Even the coldest heart is moved by the events that took place in the Carthage Jail in June, 1844. Joseph died not only as a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, but as a Mayor of one of the largest cities in America, General of the Nauvoo Legion (the largest city militia in the western United States), declared candidate for President of the United States, and more tenderly, as a husband to Emma Hale Smith and father of eleven children (six then deceased, one yet unborn). Joseph died, as the Prophets of old, as a witness of the Savior of mankind. The following accounts are given to paint a picture of some of the feelings that surround that fateful day in June of 1844. I have added the photographs so you may walk with the Prophet Joseph to Carthage.
Sixteen moves in seventeen years of marriage finally brought Joseph and Emma to this home in Nauvoo. They called it “the Mansion House” and who in their position wouldn’t? It had twenty-two rooms when completed. Joseph would only live here ten months.
“Willard, the time will come that the balls will fly around you like hail, and you will see your friends fall on the right and on the left, but there shall not be so much as a hole in your garment.”(1) (Joseph Smith to Willard Richards, Summer 1843)
Sun sets over the horseshoe bend of the Mississippi River near where Joseph, Hyrum, Willard Richards and Porter Rockwell crossed in a leaky skiff. After Joseph came from his family to leave, “his tears were flowing fast. He held a handkerchief to his face, and followed after Brother Hyrum without uttering a word.”(2)
“The last time I saw the Prophet, he was on his way to Carthage jail…They stopped..at the house of Brother Rosecrans. We were on the porch and could hear every word he said…one sentence I well remember. After bidding good-bye, he said to Brother Rosecrans, ‘If I never see you again, or if I never come back, remember that I love you.’ This went through me like electricity. I went in the house and threw myself on the bed and wept like a whipped child. And why this grief for a person I had never spoken to in my life, I could not tell. I knew he was a servant of God, and could only think of the danger he was in, and how deeply he felt it…”(3) (Mary Ellen Kimball on June 24, 1844)
Here by the front gate of their fence Joseph said good-bye to Emma and the children for the last time. “You will return won’t you?” Emma purportedly asked Joseph.
[Joseph looking at the Temple site and at the city of Nauvoo on the way to Carthage:] “This is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens; little do they know the trials that await them.” [Sometime later that same day on the road to Carthage, Joseph said,] “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am calm as a summer’s morning. I have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward all men. If they take my life I shall die an innocent man…and it shall be said of me “He was murdered in cold blood.”(4) (Joseph on the Martyrdom Trail, June 24, 1844)
Flora on temple lot in Nauvoo. Joseph often prayed that he would see the completion of the house of the Lord. Surely that prayer was answered. But not on this side of the veil.
“Dear Emma, I am very much resigned to my lot knowing I am justified and have done the best that could be done. Give my love to the children and all my friends…you need not have any fears that any harm can happen to us…may God bless you all, Amen.”(5) (Handwritten Letter from Joseph to Emma 8:20 a.m., June 27, 1844)
Plowed fields of the original Joseph Smith Farm just outside Nauvoo not far from the Nauvoo Burial Grounds. Here Joseph stopped and gazed upon his land. As they rode away Joseph looked back over and over again. The men escorting him to Carthage told him to be moving on. Joseph said, “If some of you had got such a farm and knew you would not see it any more, you would want to take a good look at it for the last time.”(6)
“…the life of my servant shall be in my hand; therefore they shall not hurt him, although he shall be marred because of them. Yet I will heal him, for I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.”(7) (Jesus Christ to the Nephites, concerning Joseph Smith)
Summer afternoon on part of the original 26 ý miles of the road from Nauvoo to Carthage, now called the Martyrdom Trail.
“We have had too much trouble to bring ‘Old Joe’ here to let him ever escape alive…You’ll see that I can prophesy better than ‘Old Joe,’ that neither he nor his brother, nor anyone who will remain with them, will see the sun set today.”(8) (Frank Worrell, Officer of the Guard of Carthage Jail, June 27, 1844)
Joseph, Hyrum, and the others, arrived at this place, the Carthage Jail, around midnight, June 24, 1844.
[Conversation between Joseph and Dan Jones in the Carthage Jail, past midnight on June 27, 1844:] “Brother Dan, are you afraid to die?” Joseph asked. “Has that time come, think you?” Dan replied. “Engaged in such a cause, I do not think that death would have many terrors.” Joseph then said, “You will see Wales and fulfill the mission appointed you ere you die.”(9)
Early that morning Dan Jones left the jail to meet with Governor Ford. He explained to the governor with great anxiety how the lives of Joseph and Hyrum were in great danger, and the threats that were made towards them, to which Governor Ford replied: “You are unnecessarily alarmed for your friends’ safety, sir. The people are not that cruel.”(10) Dan Jones returned to try to reenter the jail but was not allowed. His life was spared; he did fill his mission to Wales, as Joseph prophesied and brought untold thousands into the Church.
Jailer at Carthage, George W. Stigall, heard of the impending danger to the lives of the prisoners (whom he admired and knew were innocent men) and suggested they go from his upstairs bedroom where they had been staying to the inner cell next to the bedroom where they would be safer. Joseph turned to Dr. Willard Richards and said, “If we go into the cell, will you go in with us?” The doctor answered, “Brother Joseph, you did not ask me to cross the river with you-you did not ask me to come to Carthage-you did not ask me to come to jail with you-and do you think I would forsake you now? But I will tell you what I will do: if you are condemned to be hung for treason, I will be hung in your stead, and you shall go free.
” Joseph said, “You cannot.” Willard replied, “I will.”(11) Witnessing this loyalty, Joseph wept. (This conversation took place between Willard Richards and Joseph about 5:00 p.m., less than fifteen minutes before the brutal murders, June 27, 1844)
Having returned from serving in Russia just two weeks earlier, Elder Tyler Nichols stands in the room where the Prophet and the Patriarch were killed, contemplating the events of June 27, 1844. Original door of jailer’s bedroom still has the hole (right middle panel) where a ball from one rifle blasted through and hit Hyrum in the left bridge of the nose, felling him to the floor.
“A great crime has been done by destroying the Expositor press and placing the city under martial law, and a severe atonement must be made, so prepare your minds for the emergency.”(12) (Governor Thomas Ford, State of Illinois, June 27, 1844. This was said about the time of the martyrdom while he was in Nauvoo.)
The mob, with faces painted black, rushed up these stairs that fateful Thursday afternoon, rifles loaded, scores of deadly balls were fired through the doorway into the jailer’s bedroom where Joseph, Hyrum, Willard, and John were imprisoned. Numerous other shots whistled through the open windows.
“I felt a dull, lonely, sickening sensation…When I reflected that our noble chieftain, the Prophet of the living God, had fallen, and that I had seen his brother in the cold embrace of death, it seemed as though there was a void or vacuum in the great field of human existence to me, and a dark gloomy chasm in the kingdom, that we were left alone. Oh, how lonely was that feeling! How cold, barren and desolate! In the midst of difficulties he was always the first in motion; in critical positions his counsel was always sought. As our Prophet, he approached our God and obtained for us his will; but now our Prophet, our counselor, our general, our leader was gone, and amid the fiery ordeal that we then had to pass through, we were left alone without his aid, and as our future guide for things spiritual or temporal, and for all things pertaining to this world, or the next, he had spoken for the last time on earth.”(13) (John Taylor)
Hyrum lay dead on this floor. John had rolled under the bed after being hit with five balls, one of which struck him in the chest at the heart, but was miraculously stopped by his pocket watch. The watch stopped at 16 minutes, 26 seconds after 5 o’clock. Joseph tried to escape through the window on the left. He was hit four times, once in the collar bone, once in the breast, and twice in the back. He leaped or fell from the window crying aloud, “Oh Lord, my God.!”
“Had he [Joseph] been spared a martyr’s fate till mature manhood and age, he was certainly endued with powers and ability to have revolutionized the world…as it is, his works will live to endless ages, and unnumbered millions yet unborn will mention his name with honor, as a noble instrument…who…laid the foundations of that kingdom spoken of by Daniel, the prophet, which should break in pieces all other kingdoms and stand forever.”(14) (Parley Parker Pratt)
View from the outside of the Carthage Jail and the well where the mob placed the body of Joseph Smith and fired upon him in a brutal manner at point blank range. With walls between two and two-and-a-half feet thick, the seven-room Carthage Jail was considered by Governor Thomas Ford and others, “the only safe place in Hancock County for ‘Joe Smith.'”
“Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.”(15) (John Taylor)
D.J. Bawden bronze of Joseph and Hyrum, the Prophet and Patriarch. At the Carthage Jail, at the time of the martyrdom, Joseph was thirty-eight years old and Hyrum, forty-four. “In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated.”(16)
“After the corpses were washed and dressed in their burial clothes, we were allowed to see them. I had for a long time braced every nerve, roused every energy of my soul and called upon God to strengthen me, but when I entered the room and saw my murdered sons extended both at once before my eyes and heard the sobs and groans of my family…it was too much: I sank back, crying to the Lord in the agony of my soul, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken this family!” A voice replied, “I have taken them to myself, that they might have rest…I then thought upon the promise which I had received in Missouri, that in five years Joseph should have power over all his enemies. The time had elapsed and the promise was fulfilled.”(17) (Lucy Mack Smith, mother of Joseph and Hyrum, June 29, 1844, Nauvoo Illinois)
“My Dear Companion…We are in great affliction at this time. Our dear Br. Joseph Smith and Hyrum has fell victims to a ferocious mob. The great God of the Creation only knows whether the rest shall be preserved in safety or not…I have been blessed to keep my feelings quite calm through all the storm. I hope you will be careful on your way home and not expose yourself to those that will endanger your life. Yours in haste. If we meet no more in this world may we meet where parting is no more. Farewell.”(18) (May Ann Angell Young to her husband, Brigham Young, President of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, dated June 30, 1844)
“We would beseech the Latter Day Saints in Nauvoo, and else where, to hold fast to the faith that has been delivered to them in the last days, abiding in the perfect law of the gospel. Be peaceable, quiet citizens, doing the works of righteousness…Rejoice then, that you are found worthy to live and die for God: men may kill the body, but they cannot hurt the soul.”(19) (W.W. Phelps, W. Richards, John Taylor, July 1, 1844)
1. Smith, Joseph, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1980), 6:619 (Hereinafter, History of the Church).
2. History of the Church, 6:547.
3. The Juvenile Instructor, 15 August 1892, 27: 490-91.
4. History of the Church, 6:554-55.
5. Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, ed. and comp. Dean C. Jessee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1984), 611.
6. History of the Church, 6: 558.
7. 3 Nephi 21:10
8. Dan Jones, “The Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith,” 20 January, 1855, handwritten manuscript in the Church Historian’s Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
10. Ibid. See also History of the Church 6:603
11. History of the Church 6:16
12. Ibid. 623
13. Ibid. 7:106
14. Pratt, Parley P. Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Revised and Enhanced Edition. Edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor.
Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 2000, pp.
15. Doctrine and Covenants 135:3
16. D&C 135:3.
17.Smith, Lucy Mack. Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother. Edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor. Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1996, pp. 457, 458.
18. Mary Ann Angell Young to Brigham Young, 30 June, 1844, dated at Nauvoo, Illinois, housed at Church Historian’s Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
19.Times and Seasons, vol. 5, no. 12, (l July 1844): 568