As hard frosts stiffen the stubble in the fields and blacken the remaining flowers, we turn eagerly to our celebration of Halloween, and anticipation of Thanksgiving and Christmas festivities.
In the late October of 1838, the Saints in Missouri were in the midst of a roiling nightmare, awaiting the relentless hand of oppression and cruelty to fall upon them yet again.
One of the sparks that had set off a blaze was the Mormons' attempts to vote at the polls on Aug. 6. Following this, the general uproar increased, and floods of lies were spread, so that Governor Linburn Boggs' militia was hurried into service. Dr. Austin, one of the frustrated and disappointed mobbers, rode into the small settlement of DeWitt with more than a hundred men, threatening the people with death if they did not leave the state at once. General Lucas, a leader in the terrible harassments in Jackson County, wrote to the governor: "Those base and degraded beings (the Saints) will be exterminated from the face of the earth."
Joseph made an appeal to the governor, but his messenger was bluntly informed: "The quarrel is between the Mormons and the mob, and they can fight it out."
From this point, horror followed horror, resulting in the Battle of Crooked River on Oct. 25, where 75 Mormon men stood against the militia from Ray County, and three Saints died from their wounds, including Elder David Patten, an apostle. Then came the most infamous legislation ever enacted in these free United States: Governor Boggs' executive order of Oct. 26 which stated: "The Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state."
The Saints could do nothing but "commend themselves to the Lord." They were now like lambs surrounded by wolves, as cruelly proven on Oct. 30 when the mob fell upon the Saints at Haun's Mill. Nineteen men and boys were killed, 15 were wounded. No mercy was shown, not to children who were shot in the head, or to women, or even to gray-haired veterans of the Revolution. One elderly man begged for mercy and was shot with his own gun, then hacked to pieces with an old corn cutter.
Meanwhile, an army of 2,000, added to daily, was surrounding Far West, where the Saints had gathered in from outlying areas, hopeful of protection.
Oct. 31 dawned gray and silent. A Mormon lieutenant colonel, George Hinkle, reported to Joseph that the governor's troops wished a meeting with him. Innocently, he, Sidney Rigdon, Parley Pratt, Lyman Wight and George W. Robinson rode out. Hinkle, ignoring his friends, approached Lucas and stated bluntly, "Here, General, are the prisoners I agreed to deliver to you."
How the Prophet Joseph and his brethren lived through the night is a tribute to the power of their protector, the Lord God Almighty, himself. The people in their homes in Far West could hear the horrible screeching of the mob. Lucy, the prophet's mother, recorded: "No tongue can describe, no heart can imagine the sensations in our breasts as we listened to those awful screams. Had the army been composed of so many bloodhounds, wolves and panthers, they could not have made a sound more terrible."
Lucas ordered Brigadier Gen. Doniphan to shoot the prisoners, who now included Hyrum Smith and Amasa Lyman. Doniphan flatly refused. "It is cold-blooded murder," he replied. "I will not obey your order, and if you execute those men, I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God!"
The prisoners were marched off in chains, and the furious armies fell upon Far West.
The Saints lived through the refiner's fire, and so did the Prophet, who had borne witness after the trials of Kirtland, that "it was clearly evident the Lord gave us power in proportion to the work to be done, and strength according to the race set before us, and help as our needs required."
Now, cruelly imprisoned, his family and his people starved, wounded and scattered, Joseph needed more assistance from heaven than ever before, and the Lord tenderly told him: ". . . If thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?" (see Doctrine and Covenants 122:7-8)
The lives of these thousands of "ordinary" people who embraced the restored gospel of Jesus Christ sing and resound with the power of God. He walked with them; he was their succor and their strength; he was their light and their joy. Will we ever see their like again? Will we ever, through our own faithfulness and diligence, be able to stand, shoulder to shoulder, beside them?