I had the occasion recently of teaching our High Priests group lesson # 4 from the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow manual. It starts off with a fairly commonly related story about the visit of apostles Lorenzo Snow and Ezra T. Benson, accompanied by Joseph F. Smith and others, to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) in 1864. The primary reason for the visit had to do with some irregularities in church administration by Walter Gibson, a missionary there. Here is the story as quoted by William Cluff, one of the other members of the church delegation:
In 1864, Elders Lorenzo Snow and Ezra T. Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles went on a mission to the Hawaiian Islands. They were accompanied by three other missionaries: Elders Joseph F. Smith, William Cluff, and Alma L. Smith. When their ship anchored off the coast of the island of Maui, all but Joseph F. Smith boarded a smaller boat to go ashore. As they approached the island, high waves struck, causing the steersman to lose control of the boat. The boat capsized, and all the occupants were thrown into the water. Soon everyone surfaced except Elder Snow. A group of islanders rushed to help, taking William Cluff and Alma L. Smith in a lifeboat to search for their friend. Elder Cluff related:
“The first I saw of Brother Snow was his hair floating upon the water around one end of the capsized boat. As soon as we got him into our boat, we told the boatmen to pull for the shore with all possible speed. His body was stiff, and life apparently extinct.
“Brother A. L. Smith and I were sitting side by side. We laid Brother Snow across our laps, and, on the way to shore, we quietly administered to him and asked the Lord to spare his life, that he might return to his family and home.
“On reaching the shore, we carried him a little way to some large barrels that were lying on the sandy beach. We laid him face downwards on one of them, and rolled him back and forth until we succeeded in getting the water he had swallowed out of him. …
“After working over him for some time, without any indications of returning life, the by-standers said that nothing more could be done for him. But we did not feel like giving him up, and still prayed and worked over him, with an assurance that the Lord would hear and answer our prayers.
“Finally we were impressed to place our mouth over his and make an effort to inflate his lungs, alternately blowing in and drawing out the air, imitating, as far as possible, the natural process of breathing. This we persevered in until we succeeded in inflating his lungs. After a little, we perceived very faint indications of returning life. A slight wink of the eye, which, until then, had been open and death-like, and a very faint rattle in the throat, were the first symptoms of returning vitality. These grew more and more distinct, until consciousness was fully restored.”
Looking back on this experience, Elder William Cluff knew why he and Elder Alma L. Smith were able to save Elder Snow’s life. “We did not only what was customary in such cases,” he said, “but also what the Spirit seemed to whisper to us.”1
All in all, a nice faith promoting story. However, it prompted a couple of questions in my mind, one of which I already knew the answer to, and one that I did not.
Let’s tackle the second question first. How common was the use of mouth to mouth resuscitation as described in Elder Cluff’s account?
My first look appeared to be disappointing. It turns out that mouth to mouth resuscitation, or MMV (Mouth-Mouth Ventilation in the medical libraries), first developed in Europe during the 18th centuries, and in fact became fairly common in some towns in Germany and Holland, according to Wikipedia. However, that article was a little vague concerning the 19th century, and the first half of the 20th. A Google search turned up some links to the National Institutes for Health which had a series of short articles on the history of MMV, which confirmed that indeed, MMV originated in Europe during the 18th century, only to be replaced in the 19th century in Europe by the use of bellows to inflate the lungs of drowning victims or sudden collapse (think Miracle Max in the Princess Bride). However, even this began to fade as the 19th century wore on, and by the 20th century, especially in the United States, most practices centered on lung compression and inflation via techniques such as the arm-lift and back press type, regularly taught by the Red Cross and the Boy Scouts (“Out goes the bad air, in comes the good air”). It was not until the 1950’s that MMV began to see a resurgence, and become the standard means of resuscitation for drowning victims.2
So for a conclusion, it is extremely unlikely that either Benson or Cluff had any knowledge of MMV, and resorted to what was then best practice; in this case, rolling Elder Snow across a barrel to empty his lungs of water. No doubt that this did clear his lungs, but it did not start his breathing. It is not at all a stretch to see the manifestations of the Holy Ghost in this incident, saving Elder Snow’s life.
But the first question is still out there, and maybe it has occurred to you. Did you notice that Joseph F. Smith didn’t get in the smaller boat, but stayed on the ship? Do you know why?
Joseph F. Smith had already served a four year mission in Hawaii, and had made the crossing from Oahu to Maui a number of times, and knew of the particular circumstances of a rough sea, a current that swirled around the jetty near the harbor, and the difficulties of landing in a small boat at certain times. He advised the captain and Apostles Snow and Benson not to get in the boat, but wait until conditions settled down. However, the captain and the Apostles decided to go anyway, along with Elders Cluff and Alma Smith. Joseph F., however, would not get in the boat, and elected to stay on the ship. I don’t know, and it isn’t reported, exactly how the conversation went, but knowing enough about Joseph F. Smith at this still fairly young age, he likely said things along the line of “You’re crazy to get in that boat! You’ll drown!” As senior companions, Snow and Benson may have laughed and called him chicken. At least I would like to think so. But the bottom line is that Joseph F. Smith, acceding to the seniority of his priesthood leaders (also very characteristic of him), let them go, but elected not to go himself until later. Somewhat begrudgingly, they did agree to leave their luggage until later, providentially so as it turned out. I also don’t know if later, Joseph F. Smith said “I told you so,” but it isn’t hard to imagine him responding perhaps a bit temperamentally to the circumstances.3
The conclusions, then, are that even though we sometimes make bad choices, even against the advice of those with more direct knowledge, the Lord still does look out for us, and make allowances for our weaknesses. Apostle Snow obviously got stronger, and later served as President of the Church. But then so did Joseph. F. Smith.
PS – my HP group loved this addition to the story.
- See Eliza R. Snow Smith, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow (1884), 276–79. [↩]
- National Institutes of Health website, accessed February 18, 2012. [↩]
- Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, chapter 18 (I am not sure of the exact pages, because my copy of this is in the Amazon Kindle format, and page numbers don’t correspond to the print version. [↩]