Question: Has the Church tried to hide the fact that Joseph fired a pepperbox pistol at the mob which murdered him?

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Question: Has the Church tried to hide the fact that Joseph fired a pepperbox pistol at the mob which murdered him?

Joseph's gun is on display at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, where anyone can see it. It has been there for years

Some claim that the Church has tried to hide the fact that Joseph fired a pepperbox pistol at the mob which murdered Hyrum and was soon to kill him.

Ensign (June 2013): 40, shows Joseph with the pepperbox pistol he would fire to defend himself and others prior to his murder.

Joseph's gun is on display at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, where anyone can see it. It has been there for years.

Both official and unofficial Church publications have repeatedly mentioned Joseph's pistol since his death

There is overwhelming evidence that from the earliest days following the martyrdom, to the present, that both official and unofficial Church publications have repeatedly mentioned Joseph's pistol.

Photograph of the pistols used by Joseph and Hyrum. The pepperbox pistol fired by Joseph Smith at Carthage Jail is located on the right. From the museum of Church History in Salt Lake City, Utah, and labeled as such. Photo (c) Blair Hodges, used with permission. Another image of the pepperbox pistol may be viewed here

From the very beginning of the Church, Joseph's possession and use of a pepperbox pistol in defense of himself and his brother and friends has been repeatedly mentioned. This includes statements by LDS, anti-Mormon, and other secular sources even from a very early period, demonstrating that there was no attempt to hide the facts.

1844
  • George T. M. Davis, of Alton, Illinois, An Authentic Account of the Massacre of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, and Hyram Smith, his brother, together with a Brief History of the Rise and Progress of Mormonism, and all the circumstances which led to their death (St. Louis 1844); also quoted in “The Mormons, or Latter Day Saints”, The United States Catholic Magazine 4 (1845): 362-3.
  • Brooklyn Eagle, July 8, 1844, page 2
  • Willard Richards, "Two Minutes in Jail", in Times and Seasons 5/14 (1 August 1844): 597-98
  • A True and Descriptive Account of the Assassination of Joseph and Hiram Smith, the Mormon Prophet and Patriarch At Carthage, Illinois, June 27th, 1844, By an Eye Witness, T[HOMAS]. A. LYNE (NY: 1844): 9-10.
1845
  • “Mormonerna, en beväpnad religionssekt i de Förenta Staterna,” Borgå Tidning, [Porvoo, Finland] August 20, 1845, p. 1-4, and August 23, 1845, p. 2-3. English translations by this author [Kim Ostman, Finland 2006: “The Mormons, an armed religious sect in the United States.”]. According to a footnote, the article comes from Wilhelm Grisson’s original text “Beiträge zur Charakteristik der Vereinigten Staaten von Nordamerika.”
1846
  • James Allen Scott Journal., 19 April 1846; quoted in Richard Bennett, Mormons at the Missouri (U of Oklahoma 1987): 236, note 20.
1851
  • James Linforth, “The Rev. C.W. Lawrence’s ‘Few Words from a Pastor to his People on the subject of the Latter-day Saints,’ replied to and refuted”. (no date [contains reference to Millennial Star 13.4 (Feb 15, 1851); my copy bound with MS volume 12, in U of Minnesota Library]; published by J. Sadler, Liverpool): 2.
1852
  • J. M. Grant, The Truth for the Mormons ‘Three Letters to the New York Herald’’ 64 pages.
  • History of the Persecutions!! Endured by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in America. Compiled from Public Documents, and Drawn from Authentic Sources. By C. W. Wandell, Minister of the Gospel (Sydney: Albert Mason 1852). 55.
1854
  • Thomas Ford, History of Illinois, 1818-1847 (Chicago, 1854), 354-5. “An attempt was made to break open the door; but Joe Smith being armed with a six-barrelled pistol, furnished by his friends, fired several times as the door was bursted open, and wounded three of the assailants….”
  • Benjamin G. Ferris, Utah and the Mormons. The History, Government, Doctrines, Customs and Prospects of the Latter-day Saints. From personal observation during a six months’ residence at Great Salt Lake City (New York: 1854).
  • The Californian Crusoe; or, The Last Treasure Found. A Tale of Mormonism (London: John Henry Parker 1854; New York: Stanford and Swords): 98.
  • Joseph Smith et Les Mormons ou Examen de Leurs Pretentions Relativement a leur Bible, a leur Prophete et a leur Eglise, par L. Favez (Lausamme: Delefrontaine and Comp 1854): 47.
1856
  • Jules Remy and Julius Brenchley, A Journey to Great Salt Lake City, with a sketch of the History, Religion, and Customs of the Mormons, and an Introduction on the Religious Movement in the United States, in two volumes (London: W. Jeffs 1856) [reprinted from 1861 London edition; Preface dated Paris August 1860], volume I: 395
1857
  • “History of Joseph Smith,” Deseret News Weekly 7/37 (November 18, 1857): 290b and 7/38 (November 25, 1857): 297a.
1862
  • L. A. Bertrand, Memoires d’un Mormon (Paris 1862).
  • Richard F. Burton, The City of the Saints (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1862): Appendix. John Taylor, Witness to the Martyrdom [written in response to request by Elder Wilford Woodruff, in letter dated June 30, 1856. This account in Burton was first publication of the work by John Taylor]
1863
  • Le Prophete du XIX Siecle ou vie des Saints des Derniers Jours (Mormons), Hortense G. Du Fay (Paris: Dentu 1863): 100.
1865
  • Hyppolite Taine, Nouveaux Essais de Critique et d’Histoire (Paris, 1865; reprinted 1900, 1901, 1914). Review article of Jules Remy, Voyage au pays des Mormons (Paris, 1860). Translated in Austin E. Fife, “Taine’s Essay on the Mormons. Translated with Introduction and Notes,” Pacific Historical Review 31/1 (February 1962): 58.
1867
  • Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism. Biography of its Founders and History of its Church. Personal Remembrances and Historical Collections Hitherto Unwritten (New York: D. Appleton and Company 1867): 190.
1875
  • CCA Christensen's moving panorama illustrating church history. One of the 23 scenes illustrates the

martyrdom and actually shows the smoking gun in Joseph's hand (circa this date). This was a traveling show of huge painted canvases that would be displayed to LDS audiences.

1880
  • Autobiography of B. H. Roberts, Gary J. Bergera p.76
1881
  • Daniel Tyler, A Concise History of the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican War, 1846-47 (Salt Lake City 1881). [includes statement by John Taylor on martyrdom of Joseph Smith]
1882
  • Lyman O. Littlefield, The Martyrs; A Sketch of the Lives and a Full account of the Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, together with a Concise Review of the Most Prominent Incidents Connected with the Persecutions of the Saints, from the time the Church was Organized up to the Year 1846 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Juvenile Instructor Office 1882): [quoting from an earlier work by William M. Daniels in pamphlet form]: (Littlefield, page 78)
1883
  • R. W. Young, “In the Wake of the Church”, The Contributor 4/8 (May 1883): 307.
1885
  • Mrs. Ellen E. Dickinson, New Light on Mormonism Introduction by Thurlow Weed (NYC: Funk & Wagnalls, 1885), 108.
1887
  • B.H. Roberts, “The Rise and Fall of Nauvoo,” The Contributor 8/11 (September 1887): 406, 407 note
1888
  • Andrew Jenson, Historical Record 7/1-3 (Jan 1888): 568-571
  • George Q. Cannon, Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet (October 1, 1888): 515
1892
  • B.H. Roberts, The Life of John Taylor (SLC: 1989; first published 1892) p.134
1895
  • B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, Vol. 1, (Salt Lake City, January, 1895: 484; Reprinted 1911: 482).
1905
  • Orson F. Whitney, "The Mormon Prophet's Tragedy," A review of an Article by the late John Hay, published originally in the Atlantic Monthly for December, 1869, and republished in the Saints Herald of June 21, 1905. Whitney’s response published 1905, p.68-81
1933
  • John Henry Evans, Joseph Smith. An American Prophet (NY: MacMillan 1933; 1961 Amy Evans; 1989 Deseret Book): 204, 206.
1943
  • John Taylor, The Gospel Kingdom p.358-360 [taken from Roberts, History of the Church 7:100; 252f; 2:267-8; 2:284-5; Published initially in 1943; this is from Taylor’s Witness to the Martyrdom, mentioned earlier under “Richard F. Burton”
1951
  • John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Smith. Seeker after Truth; Prophet of God (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1951; 1991): 319 [quotes from the Willard Richards account]
1967
  • The last Days at Carthage (video), Department of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion, 1967, 5 minutes. This video was re-released as a segment in "Moments from Church History, 1990, copyrighted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 102 Minutes. The video is pretty clear in teaching that Joseph used a gun. At the beginning it says; "Cyrus Wheelock brings a gun" and it shows a close-up of the pepperbox. In a more dramatic part, for a documentary anyway, it shows the gun again and it says: "The gun misfires".
1969
  • LeGrand L. Baker, “On to Carthage to Die”, Improvement Era 72/6 (June 1969): 15
1973
  • Reed Blake, 24 Hours to Martyrdom (SLC: Bookcraft, 1973): 127-8
1979
  • Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience. A History of the Latter-day Saints (New York: Knopf, 1979; 1980): 81
1981
  • Dean C. Jessee, “Return to Carthage: Writing the History of Joseph Smith’s Martyrdom," Journal of Mormon History 8 (1981): 1-19.
1985
  • Book Reviews; BYU Studies Vol. 25, No. 3, (Summer 1985): .124 Review of Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith; Review by Marvin S. Hill, BYU History Professor
1990
  • Moments from Church History, 1990, copyrighted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 102 Minutes. The video is pretty clear in teaching that Joseph used of a gun. At the beginning it says; "Cyrus Wheelock brings a gun" and it shows a close-up of the pepperbox. In a more dramatic part, for a documentary anyway, it shows the gun again and it says: "The gun misfires".
1994
  • Reed Blake, "Martyrdom at Carthage," Ensign (June 1994), 30. off-site
  • The same information was contained in a “First Presidency Message” in the same Ensign issue (anniversary of Joseph's assassination). Thomas S. Monson, “The Prophet Joseph Smith: Teacher by Example,” Ensign, Jun 1994

There was to be one great final lesson before his mortal life ended. He was incarcerated in Carthage Jail with his brother Hyrum, with John Taylor, and with Willard Richards. The angry mob stormed the jail; they came up the stairway, blasphemous in their cursing, heavily armed, and began to fire at will. Hyrum was hit and died. John Taylor took several balls of fire within his bosom. The Prophet Joseph, with his pistol in hand, was attempting to defend his life and that of his brethren, and yet he could tell from the pounding on the door that this mob would storm that door and would kill John Taylor and Willard Richards in an attempt to kill him. And so his last great act here upon the earth was to leave the door and lead Willard Richards to safety, throw the gun on the floor, and go to the window, that they might see him, that the attention of this ruthless mob might be focused upon him rather than the others. Joseph Smith gave his life. Willard Richards was spared, and John Taylor recovered from his wounds. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” The Prophet Joseph Smith taught us love—by example.

  • Church History in the Fulness of Times, Religion 342-343, Church Educational System manual.
  • Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin J. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy;;
  • Davis Bitton, The Martyrdom Remembered. A one-hundred-fifty-year perspective on the assassination of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Aspen Books, 1994).
2004
  • Matthew B. Brown, Joseph Smith: The Man, The Mission, The Message (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2004): 90, shows a picture of the gun. “Composite photograph of the pepperbox pistol that Joseph Smith used to defend himself after Hyrum had been murdered”. Story given in more detail pages 92-4.
2005
  • Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual for 2005: “Doctrine and Covenants and Church History” lesson 32, page 184: the following account of the martyrdom by Elder Willard Richards:
“As he struck the floor he exclaimed emphatically, ‘I am a dead man.’ Joseph looked towards him and responded, ‘Oh, dear brother Hyrum!’ and opening the door two or three inches with his left hand, discharged one barrel of a six shooter (pistol) at random in the entry. . A ball [from the musket of one of the mob] grazed Hyrum’s breast, and entering his throat passed into his head, while other muskets were aimed at him and some balls hit him.
Joseph continued snapping his revolver round the casing of the door into the space as before, while Mr. Taylor with a walking stick stood by his side and knocked down the bayonets and muskets which were constantly discharging through the doorway....
When the revolver failed, we had no more firearms, and expected an immediate rush of the mob, and the doorway full of muskets, half way in the room, and no hope but instant death from within.” off-site
2008
  • Joseph L. Lyon and David W. Lyon, "Physical Evidence at Carthage Jail and What It Reveals about the Assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith," Brigham Young University Studies 47 no. 4 (2008), 35. PDF link

The FairMormon Blog responds to these questions

Roger Nicholson,"The Prophet and the Pistol: A Perspective on the Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith", FairMormon Blog, (November 7, 2013)


In the Church History Museum near Temple Square, located inside a glass case, resides a pair of 19th century pistols and a walking stick. The placard reads, in part, as follows,

Joseph’s Pepperbox Pistol and Hyrum’s Single Shot Pistol. These guns were used by both men for their defense during the attack at Carthage

These were the guns that were smuggled into the Carthage Jail while Joseph Smith, Hyrum and their friends awaited their fate. On the morning of June 27, 1844, Cyrus Wheelock visited the jail.

The morning being a little rainy, favoured his wearing an overcoat, in the side pocket of which he was enabled to carry a six-shooter, and he passed the guard unmolested. During his visit in the prison he slipped the revolver into Joseph’s pocket. Joseph examined it, and asked Wheelock if he had not better retain it for his own protection.
This was a providential circumstance, as most other persons had been very rigidly searched. Joseph then handed the single barrel pistol, which had been given him by John S. Fullmer, to his brother Hyrum, and said, “You may have use for this.” Brother Hyrum observed, “I hate to use such things, or to see them used.” “So do I,” said Joseph, “but we may have to, to defend ourselves;” upon this Hyrum took the pistol. [i]

Although it was referred to as a “six shooter,” the pepper-box pistol was not a revolver in the normal sense. It incorporated six individual barrels, it was difficult to aim and tended to be unreliable. The June 2013 Ensign features a painting Greater Love Hath No Man, by Casey Childs. [ii] The artwork features all three items in the display case. Joseph, Hyrum and Willard Richards are attempting to hold the door shut as the mob attempts to enter the room. John Taylor is holding his walking stick. In Hyrum’s left pocket is the single shot pistol brought into the jail by Fullmer, and in Joseph’s left pocket, clearly visible, is the pepper-box pistol given to him by Wheelock.

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Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims