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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
A poor wayfaring man of grief Had often crossed me on my way, Who sued so humbly for relief That I could never answer, Nay. I ran and rais’d the suff’rer up; Thrice from the stream he drain’d my cup, Dipp’d, and returned it running o’er; I drank and never thirsted more. In pris’n I saw him next—condemned To meet a traitor’s doom at morn; The tide of lying tongues I stemmed, And honored him ’mid shame and scorn. My friendship’s utmost zeal to try, He asked, if I for him would die; The flesh was weak, my blood ran chill; But the free spirit cried, “I will!” Then in a moment to my view, The stranger started from disguise; The tokens in his hands I knew, The Saviour stood before mine eyes.
The tune to which these verses were set was melancholy, but the image of the poor wayfaring man had ever been one which moved the Prophet deeply, and as John Taylor sang, he must have remembered the three wandering Nephites described in the Book of Mormon. The hot, quiet building echoed to his mellow voice, and there was a long silence when he stopped singing. Then Hyrum asked him to sing the long hymn again. John Taylor said despondently, “I do not feel like singing,” but he began again.
While the song was coming from the jailhouse young Billy Hamilton, son of the owner of the Hamilton House, stood in the cupola of the courthouse watching with a large field glass the west road into Carthage. At about four o’clock he saw a large number of men gathered beyond a point of woods about two miles from Carthage. Fifteen minutes later they began to move toward the town in single file and at a quick pace. They used a rail fence as a partial screen, and they carried guns at the trail as if they were trying to hide them. Billy raced down the steps from the cupola and ran toward the jail. By the time he reached it the awaited crime had been committed.
John Taylor had hardly completed the long ballad for the second time when he saw from an open frontwindow a number of men with painted faces come around the corner of the jail. They made for the stairs, and the four men above heard a sharp volley and the leaden thud of bullets in the wooden wall beyond the landing. There was a swift pounding of feet on the steps. Taylor ran to the door of the room but found the big, strong torsos of Hyrum and Willard Richards braced against it. A shot from the other side broke the weak latch and Hyrum and Willard backed away. As they did so a bullet through the door hit Hyrum in the face. At the same time a shot fired through the open window struck him in the side.
“I am a dead man,” said Hyrum in a strangely emphatic voice, and he fell on his back.
Joseph leaned over the dead body. “O my poor dear brother Hyrum!” he said. Then he moved swiftly to the door, opened it a few inches, and aimed the poker-box six-shooter down the hall. Three times it failed him; three times it fired. Cries of anguish told him the bullets had hit his targets. The long rifles of the mob were moving through the crack in the door now. It opened wider, and the besieged men saw the blackened faces of the murderers. The mob-men snarled and held back as they saw the big man in front of them, but the crowd behind was pushing them inexorably forward. They fired, and as they did so John Taylor grabbed the stout walking stick which one of their Mormon visitors had left behind (a “rascal-beater” he had called it) and knocked down the muzzles of their guns. “That’s right, Brother Taylor,” said Joseph, “parry them off as well as you can.”
More guns appeared in the doorway, and the men behind them screamed their hatred as they tried to angle their fire toward the Mormons. At last the murderers were inside, and John Taylor made for the window in the hope of jumping out and taking a chance on escape from the yard below. As he threw himself toward the opening a bullet hit him in the thigh. He would have fallen outside, however, had not another shot, which shattered the watch in his vest, knocked him back into the room. Almost unconscious, he still had presence of mind enough to roll under the bedstead. Now Joseph made his try at the window. He was almost out when two bullets from the doorway ripped into his body and another pierced his right breast.
“O Lord,” said the Prophet loudly, “My God,” and as he spoke he went out feet first through the window. The long body fell heavily into the yard beside the well.