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Mother I must tell you . . . I feel very sad and the tears run out of my eyes all the time and I dont know why. . . . strive as I will my heart sinks like lead. . . . I must tell someone my troubles . . .
— DAVID HYRUM SMITH, age twenty-four
SMITH, Joseph [III], [David Hyrum] and [Alexander Hale]. HANDWRITTEN LETTERS from the three surviving SONS OF JOSEPH AND EMMA SMITH, TO THEIR MOTHER. Plano, Illinois, 1869, and Watsonville, California, 1874.
A. Joseph Smith [III]. AUTOGRAPH LETTER SIGNED to Emma Smith on printed stationery of the Herald Office, Plano, Illinois, February 24, 1869.
B. David Hyrum Smith. AUTOGRAPH LETTER to Emma Smith (signed, "from your Child"). [Plano, Illinois, about February 24, 1869], written back-to-back on the sheet with the letter above from Joseph III.
C. Alexander Hale Smith. AUTOGRAPH LETTER to Emma Smith (not signed). Watsonville, California, March 6, 1874.
Poignant, devoted messages of tremendous appeal, almost certainly cherished by Emma until the day of her death in 1879. These communications all relate to Joseph Smith's sons' determination to preach and publish their martyred father's Restoration gospel.
A SIGNED, NOTARIZED STATEMENT OF PROVENANCE from the previous owner who inherited the letters from his mother, who in turn "obtained them through the Bidamon family."
LEWIS CRUM BIDAMON (1806-91, pronounced "BIDE-a-mun"), came to Nauvoo in 1846 and defended Emma and the Saints against anti-Mormon factions. In March 1847 he even wrote a letter to the editor of the Warsaw Signal, insisting upon Emma's right to occupy the Nauvoo Mansion; Thomas Sharp did not disagree. Emma married Bidamon on her late husband's birthday at the end of that year, five months after the "Brighamites" had arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. Major Bidamon is seen with Joseph's sons in a famous pose captured a dozen years later . . .
Accompanying the statement of provenance is a modern compact disk transfer from the previous owner's tape recording of a portion of an informal stated interview with members of the Bidamon Family, San Francisco, ca. 1965. "The man's engaging personality," writes Valeen Tippetts Avery,
and open cordiality made a good first impression. He dressed well, even debonair for Nauvoo. He had a good sense of humor, directed it at himself easily, and charmed women. He was not a teetotaler, but he was not the drunkard he is sometimes portrayed. For the most part Bidamon would earn love and respect from Emma's boys, . . . and this sentiment would be expressed by them when they were adult men. Occasionally their tone in reference to Bidamon seemed indulgent, almost patronizing, but good points compensated for many of his weaknesses and problems. With Bidamon's coming, David Smith gained a stepfather, and the family found a patriarch, provider, and protector, as expected by mid-nineteenth-century society. [From Mission to Madness; Last Son of the Mormon Prophet (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, ), p. 31]
THE LETTERS NOW AT HAND originate from a period when the boys had reached adulthood but still clung to memories and support from a mother whom they clearly revered. Emma's biographers set the context admirably, allowing us a full measure of appreciation for what is here preserved . . .
Emma rarely reflected upon her problems but in one letter to Joseph wrote: "How often I have been made deeply sensible that my pilgrimage had been an arduous one and God only knows how often my heart had almost sunk when I have reflected how much more arduous and trying your work was to be. I have often thought that I know just as well as any other person just how St. Paul felt when he said, 'If only in this life we have hope, we are of all men most miserable.' " 
Emma's daily routine changed slowly as she aged. According to a grand-daughter, she napped thirty minutes after the heavy noon meal and occasionally took time to read a copy of Godey's Lady's Book. While she tended the pansies and violets that bordered the rocks around the Mansion House she hummed, "There's a Feast of Fat Things for the Righteous Preparing," and "The Flowers That I Knew in the Wildwood." Her favorite flowers were lilacs—"lay-lacs" she called them—and the immense planting of them by the kitchen door helped to hide the peeling paint of the old house.
Emma's eyesight began to fade in 1867, and she fussed in irritation when the press of duties did not allow her enough time to write to Joseph and Julia in the daylight and her broken spectacles were useless in the lamplight. She thought she overtaxed her eyes with too much sewing. Emma always had boarders to care for, linens to wash, and meals to prepare. In years when the grapes were abundant Lewis sold them to large wineries. But when the price dropped Emma and the Major made their own wine. That year they prepared more than three hundred gallons of wine and a cask of cider because the price of grapes was so low. [Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith; Prophet's Wife, "Elect Lady," Polygamy's Foe, 1804-1879 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1984), pp. 279-80]
In the spring of 1860, Joseph III was ordained to the presidency of the newly-formed Reorganized Church. At the beginning of 1866 he moved with his wife Emmeline and their children to Plano, Illinois, where he took up the editorship of the Saints' Herald. Over all of this hung a depressing cloud of the death of a young son, and his wife's chronic illness . . .
During her last sickness, which lasted some ten weeks, I did not have my clothing off except for purposes of cleanliness and change, and the only rest I knew was that obtained in the semiconscious condition of an anxious watcher, aware of her every move and those of the nurses supplied by the good sisters of the church to sit with her through the dreary night-vigils of pain and distress. At every moment of need, I was ready to arouse fully, to render what aid I might to mitigate her suffering. [Joseph Smith III and the Restoration . . . (Independence, Missouri: Herald House, 1952), p. 121]
It was during these vigils that the first of the letters preserved here was written . . .
¶ JOSEPH SMITH [III]. AUTOGRAPH LETTER SIGNED to Emma Smith. Plano, Illinois, February 24, 1869.
24½ X 19½ cm. One page on printed stationery of the Herald Office (tiny embossed mark: MINNEHAHA). Originally folded by David Hyrum Smith? Professionally rejoined at some folds with archival tissue. Center portion darkened, but see NOTE ON CONDITION, below.
There is no mention of Emmeline's dangerous condition here, because an even more imminent threat looms, in the severe illness of their daughter, Emma's first grandchild, Emma Josepha Smith (eleven years of age, shown below as she would appear a few years afterwards, fully recovered). Joseph III is now thirty-six, and his mother Emma, sixty-four. We can only admire how Joseph shelters Emma's feelings under such trying conditions as he pens the following . . .
Ever Dear Mother,
Jug and bottles came all safe. I thank you again for them, and for your letter.
I expect Pa Bidamon has had a high old time at the "Wine Growers Convention,"
The papers seem to think so, at least.
Carrie Gardiner arrived last night, and proposes to stay till Emma is better. I hope that may be speedily. But her fever is now being kept under, by strong medicine, which leaves her very prostrate. She has appealed unto the Craser of the "Materia Medica," and I am not disposed to interfere in the action of such judge. My faith in medicine is very faint.
David and Alex came home Monday, in good health and Spirits.
David is drawing as usual, he is also teaching singing here and at Sandwich.
He may fill the other side of this sheet and sketch the office for you too if he pleases.
Love to all Joseph Smith
. . . . .
After the Major had worked very hard on the vineyard and the garden in the summer of 1869 Emma philosophically remarked, "We shall have but very few grapes and perhaps none at all this fall, so he will not have the trouble of working them up." [Mormon Enigma, p.280]
Joseph's allusion to the "Craser of the 'Materia Medica' " was evidently an obscure reference used in his family or locale to druggists and doctors in general. (Crasis: the blending or combination of elements, 'humours,' or qualities, in the animal body, in herbs, etc. . . . The combination of such constituting a state of health or disease. In wider sense, mingling, mixture, combination, etc. . . . 1602, "I have considered the crasis, and symtoma of your disease . . ."; 1670, "Virulent purgatives, that alienate the crases or ferments of the parts." Summarized and quoted here loosely from the Oxford English Dictionary.) On a more human-interest note, I take the signature form, "Joseph Smith" (as opposed to "Jr.," or simply, "Joseph"), as a sign not only of presumed successorship to the original Mormon Prophet, but also as a comforting sign to his mother that Joseph Smith still lives and preaches the restored gospel.
A NOTE on the condition of this page: When one examines such an interesting manuscript, it is natural to make some allowance for condition. This is, after all, unique and original - a single piece of paper bearing handwritten letters from Joseph and Emma Smith's oldest and youngest surviving sons - arguably their two most interesting children in the minds of many readers.
Ironically, however, the stains seen on the front may be of particular interest. When I obtained this item, I submitted it to a conservation paper specialist for cleaning and repair. Upon receiving and examining it, he volunteered his opinion that the nature and pattern of staining suggest to him that someone kept this double letter for a long period of time, folded, in some kind of leather or similar pouch or container, close to their skin.
The mental image of Emma Smith carrying this memento about with her, "close to her bosom" (according to the contemporary expression) - is almost irresistible. Such a thing is presumably impossible to prove, however reasonable it may be to imagine. While Emma would have received many letters from her boys, I do not know how many might have been penned back-to-back like the small treasure preserved here, incorporating concerns, emotions and devotion of two sons on one precious piece of paper.
Young Emma Josepha recovered from the illness Joseph described. Sadly, when her grandmother first held this paper in her hands and read the news, Joseph's wife was approaching her deathbed. Emmeline Griswold Smith died on March 25.
Did Joseph's little brother reflect a general household gloom in the letter which he penned on the back, or do we see here the early signs of depression and eventual insanity which would remove David from society in a very few years?
¶ DAVID HYRUM SMITH. AUTOGRAPH LETTER to Emma Smith (signed, "from your Child"). [Plano, Illinois, about February 24, 1869], written back-to-back on the sheet with the letter above from Joseph III.
24½ X 19½ cm. One page. More uniform in color than the letter from Joseph on the front.
David Hyrum Smith (1844-1904) was born after his father was martyred, and was particularly endeared to the family. He inherited artistic sensibilities which both distinguished and, perhaps, challenged him. At the time of this writing, he and his brother Alexander had recently completed a successful mission in Iowa. For extensive background and documentation on David's life, consult Valeen Tippetts Avery, From Mission to Madness; Last Son of the Mormon Prophet (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, ).
The intriguing letter reads in full as follows . . .
was glad to read your notes to Joseph and Alex; we had a very good time at conference,
Alex is looking well. We have quite a storm of snow, the day is bright but cold.
I have recovered from my cold somewhat can not get away yet
awhile think of starting in just two weeks from last monday. Am
engaged on a picture styled "faith and works and faith without works",
it is for the office. I practise music daily and strive to be useful every way
that I can. I think I have enough to take me to conference. my cloths need overhauling
Mother I must tell you I feel happy sometimes most always; but to day and last night I feel very sad and the tears run out of my eyes all the time and I dont know why. I have to work away as tight as I can clip to keep the rest from seeing it. I wonder if something sad is going to happen, strive as I will my heart sinks like lead. So I must go to work or I will make you feel sad too. I must tell someone my troubles or I should well I dont know what,
God bless you Mother from your Child
As with the stains on the front of this sheet (Joseph III letter), we can only speculate about certain events which surrounded this physical object. But if I may offer my best guess, it would be that the rather crooked fold lines are a manifestation of David Hyrum's emotional distress, or at least of an artistic temperament under stress. This is not idle speculation: It is clear from the text that David did not want anyone but Emma to know of his weeping that day, so he would almost certainly have folded this sheet himself and sealed it in the envelope. The envelope is no longer present, but clearly was used to transmit the letters, as evidenced by the size of the folding. Think, too, about how you fold a letter if you are being careful: you generally place it front side up, so that the printed letterhead and first page of text will show first, when the letter is opened. But David appears to have finished the letter and folded it backwards, hiding the words he has just written. This is seen by the fact that the subsequent staining over the years occurred to Joseph's (outer folded) side of the sheet, not David's!
THE PATIENT READER may now be amply rewarded for a little patience. Pull your computer up to the fire, get comfortable, and indulge me for ten minutes as I allow Valeen Tippets Avery to set a stirring scene for the letter which follows. I will supplement your reading with a few nice photos . . .
BY THE SPRING OF 1869, when David and his mother took to the roads from Nauvoo to Plano for the semi-annual conference, Joseph had firmed up his plans for further westward expansion of the church. Though Alexander had gone west in 1866 with little success, Joseph decided to see once again if disillusionment in Utah opened enough doors to welcome the Reorganized Church. He called Alexander and David to missionary service in Utah and California. . . . Joseph well understood that his brothers meant more to Utah Mormons than ordinary preachers did; to send two sons of the prophet would direct the Reorganized Church's heavy artillery toward the West. . . .
Alex and David a few years before their 1869 mission to Utah
The two brothers complemented each other in physical size and personality. Older by eight years and stockier in build, Alexander reserved his patience for hunting and stalking game rather than dealing with people. . . . In contrast David only now approached his maturity in physical size and personality. . . .
. . . . .
Emma silenced her misgivings about her sons' mission to Utah. In retrospect those anxieties were well-founded. . . . From Montrose, across the river from Nauvoo, to String Prairie, Iowa, the brothers rode in a crowded wagon, whose passengers were only too eager to have David's enthusiasm break the monotony. The wagon also transported as farmer's squealing pig tied in a gunny sack. . . .
. . . . .
David and Alexander registered at a hotel upon their arrival in Salt Lake City on July 15 and then called on the one relative in Utah who had made Alexander welcome earlier. Their cousin John Smith, Hyrum Smith's son and the patriarch of the Utah church . . . insisted his relatives should not be subjected to public lodging while he had a home in the city. John Smith had been the patriarch since 1855; however, his liberal ways, his insistence that the rule against tobacco use was not absolute, and his predilection for maintaining an amicable relationship with his cousins in Nauvoo created a distance between him and the coterie of the faithful, among them his half brother Joseph F. Smith, surrounding Brigham Young. . . .
. . . . .
. . . Brigham agreed to meet them and shook their hands on his front porch. Ostensibly a visiting senator and his party tied up the leader's time. David and Alexander waited impatiently . . . for about two hours. Just as they were ready to leave, feeling ill-treated, a messenger informed them Brigham Young would see them. They entered a room to find nineteen or twenty men waiting for them, among them the church leaders George Q. Cannon, John Taylor, Joseph F. Smith, and Phineas Young, brother to the church president, as well as Brigham Young Jr. and Daniel H. Wells. The long wait had given time for the old Nauvoo Mormons now in Salt Lake City to hustle to the meeting with "Joseph's boys."
. . . . .
David described his initial reaction: "Brigham Young appears older and more broken than I had thought to see him. He spoke graciously to us at first, and stated that if we were only on the right track he could almost embrace us." Alexander sensed the same effort on Young's part. According to his journal Brigham Young received them "almost graciously." Unaware that Young was still smarting from his last visit, Alexander probably gauged the church leader's animosity to be lower than it actually was. Alexander had returned to Utah in 1866 with with James Gillen as one of his companions. Reporting to Joseph III about their visit, Gillen described a meeting held at "Fox's Garden" in the fall of that year. At the close of the meeting held by the RLDS missionaries, Joseph F. Smith requested an opportunity to speak, which Alexander and Gillen granted. Joseph F. defended polygamy and Brigham Young's presidency. [Avery, pp. 87-9, 94-8]
Both Alex and Joseph F. had been born at Far West, Missouri, in 1838. "Here were the sons of Joseph and Hyrum Smith," wrote T. B. H. Stenhouse a short time later,
quarrelling over Brigham Young and Polygamy-Alexander H. maintaining that Brigham was a usurper, and that polygamy was from the devil, while Joseph F. was just as certain that Brigham was the true successor of "the martyred Joseph," and that polygamy was from heaven-and each "knew" that his position was true "by revelation," and "by the "Holy Ghost!" To make the wrangling still more interesting, Joseph F. made a malignant attack upon Mrs. Emma Smith, and called her a vile name before a public audience. Alexander H. was more a Christian than is admired by people generally, but he sprang up and warmly cautioned Joseph F. that, though they were cousins, he must not apply such an epithet to his mother again. [The Rocky Mountain Saints . . . (NY, 1873), p. 629n. (emphasis added). The photographs show the two men as they appeared at the time of their debate. At left, Joseph F. Smith, age 28; at right, Alexander sitting at "J. Olsen's Photograph Gallery, First South Temple St., Salt Lake City."]
ALEX may be the least
known of the Smith brothers who survived to this period, and I appreciate this
opportunity to observe the strength of his character. "After Joseph F.
sat down," continues Avery, "Alexander followed him with what Gillen
described as "one of the worst castigations that I ever saw any person
receive." He did not report Alex's remarks, but Joseph F. Smith undoubtedly
still smarted at the public rebuke." (Avery, p. 98). Now the two men faced
each other once again, and this time David was there with Alex. They were of
course in denial about their father's polygamy, trusting the version of Nauvoo
history learned from their beloved mother, Emma . . .
Young, too, erred in his evaluation of Emma, for he blamed her for turning her sons against him. He could not understand that David's and Alex's opposition to polygamy was grounded in the distaste the American people . . . had for it. . . .
Alexander and Brigham's conversation grew more heated. Brigham accused Emma of stealing the family portraits and Joseph's ring—all items that Emma undoubtedly had a widow's right to possess. Then in front of her sons Brigham called her "a liar, the damndest liar that ever lived." If the Mormon church leader expected to win over the sons, he had certainly taken the wrong tack. . . .
. . . . .
Someone in the room tried to defuse the tension, saying quite sincerely, "We love you boys for your father's sake." Refusing to be mollified, Alexander retorted, "That makes no impression upon me. I expect to live long enough to make for myself a name, and have the people of God love me for my own sake."
At this rejoinder, President Young stood up, clenched his fists, and, emphasizing his words by repeatedly raising himself up on his toes and dropping down on his heels, exclaimed, "a name, a name, a name. You have not got God enough about you to make a name. You are nothing at all like your father. He was open and frank and outspoken, but you; there is something covered up, something hidden, calculated to deceive."
"Time will tell," countered Alexander, and he challenged Brigham Young or any other church representative to a debate. Alexander goaded them, "You say you have the truth, what need you fear? You are men in full vigor of mind and reason, we are but boys. It if is as you say, you can easily overcome us, if we are in the wrong; but if it proves that we are right, the sooner you get right the better." [Avery, pp. 98-100; photograph of Brigham Young taken a few months before the encounter described here.]
"I TRIED before they left here," wrote Emma to Joseph, upon hearing of this encounter,
to give them an idea of what they might expect of Brigham and all of his ites, but I suppose the impression was hardly sufficient to guard their feelings from such unexpected falsehoods and impious profanity as Brigham is capable of. . . . I hope they will be able to bear with patience all the abuse they will have to meet. I do not like to have my children's feelings abused, but I do like that Brigham shows to all, both Saint and sinner that there is not the least particle of friendship existing between him and myself. [Emma to Joseph III, August 1, 1869, quoted in Avery, p. 101]
THE LETTER NOW AT HAND, from Alexander to the mother whom he loved and defended with such intensity, arose from a subsequent mission to the West. It is not signed, but is clearly from Alex, given the source, the context, date and place. By this time, David had married but was drifting toward the eventual insanity which would require institutionalization. Alex and his wife Elizabeth had two boys and four girls; baby Eva Grace had been born only five days earlier, at Nauvoo, and it is not evident that the father was yet aware of the new arrival. Emma is now sixty-nine years of age, but for the moment, Alex is still her boy . . .
¶ ALEXANDER HALE SMITH. AUTOGRAPH LETTER to Emma Smith (unsigned). Watsonville, California, March 6, 1874.
20½ X 12½ cm. Two pages on one leaf of plain lined stationery with small embossed mark without letters. Written in purple ink. Light staining or soil.
Watsonville Cal Mar 6th 1874
T'is a long time since I wrote to you, and I expect you begin to think I am forgetful of my duty, and am rather a bad boy. I confess I have been negligent, but not forgetful, No Mother I have not been forgetful, of you, There is not a day passes over my head, or a night in which I lie myself down to rest, but I think of my Mother, and oft times when my head is racked with pain I wish I could lay my aching brow, as of yore, in my Mothers lap and feel her kind hand smoothing, caressingly, my tangled locks, and hear her comforting voice cheering me, bid[d]ing me to look forward to a "better day coming"
I some times think could I do this I would be better armed to fight the battle of life, I am called upon to fight, and again I often think, of the dear old home and all its surroundings, and wonder why, us boys are all called away, so far from her who bore us, and has borne with our waywardness in the days of our youth, and now when we ought to be near, to comfort, cheer, and help her. Many miles seperate us, and prevent our doing what we would so love to do. And I have become a wanderer on the face of the earth, going to and fro, not knowing one day where I may be called the next. My wife and little ones forsaken and left alone. T'is time I am trying to do the Fathers will, yet t'is nevertheless hard, to be sundered from those we love so well, and though I am a wanderer, I hope I am not a cast away, but that a day will come when my wanderings will be over, and I be permitted to join, Father, Mother, Sister[,] Brothers, Wife and children no more to be seperated, but to dwell together forever.
"March 6, 1874," according to RLDS sources, "Elder A. H. Smith wrote a detailed account of his trip across the continent. Leaving his companion, Elder James McKiernan, at Council Bluffs, Iowa, he hurried on to California, arriving in Sacramento on July 19, 1873 . . ." (Joseph Smith [III] and Heman C. Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (1873-1890) . . . Volume 4, Third Edition [Lamoni, Iowa, 1911], p. 61). We thus see that Alex was not only in California on March 6, 1874, but that he wrote both the letter to Emma and his account of the trip on the same day. Subsequent entries show him presiding at conferences in California, and ultimately returning home on December 14, 1875 (Ibid., p. 121).
Emma would pass away five years later at the Riverside Mansion in Nauvoo in the early morning hours of April 30, 1879, raising herself and extending her left arm with the words, "Joseph! Yes, yes, I'm coming." David would die at the Northern Illinois Hospital and Asylum for the Insane at Elgin, Illinois, August 29, 1904. Alexander died on August 12, 1909, in the Mansion House during a visit to Nauvoo. Joseph III, president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, died December 10, 1914, at Independence, Missouri. "My mother," he wrote,
. . . endeared herself to the entire community. To those within her reach she had ever been an unfailing source of comfort and assistance in all the varied troubles to which ordinary households are subject. As the long stream of people passed by her bier, there was often noted the silent gaze of sorrow, the gently falling tears, or the touch of living hands upon those folded in death, all mute testimonies of the love and appreciation which had been cherished for her in the hearts of her friends and neighbors. [Joseph Smith III and the Restoration, p. 284]
The Mansion House in Nauvoo, the "dear old home" which Alex recalled with fondness in his letter,
showing the hotel addition to the right where Emma labored to accommodate boarders.
Seen below as the main house appears today . . .
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