By Jeffrey S. O’Driscoll
Editors’ Note: We have been impressed by this new biography of the Patriarch, Hyrum Smith, and so we invited author Jeffrey O’Driscoll to tell us why he wrote the book, what impressed him as he did so, and his feelings about Hyrum Smith.
In this welcome biography, Jeffery S. O’Driscoll’s careful research helps readers more fully appreciate the contributions and the characters of this key church leader, beloved husband and father and exemplary disciple. In endless affliction, no one stood more consistently at Joseph’s side than Hyrum. In Hyrum’s patriarchal blessing, Joseph Smith Sr. declared, “You shall be as firm as the pillars of heaven unto the end of your days.” This inspiring biography provides compelling evidence of the truth of that prophetic statement.
“Hyrum Smith put his foot in the stirrup and was about to swing into the saddle when he paused to reconsider his plan. After some time, he turned from his large white horse and went back into the house, where he removed his watch from his pocket, hung it in its usual spot, and replaced it with his older timepiece. His oldest son, eleven-year-old John, watched and wondered.” John remembered that day the rest of his life. Speaking of it more than a half century later, while officiating in the patriarchal office that his father once held, John noted carrying the watch that Hyrum left behind.
Hyrum’s youngest son, five-year-old Joseph Fielding (commonly known as Joseph F.), also secured an indelible image of his father that day. Before leaving Nauvoo, the Patriarch saw Joseph F. standing in the dusty street. “Leaning from his saddle, Hyrum lifted his son into his arms, embraced him, kissed him good-bye, and then gently lowered him to the ground. Little Joseph F. looked on as his father rode toward death.” Like John, Joseph F. never forgot. When he later returned to Nauvoo, he pointed out the exact spot where he last embraced his father.
These touching scenes from Hyrum’s last day in Nauvoo open a window into his life and invite readers of the recent biography, Hyrum Smith: A Life of Integrity, to know more about this marvelous man. More than the Church’s patriarch and the Prophet’s older brother, Hyrum proved himself an exemplary figure in Church history. He was a man of integrity-a man of God.
Trust Your Feelings
When Maurine Proctor invited me to introduce this biography to Meridian readers, I was reminded of an experience I had while writing the book itself. Laboring over words and phrases, I tend to be pedantic, but a trusted friend advised me, “Don’t worry about the words. Worry about the feeling. Let the reader feel what you do and the words will come.”
With that advice, I sat down and wrote what is now the first chapter of the book, including the lines quoted above. I did not worry about history or documentation or grammar. I just described some of the most poignant portions of Hyrum’s life in such a way that I hoped the reader would feel Hyrum Smith and want to continue. Later, after the feelings were established, I went back and inserted the documentation. Perhaps I found some measure of success in the effort in that I was recently pleased to hear a colleague say that he liked the biography because “from the beginning, it just felt right.”
During the research for this book, and in the conversations since its publication, I hear people repeatedly say that they would love to know more about Hyrum. They know his name. They know he was a noble man. But they know little else of his life and experience. I admit feeling somewhat that way when I began researching Hyrum’s life. Since then, I have come to see Hyrum’s vital roles in the Restoration and my desire to know more about him has only increased.
Hyrum was There from the Beginning
Hyrum was one of the first to humbly listen to Joseph’s experience in the Sacred Grove and to extend his steadfast support. Not only did he provide a chest for the safe keeping of the plates, he later handled the record and became one of the Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon. He negotiated the publication of the book and supervised some of the printing. He also helped to prepare the printer’s manuscript and carried installments of copy to the printer. By responding to the promptings of the Holy Ghost, Hyrum protected the Book of Mormon from would-be plagiarists who intended to serialize portions for their local newspaper. Even when he was consumed with the struggles of moving his family and others from Kirtland to Far West, Hyrum took time to bear his witness of the Book of Mormon. “His discourse was beautiful . . . ,” Sally Parker recalled. “He said he had but two hands and two eyes. He said he had seen the plates with his eyes and handled them with his hands and he saw the breastplate and told [us] how it was made.”
Hyrum’s pattern of involvement with the Book of Mormon became typical of his future Church service. Usually, those events for which he is best known are only a short shadow of his real participation. Everyone knows, for example, that he became a charter member of the Church in 1830 and that he was called as assistant president and patriarch ten years later. Many do not know that he led a branch of Zion’s Camp, fulfilled several missions, directed much of the building of two temples and served in a branch presidency, a bishopric, a stake high council, a stake presidency, and as a counselor in the First Presidency. He also assisted in setting Brigham Young apart as President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and later assisted Joseph in anointing the Twelve when Joseph delivered his so-called last charge.
Hyrum’s Great Work and Callings
Confident in his calling as a prophet, seer and revelator (D&C 124:94), the Patriarch prophesied in the name of the Lord regarding the future of Kirtland. He also set in motion the fulfillment of scriptural prophecy by sending Erastus Snow to preach the gospel in Salem, Massachusetts. The Lord had told Joseph in 1836 that He would gather many souls from Salem “in due time for the benefit of Zion” (D&C 111:2). Hyrum handed Erastus a copy of the revelation in 1841, and humbly suggested that “the due time of the Lord had come.”
I have always been impressed and intrigued by the Lord’s declaration regarding Hyrum: “that his name may be had in honorable remembrance from generation to generation, forever and ever” (D&C 124:96). Writing this biography has helped me to better appreciate the significance of this tribute.
I hope that reading it will help others to do the same.
“I could pray in my heart that all my brethren were like unto my beloved brother Hyrum, who possesses the mildness of a lamb, and the integrity of Job, and in short, the meekness and humility of Christ,” Joseph Smith once declared of the man who would later become a fellow martyr. He later added, “Brother Hyrum what a faithful heart you have got! O may the Eternal Jehovah crown eternal blessings upon your heart, as a reward for the care you have had for my soul! . . . Hyrum, thy name shall be written in the book of the law of the Lord, for those who come after thee to look upon, that they may pattern after thy works.”
A Great Follower and a Great Leader
As I learn more about Hyrum, I feel an increasing desire to follow his example. Ironically, one reason that people know little about Hyrum is because he was so humble and faithful. Many names in Church history stand out because of missteps or malevolence. Hyrum, in contrast, quietly plodded along, doing exactly what he was asked to do by his younger brother.
Because Hyrum was so faithful and obedient, we tend, at times, to think of him as a great follower. Certainly, he was that, but he was also an impressive leader. When Mary Fielding arrived in Kirtland in the spring of 1837, she saw Hyrum “affected to tears” while teaching the saints. “Before he concluded, he seemed to be filled with [the] Spirit and power of God,” Mary later wrote to her sister. “He reminded me of some of the Nephites’ preachers of old.” Wilford Woodruff felt similarly when he heard Hyrum preach in the Kirtland Temple and wrote in his journal that Hyrum “was clothed with much of the spirit of God.”
His Individual Ministry
When Heber C. Kimball received his mission call to England in June 1837, Hyrum offered words of strength and reassurance. “He was continually blessing and encouraging me, and pouring out his soul in prophecies upon my head,” Heber recalled. “He said to me, Go, and you shall prosper as not many have prospered.'”
Some encounters, such as this one with Heber C. Kimball, reflect Hyrum’s inclination toward a personal, individual ministry. Other examples of Hyrum’s personal involvement include; Parley P. Pratt, whom Hyrum taught through the night before walking with him twenty-five miles to arrange his baptism; William McLellin, whom Hyrum taught for four hours in the woods before baptizing him, ordaining him to the priesthood, and taking him as a missionary companion; or Ezra T. Benson, whom Hyrum personally tutored and blessed and called into a stake presidency. Each of these men, like Heber C. Kimball and Wilford Woodruff, became apostles.
Hyrum was also a strong institutional leader in whom the Prophet justifiably placed his trust. When Joseph and Sidney left Kirtland for Far West, Missouri, in January 1838, Hyrum stayed behind as the presiding authority. He gave First Presidency direction to the Seventy as they organized the emigration of the saints to Far West. In the spring of 1839, he met with the Twelve and counseled them “chiefly concerning the nature of their mission, their practicing prudence and humility in their plans or subjects for preaching, the necessity of their not trifling with their office, and of holding on strictly to the importance of their mission and the authority of the priesthood.”
Hyrum also stabilized the growing community of Nauvoo in 1839 and presided in Joseph’s absence while the Prophet spent four months in Washington, D.C., seeking redress for the wrongs inflicted upon the saints in Missouri. “I would say, go on, dear brethren, in the name of the Lord,” wrote Hyrum to Joseph and his companions in the nation’s capital, “and while you are pleading the cause of the widow and the fatherless, may He who has promised to be a father to the fatherless and a husband to the widow, bless you in your undertaking and arm you with sufficient strength for the Herculean task in which you are engaged.”
Acting as the presiding authority at Church headquarters, Hyrum wrote an open letter of consolation and encouragement to the saints and had it published in the Times and Seasons. No matter what trials may come, he told them, “be faithful, maintain your integrity, let the principles of truth and righteousness get deep hold in your hearts, live up to those principles at all times, be humble withal, and then you will be able to stand firm and unshaken.”
While Joseph was gone, Hyrum gave frank counsel to local stake presidents and wrote letters of direction to those who presided over outlying branches of the Church and to members of the Twelve who were on missions. To Parley P. Pratt, he wrote, “I intend to . . . advise you, respecting the matters and things of which you write, as I feel led by the Spirit of the Lord.”
To Lucien Foster, who presided over a distant branch of the Church, Hyrum acknowledged Joseph’s absence and introduced himself “as a servant of Jesus Christ and one on whose shoulders rests at all times (but more particularly at this time) an important responsibility to address a few lines to you, and to that part of the Church of Jesus Christ over which you have been called in the providence of God to preside.” Hyrum explained to Lucien that “in order to enjoy all the blessings of the gospel it is necessary and all important to pay the most strict attention to the commandments of God and to the instructions which those, who are in authority in the church of God may communicate.”
Gems from Hyrum’s Life
This biography is full of gems from Hyrum’s life and ministry. One of my favorite examples of Hyrum’s uncommon wisdom and leadership comes from Ezra T. Benson. When Hyrum organized the Quincy Stake in 1840, he called Daniel Stanton as the stake president, with Moses Jones, who was about seventy years old, as his first counselor. He then called twenty-nine-year-old Ezra as the second counselor, explaining to the congregation, “You may think a little strange of my appointment, but Brother Jones is an old man and experienced in the Church, and Brother Benson is young and wants to learn.”
As a civic leader, Hyrum rose to the rank of Brevet Major General in the Nauvoo legion, served two terms on the city council and, for a time, as vice mayor. Only weeks before his fateful ride to Carthage, he confirmed his intent to run for the state legislature. And in his last general conference, Hyrum declared, “Let every man use his liberties according to the Constitution. . . . We want a President . . . who will maintain every man in his rights.
. . . Whatever are the rights of men guaranteed by the Constitution of these United States, let them have them.”
Writing about Hyrum has enriched my life and inspired me to try harder when faced with challenges or difficulties. When his three-year-old daughter, Mary, died in his arms, Hyrum sorrowfully, but hopefully, looked toward the resurrection. When Jerusha, his wife of eleven years, died giving birth to their sixth child, Hyrum, who was away on Church assignment, received the doleful news by letter from his brothers. Though he undoubtably mourned over several weeks as he traveled the one thousand miles back to Kirtland, he remained faithful.
The Patriarch watched his father die in 1840. In 1841, Hyrum’s brother Don Carlos and brother-in-law Robert B. Thompson died within a few weeks of one another. “[W]e have sustained [a loss] in the death of two of our most valuable men,” he wrote days later. “They are gone. Their loss is irreparable, but we must be submissive to the will of God and try to stand in our lot both now and at the end.” One month later, Hyrum’s seven-year-old namesake son also died. If Hyrum ever questioned or resented this bitter cup, there is no record of it. Instead, he submitted himself to the will of God, as he had counseled others to do, and stood in his own lot to the end.
The Road to Carthage
I can only wonder what passed through Hyrum’s mind as he rode toward Carthage that fateful day in June 1844. I imagine he pondered a priesthood blessing he had received ten years earlier; “If it please thee, and thou desirest thou shalt have the power voluntarily to lay down thy life to glorify God.” Joseph pressed his brother repeatedly, even on the road to Carthage, to save himself. But Hyrum responded predictably: “Joseph, I can’t leave you.”
It was not that Hyrum did not understand what would happen in Carthage. Just two days earlier he prophesied to Joseph regarding their enemies, saying, “just as sure as we fall into their hands we are dead men.” I believe Hyrum’s determination to remain with Joseph reflected not only a testimony of his own destiny, but an unbounded love for his younger brother.
Blessed of the Lord is Hyrum
The strong impression which came to me repeatedly as I wrote this biography was, “Go forward.” I can hear that voice in my mind even now. At crucial times in the process, in moments of frustration or discouragement, when a particular problem seemed insurmountable, I heard that familiar voice say, “Go forward.”
That is how I feel now about Hyrum. When I see Hyrum Smith in my mind riding toward Carthage, “he was not focused on what he was riding away from. As always, he was focused on what he was riding toward. Hyrum was in the position he had assumed so many times before-next to the Prophet and looking forward. He knew where he was going and what awaited him there. He knew, and he chose to go.”
In the closing lines of the biography I wrote, “Integrity, more than mere honesty, is the essence of a noble character. It is a fulness of candor, obedience and sincerity as well as an unflagging determination to honor covenants. As the foundation of faithfulness and the capstone of consecration, integrity is a signature on the life of Hyrum Smith.” I titled the book, Hyrum Smith: A Life of Integrity, because, like his contemporaries, that is the way I see him.
“Blessed of the Lord is my brother Hyrum for the integrity of his heart,” Joseph once said. John Taylor also noted Hyrum as “a man of sterling integrity.” “Hyrum was as good a man as ever lived,” said Brigham Young in 1866. “His integrity was of the highest order . . . I use to think, and think now, that an angel dwelling in the presence of the Father and the Son possessed no more integrity in their hearts than did Hyrum Smith.” Brigham furthered, “he was just as honest as an Angel, and as full of integrity as the Gods.”
Rachel Ivins Grant, also expressed an opinion. She told her son, Heber J. Grant, “that of all the men she was acquainted with in her girlhood days in Nauvoo, she admired Hyrum Smith most for his absolute integrity and devotion to God, and his loyalty to the prophet of God.”
Most significant of all pronouncements about the martyred Patriarch, however, is the declaration of the Lord in 1841; “I, the Lord, love him because of the integrity of his heart, and because he loveth that which is right before me” (D&C 124:15). This is why I love Hyrum Smith and why I chose to write about him.