Some men and boys were stretched out under a large tree in a little grove near Nauvoo. Among them were loyal followers of the Prophet Joseph Smith, but there were also several of his enemies.
A young man by the name of Philemon Merrill rested quietly by the side of the Prophet, listening to a large and powerful man boast that he could throw anyone in the group. “In fact,” he said, “I can throw anyone in the whole state of Illinois.”
Stephen Markham was a bodyguard of Joseph Smith. He was a huge man and noted for his ability to wrestle. He accepted the challenge and, much to everyone’s surprise, was quickly thrown.
This only served to whet the appetite of the boaster who insisted that someone else become his victim. The enemies of the Prophet began to insult him and his followers, calling them cowards because they didn’t quickly send another man to meet the challenge.
Joseph Smith turned to the young man beside him and said, “Get up and throw that boaster.” Surprise and fear gripped Philemon who, since he was not a wrestler, was about to refuse. However, the look in the Prophet’s eyes stopped him.
Joseph Smith’s followers knew he was a man of great faith. So strong was his faith that his followers felt they could do anything the Prophet asked of them.
Philemon arose to his feet to obey the strange command given him. As he did so, his body was suddenly filled with unusual strength. He lifted his arms and stood ready for action. Despite the protests of his friends, Philemon even gave the boasting wrestler his choice of sides.
As they began to grapple, the Prophet said, “Philemon, when I count three, throw him!”
Philemon’s whole body and soul swelled with an unquestioning faith in his ability to carry out the command of Joseph Smith. As the word “three” was pronounced by the Prophet, the young man, with the strength of a giant, lifted his large opponent and threw him over his left shoulder while the amazed group watched in silent awe. Then a cheer rang through the little grove.
There were no more challenges to wrestle that day.