At the time of the death of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the Apostles were located in various parts of the country.
Brigham Young, Orson Hyde, and Wilford Woodruff were in Boston.
Heber C. Kimball and Lyman Wight had left Philadelphia and were traveling to New York. William Smith at some point joined them, and they continued to Boston for an appointed conference that was held on 29 June. Seven members of the Twelve were present at the conference—Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, William Smith, Orson Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, and Lyman Wight.
Parley P. Pratt was returning to Nauvoo and was on a canal boat between Utica and Buffalo, New York.
George A. Smith was staying with members of the Church near Jacksonburg, Michigan.
Amasa Lyman was in Cincinnati.
The location of Orson Pratt on 27 June is not known, but on 29 June he attended the conference in Boston, so he must have been fairly close to Boston on the day of the Martyrdom.
John E. Page had been in Pittsburgh, where he edited and published the Gospel Light from June 1843 to May 1844. His exact location is not known, but in all probability he was in Pittsburgh or the surrounding area.
John Taylor and Willard Richards were in Carthage.
On the day of the Martyrdom, members of the Twelve were depressed and melancholic without knowing why. Elders Heber C. Kimball and Lyman Wight were traveling between Philadelphia and New York City when Elder Kimball felt mournful, as if he had just lost a friend. In Boston, Orson Hyde was examining maps in the hall rented by the Church when he felt a heavy and sorrowful spirit come upon him. Tears ran down his cheeks as he turned from the maps and paced the floor. In Michigan, George A. Smith was plagued with a depressed spirit and foreboding thoughts all day long. When he retired to bed he could not sleep. He said that “Once it seemed to him that some fiend whispered in his ear, ‘Joseph and Hyrum are dead; ain’t you glad of it?’” 5
5. History of the Church, 7:133; see also pp. 132–33.
Two days before the Martyrdom, Parley P. Pratt was moved upon by the Spirit to start home from New York State and coincidentally met his brother William on a canal boat on the day of the tragedy. Parley wrote that as they talked, “a strange and solemn awe came over me, as if the powers of hell were let loose. I was so overwhelmed with sorrow I could hardly speak. . . . ‘Let us observe an entire and solemn silence, for this is a dark day, and the hour of triumph for the powers of darkness. O, how sensible I am of the spirit of murder which seems to prevade the whole land.’” 6
6. Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Classics in Mormon Literature series (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985), p. 292.
In sorrow Elder Pratt walked 105 miles across the plains of Illinois, hardly able to eat or sleep, wondering how he should “meet the entire community bowed down with grief and unutterable sorrow.” He prayed for assistance. “On a sudden the Spirit of God came upon me, and filled my heart with joy and gladness indescribable; and while the spirit of revelation glowed in my bosom with as visible a warmth and gladness as if it were fire. The Spirit said unto me: . . . ‘Go and say unto my people in Nauvoo, that they shall continue to pursue their daily duties and take care of themselves, and make no movement in Church government to reorganize or alter anything until the return of the remainder of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. But exhort them that they continue to build the House of the Lord which I have commanded them to build in Nauvoo.’” 8 Arriving in Nauvoo on 8 July, Parley helped Elders Richards and Taylor keep order in the stricken community.
George A. Smith learned of the Martyrdom from a newspaper account in Michigan on 13 July. At first he thought it a hoax, but when the report was confirmed, he hastened home with his three missionary companions. Overcome by worry and fatigue, he broke out in hives over his entire body. He could not even eat, but he traveled on, arriving in Nauvoo on 27 July. Soon he was meeting in council with the three Apostles already there. 9
In Boston rumors of Joseph Smith’s death began on 9 July. 10 During the week before confirmation came from family letters and more complete newspaper accounts, Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and Orson Pratt struggled within themselves about what the terrible news meant. Brigham recorded in his journal, “The first thing which I thought of was, whether Joseph had taken the keys of the kingdom with him from the earth; brother Orson Pratt sat on my left; we were both leaning back on our chairs. Bringing my hand down on my knee, I said the keys of the kingdom are right here with the Church.” 11
Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, and Lyman Wight contacted each other, joined together, and hastened home by railway, stagecoach, boat, and buggy. Subsequent events proved the wisdom of their haste. They arrived in Nauvoo the evening of 6 August. Wilford Woodruff recorded his feelings:
“When we landed in the city there was a deep gloom seemed to rest over the City of Nauvoo which we never experienced before.
“. . . We were received with gladness by the Saints throughout the city. They felt like sheep without a shepherd, as being without a father, as their head had been taken away.” 12
12. Wilford Woodruff Journals, 6–7 Aug. 1844, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City; spelling, punctuation, and capitalization standardized.