Thursday Thriller

Let me introduce you to Richard Ballantyne, my 5th great grandfather.  He was a Scotsman who joined the church and came to America to join with the Saints.  Little did he know what kinds of trials and adventures awaited him.  During the time of great persecutions of the Mormons, he was kidnapped by the mob and held hostage for over two weeks. Being an avid journal writer, he left many amazing stories for his posterity to enjoy.  Here is the story of his adventure being a hostage to the mob….

(The following story was taken from the book, Knight of the Kingdom. By Conway B. Sonne* He wrote it based on the journal entries of Richard Ballantyne and others during the kidnapping.)

“It was a hot and sultry morning in July. He was driving his wagon toward Nauvoo. With him were Phineas Young and his son, Brigham H., and James Standing. They had been to McQueen’s Mill, twelve miles up the Mississippi north of Nauvoo. As Richard’s health had been poor, he thought the ride with the Youngs to the mill would do him good. The Youngs needed the flour for the trip West and so Richard offered to take them in his wagon.

They had traveled about two miles below the mill and were entering the town of Pontoosuc. Suddenly they sensed that something was wrong. Their eyes fell on an unusual number of horses tied to the fence around the town square. Their suspicions aroused, the four men drove quietly through the town. At the outskirts their worst fears were confirmed. A woman standing on the porch of her home shrieked, “For God’s sake, be off for the mobs in town.”

Richard flicked the whip over the backs of his horses and drove swiftly for two more miles. Then he pulled to an abrupt halt. He unhitched and led the team to the Mississippi for a drink. As the four again harnessed the horses, they heard the pounding of hoofs. The sound rose like thunder upon them.

Richard’s hand closed over the gun he always carried in the wagon. Phineas quick-wittedly snatched it from him and tossed it into the bushes, an act which perhaps saved their lives. About twenty horsemen descended upon the unarmed travelers. Leveling their cocked revolvers, the mob ordered surrender.

By what authority do you order us to surrender?” Richard angrily demanded.

With a vile oath a bearded ruffian thrust the muzzle of a pistol in Richard’s face and snarled, “This is my authority.”

The leader of the gang was a rough, foul-mouthed backwoodsman whose name was “Old Wimp.” When Richard showed indignation at the capture, this vicious mobster drew his bowie knife and would have cut the Scotsman’s throat had he not been restrained by several of the raiders.

After recovering Richard’s rifle the mobbers hauled the captives back to the public square at Pontoosuc and exhibited them for some two hours to the jeering and cursing rabble. On the fringe of the crowd were women, and some of them mocked as heartlessly as the men. A few whisked their skirts about their ankles and fled more out of squeamishness than sympathy. Children watched with parents, and town officials were surprisingly indifferent.

Someone started a raucous chant that rose in a crescendo, “Mor-mons, Mor-mons, Mor-mons!” Soon a boisterous and savage glee seemed to possess the mob. It spread like a fever until men worked themselves into a frenzy of hatred. The derisive chant became a roar, and the mob became more and more irresponsible as bottles passed freely from mouth to mouth.

Finally before violence broke out the prisoners were taken to the wharf and lodged in a warehouse with another captive, James Herring, until dark. Here they learned that they were being held as hostages until two mobbers named McAuley and Brattle, who were awaiting trial in Nauvoo for lynching, were released. Word was sent to Nauvoo that unless the two men were freed the lives of the five Saints would be sacrificed. After sundown a dozen guards prodded them along a thicketed path into a lonely clearing in a forest, where the prisoners spent a sleepless and miserably cold night.

At dawn, shots and shouting were heard from the direction of Pontoosuc. The camp sprang to life. An order was given, and the kidnappers formed a small circle around their victims.

Hold on ’till I go see what causes this uproar,” commanded “Old Wimp.”In a half hour the mob chief returned with the report, “The Mormons are here.” He said that bout two hundred Nauvoo legionnaires were in pursuit. It was afterwards learned that a well-armed company from Nauvoo in search of the missing men had taken the town by surprise before the inhabitants were awake.

Phineas Young, fearing the mob would become panic-stricken and massacre their prisoners, ran forward and caught “Old Wimp” by the arm. He pleaded for their lives.

If you’ll follow me, I’ll save you,” growled the mob leader, unloosing a torrent of curses.

Again the party stumbled through the woods. During this time Richard was so ill and exhausted that he felt he could not take another step. Yet whenever he lagged behind, he was viciously jabbed with a bayonet.

The group hid in the daytime and marched at night over rough and trackless country. Once, after denying the prisoners water all day, the mob tried to force them to drink poisoned whiskey. Only Brigham H. Young tasted it, hoping to quench his thirst, and he became violently ill and temporarily blind. On another occasion the guards loaded and primed their weapons and prepared to shoot their captives but had to postpone their plan when a messenger brought news that the Mormons were only a half mile away. The mob also plotted to strangle them in their sleep, but the prisoners stayed awake all night and forestalled the design. One night was spent in a farmhouse of a man who gave his name as Logan, and Richard and his companions were imprisoned in a room which “was literally filled with wool.” Another night was spent on a small island in the Mississippi among the nettles and mosquitoes.

In the meantime the pursuers from Nauvoo had discovered Richard’s wagon and team with the flour. The game of hide and seek went on with the five men suffering severely from exposure and hunger.

Finally the prisoners were led into a secluded clearing and backed against a large tree. Their captors measured off fifty feet, stamped down an overgrowth of weeds between themselves and the condemned men, and grimly loaded their weapons. The captured Saints knew that at last they were to be shot in cold-blood.

Phineas Young again stepped forward. He begged “Old Wimp” to take his life and let the others go free, but his pleas brought nothing but curses.

Richard’s thoughts flashed back to his mother, his sisters, and his afflicted brother. How would they make their way out West without him? Who would take care of them? These thoughts almost overcame him, but he steeled himself against any show of fear. He prayed.

The prisoners were placed in position. The rifles were ready. And then every head turned at the sound of a galloping horse. A lone rider broke through the forest on a foaming animal.

The Mormons are coming,” he shouted.

Guilty faces stiffened with fear. Panic gripped the kidnappers. “Old Wimp” dashed forward and untied the hands of the five Mormons.

If you will save us, we will save you,” he bargained.

Again the flight continued. Then “Old Wimp” and his men were relieved by new guards and returned to Carthage to make arrangements with the “killing company” to dispose of the prisoners.

Now was the chance to escape. The new guards were more friendly and less brutal than the other men. Phineas Young approached the leader and told him it was time for a showdown. He described the two-week captivity. He explained that McAuley and Brattle had been released, but the mob had failed to free their hostages as they had agreed. It was evident that “Old Wimp” had no intention of letting them leave alive. Now they were going home. Shoot if he wished, but they were going home. The guard captain, after verifying the things he had been told, suddenly sickened of the whole business. He told them they were free to go.

There was a remarkable change in the attitude of the mobbers. They immediately became kind and solicitous of the welfare of their prisoners. Several of the guards arranged for a wagon and drove them to Warsaw. Then they provided boats and rowed their former captives five miles up the Mississippi to a point near Nauvoo.

When “Old Wimp” heard if the escape, he collected his mob and in a rage set out in hot pursuit determined to kill the Mormons once and for all. He followed the escaped men up the Mississippi and almost recaptured them, but they managed to keep the sloughs between them and the mob until “Old Wimp” gave up the chase.

Ann met her son as he approached the house. She looked old and haggard and could think of nothing but that Richard was again safe. His broken-hearted mother and sister Annie fell upon him, laughing through their tears almost hysterically. They had given him up for dead. There had been rumors of torture and death, and after two weeks all hope had gone. The city turned out in rejoicing and thanksgiving for the return of the five men.

This terrible experience left its mark on Richard Ballantyne. How can a man remain unchanged after facing stark murder time and again at the hands of a half-crazed mob, after witnessing the blood-thirsty hatred and vicious savagery of supposedly civilized men, and after escaping almost miraculously when death seemed inevitable?

Persecution fails because it generally does the opposite it is intended to do. While it is true that, in some cases, it exposes moral cowards, defeats the timid and irresolute, and crushes the spiritless, it more often cements allegiance to the cause, adds fuel to an already burning faith, and unifies into a militant front those whom it would oppress.

There were Latter-day Saints who became frightened, embittered, and eventually apostatized. But there were many more who reacted with new fervor, redoubled energies, and greater loyalty to their principles. In Richard Ballantyne the fighting spirit was aroused. After his return that day, when his body was exhausted and his mind confused, he took time to think and to clarify the issues. He decided that the threat to his religion made it that much more priceless, more vital in his life. He could see no room for compromise with the enemies of the Church. They had tried to kill him; and when he thought about it, he became angry and indignant. But his enemies had an effect. Where he once had faith, he now had zeal. Where he might once have weakened, he would now be strong. His devotion to his Church had almost become a passion. He was now alert, on guard against anything which might undermine his faith. Like Daniel, he felt that God had rescued him from a fiery furnace, that he had been put through a supreme test, and that he would prove his faith by his obedience and service to the Gospel.”


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