Mormon History

Anniversary of Joe's Death - 1894

The Salt Lake Tribune

June 26, 1894


The  Assassination  of  Joseph  and  Hyrum  Smith.


Conditions Under Which the People Then Lived -- Nauvoo's Promise of Becoming a Great Metropolis -- Talks With Catherine Salisbury, Sister of Joseph and Hyrum -- Lucy Smith's "History of Joseph Smith."

Correspondence Tribune.

                                              Carthage, Ill., June 22, 1894.
On the 27th of this month, next Wednesday, occurs the fiftieth anniversary of the massacre of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the Mormon prophets, at the old stone jail in this city. The old jail still stands, but has been greatly beautified both externally and internally by its present owners and occupants, Mr. and Mrs. James M. Browning. However, this anniversary will hardly be celebrated here, unless a few curious visitors beg admission to the residence to view the dark stains upon the oaken floor and bullet marks in the casements and windows of the upper hallway and room where Joseph and Hyrum Smith were shot to death, and where John Taylor, late president of the Mormon Church was wounded.

The story of the massacre is familiar to all who have made any sort of a study of the history of Illinois. Mrs. Browning, who is so gracious to all visitors, says that it is surprising how many different versions of the story of the tragedy are rife. She has heard the story told in more than a dozen different ways, and by some Mormons themselves who it is thought, should be better posted. It is not infrequently the case that small delegations from Salt Lake visit the old jail. Not long since a band of Mormons came to the Browning home and begged that they might see the interior of the historic pile. All reputable people are admitted to the building if they ask the permission. This little band of Mormons moved about the sacred old building, and, as they gazed upon the dark, rusty stains where the life blood of Joseph, the martyr, poured out, their tears streamed softly down their cheeks. Some came to beg a leaf or a flower and get a handful of earth from the place where stands the old jail. It is a historic shrine -- the shrine of the martyred prophet.

The Mormons came to Illinois from Missouri in about 1839. They selected a site -- the present location of Nauvoo -- on the banks of the Mississippi river, and here began the erection of buildings for homes, workshops, tithing-houses and, greatest of all, a magnificent temple that cost a million of dollars in money and labor. Nauvoo bade fair to become the leading city of the West. In 1844 she was a city of nearly 30,000 inhabitants. Joseph Smith had issued an edict that all Mormons from all parts of the world, should come to Nauvoo, making this spot the last place -- the new Zion -- where the work of the last days should begin. In answer to this call the faithful began to stream into the city. The Gentiles, so-called, the general populace of Hancock county, became alarmed at the growing religious and political strength of the Mormons, and, as the Mormons charge, became intensely jealous of the material, political and religious progress of the Saints. There can be no doubt that the Illinois Legislature, of which William Smith, a brother of the prophet, was a member by suffrage of Mormon votes, granted unconstitutional charter to the Mormons. Under these special acts it is claimed that Smith and his leaders did a great many illegal things. The culmination of all the trouble, however, was the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor office by order of Mayor Joseph Smith, at Nauvoo, some time about the middle of June, 1844. This led to Smith's arrest. Francis and Joseph Higbee and others had renounced Smith and started the Expositor. But one copy was issued, but it bristled with assaults upon Smith and the Mormons. Its publication was ordered to be suppressed by the City Council of Nauvoo, and the press and type were broken and thrown into the river. It is said that the press has since been on exhibition in Chicago, but it is doubtful whether the parts were ever rescued from the bosom of the father of waters." Joseph and Hyrum Smith, John Taylor and a Mr. Richards were arrested and taken to the jail in Carthage. They were treated with considerable condescension by Jailer Walker Stigall, and were placed in a large suite in the upper story, known as the debtors' room. Smith had prophesied his death, and evidently he expected trouble, for when the mob did come, about 4 o'clock on the afternoon of June 27th, 1844, he fired into them several times with an old-fashioned "pepper-box" revolver, wounding two or three of the assailants. The mob was composed of men who wore disguises and who did their work quickly. A detail of local military organization called the "Carthage Grays" were stationed about the jail, but they "stood in" with the mob. Their guns were loaded with only powder and wadding. After discharging their rifles the "guards" ran away and joined the other citizens in leaving the town deserted. Old Artois Hamilton and a few other brave souls remained. Hamilton cared for the dead, and also saw that John Taylor's wounds were dressed. He took the bodies of the Smiths to Nauvoo the following day, where in a short address, he turned them over to the sorrowing people.

Few witnesses to that tragedy now survive. The recent death of Judge Thomas Coke Sharpe, editor of the Carthage Gazette, removed one of the defendants charged with the killing. He and all indicted by the grand jury for the murder were acquited on trial. There lives near Fountain Green, in this county, Mrs. Catherine Salisbury, a sister of the prophet Joseph Smith. She resides with her son Fred Salisbury, who is a farmer of that section. Mother Salisbury, as she is known, is now 82 years old, and has a remarkable memory. She resembles her noted brother very little save in stature. Her chief resemblance is to her brother's son, the present Joseph Smith, president of the Mormon Church at Lamoni, Ia.

A visit to this country home recently found the good lady at leisure, and as ever, in a kindly mood to welcome visitors. She said: "Some of the newspaper men have not always treated us right in their stories of Mormon times. And then there have been historians who have misquoted facts, whether by accident or design I know not, but the facts were sadly at variance. All we aks is justice. We are not ashamed of our church, its teachings or its history. We have nothing to conceal."

Mother Salisbury says she came to Illinois in 1838, a short time prior to the general hegira of Mormons from Missouri into Illinois. Joseph was in bondage in Missouri, and the Mormons first came to Quincy. As soon as Joseph was liberated the people settled at Nauvoo. Mrs. Salisbury says their family, however, located near the present site of Macomb. She was married to Wilkins J. Salisbury June 8, 1831, and moved with him to this State, afterwards locating at Plymouth, in this county. She frequently visited Nauvoo during the Mormon ascendency. Her brothers were very good to her, and every time there was a grand fete or a religious gathering of unusual importance, they sent for Sister Catherine. "I was in Nauvoo a few days before my brothers were brought to Carthage, where they met their death. I shall never forget that Saturday, June 23, 1844, when I last saw my brothers alive. Joseph had preached a sermon to the largest crowd I have ever seen. It was his last sermon. I might say that it was more in the nature of a prophecy than a sermon, for he said, turning on the platform where he stood and facing some of the high priests and Elders sitting there: 'There are those among you who will betray me soon; in fact, you have plotted to deliver me up to the enemy to be slain.' The truth of this prophecy is of history. He was betrayed, and by his own alleged best friends. These same fellows attempted to assume the reigns of the church at his death. They not only attempted this, but they attempted to introduce obnoxious teachings into the church. My nephew, the present Joseph Smith, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints at Lamoni, Ia., is the true and only successor of Joseph Smith, the martyr.

"I returned to my home that Saturday evening and I shall never forget the parting with Joseph and Hyrum. That picture you hold in your hand shows how Joseph and Hyrum were dressed as they bade me good-bye. Joseph took my hands tenderly in his, saying: 'Good-bye, Sister Catherine. When this trouble blows over I will come down to Plymouth and make you a visit.' Hyrum said 'Good-bye,' simply, but with a deeper feeling than I had ever known him to entertain. It was my farewell to them on this earth."

Mother Salisbury says that the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum Smith lie buried in the old family burying lot near the Mansion house in Nauvoo. "There was a price set on Joseph's head, and we concealed the bodies for a day and a night. Then we buried them near the old home. There was no secrecy about their resting place. When 'Aunt Emma' Smith, who later was Mrs. Major C. L. [sic. - L. C.?] Bidamon died, her six nephews buried her near the brick vault where rest the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum. The story that the bodies were taken to Salt Lake is without foundation."

Mother Salisbury very kindly exhibited a number of photographs of her family to the visitor, and loaned him a book, "The History of Joseph Smith," written by the Prophet's mother, Lucy Smith. It gives a detailed account of the origin of the families on both sides, and the genealogy of the families is arranged in a methodical order. She pays a high tribute to Joseph, whom she gives a most excellent and Christian character. She refers to his fortitude in withstanding pain under the surgeon's knife. That she believed her son to be inspired of God, and that his religion and all his acts were authorized from on high, appears upon the very face of the book. She indulges in scathing criticism of the civil authorities of Illinois and Missouri in their alleged failure to hear the appeals of a persecuted and downtridden people. Her story of the murder of her two sons is pathetic in the extreme.

Outside of Nauvoo few landmarks of Mormonism remain in this county. At Webster and Fountain Green, in the vicinity of Mother Salisbury's home, there are yet evidences of the Mormon settlements established there when those people first came to Illinois. The old jail at Carthage and a little old brick house near by are about the only landmarks left of the Mormon era, so far as Carthage is concerned.

Despite the fact that the tragedy occurred fifty years ago, public interest in the story has not grown old, nor will it ever grow old. It is like "Uncle Tom's Cabin," in that the ever rising generation will want to hear the story, and, if possible, visit Nauvoo and the old jail at Carthage.

There are few if any Mormons of the old school in this county. The representatives of the Lamoni Church, however, are very numerous, and they have several meeting-houses. These people are among the best citizens of the county.   GAY DAVIDSON

Note: For record of other interviews with Catherine Smith Salisbury, see the Lamoni, Iowa Saints' Herald of May 6, 1993, The Carthage Republican of May 16, 1894, and the The Kansas City Times of Apr. 11, 1895. The May 16, 1894 interview record is very similar to the June 24, 1894 Tribune text, but does not include Catherine's allegation that her brothers were murdered according to the secret plans of "his own alleged best friends," who can only be those members of the Council of the Twelve who remained loyal to Brigham Young.