The Mormon War in Missouri

Joseph Smith relocated the church’s headquarters to Far West in Caldwell County and those who remained loyal to Smith and Rigdon began pouring into Missouri. Violating the state’s agreement, the Mormons bulged beyond their designated borders into the northern Daviess County, where Smith identified a valley that he called Adam-ondi-Ahman, stating that it would be the location where Jesus Christ, Adam, and all of the patriarchs would meet at the last days to usher in the Millennial Kingdom. Much to the alarm of Missouri residents in Daviess County, the swelling Mormon numbers were seen as an increasing political and economic threat. On Election Day in 1838, a brawl ensued at the Daviess County seat of Gallatin when Mormons were prevented from voting. Smith and a group of Mormon militiamen rode into Daviess County in an attempt to negotiate a peace settlement with county officials, but the talks only furthered resentment between Mormons and Missourians.

Internally, dissension over Smith’s leadership resulted in the resignation and excommunication of several prominent leaders, including Book of Mormon witnesses David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and John Whitmer. Over the next year, internal and external tensions continued,  prompting Rigdon to deliver two fiery sermons in the summer of 1838 that sparked a fuze. One, called the “Salt Sermon,” was directed to internal dissidents; and the other, called the “Fourth of July Sermon” was directed towards hostile Missourians. In his speech against Missourian mobs, Rigdon warned that further aggression would result in “a war of extermination.”

A secret militia calling themselves the Danites (an allusion to the apocalyptic Old Testament prophet Daniel) was formed to root out dissidents within the church; however, it soon organized and acted against outside threats as well. Anti-Mormon hostility swelled over the following two months as Mormons were violently removed from neighboring counties and the Danite militia began to retaliate in kind. Mormon women and girls were raped, men were beaten, and property was destroyed. In what has become known as the Battle of Crooked River, Mormons entered into gun battle against the state militia, prompting Governor Boggs to issue an Executive Order of extermination against the Mormons, forcing them to leave the state. Likely unrelated to the order of extermination, but within days of it, a militia of 250 Missourians rode into Caldwell County and opened fire at a mill, killing seventeen Mormon men, women, and children in what has become memorialized by Mormons as the Haun’s Mill Massacre. Boggs ordered the state militia to seize Caldwell County and Mormon leaders were arrested on charges of treason, murder, arson, burglary, robbery, larceny, and perjury. An affidavit filled against Joseph Smith by president of the Quorum of the Twelve, Thomas B. Marsh, charged Smith inciting violence in the name of religion, referring to the Mormon prophet as “a second Mahomet [Muhammad].” Smith, Rigdon, and Hyrum Smith, along with Danite captain Lyman Wight and others were held for trial for six months in inhospitable conditions at Liberty Jail while thousands of Mormons fled Missouri, most finding temporary refuge among the sympathetic residents of Quincy, Illinois.

Further Reading

Gospel Topics Essay: “Peace and Violence among 19-the Century Latter-Day Saints,” (only read the first half of the article, up to “Violence in the Utah Territory”).