A secret police/underground para-military organization formed in 1838. Its two stated purposes: (1) intimidation of Mormon dissenter; (2) warfare against anti-Mormon militia units. They were originally organized as the "Daughters of Zion"; also know as "Destroying Angels."
SPRING 1838 ORGANIZATION
One of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, David Whitmer, had some inside information about the history and development of the early Danites:
"In the spring of 1838, the heads of the church and many of the members had gone deep into error and blindness.... In June, 1838, at Far West, Mo., a secret organization was formed , Doctor Avard being put in as the leader of the band; a certain oath was to be administered to all the brethren to bind them to support the heads of the church in everything they should teach.
All who refused to take this oath were considered dissenters from the church, and certain things were to be done concerning these dissenters, by Dr. Avard's secret band.... my persecutions, for trying to show them their errors, became or such a nature that I had to leave the Latter Day Saints;..." [ An Address To All Believers In Christ , by David Whitmer, Richmond, Mo., 1887, pp. 27-28].
JUNE 1838 EXPELLING DISSENTERS CALDWELL COUNTY
"That in early June 1838 the Danites organized to expel a number of dissenters from Caldwell County. The dissenters' testimony described the various meetings and activities (such as Sidney Rigdon's "Salt Sermon") that led to the expulsion of the Cowderys, Whitmers, and others from the county. [Stephen C. LeSueur; BYU Studies Vol. 26, No. 2, pg.10].
We see Leland Gentry's research saying this June 1838 work of "expelling dissenters" as being successful. By June 19th the Danites were available for their next use.
"With the flight of the dissenters on 19 June 1838, the Danites lost their reason for existence. A new purpose had to be found to justify their continuation. The warlike threats continually breathed against the Saints by their Missouri neighbors furnished just the objective, namely, protection against mob violence. Reed Peck, present at a meeting presided over by Avard, claims that he was told that the major purpose of the Danite organization was that its members "might be more perfectly organized to defend ourselves against mobs." Sidney Rigdon later maintained that "the Danites were organized for mutual protection against the bands that were forming and threatened to be formed."Luman Andros Shurtliff, one-time member of the order, wrote that the Danite organization "was got up for our personal defense; also of our families, property, and our religion."[Leland H. Gentry, BYU Studies, Vol. 14, No. 4, p.427]
FOURTH OF JULY CELEBRATION
Joseph Smith wrote of this day, "The day was spent in celebrating the `Declaration of Independence of the United States of America,' and also by the saints making a `Declaration of Independence' from all mobs and persecutions which have been inflicted upon them, time after time, until they could bear it no longer." [History of the Chruch, 3:41].
PRESIDENT RIGDON'S 4TH OF JULY "SALT" SERMON
Most of the speeches were about Independence Day and the free institutions of our government. But he added this language on the religious freedom of the Church in Missouri.
"But from this day and this hour we will suffer it no more. We take God and all the holy angels to witness, this day, that we warn all men, in the name of Jesus Christ to come on us no more for ever, for from this hour we will bear it no more; our rights shall no more be trampled on with impunity; the man, or the set of men who attempt it do it at the expense of their lives. 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.... We this day, then, proclaim ourselves free with a purpose and determination that never can be broken, No, never! No, never! No, never!" (Comprehensive History of the Church 1:441)
NEED IN MISSOURI Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Leland H. Gentry
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.2, MISSOURI
"But new difficulties arose. First , Sidney Rigdon publicly threatened dissenters in his June "Salt Sermon," intimating that they should leave Far West or harm would befall them. News of this threat reinforced anti-Mormon hostility throughout Missouri. Second , LDS militia officer Sampson Avard formed an underground group of vigilantes labeled Danites. Avard convinced this oathbound group that they operated with the approval of Church leaders and that they were authorized to avenge themselves against the Church's enemies, even by robbery, lying, and violence if necessary. Third , in an inflammatory Independence Day speech, Sidney Rigdon thundered out a declaration of independence from further mob violence. He warned of a war of extermination between Mormons and their enemies if they were further threatened or harassed."
OFFICIAL CHURCH HISTORY
"Avard initiated members into his band, firmly binding them, by all that was sacred, in the protecting of each other in all things that were lawful; and was careful to picture out a great glory that was then hovering over the Church, and would soon burst upon the Saints as a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night, and would soon unveil the slumbering mysteries of heaven, which would gladden the hearts and arouse the stupid spirits of the Saints of the latter-day, and fill their hearts with that love which is unspeakable and full of glory, and arm them with power, that the gates of hell could not prevail against them ; and would often affirm to his company that the principal men of the Church had put him forward as a spokesman , and a leader of this band, which he named Danites ." [History of the Church, Vol.3, Ch.13, p.179].
THREE PURPOSES FOR DANITES BYU STUDIES 1965
"The only other major interpretation was advanced by Leland Gentry, first in his 1965 dissertation and later in an article in BYU Studies. Basically Gentry argues that the Danites were real but that they went through three stages of development: (1) in June at Far West and in July at Adam-ondi-Ahman, groups were organized to specifically aid in the expulsion of dissenters from the Mormon communities; (2) from June to mid-October 1838, Danites provided protection for Mormons against mob violence, primarily a defensive movement; and (3) during October 1838, during the "Mormon War," the Danites began to steal from non-Mormons, a stage and activity justified and led by Sampson Avard." [Dean C. Jessee and David J. Whittaker; BYU Studies Vol. 28, No. 1, pg.12]
B. H. ROBERTS COMPREHENSIVE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH
"They have among them a company, considered true Mormons, called the `Danites,' who have taken an oath to support the heads of the church in all things that they say or do, whether right or wrong." [B. H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, Vol.1, Ch.35, p.472 - p.473].
SOME DANITES TURNED STATES EVIDENCE SENATE DOCUMENT 189
As soon as these members agreed to testify Joseph Smith excommunicated them. From this time forward these key leaders are always depicted as apostates.
COMPREHENSIVE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH
The testimony which was most effective in holding these men to investigation before grand juries was the sworn statements of apostates--Dr. Sampson Avard, John Corrill, Reed Peck, W. W. Phelps, George M. Hinkle, John Whitmer, Burr Riggs, and other less prominent. It is in this testimony and principally in the statement of Dr. Avard, that the existence of the "Danites" in the "Mormon" church is affirmed. Avard declared that about four months before the date of his testimony,--which would be in the month of July, 1838--"a band called the `Daughter of Zion' (afterwards called the `Danite Band'), was formed of the members of the Mormon church, the original object of which was to drive from the county of Caldwell all those who dissented from the Mormon church; in which they succeeded admirably and to the satisfaction of all concerned." [B. H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, Vol.1, Ch.36, p.501].
DR. SAMSON AVARD
DANITE LEADER TESTIMONY
Sampson Avard, a witness, produced, sworn, and examined, in behalf of the state, deposeth and saith:--
That about four months since, a band called the Daughters of Zion, (since called the Danite band,) was formed of the members of the Mormon church, the original object of which was to drive from the county of Caldwell all those who dissented from the Mormon church; in which they succeeded admirably, and to the satisfaction of all concerned. I consider Joseph Smith, jr., as the prime mover and organizer of this band.
The officers of the band, according to their grades, were brought before him, at a school house, together with Hiram Smith and Sidney Rigdon; the three composing the first presidency of the whole church.
It was stated by Joseph Smith, jr., that it was necessary this band should be bound together by a covenant, that those who revealed the secrets of the society should be put to death.
COVENANT TAKEN BY DANITES
The covenant taken by all the Danite band was as follows, to wit: They declared, holding up their right hand, "In the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, I do solemnly obligate myself ever to conceal and never to reveal the secret purposes of this society, called the Daughters of Zion. Should I ever do the same, I hold my life as the forfeiture."
The prophet Joseph Smith, jr., together with his two counsellors, (Hiram Smith and Sidney Rigdon,) were considered as the supreme head of the church; and the Danite band feel themselves as much bound to obey them as to obey the Supreme God.
Instruction was given by Joseph Smith, jr., that if any of them should get into difficulty, the rest should help him out; and that they should stand by each other, right or wrong.
This instruction was given at a Danite meeting, in a public address.
As for Joseph Smith, jr., and his two counsellors, the witness does not know they ever took the Danite oath.
He knows that all the rest of the defendants are Danites, except Sidney Tanner. Andrew Whitlocj, Zedekiah Owens, Thomas Rich, John L. Tanner, Daniel S. Thomas, David Pettigrew, George Kimble, Anthony Head, Benjamin Jones, and Norman Shearer.
DAVIES COUNTY ELECTION WORK
At the election last August, a report came to Far West that some of the brethren in Daviess county were killed. I called for twenty volunteers to accompany me to see into this matter. I went; and about one hundred and twenty Mormons accompanied me to Adam on Diahmon -- Mr. Joseph Smith, jr., in company.
When I arrived there, I found the report exaggerated. None were killed.
We visited Mr. Adam Black -- about 150 or 200 men of us armed. Joseph Smith was commander; and if Black had not signed the paper he did, it was common understanding and belief that he would have shared the fate of the dissenters Sidney Rigdon and Lyman Wight were at Adam when we went to Black, and advised the movement.
As regards the affair at De Witt, I know little personally; but I heard Mr. S. Rigdon say they had gone down to DeWitt, where it was said a mob had collected to wage war upon the Mormons residing in Carroll county; and that Joseph Smith, jr., with his friends went down to De Witt to give aid and help to his brethren.
The company, as I presume, were armed. They returned armed. Hiram Smith and Geirge W. Robinson were in the company. Amasa Lyman went to see what was going on. He heard these persons say they were in Hinkle's camp (at De Witt) several days.
When the Mormons returned from De Witt, it was rumored that a mob was collecting in Daviess county. Joseph Smith, jr., the Sunday before the late disturbances in Daviess, at a church meeting, gave notice that he wished the whole county collected on the next day (Monday) at Far West. He declared (on Sunday or Monday -- I don't recollect which) that all who did not take up arms in defence of the Mormons of Daviess should be considered as tories, and should take their exit from the country.
At the meeting on Monday, when persons met from all parts of the county of Caldwell, Joseph Smith, jr., took the pulpit, and delivered an address, in which he said that we had been an injured people, driven violently from Jackson county; that we had appealed to the Governor, magistrates, judges, and even to the President of the United States, and there had been no redress for us; and that now a mob was about to destroy the rights of our brethren of Daviess county, and that it was high time that we should take measures to defend our own rights.
In the address he related an anecdote about a captain who applied to a Dutchman to purchase potatoes, who refused to sell. The captain then charged his company several different times, not to touch the Dutchman's potatoes. In the morning the Dutchman had not a potatoe left in his patch. This was in reference to touching no property in our expedition to Daviess county that did not belong to us, but he told us that the children of God did bot go to war at their own expense.
A vote was taken whether the brethren should embody and go down to Daviess to attack the mob. This question was put by the prophet. Joseph Smith, jr., and passed unanimously, with a few exceptions. Captains Patten and Brunson were appointed commanders of the Mormons, by Joseph Smith, jr., to go to Daviess. He frequently called these men generals.
I once had a command as an officer, but Joseph Smith, jr., removed me from it, and I asked him the reason, and he assigned that he had another office for me. Afterwards Mr. Rigdon told me I was to fill the office of surgeon, to attend to the sick and wounded.
After we arrived at Diahmon in Daviess, a council was held at night, composed of Joseph Smith, jr., George W. Robinson, Hiram Smith, Captains Patten and Brunson, Lyman Wight, President R. Cahoon. P. P. Pratt, and myself, and perhaps Mr. Hinkle.
President Rigdon was not present. He remained at Far West; a correspondence was kept up between him and Joseph Smith, jr. I heard Mr. Rigdon read one of the letters from Smith, which, as I remember, was about as follows; That he knew, from prophecy and from the revelation of Jesus Christ, that the enemies of the kingdom were in their hands; and that they (the Mormon church) should succeed. Rigdon, on reading the letter, said it gave him great consolation to have such authority that the kingdom of God was rolling on.
In the above referred to council, Mr. Smith spoke of the grievances we had suffered in Jackson, Clay, Kirtland, and other places; declared that we must, in future, stand up for our rights as citizens of the United States, and as saints of the most high Gof; and that it was the will of Gof we should do so; that we should be free and independent, and that as the State of Missouri, and the United States, would not protect us, it was high time that we should be up, as the saints of the most high God, and protect ourselves, and take the kingdom. Lyman Wight observed, that, before the winter was over, he thought we would be in St. Louis, and take it.
Smith charged them that they should be united in supporting each other. Smith said, on some occasions, that one should chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight; that he considered the United States rotten.
LDS CHURCH IS DANIEL'S LITTLE STONE
He compared the Mormon church to the little stone spoken of by the Prophet Daniel; and the dissenters first, and the State next, was part of the image that should be destroyed by this little stone.
The council was called on to vote the measures of Smith; which they did unanimously. On the next day Captain Patten (who was called by the prophet Captain Fearnaught) took command of about one hundred armed men, and told them that he had a job for them to do, and that the work of the Lord was rolling on, and they must be united.
He then led the troops to Gallatin, saying he was going to attack the mob there. He made a rush into Gallatin, dispersed the few men there, and took the goods out of Strolling's store, and carried them to Diahmon, and I afterwards saw the storehouse on fire.
When we returned to Diahmon, the goods were deposited in the Lord's storehouse, under the care of Bishop Vincent Knight. Orders were strictly given that all the goods should he deposited in the Lord's storehouse.
No individuals were to appropriate any thing to themselves until a general distribution should be made. Joseph Smith, jr., was at Adam on Diahmon, giving directions about things in general connected with the war. When Patten returned from Gallatin to Adam on Diahmon, the goods were divided or apportioned out among those engaged; and these affairs were conducted under the superintendence of the first presidency.
A part of the goods were brought to Far West. On their arrival, under the care of Captain Fearnaught, President Rigdon shouted three hosannahs to the victors. On the day Patten went to Gallatin, Colonel Wight went to Millport, as I understood. I saw a great many cattle, beds, furniture, &c., brought into our camp by the Mormons.
After we returned to Far West, the troops were constantly kept in motion, and there was a council held at the house of President Rigdon, to determine who should be chiefs. It was determined that Colonel Wight should be commander-in-chief at Adam on Diahmon; Brunson, captain of the flying horse of Daviess; Colonel Hinkle should be commander-in-chief of the Far West troops; Captain Patten, captain of the flying horse, or cavalry; and that the prophet, Joseph Smith, jr., should be commander-in-chief of the whole kingdom.
The council was composed of Joseph Smith, jr., Captain Fearnaught, alias Patten, Colonel Hinkle, Colonel Wight, and President Rigdon. The object of the council was in furtherance of the scheme proposed in council in Daviess, referred to above.
After this council, Fearnaught disputed as to the chief command of the Far West troops, and had a smart altercation about it with Hinkle, but Smith proposed that they agree to disagree, and go on for the good of the kingdom. The troops were kept together until the militia came out lately.
SMITH PREDICTIONS OF VICTORY
There were five hundred to eight hundred men, as I should suppose, under arms. It was about this time that the militia came out lately to Far West, under General Lucas, that our prophet assembled the troops together at Far West, into a hollow square, and addressed them, and stated to them that the kingdom of God should be set up, and should never fall; and for every one we lacked in number of those who came against us, the Lord would send angels, who would fight for us; and that we should be victorious.
After the militia had been near Far West awhile, in an address, Smith said that those troops were militia, and that we were militia too, and both sides clever fellows; and he advised them to know nothing of what had happened; to say nothing; and to keep dark; that he, Smith, had forgotten more than he had ever known.
After it was ascertained that the militia had arrived, intelligence was immediately sent to Diahmon to Colonel Wight. Next morning Colonel Wight arrived in Far West with about one hundred mounted and armed men.
The troops were constantly kept prepared, and in a situation to repel attack. The evening the militia arrived near Far West, it was the general understanding in the Mormon camp that they were militia legally called out; and indeed, previous to their arrival, it was ascertained that there were militia on their way to Far West.
ORDERED TO DESTROY DOCUMENTATION
Some months ago I received orders to destroy the paper concerning the Danite Society; which order was issued by the first presidency, and which paper,, being the constitution for the government of the Danite Society, was in my custody, but which I did not destroy . It is now in General Clark's possession. I gave the paper up to General Clark after I was taken prisoner.
I found it in my house, where I had previously deposited it, and believe it never had been in any person's possession after I first received it. This paper was taken into President Rigdon's house, and read to the prophet and his councillors, and was unanimously adopted by them as their rule and guide in future. After it was thus adopted, I was instructed by the council to destroy it. as, if it should be discovered, it would be considered treasonable.
This constitution, after it was approved by the first presidency, was read, article by article, to the Danite band, and unanimously adopted by them. This paper was drawn up about the time that the Danite band was formed.
Since the drawing up of the paper against the dissenters, it was that this constitution of the Danite band was draughted; but I have no minutes of the time, as were directed not to keep written minutes; which constitution, above referred to, is as follows:
"Whereas, in all bodies laws are necessary for the permanency, safety and well-being of society, we, the members of the society of the Daughter of Zion, do agree to regulate ourselves under such laws as, in righteousness shall be deemed necessary for the preservation of our holy religion, and of our most sacred rights, and the rights of our wives and children.
But, to be explicit on the subject, it is especially our object to support and defend the rights conferred on us by our venerable sires, who purchased them with the pledges of their lives and fortunes, and their sacred honors.
And now, to prove ourselves worthy of the liberty conferred on us by them, in the providence of God, we do agree to be governed by such laws as shall perpetuate these high privileges, of which we know ourselves to be the rightful possessors, and of which privileges wicked and designing men have tried to deprive us, by all manner of evil, and that purely in consequence of the tenacity we have manifested in the discharge of our duty towards our God, who had given us [those] rights and privileges, and a right in common with others, to dwell on this land.
But we, not having the privileges of others allowed unto us, have determined like unto our fathers, to resist tyranny, whether it be in kings or in the people. It is all alike unto us. Our rights we must have, and our rights we shall have, in the name of Israel's God.
" A RT. 1st. All power belongs originally and legitimately to the people, and they have a right to dispose of it as they shall deem fit. But as it is inconvenient and impossible to convince the people in all cases, the legislative powers have been given by them from time to time, into the hands of a representation composed of delegates from the people themselves. This is and has been the law in both civil and religious bodies, and is the true principle.
" A RT. 2d. The executive power shall be vested in the president of the whole church and his counsellors.
"A RT. 3d. The legislative powers shall reside in the president and his counsellors, together with the generals and colonels of the society. By them all laws shall be made regulating the society.
"A RT. 4th. All offices shall be during the life and good behaviour, or to be regulated by the law of God.
"A RT. 5th. The society reserves the power of electing all its officers with the exception of the aides and clerks which the officers may need in the various stations. The nomination to go from the presidency to his second, and from the second to the third in rank, and so down through all the various grades, branch or department retains the power of electing its own particular officers.
" A RT. 6th. Punishment shall be administered to the guilty in accordance to the offense, and no member shall be punished without law, or by any others than those appointed by law for that purpose. The Legislature shall have power to make laws regulating punishments as in their judgment shall be wisdom and righteousness.
" A RT. 7th. There shall be a secretary whose business it shall be to keep all the legislative records of the society , and also to keep a register of the names of the members of the society , also the rank of the officers . He shall also communicate the laws to the generals, as directed by laws made for the regulation of such business by the Legislature.
" A RT. 8th. All officers shall be subject to the commands of the Captain General given through the Secretary of War. And so all officers shall be subject to their superiors in rank, according to laws made for that purpose.
In connection with the grand scheme of the prophet, his preachers and apostles were instructed to preach and instruct their followers (who are estimated in Europe and America at about 40,000) that it was their duty to come up to the State called Far West, and to possess the kingdom; that it was the will of God they should do so; and that the Lord would give them power to possess the kingdom.
There was another writing drawn up in June last, which had for its object to get rid of the dissenters , and which had the desired effect ; (this is the paper drawn up against the dissenters, referred to by the witness.)
Since that time, and since the introduction f the scheme of the prophet made known in the above constitution, I have [heard] the prophet say that it was a fortunate thing that we got rid of the dissenters, as they would have endangered the rolling on of the kingdom of God as introduced, and to be carried into effect, by the Danite band; that they, the dissenters, were great obstacles in the way; and that, unless they were removed, the aforesaid kingdom could not roll on.