16 Stunning Photographs with Eyewitness Accounts to Help you Remember the Martyrdom on this 170th Anniversary
Even the coldest heart is moved by the events that took place in the Carthage Jail on Thursday, June 27, 1844—170 years ago today. Joseph died not only as a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, but as a Mayor of one of the largest cities in America, General of the Nauvoo Legion (the largest city militia in the western United States), a declared candidate for President of the United States, and more tenderly, as a husband to Emma Hale Smith and father of eleven children (six then deceased, one yet unborn). Joseph died, as the Prophets of old, as a witness of the Savior of mankind. The following accounts are given to paint a picture of some of the feelings that surround that fateful day in June of 1844. I have added the photographs so you may journey with the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum to Carthage.
“Willard, the time will come that the balls will fly around you like hail, and you will see your friends fall on the right and on the left, but there shall not be so much as a hole in your garment.” (Joseph Smith to Willard Richards, Summer 1843)
“The last time I saw the Prophet, he was on his way to Carthage jail…They stopped..at the house of Brother Rosecrans. We were on the porch and could hear every word he said…one sentence I well remember. After bidding good-bye, he said to Brother Rosecrans, ‘If I never see you again, or if I never come back, remember that I love you.’ This went through me like electricity. I went in the house and threw myself on the bed and wept like a whipped child. And why this grief for a person I had never spoken to in my life, I could not tell. I knew he was a servant of God, and could only think of the danger he was in, and how deeply he felt it…” (Mary Ellen Kimball on June 24, 1844)
[Joseph looking at the Temple site and at the city of Nauvoo on the way to Carthage:] “This is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens; little do they know the trials that await them.” [Sometime later that same day on the road to Carthage, Joseph said,] “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am calm as a summer’s morning. I have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward all men. If they take my life I shall die an innocent man…and it shall be said of me ‘He was murdered in cold blood.’” (Joseph on the Martyrdom Trail, June 24, 1844)
“Dear Emma, I am very much resigned to my lot knowing I am justified and have done the best that could be done. Give my love to the children and all my friends…you need not have any fears that any harm can happen to us…may God bless you all, Amen.” (Handwritten Letter from Joseph to Emma 8:20 a.m., June 27, 1844)
“…the life of my servant shall be in my hand; therefore they shall not hurt him, although he shall be marred because of them. Yet I will heal him, for I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.” (Jesus Christ to the Nephites, concerning Joseph Smith)
“We have had too much trouble to bring ‘Old Joe’ here to let him ever escape alive…You’ll see that I can prophesy better than ‘Old Joe,’ that neither he nor his brother, nor anyone who will remain with them, will see the sun set today.” (Frank Worrell, Officer of the Guard of Carthage Jail, June 27, 1844)
[Conversation between Joseph and Dan Jones in the Carthage Jail, past midnight on June 27, 1844:] “Brother Dan, are you afraid to die?” Joseph asked.
“Has that time come, think you?” Dan replied. “Engaged in such a cause, I do not think that death would have many terrors.” Joseph then said, “You will see Wales and fulfill the mission appointed you ere you die.”
Early that morning Dan Jones left the jail to meet with Governor Ford. He explained to the governor with great anxiety how the lives of Joseph and Hyrum were in great danger, and the threats that were made towards them, to which Governor Ford replied: “You are unnecessarily alarmed for your friends’ safety, sir. The people are not that cruel.” Dan Jones returned to try to reenter the jail but was not allowed. His life was spared; he did fill his mission to Wales, as Joseph prophesied and brought untold thousands into the Church.
Jailer at Carthage, George W. Stigall, heard of the impending danger to the lives of the prisoners (whom he admired and knew were innocent men) and suggested they go from his upstairs bedroom where they had been staying to the inner cell next to the bedroom where they would be safer. Joseph turned to Dr. Willard Richards and said, “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.” Willard replied, “I will.” Witnessing this loyalty, Joseph wept. (This conversation took place between Willard Richards and Joseph about 5:00 p.m., less than fifteen minutes before the brutal murders, June 27, 1844)
“A great crime has been done by destroying the Expositor press and placing the city under martial law, and a severe atonement must be made, so prepare your minds for the emergency.” (Governor Thomas Ford, State of Illinois, June 27, 1844. This was said about the time of the martyrdom while he was in Nauvoo.)
“I felt a dull, lonely, sickening sensation…When I reflected that our noble chieftain, the Prophet of the living God, had fallen, and that I had seen his brother in the cold embrace of death, it seemed as though there was a void or vacuum in the great field of human existence to me, and a dark gloomy chasm in the kingdom, that we were left alone. Oh, how lonely was that feeling! How cold, barren and desolate! In the midst of difficulties he was always the first in motion; in critical positions his counsel was always sought. As our Prophet, he approached our God and obtained for us his will; but now our Prophet, our counselor, our general, our leader was gone, and amid the fiery ordeal that we then had to pass through, we were left alone without his aid, and as our future guide for things spiritual or temporal, and for all things pertaining to this world, or the next, he had spoken for the last time on earth.” (John Taylor)
“Had he [Joseph] been spared a martyr’s fate till mature manhood and age, he was certainly endued with powers and ability to have revolutionized the world…as it is, his works will live to endless ages, and unnumbered millions yet unborn will mention his name with honor, as a noble instrument…who…laid the foundations of that kingdom spoken of by Daniel, the prophet, which should break in pieces all other kingdoms and stand forever.” (Parley Parker Pratt)
“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.
” (John Taylor)
“After the corpses were washed and dressed in their burial clothes, we were allowed to see them. I had for a long time braced every nerve, roused every energy of my soul and called upon God to strengthen me, but when I entered the room and saw my murdered sons extended both at once before my eyes and heard the sobs and groans of my family…it was too much: I sank back, crying to the Lord in the agony of my soul, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken this family!’ A voice replied, ‘I have taken them to myself, that they might have rest’…I then thought upon the promise which I had received in Missouri, that in five years Joseph should have power over all his enemies. The time had elapsed and the promise was fulfilled.” (Lucy Mack Smith, mother of Joseph and Hyrum, June 29, 1844, Nauvoo Illinois)
“My Dear Companion…We are in great affliction at this time. Our dear Br. Joseph Smith and Hyrum has fell victims to a ferocious mob. The great God of the Creation only knows whether the rest shall be preserved in safety or not…I have been blessed to keep my feelings quite calm through all the storm. I hope you will be careful on your way home and not expose yourself to those that will endanger your life. Yours in haste. If we meet no more in this world may we meet where parting is no more. Farewell.” (Mary Ann Angell Young to her husband, Brigham Young, President of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, dated June 30, 1844)
“We would beseech the Latter Day Saints in Nauvoo, and else where, to hold fast to the faith that has been delivered to them in the last days, abiding in the perfect law of the gospel. Be peaceable, quiet citizens, doing the works of righteousness…Rejoice then, that you are found worthy to live and die for God: men may kill the body, but they cannot hurt the soul.” (W.W. Phelps, W. Richards, John Taylor, July 1, 1844)
 Smith, Joseph, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1980), 6:619 (Hereinafter, History of the Church).
 History of the Church, 6:547.
 The Juvenile Instructor, 15 August 1892, 27: 490-91.
 History of the Church, 6:554-55.
 Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, ed. and comp. Dean C. Jessee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1984), 611.
 History of the Church, 6: 558.
 3 Nephi 21:10.
 Dan Jones, “The Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith,” 20 January, 1855, handwritten manuscript in the Church Historian’s Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 Ibid. See also History of the Church 6:603.
 History of the Church 6:16.
 Ibid. 623.
 Ibid. 7:106.
 Pratt, Parley P. Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Revised and Enhanced Edition. Edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor. Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 2000, pp. 45, 46.
 Doctrine and Covenants 135:3.
 Smith, Lucy Mack. Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother. Edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor. Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1996, pp. 457, 458.
 Mary Ann Angell Young to Brigham Young, 30 June, 1844, dated at Nauvoo, Illinois, housed at Church Historian’s Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 Times and Seasons, vol. 5, no. 12, (l July 1844): 568
Posted: Jun 14, 2014 3:35 PM MDT
Updated: Jun 14, 2014 10:27 PM MDT
By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
NAUVOO, Ill. — Michelle Murri held a key to history in the palm of her hand.
The small house key, carefully teased from the soil, could open doors to an even better understanding of Nauvoo’s past.
An archaeological dig is underway to find the location of the home built for Joseph Smith Sr. and his wife Lucy Mack in Nauvoo. Recent discoveries led to a possible site just south of the Joseph and Emma Smith Mansion House.
“You found the key to Grandma’s house,” Bob Smith, the dig site host and a great-great-great-grandson of Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith, said. “Working on the site, holding something they might have held before, making that connection is a positive thing.”
Volunteers are discovering what appears to be a pier support, a structural support for the house, which research says was a double log cabin.
“Young Joseph talks about having a breezeway between the two structures and a roof over the whole area which was used for storage,” Smith said. “We found walkway all along here. You can see remnants.”
It’s history both for Nauvoo and for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Joseph Smith Sr. was the patriarch of the church. This is the house where he gave his patriarchal blessings to his kids,” Smith said. “This is a special spot.”
It’s special for Murri, a volunteer from LeVerkin, Utah, who just graduated from Utah State University.
“I’ve never been to Nauvoo. This was a perfect opportunity to visit and get some professional experience,” she said. “It’s taught me a lot about the history of Nauvoo and my own family history, and it’s also taught me a lot of skills that I can use in my further archaeology jobs.”
Archaeologist Paul DeBarthe heads a team of volunteers carefully digging into the past, screening buckets of soil and preserving their finds from bits of pottery to window glass, metal and buttons.
“Fundamentally, what we have here is a site that in the last three years has produced 10,000 pieces,” DeBarthe said.
“Anytime you can touch something, it just makes you more aware of history,” said longtime volunteer Synthia DeBarthe, whose husband Thomas is a cousin to Paul DeBarthe. “It gets into your heart and your soul, and you never forget it.”
The Joseph Smith Historic Site along with the Joseph Smith Sr. Family Association, the Hyrum Smith Family Association, the Joseph Smith Jr. Historical Society and the Samuel H. Smith Foundation sponsor the digs.
The work brings together Smith, a Mormon, with DeBarthe, a member of the Community of Christ, along with volunteers of many faiths.
“To discover, preserve and share. That’s what we’re about,” Smith said. “Religion doesn’t matter.”
DeBarthe has done archeological work in Nauvoo since 1971. Most of the work was done from 1975 to 1984, then resumed three years ago when Smith and DeBarthe met.
“We’ve got enough Smith family sites to keep us busy for 10 years,” Smith said.
Among the finds are projectile points dating back 10,000 years to the age of the hairy mammoths, more points used by bison hunters 6,000 years ago, pottery from the Early Woodland period and a burial site from the Middle Woodland period some 2,000 years ago not far from the Smith’s own family plots.
“People come here to pilgrimage to the Joseph Smith burial site and home site. Mormons in particular come for about five years of Mormon history, 1839-1844,” he said. “For us to come looking for five years of history and find 10,000 years is really gratifying.”
Replacing the wooden steps at the Mansion House with historically-accurate stone steps led to even more pieces of the past.
Volunteer Rebecca Esplin found a piece of what DeBarthe said was cord-marked, grit-tempered pottery. Working at the site was a perfect fit for Esplin, who just graduated from Utah State University.
“I’ve always loved Nauvoo, and I like historical archaeology as well,” she said. “Finding things makes it a lot more exciting than just digging and not finding anything.”
Pieces from the archaeological digs near the Mansion House come into the lab in the basement of the Red Brick Store in Nauvoo for classifying, authenticating and tabulating. From there, Synthia DeBarthe’s job is to “try to put things back together again.”
She carefully glues together pieces, including a butter churn one day last week, adding masking tape for support until they dry.
“What we’re interested in doing is putting together enough pieces so we can create a museum over in the visitor center for people to get an idea of the times and how they lived here in Nauvoo,” she said.
Synthia DeBarthe says she gets everything from stone to bone to glass, nails, ceramics and stoneware. The finds tell about early family life in Nauvoo.
“They had a lot of things,” she said. They weren’t poor, but they weren’t rich. It appears they were comfortable.”
Work done three years ago tried to explore the legend that the Smith homestead was built in 1805 as a trading post.
“We found 5,000-year-old stuff, 2,000-year-old stuff, but we didn’t find very much attributed to a trading post in 1800,” DeBarthe said. “In the meantime, across the street, we’re finding some possible trade beads. Where was the trading post? That’s one question we’d like to answer.”
HOW TO HELP
Volunteers can spend an hour, a day or a week at the archeological dig sites in Nauvoo. Work continues through Friday, June 27. More information is available by contacting dig site hosts Bob and Becky Smith at 801-471-7253 firstname.lastname@example.org more
By Lucy Schouten
Church News staff writer
and Darlyn Britt Church News contributor
Published: Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013
People with varied religious backgrounds from all over the country made a “pioneer trek” to Nauvoo, Ill., to participate in the first excavation of “I Dig Nauvoo” throughout the month of June.
Teams of workers in the “I Dig Nauvoo” project scraped the earth with trowels in search of artifacts from the site of the small cabin where Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith once lived.
“It’s a wonderfully exciting time in the life of the site,” said Lachlan Mackay, great-great-great-grandson of Joseph Smith Jr. and director of historical sites for Community of Christ. “It’s been many years since we’ve had an active archaeology program in Nauvoo, so to see people excavating brings the research part of the story back to life again. I’m incredibly excited to see us working together for this common heritage.”
The “I Dig Nauvoo” project was organized by the Joseph Smith Sr. Family Association and sponsored by the Community of Christ. More than 400 volunteer archaeologists including Smith family descendants, Community of Christ members, LDS missionaries and Nauvoo Pageant volunteers worked together to uncover history and build unity. Locals and visitors to Nauvoo stopped by to help, and several Boy Scouts earned their archaeology merit badges.
The “I Dig Nauvoo” volunteers documented everything they found within the assigned 10-foot squares. More than 10,000 artifacts, including household dishes and objects and window glass were washed, cataloged and preserved. The team even uncovered several lines of cut stone, which revealed a man-made structure. They are hoping to uncover more of this in the future, but they have already found two of the stone piers that pioneers often used instead of foundations.
The dig site is directly across the street from the existing cabin known as “The Homestead” where Joseph Sr. and his wife, Lucy, also lived for a time. The Homestead was a bustling place, serving at times as the unofficial headquarters of the Church, a hospital and a place for travelers to stay. Robert Smith, a Samuel Smith descendant and project host, came to believe that the second cabin was built to give Father Smith peace and quiet so he could give patriarchal blessings.
Records indicate that, as the first patriarch of the Church, Joseph Smith Sr. gave at least 32 patriarchal blessings in Nauvoo. Some of these might have been performed at the dig site residence.
Scholars believe that the same cabin was also the place where Joseph Sr. pronounced blessings upon his posterity before he died. Joseph Sr. promised the Prophet, “You shall live to finish your work.” In response, Joseph cried out, “Oh father, shall I?”
To Hyrum, Father Smith said, “You shall have a season of peace so that you shall have sufficient rest to accomplish the work which God has given you.” He promised Samuel, “By your faithfulness you have brought many into the Church. The Lord has seen your faithfulness and you are blessed … but He has called you home to rest.”
Many diggers heard these stories and relished gaining new insights into both archeology and early Mormon history.
This was the first time Abby Slik, a high school senior and member of the Spring Creek 7th Ward, Springville Utah Spring Creek Stake, participated in a project like this. She and several neighbors made the 24-hour drive to Nauvoo to help dig. “My family lineage does not go back to the pioneers, but I felt close to them as I worked each day, discovering new pieces of history,” she said. “I would do this again in a heartbeat.”
Christian Moody, a young man from the Hobble Creek 11th Ward, Springville Utah Hobble Creek Stake, echoed her sentiments. “I’m so glad that I got the opportunity to become part of an archeological legacy,” he said. “I loved learning about the Church’s history and feeling the same spirit that the pioneers felt.”
Robert Smith, great-great-great-grandson of Samuel Smith and one of the hosts of the “I Dig Nauvoo” project, spent three weeks digging at the site. He noticed a feeling of kinship as the legacy of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith seemed to knit strangers together during their short time in Nauvoo. “I was impressed by the excitement of the volunteers whenever they found an artifact,” he said. “But more heartwarming was the fact that no matter their religious backgrounds, the participants were able to connect with Father and Mother Smith and share in the legacy of the Smith family.”
The Joseph Smith Sr. Family Association plans to organize a second dig May 26-June 27, 2014. Visitors to Nauvoo in the meantime can see the current progress at the dig site.
“I’m excited to take my family there and show them what I was a part of,” said James Johnson, a Springville, Utah, resident who called the dig an unforgettable experience. “It’s such a great feeling to be a part of restoring Nauvoo. I will never forget that experience as long as I live!”
Registration for the second dig begins Sept. 1, 2013 at www.idignauvoo.com.read more
Descendants of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith met in greater force than ever before to both renew family ties and remember history at a reunion in Salt Lake City Aug. 1-4.
Roughly 1,100 Smith descendants from Hyrum, Joseph Jr. and Samuel Smith’s lines came to This Is The Place Heritage Park for the reunion.
“We need to work together as a family to gather our family,” said Michael Kennedy, a Joseph Smith Jr. descendant who has dedicated his life to finding his fellow Joseph Smith Jr. descendants, who are scattered worldwide.
About 200 of the Smith descendants came just to participate in “Joseph’s Miracle Run,” a 5K race on Aug. 3 that celebrated the 1813 experimental surgery that saved young Joseph’s leg.
This topic was further explored later that day by Roy Wirthlin, who presented some of his newly discovered research on the work of the doctor who performed the surgery, Nathan Smith.
The honored guest at the reunion was David Longcope, who is a seventh generation doctor in an unbroken line from Joseph Smith’s surgeon. He and his family participated in the race and especially enjoyed Wirthlin’s lecture. They were presented with the family history work of Nathan Smith as a gift from the family.
While the adults learned more about the courage and love of the Smith family from Wirthlin, their children were experiencing “Zion’s Camp.” The children made swords, learned a pioneer song and tried walking on wooden crutches like Joseph Smith would have needed after his surgery.
Don Lee, a descendant of Hyrum Smith, was the proud maker of the crutches. His wife, Gwen Lee explained, “It just seems like if children have a very firm foundation and know that in their blood they carry this faith in God they can have the courage to go forth and be modern pioneers.”
Meanwhile, the teenagers made a small wreath with 11 red roses, one for each of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith’s children
The wreath adorned the pulpit where, that evening, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke to the gathered family. Elder Ballard is a Hyrum descendant, and when he thanked the reunion’s organizers for their hard work, he remarked, “[Organizing] the Smiths is kind of like herding cats sometimes.”
He shared his testimony with the family and told them that they could best honor the legacy of the remarkable Smith family by being good missionaries.
“We owe our forefathers our loyalty and our willingness to do whatever is necessary in the building up of the kingdom of God,” he said.
The Smith descendants were recognized on the morning of Aug. 4 at the live broadcast of “Music and the Spoken Word” at the Conference Center.
Other music over the weekend included a concert on the evening of Aug. 2, where Nathan Osmond, among others, performed. The emcee for the evening was Rick Macy, who has portrayed Joseph Smith Sr. in several films.
Referring to the blend of faith-based history and family time that characterized the reunion, Nathan Adams, a reunion organizer, said, “Only in the Smith family do you get to do things like this.”
Lucy Schouten is an Arizona native studying journalism and Middle Eastern studies at Brigham Young University. Contact her at email@example.com more
The “Joseph’s Miracle Run” 5K race, sponsored by the Smith Foundation, celebrated the 200th anniversary of the surgery to save Joseph Smith’s leg on Aug. 3, 1813
The race was held at This Is The Place Heritage Park as part of the Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith reunion held Aug. 1-4. Of the roughly 500 participants in the 5K race and the children’s race immediately afterward, 300 were Smith descendants.
Francis Orton, a foundation member and race organizer, said the race was planned a year and a half in advance. When they realized that 2013 would be the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s boyhood surgery by renowned Dr. Nathan Smith, they saw an opportunity to “publish Joseph’s name for good,” she said.
The race proceeds and donations will go toward a $10,000 scholarship at Dartmouth Medical School, which was founded by Dr. Nathan Smith. The hope is for the race to be an annual event to create a perpetual scholarship.
“We’d like to make it an annual event for at least the next few years,” said Daniel Adams, a Hyrum Smith descendant and member of the foundation who helped organize the race. “It took [Joseph’s leg] three years to heal so he could walk well again.”
Adams views the surgery itself as miraculous because it was a cutting-edge operation that would not become an accepted medical practice until after World War One. The trial also developed the love and courage of the Smith family.
“Hyrum would squeeze his leg and massage it for hours every day just so that he could handle the pain,” Adams said, describing Joseph’s lengthy recovery process. “This is why Joseph and Hyrum are so close, and so Hyrum will never leave Joseph, even in Carthage Jail.”
One Hyrum descendant felt a special connection to the events. Ruth White’s son, Nathaniel, was born at the medical school at Yale, which Nathan Smith co-founded. Her son was born with many birth defects and now uses a wheelchair.
“As soon as I heard about [the race] I felt the connection right off,” she said.
White got an especially loud cheer as she crossed the 5K finish line, pushing her 10-year-old in a jogging stroller.
“He was the only one who volunteered to train with me,” White said with a laugh. “Having him with me just made it more meaningful.
Also helping at the race were 35 missionaries who arrived at 5 a.m. Saturday morning to set up and then guide the runners. Two senior missionaries were stationed at the finish line, and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve awarded each finisher a medal after the race.
Emily Birningham, 83, and Marilyn Critchlow, both Smith descendants, walked the end of the race course to make sure all the grandkids finished the race successfully. Critchlow travelled from Romania for the event, and she spoke enthusiastically about the good turn-out and the excitement of getting the family together.
“This is such a great activity,” Critchlow said. “It was worth it [to travel from Romania] just to hear the opening prayer at a race and the bagpipes.”
“And to have my 25 children and grandchildren in the race,” added Birningham as they neared the finish line.
Lucy Schouten is an Arizona native studying journalism and Middle Eastern studies at Brigham Young University. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org more
By Dennis Lythgoe Deseret News staff writer
Valeen Tippetts Avery’s fascination with the last son of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith came while she was working on a biography of the prophet’s wife, Emma.David Hyrum Smith was born in 1844 after the death of his father, and Avery became so interested in him that he became the subject of her Ph.D dissertation.
The title was changed from “Insanity and the Sweet Singer” to “From Mission to Madness: Last Son of the Mormon Prophet,” and her dissertation in history at Northern Arizona University became a prize-winning book. (Winner of the locally prestigious Evans Biography award, given by Utah State University, and the Mormon History Association’s award for best biography; it has also been nominated for several other awards, including the nationally prestigious Bancroft Prize in History.)According to Avery, David Smith was “the sweet singer of Israel to congregations in the Midwest, because his preaching resembled that of Old Testament prophets — but he could also sing.”
Speaking by telephone from her home in Flagstaff, Ariz., where she teaches history at NAU, Avery said Smith’s life was one of both success and tragedy. Although a brilliant and charismatic poet, painter, philosopher, naturalist and highly effective missionary for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in IIlinois, Smith was stricken with mental illness while still in his 30s. He was committed to the Northern Illinois Hospital and Asylum for the Insane, where he remained until his death in 1904.
While his older brother, Joseph Smith III, was serving as president of the RLDS Church, David Smith felt that going on a mission to Utah, to try to convert the “Brighamites,” was his most important duty, and he did so several times. In spite of the conflict that existed between the LDS and the RLDS Churches, Smith managed to make friends with many Utah Mormons. And even though he and Brigham Young exchanged harsh words, there is evidence that they felt a natural affinity for one another. There was no one Young respected more than Smith’s father, and he wanted Smith in the Utah Church. Meanwhile, Smith felt moved to teach Young the error of his ways.
Implicit in this story is the connection between the LDS and RLDS churches, which also intrigued the author. “I didn’t understand the relationship between the two churches, most of all the sons of Joseph and Emma, and Brigham Young, and the church in the West, ” she said. Avery, who is LDS, could see this was a story about which church would be most successful in establishing Mormonism as an American religious tradition.
“Who would control Mormonism in the American experience? Would it be the more moderate RLDS version that conformed more to Protestant viewpoints and refused to accept polygamy or the doctrine of the gathering? I would have bet that Joseph III, with his more moderate Mormonism, would have appealed to a larger number of people. But I would have been wrong.The Western LDS Church was more stringent, more radically different than standard Christian theology, yet it succeeded in identifying itself more as an American religion.”
Avery did not set out to write a history of the two churches, although she believes that needs to be done. But she admits that “If there’s another book in me, the thing that excites me the most is a book about Mormons vs. Mormons over who would determine the shape of Mormonism in American culture.”
Avery plans to let a year pass before plunging into another project, however. She also knows she has emerged as a biographer and is not sure if she “can tell the story of a movement and a competitive religious agenda with the same success as that of a human life.”
But “From Mission to Madness” is also more than a biography. Avery puts this Mormon story into the larger context of “a 19th Century American family defining who they were, how they made a living and how they would deal with an extraordinary son and brother who becomes mentally ill. Its value to the 20th Century is not only telling that story but suggesting that families are not perfect. There are struggles to find answers to the problems of individual family members. It’s a story that reaches out to all of us. It was a joy and an agony to write. It was wonderful to see this family figure out how they were going to live their lives.”
Avery struggled herself with the degree to which she should analyze David Smith’s illness. Should she talk to professionals and try to make a definitive diagnosis? Should she shorten other aspects of the book so she could treat the medical problem in a speculative way? She finally decided to describe Smith’s character the best she could and leave the decision of what his illness might have been to modern clinicians. She has already heard from a variety of medically-trained people who have suggested Smith had hypoglycemia, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or even a frontal lobe tumor.
“I finally decided David deserved to have his story told without a footnote that said his illness might have been alleviated with pills. I’m turning it loose now for the medical professionals.”
While Avery was researching her book, Smith’s grandson, Lynn Smith — then in his 80’s — would occasionally call her and read an intriguing line from a letter in the family collection he was keeping. That way, she knew he had a valuable collection she needed to make the story complete. Lynn would not let her see the papers, but when he died, he donated them to the RLDS Church in Missouri, which granted her immediate access.
An intriguing aspect of Avery’s study is that David Smith never knew his own father. But as he traveled to Utah and talked to many people who did know his father, Smith learned an enormous amount about him. And he started to understand various aspects of his own personality as they related to his father’s.
Avery was impressed with the ways Smith tried to combine his interest in religion with that of science, and how he tried to explain scientific concepts in terms that the average RLDS Church member in Missouri and Iowa could understand. Avery believes that when David became institutionalized, the RLDS Church lost its most compelling spokesman. “They lost the one man most uniquely qualified to bridge the gap between their identity and the larger American public. He understood Mormonism, in the context of both churches, so he could have explained it to the larger American culture.”
Avery also believes that Smith “combined the musical talent of his mother with the charismatic qualities of his father and came out with the very best of both those very strong people.”
(During a visit to Salt Lake City this week, Avery will discuss her book and sign copies during the Sunstone Symposium at the Salt Palace, Friday, July 16, beginning at 12:45 p.m.)read more