The brothers' final hours in Carthage

On the morning of June 26, 1844, the Prophet Joseph Smith and the other prisoners moved to a larger upstairs room in the southeast corner of Carthage Jail, where they would be more comfortable. There the Prophet was visited by Illinois Gov. Thomas Ford who asked him to outline the Mormon perspective.

Joseph explained to him the facts relating to the Expositor incident and what the Nauvoo City council supposed to be the legality of their legislation. He also expressed a willingness to satisfy any claims wherein they might be adjudged to have exceeded their legal bounds. As for the charge of treason, the Nauvoo Legion had been called up not to move against the state of Illinois, but rather to defend the city of Nauvoo against the threatened attack of an armed band of marauders.At the conclusion of the interview Gov. Ford indicated that he did not know whether he would go to Nauvoo on the 27th, but if he did he would take Joseph along with him. (History of the Church 6:576-85.)

Justice Robert F. Smith sent Constable David Bettisworth to the jail to bring the prisoners before him for an examination on the charge of treason. Though Mr. Stigall, the jailor, objected to the particular procedure as unlawful, he was intimidated by a troop of Carthage Greys who had accompanied the constable. The prisoners were taken before Justice Smith. After the examination a second mittimus was issued remanding the brothers back to prison. (HC 6:594-97.)

That evening Hyrum Smith read to the others from the Book of Mormon commenting on certain extracts relative to "imprisonments and deliverance of the servants of God for the Gospels sake." Likewise the Prophet "bore a powerful testimony to the guards of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon - the restoration of the Gospel, the administration of angels, and that the Kingdom of God was again upon the Earth." (Dan Jones, with introduction by Ronald D. Dennis, "The Martyrdom of Joseph Smith and His Brother Hyrum," BYU Studies, 24 Winter 1984: 101.)

Retiring at a late hour, Joseph and Hyrum occupied the only bed in the room. Elders John Taylor, Willard Richards, John S. Fullmer, Stephen Markham, and Dan Jones stayed the night with them. When a shot was heard from without, the Prophet slipped off the bed onto the floor where he conversed with those about him. To John S. Fullmer he confided, "I would to God that I could preach to the Saints in Nauvoo once more." In a whisper, Joseph asked Dan Jones if he were afraid to die. Dan responded, "Has that time come, think you? Engaged in such a cause I do not think that death would have many terrors." Joseph then prophetically declared, "You will see Wales and fulfill the mission appointed you ere you die." (Jones, p. 101; HC 6:601.)

The morning of June 27 was streaked with intermittent rain. When Dan Jones stepped outside the jail to inquire concerning the disturbance in the night he was met by Lt. Franklin A. Worrell, officer of the guard for the Carthage Greys, who warned Jones, "We have had too much trouble to bring old Joe here to let him ever escape out alive, and unless you want to die with him you better leave before sundown."

Dan reported this to the Prophet who in turn had him relay what he had heard to Gov. Ford. The governor simply replied, "You are unnecessarily alarmed for your friends' safety sir, the people are not that cruel." Dan was not allowed back into the jail on his return. Later that day he providentially escaped an ambush set for him on the road to Nauvoo, thus living to enjoy an unusually successful mission in Wales as Joseph had predicted. (Jones, pp. 102-104: Ronald D. Dennis, The call of Zion

Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1987T, pp. 1-2.)

The Prophet and Hyrum once again took opportunity to bear their testimonies to the brethren concerning the Latter-day work and the Book of Mormon. They prophesied of the eventual "triumph of the Gospel over all the earth, exhorting the brethren present to faithfulness and persevering diligence in proclaiming the Gospel, building the Temple, and performing all the duties connected with our holy religion." (HC 6:610.)

Gov. Ford had originally agreed to take a full contingent of the mobilized troops to Nauvoo with him when he went to that city. However, he had come to the realization that elements within the command were prepared to incite an incident in Nauvoo which would precipitate a full scale war with the Mormons. He therefore chose to countermand his previous order and disbanded the respective units other than the Augusta mounted cavalry troop under Capt. Dunn, who were to escort him to Nauvoo; Capt. James W. Singleton's Brown County troops; and Capt. Robert F. Smith's Carthage Greys. (HC 6:565, 605-607, 624-25.)

Before returning to Nauvoo to obtain witnesses for the defense, Cyrus H. Wheelock visited Joseph and passed to him a six shooter or pepper-box, and Joseph, in turn, gave to Hyrum a single shot pistol which he had received from John S. Fullmer - giving them some minimal protection in the midst of the deteriorating circumstances. (HC 607-608.)

As the day wore on the guards became increasingly severe in their treatment of persons who were known to be associated with the Prophet. When Stephen Markham went out to obtain medicine for Willard Richards, he was surrounded by Carthage Greys, placed on a horse and forced out of town at the point of a bayonet. (HC 6:614.) One by one the ring of friends around the Prophet and Hyrum diminished until only John Taylor and Willard Richards remained with them on the inside.

The troops situated at Warsaw set out on the morning of June 27th for their rendezvous with the Carthage forces at Golden's Point, from whence they were to march to Nauvoo. However, eight miles out they were met by the governor's dispatch ordering their unit to disband. Gen. W. Douglas Knox and certain of the Warsaw militia returned home.

However, members of the 59th Regiment - under command of Col. Levi Williams with Major Mark Aldrich, commander of the Warsaw Independent Battalion, and two companies, the Warsaw Rifle Company and the Warsaw Cadets under Captains Jacob C. Davis and William N. Grover - chose to remain. Thomas C. Sharp, editor of the Warsaw Signal, was also present. (All of the men named above would later be among the nine men indicted for the murders.) About 200 hundred of these men hurried to Carthage where they entered into a conspiracy with Capt. Robert F. Smith and members of the Carthage Greys to carry out a planned attack on the Carthage Jail with the intent to murder Joseph and Hyrum Smith. (Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy

Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975T, pp. 51-59; Ford, pp. 353; Dean C. Jessee, "Return to Carthage: Writing the History of Joseph Smith's Martyrdom," Journal of Mormon History 8

1981T: 6; HC 6:606.)

When Mr. Stigall asked the prisoners if they would like to go into the inner dungeon or cell area after supper for their own safety, Joseph asked Willard Richards if he would be willing to go with them. Willard, with obvious emotion, said emphatically: "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." (HC 6:616.)

John Taylor expressed the dejection that was experienced by those in confinement: "We all of us felt unusually dull and languid with a remarkable depression of spirits. In consequence with those feelings I sang a song that had lately been introduced into Nauvoo entitled, `A poor wayfaring man of grief &c.' The song is pathetic and the tune quite plaintive and was very much in accordance with our feelings at the time, for our spirits were all depressed dull and gloomy and surcharged with indefinite ominous forebodings.' (John Taylor's account of the martyrdom, Westport, Conn., Aug. 23, 1856, p. 47.)

Some time after singing the song a second time, at Hyrum's request, John saw from the window a number of men with painted faces heading for the stairs. Others had seen the same for as he reached the door Hyrum and Willard were already there, "both pressed against the door with their shoulders to prevent its being opened, as the lock and latch were comparatively useless." (Taylor, pp. 47-48.) Eight members of the Carthage Greys had been placed at the jail for their immediate protection, with others encamped a quarter of a mile away at the town square. The supposed guard offered only tacit resistance, firing their weapons harmlessly over the heads of the assailants who, according to Mormon estimates, numbered between 150 and 250 men. (Nauvoo Neighbor - Extra, June 30, 1844.)

"A shower of musket balls were thrown up the stair way" leading to the second story. The mob next tried the door and then fired "a ball through the key hole." Hyrum and Willard leaped back from the door, "Bro. Hyrum standing right opposite to the door, with his face towards it." Almost instantly the next ball came through the panel striking Hyrum on the "left side of the nose and entering his face and head." At the same moment he was hit again in the back by a ball passing through the window opposite the door. He immediately fell exclaiming, "I am a dead man!"

John Taylor said, "I shall never forget the feeling of deep sympathy and regard manifested in the countenance of Bro. Joseph as he drew nigh to Hyrum & leaning over him exclaimed, "Oh! my poor dear brother Hyrum!" (Taylor, pp. 47-48; Willard Richards, "Two Minutes in Jail," Nauvoo Neighbor, July 24, 1844; see also Willard Richards, "Two Minutes in Jail," Times and Seasons, Aug. 1, 1844, 5:598-99; Nauvoo Neighbor, - Extra, June 30, 1844.)

With determination the Prophet opened the door slightly and discharged his revolver (pepperbox) directly into the assailants. Three of the loads took effect, striking each of three men, while three barrels misfired. (Taylor, p. 49; Oaks and Hill, pp. 52-53.) Joseph's firing made the attackers pause for a moment as John Taylor took the Prophet's place by the door with "a large strong hickory stick" left by Stephen Markham.

Soon, however, the door was pushed open further by the mob and Hyrum was shot twice more where he lay. John Taylor busied himself parring off the barrels thrust through the door, "giving another direction to the balls."

Brother Taylor recalled, "It certainly was a terrible scene, streams of fire as thick as my arm passed by me as these men fired. . . . It certainly was far from pleasant to be so near the muzzles of those fire arms as they belched forth their liquid flame and deadly balls." Willard Richards, with a knotty walking-stick, stood next to Joseph and just behind Brother Taylor in an oblique direction from the door to avoid the "rake of fire." (Taylor, p. 49.)

The number of men attempting to fire into the room became more dense. John said, "The whole entrance at the door was literally crowded with muskets and rifles." He also declared that "nothing but extreme cowardice" had kept them from entering. As the pressure increased the thought occurred to Brother Taylor that there might be friends on the outside if he could only get out of the room. Springing to the window opposite the door he was immediately exposed to the fire from the attackers within and other assailants without. He said, "As I reached the window and was on the point of leaping out, I was struck by a ball from the door, about midway of my thigh. . . . As soon as the ball struck me I fell like a bird when shot." (Taylor, pp. 49-50.)

In that helpless situation another ball from without hit the watch in the left breast pocket of his vest, throwing him back into the room. Brother Taylor related, "I was indeed falling out when some villain aimed at my heart. The ball struck my watch and forced me back, if I had fallen out I should assuredly have been killed, if not by the fall, by those around, and this ball, intended to dispatch me, was turned by an overruling Providence into a messenger of mercy and saved my life. . . . I felt the Lord had preserved me by a special act of mercy, that my time had not yet come, and that I had still a work to perform upon the earth." The hands on his watch were stopped at 5 o'clock, 16 minutes, and 16 seconds. When the "power of motion" returned, John Taylor crawled under the bed to hide from the deadly fire which had finally produced four wounds. (Taylor, pp. 50, 68-69; Richards, Nauvoo Neighbor, July 24, 1844.)

Willard Richards recommenced attacking the musket barrels with his walking-stick. The Prophet, seeing no alternatives, and seeking to save his friends, attempted to leap through the same window as Brother Taylor. He was immediately pierced by two balls from the doorway and one through the right breast from without. At some juncture a fourth ball struck him. Joseph pitched forward through the window to the ground below, exclaiming, "Oh Lord my God!"

The shout went up inside, "He's leaped the window," and the attackers hastened down the stairs. The Prophet's act of courage literally saved the lives of the two apostles from the assassins. Brother Richards moved quickly to the window "to see if there were any signs of life, regardless of my own, determined to see the end of him I loved." Satisfied that the Prophet was dead, Brother Richards proceeded across the room to determine if the iron door directly at the head of the stairs was open. Finding that it was unbarred he retraced his steps and catching John Taylor under his arm he drew him into the dungeon or criminal cell on the north. There he placed a mattress over him "in such a manner, as not likely to be perceived," and explained, "this is a hard case to lay you on the floor, but if your wounds are not fatal I want you to live to tell the story." Brother Richards then said to Brother Taylor, "I expect they will kill me in a few moments," and he "stood before the door awaiting the onset." (Richards, Nauvoo Neighbor, July 24, 1844; Taylor, pp. 5l-52.)

For Brother Richards the onset did not come. A cry, "The Mormons are coming!" had emptied the jail. Brother Richards remained unobserved and unscathed, save for a slight injury when a ball grazed the lower tip of his left ear, fulfilling a prophecy made by the Prophet over a year previously, "that the time would come that the balls would fly around him like hail, and he should see his friends fall on the right and on the left, but that there would not be a hole in his garment." (HC 6:619.)

The assailants, having accomplished their designs, soon vanished toward Warsaw. Many of the inhabitants of Carthage likewise fled, fearing some retaliation by the Mormons. After examining the Prophet, Brother Richards returned to Brother Taylor and confirmed that Joseph was dead. Touched by overwhelming sadness Brother Taylor expressed:

"I felt a dull lonely sickening sensation at the news. 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 an open void or vacuum in the great field of human existence to me, and a dark gloomy chasm, blank or void in the kingdom and 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 - for all things pertaining to this world or the next - he had spoken for the last time on earth." (Taylor, pp. 52-53; compare HC 7:106.)

In a communique to the members from the safety of Nauvoo, John Taylor, Willard Richards and W.W. Phelps put into firm perspective the position of the martyrs of all ages and their ultimate triumph over the schemes of men:

"The assassination of hundreds; the righteous blood of all the holy prophets, from Abel to Joseph, sprinkled with the best blood of the Son of God, as the crimson sign of remission, only carries conviction to the business and bosoms of all flesh, that the cause is just and will continue; and blessed are they that hold out faithful to the end. . . .

"Union is peace, brethren, and eternal life is the greatest gift of God. Rejoice then, that you are found worthy to live and die for God: men may kill the body, but they cannot hurt the soul." (TS 5:568.)

During the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the martyrdom we are again consoled, as were our fellow Saints in the City of Joseph, with the inspired counsel of the Lord in that day: "Lift up your head(s) and rejoice; for behold! it is well with my servants Joseph and Hyrum. My servant Joseph still holds the keys of my kingdom in this dispensation, and he shall stand in due time on the earth, in the flesh, and fulfil that to which he is appointed." (Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1938, p. 333.)

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