The Buckey’s First Epistle to Jo – Warsaw Signal – 25 April 1844


I n 1844 two lyrics appeared in the Warsawnewspaper under the pseudonym Buckey. Both criticized Smith”s polygamy. They were obviously written by a very well-informed person who had become disenchanted with him. Mormon historians have traditionally assigned the authorship to Wilson Law, the brother of dissident leader William Law. The Laws had come to Nauvoo late in 1839. The Laws had come to Nauvoo late in 1839. Wilson became a well-respected leader, serving one term as president of the city council. He was also appointed brigadier general of the Nauvoo Legion, a position that he held until his association with the dissenting Mormons caused him to be dismissed in May 1844.

The first poem, not reproduced here, was “Buckey”s Lamentation for Want of More Wives,” which appeared in the Warsaw Message on 7 February 1844, p. 2. It asserted that Smith and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles do “slyly practice” the “secret doctrine,” although “in public they deny.” And the poet used bird images to reveal the identity of some of the prophet”s plural wives:

He sets his snares around for all —
And very seldom fails
To catch some thoughtless PARTRIDGES
SNOW-birds or KNIGHT-ingales!

The references are to the daughters of Edward Partridge, Emily Dow and Eliza M., who were married to Smith in 1843; Eliza R. Snow, married to Smith in 1842; and Lydia Knight, the wife of Vinson Knight. The poet clearly knew a great deal about the inner workings of Nauvoo, and he viewed polygamy as a corrupt practice — the seduction of women by men in positions of religious authority.

The second poem, which is reprinted here, is entitled “The Buckey”s First Epistle to Jo,” and it appeared in the Warsaw Signal on 25 April 1844, p. I. A more effective lyric, it is a verse epistle — a poetic form that had been popular with eighteenth-century satirists like Alexander Pope. The poet views Smith as a fallen prophet, who has betrayed his “Mighty and sublime” calling by engaging in “dark deeds.” As an example, the poet describes the prophet”s attempt to induce Nancy Rigdon, daughter of Mormon leader Sidney Rigdon, to enter into a polygamous relationship. The detailed nature of his account, in stanzas six through fourteen, suggests that the poet knew what he was talking about. Moreover, he accuses the rejected prophet of resorting to his “usual plan,” that is, “circulating lies” about the young woman to cover himself in case she spoke out against him. When confronted by the influential Sidney Rigdon — who may have been the source of this detailed account — Smith asserted instead that he was just testing her virtue. In short, the poem depicts Smith as not only a seducer but a man who spread lies to cover his tracks. This was an important and timely denunciation of Mormonism”s leader and helped to solidify opposition to him in Hancock County.

Of equal significance is the poet”s view of himself. As the closing stanzas reveal, Law — or whoever was the author — had begun to see himself as a champion of freedom, standing opposed to a tyrant. The events of recent months — including the increasing conflict with Smith, the formation of a new Reformed Mormon Church, and the subsequent excommunication of the dissidents — had given the poet a new sense of authority. He was a man with a cause, and perhaps his most powerful weapon was his insider”s knowledge of Smith”s “dark deeds” in both Nauvoo and Missouri, as outlined in stanza twenty. Clearly, by April of 1844, Smith had formidable critics within the community. (Cultures in Conflict: A Documentary History of the Mormon War in Illinois. Contributors: John E. Hallwas – editor, Roger D. Launius – editor. Publisher: Utah State University Press. Place of Publication: Logan, UT. Publication Year: 1995, pp. 132-133)

 The following anonymous poem attributed to Wilson Law appeared in the Warsaw Signal on 25 April 1844, p. I:

The Buckey”s First Epistle to Jo


Friend Jo, I have been told of late,
That you had got it in your pate
A certain chief, to vent his hate,
Had learned to sing;
And had turned out a poet great,
Or some such thing.


Because the “Warsaw Message” came
With tidings from the state of fame
Like some great herald to proclaim
Your wicked ways,
Your tyranny, your sin and shame,
In these last days.


With Buckey”s trumpet sounding clear,
That Democrat and Whig might hear,
And Priest-rid Mormons, who in fear,
Bow down to thee;
That there is still one child who dare[s]
And will be free.


That Buckeye child lives in Nauvoo,
And some there are, who know how true
A friend, he ever was to you,
In days that”s past,
Till slanders base around you threw,
Fair fame to blast.


Till for himself he”s fairly seen
That you were not what you had been,
But that iniquity you”d screen
In every way;
And from fair virtue”s path did lean
Vile plans to lay.


Have you forgot the snare you laid
For NANCY, (lovely Buckeye maid?)
With A your priestly arts array”d
Her to seduce;
Assisted by that wretched bawd
Who kept the house.


But she, in virtues armour steel”d,
Was proof against what you reveal”d,
And to your doctrines would not yield
The least belief;
Although the scriptures you did wield
In your relief.


And when you saw, she would detest
Such doctrines, in her noble breast,
And did despise the man, ”tho priest,
who taught them too,
A sallow, yellow, lustful beast,
Poor Jo, like you.


”Twas then you chang”d your lovers sighs
And vengeful hate flash”d in your eyes
When you found out she did despise
You as a man;
You took to circulating lies,
Your usual plan.


Just that you might destroy her fame,
And give to her a ruin”d name,
So that if she should ever proclaim
What you had tried;
Your friends might turn on her the shame
And say she lied.


But Joe, in this you fairly tail”d,
Though you her father”s house assail”d
She met you face to face; you quail”d
Before her frown,
And like a counterfeit she nail”d
You tightly down —


Although you tried, by priestly power
To make this gentle creature cower
And eat her words, that you might tower
In priestly pride;
But strong in truth, she in that hour
Told you you lied.


And when you found it would not do,
Then like a coward paltroon [ sic ], you
Acknowledg”d what she had said was true
Unto her sire;
But then you”d nothing more in view
Than just to try her —


And put her on her guard, that she
Might keep her[self] pure and free
From base seducers like to me,
And Joab vile —
For that it was reveal”d to thee
We would beguile.


O Jo! Jo!! thy slanderous tongue
Some burning tears from me have wrung,
And I had thought t” have held my tongue
And nothing said —
If thou had”st but repentance shown
And shut thy head.


But thy repeated slanders vile
Shall not be long borne by this child;
Although by nature he is mild,
And well disposed;
Thy sins from continent to isle
Shall be exposed.


Missouri”s deeds shall come to light
Though perpetrated in the night,
By hirelings who thought it right
To do thy will —
By cabin conflagration bright
To scalp and kill.


Repent, repent, there still is time —
And add no more dark crime to crime,
But think, how mighty and sublime
Thy calling first —
And in black sackcloth bow thee down
Low in the dust —


And put away far from thy heart,
Each wicked, sensual sinful art;
And from the truth no more departLong as you live —
But stop and make another start,
And I”ll forgive.


If not, your dark deeds in Nauvoo,
As well as in Missouri too —
Like Hamlet”s ghost shall rise to view,
With old white hat —
Then tremble tyrant, for but few
Will sanction that.


But I must stop this long epistle,
“My pen is worn down to the gristle,”
And ”tis the poet”s only missill [ sic]
In truth”s relief —
For, be it known to all, this child
Ain”t yet a chief —


”Tho he his lineage can trace
Back to the Bruce and Wallace days,
When they for Liberty did raise
The sword, and broke
(As I intend in these last days)
A tyrant”s yoke.


Gary James Bergera, “Buckeye”s Laments: Two Early Insider Exposes of Mormon Polygamy and Their Authorship,”Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Winter 2002, vol. 95, no. 4, pp. 350-390.]