Don Carlos Smith: Brother of the Prophet by Roger D. Launius
Printer at Far West and Nauvoo
Don Carlos Smith, youngest son of Lucy Mack and Joseph Smith, Sr., stood at the water's edge, waiting his turn to be baptized by David Whitmer.
Only fourteen years old at the time, young Carlos, as he was affectionately called, was well on his way to the six feet four inches he eventually reached. His blue eyes and fair hair almost seemed to glisten in the June sun as he walked into Seneca Lake in upstate New York and was baptized into the newly organized church.1 The baptism signaled the conversion of an exceptionally talented leader of men. Don Carlos was, without a doubt, a man of promise, and one who was of real benefit to the work of the Restoration. Yet his life had a tragic quality. As a young man only twenty-five years of age he would be struck down by what was referred to as "fever and ague" in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1841. This disease, probably malaria, took his life, and with it one of the greatest assets of the early church-a man with courage, vision, and spirituality. Although his life was short he unquestioningly gave of his talents to the church as a missionary, civic leader, church official, and religious editor and printer.
Born in Norwich, Vermont, on March 25, 1816, Carlos was a baby when his family trekked westward to Palmyra, New York, in search of better farmland and a more promising future on the American frontier. He was only a small boy when his brother, Joseph, jr., experienced his first vision and learned of his future mission as translator of the Book of Mormon. Notwithstanding his youthfulness, Carlos, who adored his brother, became an early and capable convert to the restored gospel. His baptism on June 9, 1830, thus was the beginning of eleven years of active service in the church.2 Soon after his baptism he was ordained to the priesthood and set out with his father on a mission in central New York, the two becoming the first missionaries for the Restoration.3
In 1831 young Carlos moved with his parents to the church's new gathering spot at Kirtland, Ohio, near Cleveland, and it was there that he grew to maturity. By the time he was seventeen he was learning a valuable skill as an apprentice in the church's printing establishment in Kirtland.4 Enthused with the craft of printing, Carlos often spoke of "stick and ems, forms and makeready," and his hands and clothes were always smudged with ink. He was particularly interested in pursuing the profession of printing because it would be of genuine use to the church as a means of spreading the message of the Restoration.
While working at the printing establishment for the church he met another young man with many of the same ideas and the two became fast friends. Later Carlos and the other man, Ebenezer Robinson, entered into a partnership in the editing and publishing of the church's newspaper at Nauvoo, Illinois, the Times and Seasons.5
Kirtland, however, was more than just the place where Don Carlos matured physically; his spiritual growth was manifested there as well. He industriously labored as a missionary and in the local congregations. He was involved in the ceremony at which the cornerstones of the Kirtland Temple were laid. More importantly, perhaps, he was a member of the crew that worked to construct the building. He also accepted responsibility as an ecclesiastical leader on January 15, 1836, when he was nominated and unanimously approved as the head of the High Priests' Quorum for the church.6 Also of importance was Carlos' role as one of the printers working on the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835 and the first book of hymns for the church. He was the printer of the official church newspaper, the Elders' Journal, which superseded all earlier newspapers in October 1837.7
External pressures in Kirtland, however, forced members of the church to begin migrations to other areas in early 1838. Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon fled the state on horseback, with a mob in pursuit, on January 12, 1838.8 Within a few months most of the Kirtland Saints were being organized into wagon trains, the most important being dubbed "Kirtland Camp," to facilitate migration to the new gathering place at Far West, Missouri. Don Carlos assumed the responsibility for moving those members of the Smith family who had not yet left for the West. In a letter to Joseph, which he wrote en route during July 1838, he reported that conditions on the trip were extremely difficult. "We have lived very close and camped out at night, notwithstanding the rain and cold." He added that "it is nothing but the prayer of faith and the power of God, that will sustain them and bring them through." Carlos, however, concluded that "Our courage is good, and I think we shall be brought through."9
Traveling first by canal boat and later overland by wagon, the party eventually reached Far West in July. They were welcomed among the Saints and homes were acquired, most of them crude cabins bought from older settlers. Don Carlos chose not to live in Far West, however, and selected a homesite at Millport, a village on the Grand River about three miles from Gallatin, Missouri.10
Carlos revived the Elders' Journal at Far West, but printed only two numbers before mob action forced him to halt publication and to hide the press by burying it where it could not be located and destroyed.
In the so-called Mormon War between August and October 1838, Don Carlos' family lost virtually everything it owned. In October, while Carlos was away on a preaching assignment, a militia force under a General Parks plundered and burned his home, forcing his wife and children to flee for safety.11 Their plight, however, was no greater than that of other Latter Day Saints in Missouri On October 27 Governor Lilburn W. Boggs issued the "Extermination Order" which stated that church members should be "treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state, if necessary for the public good.12 On October 30 a unit of militia, taking the order at face value, attacked and destroyed the village of Haun's Mill on Shoal Creek.13 The next day Colonel George M. Hinkle, a Mormon militia commander, surrendered Joseph and Hyrum Smith and other church leaders to state officials in return for the safe withdrawal of the membership of the church from the state.14
Apparently Don Carlos was gone during much of the violence and seemingly took no part in it when given the opportunity. Nevertheless, he undoubtedly resented very much the actions of the Missourians upon learning of their handiwork.15 Because of this he later took part in the Saints' military organization in Nauvoo which was an effort to protect persons and property.16 In the meantime Carlos began to organize for the orderly withdrawal of the Smith family from Missouri. As before, he secured wagons and teams for a long trip to Illinois Before leaving, however, he saw that Joseph and Hyrum's families were taken to visit them while they were in prison at the Liberty jail.17 By March 6, 1839, Don Carlos had safely led the families out of Missouri. He wrote to his brothers on that day that the trip had again been difficult, but all had made the trek successfully.18
When his brothers finally rejoined the Saints in the spring of 1839 steps were made toward the acquisition of land for settlement at the defunct town of Commerce, on the banks of the Mississippi about fifty miles north of Quincy, Illinois. Don Carlos was asked to edit a church newspaper to be published in the new town which was named Nauvoo. He sent several men back to Missouri to recover the hidden press and type and set to work preparing a place from which to operate in Nauvoo. Shelter was in short supply in the town in 1839, however, and the only place available was a dank and dark basement under a warehouse. He and his new business partner, Ebenezer Robinson, cleared out the basement, set the press and type inside, and began cleaning the equipment in anticipation of publication.
Nauvoo, located on low marshland, was generally an unhealthy place the first three summers the Saints were; there. "Fever and ague" struck many of the inhabitants, and some never recovered. Robinson was one of those afflicted in July 1839. The entire work of printing the paper then fell to Don Carlos. He wet down enough paper for two thousand copies of the first issue, but was also struck by malaria before he had completed printing more than two hundred. The rest of his prepared paper soon mildewed and spoiled. Others tried to complete the printing of the first number under Carlos' direction, but failed as well. Finally, by November 1839, Robinson and Don Carlos had recovered from the fever sufficiently to complete the first issue, and the Times and Seasons became a going concern. Don Carlos (either with Robinson or alone) edited the paper for thirty-one numbers until his death in August 1841.19
In addition to editing the church newspaper, Don Carlos took part in various other civil and religious activities in Nauvoo in 1840 and 1841. He and Robinson printed another edition of the Book of Mormon in the fall of 1840.20 Carlos also continued his work as president of the High Priests' Quorum, and, as such, took part in the ceremonies in which the cornerstones of the Nauvoo Temple were laid in early 1841.21 He served on the first city council with six other members beginning February 1, 1841, and was one of twenty trustees for the Agricultural and Manufacturing Association of Hancock County during the same period.22
Don Carlos Smith had been a man of promise for the fledgling church. He possessed practical skill as a printer which made him a valuable asset in carrying the gospel to the world. He also possessed a rare blend of wisdom, courage, and faith which made his leadership a special asset. There was, therefore, genuine remorse when he was attacked for a second time with malarial fever. He died from the illness on August 7, 1841, at the age of twenty-five. A reporter for the Times and Seasons wrote with sadness of his death, and remarked that "we never knew of an induvidual [sic] who stood higher in the estimation of all than did the deseased." [sic] Poetry was written in his honor as his death was mourned.23 Joseph Smith wrote in his diary that Don Carlos had been "a noble boy; I never knew any fault with him; I never saw the first immoral act... and where his soul goes, let mine go also."24 Carlos' actions had such a favorable impression on most people that Ebenezer Robinson wrote almost fifty years later that he "was one of the most perfect men I ever knew."25 It was a tragedy that Don Carlos was struck by malaria at such a young age. His leadership in the church would have been valuable during the trying years which came in the 1840s and 1850s. As it was, however, his accomplishments bespoke a faith and devotion to the gospel which deserve retelling.
1. Joseph Smith, ed, History of the Church of Jesus Christ or Latter-day Saints, Period One, B. H. Roberts, ed. (Salt Lake City Deseret Book Co. 1965 ed.), 1:86, and Josephine DeWitt Rhodehamel and Raymond Francis Wood, Ina Coolbrith - Librarian and Laureate of California (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1973), 11. Joseph Smith's History of the Church will hereinafter be referred to as D.H.C. 2. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Lamoni Herald Publishing House, 1912), 181, 184, "D.C. Smith's Ancestry," Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, 20:8-11, 26101-102, and Rhodehamel and Wood, Ina Coolbrith, 4.
3. Smith, Joseph Smith and His Progenitors, 184-92; and D.H.C., 4:393.
4. D.H.C., 1:446, 4:393-97.
5. The Return (Davis City, Iowa), 2 (June 1890):287.
6. D.H.C., 4393, 2:205, 370; and Faun M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977, rev. ed), 163.
7. "Prospectus for Elder's Journal." Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate (Kirtland, Ohio), 1 (August 1837):547, and Elders' Journal (Kirtland. Ohio), 1 (October 1837):1; and D.H.C., 4:393-94.
8. D.H.C., 3:1.
9. Ibid., 3:43; and Ruby K. Smith, Mary Bailey (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co , 1954), 65. A File at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Historical Department in Salt Lake City, Utah, states that Don Carlos Smith and his charges left for Missouri on May 7, 1838; See also Rhodehamel and Wood, Ina Coolbrith, 12.
10. D.H.C., 3:43, 4:393-394, and Pearl Wilcox, The Latter Day Saints on the Missouri Frontier (Independence, the Author, 1972), 174-175.
11. "Trial of Joseph Smith," Times and Seasons, 4 (July 15, 1843):266, "A History, of the Persecution of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter Day Saints in Missouri," Times and Seasons, (1 May 1840):98; Wilcox, Latter Day Saints on the Missouri Frontier, 236; D.H.C., 3:84-85, 163-64, and "Petition of the Latter Day Saints;" House of Representatives Documents, No. 22, 26 Congress, 2 Session, December 21, 1840, 9.
12. D.H.C., 3:175.
13. F. Mark McKiernan "Mormonism on the Defensive: Far West, 1838-1839," in F. Mark McKiernan, Alma R. Blair, and Paul M. Edwards, eds, The Restoration Movement: Essays in Mormon History (Lawrence Coronado Press, 1973), 133-1 14. "Joseph Young's Narrative of the Massacre at Haun's Mill," in D.H.C., 1:183-186; and Alma R. Blair, "The Haun's Mill Massacre," Brigham Young University Studies, 1 (Autumn 1972):62-67.
14. F. Mark McKiernan, The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness: Sidney Rigdon, Religious Reformer, 1793-1876, (Lawrence: Coronado Press, 1971), 94-95.
15. D.H.C., 1:241 16, Joseph Smith III, "Memoirs of Joseph Smith (1832-1914);" Saints' Herald, 85 (January 1, 1915):16-17 D.H.C., 3:261, 4:398; and Smith, Joseph Smith and His Progenitors, 322.
18. D.H.C., 3273-274.
19. Ibid., 4:198-99; Inez Smith Davis, The Story of the Church (Independence, Herald Publishing House, 1699 ed.), 296-297; Ebenezer Robinson, "Testimony of the Book of Mormon," Saints' Herald, 33 (December 11, 1886) 778-781; and D. C. Smith and E. Robinson, "Address" and "To the Patrons of the Times and Seasons," Times and Seasons, 1 (November 1839):1-2, 15-16.
20. Davis. Story of the Church, 298-302, and Robinson, "Testimony of the Book of Mormon," Saints Herald, 33 (December 1, 1886): 778-781.
21. "Laying the Corner Stone of the Temple General Conference," Times and Seasons, 2 (April 15, 1841):382.
22. D.H.C., 4:287-288, 303-305; Laws of Twelfth General Assembly (Springfield, State of Illinois, 1841), 139-141, and Robert Bruce Flanders, Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965), 101.
23. "Death of General Don Carlos Smith," Times and Seasons, 2 (August 16, 1841):503-504 and 2 (September 1, 1841):532-533.
24. D.H.C., 5:127.
25. The Return, 2 (June 1890):287.
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