Volume 6 Chapter 34


Departure of Governor Ford for Nauvoo—The Afternoon in Carthage Prison—The Assault on the Prison—The Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.


[Page 612]

Thursday, June 27, [continued] 10:30.—Governor Ford went to Nauvoo some time this forenoon, escorted by a portion of his troops, most friendly to the prisoners, and leaving the known enemies of the Prophet, ostensibly to guard the jail, having previously disbanded the remainder.

Joseph sent a request to the Governor by Dan Jones for a pass for his private secretary, Dr. Willard Richards.

11 A.M.—John S. Fullmer left the jail for Nauvoo, with a verbal charge to assist Wheelock in gathering and forwarding witnesses for the promised trial.

James W. Woods, Esq., Joseph’s principal lawyer, left Carthage for Nauvoo.

11:20 A.M.—Dan Jones returned with the following pass for Dr. Richards:—

Pass for Willard Richards.

Permit Dr. Richards, the private secretary of Joseph Smith, to be with him, if he desires it, and to pass and repass the guard.

Thomas Ford,


June 27th, 1844.

Jones said he could not get one for himself.

Dan Jones met Almon W. Babbitt in the street, and informed him that Joseph wanted to see him.

[Page 613]

11:30.—A. W. Babbitt arrived at the jail and read a letter from Oliver Cowdery.

Joseph, Hyrum, and Dr. Richards tried to get Jones past the guard, but they persisted in refusing to admit him.

12:20 noon.—Joseph wrote for Lawyer Browning of Quincy to come up on Saturday as his attorney, as follows:—

Letter: Joseph Smith to O. H. Browning—Engaging Browning as Legal Counsel.

Carthage Jail, June 27th, 1844.

Lawyer Browning:

Sir.—Myself and brother Hyrum are in jail on charge of treason, to come up for examination on Saturday morning, 29th inst., and we request your professional services at that time, on our defense, without fail.

Most respectfully, your servant,

Joseph Smith.

P. S.—There is no cause of action, for we have not been guilty of any crime, neither is there any just cause of suspicion against us; but certain circumstances make your attendance very necessary.

J. S.

The Guard’s False Alarm Over the Nauvoo Legion.

Almon W. Babbitt took the letter and left the jail. He handed it to Jones, with directions to take it to Quincy forthwith. The guard being aware of the letter, told the mob that, “old Joe” had sent orders to raise the Nauvoo Legion to come and rescue him. The mob gathered around Jones, and demanded the letter; some of them wanted to take it from him by force, and said that Jones should not get out of Carthage alive, as a dozen men had started off with their rifles to waylay him in the woods. Having previously ordered his horse, Jones took advantage of their disagreement, and started off at full speed. He, by mistake, took the Warsaw road, and so avoided the men who were lying in wait for him. When he emerged on the prairie, he saw the Governor and his posse, whereupon he left the Warsaw road for the Nauvoo road.

[Page 614]

Dr. Southwick called at the jail. Joseph gave him a note to Governor Ford or General Deming, requesting them to furnish him with a pass.

1:15 P.M.—Joseph, Hyrum, and Willard dined in their room. Taylor and Markham dined below.

Markham Forced out of Carthage.

1:30 P.M.—Dr. Richards was taken sick, when Joseph said, “Brother Markham, as you have a pass from the Governor to go in and out of the jail, go and get the doctor a pipe and some tobacco to settle his stomach,” and Markham went he had got the pipe and tobacco. When he had got the remedies desired, and was returning to jail, a man by the name of Stewart called out, “Old man, you have got to leave town in five minutes.” Markham replied, “I shall not do it.” A company of Carthage Greys gathered round him, put him on his horse, and forced him out of the town at the point of the bayonet.

3:15 P.M.—The guard began to be more severe in their operations, threatening among themselves, and telling what they would do when the excitement was over.

Elder Taylor sang the following:—

The Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.

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 had not power to ask his name;
Whither he went or whence he came;
Yet there was something in his eye
That won my love, I knew not why.
Once, when my scanty meal was spread,
He entered—not a word he spake!
Just perishing for want of bread;
I gave him all; he blessed it, brake,
And ate, but gave me part again;
Mine was an angel’s portion then,
For while I fed with eager haste,
The crust was manna to my taste.
I spied him where a fountain burst,
Clear from the rock—his strength was gone,
The heedless water mocked his thirst,
He heard it, saw it hurrying on.
I ran and raised 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.
‘Twas night, the floods were out, it blew
A winter hurricane aloof;
I heard his voice, abroad, and flew
To bid him welcome to my roof.
I warmed, I clothed, I cheered my guest,
I laid him on my couch to rest;
Then made the earth my bed, and seem’d
In Eden’s garden while I dream’d.
Stripp’d, wounded, beaten nigh to death,
I found him by the highway side;
I rous’d his pulse, brought back his breath,
Revived his spirit, and supplied
Wine, oil, refreshment—he was heal’d;
I had myself a wound conceal’d;
But from that hour forgot the smart,
And peace bound up my broken heart,
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 savior stood before mine eyes.
He spake—and my poor name he named—
“Of me thou hast not been asham’d;
These deeds shall thy memorial be;
Fear not thou didst them unto me.”

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When he got through, Joseph requested him to sing it again, which he did.

Hyrum read extracts from Josephus.

4 P.M.—The guard was again changed, only eight men being stationed at the jail, whilst the main body of the Carthage Greys were in camp about a quarter of a mile distant, on the public square.

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4:15 P.M.—Joseph commenced conversing with the guard about Joseph H. Jackson, William and Wilson Law, and others of his persecutors.

Hyrum and Dr. Richards conversed together until quarter past five.

5 P.M.—Jailor Stigall returned to the jail, and said that Stephen Markham had been surrounded by a mob, who had driven him out of Carthage, and he had gone to Nauvoo.

Anxiety of the Jailor.

Stigall suggested that they would be safer in the cell. Joseph said, “After supper we will go in.” Mr. Stigall went out, and Joseph said to Dr. Richards, “If we go into the cell, will you go in with us?” The doctor answered, “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.” The doctor replied, “I will.”

Wine for the Guard.

Before the jailor came in, his boy brought in some water, and said the guard wanted some wine. Joseph gave Dr. Richards two dollars to give the guard; but the guard said one was enough, and would take no more.

The guard immediately sent for a bottle of wine, pipes, and two small papers of tobacco; and one of the guards brought them into the jail soon after the jailor went out. Dr. Richards uncorked the bottle, and presented a glass to Joseph, who tasted, as also Brother Taylor and the doctor, and the bottle was then given to the guard, who turned to go out. When at the top of the stairs some one below called him two or three times, and he went down.

[Page 617]

The Assault on the Jail.

Immediately there was a little rustling at the outer door of the jail, and a cry of surrender, and also a discharge of three or four firearms followed instantly. The doctor glanced an eye by the curtain of the window, and saw about a hundred armed men around the door.

It is said that the guard elevated their firelocks, and boisterously threatening the mob discharged their firearms over their heads. The mob encircled the building, and some of them rushed by the guard up the flight of stairs, burst open the door, and began the work of death, while others fired in through the open windows.

The Prisoner’s Defense.

In the meantime Joseph, Hyrum, and Elder Taylor had their coats off. Joseph sprang to his coat for his six-shooter, Hyrum for his single barrel, Taylor for Markham’s large hickory cane, and Dr. Richards for Taylor’s cane. All sprang against the door, the balls whistled up the stairway, and in an instant one came through the door.

Joseph Smith, John Taylor and Dr. Richards sprang to the left of the door, and tried to knock aside the guns of the ruffians.

Death of Hyrum Smith.

Hyrum was retreating back in front of the door and snapped his pistol, when a ball struck him in the left side of his nose, and he fell on his back on the floor saying, “I am a dead man!” As he fell on the floor another ball from the outside entered his left side, and passed through his body with such force that it completely broke to pieces the watch he wore in his vest pocket, and at the same instant another ball from the door grazed his breast, and entered his head by the throat; subsequently a fourth ball entered his left leg.

A shower of balls was pouring through all parts of the room, many of which lodged in the ceiling just above the head of Hyrum.

[Page 618]

The “Handsome Fight” of Joseph Smith and John Taylor.

Joseph reached round the door casing, and discharged his six shooter into the passage, some barrels missing fire. Continual discharges of musketry came into the room. Elder Taylor continued parrying the guns until they had got them about half their length into the room, when he found that resistance was vain, and he attempted to jump out of the window, where a ball fired from within struck him on his left thigh, hitting the bone, and passing through to within half an inch of the other side. He fell on the window sill, when a ball fired from the outside struck his watch in his vest pocket, and threw him back into the room.

Taylor Wounded and Helpless.

After he fell into the room he was hit by two more balls, one of them injuring his left wrist considerably, and the other entering at the side of the bone just below the left knee. He rolled under the bed, which was at the right of the window in the south-east corner of the room.

While he lay under the bed he was fired at several times from the stairway; one ball struck him on the left hip, which tore the flesh in a shocking manner, and large quantities of blood were scattered upon the wall and floor.

When Hyrum fell, Joseph exclaimed, “Oh dear, brother Hyrum!” and opening the door a few inches he discharged his six shooter in the stairway (as stated before), two or three barrels of which missed fire.

The Death of the Prophet.

Joseph, seeing there was no safety in the room, and no doubt thinking that it would save the lives of his brethren in the room if he could get out, turned calmly from the door, dropped his pistol on the floor and sprang into the window when two balls pierced him from the door, and one entered his right breast from without, and he fell outward into the hands of his murderers, exclaiming. “O Lord, my God!”

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Willard Richard’s Remarkable Escape.

Dr. Richards’ escape was miraculous; he being a very large man, and in the midst of a shower of balls, yet he stood unscathed, with the exception of a ball which grazed the tip end of the lower part of his left ear. His escape fulfilled literally a prophecy which Joseph made over a year previously, that the time would come that the balls would fly around him like hail, and he should see his friends fall on the right and on the left, but that there should not be a hole in his garment.

The following is copied from the Times and Seasons:

Two Minutes in Jail.

Possibly the following events occupied near three minutes, but I think only about two, and have penned them for the gratification of many friends.

Carthage, June 27, 1844.

A shower of musket balls were thrown up the stairway against the door of the prison in the second story, followed by many rapid footsteps.

While Generals Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Mr. Taylor, and myself, who were in the front chamber, closed the door of our room against the entry at the head of the stairs, and placed ourselves against it, there being no lock on the door, and no catch that was usable.

The door is a common panel, and as soon as we heard the feet at the stairs head, a ball was sent through the door, which passed between us, and showed that our enemies were desperadoes, and we must change our position.

General Joseph Smith, Mr. Taylor and myself sprang back to the front part of the room, and General Hyrum Smith retreated two-thirds across the chamber directly in front of and facing the door.

A ball was sent through the door which hit Hyrum on the side of his nose, when he fell backwards, extended at length, without moving his feet.

From the holes in his vest (the day was warm, and no one had his coat on but myself), pantaloons, drawers, and shirt, it appears evident that a ball must have been thrown from without, through the window, which entered his back on the right side, and passing through, lodged against his watch, which was in his right vest pocket, completely pulverizing the crystal and face, tearing off the hands and mashing the whole body of the watch. At the same instant the ball from the door entered his nose.

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As he struck the floor he exclaimed emphatically, “I am a dead man.” Joseph looked towards him and responded, “Oh, dear brother Hyrum!” and opening the door two or three inches with his left hand, discharged one barrel of a six shooter (pistol) at random in the entry, from whence a ball grazed Hyrum’s breast, and entering his throat passed into his head, while other muskets were aimed at him and some balls hit him.

Joseph continued snapping his revolver round the casing of the door into the space as before, three barrels of which missed fire. while Mr. Taylor with a walking stick stood by his side and knocked down the bayonets and muskets which were constantly discharging through the doorway, while I stood by him, ready to lend any assistance, with another stick, but could not come within striking distance without going directly before the muzzle of the guns.

When the revolver failed, we had no more firearms, and expected an immediate rush of the mob, and the doorway full of muskets, half way in the room, and no hope but instant death from within.

Mr. Taylor rushed into the window, which is some fifteen or twenty feet from the ground. When his body was nearly on a balance, a ball from the door within entered his leg, and a ball from without struck his watch, a patent lever, in his vest pocket near the left breast, and smashed it into “pie,” leaving the hands standing at 5 o’clock, 16 minutes, and 26 seconds, the force of which ball threw him back on the floor, and he rolled under the bed which stood by his side, where he lay motionless, the mob from the door continuing to fire upon him, cutting away a piece of flesh from his left hip as large as a man’s hand, and were hindered only by my knocking down their muzzles with a stick; while they continued to reach their guns into the room, probably left handed, and aimed their discharge so far round as almost to reach us in the corner of the room to where we retreated and dodged, and then I recommenced the attack with my stick.

Joseph attempted, as the last resort, to leap the same window from whence Mr. Taylor fell, when two balls pierced him from the door, and one entered his right breast from without, and he fell outward, exclaiming, “Oh Lord, my God!” As his feet went out of the window my head went in, the balls whistling all around. He fell on his left side a dead man.

[Page 621]

At this instant the cry was raised. “He’s leaped the window!” and the mob on the stairs and in the entry ran out.

I withdrew from the window, thinking it of no use to leap out on a hundred bayonets, then around General Joseph Smith’s body.

Not satisfied with this I again reached my head out of the window, and watched some seconds to see if there were any signs of life, regardless of my own, determined to see the end of him I loved. Being fully satisfied that he was dead, with a hundred men near the body and more coming round the corner of the jail, and expecting a return to our room, I rushed towards the prison door, at the head of the stairs, and through the entry from whence the firing had proceeded, to learn if the doors into the prison were open.

When near the entry, Mr. Taylor called out, “Take me.” I pressed my way until I found all doors unbarred, returning instantly, caught Mr. Taylor under my arm and rushed by the stairs into the dungeon, or inner prison, stretched him on the floor and covered him with a bed in such a manner as not likely to be perceived, expecting an immediate return of the mob.

I said to Mr. Taylor, “This is a hard case to lay you on the floor, but if your wounds are not fatal, I want you to live to tell the story.”

I expected to be shot the next moment, and stood before the door awaiting the onset.

Willard Richards.

While Willard Richards and John Taylor were in the cell, a company of the mob again rushed up stairs, but finding only the dead body of Hyrum, they were again descending the stairs, when a loud cry was heard, “The Mormons are coming!” which caused the whole band of murderers to flee precipitately to the woods.

The following communication was written and sent to Nauvoo:—

First Message to Nauvoo.

Carthage Jail, 8:05 o’clock, P.M., June 27th, 1844.

Joseph and Hyrum are dead. Taylor wounded, not very badly. 1 I am well. Our guard was forced, as we believe, by a band of Missourians from 100 to 200. The job was done in an instant, and the party fled towards Nauvoo instantly. This is as I believe it. The citizens here are afraid of the Mormons attacking them. I promise them no!

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W. Richards,

John Taylor.

N. B.—The citizens promise us protection. Alarm guns have been fired.

The above note was addressed to Governor Ford, Gen. Dunham, Col. Markham, Emma Smith, Nauvoo.

This letter was given to William and John Barnes, two mobocrats, who were afraid to go to Nauvoo, fearing that the Mormons would kill them and lay everything waste about Carthage; they therefore carried it to Arza Adams, who was sick with the ague and fever, about two and a half miles north of Carthage. He was afraid to go on the main road; and after two hours persuasion Mr. Benjamin Leyland consented to pilot Adams by “a blind road,” and about midnight they started, and arrived in Nauvoo a little after sunrise. They found the news had arrived before them, for about a dozen men were talking about it at the Mansion, but not knowing what to believe until Adams handed in the above official letter.

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1. This statement was made at Elder Taylor’s request, that he might not alarm his family he was, however, severely wounded, as the narrative in the text bears witness. When the note above was being prepared, Elder Taylor said, “Brother Richards, say I am slightly wounded;” and when it was brought to him he signed his name as quickly as he could, lest the tremor of his hand should be noticed and the fears of his family aroused (The Life of John Taylor, pp. 144-5).