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SMITH, David Hyrum


Posted By: Sharon R Becker (email)
Date: 2/7/2016 at 19:34:02

Biography ~ David Hyrum Smith
November 17, 1844 ~ August 29, 1904

Brilliant and charismatic, David Hyrum Smith was a poet, painter, singer, philosopher, naturalist, and highly effective missionary for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the last son of the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith and his wife Emma (Hale) Smith. David was born on November 17, 1844, the Old Homestead at Nauvoo, Illinois, after his father's death which occurred on June 27, 1844.

Frail and colicky, David was raised by his mother and was cherished by her and his elder (and adopted sister) Julia, and his brothers Joseph III, Frederick and Alexander. He was one of four sons who lived to adulthood.

When David was three-years-old, his mother married Louis C. Bidamon, adding two step-sisters into the family, Mary Elizabeth (aged 11 years) and Emma Zerelda (aged 13 years).

During his early youth, David became an accomplished artist, poet and musician. When he was around the age of sixteen (1860), David's brother Joseph III assumed leadership of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. David eagerly became involved with his brother's ministry. As he matured, David became a good preacher, often touching the hearts of his congregations with his hymns of faith and devotion to God and the cause of the restoration. Dubbed the "Sweet Singer of Israel", many who heard David sing said he was the most inspiring singer of God they had encountered. David was a highly effective missionary for the RLDS Church from 1865 to 1873.

While on mission to Utah and California with his brother Alexander, David suffered a debilitating illness, but strugged to conplete his missionary labors. Alexander's wife became ill, and the two brothers returned to Illinois in March of 1870. David's mother nursed him and he seemed to have improved.

David married Clara Charlotte Hartshorn on May 15, 1870, at Sandwich, Illinois. They set up housekeeping in the Mansion House, Nauvoo, living with David's mother Emma and stepfather Louis.

David and Clara's son, Elbert Aoriul Smith, was born on March 8, 1871.

David returned to Utah in the middle of the summer of 1871 without church authorization. He returned to Nauvoo within a few weeks and continued to travel throughout Iowa, Missouri and Illinois, preching and publishing he sermon which were popular and readily accepted.

In July of 1872, David returned to Utah with Charles Jensen on another mission. While there, David suffered a complete physical and emotional breakdown and seemed to have lost his sense of religious purpose. Throughout the early part of 1873, David struggled to recover but eventually returned to Nauvoo in May under the care of Josiah Ellis.

Unaware of David's illness, his brother Joseph III called him to serve as counselor to the First Presidency in April. David and Clara moved to Plano, Illinois, but he was unable to assume his duties due to bouts of depression and confusion.

From 1874 through 1876, the family struggled to care for David, passing him back and forth between Plano, Lamoni, IA. When he became violent, it was decided there was nothing that could be done except to place him in the Northern Illinois Hospital and Asylum for the Insane at Elgin, Illinois. Joseph Smith III took this sad step on January 19, 1877. David was thirty-two.

For the rest of his life, David had times of lucid thought but it did not last. His book, Hesperis A Book of Poems, published in 1875 brought a small income to his wife and child. Emma said of her son's condition to a friend calling it her “living trouble.” The entire family mourned the terrible loss of their brilliant, and gifted, deeply beloved, son, brother, uncle and cousin.

After twenty-seven years of confinement, David's struggle ended with his death on August 29, 1904, a few months sorth of his 60th birthday.

The Joseph Smith Historic Site, maintained by the Community of Christ, houses David's original paintings of Nauvoo, Illinois.

In a 1998 biography of David, From Mission to Madness: Last Son of the Mormon Prophet, author Valeen Tippetts Avery drew on a large body of Smith's correspondence and poetry to examine both his personality and his emotional state.

David and Clara's son Elbert married Clara Abigail Cochran on September 4, 1895, Lamoni, Iowa. They were the parents of three sons, two of whom survived to adulthood: Ronald Gibson Smith (1902-1988) and Lynn E. Smith (1911-1992). Elbert was a member of the First Presidency from, 1909 to 1938, and was Presiding Patriarch from 1938 to 1958. He was also a noted author and scholar.

Elbert died on May 15, 1959, Independence, Missouri. Clara Abigail (Cochran) Smith was born in Michigan on January 12, 1874, and died in Independence, Missouri, on October 30, 1948. Elbert and Clara were interred at Mound Grove Cemetery, Independence.

David’s poetry often revealed his personality and emotional struggles:

I strive to win again the pleasant thought;
The music only speaks in mournful tone;
The very flowers wear a shade, and naught
Can bring again the halo that is gone;
And every company my soul hath sought,
Though crowds surround me, finds me still alone.

I turn unto my tasks with weary hands,
Grieving with sadness, knowing not the cause
Before my face a desert path expands,
I will not falter in the toil, nor pause;
Only, my spirit somehow understands
This mournful truth—I am not what I was.

Never having known his father, David penned a sad ballad entitled, “The Unknown Grave” which tells of the death of his father, his uncle Hyrum, and their sacrifice for the cause of the gospel. It isn't known if David knew where his father was interred or ever visited his father's grave.

The Unknown Grave
by David Hyrum Smith

There's an unknown grave in a lonely spot,
But the form that it covers, will ne'er be forgot;
There the heav'n-tree spreads, and the tall locust wave
Their snow white flow'rs o'er the unknown grave.

And nearby its side,the wild rabbit tread,
And over its blossom the white thistles spread,
As if placed there in kindness to protect and save
From intruding footsteps the unknown grave,
Guarding the unknown grave.

And there reposes the prophet just;
The Lord was his guide, and in Him was his trust;
He restored the gospel our souls to save
But he now lies low in an unknown grave,
Low in an unknown grave.

God grant that we may watch and pray,
And keep our feet in the narrow way;
Our spirits and body in purity save,
To see him arise from his unknown grave!
God bless that unknown grave.

~ ~ ~ ~

Deseret News
Deseret, Utah
Sunday, July 11, 1999

David Hyrum Smith: He was the sweet singer of Israel
by Dennis Lythgoe

Valeen Tippetts Avery's fascination with the last son of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith came while she was working on a biography of the prophet's wife, Emma. David Hyrum Smith was born in 1844 after the death of his father, and Avery became so interested in him that he became the subject of her Ph.D dissertation.

The title was changed from "Insanity and the Sweet Singer" to "From Mission to Madness: Last Son of the Mormon Prophet," and her dissertation in history at Northern Arizona University became a prize-winning book. (Winner of the locally prestigious Evans Biography award, given by Utah State University, and the Mormon History Association's award for best biography; it has also been nominated for several other awards, including the nationally prestigious Bancroft Prize in History.)According to Avery, David Smith was "the sweet singer of Israel to congregations in the Midwest, because his preaching resembled that of Old Testament prophets -- but he could also sing."

Speaking by telephone from her home in Flagstaff, Ariz., where she teaches history at NAU, Avery said Smith's life was one of both success and tragedy. Although a brilliant and charismatic poet, painter, philosopher, naturalist and highly effective missionary for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in IIlinois, Smith was stricken with mental illness while still in his 30s. He was committed to the Northern Illinois Hospital and Asylum for the Insane, where he remained until his death in 1904.

While his older brother, Joseph Smith III, was serving as president of the RLDS Church, David Smith felt that going on a mission to Utah, to try to convert the "Brighamites," was his most important duty, and he did so several times. In spite of the conflict that existed between the LDS and the RLDS Churches, Smith managed to make friends with many Utah Mormons. And even though he and Brigham Young exchanged harsh words, there is evidence that they felt a natural affinity for one another. There was no one Young respected more than Smith's father, and he wanted Smith in the Utah Church. Meanwhile, Smith felt moved to teach Young the error of his ways.

Implicit in this story is the connection between the LDS and RLDS churches, which also intrigued the author. "I didn't understand the relationship between the two churches, most of all the sons of Joseph and Emma, and Brigham Young, and the church in the West," she said. Avery, who is LDS, could see this was a story about which church would be most successful in establishing Mormonism as an American religious tradition.

"Who would control Mormonism in the American experience? Would it be the more moderate RLDS version that conformed more to Protestant viewpoints and refused to accept polygamy or the doctrine of the gathering? I would have bet that Joseph III, with his more moderate Mormonism, would have appealed to a larger number of people. But I would have been wrong.The Western LDS Church was more stringent, more radically different than standard Christian theology, yet it succeeded in identifying itself more as an American religion."

Avery did not set out to write a history of the two churches, although she believes that needs to be done. But she admits that "If there's another book in me, the thing that excites me the most is a book about Mormons vs. Mormons over who would determine the shape of Mormonism in American culture."

Avery plans to let a year pass before plunging into another project, however. She also knows she has emerged as a biographer and is not sure if she "can tell the story of a movement and a competitive religious agenda with the same success as that of a human life."

But "From Mission to Madness" is also more than a biography. Avery puts this Mormon story into the larger context of "a 19th Century American family defining who they were, how they made a living and how they would deal with an extraordinary son and brother who becomes mentally ill. Its value to the 20th Century is not only telling that story but suggesting that families are not perfect. There are struggles to find answers to the problems of individual family members. It's a story that reaches out to all of us. It was a joy and an agony to write. It was wonderful to see this family figure out how they were going to live their lives."

Avery struggled herself with the degree to which she should analyze David Smith's illness. Should she talk to professionals and try to make a definitive diagnosis? Should she shorten other aspects of the book so she could treat the medical problem in a speculative way? She finally decided to describe Smith's character the best she could and leave the decision of what his illness might have been to modern clinicians. She has already heard from a variety of medically-trained people who have suggested Smith had hypoglycemia, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or even a frontal lobe tumor.

"I finally decided David deserved to have his story told without a footnote that said his illness might have been alleviated with pills. I'm turning it loose now for the medical professionals."

While Avery was researching her book, Smith's grandson, Lynn Smith -- then in his 80's -- would occasionally call her and read an intriguing line from a letter in the family collection he was keeping. That way, she knew he had a valuable collection she needed to make the story complete. Lynn would not let her see the papers, but when he died, he donated them to the RLDS Church in Missouri, which granted her immediate access.

An intriguing aspect of Avery's study is that David Smith never knew his own father. But as he traveled to Utah and talked to many people who did know his father, Smith learned an enormous amount about him. And he started to understand various aspects of his own personality as they related to his father's.

Avery was impressed with the ways Smith tried to combine his interest in religion with that of science, and how he tried to explain scientific concepts in terms that the average RLDS Church member in Missouri and Iowa could understand. Avery believes that when David became institutionalized, the RLDS Church lost its most compelling spokesman. "They lost the one man most uniquely qualified to bridge the gap between their identity and the larger American public. He understood Mormonism, in the context of both churches, so he could have explained it to the larger American culture."

Avery also believes that Smith "combined the musical talent of his mother with the charismatic qualities of his father and came out with the very best of both those very strong people."

(During a visit to Salt Lake City this week, Avery will discuss her book and sign copies during the Sunstone Symposium at the Salt Palace, Friday, July 16, beginning at 12:45 p.m.)

~ ~ ~ ~

Deseret News
Deseret, Utah
Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Picturing History: David Hyrum Smith grave
by Kenneth Mays

Emma Hale Smith was pregnant when her husband the Prophet Joseph Smith was killed on June 27, 1844. She bore a son on Nov. 17, who was one of four sons to live to adulthood. He was named David Hyrum Smith.

Initially, David was raised by his widowed mother. He had a stepfather beginning in December 1847, when Emma married Lewis Bidamon. David was a remarkably gifted individual. In addition to being very musical, he was also a poet and an artist. Some of his original paintings and poetry are displayed at the Joseph Smith Historic Site in Nauvoo, Illinois, a must-see for visitors. It is maintained by the Community of Christ.

David was an effective missionary and leader in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now Community of Christ). Beginning when he was a young adult, David experienced a serious struggle with mental illness. He married and had a daughter. After fighting his challenges valiantly, he was eventually committed to the Northern Illinois Hospital and Asylum for the Insane at Elgin, Illinois, where he remained until his passing in 1904. He was buried at Lamoni, Iowa, not far from his brother Alexander.


Transcriptions by Sharon R. Becker, February of 2016


Decatur Biographies maintained by Sharon R. Becker.
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