Author: Chase, Lance D.
Zion's Camp was a Latter-day Saint expedition from Kirtland, Ohio, to Clay County, Missouri, during May and June 1834. The Mormon settlers in adjacent Jackson County, Missouri, had been driven out in the fall of 1833 by hostile non-Mormon elements, and the initial objective of Zion's Camp was to protect those settlers after the Missouri militia escorted them back to their homes. The camp was to bring money, supplies, and moral support to the destitute Saints.
A revelation to Joseph Smith in July 1831 (D&C 57) designated Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, as the site of Zion, a gathering place for the Saints and the location for the New Jerusalem spoken of in the Bible and the Book of Mormon. By the summer of 1833, the Latter-day Saints numbered about one-third of the population in Jackson County. Their increasing numbers and distinctive beliefs troubled the other settlers, who shortly demanded that the Church members leave. When these demands were not immediately complied with, the Missourians attacked the settlements, compelling the Saints to flee. Most went north across the Missouri River to Clay County in November 1833.
Lyman Wight and Parley P. Pratt brought word of their plight to Joseph Smith and the main body of Saints in Kirtland, Ohio, on February 22, 1834. Wight and Pratt informed the Prophet that after their conversation with Governor Daniel Dunklin, Attorney General Robert W. Wells of Missouri promised to supply a force to escort the exiles back to their homes. With this in mind, Joseph Smith saw the wisdom of sending a force to protect his people from further attacks once they were safely back in Jackson County.
A revelation on February 24, 1834 (D&C 103), commanded the Saints to send to Missouri a relief force consisting of at least 100 and as many as 500 volunteers. Eight Church leaders were told to recruit participants for the March, which later was called Zion's Camp. Four teams of two men each went east to obtain men, money, and supplies. A fifth pair, Lyman Wight and Joseph Smith's brother Hyrum Smith, went to Michigan and Illinois. The northern group was to join the marchers from Kirtland at the house of James Allred, a Church member living on the Salt River in eastern Missouri about one hundred miles northwest of St. Louis.
An advance party of 20 left Kirtland on May 1, 1834, to prepare the first camp at New Portage, near present-day Akron, Ohio, and the main group of about 85 joined them on May 6. When Joseph and Hyrum's contingents rendezvoused at the Allred settlement, east of Paris, Monroe County, Missouri, there were approximately 200 men, 11 women, and 7 children. Included in these figures were the 20 men, women, and children comprising Hyrum's company from the Pontiac, Michigan, area.
The marchers were well armed, carrying muskets, pistols, swords, and knives, and they attempted to prevent the Missourians from knowing of the expedition. But Jackson County residents learned of their coming and burned down virtually all the remaining Mormon buildings. Lacking in military training, the members of Zion's Camp conducted military exercises and sham battles along the way of the 900-mile journey. They were organized into groups of ten and fifty, with a captain over each. After the rendezvous at the Salt River on June 8, Lyman Wight, a veteran of the War of 1812, was elected general of the camp, and William Cherry, a British dragoon for twenty years, was made drill master.
Contrary to the attempted military discipline, the men sometimes quarreled among themselves. On June 3, as the group approached the Mississippi, Joseph warned them that in consequence of their misconduct a scourge would strike the camp. His words proved prophetic when, at the conclusion of their journey on June 23 at Rush Creek in Clay County, Missouri, cholera struck the camp. Some sixty-eight men were afflicted, and thirteen of them and one woman died of the disease. Earlier at Fishing River a band of about 300 armed Missourians threatened to invade the camp, but a fierce hailstorm drove them off and prevented a conflict.
In the meantime, negotiations were conducted between the Zion's Camp leaders, Missouri State officials, and the citizens of Jackson County. Joseph Smith learned that, contrary to expectations, Governor Dunklin would not provide troops to escort the Mormons into Jackson County, fearing a civil war if he did. The two sides exchanged proposals for buying out each other's property in Jackson County, but these efforts broke down.
On June 22, 1834, while still at Fishing River, the Prophet received a revelation that rebuked some members of the Church for not sufficiently supporting Zion's Camp, but accepted the sacrifice of the camp members. They were not to fight but to wait for the Lord to redeem Zion (D&C 105). The experience had been intended to test their faith. The revelation directed the Saints to build goodwill in the area in preparation for the time when Zion would be recovered by legal rather than military means. Since there was little more to be done to help the displaced Jackson County Saints, the remaining Zion's Camp supplies were distributed to the refugees, and the camp disbanded on June 30, 1834. Most of the troops soon returned to Ohio.
Zion's Camp failed to achieve its ostensible purpose of protecting the Jackson County Saints. In retrospect, however, Brigham Young and other participants felt that they learned valuable lessons. In subsequent migrations, the Mormons used the organizational experience gained in Zion's Camp. Most importantly, they had answered the Lord's call (D&C 103). Nine of the first twelve apostles and all of the first Quorum of Seventy (seven presidents and sixty-three members) were later called from the ranks of Camp members.
Crawley, Peter, and Richard L. Anderson. "The Political and Social Realities of Zion's Camp." BYU Studies 14 (1974):406-20.
Launius, Roger D. Zion's Camp. Independence, Mo., 1984.
Talbot, Wilburn D. "Zion's Camp." Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1973.
LANCE D. CHASE