Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Mormon War in Missouri

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, popularly known as the Mormon Church, began in 1830 after Joseph Smith claimed to have received special revelations from God. The following year, many of his followers moved to Missouri and began to build up the City of Zion near Independence. In 1833, though, they were driven out of the Independence area and began to move north and northeast into Clay and Ray counties.
Adopting a proposal by Alexander Doniphan, in December 1836 the Missouri General Assembly divided Ray County into three separate counties. The middle part became Caldwell County, and it was to be a place for Mormons to live in peace. Most non-Mormons moved out, so the Mormons had almost the entire county for themselves.
In the fall of 1836 a large number of Mormons moved to the new county, and a town named Far West was founded as the county seat. By 1838 the new town reported a population of around 4,000, including such major figures of early Mormon history as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.
The northern part of Ray County became Daviess County in 1836, and it was established for non-Mormons. But with the migration of large numbers of Mormons to Caldwell County, the Mormons began to expand northward.
Photo by June Seat, 6/30/12
In May 1838 Mormons laid out a town in Daviess County, a town that Smith named Adam-ondi-Ahman, proclaiming that it was the place to which Adam and Eve were banished after leaving the Garden of Eden (near Independence). He said it would be a gathering place on Judgment Day. Before the end of the summer, several hundred Mormons were living in the new settlement, which was just a few miles north of Gallatin, the county seat town which was founded in 1837.
The Gallatin Election Day Battle took place on August 6, 1838, when about 200 people attempted to forcibly prevent Mormons from voting in the newly created county’s first election. That skirmish is often cited as the opening event of the 1838 Mormon War. At that time, Mormons comprised about half of Daviess County’s population of around 2,000 and about one-third of the eligible voters.
The trouble started when William Peniston, a Whig candidate for the state legislature, sought to keep the Mormons from voting. He mounted a barrel and “denounced the Mormons as horse thieves, liars, counterfeiters, and dupes.” Soon a fight broke out resulting in several injuries, but no fatalities. The “war” that started that day continued until the first of November.

I have particular interest in the Mormon War in Gallatin and Daviess County for a number of reasons. My high school was in the same sports conference as Gallatin, and I have played basketball at the school there.
Also, part of the Seat family has lived in Daviess County. My grandfather George’s grandfather, Franklin Seat, migrated there with his parents and several siblings in 1842 before moving on a few years later to Worth County, where I was born. Earlier, in 1839, one of Franklin’s sisters married and moved to Daviess County, just the year after the Mormon War. Two other Seat girls married in Daviess County in the 1840s and lived the rest of their lives there.
The main reason I find the Mormon War of 1838 of considerable interest, though, is because Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican candidate for President, is a Mormon. Given the persecution of the Mormons in their early years and the fact that they were completely driven out of Missouri in 1839, it is remarkable that a practicing Mormon could possibly be elected President of the United States this year.


  1. Electing a "practicing Mormon" doesn't worry me a bit. Electing Mitt Romney would be disastrous.

    Thanks, Leroy, for the informative piece.

  2. You've given me some interesting history that I did not know. I started teaching in a one-room country school in Ray County on a temporary certificate. I had completed only three years of college. I taught there for two years, and the experience literally changed my life. That first year I had 32 students with at least two in each of the eight grades. The second year, the county school board moved another one-room school to our site and built a room connecting the two. That second year, I taught grades five-eight.

  3. Truett Baker, a Thinking Friend in Arizona, wrote,

    "This being the case, it creates quite a dilemma for Republicans who want to defeat President Obama and don’t want a Mormon as president. Thanks for the solid history."

    It is no doubt true that there are some who do not want to vote for Romney because he is a Mormon. But in that regard, and similar to what Anton wrote above, in "Is Mormonism a Cult?" my Oct. 15, 2011, blog posting, I wrote, "If Mr. Romney does become the Republican candidate for President, though, I won’t vote for him. . . . But it won’t be because he is a member of a 'cult.'”

    I still am certain I will not vote for Romney, but that has nothing to do with him being a Mormon.

  4. Alexander Doniphan who proposed the new county arrangement for the Mormons, would go on to serve as a mediator during the 1838 conflicts. Most endearing to Mormons, when Joseph Smith was hastily and illegally convicted (and sentenced to be executed) by a military tribunal led by a Missouri militia general, it was Doniphan who refused to carry out the execution order. Doniphan said this in reply to his commanding officer: "It is cold-blooded murder. I will not obey your order. My brigade shall march for Liberty tomorrow morning, at 8 o’clock; and if you execute these men, I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God.”

    It was this Alexander Doniphan who would go on ten years later to achieve national acclaim as a military leader in the Mexican War and would also be pivitol in bringing William Jewell College to Liberty, Mo.

    Had it not been for Doniphan's integrity with the Mormons which elevated him as a man of honor and ultimately into the national spotlight, one wonders how so many of our lives would be different without the College being in Liberty.

    A loose thread Leroy from your writing today, but the Mormon story in our area some 175 years ago has resulted in some things we do take for granted. Thinking of this makes me think of the movie "It's a Wonderful Life."

    Have a good week.

    1. David, thanks much for augmenting my posting with this important information about Alexander Doniphan. I may (or may not) do another posting on the Mormon war at the end of October, and would likely include more about Doniphan if I do. But it is good to have the information you have given here available for people who don't know about Doniphan to read.

  5. Sorry to be so late getting to this post. Just for the record, I think it is worth noting that the time in Far West is just the middle of the first cycle of Mormon history in Missouri. Almost immediately after founding the Mormon church in 1830, Joseph Smith set his sights on Independence, Missouri. Enough Mormons had gathered there to get not only attention, but also forcibly expelled from Jackson County by 1833. The Mormon printing press was dumped into the Missouri River and Mormon properties were seized. The people just across the river, in Clay County, offered refuge to the Mormons, but there were so many Mormons that they were as numerous as their hosts. This set up the situation that lead to Caldwell County. Leroy hints at the"Mormon War" that followed Far West. The most amazing thing about that was not just that the Mormons were expelled from Missouri, but that it included an "extermination order" from Governor Boggs, that was not finally officially repealed until late in the twentieth century, by Governor Kit Bond. Since I grew up RLDS in Independence, Missouri, I technically spent the first decades of my life under an extermination order from the state of Missouri.

    Now the issues were not all about religion. The Mormons were also Easterners and Abolitionists, which did not at all endear them to the locals, who were on their way to fighting the "Border War" with "Bleeding Kansas" a few years later. And another Mormon focal point, in Kirkland, Ohio, flourished for several years until relations there were soured with the locals when a Mormon bank went broke in 1837, during the national panic of that year (think 2008). As a result, large numbers of Mormons were leaving both Missouri and Ohio late in the 1830s, setting the stage for the next Mormon moment in Nauvoo, Illinois.

    I married a Baptist preacher's daughter, and we moved to Liberty, Missouri, and attended her college church there, which I later joined. We raised three children, who all spent years attending Alexander Doniphan elementary school. While I have been a Baptist longer than I was a Saint (RLDS will answer to the name Mormon, but usually reserve that title for LDS), I have never felt far from all this history. Especially in the last few days, as a Sikh temple in Wisconsin was shot up by a white supremacist, and then the next day a Moslem mosque was burned in Joplin, Missouri. Not so far removed from extermination orders.

    As a footnote, let me also mention that the RLDS church, as such, is no more. After I left, my parents' generation started an amazing revolution, ordaining women, finally building a temple in Independence, allowing someone not a descendant of Joseph Smith, Jr. to be President of the church, and finally changing the name from RLDS to Community of Christ. This resulted in a major rupture of the church in Independence, and now many former RLDS churches go by names like Restoration Branch or Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. And I have been left to marvel as a middle-aged man that my mother is a Mormon Elder, and my father has served as a High Priest in the Temple in Zion. One final irony, in the same month that the RLDS church changed its name, my current church, Second Baptist of Liberty, became the first church in modern history to be expelled from the Missouri Baptist Convention. Our crime? We had left the Southern Baptist Convention. History marches on!

    1. Craig, thanks for adding historical and personal information about the LDS/RLDS.

      While there were hostile actions towards the Mormons before 1838, they did not fight back until that year, which is why the "Mormon War" is dated 1838.

      As I indicated to David F., I am probably going to write about the end of the said war in a blog posting at the end of October. At that time, of course, I will make reference to the infamous extermination order of Governor Boggs on October 27, 1838.

      As for being under the extermination order in your early years, hadn't the RLDS been in Missouri since 1872? I wonder how they were able to locate here just 34 after Gov. Boggs' ban on the LDS.