Previous chapter Table of Contents Next chapter
THE STORM BREAKS
The colony in Missouri was ill fated.
"Its foundations were barely begun when the intolerance of frontier farmers shattered the mortar," says a recent historian, E. Douglas Branch. "Missourians were afraid that the Mormons, voting as a solid phalanx, would sometime dictate the politics of the State. They were individualistic, profoundly suspicious of people who were dominated by group loyalties and group egotism."1
There were other reasons. Alexander W. Doniphan, than whom there was no man in western Missouri better qualified to speak, gives his opinion of the causes of the difficulty:
"I think the real objections to the Mormons were their denunciation of slavery, and the objections slaveholders had to having so large a settlement of anti-slavery people in their midst, and also to their acquiring such a large amount of land, which then belonged to the Government, and subject to the pre-emption."2
Those who differ from the norm always pay the penalty of social ostracism. To the Latter Day Saints, ostracism was immaterial. It "merely hounded them into a conviction of their own superiority."3 Among them at times undoubtedly more than an arrogant suggestion of group egotism was apparent--a common expression among those who feel they are "chosen" people. With the perspective of later years, it has become fully apparent that two such diverse peoples could not live in peace and unity, especially "where in the rough life of the border there is scant recognition of law and order."4
People who have spent their lives in England or in English colonies "where there is not a trace of the sporting spirit,"5 which leads their American cousins to make a joke of law observance and lawbreaking, have difficulty in understanding the mobs of our past and present public life.
The colonists, long before the Revolutionary War, broke the law of England with impunity. Many a comfortable New England fortune had its foundations laid in the remunerative occupation of smuggling, a quite respectable occupation for church men and statesmen of colonial times. By the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence "Americans had developed a marked tendency to obey only such laws as they chose to obey."6
"The ripest fruits of disregard for law are found mainly when passions are roused, as they were for several decades from 1830 onward."7 One phase of this remarkable outbreak of religious intolerance was that directed against the Roman Catholics in the more cultured East. In 1834 the Ursaline Convent near Boston was burned to the ground and sacked by anti-Catholics.
The next night a race riot, this time directed against the Negroes, broke out at Philadelphia, in the course of which thirty houses were sacked or destroyed, a church pulled down, and several persons killed. Similar riots occurred within a few weeks at other places, and in a few years the militia had to disperse a mob of a thousand marching on the House of the Papal Nuncio at Cincinnati. The Irish quarter in Chelsea, Massachusetts, was attacked; the chapel at Coburg was burned; that at Dorchester blown up, and that at Manchester, New Hampshire, wrecked; at Ellsworth, Maine, the priest was tarred and feathered, the convent at Providence was attacked, and a riot at Saint Louis resulted in ten deaths.
Similar violence was used against the Mormons, mainly after they were residents of Missouri and before they had adopted the doctrine of plural wives. The feeling against them first manifested itself in tarring and feathering, but by the autumn of 1833, a veritable reign of terror had begun. Houses were destroyed, men were beaten, and even a battle took place. By November mobs had forced about 1,200 Mormons to leave their homes, pursuing them across the Missouri River and burning two hundred of their forcibly abandoned homes. The governor was unable to afford them protection, although admitting they were entitled to it.8
In the month of April, the first mob gathered in Independence, determined as they said, to "move the Mormons out of their diggin's" but the crowd, getting the worse for liquor, "broke up in a regular Missouri row." About that time the members of the church met on the Big Blue at the ferry which was built, owned, and operated by the Saints. Their purpose was to celebrate the birthday of the church. It was a beautiful day, long to be remembered by the Saints, for such peaceful occasions were soon to vanish from their midst. Spring had come with the burst of glory with which it comes in Jackson County. The woods were sweet with flowering shrubs. Every bird, it seemed, was singing to help them celebrate. The little homes in the forest were fast assuming an air of comfort and prosperity. The Saints had been busy hauling rails, which had been cut during the winter, from the woods for fencing, and planting a crop they were never to harvest. There had already been some depredations, houses unroofed, men whipped by young ruffians a little the worse for liquor, and wanting to have some "fun" with the "Mormons."
About the 25th of June, Joseph Smith sent from Kirtland the plat of the new city of Zion, a unique plan, which was never carried out, for in less than a month suppressed excitement burst into flames, and from then on, conditions in Missouri were, as Adams has said, " a veritable reign of terror."
Perhaps more than all else contributing to the mob of July 20, 1833, in Independence, was the publication of an editorial "Free People of Color," in The Evening and the Morning Star of that month. A careful reading of this editorial at the present time shows nothing to give offense; but read with the bias of those days, in the spirit of "those who are not of us are against us," one may see why the people were so incensed by it. Actually it was intended to pour oil on troubled waters, by declaring the intention of the Saints to observe strict neutrality on the slave issue, but to the Missourian of that day there was no neutrality. In many quarters the very basis of his civilization was being threatened; he intended to take no chances. And in spite of the efforts of the Saints to move with caution, they were judged not by the words of their mouths, but by the thoughts of their minds and the feelings of their hearts. The Missourians instinctively felt an antagonism to the industrial system upon which their civilization was built, and seized upon this first public utterance, to make it mean an invitation for free blacks to come and settle among them, to be companions to their wives and children!
Upon the 20th a petition was drawn up and signed, asking in no uncertain terms that the Latter Day Saints leave Jackson County. The names signed to this document were those of some of the most influential men in Jackson County, but that by no means intimates that these men were instrumental in the scene which followed. The brick printing office9 was torn down, together with the dwelling house of W. W. Phelps. Mrs. Phelps with a sick child was thrown into the street, the type and papers in the office were scattered along the streets, as was also the goods from the store of Gilbert and Whitney. Unwound bolts of cloth covered the streets; blacksmith tools from the shop of Robert Rathbun, a Latter Day Saint blacksmith,10 were strewn about. The press and most of the type were carried to the river and thrown in.11
Then as the sun went down, the crowd proceeded to capture Bishop Edward Partridge and Charles Allen and tar and feather them. "If any of the good citizens had anything to do with it, I do not recollect seeing them there," said Robert Weston, who with a boy's curiosity had watched the scene from afar. "I do not think any of the good citizens had anything to do with it, but at that time we had lots of bad citizens. The fellow that was putting tar on him (Partridge) was Jonathan Shepard and he has not a good citizen by any means, at least I would not consider him so. This man Jonathan Shepard was a good-for-nothing, no-account fellow who never did anything good for himself or anybody else. There was another old fellow there named Bill Connor who was of no earthly account. He was living down here at the time. He was a regular ruffian, and was never happy unless he was in trouble or getting other people in it. He took a very active part in this tar and feather business, and then he wanted to cowhide Bishop Partridge, but they stopped him, and would not let him do it."12
Major Doniphan also implies that the trouble was caused by the more ignorant portions of the community."13
But not all authorities are inclined to blame the riffraff of the town for the trouble. One writer who calls himself an agnostic, writes in a sarcastic vein: "The lieutenant-governor of the State, Lilburn W. Boggs, who witnessed this rare exhibition, exclaimed in a paroxysm of religious fervor and patriotic satisfaction, 'Mormons are the common enemies of mankind and ought to be destroyed,' and 'you now know what our Jackson boys can do, and you must leave the country.' " He definitely names George Simpson as the leader of the mob. This same writer gives Boggs, whether rightfully or not, the credit for a plan frequently followed in the next few years, that is to gain possession of the arms of the Saints and then attack them. Warren Watson, the writer mentioned above, says:
At this crisis Lieutenant Governor Boggs came once more to the front. In great emergencies there is always a demand for intellect and character to dominate and control mere brute force; and the man generally comes forward with the emergency. Boggs had the intellect to conceive a plan charming in simplicity and effectiveness, and he also had the character to put it in operation. The plan was to secure the confidence of the Saints and by pretending to be their friends get possession of their arms. When this comical, and yet laudable, of rascality was accomplished . . . once more the "Jackson boys undeterred by fears of reprisals rushed the attack.14
On July 23, 1833, a treaty was signed, under pressure, in which the Latter Day Saints agreed to leave the county, half of them before January 1, 1834, the other half by the first of April. But the Saints had not entirely given up. Edward Partridge, by nature a mild and law-abiding man, who with ten high priests had been appointed to take care of the branches, could not abandon the idea that there was help by process of law in a country that guaranteed freedom of worship to its citizens. Orson Hyde and John Gould had arrived in October to give them messages and aid from Saints in Kirtland. Hyde and W. W. Phelps determined to lay the case personally before the Governor, who, when they saw him, wrote a letter to prominent citizens, attempting to enforce the law.
Encouraged by the Governor efforts, the people proceeded to plant their winter wheat, making but few preparations for departure. Then the depredations of the mob broke out fresh. Thursday night, October 31, 1833, thirty brawlers went over to the Whitmer settlement near the Blue River, "unroofed and demolished ten houses, and also whipped and pounded several persons in a shocking manner."15
Proceeding under the directions of the Governor, some of the Saints went to Independence and presented a letter from him which said:
After advising with the Attorney-General, and exercising my best judgment, I would advise you to make a trial of the efficacy of the laws. The judge of your circuit is a conservator of the peace. If an affidavit is made before him by any of you that your lives are in danger, it would be his duty to have offenders apprehended and bind them to keep the peace. Justices of the Peace in their respective counties have the same authority, and it is made their duty to exercise it. Take then this course, obtain a warrant, let it be placed in the hands of a proper officer, and the experiment will be tested whether the laws can be peaceably executed or not.
In the face of this, they were denied a warrant, and as night was coming on and they had reason to fear the renewal of hostilities with the coming of darkness, word was sent out to each branch to collect and defend themselves, being careful not to be aggressors. The Colesville Saints especially felt it necessary to defend the gristmill, which had been threatened. Pickets were put out to watch it. As darkness deepened two men were seen prowling in the vicinity; they were promptly captured, disarmed, kept all night, but allowed to go home in the morning.
November 2, Saturday night, a number of the young bloods of the neighborhood collected at Wilson's store near the Blue, had a few drinks and went over to a settlement on the Blue and taking the roof off a house, found David Bennett ill in bed. They beat him cruelly, and finally one of the men drew a pistol and shooting high, as he thought, and swearing, said he was going to blow Bennett's brains out. The bullet tore through the top of the sick man's head, cutting a deep gash. Heretofore no opposition had been offered by the Latter Day Saints. But now amid the confusion, women and children running here and there, screaming in terror, someone found a gun, and a moment later one of the mob shouted that he had been shot through the thigh. The effect was immediate. The mob dispersed.
"But the Mormons had shot a man." Far and near the news spread. The Latter Day Saints spent Sunday in council, sent Parley P. Pratt and Joshua Lewis to the circuit judge, John F. Ryland, at Lexington, and waited the outbreak of renewed hostilities. They had not long to wait. On Monday night the 4th of November, the same crowd collected at Wilson's store, went down to the ferry and took the boat (which belonged to the Saints) and otherwise amused themselves. In the meantime a group of brethren assembled at Colesville, hearing that the brethren east of the Blue had been molested, sent nineteen unarmed volunteers to assist them. Two small boys, seeing the men on the road, hastened to the store and told the men assembled there the "Mormons" were on the road. They immediately started in pursuit of them, for the men finding comparative quiet had turned to go back to Colesville. They overtook them near the home of Christian Whitmer, a crippled brother, and dispersed them through the fields and woods. They rode into the cornfield, trampling down the grain, feeding their horses, taunting and tormenting Christian Whitmer, and threatening him, beating any fugitives they happened to find, and shooting recklessly. It may be conceded that up until now most of these depredations were carried on in the spirit of malicious mischief, for if the Missourians had desired to murder the Latter Day Saints, they had ample opportunity to do so. They wished to drive them from the country, but it is doubtful if the majority of them desired battle or bloodshed.
The Colesville Saints about three miles distant could hear the shooting and having reached the point where patience seemed to them to have ceased to be a virtue, they quickly found what firearms they could and marched to the aid of their brethren at the Whitmer settlement. They were fired upon as they approached the cornfield of Christian Whitmer and several shots were exchanged before the mob retreated not waiting to mount their horses and leaving their dead in the field. Two men had been killed, Thomas Linville and Hugh L. Brazaele. Andrew Barber of the Saints was fatally wounded and died the next day. Philo Dibble was critically wounded but survived, though a lifetime cripple.
Of course the news of an "uprising among the Mormons" was heralded far and near, and the number of those killed increased with every telling. As a result, the "militia" got busy and demanded the arms of the Saints. And since it was almost impossible to tell when a group of men were acting officially or unofficially, the Saints complied. When the emissaries to Lexington returned, they found most of the Saints gathered together on the Temple Lot with what few possessions they were able to seize as they fled.
The Saints were camped three days on the Temple Lot, while armed men rode through the settlements rounding up and driving to this spot the few left in their homes. They were then forcibly compelled to agree to leave the county. Through the snow and sleet of November, the pitiful band of exiled Saints made its way to the Wayne City Landing on the Missouri River.
Thursday, November 7th, the shore began to be lined on both sides of the ferry, with men, women, and children, goods, wagons, boxes, chests, provisions, etc., while the ferrymen were very busily employed in crossing them over; and when night again closed upon us the wilderness had the appearance of a camp meeting. Hundreds of people were seen in all directions. Some in tents, some in the open air around their fires while the rain descended in torrents. Husbands were inquiring for wives, and women for their parents, parents for children, and children for parents. Some had the good fortune to escape with their family, household goods, and some provisions; while others knew not the fate of their friends, and had lost all their goods Ile scene was indescribable, and I am sure would have melted the hearts of any people upon earth. . . . Next day, our company still increased, and we were chiefly engaged in felling small cottonwood trees, and erecting them into temporary cabins, so when night came on we had the appearance of a village of wigwams, and the night being clear we began to enjoy some degree of comfort.16
About two o'clock the next morning, we were aroused from our slumbers by the cry of, "Arise and behold the signs in the heavens." We arose and to our great astonishment all the heavens seemed enwrapped in splendid fireworks as if every star in its broad expanse had been suddenly hurled from its course and sent lawless through the wilds of ether. I can give the reader no better idea of this scene than by allusion to the shooting of a bright meteor with a long train of light following in its course such as many of us have seen in a bright starlit night. Now suppose that thousands of such meteors with their fiery trains were to run lawless through the heavens for hours together, this would be a scene such as our eyes beheld on that memorable morning; and the scene only closed by giving place to the superior light and splendor of the king of day. No sooner was this scene beheld by some of our camp than the news reached every tent and aroused everyone from their slumbers; every eye was lifted towards the heavens, and every heart was filled with joy at these majestic signs and wonders showing the near approach of the Son of God.17
This phenomenon appeared over most of the United States on that night, and before the dawn of the scientific period at an age of religious excitement when the whole world sought a sign, everyone gave it some significance, purely personal. Down in Virginia that night, in a mansion of dilapidated splendor, the wife of a strolling actor gave birth to a son, and the midwife told her that he was born with a cowl, and that the heavens had acclaimed his birth with great signs and wonders, showing he was to be a great man. That baby boy became Edwin Booth, America's greatest actor. In other places religious fanatics and some who were not so fanatical prepared for the coming of the Lord. To the enemies of the Saints, the signs brought fear and wonder; to the Saints they were a signal of approval. An old settler says:
There was a very remarkable and strange occurrence took place the night after most of them had crossed the river. . . . They camped in the bottom, and built their campfires for perhaps a mile up and down the river, and out into the bottom. It was very cold, but there was plenty of wood. They had large fires, and the whole bottom in the vicinity of their camp presented quite a brilliant appearance, and to add to the brilliancy, awhile before the day the stars (at least it looked like stars) commenced falling like great snowflakesl8 all vanishing before they reached the ground, and it continued from half to three quarters of an hour.19
Babies were born that night in the camp in the cottonwoods, and during the weeks that followed;20 some passed to their reward. The people of Clay County opened their homes and received the fugitives, notwithstanding the fact that they bade fair to outnumber the original inhabitants of the county.
The fate of the straggling ones who had not known of the camp on the Temple Lot, or somehow got separated from the main body was just as hard. A settlement of from eighty to one hundred and thirty Saints on the Blue, six miles west of Independence, was visited by seventy-five or one hundred mounted men and ordered to leave their homes within two hours under penalty of death. Only a few days previous they had surrendered their arms on condition that they were to be free from molestation. Hastily the small possessions, mostly blankets and bedding that could be carried in four wagons, were loaded; and the whole company started on foot, traveling about six miles in a southerly direction before night overtook them. Destination they had none. They were homeless wanderers. They made their camp as best they could, ate a bit of supper together, and Solomon Hancock, president of the little branch, called them all to prayer as one family. Humbly he stood among the little flock, asking that if it was the Lord's will that this trial come upon them, that they might have strength to bear it.
The next day, they continued southward over a burned off prairie. Most of the children were barefoot, and the hard, sharp stubs of the burnt off bunch grass cut their feet, until by night there was not a child's foot that was not torn and bleeding. They thought they traveled about fifteen miles that day; the third day they made similar progress. They had not seen a soul since leaving their homes, nor a sign of habitation, for the prairie land was not considered habitable in those early times. Toward night of the third day rain began failing, turning to snow and sleet, and they saw not far away a one-room hut. The single man who lived there kindly vacated the one room, and the women and children packed into it as best they could, huddled together, sitting on one another's laps, in order to make room for all. The men leaned up against the house and wagons all night with the rain "streaming down their backs."
After breakfast all took up their walk again. The sleet and rain had stopped, but it was cloudy, cold, and threatening. "The whole land seemed flooded with water," and the little caravan struggled across a marsh through which they had to wade ice cold water from ankle to waist deep. Nearly every person carried a child, and some women carried two, the whole mile and a half with no opportunity to set them down and rest. Little progress was made that day, but they found a dry point of rocks under a bluff where they made camp for the night.
The next morning they awoke to a winter world. The earth was covered with two inches of snow. After breakfast, all assembled for their prayer, as usual, only this occasion was a little different. This was the prayer of desperate men and women turning for their lives and that of their little ones to the only help that was left them. The last morsel of food had been eaten for breakfast; nothing remained. "Brethren," said Solomon Hancock, "the time has now come when we must ask God for our daily bread; for except he provides, our bones must be left here to bleach on these rocks."
"Amen," said many, "unless the Lord provides, so be it."
Then they knelt in prayer. Nearly all the grown people took part in turn. Then they waited. An hour passed. Someone saw on the western horizon a man on horseback riding toward them. He came straight to them, saluted them and said, "Friends, I have heard of your sufferings and have come to assist you. If you can get over to my place, which is five miles to the west, I think you will be able to obtain needful food. I have some potatoes that need to be dug, and if you will give me one half, the rest shall be yours for the digging. I also have a large stall-fed ox which may be yours if you will split me some fence rails; and if you have any money I will see that you get corn meal at a mill not far distant."
What an answer to prayer! Immediately a collection was taken up, the Saints dropping in the hat every penny, even keepsakes. Only a little over five dollars was raised, but with the precious money one wagon was sent to the mill, and the rest started through the snow to the home of their benefactor. The little barefoot children ran through the cold snow as long as they could stand it, then bending a tall bunch of grass to the north, stood on it in the sun until they felt the blood course through their feet again. Then they took another run. Thus the distance was covered, and all went immediately to work.
The women prepared the camp; the old men were delegated to dress the beef, while the young men dug potatoes. At eight o'clock that night all sat down to a real meal. They were almost happy. During the day, some of the neighbors called at Mr. Butterfield's, and brought provisions and clothing.21 Some of those in better circumstances took families to work for them and sheltered them through the winter. One of them whose name is given as James, sheltered several families at his home, helped them find work, and befriended them in every way he could. He was a Missourian, with a heart of gold beneath his rough exterior, and he often exclaimed with an oath that every time he thought of the treatment his protégés had received in Jackson County his "jackknife opened in his pocket."
The great experiment had crumbled, but it had not failed. The men and women who camped in the bitter November sleet in the cottonwoods of the Missouri River still carried in their hearts their dream of a perfected state of society where there would be no oppression. The spires of Zion rose in their visions, sleeping or walking, while they wandered here and there, driven and despised. But did they name it failure? Perhaps some did. But not the vast majority. The rabid hostility of Missouri and Illinois only succeeded in pressing into the Latter Day Saint fiber strength and tenacity of purpose that could not know failure.
The legacy a man passes on to his sons in land and cattle may vanish, but the legacy of dreams lives on through hundreds of discouragements, through disaster and oppression, and so today the hills of Jackson County, Missouri, are loved by those who never saw them, and the ideals of which they are but the visible sign are handed down from generation to generation, with the thought that sometime there will arise the chosen ones who will redeem Zion, and realize the dream of their fathers, for a state of society where there will be not only spiritual, but economic and industrial freedom. They loved it, the land where they had met the bitterest discouragement of their lives.
Only once after that did Joseph Smith see the land of Zion, and then he crossed the river in secret and in the darkness of night that his feet might stand once more "upon the goodly land."
1 E. Douglas Branch in Westward, page 413.
2 Alexander W. Doniphan in Kansas City Journal, June 5, 1881. Church History, Vol. 4, page 360. Doniphan, "Mormon History," Saints' Herald, Volume 28, page 230.
3 E. Douglas Branch in Westward, page 413.
4 James Truslow Adams, in "Our Lawless Heritage," Atlantic Monthly, page 736.
5 Ibid., page 732.
6 Ibid., page 732.
7 Ibid., page 732.
8 Ibid., page 737.
9 The office of The Evening and the Morning Star stood a little back of the present location of the present Chrisman-Sawyer Bank, on the corner of Liberty Street, south of Lexington.
10 Hiram Rathbun, Sr., testimony, in the Temple Lot Suit, Plaintiff's Abstract Evidence, page 221.
11 Later driftwood harvesters raised the press and sold it to one William Ridenbaugh, who used it to publish the Saint Joseph Gazette in 1845. He sold the press to Captain John L. Merrick in 1859, who took it to Denver and started the first paper published in Colorado. "History of the County Press," by Minnie Organ, Missouri Historical Review, Volume 4, page 125.
12 Testimony of Robert Weston in the Temple Lot Suit, page 248.
13 Kansas City Journal June 5, 1881; Saints' Herald Volume 28, page 198.
14 Warren Watson in Kansas City Globe Souvenir, reprinted in the Saints' Herald, Volume 37, page 205.
15 John Corrill, in The Messenger and Advocate.
16 Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt.
18 The author well remembers as a child asking her grandmother, who was in the camp of the Saints that night, "Tell us about the night the stars fell." Her grandmother, Anna Christina Wight, was then about eight years of age, and clearly remembered that even the children were roused and dressed.
19 Thorpe's Early Days in Missouri, Letter No, 15. 20 A great-grandmother of the author had a son born to her one stormy night among the cottonwoods on the Missouri bottoms. Her bed was made beside a sycamore log, and the only shelter she had from the storm was pieces of rag carpet held up as protection by some of the sisters. Harriet (Benton) Wight was the grandmother of Heman C. and Hyrum O. Smith. Many Of her descendants are in the church today. The child born that night grew to manhood and became the father of David Wight, a promising young elder of the Reorganization, and of Estella Wight, who has written much for the youth of the church.
21 "Elder John Brush" in Autumn Leaves, Volume 4. pages 23, 24.
Previous chapter Table of Contents Next chapter