“I shall ever remember my feelings”
Reflections on the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith by Captain Dan Jones
On June 27, 1844, Captain Dan Jones awoke in Carthage jail next to the Prophet Joseph Smith. It was to be the last morning of the young prophet’s earthly life. It might have been the last morning for Jones as well, had not Joseph Smith sent him to Quincy, Illinois with a letter. In the following account, translated from the original Welsh by Dr. Ronald D. Dennis, BYU language professor, Jones tells of his reaction to the news of the death of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and the immediate impact the tragedy had on the city they had founded, Nauvoo, Illinois.
About midnight a steam boat came down the river, and I went on board toward Quincy. Before daylight the boat called at Warsaw on its way, and great was the tumult which was there. It was announced with great delight to the passengers on the boat that “Joe Smith and his brother, Hyrum, had been killed at Carthage Jail.” How sweet was this news to their chops!
An extra had already been published accusing the Mormons of having gone to Carthage to save the prisoners and that the guards, in carrying out their duty, had shot Joseph and Hyrum Smith lest they escape, when in fact, I was the last Mormon to have been in Carthage and had been driven out as if at bayonet point. In fact, it was the publisher of the paper who was leading those who killed the prisoners, boasting that he had ‘put one bullet through old Joe.’ And when his fingers were still dripping with innocent blood he proclaimed to the world that it was the saints who had done it and invited all from everywhere to gather to defend Warsaw; that the Mormons had already burned Carthage to ashes and killed its inhabitants, and that they expected them to burn Warsaw at any minute. Yes, he published this in his paper and sent messengers to the other counties to call the militia to defend them when in fact he knew that he was in no danger whatsoever from the saints.
When I got the opportunity with the people together, I opposed those lying messengers to their faces, and then the people saw that they were not in danger and that not one of the Mormons had even lifted his hand against any one of them and had no such intention. Then everyone returned to his business, and I went with the other steamboat toward Nauvoo, where I arrived by 8 a.m.
Oh, the sorrowful scene to be viewed in Nauvoo that day! There has never been nor will there ever be anything like it’, everyone sad along the streets, all the shops closed and every business forgotten. Onward I quickened my pace until I reached the house of the late Joseph Smith. I pushed my way through the sorrowful crowd until I reached the room where his body and that of his brother had been placed. There they lay in their coffins side by side, majestic men as they suffered side by side from prison to prison for years, and then labored together, shoulder to shoulder to build the kingdom of Immanuel; eternal love bound them steadfastly to each other and to their God until death; and now, my eyes beheld the blood of the two godly martyrs mingling in one pool.
Their elderly mother was on her knees in the midst of the blood between the two, a hand on each one of her sons who lay in gore, her heart nearly broken by the excruciating agony and the indescribable grief. At the head of the deceased sat the dear wife of each one and around their father stood four of Joseph’s little children and six of Hyrum’s children, crying out intermittently ‘My dear father.’ ‘And my dear father, too’ another would say, with no reply except the echo from the walls. And from the hearts of the mothers, ‘My husband killed’ and the grey-haired mother groaning pitifully, ‘On my sons, my sons.’
Each in his turn, the thousands made their way forward, sad and desirous of having the last look at their dear brethren whose solemn counsels and heavenly teaching had been music in their ears, lighting their paths and bringing joy to their hearts on numerous occasions. On the streets around, it was almost the stillness of the grave which reigned; but all the noble, as well as the humble, with crystal tears streaming down their cheeks. Even the sun and the elements had stilled as if in surprise, and all nature looked at the unending madness of man toward some of the best of the earth in any age or part of it.
I shall ever remember my feelings at the time. Now I saw the two wisest and most virtuous men on the earth, without any doubt, whom I had seen just a while before preaching tenderly from between the iron bars of their jail the gospel of peace to those who wanted to kill them; the two who stood like two reeds in the midst of the storm as witnesses of Jesus, despite the jealous fury of the press, of the pulpits, and of the mobs of the age; and just like the reeds they straightened up their heads after every breeze and scorned worldly profit and fame; steadfast they clung to their objective until they had finished their work; and like Elder Brother and Their Leader before them, they did not love their lives unto death, nor did they refuse to face knowingly the slaughter; rather they leaped onto the bloody alter which they saw waiting for them in Carthage ‘so they could have a better resurrection.”
What pen can describe that scene and the feelings of thousands of mourners? The only comfort that kept them from sinking under the oppression and the loss was knowing that a day of swift reckoning would come before long and that He who has the correct scales in His hand perceives the whole and will … but I now restrain myself. It is easier for the reader to imagine this scene than it is for me to portray it and its results.
Captain Dan Jones