The next day after he left home, one of the neighbors asked Mr. Smith many questions concerning the plates. I will here observe, that no one ever heard anything from us respecting them, except a confidential friend, whom my husband had spoken to about them some two or three years previous. It appeared that Satan had now stirred up the hearts of those who had gotten a hint of the matter from our friend, to search into it, and make every possible move towards thwarting the purposes of the Almighty.
The interesting thing about this, in my mind, is the mix of mundane and supernatural explanation. Joe Sr. told a friend about the plates several years before they were retrieved. According to Lucy's unbelievable account, no one else should have heard of them in the intervening time, but "Satan" has suddenly stirred up people to take interest in the plates because he wants to thwart God's purposes. This account does not stand up to even the slightest scrutiny.
Next Lucy reports that Sr. heard of a dozen or so men "clubbing together," led by Willard Chase (one of the Smiths' associates in treasure digging, whom Lucy hear describes as a "Methodist class leader"). They summoned a conjuror from 60 miles away to help get the plates from Joseph. I think most people assume this conjuror is actually Luman Walter, who was also involved in prior treasure digs. Lucy does not name the conjuror, but, of course, relatives of Walter had joined the Mormon church in its early days, so there may have been good reasons not to identify him by name.
Anyway, Smith Sr. spies on the "club" and hears that they are "devising plans" to get "Joe Smith's gold bible" (the latter quote is what Lucy claims Sr. overheard word for word). Sr. returns to his family and inquires with Emma about the location of the plates. Emma pretends she does not know where they are, or whether Joseph had retrieved them. Sr. gets Emma a horse to fetch Joseph from a "well-digging" job he is engaged in in Macedon.
Lucy then breaks in to tell us that Joseph would be warned of trouble by the Urim and Thummim (which are the spectacles first seen by Samuel Lawrence), threats to the plates, wherever they may be, or to his person. Anyhow, Emma finds Joseph, he looks in the spectacles and sees the plates are safe, and then he nevertheless breaks off the job to return with Emma. Joseph sends Carlos to get a box for the plates from Hyrum and sets off to retrieve them.
I should break in here to say that Joseph was digging the well to get money to make a box for the plates. If Hyrum had a box all along, the story of digging a well to earn the money to have one built makes no sense. I suspect that the job has nothing to do with earning money for a box, and it may be that there was no well digging in Macedon anyway.
Anyhow, Joseph retrieves the plates from a rotten log in the woods. He wraps them in a linen frock he had with him. Then, thinking he would be more safe, he "leave[s] the road to go through the woods." At that point he is attacked:
As he was jumping over a log, a man sprang up from behind it, and gave him a heavy blow with a gun. Joseph turned around and knocked him down, then ran at the top of his speed. About half a mile further he was attacked again in the same manner as before; he knocked this man down in like manner as the former, and ran on again; and before he reached home he was assaulted again a third time. In striking the last one he dislocated his thumb, which, however, he did not notice until he came within sight of the house . . . .
Notice the there are three attacks. Lots of things, such as angelophanies, happen in threes in Joseph Smith's narrative, and this is no doubt because of the symbolic significance of the number three. The fact that the men are unnamed, and the attacks come in threes, adds to air of Satanic resistance to the purposes of God here. The implication is that Joseph could only escape all of this with God's help.
One has to wonder, however, if the Urim and Thummim was available to tell him when he was in danger, why on earth did he step off of the road and go through the woods thinking he would be safe without consulting the Urim and Thummim? Did he leave it at home when he went out to retrieve the plates?
Continuing, Lucy switches the focus from Jr. to Carlos and Hyrum. Carlos taps Hyrum on the shoulder when he is taking tea with his wife's sisters. "Without waiting to hear one word from the child, [Hyrum] dropped the cup, sprang from the table, caught the chest, turned it upside down, and emptying its contents on the floor, left the house instantly with the chest on his shoulder."
Hyrum's wife explains to her shocked sisters his strange behavior as follows, "He has just thought of something which he has neglected, and it is just like him to fly off in a tangent when he thinks of anything in that way." Lucy seems to want us to think that Hyrum knew just what to do without being told, perhaps by divine inspiration? But his wife's words suggest instead that Hyrum had been aware of a plan to lend Joseph a box all along. The plan may have been set in motion sooner than expected, and Hyrum's wife had recently had a baby. That is why her sisters were visiting.
Lucy then tells us that "my husband, Mr. Knight, and Mr. Stoal, went in pursuit of those villains who had attempted Joseph's life, but were not able to find them."
Again, spooky, spooky. Now these assailants were not after the plates but Joseph's very life. They are not named, and they seem to have vanished into thin air. Now Lucy reports what an angel said to Joseph when he first got the plates. Notice the similarity between this message and elements of her account:
Now you have got the Record into your own hands, and you are but a man, therefore you will have to be watchful and faithful to your trust (my note: Sr., earlier in Lucy's account, says to Emma that Joseph would get the record "if he is watchful and obedient"), or you will be overpowered by wicked men, for they will lay every plan and scheme that is possible to get it away from you, and if you do not take heed continually, they will succeed. While it was in my hands, I could keep it, and no man had power to take it away; but now I give it up to you. Beware, and look well to your ways, and you shall have power to retain it, until the time for it to be translated.
We really have to treat Lucy's account as a more or less coherent whole. It has its problems and inconsistencies, but she has crafted an angelic message that corresponds with eery precision to her report of what she claims happened to Joseph. Here are the elements of the angel's message that reportedly came true in Lucy's account:
1. Joseph Smith, Sr. emphasizes, as the angel did, the importance of Joseph's obedience and faithfulness
2. A group of men led by Willard Chase and "the conjuror" did devise plans to wrest the plates from Joseph
3. The attacks described by Lucy are, in a sense, a dramatic, detailed account of some of those attempts
4. But Joseph does succeed.
But the framing of the message is the most important thing. This is a divine promise to Joseph from an angel. A prophecy and a promise. Lucy crafts her whole account to emphasize the hand of God in making sure his purposes prevail over the designs of Satan to keep the plates from being retrieved and preserved so that they could be translated. Ergo, the individual aspects of the account, by Lucy's design, are made to look more miraculous. Some of them, of course, may simply be made up.