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The Centennial History of Independence, Mo. by W. L. Webb

Chapter 7:
The Mormons


Jackson County and the Mormon religion came into existence simultaneously. During the time when negotiations were in progress between the white men and the Red men for the extinguishment of the Indian title to lands, a part of which became Jackson County, Joseph Smith, in Western New York, who had heard of the region -- if he had heard of it at all -- as the Osage Reservation, was busy with a new system of theology, destined to create a furor in the West, and which is yet a factor in our national life.

     Less than three years before Jackson County became a county, Joseph Smith was led to the hill Cumorah, near Manchester, N. Y., and was informed by an angel that certain gold plates were hidden there. These plates were exhumed in September, 1827, and were delivered to Joseph Smith, who miraculously translated the strange characters engraved thereon. Within three years after the organization and settlement of Jackson County, the Book of Mormon, as the translation was called, was published, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was immediately organized (April 6, 1830). Following the publication of the book and the organization of the church, Smith sent emissaries (Oct. 1830) to the new frontier town of Independence, then but a few miles from the Indian Territory and which but recently had been Indian Territory itself. Presently Smith himself joined his forerunners (July, 1831), and by revelation located the site of the New Jerusalem and specifically indicated the spot on which the millennial Temple should rise, place since called "Temple Lot."

     The signal and paramount object in locating the Central Stake of the new church at Independence, was, from the evidence, to be in easy reach of the Indians, the history of whose progenitors the Book of Mormon purports to give. The Indians were expected to be aroused and converted by the voluminous and circumstantial accounts of their ancestors, so mysteriously and enigmatically disclosed in the Book of Mormon. Messengers bearing the great tidings were immediately sent out from Independence to visit the Indians, who received them gravely in their wigwams, where the chief men assembled to hear the New Gospel. But the Indian mind remained stolid and the Indian heart unresponsive.

     Recruits to the New Church came plentifully, not from the Lamanites, as the Indians are called in the Book of Mormon, but from the "Gentiles," as all non-Mormons were denominated. Within two years after the Mormons came, they had increased probably to 1500, in Jackson County. The remarkable multiplicity was derived from newcomers, chiefly from Ohio and Pennsylvania, though a few joined who were already settlers in the county before the Mormons came.

     At the time of the establishment of the Mormon church the religious world was in a stir. Many new denominations were originated about this time, while old denominations were disintegrating. Alexander Campbell was projecting his splendid new church organization; the Presbyterian church divided into two parts, Calvanism and Armenianism; the Baptist church had split in twain. The Christian people were everywhere divided on divers doctrines, such as foreordination, open and close communion, on falling from grace, on infant baptism, etc. In the midst of this turmoil and unrest all over the country, Mormonism appeared. W. Miller, the Adventist, was excitedly proclaiming the near approach of the end of the world; and even set the day for the event. Not a hundred years before, witches had been burnt in Salem and the same superstition had but recently been stopped by Tecumseh among the Shawnees in Missouri. At no other juncture of the world's history could Mormonism have created so much excitement or have elicited the persecution which it encountered in Jackson County, in Caldwell and Davies counties, and in Illinois.

     What irritated the people of Jackson County was the avowal that the Mormons received revelations from God and had seen angels. Such claims were execrated as blasphemous. Some of the Mormons claimed to be the chosen of the Lord and that Jackson County was their divine inheritance, which they would finally possess; that the only way to salvation was through the Mormon church, which was commissioned to represent Jesus Christ; that here the New Jerusalem would be built, and that Jesus would come personally to the Temple and thereafter to live with the Saints for a thousand years. They claimed to heal the sick by laying on of hands.

     The Mormon Elders started the publication of the Evening and Morning Star, the first newspaper published within 150 miles of Independence, and it was a firebrand. One issue had an article on free negroes. The claim has been made that the Mormons were antagonized here because of their advocacy of freedom for slaves. But the people of Jackson County were not slaveholders, except in isolated cases. The Mormons encountered strong antagonism also in free Illinois.

     The Mormons believed the Lord would fight their battles for them and destroy their enemies. When the mob gathered in Independence to attack the office of the Evening and Morning Star some of the Mormon Elders stood by. The Gentiles not only demolished the office and scattered the type, but also tarred and feathered two of the elders.

     On July 20, 1833, a mass meeting of about 400 representative and leading citizens of Jackson County was held at Independence for the purpose of dealing with the Mormon situation, which had become acute. The subjoined account of the meeting is from the Western Monitor, published by Weston F. Birch, Fayette, Mo.

     The meeting was organized by the election of Col. Richard Simpson, Chairman, who appointed as secretaries, Jones.H. Flournoy and Col. Samuel D. Lucas. A committee on resolutions was appointed, consisting of Messrs. Russell Hicks, Robert Johnston, Joel F. Chiles, James Hambright, Thomas Hudspeth and James Hunter. The following was presented and adopted:

     "This meeting, professing to act, not from the excitement of the moment, but under a deep and abiding conviction, that the occasion is one that calls for cool deliberation, as well as energetic action, deem it proper to lay before the public an expose of our peculiar situation, in regard to this singular sect of pretended Christians, and a solemn declaration of our unaltered determination to amend it.

     "The evil is one that no one could have foreseen, and it is therefore unprovided for by the laws, and the delays of legislation, would put the mischief beyond remedy.

     "They now number some 1200 souls in this country, and each successive autumn and spring pours forth its swarms among us, with a gradual falling off of character of those who compose them, until it seems that those communities from which they come are flooding us with the very dregs of the composition.  Elevated, as they mostly are, but little above the condition of our blacks, either in regard to property or education, they have become the subject of much anxiety on that point, serious and well grounded complaints having been already made of their corrupting influence on our slaves. It requires no gift of prophecy to tell that the day is not far distant when the civil government of the county will be in their hands; when the sheriff, the justices and the county judges will be Mormons, or persons wishing to court their favor from motives of interest or ambition.

     "What would be the fate of our lives and property in the hands of jurors and witnesses who do not blush to declare, and would not upon occasion hesitate, to swear that they have wrought miracles, and have seen the subjects of miraculous and supernatural cures; have conversed with God and his angels, and possess and exercise the gifts of divination and unknown tongues, and fired with the prospect of obtaining inheritances without money and without price, may be better imagined than described.

     "And we do hereby most solemnly declare,

     "That no Mormon shall in the future move into and settle in this county.
     "That those now here who shall give a definite pledge of their intention, within a reasonable time, to remove out of the county, shall be allowed to remain unmolested until they have sufficient time to sell their property and close their  business without material sacrifice.
     "That the editor of the Star be required forthwith to close his office, etc.
     "That those who fail to comply with these requisitions be referred to those of their of their brethren who have the gift of divination and of unknown tongues to inform them of the lot that awaits them."

     The Mormons asked for time to consider these demands.  Another mass meeting was held and another committee appointed to wait upon the Mormons who now agreed to leave between them and the next spring.

     Alexander Majors, one of the great freighters across the plains, was an eye-witness to the expulsion of the Mormons and has left a valuable account of the event.  His father was a captain of one of the Jackson County companies against the Mormons, Majors says in his "Seventy Years on the Frontier":

     "It has been claimed by people who were highly colored in their prejudices against the Mormons that they were bad citizens; that they stole whatever they could get their hands on and were not law-abiding.  This is not true  with reference to their citizenship in Jackson County.  There was not an officer among them, all the offices in the county being in the hands of their enemies, and if one had stolen a chicken he could and would have  been brought to grief for so doing; but it is my opinion that there is nothing in the county records to show where a Mormon was ever charged with any misdemeanor in the way of violation of the laws for the protection of property.  The cause of all this trouble was solely from the claims that they had a new revelation from the Almighty, making them the chosen instruments to go forward, let it please or displease whom it might, to build the New Jerusalem on the spot above referred to, Temple Lot.  And as above stated whoever did not join in this must sooner or later give way to those who would."

     The people of Clay County, who received the Mormons most hospitably, soon discovered the refugees were undesirable and held a mass meeting.  A committee was appointed to wait upon the Mormons and suggest to them in a neighborly way, the advisability of moving to some other county and offering help in the enterprise.  Col. Doniphan, afterwards famous for his "Expeditions to Mexico," was a member of the Missouri Legislature and he introduced a bill at the session in December, 1836, for the creation of a new county, which he named Caldwell, in honor of Col. John Caldwell of Kentucky.  The new county was set apart explicitly for the Mormon people, who were to administer its affairs and were to have a member of the Legislature, but were not to settle in any other county.  The few Non-Mormons or Gentiles living in the region were required to move out. 

     From the adjoining counties and from all directions the Saints came in large numbers to their new domain.  Joseph Smith, their prophet, came to live at the county seat, which they established at a place they named Far West.  The town was laid out on a magnificent scale.  The excavation for the great Temple was made in 1838.  But the Saints could not be kept within their own county.  They purchased lots at DeWitt in Carroll County, where they came in wagons and camped in a grove determined to remain and make a settlement. 

     The Gentiles came in military array from adjoining counties and the two hostile camps maneuvered for ten days.  Two prominent men of Howard County, James Erickson and William F. Dunnica, came forward with a compromise.  The De Witt Mormons received back what they had paid for land, loaded  their household goods into wagons, and marched away to Far West.  About the same time trouble occurred in Daviess County, where the Mormons insisted on the right to vote.  The excitement spread rapidly and Gov. Boggs, who had been at Independence since the organization of the county, issued a proclamation declaring an insurrection to exist.  The State militia in Gen. David R. Atchison's division was ordered to Caldwell County.  Other district commanders marched with their militia, John S. Clark, from various parts of the state came the militia at the Governor's call.  Samuel D. Lucas took the field as Major-General and A. W. Doniphan acted as Brig. General, and to his diplomacy must be credited the termination of the trouble without bloodshed.  The Mormons knew Doniphan was their friend.

     They finally surrendered to Lucas.  Gen. Lucas accepted Joseph Smith and a number of other Mormon leaders as hostages and these were indicted for "high treason," an office which is chargeable only against the general government.  The prisoners were also indicted for murder and lodged in jail.  Joseph Smith escaped, presumably through connivance.  Some of the prisoners were brought to trial at Columbia, Missouri, and were defended by Gen. Doniphan and Major James S. Rollins, two of the most brilliant lawyers in the State.  None of the prisoners were convicted, but for the third time the Mormons were forced to move.  They were required to leave the state.  They went to Nauvoo, Illinois, and there again encountered enemies.  Here Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were slain and the Mormons again, for the fourth time, moved away -- this time they left the United States; Utah was then a part of Mexico.

The Mormon Rebuttal

     The subjoined letter was received by the author from Herman C. Smith, church historian:

     "We are indebted to Mr. W. L. Webb of Independence, Missouri, for inviting our attention to an article published in a volume entitled "Seventy Years on the Frontier," by Alexander Majors.

     "Mr. Majors was a son of Benjamin Majors, who was one of the committee from Independence that with a committee of the Saints drafted Articles of Agreement stipulating that the Latter Day Saints should leave Jackson County in a specified time.

     "Alexander Majors was born in Kentucky in 1814 and came with his parents to Jackson County when a boy.  Hence he was about nineteen years of age when the trouble occurred in 1833.   At this age his mind would be very impressionable, and a reading of the article gives us the impression that he intended to tell the truth so far as the events coming under his notice are concerned.  But being asso iated with one side and a member of a family engaged in opposition to the Saints, some allowance should be made for prejudice, and of course his ideas of the religious faith of the Saints would largely be derived from current rumor, then quite prevalent and conflicting.  It will not be amiss then to offer a few kindly criticisms without reflecting upon the honesty or good intentions of the writer.

     "A slight mistake occurs in the date of the arrival of the five missionaries as it was early in 1831 when they arrived at Independence.

     "The five missionaries did not locate the Temple Lot.  It was selected later, after Joseph Smith and others arrived from the East.  Until we read this article we never heard of "Jacob's Staff," nor did we ever hear of the claim that this was the center of the earth, though we suppose that every spot on the earth's surface is geographically the center as it would be equal distance around either way.  There is no record either that the Saints claimed that this was the location of the "Garden of Eden," of their "silent meetings" we have no account.

     "The account we have makes the date of the assembling of the mob to tear down the printing house July 20, 1833, and an adjourned meeting July 23, through a document was in circulation before this, so there may have been a preliminary meeting, as Mr. Major asserts on July 4.

     "We shall not undertake to correct all the historical inaccuracies of Mr. Majors nor all his mistakes regarding the fairth and policies of the church.  The manner and matter of his narrative discloses the influence of the gossip of the times upon his mind.  The testimony of a mind, evidently prejudiced, to the honesty and morality of the Saints, is valuable and also betrays a disposition upon the part of Mr. Majors to be fair and truthful.  His fairness also betrays the fact that the opposition originated with rival religious bodies, evidently as fanatical as he believed the 'Mormons' to be.

     "Mr. Majors was right about the bad treatment given to Messrs. Patridge and Allen, but they were not the owners of the store.  The one store owned and operated by members of the church was conducted by Messrs. Whitney and Gilbert.

     "The correctness of Mr. Major's estimate of the good citizenship of those inflicting this indignity can be best appreciated by his account of the transactions.

     "The story here given of the conflict near Moses G. Wilson's has some variations not before known to us, but this version is based upon a boy's report of what the Mormons had told him and that, too, under condition of extreme excitement.

     "The statement made by Mr. Majors several times that under the agreement the Mormons had but three weeks to get out of the state is an error.  The agreement was signed July 23, 1833, and it was stipulated that one-half should remove by the first of next January and the other half by the first of April following.  It is true, however, that the mob continued aggressions without regard to the agreement and the general exodus took place early in November, nearly two months before the expiration of the time for the first half to leave.

     "The supposition that Bradbury, the ferryman, was bribed by the Mormons to sink the ferry boat and thus destroy the commissioners is not a reasonable, as in doing so he would endanger his own life, and did in fact lose it.  Notwithstanding the boat was sunk, an examination could have been easily made and those auger holes found, but no such discovery was ever made.

     "The statement that Sam C. Owens stood high in ever sense of the word was disputed in his own time but we  do not care to enter into controversy over the character of men long since gone to their reward.

     "The supposition that the question of slavery or abolition had nothing to do with the trouble because because slavery was not practiced largely at the time is certainly incorrect for the mob mentioned in stating their cause for action.  They said, 'It would require none of the supernatural gifts that they pretended to have, to see that the introduction of such a caste among us would corrupt our blacks and instigate them to bloodshed.' "

     (Signed) Herman C. Smith, Historian



The Centennial History of Independence


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