Hey guys! So on February 24th, 1834, Lyman Wight and Parley P. Pratt arrived in Kirtland, Ohio, with an unfortunate update about the Latter-day Saints in Jackson County, Missouri. The update was that … there weren’t any Saints in Jackson County anymore. Persecution had escalated to the point where mobs had attacked and forced the Saints from their lands. Homes had been pillaged and burned. Some men had been beaten, tarred, and feathered. Women and children fled across the frozen prairie, their trail marked by the blood of their lacerated feet. Long story short, the Saints needed help. Appealing to local authorities didn’t do much good, as many of them were members of the mob. The Lord had revealed that this land in Missouri would be a promised land, a land of Zion, for the Latter-day Saint people. And now, Zion was lost.
In response to these injustices, Joseph Smith received a revelation which instructed leaders to rally together a force to make the journey over to Jackson County, to redeem Zion; to provide aid, and restore the scattered Saints to their lands. And it’s that expedition, known as Zion’s Camp or the Camp of Israel, that we’re going to talk about today.
Alright, so the plan was not for Zion’s Camp to charge into Missouri, guns blazing. Missouri Governor, Daniel Dunklin, had previously committed to calling out the state militia in order to protect the Saints as they returned to their lands. Zion’s Camp would assist in protecting the Saints, especially after the militia would eventually need to leave. About 200 men volunteered for the expedition — less than half the number that was hoped for. Zion’s Camp set out from Ohio at the beginning of May 1834. It was a journey of over 800 miles, one-way. They would march from the wee hours of the morning until late afternoon or evening, and then they’d have to set up camp, cook, and drill. Emotions ran high.
George A. Smith wrote, “…most of the men in the camp complained to [Joseph] of sore toes, blistered feet, long drives, scanty supply of provisions, poor quality of bread, bad corn dodger, ‘frouzy’ butter, strong honey, maggoty bacon and cheese … If they had to camp with bad water, it would nearly cause rebellion. Yet we were the Camp of Zion … Joseph had to bear with us and tutor us like children.” Brigham Young summarized it well: “We had grumblers in that camp.”
On June 3rd, Joseph delivered an ominous prophecy: “I said the Lord had revealed to me that a scourge would come upon the camp in consequence of the fractious and unruly spirits that appeared among them, and they should die like sheep with the rot; still, if they would repent and humble themselves before the Lord, the scourge, in a great measure, might be turned away; but, as the Lord lives, the members of this camp will suffer for giving way to their unruly temper.”
On June 12th, Orson Hyde and Parley P. Pratt were sent to coordinate with Governor Dunklin and make sure he would stay true to his word to call out the state militia to help the scattered Saints. They arrived back at camp a few days later with bad news: “We had an interview with the Governor, who readily acknowledged the justice of the demand, but frankly told us he dare not attempt the execution of the laws in that respect, for fear of deluging the whole country in civil war and bloodshed. He advised us to relinquish our rights, for the sake of peace….”
Zion’s Camp pressed on. By June 19th, Zion’s Camp was only about 10 miles away from the main body of scattered Saints. Joseph’s journal reports, “This night we camped on an elevated piece of land between Little Fishing and Big Fishing rivers … As we halted and were making preparations for the night, five men armed with guns rode into our camp, and told us we should ‘see hell before morning;’ … They told us that sixty men were coming from Richmond, Ray county, and seventy more from Clay county, to join the Jackson county mob [of about 200 additional men], who had sworn our utter destruction.”
That night, the attack on Zion’s Camp was foiled by a terrible storm that peppered the mob with hail and made the river impassable. For now, Zion’s Camp was spared, but there were still consequences on the horizon for their murmuring. One of those consequences was Doctrine and Covenants 105, which taught that “Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom,” but because of the Camp’s disobedience, they were instructed to “wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion….” They gave the scattered Saints what supplies they could, but the Saints would not be restored to their lands at this time. The change of plans was understandably disappointing and frustrating to many of the men.
But wait, there’s more: Wilford Woodruff, another member of the Camp, wrote, “Several of the brethren murmured, and found fault. Joseph prophesied that a scourge would come upon the Camp, and it came in the form of cholera.” Joseph wrote that June 24th was the “night the cholera burst forth among us…”. By the end of it all, 13 members of Zion’s camp were dead.
After the worst was over, Joseph disbanded Zion’s Camp. Some men stayed to join the Missouri Saints and help them get back on their feet. Most returned to their families in Ohio. The initial plan was for the Saint to continue gathering in Clay County until they could regain their lands in Jackson County. But, tensions began to run high in Clay County, so the Missouri and later the Kirtland Saints relocated to a piece of Missouri they could call their very own: Far West. And if you want to learn more about how well that turned out, check out this episode.
Zion’s Camp failed to restore the Saints to their land. But it gave the 28-year-old Joseph Smith the chance to get to know these men on a deeper level. He saw first-hand who handled the refining fire of adversity well, and who did not. The next year, 9 out of the 12 men called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and all 70 men called to the Quorum of the Seventy were men who had marched with Zion’s camp.
Brigham Young later said, “I would not exchange the experience I gained in that expedition for all the wealth of Geauga county.” “…this was the starting point of my knowing how to lead Israel.” In Salt Lake City in 1869 apostle Wilford Woodruff taught that at Zion’s Camp, “we gained an experience that we never could have gained in any other way … had I not gone up with Zion’s Camp, I should not have been here today.” That’s Zion’s Camp! If you want to learn more, check out the resources in the YouTube description, and have a great day!
- “Zion’s Camp,” from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism: https://bit.ly/3fJG4zt
- Zion’s Camp participant roster: https://bit.ly/34EhJ84
- “Zion’s Camp and the Redemption of Zion, 1834,” by Alexander Baugh: https://bit.ly/3iacTHC
- “Zion’s Camp (Camp of Israel),” Gospel Topics Essays: https://bit.ly/3c94WP9
- “Jackson County Violence,” Gospel Topics Essays: https://bit.ly/3fWIf1A
- “Zion’s Camp” is a topic frequently addressed in books on the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here are some recommendations:
- “Saints: The Standard of Truth,” chapter 18 (starting on pg. 194).
- “The Missouri Persecutions,” by B. H. Roberts.
- “Brigham Young: American Moses,” by Leonard Arrington (starting on chapter 3, or pg. 31).
- “Joseph: Exploring the Life and Ministry of the Prophet,” edited by Susan Easton Black and Andrew Skinner (chapters 21 & 22).
- “Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt,” by Parley P. Pratt (chapters 14 & 15).
- “Wilford Woodruff,” by Mathias Cowley (chapter 6).
- “Joseph Smith’s Kirtland: Eyewitness Accounts,” by Karl Ricks Anderson (chapter 13).
- “The Journal of Joseph,” by Joseph Smith Jr. (specifically the May – July 1834 entries).
And plenty of others.