Editor’s note: The Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., was born on December 23. In honor of his birthday, here are two accounts adapted from the writings of his teenage cousin John Lyman Smith. They exemplify the love leaders have for youth of the Church.
One evening in the summer of 1837, Joseph and I drove a carriage into the little town of Painesville, Ohio, and stopped at the house of a friend for supper. We had scarcely finished our meal when a disturbance arose outside. A mob had gathered; there were angry yells and threats of murder. They demanded that our host bring Joseph and me out to them. Instead, he led us out through a back door and helped us to get away in the darkness.
Pretty soon the mob discovered we had escaped, so they dispatched riders to hurry along the road they thought we would take. Bonfires were lighted, sentinels were placed, they hunted the countryside.
Joseph and I did not take the main road, however, but walked through the woods and swamps away from the road. We were helped by the bonfires. Pretty soon I began to falter in our flight. Sickness and fright had robbed me of strength.
Joseph had to decide whether to leave me to be captured by the mob or to endanger himself by rendering aid. Choosing the latter course, he lifted me upon his own broad shoulders and bore me with occasional rests through the swamp and darkness. Several hours later we emerged upon the lonely road and soon reached safety. Joseph’s herculean strength permitted him to accomplish this task and saved my life.
John also reports an incident which took place in June 1844, shortly before the martyrdom. Now 16, he had been marching with 75 legion troopers summoned to Nauvoo by the Prophet. It was raining; roads were bad. Most of the men were on foot, wading in places through waist-deep water.
We reached Nauvoo about daylight and encamped near the temple. While I was guarding the baggage, Joseph the Prophet rode up. He asked about my parents. As we were talking, he took my hand and pulled me forward until I was obliged to step up on a log. Then turning his horse sideways he drew me step by step to near the end of the log, when, seeing that each foot left marks of blood upon the bark, he asked me what was the matter with my feet.
I replied that the prairie grass had cut my shoes to pieces and wounded my feet, but they would soon be all right. I noticed the hand he raised to his face was wet and looking up I saw his cheeks covered with tears. He placed his hand on my head and said, “God bless you, my dear boy,” and asked if others of the company were in the same plight. I replied that a number of them were.
Turning his face toward Mr. Lathrup as the latter came to the door of his store, the Prophet said: “Let these men have some shoes.” Lathrup said: “I have no shoes.” Joseph’s quick reply was, “Let them have boots, then.”
Joseph then turned to me and said, “Johnnie, the troops will be disbanded and return home. I shall go to Carthage for trial. …” Then leaning toward me, with one hand on my head, he said: “Have no fear, for you shall yet see Israel triumph in peace.” (Adapted from Carl Arrington, “Brother Joseph,” New Era, Dec. 1973, pp. 16–19.)