In October of 1838, anti-Mormon mobs and militia laid siege to the Mormon settlement of Far West. After three days, the leaders of the Mormon Church were told that the leader of the militia would like to discuss a peace agreement, but instead the Church leaders were arrested.They were held in Richmond for two weeks while a trial was held. The trial was unfair. Witnesses against the leaders lied and exaggerated. The judge had decided before the trial that the men would be sent to jail. After the trial some of the men were released.On November 30, 1838, Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, Alexander McRae, and Caleb Baldwin were taken to Liberty Jail to await another trial. They had been charged with treason against the state of Missouri, an exaggerated and unjust charge.
Liberty Jail was more like a dungeon. It was twenty-two feet square and had two levels, both below ground. A hole in the floor of the top level was the only way to get to the lower level. The only way out of the jail was through a trap door in the ceiling. The ceilings on both levels were so low that two of the men who were confined there were never able to stand up straight. There were “inner and outer walls which, combined, were four feet thick. Loose rocks were placed between the walls to thwart any attempt at burrowing through” (Neal A. Maxwell, “A Choice Seer,” Ensign, Aug. 1986, 6). The men were forced to stay in Liberty Jail for four months during a bitterly cold winter. There were narrow openings that provided the only light in the prison. Unfortunately these openings also let in the cold. Conditions were horrible. They were often fed rotten or poisoned food that would make them sick. Along with all these awful conditions, Joseph was also discouraged and worried about the Saints because they were being forced from their homes and treated unjustly.
The time spent in Liberty Jail wasn’t completely bad. The jail has been nicknamed the “Temple Jail,” because Joseph Smith received so many important revelations and had time to reflect on gospel principles while in Liberty Jail. Joseph Smith received the revelations found in Doctrine and Covenants 121, 122, and 123 while imprisoned at Liberty.
In February, Sidney Rigdon was let free because he became very ill. The others remained in Liberty Jail. Finally, in April of 1839, the prisoners were taken out of Liberty Jail to be taken to Gallatin, Missouri, for a hearing. After the hearing, the men were then told that they would be taken to a jail in Boone County. The men guarding the prisoners knew that they were not bad men and allowed them to escape.
Liberty Jail has been restored, and is open to the public for tours.