By Antone Clark
It was a late night in March 24, 1832 when a mob broke into the quarters of Hiram, Ohio where Joseph Smith was staying. The group of forty men came into the room, seized him, and began carrying him out of the house. They dragged the 26-year-old prophet into the night, tarring and feathering him.
During the ordeal, they also attempted to pry open his mouth to force- feed him acid. In the attempt, one of the teeth of Joseph was broken. Joseph’s clothes were ripped from him and a man leaped on him and scratched his body with his fingernails muttering, “That’s the way the Holy Ghost falls on folks!” 1
That broken tooth would leave Joseph with a sibilant for most of his life. The whistle-like sound, which accompanied all of the public speaking by Joseph, until shortly before his death, became one of his identifying characteristics.
In a very real way, the unique sound of the prophet’s voice has left its imprint on history.
Benjamin Johnson wrote of the incident and result.
Spoke with sibilant
The prophet’s lost tooth, to which I alluded was, as generally understood, broken out at while trying to pry open his mouth to strangle him with acid, which from time, until the tooth was replaced by a dentist neighbor, a year or so previous to his death, there had a whistle-like sound to accompany all his public speaking which I again plainly heard at the time of which I wrote.”2
While there is no record of the tooth ever being fixed in official church accounts, Johnson’s account of a dentist neighbor fixing the tooth, a year or so previous to Joseph’s death in 1844 is thought to be a reference to Alexander Neibaur, a scribe to the prophet. Neibaur practiced dentistry in Nauvoo.
Neibaur is believed to have been the only dentist in Nauvoo. A German immigrant, he was well enough acquainted with Joseph that he recorded hearing Joseph tell a shortened version of the First Vision, just weeks before Joseph and his brother Hyrum Smith were martyred in Carthage Jail. In the Nauvoo Neighbor of Oct. 29, 18453, he ran an advertisement suggesting he could fix teeth, do extractions or other sundry dental work.
Neibaur is first linked to the City of Joseph in 1841, when he also ran an ad in the Times & Seasons.
“Alexander Neibaur, Surgeon Dentist. From Berlin, in Prussia, late of Liverpool and Preston, England.
Most respectfully announces to the ladies and gentlemen and the citizens of Nauvoo as also of Hancock county, in general, that he has permanently established himself in the city of Nauvoo, as a dentist, where he may be consulted, daily, in all branches connected with his profession, Teeth cleaned, plugged, filled, the Scurva effectually cured, children's teeth regulated, natural or artificial teeth from a single tooth to a whole set inserted on the most approved principle. Mr. N. having had an extensive practice both on the continent of Europe, as also in England, for the last 15 years, he hopes to give general satisfaction to all those who will honor him their patronage.4”
Even if the tooth was eventually fixed, it is clear that a large majority of Latter-day Saints who were with Joseph in Ohio, Missouri and then Illinois, knew the whistle-like sound that accompanied the voice of Joseph when he tried to pronounce an s.
Among this group who knew the prophet in this manner, was a young Illinois native by the name of Ezra Thompson Clark. Clark wrote little, but his love for the Lord’s prophet comes through in the few things he did record, or had recorded. The Clark family first had links to the Prophet Joseph when Ezra’s brother William O. Clark attended the school of the prophets in Ohio. Later in Missouri, the family deepened its relationship with the young church leader. Ezra’s sister, Laura Clark Phelps, is credited with hiding the prophet and his brother, Hyrum, from a mob while in Far West.
When the saints left Missouri to head north, the Clarks located in Iowa. The river and the distance from Nauvoo, however, proved no obstacle to a growing respect that Ezra had for Joseph Smith.
In Iowa, Ezra found companionship in the company of Edward Stevenson and Nathan Porter. Sometimes Ezra would go with Edward and Nathan across the Mississippi River to Nauvoo where they would go to the grove to hear the Prophet Joseph.
”Although it cost some trouble to go over the Mississippi River to Nauvoo, Nathan Porter, E. T. Clark, I, and others made it a point to go and hear the Prophet speak, for he always had something good and cheering for all who loved to hear words of inspiration and deep instruction. I used to be highly repaid for my trips over the river and could feel encouraging to go on with my work which was still hard,”5 Stevenson wrote of the time.
On still another occasion, Ezra rowed across the river to be at the ceremony laying the cornerstone of the Nauvoo Temple. It was during this occasion that Ezra gave the prophet his last dollar and Joseph would put his hand on the then teen-age boy and told him that his family would be blessed with means and that they would be among the nobility of the earth.
Ezra’s wife, Mary Stevenson Clark, records the impact of the prophet’s death on June 27, 1844. Ezra and Mary, though unmarried at the time, were among the mournful throng that went to meet the entourage bringing the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum. Mary said that such a vast procession of weeping Saints would never be forgotten.6
It was the Prophet Joseph’s passing that signaled another major change in the church and the Clark family.
With the church in a state of transition from the loss of its leader, Sidney Rigdon and several others stepped forward to claim the right of leadership. A meeting was called in which Rigdon was given a forum, along with Brigham Young, to talk about the mantle of leadership.
During this meeting, a number of people noted that they saw and heard the Prophet Joseph when Brigham spoke. The detail of this experience is best exemplified by what Benjamin Johnson recorded, when he says he heard Joseph’s famous whistling sound through Brigham.
“…suddenly, as from Heaven, I heard the voice of the Prophet Joseph that thrilled my whole being, and quickly turning around I saw in the transfiguration of Brigham Young, the tall, straight, and portly form of the Prophet Joseph Smith, clothed in a sheen of light, covering him to his feet; and I heard the real and perfect voice of the Prophet, even to the whistle…caused by the loss of a tooth…broken out by the mob at Hiram. This view, or vision, although but for seconds, was to me as vivid and real as the glare of lightning or the voice of thunder from the heavens, and so deeply was I impressed…that for years I dared not tell what was given me of the Lord to see. But when in later years I did publicly bear this testimony, I found that others had testified to having seen and heard the same. But to what proportion of the congregation that were present, I could never know. But I know I do know that this, my testimony, is true.”7
One of those people who had a similar experience was Ezra Thompson Clark. It was at this meeting that Ezra had an experience that would shape the rest of his life and separate him from the rest of his family. His testimony was recorded just months before he died, to be passed down to his posterity.
“Before I left Nauvoo, I heard the Prophet Joseph say he would give the Saints a key whereby they would never be led away or deceived, and that was: the Lord would never suffer the majority of this people to be led away or deceived by imposters, nor would he allow the records of this Church to fall into the hands of the enemy. I heard Joseph say this, and I also heard him say that he would roll the burden of the Apostleship upon the quorum of the Twelve. I heard Joseph preach many times; heard him, in the last sermon he ever delivered, bear testimony to the truth of the work that God had called him to; also that the Lord had never suffered him to be slain by his enemies, because his work had not been done, until a short time ago. He had now laid the foundation of this work, and rolled the burden of the priesthood upon the Twelve; and, having given them their washings and anointings, they would now bear off this work triumphantly, and it would roll on faster than ever before; and, if the Lord was willing to accept of him, he was willing to go.
“I want to bear record that he spoke as Joseph used to speak; to all appearances, the same voice, the same gestures, the same stature.”
Ezra Thompson Clark
his he spoke to the people. I was one who heard his voice, and know that he spoke like an angel from heaven. I never heard him speak with more power than then, and I heard him many times. I was satisfied. I knew him to be a prophet of God. I had heard him prophesy many times, and had seen his prophecies fulfilled, and had also shaken hands with him, and he had blessed me, and I had felt the influence and power of the Lord upon him and upon me, and I have never forgotten that blessing from that day to this, and I never shall. Two days later the Prophet was martyred, and two or three weeks later, when the saints held a conference, and Brigham Young arose as leader of the Church, I want to bear record that he spoke as Joseph used to speak; to all appearances, the same voice, the same gestures, the same stature. I bear this record to all the world, to my children and to my children's children, and also bear record that this work is God's work, and that it will roll on as it has done from that day to this.8
Clark’s reference of speaking as Joseph used to speak, the same voice, would suggest that Ezra too heard the hissing sound that accompanied every S that Joseph used to utter; only this time the sound was coming from Brigham young.
To one as well acquainted with Joseph as Ezra T. Clark, there would be no mistaking his voice and sound and gestures from that of Brigham Young.
At the same time that Ezra saw and heard Joseph speak through Brigham Young, other members of the greater Clark family were left vacillating in their convictions. The fact that they did not have that experience only seemed to expose a vulnerability that would soon become manifest. Eventually many of Ezra’s siblings would fall into diverse paths and distance themselves from the church that Joseph had organized on earth.
But Ezra and Mary and their family remained steadfast to the church. Ezra’s love for the Prophet Joseph was manifest in several ways. He named a son Joseph Smith Clark, after the late prophet and then just months before he passed away, Ezra had his testimony recorded for his immediate family and for those that would follow.
Ezra was there to hear the Prophet Joseph speak through Brigham Young. It is a testimony that has whistled through time.
Compiled December 2005