Chapter 6: The Church in
by Gordon B. Hinckley
WE return to the year 1831. Western Missouri was then a
beautiful prairie country of rolling hills and wooded valleys. Its rich
soil, pleasing contour, and equable climate made it a land of great
opportunity. It was only sparsely settled; for instance, Independence, the
seat of Jackson County, had only a courthouse, two or three general stores,
and a few homes, most of them log cabins.
Joseph Smith indicated to his people that in this area,
midway between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, they should build their
Zion, a city of God.
Their missionaries to the Indians had returned with
reports of the nature of the country, and in July of 1831 the first group of
Saints arrived in western Missouri. About sixty of them had come in a body
from Colesville, New York. Twelve miles west of Independence, on what is now
a part of Kansas City, they laid the foundations of a settlement. The first
log for the first house was carried by twelve men, symbolic of the twelve
tribes of Israel.
The City of Zion
Other members of the Church soon followed. Joseph Smith,
who was then in Missouri, declared that they should acquire by purchase
sufficient land that they might live together as a people. He pointed out
the site on which they should build a beautiful temple, dedicated to God as
his holy house. This should become the crowning glory of the city of Zion.
The Prophet also designed the city. His was a novel and
significant idea in civic planning. There would be none of the slums and
blighted areas so characteristic of the cities of that day. Nor, on the
other hand, would the farmer's family live isolated and alone. This city was
to be a mile square, divided into blocks of ten acres with streets eight
rods wide. The center blocks were to be reserved for public buildings. The
barns and stables were to be on the lands adjoining the city along with the
farms. "The tiller of the soil as well as the merchant and mechanic will
live in the city," the Prophet said. "The farmer and his family will enjoy
all the advantages of schools, public lectures and other meetings. His home
will no longer be isolated, and his family denied the benefits of society,
which has been, and always will be the great educator of the human race, but
they will enjoy the same privileges of society, and can surround their homes
with the same intellectual life, the same social refinement as will be found
in the home of the merchant or banker or professional man.
"When this square is thus laid off and supplied," the
Prophet continued, "lay off another in the same way, and so fill up the
world in these last days."
While there was no opportunity to put the plan in all of
its details into operation, its basic principles made possible the
successful Mormon colonization in the West years later. The common practice
of the time was for each man to settle on a large tract of land where he was
isolated from his neighbors. But the Mormons undertook the pioneering of new
country in groups, building first a community with church, school, and
social opportunities where they maintained their homes, while their farms
surrounded the town.
Among the first undertakings in the new settlement was the
establishment of a printing press for the publication of a periodical, The
Evening and Morning Star, as well as other literature. Appointed as editor
of the Star was William W. Phelps who, prior to his conversion to Mormonism,
had served as editor of a paper in New York. He was a man with considerable
literary ability, and his journal soon became a significant force in the
The Beginning of Trouble
With bright prospects before them, the Saints set to with
a will to build their Zion. But they soon found themselves in serious
difficulties. The old settlers resented their religion and their industry.
Two ministers were particularly active in creating opposition. The Mormons
were pictured as "the common enemies of mankind."
One situation which received emphasis was the fact that
most of the Mormons were from the eastern states, while Missouri was linked
with the South as a pro-slave state. In effect the Mormons were different
from the old settlers, and the result was antagonism.
The first real indication of trouble occurred one night in
the spring of 1832 when a mob broke windows in a number of Mormon homes. In
the autumn of that same year haystacks were burned and houses were shot
into. These acts were but the beginning of a storm of violence that was
eventually to sweep the Mormons from the state of Missouri.
In July of 1833 the old settlers, who had been agitated by
troublemakers, met in Independence for the purpose of finding means to get
rid of the Mormons, "peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must." There was no
suggestion that the Mormons had violated any law, simply that they were an
evil which had come into their midst, and which must be removed at all
costs. They therefore demanded that no Mormon should henceforth be permitted
to settle in Jackson County, that those residing there should promise to
remove from the county, that they should cease printing their paper, and
that other businesses should cease their operations. An ultimatum to this
effect was drawn up, and a committee of twelve was detailed to present it to
The meeting was recessed for two hours to allow the
committee to present the manifesto and return with an answer.
When notice was served on the Mormons, they were in no
position to give an answer. The demands were entirely without legal warrant.
The Saints had purchased the ground on which they lived; they had broken no
law and had not been accused of breaking any. They were stunned by the whole
affair, and they requested three months to consider the matter. This was
promptly denied. They then asked for ten days, and were told that fifteen
minutes was time enough. Obviously they could not agree to the terms
The committee returned to the meeting and reported. The
result was a resolution to destroy the printing press. Three days later this
was carried into effect. A mob of five hundred men rode through the streets
of Independence, waving a red flag and brandishing pistols, clubs, and
whips. They swore that they would rid Jackson County of the Mormons. Every
plea for mercy and justice was met with scoffing. In an effort to save their
associates, six of the leading elders of the Church offered themselves as
ransom for the Saints. They indicated their willingness to be scourged or
even put to death if that would satisfy the mob.
With an oath they were answered that not only they, but
all of their associates would be whipped and driven unless they left the
Realizing their helplessness, the Mormons agreed under
duress that they would evacuate by April 1834. With this understanding the
mob dispersed. But it was only a matter of days until they were again
breaking into homes and threatening the Saints. Knowing there was no
security for them, the Mormons appealed to the governor of the state. He
replied that they should take their case to the local courts. Such a
suggestion was ridiculous in view of the fact that the judge of the county
court, two justices of the peace, and other county officers were leaders of
the mob. Nevertheless, the Mormons engaged counsel to present their case.
As might have been expected, the court procedure was
without effect, unless it served further to incite the mob. On October 31 a
reign of terror commenced. Day and night armed men rode through the streets
of Independence setting fire to houses, destroying furniture, trampling
cornfields, whipping and assaulting men and women.
Not knowing where to turn, the inhabitants fled north to
the desolate river bottoms. Their trail over the frozen, sleet-covered
ground was marked by blood from their lacerated feet. Some lost their lives
as a result of exposure and hunger. Fortunately, their brethren in Ohio, on
learning of their troubles, brought aid and comfort as rapidly as possible.
Beyond the misery to which they had been subjected, their losses in Jackson
County amounted to approximately two hundred thousand dollars, a
considerable sum at that time. More than two hundred homes had been
destroyed. And more tragic, their dream of Zion had been shattered.
In Upper Missouri
The Saints found temporary refuge in Clay County across
the Missouri River opposite Jackson County. To sustain themselves and their
families they worked for the settlers of the area, doing all kinds of labor
from wood chopping to teaching school. Temporary log houses were constructed
in which they lived under wretched conditions until they might be able to
secure themselves more permanently.
To the northeast of Clay County was a wild, largely
unbroken prairie country. They saw in it a land of opportunity, and others
saw in it a place to put the Mormons where they would largely be by
In December of 1836 the Missouri legislature created
Caldwell County with the thought that it should become a "Mormon County."
With characteristic enterprise the Saints purchased the land, and proceeded
to lay out cities and farms. Their chief settlement was Far West, and
another major colony was planted to the north at Diahman. Two years after
the creation of the county, Far West had a population of five thousand, with
two hotels, a printing plant, blacksmith shops, stores, and 150 houses. Much
of this growth had resulted from an influx of Church members from Ohio,
including Joseph Smith, who, as we have seen, left Kirtland in January 1838.
The Financial Law of the Church
During this period of intense activity, the Prophet
pronounced as a revelation the law of tithing under which all members "shall
pay one-tenth of their interest annually." In other words, one-tenth of the
individual's income was to be contributed to the Church for its work.
This was, of course, only a restatement of an ancient law.
In fact, as with other matters of Mormon doctrine and practice, the
institution of tithing in 1838 was but a restoration of a principle which
had been pronounced in Biblical days. It had been the law of God to his
people in Abraham's day, and in the times of the prophets who had followed
him; and now God had declared anew that his people should be tithed, and
that this should be "a standing law unto them forever."
A Plague of Sorrow
On July 4, 1838 the Mormons in Far West held a celebration
in observance of the nation's Independence Day and the freedom which they
then enjoyed from mobs. On this same day they laid the cornerstone for a new
temple. It was to be 110 feet long by 80 feet wide, larger than the
structure in Kirtland. Band music and a parade, followed by a reverent
dedication, made of this day a notable occasion.
But these conditions of peace and progress which they
celebrated were to be short-lived. Their old enemies, noting the
ever-increasing Mormon population, again sowed dissension. It should be
remembered that Missouri was then America's western frontier, and the
frontier was generally characterized by a spirit of lawlessness, of the
bigotry that comes of ignorance and extremely limited social intercourse, of
suspicion and jealousy. In such an atmosphere it was easy to fan latent
fires of intolerance and hatred.
Such agitation led to a conflict in the town of Gallatin
on August 6, 1838. It was a minor affair hardly worthy of notice but for the
consequences which followed. A non-Mormon candidate for the state
legislature stirred the old settlers with statements to the effect that if
the Mormons were allowed to vote, the old settlers would soon lose their
rights. It was a simple political contest. But when the Mormons went to cast
their ballots, they were forcibly prevented from doing so.
An exaggerated report of the affair reached Far West, and
a group of Church members went to investigate. No action was taken, and on
their way back to Far West they called at the home of Adam Black, a justice
of the peace, and obtained from him a certification to the effect that he
was peaceably disposed toward the Mormons and would not attach himself to
But the enemies of the Saints soon made the most of this
trip to Gallatin on the part of the Far West group. Several of them,
including this same Justice Black, signed an affidavit to the effect that
five hundred armed Mormons had gone into Gallatin to do harm to the
non-Mormons of the area. This vicious falsehood was as a match to a pile of
straw. Rumor chased rumor until a great fabric of imagined grievances had
been built up.
To add to the gravity of the situation, an avowed
anti-Mormon of Jackson County days, Lilburn W. Boggs, had become governor.
To him the mobocrats sent reports that the Mormons were in insurrection,
that they refused to submit to law, and that they were preparing to make war
on the old settlers.
Again mobs menacingly rode through the Mormon communities,
determined to wage "a war of extermination." When a group of peaceful,
non-Mormon citizens appealed to the governor, he replied, "The quarrel is
between the Mormons and the mob, and they can fight it out."
With such license, trouble spread like a prairie fire
before a high wind. The Mormons endeavored to defend themselves. This
immediately became an excuse under which the governor issued an inhuman and
illegal order of extermination—"The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and
must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public
On the 30th day of October a mob-militia approached the
town of Far West. Colonel George M. Hinkle, who led the defenders of the
city, requested an interview with General Samuel D. Lucas, commanding the
militia. During his interview he agreed to surrender the Mormon leaders
without consulting these men. This was a piece of treachery which resulted
in the delivery of Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Parley P.
Pratt, and Lyman Wight.
A court-martial was held that night, and the prisoners
were sentenced to be shot at sunrise on the public square of Far West.
General A. W. Doniphan was ordered to carry out the execution.
To this order Doniphan indignantly replied: "It is
cold-blooded murder. I will not obey your order. My brigade shall march for
[the town of] Liberty tomorrow morning at eight o'clock; and if you execute
these men, I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help
Doniphan was never called to account for this
insubordination which saved the Prophet's life. As for the Mormon leader and
his fellow prisoners, they were placed in a foul jail, where they languished
for more than five months.
Greatly outnumbered and denied any semblance of legal
protection, fifteen thousand members of the Church fled their Missouri homes
and property valued at a million and a half dollars. Through the winter of
1838-39 they painfully made their way eastward toward Illinois, not knowing
where else to go. Many died from exposure, or illness which was aggravated
by it. Joseph Smith was in prison, and Brigham Young, a member of the
Council of the Twelve Apostles, directed this sorrowful migration which was
to prove to be the forerunner to a yet more tragic movement a scant eight
years later, and of which he was to serve as leader.