Missouri

See this page in the original 1992 publication.

[This entry consists of two articles: Missouri: LDS Communities in Jackson and Clay Counties Missouri: LDS Communities in Caldwell and Daviess Counties The first article identifies the importance of Jackson County, Missouri, in the teachings of the Church and traces LDS history there and in Clay County. The second article discusses how the Missouri State Legislature created Caldwell and Daviess counties especially for the Latter-day Saints to settle in. The Church was driven from Missouri in the winter of 1838 -1839, when its leaders were arrested and held for trial and the state militia enforced Governor Boggs's Extermination Order.]


Missouri: LDS Communities in Jackson and Clay Counties

Author: JOHNSON, CLARK V.

LDS interest and settlement in Jackson County, Missouri, came as a direct result of a revelation designating it as the location for Zion and the New Jerusalem. Both the Book of Mormon (Ether 13:2-3; 3 Ne. 20:22) and revelations to Joseph Smith (D&C 28:9;29:7-9;35:24;42:9, 35-36, 62;45:65-71) filled the Latter-day Saints with a zeal to know the time and place for the establishment. Elders from the Lamanite mission had traveled to western Missouri in early 1831, knowing they were near the location of Zion (D&C 28:9). The day after a significant June 1831 conference in Ohio, a revelation directed Joseph Smith and other Church leaders to go to Missouri, where the land of their inheritance would be revealed (D&C 52:3-5, 42-43).

Three new groups of Saints proceeded to western Missouri in the summer of 1831: Joseph Smith's party of leaders; an entire branch of the Church from colesville, New York, who were commanded to relocate in Missouri (D&C 54:8); and thirteen pairs of missionaries who were instructed to preach along the way (D&C 52:7-10, 22-33;56:5-7). The Prophet's group, traveling by foot, investigated other counties near the western Missouri border before determining that Jackson County was to be their ultimate destination. Their observation of Missouri's frontier communities was in harmony with a general feeling even in the West that the society of western Missouri, composed as it was of recent arrivals who had sought out the frontier to escape society's constraints, was not a model of civilization. "Our reflections were many, coming as we had from a highly cultivated state of society in the east," reads Joseph Smith's official history, "to observe the degradation…of a people that were nearly a century behind the times" (HC 1:189).

In response to the question "When will Zion be built up in her glory, and where will Thy temple stand?" (HC 1:189), the Lord declared, "Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion…. The place which is now called Independence is the center place; and the spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the court-house" (D&C 57:2-3).

In the summer of 1831, Church leaders explored the county, wrote a description of it for future Saints, established the first settlement in Kaw Township (now in Kansas City), dedicated the land for a gathering place, dedicated the temple lot, and conducted a conference for all Saints thus far gathered. The following men were assigned to prominent Church positions in Missouri: Edward Partridge, bishop; A. Sidney Gilbert, financial agent; W. W. Phelps, printer and editor; and Oliver Cowdery, assistant printer and editor. After Joseph Smith returned to Ohio, Bishop Partridge began buying land for the Saints' new inheritances.

LDS settlers who spent the winter of 1831-1832 in Jackson County struggled to cut timber; build ferries, bridges, mills, dams, homes, outbuildings, and fences; and prepare land for cultivation. Even though up to ten families lived in each log cabin, "there was a spirit of peace and union, and love and good will manifested in this little Church in the wilderness" (Pratt, p. 56). Plainly, it was not what Zion was but what it could become that buoyed up the Saints and lifted sagging spirits.

Early in 1832, Gilbert established a Church storehouse and Phelps the printing office. Proceeds from the store were used to buy and develop more land. Phelps began publishing a religious monthly, The Evening and the Morning Star, and a secular weekly, The Upper Missouri Advertiser; work also proceeded on the book of commandments, a compilation of revelations that had been received by Joseph Smith, and on a compilation of hymns. Establishing schools also became a high priority. By fall, schools were started in Kaw Township (called the Colesville School) and in Independence near the temple lot. Proper observance of the Lord's Day also received special emphasis (see D&C 59).

The subject that received the most attention was "gathering to Zion." Through the Star, Phelps reminded migrating Saints not to gather without adequate preparation, including carrying a recommend from the bishop in Ohio or from three elders. Bishop Partridge assigned land "inheritances" to new arrivals. Some three to four hundred arrived in the spring and summer of 1832, and by November there were 810 Latter-day Saints in Missouri. Up to this time, five settlements had easily absorbed the immigrants: a community in Independence near the temple lot; a branch on the Blue River three miles to the west; the Whitmer Branch three miles farther west; the Colesville Branch in Kaw Township two miles south of the Whitmer Branch; and the Prairie Branch on the Missouri state border. Editorials in the Star reflected the Saints' optimism.

The year 1833 brought numerous new challenges to the Church in Jackson County. Some members circumvented appointed leaders and ignored their authority to preside. Others tried to obtain property through means other than the revealed laws. Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon had visited the area in the spring of 1832, but now there arose a general concern among Missouri Latter-day Saints that their Prophet should move permanently from Ohio to the new Zion. Additionally, there were petty jealousies, covetousness, and general neglect in keeping the commandments. None of this helped the newcomers to cope with the worst problem-increasing hostility with the "old settlers" of Jackson County. As the LDS population in the county reached twelve hundred by the summer of 1833, concerns of the local citizens reached fever pitch. It did not help that some members unwisely boasted that nonmembers would be driven from the county.

However, not everything was gloomy in the Jackson County settlements. Solemn assemblies in each branch had brought about a new spirit of humility, diligence, and order to the Church. A school for elders was established on the model of the School of the Prophets in Kirtland, Ohio. Joseph Smith sent a plan for the building-up of the city of Zion and its accompanying temple (see City Planning). The Book of Commandments was nearing completion. But all of this seemed only to increase hostility.

Mob violence broke out against the Saints in late July 1833. The printing press was destroyed, the page sheets of the Book of Commandments were scattered, and Bishop Partridge was tarred and feathered. Under duress, Church leaders signed an agreement to vacate Jackson County (see Missouri Conflict). Church members sought redress from the government, but were granted only sympathy, not help. When the old settlers saw that the Saints intended not to depart immediately but to hold their ground and defend themselves, they resumed acts of violence. After small battles erupted and led to several fatalities, the local militia succeeded in disarming the Mormons and driving them from Jackson County in early November.

Although some Saints fled to Van Buren and LaFayette counties, most found refuge north across the Missouri River in Clay County. The citizens of Liberty, the seat of Clay County, charitably offered shelter, work, and provisions. The refugees moved into abandoned slave cabins, built crude huts, pitched tents, and lived on meager subsistence until spring. Most Clay County citizens were friendly but considered the settlement of the Saints in their midst as only temporary.

To help the Missouri Saints, Joseph Smith arrived in June 1834 at the head of Zion's Camp, a paramilitary body of Latter-day Saints from the East. All efforts to achieve either reentry into Jackson County or redress of grievances came to naught. Outright war between Missourians and Mormons seemed imminent. By revelation (D&C 105) Joseph Smith was told to disband the camp because Zion could not yet be redeemed; bloodshed was thereby averted.

Before returning to Ohio, the Prophet established a presidency and high council for the Missouri Saints with David Whitmer as president and W. W. Phelps and John Whitmer as his counselors. Church members began establishing more permanent residences in Liberty and the surrounding Clay County countryside. They won a reputation for retrenchment and thrift and were generally able to live at peace with their neighbors.

Gradually, however, citizens of Clay became concerned about the permanence of LDS settlements. This concern became acute after the arrival of additional Church members in 1835 and 1836. In June 1836 a public meeting was held at the courthouse in Liberty to discuss objections to the Mormons remaining in the county. The citizens reminded the Saints of their original pledge to leave the county when they were no longer welcome, but promised to control any violence until they left.

Bishop Partridge and W. W. Phelps explored new gathering spots for the Saints in relatively uninhabited territory in northern Missouri, and by early 1837, Church members began moving out of Clay County into the newly created "Mormon county" of Caldwell (see Missouri: LDS Communities in Caldwell and Daviess Counties).


Missouri: LDS Communities in Caldwell and Daviess Counties

Author: GENTRY, LELAND H.

LDS Communities in Caldwell and Daviess Counties

The Missouri legislature created Caldwell and Daviess counties in December 1836 in an attempt to resolve "the Mormon problem." After the Latter-day Saints were driven from Jackson County in 1833, they were given temporary refuge in Clay County (see Missouri: LDS Communities in Jackson and Clay Counties), but three years later, they still lacked a homeland. The small, newly created county of Caldwell in unsettled northern Missouri was to be their county; later, they also moved north into Daviess County.

When the Saints sought shelter in Clay County, both they and the local citizens expected their stay to be temporary. Consequently, in the spring of 1836, Bishop Edward Partridge and W. W. Phelps explored potential sites for LDS settlements in northern Ray County, an expansive region commonly known as the Far West, which stretched north to the Iowa border. Most of the territory was prairie covered by tall grass, with timber only along the streams and rivers. They identified suitable sites and the Saints began purchasing land along Shoal Creek in northern Ray County, about thirty miles northwest of Liberty. In the summer of 1836, when Clay County officially requested the Latter-day Saints to leave, Church leaders announced their intent to move to northern Ray.

Ray County residents opposed the plan, however, an opposition made firmer when approximately one hundred families of migrating Saints from Ohio camped on the Crooked River in lower Ray County. Although many of the Saints in the camp were ill and most without funds to purchase either provisions or lands, the local citizens threatened them with violence if they did not leave. Another hundred impoverished LDS families were already traveling toward Missouri. Only after Church leaders assured Ray County officials of their intent to settle uninhabited and generally unwanted prairies to the north and to apply for a new county did opposition wane. Both parties agreed to establish a six-mile buffer zone or a no-man's land where neither Mormons nor non-Mormons would settle.

Early in August 1836, W. W. Phelps and John Whitmer, members of the Missouri stake presidency, located a site for a city on Shoal Creek and called it Far West. It was twelve miles west of Haun's Mill, a small LDS settlement created by Jacob Haun a year earlier. The Saints began gathering near Far West in late summer and fall and soon built numerous smaller settlements.

Alexander W. Doniphan, state legislator and friend to the Saints, introduced a bill in December 1836 to create two new small counties from sparsely settled northern Ray County. Doniphan named the new counties Daviess and Caldwell after two famous Kentucky Indian fighters. Caldwell County, the location of the Far West and Shoal Creek settlements, would be exclusively for Mormons; they would have their own militia and their own representation in the state legislature. Since many considered this segregation of the Latter-day Saints an excellent solution to the Mormon problem, the bill passed and was signed into law December 29, 1836. By early 1837, Missouri Saints were pouring into Caldwell County and began constructing log houses and preparing the soil for spring planting. The standard government rate was $1.25 per acre for unimproved land, and within a year most of the land was claimed and much of it was under cultivation. Civil officers were selected, and as in other counties, a county militia was organized as an arm of the state militia.

Some of the land around Far West was purchased by W. W. Phelps and John Whitmer using nearly $1,500 that had been raised to aid the poverty-stricken incoming Saints. Without consulting other local leaders (see High Council), they developed the land, sold it, and retained some of the profit for themselves, thus creating discord. Conflict festered in Far West throughout 1837 until Joseph Smith, visiting from Ohio in November, temporarily resolved differences among the leaders. During his visit he also established committees to identify additional settlement sites.

New tension arose among the Saints during the winter, however, when Oliver Cowdery and Frederick G. Williams arrived in Far West from Kirtland, Ohio. With Phelps and Whitmer, Cowdery sold Church land in Jackson County, violating a policy that the Saints should retain their claims in Zion (D&C 101:99). The local high council tried the three for disobedience and excommunicated them, along with Williams, who apparently sided with them. As prominent "dissenters," they stirred up trouble among the Saints through the first half of 1838.

In March 1838 Joseph Smith moved the headquarters of the Church to Far West. Other Ohio Saints planned to follow later in the year. That summer, the population in Caldwell County reached five thousand, a large percentage living in Far West, where the Saints had built hundreds of homes, four dry-goods stores, three family grocery stores, several blackSmith shops, two hotels, a printing shop, and a large schoolhouse that doubled as a church and courthouse.

The rapidly increasing LDS population required more new settlements. In mid-May, Joseph Smith led an exploring expedition northward into Daviess County, where a few members had previously settled under a gentleman's agreement with the old settlers. The explorers found a beautiful townsite on the Grand River. While there, the Prophet received a revelation that this was also the site of Adam-ondi-Ahman, mentioned in a revelation three years earlier as the valley where Adam had gathered his righteous posterity "and there bestowed upon them his last blessing" (D&C 107:53; cf. 78:15-16). This news helped confirm the decision to create a stake there and designate the area as a gathering place for Ohio members traveling to Missouri. At a June 28, 1838, conference in the newly laid-out community, affectionately nicknamed Di-Ahman, Joseph Smith's uncle, John Smith, was called as stake president. Throughout the summer of 1838, Latter-day Saints poured into Daviess County, where a plentiful harvest helped provide for the impoverished members of the Kirtland Camp when they arrived in early October. That same spring, the Saints also began to settle in DeWitt, in nearby Carroll County near the confluence of the Grand and Missouri rivers, where they established a steamboat landing from which immigrants could move to the other LDS settlements.

The Saints in northern Missouri industriously planted crops and built log houses throughout the summer, and prospects for peace appeared good. They still hoped for eventual reconciliation with the citizens of Jackson County so that they could return to their center place, but in the meantime they intended to prosper where they were. By revelation, Far West was to become a temple city (D&C 115:7), and the following spring, the Quorum of the Twelve would dedicate the temple site before departing on a mission to Great Britain (D&C 118:4). Revelation in Far West also prescribed the formal name of the Church, "even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" (D&C 115:4), and established the tithing system, which continues to provide financial stability to the Church and to bless its members (D&C 119, 120).

But new difficulties arose. First, Sidney Rigdon publicly threatened dissenters in his June "Salt Sermon," intimating that they should leave Far West or harm would befall them. News of this threat reinforced anti-Mormon hostility throughout Missouri. Second, LDS militia officer Sampson Avard formed an underground group of vigilantes labeled Danites. Avard convinced this oathbound group that they operated with the approval of Church leaders and that they were authorized to avenge themselves against the Church's enemies, even by robbery, lying, and violence if necessary. Third, in an inflammatory Independence Day speech, Sidney Rigdon thundered out a declaration of independence from further mob violence. He warned of a war of extermination between Mormons and their enemies if they were further threatened or harassed.

Finally, and perhaps most important, the new LDS settlements in Adam-ondi-Ahman and DeWitt angered other Missourians who thought that the Mormons had agreed to stay in Caldwell County. Church leaders countered that as American citizens they had the right to buy land and live wherever they chose. Soon, depredations occurred, and with mobilization of militias on both sides, the stage was set for war. After violence erupted in October 1838, Governor Lilburn W. Boggs issued his infamous Extermination Order, declaring that all Mormons should be driven from Missouri or be exterminated.

At first, Church members attempted to defend themselves in their respective settlements, but the outlying towns were not defensible. Before all the Saints could gather to safety in fortified Far West, lives were lost in several confrontations, including the Haun's Mill Massacre, where seventeen LDS men and boys died. The siege of Far West took place during the last three days of October. Joseph Smith and other Church leaders were arrested and incarcerated, several in Liberty Jail, and the Saints were forced to abandon their improved lands to their enemies and leave Missouri (see Missouri Conflict). Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, members of the Twelve Apostles who were not imprisoned, and John Taylor, who was ordained an apostle in December, led the heroic efforts to relocate the approximately 12,000 Missouri Saints across the Mississippi River into Illinois.


Bibliography

Gentry, Leland H. "A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri from 1836 to 1839." Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1965.

Leonard, Glen M. Review of Cultures in Conflict: A Documentary History of the Mormon War in Illinois, edited by John E. Hallwas and Roger D. Launius. BYU Studies 36:2 (1996-97):235-240.

LeSueur, Stephen C. The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri. Columbia, Mo., 1987.

LELAND H. GENTRY


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