Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Skeletons of Joseph and Hyrum Smith Uncovered, 1928

Skeletons of Joseph and Hyrum Smith Uncovered, 1928

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 29, 2013

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Below are transcriptions of numerous articles appearing in American newspapers in February 1928. Be aware that there are many, many inaccuracies in what is reported – if you haven’t heard some idea before, it’s probably wrong!


Engineer Discovers Grave of Church Founder in Nauvoo Cellar.

NAUVOO, Ill., Jan. 19. – (AP) – From the basement of a squalid, deserted house in Nauvoo at last has come final settlement of a controversy that has disturbed Mormonism for more than eighty-three years.

The controversy, centered over the location of the graves of Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, and his brother, Hyrum, who were shot and killed by a mob on June 24, 1844, after which their bodies were secretly buried, was terminated by the discovery of the graves in the moldy basement. The discovery was made by W.O. Hand, a Kansas City, Mo., civil engineer, and members of the local church, now reorganized.

Location of the graves has recalled a stirring episode in the pioneering of the Mormon church in Illinois.

In addition to his leadership in the struggling sect, Joseph was mayor of Nauvoo, which then had a population of about 25,000, as compared to today’s estimated 1,000. Hyrum, the brother assisted him in his multiple duties.

Split by Polygamy.

It was at this time that the question of polygamy caused a split among followers of the sect. This difference culminated shortly afterward when the Nauvoo Expositor published its first edition in which it espoused the teaching of polygamy as an article of Mormon faith. The city council ordered destruction of the newspaper’s plantal most immediately after the first issue. It was destroyed and the two Smith brothers and several others who were parties of action against the newspaper, were charged with treason and thrown into the Hancock county jail at Carthage, Ill.

Feeling against the prisoners was so intense that a company of Illinois militia, known as the Carthage Grays, was ordered to protect them at the jail. The angered mob, however, broke thru and shot and killed the two brothers.

Widow Removed Bodies.

A few days later, Joseph Smith’s widow, Emma, placed the bodies on a wagon and removed them to the old “mansion house” at Nauvoo. The wife then caused a mock funeral to be held, the supposed caskets of the brothers being filled with stones. Later, the bodies were secretly buried by the widow.

Since the burial the Mormons have sung the story in the hymn, “There’s an unknown grave in a green, lowly spot.”

Always there has been controversy between the followers of Brigham Young and those who remained in the middle west, followers of the Smith Mormon faith, as to the burial place of the brothers.

Frederick M. Smith of Independence, Mo., president of the reorganized church, known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who was in Nauvoo today to view the graves and, it was thought, planned removal of the bodies to a more fitting shrine.

Identification of the skeletons removed from the basement graves was aided by a hole, as from a bullet, in the skull of one of them. Hyrum Smith, the church history showed, was shot thru the head.

Other evidence in the possession of the church has made identification certain, said J.A. Gardner, director of publicity of the reorganized church, who made public the result of the Hands excavations.



KANSAS CITY, Jan. 19. – (AP) – The bodies of Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, and his brother, Hyrum, found at Nauvoo, Ill., will be placed in a tomb there, officials of the reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints announced today at their headquarters in Independence, a suburb.

It was announced that the bodies would be placed in a large concrete tomb on the spot where they have rested for more than eighty years. Eventually a monument will be erected on the concrete base, described as visible for many miles because of its location a short distance from the bank of the Mississippi river.

Officials said they had made positive identification of the bodies along with those of Emma Hale Smith, wife of Joseph Smith, and Lucy Mack, his mother.



Unmarked Graves of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Slain by Mob, Discovered in Illinois

NAUVOO (Ill.) Jan. 18 (Exclusive) – The unmarked grave of Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, and that of his brother, Hyrum, patriarch in the early church, shot and killed together by a mob on June 27, 1844, and secretly buried, have been discovered near this early Mormon stronghold, it was revealed today.

The bones of the two men were taken from graves in the basement of an old ruined structure in the vicinity of the “old homestead” of Joseph Smith, where they have rested ever since his death as “the martyr.” In the head of one of the skeletons is a hole as from a bullet and that, together with other evidence known to the members of the present-day reformed “reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” makes them authentic. Joseph’s brother, Hyrum, was shot through the head.

The graves were found by W.O. Hand of Kansas City, Mo., a civil engineer, and the local members of the reorganized church, of which there are only fifty or sixty.

Controversy Closed

The discovery ends a controversy of almost eighty-four years’ standing as to whether the bodies had been removed from their resting places in 1846 – two years after the men were shot – and taken by Brigham Young and his followers to Salt Lake City.

Joseph and his brother, Hyrum, were shot down in the Hancock County Jail at Carthage, Ill., in June, 1844, after they had been arrested on a charge of treason brought against them in connection with the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor, a newspaper given over to the exposition of polygamy in Mormonism.

The City Council of the Nauvoo of that time, a city of some 25,000 to 50,000 population, had ordered the destruction of the publication’s plant after the initial issue. Joseph, founder of the Mormon cult, leader of the Mormons also was Mayor of Nauvoo.

Both Shot to Death

Smith, his brother and several others who were parties to the action against the Expositor were in the County Jail under the supposed protection of the “Carthage Grays,” a company of Illinois State Militia, when a mob broke in.

Joseph and Hyrum were shot to death and a few days later the bodies were removed in a wagon and brought to the old “Mansion House” in Nauvoo. Smith’s widow, Emma, caused a mock funeral to be conducted, the supposed caskets of the brothers being filled with stones. Later the bodies were secretly buried by the widow.

Since the burial the Mormons have sung “There’s an Unknown Grave in a Green, Lowly Spot,” making it their dirge, and always there has been controversy between the old followers of Brigham Young and the handful of those who remained in Illinois and the Middle West whether the bodies had been taken west or had been left in their secret resting places.



Skeletons of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, prophet and patriarch of the Mormon church, were located Monday afternoon by members of the L.D.S. Church, headed by W.O. Hands of Kansas City, Mo. Identification of Hyrum Smith is possible because of a bullet wound which was inflicted in his head at the time he met death in Carthage. The skeletons were uncovered within the crumbled walls of a basement about 35 feet from the “Old Homestead.

The discovery by Mr. Hands and associates is an event of considerable importance to the people of the sect, and definitely ends a controversy of eighty-four years’ standing.

What disposal will be made of the remains is not known, but some action is expected as the result of the visit here today by President Frederick M. Smith, President of the church and John Gardner, publicity manager, who are here to take charge of the remains.

The question as to where the real burial place of Joseph and Hyrum Smith was located has been a mooted one for years. The generation preceding the present one was as much in the dark on that point as those now living.

Mr. Hands, a civil engineer of Kansas City, was sent out by the L.D.S. Church officials of Independence, Mo., to make surveys of the property owned hereby the sect.

It will be remembered that several years ago a movement was started with the purpose of erecting a suitable monument here in memory of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the martyrs. The church took up the matter earnestly and several days ago, Mr. Hands arrived here to mark the location of the proposed monument, and to take steps to put in a base 10 feet square, preparatory to the erection of the monument. Mr. Hands in considering where to locate the monument, determined, if possible to find the bodies of the prophet and patriarch. The exact location could not be told by anyone. For years it was the belief of some that the bodies were buried in front of the “Old Homestead.” Some thought the bodies were buried, or in the basement of a building, which for years has been razed; others thought that the bodies were buried in the vicinity of Emma’s grave – the wife of the prophet. Her grave is marked and the slab shows she died, April 30, 1897.

Mr. Hands, with J.W. Layton, who is superintendent of the property of the church here, and A.L. Sanford, D.D. Headdy, Wilford Wood, August Lee, Jesse Fisher, Elbert Lambert, David R. Stevenson began making excavations on the “Old Homestead” grounds Monday. After working in a place near the lake shore during the morning, they determined that was not the location. With one accord, Monday afternoon, they began to dig at a spot 35 feet south of the southeast corner of the “Old Homestead”and thence 67 feet due west. As the work progressed they found the ruins of a basement. They reached the floor of the basement and then, carefully continuing the digging came upon the skeletons of two adults. The skull of the skeleton on the north side showed that directly beneath the right eye-socket was a bullet hole. History reveals that Hyrum, the patriarch, was shot with a rifle ball that penetrated his head at that particular place. That mark distinguishes the two skulls.

The basement ruins in which the skeletons were found was about 8×8 feet.

The floor of the basement was laid of tile and the walls were of brick and stone.

It was claimed years ago that the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum Smith were buried in a basement, but it was thought that at the time the bodies were brought from Carthage at night, succeeding the day of the assassination, that they were buried in the “Old Homestead” basement to be kept there for several days, or until another burial place might be determined upon.

The skeletons were found within six feet west and a little south of where lie the remains of Emma Smith Bidamon.



NAUVOO, Ill., Jan.19.– Two bodies, removed from unmarked graves on a lonely prairie near here, were positively identified here this afternoon as those of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, founders of Mormonism.

Identification was made by Frederick M. Smith, grandson, from clothing and certain marks. Close by was found the grave of Emma Hale Smith, wife of the leader of the religion.

It was explained by Smith, who is familiar with the history of his family, that the sites of the graves were known to a scant half dozen persons.

In 1844, Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, were shot down by a violent mob. The family, fearing further depredations, arranged for a public funeral, attended by 20,000 persons. But in the casket were only sandbags. With pomp and ceremony the bags inside the coffins were lowered into graves and prepared in the “mansion” home of Joseph Smith on the Mississippi River.

In the dead of night the bodies were taken to a place, known only to the widow, and buried.

Knowledge of the secret graves was handed down from father to son.

On January 11, 1928, under the direction of Frederick Hands, civil engineer, of Kansas City, work of excavation began. The bodies were identified today.

Frederick Smith announced a vast monument was to be erected over the side of the graves which may be seen for miles around, because of its advantageous position overlooking the Mississippi.



NAUVOO, Ill., Jan. 19. (UP) – Two skeletons, believed to be the remains of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, early leaders of Mormonism, have been found in the cellar of an old farmhouse near here, it was learned today.

For years Mormons have disputed whether their early leaders – who were shot to death in a fight with non-Mormons – were buried in one of the Mormon homes here or whether their bodies were removed secretly.

W.O. Hand, Kansas City, Mo., civil engineer, discovered the graves.

The Smiths were shot to death by a mob in a jail at Carthage, Ill., where they were awaiting trials.


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