Western Missouri a scene of momentous Church history
It's easy. Send a link to the story you were just reading to a friend. Just fill out the form on this page and we'll send it along.
When the Kansas City Missouri Temple is dedicated on Sunday, May 6, it will symbolize the return of the Latter-day Saints as a body to a locale that was a scene of adversity and sacrifice in early Church history. In that respect it will be like prior temple dedications in Nauvoo, Ill., and Winter Quarters, Neb.
But the early-day saga of the Church in western Missouri is also marked by momentous events and an outpouring of revelation and other gifts of the Spirit.
For a brief season, Missouri was the headquarters locale for the Church, stemming from September 1830 when five elders were called to go to "the borders by the Lamanites" (see Doctrine and Covenants 28:8-9), understood to mean the western boundary between Missouri and Indian territory, where "the city Zion" should be built.
The following year, the Colesville, N.Y., branch of the Church, which had been transplanted to Ohio, settled in Kaw Township, Mo., thus establishing the nucleus of the Church in Jackson County. On Aug. 2 and 3, 1831, the Colesville Saints with Joseph Smith and other Church leaders laid the foundation for a school and church building and placed a foundation stone for what was contemplated as the future temple of Zion (see Doctrine and Covenants 57:3).
The Church newspaper, The Evening and the Morning Star, was established in Independence, where it printed revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith that later were included in the Doctrine and Covenants.
A plan for a holy city, the "center of Zion," was presented by the Prophet in 1833 calling for a square-mile area with the temple site at the center.
But resistance and hostilities from residents already in the area cut short that ideal. By July 1832, Jackson County residents bound themselves in a secret constitution to remove the Mormons, peaceably if they could, forcibly if they must.
On July 20, a mob destroyed the Church printing office and residence of the printer, William W. Phelps, and in the public square tarred and feathered Bishop Edward W. Partridge and another Church member, Charles Allen. The unfinished Book of Commandments, forerunner to the Doctrine and Covenants, was preserved when two sisters, Mary Elizabeth and Caroline Rollins, ages 14 and 12, rescued unbound sheets from the scene of the mob destruction of the printing press.
Appeals for redress and protection from state authorities failed. After further violence, the Mormons were finally forced to leave their homes in Jackson County in the winter weather of December 1833.
Back in Kirtland, Ohio, the other population center of the Church, the Prophet Joseph Smith recruited an "army of Israel" to bring humanitarian aid to the dispossessed Church members and to assist the state in escorting them back to Jackson County (see Doctrine and Covenants 103). The 205-man force would be known as Zion's Camp.
A threatened attack on the camp by Missourians was averted at Fishing River on June 19, 1834, as a violent storm buffeted the area, raised the level of the river and disoriented and disabled the mob.
Ultimately, Zion's Camp failed in its stated purpose, hindered by disunity and by the failure of the state government to fulfill its pledge to help the beleaguered Mormons. But the Lord explained that a purpose of the endeavor was a trial of the faith of the participants (see Doctrine and Covenants 105:19). Faithful members of the camp had proven their reliability. In February 1835, nine members of Zion's Camp were included when the Quorum of the Twelve was organized, and camp members made up the entire First Quorum of the Seventy.
After the expulsion from Jackson County, the Church members found temporary asylum in Clay County. Then, in 1836, two small counties in northern Ray County were created to be named Daviess and Caldwell. The latter, location of the new Mormon settlements of Haun's Mill and Far West, was understood to be exclusively for Mormons.
Far West became a thriving community, where the Prophet Joseph Smith himself came to live, and where a temple was planned and cornerstones laid.
Among other settlements in Missouri was one at Spring Hill in Daviess County. By revelation Joseph Smith learned that anciently it was the location of Adam-ondi-Ahman, where Adam had called his righteous posterity together and bestowed upon them his last blessing (see Doctrine and Covenants 107:53). It is also prophesied as the location where Adam will come to visit his posterity, an event associated with the Second Coming of Christ.
At Far West on July 8, 1838, two revelations were received that form the doctrinal basis for the collection and disbursement of tithing (see Doctrine and Covenants 119 and 120).
Dissension among the Church members and festering hostility among outsiders led to an election-day brawl at Gallatin, culminating in the so-called "Mormon War" that resulted in a string of atrocities against the Latter-day Saints and the ultimate expulsion of all Church members from the state.
At the Battle of Crooked River on Oct. 27, 1838, nine Mormons were killed, including apostle David W. Patten, regarded as the first martyr for the gospel in the latter-day dispensation.
Distorted reports of the battle gave Missouri Gov. Lilburn W. Boggs an excuse to issue his infamous "extermination order" on Oct. 27, 1838, mandating that "the Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state, if necessary for the public peace."
On Oct. 30, a mob of 240, including state militia members, attacked the Mormon settlement at Haun's Mill, killing at least 17 men and boys and wounding about 13 people.
Through the rest of the fall and winter, a mob laid siege to Far West. On Oct. 31, militia forces under command of Gen. Samuel D. Lucas demanded and received from Col. George M. Hinkle, head of the Mormon militia in Caldwell County, a secret agreement to deliver the Mormon leaders for trial. Thinking they were going for a peace negotiation, Joseph Smith and four others were betrayed into the hands of Lucas.
After a secret court martial, Lucas ordered that the Prophet and his associates be shot on the public square at Far West. Alexander W. Doniphan, a brigadier general in the Missouri militia and an attorney who had earlier represented Joseph Smith in court, defiantly refused to carry out the illegal order and pledged to hold Lucas responsible for it.
Instead, the prisoners were transported to Richmond for court proceedings. While imprisoned in a vacant house, they were compelled to listen to the guards boast in vile terms of the atrocities they had committed against the Mormons. Parley P. Pratt, imprisoned with Joseph Smith, reported that the Prophet rose and rebuked the guards "in a voice of thunder," causing them to shrink, beg his pardon and remain silent until a change of guards.
A hearing was held in Richmond in which Joseph and five others were ordered to be imprisoned in the dungeon-like jail at the county seat of Liberty, there to await a grand jury hearing. They languished there for five months in squalid conditions. But while there, the Prophet received the sublime revelations now recorded as Doctrine and Covenants 121-123.
Meanwhile, the Church was obliged to make its mass exodus from the state in compliance with Boggs' order. In the teeth of winter weather, they crossed the Mississippi River into neighboring Quincy, Ill., where kindly citizens gave them refuge until they were able to establish their own settlement on the river, Nauvoo.
Indicted by a grand jury on a string of charges including murder and treason, Joseph and his companions were allowed to escape in April 1839 while being transported to Boone County. They then joined their people in Illinois.
The peace of today contrasts with the turbulence of the past. Fourteen stakes of the Church are located in Missouri, and a temple stands in St. Louis. In a symbolic gesture of regret, Missouri Gov. Christopher S. Bond in 1976 rescinded Boggs' extermination order. As late as November of last year, Church officers, members and local residents gathered in Richmond and Liberty, where they commemorated the 100th anniversary of a monument to the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon and dedicated a new monument to the Eight Witnesses of that book of scripture (see Church News, Nov. 26, 2011).
The new temple being dedicated near Independence and Liberty is a further monument to the faith and sacrifice of those early Church members who weathered the storms of Missouri.
Note: The above is drawn and summarized from the author's lengthier article in the Deseret News 2008 Church Almanac, pp. 131-168.