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A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief

L.D.S. Sunday Evening Service

A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief

Oct 01 1933

Source: The Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog at keepapitchinin.org.

[Announcer:] "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief," written by the Scotch hymnologist James Montgomery, was a particular favorite of Joseph Smith, the first Mormon Prophet.

On June 27th, 1874, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were incarcerated in Carthage jail, Illinois. With them were Willard Richards and John Taylor. During the day, John Taylor, at Joseph's request, sang "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief," and repeated it at Hyrum's importunity. In the late afternoon a mob stormed the jail and Hyrum and Joseph were killed. Willard Richards escaped injury and later became a counselor to President Brigham Young in Salt Lake valley. John Taylor was wounded but recovered. His watch shattered by a bullet saved his life. He later became the third president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It is evening in Great Salt Lake valley in the early 1850s. In the parlor of Willard Richards' home are gathered his children and some close friends. They have been enjoying a "sociable" evening -- as was the pioneer custom -- with songs and stories and fireside talk. As we tune in on them, one of the women is seated at the harmonium singing to her own accompaniment. She is singing, in response to a request from Willard Richards, a Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.

Woman (singing) --

He spake and my poor name he named,

"Of me thou hast not been ashamed;

These deeds shall thy memorial be,

Fear not, thou didst them unto me."


Daughter -- Why, father, you're crying. Why do you ask for that song when it always upsets you so?

Willard Richards -- No, my dear, I'm not upset. The song does move me. It brings back all the terrible sublimity of those last hours with the Prophet in Carthage.

Son -- Terrible sublimity?

W.R. -- Does sound paradoxical, doesn't it, son? Those hours were terrible then, but in retrospect, they are sublime ... I have often wondered why the Lord considered me worthy to share those last precious hours with Brother Joseph.

Son -- You were with him a good deal just before the martyrdom, weren't you, father?

W.R. -- Almost constantly.

Woman -- Tell us about it again. I'd like the folks to hear it.

W.R. -- Where shall I begin?

Son -- Start -- start with the prophet's departure for the west.

W.R. -- Well, as you know, by the third week in June, 1844, persecution of the Saints had reached such a pitch that we were momentarily expecting the mob to attack Nauvoo. At the Prophet's order -- you remember he was mayor of the city as well as lieutenant general of the Nauvoo Legion -- Major General Dunham was holding the legion ready to repel attack. Appeals to governor Ford --

Son -- He was governor of Illinois.

W.R. -- Yes. Appeals to the governor only served to show us that his sympathies were with our enemies ... On June 22nd -- how well I remember it, it was on a Saturday -- the Prophet had called a number of us to the Mansion House. Because of the bitterness of our enemies, Brother Reynolds Cahoon stayed outside on guard. Brother Joseph had received a letter from Governor Ford. After we had all read it --

(Rustle of paper.)

Joseph -- There is no mercy -- no mercy here.

Hyrum -- No. Just as sure as we fall into their hands we are dead men.

Joseph -- Yes. What shall we do, Brother Hyrum?

Hyrum -- I don't know.

Joseph -- I know. The way is open. It is clear to my mind what to do. All they want is Hyrum and myself --

Markham -- Oh, I --

Joseph -- Then tell everybody to go about their business and not to collect in groups, but to scatter about. There is no doubt they will come here and search for us. Let them search; they will not harm you in person or property. We will cross the river tonight and go away to the west. Hyrum, go tell Brother Cahoon what we plan.

(Steps to door. Door opens and closes.)

Markham -- Do you think it's that serious?

Joseph -- Brother Markham. If Hyrum and I are ever taken again we shall be massacred or I am not a prophet of God. I want Hyrum to live but he is determined not to leave me.

(Door opens and closes. Descending steps.)

Hyrum -- (Calling softly) Brother Cahoon.

Cahoon (coming up) -- Yes? What is it?

Hyrum -- A company of men are seeking to kill my brother Joseph, and the Lord has warned him to flee to the Rocky Mountains to save his life. Good-by. We shall see you again.

Hyrum -- Come, Joseph. Dr. Richards, are the rest of you ready?

W.R. (Coming up) -- we're coming. How are we going to cross the river?

Hyrum -- Porter Rockwell will row us across. We'll stop at his house and get him. Brother Phelps, we are leaving our families in your care. Guard them as they were your own. Take them up the river to Cincinnati, and as soon as you arrive, petition President Tyler in Washington for redress of our grievances.

Joseph -- Yes. Go to our wives and tell them what we have concluded to do and learn their feelings on the subject. And tell Emma you will be ready to start by the second steamboat. She has sufficient money wherewith to pay expenses.

W.R. -- We called for Porter Rockwell sometime after midnight and we started across the Mississippi. My! how that boat leaked! In order to keep it afloat while Porter rowed, Joseph, Hyrum and I were kept busy bailing out the water with our boots. Hardly a word was spoken. We arrived on the Iowa side at daybreak Sunday morning. The prophet sent Porter back to Nauvoo with instructions to return secretly Monday night with horses for him and Hyrum to be ready to start for the Great Basin in the Rocky Mountains. We went to brother William Jordan's and got flour and other provisions ready for packing. About midday on Monday, Porter returned with Brother Cahoon.

Joseph -- Well, Porter, we did not look for you until tonight.

Porter -- Your wife insisted on me coming back at once.

Joseph -- Why?

Porter -- She told me -- well, er -- she said to beg you to come back.

Cahoon -- I brought a letter from her.

(Noise of opening letter. Pause.)

Hyrum -- (Anxiously) -- Joseph, what is it?

Joseph -- I thought Emma would understand.

(Rustle of letter. Pause.)

Hyrum -- She insists on your coming back and giving yourself up.

Joseph -- Yes.

Reynolds -- I think she's right.

Joseph -- What do you mean?

Reynolds -- Well, the idea of your running away --

Joseph -- Running away?

Reynolds -- What else is it? It's you they're after. A posse arrived in Nauvoo this morning to arrest you. When they couldn't find you they let us know that Governor Ford would send his troops to guard the city until you were given up -- if it took three years to do it. The people you have left in Nauvoo will be the ones to suffer. They didn't expect you to turn out to be a coward.

Porter -- You damned --

Hyrum -- Reynolds. You --

W.R. -- You know very --

Joseph -- Hyrum! Porter!!

Porter -- But, I won't --

Joseph -- Never mind! If my life is of no value to my friends, it is of none to me.

Porter -- You know it's of value to me.

Joseph -- What shall I do?

Porter -- You are the oldest and ought to know best, and as you make your bed, I'll lie with you.

Joseph -- Brother Hyrum, you are the oldest. What shall we do?

Hyrum -- Let's go back and give ourselves up and see the thing through.

Reynolds -- If you --

Joseph -- Brother Cahoon, tell Captain Davis to have his boat ready at half-past five.

Cahoon -- Very well.

W.R. -- While waiting to start back, I wrote a number of letters at Brother Joseph's dictation -- one to Governor Ford arranging to meet his posse, others engaging counsel and witnesses. At 4 o'clock we started for the river. As we walked, brother Joseph fell behind.

W.R. -- It's well past four.

Hyrum -- Yes. (Calling) Joseph. We'll be late.

Joseph -- (Coming up). There is no need to hurry. We are only going to be slaughtered ... I would like to preach to the Saints again.

Porter -- We'll arrange that. You can talk to 'em, by starlight.

Joseph -- No. Brother Porter, I fear I shall never address them again. (Sigh.) I wish it were possible.

W.R. -- I needn't tell you the details of our arrival in Nauvoo and our short stay there. I have never seen a sadder leave-taking than the prophet's. The quiet tears were rolling down his cheeks when we reached the temple grounds.

Joseph -- This is the loveliest place and the best people under heaven.

Cahoon -- You've stopped to look back a dozen times.

Joseph -- If some of you had got such a farm and knew you would not see it any more, you would want a good look at it for the last time.

W.R. -- But, Brother Joseph, you have been promised a fair trial and you are not guilty.

Joseph -- Nevertheless, I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am calm as a summer's morning. I have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward all men. I shall die innocent and it shall yet be said of me, 'He was murdered in cold blood.'

W.R. -- We arrived in Carthage about midnight on the 24th. The excitement was at fever pitch there. He had been threatened a number of times during the twenty-mile trip from Nauvoo, but Joseph was majestically unperturbed through it all. Tuesday morning early, a number of officers curious to see the "Mormon" prophet came to Joseph's room in the hotel.

Joseph -- Well, gentlemen, here I am. In your honest opinion is there anything in my appearance to indicate that I am the desperate character my enemies represent me to be?

Soldier -- No, sir. Your appearance would indicate the very contrary, General Smith, but we cannot see what is in your heart; neither can we tell what are your intentions.

Joseph -- Very true, gentlemen. You cannot see what is in my heart and you are therefore unable to judge me or my intentions; but I can see what is in your hearts, and I will tell you what I see. I can see that you thirst for blood, and nothing but my blood will satisfy you.

Solder -- But --

Joseph -- It is not for any crime of any description that I and my brethren are thus continually persecuted and harassed by our enemies, but there are other motives, and some of them I have expressed, so far as relates to myself; and inasmuch as you and the people thirst for blood, I prophesy in the name of the Lord that you shall witness scenes of blood and sorrow to your entire satisfaction. And many of you who are now present shall have an opportunity to face the cannon's mouth from sources you think not of; and those people that desire this great evil upon me and my brethren shall be filled with regret and sorrow because of the scenes of desolation that await them.

Solder -- That is --

Joseph -- Gentlemen, you will find what I have told you to be true. Good morning.

W.R. — That morning, Joseph and Hyrum gave themselves up to Constable Bettisworth who dumbfounded us by arresting the Prophet for treason.

Son -- Treason?

W.R. -- Think of it! For anyone who knew anything about Brother Joseph, a more preposterous charge would have been hard to imagine. Tuesday and Wednesday were a nightmare of interviews with perfidious officials, writing of letters, rumors of plots and counterplots, and of proofs of broken promises and hypocrisy on the part of the governor ... Those days I would rather forget. The memory of them makes the Master's 'Love your enemies' very difficult advice to follow ... By afternoon of Thursday, a threatening crowd began to gather around the jail. We were in an upper room and could hear the ominous milling-about of the mob below.

(Faint murmur of mob through next scene.)

Hyrum -- I don't like the sound out there.

Joseph -- Don't worry, Hyrum. Dr. Richards, you are ill.

W.R. -- I shall be all right. I am afraid my dinner did not quite agree with me.

Joseph -- Brother Markham, you have a pass from the governor to go in and out of the jail, go and get the doctor something he needs to settle his stomach.

Markham -- Certainly.

(Receding steps, door opens and closes.)

Soldier (at distance) -- Old man, you've got to leave town in five minutes.

(Murmur of approval from mob.)

Markham (at distance) -- I shall not do it.

(Angry outbursts from crowd. "O, you won't, won't you?" "We'll show you," etc. Noise subsides to murmur.)

Joseph -- They have ridden Brother Markham off on a horse. Brother Willard, I am afraid you will have to procure some medicine yourself.

W.R. -- My place is at your side.

Joseph -- Thank God for such loyal friendship. You will go from here unharmed and you will live to see the Saints a mighty people in the Rocky Mountains ... Brother John, I am not a little weary. Sing something for us.

Taylor -- Well, I -- I don't think I can -- not just now.

Hyrum -- It will cheer us up, Brother Taylor.

Taylor -- But what shall I sing?

Joseph -- I should like to hear "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief."

Taylor -- (Sings alone)

A poor wayfaring man of grief

Hath often crossed me on my way,

Who sued so humbly for relief

That I could never answer, Nay.

I had not pow'r to ask his name,

Whereto he went, or whence he came;

Yet there was something in his eye

That won my love, I knew not why.

(Male quartet softly hums harmony)

Once, when my scanty meal was spread,

He entered, not a word he spake;

Just perishing for want of bread,

I gave him all, he blessed it, brake,

And ate, but gave me part again;

Mine was an angel's portion then;

For while I fed with eager haste,

The crust was manna to my taste.

Taylor -- (Sings alone in minor key)

'Twas night, the floods were out; it blew

A winter hurricane aloof;

I heard his voice abroad and flew

To bid him welcome to my roof.

I warmed and clothed and cheered my guest,

And laid him on my couch to rest.

Then made the earth my bed, and seemed

In Eden's garden while I dreamed.

Hyrum -- That isn't all of it, Brother Taylor. Please finish it.

Brother Taylor -- (Sings in major while quartet hums harmony softly.)

In prison I saw him next, condemned

To meet a traitor's doom at morn;

The tide of lying tongues I stemmed,

And honored him 'mid shame and scorn.

My friendship's utmost zeal to try,

He asked if I for him would die;

The flesh was weak, my blood ran chill,

But the free spirit cried, "I will!"

Then in a moment to my view

The stranger started from disguise;

The tokens in his hands I knew,

The Savior stood before my eyes.

He spake, and my poor name he named,

"Of me thou hast not been ashamed.

These deeds shall thy memorial be.

Fear not, thou didst them unto me."

Joseph -- Thank you.

(Door opens hurriedly.)

Jailer -- Mr. Smith, I don't like the looks of things. That crowd down there are getting pretty ugly. I think it would be better if you went into the cell.

Joseph -- if you think it best, Mr. Stigall, we shall go to the cell after supper.

Jailer -- I think it will be safer.

(Door closes.)

Joseph -- Dr. Richards, if we go into the cell, will you go in with us?

W.R. -- Brother Joseph, you did not ask me to cross the river with you; you did not ask me to come to Carthage with you; you did not ask me to come to jail with you. Do you think I would forsake you now? I will tell you what I will do. If you are condemned to hang for treason, I will be hanged in your stead.

Joseph -- You cannot do that.

W.R. -- But I will.

(Noise outside door. Musket shots at distance. Sound of breaking wood.)

Joseph -- Stand away from the door, Brethren, all of you.

(Noise of prying open door. Angry growl of crowd. Musket shot and splintering wood. Mob subsides.)

Hyrum -- I am a dead man.

Joseph -- O, dear Brother Hyrum.

(Noise of splintering wood. Growl of mob. Musket shots.)

Joseph -- My pistol's useless.

W.R. (shouting) -- Joseph, keep away from the window.

Joseph -- Nothing will satisfy them but my blood. For the sake of my friends they shall have it.

(Noise swells. "There he is." "That's him." "Kill the Mormon prophet," etc.)


Joseph -- Oh!


Joseph -- O, Lord my god1

(Great clamor from mob as scene closes.)

W.R. -- And so the Prophet of the living God sealed his testimony with his life.

Woman -- No wonder the song moves you.

W.R. -- The Prophet and Patriarch were given mock burials to save their bodies from desecration by the mob. Only a few of us knew where they were buried. The Prophet's brother [i.e., son] David memorialized the event in a poem. Sing "The Unknown Grave" for us, my dear.

Woman (sings) -- "The Unknown Grave."

There's an unknown grave in a lonely spot,

But the form that it covers will ne'er be forgot.

There the heaven-tree spreads and the tall locusts wave

Their snow-white flowers o'er the unknown grave,

Over the unknown grave.

And near by its side does the wild rabbit tread,

And over its bosom the white thistles spread,

As if placed there in kindness to guard and save

From industry footsteps, the unknown grave,

Guarding the unknown grave.

And there reposes the Prophet just;

The Lord was his guide and in him was his trust;

He restored the Gospel, our souls to save,

But he now lies low in an unknown grave --

Low in an unknown grave.

God grant that we may watch and pray,

And keep our feet in the narrow way;

Our spirits and bodies in purity save,

To see him arise from an unknown grave!

God bless that unknown grave.

W.R. -- Amen. I hope all you children -- and all your children after you -- will have burning in your souls the knowledge that Joseph Smith was in very deed God's prophet -- and that Brigham Young is his divinely appointed successor. I bear you my solemn testimony it is true.

Quartette sings:

We thank Thee, O God, for a prophet

To guide us in these latter days;

We thank Thee for sending the Gospel

To lighten our minds with its rays.

We thank Thee for every blessing

Bestowed by thy bounteous hand,

We feel it a pleasure to serve Thee

And love to obey thy commands.

When dark clouds of trouble hang o'er us

And threaten our peace to destroy,

There is hope smiling brightly before us,

And we know that deliverance is nigh.

We doubt not the Lord nor his goodness,

We've proved him in days that are past.

The wicked who fight against Zion

Will surely be smitten at last.

We'll sing of his goodness and mercy,

We'll praise him by day and by night,

Rejoice in his glorious Gospel

And bask in its life giving light.

Then on to eternal perfection

The honest and faithful will go,

While those who reject this glad message

Shall never such happiness know.

Announcer: The program was broadcast over KSL, Salt Lake City, by the music committee of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The music was rendered by Mrs. Annette Richardson Dinwoodey, Mr. Richard Condie accompanied by Miss Becky Almond and the White Chapel quartette directed by B.F. Pulham. The play was written and directed by J.F. Smith. The players in addition to the singers were: Lynn S. Richards, J.F. Smith, Gordon Owen, B. Spencer Young, Harold H. Bennett, Hyde Clayton, and Sam Thurman. Announcer: Richard Evans.

Next Sunday at eight thirty another broadcast will be given during which Presidents Heber J. Grant and J. Reuben Clark will be heard over KSL in the last part of the Sunday school conference, featuring the Ogden Tabernacle choir which will sing in Ogden and be heard in the Salt Lake Tabernacle through the public address system.

The consideration of Latter-day Saint hymns will be resumed a week later with a dramatization of the famous Mormon Pioneer song, "Come, Come Ye Saints."