The Incomparable Joseph Smith
January 1972

“The Incomparable Joseph Smith,” New Era, Jan. 1972, 14

The Incomparable Joseph Smith

It is a warm day—June 29, 1844.

A boat approaches a horseshoe bend in the Mississippi River. On that bend is a city. A traveler on the boat seeks to find the city on his map, but the map, printed a few years previously, shows no such city. On inquiry, he is told that the city is Nauvoo. A brief stop is to be made.

At the docking, the traveler becomes curious as to why long lines of people wait to enter a large home on the river front. Being in no hurry, he informs the boat’s captain that he is going to remain in Nauvoo, perhaps overnight.

As he approaches the end of the line, it becomes apparent that these are grief-stricken people. The ladies and many men are weeping.

“Excuse me,” he says, approaching a mourner, “but what are these lines for?”

The mourner looks up in amazement: “You mean you don’t know?”

“I’m a stranger here,” he says. “I just arrived on the boat.”

“Oh,” replies the mourner. “We are waiting to view the bodies of Lieutenant General Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum who were killed two days ago.”

“Lieutenant General Smith?” the visitor says questioningly.

“Yes, he was the lieutenant general of the Nauvoo Legion, an army of 5,000 men.”

“How many others were killed with them?” asks the visitor.

“None. That is probably the main reason why Joseph died. He believed that his enemies wanted his life alone, and if he had to die, he thought that the lust for blood would be satisfied without the rest of us being killed. He wanted his brother Hyrum to live, but Hyrum insisted on remaining at his side.”

“How did the trouble begin that led to their death?” asks the traveler.

“Well, the public reason given was the destruction of the press of the Nauvoo Expositor,” replies the mourner. “The newspaper was owned by Joseph’s enemies, and they published slanderous and inflammatory articles and lies, seeking to build hatred against Joseph Smith. So an order to close the paper was issued by the city council and the mayor, Joseph Smith.”

“Joseph Smith was also the mayor of this city?”


“This must be a very new city,” says the traveler. “It isn’t even on my map.”

“Yes, it is new. Just six years ago this was nothing but a swamp.”

Shaking his head in disbelief, the traveler says, “It is a beautiful city. I noticed as I came up the river that the farms and corrals are outside of town.”

“Yes, this is the way Joseph planned the city.”

“Joseph planned this city?

“Yes, so that the people, mostly farmers, could have the advantages of city life—so that we might associate together and learn from each other.”

The traveler then comments on the wide, straight streets and the well-built houses and wonders what the large building under construction is to be. The mourner informs him that it is the temple and that Joseph had designed it to be the dominant landmark in the city.

“Joseph Smith designed the temple!” the stranger exclaims. He then remembers: “You were telling me what led to his death.”

“Oh, yes, the Expositor incident,” says the mourner. “But the trouble began a long time ago, even before Joseph translated the ancient record.”

“He was a translator?” repeats the visitor. “What happened to the translation of this ancient record.”

“It has been published. It is called the Book of Mormon.”

“Has he published any other books?” asks the stranger.

“Oh, yes, as president of the Church …”

“President of the Church?” exclaims the visitor.

“Yes, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Almost everyone here in Nauvoo is a member of the Church. As president he published the Doctrine and Covenants and …”

“What kind of book is that?” asks the amazed traveler.

“It is a book of revelations that were given to the Prophet Joseph Smith …”

“The Prophet Joseph Smith!”

“Yes. God the Father and his resurrected son Jesus Christ appeared to him and conversed with him in his youth. In fact, it was after Joseph, full of joy and enthusiasm, told his neighbors he had seen a vision that the persecution first began. Not only was Joseph persecuted, but also all of his followers were. Why, some of the people you see here have been driven from homes in New York, Ohio, and Missouri. In Missouri none of us were paid for our losses. Joseph tried to obtain redress but was refused. That’s the principle reason why he became a candidate for the presidency of the United States.”

“A candidate for the presidency of the United States!” cries out the bewildered stranger.

The mourner continues: “It was four days ago that Joseph bid a reluctant farewell to his family, looked longingly at the temple and then at his farm, and said, ‘This is the loveliest place and best people under the heavens.’ He then rode toward the county seat at Carthage to turn himself over to his enemies. He said, ‘I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am as calm as a summer’s morning.’ He was promised protection and a fair trial, but two days ago, on June 27, a band of over a hundred men with blackened faces stormed the jail. A few moments later, Joseph and Hyrum lay dead.”

“How old was he?” asks the traveler.

“Thirty-eight years old,” says the mourner.

The visitor looks on in disbelief and thinks to himself: “Lieutenant general, translator, author, mayor, prophet, Church president, city planner, architect, presidential candidate—what manner of man was this Joseph Smith?”

This little scene has been imaginary, but well might many people have thought these things about Joseph Smith. In fulfillment of Moroni’s prophecy to Joseph at seventeen years of age, his name has been known “for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.” (JS—H 1:33.)

There are few places in the civilized world where people have not heard of Mormons and, by association, Joseph Smith. Even 4,000 years ago, the famed Joseph who was sold into Egypt said, “And his name shall be after me; and it shall be after the name of his father. And he shall be like unto me; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation.” (2 Ne. 3:15.)

In fact, there are more biblical prophecies foretelling the work to be started by Joseph Smith in the latter days than any other single subject in scripture, except the great number of prophecies having to do with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for our sins.

After Joseph’s death, the Lord caused to have written and included as scripture the following idea: “… Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.” (D&C 135:3.)

There are few who have not already heard or read much about Joseph Smith, Jr. His life, incidents in it, quotes by people who knew him—all conceivable variety of facts have been consistently gleaned for well over a hundred years by loving and interested Latter-day Saints.

So if you’re an average Latter-day Saint reader, you already know most of the recorded details concerning the First Vision; the golden plates and their translation; the coming of John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John to restore the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods; and the actual visitations of many other famous persons of the world’s past—Adam, Noah, Moses, Elijah, Elias, Mormon, Nephi, Raphael, and others. You know about the hundreds of revelations received: about the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham; about the many doctrines of the Church; about the great and intricate organization Joseph set up for the Savior—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; about the ordinances of this Church that are for your salvation, from baptism to temple work; and about a thousand and one other facts and items and stories and historical events and vignettes.

What then could there be that might be new? Not only new, but worthwhile and meaningful enough to relay here? We think we have something. Even though many scholars and others have gathered many facts and stories, new insights continue to come to the surface as new minds look things over.

We turned to the six-volume Documentary History of the Church and then looked for those places where he commented about his family, about how he cared and loved them.

Following are some randomly selected entries from the Documentary History. No matter what else you have heard or thought about Joseph Smith, we think this will present in a new way something that really matters in life—how we behave to all those around us.

On Emma, his wife:

—“… with what unspeakable delight, and what transports of joy swelled my bosom, when I took by the hand … my beloved Emma—she that was my wife, even the wife of my youth, and the choice of my heart. Many were the reverberations of my mind when I contemplated for a moment the many scenes we had been called to pass through, the fatigues and the toils, the sorrows and sufferings, and the joys and consolations, from time to time, which had strewed our paths and crowned our board. Oh what a commingling of thought filled my mind for the moment, again she is here, even in the seventh trouble—undaunted, firm, and unwavering—unchangeable, affectionate Emma.” (5:107.)

—“Rode out with Emma and visited my farm … spent the remainder of the day at home.” (5: 207.)

—“In the evening rode out in my carriage with Emma.” (5:360.)

—“Walked to the store with Emma. …” (5:21)

—“Spent the forenoon chiefly in conversation with Emma on various subjects … both felt in good spirits and very cheerful.” (5:92.)

—“Rode to Willoughby, in company with my wife, to purchase some goods. …” (2:290.)

—“I rode with Emma in a sleigh.” (6:170.)

—“After meeting, I rode out with Emma. The trees begin to bud forth.” (6:279.)

—“In the afternoon I rode out with Emma … The peach trees look beautiful.” (6:326.)

In the fall of 1842, Emma became seriously ill. Some random entries:

—“This day, Emma began to be sick with fever; consequently I kept in the house with her all day.” (5:166.)

—“Emma is no better. I was with her all day.” (5:166.)

—“Emma was a little better. I was with her all day.” (5:167.)

—“Emma is very sick again. I attended with her all day, being somewhat poorly myself.” (5:167.)

—“My dear Emma was worse … I was unwell and much troubled on account of Emma’s sickness.” (5:167–8.)

—“Emma is somewhat better. I am cheerful and well.” (5:169.)

—“… Emma gaining slowly.” (5:169.)

—“I rode with Emma to the Temple for the benefit of her health. She is rapidly gaining.” (5:182.)

—“Rode out with Emma to the Temple.” (5:183.)

On his children.

He and Emma had six children who died in their infancy—five natural children and one adopted son. They had five children who lived to maturity—four natural sons and an adopted daughter. Emma gave birth to their last child five months after the Prophet’s death.

—“I rode out to the farm with my children, and did not return until after dark.” (5:182.)

—“After dinner I rode out in company with my wife and children. …” (2:297–8.)

—“In the morning I took my children on a pleasure ride in the carriage.” (5:369.)

—“Enjoyed myself at home with my family, all day. …” (2:345.)

—“Remained at home and had great joy with my family.” (2:45.)

—“Spent the evening around my fireside teaching my family grammar.” (5:307.)

—“At four in the afternoon, I went out with my little Frederick, to exercise myself by sliding on the ice.” (5:265.)

On his father when he became ill:

—“Went to visit my father, found him very low. …” (2:288.)

—“At home. I attended on my father with great anxiety.” (2:289.)

—“At home. Waited on my father.” (2:289.)

—“Visited my father, who was very much recovered from his sickness. …” (2:290.)

On his mother:

—“Mother came to my house to live.” (5:271.)

—“At home all day. My mother was sick with inflammation of the lungs, and I nursed her. …” (5:290.)

—“Rode out with mother and others for her health.” (6:65.)

—“I stayed home all day to take care of my mother, who was still sick.” (5:298.)

Expressions of love toward his own brothers:

—Hyrum: “… I love him with that love that is stronger than death, for I never had occasion to rebuke him, nor him me. …” (2:338.)

—Alvin: “I remember well the pangs of sorrow that swelled my youthful bosom and almost burst my tender heart when he died.” (5:126.)

—Don Carlos: “He was a lovely, a good-natured, a kind-hearted and a virtuous and a faithful, upright child; and where his soul goes, let mine go also.” (5:127.)

These few random entries are enough. They more than tell a story about Joseph Smith—man of love, man who cared, man of concern. He was never too busy to do something for others—in this instance, his family.

Years later, Parley P. Pratt wrote, “It was Joseph Smith who taught me how to prize the endearing relationships of father and mother, husband and wife; of brother and sister, son and daughter.”

All of us have a family with whom we’re living now or who live somewhere else. Take this insight into how Joseph Smith cared for all members of his family and experiment with it yourself this year. Nothing else you could do would give you—and your family—so much happiness.

Joseph Smith Highlights (1805–1844)


Dec. 23, 1805

Born in Sharon, Vermont



Leg nearly amputated but saved by opening leg, extracting pieces of bone; displays unusual courage and tenderness that characterize him throughout life



Sees and talks with God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ



Visited by Angel Moroni; told of existence of Nephite records



Marries Emma Hale; receives custody of golden plates; commences translation



Receives Aaronic Priesthood from John the Baptist, and Melchizedek Priesthood from Peter, James, and John



Publishes Book of Mormon; organizes the Church



Moves to Kirtland, Ohio; dedicates temple site in Independence, Missouri



Sustained president of the high priesthood



Organizes First Presidency; continues to receive many revelations, one of them known as Word of Wisdom



Walks with Zion’s Camp from Ohio to Missouri; spends great effort in establishing Saints in both areas



Twelve Apostles and the Seventy ordained; Doctrine and Covenants accepted by Saints



Dedicates Kirtland temple; visitation of Jesus, Moses, Elias, Elijah



Move to Missouri; imprisoned in Liberty Jail



Directs Church from confinement in Liberty Jail; commences to build Nauvoo



Issues call for Saints to gather at Nauvoo; plans immigration agency to bring European Saints to US



Publishes Book of Abraham; prophesies eventual removal of Saints to Rocky Mountains



Anti-Mormon pressure and legal harassments bring much attention; records revelation on eternal marriage

June 27, 1844


Martyred with brother Hyrum by gunfire at Carthage Jail shortly after 5:15 P.M.

Presumed to be from an original daguerreotype of the Prophet Joseph Smith, done in Nauvoo in 1843.

When Joseph returned from the Hill Cumorah with the plates, Hyrum gave him this box to put them in. The box belonged to their brother Alvin whose name, carved on the surface, is still clearly visible.

The Prophet liked to rock in this chair.

This painting is purported to have been made from an early daguerreotype of Joseph Smith.

Belt buckle from the Prophet’s Nauvoo Legion uniform.

An original manuscript page in Joseph Smith’s own handwriting from section 72 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

This engraving of Joseph and Hyrum was widely published in Europe and America.

A first edition of the Book of Mormon.

Pistol belonging to the Prophet.

The Prophet’s mother rang this dinner bell to summon the boys and their father from the fields.

Kirtland Safety Society bank note with the Prophet’s signature.

This bed is from the Prophet’s home in Vermont.

This engraving depicts the Prophet’s last public address in the spring of 1844.

Sacred Grove as it probably looked during the boyhood of Joseph Smith.