by Martha Sonntag Bradley
and Mary Brown Firmage Woodward
Missouri Crucible, 1836-39
“Like the journey of the children of Israel.”
—Oliver B. Huntington
[p.77] When William and Zina’s family left Kirtland in 1838, they were among the most poor. William must have suffered, not only physically and emotionally, but also in his self-identity with being “suddenly reduced to a state of poverty.” But in his autobiography, he records the facts stoically: “I had neither team nor money. Consequently brother Oliver Snow loaned me the use of a pair of oxen to put on to my double wagon as I had a double and a single wagon left with a poor old mare twenty years old after I sold most of our household furniture.”1
Zina and Zina Diantha washed the family’s clothes and bedding and prepared their belongings for transport. Zina began sewing a tent from fifty yards of common sheeting that would accommodate eighteen men. It was anticipated that women and children would sleep in the wagons, while the men occupied “crick” beds made of straw and bundles of branches in the tents. They planned to travel five days a week. On Saturdays they would camp to bake bread, wash clothes, repair wagons, and rest the animals. Sundays would be devoted to worship.
Although the best known exodus of the Saints out of Kirtland occurred in July with Kirtland Camp, many Mormons left in smaller groups of fewer than fifty members. Plans for the mass movement to Missouri [p.78] commenced in the seventies quorums in March 1838 and continued through the first of the summer. Throughout the same time period, small groups left for Missouri, taking advantage of water transportation, traveling in wagons, or simply walking the distance on foot. Regardless, the journey would test their dedication and cause them significant hardship. Many fell ill, delivered babies, or suffered from the hot sun or cold nights. For many, their poverty only accentuated their struggles and devotion.
With heavy hearts, the Huntingtons rolled out of town on 21 May 1838, about two months ahead of the Kirtland Camp. Their train was not nearly as long as the nine-mile caravan of white-covered wagons that would travel west in July, but it nevertheless stretched through woods and fields, tracing a memory of the Mormons’ movement out of Kirtland. Without a hint of bitterness, the Huntingtons looked ahead, turning the key on their home and leaving what little property they had accrued in the hands of enemies and strangers who would pillage their land and homes. Along the way, crowds of people flocked to watch the refugees. Hopeful that the weather would favor them, William walked beside his family’s wagon the entire journey.
That first night, the Huntingtons pitched their tents with the others in a clover field near Chester, Ohio, carefully organizing their wagons into a square. The next day, William and Zina stopped in Banebridge at the home of William’s cousin to ship some of their belongings ahead by water. It was a miserable repetition of their arrival in Kirtland, for, as William records, “I bound up most of our bedding and clothing with my iron tools and sent them by water, and never have seen or heard of them since.”2 Oliver pungently recalls that this second disaster left them as “bare as sheered sheep, we had the hide left, but not the whole.”3
Zina Diantha’s recollections of the trip reveal a young woman of seventeen, sensitive to the beauties of the earth and surprisingly vigorous despite a history of “delicate health” that had shielded her from heavy labor. Seemingly oblivious to the journey’s hardships, she embraced her brothers’ sense of adventure and her parents’ hope for peace and joy in their new home. They apparently traveled in a subgroup of four families, whom she describes as “pleasant,” for “eight weeks and three days.” Her description is appreciative, even a little humorous: “The prairie with its sea of flowers, its waving grass was lovely, much more enjoyable than [p.79] when a wind would strike us in the night with the eliments [sic] all at war. The rain in torrents and we had to sit and hold the covers on our wagons or be left without [wagon covers]. I need not mention our condition in the morning.”4
No serious schisms marred the arduous voyage, thanks to their common commitment, carefully spelled-out regulations that set expectations for the group, and watchfulness of their leaders. On Sundays men would gather for priesthood meetings, reminding each other to act with dignity—to pray, treat each other with kindness, not to swear.5
The dirt roads were frequently muddy and sometimes washed out altogether from the spring runoff. Night rainstorms interrupted their rest and made traveling in wet clothes miserable. Food was often scarce and inadequate, but the need of the Saints, coupled with their faith, produced miracles. The official account of the journey records: “In Marion and Hardin Counties, provisions were scarce and could not be obtained, consequently we were obliged to do with what we had; and here was another manifestation of the power of Jehovah, for seven and a half bushels of corn sufficed for the whole camp, consisting of six hundred and twenty souls, for the space of three days, and none lacked for food.”6
Although Ohio was hardly an urban environment, the Saints were moving into a new region that was much less settled. “Here in the night, while guarding our horses,” one wrote, “I, for the first time in my life, heard the howling of wolves in the forest, which blended with the barking of dogs in answer to them, did not make very agreeable musick in my ear.”7 The wagons required constant attention, and occasionally the entire camp would stop to repair broken wheels, harnesses, or tools. To fund the purchase of supplies, the men did day work. The women provided support for each other in pregnancy, illness, the birth of babies, the death of loved ones, and burials.
“Our whole journey was through a scene of new and before unexperienced and unthought of events,” William wrote.
We were in the company of seven wagons led by Oliver Snow, father of Eliza R. Snow, whose cattle we had, and through whom God blessed us with means to get to the place of gathering. … It was surely a true saying among the Latterday Saints, that if you want to know a man fully, take one [p.80] good Mormon journey with him, for it is sure to prove any one, whether he be true or false, half or whole hearted.8
In his autobiography, Oliver remembered the route they took: from Kirtland to Akron, Ohio, to Springfield, Illinois, then to Indianapolis, Indiana; Atlap, Louisiana; and finally Missouri. When they reached the Missouri border, they received the chilling news of heightened tensions between Mormons and Missourians. The fact that Saints like the Huntingtons were willing to move to Caldwell and Daviess counties, Missouri, places where they were already experiencing trouble, is evidence of their devotion to Joseph Smith and the hopelessness of the situation in Kirtland. Nevertheless, they were optimistic that better times lay ahead.
As had been true of the Huntingtons’ arrival in Kirtland in 1835, the stage had been set for conflict by the time they arrived in Missouri. Their efforts at establishing a home and a network of friends and neighbors were brief and fleeting. Nevertheless, for the Huntington family, their arrival was one of undiluted joy. Oliver recorded: “When about ten miles from Farwest as John and I were walking ahead of the teams, who should we meet but our Brother Dimick who we had not seen for near three years, and who had got to be as fat as a bear.”9 William wrote thankfully, “To my great joy I found my son Dimick and family in Far West. We were blessed with good health and no misfortune on our journey.” At the age of fifty-four, he had walked the whole way, almost 900 miles, “except when we forded streams of water.”10 They knew they had participated in an epic, and Oliver recorded solemnly: “Our Pilgrimage to Farwest, was like the journey of the children of Israel in the wilderness; everything was uncertain but one … it was but by the hand and power of God that we ever got to our destination.”11
William, Zina, and their three children moved in with Dimick and Fanny and their two children in Far West; Fanny was eight months pregnant. “When we arrived in Far West I had not one cent to help myself with, but went to work by days … to get something to subsist on.”12 William would work one month in Far West to provide for his family’s needs, then was advised to move to Adam-ondi-Ahman (also called Diahman) in Daviess County. Zina has left no record, but for her the arrival must have been a dreadful replay of their coming to Kirtland.
[p.81] Presendia and Norman had come to Missouri the previous January, the same time as Joseph Smith. Three months later, Presendia had given birth to her first daughter in a dilapidated shack near Fishing River, Clay County; the baby lived only four hours. It was her fifth pregnancy, and the fourth loss. By arriving in Far West earlier than most other fleeing Saints, Norman had been able to build the family a simple log house in a forest four miles from his work at a carding mill in Ray County. A young schoolteacher had boarded with them; but during the day Presendia had struggled with feelings of isolation. “I used to stay alone all day in the woods, my company, the wild birds, and my music the cooing of the turtle doves in the forest,” she later remembered.13 Zina was now close enough to help her grieving daughter.
Internal dissension had plagued the church in Missouri since the early spring. Oliver Cowdery, the church’s “Second Elder,” assistant president, scribe to Joseph, witness of the Book of Mormon, and confidant of the prophet, joined dissenters in challenging what he felt was Joseph’s authoritarianism. Cowdery was excommunicated by the Far West High Council on 12 April 1838. On 17 June Sidney Rigdon, Joseph’s first counselor, publicly vented his frustration with the church’s enemies, rebuked members who lacked faith, and dared dissenters to test their value to the church: “Ye are the salt of the earth:” he accused, “but if the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” (Matt. 5:13). Bitterly, he suggested that Saints who could not conform should leave. At a secret meeting, 84 members and leaders subsequently signed a letter ordering the most prominent dissenters to decamp.
This clandestine group, formed to combat the negative effects of dissent, at first called themselves the “Daughters of Zion” but soon adopted the name Danites.14 In some cases, the Danites’ threats of violence caused dissenters to leave. But perhaps more important, the group confirmed that some Mormons were willing to stretch the law to protect the church and its people. Filled with a sense of justification, the Danites grew to between 300 and 400 Mormon men during the summer and fall of 1838. Organized into militia units, prepared for battle, they became an effective force reacting to the chaotic political situation. According to historian Stephen LeSueur, Joseph Smith knew about and approved of the Danite [p.82] organization, which wielded significant power in the Mormon community. LeSueur writes, “The Danites, by purging the Church of dissenters, by encouraging obedience to the Prophet’s policies, and by their own willingness to conform, exerted a positive influence upon the Mormon community. Only enemies of the Church needed to fear these loyal followers of the Mormon prophet.”15
In addition to defensive measures, the Danites served as a sort of resource group. They gathered food, cared for the sick and disabled, and helped newcomers locate homes or land. Yet they were aggressive protectors of the faith, dropping their work at a moment’s notice when word of mob action filtered through their communities. While in Far West, Dimick was appointed city constable and collector, and, as a member of the Danites, played a prominent role in skirmishes between Mormons and non-Mormons during the summer of 1838.16 Living in Dimick’s home, Zina and Zina Diantha were privy to daily discussions about the developing crisis.
During the summer of 1838, tensions in Missouri rose to a feverish pitch, presaging the violence to come. Tracking the story is like playing a confusing connect-the-dots game—trouble spread like fire, moving from county to county until it seemed the Mormons could find no safe place. Nevertheless, as individuals, as members of families and the church, Saints like the Huntingtons were hopeful that this would be Zion—the home of the pure in heart.
At the same time the Huntingtons arrived in Missouri, the main body of the Kirtland Camp left Ohio. With the Kirtland Camp on the march, Joseph Smith and his associates worked feverishly to receive them. Joseph appointed new church leaders to replace the dissenters who had left the church, and defensive measures were taken against future violence. According to LeSueur, “The expulsion of these men from Far West reflected a growing militant spirit among the Mormons, revealed a rigid intolerance for those who opposed their practice and teachings, and demonstrated their willingness to circumvent the law to protect their interests.”17
In late April 1838, Joseph organized a stake in Adam-ondi-Ahman, Daviess County, in anticipation of the arrival of the Kirtland Camp, and designated new Mormon settlements in Carroll County where they pur-[p.83]chased half the town lots as well as farms in Clinton, Chariton, Ray, Livingston, and surrounding counties. In so doing, Joseph incurred difficulties and created added tension, but since the exodus from Kirtland was already in motion, he could not retract the Missouri plan. Yet old Missouri settlers, already edgy over the influx since 1836 of Mormons, could only regard these new plans with intensifying mistrust and alarm.
In July the Saints in Far West gathered for an Independence Day celebration, laid the cornerstone for a temple, and listened to Sidney Rigdon identify as “tyrants” the mobs of old Missourians. Reacting to the emotion of the moment, the audience jumped to its feet, shouting in unison three times: “Hosannah, hosannah, hosannah! Amen. Amen. Amen!” Barely a month later, a bitter war commenced.
The first hostilities between Mormons and Missourians exploded in Gallatin, Missouri, on election day, 6 August 1838, just weeks after the Huntingtons’ arrival. A long-time enemy of the Mormons, William Peniston, a candidate for the state legislature, mounted a barrel and commenced a lengthy diatribe to persuade the local populace not to allow the Mormons to vote. A local bully swung at one of the Mormons who was attempting to make his way through the crowd to the polls. A fist fight broke out. Mormon John Lowe Butler picked up a stout oak club and waded into the fray. No one was killed, but many men were injured, and exaggerated reports spread through the community.
When news of the violence reached Joseph Smith in Far West, he and a group of men rode to Daviess County and met with local Mormons on 8 August 1838. Joseph attempted to cool the tempers of those thirsting for retribution. He also visited Adam Black, newly elected judge of Daviess County, who signed an affidavit that he would not organize a counterstrike or associate with a mob himself. Shortly afterwards Black reneged, saying he had been coerced into signing the statement, and on 10 August signed affidavits claiming that Mormons were threatening the lives of citizens of Daviess County and charging Joseph Smith and another leader with insurrection.
Exaggerated reports of this and other skirmishes reached Missouri governor Lilburn W. Boggs. In August he ordered General David R. Atchison of the state militia to raise a force to curb future disturbances in Caldwell, Daviess, and Carroll counties. When a mob threatened to at-[p.84]tack Adam-ondi-Ahman, Lyman Wight and other Mormon militia members prepared a defense, although Atchison and General Alexander Doniphan were temporarily able to quell further violence. Then mobs attacked Mormons living in DeWitt, Carroll County, also in August, and pressure increased over the next few weeks in Adam-ondi-Ahman, Daviess County.
Adam-ondi-Ahman, twenty-five miles northeast of Far West at a bend of the Grand River, was the destination Joseph had advised for recent arrivals. Consequently, leaving Zina, Zina Diantha, William D., and Oliver with Dimick and Fanny, William traveled there alone, found land, and commenced work on a new home for his family. “Soon after I commenced labors in the place, the difficulty took place with the mob which caused us much trouble. I was nearly one month trying to build me an house for my family who were at Far West. I slept in my clothes with my rifle in my hand nearly one month.”18 Oliver described how water surrounded the settlement except for one side, which extended into a “high point of prairie following into the bend, at the proportional highth [sic] and distance … on this point, the very extreme point is the remains of the altar [erected by Adam] … and a little farther up perhaps 40 rods, was the place where the tower stood, both being on the prairie.” Not knowing if his family would ever join him or if they would be able to stay in Missouri, William continued his work. “Day times we labored what we could with our arms and ammunition by our sides, while others were on scouts ranging timber and prairies, watching the movements of the mob who were expected on us every hour.” The daily grind of building a house was interrupted by threats of problems with bands of troublemakers.19 Despite the troubles raging around them, both William’s and Zina’s principal focus was home building—the impetus to create a base for their family’s activities was strong.
The house, according to Oliver, was rough, being made by “rolling the logs together, the floor being made of God’s footstool, and no door, we were quite happy that we could get corn and hog enough to make us know that the earth was the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”20 Most cabins were typically fifteen feet square; utensils and furniture were homemade. The walls were chinked with mud. Dirt floors spread with straw were replaced as soon as possible with wooden planks, but William had [p.85] no time for such improvements this first season. He was laboring mightily to clear and plant enough land to keep his family alive during the winter, and also to take his turn with other Mormons scouting the area, “watching the movements of the mob … Thus we labored day and night.”21
Meanwhile, Zina and the children spent the summer in Far West, a prosperous settlement with more than 150 lumber houses, four dry-goods stores, three family grocery businesses, six blacksmith shops, and two hotels. Its streets were wide and regular, with its grid-iron plan centered on a commodious schoolhouse that did double duty for public and ecclesiastical functions. Work had already begun on the excavation for a temple measuring 120 by 80 feet, a little less than twice the size of Kirtland’s House of the Lord.
After three years away from Dimick and Fanny, and despite William’s absence, Zina must have enjoyed grandmothering and reestablishing her relationship with her daughter-in-law. After arriving in Far West from Kirtland, twenty-year-old Benjamin F. Johnson looked up his friend William D. Huntington, Zina Diantha’s brother. They spent a great deal of time together that summer and Johnson was often at the Huntington home. He marveled at the spirituality of both Zina Diantha and her mother, and their devotion to their religion. He said,
[We] did have the most spirited and enjoyable testimony of power, and never has it left me. To sister Zina [Diantha] was both the gift of tongues and interpretation given, and under the influence of our spiritual enjoyment it seemed we formed a mutual attachment before I left Far West [which] grew into feelings of reciprocal love, with hopes, which although not realized in full, did not hinder our being ever the warmest and truest of friends.22
Joseph Smith probably became impressed by Zina’s and Presendia’s spiritual talents in the same informal way in Missouri as he had in Kirtland.
Zina, Fanny, and Zina Diantha worked harmoniously to prepare meals, make and mend clothing, tend their garden plot, and visit friends and neighbors. Surely they worried when Dimick left suddenly, armed and mounted, or when he and other men talked in low, intense voices at the table. Perhaps William and Zina were able to exchange letters by [p.86] people traveling back and forth, but if so, they have not survived. Oliver and John must have fished the streams and hunted for small game in the woods. Emily Dow Partridge described the lush forest:
The timber around us was mostly hickory with some black walnut. Hazel bushes were plentiful. When the frost came, the nuts would drop from the trees, and they were so thick on the ground, that the children were kept pretty busy gathering them up. That fall, we gathered seven bushels of hickory nuts, and one bushel of black walnuts, and one half bushel of hazelnuts so we had a feast of nuts, if nothing else, through the winter. The cornfields in Missouri were very large and cornstalks grew so high, that they are almost like young forests.23
Less complicated to grow and mill than wheat, corn was the staple of most Saints’ diet. In fact, Emily, whose parents, Edward and Lydia Partridge, had arrived earlier that year, remembered sharing already scarce provisions with newcomers. “We had a little corn meal but no flour. Mother hulled wheat to eke out our bread. I remember seeing mother making some squash pies with corn meal crust. I suppose she thought the children would relish corn dodger and squash better if it were called pie.”24
William completed such preparation as he was able and fetched the family from Far West on 1 October. On the way to Adam-ondi-Ahman, they were accosted by a band of armed men “who stopped them and in a very rough and barbarous manner, like real natives demanded their business, names and information,” Oliver wrote. They “gave [us] a good sound damning and then rode off into the woods, the most natural place for such animals.”25
According to Oliver, the place William chose for their new home was “the medium course of the river the point divided, the other half … was covered with timber, at the very foot of which stood our house, … used for a kind of guard house by the soldiers, before we moved up.”26 Zina Diantha remembers the new home as “a lovely place. … Here ware many places of interest to Latterday Saints—an aquiduct of pure water flowing out of a side hill, it was of sement—huge trees stood over it. Here also was an alter of red sand stone whare Adam offered sacrifice.”27 Oliver described this mysterious evidence of an ancient people. “The wall of [p.87] rock that was in sight and rising above the ground about thirteen inches, was laid as accurately as any wall nowadays, and was five or six feet long … [and] ran back into the hill; the other end of the wall was covered with earth, and I do not know that the visible end was the real end. Dirt had naturally washed and worn down so as to cover the body of the alter.”28
After he had built his family’s house, William found a way to provide for them. “About the time I removed my family from Far West, the Church purchased a grist mill of Judge Morin of Daviess County. We removed the mill to Diahman, repaired the mill, got it in operation and did first rate business. About the time the war became sever, the mill was just in operation.” William was put in charge of the mill and appointed commissary of the army. He “had the charge of distributing all the provision to the Church.”29
But it was not long before hostilities threatened the Saints’ brief calm. In mid-October Mormons living in smaller settlements or on isolated farms moved into Far West for security from mob action, including Presendia in Clay County where Norman had begun his own milling business. He also had built a more commodious and sturdy home for Presendia and their son George. Economically, the family had never done better, but Presendia was heartsick. Norman’s cautious enthusiasm for Mormonism had cooled. Disagreeing sharply with Joseph Smith’s policies in Missouri, Norman sided with the dissidents. Oliver, reflecting his parents’ anguish at the rift in their family, characterized Norman in retrospect as “saying good Lord and Kind devil, for a time; but the time came when he must choose a side. So he chose the master that would give him the most money … He even got to the pitch where he would not let [Presendia] say a word in favor of her brethren.”30 Presendia “prayed earnestly to the Lord for her companion, that he might return to the faith, but his mind had grown very dark and it was useless to reason with, or entreat him to see the error and doubt which had misled and confused him.”31 By 1839, he had left the church but “the Lord gave me strength to stand alone and keep the faith amid heavy persecution.”32
An early winter set in, with severe snowstorms beginning early in October and continuing throughout the month. Both sides conducted raids. On 18 October, Mormon apostle David W. Patten stormed the town of Gallatin with a company of 150 men, including Dimick, plun-[p.88]dering stores, piling clothing, bedding, and other goods in the street, and setting fires as they rode out of town. Fifteen-year-old Oliver Huntington, from Tower Hill, could see “the smoke rising towards Heaven.”33 According to Oliver, the men deposited most of their plunder in the bishop’s storehouse at Adam-ondi-Ahman.
Benjamin Johnson explained the Danites’ motivation: “It should not be supposed … that we were common robbers because we took by reprisal that with which to keep from starvation our women and children. Ours was a struggle for our lives and homes.”34 These raids continued around Adam-ondi-Ahman during the next week. Chaos reigned as Mormons and Missourians destroyed property, killed livestock, plundered, and stole, all while claiming self-defense. Morning and night, Mormons sent out scouts to assess the danger. Messengers traveled between Adam-ondi-Ahman and Far West, according to Oliver.
On 24 October, the Caldwell County militia, led by former Methodist minister Captain Samuel Bogart, attacked two Mormon homes and took three Mormon men prisoners. “We received the news that the mob had gathered under command of Capt Bogart on Crooked river and had taken 3 of our people and was torturing them when 75 of us started with David Patten at our head,”35 Dimick recorded. Mormon militia captain David Patten led his rescue party to a confrontation at Crooked River during which one Missourian and two Mormons, including Patten himself, were killed. Drusilla Dorris Hendricks described the weapons of the returning Mormons as bloody “from hilt to point.”36
An anti-Mormon mob killed a Mormon friend of Norman and Presendia returning home from work at Norman’s mill. Another time, Presendia and nine-year-old George went to visit Norman at the mill. A large group of armed men stopped her wagon and asked if she had seen two men traveling on foot. Two of the Missourians recognized Presendia and, assuming she shared Norman’s sentiments, released her. As she drove away, however, “I expected to be shot. I asked the Lord, in silent prayer to let my only child go with me if I should be killed, as my husband had entirely lost his faith in the Gospel. I did not hurry or urge my team forward, but went steadily over the hill, and the horsemen stood looking at me, but the shock nearly overcame me.”37 Soon after, she saw the two Mormons, warned them of the mob, and offered them food.
[p.89] Both groups were violating the law, pushing the county toward a state of undeclared civil war. Overreacting to exaggerated reports of the Mormon threat, Governor Boggs on 27 October 1838 executed an order for removal of the entire body of the church: “The Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state, if necessary, for the public good.”38 Boggs assigned General John B. Clark of the state militia the commission of executing the order.
When they received news of the extermination order, the mob accelerated their plundering. Entering Mormon homes, they seized “bedding, clothing, money, wearing apparel, and everything of value they could lay their hands upon, and also attempting to violate the chastity of women in sight of their husbands and friends, under the pretence of hunting for prisoners and arms.”39 Refugees from Adam-ondi-Ahman flooded into Far West.
Knowing the Mormons’ commitment to family and church, one can only guess at the fear and anxiety they must have felt at their ambivalent future, particularly their fears for the safety of their men and virtue of their women. Although William was not aggressive, men as old and as innocent as he were being clubbed and whipped. And Dimick put himself in danger every time he seized his rifle and rode off at a gallop.
As the war intensified, both Far West and Adam-ondi-Ahman called upon the other for assistance. Life in both towns was confused and disorganized. Inhabitants did not know whether to desert their new homes and flee or prepare to defend them. Emily Dow Partridge records: “Children had heard so much about the mob, that the very word was a perfect terror to them. They would often cry out in their sleep, and scream, ‘the mob are coming, the mob are coming.’”40 The terrorizing of these children produced mistrust that poisoned Mormon-gentile relations for more than two generations.
Because it was more recently settled and had fewer inhabitants, Adam-ondi-Ahman was more vulnerable to attack. “More in the vicinity of the mob,” Oliver wrote, “we were besieged on every side; and were obliged to keep a standing army, … sent to us by the brethren of Farwest. Their camping ground was close by our house and I have lain on the floor night after night for nearly two weeks in giving my bed to sick soldiers.”41 Zina and her daughter ministered to the sick and “murmured [p.90] not at their lot.”42 Oliver remembers a monotonous diet, but at least there was enough to eat and share: “We always had a plenty of meat and corn bread and corn bread and meat, all the time with only now and then a paleful of consecrated honey.”43
Oliver’s account paints a picture of devastation and confusion when the Missouri militia burned houses, confiscated property, and killed cattle in the fields. He then justified Mormons who did the same:
It is plain and evident that when they had taken ours [property] and driven all the farmers into the cities and besieged us round about, that whoever went without must go in the night secretly or by a sufficient force to repell all invaders, that we might live. And as we were at open hostilities with each other we must have the privilege, or take the privilege of retaking as much as they took from us … If we could not live in peace we must live in war, and if we must live in war we must have something to eat.44
On October 30, seventeen Mormons were killed at Haun’s mill on Shoal Creek by the state militia—a group of more than 200 men. By the next day, the militia was at Far West intent on destroying the Mormon settlement.
While William and his family resisted pressures to seek revenge in Diahman, Dimick played a key role in Far West. He helped build a temporary fortification on the south end of the town during the night of 30 October. Nearly 800 Mormons waited behind the barricade that stretched three-fourths of a mile, built of wagons, house logs, branches, wood from door frames, floor planks, and even front porches. As the men raised barricades, the women packed their belongings. Missouri general Samuel Lucas warned the Mormons to surrender or he would destroy the entire town.
Rather than committing Mormon forces to a pitched battle, Hyrum Smith advised Dimick to take other leaders and leave the state. At the time the mob and militia seized Far West from the south, Dimick and four others fled from the north. Dimick assumed command of the company and, according to William’s account, “led them a north east course thru timber and prairie in the cold, ground covered part of the time with snow, forded streams also the Des Moin [sic] River. Said company were [p.91] on horse back, crossed the Mississippi, … went down to Quincy.”45 By Dimick’s own account, he left on the morning of 1 November with Gad Yale, Ferdinand Vandyke, D. Chays (Chase), Morgan H. Gardner, and Solomon Wixom.46 New snowfall covered their tracks.
Taking guns with them, but not having time to gather provisions, they traveled north through Nob Town across the Grand River at Three Forks. The first night they camped in a cornfield. Dimick and his companions stuffed their pockets full of corn and shelled corn for their horses. Next they followed an Indian trail northeast, and after five more hours laid down “on the cold frosty grass and held our horses by the bridle and slept.”47
For two nights they camped with about forty Indians on the Chariton River before traveling again in a northeasterly direction. Dimick recalled that they traveled “all day with the wind in our faces. Began to get Hungry. We slept on the frozen ground until 3 o’clock. Waked up and found we ware [sic] snowed under. Got out and found our horses and started. Rode until 10 o’clock. Attended prayers as usual.” When they arrived at the Black Hawk village, they hired an Indian youth to guide them the next day. The party crossed the Mississippi River at Ft. Madison after waiting nine days for the ice to melt. After arriving in Quincy, Dimick sold his blankets for provisions and waited for his family to join him.
On 1 November, General Samuel Bogart, head of his state militia, presented the Mormons of Far West with four demands: (1) surrender their leaders for trial, (2) surrender their property, which would be confiscated to repay damages suffered by the Missourians, (3) leave the state under the protection of the militia, and (4) surrender their arms. During this exchange, a militia officer and former Mormon, Colonel George M. Hinckle, pulled aside Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, Parley P. Pratt, and George W. Robinson, saying he wanted to speak to them privately. Instead he turned them over to General Lucas. That night the five were forced to sleep in the rain on the bare ground. They were kicked, abused, and ridiculed. All would be incarcerated within the week, while the body of Saints began preparing to leave the state.
After the church’s surrender in Far West, state troops came to Adam-ondi-Ahman intending to seize more property. William remembered, “On the 8th of November 1838 we were ordered, as our flourishing little town had the day before been filled with troops, to march out [p.92] and leave our wives and children behind and go down into the bottom prairie. Were ordered to form a hollow square. Where we stood until the Army had formed all around us, some behaved decently, others scoffed, made derision. Some were painted making a horrid and frightful appearance.”48 Twenty-year-old William D., fifteen-year-old Oliver, and eleven-year-old John were with William. After relinquishing their arms, they marched back into town under guard and were forced to stand for about two hours beside a fence while troops continued to taunt them, deride their beliefs, mock their helplessness, and threaten death.49
The next morning, 9 November, church leaders met at General Robert Wilson’s quarters. He ordered them to leave Daviess County within ten days and go to Caldwell County or Far West. Because it was the beginning of winter, the Saints were to be allowed to stay in the Far West area until spring.
Judge Adam Black held a preliminary examination in Daviess County on 13 November to determine the guilt of the Mormon leaders. The hearing lasted two weeks. Because most of the raids had occurred at night or surreptitiously, the Missourians could not identify the men who had burned their homes and stolen their property. The Mormons further frustrated attempts to charge them with theft by depositing all stolen goods in a building owned by Lyman Wight.50 Oliver said that when the men were questioned about their alleged crimes, they were as “innocent and as ignorant as we knew how to be.”51
Despite efforts on the part of Missouri officials to intimidate Mormon men into testifying against their friends, few cooperated. William Huntington was approached but, according to Oliver, talked his way out of it.52 Judge Black came up with enough evidence to convict only one man—twenty-year-old Benjamin F. Johnson—who was bound over for trial. Since the Missourians offered Johnson his “freedom, to become traitor, there began to be great fear that I would do so,” and, according to Johnson’s own account, local Mormons sent Zina’s brother, William D., to visit Johnson and learn of his plans. Johnson burst into tears, overcome by “a sense of injustice … not easy to describe. I had stood there alone in prospect of death, or worse, and I had been true, and now instead of praying for me and giving me their faith they were prophesying evil, or exercising a faith against me.” Benjamin told William emotionally, “‘Tell the [p.93] people to have no fears, for with God’s help I would stand true.’ … In a gush of feeling I asked, ‘Why do they not pray for me?’” Zina Diantha was so moved by his distress that, according to Benjamin, “both her pity and her faith were aroused and with her mother’s sanction, the faithful were called together to pray that night for my deliverance which came the next day almost as miraculously as was Peter’s to those who prayed for him.”53
Since he was in charge of the commissary, William played a key role in the evacuation from Adam-ondi-Ahman. He appointed a committee of both Mormons and Missourians to settle their business affairs and issued permits to allow this select group to move through the area without interference.54 Members of the committee wore strips of cloth around their hat bands to avoid being harassed, for “a man was liabel [sic] to be shot if he was found picking his own corn, without an order from some of the committee,” explained Oliver.55 His father’s account records: “We accordingly set about this work which was very difficult as many of our brethren were prisoners at Far West or were at Richmond for sham trials. We accomplished the work in time with the exception of three or four families, one blind man, some widows and children. I left Diahman the 18th of November 1838, arrived in Far West on the 26th of November.”56 General Wilson ordered them to spend the winter collecting stock and grain and removing it from the county. Absolutely no new Mormon settlers were to enter the county under threat of execution.
With William acting as foreman, the committee labored four weeks collecting cattle, horses, sheep, wagons, and other portable property.57 Despite their exertions, they were unable to retrieve most of the oxen, already seized by the mob, as well as 30,000 bushels of corn. After four weeks, Wilson reneged on his agreement to allow them to stay until spring and pressed them to leave the county immediately. Regretfully, William said, “As our lives would not be safe, accordingly we closed up all business and left at the expiration of the time. What was not got from there was lost.”58
On his way to Far West, William attempted to find a Mormon who had been left behind at Haun’s Mill. When he and his companions asked directions from a mob, they were “told it was three miles beyond hell and if I would go on I should get into hell before night. Was threatened to be tied to a tree and as the mob were in habit of tying the brethren up to [p.94] trees and whip them even to death. We were advised by a female to leave the county immediately as she knew their intentions was to kill all Mormons who were not out of the county that day.”59
Reluctantly, William obeyed and drove his family toward Far West. The twenty-five-mile journey took place on the coldest night they had experienced in that winter. It was after dark when they arrived in town, but “the sure testimony that we were on the errand of the Lord”60 comforted and sustained them. Fanny welcomed them to a crackling fire and hot food. William was barely in the house, remembers Oliver, “before he was told that men were in town to take him to jail to keep him from being a witness for Joseph.”61 He does not say if the threat was a rumor or if William was able to avoid arrest, but William did not flee. He directed the division of the provisions they had retrieved from lands in Daviess County and continued to travel back to Far West, at enormous risk, to continue searching for provisions.
Again, Zina has left no record of this trying time, but almost certainly she comforted William as he arrived home each evening, exhausted and cold, feeding him and patching his worn clothes. She considered his deeds heroic, shared their provisions with the men who accompanied him, and prayed long and hard for their safety.
On 1 January 1839, Joseph Smith wrote ironically from Liberty Jail, “The day dawned upon us as prisoners of hope, but not as sons of liberty. … ‘The land of the free, the home of the brave!’ … oppressing thy noblest sons in a loathsome dungeon, without any provocation, only that they have claimed to worship the God of their fathers according to His own work.”62
“About this time,” William wrote, “the Legislature of the State made a small appropriation of provisions and clothing for the relief of the distressed. … This distribution took place on the 25th of January 1839. Our case now became alarming. It appeared the inhabitants were determined to strip us of all means of getting out of the State.”63 As a result, on 2 February Brigham Young and other church leaders appointed a new committee to organize the evacuation of the poor from Missouri. William was asked to serve as chair. Young drafted a covenant between the separate members. Each family head who signed the document pledged to put all their belongings into a pool for the benefit of the group. Many [p.95] sold their farms. Others donated furniture and farming implements. In February, Young was forced to flee from Far West, further crippling the leadership and throwing even more responsibility onto William and the remaining committee members. Because of William’s administrative role, the Huntingtons did not leave Far West until 13 April, as one of the last families to leave.
After Dimick arrived in Quincy, Illinois, in November, he stopped at the home of Mormon sympathizer Judge John Cleveland to ask if he would travel back into Missouri and escort Fanny’s and Dimick’s children into Illinois. Fanny had not heard from her husband since his departure. In December 1838, Cleveland knocked at Fanny’s door. When William and Zina answered, the stranger asked if they were the parents of Dimick Huntington. They said they were, and he pulled letters out of a bag from Dimick, explaining his situation—the escape from Missouri, his new home in Quincy—and introducing Judge Cleveland, who had come to help his family leave Missouri.
Fanny and Zina quickly gathered Fanny’s few belongings; Cleveland and William packed them in the wagon. Fanny, seven-year-old Clark, four-year-old Lot, two-year-old Maryette, and baby Fanny Maria climbed into the wagon and bade a hasty farewell to Dimick’s parents, brothers, and sister. Dimick’s family reached the Mississippi River on 20 December but could not join their father because of ice jams. Dimick wrote: “21st I gave 1 Dollar to be got over to my Family. Christmas Day we crossed the river in a canoo with 2 men & all we had.”64
Although charges were dismissed against more than half of the Mormon prisoners, twenty-four were ordered to stand trial. Hyrum, Joseph, Sidney, Lyman Wight, Alexander McRae, and Caleb Baldwin were sent to Liberty Jail in Clay County. William D. Huntington and others were housed in the Richmond Jail.
The interior of the small, twenty-two-foot square stone Liberty Jail was divided into an upper and a lower room, dimly lighted by two small windows in the upper chamber. Nevertheless, some of Joseph Smith’s most profound revelations occurred in that jail. Even though he was incarcerated, more than 10,000 people still revered him as their prophet. This experience and the exodus that followed proved to be a catalyst for a reorientation of the church. In Nauvoo, Illinois, their future home, [p.96] Joseph’s vision of a utopian community would undergo revision economically, politically, and especially doctrinally.
In February 1839, according to Presendia’s account, William traveled to Liberty Jail with Heber C. Kimball and Alanson Ripley to visit the prophet. They stopped at Presendia’s house for the night; Presendia accompanied them the next day. She wrote, “When we arrived at the jail we found a heavy guard outside and inside the door. We were watched very closely, lest we should leave tools to help the prisoners escape. I took dinner with the brethren in the prison.”65 She would always remember this visit to the imprisoned prophet as a turning point in her relationship with Norman Buell. Long troubled by the deaths of their children and Norman’s bitterness toward her beloved church, Presendia had carried on with a marriage in ruins, tortured by what to do next. Although she does not record the details of Joseph’s conversations, his words stirred in her a renewed dedication to Mormonism.
Later, she visited the jail a second time. On 15 March 1839, Joseph wrote to her, “I was glad to see you. No tongue can tell what inexpressible joy it gives a man, after having been enclosed in the walls of a prison for five months, to see the face of one who has been a friend.” Optimistically, he continued, “But the trials will only give us knowledge necessary to understand the minds of the ancients. For my part, I think I never could have felt as I now do, if I had not suffered the wrongs that I have suffered. All things shall work together for good to them that love God.” Conscious of Buell’s disaffection and her confused and perhaps angry feelings toward her husband, Joseph continued: “Do not have any feelings of enmity towards any son or daughter of Adam. I believe I shall be led out of their hands some way or another, and shall see good days.”66
Presendia’s next visit to Far West was after her family had left. Sadly she wrote: “I never saw my mother again. I felt alone on the earth with no one to comfort me, excepting my little son George, for my husband had become a bitter apostate, and I could not speak in favor of the Church in his presence.”67
William D.’s imprisonment in Richmond “caused a great many sorrowful hours to father and mother,” Oliver recalled. Fortunately, William D. was able to escape along with the other men also being held. “Those that were out of jail bailed one that was in, out, and he bailed an-[p.97]other, and in like manner they all alternately became kettle and bail, until they were all out, and then Kettle and bail left the state.”68
Again, Zina Diantha and Zina Huntington have not left a record of their feelings at the time of the exodus from Missouri; but later in her life, Zina reflected on the significance of the passage they had made:
Could I but tel what the saints passed through grating corn to stay hunger, cold, imprisonment, hunted, whipped, banished, our sacred rights as citizens of this highly favored Republic, an asylum for the oppressed of all nations. What had we done? Believed there was a living Prophet that was guided by revelations from our great universal Heavenly Father.69
For Zina, William, and their family, Missouri was the crucible. They had already proven their faith. Here they proved their strength of character. What they endured had not broken them. Instead it had strengthened them with renewed conviction and dedication to the work of God.
During William’s participation in organizing the exodus, Zina, Zina Diantha, Oliver, and John lived in Fanny’s house. When the Huntingtons left Far West, they passed hundreds of Mormon houses and cabins, abandoned with their furniture still inside. Through doors left ajar, they glimpsed the plundered interior and objects strewn across yards by marauders. The family traveled with heavy hearts and bodies wearied by the past few months of constant anxiety and labor. Despite their fears, they crossed the state without incident, were ferried across the Mississippi River on 15 April 1839, and went east to Quincy where they were reunited with their family and a large company of Saints. Once again they allowed themselves to hope that here on the banks of the Mississippi River they could recommence building the kingdom of God.
6. Joseph Smith, Jr., et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, edited by B. H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 6 vols. published 1902-12, Vol. 7 published 1932; reprinted by Deseret Book Co., 1976, paperback issue, 1978), 3:114.
54. William’s permit read: “I permit the following persons as a committee on the part of the Mormons to pass and repass in and through the County of Davis during the winter to wit, Wm. Huntington, John Reed, Benjamin S. Wilber, Mahue Nillman, S. Wilson, Elijah B. Garland, Henry Henryman, Daniel Stanton, Oliver Snow, Wm. Earl, Wm. Moyle, and Henry Humphrey. Upon all lawful business. November 18th, 1838. R. Wilson. Brig. Gen. commanding By: F. C. Cockner aid.” See William Huntington, Autobiography, 6.