A Few Details

The following excerpt comes from an article by Susan Easton Black, published in BYU Studies:

After the death of Emma Smith in 1879 and the demolition of the bee house that had once sheltered the graves, conjecture arose over the exact location of the martyrs’ burial site. Family members could not point with confidence to where the bodies were laid. Joseph Smith III reported, “I didn’t see the bodies buried. I saw them dig them up. I saw them take a knife and cut a lock of hair off of Joseph and give to Emma, but I didn’t follow over and watch them bury them.” David Hyrum Smith, youngest son of Joseph Smith Jr., composed “The Unknown Grave”:

There’s an unknown grave in a green lowly spot,
The form that it covers will ne’er be forgot.
Where haven trees spread and the wild locusts wave
Their fragrant white blooms over the unknown grave,
Over the unknown grave.

* * *
The prophet whose life was destroyed by his foes
Sleeps now where no hand may disturb his repose,
Till trumpets of God drown the notes of the wave
And we see him arise from his unknown grave,
God bless that unknown grave.

When the waters of Lake Cooper threatened to flood the area where the graves were thought to be, leaders of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints decided to locate the bodies and remove them to higher ground and to place an appropriate monument over their graves. W. O. Hands was appointed to direct a small group of surveyors and engineers to search for the missing graves. They began digging on 9 January 1928, and on 16 January they found them. The remains of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, as well as those of Emma, were exhumed from their resting place. The remains were arranged in silk-lined wood boxes that were placed side-by-side seventeen feet north of where the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum had been exhumed. Then the bodies were reburied on Friday, 20 January 1928, and the graves were marked. 

On 21 January 1928 Samuel O. Bennion, president of the Central States Mission, wrote to President Heber J. Grant and his counselors about the “exhuming of the bodies of the Prophet and his brother Hyrum.” In his letter he reported asking Frederick M. Smith, president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, “Why didn’t you let the bodies of these men rest where they were?” In response, he was told, “[I] wanted to find out if the graves of these men were down by what was once called the Spring House.” President Bennion wrote, “It is my impression brethren that he had heard reports that Brigham Young took the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum to Utah and that he wanted to prove it untrue.” Bennion stated, “I could hardly keep the tears back.”

In 1991, under the joint direction of leaders from the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, new tombstones marking their remains became the focus of a gardenlike cemetery near the Homestead in Nauvoo. On 4 August 1991 the newly renovated cemetery was dedicated by Wallace B. Smith, great-grandson of Joseph Smith and president of the RLDS Church. Elder M. Russell Ballard, a great-great-grandson of Hyrum Smith, represented the LDS Church.

If Joseph was resurrected in 1886, his body could not have been relocated in 1928.


Lorin C. Woolley spoke throughout as an interloper. He was spying and overhearing, but wasn’t invited into the events. Therefore, his statements should be viewed from that vantage point. On the Mount of Transfiguration Peter, James and John were invited by the Lord precisely so they would witness what took place. They saw and heard as invited participants, not interlopers. If Lorin C. Woolley was invited to witness the events, the description would have been otherwise and read much differently.

When Philo saw Joseph “in the midst of a magnificant glory” that was Joseph experiencing the glory, not Philo. Joseph was in the midst of this experience, seeing the Father and Son at the Throne of God. But that description is of Joseph’s being in the “midst” of the experience. Others understood what Joseph was undergoing from the words being spoken.

When he states he “saw the glory and felt the power, but did not witness the vision” he is referring to the same thing any of us witness when reading Section 76. It was this section which got me serious about considering Mormonism. It is glorious. It radiated power to me the instant I first read it. But seeing the glory of that great vision as I read it, like Philo Dibble’s experience hearing it dictated by Joseph, did not involve blinding light–nor seeing light from under a doorway. It was and still is a glorious document and vision. You can still feel the power of it today.


Brigham Young was a necessary preserver of the faith. Without him the church would have stumbled. Sidney Rigdon was impaired, and we would not have done as well, and may have done much worse, with him at the helm. The point is that the church was faced with a dilemma with the loss of BOTH Joseph and Hyrum. We had no good alternative. We took the one which was probably the most practical. We have to live with it.

But that does not mean we should avoid understanding the full implications of the choice. Every choice has consequences. Until we gather together our best understanding of what happened, and sort out what was going on, we can’t know much of God’s dealing in our day.

We should not just bury our heads and trust happy stories. WE are responsible for our own salvation or damnation.

I am the best kind of church member: I willingly accept full responsibility for the eternal outcome. As God is my witness, I will never point to Brigham Young, or Spencer W. Kimball, or Bruce R. McConkie, or Boyd K.Packer, or Thomas S. Monson in the afterlife and blame them for my own condition. I will accept sole responsibility for my eternal state. No man is my leader. No man is responsible for my understanding. I alone will blame myself for any failure, and accept no credit for what I got right. I trust only in the grace and mercy of Christ and rely utterly on His power to save me. The general authorities and local leaders ought to want every church member to be like that.


If a Fundamentalist were to return to church, they would not be welcomed by the institution. They wouldn’t have membership records, nor receive callings, nor be able to pay tithing. But they could worship there, and in many wards would be fellowshipped by the members even if the institution excluded them. They would be “visitors” and not members. But that shouldn’t deter them. In fact, if enough of them began this practice, the institution would not be oblivious to their presence. When a significant number of people were doing this, policies would be adapted to allow sincere people to repent and return. The leadership of the church would respond. But faithful return will have to precede that even being possible. It would require humility, to be sure.