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Destiny or Design

Written by Donavan N. Johnston

When religion and politics cross, there can be nothing but trouble.  Sometimes a religious group can believe it is their divine destiny to inherit a place.  While at the same token, the people who live in that area want nothing to do with those religious people. The debate may be over what a religious group wants to build in the area or it maybe that the group is moving in hundreds of people to the area that cannot support it.  In the 1830’s there was such a conflict that resulted in one group staying and the other leaving, not of their choice.  When the Church of Jesus Christ, later the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints also known as the Mormons came to Missouri, they arrived with a spirit of fellowship and good will to man.  While they were in Missouri, they learned they were not wanted or needed from the people and the people were willing to do what they can, including expulsion to rid their state of people they did not want.  Although the Mormons believed, they were destined to be in Missouri, their actions and deeds led to their eventual expulsion from Missouri.

            The conflict between the Mormons and Missouri began in 1831 and it started as a hope by that one group could get some relief away from being persecuted.  The Book of Mormon described a place called Zion and to the Mormons Zion was the only place they could establish protection from the desolation and tribulation that were to come[1].  The Mormon leader Joseph Smith Jr. had led part of his congregation to Jackson County Missouri in July of 1831.  Under what Smith claimed as direct revelation, he recited to his group, “Behold, the place which is now called Independence is the center place and a spot for a temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse.[2]”  This began the establishment of the Mormon Church in a second major area of the United States, already having established a headquarters in Kirtland, Ohio. However, for the people who were already in Independence, Missouri these moves was unwelcome. For most part Southerners were suspicious of most northern people moving into their area and welcoming people from the North who were diametrically apposed to their Southern way of life was not tolerated[3].  Yet the Mormons still came believing this is were their Zion was to be.

The Missourians also feared that the Mormons would increase and take from them their political domination[4].  In April of 1833, a number of Missourians can together in Independence and decided that mean of defense ought to be taken.  Yet this was determined upon nothing.  The citizen of Independence knew that the Mormons often voted in a block and that their votes could stop the people of Missouri from being who they were[5].  This voting block added to the fears the people of Independence had about these people moving into their lands.  Some of this fear came from the words of ministers who encouraged their congregations to form mobs to attack the Mormons.

From the beginning, mobs were attacking the Mormons.  These mobs came from ministers who used falsehoods and lies about the Mormons to inspire their congregation against the Latter-day Saints.  Often these were armed mobs consisting of wild frontiersmen, but led by educated bigots[6]. Above all else, the Missourians had an extreme hatred for the Mormons because of their industry and belief[7]. Declarations were raised and by mid 1833, the mobs began to drive the Mormons out of their county. Another cause of blame was the Missouri river flooding in Independence in the spring of 1833, which caused the town of Westport to form upstream, and businesses in Independence to diminish and caused some entrepreneurs to blame the Mormons for the flood[8]. To complicate matters, due to the lack of obedience by members of the Church to their leaders, The Mormons and the people of Jackson County Missouri partially never got along.  By January of 1833, the situation had turned south so much that Joseph Smith conceded that, “The Lord will have a place whence his word will go forth in these last days in purity; for if Zion will not purify herself so as to be approved of in all things in his sight…. They who will not hear his voice must expect his wrath[9].” By the end of 1833, the Mormons were on the move out of Independence, but not yet out of Missouri.

The Mormons were moved north into Far West, Caldwell County.  However, Far West was not the island of refuge away from the citizen of Independence the Mormons were hoping for.  Governor Lilburn W. Boggs had signed a bill creating Caldwell and Daviess County.  Caldwell was to be exclusively for the Mormons[10]. In Caldwell the Mormons had their own county, own officers and own militia, and things appeared to be secured. When Joseph Smith arrived there in Far West, there were approximately ten thousand Mormons in Missouri settlements.  In 1838, that number almost doubled[11]. Upon arrival Joseph Smith, first act was to explore the country to the north and appraise its possibilities as a gathering place for the Saints.  The site he selected was a special spot and called it Adam-Ondi-Ahman.  This point as Joseph Smith explained was Adam came and blessed his posterity after being driven from the Garden of Eden[12].  It is also the place according to revelation from Joseph, “The place where Adam shall come to visit his people[13].” Far West was such a gathering place that the people who joined the church sold everything they and moved, and parting company with friends and family who did not join[14].  While all appeared well in the first half of 1838, the latter half was a different story.

In the state election in Missouri on August 3, 1838, the Mormon and non-Mormons clashed at the polls in the capital seat of Daviess County. In Gallatin, the Daviess county seat, after the election was open a man by the name of William Peniston, who was a political candidate, stood upon the head of a barrel and harangued the people.  His speech was made up of attacks and threats upon the Mormons, in which he accused them on being horse thieves and robbers and swore that they should not vote in that county[15]. When one Mormon tried to vote he was told, “Mormons don’t vote no more’n niggers.[16]” Fearing they would not be allowed to vote Joseph Smith gathered his people and demanded that Justice Adam Black sign a paper stating he had no prejudice against the Mormons[17].  Once the two parties separated Joseph went back to Adam-Ondi-Ahman and proclaimed the people would be allowed to vote, while at the same time Justice Black claimed he coerced by Joseph into signing the paper[18]

The conflict came to a head in the end of October of 1838.  Having dealt with the Mormons long enough the Governor took action. On October 27th of 1838, Governor Lilburn W. Boggs issues a series of commands for his state militia.  Among these, command was a call for General John B. Clark to raise four hundred men and that he was in charge of the state militiaThe Mormons, as Governor Boggs wrote, must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary, for the public peace-their outrages are beyond all description[19]. Governor Boggs order became widely know and added fuel to the fire for the mobs.  As word of the announcement spread mobs assembled everywhere in Missouri the Mormons did nothing[20].

The mobs and the militia attack one of the first areas after the extermination order was in Caldwell County at Haun’s Mill.  Located to east of Far West, Haun’s Mill was beginning of new persecution on the Mormons this led to their extermination from the state of Missouri.  On October 30th of 1838, a militia of 240 arrived suddenly at Haun’s Mill[21].   When the militias laid fire to the Mormons, some of them took refuge in the blacksmiths shop.  The militia began to slaughter every person who was in the town.  They shot everyone that could be seen.  The Mormons tried to defend themselves yet were unsuccessful.   As John D. Lee writes, “So great was the hatred of the mob that they saved none, but killed all who fell into their hands at that time[22].” Some people survived, yet because the Mormons were unprepared for the attack, most died then or shortly after.    Eighteen people were killed and a number more were severely wounded.  Word of this incident spread fastback to the people of Far West, and there were sadden at the loss among the people. This tragedy, as John P Greene wrote, was conducted in the most brutal and savage manner[23]

Yet who was it to blame for this incident? This massacre came because of the brethren’s refusal to obey the wishes of the Prophet Joseph Smith.  Again Lee writes, “They had refused, and the results was a lesson to all that there was no safety except in obeying the Prophet[24]. The people also could have accepted a peace treaty given to them two days earlier, yet they did not because they knew not when they were at peace and why they should enter into such an agreement[25].

At the same time, the mobs were gathering and attacking Haun’s Mill, troops were marching in on Far West.  The first knowledge the Mormons in Far West received that the militias were out to get them was when 300-armed men came within a half mile of the town. In their ignorance of not knowing whom these militiamen were the sent out a flag of truce to inquire the cause of their appearance[26].  Yet as much as they knew, the Mormons were unprepared for the fight that was to come to them.  Their army consisted of about eight hundred men, most of them poorly armed and having a single barrel pistol or maybe a homemade sword[27]. Once the army of Missouri had arrived at Far West on October 31, they then laid siege to it shooting anyone who came out of the city.  They began destroy crops and cattle and other livestock[28]

All hope at Far West seemed lost.  Even the members of the Mormon Church were unmotivated.  It was cold and damp and news of Haun’s Mill had just reached the camp.  Joseph Smith in a rallying cry told the men to run, jump, wrestle or do anything but mope around.  The men began to do it, yet the men’s response was when asked why they were doing it by Joseph, was that because he asked them[29].  Not that they were motivated to do it, or that they thought they should do it. No one took it upon himself or herself to do it, but just because Joseph asked, they did it. 

One would ask did anyone support these unmotivated people or were they just like a chicken ready to be made into dinner.  There was one ally from the Missouri militia.  His name was General Doniphan.  Doniphan had proposed to create Daviess and Caldwell counties as a place for the Mormons to settle in[30].  Now in the fall of 1838 he had come back to help.  When General Doniphan was given the order to execute Joseph Smith, at the Siege of Far West, he responded that he would be damned if he would obey the order[31].  To most this would appear that, he was a giving up and going against his commander.  Nevertheless, when General Doniphan was asked about defying the order he stated that he did not pay attention to the extermination order and that he thought the days of extermination were over[32].

With having a General on their side and the siege being laid to Far West the destiny of the Mormons in the state of Missouri could have appeared to have been secured and theirs for the taking.  Yet again, their action of the people and their leaders sealed their fate.  As the siege lay in the call for the Prophet Joseph was issued and repeated repeatedly.  A non-friendly General Lucas who was determined to carry out the Governor’s order to remove the Mormons had replaced General Doniphan. When Joseph and his men came, forward he was given and edict from General Lucas that Joseph and his fellow leaders were to surrender, all the lands and property were to be sold and the Mormons were to leave the state[33]. General Lucas also issued a warning that if they did not comply by morning that he would return to Far West and should commence to attack the city[34].  He also harassed Joseph saying, “Come Mr. Smith, show us an Angel. Give us one of your revelations.  Show us a miracle[35].” 

Joseph and his leaders were taken, except for a young man by the name of Brigham Young.  With not knowing how long Joseph would be in prison Young was made leader and was given the directive to move the church out of Missouri to Iowa or eastern Illinois[36].  While in prison Joseph still sent what he claimed was revelation to the people.  He also was being prepared for trial on treason while in being held in Liberty, Missouri. Joseph after reviewing the wrongs perpetrated upon the Mormons in Missouri lamented “Oh God where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place[37]?”  While at the same time, the leaders where being set for trial Brigham Young had established contacts with people in Quincy, Illinois and had begun the movement of the people to there.  However Joseph and the leaders remained.  On the 12th of November 1838, a court of inquiry was held in Richmond, Missouri where the prisoners were given their charges[38].  The prisoners were sentenced to death; however, with the work of General Atchison and Colonel Doniphan they were spared death because the men pleaded the law had not run its course[39].  Now if it was destiny or design hat Joseph and his company was given this it is not know.  The judge in the case order the men to be transported from Liberty jail to Davies County but at the last moment, a change of venue was requested to Boone County for the trial.  The judge said however that the prisoners were not to go there, and the guardsmen could do with them as they pleased[40].  It was during this transport the prisoners escaped to Illinois and joined Brigham Young and his company and ended their Missouri conflict.

Five years after escaping Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were martyred in Carthage Illinois.  They were never brought to justice in Missouri or extradited back to state.  In Illinois, the Mormons for a time found relief from the pressures of Missouri.  The destiny they had hoped for in Missouri never came during the life of any of the leaders, who were in Missouri during the time of the conflict.  The Mormons never got any of their lands back until the later part of the 1900’s.

The story of the citizens of Missouri and the conflict to keep their family the way it was is a story of trail and removal.  To preserve the heritage the people of Missouri wanted and thought was theirs, lies and accusations against people who where not of their kind were made.  The Mormons came to Missouri believing it was to be their refuge, a place of safety, and of keeping them away from trials and tribulations. The conflicts arose when the Mormons because unchristian like in their nature and persecuting those who were not with them.  The Mormons were seen as a threat to the citizen of Missouri.  This threat came from both political and intellectual areas.  Learned bigots rallied the citizens of Missouri to attack and destroy the Mormon.  The Governor came along and to them to leave and that the Colonels and Generals were to exterminate them.  Some of the Colonels disobeyed their leaders and fought to protect the Mormons, while others carried out the order.  Eventually they leaders and members of the church escaped to Illinois only to have their leader martyred five years later. Although the Mormon leaders and members believed, they were destined to be in Missouri, their actions and deeds led to their eventual expulsion from Missouri.  The church survived, but had a rough going in its first years.


[1] Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church History in the Fulness of Times (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1993), 102


[2] Joseph Smith Jr., The Doctrine and Covenants of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981), 102

[3] James A. Little, From Kirtland to Salt Lake City (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Juvenile Instructor Office, 1890), 15

[4] Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History. (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Deseret Book Company, 1967), 131

[5] Elder R. Etzenhouser, From Palmyra, New York, 1830 to Independence Missouri, 1894.  (Independence, Missouri: Ensign Publishing House, 1894), 201

[6] George Q. Cannon, The history of the Mormons, their persecutions and travels.  (Salt Lake City, Utah: s.n. 1891?) 2

[7] Joseph Fielding Smith, 132

[8] Corporation, 131

[9]Joseph Fielding Smith, 131

[10] Corporation, 183

[11] Ray B. West Jr., Kingdom of the Saints.  (New York, New York: The Viking Press, 1957), 72-73

[12] Harry M. Beardsley, Joseph Smith and His Mormon Empire.  (New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company The Riverside Press Cambridge, 1931), 171

[13] Joseph Smith Jr., 236

[14] John Doyle Lee, Mormonism unveiled or the life and Confessions of the Late Mormon Bishop John D. Lee.  (Lewisburg, Pennsylvania: S.T. Buck, Son & Co., 1882), 53

[15] John P Greene, Facts Relative to the Expulsion of the Mormons or Latter Day Saints, From the State of Missouri under the Exterminating Order.  (Cincinnati, Ohio: R. P. Brooks. 1839), 18

[16] Ray B. West Jr., 82

[17] Harry M. Beardsley, 174

[18] Ray B West Jr., 83

[19] John P. Greene, 26

[20] Joseph Fielding Smith, 193

[21] Arrington, Leonard J., Davis Bitton. The Mormon Experience A History of the Latter-day Saints.  (Urbana and Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. 1992), 45

[22] John D. Lee, 80

[23] John P. Greene, 13

[24] John D. Lee, 81

[25] Joseph Fielding Smith, 195

[26] John P. Greene, 25

[27] Harry M. Beardsley, 177

[28] Joseph Fielding Smith, 198

[29] Harry M. Beardsley, 177

[30] Corporation, 183

[31] Joseph Fielding Smith, 198

[32] Elder R. Etzenhouser, 326

[33] Ray B. West Jr., 87

[34] Joseph Fielding Smith, 198

[35] Corporation, 205

[36] Ray B. West Jr., 90

[37] Joseph Smith Jr., 239

[38] Arrington, Leonard J., Davis Bitton., 23

[39] Harry M. Beardsley, 179

[40] Ray B. West Jr., 100-101