Friday, July 8, 2011

The Life of Emma Smith: Part 2 by Shantel Gardner

Today's post for Emma Smith's Birthday celebration is the second half of Shantel Gardner's posts on the life of Emma Smith. If you missed the first half make sure you go back and read it. I am so grateful that she was willing to share her expertise with us. Also don't forget about the present for Emma this Sunday, July 1oth!

The last picture taken of Emma Smith before her death in 1879.
Picture from the LDS Church Archives, used with permission

The last post left off with Emma arriving in Nauvoo, Illinois. Nauvoo was a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity for Emma but also a time of great trials. One of the hardest things Emma had to deal with in Nauvoo was polygamy, it was very hard for Emma to live. She hated it. She lived it as early as 1832 in Kirtland, Ohio but she would go back and forth between having a testimony and being strong and then she just couldn't do it. She said she was too jealous hearted. It was her Issac; her Abrahamic sacrifice (see D&C 132).

Emma never poisoned Joseph because she was jealous of his other wives, as some people accuse her of doing-- it was bad chicken. All the quotes you normally read about Brigham Young accusing her are actually misquoted. Also, she never pushed Eliza R. Snow down the stairs and they never fought over a ring. We are finding more and more documentation that she actually had a good relationship with Brigham Young rather than a bad one. Brigham sent Joseph the 3rd birthday and Christmas presents throughout his life and we have just recently uncovered a letter from Brigham Young that is that is a very kind and in which he offers to pay Emma's way to Salt Lake, and understanding why she would want to stay in Nauvoo. He harbored no hard feelings. The bulk of bad things being said between the two were penned by a lawyer who refused to defend Joseph and Hyrum at Carthage and who had a huge falling out with Brigham Young later and ended up leaving the church.

Hyrum Smith's martyrdom clothes. No one knows where Joseph's are.
Picture from the LDS Church Archives, used with permission

The box given to Joseph by his brother Alvin in which he stored the golden plates.
Picture from the LDS Church Archives, used with permission

Emma also gets a bad reputation because she chose not to move West with the Saints to Salt Lake City. The only comments we have from her about making that choice are, "I was to tired to go west", "I knew what I had here, I did not know what was waiting for me there" Once she had crossed the Mississippi, she was not crossing it again. Other than that we don't know why she didn't go because she did not keep a journal. She did care for Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph's mother, until she died. Emma and Joseph were a team, equal in the restoration and when he was done- so was she. The Lord let her rest. When the railroad came through in 1868 she made plans to go to Utah to visit family and Brigham, but she was too ill by that point. Joseph left behind a lot of debt when he died and she paid off the debts left in Nauvoo up until 10 years before she died.

Three years after Joseph's death Emma married Lewis Bidamon, mainly for protection, but from letters between them we know they did love each other. He was a military man. Late in their marriage he had an affair and had an illegitimate son. Emma cared for the boy and raised him, but also gave his mother Nancy Abercrombie a job at the Nauvoo house so she could be close to her son. She made Lewis promise to marry Nancy after Emma died, and he did.

The Nauvoo House in Nauvoo, Illinois. Image source

She was an excellent mother. Joseph the 3rd talks about how the boys in Nauvoo that he would play with would get all muddy, and then get in trouble so they would be afraid to go home. So Emma would give them clean clothes, launder their muddy clothes, and send them home with a cookie. He said the boys got to where they would just roll in the mud to get a cookie. He also talked about being in the Nauvoo house basement and getting caught sneaking some sugar. Emma caught them. She starting laughing and chipped them each a piece of the sugar cone and sent them on their way. He remembered her kindness to children. Joseph was that way to.

It is also important to note that Emma did not start the Reorganized Church of Later-day Saints (RLDS also known as the Church of Christ) and that her sons did not start the RLDS Church. It was started by two men, one of them being William Marks. They asked Joseph the 3rd to lead the church three times and he turned them down. Finally in 1860 Joseph the 3rd said he had a spiritual experience that told him to go lead that church. Emma supported her son, but never joined the church. She put together a hymnal for them and attended off and on, but she never broke her covenants. I had a personal experience while speaking about Emma in Nauvoo that told me that yes, Joseph the 3rd was indeed directed by the spirit to lead that church. He did SO MUCH GOOD as the leader of the RLDS church. Because of him, we now have the Kirtland temple, we have all the land in Nauvoo, we know the location of Joseph and Hyrum's bodies, and he started a University. I personally believe that Emma and her children were directed to stay- the Lord knew what he was doing.

Today Hyrum Smith has 30,000 decedents and Joseph Smith has 1,100. Of these descendants 109 of these are now members of the LDS church. Satan killed Joseph, drug his wife's reputation through the mud, and then combed through the posterity with the intend to destroy them. If they had gone West maybe none of them would have survived and there would have been no posterity. There was still a bounty on all the of the Smith boys heads and they were threatened that they would all be killed if they stayed with the church. It was not an idle threat, they had already had several close calls. Can you imagine how scared Emma would have been? She had already lost her parents, six children, her husband, and three of his brothers. We only know a fraction of her heartache and what she had to face, both things of this world and things of the spirit world- good and bad. I cant even imagine. Nothing was truly hers, she had literally sacrificed all.

Out of Emma's 11 children 5 of them lived into adulthood. All the below pictures are from the LDS Church Archives and are used with permission.

Julia Murdock Smith died in Nauvoo of breast cancer in 1880

Joseph Smith the 3rd lead the reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints until his death in 1914.

Frederick Granger Williams Smith lived into adulthood and was married and had a baby named Alice. Fredrick had what we now think was TB (Consumption) and he would have spells. His wife left him one day and took the baby during one of his spells. Joseph the 3rd was riding by on his horse and felt prompted to stop, so he did. He found Fredrick almost dead on the floor in his parlor. He threw him on the back of his horse and took him to Emma. Emma could do nothing for him, and he died a short time later. So that was another son she buried.

Alexander Hale Smith (named after Emma's Father). The LDS church history department thinks that he most resembled his father Joseph. Joseph also had a full jaw and a cleft in his chin.

David Hyrum Smith. Emma was pregnant with him when Joseph was martyred. He was born 4 months after his father died. In mid-life David Hyrum checked himself into a mental institution where he died in 1904. We had a medical doctor look at his records and we think he actually had hypoglycemia and was not actually insane.

Emma holding David Hyrum after Joseph's death

Two weeks before she died Emma had a dream that Joseph came to her and she put on her bonnet and shawl. He took her to a beautiful mansion in which there were many apartments, he took her into a room and in the room there was a cradle. In the cradle was Don Carlos. She picked him up and held him. She turned to Joseph and asked "where are the others" he said "You will have them all if you are patient" then she turned and standing next to Joseph was the Savior. She was promised in her patriarchal blessing that she would see the Savior in this life. She died two weeks later on April 30, 1879, the anniversary of her twins death, saying "Joseph, Joseph" and her hand outstretched. Identical to the way in which Brigham Young died.

She is with Joseph. I know it.

Image Source

Shantel Gardner lives in Minnesota with Joel, her husband of 15 years, and their five children. She has dedicated years of her personal study to Church history research, with a special interest in Joseph and Emma. She is a committee member of the Joseph Smith Jr. and Emma Hale Smith Historical Society and is assisting with ongoing projects. She is herself a descendant through Joseph’s family line. Shantel has a background in theatre and was a Deseret Cultural Arts Award finalist in 2009 for her play called “Brother Joseph”. She has also written other plays for the Cultural Arts department of the Church. Since 2005, Shantel has been invited to speak about Emma Smith across the country. She is currently pursuing a degree in Religious Studies at the University of Minnesota.


  1. Thank you so much for this beautiful testimony of Joseph's beloved wife - a truly wonderful and remarkable woman.

    I have always had a strong testimony of Emma's faithfulness, and although I never knew why she stayed in Nauvoo (or why her son led the RLDS church) I always knew that there was something right about it. I just felt like someone who had sacrificed as much as Emma did, and as her children did, would not just casually put aside the covenants and promises that had been made to her. It's really good to hear a little more about her life in Nauvoo and your testimony of her faithfulness.

    I visited Nauvoo when I was 14 or 15, and I remember visiting a lot of RLDS sites there, and I remember thinking a lot about Emma and her sons and wondering why they would have been part of the RLDS church, but still believing that Emma and her children had to have been faithful. Thank you for putting this all in perspective and helping us understand what really went on.

  2. "Because of him, the LDS church now has the Kirtland temple, we have all the land in Nauvoo,"

    Not true. The Kirtland Temple still belongs to the Community of Christ Church and some of the land in Nauvoo still belongs to the Community of Christ Church (i.e. Joseph Smith's Mansion House)

  3. Me, sorry that was my fault as an editor. I just went back and looked at what Shantel sent me and she didn't say "the lDS church" she said "we". That was an editing mistake on my part and I apologize. I assume that the "we" Shantel is talking about is Joseph Smith's posterity. If Emma hadn't stayed behind then it is very likely that those buildings and lands would have fallen into diverse hands, rather than one set, and been lost, destroyed, developed or worse. Sorry about the editorial error I've fixed it. That is the nice thing about a blog :)

  4. This was so beautiful and moving...thank you so much! Emma truly was remarkable and I hate it when people get down on her for things that we really have NO WAY of understanding. Her refiner's fire burned hotter than most of ours EVERY will. She truly was made gold...

  5. I couldn't have said it better, Gretchen! Beautiful, Shantel & Heather! Thank you so much for sharing. ♥

  6. Thank you so much for this post (all of your post actually). Would it be possible to have a reference for the 'Emma DID NOT start the Reorganized Church of Later-day Saints (RLDS also known as the Church of Christ) and that her sons DID NOT start the RLDS Church' part? Or a general idea of where I can find more about that? It kills me to think that so many of us hear the opposite :(

  7. Thank-you for correcting that Heather- my mistake also. I meant that the Kritland Temple is still standing and preserved. Yes- it is owned by the Community of Christ, and it was Joseph the third who purchased it. I Guess I should have clarified that I was writing as a commitee member of the Joseph Smith Jr. and Emma Hale Smith historical society and a historian- not an LDS church member.

  8. Kimberly- Those are my words. and I am an historian. You can quote me. it coniceides with the actual documentation we have about her life. "we" meaning the family. My book will not be completed for publication for a few months yet at least. A good refrence is "Joseph and Emma- thier divine mission" by Gracia Jones.

  9. I do not think the relationship between Brigham and Emma was a good as you indicate. See Alexander Hale Smith’s article published in Autumn Leaves in 1902. In addition, the RLDS Church at the 1860 Amboy Conference (where Joseph III was ordained President of the RLDS Church) received Emma Smith Bidamon into fellowship. The RLDS Church evidently gave her membership based on her previous baptism, which was a common practice at that time (RLDS Church History 3:250).

    I also do not believe that Joseph was a polygamist. Throughout her entire life, Emma supported the position that Joseph did not teach or practice polygamy. See Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy.

    Thank you for saying many good things about her. She was truly an “elect lady.”

  10. I apprciate your comment JSDefender, and I understand your position- however new documentation has surfaced- particularly a letter penned by Brigham to Emma, in 1864 that I hunted down and researched my very own self. As of the date of that letter- they were on very good terms. The family has also found other things, I am not at liberty to discuss here. We have OVERWHELMING evidence that JS was a pologymist- even the C of C church has relented to that fact. And has a statement to that fact on their website. He did preach against spiritual wifery and other forms of pologomy which is different than celetial marriage. John C. Bennett and others were taking wives with no authorization- this is what he was preaching against. I myself with my very own eyes have seen the original revelation Joseph recieved for pologomy- it is in the hands of a private owner. Emma was listed on the membership of the RLDS Church- you are right- that in no way means she broke her covenants, and she did not attend regularly, and not at all in her later years. Thank you for your testimony- I know you truly care for Joseph and Emma.

  11. This was truly wonderful to read. I have a hard time with the level of scholarship that has been directed toward Emma in the past, and there is divine restitution in the fact that we are now benefited by research performed by her descendants. I especially appreciate your comments regarding Brigham Young - I have long felt that he has been often misinterpreted, as often as Emma has. God is patient, and truth emerges eventually. Thank you for your contribution to that. This was more valuable than anything else I've read on the subject.

  12. I really love this post on Emma. One of the best and most heartfelt and touching I have ever read. Thank-you.

  13. Thank you for this post, probably the most moving and inspiring things I have ever read. I have so much respect for this remarkable women and when I read about her son responding to the spirit in leading the reorganised church I felt the spirit confirm that these things I am reading are all true. Thank you!

  14. Thank you for these beautiful photos of our dear prophet of the restoration as well as his family members.