On this Day in Church History the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother the Patriarch Hyrum Smith were martyred at Carthage Jail (June 27, 1844)
Even though it’s been 177 years since the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, the place where it happened still stands. You would think Carthage Jail would be depressing to visit, but the place is eerily triumphant. I write “eerily” because there is a palpable spirit there. It’s almost unlike anywhere I’ve been. The site is quiet and somber, but again, triumphant. Why?
All those years ago a large group of armed men covered their faces in mud and gunpowder so that they could go and kill Joseph Smith in anonymity.1 I don’t know why they wanted to do it, but I suppose they thought if they were successful in killing the prophet they would also be successful in destroying all that he had established in his lifetime.
Little did they know that on the spot where they murdered two innocent men a statue would be erected in Joseph and Hyrum’s honor. Little did they know that the church that Joseph Smith restored, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, would not be destroyed but rather, would grow across the globe until church buildings and temples dotted many lands. Little did they know that Carthage Jail would never crumble and stands today as a sentinel and a witness of the murder of two faithful, good, and innocent men.
I had the opportunity of touring the jail with Sister Jenna Kastigar from Gilbert, Arizona and Sister Sadie Littlewood from South Jordan, Utah.
Sister Kastigar said, “Many people are visibly moved by the experiences of Joseph and Hyrum that we share here.” Sister Littlewood said most people leave with an appreciation for the Prophet and his brother. “Their countenances change when they leave,” she said.
“The spirit here is very powerful—almost undeniable,” said Sister Littlewood. “Often times I feel that the Saints are here with us.”
It’s easy to agree with her. While we sat in the room where the Prophet was killed the sisters sang the same song that was sung 177 years ago. The Prophet Joseph and his brother were seeking comfort. They listened to their friend John Taylor sing the song “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.” The brothers liked it so much they requested Brother Taylor sing it a second time. Earlier they had also found solace in the words from the Book of Mormon. Hyrum even folded down the corner of the page in which he had been reading in Ether 12.2
You can’t help but leave that sacred site feeling changed. After I went home I read the lyrics to “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” and read chapter 12 in the book of Ether. It was humbling to read the same words that they heard and read before they were killed.
The sisters encourage visitors to come and experience Carthage Jail. Sister Kastigar said, “There’s nothing quite like it. You get to literally walk on the same floor boards as the Prophet and his brother, see the same door that they braced, and witness the Spirit of the place where they bravely sacrificed all to defend Truth.”
Sister Littlewood said, “I would encourage them to visit because its an experience they can’t receive anywhere else. They are standing in the place where the prophet and patriarch were martyred. That marks this site as sacred and holy. You have this feeling of gratitude, triumph and love for these men and their sacrifice.”
The Spirit felt at Carthage Jail is difficult to describe, but the result of that feeling can be summed up in one word: gratitude. I get to live my faith today directly because of the sacrifice of Joseph and Hyrum and their families. They died so that we could live our faith. I’m so grateful for them. But Joseph and Hyrum didn’t die for us. They died for someone else.
As it says in the lyrics to the song,
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 ashamed. These deeds shall thy memorial be; Fear not, thou didst them unto me.”3