O Give Me Back My Prophet Dear

By June 27, 2010

My parents elected to have me baptized December 23, and I also chose the date of my marriage to be December 23. I like those little numeric connections to Joseph Smith. But the one I like most is the one that was not chosen by my family or me. On June 27 I entered the MTC. It gives me pause every time.

In May I had the opportunity to go to some of the Illinois and Missouri Church history sites with my family. I’ve been a number of times before, and this visit was not out of the ordinary, but it tugged at me just a bit to see my son wrap his arms around the leg of the statue of his namesake in front of the jail at Carthage. And I contemplated a Church that might have held on to him just a little longer.

John Taylor, himself a survivor of the barrage that took the prophet and patriarch famously penned these lines, published in the August 1845 issue of the Times and Seasons:

For the Times and Seasons.

O give me back my Prophet dear,
And Patriarch, O give them back;
The Saints of latter days to cheer,
And lead them in the gospel track.
But ah! they’re gone from my embrace,
From earthly scenes their spirits fled;
Those two, the best of Adam’s race,
Now lie entombed among the dead.

Ye men of wisdom tell me why,
When guilt nor crime in them were found,
Why now their blood doth loudly cry,
From prison walls, and Carthage ground
Your tongues are mute, but pray attend,
The secret I will now relate,
Why those whom God to earth did lend,
Have met the suffering martyr’s fate.

It is because they strove to gain,
Beyond the grave a heaven of bliss;
Because they made the gospel plain,
And led the Saints in righteousness.
It is because God called them forth,
And led them by his own right hand
Christ’s coming to proclaim on earth,
And gather Israel to their land.

It is because the priests of Baal
Were desperate their craft to save;
And when they saw it doomed to fail,
They sent the Prophets to the grave.
Like scenes the ancient Prophets saw,
Like these, the ancient Prophets fell;
And till the resurrection dawn,
Prophet and Patriarch-Fare thee well.

I rather like the arrangement Rob Gardner has produced, which bring some of those words back to life and can be heard  here. Take a listen and some time to ponder the significance of the events of that fateful day.

Joseph Smith Jr.

December 23, 1805-June 27, 1844.

Sharon Vt.-Carthage, Il.

The hole in the door remains where the bullet entered that it is believed to have killed Hyrum.

The window from which Joseph jumped.

Carthage Jail exterior. The well, a reconstruction, by which Joseph fell and above it, on the second floor, the window out of which he jumped.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Thanks for this, Jared. A fitting memorial.

    Comment by Ben — June 28, 2010 @ 3:54 am

  2. Thanks indeed. I was surprised not see more memorials among the blogs.

    Comment by Ben S — June 28, 2010 @ 8:29 am

  3. Thanks Jared

    Comment by Mark Ashurst-McGee — June 28, 2010 @ 8:53 am

  4. Thanks, Jared. I’m curious to know how the 27th was commemorated in other wards. In mine, no one mentioned it, although I later found out that the Stake president spoke on the martyrdom in the wards he attended (he’s a big Truman G. Madsen guy). My guess is that few if anyone in my Fort Worth ward remembered.

    Comment by David G. — June 28, 2010 @ 9:38 am

  5. Thanks Jared.

    David, there was no mention in my ward yesterday, but a counselor in the Stake Presidency did mention it in his opening remarks of our Stake priesthood meeting last night, followed by the brother offering the invocation praying (somewhat awkwardly and IMO, inappropriately) that “we may always remember the sacrifice of Joseph Smith”.

    Comment by Christopher — June 28, 2010 @ 10:42 am

  6. Yeah, there certainly are politics to commemorating the martyrdom, which is why it’s not celebrated in the same way that JS’s birth is.

    Comment by David G. — June 28, 2010 @ 11:27 am

  7. In my folk’s ward (I’m visiting for the summer) Jim Allen spoke on the topic. Sacrament meeting went way over đŸ™‚

    Lovely post Jared.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — June 28, 2010 @ 12:02 pm

  8. Thanks all. One of the speakers yesterday kind of spoke on Joseph Smith and read portions of Sec. 135. It was a bit dry and disjointed, though.

    Comment by Jared T — June 28, 2010 @ 12:12 pm

  9. It was commemorated in my ward only in Relief Society where our music leader mentioned it before she had us sing “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer” to the folk tune “Homeward Bound.” It was a beautiful match of words and tune, and the nostalgic feel of the music suggested both sorrow for the martyrdom but also a reminder that it was how he lived, not how he died, that really mattered.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 28, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

  10. David G. – Why do you say Joseph Smith’s birth is celebrated? Outside of the 200th anniversary 5 years ago, I have never seen any type of celebration. In fact, during 2005, my ward did nothing to recognize it, let alone mention it. I’m curious to hear what other units in the Church do for December 23.

    Comment by GLBJ — June 28, 2010 @ 2:43 pm

  11. GLBJ: I was referring generally to the 2005 commemoration. My ward in 2005 did discuss JS’s birth, but I was at BYU at the time, which probably isn’t representative. Maybe it’s just speculation on my part, but I highly doubt the church would put on a similar commemoration for the martyrdom, precisely because of the politics surrounding accusations of Joseph-worship. It’s a lot easier to commemorate a birth than a death, although the easiest way around it would be to do what Ardis describes: focus instead on JS’s life while avoiding the tricky language of D&C 135 and the general martyrological language that marked discussions of JS’s death in the 19th century.

    Comment by David G. — June 28, 2010 @ 4:31 pm

  12. Thanks for this Jared. I absolutely love this poem by John Taylor.

    My cousin was also married on the 23 of December, and even arranged to have a Smith descendent perform the sealing. I Love it.

    Comment by Meghan M — June 28, 2010 @ 11:15 pm

  13. Nice tribute Jared.

    At stake H.P. quorum meeting Sunday night the stake president, a descendant of John Taylor, bore witness that he “knows” that Joseph Smith ran for the window, not in an effort to escape, but in an effort to save the lives of Taylor and Richards by drawing away the bullets from them to him.

    I won’t even mention the sacrament meeting talks on the assigned topic of “patriotism”–jingoism at its best with no indication at all that Mormonism is an international phenomenon. Mormon=American=Founding Fathers=a tidy predestined series of events that “had” to happen: from Columbus to Revolution to Constitution to Religious liberty to founding of LDS Church to founding fathers baptized by WW to righteousness of American foreign policy. To top it off we sang the national anthem, but were told not to stand because it was sacrament meeting. Huh?

    It was not a good day for history, J.S.’s martyrdom or otherwise, in my corner of the kingdom.

    Comment by All is well — June 28, 2010 @ 11:57 pm

  14. Jared, I was struck by the tune to which the hymn was to be set. I did some research, and discovered that it supposedly taken from a stylized Indian lament, which reads: O Give me back my bended bow/My cap and feather give me back/To chase o’er hills the bounding roe,/ Or follow in the otter track./I hate these antiquated walls. (Only a partial text survives.) The origins of the song are unknown and no one has found a full version. According to Michael Hicks’ article in Dialogue “Poetic Borrowing in Early Mormonism,” the Indian lament was sung in Nauvoo and a local atheist published a parody of the song in an 1842 edition of the Wasp entitled “O Give me back my God again.” An 1888 book “The American Indian (Uh-nish-in-na-ba)” by Elijah Middlebrook Haines accepts it as an actual piece of Native American poetry but doesn’t actually say much about its origins.

    Whatever the ultimate origin of the poem, I wonder about the imagery it uses and the politics of using its melody as the basis for a lament about Joseph Smith’s death. By choosing “The Indian’s Student Lament” as a pattern for the poem, are early Mormons trying to position themselves with the Indians as an excluded people? What images of martyrdom might have been associated with Native Americans in the nineteenth century and would have been conjured up by this melody?

    Anyway, I realize this wasn’t where you were going, but the tune seemed interesting, especially given your topic for the seminar.

    Comment by Amanda HK — June 29, 2010 @ 12:38 am

  15. Fascinating questions, Amanda. Thanks for sharing your quick research on this.

    Comment by Ben — June 29, 2010 @ 6:37 am

  16. Amanda, thanks for digging up more information on the tune, which I noticed as well and was intrigued by. I think you’re right that this reflects specific Mormon identifications with Native loss, but I suspect it’s also a manifestation of a broader cultural phenomenon. The mid-1820s to the mid-1850s was the golden age of sappy romantic poems that portrayed Indians “on-the-cusp of disappearing,” looking over a retreating wilderness where they once roamed free. William Cullen Bryant was one of the most famous practitioners of this genre. My edition of Bryant’s poems has titles such as “The Indian Girl’s Lament,” “An Indian Story,” and “An Indian at the Burial-place of his Fathers.” Eliza R. Snow wrote several such poems that were published in Mormon newspapers and are now reproduced in the new Derr and Davidson volume. Pratt himself included an “Indian’s lament” of sorts in his epic poem “The Millennium.”

    Comment by David G. — June 29, 2010 @ 9:38 am

  17. David G. – Thanks for the clarification.

    If I remember correctly, the Church did a program for the 150th anniversary of the martyrdom. It wasn’t as big as the 2005 celebration, but it did include a program in Carthage where the First Presidency spoke. I believe this was broadcast to meetinghouses, but I’m not positive on that.

    Comment by GLBJ — June 29, 2010 @ 9:48 am

  18. There’s a recent article by Brian Cannon in Mormon Historical Studies that I haven’t yet read where he deals with Carthage Jail in Mormon memory. There may be something in there about the broadcast you’re referring to. I suspect that he deals in there with the concerted effort in the 20th century to downplay the vengeance and sanguinary discourses surrounding earlier Mormon uses of the martyrdom (I’m thinking of the change in “blood staining Illinois” lyrics in “Praise to the Man” and the decision in the latter half of the twentieth century to scrub out the blood stain on the floor of the jail).

    Comment by David G. — June 29, 2010 @ 12:56 pm

  19. David,
    Your comment reminded me of something Brian once told me years and years ago. He was at Carthage jail and someone on the tour asked where the blood was and the senior missionary conducting the tour flipped out and said something like “If anybody asks me about that blood, I’m going back to Idaho!” I think about that every time I’m in the jail. And I wonder how long it took for the old man to get back to Idaho.

    Comment by SC Taysom — June 29, 2010 @ 1:08 pm

  20. That’s a funny story, SC.

    Comment by David G. — June 29, 2010 @ 1:41 pm

  21. This reminds me that I attended that meeting back in 1997. I remember Gordon Hinckley speaking and an impromptu devotional with a group of about 300 people at the jail as the clock struck the time of day when Smith died (although I’m not sure whether daylight savings had an effect on this). I had managed to con an undergraduate research grant to do research in Nauvoo that summer. Fond memories. Does anyone have a PDF of the Cannon article?

    Comment by smb — June 29, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

  22. I just ordered one through ILL, and I’m happy to send it along when it gets here. But it may be a few weeks.

    Comment by David G. — June 29, 2010 @ 3:16 pm

  23. sorry, distracted, 1994, not 1997. (must have gotten days of 47 mixed up with Smith’s death in 1844).

    Comment by smb — June 29, 2010 @ 3:40 pm

  24. A summary of the various commemorative services marking the 150th anniversary:

    Commemoration of the Martyrdom

    I remember the satellite broadcast of the 7:00 pm outdoor service, including President Hinckley’s discussion of Governor Ford’s “troubled destiny” (shades of The Fate of the Persecutors of the Prophet Joseph Smith).

    I had forgotten that “[o]n Sunday, June 26, wards and branches throughout the United States and Canada held special sacrament meeting services to remember the ‘contributions and sacrifices’ of the two martyrs.”

    Comment by Justin — June 30, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

  25. I was in the MTC during the 1994 commemorations and I remember watching a broadcast from Carthage in the big auditorium. I remember very little about the content though.

    Comment by SC Taysom — June 30, 2010 @ 7:35 pm


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