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written by his daughter


Willard Gilbert Smith was the son of Warren and Amanda Barnes Smith. He was born May 9, 1827, in Amherst, Lorain County, Ohio, and was the eldest child in a family of eight. Willard’s parents joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints early in 1831, just one year after the Church was organized. Willard was baptized on his eighth birthday, May 9, 1835, by Elder Simeon D. Carter, and was associated with the Latter-day Saints Church practically all his life. His first activity, in a religious way, was carrying water for the workmen on the Kirtland Temple. He took great pleasure in after life relating little experiences connected with this work.

Through the violent persecutions of the Saints, Willard’s parents were obliged to sell their home and all other possessions, saving a meager outfit with which they started for Missouri in the spring of 1838. Willard, though a boy, was old enough to sense and fully realize these persecutions, and the dangers with which they were menaced all the way, on that terrible journey, every mile full of horror and uncertain dread. Often they were warned by complete strangers to travel other roads as mobs were congregated to kill them. They would thus be forced to travel unbeaten trails at night with the stars as guides. They were obliged to camp occasionally and get a few days work to replenish their scant provisions.

They left Ohio in April and reached Missouri in October. On the 23rd of October they were stopped by an armed mob. All firearms and ammunition were taken from them; they were taken back five miles, placed under guard, and detained for three days with no consideration and little to eat, constantly threatened with complete annihilation.

On the morning of October 30th they arrived at a little place called Haun’s Mill, a small settlement on Shoal Creek, composed of Latter-day Saints. They received a cordial, hearty welcome. Father said the people had bees and had just taken out their honey, which was in pans and buckets. They were told, "Help yourselves; eat all you want."

They passed a few hours in this friendly atmosphere before they noticed a sort of suppressed anxiety among the people. The men all gathered in groups and seemed to be discussing some vital problem. Grandfather with his three little boys, Willard, Alma and Sardis, were standing at a brush fire heating a wagon tire to re-set. Grandmother was busy with the usual work of a Pioneer mother and traveler. I will try to give you the story of the subsequent events in father’s own graphic words:

"Myself and two little brothers were with father when, without warning a large body of mounted men, blackened and painted like Indians, rode up yelling, and commenced shooting at the crowd. The men at the shop called for quarters; to this the mob paid no attention. The men then called for the women and children to run for their lives.

"We were surrounded on three sides by the mob; the old mill and mill pond were on the other. The men ran for the shop, taking the little boys with them. My two little brothers ran in with father. I followed but when I started to enter the shop my arms flew up and braced themselves against each side of the door, preventing my entrance. In my frenzy of fear I again tried to enter the shop, and again my arms were braced to prevent going in. After the third futile attempt, I ran around the corner of the shop and crawled into a pile of lumber, hiding as best I could. I had been there but a few seconds when the mob began shooting at me and splinters flew all about me. I crawled out and ran into an empty house on the slope near the pond. I had only been there a few minutes when I heard a suppressed groan. I listened again and then I saw a board over a potato cellar move very slightly. I raised the boards and there saw an old Revolutionary soldier by the name of Thomas McBride, who had been wounded before the women had fled and they had hidden him in this pit. Father McBride asked to be helped out and begged for water. I went with a cup to the pond, or mill race, for the water. As I stooped to fill the cup I was deliberately fired upon, the bullets spattering like hail in the water. I escaped without a scratch. I gave the suffering patriot a drink and pleaded with him to remain in the pit, telling him the mob would kill him if they found him. He replied, ‘Help me out; I am dying in here.’ This I did. The mob found him and as he raised his aged hands in supplication, they were cut and hacked, the fingers split down with an old dull corn cutter. By the time the old gentleman was made as comfortable as possible, the bullets were flying thick around us. I decided I must seek safety elsewhere. I ran out of this house into another one close by. Here I heard sobs and ‘whispered comfortings which seemed to come from the corner where the bedstead stood. I went and lifted up the bed valence and crouched way back were six little girls. The mob saw me go in there and soon the splinters and bullets were flying around us. I said, ‘Come, we must get out of here or we will all be killed.’ So we left and ran toward the mill dam, finally reaching the mill race which we crossed on a board. The mob fired at us as we went up the creek bank on the other side. The bullets spattered again in the water and cut down the brush on all sides of us; but not one of us was grazed by a bullet, although several passed through the clothing of the children.

"Two of these little girls I afterwards knew. They were the daughters of Brother Champlain, the man who was knocked down in the shop, and was thought to be dead, thus hearing all the controversies of the mob when they entered the shop to finish their fiendish work.

"After our race for life, the little girls scurried off like prairie chickens into the brush and tall corn. I, knowing father and my little brothers were in the shop and the mob were still firing at them, took shelter behind a large tree, where I could be pretty safe and still watch the mob. This I did until they ceased firing, when they dismounted and went into the shop where they finished their fiendish work by killing all who were not dead. From here they went into all the cabins and tents and destroyed all their groceries and furnishings. After taking the horses and belongings of their victims, they rode off, howling like Indians,

"As soon as I was sure they had gone, I started for the shop. I was the first person to enter this holocaust (wholesale destruction by fire and sword), stepping over the dead body of my father in doing so. I looked around and found my brother, Sardis, dead, with the top of his head shot away; and my little brother, Alma, almost lifeless, lying among a pile of dead where he had been thrown by the mob, who evidently thought him dead. I picked Alma up from the dirt and was carrying him from the shop when I met my mother, who screamed and said, ‘Oh! They have killed my little Alma!’ I said, ‘Alma is alive but they have killed father and Sardis.’ I begged mother not to go in but to help me with Alma. Our tent had been devastated by the mob, even the straw tick cut open and straw scattered about, taking the tick with them. Mother leveled the straw, laid some clothes over it and on this awful bed we placed Alma, and cut his pants off. We could then see the extent of his injury. The entire ball and socket joint of the left hip was entirely shot away, leaving the bones three or four inches apart. It was a sickening sight, one I shall never forget. Mother was full of divine, trusting faith, a most marvelous, wonderful woman. As Soon as Alma could talk, mother asked him if he knew who made him. He said, ‘Yes, mother, God did.’ She then told him that the wicked mob had shot his hip away and asked, ‘Do you think God can make a new one?’ Alma replied, ‘Yes, I know He can.’ Mother then said, ‘All right, let’s pray to the Lord and ask Him to do so.’ So we all gathered around him on his bed of straw and mother prayed, dedicating him to the Lord, asking God to spare his life if He could make him.. strong and well but to take him to Himself if this were impossible. In her terrible excitement and sorrow, her only help seemed her Heavenly Father. So she prayed for guidance, pleading for help in this dire extremity. By inspiration her prayers were answered and she knew what to do. She placed little Alma in a comfortable position on his stomach, telling him, ‘The Lord has made it known to me that He will make you well, but you must lie on your stomach for a few weeks.’

"Mother was inspired to take the white ashes from the campfire, place them in water to make a weak lye, with which she washed the wound; all the crushed bone, mangled flesh and blood were thus washed away, leaving the wound clean and almost white like chicken breast. Then she was prompted how to make a poultice for the wound. Mother asked me if I knew where I could get some Slippery Elm tree roots. I said I knew where there was such a tree. She gave me a lighted torch of shag bark hickory with which to find my way."

I remember asking my father, "Weren’t you afraid when you went off alone in the dark?" "Of course I was but mother told me the Lord would protect me and I believed her. I took the torch and ax and soon got the roots from which mother made a poultice, with which she filled the wound. As often as the poultice turned dark it was removed and the wound washed and re-filled."

"This is not intended as a history of those terrible days. I will just say the Lord fulfilled His promise to the faithful in this case. The prayers of implicit, trusting faith were answered. A new hip gradually replaced the one that was shot away. Alma was fully restored to health, walked without a limp, and was a dancing master in his young days. He devoted years of his life to missionary work, was a man of faith, full of integrity, beloved by all who knew him."

When a girl of 18 years, I visited with my father at the home of my grandmother. On our last evening with her, she gathered her children and grandchildren about her and again related incidents connected with her wonderful life. Once more we heard the story of their combined sufferings at Haun’s Mill, and of the Divine help and support received during their awful experience. As a fitting climax, grandmother said, "Alma, for the benefit of these children, that it may be a living, burning testimony of God’s power, will you let them see your hip?" I shall never forget the electrical thrill of conviction than ran like fire through my entire system as I gazed upon the handiwork of God. A broad, thick, strong ligament or muscle had united the trunk of the body with the limb, constituting a joint or the necessary equivalent for perfect free use of the body.

The day after the massacre at Haun’s Mill, father helped his mother and others bury the dead from the shop. An old dry well was found and into this the dead were lowered, covered with straw, filled with dirt and debris, and covered with rock and brush. Their harassments were pitiful; their suffering beyond description. My father was the only help during these terrible weeks, every day finding renewed persecution. After Alma improved so they could think of trying to leave the state, great difficulties presented themselves. They were alone, their team, wagon, and all equipment stolen. Grandmother visited Captain Cumstock, leader of the mob, and here she found one horse but Captain Cumstock told her she could have it by paying five dollars for its keep. She walked out, took off her apron, tied it around her horse and led him off with the men looking at her. They never objected. She gathered a meager outfit and was soon on the way to Quincy, Ill. They were ill prepared for this trip. Grandmother, in her journal, said, "I started the 1st of February for the state of Illinois, without friends or money. Mobbed all the way. I drove my own team and slept out of doors. I had four small children. We suffered much with hunger, cold and fatigue. For what? For our religion. Where, in a boasted land of liberty, ‘Deny your faith or die’ was the cry."

Grandmother, with her little family, finally reached Quincy, Ill., where they suffered all the trials, persecutions, and wanderings of the saints. Here grandmother married again, a man having the same name, Warren Smith, and also following the same business as my grandfather. From here they went with the Latter-day Saints to Nauvoo, where father seemed to enjoy life. He joined the martial band, played the kettledrum in Nauvoo Legion, and entered fully into the activities of the growing community. His associations were always dear to him. If ever a man loved another, my father loved the Prophet Joseph Smith. He loved to talk of him, would relate little incidents of kindness and consideration shown him by the Prophet, which meant so much to a boy.

Father’s school was situated near the Nauvoo Mansion and was taught by one of the Prophet’s sisters. Here he used to play with young Joseph, Jr., and his brother, David. His home was quite a distance from Nauvoo and father used to bring his lunch. One time the Prophet, passing at noon and seeing father eating, stopped and said: "Willard, I don’t want you to bring your lunch from home any more. You come to my home every day and eat with my boys." Father told of occasions when the Prophet would place his arms affectionately about him and drawing him close would give him loving advice and counsel. Father told our family of the Prophet’s love for boys, his interest in their sports and activities, how he would take off his coat and join the boys in a game of ball, or other sports — all of which made him become almost revered by the boys. Father worked on the Nauvoo Temple as cutter and glazier, assisted in making the oxen on which rested baptismal font, and when it was completed was one of the first to receive his blessings therein. Of the awful martyrdom of the Prophet and his brother, Hyrum, father couldn’t talk without tears filling his eyes and choking his speech. Father was employed at the livery stable where the team of horses was stabled which carried visitors to and from Carthage jail. The regular driver being ill, father was asked to drive the very group to the jail which killed the Prophet and his brother, Hyrum. He heard their vile blasphemous boastings of their intended deed and was utterly helpless. After the murder, father marched with muffled drum at the head of those who brought their bodies back to Nauvoo.

His grief at having to leave beautiful Nauvoo and all earthly possessions was keen, since love of home and family was strong with him. He left Nauvoo, driving a team for Beeson Lewis, later transferred to Pres. Young’s Company of Advance Pioneers. He was in this company when the call came for five hundred men to form a company of infantry for the Mexican War. After a decision had been reached by those directly concerned, President Young stepped upon a wagon tongue, calling out: "Is there a drummer boy present?" My father stepped forward, saying, "Yes, sir, I am one." Pres. Young replied, "All right, Willard, you drum for recruits." Which father did, thus becoming virtually the first volunteer in this memorable body of valiant men, who made one of the most hazardous, heroic marches recorded in modern history.

The trials of the Mormon Battalion have been graphically recorded and described in a general way by different historians, but no one can describe their acute sufferings on this uncharted, perilous march over hot, burning sand, under scorching sun, with short rations and little water. Father told of one particular instance, after a two days’ march, with very little water to start with, the last twenty-four hours entirely without. With their tongues swollen out of their mouths, they were forced to march along or be left by the wayside. With many loitering on the way, unable to keep up, the Battalion came to a "buffalo wallow," a deep depression or sort of springy place where water had drained and here the buffalo had wallowed and their deep tracks were full of dirty, stagnant water, full of animal life and all kinds of filth, but it was wet, and hailed by the boys with delight. They spread their soiled handkerchiefs over these depressions and sucked the moisture through them. Father said the condition of their tongues was such that the sense of taste was gone. He also said he considered it providential that relief came to them in small quantities for had they come to a running stream or spring, they would have injured, if not killed themselves by drinking too much. They suffered for food on long forced marches. One day father and his companion saw a dead bird under a desert bush. After they camped at night, they quietly left camp, retraced their route, found the bird, which proved to be a crow. In their starving condition this, though not considered a choice morsel, was cooked and thoroughly enjoyed.

The Battalion finally reached San Diego, where they had an opportunity to rest, with plenty of food. From here they made a forced march to Santa Ana, where they fully expected to have an engagement with the enemy. Again, those seeking promotion and notoriety were disappointed. When the Battalion arrived, the enemy had all fled to the mountains. From here they went to Los Angeles. While the Company were standing at ease in the street, there came a ragged, dejected man, in clothes much too small for him. He was dirty, a regular derelict vagabond. He accosted Captain Hancock, saying, "Gentlemen, I am glad to see you. I have been waiting here days for you, for I heard there was a company of Mormons coming." "Well," said Brother Hancock, "what can we do for you?" The man replied, "I hoped there would be some one in the company who had friends killed in the Haun’s Mill massacre, who would kill me, because I was there. I was the man who shot that little boy’s brains out in the blacksmith shop. His cries and pitiful pleadings have never been from before my eyes and I want to die." Brother Hancock took him to father, where he repeated his story. He said, "I shot that boy with a double-barreled shotgun. His pleadings still ring in my ears. I hope you will grant my request." He wore an old army shirt, buttoned over shoulder and down the right side. Tearing this open, he threw himself down on his knees, saying, "I want to die; I want you to kill me." My father stepped back from him, saying, "There is a just God in heaven who will avenge that crime. I will not stain my hands with your blood." This man loitered around camp for days until the officers had him taken away.

The Battalion was quartered at Los Angeles for some time. July 4, 1847, according to data recorded by Foster, the historian, found in the Public Library of Los Angeles, the Mormon Battalion erected the first flagpole and on this date the American flag was raised for the first time in the city’s first observance of Independence Day. A company of men, one of them my father, was sent by Colonel Cook seventy-five miles into the San Bernardino mountains to secure this pole, which was of white pine poles spliced together and was 150 feet long. It was raised by these men, July 4, 1847, on Fort Hill, now called Fort Moore, on North Broadway.

After a year’s service, the Battalion boys were discharged and many of those with families left for Salt Lake. My father, with several others, re-enlisted for six months guard duty, most of which time was spent at San Diego. After his term expired he returned to Salt Lake, but as his mother had not arrived, he with others left for the frontier to help pioneers. They had a terrible trip. Their food gave out and the weather was bitterly cold. The Missouri River was filled with floating ice, defying all efforts at crossing. Here they found an old deserted cabin which afforded a shelter. They found a few frozen potatoes and finally were forced to boil the leather or rawhide of saddle packs and saddles and drank the broth to sustain life. They subsisted two days on ripe rosebuds, each encased in ice. From this perilous situation they were rescued by the Saints who saw their condition from the other side of the river.

‘While returning with these people they met a company of people on their way to California and father was offered pay to act as guide. This he was glad to do as he had decided to return to the gold fields as soon as spring came. He had varied experiences in California — gold mining, a little ranching, finally tried his hand at being a hotel proprietor. It was ten years before he returned to Salt Lake.

Father was home but a few months when he was called on a mission to England. I have heard him laugh as he told of his preparations for that foreign mission - just a single suit, badly worn, one pair of shoes, a change of underwear and socks, a few handkerchiefs, in a little bag with a drawstring, a little extra food for a few days march, an abiding faith and joy in being considered worthy of the call. He and his companions walked and worked their way from town to town, from state to state. They were often given rides for miles on their way, They finally reached the Atlantic seaboard. My father had until now used tobacco heavily. After he embarked, as the ship got under way, he walked to the side of the vessel and turned his pockets inside out, thus doing away with his tobacco supply, and he testified that from then on all desire for tobacco left him.




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