The following is taken from Chapter 31 of Mother Smith’s history and recounts the terrible events of the night of March 24, 1832 when the Prophet Joseph and Sidney Rigdon were mobbed, beaten, tarred and feathered. Please note and carefully read the footnotes as that is where the insights and enhancements are located.
“I shall now return to the month of September, 1831. Joseph, at this time, was engaged in translating the Bible, and Sidney Rigdon was writing for him. About the first of this month, Joseph came to the conclusion to remove himself and clerk, as well as their families, (1) to Hiram, (2) in order to expedite the work. They moved to the house of Father John Johnson (3) and lived with him in peace until the following March, when a circumstance occurred which I shall relate in his own words:
“‘On the twenty-fourth of March , the twins before mentioned, which had been sick of the measles for some time, caused us to be broken of our rest in taking care of them, especially my wife. In the evening I told her she had better retire to rest with one of the children, and I would watch with the sicker child. (4) In the night she told me I had better lie down on the trundle bed, and I did so, and was soon after awakened by her screaming murder! when I found myself going out of the door in the hands of about a dozen men; some of whose hands were in my hair, and some had hold of my shirt, drawers, and limbs. The foot of the trundle bed was towards the door, leaving only room enough for the door to swing.
‘My wife heard a gentle tapping on the windows, which she then took no particular notice of (but which was unquestionably designed for ascertaining whether we were all asleep), and, soon after, the mob burst open the door and surrounded the bed in an instant, and, as I said, the first I knew I was going out of the door in the hands of an infuriated mob. I made a desperate struggle, as I was forced out, to extricate myself, but only cleared one leg with which I made a pass at one man and he fell on the door steps. (5) I was immediately confined again, and they swore by G–, they would kill me if I did not be still, which quieted me. As they passed around the house with me, the fellow that I kicked came to me and thrust his hand into my face all covered with blood (for I hit him on the nose), and with an exultant horse laugh, muttered, ‘Gee, gee, G– d– ye, I’ll fix ye.’
‘They then seized me by the throat and held on till I lost my breath. After I came to, as they passed along with me, about thirty rods from the house, (6) I saw Elder Rigdon stretched out on the ground, whither they had dragged him by the heels. I supposed he was dead.
‘I began to plead with them, saying, ‘you will have mercy and spare my life, I hope.’ To which they replied, ‘G– d– ye, call on yer God for help, we’ll show ye no mercy’; and the people began to show themselves in every direction; one coming from the orchard had a plank and I expected they would kill me and carry me off on a plank. (7) They then turned to the right and went on about thirty rods farther-about sixty rods from the house (8) and about thirty from where I saw Elder Rigdon-into the meadow, where they stopped, and one said, ‘Simonds, Simonds,’ (meaning, I supposed, Simonds Rider), ‘pull up his drawers, pull up his drawers, he will take cold.’
‘Another replied, ‘Ain’t ye going to kill ‘im? Ain’t ye going to kill ‘im?’ when a group of mobbers collected a little way off and said, ‘Simonds, Simonds, come here’; and Simonds charged those who had hold of me to keep me from touching the ground (as they had done all the time), lest I should get a spring upon them. They went and held a council, and as I could occasionally overhear a word, I supposed it was to know whether it was best to kill me.
‘They returned, after a while, when I learned that they had concluded not to kill me, but pound and scratch me well, tear off my shirt and drawers, and leave me naked. One cried, ‘Simonds, Simonds, where is the tar bucket?’
”I don’t know,’ answered one, ‘where ’tis, Eli’s left it.’ They ran back and fetched the bucket of tar, when one exclaimed, with an oath, ‘Let us tar up his mouth’; and they tried to force the tar paddle into my mouth; I twisted my head around so that they could not, and they cried out, ‘G– d– ye, hold up yer head and let us giv ye some tar.’ They then tried to force a vial into my mouth and broke it in my teeth. (9) All my clothes were torn off me, except my shirt collar; and one man fell on me and scratched my body with his nails like a mad cat, and then muttered out, ‘G– d– ye, that’s the way the Holy Ghost falls on folks.’
‘They then left me, and I attempted to rise, but fell again; I pulled the tar away from my lips, etc., so that I could breathe more freely, and after a while I began to recover and raised myself up, when I saw two lights. I made my way towards one of them and found it was Father Johnson’s. When I had come to the door I was naked, and the tar made me look as though I was covered with blood; and when my wife saw me, she thought I was all mashed to pieces and fainted. During the affray abroad, the sisters of the neighborhood had collected at my room. I called for a blanket, they threw me one and shut the door; I wrapped it around me, and went in.
‘In the meantime, Brother John Poorman heard an outcry across the cornfield, and running that way met Father Johnson, who had been fastened in his house at the commencement of the assault, by having his door barred by the mob, but on calling to his wife to bring his gun, saying he would blow a hole through the door, the mob fled, and Father Johnson, seizing a club, ran after the party that had Elder Rigdon, and knocked one man, and raised his club to level another, exclaiming: “What are you doing here?” (10) when they left Elder Rigdon and turned upon Father Johnson, who, turning to run towards his own house, met Brother Poorman coming out of the cornfield; each supposing the other to be a mobber, an encounter ensued, and Poorman gave Johnson a severe blow on the left shoulder with a stick or stone, which brought him to the ground. Poorman ran immediately towards Father Johnson’s, and arriving while I was waiting for the blanket, exclaimed: ‘I’m afraid I’ve killed him.’ ‘Killed who?’ asked one; when Poorman hastily related the circumstances of the encounter near the cornfield, and went into the shed and hid himself.
Father Johnson soon recovered so as to come to the house, when the whole mystery was quickly solved concerning the difficulty between him and Poorman, who, on learning the facts, joyfully came from his hiding place. (11)
‘My friends spent the night in scraping and removing the tar, and washing and cleansing my body, so that by morning I was ready to be clothed again. This being Sabbath morning, the people assembled for meeting at the usual hour of worship, and among them came also the mobbers, viz., Simonds Rider, a Campbellite preacher and leader of the mob; one McClentic, who had his hands in my hair; one Streeter, son of a Campbellite minister; and Felatiah Allen, Esq., who gave the mob a barrel of whisky to raise their spirits; and many others. With my flesh all scarified and defaced, I preached to the congregation as usual, and in the afternoon of the same day baptized three individuals.
‘The next morning I went to see Elder Rigdon and found him crazy, and his head highly inflamed, for they had dragged him by his heels, and those, too, so high from the ground that he could not raise his head from the rough, frozen surface, which lacerated it exceedingly; and when he saw me he called to his wife to bring him his razor. She asked him what he wanted of it; and he replied, to kill me. Sister Rigdon left the room, and he asked me to bring his razor. I asked him what he wanted of it, and he replied he wanted to kill his wife; and he continued delirious some days. The feathers which were used with the tar on this occasion, the mob took out of Elder Rigdon’s house. After they had seized him, and dragged him out, one of the banditti returned to get some pillows; when the women shut him in and kept him a prisoner some time.
‘During the mobbing, one of the twins contracted a severe cold, and continued to grow worse till Friday and died. (12) The mobbers were composed of various religious parties, but mostly Campbellites, Methodists and Baptists, who continued to molest and menace Father Johnson’s house for a long time.'”
1. Joseph’s family at this time included Emma and their two adopted twins, Joseph M. and Julia.
2. They moved on Monday, September 12, 1831, to the Johnson farm, located about thirty-one miles south of Kirtland.
3. John Johnson, born April 11, 1778, in Chesterfield, Cheshire County, New Hampshire, was the son of Israel and Abigail Higgins Johnson. He married Elsa Jacobs on June 22, 1800, and they had nine children: Elsa, Fanny, John Jr., Luke S., Olmsted, Lyman E., Emily, Marinda Nancy, and Mary. He was appointed to the first high council at Kirtland, yet later withdrew from the Church. He died out of the Church on July 30, 1843, in Kirtland. The Johnsons had come into the Church because of a miracle they witnessed, as recorded in a non-Mormon source: “Mr. and Mrs. Johnson . . . visited Smith at his home in Kirtland, in 1831. Mrs. Johnson had been afflicted for some time with a lame arm, and was not at the time of the visit able to lift her hand to her head. The party visited Smith partly out of curiosity, and partly to see for themselves what there might be in the new doctrine. During the interview the conversation turned on the subject of supernatural gifts, such as were conferred in the days of the apostles. Some one said, ‘Here is Mrs. Johnson with a lame arm; has God given any power to man now on the earth to cure her?’ A few moments later, when the conversation had turned in another direction, Smith rose, and walking across the room, taking Mrs. Johnson by the hand, said in the most solemn and impressive manner: ‘Woman, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I command thee to be whole,’ and immediately left the room. The company were awe-stricken at the infinite presumption of the man, and the calm assurance with which he spoke. The sudden mental and moral shock-I know not how better to explain the well-attested fact-electrified the rheumatic arm-Mrs. Johnson at once lifted it up with ease, and on her return home the next day she was able to do her washing without difficulty or pain.” (Hayden’s History of the Disciples, as quoted in History of the Church 1:216.)
4. The sicker child was little Joseph.
5. B. H. Roberts noted that “the man whom the Prophet struck was named Waste. He was regarded, says Luke Johnson, as the strongest man in the Western Reserve [northern Ohio], and had boasted that he could take the Prophet out of the house alone. ‘At the time they [the mob] were taking him [the Prophet] out of the house, Waste had hold of one foot. Joseph drew up his leg and gave him a kick, which sent him sprawling into the street. He afterwards said that the Prophet was the most powerful man he ever had hold of in his life.'” (History of the Church 1:262.)
6. Nearly five hundred feet from the house.
7. Luke Johnson gave further description of the mobbing: “While Joseph was yet at my father’s, a mob of forty or fifty came to his house, a few entered his room in the middle of the night, and Carnot Mason dragged Joseph out of bed by the hair of his head; he was then seized by as many as could get hold of him, and taken about forty rods from the house, stretched on a board, and tantalized in the most insulting and brutal manner; they tore off the few night clothes that he had on, for the purpose of emasculating him, and had Dr. Dennison there to perform the operation; but when the Dr. saw the Prophet stripped and stretched on the plank, his heart failed him, and he refused to operate” (in Papers of Joseph Smith, p. 377).
8. They were now nearly a thousand feet from the house. Sixty rods is 990 feet.
9. When the glass vial was broken in Joseph’s mouth, one of his front teeth was also broken, either a large piece of it or the whole. From Benjamin Johnson we learn the following: “The Prophet’s lost tooth, to which I alluded was, as generally understood, broken out by the mob at Hiram while trying to pry open his mouth to strangle him with acid, which from that time, until the tooth was replaced by a dentist neighbor, a year or so previous to his death, there [was] a whistle-like sound to accompany all his public speaking” (Benjamin Johnson, Letter to George S. Gibbs, 1903, Church Archives, cited in E. Dale LeBaron, “Benjamin Franklin Johnson: Colonizer, Public Servant, and Church Leader” [master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1967], pp. 343-44). Luke Johnson reported concerning the vial: “And in attempting to force open his jaws, they broke one of his front teeth, to pour a vial of some obnoxious drug into his mouth. The mob became divided, and did not succeed; but poured tar over him and then stuck feathers in it and left him, and went to an old brick yard to wash themselves and bury their filthy clothes.
At this place a vial was dropped, the contents of which ran out and killed the grass.” (In Papers, p. 377.)
10. John Johnson was nearly fifty-four years old when he chased after the mob with the club.
11. The blow broke Father Johnson’s collar bone, according to a statement by Luke Johnson, his son. “He was taken back to the house, and hands laid upon him by David Whitmer, and immediately healed.” (In Papers, p. 377.)
12. This was little Joseph Murdock Smith, who died from exposure on Friday, March 30, 1832, age eleven months. The History of the Church reports his death as March 29, 1832; however, that date was a Thursday. Many consider this little babe the first martyr of this dispensation.