The Nauvoo “Whistling and Whittling Brigade” — Law Enforcement by “Nuisance”

In the 1840’s, Nauvoo, Illinois was a thriving Latter-day Saint community on the banks of the Mississippi River. Nauvoo had about 12,000 residents, almost as large as Chicago.     

In 1845, the year after the mob murdered the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Nauvoo Charter was repealed, and the “City of Joseph” was legally dissolved. This left Nauvoo without a government. It also left Nauvoo without a legal militia or police force to maintain order and protect the citizens.

Anti-Mormons trickled into the city from the surrounding area. They tried to intimidate and force the Latter-day Saints to abandon their homes.   

Moreover, the riverboats brought not only supplies and converts, but also gamblers, con men, robbers, and other riffraff. 

The city was in desperate need of law and order.  

Brigham Young came up with an creative solution. It was called the “Whistling and Whittling Brigade.

Dozens of boys were called to serve in the Whistling and Whittling Brigade. They “armed” themselves with knives and sticks

These boys shadowed unsavory characters. They whistled and whittled as they went. 

The groups of boys didn’t speak to the suspicious person. Nor did they answer questions.  The group just followed the person around and continued to whistle and whittle. They never touched or threatened the suspects.   

The boys were safe because they outnumbered the bad guys, and they all had knives. They followed the ruffians wherever they went. They just whistled and whittled until the suspects were so annoyed and exasperated that they left Nauvoo.

Can you imagine being followed by a pack of deacons whittling with knives and whistling?

This creative informal law enforcement program was effective. Could it work today?

(Sources:  “Nauvoo Whittling and Whittling Brigade,” The Friend magazine, 1983; “Whistling and Whittling Brigade,” FairMormon,; “Whistling & Whittling Brigade,” Works of Joseph,; “History of Nauvoo, Illinois,” Wikipedia.)

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