(1810-1866) Brother of Levi Stewart
Taken from the History of the Church, Vol.3, Ch.6, p.56
Taken from the Autobiography of John Butler
Taken from the History of Levi Stewart, by Margery Browne Cottam
Judge Morin, who lived at Mill Port, informed John D. Lee and Levi Stewart that it was determined by the mob to prevent the "Mormons" from voting at the election on the sixth day of August. Thereby they were to elect Colonel William P. Peniston, who led the mob in Clay county. He also advised them to go prepared for an attack, to stand their ground, and have their rights.
The brethren, hoping for better things, gave little heed to Judge Morin's friendly counsel, and repaired to the polls at Gallatin, the shire town of Daviess county, Missouri, without weapons.
About eleven o'clock a. m., William P. Peniston mounted a barrel, and harangued the electors for the purpose of exciting them against the "Mormons." He would say, "The Mormon leaders are a set of horse thieves, liars, counterfeiters, and you know they profess to heal the sick, and cast out devils, and you all know that is a lie." He further said that the members of the Church were dupes, and not too good to take a false oath on any common occasion. He also said that they would steal, and he did not consider property safe where they were. He was opposed to their settling in Daviess county, and if they suffered the "Mormons" to vote, the people would soon lose their suffrage. Addressing the Saints he said, "I headed a mob to drive you out of Clay county, and would not prevent your being mobbed now."
Richard (called Dick) Welding, the mob bully, just drunk enough for the occasion. He began a discussion with Brother Samuel Brown by saying, "The Mormons were not allowed to vote in Clay county no more than the negroes." He attempted to strike Brown, who gradually retreated, parrying the blow with his umbrella, while Welding continued to press upon him, calling him a liar, etc. Meanwhile he was trying to repeat the blow on Brown. Perry Durphy sought to suppress the difficulty by holding Welding's arm, when five or six of the mobbers seized Durphy and commenced beating him with clubs, boards, and crying, "kill him, kill him." Soon a general scuffle commenced with fists and clubs. The mobbers were about ten to one of the brethren. Abraham Nelson was knocked down, and had his clothes torn off. While trying to get up he was attacked again, when his brother, Hyrum Nelson, ran in amongst them, and knocked the mobbers down with the butt of his whip. Riley Stewart struck Welding on the head, which brought him to the ground. The mob cried out, "Dick Weldin's dead; who killed Dick?" And they fell upon Riley, knocked him down, kicked him, crying, "Kill him, kill him; shoot him." They would have killed him, had not John L. Butler sprung in amongst them and knocked them down. During about five minutes it was one succession of knock downs, when the mob dispersed to get fire arms.
Very few of the brethren voted. Riley, escaping across the river, had his wounds dressed, and returned home.
The journal of John Butler tells of this experience: . . . Wm. Penniston [sic], one of the candidates, stood upon the head of a whiskey barrel, and made a very inflammatory speech against the saints, stating that he had headed a company to order the "Mormons" off of their farms and possessions, stating at the same time that he did not consider the "Mormons" had any more right to vote than the damned niggers. When he was through, he called on all hands to drink, which they did, for whiskey passed free, and they drank as freely. I at this time retired a little back from the crowd, rather behind the little grocery, near by, where they were voting. I heard the word G-- damn 'em! kill 'em G-- damn 'em!
At this point, "feelings became somewhat excited on both sides, though there was but little said, until one of the Mormons and one of the other citizens got into a conversation, in which they gave each other the lie . . . . One angry word brought on another," until finally: a drunken brute by the name of Richard Weldon, stepped up to a little Mormon preacher, by the name of Brown, and said: "Are you a Mormon preacher, sir?"
"Yes, sir, I am."
"Do you Mormons believe in healing the sick by laying on of hands, speaking in tongues, and casting out devils?"
"We do," said Brown.
Weldon than said, "You are a d--d liar. Joseph Smith is a d--d imposter."
With this, he attacked Brown, and beat him severely. Brown did not resent it, but tried to reason with him, but without effect. At this time a Mormon, by the name of Hyrum Nelson, attempted to pull Weldon off of Brown, when he was struck by half a dozen men on the head, shoulders and face. He was soon forced to the ground. Just then, Riley Stewart struck Weldon across the back of the head with a billet of oak lumber, and broke his skull. Weldon fell nearly on me, and appeared lifeless. The blood flowed freely from the wound. Immediately the fight became general.
The little Mormon preacher, whom John D. Lee identified as a man named Brown, was the first Mormon attacked in the Election Day Battle. Sidney Rigdon told a little more about Brown. He said his name was Samuel Brown, "Who was but just able to be about, after a very dangerous fit of sickness." As Richard (Dick) Weldon began to accost Samuel Brown, Brother Brown tried to parry the blows while gradually retreating. And then, as Lee reported, the fight became general; or as Lyman Wight said: "accordingly they commenced operations by fist and skull; this terminated in the loss of some teeth, some flesh, and some blood." McGee's account said it simply: "men dropped on all sides." But in John L. Butler's account, we find the most colorful and complete recording of the "teeth, flesh, and blood":
. . . I (John Butler) went to where the affray was and saw they had attacked the brethren with sticks, clapboards (or shakes) and anything they could use to fight with. They were all in a muss together, every one of the Missourians trying to get a lick at a "Mormon." It made me feel indignant to see from four to a dozen mobbers on a man and all damning 'em and G-- damning the "Mormon. ". . . I turned around and ran a few steps to get a stick and I soon found one suitable, though rather large; it was the piece of the heart of an oak, which I thought I could handle with ease and convenience. Returning to the crowd many thoughts ran through my mind. First I remembered that I never in my life struck a man in anger, had always lived in peace with all man and the stick I had to fight with was so large and heavy that I could sink it into every man's head, that I might chance to strike. I did not want to kill anyone, but merely to stop the affray and went in with the determination, to rescue my brethren from such miserable curs at all hazards, thinking when hefting my stick that I must temper my lick just so as not to kill . . . . When I got in reach of them, I commenced to call out aloud for peace and at the same time making my stick move to my own utter astonishment, tapping them as I thought light, but they fell as dead men, their heads often striking the ground first. I took great care to strike none except those who were fighting the brethren. When I first commenced there was some six or eight men on old Mr. Durphy, and a few steps further some ten or a dozen men on Brother Olmstead and Brother Nelson, but they were so thick around them that they could not do execution to advantage. I continued to knock down every man I could reach that was lifting a stick against the brethren. After getting through and seeing the brethren on their feet, I looked and saw some of the men lying on the ground as though they were dead, some with their friends holding them up and some standing leaning against the little grocery. While gazing on the scene Bro. Riley Stewart had in his hand (what the backwoodsman calls a knee) to place between weight poles on log cabins--a piece of timber about 2 1/2 feet long, small at one end, and struck Dick Welding [sic] an over handed blow on the head, cutting the side of his head three or four inches in length, the skin pulling down. It looked like he was certainly killed. I told Stewart he had better leave, for he had killed that man; he then started to run and got off some twenty or twenty-five paces, when some ten or a dozen men took after him, throwing sticks and stones at him and anything they could get, swearing they would kill him. I saw they would over-power him and called for him to come back, for we could do better business when together, and he took a little circuitous route to keep from meeting those pursuing him. At the crisis one of the mob drew a glittering dirk, the blade some six inches long, waving it in the air, and at the same time swearing it should drink Stewart's heart's blood. He started to meet Stewart, as he was returning back to the crowd. As he was several steps ahead of me, I sprang with all the power that was in me to overtake him before he met Stewart. Just as he and Stewart met, he made a blow at his neck or breast, but as Stewart was passing in a run, his dirk passed over his left shoulder close by his neck and struck in his right shoulder blade and bent the point of it round as much as an inch. Just as he made his lick I reached forward as far as I could and hit him on the side of the head and fetched him helpless to the ground, and at the same instant received a blow from one behind me with the butt end of a loaded horse whip which took me right between the shoulders. I felt the jar only in my breast and had I not been stooping forward, as I was at the time I made my blow, he would have taken me on the head, no doubt, and perhaps fetched me down. While Stewart was running off, James Welding [sic], Dick's brother, came along and saw his brother lying in his gore; he bawled and swore that they had killed Dick. He stopped down and picked up a stone, swearing he would kill every "Mormon" in Daviess county before Saturday night. Just as the word came out of his mouth, Washington Voris, standing near him, hit him square in the mouth with a stone that would weigh near two pounds (I think) and straightened him out on the ground. He soon gathered up and as he rose with his mouth badly cut and bleeding, he put his hand on his face and began to cry, saying that he never saw people hit as hard as the "Mormons." They had killed Dick and mashed his mouth too, hoo, hoo; and off he ran bellowing in the brush. I will mention another occurrence which took place. Bro. Olmsted previous to the affray had purchased half a dozen earthen bowls and as many tea cups and saucers which he had tied up in a new cotton handkerchief and swung to his wrist. One of the mob struck at him when he raised his arm, the blow striking the bowls and saucers and broke them. He then commenced using them over their heads, and when the affray was over, I saw him empty out his broken earthenware on the ground in pieces not larger than they had fun to pick the pieces of earthen ware from their heads, for they were pretty well filled. The whole scene was soon over; . . . I believe there was as many as 30 men with bloody heads and some of them badly hurt. I believe that I knocked down as many as six or eight myself. I never struck a man the second time, . . .
John Butler believed with all of his heart that God's spirit was upon him in the battle. In one source he said: "… and the Lord did strengthen my body far beyond the common strength of man, so much so that the enemy could not stand before me. It was the power of God that was with me to my own astonishment." Durham, Jr., BYU Studies, Vol. 13, No. 1,
From this time on Riley was hunted by the mob. The journal of John Butler tells of another experience Riley had with the mob: "After we had gone to bed there came a man to the house and said, calling the man by name, "Come down with me," said he, "for there is a damn Mormon down here," come down from the Mormons to see his mother-in-law and sister himself. "Now, we are going to give him perfect hell." The old man told him that he could not go with him tonight for he had company and could not have them leave. "Well," said the fellow, "I am sorry for I should like you to have the fun of the job as well as ourselves." "What's the fellow's name?" said our host. "Well, now, I think it is Riley Stuart [Stewart] they call him." He then went off. I thought that when he first came and told his take and said that there was a Mormon here that some of the mob had gotten on our track and was going to have a go at us, but I found out afterwards that it was not us. I felt greatly relieved when I heard it, although I felt sorry for Riley's condition for they were bound to ill treat him if they caught him, which I hoped they would not, but the same fellow came back in about an hour and a half and said they had done it for him. He said that they had lots of fun with him, seeing him try to help himself.
Well, we got up in the morning about daybreak, and I can tell you we were not long in getting away. We saddled our horses and got ready and the old man said that we must stay to breakfast, but I told him that we were in somewhat of a hurry and that we would not stop. Well, he said that he was very sorry, but that we must have our own way. The old lady said that we must take some biscuits in our pockets to eat on the road, so we took them and started on our journey wishing them good morning. I found out that Riley Stuart [Stewart] had caught hell sure enough as the fellow said. He was pounded over the head and it liked to have killed him. He was laid up through it." John Butler Autobiography, typescript, BYU-S, p.17
Riley Stewart never regained his health after this beating.
The following account of the Gallatin election is taken from Margery Browne Cottam's history of Levi Stewart, Riley's brother.
When the Prophet and the leading authorities of the Church gave themselves up to the State Militia in an attempt to save the people from massacre, the rest of the male members were held as prisoners at Far West to be tried for "treason". Levi Stewart was among those who were forces to march double file and surrender themselves and their arms. Then each one was made to sign a treaty giving to the State all his real estate and property to "pay the expenses of the War against the Saints". Each family was to be allowed barely enough to move out of the state. It took weeks to examine separately such a large body of people and the men were held prisoners all this time.
One night as they were standing by a log fire trying to keep warm, a ruffian came up to Riley Stewart and said, "I saw you knock Dick Welding down election day at Gallatin." With this he sprang for an ax that had been driven tight into a log. Riley ran, but when the man succeeded in getting it loose, he threw it with all his might. Fortunately the ax struck Riley only a glancing blow on the head, not killing him but wounding him severely. The night after he was wounded, Riley broke through the guard and escaped to his wife's people in Carroll County, 50 miles to the south. Soon he was warned that an armed mob had formed when they heard of his arrival and intended to take him out, tar and feather him and whip him. He attempted to escape but they caught him, and holding two pistols at his head forced him to take off his coat, kneel down, and receive fifty lashes. These were given with such force that they cut through his linen shirt and into the flesh. Then he returned to Far West. The men were locked in a schoolhouse without rations much of the time. Their grain fields and gardens were thrown open to soldiers and horses. Their stock was shot down for sport before their very eyes.