I’m Going to Shoot Old Joe Smith

The following is taken from a talk given at BYU by Robert H. Daines, 20 June 2000. Click here to read the talk.

The Prophet Joseph was a great exemplar, not only of this principle but also of having total faith and confidence in the promises of the Lord. I should like to share with you an entry from the diary of my great-great grandmother. This is a record of a little-known experience of the Prophet Joseph–little known because this diary was lost for 30 to 40 years in my mother’s home in New Jersey. It was only rediscovered as they were preparing to move back to Utah in the late 1970s. This is a diary entry of Sister Sarah Stoddard. Her son Charles, my great-grandfather, as a boy of 14, was asked by the Prophet Joseph to serve as a houseboy for William Law, an enemy of the Prophet, and to inform him of any of the Laws’ devious plans. It was, I guess, an early form of counterintelligence.

Note the date of the diary entry: April 1844. It was just two months before the Martyrdom of the Prophet.

Dear Diary,

Charles had another faith-promoting experience last night.

Early this morning, even while the darkness still hemmed out the light of the day, Mr. Law, after he had been drinking and planning with his associates through the night, got Charles out of bed to clean and oil his gun. He said he was going to shoot the Prophet, only William Law called him “old Joe Smith.” Poor Charles was frightened beyond description, but Mr. Law stood over him and prodded him with his foot when Charles hesitated through fright and anxiety. Finally, when Mr. Law was satisfied with the way the gun was working, he put one bullet in. (He boasted he could kill the Prophet with one shot.) He sent Charles to bring the Prophet.

He ran as fast as he could and delivered the message, but he begged the Prophet not to go to Mr. Law’s as Mr. Law was drunk and Charles was afraid he would carry through on his threat to shoot the Prophet in cold blood.

As they walked the few blocks from the Mansion House to the Law residence, the Prophet assured Charles that no harm would come to him that day. Charles was frightened, and he said that it kept racing through his mind, “I am the one that cleaned the gun that is going to be used to kill the Prophet,” until he was sick with fear. The Prophet in a final attempt to calm my dear son uttered the fateful words, “Mr. Law may someday kill me, Charles, but it won’t be today.”

As they approached their destination, Mr. Law came staggering out of the house shouting out what he intended to do.

The Prophet said kindly and unafraid, “You sent for me, Mr. Law?” to which Mr. Law replied with oaths that now he was doing the whole a favor by disposing of the Prophet with one shot.

Calmly the Prophet unbuttoned his shirt and bared his chest, then said, “I’m ready now, Mr. Law.” Charles said at this point he nearly fainted. Sick fear strangled him until he was speechless and paralyzed, unable to move a muscle.

Mr. Law paced a few steps, turned, aimed, and pressed the trigger. There was complete silence. Then the air rang with profanity, and Mr. Law turned on Charles, accusing him of fixing the gun so it would not go off and threatening to kill even Charles–my innocent, frightened, but faithful son.

The Prophet, to divert Mr. Law’s blame of Charles, suggested that a can be placed on a fence post for Mr. Law to take a practice shot. Relieved, Charles ran for a can and laid it on its side on the post. Mr. Law paced back, took aim, and fired. His “one shot” streaked through the exact center of the can.

Even Mr. Law was quiet, as if stunned.

The Prophet buttoned up his shirt, gave Charles a meaningful look, and then said, “If you are finished with me now, Mr. Law, I have other things needing to be done. Good morning. [Diary of Sarah Stoddard; text modernized]

I shall ever be grateful for the remarkable example of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He endured faithfully not only to the end of his life but to the end of each one of his many trials. He also demonstrated in this situation total faith and confidence in the promises that the Lord had made to him as well as to righteous men and women everywhere that they would not be taken before their work was completed.

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