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The Death Of The Prophet
The Mormons grow in numbers, but persecution makes them wanderers. Then a burst of violence results in
December 1962 | Volume 14, Issue 1
Where now is the Prophet Joseph? Where now is the Prophet Joseph? Where now is the Prophet Joseph? Safe, safe in the Carthage jail.
While the Warsaw men were marching on the prairie, ominous events were making the Carthage jail seem far from safe. One by one the Mormon friends of the Prophet Joseph and his brother were being separated from them. One, Dan Jones, went outside to discover what he could about the temper of the town. He became so alarmed at the talk of killing that he hurried to the Governor to tell him of the possibility of a lynching. He found Ford at the point of starting his ride to Nauvoo. Excitedly he told his story. Said Thomas Ford coldly, “You are unnecessarily alarmed for the safety of your friends, sir; the people are not that cruel.” When Dan ran back to report, the guards at the jail refused him admittance.
After Dan had left the jail, Joseph wrote what proved to be his last letter to Emma. Whatever other loyalties he had, it was always to her that he turned in time of serious trouble.
Dear Emma, [he wrote]: The Governor continues his courtesies and permits us to see our friends. We hear this morning that the Governor will not go down with his troops today to Nauvoo as anticipated last evening; but if he does come down with his troops you will be protected.…There is no danger of an exterminating order…
There is one principle which is eternal: It is the duty of all men to protect their lives and the lives of their household, whenever necessity requires, and no power has the right to forbid it, should the last extreme arrive; but I anticipate no such extreme, but caution is the parent of safety. Joseph Smith
P.S. 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.…as for treason—I know that I have not committed any, and they cannot prove an appearance of anything of the kind, so you need not have any fears that anything can happen to us on that score. May God bless you all. Amen.
A Mormon friend, Cyrus Wheelock, obtained a pass . from the Governor early that morning. During a shower he put on his overcoat and went to the jail. On the strength of the pass, the guards allowed him to enter without searching him. Joseph ordered Wheelock to ride to Nauvoo with orders to the Legion to refrain from any military display and to the people to stay indoors and not to gather in groups while the Governor and his military escort were there. Before Wheelock left he took from under the overcoat, where he had concealed it, a six-shooter of the sort then popularly known as an “Alien’s Pokerbox” and secretly placed it in Joseph’s pocket. Joseph then turned over to Hyrum a pistol with a single barrel which had also been smuggled into the jail by a Mormon friend.
After eating his noon meal that day Willard Richards, understandably nervous from the tension growing both outside and inside the jail, complained of feeling ill. Joseph asked another of his Mormon companions to get something for Richards that “would settle his stomach.” Engaged on that errand, the friend was surrounded by members of the Carthage street mob and forced to ride out of town. Now besides Joseph and Hyrum there were only two men left in the big upstairs room—Willard Richards—a big wide-faced New England doctor, a year older than Joseph, who had joined the church at Kirtland, where he was baptized by his cousin, Brigham Young; and John Taylor, of English birth, a slight man of thirty-six. Both were members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, all others being absent on important missions.
As the afternoon wore on, its heat and the dampness of the air increased. The men lounged near the open windows in their shirtsleeves. Little was said. The jailer, probably more aware than his charges of the waiting mood of the silent little town, came in to suggest that they might be safer in the small locked cells. Joseph said they would enter them after supper. He said to Willard Richards, “If we go into the cell, will you go with us?”
Richards replied: “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.”
“I will,” said his friend.
Then Joseph asked John Taylor to sing for him a religious ballad that had recently become popular in Nauvoo—“A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.” A few stanzas will summarize its story and meaning: