Question: Did Joseph Smith actually shoot and kill two men at Carthage Jail?

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Question: Did Joseph Smith actually shoot and kill two men at Carthage Jail?

John Taylor erroneously believed that Joseph Smith had shot and killed two of their attackers at Carthage Jail

John Taylor actually said, "I afterwards understood that two or three were wounded by these discharges, two of whom, I am informed, died."[1] Who were these rumored dead men? Colonel Hay in his narrative wrote:

Joe Smith died bravely. He stood by the jamb of the door and fired four shots, bringing his man down every time. He shot an Irishman named Wills, who was in the affair from his congenital love of a brawl, in the arm; Gallagher, a Southerner from the Mississippi Bottom, in the face; Voorhees, a half-grown hobbledehoy from Bear Creek, in the shoulder; and another gentleman, whose name I will not mention, as he is prepared to prove an alibi, and besides stands six feet two in his moccasins.[2]

The alleged dead men were actually indicted by the court for murder

The courts indicted these alleged dead men for murder. Mr. Hay wrote:

Bills of indictment were found at the October term of court against Levi Williams, Mark Aldrich, Jacob C. Davis, William N. Grover, Thomas C. Sharp, John Wills, William Voorhees, William Gallagher and one Allen. They were based on the testimony of two idle youths, named Brackenbury and Daniels, who had accompanied the expedition from Warsaw to Carthage on the 27th of June, and had seen the whole affair.[3]

The alleged dead men were seen on the road between Carthage and Warsaw

The two youths eventually exploited the incident and became useless as witnesses. However, their testimony as to seeing Wills, Voras, and Gallaher, all wounded, on the road between Carthage and Warsaw, were sufficient for indictment. The three indicted men were never arrested, nor did they appear at the trial. In contrast to Taylor's unverified rumor perpetuation of their death, a local newspaper of that day perpetuated rumors to the contrary stating that the three men had left the state.[4]

Dallin Oaks and Marvin Hill's detailed analysis of the accused killers trial stated that:

Wills, Voras, and Gallaher were probably named in the indictment because their wounds, which testimony showed were received at the jail, were irrefutable evidence that they had participated in the mob. They undoubtedly recognized their vulnerability and fled the country. A contemporary witness reported these three as saying that they were the first men at the jail, that one of them shot through the door killing Hyrum, that Joseph wounded all three with his pistol, and that Gallaher shot Joseph as he ran to the window... The citizens of Green Plains were said to have given Gallaher and Voras new suits of clothes for their parts in the killing.[5]

The authors erroneously turn rumors into fact. Clearly there is more to the story than the mangled words of John Taylor reveal.


  1. Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vol. 7, 102-103.
  2. Whitney, The Mormon Prophet's Tragedy: A Review, 75; and Hay, "The Mormon Prophet's Tragedy," 675.
  3. Whitney, The Mormon Prophet's Tragedy: A Review, 87; and Hay, "The Mormon Prophet's Tragedy," 677.
  4. Dallin Oaks and Marvin Hill, Carthage Conspiracy, The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1975), 79.
  5. Ibid., 52-53.