|Joseph and Hyrum Smith. “In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated!”|
Today is June 27, marking the 170th anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum.
As is my annual custom on this day, here I will provide some materials dedicated to preserving the memory and greatness of the Prophet and his brother.
First, here is D&C 135, penned in 1844 shortly after the martyrdom.
Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. . . . He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated!
Second, here is a poem written by William W. Phelps in 1844 that we now include in our hymnbook as “Praise to the Man”:
Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!
Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer.
Blessed to open the last dispensation,
Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.
Praise to his mem’ry, he died as a martyr;
Honored and blest be his ever great name!
Long shall his blood, which was shed by assassins,
Plead unto heav’n while the earth lauds his fame.
Great is his glory and endless his priesthood.
Ever and ever the keys he will hold.
Faithful and true, he will enter his kingdom,
Crowned in the midst of the prophets of old.
Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven;
Earth must atone for the blood of that man.
Wake up the world for the conflict of justice.
Millions shall know “Brother Joseph” again.
Hail to the Prophet, ascended to heaven!
Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vain.
Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren;
Death cannot conquer the hero again.
The seer;—the seer;—Joseph the seer—
I’ll sing of the Prophet ever dear:
His equal now cannot be found,—
By searching the wide world around.
With Gods he soared, in the realms of day;
And men he taught the heavenly way.
The earthly seer! the heavenly seer,
I love to dwell on his mem’ry dear:—
The chose of God, and the friend of men,
He brought the priesthood back again,
He gazed on the past, on the present too;—
And ope’d the heav’nly world to view.
Of noble seed—of heavenly birth,
He came to bless the sons of earth:
With keys by the Almighty given,
He opened the full rich stores of heaven,
O’er the world that was wrapt in sable night,
Like the sun he spread his golden light.
He strove,—O, how he strove to stay,
The stream of crime in its reckless way—
with a mighty mind, and a noble aim
He urg’d the wayward to reclaim:
‘Mid the foaming billows of argry strife—
He stood at the helm, of the ship of life.
The saints;—the saints; his only pride,
For them he liv’d, for them he died!
Their joys were his;—their sorrows too;—
He lov’d the saints;—he lov’d Nauvoo.
Unchanged in death, with a Saviors love
He pleads their cause, in the courts above.
The seer;—the seer—Joseph the seer!
O, how I love his memory dear,
The just and wise, the pure and free,
A father he was, and is to me.
Let fiends now rage in their dark hour;—
No matter, he is beyond their power.
He’s free;—he’s free;—the Prophet’s free!
He is where he will ever be,
Beyond the reach of mobs and strife,
He rests unharm’d in endless life,
His home’s in the sky;— he dwells with the Gods,
Far from the furious rage of mobs.
He died; he died—for those he lov’d,
He reigns;—he reigns in realms above,
He waits with the just who have gone before,
To welcome the saints to Zions shore;
Shout, shout ye saints—this boon is given,
We’ll meet our martyr’d seer in heaven.
Fourth, this eyewitness description of the martyrdom by Willard Richards, who was present in Carthage on the day of the martyrdom. (Published in the Times and Seasons in August 1844. The paragraphing is my own.)
Possibly the following events, occupied near three minutes, but I think about two, and have penned them for the gratification of many friends.
Carthage, June 27th, 1844.
A shower of musket balls were thrown up the stair way 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 ketch that was useable [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. Gen. Joseph Smith, Mr. Taylor, and myself sprang back to the front part of the room, and Gen. 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 their coats 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.
As he struck the floor he exclaimed emphatically; “I’m a dead man.” Joseph looked towards him, and responded, “O 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 his 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 fire arms, and expecting an immediate rush of the mob, and the doorway full of muskets-half way into 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 his left breast, and smashed it in “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 his left 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 around as almost to reach us in the corner of the room to where we retreated and dodged, and then I re-commenced the attack with my stick again. 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, “O 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. At this instant a 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 Gen 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 till 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 waiting the onset.
Fifth, and finally, this dedication, “Prophets and Martyrs,” written by Hugh Nibley.
There is nothing accidental just as there is nothing devised in a martyr’s end. He assumes the obligation to be a witness, knowing full well what that dangerous duty entails. The Prophet who was put to death  years ago was a true martyr and a true prophet in the strictest and holiest sense of the word.