Lightning from Heaven

Lightning from Heaven

Lately there has been discussion as to whether or not Joseph Smith was a fraud, true prophet, fallen prophet, etc. Looking at the accounts of the last few years of his life makes it difficult for some to tell. It is amazing how many interpretations we get from the life of a man that lived so close to us historically.

There is one record though that even makes his strongest skeptics wonder and this is the miracle that happened at his death.

The interesting thing about this account is that I have not seen it mentioned in any traditional Mormon books published in recent times. I first found it mentioned in Fawn Brodie’s biography of Joseph Smith called “No Man knows My History”. What puzzled me about this is that it was considered to be the most powerful anti-Mormon book ever written. As I read it I saw her making point after point supporting the idea that Joseph was a fraud and then at the end she includes an account of a miracle that happened at his death that seemed to override the whole theme of the book and support the idea that he was approved by God.

When I read this I wondered why the church had never made any hay over this. Eventually, I found the answer which is this. Not only is this account glossed over but all the miraculous events in Mormon history are airbrushed out of history. The authorities have “frowned” on any emphasis on them.

I have since concluded this happens because such miraculous stories, when read by average members, makes them wonder why such events do not happen in our day. Because it would make some question the authenticity of current authorities, the miracles of the past are downplayed. The exception is the first vision of Joseph Smith, which is a cornerstone to church proselytizing.

That said here is a brief synopsis of the account:

After Joseph was shot he fell from the window of the Carthage Jail. The mob then dragged his body over to a well and four men stepped back and shot him several more times. It is said there was a reward for his head and a man stepped forward with a Bowie knife and was about to cut his head off. Just before he swung the blade there was a great sound of thunder and flashes of light from a clear blue sky struck the man and the four who shot him paralyzing them, scaring the daylights out of the mob.

They immediately threw the body of the man with the knife in a wagon and scattered. Within an instant all the assassins were gone.

Here are some accounts of the story from witnesses. The first two are testimonies from non Mormons:

A Gentile (non-Mormon) named William W. Daniels claimed to have witnessed the martyrdom. He wrote that after Joseph Smith fell from the second story window a miraculous event occurred after a member of the mob attempted to cut-off Joseph Smith’s head with a bowie knife. Daniels wrote:

    “The ruffian, of whom I have spoken, who set him against a well-curb, now gathered a bowie knife for the purpose of severing his head from his body. He raised the knife and was in the attitude of striking, when a light, so sudden and powerful, burst from the heavens upon the bloody scene (passing its vivid chain between Joseph and his murderers,) that they were struck with terrified awe and filled with consternation. This light, in its appearance and potency, baffles all powers of description. The arm of the ruffian, that held the knife, fell powerless; the muskets of the four, who fired, fell to the ground, and they all stood like marble statues, not having the power to move a single limb of their bodies.”

    Murder of an American Prophet, pp.175-6


    “In 1923 I was called to go on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One day while tracking I walked upon the porch of a large white house and there sat an old man. Before I was able to introduce myself he said, ‘You’re a Mormon Elder.’ I replied, ‘yes’. Then he asked me to sit down because he would like to tell me a story. This is his story:

    “‘When I was a small boy my parents lived in Carthage, Illinois and as a small boy I remember standing in the crowd that had gathered at the jail when Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith were killed. I saw the men drag the body of Joseph Smith and lean it up against the curb of the well and then a man in the mob drew a large knife from his belt and approached the body of Joseph. At that moment a streak of light or power come from out of the sky and struck this man and he became paralyzed. Then I remember seeing two men come and throw him into a wagon as if he were a sack of dirt and they hauled him away. It was common talk at our table and in our house that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet.’“  [Written January 14 1973, by Almon G. Clegg upon request of his son Almon H. Clegg.]


    “William T. Head, an officer in Captain Lawn’s company, and tarrying in Carthage, testified that he saw a certain man raise a large knife to strike off the head of Joseph, when, all at once, and in the midst of a clear day, with no cloud in sight, ‘a terrible clap of thunder rolled heavily, and forked lightnings flashed in the face of the murderers, and perfectly paralyzed a number of them.

    “‘The ruffian, who had raised his knife and had sworn with a dreadful oath to take the head off Joseph, stood perfectly paralyzed, his arm uplifted with the knife suspended in air, and could not move a limb. His comrades carried him off, and all fled in terror from the scene.’

    “These particulars, and many others, were related to me by brother Beckwith previous to his death, and afterwards by his widow and father-in-law, and others who were conversant with them, and are believed to be correct.”

    Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Deseret Book Company, 1938; pages 425,426


Mary Lightner, a Mormon who lived near Carthage at that time, wrote:

    “A number of men came and called us to the door and said ‘The Smiths are dead, and they do say a great light appeared when they were killed.’ I said, ‘That should prove to you that Joseph was a true Prophet and a man of God.’ One answered, ‘It proves that the Lord was well pleased with what was done.’“

    Biographical Sketch of Mary Lightner, p. 11


    “…he fell outward into the hands of his murderers, exclaiming, ‘O Lord my God!’ He fell partly on his right shoulder and back, his neck and head reaching the ground a little before his feet, and he rolled instantly on his face. From this position he was taken by a man who was barefoot and bareheaded, and having on no coat, his pants rolled up above his knees, and his shirt sleeves above his elbows. He set Joseph against the south side of the well curb, which was situated a few feet from the jail, when Col. Levi Williams ordered four men to shoot him. They stood about eight feet from the curb, and fired simultaneously a slight cringe of the body was all the indication of pain visible when the balls struck him, and he fell on his face. The ruffian who set him against the well curb now gathered a bowie-knife for the purpose of severing his head from his body. He raised the knife, and was in the attitude of striking, when a light, so sudden and powerful, burst from the heavens upon the bloody scene (passing its vivid chain between Joseph and his murders), that they were struck with terror. This light, in its appearance potency, baffles all powers of description. The arm of the ruffian that held the knife fell powerless, the muskets of the four who fired fell to the ground, and they all stood like marble statues, not having the power to move a single limb of their bodies. The retreat of the mob was as hurried and disorderly as it possibly could have been. Col. Williams Hallooed to some who had just commenced their retreat to come back and help to carry off the four men who fired, and who were still paralyzed. They came and carried them away by main strength to the baggage wagons, when they fled towards Warsaw. Dr. Richards’ escape was miraculous;…”

    Millennial Star, Vol. 24, page 487

There seems to be no lack of witnesses to this supernatural account. It is amazing that few rank and file members even know about it.

June 3, 2007

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