What the Saints saw and felt when the Prophet Joseph died

By Susan McCloud

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, June 27 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

Updated: Thursday, June 26 2014 4:14 p.m. MDT

Mary Ellen Kimball, in “The Juvenile Instructor” of Aug. 15, 1892, vividly described her feelings at the prospect of the Prophet’s death: “Some few remarks passed … but one sentence I well remember. After bidding goodbye, Joseph 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.”

As the powers of evil strengthened and began to exult in their anticipated victory, the very air seemed charged with a negative and fearsome energy.

“There was an unmistakable something, a portentous significancy in the firmament,” Orson Hyde said. “O, the repulsive chill! The melancholy vibrations of the very air, as the prince of darkness receded in hopeful triumph from the scene of slaughter!” (see "Joseph Smith Photobiography," by Susan Evans McCloud, p. 142).

“I knelt down and tried to pray for the Prophet,” Bathsheba Smith recorded. “But I was struck speechless, and knew not the cause till morning” (see "Joseph Smith Photobiography," p. 142).

Mary Alice Cannon Lambert, in the Young Woman’s Journal, shared in vivid language her feelings of nearly 60 years before: “I well remember the night of the Prophet’s death. The spirit of unrest was upon all, man and animal, in the city of Nauvoo. My father was on guard. No one in the house had slept, the dogs were noisy, and even the chickens were awake.

“About 3 o’clock the news of the martyrdom was brought to us, and we realized what had kept us awake. And oh, the mourning in the land! The grief felt was beyond expression — men, women and children, we were all stunned by the blow” (see "They Knew the Prophet: Personal Accounts from over 100 People who Knew Joseph Smith," by Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, p. 168).

The heartbroken sorrow of the Saints was just beginning. But the future which Joseph Smith had predicted for the faithful followers of the gospel of Jesus Christ — that they would become a mighty people in the midst of the Rocky Mountains — this sure prophecy, often expressed, shone dimly but unfailingly on the horizon, behind the massed darkness of the seemingly endless clouds.

At Joseph’s last journey to preach to the Saints in Ramus, Illinois, outside Nauvoo, he visited with his friend and bodyguard, Benjamin F. Johnson, in his home. The Prophet expressed his great weariness and his longing for rest from the tribulations and persecutions of his life.

Brother Johnson recorded the scene, and it is shared in "They Knew the Prophet": “His words … like an arrow pierced my hopes that he would long remain with us. I said, as with a heart full of tears, ‘Oh! Joseph, what could we, as a people, do without you — and what would become of the great latter-day work if you should leave us?’

“He was touched by my emotions, and in reply he said, 'Benjamin, I would not be far away from you, and if on the other side of the veil I would still be working with you, and with a power greatly increased to roll on this kingdom.’

“These words, these thoughts gradually gained the empire in my heart, and I began to realize that in his martyrdom there was a great and eternal purpose in the heavens.”

Susan Evans McCloud is a freelance writer; a student of LDS and Utah history, Scottish history and literature; and the mother of a son who plays the bagpipes and a daughter studying Gaelic in Glasgow, Scotland.

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