BY ELDER M. RUSSELL BALLARD
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles Carthage, Illinois, Satellite Broadcast Sunday evening, June 26, 1994
I’m so appreciative of being invited by President Hunter and President Hinckley to join with you this evening. It is an overwhelming thing, my brothers and sisters, to stand on this hallowed ground on this most significant day. As a great-great-grandson of Hyrum Smith, it is impossible for me to consider the traumatic events that took place here 150 years ago tomorrow and not be deeply touched in a personal, emotional way. And as a dedicated believer in the great and eternal principles for which Hyrum and his younger brother Joseph gave their lives, I am in awe of their courageous faith and inspired by the testimony of truth they sealed here with their blood.
There is a sweet and peaceful feeling here today, and that is just as it should be. These were men of peace, brothers who were bound by their love of God as well as their love for each other. Although Hyrum was six years older, he recognized Joseph’s sacred and holy calling, and he stood by his younger brother faithfully throughout his life—and death. “During the entire ministry of the Prophet,” one biographer noted, Hyrum and Joseph “were never separated from each other as much as six months at any given time.” 1
President Joseph Fielding Smith, a grandson, described the unique intimacy that existed between brothers Hyrum and Joseph as follows: “No man was ever more closely associated with the Prophet than was the Patriarch Hyrum; no man understood the Prophet better. They were together through most of the trials and difficulties that beset the Saints. Together they shared joy and sorrow, and side by side they stood in their unjust imprisonments, persecutions, and sentence of death.” 2
The two brothers sustained and supported each other through the cruelty to which they were subjected in jail at Richmond and the inhumane treatment in the dungeons of Liberty Jail. While marching with Zion’s Camp, both were stricken with cholera and were literally at death’s door. As they prayed with each other to be healed, Hyrum sprang to his feet, exclaiming, “I have had an open vision, in which I saw mother kneeling under an apple tree; and she is even now asking God, in tears, to spare our lives, that she may again behold us in the flesh. The Spirit testifies, that her prayers, united with ours, will be answered.” 3
As a result of such experiences, Joseph came to depend upon Hyrum just as Moses depended upon Aaron. Of Hyrum, Joseph said: “I could pray in my heart that all my brethren were like unto my beloved brother Hyrum, for truly he possesses the mildness of a Lamb, and the integrity of a Job; and in short the meek and quiet spirit, of Jesus Christ; and I love him with that love, that is stronger than death, for I never had occasion to rebuke him, nor he me.” 4
Brigham Young said that “Hyrum was as good a man as ever lived. … His integrity was of the highest order. … I used to think, and think now, that an angel dwelling in the presence of the Father and the Son possessed no more integrity in their hearts than did Hyrum Smith.” 5 John Taylor said that Hyrum was “a great and good man, and my soul was cemented to his. If ever there was an exemplary, honest, and virtuous man, an embodiment of all that is noble in the human form, Hyrum Smith was its representative.” 6
The Lord Himself, however, gave the greatest tribute to Hyrum when He said, “Blessed is my servant Hyrum Smith; for I, the Lord, love him because of the integrity of his heart, and because he loveth that which is right before me, saith the Lord.” 7
I wish time would permit us to fully explore the spiritual breadth of Hyrum’s testimony as reflected in his sermons and teachings. Perhaps this one quotation will suffice, especially when considered in light of the event we commemorate today. Said Hyrum: “I had been abused and thrust into a dungeon, and confined for months on account of my faith, and the ‘testimony of Jesus Christ.’ However I thank God that I felt a determination to die, rather than deny the things which my eyes had seen, which my hands had handled, and which I had borne testimony to, wherever my lot had been cast; and I can assure my beloved brethren that I was enabled to bear as strong a testimony, when nothing but death presented itself, as ever I did in my life.” 8
When death finally did present itself, Hyrum chose to accept it. Now, that may seem an odd choice of words, given the circumstances that confronted Joseph and Hyrum here at Carthage on 27 June 1844. But according to a First Presidency blessing given to him in 1835, Hyrum was promised power to escape his enemies if he so chose. Listen to the words of the blessing: “Thou shalt have power to escape the hand of thine enemies. Thy life shall be sought with untiring zeal, but thou shalt escape. If it please thee, and thou desirest, thou shalt have the power voluntarily to lay down thy life to glorify God.” 9
With perfect faith in the Lord’s promise, Hyrum was able to face mobs and persecutions, always knowing that he would eventually escape and return to his family. But at Carthage, the time had come to voluntarily lay down his life to glorify God and to “seal his testimony with his blood” 10 —together with his beloved brother Joseph. As Associate President of the Church, Hyrum served as “a prophet, and a seer, and a revelator unto [the] church, as well as … Joseph.” 11 In this capacity he held the keys of the kingdom in concert with his brother. 12 According to President Joseph Fielding Smith, “The sealing of the testimony through the shedding of blood would not have been complete in the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith alone; it required the death of Hyrum Smith who jointly held the keys of this dispensation.” 13
There is no doubt that Hyrum made a conscious decision to join his brother in martyrdom here at Carthage. He was warned at least four times that we know of not to come here. A week before the trip to Carthage, Joseph recorded that “I advised my brother Hyrum to take his family on the next steamboat and go to Cincinnati. Hyrum replied, ‘Joseph, I can’t leave you.’ Whereupon I said to the company present, ‘I wish I could get Hyrum out of the way, so that he may live to avenge my blood.’” 14
On June 24, three days before the Martyrdom, a messenger rode from Carthage to Nauvoo and reported: “Brother Hyrum, you are now clear, and if it was my duty to counsel you, I would say, do not go another foot, for they say they will kill you, if you go to Carthage.” 15 At first Joseph and Hyrum accepted that counsel and crossed to the Iowa side of the Mississippi River. Joseph believed that the Saints in Nauvoo would be safe from hostility because it was the Smith brothers that the mobs wanted. But then word came that some of the fainthearted Saints had called for Joseph’s return, some even accusing him of cowardice. Fittingly, Joseph turned to Hyrum and said, “Brother Hyrum, you are the oldest, what shall we do?” Hyrum responded, “Let us go back and give ourselves up, and see the thing out.” After a moment to assess the situation, Joseph responded, “If you go back I will go with you, but we shall be butchered.” Hyrum’s answer showed his great faith in the Lord and willingness to die for His cause: “Let us go back and put our trust in God,” Hyrum said, “and we shall not be harmed. The Lord is in it. If we live or have to die, we will be reconciled to our fate.” 16
And so Joseph and Hyrum spent the last few days of their mortal lives together as prisoners in Carthage, brothers to the very end. On June 26 Joseph told his brethren, “Could my brother, Hyrum but be liberated, it would not matter so much about me.” 17 Later that evening, as they both prepared for what they must have known was ahead, Hyrum “read … copious extracts from the Book of Mormon” and commented upon them. “Joseph bore a powerful testimony to the guards of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon … and that the Kingdom of God was again upon the earth.” 18
Late in the afternoon of 27 June 1844, a hate-driven mob burst up the stairs and into the room where Hyrum, ever the older brother, was holding the door in an attempt to protect the others. He became the first martyr that dark day, falling to the floor when he was shot, declaring, “I am a dead man!” Joseph’s thoughts went immediately to his brother. He exclaimed, “Oh! my poor, dear brother Hyrum!” 19 John Taylor was the next prisoner to be shot, after which Joseph leapt to the window to draw the mob’s attention. As soon as he was shot and fell to the ground below, the mob rushed outside, leaving the wounded John Taylor to survey the gruesome scene in the room. He later recorded: “I had a full view of our beloved and now murdered brother, Hyrum. There he lay as I had left him; he had not moved a limb; he lay placid and calm, a monument of greatness even in death; but his noble spirit had left its tenement, and was gone to dwell in regions more congenial to its exalted nature.” 20
I think we can all understand the horrible shock and grief members of the Church must have felt as news of the Martyrdom spread to Nauvoo. Dan Jones, who spent the night before the Martyrdom in Carthage but who was not present at the time of the murders, gave this poignant description of what he encountered in Nauvoo upon the return of the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum:
“Oh, the sorrowful scene to be seen 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 they 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 in the middle of the floor, their elderly mother, godly and sorrowful, … a hand on each one of her sons … , 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.’ … ‘Oh, my father.’ And from the hearts of the mothers, ‘My husband killed,’ and the grey-haired mother groaning pitifully, ‘Oh, my sons, my sons.’” 21
Still, Mother Lucy Mack reported that even in the midst of so much grief and despair, there was comfort and peace. As she cried in agony, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken this family!” she reported hearing a voice reply, “I have taken them to myself, that they might have rest.” Then, as she looked upon the mortal remains of her two sons, she said, “I seemed almost to hear them say, ‘Mother, weep not for us, we have overcome the world by love; we carried to them the gospel, that their souls might be saved; they slew us for our testimony, and thus placed us beyond their power; their ascendency is for a moment, ours is an eternal triumph.’” 22
I testify today, my brothers and sisters, that that is true. As John Taylor so fittingly observed, “In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated!
“… Their testament is in force.
“… Their innocent blood … is a broad seal affixed to ‘Mormonism’ that cannot be rejected by any court on earth.” 23
Of this I bear humble testimony. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
- The Life of Joseph F. Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1969), p. 39.
- The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, Apr. 1911, p. 61.
- Leonard J. Arrington and Susan Arrington Madsen, Mothers of the Prophets (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987), p. 20.
- The Papers of Joseph Smith, ed. Dean C. Jessee, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989–92), 1:168.
- Address given by Brigham Young, Salt Lake City Bowery, 8 Oct. 1866, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City.
- History of the Church, 7:107.
- D&C 124:15.
- “A History, of the Persecution, of the Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter-day Saints in Missouri,” Times and Seasons, Dec. 1839, p. 23.
- Kirtland High Council Minutes, Dec. 1832–Nov. 1837, typescript, p. 186, LDS Church Archives.
- D&C 136:39.
- D&C 124:94.
- D&C 124:95.
- Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 1:219.
- History of the Church, 6:520.
- Ibid., 6:557–58.
- Ibid., 6:549–50.
- Ibid., 6:592.
- Dan Jones manuscript, “The Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith,” LDS Church Archives, p. 9.
- History of the Church, 7:102.
- Ibid., 7:107.
- Dan Jones, “The Martyrdom of Joseph Smith and His Brother Hyrum,” Brigham Young University Studies 24, no. 1 (Winter 1984): 93.
- History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958), pp. 324–25.
- D&C 135:3, 5, 7.