In this excerpt from Chapter 42 of The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother (edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor) Lucy Mack Smith talks about Joseph and Hyrum’s return from Zion’s Camp. They relate details to their mother about the journey, including the terrible outbreak of cholera, Hyrum’s vision of Mother Smith praying for them while they were attacked by the disease, and their healing.
…Late in the fall, Joseph and Hyrum returned. (1) Their joy at meeting us again in health was exceeding great, above measure, because of the perils which they had passed through during their absence. They sat down one on each side of me, Joseph holding one of my hands and Hyrum the other, and related the following sketch of their journey:
“When we got started on our journey, we made arrangements so that the company should be made as comfortable as possible, but the sufferings which are incident to such an excursion soon made some of the brethren discontented, and they began to murmur against us, saying that the Lord never required them to take such a tiresome journey, and that it was folly for them to suffer the fatigue and inconvenience which they underwent just to gratify a foolish fancy. (2) We warned them in the name of the Lord to stop their murmuring or the displeasure of the Almighty would visit them in judgment, but many of them persisted in complaining, until one morning, when they came to harness their horses, they found them so lame as to be unable to travel. This gave them great uneasiness, and said Joseph, ‘I called them together and told them if they would repent and humble themselves before the Lord, the curse would be removed, but if they did not, a greater curse would come upon them.’ This had a good effect with all save one, who was more turbulent than the rest. When he brought up his horse, he found that it would not be possible for him to travel, and after a little delay, the animal died. Soon the spirit of dissension arose again and was not quelled, so that we had any degree of good feeling, until we arrived in Missouri.
“Soon after arriving at the point of destination, the cholera broke out among us, and the brethren were so violently attacked that it seemed impossible to render them any assistance. They immediately sent for us to lay hands on them, but we soon discovered that this also was the judgment of the Almighty, for when we laid our hands upon them in the name of the Lord in order that they might be healed, the disease instantly fastened itself upon us. And in a few minutes we were in awful distress. We made mute signals to each other and left the house for the purpose of going into some secluded place to join in prayer that God would deliver us from this awful influence; but before we could get a sufficient distance to be secure from interruption, we were scarcely able to stand upon our feet and we were greatly alarmed, fearing that we should die in this western wilderness so far from our families, without even the privilege of blessing our children or giving them one word of parting counsel. Hyrum cried out, ‘Joseph, what shall we do? Must we be cut off from the face of the earth by this horrid curse?’
“‘Let us,’ said Joseph, ‘get down upon our knees and pray to God to remove the cramp and other distress and restore us to health, that we may return to our families.’ We did so but without receiving any benefit, but still grew worse. We concluded, however, to make a second effort, and when we kneeled again, the cramp seized the calves of Joseph’s legs, gathering the cords into bunches, and then the operation extended in like manner all over his system. He cried heartily unto God, but the heavens seemed sealed against us and every power that could render us any assistance shut within its gates. The universe was still. ‘When we arose again,’ said Joseph, ‘I found Hyrum was in the same situation with myself.’
“We soon came to the resolution of appealing again to God for mercy, and not to rise from our knees until one or the other got a testimony that we should be healed, and he who received the first intimation from the Spirit should inform the other of the same. We prayed some time, first one and then the other, and soon perceived that the cramp began to loose its hold. In a short time Hyrum sprang to his feet and exclaimed, ‘Joseph, we shall return, for I have seen an open vision in which I saw Mother on her knees under an apple tree praying for us, and she is even now asking God, in tears, to spare our lives, that she may behold us again in the flesh. The Spirit testifies to me that her prayers and ours shall be heard’-and from that moment we were healed and went on our way rejoicing.”
“Oh, my mother,” said Joseph, “how often have your prayers been a means of assisting us when the shadows of death encompassed us!”
“William had the same symptoms, but was not so severely affected as we had been and a sister took him home with her. She was extremely kind and attentive to him, insomuch that in a short time he was well again.
“But our poor cousin Jesse was taken so severely, that we could not render him any assistance, and he died in a short time. Brother Thayre (3) was also taken and called upon us at first to lay hands upon him, but he afterwards said, ‘No, you need not do so. I will go into the river.’ And he commenced dipping himself in the water until he was better. His example was followed by others, and those who did this recovered.” (4)
After hearing this recital, I related to Joseph and Hyrum the circumstances of building the schoolhouse. They highly approved of my zeal and blessed me for what I had done. We all had a time of great rejoicing.
1. It appears from Joseph’s history that he and Hyrum returned to Kirtland sometime around August 1, 1834.
2. Of course, not everyone felt this way. Wilford Woodruff recorded: “The Prophet gave us our instructions every day. We were nearly all young men brought together from all parts of the country, and were therefore strangers to each other. We soon became acquainted and had a happy time in each other’s association. It was a great school for us to be led by a Prophet of God a thousand miles through cities, towns, villages, and through the wilderness.” (Quoted in Matthias F. Cowley, Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1964], p. 40.)
3. Ezra Thayre was born October 14, 1791, married Polly Wales in 1810, was baptized by Parley P. Pratt in October 1830, and served in many callings in the early Church. He did not support the leadership of the Twelve Apostles after Joseph’s death and moved to Michigan.
4. Sixty-eight of the men and women were taken sick with the deadly cholera, fourteen of whom died.
The bodies were rolled into blankets and they were buried in shallow graves along the banks of Brush Creek in Clay County, Missouri. Joseph Young wrote of a meeting he and Brigham Young had with Joseph Smith on February 8, 1835, six months after the Zion’s Camp experience:[“[The Prophet] said, ‘Brethren, I have seen those men who died of the cholera in our camp; and the Lord knows, if I get a mansion as bright as theirs, I ask no more.’ At this relation he wept, and for some time could not speak. When he had relieved himself of his feelings, in describing the vision, he resumed the conversation.” (History of the Church 2:181.)