11 July 2014

The Day Brother Joseph and Hyrum Smith Were Murdered

Death Masks of Joseph Smith (on the left) and his brother Hyrum Smith

 The Day Brother Joseph and Hyrum Smith Were Murdered

Around 9:15 the night of June 26, 1844 Brother Joseph and Brother Hyrum, along with Elders John Taylor, and Willard Richards,  and John S. Fullmer, Stephen Markham and Dan Jones held a small devotional in Carthage Jail. Elder Taylor offered a prayer, Brother Hyrum read and commented on passages from the Book of Mormon and Brother Joseph bore his testimony to his brethren and their guards.

Later, being awakened by the sound of gun fire and lying on the floor, Brother Joseph spoke in low tones to two of these brethren, two of hundreds who would have got to Carthage to protect the prophet. He spoke of the possibility of death.  He expressed some intuitive feelings about his death. He then expressed “I would like to see my family again…[and]…I would to God that I could preach to the Saints in Nauvoo once more.” He asked Brother Dan Jones if he was afraid to die.  Brother Jones replied, “has that time come, think you? Engaged in such a cause I do not think that death would have many terrors.”

By 7 am on June 27, 1844 the evil designs to kill Brother Joseph and Brother Hyrum were loudly boasted of to Brother Jones, who had left the jail to inquire about the gunshots the night before.  These threats were vocalizations of what mass meetings of citizens in Warsaw and Carthage had resolved to do, to “utterly exterminate” the Mormon leader.  Illinois officials had already confiscated the Nauvoo Legion’s guns, while allowing their militias to retain theirs.

This unfair advantage in gun power is a potent part of June 27, 1844.  There had been rumors and real fears of the citizens surrounding  Nauvoo that the legion would attack. The Nauvoo Legion was about 2,000 mean strong-- a fear that was apparently made greater after the death of what they thought was four Mormons. This rumor was one of many – rumors that the Mormons had stolen horses and committed other crimes in other communities. Reed Blake in a 1994 Ensign article wrote:

The whole countryside was in a state of confusion. Mormons feared and distrusted heir enemies, and their enemies feared the power of the Mormons if provoked. Rumors bred rumors. Armed men practiced military drills everywhere. Day after day men crossed and re-crossed the Mississippi River from Missouri as attack upon Nauvoo were planned and canceled.

Please remember that there was the Execution Order – signed by the Missouri governor, Lillian Bogs – to drive all Mormons from the state – to execute them if necessary.  June 27, 1844 was not a fresh hate or spontaneous – nor was it, as past beatings, multiple lawsuits, and previous arrests, based on any proper legal procedure.  This hate followed the Prophet Joseph Smith from state to state since 1820, 24 years previous, when he shared a true experience…that he had seen Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It the first time mobs had gathered with evil intent and carried them out or the government not protecting the Saints’ 1st amendment rights. This was not a beginning, but a culmination.
These rumors prompted false accusations and justifications for hate…false accusations even Governor Ford would report he found no evidence of.

It is also important to note that the disarming of the Nauvoo Legion prompted Brother Joseph to say on June 22, “if I and Hyrum were ever taken again we should be massacred, or I [am] not a prophet of God.” Hyrum reported, “A company of men are seeking to kill my brother Joseph.” Joseph knew there would be no mercy for him.

An officer of the guard said to Brother Jones, “we have had too much trouble to bring Old Joe here to let him ever escape alive, and unless you want to die with him you had better leave before sundown; and you are not a… bit better than him for taking his part, and you’ll see that I can prophesy better than Old Joe, for neither he nor his brother, nor anyone who will remain with them will see the sun set today.”

Brother Dan Jones went to tell Governor Ford about the threats. On his way he saw a group of men with one that looked like the leader of the group said, “our troops will be discharged this morning in obedience to orders, and for a sham we will leave the town; but when Governor and the McDonough troops have left for Nauvoo this afternoon, we will return and kill those men, if we have to tear the jail down.” The crowed cheered three times.

These threats were reported to the governor, who was preparing to go to Nauvoo, he dismissed them and told Brother Dan Jones he was “unnecessarily alarmed.” Later in the day a Nauvoo City Marshall of the conspiracy to kill Brothers Joseph and Hyrum when the governor had left town, the governor dismissed this warning as well and replied, “Marshal Greene, you are too enthusiastic.”

Governor Ford later noted in his History of Illinois, "Upon the principle that 'the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church', there was now really more cause than ever to predict its success. The murder of the Smiths, instead of putting an end to the delusion of the Mormons and dispersing them, as many believed it would, only bound them together closer than ever, gave them new confidence in their faith and an increased fanaticism." (pbs.org)
The scene of the awful crime was a bedroom on the 2nd story of the two-story jail.  There was a small desk and a bed. June 27th 1944 was a sultry day and the two windows and door were open. One window being above the bed and the other above the well in the courtyard.
The door and the window are across from each other. The only other room on the second story was a jail cell.  The doors leading to each room shared a very small landing at the top of the staircase.

Brother Dan Jones was not allowed back into the jail.  Only four of the men who slept in the jail the night before would be in the jail when the threats were carried out.  Brother Joseph, Brother Hyrum, Brother Richards and Elder Taylor.   Elders Taylor and Richards were the only two members of the Quorum of the Twelve on the western frontier. The other ten were on missions in the eastern United States. As the day wore on visitors came and went in and out of the room.  Letters were written and dispatched.  Elder John Taylor sang and Brother Hyrum studied.  And the men conversed among themselves. 

Men were assembled around the jail all day. When the governor was on his way to Nauvoo, where he chastised the Saints, even saying to them while threatening them with extermination by others that they should be praying saints, not military saints.  He said in part, “Depend on it, a little more misbehavior from the citizens [of Nauvoo] and the torch, which is already lighted, will be applied, and the city may be reduced to ashes, and extermination would inevitably follow; and it gives me great pain to think that there is a danger to so many innocent women and children being exterminated. If anything of a serious character should befall the lives or property of the persons who are prosecuting your leaders, you will be held responsible.” 

At the same time the Governor of the state of Illinois was speaking such threats to the Saints, their leaders were not being prosecuted by the law but penetrated by assassin’s bullets.


The mob, numbered from 150 to 200 men, stooped down to gather mud. They smeared it on their faces.  Some charged up the stairs and others gathered below the window that was above the well.   Thomas S. Monson explains….

The angry mob stormed the jail; they came up the stairway, blasphemous in their cursing, heavily armed, and began to fire at will. Hyrum was hit [in the face] and died. [As he fell cried out, "I am a dead man."] John Taylor took several balls of fire within his bosom. The Prophet Joseph, with his pistol in hand, was attempting to defend his life and that of his brethren, and yet he could tell from the pounding on the door that this mob would storm that door and would kill John Taylor and Willard Richards in an attempt to kill him.

 And so his last great act here upon the earth was to leave the door and lead Willard Richards to safety, throw the gun on the floor, and go to the window, that they might see him, that the attention of this ruthless mob might be focused upon him rather than the others. JosephSmith gave his life. Willard Richards was spared, and John Taylor recovered from his wounds.

John Taylor's account, 
"I shall never forget the deep feeling of sympathy and regard manifested in the countenance of Brother Joseph as he drew nigh to Hyrum, and, leaning over him, exclaimed, `Oh! my poor, dear brother Hyrum!' He, however, instantly arose, and with a firm, quick step, and a determined expression of countenance, approached the door, and pulling the six-shooter left by Brother Wheelock from his pocket, opened the door slightly, and snapped the pistol six successive times; only three of the barrels, however, were discharged."
“The bodies of Joseph and Hyrum were carried back to Nauvoo in wagons and laid out in the Mansion House. The next day, ten thousand Saints waited in line to walk past the caskets and pay their respects.”  (lds.org)

Mary Dunn Ensign, the daughter of Sister Breksa’s ancestor wrote in her autobiography about the reaction in Nauvoo,

That night the gloom cast over that community cannot be described. Cows mooed, dogs barked and the whole atmosphere was impregnated with calamity. The next morning news was received of the massacre of our Prophet and Patriarch. This caused the people to think that the mob would come and massacre the whole body of saints. I well remember when the bodies of the Prophet and Patriarch were brought home and placed in the mission house. Thousands came to view the remains.
Another resident of Nauvoo relates,
While they doubled the watch and fortified their guard stations, Joseph's followers wrestled with a grief they had never known. Lucy Meserve Bean Smith reflected on the mood that horrific night: "On the evening of the 27th of June such a barking and howling of dogs and bellowing of cattle all over the city of Nauvoo I never heard before nor since. . . . I knelt down and tried to pray for the Prophet, but I was struck speechless, and knew not the cause till next morning. Of course the awful deed was already accomplished, when the spirit refused to give me utterance to the prayer the evening before." (pbs.org) 
The church carried on with Brigham Young as the prophet.  Because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is lead by Jesus Christ, it cannot be hampered by the death of men.

"The truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent," Joseph declared, "till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done."