Frank Kirkman's Mountain Meadows Massacre Site


John K. Carmack, BYU, Regional Studies, Missouri
Regional Studies, Missouri, Carmack—Missouri Era, p.
Danites Pages Index 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 links Page 13  
Editors, Arnold K. Garr, Clark V. Johnson
Department of Church History and Doctrine
Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 1994
Missouri Era: Residue of Wisdom
Elder John K. Carmack
General Alexander Doniphan
The history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Missouri is a fascinating study. For Latter-day Saints that history cannot be understood using the historical method alone, for it includes a sacred past and a prophetic future. [Regional Studies, Missouri, Introduction pg. i]
Revelation teaches that Missouri is the place of the Garden of Eden and also the place where Adam and Eve and their posterity dwelt after their expulsion from the Garden (D&C 107:53; 116). The Prophet Joseph Smith specifies that near the end of his life Adam or Michael "called Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, and Methuselah, who were all high priests, with the residue of his posterity who were righteous, into the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and there bestowed upon them his last blessing" (D&C 107:53). The Prophet continued, "He called together his children and blessed them with a patriarchal blessing."1
The specific location of this reunion is identified as Spring Hill, Daviess
County, Missouri (D&C 116). While Adam and his children were meeting, the Savior appeared and blessed Adam, and said to him, "I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever" (D&C 107:55). Thus, anciently the Lord bestowed his blessing upon Adam and prophesied that in the future Adam will preside over a multitude of nations.2
Revelation did not stop with the ancients. Early in 1831, while residing in Kirtland, the Prophet Joseph Smith received directions from the Lord concerning the establishment of Zion on the American Continent. He learned that Zion was to be located in Missouri (D&C 57:1-2). Reason causes one to think that moving to Missouri would be the last thing on the Prophet's mind as he struggled with a growing Church at Kirtland. After all, western Missouri was the edge of the American frontier in 1831, and frontiersmen were rough, course, and uncultured people. Most of the Saints had lived their lives in a more refined eastern culture. [Regional Studies, Missouri, Introduction pg. i-ii]
Even though Joseph knew that Zion was to be in Missouri, it was not until he and other Church members had arrived in western [p.ii] Missouri that the Lord revealed the "place of the city of Zion." Joseph learned that Zion's center place was located at Independence, Missouri, and that the "spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse" (D&C 57:2-3). In a subsequent revelation the Saints were commanded to build a temple there. Failure to do so, along with contention and other transgressions, brought about their expulsion from Jackson County in 1834 (D&C 97:10; 101:2-6, 45, 53). Regional Studies, Missouri, Introduction pg. ii
Even though the Saints had been driven from the center place of Zion, they did not give up trying to establish themselves in other parts of Missouri. By 1838 they had settled Far West and had farms in much of Caldwell County and southern Daviess County. During that year the Prophet Joseph Smith led a group of men to the valley where Adam had dwelt. He wrote:
This morning we struck our tents and formed a line of march, crossing Grand River at the mouth of Honey Creek and Nelson's Ferry. Grand River is a large, beautiful, deep and rapid stream, during the high waters of Spring, and will undoubtedly admit of navigation by steamboat and other water craft. At the mouth of Honey Creek is a good landing. We pursued our course up the river, mostly through timber, for about eighteen miles, when we arrived at Colonel Lyman Wight's home. He lives at the foot of Tower Hill,…where we camped for the Sabbath.3
That Sabbath afternoon, the Prophet, Sidney Rigdon, and George W. Robinson walked to Spring Hill to lay out a city.4 Shortly after the Prophet's visit, some of the Saints joined Lyman Wight and began to build the city of Adam-ondi-Ahman. The name was shortened to "Diahman" by its citizens.
The cities of Zion in Jackson and Daviess Counties were not completed before the Mormons were driven from Missouri during the winter of 1838 and 1839.
The papers in this publication primarily include information from the Mormon experience during the 1830s. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints resided in Missouri from mid-summer 1831 until they were forced to leave by Governor Lilburn W. Boggs' exterminating order issued in October 1838. By March 1839 almost all of the Mormons had left Missouri. Some papers detail the conflicts between them and the Missourians, and list the traditional reasons—political, social, economic, slavery, cultural, and religious—for their expulsion. Other writers break the bonds of traditional history and reach into the concepts of Zion, [p.iii] temples, and the law of consecration. However, persecution reigns supreme as details of the Mormon exodus from Jackson County, the Haun's Mill Massacre, the battle at Crooked River, the forced evacuation of De Witt, and the fall of Far West are unfolded by the various authors. Regional Studies, Missouri, Introduction pg. iii
Many of the papers represent a convenient summary of helpful information from these secondary sources. Others represent significant use of primary sources and add to the body of knowledge concerning the Mormon experience in Missouri during the 1830s.
Even though the Saints were not totally obedient to the commandments of the Lord and were driven from Missouri, they accomplished much of what He intended for that time. The Savior told them that he brought them to Zion that they "might be obedient,…might be honored in laying the foundation [of Zion], and in bearing record of the land upon which the Zion of God shall stand" (D&C 58:6-7). In addition, He acknowledged their efforts and the overpowering persecution. He said:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, that when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings. (D&C 124:49)
Additional revelations promised the Saints' righteous descendants a future in the land of Zion (D&C 103:15; 105:27-29; 136:18). Adam-ondi-Ahman "is the place where Adam shall come to visit his people," wrote the Prophet Joseph Smith. It is the place where "the Ancient of Days shall sit, as spoken of by Daniel the Prophet."5 Clearly the land of Missouri is still in the prophetic future of the Latter-day Saints.
The Missouri Symposium in LDS Church History, sponsored by the Department of Church History and Doctrine and the Religious Studies Center, was held in the early spring and summer of 1991.
On 29 and 30 March 1991 a two-day seminar was held on BYU Campus during which 38 scholars and historians delivered papers and participated in panel discussions. Milton V. Backman chaired the seminar committee. [Regional Studies, Missouri, Introduction pg. iv]
The summer symposium took place on site in Missouri, 18-25 July 1991. Clark V. Johnson, Keith W. Perkins, and Bruce A. Van Orden made arrangements for the trip and on-site presentations.
The papers in this publication were selected and edited by Arnold K. Garr and Clark V. Johnson. We thank Charles D. Tate, Jr., and his staff in the BYU Religious Studies Center-Publications Office for their assistance.

Missouri Era: Residue of Wisdom

Elder John K. Carmack
It is hard to find a winner in the tragic events which comprise the Missouri era of Church history. Looking back we seem to see an old movie in which the speeding locomotive pulling dozens of cars behind it is approaching a country intersection towards which an automobile is speeding on the highway, each unaware of the other, with no warning signal to alert either the train conductor or the automobile driver. The spectators see it all unfolding before their eyes with a sense of impending doom. Looking back on the events and assessing negligence, blame, and proximate cause does not lessen the toll in life, property and carnage. Regional Studies, Missouri, Carmack—Missouri Era, p. 1
There was enough blame to go around and plenty of losers. The big loser was Governor Lilburn W. Boggs of Missouri, who became known nationally as the author of an order to exterminate a whole segment of his state's population—the Mormons. Repeated attempts to get Governor Boggs to go to the scene to ascertain the true situation reached deaf ears. He preferred, it seems, to act on rumors and dubious accusations.1 The state of Missouri became tarred with the brushes of prejudice, lawlessness, and brutality for its treatment of the Mormons. The residue of that brutal and lawless era remains a part of Missouri's heritage, although present day Missourians are in no way responsible for the events of the 1830s.
The reputations of Generals John B. Clark and Samuel D. Lucas were tarnished by a combination of pettiness, ego, and prejudice during the Mormon War. Their unseemly management of the roles assigned during the skirmish with the Mormons was noised abroad and thus did little to enhance their places in history.
On the other side of the fence were the Mormons, fighting for their lives and property. Missouri citizens and officials seemed to have believed that they had the right to expel a large group of men and women because they disliked and feared them. Although the Saints were clearly the injured party, some among them hurt their cause. Sampson Avard was perhaps the leading loser for his part in leading a small secretive organization to engage in activities of [p.2] fanatical zeal. Avard successfully escaped blame and prosecution for his excesses by pointing the finger at Joseph Smith. By making the Prophet responsible for his own complicity, Avard besmirched his own reputation, although it probably saved his life in the short run. Regional Studies, Missouri, Carmack—Missouri Era, p. 2
Avard's self-serving and unreliable testimony at the preliminary court hearing involving charges against Joseph Smith and his companions in arms has raised questions of what Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon knew.2 Similar questions are still raised by writers unsympathetic to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in modern-day attempts to discredit both Joseph Smith and the Church. Even today the label "Danites" is recklessly pinned on the Church when attempts are made to discredit it by tying it in with foul play of one kind or another.
Other Latter-day Saints whose reputations were tainted for their involvement in Missouri affairs include William W. Phelps, Oliver Cowdery, David and John Whitmer, Lyman Johnson, George Hinkle, John Corrill, and Reed Peck. The disunity they caused by their disloyalty to Joseph Smith and the Church remains a murky part of their past. Sidney Rigdon is remembered for his so-called "salt sermon" of 19 June, and for the inflammatory conclusion to his 4 July 1838 Independence Day oration at Far West.
It is, however, easier to find tragedy than joy on either side of the monumental eruption caused by the clash of social and religious forces in Missouri during the decade of the 1830's. It was especially costly in lives and property for the great body of Mormons who were the victims of the events and suffered greatly.
There were also a few winners who emerged from the squalor of the era. Brigham Young's powerful and energetic leadership ability emerged intact. Supported by Heber C. Kimball, the rest of the Quorum of the Twelve and others, he and his companions gathered the resources of the bruised and beaten Latter-day Saints. And in behalf of the families of the men embroiled in what they saw as the defense of their wives, children, property, and principles of freedom under the law and Constitutions of Missouri and the , they rescued them from the mobocracy and tyranny that existed in Missouri during that time. Brigham Young's future role as an outstanding leader of the Mormon pioneers and as a [p.3] colonizer of the inter-mountain area was foreshadowed in the dark events of Missouri.3
General Alexander Doniphan's personal integrity and fairness together with his powerful understanding and advocacy of constitutional and legal principles which should have governed even angry and combative men left him, already an imposing figure in Missouri society, with an even greater reputation among men, which continues to this day. He was a lawyer and served three terms in the Missouri State legislature.4 Regional Studies, Missouri, Carmack—Missouri Era, p. 3
The death of Elder David W. Patten of the Council of the Twelve in the Battle of Crooked River carved for him a place in history as a martyr for a cause he believed in and acted to serve.5
The question I desire to address now is whether out of the human misery and angry civil war which erupted in Missouri there are any residual benefits from the experience. Did any good thing come out of it? Can we reap the benefit of some wisdom and insight as a result of the tragic events starting in Jackson County and culminating in the exodus to the generous community of Quincy, Illinois? In the general epistle to the Saints dictated by Joseph Smith from Liberty Jail during his six months of incarceration, Joseph was told by revelation and inspiration that "all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good" (D&C 122:7). Can we find the evidence of such experience and benefits?
One of the most important things remaining from the Missouri experience is a general epistle dictated by Joseph Smith. It may be worth the whole tragic episode. We have the original and a copy preserved in the church archives. It was written down by Alexander McRae in a beautiful handwriting style. More important, of course, than the physical preservation of the letter are the inspired utterances found in it. Fortunately for the worldwide Church and others interested in what Joseph Smith said when moved by the Spirit, we have extracts from that letter known as Doctrine and Covenants sections 121, 122, and 123, which are considered a treasure by the Church.6 If one looks at the revelations and writings of Joseph which came after he escaped his Missouri imprisonment, one will see some additional revelations, but not many for the last five years of Joseph's life. These and other Missouri writings constitute a great residue of wisdom. Hardly a day goes by without some Church leader or member referring to or quoting from them. Regional Studies, Missouri, Carmack—Missouri Era, p. 4
In effect, Joseph established a constitution for the individual in exercising the priesthood in section 121. It was to be done only on the principles of righteousness, in gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, kindness, pure knowledge, with a mind and heart garnished with virtue. Even reproof was to be tempered with love. The content of section 121, coming from the furnace fueled by prejudice, mobocracy, and injustice is an astonishing and ironic legacy of the tragic Missouri period. In the years following we have been guided in part by those words. There is a moderating Christian influence in the Liberty Jail letter. The strains of adversity were to be tempered by the peace of Christ and hope of triumph over adversity. The brethren in jail seemed to take strength and glory in their trials. They felt themselves in league with the ancient prophets in experiencing prison deprivation, harsh treatment, wrongful charges, physical suffering, and absence from families. Regional Studies, Missouri, Carmack—Missouri Era, p. 4
Other letters written from jail by Joseph and the autobiography of Parley P. Pratt are also literary treasures. They grew out of the dark days of Missouri. Parley P. Pratt's autobiographical account reads like a thrilling novel as he tells us of the daring dash for freedom by him and his companions before the eyes of the astonished citizenry of Columbia, Missouri, celebrating the Fourth of July in 1839.7
We can look back on that Missouri experience, moreover, and glean wisdom as we harvest kernels of truth and principles of organization that yet carry the Church and its people forward. A few of these will be mentioned now.
A struggle to obtain and administer financing for the Church with its ambitious temple building and costs of administration entangled the brethren in controversy, conflicts of interest, and hard feelings. Living the law of consecration had proved difficult at best, given the imperfection of men and women, and the necessity of living among those not involved with the Church, operating under a free economic society.
It was at Far West, Missouri, on 8 July 1838, that the concept of a standing law to finance the Church by having members "pay one-tenth of all [their] interest annually" (D&C 119:4) was revealed through Joseph the Prophet. When the Saints have lived that financial law, the benefits have been great for the Church and its ambitious missionary program, meetinghouse and temple building [p.5] operations, and general financial burdens. Its strength is its utter simplicity. Observers marvel at its success and benefits.
In addition to revealing the source of needed funds, the Lord made clear at that date (1838) who was to have the authority and responsibility to administer them (D&C 119). There is still in full operation a Council on the Disposition of Tithing Funds which makes final decisions on major financial matters for the Church. The previous confusion as to the ownership and authority to manage funds, which was partly responsible for finger pointing and disunity in Missouri, has given way to order, clarity, and authority in these matters. The Church's financially sound administration, then, comes in part as a legacy from the terror-filled days of Missouri (See D&C 119 and 120). Regional Studies, Missouri, Carmack—Missouri Era, p. 5
The dark days of disunity and competition for position and power which started in Kirtland continued in Missouri. This disunity led to the disfellowshipment and excommunication of some of the leaders. With some of the leading brethren unwilling to support the policies and leadership of Joseph Smith, the fledgling Church had to use a disciplinary structure with as yet unclarified lines of authority and untested procedures for handling dissent, apostasy, conspiracy, and disloyalty. The necessity of survival, when under attack from within and without, led the Church to clarify and create procedures to cleanse itself from internal quarrels and save the growing body of the Saints from extermination, starvation, and the other horrors of mob rule and militia attack.
Church leaders firmed up procedures to excommunicate such luminaries as Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer who, though arguments could be stated for the logic of their viewpoint, had become disloyal to the Church and its prophet.8 These cleansing actions benefitted the Church and perhaps made possible its survival as a unified institution, even with Joseph, Hyrum, and Sidney in prison. Of necessity the Church learned it could only survive as an institution if strong measures were taken to cleanse the inner vessel. In spite of these grave trials in Missouri, the great body of the Saints stayed with the good ship Zion and lived to gather again in Illinois.
The lessons learned from this period are not far from our institutional memory today, and the benefits persist. We still have dissent. Honest statements of differences can be beneficial if not based on anger, hate, pride, or a destructive agenda. Ever since [p.6] Missouri, our local and general leaders have grappled with such problems, and have developed policy and procedures to both cleanse the Church and assist the individual caught up in such things. We are continuing to learn to survive as a viable institution by dealing with such problems as those with which we were forced to deal in Missouri. Regional Studies, Missouri, Carmack—Missouri Era, p. 6
Many Missouri citizens during this period were guilty of radical and angry response to their fears. Basically these citizens feared being outvoted at the ballot box, squeezed out by the economic exclusivity of the Saints, overwhelmed in sheer numbers by the Saints who were considered to be largely northerners, diluted by what was perceived as an anti-slavery sentiment among the Saints, and having among them Indian sympathizers.9 While acknowledging the challenges the Mormons posed for Missouri citizens, I suspect that those in the country who generally knew what happened to the Mormons condemned the rise of lawlessness, prejudice, and radicalism in Missouri. It seems that there is a general recognition that simple, unabashed hatred of Mormons and the concept that "might makes right" prevailed in Missouri at the time.
One of the sad and destructive footnotes of the Missouri melee was the rise of a small element of overzealous, even fanatical members and former members of the Church. It is clear that on the whole the Church's participation in the violent scenes of Missouri was defensive in response to mob action from Missouri citizens and the officially sanctioned militia, which rose only slightly above mob rule.
The activities of a few Saints who turned to acts of plunder and terror against the Missourians marred in some measure the largely sympathetic reaction of the rest of the nation. While their motives may have been sincere and good, zeal was taken to excess by Sampson Avard and those who joined with him. In a recent article published in BYU Studies in the winter of 1988, Dean Jessee and David Whittaker argue convincingly that the concept behind the Danites was taken from the symbolism and prophecies of the Old Testament regarding God's children establishing God's kingdom as prophesied by Daniel.10 Under Avard's leadership, some of our defenders took on extremism, lawlessness, and secretive procedures. We do not believe that Avard's testimony in the pre-trial hearings in Richmond, Missouri, against Joseph can be relied on to [p.7] establish the truth of Joseph's sanction of and leadership over Avard's secret activities. Joseph, and others more reliable than Avard, denied his claim. Attempts to involve Joseph as the major leader of a reckless and secret society have been relied on by his enemies and are still being talked about in ways that have never been corroborated by reliable evidence. Today the term "Danites" would hardly be remembered, and then only in a healthy way, had it not been for the extremist activities of a few associated with the name and the false testimony of Avard which those unsympathetic to the Saints were and are only too willing to believe. Regional Studies, Missouri, Carmack—Missouri Era, p. 7
Such radical elements caused a painful sub-chapter to the Missouri plot. We have learned that members of the Church as well as undisciplined Missourians committed acts of disloyalty, extremism, and foolishness. We have fanatical and unbalanced members and former members today as we did in Missouri. They need to be taught and dealt with fairly, but firmly. Today, for example, we have those who would outdo the prophet in "super-religiosity," going far beyond reason and revelation, advocating and teaching extreme doctrines and practices. Some have become tax evaders whose tight logic leads them to break the laws of the state and nation and causes them and their disciples to take a radical and lawless path. As a Church we need to be on the watch for extremism and pride on the part of those who believe they know more than the prophets and who seek to correct our prophets. They lead themselves and others into dangerous paths. Many are sincere, but unteachable and destructive in their behavior. That particular legacy of the Missouri era is one from which we still suffer but of which we have learned to be wary. Our fanatical and radical elements need to be carefully handled.
We also learned from Missouri that Church leaders need to keep entirely separate their personal property and Church property. Church money and other property is held by Church officers in a sacred trust for the mission and functions of the Church and its members.
The Church needs to have clear lines of authority so that we know who is responsible for particular duties and functions. This will help avoid misunderstanding and confusion. Missouri helped teach us that. Our church disciplinary councils likewise need to be kept fair, merciful, workable and with clearly designated responsibility. Abuse of such process needs to have a way of being checked [p.8] through a process of appeal. The muddy waters of the Missouri era helped us understand and move forward with such clarification of Church government.
Both Kirtland and Missouri remind us constantly of the need to avoid speculation and get-rich schemes, both as an institution and as individual members. We still have a tiny element among our membership with the misguided notion that getting rich by using the money and time of others is pleasing to God. The opposite is true. The official Church has long used sound and conservative practices and policies, perhaps in part as a result of the early mistakes of inexperienced leaders from the Kirtland-Missouri era.11 Church members can benefit by following the example of the Church in these matters. Regional Studies, Missouri, Carmack—Missouri Era, p. 8
A more difficult problem still plagues us to some extent—block voting. In most places the Saints are just a fraction of the population and are not looked upon with fear or suspicion at election time. Occasionally, however, and constantly in Utah and a few surrounding states, there is a tendency to fear the Mormon vote or to blame the Mormons for the political climate, specific legislation, and nearly every public and private problem. Joseph Smith understood well the fears of the citizens in those communities where the Saints gathered. He explained that block voting was not the result of Church policy, but rather a natural phenomenon of people voting together because of beliefs which tended to be parallel to one party, one candidate, or one legislative issue. Scrupulous separation in politics and voting and in the administration of government is essential. This is something we learned in part from Missouri, as well as Ohio, Illinois, and our early Utah experience. We must guard against the misuse of the Church organization by the ambitious, and the temptation to abuse the official church machinery. The First Presidency is constantly on guard against such abuse. Great care is taken to distinguish between actions and rights exercised by members as citizens and actions dictated or even suggested by the Church as an institution. There is little doubt that this concern was the greatest fear of Missouri's citizens regarding the Church. Even with that residue of Missouri wisdom, we are constantly accused of dictating policy in Utah. There is little foundation for such accusations, but we do assert the right to have influence in a state in which over 70% of the population are members of the Church.
Regional Studies, Missouri, Carmack—Missouri Era, p. 9
Some would strip the Church of any influence on moral questions and would remove its right to let its position be known on questions involving the moral climate of our communities. We must be wise and communicate clearly our belief in the separation of church and state, yet not be stripped of our power and duty to be a righteous force in our communities. Rumors and accusations making the Church the scapegoat for every ill are read and heard often. This Missouri problem is still with us, yet our experiences of the past have left us with wisdom in confronting this issue.
Let me add just a few additional lessons of wisdom coming from the Missouri era. As a people, Missouri has taught us to solve problems, not just point the finger of blame at people within and without the Church.
We have learned to keep our economic life separate from our spiritual life in most aspects when living in a diverse community. Early in Missouri we raised fears with our tendency to be a closed economic society within the larger Missouri communities of Jackson, Clay, Ray, Caldwell, and Daviess counties. We caused genuine concern based upon our economic policies and practices.
Some of those concerns still persist where we have a large gathering of Saints, but not to such a great extent. We need, however, to be on guard even today against economic boycotting of neighbors whose religions differ from ours.
Without being overly critical of our noble and embattled predecessors in Missouri, we suggest they could have had more patience and persistence in following legal and constitutional procedures during the conflict. The unlawful and ugly prejudice and aggression against them was almost more than they could bear, and at times they reacted with impatience outside the law, especially when the more fanatic and extreme elements among them were given opportunity to act. We must always obey the law, except when an emergency requires immediate self-defense which would itself be a lawful and understandable response to the fair-minded. We have been more careful in the years following Missouri, although we continued to be provoked during certain periods of Utah history. Regional Studies, Missouri, Carmack—Missouri Era, p. 9-10
I think it is safe to say we have been more alert since Missouri to individual and institutional preparation for times of tribulation, more committed to our safety and security, and have learned to stand up in legal and proper ways for our rights. We need always [p.10] to state our side of a controversial issue clearly, and accommodate the rights of others, but avoid strident rhetoric.
Regional Studies, Missouri, Carmack—Missouri Era, p. 10
I hope we have learned not to boast of our revelations and spiritual gifts, although sometimes our letters to the editors make us wonder if we have learned that Missouri lesson well enough. Some of our people gave Jackson County residents concern and seeming justification for their unlawful acts against the Saints by boasting that God would give the Saints the properties of Jackson County no matter what those residents did.12 The intervention of God is best left quietly in God's own hands and with trust in his ways. His ways and thoughts are always higher than ours.
Missouri was a somewhat tragic period. It was a somewhat lawless period. The constitutions of both Missouri and the United States were trampled by mobs, militia, and governors. Not all Missouri citizens agreed with the lawlessness and hostility. There were living in Missouri during that time many men and women of good will, and certainly the people who live there today are not in any way responsible for the tragic events of the 1830s.

In summary, then, we see the following benefits coming from the Missouri experience:

  We constantly draw inspiration from sections 121, 122 and 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants, extracted from the Joseph Smith epistle dictated in Liberty Jail.
  Our system of tithing and its administration has kept us on sound ground ever since the Missouri revelation established that inspired means of financing the Church.
  The orderly procedures and lodging of responsibility for disciplining members, even those in high and holy callings, were refined in the Kirtland/Missouri era as some of our early leaders were caught up in a spirit of disaffection.
  We have learned to be on the watch for the doctrines and practices of those who would harm the Church and its members through pride, fanaticism, radicalism, poor balance, and poor judgment. Our ability to handle the problems is a matter of experience and wisdom, of which a part is the residue of our Missouri era.
  Establishing clear lines of authority was another legacy from the period.
  We have learned to be careful as a Church concerning get-rich-quick schemes. A small element among us seems still to be affected with that injurious mentality.
  We are wiser than we were in political matters due to our Missouri experience. Block voting is still an accusation heard in the land. Undue influence in government policy is a repeated and tiring accusation today. Finding the balance between showing responsibility and concern on the one hand, and keeping church and state separate on the other, is a problem we are dealing with much more effectively.
  Our tendency to exclude other citizens in economic practices in Missouri caused some of the fear in the hearts of citizens. We are more careful to separate economic commerce from Church practices today.
  Patience with legal procedures, addressing problems which arise head-on, being cautious to be prepared for emergencies and safety issues, learning to stand up for our rights in kinder and gentler tones, trying to quell boastfulness and pride, and having greater faith and trust in God are additional Missouri lessons.
Yes, "All these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good" Joseph dictated under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost (D&C 122:7). Those lessons and benefits I have mentioned are but a few of the gains resulting from our Missouri experiences. Wisdom comes from such experience and often is the residue of an otherwise tragic period of history. May we study our history, understand its lessons, and use the lessons available to us.


Thomas B. Marsh: Reluctant Apostate

A. Gary Anderson, Regional Studies, Thomas Marsh, p.13
Thomas B. Marsh was born in Acton (Middlesex County), Massachusetts on 1 November 1800.1 In 1829, he learned of the Book of Mormon and in 1830 he was baptized after the Church of Jesus Christ had been organized. Thus, Thomas B. Marsh had been with the Church from the beginning. Marsh was very active during the years 1831 to 1837. He was among the early missionaries sent to Missouri in 1831 and later led a group of Saints from Kirtland to Missouri that settled in Jackson County in 1832.2 Marsh was in Clay County when Zion's Camp arrived in 1834. He returned to Kirtland in 1835, was called to the Twelve Apostles, and became the first president of that quorum. Following his call as an apostle, he participated in the missionary work of the Twelve from 1835 to 1836.3 He visited Missouri temporarily in April 1836, but returned to Kirtland in June 1837 to support the Prophet Joseph Smith during the Kirtland apostasy.
Marsh, therefore, proved to be a very active supporter of Joseph Smith and was instrumental in the Church's growth and welfare in the early days. His service and dedication greatly benefitted the Church. Marsh's actions sustained the growth of the Church in Missouri, and he made his home there. However, during the final days of the Mormons in Missouri, Marsh severed himself from the Church and remained aloof for over seventeen years.
As the President of the Quorum of the Twelve, Thomas B. Marsh, along with Hyrum Smith, was commissioned by the Prophet Joseph Smith to carry a letter to the Saints in Missouri.4 Leaving Kirtland with Hyrum Smith, President Marsh arrived at his home in Far West in October 1837, just in time for the birth of his eighth child, a daughter who was named Mary Elizabeth.5
Regional Studies, Missouri, G. Anderson—Thomas Marsh, p.13-14
Thomas and Hyrum carried with them the minutes of the Church's September Conference in Kirtland, Joseph's letter of greeting to the Missouri Saints, and other important notices. No doubt they also had a copy of a revelation (dated 4 September 1837) [p.14] that chastised two of the Missouri church leaders, John Whitmer and W. W. Phelps:

Verily thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph—my servants John Whitmer and William W. Phelps have done those things which are not pleasing in my sight, therefore if they repent not they shall be removed out of their places. Amen.6

At this same time Joseph had prepared an announcement that warned the Church against the disaffection of the Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. The announcement read in part that David Whitmer and others "have been in transgression, but we hope that they may be humble and ere long make satisfaction to the Church, otherwise they cannot retain their standing." The notice further indicated that Oliver Cowdery had been in transgression, "but as [Oliver Cowdery] is now chosen as one of the presidents or counselors, I trust he will yet humble himself and magnify his calling," if not, he too would be removed.7
In the latter part of October or first of November 1837, Joseph Smith followed his brother Hyrum and Elder Marsh to Far West. Soon after the Prophet's arrival, a conference was held on 7 November 1837. During the conference, Marsh refused to sustain Frederick G. Williams as a counselor to Joseph Smith in the First Presidency and also refused to sustain David Whitmer, W. W. Phelps and John Whitmer as the presidency of the Church in Missouri. The Missouri presidency was sustained, however, in spite of his opposition, but Hyrum Smith was sustained in place of President Williams. Marsh served as conference moderator and Oliver Cowdery served as conference clerk. The Prophet was pleased generally, notwithstanding these reverses with the situation in Missouri, but returned prematurely to Kirtland because of the death of Hyrum's wife, Jerusha Barden.8
During the winter of 1837-1838, Thomas B. Marsh remained with his family in Far West. Following the Prophet's departure, troubles arose among the Saints once again. George M. Hinckle, John Murdock and others questioned the conduct of the stake presidency in Far West. Among other things, they accused the Far West presidency of misusing "the money which I [Thomas B. Marsh] had borrowed in the Tennessee and Kentucky Branches in 1836."9 In February 1838, when the Church failed to sustain the stake presidency at Far West, Thomas B. Marsh and David W. [p.15] Patten released the stake presidency and appointed themselves as presidents pro tem, until Joseph Smith would arrive.10
Not knowing that the Prophet had already left Kirtland on his return to Missouri, Elder Marsh wrote a letter to the Prophet Joseph saying, "Your presence is absolutely necessary for the salvation of this church." He explained to the Prophet that "although these men speak against your proceedings, they are mute when you are present." In spite of the disaffection of some of the leaders, Elder Marsh assured the Prophet Joseph that the "great body is determined to follow you."11
During the meeting in which David Whitmer, W. W. Phelps, and John Whitmer were replaced for the misuse of funds, President Marsh read the revelation saying that Phelps and John Whitmer, if not repentant, should be removed from their place. Marsh indicated the men had sold their property in Jackson County against the counsel of the Prophet. George M. Hinkle stated that David Whitmer was also in the wrong in persisting in the use of tea, coffee and tobacco.12
Learning of Joseph's pending arrival on 14 March 1838, Elder Marsh rode eight miles out of Far West to meet the Prophet and Brigham Young, who had fled for their lives from Kirtland. Joseph Smith wrote:
When within eight miles of the city of Far West, we were met by an escort of brethren from the city, viz., Thomas B. Marsh, John Corrill, Elias Higbee, and several others of the faithful of the West, who received us with open arms and warm hearts, and welcomed us to the bosom of their society. On our arrival in the city we were greeted on every hand by the Saints, who bid us welcome to the land of their inheritance.13
Once in Far West, Joseph learned of the stake reorganization by the apostles. According to Marsh, Joseph approved the action taken. With Joseph Smith now in Far West, a conference of the Church was convened on April 6 and 7, 1838. As part of the business of the conference, Thomas B. Marsh was appointed President pro tem of the Church in Zion, and Brigham Young and David W. Patten were appointed assistant presidents. During the meeting, David W. Patten commented about his respect for the Twelve Apostles: Thomas B. Marsh, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, Parley P. Pratt, and Orson Pratt were "men of God, whom he could recommend with cheerfulness and confidence."14 He also pointed out that other members of the Twelve could not be recommended [p.16] to the Saints. In further proceedings on 12 April 1838, four apostles—William E. McLellin, John Boynton, Luke Johnson, and Lyman Johnson—were excommunicated. After months of concern and labor, the quorum of twelve dwindled to eight members. But, as early as 17 April 1838, a revelation hinted that the fallen apostles would be replaced, and the Lord counseled David Patten to prepare for a mission the following spring "with others, even twelve" (D&C 114:1).
During this time, personal sorrow struck the Marsh home. Although just a few months earlier, in November 1837, little Mary Elizabeth was born, their second son, James G. Marsh, died 7 May 1838 at age fourteen. His obituary which appeared in the Elders Journal, likely written by Brother Marsh, related visions the boy experienced and his love of the gospel:

When he was but nine years of age, he had a remarkable vision in which he talked with the Father and many of the ancient Prophets face to face, and beheld the Son of God coming in his glory.

He said that the Lord showed him his own name written in the book of life in the mansions of Celestial glory, and he saw his own mansionry there. And the Lord informed him that the righteous did not die, but fell asleep to rise again in the resurrection of the Just, although the world calls it death; and to show him that there is no bitterness in the death of the righteous, he was permitted to see, in the vision, the departure of a young sister, in the church, who was the daughter of brother Hezekiah Peck, who was then living a neighbor to him, but she died shortly after he had the vision. And he said that he saw angels conduct her spirit to the celestial paradise.15

Following the death of his son, Elder Marsh remained in close company with Joseph and the brethren. He traveled north with them to Daviess County on an exploring expedition in May 1838.16 When they returned to Far West on 8 July 1838, the apostles met with the Prophet and asked to know the will of the Lord concerning them. Since Elder Marsh is mentioned specifically in the revelation, it is probable that he requested it. In the revelation, John Taylor, John E. Page, Wilford Woodruff, and Willard Richards were chosen to replace the apostles who had left the Church.17 Elder Marsh's duty, as President of the Quorum of Twelve, was to notify these new men of their calling. Wilford Woodruff was notified of his call in a letter from President Marsh.18

The revelation also instructed Marsh to remain in Missouri to publish for the Church. He was named printer and publisher of the Elders Journal, which had published its second issue in Kirtland [p.17] during November 1837. Conflicts within the Church had interrupted publication, but after receiving revelation Elder Marsh published volumes three and four at Far West during July and August 1838.
All of these actions, as an apostle and as President pro tem of the Church in Zion, clearly indicate the extent of participation and influence Thomas B. Marsh enjoyed before the Mormon expulsion from Missouri. Marsh's influence, however, was short-lived: "In August the mob recommenced their depredations against the Saints."19 Sometime during August or September of 1838, a misunderstanding took place over "cream and strippings" that embittered Thomas B. Marsh and his family. Soon thereafter, the Marsh family left the Church. Apostle George A. Smith commented on the Marsh incident in Far West: "There were two sisters wishing to make cheese, and neither of them possessing the requisite number of cows, they agreed to exchange milk." Faithful to the agreement, "Mrs. Harris…carried to Mrs. Marsh the milk and strippings, but Mrs. Marsh, wishing to make some extra good cheese, saved a pint of strippings from each cow and sent Mrs. Harris the milk without the strippings." Once it was learned what was happening the matter was referred to "the Teachers" for examination and "it was proved that Mrs. Marsh had saved the strippings." In doing this she had broken the agreement and had cheated Mrs. Harris. Not considering the matter settled the Marsh family requested that the bishop investigate the incident. In a hearing, the bishop upheld the decision of the teachers. Still not satisfied, Thomas requested that the high council decide the matter. According to Apostle Smith, "the High Council…investigated the question with much patience…[and] finally confirmed the bishop's decision." Elder Smith noted that even the high council's decision did not satisfy Thomas Marsh, and he appealed to the First Presidency, where "Joseph and his counselors had to sit upon the case, and they approved the decision of the High Council. This little affair, you will observe, kicked up a considerable breeze, and Thomas B. Marsh then declared that he would sustain the character of his wife, even if he had to go to hell for it."20
Henry William Bigler, a witness who attended the trial presided over by Bishop Edward Partridge, added that during the hearing "[Mrs. Marsh] called on God and angels to witness her [p.18] innocence. At this time the Prophet jumped up and said, `Sister Marsh, if you say that, you lie like the devil.'"21
While this event led directly to the apostasy of Elder Thomas B. Marsh, the problem was certainly more complex. During his visits to Kirtland, Marsh had expressed considerable concern about the relationship of the Twelve to the high council. He wanted proper recognition for himself and his quorum. He again demonstrated some jealousy, along with David W. Patten, when Heber C. Kimball was sent to England. Further, he had displayed pride and lack of humility as he attempted to see a heavenly vision and behold the face of God. Marsh may also have been hurt when Joseph rebuked the Twelve from time to time. He may have felt that the leadership of the Church owed him something because he defended the Prophet Joseph in Kirtland and Missouri. Many of the settlers in Far West sought control of power and money which meant greater wealth for those who could sell to the oncoming Saints. In fact, land records indicate that Marsh was among a small minority who controlled the property at Far West. Recognizing the problem, Joseph warned property holders of covetousness, but too few paid attention. In his quest for power Marsh suffered from fear as well as jealousy. He was extremely sensitive to any kind of criticism, and he finally began to question Joseph's actions. He later admitted, "I meddled with that which was not my business."22
The revelations warned Elder Marsh, "Be patient in afflictions, revile not against those that revile. Govern your house in meekness and be steadfast…. Be faithful unto the end" (D&C 31:9, 13). Again the Lord emphasized, "Inasmuch as thou hast abased thyself, thou shalt be exalted…Be thou humble" and "Exalt not yourselves; rebel not against my servant Joseph" (D&C 112:3, 10, 15).
The Lord loved this early stalwart, in spite of his self-vaunting pride. About the time Marsh was preparing to leave the Church, he received another personal revelation which attempted to change his mind before it was too late. Marsh related that he "received a revelation in the printing office." Elder Heber C. Kimball recorded that when Marsh came out he read it to Brigham and me. In it God told him what to do, and that was to sustain Joseph and to believe what Joseph had said was true. But he took a course to sustain his wife, and oppose the Prophet of God, and she led him away.23 Regional Studies, Missouri, G. Anderson—Thomas Marsh, p.19
On October 6 and 7, 1838, Presidents Marsh and Young attempted to hold Quarterly Conference at Far West. Because of mobbings, attendance was so sparse that the normal business of the conference could not be conducted. Nevertheless, because missionaries were needed in the state of Kentucky, a call was made, and eight elders volunteered to go.24 Marsh gave his final counsel as President of the Twelve, and instructed the missionaries "not to go forth boasting of their faith, or of the judgments of the Lord; but to go in the Spirit of meekness, and preach repentance."25
Confused by these events in his life, Thomas Marsh possessed ambivalent feelings about leaving the Church. On 16 October 1838, he accompanied a group of Saints to Daviess County, Missouri, to abate mob activities there. However, his heart was not in it, and he questioned the legality of the actions of the Saints. "Pretending there was something urgent at home," Thomas returned to Far West on 21 October 1838, and he and Orson Hyde decided to leave the Church. In relation to this trip, John Taylor explained:
A number of us had been out to a place called Di-Ahman…. In coming into Far West, I heard about him (Marsh) and Orson Hyde…. Brother Heber C. Kimball and I were together, and I said to him: "I have a notion to take a team and follow after these brethren, and see if I cannot persuade them to come back," speaking particularly of Brother Marsh. "Well," said he, "if you knew him as well as I do, you would know that if he had made up his mind to go, you could not turn him." With that I gave up the idea, knowing that Brother Kimball was better acquainted with him than I was, and I did not go.26
On 24 October 1838, the enraged Marsh and Hyde rode into Richmond, Missouri, and signed an affidavit. This document declared, among other things, that Joseph Smith was leading a band of fanatics called the "Danites" who "had taken an oath to support the heads of the Church in all things they say or do, right or wrong." The affidavit further declared that
The plan of said Smith, the Prophet, is to take this state; and he professes to his people to intend taking the United States, and ultimately the whole world. This is the belief of the Church, and my own opinion of the Prophet's plans and intentions.27
Marsh felt Joseph Smith considered himself superior to the law of the land and that he would be a "second Mohammed to this generation," even if it meant wholesale bloodletting of those who stood in his way. Orson Hyde attested to Marsh's affidavit, adding [p.20] that "most of the statements…I know to be true; the remainder I believe to be true."28
In the opinion of George A. Smith this inflammatory declaration "brought from the government of Missouri an exterminating order, which drove some 15,000 saints from their homes and habitations, and some thousands perished through suffering the exposure consequent on this state of affairs."29
A few days after signing the affidavit, Marsh wrote to his sister and her husband, Anna and Lewis Abbot of Far West:
I have left the Mormons [and] Joseph Smith Jr. for conscience sake, and that alone, for I have come to the full conclusion that he is a very wicked man; notwithstanding all my efforts to persuade myself to the Contra[ry]. I also am well convinced that he will not escape the just Judgements of an offended God.30
Attributing the alleged operations of the Danites (and several other unexplained acts of violence) to Smith and Rigdon, Marsh also denounced the disposition of some members "to pillage, rob, plunder, assassinate and murder…. O my God what principles to be called the religion of Jesus Christ." Thanking God for his escape, he urged the Abbotts also to flee before they became innocent victims of the outrage certain to fall upon Far West. "I know more about this matter than you. Be advised by your Brother, and escape for your lives, for I verily believe that God will destroy that place."31
The day after Marsh signed the affidavit (25 October 1838), David W. Patten, senior member of the Twelve, was killed at the battle of Crooked River. This left Brigham Young as the senior apostle and Heber C. Kimball next in line. George A. Smith was eventually called to fill the vacancy caused by Marsh's apostasy. Apostle John Taylor, who was in Far West, described the apostasy of Marsh as a "horrible affair." He testified that the affidavits were not true: "Thomas B. Marsh was unquestionably `instigated by the devil' when he made this statement which has been read in your hearing."32 Both John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff felt Marsh's actions were not consistent with their knowledge of his character.
Orson Hyde described an incident that had occurred during the time when he and Marsh opposed the Prophet. In a letter to Robert Pierce in Philadelphia on 30 May 1844, Hyde encouraged him [Pierce] to support the Prophet:
During our temptation, David W. Patten, was shot by the enemy, and several days afterwards, while Thos. B. and myself were sitting in a log cabin [p.21] together in silent meditation, some being smote him on the shoulder, and said, with a countenance full of the deepest anxiety and solicitude, "Thomas! Thomas! why have you so soon forgotten?" Thomas told me it was David W. Patten, with whom, he not long before, had made a covenant to remain true and faithful until the end.33
This letter came at a time after Elder Hyde had been reconciled to the Prophet and to the Church. It is interesting that Marsh had been warned again by a revelation of the folly of his ways, but he persisted nonetheless.
While Marsh was in Richmond, Missouri, during the time of his apostasy, he visited with the Whitmers and Oliver Cowdery, who had also left the Church. He wrote,
I saw David, John, and Jacob Whitmer, and Oliver Cowdery, who had all apostatized.
I inquired seriously of David if it was true that he had seen the angel, according to his testimony as one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon. He replied as sure as there is a God in heaven, he saw the angel according to his testimony in that book. I asked him, if so, why did he not stand by Joseph? He answered, in the days when Joseph received the Book of Mormon and brought it forth, he was a good man and filled with the Holy Ghost, but he considered he had now fallen. I interrogated Oliver Cowdery in the same manner, who answered similarly.34
Marsh was subsequently excommunicated from the Church at a conference at Quincy, Illinois, 17 March 1839.35
An interesting statement with regard to the seriousness of Marsh's apostasy is the following, given by the Prophet Joseph on 2 June 1839, especially when it is understood that the Prophet spent five months in jail as a result of the betrayal of Marsh and others:
O ye Twelve, and all Saints, profit by this important key, that in all your trials, troubles, and temptations, afflictions, bonds, imprisonment, and death, see to it that you do not betray heaven, that you do not betray Jesus Christ, that you do not betray your brethren, and that you do not betray the revelations of God, whether in the Bible, Book of Mormon, or Doctrine and Covenants, or any of the word of God. Yes, in all your kicking and floundering, see to it that you do not this thing, lest innocent blood be found on your skirts, and you go down to hell. We may ever know by this sign that there is danger of our being led to a fall and apostasy, when we give way to the devil so as to neglect the first known duty. But, whatever you do, do not betray your friends.36
Land records in Missouri indicate that Marsh remained in Missouri, living in Howard, Grundy, and Harrison Counties. On 20 February 1841 he purchased 80 acres of land for $100, from his [p.22] son Edward Marsh, in Howard County. He later transferred this same 80 acres to John Pastin, who apparently acted as a trustee to liquidate several debts from the sale of this land on 14 March 1845. Thomas and his wife Elizabeth sold a parcel of land in Boonsborough, Howard County, to Achillas Callaway for $19.50 on 7 November 1844.37
The history of the Church recorded very little concerning the Marsh family because they left the Church so early, and remained in Missouri. The only child mentioned was James G. Marsh, who died at age fourteen. Recent research has enhanced our knowledge of the Marsh family. Thomas B. Marsh's oldest son, Edward B. Marsh, married Louisa Fane, who died in 1849. He later married Minerva Chandler on 22 July 1849.38 Edward B. Marsh and Minerva Chandler had four children. Minerva Chandler Marsh (1831-1876), and daughter, Mary Edward Marsh (1858-1865), are buried in Clark's Chapel Cemetery located 2.5 miles northwest of Booneville in New Franklin, Missouri.39 James Robert Barton Marsh and Elizabeth Sarah Marsh were the two surviving children. Elizabeth Sarah Marsh married William Thomas Powell, whose son, William Edward Powell, married Maud Singleton, who had a family of eight children.40 Sylvia Powell Boutte, a child of this marriage, is the source of this information. She came to the Church Historical Department seeking information about Thomas B. Marsh in 1970, and has since passed away. Little else is known about Marsh's family at this time.
Thomas B. Marsh remained in Missouri for eighteen years before he returned to the Church. Upon his return and after moving to Utah, he reflected on the causes of his apostasy as follows:
About this time I got a beam in my eye and thought I could discover a mote in Joseph's eye, though it was nothing but a beam in my eye. I was so completely darkened that I did not think on the Savior's injunction: "Thou hypocrite, why beholdest thou the mote which is in thy brother's eye, when a beam is in thine own eye; first cast out the beam out of thine own eye, then thou shalt see clearly to get the mote out of thy brother's eye." Had I seen this I should have discovered myself a hypocrite, but as I had often said while in the Church, if I ever apostatized I would go away quietly. I tried to do so but the Saints kept inquiring of me if I was going to leave, and so did Joseph twice; I evaded him both times. The last time he almost got me into a tight corner I could hardly evade. He put the question, direct to me, whether I was going to leave? With an affected look of contempt I answered : "Joseph when you see me leave the Church, you will see a good fellow leave it."41
It is evident that Marsh blamed pride for his fall from the Church. Clearly, Thomas B. Marsh's accomplishments during the initial years of the Church were monumental. He served as an active missionary, counseled directly with the Prophet Joseph Smith and other Church leaders, and directed the course of the settlement in Missouri as well as the organization of the Church there. Marsh was instrumental in bringing the Quorum of the Twelve into its rightful place as the second governing quorum in the Church. Marsh fell away from the Church when he lost his perspective of Church service and began to feel that he could do no wrong. And evidence shows that, even in apostasy, Marsh was reluctant to leave the Church.

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Read how the Mormon Killers got paid by the US Government for caring for the orphan children after they had killed their parents.