"And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit"

Warning:  Some of this might be a little rough to the very sensitive – I’ll be careful:
I’ve been sheltered.

All of my life I have known somewhat concerning the trials and tribulations of the early saints.

I have known about Haun’s Mill, about the saints being driven from one Missouri county to another. I visited and learned about the conditions that Joseph and others endured at Liberty Jail.

I know the stories – Majesty in Chains – Bishop Partridge being tarred and feathered – Philo Dibble’s healing – the healing of Alma Smith’s wounded hip – and many others. I grew up listening to these stories, and always admired the saints for there perseverance.

Two weeks ago, I began my lesson prep for Gospel Doctrine regarding the persecution of the saints in Missouri (27) and Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail (28). I read the lesson material, and read the stories in Our Heritage. For the most part, it was all familiar to me.

Then I began to dig a little deeper. With the miracle that is the internet, and the good people who research and publish their findings, I began to learn more and more about what the early saints went through as they were chased from one county to another, and finally – under the threat of extermination – from the State of Missouri.

I had no idea.

The more I would read, the more horrified I became. The search for more information became obsessive. There was so much I didn’t know. There is so much I don’t know. So much to learn and understand.

I knew it was bad, but I didn’t realize, (or want to realize) how truly hellish it was. How Satan had turned neighbors into monsters. I did not know when depravity existed in that time period – I watch the news nowadays and see barbaric actions committed in the world and am sickened by how bad things have gotten – Unaware that our ancestors suffered equally:

How Mormon women were gang-raped until they died – in front of their own children.
How Mormon men were whipped to the point their intestines were falling out.
How innocent children were murdered.
How family’s homes were burned to the ground in the depths of winter.

The extent of the suffering was mind-numbing, and widespread.

I have always looked at Joseph Smith’s time in Liberty as tortuous and barbaric. Now I find that Joseph got off easy in comparison.  Much of the suffering that Joseph experienced in Liberty was indeed barbaric, but the anguish that he must have felt as he heard the reports of what was going on to his beloved saints must have made the cold and hunger seem paltry by comparison. Equally repulsive would be listening to the guards boast of their atrocities, yet powerless to do something – anything.

I read, and studied, and watched speeches. I wanted to know. I wanted to know what these people endured, and how some of my own ancestors perished in this cruelty. But I started running out of time, and needed to study Sections 121 & 122 to prepare for my lesson.

I read the opening lines of 121,

Oh God, where art thou?…
How long shall thy hand be stayed?
How long shall they suffer?
Let thine heart be softened…
…moved with compassion towards us.
…avenge us our wrongs
Remember thy suffering saints, O our God.

And I burst into tears. And as I type this the tears return. I’ve read this section a thousand times- but it has changed for me. To understand more of what Joseph was suffering, and what his followers were suffering has broken my heart.

In Section 121, I hear the pleas of a man who feels abandoned, frightened, and beaten down. Not merely for himself and his fellow prisoners, but for all of the saints who were suffering – the saints he could not protect, or comfort. He had brought them to Zion as their leader, and now they were being terrorized and murdered, yet he was absolutely powerless – so Joseph turned to God for help.

And then he received his reply. There was to be no angelic visitation. No breaking the chains. No host of angels to vanquish the foe. The prison walls did not tumble down, as they did for Alma and Amulek. They did not shake as they did for Nephi and Lehi. (Those very stories that Joseph himself translated.)

There was to be no rescue. Instead, he received some counsel, almost a rebuke:

It won’t last forever.
It could be worse.
It will be good for you.

I can’t comprehend how that must have felt. I don’t think I would have felt comforted.

But, when i take a breath, and wipe my eyes, I go on to read one of the most profound revelations ever given to mankind. A revelation that changes the very way we look at life and leadership.

With the ultimate reassurance that God is, indeed, in charge, and that He will set things right in His timeframe.

Normally, I don’t search out the negative, the horrible the evil, but in this case it has caused an enlightenment within me that will forever change the way I look at three remarkable sections of scripture, 121, 122 & 123.

My love, admiration and appreciation of my ancestors has never been more profound. My love for the prophet Joseph has never been deeper. I testify that he truly was a prophet of God. The things that transpired in Liberty Jail were necessary – for his growth, and for ours.

We know so little, but it is there for us if we will just seek it out.

If you are interested, I have included some links to things I have found. It might make for an interesting Sunday afternoon.
Legal Affidavits of Hyrum Smith, Parley P. Pratt, and others. link
“Within the Walls of Liberty Jail” LDS Church History. link
“Jacob Hawn & the Hawn’s Mill Massacre.” Research by Alexander Baugh. link
“Joseph Smith’s Escape From Liberty Jail,” Jeffrey Walkers (video) link
“Lessons From Liberty”  Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, BYU Fireside link
“History of the Late Persecution, 1839” Parley P. Pratt.  link
Sweet letters to Emma Smith from Joseph. link, link
Letter from Joseph to the Church, in which D&C 121 is shared, link

And there’s plenty more – if you dig in.

About the author


  1. MMM, thank you so much for this post and I love the comments … they are touching and insightful. This has given me a renewed desire to make a personal study of Church History. There is much to learn from those who have gone before us and a powerful way to link to our day and age.

    This all makes my trials seem so small in comparison. I know they are real to ME, but this puts things into incredible perspective.

  2. Living here in Clay County MO for the last three years or so, and seeing the construction, open house, and dedication of a temple only 6 miles from the Liberty Jail has given me a better appreciation for the trials of Joseph and the early saints. I wanted to quote this part of the dedicatory prayer of the Kansas City Temple:

    “We are assembled to dedicate this, Thy holy house. It is a special occasion, for this temple stands on ground hallowed by the sacrifice and suffering of stalwart Saints who walked here long years ago. Today Thy Church shines forth in the sunlight of good will. During the weeks preceding this dedication, thousands of visitors came to see this sacred edifice. They departed with feelings of respect and a sense of appreciation. May Thy blessings attend all who felt the spirit of this Holy House. May that spirit continue with them.”

    As far as I know, there was little to no opposition by the residents of this area to the building of the temple here. Even during the open house and dedication, I don’t remember seeing the picketing, protests, etc of those who are against the church like I’ve seen elsewhere. I remember seeing one gentleman handing out pamphlets, but that was it. The symbol of the olive branch is portrayed everywhere on and in the temple, representing (at least in part) peace. I firmly believe that the peace we now enjoy in this area of the vineyard is directly a result of deferred blessings earned by those stalwart saints who endured and suffered so much. And for that I am very, very thankful.


  3. I’ve always loved church history and took as many classes as I could on the subject at BYU. It’s tremendous to consider what the early Saints endured and I cannot help but be so grateful that they continued in faith and endured to the end. Edward Partridge is my fourth great-grandfather and I’ve always been proud of him, but it is heartbreaking to read his daughter’s journal regarding when he was tarred and feathered and what they experienced. I’m grateful to him and ALL those pioneers.
    It’s a testimony to me that we are all sent to earth at the right time for us because I cannot imagine living through that.

  4. I’ve always loved church history and took as many classes as I could at BYU regarding it. It really is horrifying to consider the things the early Saints went through. And they still made it to Utah and endured to the end and made it possible for us to do the same. I could not be more grateful for my ancestors and all of those Saints for their sacrifice and faith.

    It also really is a testimony that we came to earth at a specific time for us because I cannot imagine living through something like that!

  5. Thank you for sharing this post. I never knew the depths of the suffering of the saints during this time – not something we ever learned in Institute or in Sunday School. But knowing this does indeed change the way I read sections 121, 122 and 123. Joseph’s prayer and pleading with the Lord becomes even more poignant. Thank you.

  6. Since I visited Nauvoo for the first time this summer, Sunday School and reading the Doctrine & Covenants has been different to me. I have always believed it, yet somehow it is more personal and real to me. And today was a hard lesson. I felt strongly when reading the Lord’s reply too. It is a scripture that helps me in my trials that all pale in comparison, but it helps me. Thanks for the links so I can study more.

  7. I served my mission in Poland, and over the course of my mission learned much about the Holocaust –terrible, horrible things that in many ways I didn’t want to know but it was a history that I needed to learn to understand the people and country I was serving. It also wasn’t just what the Nazi’s did to the Jews, but what the Russians did to Polish people during the same time that is over-looked in most textbooks. It was sickening, and in many ways it made me feel as if my life had been to easy, and that what I stood for wasn’t enough to console people who had been through as serious of stuff as what many of these people and their grandparents had been through (we occasionally saw old people with numbers from the concentration camps still tattooed on their arms). My life and my message felt like a dream, so far from the reality the people I was sent to serve knew.
    Then, near the end of my mission I was assigned to work in the newly-opening (it hadn’t officially opened yet) Family History Center in Warsaw. We didn’t have much to do except when patrons came in, which was infrequent, and as I was exploring the basement of what was once the mission office, I found a set of the History of the Church volumes down there. As I read about Haun’s Mill and the Missouri persecution, I was horrified (it was pretty detailed and grisly as well). I was surprised to see so many similarities to the victims of the Holocaust, and, in a way, I felt a bit of kinship to the people I was serving –that my people had endured just as much suffering, though on a smaller scale. I guess I had been pretty sheltered myself about what happened in the early days of the Church, but that put it into perspective for me, and I realized that what we have to offer IS enough to console people who have literally been through Hell. I also felt that the work were doing in the Family History Center and in the Temples of the Church was alleviating much of the pain of those people on the other side who had suffered so much, as well as their descendants.

    1. Thank you for sharing this. It really touched me.

      I am learning more and more deeply that the sufferings of the Savior literally include the sufferings of everyone. Even two people have been through exactly the same thing might suffer differently as a result. Because of this, I believe the only person who can completely console (and heal) someone who has suffered as grievously as that IS the Savior. The message we have to share is really something … good(I can’t find a word for how awesome it is).

      Maybe someday I’ll have the courage to read the testimonies of those brethren. For now I will try to focus on the angels that must have surrounded those who had to endure such unimaginable horrors.

  8. I don’t know if I have the courage to dig deeper. The little I know (and newly learned from your post) pierces me to the heart. I don’t even watch the news any more because it’s just too painful. But I do appreciate the reminder. It’s good for us to realize that no matter what we are experiencing, not only are there many who have suffered much worse, but we have someone who truly understands in the Savior because he did ‘descend below’ us all. That’s powerful.

  9. Having visited many of the sites including jails and family graves where a great price was paid by those who put the Gospel above other considerations including life and safety I feel there is proportional reward for looking deeper. As a Primary teacher I find that the lesson books, particularly for 8-12 years old are bolder about presenting persecution of the prophet and early saints.

  10. A resounding “Amen!” to everything you said. I am a Gospel Doctrine Teacher as well, and when I started digging deeper and deeper, and running out of time to get my lesson done….I found myself saying over and over again…..”How did I not know this!?!!!!!” I will assume that it’s partly because some of the horrific things they went through may not be appropriate for a setting such as Sunday school class. I tried to share a bit more of some of those details…{not too gory mind you}, with my own class, because I didn’t want anyone else to someday question why they didn’t know, or weren’t told….but when I tried to share in class…..it just didn’t feel right for me to do so {just as it probably didn’t for all the teachers before me}……The Holy Ghost sure is my best friend somedays. ; )

    So……Instead, I proceeded to share my gut wrenching feelings on what I had read and how I learned SO much more. And then strongly encouraged the class members to dig deeper and learn also for themselves the ‘genocide’ of our ancestors/earlier saints, church members.

    And then the lightbulb went on. That’s why we are ALWAYS told to study. Personal study. On our own. On the side. Find out for ourselves. I get it now. There is always so much more to learn. About history. About the church. About personal testimony. And I come to learn more about myself, along the way.

    Thank you for this post MMM.

  11. Excellent job on being careful, yet still difficult to read. Interestingly enough, I’ve been reading up on this history too, but not to your extent mainly because I’m afraid of anti-literature on the internet, so I stick with what is on LDS.org. Thank you for the new links.

    I began searching because of this song I found that mentions when Joseph was tarred and feathered, a few days later their infant would die in the middle of the night. I can’t find that history, it is only in the song, but I am curious to read more in depth about it. Have you ever heard of it? Was he tarred and feathered more than once? I know of the time at the John Johnson home in Ohio.

    With the history I have read and now what you have written, it still confirms in my mind how disgusting those people were. Did you know that the 1938 Missouri Executive Order 44 given by Gov. Boggs was not formally rescinded until 1976?

    It must have been difficult for Joseph to get these replies from Heavenly Father and it must have been painful for Heavenly Father to tell him these things. I’m sure He wanted to swoop down and fix everything. Growing up (still do today) I really enjoyed reading D&C 122 vs. 6-7, some of this you mentioned above. I loved reading those two verses. Then one day I realized how important vs. 8 is:

    “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than He?”

    It kind of hit me like a ton of bricks. I feel like God is saying to Joseph (and to me) “Look at the Savior’s life and what He went through…I love you, but quit complaining”…harsh sounding, I know, but sometimes I get that feeling when reading that verse. Then, as this section closes, it gives me a comforting feeling when God tells him that the Priesthood is set and will never be taken from the earth again; be strong and remember the things I have taught you; I know you better than you know yourself; I love you, trust me, and don’t be scared; I am with you forever.

    This gives me comfort as I see the world becoming more evil and pugnacious.

    Thank you for sharing this. I hope the lesson went well.

    1. I have a copy of A History of Jospeh Smith by his Mother, Lucy Mack Smith (or something like that – it’s not in front of me, and I’m giving the title by memory, but it’s pretty close). I recall reading an account of the tarring and feathering there, along with the infant dying. If you would like, I’ll try to locate my copy and confirm.

      I am also very curious about the song you mentioned. Can you give the title and author/composer?

    2. This is from the Primary 5 manual: (http://www.lds.org/manual/primary-5-doctrine-and-covenants-and-church-history/lesson-21-joseph-smith-is-tarred-and-feathered?lang=eng)

      This took place after the church had been formed.

      “One winter night a group of men who believed Ezra Booth’s letters got drunk and attacked the homes of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in Hiram, Ohio. Joseph had been up late caring for his adopted son, who had the measles, and had just fallen asleep when the angry mob broke into the house. The men dragged Joseph outside, swearing and threatening to kill him. They choked him, tore off his clothes, and tried to push a paddle of hot tar and a bottle of acid into his mouth. The bottle of acid broke, chipping one of Joseph’s teeth and causing him to speak with a whistle for the rest of his life. The men in the mob also dragged Sidney Rigdon from his home. When Joseph saw Sidney lying on the ground, he thought Sidney was dead. The mob decided not to kill Joseph, but they scratched him severely, spread hot tar all over his body, and covered him with feathers.

      When Joseph finally got home, Emma saw him and fainted, because she thought the tar covering Joseph was blood. Joseph’s friends helped him clean off the tar, a long and painful process. Sidney Rigdon had been knocked unconscious from the severe cuts and bruises to his head, and he was delirious for several days. Following this terrible experience, the baby that Joseph had been caring for that night caught a severe cold and died.” After the loss of their own set of twins they adopted another set. But one of the children died after this incident.

    3. OK, I found some confirmation.


      And from http://www.pbs.org/americanprophet/timeline.html

      Mar. 24, 1832
      Joseph Smith is tarred by a mob.
      Mar. 29, 1832
      Joseph’s adopted son, Joseph Murdock Smith, dies from a cold caught when he was pulled from Joseph’s arms during the mobbing.

      I was able to find part of the story in Chapter 42 of The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, by Lucy Mack Smith. It recounts the infant’s illness and exposure, but I could not find the concluding mention of his death in this account. Hope the above helps.

    4. I served 5 months of my mission at the John Johnson home in Ohio. There are some pretty amazing miracles that occurred while Joseph was being tarred and feathered and Sidney Rigdon was being beaten near to death. Its worth studying that even in more depth.

    5. Wow…thank you for all of the replies! The song I am talking about is from a singer/songwriter named Julieann Barrus, her webiste: http://jabarrusmusic.com/

      Just click music and the song is called Remember.

      We visited the John Johnson home and the stories that the missionaries shared with us have stuck with me for over a decade. The main one being the night he was tarred and feathered and how the following Sunday, he preached from the steps and saw the same men who had hurt him in the audience and yet he just continued preaching. The missionaries talked about his character and how amazing it was. I agree, too!

      Thank you for the books and links so that I can study more. I really appreciate it. I hope you guys enjoy the song as much as I have, too.

    6. That line “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than He?” could be taken as a rebuke of “Quit complaining; Christ had it worse.” but I prefer to read it as an invitation to use my own suffering to better understand what Christ went through and His love for me and all mankind.

    1. oh, come on! Can’t you prepare for me? 😉

      I am loving the prep part, actually. Many deep family time gospel discussions come from my own personal study time!

      What a privilege it is to serve and have this opportunity to teach!

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