In 1997, the LDS church celebrated the 150th anniversary of their
pioneer trek across the United States into Utah. The church was
the focus of many articles and much publicity during this commemoration.
Never one to pass up the opportunity of additional public relations,
the church leadership used the events to inform the masses of their
message. One of these typical messages was published in the Wall
Street Journal by LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley.
While Hinckley's story is partially true - there was an 'extermination
order' from Gov. Boggs, (some) Mormons were driven from Missouri,
and Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed
by a mob - he neglects to tell the whole story. A reasonable
person would surely ask, 'why would such things happen and what
were the causes'?
In a Mormon Sunday School class one is likely to hear of causes
being such things as Satan, other apostate churches, or the fact
that the scriptures say that the
Lord's true church will be persecuted. Therefore, Mormons had
to be persecuted in order to prove that they were the "one true
While the persecutions Mormons received were at times horrible,
and many of the persecutors did things that were totally unjustified,
these Sunday School answers don't do justice to history and what
It would have been more honest for Gordon B. Hinckley to tell
the whole story. It is undoubtedly true that most of the Mormons
were a peaceful people, but it was the occasions when the few were
not peaceful and when the leaders made hostile speeches and produced
threatening 'revelations' that led to the calamities Hinckley refers
to in his article.
From the earliest years, Mormons in both Ohio and Missouri
began to isolate themselves. To validate their uniqueness they minimized
socialization with outsiders and emphasized their differences. Being
eccentric made them feel special, and they did not understand that
what seemed to be solidarity to them appeared to be insularity to
outsiders, an exclusivity that would provoke tragic misunderstandings,
persecution, and bloodshed.
According to one Missiourian who later became hostile to the Mormons,
The deciding distinction between (other closely bonded religious)
groups and Mormons was that the former neither sought political
power nor pressed their opinions on outsiders through newspapers
Mormons viewed the Promised Land (Missouri)
as their God-given entitlement. They proclaimed that high-minded
belief to native Missourians, who naturally took umbrage.
Mormons and old settlers got along well until W. W. Phelps
began to publish 'the so called revelations of Joseph Smith'.
There are numerous occasions in the D&C where Joseph Smith commanded
the saints to do harm to the non-Mormons or to take over lands of
others which he thought the Lord had given to him. In one instance,
it is put in parable form so that the non-Mormons may not know what
was going on when the Mormons were instructed to "break down the walls
of mine enemies; throw down their tower, and scatter their watchmen.
And inasmuch as they gather together against you, avenge me of mine
enemies" in D&C 101:55-58. In another instance, former Mormons
are considered "salt that has lost its savor" which should now be
"trodden under foot of men". This included former Mormons who wanted
nothing more than to be left alone and worship how, where, or what
they may as Article of Faith #11 suggests is condoned by Mormonism.
This can be found in D&C 103:2-15 which also includes supposed
instructions from the Lord that "I have decreed that your brethren
which have been scattered shall return to the lands of their inheritances,
and shall build up the waste places of Zion" and "the redemption of
Zion must needs come by power".
D&C 103:24-26 is not better when we learn that the Lord's
"presence shall be with you even in avenging me of mine enemies,
unto the third and fourth generation". Much earlier than these revelations
however, in D&C 52:42, Joseph Smith has the Lord saying "assemble
yourselves together to rejoice upon the land of Missouri, which
is the land of your inheritance, which is now the land of your enemies".
What are the non-Mormons in Missouri supposed to think when they
read such a revelation? What would Mormons think if the Pope suddenly
published a revelation in which he said "assemble you Catholics
together to rejoice upon the land of Utah, which is the land of
your inheritance, which is now the land of your enemies"?
When Mormons began taking over the lands in large numbers, the
native Missourians began to wonder what was going on. The Mormons
block voted so their candidate, once they had significant numbers,
always won the elections. The politicians had to grant favors to
the Mormons rather than the natives in some cases in order to secure
the Mormon vote. This kind of practice was seen later to a larger
degree in Illinois.
Moving ahead to 1838 and the Extermination Order
The 'extermination order' is perhaps the most famous document that
Mormons use to show that they are persecuted. Few know the circumstances
surrounding its origin. About three months before it was issued, Sidney
Rigdon delivered his famous 4th of July speech of 1838 which was partially
reproduced in the church's Comprehensive History of the Church,
vol. 1, page 441 as follows:
And that mob that comes on us to disturb us, it shall
be between us and them a war of extermination; for we will
follow them until the last drop of their blood is spilled; or else
they will have to exterminate us, for we will carry the seat
of war to their own houses and their own families, and one party
or the other shall be utterly destroyed.
Joseph Smith approved of the speech and it was subsequently printed
in The Far West, a weekly newspaper, and the church's own Elders'
Journal. Joseph Smith said in History
of the Church, "The oration was delivered by President Rigdon,
at the close of which was a shout of Hosanna, and a song, composed
for the occasion by Levi W. Hancock, was sung by Solomon Hancock.
The most perfect order prevailed throughout the day." What were the
non-Mormon readers supposed to think of these remarks? What were they
to do when the church subsequently led battles against non-aggressive
former Mormons and mistakenly led a battle against the state's own
militia? A couple of faithful Mormons had this to say about
the subsequent Mormon aggressions which occurred before the extermination
order of Boggs:
"The females hastily took from the houses what they could
carry, and here I might say there was almost a trial of my faith
in my pity for our enemies. ... Among the women was one, young married
and apparently near her confinement, and another with small children
and not a wagon, and many miles away from any of their friends,
and snow had begun already ... to fall. My sympathies were drawn
toward the women and children, but I would in no degree let them
deter me from duty. So while others were pillaging for something
to carry away, I was doing my best to protect ... the lives and
comfort of the families who were dependent on getting away upon
horse-back. ... While others were doing the burning and plunder,
my mission was of mercy. ... Before noon we had set all on fire
and left upon a circuitous route towards home."
Benjamin F. Johnson
"At the time that Galeton was to be burned, I pleaded
with father to let me go; but to no effect. On the appointed day
I went to the top of the hill ... and cast my eyes in the direction
of Galeton ... and saw smoke rising towards Heaven, which filled
me with ambition, the love of excitement, tumult and something new.
... The next day I went to Bishop Knights and saw the plunder, and
o what lots, I ... heard them tell, in what order they took the
place ... The store they burned, but the goods were preserved."
Michael Quinn commented on the events as follows:
Oliver B. Huntington
In the skirmishes that both sides called 'battles,' Mormons
used deadly force without reluctance. Benjamin F. Johnson wrote
that Danite leader (and future apostle) Lyman Wight told his men
to pray concerning their Missouri enemies: 'That God would Damn
them & give us pow[e]r to Kill them.' Likewise, at the beginning
of the Battle of Crooked River on 25 October 1838, Apostle David
W. Patten (a Danite captain with the code-name "Fear Not') told
his men: 'Go ahead, boys; rake them down.' The highest ranking Mormon
charged with murder for obeying this order was Apostle Parley P.
Pratt who allegedly took the careful aim of a sniper in killing
one Missourian and then severely wounding militiaman Samuel Tarwater.
This was after Apostle Patten received a fatal stomach wound. In
their fury at the sight of their fallen leader, some of the Danites
mutilated the unconscious Tarwater 'with their swords' striking
him lengthwise in the mouth, cutting off his under teeth, and breaking
his lower jaw; cutting off his cheeks ... and leaving him [for]
dead.' He survived to press charges against Pratt for attempted
murder. (Pratt subsequently escaped from prison and resumed his
position in the Quorum of 12 Apostles)
Even though Mormons of today know next to nothing about these events
and precursors to the Mormon exodus, the Mormons of the day were well
aware of why they were being 'persecuted'. When Brigham Young was
jockeying the presidency of the church away from Sidney Rigdon after
Joseph Smith died he said,
A generally unacknowledged dimension of both the extermination
order and the Haun's Mill massacre, however, is that they resulted
from Mormon actions in the Battle of Crooked River. Knowingly
or not, Mormons had attacked state troops, and this had a cascade
effect. Local residents feared annihilation: 'We know not the
hour or minute we will be laid in ashes,' a local minister and
county clerk wrote the day after the battle. 'For God's sake give
us assistance as quick as possible.' Correspondingly, the attack
on state troops weakened the position of Mormon friends in Missouri's
militia and government. Finally, upon receiving news of the injuries
and death of state troops at Crooked River, Governor Boggs immediately
drafted his extermination order on 27 October 1838 because the
Mormons 'have made war upon the people of this state.' Worse,
the killing of one Missourian and mutilation of another while
he was defenseless at Crooked River led to the mad-dog revenge
by Missourians in the slaughter at Haun's Mill.
"Elder Rigdon was the prime cause of our troubles in Missouri
by his fourth of July oration."
As B.H. Roberts said over 50 years later,
Times and Seasons, vol. 5, page 667
The deliverance of a very noted "Oration" by Sidney Rigdon
at Far West, on the Fourth of July, 1838, in the course of which
there was expressed a strong determination to no more submit quietly
to mob violence, and acts of pillage. At this distance of time from
that occasion, and balancing against the heated utterances of the
speaker the subsequent uses made of them to incite the public mind
to that series of acts which culminated in the expulsion of the
Saints from the state, we say those utterances were untimely, extreme,
and unwise. So indeed they were. The speaker seems to have thrown
discretion to the winds, and in the fervor of his rhetoric made
threats of retaliation on behalf of the Saints.
Although Hinckley's letter doesn't mention it, you frequently hear
Mormons claim that they were driven out of Ohio too. For much more
on the Ohio issue, see Van Wagoner's book referenced above and Brigham
Young University Studies, Summer 1977, pages 437-38, 458 which
shows that the Kirtland Bank Joseph Smith established was illegal,
and he left Ohio, not because he was driven out but, in order to escape
paying his debts and having to face criminal charges.
For more background on the Missouri conflict see: The 1838
Mormon War in Missouri which people have told me is the very
best source to finding out both sides of this issue. BYU
professor William G. Hartley's My Best For the Kingdom is
also an excellent source. For a better background and history of
the Mormon Trail (including accounts of the pioneers that needlessly
died because they listened to leaders rather than reason) see: The
Pioneer Camp of the Saints: The 1846 and 1847 Mormon Trail Journals
of Thomas Bullock.