi River.c
(aA Bill to Sell and Dispose of the Refuse Lands of the United States, S. Bill no. 104, 18th Cong., 1st Sess., pp. 1–2 ; see also A Bill to Graduate the Price of Public Lands, to Make Provision for Actual Settlers, and to Cede the Refuse Lands to the States in Which They Lie, H.R. Bill no. 85, 24th Cong., 1st Sess., pp. 1–3 ; and A Bill to Grant to the State of Illinois Certain Wet and Refuse Lands in Said State, H.R. Bill no. 385, 27th Cong., 2nd Sess., pp. 1–2 . bJS, Journal, 6 Apr. 1843. cOriginal Survey Map for Half Breed Sac and Fox Reservation, Lee Co., Iowa Territory, 5 July 1833, DM ID no. 384283, General Land Office Records, Bureau of Land Management.)
A Bill to Sell and Dispose of the Refuse Lands of the United States. S. no. 104, 18th Cong., 1st Sess. (1824).
A Bill to Graduate the Price of Public Lands, to Make Provision for Actual Settlers, and to Cede the Refuse Lands to the States in Which They Lie. H.R. no. 85, 24th Cong., 1st Sess. (1836).
A Bill to Grant to the State of Illinois Certain Wet and Refuse Lands in Said State. H.R. no. 385, 27th Cong., 2nd Sess. (1842).
General Land Office Records. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior. Digital images of the land patents cited herein are available at http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/.