Because of continued threats against the Saints in Nauvoo, Joseph and Hyrum Smith decided to turn themselves over to the law, hoping that their enemies would leave the rest of the Saints in peace. They were imprisoned in a small, two-story stone jail in Carthage, Illinois, as they unsuccessfully appealed to the government for justice. After spending two nights there, they were surrounded by a large, angry mob that broke into the jail and killed Joseph and Hyrum. This is the account given by John Taylor, the third President of the Church, who witnessed the deaths of the Prophet and his brother.
To seal the testimony of this book [the Doctrine and Covenants] and the Book of Mormon, we announce the martyrdom of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and Hyrum Smith the Patriarch. They were shot in Carthage jail, on the 27th of June, 1844, about five o’clock P.M., by an armed mob—painted black—of from 150 to 200 persons. Hyrum was shot first and fell calmly, exclaiming: I am a dead man! Joseph leaped from the window, and was shot dead in the attempt, exclaiming: O Lord my God! …
John Taylor and Willard Richards, two of the Twelve, were the only persons in the room at the time; the former was wounded … but has since recovered; the latter, through the providence of God, escaped, without even a hole in his robe.
Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God … ; has sent the fullness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants … ; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated! (D&C 135:1–3.)
At the time of their deaths, Hyrum was forty-four years old and Joseph was thirty-eight.
A few days before he was killed, Joseph, aware of his danger, said, “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning” (D&C 135:4). Because of their faith in Jesus Christ, Joseph and Hyrum were not afraid to die. They had been obedient to His will and knew that they would be blessed in the life to come.
Henceforward their names will be classed among the martyrs of religion. … They lived for glory; they died for glory; and glory is their eternal reward. (D&C 135:6.)