What Is Courage?

“What Is Courage?” Friend, Dec. 1973, 16

What Is Courage?

December 23, 1805, the Prophet Joseph Smith was born in Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont. The following account tells of his great courage and love as a young boy.

Joseph Smith, age eight

Or nearly nine,

His peaked face white against

The pillow.

The typhus left him weak

And with an ulcer in his

Neck which caused a deep

And throbbing pain

Until the doctors lanced it,

Giving him some ease.

Then suddenly he called:

“Mother, there is a pain in my leg

So great I scarce can bear it.”

The leg was swelling badly.

Day after day his mother

Held him in her arms

Trying to comfort him.

For two long weeks his brother

Hyrum held his leg,

Elevated it,

Massaging and rubbing it—

All in vain—the pain became

Intense. The pain, the

Deep bone pain.

The surgeons, the best

That could be had in

That day, knew little

Of the causes of disease

Or of infection.

They didn’t sterilize their hands

Or the instruments

They used to cut.

Plenty of people died because

Of this ignorance, but some


No one knows just why.

“It is our best judgment,

After consultation, that

We must amputate his leg

To save his life,” so said

The chief surgeon.

His mother pled,

“Is there not one more

Thing that you can do

To save his leg?”

“We have made

An incision eight inches

Long and

Exposed the bone.

The bone is bad.”

“Can you not cut away the bad

And leave the

Good to heal?”

“All we can do is try.

We can’t be sure.”

“Then try, for I cannot

Bear to have him lose

His leg.”

The boy sat up in bed,

The grave-faced surgeons,

His mother, his father,

Hyrum, all facing him:

“You are not going to cut off

My leg, are you?”

Gravely the surgeon spoke,

“We are going to try to save it,

But to operate we’ll have to

Tie you down. Bring cords!”

“I will not lie tied!

I will endure if Father

Will hold me in his arms

And Mother leaves the room.

She could not bear to see me suffer.

Doctor Stone, will it hurt

More than the cutting did?”

“Much more!

Will you drink this whiskey?

It will help deaden the pain.”


“Then will you drink this wine?”

“No! I’ll endure the best I can

With Father’s help.”

The surgeon broke off

A piece of infected bone.

Joseph screamed with pain.

His mother, hearing,

rushed into the room.

“Go out, Mother! Please go!

I promise I’ll endure.”

She walked the back field,

Too far away to hear,

Until the work was finished.

Finally he lay exhausted,

His pinched white

Boyish face quiet on the pillow.

His father standing over him:

“Good boy! You were brave.

I am proud of you.”

He held his son firm,

His arms like iron bands

Encircling him and holding

Him like cords, yet giving him the

Courage to endure.

Encircling cords are bonds.

Encircling arms are love.

Illustrated by Ron Crosby