Joseph Smith/Martyrdom/Removed garments

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    Did Joseph and others with him remove their garments in order to avoid being identified as polygamists?

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It is claimed that prior to leaving for Carthage, that Joseph Smith removed his garments, and advised others to remove theirs, in order to avoid identification as polygamists.

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here


  • Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith and John Taylor removed their garments prior to leaving for Carthage. Willard Richards continued to wear his.
  • According to contemporary accounts, Joseph may have asked others to remove their garments in order to avoid having them desecrated or mocked.
  • John Taylor, who was an eyewitness to the martyrdom, clarified that the garments were not removed out of fear, but that they were sometimes removed because of the hot weather.
  • Because Willard Richards escaped the martyrdom unscathed, a widespread belief arose that his wearing of the garment afforded him physical protection.
  • Garments were sometimes used as a means for enemies of the church to identify Church members.
  • There is no evidence that the wearing of garments or their subsequent removal had anything whatsoever to do with identifying someone as a polygamist.

Detailed Analysis

Did Joseph and others remove their temple garments prior to leaving for Carthage?

Of the four men who were in Carthage Jail at the time that Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed, three of them had removed their garments prior to leaving Nauvoo. Willard Richards was the only one of the four who was wearing his garments at the time of the martyrdom.

What were the reasons for removing their garments?

The commonly believed reason for the removal of the garments was that they were removed in order to keep them from falling into the hands of their enemies. Heber C. Kimball reported in his journal that Joseph instructed those of the Quorum who were going to accompany him to Carthage to remove their temple garments prior to leaving.[1] Sarah G. Richards noted the following in a letter to Zina Huntington,

[T]he order came that in every habitation where any of the endowment clothes were found, [it] would [mean] death to the inmates -- Olive Frost...came to tear to pieces the garments &c of...Doctor Levi....Miss [Rhoda] Richards separated the parts and placed them among the articles of linen.[2]

Oliver Huntington elaborated on this in his journal entry for 22 April 1897:

Thursday, April 22, 1897: My niece Zina Card and sister Lucy B. Young came on their return from Goshen and the other settlements in this county south of here and stayed all night with us.

They were out by appointment from the Presidency of the Church in the interests of the young womans Journal.

We had an excellent time while they were here talking over old times, the sayings of Joseph and Hyrum of Brigham and others.

Among other things both new and old was repeated the fact that the Prophet Joseph pulled off his garments just before starting to Carthage to be slain and he advised Hyrum and John Taylor to do the same, which they did; and Brother Taylor told Brother Willard Richards what they had done and advised him to take off his also, but Brother Richards said that he would not take his off, and did not; and he was not harmed.

Joseph said before taking his garments off, that he was going to be killed. . . "was going as a lamb to the slaughter" and he did not want his garments to be exposed to the sneers and jeers of his enemies.

These facts all came from President John Taylor's lips after he was President of the Church. Elder John Morgan had told them to me as stated to him by Brother Taylor. Sister Lucy B. Young said that Brother John Taylor told her in answer to direct questions, the same all except with regard to Willard Richards.[3]

It appears, therefore, that garments may indeed have been removed in order to prevent them from being mocked. Critics, however, assumed that the garments were removed because Joseph and the others were somehow afraid of wearing them in the presence of their enemies. John Taylor, who was one of the four present in the jail at the time of the Joseph and Hyrum's death, responded to this by clarifying that the garments were sometimes removed simply because of the hot Illinois weather.

Elder John Taylor confirmed the saying that Joseph and Hyrum and himself were without their robes in the jail at Carthage, while Doctor Richards had his on, but corrected the idea that some had, that they had taken them off through fear. W. W. Phelps said Joseph told him one day about that time, that he had laid aside his garment on account of the hot weather.[4]

Was it believed that wearing the garment would have protected Joseph and the others?

The fact that Willard Richards was the only one who escaped the martyrdom unscathed appears to have led to the belief that he had been protected because he was the only one of the four wearing his garments at the time.

[Elder Kimball] Spoke of Elder Richards being protected at Carthage Jail -- having on the robe, while Joseph & Hyrum, and Elder Taylor were shot to pieces.[5]

This idea that the garments would have physically protected Joseph and Hyrum was further elaborated on by Hubert Howe Bancroft in his History of Utah. Bancroft notes the following regarding the temple garment,

This garment protects from disease, and even death, for the bullet of an enemy will not penetrate it. The Prophet Joseph carelessly left off this garment on the day of his death, and had he not done so, he would have escaped unharmed.[6]

Modern-day Church leaders have since clarified that the temple garment serves as "a protection against temptation and evil" and instead of it being some type of 'lucky talisman' the "promise of protection [associated with it] is conditioned upon worthiness and faithfulness." (First Presidency Letter, 10 October 1988; see Ensign, August 1997, 19-).

Were garments used as a means to identify people as "Mormons?"

The wearing of garments was used by those hostile to the Church as a means of identifying Mormons. In the autobiography of B.H. Roberts, Elder Roberts relates the story of how an "Elder Robinson" removed his garments while in hostile territory in order to avoid being identified as a Mormon.

But unfortunately if Elder Robinson should fall into the hands of enemies, it would be a betrayal of him as to his being a Mormon elder. He therefore retired to a densely wooded section of the country and, stripping off these garments, rolled them up and climbed a tree and tied them securely....But approaching the neighborhood of Kane Creek where the elders were reported to be killed, the railroad passes over a bit of trestle work over a very deep and quite large ravine, and near the middle of this trestle work he observed three men approaching from the other side, guns in hand. There was nothing left to do than to go right on.

These men proved to be members of the mountain guard watching for me. On meeting Elder Robinson they questioned him as to where he came from and what his purpose was, and when he told them that he was looking for a job cotton picking they laughed saying, "A damn fine cotton picker you would be. Look at your hands." And, of course, as Elder Robinson had not engaged in physical labor, his hands were white and soft, not at all characteristic of cotton pickers. He then told them of having been sick for sometime, and that accounted for his pallor in his face and hands and that he was just now beginning to get about and was now strong enough to begin cotton picking.

Hence he was in search of that job. They invited him to sit down while they thought things over. No sooner did he do that when one of the three grabbed his shirt by the collar and tore it so as to expose his body, but they found no garments incriminating him as to his Mormonism and finally allowed him to pass.[7]

Was the wearing of garments connected with the practice of polygamy?

Did Joseph and the others remove their sacred garments in order to avoid being identified as polygamists? There is no documentation that ties the wearing of garments to the practice of polygamy. It was not required that one practice polygamy in order to receive the endowment. In the case of Joseph Smith, he was easily identifiable whether or not he was wearing his garments. Removal of his garments would certainly have made no difference in his being identified and taken to Carthage.


  1. Heber C. Kimball, Journal, 21 December 1845, and Oliver B. Huntington, Journal, 22 April 1897.
  2. Sarah G. Richards to Zina Huntington, 20 September 1890, Church Archives.
  3. HISTORY OF THE LIFE OF OLIVER B. HUNTINGTON, Written by Himself, 1878 - 1900
  4. William Clayton and George D. Smith (editor), An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1995), 222.
  5. Heber C. Kimball's diary for 21 Dec. 1845 kept by William Clayton as cited in The Nauvoo Endowment Companies p. 117
  6. Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Utah (San Francisco, CA: The History Company, Publishers, 1890), 357 n.17.
  7. Brigham H. Roberts, Gary Bergera (ed.), The Autobiography of B.H. Roberts [citation needed]

Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

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