Please see the Introduction to this series for the origins of these lessons, written by Elder A.G. Pack, a missionary to England in 1930.
A PROPHECY: On August 6th, 1842, Joseph Smith prophesied that the Saints “would be driven to the Rocky Mountains,” there to build cities and become a mighty people. A Prophet of God foresaw the destinies of his people! He spoke truly in the name of the Lord, as after events amply proved.
TREACHERY AND CONSPIRACY began to be evident the year previous to this prophecy. At a sham battle of the Nauvoo Legion, a plot to kill the Prophet was discovered, after which many falsehoods intended to defame his character were circulated. Attempts were also made to have him return to Missouri to be tried on the false charge of conspiracy to assassinate Governor Boggs. During this time Joseph gave important instructions concerning the work on the Nauvoo Temple, which was then in construction, and on the doctrine of baptism for the dead. [Doctrine and Covenants, Sections 127 and 128.]
Anti-Mormon feeling became openly evident when several of the brethren who had been elected to county offices were threatened by an armed mob when they appeared at Carthage to take the oath of office. Then mobs began to burn the homes of the Saints in the outlying districts around Nauvoo. Governor Ford answered an appeal for help with an implication that the Saints must protect themselves, although he fully understood the dreadful calamities which befell them when they “protected themselves” in Missouri.
In the spring of 1844 apostasy and bitterness increased the unrest in Nauvoo. The Expositor, a slanderous apostate paper, was destroyed by order of the Nauvoo Council because that council declared it to be a public nuisance. This added to the intense feeling. Scheming politicians feared the ascending power of the Mormons. Mobbers, among whom were erstwhile trusted friends, took oath to destroy the Prophet of the Lord.
THE MARTYRDOM: Under the guaranteed pledge of Governor Ford, Joseph, Hyrum and many of their friends went to Carthage to stand “fair trial” for the destruction of the Expositor press, although this act was accomplished by the Nauvoo Constabulary, under order of the full Nauvoo Council who felt this paper to be a power for evil.
The tragic events which followed are well known. On June 27th, 12844, Joseph Smith, the Prophet of God, and Hyrum, his loyal brother, the Patriarch, were foully murdered at the hands of a mob which boasted that if the law could not reach them, then powder and bullets would.
When the scenes and sufferings incident to the martyrdom fell upon the families of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his devoted brother Hyrum, who may tell the agony of suspense, the torture of fear which shook the breasts of the women who waited in vain for that release from prison, which had been miraculously given so often before. Few thought that the arrest would terminate fatally, for the Prophet had been imprisoned and haled into courts over forty times by his enemies. Yet this time, the Prince and powers of the air held sway and the blood of martyrs cried from the ground of Illinois. [Relief Society Magazine, Vol. III, page 129-130.]
GREAT SORROW: Sister Bathsheba W. Smith says:
When I saw their mangled forms cold in death, having been slain for the testimony of Jesus, by the hands of cruel bigots, in defiance of law, justice and executive pledges; and although this was a scene of barbarous cruelty, which can never be erased from the memory of those who witnessed the heartrending cries of widows and orphans … yet I realized that they had sealed their ministry with their blood, and that their testimony was in force. [The Women of Mormondom, p. 382.]
But here and now was the supreme test of that majestic spirit of the martyred Patriarch’s wife, Mary. Was she a true convert to the Gospel as preached by Christ, and afterwards revealed again to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith? Had she the courage of her conversion? Would she now falter and turn aside in this awful crisis? [Relief Society Magazine, Vol. III, page 130.]
No, she did not fail – she triumphed gloriously. Carrying her also over the stormy trail was the divine light of testimony which burned within our bosom. She remained faithful to the day of her death.
BRIGHAM YOUNG AS LEADER: On the 8th of August, 1844, Brigham Young and the Twelve Apostles were sustained as the leaders of the Church. The Saints worked untiringly in the midst of poverty to complete the Temple. Meanwhile the fiends and murderers of the Prophet continued to incite strife against the Saints, upon whom were inflicted many outrages and persecutions.
THE EXPULSION: On February 4th, 1846, the drama of Missouri was being repeated. Brigham Young promised to lead the Saints from Nauvoo in the summer, as soon as they could gather sufficient equipment; but the mob leaders, in their hurry for plunder, gave no quarter and forced them from their homes in the dead of winter, unprepared for the rigours of life in the wilderness. Saints began crossing the Mississippi River in their memorable trek westward.
The heroism of the Mormon women rose to more than tragic splendour in the exodus. … In Nauvoo the Saints had heard the magic call, “To your tents, O Israel!” And in sublime faith and trust, such as history seldom records, they had obeyed, ready to follow their leader whithersoever he might direct their pilgrim feet.
The Mormons were setting out, under their leader, from the borders of civilization, with their wives and children, in broad daylight, before the eyes of ten thousand of their enemies, who would have preferred their utter destruction to their “flight.” … These, too, were to be followed by the aged, the halt, the sick and the blind, who were to be helped by their little less destitute brethren, and the delicate young mother with her new-born babe at her breast. [The Women of Mormondom, pp. 301-303.]
SISTER WINTERS (Pen Picture): Sister Mary Ann Stearns Winters, mother of Augusta Winters Grant, wife of President Heber J. Grant, touchingly relates how they left Nauvoo:
The anguish and suspense of those dreadful hours can never be told in words. And I will never forget the unflinching faith and courage of that devoted band of women.
Hour after hour we watched the teams carrying the families, as they wended their way to the river to be ferried over to Iowa, a place of peace and safety. We prepared to leave our comfortable home with a knowledge in our hearts that we were never to return to it again. The stove on the hearth – the furniture standing round – the pictures on the wall – all were given a parting look, and then my mother, taking her little children repaired to the graves of our loved ones from which we were soon to be parted forever. … Farewell, our loved home, farewell, our cherished dead – farewell, beautiful Nauvoo. …
About four o’clock we were deposited on the bank of the Mississippi River … The bank was lined with people, all in the same condition, driven from home, but, oh! it was a joy to be so closely associated with those faithful ones, and many were the words of cheer and comfort that passed from one to another in that trying hour. [Relief Society Magazine, Vol. IV, pp. 79-80.]
On the westward side of the river even more trying scenes were being enacted. Colonel Thomas L. Kane paints a vivid picture:
Attracted by a faint light near the bank, he approached the spot, there to find a few haggard faces surrounding one who seemed to be in the last stages of fever. The sufferer was partially protected by something like a tent made from a couple of bed sheets; and amid such environment, the spirit was pluming itself for flight. Making his way through this camp of misery, he heard the sobbings of children hungry and sick; there were men and women dying from wounds or disease, without a semblance of shelter or other physical comfort; wives in the pangs of maternity, ushering into the world innocent babes doomed to be motherless from their birth. And at intervals, to the ears of those outcasts, the sick and the dying, the wind brought the soul-piercing sounds of the revelling mob in the distant city, the scrap of vulgar song, the shocking oath, shrieked from the temple tower in the madness of drunken orgies. [The Story of Mormonism, Talmage, pp. 49-50.]
THE AGAIN EXILED REFUGEES gathered on Sugar Creek, midst scenes of trial and suffering beyond description. They scraped away the snow to pitch their tents on the frozen ground; during that first encampment the weather was bitter cold, which caused much privation.
And what of the Mormon women? Around them circles almost a tragic romance. Fancy may find abundant subject for graphic story of the devotion, the suffering, the matchless heroism of the sisters, in the telling incident that nine children were born to them the first night they camped out on Sugar Creek, February 4th, 1846. … that night suffering nature administered to them the mixed cup of woman’s supremest joy and pain … Ah, who shall fitly picture the lofty heroism of the Mormon women! [The Women of Mormondom, pp. 304-306.]
1. – Why does the remarkable prophecy of Joseph Smith that the Saints “would be driven to the Rocky Mountains,” stamp him as a true Prophet of God?
2. – Why does over-ambition and jealousy often cause apostasy?
3. – Locate Carthage. Relate the incident of June 27th, 1844. (Refer to church histories and get Elders’ help if necessary.)
4. – Why were they taken to gaol? – and under what protection? In what way were they literally martyrs to the Truth?
5. – What were the feelings of the women who waited in vain for Joseph and Hyrum to return?
6. – For what reasons did the Saints leave Nauvoo? When did the exodus take place?
7. – Describe the touching scenes incident to their departure.
8. – Locate Sugar Creek. In what way were these people matchlessly heroic?
9. – “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief,” was one of Joseph Smith’s favourite hymns. At the Prophet’s request, John Taylor sang it in Carthage Gaol the night before the martyrdom. Sing this hymn for closing exercises.