Carthage Jail Joseph Smith Death





Joseph Smith at Carthage Jail

Regarding Joseph Smith's death at Carthage Jail, Doctrine and Covenants 135:4 says:

"When Joseph went to Carthage to deliver himself up to the pretended requirements of the law, two or three days previous to his assassination, he said: ďI am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summerís morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I SHALL DIE INNOCENT, AND IT SHALL YET BE SAID OF MEóHE WAS MURDERED IN COLD BLOOD." (emphasis in the original)

This often-repeated idea of innocent martyrdom is not supported by the official historical record. Fom the Official History of the Church, we learn:

"Elder Cyrus H. Wheelock came in to see us, and when he was about leaving drew a small pistol, a six-shooter, from his pocket, remarking at the same time, 'Would any of you like to have this?' Brother Joseph immediately replied, 'Yes, give it to me,' whereupon he took the pistol, and put it in his pantaloons pocket."

"The pistol was a six-shooting revolver, of Allen's patent; it belonged to me, and was one that I furnished to Brother Wheelock when he talked of going with me to the east, previous to our coming to Carthage. I have it now in my possession. Brother Wheelock went out on some errand, and was not suffered to return."

"I shall never forget the deep feeling of sympathy and regard manifested in the countenance of Brother Joseph as he drew nigh to Hyrum, and, leaning over him, exclaimed, 'Oh! my poor, dear brother Hyrum!' He, however, instantly arose, and with a firm, quick step, and a determined expression of countenance, approached the door, and pulling the six-shooter left by Brother Wheelock from his pocket, opened the door slightly, and snapped the pistol six successive times; only three of the barrels, however, were discharged. I afterwards understood that two or three were wounded by these discharges, two of whom, I am informed, died."

"I had in my hands a large, strong hickory stick, brought there by Brother Markham, and left by him, which I had seized as soon as I saw the mob approach; and while Brother Joseph was firing the pistol, I stood close behind him. As soon as he had discharged it he stepped back, and I immediately took his place next to the door, while he occupied the one I had done while he was shooting."

"Brother Richards, at this time, had a knotty walking-stick in his hands belonging to me, and stood next to Brother Joseph, a little farther from the door, in an oblique direction, apparently to avoid the rake of the fire from the door. The firing of Brother Joseph made our assailants pause for a moment; very soon after, however, they pushed the door some distance open, and protruded and discharged their guns into the room, when I parried them off with my stick, giving another direction to the balls."

"It certainly was a terrible scene: streams of fire as thick as my arm passed by me as these men fired, and, unarmed as we were, it looked like certain death. I remember feeling as though my time had come, but I do not know when, in any critical position, I was more calm, unruffled, energetic, and acted with more promptness and decision. It certainly was far from pleasant to be so near the muzzles of those firearms as they belched forth their liquid flames and deadly balls. While I was engaged in parrying the guns, Brother Joseph said, 'That's right, Brother Taylor, parry them off as well as you can.' These were the last words I ever heard him speak on earth."
- Official History of the Church, Vol. 7, p.100-103

Reporter John Hay, of the Atlantic Monthly identified three men who were shot by Joseph Smith: John Wills in the arm, William Vorhees in the shoulder, and William Gallagher in the face. Hay was a son of Charles Hay, a surgeon of the Carthage militia and apparently a member of the mob.

"Smith had two loaded six-barrelled revolvers in his room. How a man on trial for capital offences came to be supplied with such luxuries is a mystery that perhaps only one man could fully have solved; and as General Deming, the Jack-Mormon sheriff, died soon after, and left no explanation of the matter, investigation is effectually baffled. But the four shots which I have chronicled, and two which had no billet, exhausted one pistol, and the enemy gave Smith no time to use the other. Severely wounded as he was, he ran to the window, which was open to receive the fresh June air, and half leaped, half fell, into the jail yard below."
- John Hay, "The Mormon Prophet's Tragedy," Atlantic Monthly (December 1869) 671-678.

In another conemporary account from a faithful Latter-Day Saint:

"Of the three barrels discharged by Joseph, it is believed he hit three men: an Irishman named Wells-who was in the mob from his love of a brawl-in the arm; Voorhees-an oversized kid from Bear Creek known for his lack of good sense-in the shoulder; and a man named Gallagher-a Southerner from the Mississippi Bottom-in the face."

"Two other men were known to get hit in the hall, one a man named Townsend from Fort Madison, Iowa Territory, who died nine months later from the arm wound that wouldn't heal, and another named Mills, who was shot in the arm."
- Elder Reed Blake, 24 Hours to Martyrdom, p. 129

Smith's final conscious act was to prevent his death, not give it up. He went to the window and attempted to utter the Masonic distress cry of "O Lord My God! Is there no help for the widow's son?"

D&C Section 135 is part of John Taylor's account of the incident. It states: "Joseph leapt from the window, and was shot dead in the attempt, exclaiming 'O Lord my God!'"

That "canonized" version of events gives one the false impression that Smith was praying to God. The edited D&C version omits Heber C. Kimball's details of Smith's actions:

"When the enemy surrounded the jail, rushed up the stairway, and killed Hyrum Smith, Joseph stood at the open window, his martyr-cry being these words, 'O Lord My God! This was not the beginning of a prayer, because Joseph Smith did not pray in that manner. This brave, young man who knew that death was near, started to repeat the distress signal of the Masons, expecting thereby to gain the protection its members are pledged to give a brother in distress."
- Mormonism and Masonry, p. 16-17

"President Young said the people of the United States had sought our destruction and they had used every Exertion to perfect it. They have worked through the masonic institution to perfect it. Joseph & Hyrum Smith were Master Masons and they were put to death by masons or through there instigation and he gave the sign of distress & he was shot by masons while in the act."
- Wilford Woodruff's Journal, August 19th, 1860, Volume 5

One of Joseph Smith's polygamous wives, Zina D. Huntington, declared:

"I am the widow of a master mason, who, when leaping from the window of Carthage Jail pierced with bullets, made the masonic sign of distress."
- Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, Andrew Jenson, Volume 1, page 698

Smith had good reason to believe that Masons might be in the crowd outside, because earlier that day, he had smuggled an order to Nauvoo Legion commander Jonathan Dunham to come break them out of the jail. But Dunham refused to obey the illegal order, knowing that bringing Mormon troops to Carthage might result in all-out civil war.

And in fact, immediately after the Smithand Hyrum were killed, a rumor began amongst the mobbers that the Mormons were on their way from Nauvoo. That prospect made the mob scatter, and probably saved John Taylor's and Willard Richards' lives.


Despite popular Mormon folklore, Joseph Smith did not give his life innocently "like a lamb to the slaughter" in martyrom. He died after shooting three men with a pistol and desperately trying to prevent his death even with his last utterance.

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