From Historian to Dissident
Bruce N. Westergren, editor

Chapter 20
War and Bloodshed

CHAPTER 20, 1837

[p. 183]In the fall of 1836, Joseph Smith Jr.[,] S. Rigdon[,] & others of the Leaders of the church at Kirtland[,] Ohio, Established a bank for the purpose of Speculation and the whole church partook of the same Spirit,1 they were lifted up in pride, and lusted after the forbidden things of God such as covetousness, & in secret combination, Spiritual wife doctrine, that is pleurality of wives,2 and gadianton bands in which they were bound. with oaths3 &c. that brought divisins and mistrust among those who were pure in heart, and desired the upbilding of the Kingdom of God—

J. Smith Jr. & S. Rigdon & Hyrum Smith moved their families to this place Far West in the Spring of 1838. As soon as they came here they began to enforce their new organized plan in force which caused disensions and difficulties, threatnings and even murders[.] Smith Called a counsel of council he Stated that any person who said a word against the heads of the church should be driven over these prairies as a chaced deer by a pack of hounds, having an allusian to the [p.184]gideonors [Gideonites] as they were then termed to Justify themselves, in their wicked designes4 Thus on the 19th of June 1835 they preached a sermon called the Salt sermon5 in which these gideonites understood that they should drive the disenters as they termed those who believed the not [p. 87] in their secret bands in fornication adultery or midnight machinations.6 Therefore they commenced suing at the law of the land by attachment for debts which they knew were paid and Justly paid, according to the laws of God and land the Land & thus foreswore themselves in these things J. Smith S Rigdon & Hiram Smith were the instigators & G. W. Robinson was the prosecutor—against David Whitmer, L. E. Johnson, O. Cowdery, F. G. Williams W. W. Phelps and myself—they had threatend us to kill us if we did not make restitution to them by upholding them in their wicked purposes and designs after they had instituted the foregoing suits[.] O. Cowdery D Whitmer L. E. Johnson & myself went to Clay Co. to obtain legal counsel to prepare to over throw these attachments which they had caused to [be] sued against us which we were abundantly able to do by good and substantial witnesses

But to our great astonishment when we were on our way home from Liberty Clay Co. we met the families of O. Cowdery & L E. Johnson whom they had driven from their homes and robed them of all their goods save clothing & bedding &c.

While we were gone Jo. & Rigdon & the band of gadeantons [Gadiantons] kept up a guard and watched our houses and abused our families and threatened them [that] if they were not gone by morning they would be drove out & threatened our lives if they ever saw us in Far West.7

After they had driven us and our families they commenced a difficulty in Davies Co. adjoining this Co. in the which they began to rob and burn houses &c &c. took honey [p.185]which they (the Mormons) called Sweet oil & hogs which they called bear, and Cattle which they called Buffalo. thus they would Justify themselves by saying we are the people of God and all things are Gods, therefore they are ours, the old inhabitants were not slack in paying them in their own coin[.] Thus war and bloodshed commenced and the result was that the Church was driven from this land & the pure in heart and inocent as well as the more wicked Save a few dissenters who were left here to fulfil some of the former commandments.8

Now before the Church left J. Smith Jr.[,] S. Rigdon[,] H. Smith[,] P. P. Pratt[,] Lyman Wight[,] & Amasa Lyman were delivered up to Gen. [Samuel D.] Lucas & General [John B.] Clark & the rest of the officers of Government which were ordered out by the governor of this State to stop the difficulties between the citizens & Mormons Smith & those others were tried by those officers for treason &c. but found that they were not legally authorized to execute them[.] after having found them guilty of many breaches of the law of the Land, they put them into the hand of Sivel officers of the government to be tried by <the> Law of the land.

And were commited to Jail but before the trial came on which was moved to some [other] of the Co[unties]. of this State where the people were not so much prej[u]diced against them, as they were moved from Clay Co. to the County where they were to be tried, they hirred the guard to let them go, &c. which they did and informed their brethren that an anger [angel] had delivered them from the guard, when in fact money hired those base & corrupt men, who let them go, and this through the wickedness of those to whom their safe keeping was committed, these men escaped the Justice of the law of the land which they had transgressed, and went unpunished at this time.1

1. Most of this dissatisfaction and apostasy over “temporal affairs” came as a result of the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society Bank in the Panic of 1837 (see Backman, Heavens, 310-29; Max H. Parkin, “Conflict at Kirtland: A Study of the Nature and Causes of External and Internal Conflict of the Mormons in Ohio Between 1830 and 1838,” M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1966, 213-25; D. Paul Sampson and Larry T. Wimmer, “The Kirtland Safety Society: The Stock Ledger Book and the Bank Failure,” Brigham Young University Studies 12 [Summer 1972]: 427-36; Scott H. Partridge, “The Failure of the Kirtland Safety Society,” Brigham Young University Studies 12 [Summer 1972]: 437-54. The most important studies are Marvin S. Hill, C. Keith Rooker, and Larry T. Wimmer, “The Kirtland Economy Revisited: A Market Critique of Sectarian Economics,” Brigham Young University Studies 17 [Summer 1977]:391-472; and Dale W. Adams, “Chartering the Kirtland Bank,” Brigham Young University Studies 23 [Fall 1983]:467-482).

2. For an overview and analysis of polygamy during this early period, see Parkin, “Conflict at Kirtland,” 162-74; and Danel Bachman, “A Study of the Mormon Practice of Plural Marriage before the Death of Joseph Smith,” M.A. thesis, Purdue University, 1975, 50-77. For a general history of Mormon plural marriage, see Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986).

3. This refers to the Danite Band, also known as the Daughters of Zion or the “Big Fan.” Their activities have been the subject of some debate. Apparently, they were originally organized for the Saints’ self-defense in Missouri but became more aggressive and began offensive operations as time went on (see, most importantly, Leland H. Gentry, “The Danite Band of 1838,” Brigham Young University Studies 14 [Summer 1974]: 421-50, and “A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri, from 1836-1839,” Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young [p.187]University, 1965; as well as Dean C. Jessee and David J. Whittaker, eds, “The Last Months of Mormonism in Missouri: The Albert Perry Rockwood Journal,” Brigham Young University Studies 28 [Winter 1988]:5-41; Harold Schindler, Orrin Porter Rockwell: Man of God, Son of Thunder, 2d. rev. ed. [Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1983], 28-43; and Reed C. Durham, Jr., “The Election Day Battle at Gallatin,” Brigham Young University Studies 13 [Autumn 1972]: 36-61. Less valuable and contradictory in places is Stephen C. LeSueur, The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri [Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987], 38-53).

4. No conference minutes from this period contain such a statement, nor is such a comment to be found in the History of the Church; or in any contemporary diary. A question also arises as to Whitmer’s source for this comment: he had been excommunicated by this time and probably did not attend the meeting himself; the identity of his informant is unknown.

5. See n. 7 below.

6. The date of the “Salt Sermon” was actually July 17, 1838; unfortunately, no copy of it exists in complete form. See, however, F. Mark McKiernan, The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness: Sidney Rigdon, Religious Reformer (Lawrence, KS: Coronado Press, 1971): Daryl Chase, “Sidney Rigdon, Early Mormon,” M.A. thesis, University of Chicago, 1931; and LeSueur, 1838 Mormon War, 38-40.

7. The reaction of members of the church—the development of a “fortress mentality” and the subsequent persecution of dissenters—has yet to be thoroughly studied. However, in one account Reed Peck writes:

… the Sunday following (June 17th) in the presense of a large congregation, S. Rigdon took his text from the fifth chapter of Mathew “Ye are the Salt of the Earth but if the salt have lost his savour wherewith shall it be salted, it is henceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and be trodden underfoot of men” From this [p.188]Scripture he undertook to prove that when men embrace the gospel and afterwards lose their faith it is the duty of the Saints to trample them under their feet[.] He informed the people that they had a set of men among them that had dissented from the church and were doing all in their power to destroy the presidency laying plans to take their lives &c., accused them of counterfeiting[,] lying[,] cheating[,] and numerous other crimes and called on the people to rise en masse and rid the county of Such a nuisance[.] He said it is the duty of this people to trample them into the earth, and if the county cannot be freed from them any other way I will assit to trample them down or to erect a gallows on the Square of Far West and hand them up as they did the gamblers at Vicksburgh and it would be an act at which the angels would smile with approbation[.]

Joseph Smith in a Short speech Sanctioned what had been Said by Rigdon though said he I don’t want the brethren to act unlawfully but will tell them one thing Judas was a traitor and instead of hanging himself was hung by Peter, and with this hint the subject was dropped for the day having created a great excitement and prepared the people to execute anything that should be proposed.

On the next Tuesday these dissenters as they were termed were informed that preparations were being made to hang them up and if they did not escape their lives would be taken before night, and perceiving the rage of their enemies they fled to Ray County leaving their families and property in the hands of the Mormons[.] The wrath of the presidency and the threats of han[g]ing &c. were undoubtedly a farce acted to frighten these men from the county that they could not be spies upon their conduct or that they might deprive them of their property and indeed the proceedings of the presidency and others engaged in this affair fully justify the latter conclusion, for knowing the probable result, Geo W. Robinson Son in law of S. Rigdon had prior to their flight sworn out writs of attachment against these men by which he took possession of all their personal property, clothing & furniture, much of which was valuable and no doubt very desirable leaving their families to follow to Ray County almost destitute—That the claims by which this property was taken from these men were unjust and perhaps without foundation cannot be doubted by any unprejudiced person acquainted with all parties and circumstances and no testimony has ever been adduced to show that the men were ever guilty of a crime in Caldwell County[.]

[p.189]These unlawful and tyrannical measures met with the censure of John Corrill[,] W. W. Phelps, John Clemenson[,] myself[,] and a few others but we were soon made sensible that we had excited suspicion, and perhaps endangered ourselves by venturing to speak unfavourably of these transations[.]

We found that the events of a few days had placed Caldwell County under a despotic government where even liberty of speech was denied to those not willing to unite in support of the new order (Reed Peck manuscript, 8-10, photocopy, Archives and Manuscripts, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; original manuscript in Huntington Library, San Marino, California; see also LeSueur, 1838 Mormon War, 37-40, 72-76, 131-32, 219-23).

8. A good analysis of the Mormon experience in Missouri has yet to be written. Some of the works currently available include T. Edgar Lyon, “Independence, Missouri, and the Mormons, 1827-1833,” Brigham Young University Studies 13 (Autumn 1972): 10-19; Richard L. Bushman, “Mormon Persecutions in Missouri, 1833,” Brigham Young University Studies 3 (Autumn 1960): 11-20; Richard L. Anderson, “New Data for Revising the Missouri ‘Documentary History,'” Brigham Young University Studies 14 (Summer 1974): 488-501; Alma R. Blair, “The Haun’s Mill Massacre,” Brigham Young University Studies 13 (Autumn 1972): 62-67; B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church of jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Century I, 6 vols. (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:314-559; Far West Record; Pratt, Autobiography, 35-252; James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, 2d. rev. ed. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992], 69-74, 83-88, 92-103, 113-17, 129-145; Leland H. Gentry, “A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri from 1836-1839,” Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1965; Warren A. Jennings, “Zion is Fled: The Expulsion of the Mormons from Jackson County, Missouri,” Ph.D. diss., University of Florida, 1962; Max H. Parkin, “A History of the Latter-day Saints in Clay County, Missouri, from 1833 to 1837,” Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1976; and, most recently, and perhaps most importantly, Clark V. [p.190]Johnson, ed., Mormon Redress Petitions: Documents of the 1833-1838 Missouri Conflict (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 1992). Also useful is LeSueur, 1838 Mormon War, which emphasizes—unlike earlier works—the persecution of dissenters by Mormons, a theme largely overlooked until now.

9. The rumor that the guards were bribed to release Joseph Smith and the rest of the company from prison was common at the time; however, there is no evidence to support it. See HC, 3:200-330; Leonard J. Arrington, “Church Leaders in Liberty Jail,” Brigham Young University Studies 13 (Autumn 1972): 20-26; and Dean C. Jessee, “‘Walls, Grates, and Screeking Iron Doors’: The Prison Experience of Mormon Leaders in Missouri, 1838-1839,” in New Views of Mormon History: Essays in Honor of Leonard J. Arrington, eds. Davis Bitton and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1987), 19-42.