Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo Legion Sword
TIPPED HIS HAT TO THE PROPHET
Chapter 10 of “Keeper of the Prophet’s Sword” by Howard Carlos Smith
Lt. General Smith makes a visit with his wife Emma around noon Monday June 24th knowing this will be their last. Maj. Noble is riding his large horse slightly to the backside of the Prophet. Other officers from the Nauvoo Legion are attending the small convoy. Hyrum Smith soon joins up along side his brother. The return trip from Carthage will be different, it will be in caskets.
The small party of men mounted on horses, legion swords attached, dressed in army uniforms, make their way past the beautiful Nauvoo Temple staring affectionately up at its high white façade. The eyes of each swept slowly down the neat square blocks with rows of brick houses. Each home is flanked by gardens and green young orchards leading down to the swelling Mississippi River. This seems to be somewhat a pleasant June day.1
The Prophet makes a comment to his men, “This is the loveliest place and the best people under Heaven”, he then sadly states, “Little do they know the trials that await them.”2
The small convoy stops, Joseph twice rides “Charley”, his large horse, down the dirt road and up to the mansion house to bid his family a farewell. The officers notice he is solemn, thoughtful and expressing to several expectations to be murdered. These expressions seem unreal to Maj. Noble and fellow officers.
Again, the party starts out towards Carthage. Maj. Noble in passing looks upon his house with thoughts going back to the day first meeting up with the Prophet and Hyrum in pitching hay in Kirtland. Could this possibly be the last ride?
Joseph takes a second look upon his farm field, after they passed it; he turns around several times to look once more. He comments, “If some of you had such a farm and knew you would not see it anymore, you would want to take a good look at it for the last time.”3
Reaching the edge of Nauvoo, Joseph and company met a group of young men who marched all through the night and into the day from Ramus to join up with the Nauvoo Legion. Their leather shoes are worn thin through the soles. Many feet are cut and bleeding with blisters. Joseph’s young cousin John Lyman Smith runs up flinging his arms about him. The boy’s feet are bleeding and Joseph with tears in his eyes, states, “God bless you, God bless you my dear boy.”
A shoemaker named Nathaniel Ashby, a close friend to Bates Noble, is standing near the door of his shop. Joseph called out, “Let these men have some shoes.” “I have no shoes”, shrugging stated the man. The Prophet politely yells out, “No shoes, let them have boots.” These young men were fitted up with leather boots.
Lt. General Joseph Smith mounting Charlie makes a final comment to Cousin John, “These troops will be disbanded and soon returned home. I shall go to Carthage for trial with the protection of the Governor, so have no fears for you shall see Israel triumph in peace.”4
The shoemaker’s son Benjamin Ashby was working near his father’s shop and makes the following observation:
“I was in my father’s garden one morning, the memorable June 1844, when Joseph Smith rode past on his way to Carthage. Never shall I forget the look of deep sorrow that covered his noble countenance– that was the last time I saw him alive. He was met on the way by an officer and posse with an order from the Governor for the return of the state arms and he turned back to see the order complied with. On getting into town he called Brother J.B. Noble to accompany him and his brother Hyrum. They turned off the road, leaving the company, and to a short cut across the hills. When alone, he asked Hyrum what the spirit indicated to him. He replied that he could get no satisfactory answer. Joseph then said, “Well, if they kill me, I shall die innocent and my blood will be required of this nation, this day”, near as I remember was the testimony.”
Benjamin continues, “In the afternoon he went to Carthage and to his martyrdom. I sat upon the steps of my father’s house on the evening of the day that he was shot until twelve o’clock and never did I hear before such an uproar and noise that seemed to pervade the very atmosphere; dogs howling, mingled with confused noises as though all the legions of the damned were in commotion.”5
The distance from Nauvoo to Carthage is eighteen miles. It takes approximately six hours in making the trip. This time it is a one way ticket for Hyrum and Joseph. It is past noon with the sky becoming cloudy, dark, and gloomy. It is a mucky, humid day in late June. The spirits of the army convoy are somewhat down.
Occasionally, a rest stop is needed to rest the horses and company. Several hours up the dirt road a private meeting is arranged with Maj. Noble by the Prophet himself. The two horses make their way into a small ravine somewhat near the dirt roadside. Bates Noble one-on- one with his friend Joseph Smith. This was Joseph’s final farewell to his trusted friend and long time bodyguard. No one knows the words that were shared at this time or the tears.
The Prophet placed into the hand of Bates two messages for delivery, one for Porter Rockwell, and the other to his sweetheart Emma. The note expressed his love to Emma. The other was to advise Porter to stay in Nauvoo thus not delivering himself into the hands of the enemy. This would prove to be certain death for Capt. Rockwell.6
At this time, the Prophet stood up and presented his “Legion Sword” along with his pistol to his trusted friend as a token of their friendship. He gave a parting handclasp before each parted their way. Bates Noble was now “The Keeper of the Prophet’s Sword”, a trust he kept until his death bed.7
Bates Noble with honor carefully wrapped the “Legion Sword” of the Lt. General into the center of his bed blanket. He tucked away the pistol and placed the rolled blanket to the left side of his large horse. He placed the messages into his saddle bag, mounted onto his horse, and headed out from the small ravine. He glanced back tipping his hat to the Prophet.
Returning towards Nauvoo, he was very careful to ride up and off the dirt road to avoid any suspicion with any horseman or buggy. He was carrying two very important messages, one for Emma Smith and the other for Porter Rockwell. He could feel the parting handclasp with the Prophet into his inner spirit. This feeling carried with him throughout the remainder of his life. The big reminder was anytime he held the sword into his right hand. The sword became a comfort to him at times of depression and he could feel the spirit of a great noble one who once held this “Legion Sword” to his side. It was like repeating the parting handclasp of true friendships at the departure day.
The small army convoy continued down the road stopping off at a fellow’s house just short four miles west of Carthage. The time is around 8:00 p.m. Monday. They’re in wait for Capt. Dunn and greeted with refreshments much to their joy. So far it was a hard ride, dusty road, hot day, along with the stress being placed upon them.8
It was midnight June 24th when Joseph and Hyrum were escorted into Carthage by a well disciplined company of militia from McDonough County. Upon arriving into the center of town, they were surrounded by the troops from Warsaw and Carthage. The militia troops met them with shouts of derision and triumph, “Stand away, you McDonough boys, and let us shoot the damn Mormons!” “God damn you, Old Joe, we’ve got you now!” “Clear the way and let us see Old Joe, the Prophet of God. He’s seen the last of Nauvoo. We’ll use him up and kill all the damned Mormons!”9
Joseph’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, made the following comment, “My sons were thrown into jail, where they remained three days in company with Brothers Richards, Taylor and Markham. At the end of this time, the Governor disbanded most of the men, but left a guard of eight of our bitterest enemies over the jail, and sixty more of the same character about a hundred yards distant. He then came into Nauvoo with a guard of fifty or sixty men, made a short speech, and returned immediately. During his absence from Carthage, the guards rushed Brother Markham out of the place at the point of a bayonet. Soon after this two hundred of those discharged in the morning rushed into Carthage, well armed, and painted black, red and yellow and in ten minutes fled again leaving my sons murdered and mangled corpses!”10
The cowardly attack was made upon the Carthage Jail, with the door kicked open shots were fired into Hyrum and the first ball striking him in the nose and stumbling backwards cried, “I am a dead
man”. Joseph now discharged all six barrels of the six-shooter down the hall passageway at the attackers and three balls found their mark. One replied, “Yes, my arm is all shot to pieces by Old Joe,” he screamed, “but I don’t care; I’ve got revenge; I shot Hyrum!”11
When Joseph looked out upon a hundred bayonets gleaming dully in the murky light, attached to every bayonet was a hideously painted face, and it must have seemed to him as if hell itself had vomited upon him and his companions. Evil was there in full force. His only escape was to jump out of the two story window. A ball from the door caught him in the backside and other balls struck him as he hit the ground. A painted man dragged him to the well-curb raising his bowie knife and rushed forward to cut off the Prophet’s head. At that instant, clouds parted and the June sun blazed fully upon the scene and it seemed that a pillar of light thrust down from heaven rested between the Prophet of God and his murderers. The muskets of four that fired upon the Prophet fell to the ground and the bowie knife fell powerless from the hand of the devil. The men
stood like marble statues having no power to move a single limb of their bodies. The militia men began to scatter in panic.12 No one in the Nauvoo Legion knew of Lt. General Joseph Smith and Maj. General Hyrum Smith’s peril; surely the legion officers would have been there for a dramatic rescue. Nevertheless, even the head bodyguard Maj. Noble and Capt. Rockwell were totally unaware or would immediately been on their way. It just wasn’t meant to be.
- Ibid, p. 387. Also, A Comprehensive History of the Church, Century One, Vol. II, by B. H. Roberts, 1962, p. 248.
- Hyrum Smith, by Pearson H. Corbett, 1963, p. 394.
- A Transcript of this manuscript account by John Lyman Smith may be seen in the Utah State Historical Society Library.
- Benjamin Ashby Autobiography, copy of holograph, BYU-S, pp.9-10. Brother B. Noble to accompany Joseph Smith to Carthage.
- Joseph Smith, op. cit., Vol. VI pp. 561-565. Also, Hyrum Smith by Pearson H. Corbett, 1963, p. 398. This is a message sent by Joseph Smith to O.P. Rockwell telling him not to come to Carthage, but stay in Nauvoo, and not suffer himself to be delivered in the hands of his enemies or to be taken a prisoner by anyone.
- West Bountiful, 1848-1988, A Pictorial History by LaRue Hugoe – Edith Deppe, 1988, pp. 21-23. Also, refer to Church News – Week Ending January 15, 1966, Title: “This Week in Church History: Bishop Noble – Friend of the Prophet”. By Arnold Irvine. Also refer to Journal of Joseph Bates Noble, Transcript BYU-S, p. 8.
- Hyrum Smith, by Pearson H. Corbett, 1963, p. 395.
- A Comprehensive History of the Church, Century One, Vol. II, by B. H. Roberts, 1965, p. 250.
- History of Joseph Smith by Lucy Mack Smith – Mother – 1945, pp. 323-324.
- Essentials in Church History, by Joseph Fielding Smith, 1950, pp. 382-383.
- Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, edited by his son, 1985, Deseret Book Company, pp. 391-392.
- Discourses of Brigham Young, by John A. Widtsoe, 1966 Edition, p. 473.
THE SWORD OF LABAN:
When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the hill Cumorah, which he did. Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates than, probably, many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls. The first time they went there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went again it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates–it was unsheathed, and on it was written these words: “This sword will never be sheathed again until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and His Christ.”
Brigham Young in J of D 19:38. [The following informative statement was made by President Young as part of a public address at Farmington, Utah, on 17 Jun 1877, two months prior to his death.]
Swords have often been seen as symbols of divine authority and kingship. Numerous examples from the mythology, literature, and history of the world attest to distinct patterns. The sword of Laban from the Book of Mormon fits these patterns and can be compared to the sword of Goliath. The sword of Laban can also be traced as part of the royal regalia that gives authority throughout Nephite history, and later as it appears in the Restoration. The sword of Laban as it is associated with Joseph Smith came to be an additional witness of his authority and of the divine sanction for his work
The sword of Laban was a symbol of kingship and divine authority. It fit the patterns of both kingly and heroic swords that are found in history, mythology, and literature from all over the world. These patterns are also evident when compared to another sword from the ancient Near East, the sword of Goliath.
The sword of Laban was preserved throughout Nephite history, and it served as part of the regalia held by their leaders. Its preservation until the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ in 1830 was remarkable enough, but it also played a role as an independent divine witness of the calling of Joseph Smith as the leader of the dispensation. With the sword of Laban and what it symbolized, some viewed Joseph as having divine authority in his civic, military, and prophetic duties. As a symbol, the sword of Laban represented the power and strength of God for whoever possessed it. The sword served its purpose for the Nephites and Joseph Smith and may be preserved for further use. It could still be needed by the Lord to bring about his “righteous purposes unto the children of men” and “show forth his power unto future generations” (D&C 17:3). The sword apparently remains unsheathed “until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and his Christ” (cf. Revelation 11: 15).
The Sword of Laban as a Symbol of Divine Authority and Kingship Brett L. Holbrook Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993): 39–72.
The description is as follows:
The blade of this Sword is somewhat dagger shaped-i.e. broad at the hilt, having two sharp edges and terminating in a sharp point. It is about three feet in length, and is fine polished steel. The hilt, or handle is pure gold, and four square, and opposite each square is a most beautiful guard, of fine gold also. Each guard is composed of three bars, upon each of which is set a precious stone, making twelve in all, of various hues, and are of the same kind as those twelve precious stones set in Aaron’s breastplate. Upon the top of the hilt is fixed a gold Cross, each end of which is joined to the top of the four guards, respectively; and on the lower end of the hilt, the four guards are joined in one piece, upon which is fixed a most beautiful pearl.
Bishop, A Proclamation, 2; An Address, 49; Francis Gladden Bishop, Zion’s Messenger (Council Bluffs, IA: Author, 1854),68.
History speaks of Joseph Smith receiving his sword from Wilford Woodruff
“Better equipped than most of the Zion’s camp recruits, Wilford owned his team, wagon, and personal armaments. Appointed a teamster, he had charge of sixteen horses. Like the others, he furnished his own arms, but unlike some with antiquated weapons, he carried a rifle, sword, dirk, and pistol. Joseph asked for the sword, and Wilford made him a gift of it.” (24)
(24) Woodruff Autobiography page 41
The Sword of the Lord
D&C 1:13 “And the anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in heaven, and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth.”
The Prophet’s Vision of the Twelve. HC 6:381