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Seth Adam Smith
Wednesday, June 08 2011

Joseph Smith Used a Gun at Carthage Jail

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Was Joseph Smith really a martyr if he used a gun at Carthage Jail? Critics of the Church often claim that Joseph Smith was a coward because he defended his brethren from the mob with a pepper-box pistol. This video helps set the record straight.

Surprisingly, many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are unaware that Joseph Smith used a gun at Carthage Jail. This “historical ignorance” has been used by anti-Mormons as a weapon against the Church.  FAIRwiki writes:

These [critics] often claim to “expose” these minor events of Church history in a sensationalistic attempt to shock members of the Church with “hidden” revelations or “secret” accounts about various episodes in Church history. They will often claim that the Church has kept this knowledge under wraps for fear that if it was generally known it would cause many members of the Church to immediately renounce their faith and result in the ruination of the Church.

Unfortunately for the critics, Joseph's attempt to defend himself, his brother, and his friends, and his possession of a pepperbox gun, is clearly spelled out in the History of the Church:

Joseph reached round the door casing, and discharged his six shooter into the passage, some barrels missing fire. Continual discharges of musketry came into the room. Elder Taylor continued parrying the guns until they had got them about half their length into the room, when he found that resistance was vain, and he attempted to jump out of the window, where a ball fired from within struck him on his left thigh, hitting the bone, and passing through to within half an inch of the other side. He fell on the window sill, when a ball fired from the outside struck his watch in his vest pocket, and threw him back into the room.

The next volume of the History of the Church tells the story from John Taylor's point of view:

I shall never forget the deep feeling of sympathy and regard manifested in the countenance of Brother Joseph as he drew nigh to Hyrum, and, leaning over him, exclaimed, 'Oh! my poor, dear brother Hyrum!' He, however, instantly arose, and with a firm, quick step, and a determined expression of countenance, approached the door, and pulling the six-shooter left by Brother Wheelock from his pocket, opened the door slightly, and snapped the pistol six successive times; only three of the barrels, however, were discharged.

If the Church wished to hide these facts, why did they publish them in the History of the Church not once, but twice?

Regardless of that, critics have continued to press this issue and some members of the Church have really struggled with it. If Joseph Smith used a gun at Carthage Jail, the question becomes: was he a martyr or a coward?

For years, I wanted to create a video that would help explain this aspect of Joseph Smith’s martyrdom, but I lacked resources. Andrew Knaupp’s painting of Joseph using a gun at Carthage Jail  has finally given me the perfect opportunity to finally share this aspect of the martyrdom in a positive light.

I sat down and interviewed Andrew Knaupp about his painting and he shared with me some of his research:


“Part of my motivation for this [painting],” said Knaupp “was to show why he had the gun, what he was doing with the gun and to show that we don’t have to be afraid or ashamed that he fought back. He was a man of peace, but when needed, he would defend the innocent.”

Knaupp then shared a few quotes from the Prophet about

defending the innocent. In 1842 Joseph said, "When my enemies take away my rights, I will bear it and keep out of the way; but if they take away your rights, I will fight for you"(History of the Church 5:181). He also said, "If I do not stand with those who will stand by me in the hour of trouble and danger, without faltering, I give you leave to shoot me" (History of the Church 6:94). In a sermon in 1841 he preached, "What greater love hath any man than that he lay down his life for his friend? Then why not fight for our friend until we die?" (The Words of Joseph Smith, pg. 81).

“This painting shows that Joseph Smith was not afraid,” continues Andrew Knaupp. “He was not a coward. Honestly, the safest place in this room is the corner where Willard Richards is shown in this painting. That’s the farthest angle from those guns. If Joseph was afraid and a coward, he would have been in that corner. But he wasn’t.

“This is death. He knows death is here. His brother has just been killed. He knows what’s coming through this door. Some would say that you could tell something about a person by how they respond to the threat of personal harm to themselves. And here we see Joseph responding. Did he run to the corner while John Taylor and Willard Richards were at the door? No. He was right there at the door. At the mouth of these guns. It tells you that he was willing to look death in the face and not be afraid of it.”


  1. Lots of things are in the History of the Church that would shake the testimony of members. There's a reason the history of the church is not considered important for members to read. How come they don't have the pistols in Carthage but have them in the museum in Salt Lake City? Why don't they talk about them on the Carthage tour?
  2. Why in heaven's name would knowing that a gun at Carthage shake any testimony. Is your testimony based on the death of Joseph? Your testimony should be based on Jesus Christ and the witness of the Holy Ghost. And your appreciation of Joseph Smith should be based on his life, which was only sealed by his death!

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