A God-obsessed mother gone mad. A once-devout father turned cynical. The only thing as challenging as growing up in a faith-fractured home is carrying your devotion into adulthood. Especially if you happen to be Mormon.
In Nauvoo the Saints prospered as never before. But their relationship with the outside world remained strained. They had always owned a hearty confidence in the rightness of their cause and the magnificence of their destiny. As in Missouri, outsiders viewed this confidence as extreme arrogance. Sentiments soured further when rumors spread of Joseph Smith's polygamous practices. The tipping point seems to have arrived in mid-1844, when Smith, as mayor of Nauvoo, ordered the destruction of an anti-Mormon press. The mobs returned. In early June of that year, a group of Illinois residents threatened the Saints with "War and extermination...made with powder and ball." In response, Smith and his peers declared martial law in Nauvoo. They raised an armed militia and conducted military exercises, actions the people of Illinois considered seditious. Hoping to placate his constituents, Governor Thomas Ford had promised to protect Joseph and Hyrum if they'd submit to trial by a non-Mormon jury in Carthage. The men agreed, though they were skeptical. On his way from Nauvoo to Carthage, Joseph Smith offered one of his last prophecies: "I am going like a lamb to the slaughter...I shall die innocent and it shall yet be said of me: 'He was murdered in cold blood.'"
Now, in the Carthage jail, his prediction was unfolding like a scene from a Western movie. After watching his brother die on the floor, the prophet attempted to climb out the room's only window. He was shot four times, twice by men at the door, and twice from outside. He fell through the window, crying out, "Oh Lord, my God!" Some witnesses claim Smith hit the ground dead. Others say he lived long enough for the mob to prop him up against a well, where they shot him again.
Some 15 years earlier, in the early 1830s, my great-great-great grandfather, Nathan Calhoun Cheney, had turned a corner in Freedom, New York, and found a man preaching the Book of Mormon. Nathan read the book and believed in it, a fact his father, a Revolutionary War captain named Ebenezer Cheney, could not forgive. He asked his son to abandon his new beliefs; when his son refused, Ebenezer asked him to leave. Nathan departed with a change of clothes and the Book of Mormon. In the surviving letters and recollections, I can find no evidence that he ever went home again. If he ever regretted his decision, he left no evidence of that either.