Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The End of the Mormon War

What is often called the Mormon War of 1838 began on August 6 of that year. (You can read about that in my August 5 posting.) That war ended soon after the “Haun’s Mill Massacre” that occurred 174 years ago today, on October 30, 1838.
In thinking about the Mormon War, the role of Alexander Doniphan (who is fondly remembered in this part of Missouri) is noteworthy. Doniphan, born in Kentucky in 1808, moved to Liberty and opened a law office in 1833.
Along with David Atchison, Doniphan served as a lawyer for the Mormons from the beginning of his practice in Clay County. He and Atchison, though, asked the Mormons to leave the county in order to avoid civil strife.
Subsequently, Doniphan was instrumental in organizing Caldwell County in 1836 as a place for the Mormons to live in peace. But he was also a brigadier-general in the Missouri state militia and was involved militarily in the Mormon War two years later.
On October 27, 1838, Governor Lilburn Boggs issued a statement to one of the generals in the state militia, declaring that the “Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary, for the public peace.”
Three days later, on that fateful October 30 afternoon, 240-250 Missouri militiamen descended upon Haun’s Mill, a settlement around a mill established in eastern Caldwell County in 1835–36 by Jacob Haun, an early Latter-day Saint settler.
By October 1838 there were around 50 Mormon families living around Haun’s Mill, and in the massacre there were 17 Mormons killed and several others injured. It is not clear whether the massacre was a direct result of the “execution order” issued by Governor Boggs three days earlier.
Soon after the Hauns’ Mill massacre, the Mormon headquarters in Far West surrendered, Joseph Smith and other leaders were arrested, and the Mormon War of 1838 came to an end.
Smith and several other Mormon leaders were court-martialed on November 1. Later that day Major-General Samuel Lucas, the commander of the Missouri militia, sent the following order to Brigadier-General Doniphan: “You will take Joseph Smith and the other prisoners into the public square of Far West and shoot them at 9 o’clock to-morrow morning.”
Doniphan refused to carry out that order. Subsequently, Smith and a few others were brought to a jail in Liberty, where they spent several weeks before escaping and fleeing to Illinois.
Now, 174 years later, a Mormon who has been a missionary and a “pastor” for ten years, is running for President of the United States. He may, or may not, win that election. But it is most likely that he will garner Missouri’s ten electoral votes.
One hundred seventy-four years is a long time, but it is still remarkable that a presidential candidate who is a faithful member of a religion that was once literally run out of the state will probably receive a sizeable majority of the votes in that state.
As most of you know, or can guess, I will be voting to re-elect the current President. For many reasons I will not and could not vote for Mr. Romney. But his being a Mormon is not one of those reasons.


  1. It does sort of make one wonder what the fate of the church and is subsequent future would have been had Doniphan carried out the order given to him.

    Would Romney be running today? Would he be a Mormon? If both answers are yes, then Gov. Romney must give a wee bit of thanks to Gen. Doniphan.

    It is an interesting turn of events that the state that ran that group off will overwhelmingly vote for one of it's members next week.

    Thanks, Leroy!

  2. My faithful Thinking Friend in Kentucky wrote,

    Thanks for that historical note, Leroy. I'm sorry to hear that Romney is likely to get Missouri's ten electoral votes, though. I commend you for stating your own intention to vote for Obama. Kentucky will also vote for Romney. In this election I am glad the U.S. still uses the Electoral College and not the popular vote, though Obama may win it, too.

    1. I am becoming more pessimistic about the outcome of the election. I am now afraid that the President may well win the popular vote but lose in the Electoral College.

  3. There seem to be a number of historical incidences that have been labeled, the "Mormon War." According to Wikipedia it may refer to any of the following three conflicts:

    1. 1838 Mormon War (aka Missouri Mormon War), a conflict in 1838 between Latter Day Saints and their neighbors in northwestern Missouri

    2. Illinois Mormon War, a conflict in 1844–1846 between Latter Day Saints and their neighbors in western Illinois

    3. Utah War, a conflict in 1857–1858 between Latter Day Saints in Utah Territory and the United States federal government

    In addition to the above, I am under the impression that the First Sioux War is sometimes called the "Mormon Cow War." However, I'm unable to document the use of that term, so perhaps I'm the only person who uses the term. (There is a novel about Crazy Horse with that title.) The killing of a cow owned by a Mormon was the cause of the start of the First Sioux War. That incident is described in Wikipedia in an article titled "Grattan massacre". The Grattan massacre started when Indians responded angrily when their chief named Conquering Bear was shot in the back as he walked away from negotiations.

    There's also the Mountain Meadows massacre of September 22, 1857 when Mormons dressed as Indians under orders from Brigham Young murdered in cold blood over 140 unarmed men, women and children. It is my belief that the Wikipedia article about the Mountain Meadows massacre has been toned down by contributors who want to defend the image of Mormonism. Some other web pages describe the massacre in more brutal terms and include references to the orders from Brigham Young. The Wikipedia article says "scholars still debate" the issue--I suspect that it's a debate between Mormon scholars and others.

    1. Clif, thanks for this additional information for the blog's readers.

      Since I had stated clearly that I was writing about the "Mormon War in Missouri" in my 8/5 posting, and since I had a hyperlink to that posting, I didn't specifically say that this posting was about the Mormon War in Missouri and that war only.

  4. I was probably over eager to share my enthusiastic interest in history. I almost posted a similar comment in response to your 8/5 posting, and then when the second post came I couldn't contain myself.

  5. A local Thinking Friend sent the following comments by e-mail:

    "The name of Alexander Doniphan is honored and respected in the Clay County Museum and the town of Liberty. Certainly Doniphan's education as a lawyer and his influence as a man of grace and character has been extolled by William Jewell College and the town of Liberty. Thanks, Leroy, for helping people to be proud and progressive in this town of LIBERTY."