Commemorating the anniversary of the martyrdom at Carthage

By Ralph R. Zobell

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, June 30 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

The Carthage Jail in 2002. Recently, the 168th anniversary of the death of Joseph and Hyrum Smith was commemorated at the jail.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News Archive

CARTHAGE, Ill. — By the numbers, when five bells tolled, 15 of the 35 lead balls that were fired killed two men and wounded one on June 27, 1844, at Carthage, Ill.

Now, 168 years later, more than 500 persons gathered to pay afternoon respects of that anniversary. The commemorative events this year included remembrance with flowers, songs, prayers and remarks at the Smith Family Cemetery in Nauvoo, Ill.

Later in the afternoon at Carthage at the 2012 Martyrdom Commemoration, President Glen Jenson, second counselor in the Nauvoo Illinois Temple presidency, spoke before a standing-room crowd outside the old jail in 93-degree heat.

"Today, two men are being honored rather than martyred," President Jenson said at the event conducted and presided over by President Russell S. Gilliland of the Nauvoo Illinois Mission.

A crew from an English TV station filmed this year's commemoration.

There were recollections of that afternoon in 1844 when the Prophet Joseph Smith, 38, and his brother Hyrum, 44, were martyred in the jail. The martyrdom was witnessed by Elders John Taylor, 35, and Willard Richards, 40, who also were in the jail. The foursome was vastly outnumbered by a mob estimated to number more than 50.

Hyrum Smith, who was serving as patriarch and assistant president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was the first to fall as he was hit by four lead balls. The Prophet Joseph Smith and Elder Taylor also were each struck by four lead balls, and some say that Elder Taylor's life may have been spared when his pocket watch stopped a fifth lead ball that was fired at 5:21:15 p.m., or 5:26:16 p.m., depending on the account.

Numerous books have been written about the martyrdom. Yet there is nothing like being in Carthage and Nauvoo to help visualize the events.

In Illinois during that June afternoon, it was Elder Taylor who had sung “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” on two occasions to uplift his fellow prison mates and who later penned the official account of the martyrdom in the Doctrine and Covenants 135. Verse 4 of that section quotes Joseph Smith's prediction, "I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer's morning."

Elder Richards, who had received powder burns on his cheek that day in 1844, wrote his account of the martyrdom in the Nauvoo Times and Seasons, titled “Two Minutes in Jail.” He tells of hiding the wounded Elder Taylor underneath a mattress in the jail. Elders Richards and Taylor sent a message back to Nauvoo that night: "Carthage Jail, 8:05 o'clock, p.m., June 27th, 1844. Joseph and Hyrum are dead. … The job was done in an instant."

Elder Taylor returned July 2 to Nauvoo on a sleigh, but the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum were taken to Nauvoo on June 28.

Among the mourners there were two new widows, Emma, 40, and Mary Fielding Smith, 43. Emma and Joseph had 11 children, including their youngest son, David H. Smith, who was born in November, four months after the Prophet's death.

Mary Fielding Smith was the mother of two of Hyrum's eight children, including then 5-year-old Joseph F. Smith, future apostle and president of the LDS Church.

Two others known by Joseph Smith were among those late arriving on the scene on June 27, 1844: Samuel Smith, his younger brother, and “Sonny,” who first met the Prophet as a young man.

In his October 2007 general conference address, the late Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve told of a 14-year-old boy who had been taken care of by Joseph Smith as he searched for his brother. This boy ended up being a stage driver between Nauvoo and Keokuk, Iowa, with Carthage being a half-way station. That boy was nicknamed “Sonny” by Joseph, who rode the stage.

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