June 27, 1844 marks the day that the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum Smith were murdered. I read a new account of the event, recorded, and published in 1845, by an eyewitness, non-Mormon, by the name of William M. Daniels. The published work was in the LDS Church Historian vault, became available in digital format in 2003, and now resides in the Harold B. Lee Library. The following excerpts are the words of William M. Daniels, taken from his writings, A Correct Account of the Murders of Generals Joseph and Hyrum Smith:
I shall avoid stating anything that is not true, or criminating any person who is innocent. I shall endeaver to give as correct an idea of the manner of the murder as is in my power. Being an eye witness of the whole transaction, I shall state nothing that I do not know to be correct; and the reader can regard my relation of the circumstances as being strictly correct.
To give a more correct idea of the transaction, I have illustrated it with engravings, the designs and views of which were taken on the spot.
William M. Daniels was on his way to St. Louis on June 18, 1844, when he first learned about Mormons:
I resided in August, Hancock county, Ill., eighteen miles from Carthage. On the 18th day of June, I left my home with intention of going to St. Louis. When I arrived at Bare Creek, I found the country in a great state of excitement, in relation to the Mormons. I was told it would be dangerous for me to proceed farther on my way to Warsaw, as the intermediate country was mostly settled by Mormons, who would, in all probability intercept me by violence. I knew nothing of the character and disposition of the Mormon people, never having been personally acquainted with them as a community. The tales of villainy that was related concerning them, were so horrid and shocking to the mind’s sensibility that I yielded to their entreaties and abandoned, for that day, at least, my intention of proceeding farther on my journey….
Daniels records the history of what he saw and heard as he eventually traveled to Warsaw and Carthage jail where he became an eyewitness to the murder of Joseph Smith. At one point, he sees Joseph hanging from the window of the Carthage jail, not yet dead, not shot in the window trying to leap out, but dropping to the ground, still alive:
He sprung into the window but just as he was preparing to descend, he saw such an array of bayonets below, that he caught by the window casing, where he hung by his ands and feet, with his head to the north, feet to the south, and his body winging down wards. He hung in that position three or four minutes, during which time he exclaimed, two or three times, “O, Lord my God!!!” and feel to the ground.
While he was hanging in that situation, Col. Williams hallooed, “shoot him! God d___n him! shoot the d____d rascal!”
However, none fired at him. He seemed to fall easy. He struck partly on his right shoulder and back, his neck and head reaching the ground a little before his feet. He rolled instantly on his face. From this position he was taken by a young man, who sprung from the other side of the fence who held a pewter fife in his hand,–was bare-foot and bare-headed, having on no coat—with his pants rolled above his knees, and shirt sleeves above his elbows. He set President Smith agains(t) the South side of the well-curb, that was situated a few feet from the jail. While doing this, the savage muttered aloud, “This is Old Jo; I know him. I know you, Old Jo.”
Four gunmen under the command of Col. Williams executed Joseph Smith. The mob had blackened their faces with gunpowder. Daniels continues his eyewitness account:
When President Smith had been set against the curb, and began to recover, Col. Williams ordered four men to shoot him. Accordingly, four men took an eastern direction, about eight feet from the curb, Col. Williams standing partly at their rear, and made ready to execute the order. While they were making preparations, and the muskets were raised to their faces, President Smith’s eyes rested upon them with a calm and quiet resignation. He betrayed no agitated feelings and the expression upon countenance seemed to be token his inly prayer to be, “O, Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The fire was simultaneous. A slight cringe of the body was all the indication of pain that he betrayed when the balls struck him. He fell upon his face. One ball then entered the back part of his body. This is the ball that many people have supposed struck him about the time he wwas in the window. But this is a mistake. I was close by him, and I know he was not hit with a ball, until after he was seated by the well-curb.
The ruffian began to raise a knife to severe Joseph’s head:
The ruffian of whom I have spoken, who set him against the well-curb, now gathered a bowie knife for the purpose of severing his head from his body. He raised the knife and was in the attitude of striking, when a light, so sudden and powerful, burst from the heavens upon the bloody scene, (passing its vivid chain between Joseph and his murderers,) that they were struck with terrified awe and filled with consternation. This light, in its appearance and potency, baffles all powers of description. The arm of the ruffian, that held the knife, fell powerless; the muskets of the four, who fired, fell to the ground, and they all stood like marble statues, not having the power to move a single limb or their bodies.
Daniels shares first-hand accounts from others of what was happening inside the jail area as well:
While this scene was transpiring, Joseph Smith reached his pistol through the door, which was pushed a little ajar, and fired three of the barrels; the rest misfired. He wounded three of them – two mortally—one of whom as he rushed down out of the door, was asked if he was badly hurt. He replied, “yes; my arm is shot all to pieces by Old Joe; but I don’t care, I’ve got revenge; I shot Hyrum!”
Read the entire account here as published in 1845:a correct account of the murder of generals joseph and hyrum smith