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Stephen Markham’s Cane

Museum Treasures

This hickory “rascal beater”1 was made famous when it helped defend Joseph Smith from attackers at Carthage Jail. Its owner, however, is almost unknown today.

Stephen Markham carried this walking stick with him when he accompanied Joseph and Hyrum Smith to Carthage in June 1844. As a colonel in the Nauvoo Legion and a bodyguard to Joseph Smith,2 Stephen was a faithful, trusted friend of the Prophet. He had proven his commitment to the gospel and his trustworthiness many times before.

A wealthy farmer in the Kirtland area, Stephen joined the Church in 1837.3 The next year, following the counsel of Joseph Smith, he sold his farm and possessions and used the funds to help Church members move from Kirtland, Ohio, to Far West, Missouri, leading this group of emigrants himself.4

When Joseph and other leaders were in Liberty Jail and Church members were forced to leave Far West, Stephen was trusted to help Joseph’s family escape from Missouri into Illinois.5

In Nauvoo, Illinois, seeing that Joseph would need good legal counsel in several lawsuits, Stephen sold his newly built house and gave Joseph the proceeds. His family moved into a tent until a cabin could be built.6 Shortly before Joseph went to Carthage, Stephen told him, “I will do as you want me, whatever it may be. I will go with you, or stop here and defend the city until I die, or go and give myself up, just whatever you say I will do.”7 Considering Stephen’s absolute commitment to the Prophet, it is not surprising that Joseph refers to him in his personal journal as “my beloved Brother Markham.”8

Joseph went to Carthage Jail with Stephen Markham and his walking stick on one side and Dan Jones with a hickory club9 on the other, the two guards keeping the “drunken rabble” away from the Prophet.10

When Stephen left the jail on an errand for Joseph, the mob would not let him back inside. Instead, they forced him onto his horse at the point of bayonets, stabbing his legs until his shoes were filled with blood. Gathering around him, they escorted him out of town, threatening to kill him if he returned.11

Shortly afterward, a mob of men with black-painted faces stormed the jail and tried to force their guns into the room. Joseph’s friends tried to hold the door shut, but some shots got through, and Joseph’s brother Hyrum was shot. Outnumbered and outgunned, the prisoners tried to defend themselves as best they could. John Taylor, who later became President of the Church, recounted their efforts:

Brother Joseph . . . arose, and with a firm, quick step, and a determined expression of countenance, approached the door, and pulling the six-shooter left by Brother Wheelock from his pocket, opened the door slightly, and snapped the pistol six successive times. . . . I had in my hands a large, strong hickory stick, brought there by Brother Markham, and left by him, which I had seized as soon as I saw the mob approach; and while Brother Joseph was firing the pistol, I stood close behind him. As soon as he had discharged it he stepped back, and I immediately took his place next [to] the door, while he occupied the one I had done while he was shooting. . . .

. . . While I was engaged in parrying the guns, Brother Joseph said, “That’s right, Brother Taylor; parry them off as well as you can.” These were the last words I ever heard him speak on earth.12

Joseph ran to the window, where he was shot multiple times and then fell to the ground below. The mob, having achieved their purpose, soon fled. The Prophet, beloved by so many, was dead.

Enemies of the Church who hoped that Joseph’s death would be the end of “Mormonism” underestimated the faith and commitment of Church members like Stephen Markham. Although he had been unable to save the Prophet’s life, he remained faithful to the gospel Joseph preached. He served as a captain in Brigham Young’s pioneer company and helped settle several areas in Utah.

Stephen Markham’s commitment to Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and the gospel of Jesus Christ led a biographer to relate, “He was . . . unflinching in his integrity to the cause of the great Latter-day work.”13

Footnotes

[1]History of Joseph Smith,” Millennial Star, June 14, 1882, 375.

[2] Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4 vols. (1901–36), 3:676.

[3]Markham, Stephen,” josephsmithpapers.org.

[4] Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, 3:676.

[5] Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, 3:676.

[6] Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, 3:676.

[7] Stephen Markham letter to Wilford Woodruff, June 20, 1856, page 1, Church History Museum, Salt Lake City; punctuation modernized.

[8] Joseph Smith, in History of the Church, 3:316.

[9] In Dan Jones’s account of the martyrdom, he related that he also carried a hickory club and that it was his club, not Markham’s stick, that John Taylor used. See Dan Jones, “The Martyrdom of Joseph Smith and His Brother Hyrum,” BYU Studies, vol. 24, no. 1 (1984), 97.

[10]History of Joseph Smith,” 375.

[11] Stephen Markham letter to Wilford Woodruff, page 4.

[12] John Taylor, “The Martyrdom of Joseph Smith,” in Richard F. Burton, The City of the Saints, and across the Rocky Mountains to California (1862), 537.

[13] Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, 3:677.