09) TEMPER: Did the Prophet Joseph Smith have an uncontrolled temper? Was he at times vengeful?
Levi W. Hancock
On the first of May, 1834, I started for Cartage County, some forty miles from Kirtland, to go with Zion’s Camp. I was appointed cook for Sylvester Smith’s mess. In this way we traveled, being directed by the Prophet in peace, until Sylvester lost the spirit of peace and became dissatisfied with John Carter, and called him an old jackass and many other names, which soon brought dissatisfaction in our tent. Some dared to express their feelings, until Joseph rebuked them and told them that Sylvester was guilty of sowing the seeds of discord.
Sylvester said, if Joseph was a prophet he was not afraid, and would contradict him in the face of all present. Joseph said, “If I have not told you the truth, then God never spoke by me,” and walked off. We all said, “That is enough.” We believed Joseph. Sylvester became more calm and acted like a saint, and for some time we had peace. We did not stop, but continued on our march westward until we got in Illinois. Joseph then said, “I want you to remember what I say to you. The Lord is going to give us dry weather now until we get through. He has given rains that there might be water on the prairies. You will see the movings of the Lord in our favor all the way through.” . . .
We continued our march westward. I had made me an elder fife, and played some marches on the way to the camp, being led by Sylvester Smith. As soon as we came in sight of camp, a dog came. He began to bark and ran to Sylvester and tried to bite him. It made Sylvester mad, and he said he would kill that dog. Joseph said he should not, and he would whip any man who would do it. If Sylvester had a good spirit he could get along without being bit. It was a man’s being overcome with such a spirit that caused him always to try to take vengeance and seek an opportunity to do it, and take life. Such a spirit kept men in misery.
Sylvester would not believe it. Joseph said, “If you do not get rid of that feeling, you will have your flesh eaten off from you and you cannot help it.” He would not believe Joseph yet.
Once after this, Joseph on the same principle said, “If a man should have to fight in self defense and kill his enemy, he should say in his heart, ‘I wish it might have been otherwise, but you sought to take my life and would not let me alone and I was obliged to take yours. If you ever go to battle and are prospered over your enemies and slay them, I fear you will be tempted to boast. If you should boast of your own strength, I fear God will leave you.” 1
- Levi Hancock, “Life story of Levi W. Hancock,” Brigham Young University Library, pp. 47-49, 73-82; Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974], pp. 20-21 ↩