President Joseph Young

[The Contributor, vol. 2 no. 12 (Sept. 1881), 353–57]

[not proofread]

On Saturday Morning, July 16, 1881, the honored subject of this sketch breathed his last. He had for several weeks succumbed to general weakness and debility incident to old age, and quietly fell asleep, surrounded by loving kindred and friends. His body was free from disease, and his last days were devoid of pain. Like a shock of corn fully ripe he was gathered home. Having fulfilled his mission here and lived beyond the time usually allotted to man, he realized in his closing hours on earth that “the end of the righteous is peace.”

Joseph Young, Sen., was born in Hopkinton, Middlesex Co., Mass., April 7, 1797, and was the second son of John Young and Nabbie Howe. His childhood and early youth were spent at home, where his kind and affectionate nature was stimulated by the tender treatment and Christian precept, characterizing his parents and their family. He imbibed at an early period of life the spirit of religion, and became an enthusiastic church member. Joining the Methodists, he soon began to preach their doctrines, and was thus engaged, when, in the early spring of 1832, his brother, the late President Brigham Young, brought the glad tidings of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, as announced by the Prophet Joseph Smith. His religious enthusiasm proved to be genuine love of truth, rather than bigoted devotion to a sectarian creed, and he was easily converted to the principles of the Gospel, which he received in a grateful and believing heart. He was baptized in March, 1832, in Columbia, Pennsylvania, and ordained an Elder in the Church. Very soon after receiving the Gospel his faith was severely tried by an unbelieving relative, who was stricken with sickness while reviling the New Faith. The ailment becoming serious, the sufferer finally besought Brother Young to lay hands on him, according to the order of the Church for the healing of the sick. With this request he fearfully complied, and the first case of healing that either had ever witnessed was the immediate result.

From this time to the end of his life “Uncle Joseph,” as he was affectionately called by the people, continued without wavering in the faith he had received. He gathered with the Saints in Kirtland at a very early day, and was one of the first Seventies ordained. February 28, 1835, he was called by the Prophet Joseph Smith to be the First President of all the Seventies, which position he held until his death. He was a member of the famous Zion’s Camp which went up to Missouri in 1834, and endured at that time much privations and hardship.

The following chapter from the History of the Church, including his account of the horrible massacre at Haun’s Mill, is one of the most graphic statements of the sufferings and persecutions, during those dark days of Missouri on record. We reproduce his affidavit as sworn and subscribed to before Justice C. M. Woods, at Quincy, Adams County, Ill., June 4, 1839:

“On the sixth day of July last, I started with my family from Kirtland, Ohio, for the state of Missouri, the County of Caldwell, in the upper part of the state, being the place of my destination.

“On the thirteenth day of October I crossed the Mississippi at Louisiana, at which place I heard vague reports of the disturbances in the upper country, but nothing that could be relied upon. I continued my course westward till I crossed Grand River, at a place called Compton ’s Ferry, at which place I heard, for the first time, that if I proceeded any farther on my journey, I would be in danger of being stopped by a body of armed men. I was not willing, however, while treading my native soil, and breathing republican air, to abandon my object, which was to locate myself and family in a fine, healthy country, where we could enjoy the society of our friends and connections. Consequently, I prosecuted my journey till I came to Whitney’s Mills, situated on Shoal Creek, in the eastern part of Caldwell County.

“After crossing the creek and going about three miles, we met a party of the mob, about forty in number, armed with rifles, and mounted on horses, who informed us that we could go no farther west, threatening us with instant death if we proceeded any farther. I asked them the reason of this prohibition; to which they replied, that we were ‘Mormons;’ that everyone who adhered to our religious faith, would have to leave the state in ten days, or renounce their religion. Accordingly they drove us back to the mills above mentioned.

“Here we tarried three days; and, on Friday, the twenty-sixth, we re-crossed the creek, and following up its banks, we succeeded in eluding the mob for the time being, and gained the residence of a friend in Myer’s settlement.

“On Sunday, twenty-eighth October, we arrived about twelve o’clock, at Haun’s Mills, where we found a number of our friends collected together, who were holding a council, and deliberating on the best course for them to pursue, to defend themselves against the mob, who were collecting in the neighborhood under the command of Colonel Jennings of Livingston County, and threatening them with house burning and killing. The decision of the council was, that our friends there should place themselves in an attitude of self defense. Accordingly about twenty-eight of our men armed themselves, and were in constant readiness for an attack of any small body of men that might come down upon them.

“The same evening, for some reason best known to themselves, the mob sent one of their number to enter into a treaty with our friends, which was accepted, on the condition of mutual forbearance on both sides, and that each party, as far as their influence extended, should exert themselves to prevent any further hostilities upon either party.

“At this time, however, there was another mob collecting on Grand River, at William Mann’s, who were threatening us, consequently we remained under arms.

“Monday passed away without molestation from any quarter.

“On Tuesday, the 30th, that bloody tragedy was acted, the scene of which I shall never forget. More than three-fourths of the day had passed in tranquility, as smiling as the preceding one. I think there was no individual of our company that was apprised of the sudden and awful fate that hung over our heads like an overwhelming torrent, which was to change the prospects, the feelings and the circumstances of about thirty families. The banks of Shoal creek on either side teemed with children sporting and playing, while their mothers were engaged in domestic employments, and their fathers employed in guarding the mills and other property, while others were engaged in gathering in their crops for their winter consumption. The weather was very pleasant, the sun shone clear, all was tranquil, and no one expressed any apprehension of the awful crisis that was near us—even at our doors.

“It was about four o’clock, while sitting in my cabin with my babe in my arms, and my wife standing by my side, the door being open, I cast my eyes on the opposite bank of Shoal Creek and saw a large company of armed men, on horses, directing their course towards the mills with all possible speed. As they advanced through the scattering trees that stood on the edge of the prairie they seemed to form themselves into a three square position, forming a vanguard in front.

“At this moment, David Evans, seeing the superiority of their numbers, (there being two hundred and forty of them, according to their own account), swung his hat, and cried for peace. This not being heeded, they continued to advance, and their leader, Mr. Nehemiah Comstock, fired a gun, which was followed by a solemn pause of ten or twelve seconds, when, all at once, they discharged about one hundred rifles, aiming at a blacksmith shop into which our friends had fled for safety; and charged up to the shop, the cracks of which between the logs were sufficiently large to enable them to aim directly at the bodies of those who had there fled for refuge from the fire of their murderers. There were several families tented in the rear of the shop, whose lives were exposed, and amidst a shower of bullets fled to the woods in different directions.

“After standing and gazing on this bloody scene for a few minutes, and finding myself in the uttermost danger, the bullets having reached the house where I was living, I committed my family to the protection of heaven, and leaving the house on the opposite side, I took a path which led up the hill, following in the trail of three of my brethren that had fled from the shop. While ascending the hill we were discovered by the mob, who immediately fired at us, and continued so to do till we reached the summit. In descending the hill, I secreted myself in a thicket of bushes, where I lay till eight o’clock in the evening, at which time I heard a female voice calling my name in an under tone, telling me that the mob had gone and there was no danger. I immediately left the thicket, and went to the house of Benjamin Lewis, where I found my family (who had fled there) in safety, and two of my friends mortally wounded, one of whom died before morning. Here we passed the painful night in deep and awful reflections on the scenes of the preceding evening.

“After daylight appeared, some four or five men, who with myself, had escaped with our lives from the horrid massacre, and who repaired as soon as possible to the mills, to learn the condition of our friends, whose fate we had but too truly anticipated. When we arrived at the house of Mr. Haun, we found Mr. Merrick’s body lying in the rear of the house, Mr. McBride’s in front, literally mangled from head to foot. We were informed by Miss Rebecca Judd, who was an eye witness, that he was shot with his own gun, after he had given it up, and then cut to pieces with a corn cutter by a Mr. Rogers of Daviess County, who keeps a ferry on Grand River, and who has since repeatedly boasted of this act of savage barbarity. Mr. York’s body we found in the house, and after viewing these corpses, we immediately went to the blacksmith’s shop, where we found nine of our friends, eight of whom were already dead; the other, Mr. Cox, of Indiana, struggling in the agonies of death and soon expired. We immediately prepared and carried them to the place of interment. The last office of kindness due to the remains of departed friends, was not attended with the customary ceremonies or decency, for we were in jeopardy, every moment expecting to be fired upon by the mob, who, we supposed, were lying in ambush, waiting for the first opportunity to despatch the remaining few who were providentially preserved from the slaughter of the preceding day. However, we accomplished without molestation this painful task. The place of burying was a vault in the ground, formerly intended for a well, into which we threw the bodies of our friends promiscuously. Among those slain I will mention Sardius Smith, son of Warren Smith, about nine years old, who, through fear, had crawled under the bellows in the shop, where he remained till the massacre was over, when he was discovered by a Mr. Glaze, of Carroll County, who presented his rifle near the boy’s head, and literally blowed off the upper part of it. Mr. Stanley, of Carroll, told me afterwards that Glaze boasted of this fiend-like murder and heroic deed all over the country.

“The number killed and mortally wounded in this wanton slaughter was eighteen or nineteen, whose names as far as I recollect were as follows: Thomas McBride, Levi [N.] Merrick, Elias Benner, Josiah Fuller, Benjamin Lewis, Alexander Campbell, Warren Smith, Sardius Smith (aged twelve years), George S. Richards, Mr. [William] Napier, Mr. Augustine Harmer, Mr. [Simon] Cox, Mr. [Hiram] Abbott, Mr. [John] York, Charles Merrick, (a boy eight or nine nears old), [John Lee, John Byers], and three or four others, whose names I do not recollect, as they were strangers, to me. Among the wounded who recovered were Isaac Laney, Nathan K. Knight, Mr. [William] Yokum, two brothers by the name of [Jacob and George] Myers, Tarlton Lewis, Mr. [Jacob] Haun, and several others, [Jacob Foutz, Jacob Potts, Charles Jimison, John Walker, Alma Smith, aged about nine years]. Miss Mary Stedwell, while fleeing, was shot through the hand, and, fainting, fell over a log, into which they shot upwards of twenty balls.

“To finish their work of destruction, this band of murderers, composed of men from Daviess, Livingston, Ray, Carroll, and Chariton counties, led by some of the principal men of that section of the upper country, (among whom I am informed were Mr. Ashby, of Chariton, member of the state legislature; Colonel Jennings, of Livingston County, Thomas O. Bryon, clerk of Livingston County; Mr. Whitney, Dr. Randall, and many others), proceeded to rob the houses, wagons, and tents, of bedding and clothing; drove off horses and wagons, leaving widows and orphans destitute of the necessaries of life; and even stripped the clothing from the bodies of the slain. According to their own account, they fired seven rounds in this awful butchery, making upwards of sixteen hundred shots at a little company of men, about thirty in number. I hereby certify the above to be a true statement of facts, according to the best of my knowledge.

Joseph Young.”

Brother Young was one of the first settlers in Nauvoo, where he had a comfortable home and surroundings, after the persecutions of Missouri, but was forced to leave it and become again an exile, in 1846, when the Saints were compelled to leave their beautiful city in the middle of winter. He remained at Winter Quarters until 1850, when he crossed the plains with his family in ox teams, and settled in Salt Lake City, where he has ever since resided. He has traveled and preached extensively in the Territory, and in 1870 visited the British Isles and preached in the old world. He was greatly beloved by the people everywhere, and was one of those lovable dispositions that always attract those with whom he was associated. He was a benevolent and merciful man, full of kindness and good works. He was full of integrity to the cause he had espoused, and never wearied of proclaiming its principles.

The funeral of President Joseph Young was held in the large Tabernacle in this city on Tuesday, July 19, at eleven o’clock a.m., and was attended by thousands of the Latter-day Saints. The remains had been escorted from the family residence at an early hour in the day, and were viewed by the people previous to the commencement of the services, which were conducted by Presidents Horace S. Eldredge, John Van Cott and W. W. Taylor, of the First Seven Presidents of the Seventies.

There was music by the brass band, followed by the choir (Uncle Joseph was passionately fond of music). Prayer by Apostle F. D. Richards. Singing. The speakers were Presidents Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon and John Taylor, all expressing the highest regard for the deceased, enumerating his many excellent qualities of heart and mind, and extolling his integrity to the Gospel. There was solemn music by the Careless Orchestra, the choir sang, and the benediction was pronounced by President Joseph F. Smith, which concluded the ceremonies at the Tabernacle.

The casket containing the remains was profusely ornamented with exquisite flowers, artistically arranged in crosses, crowns, anchors and bouquets, and a sheaf of wheat fully ripe, emblematical of the full life, was bound with a white ribbon, on which was printed, in gold letters, the appropriate words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Above it was a sickle decorated with white flowers. It was a beautiful tribute to the memory of the departed.

The remains were followed to the cemetery by a very large procession of carriages. At the grave impressive music was rendered by the band and choir, and the dedication prayer was offered by Elder Daniel H. Wells.