Hey guys, in this episode we’re going to talk about the Missouri Mormon War of 1838. We’ve got a lot to get through, so let’s jump right in.
OK, so let’s set the stage: In 1833, Latter-day Saints who had gathered in Jackson County Missouri were persecuted and forced out. In 1836 a new county was formed specifically for the Saints, called Caldwell County. In that county, the Saints built a town called Far West. But as more and more Saints came to settle in Caldwell County and started spilling over into surrounding counties, tensions began to rise once more.
The breaking point was August 6th, 1838, in Gallatin—it was Election Day for the county and William Peniston was running for office. Peniston had previously supported driving the Saints from their homes, but when he realized he needed their votes, he excused his behavior by claimed he had simply been “deceived by false reports, without being acquainted with the people; and, since he had become acquainted with them, he found that they were first-rate citizens.”
The Saints didn’t buy it, and when election day came around, Peniston knew it. So he stood up on a whiskey barrel, resolved that if the Saints weren’t going to vote for him, they weren’t going to vote at all. He gave a fiery speech riling up the Missourians, allegedly saying “he did not consider the ‘Mormons’ had any more right to vote than the d[arned] n******.”
But the Saints weren’t going down without a fight. So…there was a fight. The Saints were heavily outnumbered and eventually withdrew. Nobody was killed, but both sides definitely got roughed up. This was the spark that ignited the conflict known as the Missouri Mormon War.
Rumors spread on both sides of the aisle. In Far West, word was that a few Saints had been killed in the brawl. Joseph Smith and a group of volunteers went to the Latter-day Saint settlement at Adam-Ondi-Ahman to investigate. When they got there and found out nobody was killed, they were like, “Well, now what do we do?” Sampson Avard, who we talked about in this episode about the Danites, invited Joseph to come along with him and a group of like 50 guys on a little visit to the home of hostile justice of the peace Adam Black, where Black was asked to sign this statement, which seems like a perfectly good thing to sign, though Black wasn’t happy about the intimidation.
Meanwhile, mob violence against the Saints increased, especially in a settlement called De Witt. On September 20th, mobbers demanded that the Saints leave De Witt. When word reached Joseph Smith, the Saints appealed to governor Lilburn W. Boggs for help. Boggs’ response was that “the quarrel was between the Mormons and the mob.” The besieged Saints at De Witt were forced from their homes in mid-October and traveled to Far West. Some didn’t make it.
“Three days after the De Witt Saints arrived [in Far West], Joseph rallied his forces in Caldwell. The Mormons heard reports of mobs converging from all points of the compass.” Frankly, the Saints had had it. They were done being driven from their homes, and they were ready to fight fire with fire, which was destined to not work out very well.
“From a tactical viewpoint, Gallatin and Millport were both about eight miles to the south of Adam-ondi-Ahman and were nearby centers that supported raids on the Mormons.” “In Mid-October, Mormons raided and burned homes and stores in Gallatin and Millport.”
Not long after, on October 24th, the Saints caught wind of a group of armed men crossing into Caldwell County, harassing and even taking some of the Saints as prisoners along the way. The Mormon militia responded and engaged the group in what is known as the Battle of Crooked River. Three Latter-day Saints and one Missourian died in the battle.
But there was another problem. It appears the Saints didn’t realize it at the time, but the enemy forces “actually were a contingent of the Richmond County militia…but they looked like a mob on the prowl. The misapprehension proved to be a serious mistake…The skirmish at Crooked River led to the charge of treason against Joseph Smith and the Mormon leaders. Resisting a band of vigilantes was justifiable, but attacking a militia company was resistance to the state.”
On October 27th, in response to the battle, Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs issued his infamous Executive Order 44, also known as the Extermination Order. Missourian forces were told, “The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State.”
Meanwhile, still ignorant of the extermination order, some Missouri militia planned an attack on the small settlement of Saints at Haun’s Mill, likely meant to be retaliatory for Latter-day Saint raids in Daviess County. The militia confiscated most weapons and lulled the Saints into a false sense of security by calling a truce. Then, on October 30th, without military authorization, Thomas Jennings led his forces into Haun’s Mill, where they killed 17 Saints, and wounded another 13.
On the same day, an army of 2500 Missouri militia camped outside of Far West, ready to lay siege to the city. The next day, on Halloween, Joseph was invited to meet with militia leaders to negotiate. Instead, once Joseph got there, they arrested him. On November 1st, Far West surrendered without any bloodshed. In the coming months, the Saints were expelled from Missouri, while Joseph and other leaders spent the winter in Liberty jail on a slew of charges.
That’s the nutshell version of the Missouri-Mormon War. If you want to dive deeper, check out the links in the description, and have a great day!
- From the Church’s website: https://bit.ly/39Zw5S5
- “The Election Day Battle at Gallatin,” by Reed C. Durham Jr.: https://bit.ly/3gcZvxE
- “Atchison’s Letters and the Causes of Mormon Expulsion from Missouri,” by Richard Lloyd Anderson: https://bit.ly/2FCBnYP
- “Missouri Conflict,” from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism: https://bit.ly/2CEBgLd
- “The Haun’s Mill Massacre and the Extermination Order of Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs,” by Alexander Baugh: https://bit.ly/3gaqR7t
- “Haun’s Mill Massacre,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism: https://bit.ly/3l3gzcW
- I also recommend the book “Rough Stone Rolling,” by Richard Bushman, which is excellently well-researched.