Pre-Halloween Mormon Massacre

By: Mormon Heretic
October 31, 2011

How do you write a Mormon-themed Halloween post?  Thanks to SamBee at StayLDS, I was reminded that Oct 27 marks the 173rd “anniversary” of the Extermination Order.  Even more gruesome is the fact that yesterday, Oct 30, is the 173rd anniversary of the Haun’s Mill Massacre–a true horror-story fit for any Halloween tale.

I am always a bit puzzled by statements like this one made by GBSmith: “I remember believing for years that the saints were totally innocent in the Missouri business and victims, pure and simple, of Governor Boggs and the mob. Too bad it wasn’t true.”  Well, there is plenty of blame to go around both on the Missouri side and on the Mormon side.  Cooler heads certainly did not prevail.  Kenny Ballentine put together a documentary on the Missouri problem, and I blogged about it previously when I discussed his documentary film titled, Trouble in Zion.

Mormons weren’t blameless.  Missouri mobs weren’t blameless.  Here are some key events leading to the Haun’s Mill Massacre.

1)  July 1833, WW Phelps published an article in the Evening and Morning Star that Mormons wanted to welcome people of all color.  This is the reason the Missourians were upset.

2)  July 20, 1833.  Bishop Partridge is told to leave Jackson County immediately.  He refuses and is tarred and feathered.  Mobs destroyed the Mormon printing press in retaliation of the Phelps article.  Three days later, Partridge signs an agreement to leave the county.

3)  Oct 31-Nov 7.  Missourians incite hostilities against the Mormons.  Mormons flee Jackson County for Clay County.

4) In 1836, the Missouri legislature declares that Caldwell County will be set aside for Mormon settlement.  (This is the home of Far West.)  Non-Mormon Alexander Doniphan brokers a deal in the Missouri legislature to create the county.  This is partly to make a home for Mormons in recompense for Jackson County, but Alex Baugh has referred to this as a “Mormon reservation”.  Mormons were not supposed to settle anywhere outside of this county.

5)  In 1838, Joseph leaves Kirtland under the cover of night due to the Kirtland Bank Crisis.  Upon arriving in Missouri, he finds dissent among Missouri Mormons as well.  John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and WW Phelps are excommunicated.  Many of these dissenters opposed living the Law of Consecration.  Non-Mormons find the excommunications another reason to dislike Mormons.

6)  June 17, 1838.  Sidney Rigdon issues the “Salt Sermon.”  In the sermon, he referenced the scripture about “salt that has lost it’s savor”, and essentially issued an ultimatum that Mormon apostates should leave the county or be forcibly removed.  Most of the dissenters move south to Ray County, and find sympathy with anti-Mormons.

7)  July 4, 1838.  Rigdon issued another fiery patriotic sermon stating that the Mormons and Missourians would wage a “war of extermination…one party or the other”.  It seems the subsequent Extermination Order by Governor Boggs wasn’t quite what Rigdon had in mind.

8|  Aug 6, 1838 – Mormons in Daviess County were prevented from voting.  The Whig candidate said Mormons were only supposed to live in Caldwell County and should be ineligible to vote.  He was concerned that Mormons would vote for the Democratic Candidate, because Mormons were overwhelming Democrats back then.  A big brawl broke out that has often been called a “battle”.  There were exaggerated rumors that Mormons were killed.

9)  Aug 19, 1838 – Following the election, Missourians decided to expel Mormons from DeWitt, in Daviess County.

10)  Oct 18, 1838 – The Mormons decide to retaliate for the first time.  Known as the Daviess Expedition, a group of Danites (a secret Mormon militia group) led an effort to expel Missourians from Gallatin, Millport and Grindstone Fork.   Mormons plundered the property and burned the stores and houses to the ground.

11)  Oct 24, 1838 – The Battle of Crooked River.  Mormons attack and scatter the Missouri Militia.  Many of the Missouri Militia erroneously believe all others are killed.  Only 1 Missourian was killed, but 2 Mormons were killed:  LDS Apostle David Patten (known as “Captain FearNot”) and Danite leader Gideon Carter; 9 other Mormons were wounded.

12)  Oct 27, 1838 – Governor Lilburn Boggs issues the Extermination Order; “the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace…”

13)  October 30, 1838 – The Hauns Mill Massacre; 18 Mormons are killed, ranging in age from 10-year old Sardius Smith, to 62 year old Thomas McBride.  These 2 deaths were particularly gruesome.

  • After surrendering his weapon, 62 year old Thomas McBride was hacked to death with a corn knife.
  • An enraged Missourian leveled his gun against the 10 year old boy’s head, and after proclaiming that ‘nits become lice” pulled the trigger, killing Sardius Smith instantly.

There is plenty of blame to go around both on the Missouri side and on the Mormon side.  Cooler heads certainly did not prevail. Previous to these terrible events of 1838, Mormons tried several times to get Governor Boggs to step in, but Boggs consistently said that he could do nothing.  When Mormons took matters into their own hands, Boggs issued the Extermination Order.  Certainly Boggs handled the situation poorly.

Obviously, Mormons have moved on from this tragedy, with no commemoration of these terrible events and Halloween.  Do you think it is wise to ignore this Halloween tragedy?

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13 Responses to Pre-Halloween Mormon Massacre

  1. GBSmith on October 31, 2011 at 9:16 AM

    “I am always a bit puzzled by statements like this one made by GBSmith: “I remember believing for years that the saints were totally innocent in the Missouri business and victims, pure and simple, of Governor Boggs and the mob. Too bad it wasn’t true.””

    Sorry that my comment was puzzling. It happens when you don’t bother to educate yourself about the history of the church and then find what you assumed is at odds with the facts.

    As a side note in teaching primary about 15-20 years ago the main point of the lesson on Haun’s Mill was that if they would have listened to Joseph Smith when he told them to leave the mill and come into the main settlement for safety, they wouldn’t have been killed. In other words if was their own fault. Follow the prophet.

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  2. MH on October 31, 2011 at 1:12 PM


    I guess what is puzzling to me is the comment “Too bad it wasn’t true.” Perhaps you meant that the saints weren’t totally innocent. But it sounds like you perhaps mean that Governor Boggs and the mob were totally innocent–and that just isn’t true. Boggs bungled the whole situation terribly. The mobs were mobs.

    Mormons shouldn’t have done the Davies Expedition. True, Mormons should have turned the other cheek. But Phelps article was a few decades (perhaps a century) ahead of its time in welcoming “Free people of color”. Bishop Partridge shouldn’t have been tarred and feathered. Saints shouldn’t have been restricted to Caldwell County. They shouldn’t have been driven from Jackson County. Sardius Smith shouldn’t have had his brains blown out. Thomas McBride shouldn’t have been knifed to death. There are many things the Missourians did wrong. Would you have been so restrained in such atrocities, and not wanted to fight back?

    I agree with you that the primary lesson is taken out of context. I believe it was Kenny Ballentine that mentioned during a Q&A that the saints in Haun’s Mill never received Joseph’s message. If I remember correctly, Joseph sent the message to the (non-Mormon) mayor of Haun’s Mill that the saints should leave. There is no evidence that the mayor ever forwarded the message to the saints, and the result was tragic. So yes, that part of the story needs to be corrected. But it is still a very tragic story.

    You seem quite cynical about this story, and I’m not sure it warrants the cynicism.

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  3. GBSmith on October 31, 2011 at 1:49 PM

    I meant that the saints weren’t totally innocent but I wasn’t excusing the other side. As far as Haun’s Mill is concerned when I was preparing the lesson I was taken aback at the point that was being made. It said the saints did receive the message and decided to stay to protect there property.

    As far as it not warranting the cynicism it’s best to just correct people on facts and not on feelings. You don’t know me that well.

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  4. Cowboy on October 31, 2011 at 3:24 PM

    I think part of the problem comes from the way that things are painted nowadays. We make very generic and sweeping statements, like, “early Mormons were persecuted for their faith”, when that is not the case. I can’t argue that there wasn’t persecution, but it wasn’t like the people of missouri heard the first discussion and then decided to masacre Mormons at Hauns Mill. Prophets, The Book of Mormon, the Restoration, etc, are all things that just don’t factor into the equation. Politics, religious migrations, etc, all do. More importantly, both sides were represented quite poorly from those on top.

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  5. Heber13 on October 31, 2011 at 3:44 PM

    If MMM occurred at the end of October…I’d be a little freaked out…but that was September.

    I was teaching a youth class a few months ago and was surprised the lesson manual mentioned Mountain Meadows Massacre, not as a major part of the lesson, but it was there and was mentioned. I did not make it a huge point, but asked if anyone knew anything about it, as part of the lesson material that I saw appropriate. Of course, none of the class members had heard of it. I simply mentioned it was an unpleasant part of our past and let students ask questions so we could openly discuss it without painting an anti-church flavor.

    I think its important for the younger generations to be given the stories in a fair way, and inoculate them some from what I went through where I have only started learning both sides of the stories.

    I feel kind of like GBSmith. I just wish someone else had given me more info when I was younger. (But not at Halloween… Halloween is about sensationalism, spooky stories, and horror films for thrill and fun…not really appropriate for historical tragedies, IMO).

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  6. mh on October 31, 2011 at 3:58 PM

    fair enough.

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  7. Ron Madson on October 31, 2011 at 7:18 PM

    DC 98 was given in response to the conflicts in 1833 in Jackson County. Ignoring the immutable covenant of peace, we began to engage in pre-emptive strikes on innocent victims in Davies County. Then from there we reaped the whirlwind.
    Mirroring the Mormon militia’s logic of pre-emptive war, and further based on hysteria induced testimony that the Mormons at Haun’s Mill were planning an invasion, a mob decided that they were justified in attacking the Mormons at Haun’s Mill. Legislator Charles Ashby, a participant in that slaughter told, the Missouri legislature: “We thought it best to attack them first. What we did was in our own self defense, and we had a right to do it.”
    It is remarkable but in nearly every conflict both parties actually believe that they are always acting in self defense.
    US military intervention from Viet Nam to the present is founded on the same logic expressed by Charles Ashby.

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  8. dpc on November 1, 2011 at 1:26 PM


    I know that you are a pacifist, but it doesn’t help your cause to mistate the reasoning behind numerous U.S. military interventions in the past 50 years. Vietnam might have been based on the ‘pre-emptive’ attack doctrince and Iraq might also fit this category, but other conflicts were most decidedly not. How was Somalia a pre-emptive strike and who was it directed against? How about the intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo? What about recent U.S. efforts in central Africa to help eliminate the Lord’s Resistance Army?

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  9. dpc on November 1, 2011 at 1:35 PM

    I think the “extermination” in Missouri was that the Saints were expelled from the state and not just the Haun’s Mill Massacre. Nothing that the Saints did warranted their forcible expulsion from the state. That wasn’t a voluntary move and everyone who died making the journey from Missouri to Illinois was a victim of the police power of the State of Missouri. Forcible relocation of a group of people based on their religion is a crime against humanity and currently prohibited by Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

    And to say that the slaughter of 18 people is the moral equivalent of the destruction of property is straining to find equivalencies. Painting both sides as equally guilty is like catching two thieves and saying that the one who stole millions is equally as bad as the one who stole a few dollars because they both broke the law.

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  10. MH on November 1, 2011 at 2:25 PM


    It seems to me the issue of religion and politics in the Missouri period were intertwined. Certainly the early Mormons weren’t pro-slavery, and that created antagonism with the pro-slave issue. <a href=""Joseph's presidential platform discussed the political and religion problem of slaves: “Some two or three million people are held as slaves for life because the spirit in them is covered with a darker skin than ours.” Additionally, Mormons voted in blocs as part of a theocracy. Once again that’s combining religion and politics–a combustible combination.

    So you’re right that people didn’t hear the 1st discussion and start hating Mormons. However, it is hard to deny that religion didn’t play a large role in prejudice, just as there is religious bigotry against muslims today.

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  11. MH on November 1, 2011 at 2:27 PM

    GBSmith and Heber, I too wish there was more accurate historical information in our manuals. There is a fantastic interview with BYU professor Daniel Peterson that I probably will blog about. His feelings are quite like yours and mine on the subject. dpc, I agree with your sentiments.

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  12. Ron Madson on November 1, 2011 at 5:58 PM

    I agree to an extent with your comments above (#8 & #9). I should not paint with such a broad brush “all” military actions by the US since Viet Nam, although I would include Afghanistan in the pre-emptive war of aggression for reasons that are beyond perhaps the scope of this thread.

    As to the expulsion of the saints from Missouri, I completely agree that there was no moral nor legal basis for the wholesale expulsion of the Mormons, and all acts are not morally equivalent. Good point. However, I am convinced that the Saints did not follow the counsel of the Lord in section 98 or else as promised in that covenant they would have prevailed against their enemies. Rather (even if to a far lesser degree) they began to engage in retributive acts of aggression which according to the covenants would invite the very escalation that occurred–interestingly enough Sidney was the first to use the word extermination and not Boggs.

    As to pacifism, I only aspire to pure pacifism–I have not reached that level of discipleship required by Jesus. There are dozens of variations of pacifism from nuclear pacifism to pure pacifism as exercised by the Amish/Anti-Nephi Lehites—I fit somewhere on that scale–still working that out.

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  13. Jonathan on November 28, 2011 at 1:33 PM

    The one who stated “nits make lice” as justifications killed more then one child. Known as ‘the hairlip’, his name was Ira Glaze. He and his brother were infamous badmen in the area and had later scofflaw relatives in the Pacific NorthWest, notable among them the killer Tillman Glaze.

    Relatives… and family diaries give some good information on mormon depradations that brought this stuff on.

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