Frank Kirkman's Mountain Meadows Massacre Site
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 15  
Judge Austin A. King
Sampson AVARD (1800-?). Native of St. Peter, Isle of Guernsey, UK. Baptized 1835. Secured elder's or missionary license in Kirtland 31 May 1836 and anointing in Kirtland Temple 3 Apr 1837. Moved to MO by 1838. Became a leader of retaliatory group known as Danites. Excommunicated after implicating Church leaders as members of this group. Resided in IL 1850.
[Backman & Cook eds. Kirtland Elders' Record (1985), Appendix, p.69]
All the vile characters in that section of the country soon flocked to the mob organizations. The most diabolical combinations were formed: one of the worst being under the direction of Dr. Sampson Avard, one of the apostate spirits, who formed a band which he called Danites, to aid him in purposes of plunder and murder, which he intended to attribute to the Church, and thus furnish an excuse for the attacks upon his former brethren. But his plot was discovered by the Prophet, and Avard was publicly excommunicated, so that the world might know that the Church had no
part in this infamy. His plan was, by this prompt action, defeated almost before it had birth.
[George Q. Cannon, Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet, p.269]
In May, 1842, Bennett's treachery and rascality became known to his benefactor, Joseph Smith, whose life, it seems, he had basely attempted. Soon afterward he was convicted of the crime of seduction and severed from the Church. Vindictive in the extreme, he invented all sorts of stories to bring trouble upon his former friends. Some of these he circulated before his excommunication; notably the canard in relation to the Prophet's licentiousness. Affecting deep contrition after his exposure, he voluntarily made affidavit that Joseph Smith had never taught him anything contrary to the principles of truth and virtue, and so far as he knew the Prophet's private life was above reproach. Finding that he could not regain the confidence of the community, he withdrew from Nauvoo and became for a time the head and front of an anti-Mormon movement. He wrote and published a book, a pretended expose of Mormonism, in which he revived the false story of the [p.43] "Danites, or "Destroying Angels," originally told by Dr. Avard, another apostate, in Missouri. Bennett declared that these "Danites" (Mormon avengers) were following him, to put him out of the way. He alleged that Joseph Smith was about to make himself a king; that he was planning the overthrow of the American republic, and the founding of a despotic empire upon its ruins; that he even then kept a seraglio, like an oriental monarch, and if permitted to gain the power he coveted would gratify to the full upon the persons and properties of his Mormon and non-Mormon subjects, his lustful passions and tyrannical instincts. ["The Mormon Prophet's Tragedy," Orson F. Whitney, p.42]
But a few weeks before, and but a few rods from this same place, I first formed a knowledge, and took the first mystic step in the new and unknown bounds of the brothers and ites of Dan; entered an apprentice in the divine brotherly union; and ended at the same time; or rather that was my first and last step, on account of our breaking up there, and our removal from the state. [Oliver Huntington Autobiography, BYU-S, p.37 - p.38]
This society of Danites was condemned by the public like the rest of Mormonism; and there was a great huandory about the Danites, all over the county and among the army; but who and what they were no one was any wiser for anything they heard; and as many stories were in circulation the most horrid and awfully distorted opinions their minds could imagine, and they all thought that every depredation was committed by the Danites; Danites, awful Danites; every mobber was afraid of the thoughts of one of those awful men.
And if they were to see a man of their own acquaintance, and were told in confidence he was a Danite, they would even shun his company and conversation. Such being their opinion and belief of the Danites, and we knowing it, concluded to make the best of it. So every mysterious trick and bold adventure which had been transacted, was planned upon them and everybody knew there had a company of Mormons fled to the Indian territories, (for they were pursued by their trail) and they, it was stated, were the Danites, a most daring band of braves, who were bound together like the Masons.--
Thus they became, in a great measure, the scapegoats of the people, bearing off every charge, unless, it was personal. But it was not long after that (the surrender) before a charge came against father by Adam Black, but father so successfully smoothed it over and cleared it up they were afterwards on good and friendly terms.
Black brought with him Major Davis and Doctor Carr, another officer of the army, as witnesses and council, but so effectually remove their suspicions, that they thought the most honest man on earth, and after that Davis and Carr brought their rations to our house, and ate at the table with the family, instead of quartering with the army which was camped not more than 40 rods from the house.
This brought us into great repute on both sides , the one for cunning and good luck and the other for honesty of heart; and as there was to be a committee of twelve to be chosen from either of the parties (mob and Mormon) as conferring representatives of the holy body on either of the sides, to do all business with the Church and settle all affairs and business in Davis, Caldwell, Clay and other counties; father was pitched upon as one; he and Bishop Hale, were the most active and had in a short time to do all their business entirely with but one of the other committee.
The committee all wore white strips around, or hanging from their hats, whenever they went on business, that they might be known, (for it was very dangerous for anyone to go into the country around or even to their own farms, for all were compelled to live in Farwest [Far West] and a man was liable to be shot if he was found picking his own corn, without an order from some or all of the committees. The treaty, or terms on which we surrendered and gave up our arms, was; that we were to have our lives spared and retain all personal property for ourselves; and we were to leave there and move to Farwest in ten days, and from there, according to the governor's orders, we were to leave the state in the spring. We did not all leave Diahman until sometime after the ten days, for a violent snow storm soon set in, which made it doubly bad for them to what it was for us as they were incamp. (and we not much better.) [Oliver Huntington Autobiography, BYU-S, p.38].
After having gone through with the form of a trial by the high council, in which the cases of David and John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, W. [William] W. Phelps, and L. [Lyman] E. Johnson were disposed of, and Joseph Smith, [Jr.], and Sidney Rigdon had written that unfeeling letter to John Whitmer, unbecoming gentlemen, much less professed Saints, and after having that remarkable revelation stating that Far West was holy ground, (as published in the August and September numbers of THE RETURN), a society was organized by the Church members, at first called, "The Daughter of Zion," afterwards, "Danites," (or from which came the secret order called "Danites") to be governed by the following purported Bill of Rights and Articles of organization: [Ebenezer Robinson The Return 1 (October 1889), p.145]
David Whitmer believes in the Bible as implicitly as any devotee alive; and he believes in the Book of Mormon as much as he does in the Bible. The one is but a supplement to the other according to his idea, and neither would be complete were the other lacking. And no man can look at David Whitmer's face for half an hour, while he carily and modestly speaks of what he has seen, and then boldly and earnestly confesses the faith that is in him, and say that he is a bigot or an enthusiast. While he shrinks from unnecessary public promulgations of creed, and keenly feels that the Brighamites and Danites and numerous other ites have disgraced it, yet he would not hesitate, in emergency, to STAKE HIS HONOR AND EVEN HIS LIFE upon its reliability. His is the stern faith of the Puritans, modified by half a century of benevolent thought and quiet observation. He might have been a martyr had he lacked sense and shrewdness to escape [page 158] the death sentence that was pronounced against him by the high priests of the church he had helped to build. As it is, he is the only living witness of the wondrous revelation made to Joseph Smith, [Jr.], the founder of Mormonism. [S.L. Herald, 12 Aug 1875 in Ebbie Richardson, "David Whitmer," pp.157-58]
For a time the Church flourished in Jackson County, with headquarters at Independence, [Missouri] but when the trouble occurred between the Mormons and Missourians, the former were driven from the county into Caldwell County where they founded a settlement and named it Far West. David Whitmer, stripped of his earthly possessions, was warned to flee for his life, and, accompanied by his family, his brothers and their families, and Oliver Cowdery, he journeyed to Ray County, where he settled at Richmond, [Missouri], in 1838. At that time he had nothing left but a single horse and wagon and his precious records. It was then that the Danites were organized, and it is said that their formation was for the purpose of killing the Whitmers and Cowdery, they having been commanded and openly refused to obey, the so-called leaders, right or wrong. The Whitmers and Cowdery then renounced the Church, as conducted, but during the years they have lived in Ray County, [Missouri], they have continued to teach the precepts according to the original Church. [Chicago Tribune, 15 Dec 1885 in Richardson, "David Whitmer," p.207]
[page 35] The next grievous error which crept into the church was in ordaining high priests in June, 1831. This error was introduced at the instigation of Sydney [Sidney] Rigdon. The office of high priests was never spoken of, and never thought of being established in the church until Rigdon came in. Remember that we had been preaching from August, 1829, until June, 1831--almost two years--and had baptized about 2,000 members into the Church of Christ, and had not one high priest. During 1829, several times we were told by Brother Joseph that anelder was the highest office in the church.
In December, 1820, Sydney [Sidney] Rigdon and Edward Partridge came from Kirtland, Ohio, to Fayette, New York, to see Brother Joseph, and in the latter part of the winter they returned to Kirtland. In February, 1831, Brother Joseph came to Kirtland where Rigdon was. Rigdon was a thorough Bible scholar, a man of fine education, and a powerful orator. He soon worked himself deep into Brother Joseph's afflictions, and had more influence over him than any other man living.
He was Brother Joseph's private counsellor, and his most intimate friend and brother for some time after they met. Brother Joseph rejoiced, believing that the Lord had sent to him this great and mighty man Sydney [Sidney] Rigdon, to help him in the work. Poor Brother Joseph! He was mistaken about this, and likewise all of the brethren were mistaken; for we thought at that time just as Brother Joseph did about it.
But alas! in a few years we found out different. Sydney [Sidney] Rigdon was the cause of almost all the errors which were introduced while he was in the church. I believe Rigdon to have been the instigator of the secret organization known as the "Danites" which was formed in Far West Missouri in June, 1838. In Kirtland, Ohio, in 1831, Rigdon would expound the Old Testament scriptures of the Bible and Book of Mormon (in his way) to Joseph, concerning the priesthood, high priests, etc., and would persuade Brother Joseph to inquire of the Lord about this doctrine and that doctrine, and of course a revelation would always come just as they desired it. Tigdon finally persuaded Brother Joseph to believe that the high priests which had such great power in ancient time, should be in the Church of Christ today.
He had Brother Joseph inquire of the Lord about it, and they received an answer according to their erring desires. Remember that this revelation came like the one to ordain Brother "Prophet, Seer, and Revelator" to the church--through Brother Joseph as mouthpiece, and not through the stone. Remember also that "some revelations are of God; some revelations are of man; and some revelations are of the devil." [DAVID WHITMER, ADDRESS (1887), P.35]
This organization was in existence when the mobs commenced their most violent attempts upon the citizens of the before mentioned counties, and from this association arose all the horror afterwards expressed by the mob as some secret clan known as Danites. [Times and Seasons, Vol.4, p.271]
I would caution the reader, however, as did Mr. Poll, against the acceptance of all of Hansen's conclusions, especially those for the pre-exodus period. I cannot agree, for instance, that the evidence Hansen offers establishes the connections he makes between the Council of Fifty as a secret organization and the Danites of the Missouri period. Nor can I yet accept all of his conclusions for the connection between the Council of Fifty, the kingdom of God concept, and the exploration for further settlement in Texas and elsewhere by some of the divergent Mormon groups following the death of Joseph Smith. [James R. Clark, BYU Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2, p.228]
The secret band or "secret militant society" which both David Whitmer and Mark McKiernan wrote about was unquestionably the organization most familiarly known as the Danites. Klaus Hansen said that the Danites were originally organized "in self-defense against the depredations of the Missourians," adding that they were "a secret military organization bound together by oaths and secret passwords."50 Leland Gentry states that after the dissenters left, [Reed C. Durham, Jr., BYU Studies, Vol. 13, No. 1, p.54]
. . . the Danites lost the rationale behind their existence. A new purpose had to be found in order to justify the organization's continuance. The warlike threats continually breathed against the Saints by their Missouri neighbors furnished the desired objective, namely, protection against mob violence.51
As if one formally organized group, such as the Danites, based upon near-enmity of their neighbors, wasn't enough, the Mormon leader established another military-oriented group called the Armies of Israel or the Host of Israel. As with the Danites its most important reason for being was to protect the Saints from mobs-- and the only mobbers against them in Missouri were Missourians. The Host of Israel was established by Joseph Smith and it was believed that Joseph Smith was commander-in-chief.52 John D. Lee wrote about both of these militant bodies, placing the date of their origins in the summer of 1838:
. . . In justice to truth I must state, that just before the general election of August, 1838, a general notice was given for all the brethren of Daviess county to meet at Adam-on-Diamond [sic]. Every man obeyed the call. At the meeting all the males over eighteen years of age, were organized into a military body, according to the law of the priesthood, and called "The Host of Israel." The first rank was a captain with ten men under him; next was a captain of fifty, that is he had five companies of ten; next, the captain of a hundred, or of ten captains and companies of ten. The entire membership of the Mormon Church was then organized in the same way. This, as I was informed, was the first organization of the military force of the Church. It was so organized at that time by command of God, as revealed through the Lord's Prophet, Joseph Smith. God commanded Joseph Smith to place the Host of Israel in a situation for defence against the enemies of God and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. [Reed C. Durham, Jr., BYU Studies, Vol. 13, No. 1, p.55]
At the same Conference another organization was perfected, or then first formed--it was called the "Danites." The members of this order were placed under the most sacred obligations that language could invent. They were sworn to stand by and sustain each other. Sustain, protect, defend, and obey the leaders of the Church, under any and all circumstances unto death; and to disobey the orders of the leaders of the Church, or divulge the name of a Danite to an outsider, or to make public any of the secrets of the order of Danites, was to be punished with death. And I can say of a truth, many have paid the penalty for failing to keep their covenants. They had signs and tokens for use and protection. The token of recognition was such it could be readily understood, and it served as a token of distress by which they could know each other from their enemies, although they were entire strangers to each other. When the sign was given it must be responded to and obeyed, even at the risk or certainty of death. The Danite that would refuse to respect the token, and comply with all its requirements, was stamped with dishonor, infamy, shame, disgrace, and his fate for cowardice and treachery was death.53 Reed C. Durham, Jr., BYU Studies, Vol. 13, No. 1, p.56
The organizational pattern of the army into companies of tens and fifties, as described by Lee, was the same as that found in the Danites' army. The two groups were so similar that even the Prophet Joseph Smith attempted to explain the difference between them in order to prevent any possible confusion.54
I have attempted to show evidence that an aggressive, belligerent, and militant spirit was being developed in the hearts of the Latter-day Saints in Missouri. The Political Motto, the Salt Sermon, the Note of Warning, and the flight of the dissenters all testify to it; but the fact that two formed organizations were actually created and operative in Missouri--two Mormon armies!--adds greater validity to that argument. Yet, with all of this additional supporting evidence comes from the words of Sidney Rigdon given on Independence Day, 4 July 1838. His position was given while delivering an official address on that day, an address which reflected the attitudes of the Saints. (It is important to remember that this sermon was delivered only one month before the Gallatin affair.) The address is known as the Mormon Declaration of Independence. The following is an excerpt of the final words of his speech:
It is not because we cannot, if we were so disposed, enjoy the honors and flatteries of the world, but we have voluntarily offered them in sacrifice, and the riches of the world also, for a more durable substance. Our God has promised us a reward of eternal inheritance. . . . The promise is sure, and the reward is certain. It is because of this, that we have taken the spoiling of our goods. Our cheeks have been given to the smiters, and our heads to those who have plucked off the hair. We have not only when smitted on one cheek turned the other, but we have done it, again and again, until we are wearied of being smitted, and tired of being trampled upon. We have proved the world with kindness, we have suffered their abuse without cause, with patience, and have endured without resentment, until this day, and still their persecution and violence does not cease. But from this day and this hour, we will suffer it no more. Reed C. Durham, Jr., BYU Studies, Vol. 13, No. 1, p.57
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 forever; for from this hour, we will bear it no more, our rights shall no more be trampled upon with impunity. The man or the set of men, who attempts it, does 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, till 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.--Remember it then all MEN!
We will never be the aggressors, we will infringe on the rights of no people; but shall stand for our own until death. We claim our own rights, and are willing that all others shall enjoy theirs.
No man shall be at liberty to come into our streets, to threaten us with mobs, for if he does, he shall atone for it before he leaves the place, neither shall he be at liberty, to vilify and slander any of us, for suffer it we will not in this place.
We therefore, take all men to record this day, that we proclaim our liberty on this day, as did out fathers. And we pledge this day to one another, our fortunes, our lives, and our sacred honors, to be delivered from the persecutions which we have had to endure for the last nine years, or nearly that. Neither will we indulge any man, or set of men, in instituting vexatious law suits against us, to cheat us out of our just rights, if they attempt it we say woe be unto them.
We this day then proclaim ourselves free, with a purpose and a determination, that never can be broken, "no never! NO NEVER!! NO NEVER!!!55 {Italics added}
The sermon was enthusiastically welcomed by the entire congregation; in fact, upon the conclusion of it they spontaneously shouted the "hosannah shout." "From every standpoint, the speech was an immediate success."56 The skeptic who does not believe that either the message or the tone of this address reflected the official Church position or, at least, Joseph Smith's position, and that it only reflected Sidney Rigdon's point of view, must reorient his thinking when he reads the following words from Joseph Smith, given less than one month after the Gallatin Election Day Battle:
To return to the election at Gallatin:--The brethren all attended the election. All things seemed to pass off quietly, until some of the Mormons went up to the polls to vote. I was lying on the grass with McBrier and a number of others. . . . When Steward fell, the Mormons sprang to the pile of oak hearts, and each man, taking one for use, rushed into the crowd. The Mormons were yelling, "Save him!" and the settlers yelled, "Kill him; d--n him!" The Sign of distress was given by the Danites, and all rushed forward, determined to save Steward, or die with hi . . . . The Danite sign of distress was again given by John L. Butler, one of the captains of the Host of Israel. . . . Seeing the sign, I sprang to my feet and armed myself with one of the oak sticks. I did this because I was a Danite, and my oaths that I had taken required immediate action on my part, in support of the one giving the sign. . . . Captain Butler was then a stranger to me, and until I saw him give the Danite sign of distress, I had believed him to be one of the Missouri ruffians, who were our enemies. . . . The man then gave the sign, and I knew how to act.59 [Italics added]
Reed C. Durham, Jr., BYU Studies, Vol. 13, No. 1, p.60
I did not want to kill anyone, but merely to stop the affray and went in with the determination, to rescue my brethren from such miserable curs at all hazards, thinking when hefting my stick that I must temper my lick just so as not to kill, and further when I called out for the Danites a power rested upon me such as one I never felt before . . . . After the fight was over, we gathered our men on some hewn house logs and told the mob that we would fight them as long as blood run warm in our veins, if they still persisted, but they begged for peace after they saw their men lying round. . . .60 [Italics added]
The fascination of outsiders for the Mormon community was like that of children when they look into a snake pit; or similar to that of the woman with her eye glued to the telescope focused on a neighboring apartment who keeps repeating, "Isn't it disgusting!" The image was one of hateful intolerance, but the fascination was such that an enormous literature was produced. More than two hundred book-length accounts were published detailing travel through Mormon country; more than a hundred novels were printed giving fictional accounts of experiences with Mormons; and perhaps a dozen books of anti-Mormon humor were published. No local group in America had ever been the object of such interest and concern. And the image of the Mormons conveyed in these works, which were written by persons, many of whom had never met a Mormon, was almost completely unfavorable. The men were ugly, dirty, lustful, and cruel. The women were ignorant, submissive, and shameful. The narratives featured episodes involving Danites, concubines, and consummate knavery. In all of these, the Mormons were portrayed as seething cauldrons of sexual passion, cruelty, and fanaticism. [Leonard J. Arrington, BYU Studies, Vol. 14, No. 2, p.143]
Prior to and concurrent with the publication of these accounts, however, were the scurrilous novels which drew suggestions from the first-hand accounts, but based their interpretations on anti-Mormon sentiments. The plots of the hundred or more anti-Mormon novels of the period revolve around a number of different motifs. There is the personal experience motif, in which a lovely and high-principled woman becomes associated in some way with the Mormons, and tells of her various experiences with the sect, all of which are designed to demonstrate that the Mormons were cruel, treacherous, and depraved. Or there is a flight-escape motif, in which the narrative features encounters with vengeful Danites, and thrilling escapes as the Destroying Angels pursue the pure-hearted heroine, in some cases across the seas. A third type is the loosely-drawn portrait of life in a polygamous household; polygamous husbands are shown to be materialistic, insensitive, and lecherous. In most treatments the Mormons are represented by two stereotypes: a hierarchy of wily, insincere leaders, and the rabble of ignorant, fanatical followers. The plots are designed to reveal numerous examples of cunning deceit and deluded obedience.
Several considerations help explain the preponderance of anti-Mormon sentiment in the nineteenth century novels: (a) There is a snobbishness involved: an easterner cuts down a westerner by trying to show the latter that he is uncivilized. Mormons were an ideal scapegoat. (b) People, writers included, tend to think in terms of stereotypes. Not knowing anything about the Mormons, and not really wanting to find out, they based their view about polygamy on the image of the similarly polygamous Turks, about whom much salacious literature was written. (c) The "facts" upon which views of the Mormons were based were presented by the enemies of the Church. Writers learned about the Mormons from Missourians, and Missourians based many of their stories on the alleged activities of the Danites--a small group of militants who were not even acknowledged by the Church. (d) Finally, much of the literature presented a pandering to a vitiated literary taste. [Leonard J. Arrington, BYU Studies, Vol. 14, No. 2, p.147]
This farcical jab at Brigham Young and his followers would return to haunt Ward, for in January 1864, he visited Great Salt Lake City, despite joshing warnings by Gentile friends that the Danites would get him. The Danites didn't get him, but the "Mountain Fever," a variety of typhoid fever, nearly did. On the evening following a real visit to President Young, Ward was felled with an attack of fever which nearly killed him, weakened as he was by excesses. Ironically, Ward, who had been reminded by Elder T. B. H. Stenhouse that Young had Ward's book in his library and that the humorist "ought not to have made ridicule of our Church," was nursed back to health by Mormon Relief Society women, and inquired after daily by Stenhouse who was sent by Brigham Young with gifts of wine and fruit. Ward would write to Twain on 21 January 1864, that "the saints have been wonderfully kind to me. I could not have been better or more tenderly nursed at home. God bless them all." (p. 158) [Richard H. Cracroft, BYU Studies, Vol. 14, No. 2, p.280]
Stephen C. LeSueur; BYU Studies Vol. 26, No. 2, pg.9
During the remainder of the hearing, the prosecution called forty-one witnesses, twenty Missourians and twenty-one Mormons. At least eleven of the Mormons were men who had become disillusioned with Church policies. Many of them believed the Danites had exerted an oppressive and spiritually unhealthy influence within Mormonism. John Corrill, W. W. Phelps, and George Walter had openly quarreled with Church leaders about these issues. John Whitmer had been driven from Far West by the Danites. The testimonies of Corrill, Whitmer, and other dissenters reflected their disapproval of Mormon policies and activities.26 Most of the details and information provided by the dissenters supported Avard's testimony. Although they were less certain than Avard of the First Presidency's direct involvement with the Danites--they knew of only one or two meetings that Joseph Smith and his counselors attended--they believed Avard received his instructions from these men. John Corrill and Reed Peck reported that they were present when the Prophet blessed the Danite officers as Avard described. In addition, the dissenters gave corroborating testimony concerning other alleged Mormon activities and teachings:
(1) 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.27
(2) That on 15 October 1838, after receiving reports that vigilantes intended to drive the Mormons from Daviess County, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon rallied the Saints in Far West and declared their intention to defend their people. The dissenters testified that Joseph Smith proposed the confiscation of the property of those who refused to fight, and suggested that such people be put upon horses with bayonets and pitchforks and forced to ride in front of the troops. They also testified that Joseph Smith advised Mormon soldiers to live off the spoils of war during the expedition to Daviess.28
(3) That during the week of 16-22 October, Mormon soldiers patrolled Daviess County, driving settlers from their homes, plundering, and burning as they sought to rid the county of their enemies. The dissenters testified that these activities were carried out under the direction of Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders. They also claimed that during the expedition to Daviess, Mormon leaders reorganized the militia in preparation for a general conflict with their Missouri neighbors.29
(4) That on 30 October, the day the state militia arrived outside Far West, Joseph Smith gathered Mormon soldiers and declared his intention to resist. George M. Hinkle testified that Smith said the troops organizing against the Saints were "a damned mob." Hinkle also testified that the Prophet declared the Mormons had tried to keep the law long enough, "but, as to keeping the law of Missouri any longer, he [Joseph Smith] did not intend to try to do so."30
In support of the charge of treason, the prosecution elicited information regarding Mormon beliefs and activities that indicated an intent to set themselves outside the law. George Hinkle, another surprise witness for the state, testified:
The general teachings of the presidency were, that the kingdom they were setting up was a temporal as well as a spiritual kingdom; that it was the little stone spoken of by Daniel. Until lately, the teachings of the church appeared to be peaceable, and that the kingdom was to be set up peaceably; but lately a different idea has been advanced--that the time had come when this kingdom was to be set up by forcible means, if necessary.31 Testimony by these witnesses that Mormon leaders were unwilling to submit to legal process during the disturbances--including Joseph Smith's instructions to the Caldwell County clerk not to issue "vexatious" lawsuits against Mormon leaders--added support to the prosecution's contention that the Mormons were engaged in some sort of plot to subvert the laws of the state.32 Stephen C. LeSueur; BYU Studies Vol. 26, No. 2, pg.11
The ten other Mormons who appeared as witnesses for the state were loyal Church members who testified reluctantly at the hearing. According to Mormon accounts, these men testified because Missouri officials threatened them with prosecution and imprisonment. Morris Phelps reported that he attempted to testify on behalf of the defendants, but was stopped by Judge King and the prosecuting attorney, who then filed charges against him for his participation in the Crooked River battle.33 Most of the Mormon witnesses, including Phelps, either emphasized their own nonparticipation in the alleged crimes or asserted that their leaders had forced them to take up arms. "I first refused to go," Phelps replied, when asked whether he participated in the Mormon attack at Crooked River, "but, being threatened with force, I consented to go."34 The brevity of their testimonies indicates that these witnesses were unwilling to provide as much information as Corrill, Hinkle, and the others. Nevertheless, their testimonies corroborated the dissenters' statements regarding Mormon activities and beliefs, and implicated many defendants in the alleged crimes.
Most of the twenty non-Mormons who testified gave descriptions of their encounters with Mormon troops. Some told of being captured; others reported that they were accosted and threatened by Mormons. Samuel Bogart and four of his men testified regarding their battle with Mormon soldiers at Crooked River. As transcribed for the court record, the Missourians' statements reveal no obvious prejudice or exaggeration. Joseph H. McGee's testimony represents a typical example:
On Thursday, the 18th day of October, I was at Mr. Worthington's, in Daviess county, when the Mormons made an attack upon Gallatin. Mr. Worthington had a pair of saddle-bags in my shop, (in Gallatin,) with notes and accounts in them; and he requested me to go up to the shop, and try to secure them. When I went up, the Mormons had broken open my shop, and taken them out; one of them had put the saddlebags on his horse, and I asked him for them. He answered, that he had authority from Captain Still to take them, and would not let me have them. He then told me I must go up to the store. I went along; and when I arrived there, Clark Hallett, one of the defendants, told him that he knew little Joe McGee [the witness]; that there was no harm in him, and to let him go. I was then turned loose. While at the store, I saw the Mormons taking the goods out of the store house, and packing many of the articles off on their horses; a number of barrels and boxes were rolled out before the door. When these men who had goods packed before them, rode off, I heard a man, who remained at the store, halloo to one of them to send four wagons. I went down to Mr. Worthington's; and, in returning towards the store again, a short time after, I saw the smoke and flames bursting from the roof of the store house, and three men coming out of the house, who immediately rode off. The balance of the company had just previously left, except two, who were at Mr. Yale's, a citizen there, guarding him. I heard Parley Pratt order the men to take out the goods before the house was set on fire. I also saw Joel S. Miles there in the Mormon company.35 Stephen C. LeSueur; BYU Studies Vol. 26, No. 2, pg.12
The statements by the non-Mormon witnesses are straightforward and concise, contain only eyewitness descriptions of their experiences, and present evidence generally consistent with other testimony and accounts of these events.
Following the examination of the state's witnesses, the Mormons presented their defense. The court record states that the defendants declined to make any statements but called seven witnesses on their behalf. Each witness testified regarding specific evidence against certain prisoners. Nancy Rigdon testified that her father, Sidney Rigdon, was not involved in the Crooked River battle. She also said that George W. Robinson did not have the clock he allegedly stole in Daviess County. Ezra Chipman, Delia F. Pine, and Malinda Porter testified that Lyman Wight did not steal a feather bed, as asserted by a previous witness. Another witness for the defense, Jonathan W. Barlow, reported that Joseph Smith and Lyman Wight did not participate in the Crooked River battle, but rode down to meet the Mormon troops after receiving word of the battle. Finally, Thoret Parsons and Arza Judd, Jr., testified that, prior to the Crooked River battle, Bogart's troops ordered them from Parsons' home in Caldwell County, and threatened to give Far West "thunder and lightning before the next day night." Very little testimony was given to explain why the Mormons organized their military operations, and nothing was said regarding the Danites. Instead, the defense witnesses attempted to refute a few specific allegations against some of the prisoners. Following their testimony, the prosecution called one more witness, Asa Cook, who denied that Bogart's troops had threatened Mormon settlers. This concluded the presentation of evidence by both sides.36
Based on the evidence presented at the hearing, Judge King found probable cause to order twenty-four defendants to stand trial on suspicion of committing arson, burglary, robbery, and larceny. These prisoners were allowed to post bail in amounts ranging from five hundred to one thousand dollars. King committed five prisoners to the Richmond jail on charges of murder for their alleged participation in the Crooked River battle. The six remaining prisoners, Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, Caleb Baldwin, and Alexander McRae, were committed to the jail in Liberty, Clay County, on charges of treason.37 Because their alleged crimes were capital offenses, Judge King allowed no bail for the prisoners charged with treason or murder. Grand jury trials for the defendants were scheduled for March 1839.
Some evidence was presented against each defendant charged by King. Several witnesses identified most of those charged as having participated in the alleged crimes. Contrary to the Mormons' expectations, twenty-nine prisoners were released due to insufficient evidence.38
The Mormons subsequently denounced both the hearing and Judge King's findings. The defendants argued that the prosecution's witnesses had testified falsely regarding Mormon military operations and regarding statements attributed to Mormon leaders. In addition, they argued that Missouri officials had prevented them from bringing witnesses or making an adequate defense. Finally, they pointed to the fact that Missouri officials made no attempt to investigate the activities of non-Mormon vigilantes as evidence of the prejudicial treatment they received from Missouri courts. Each of these three issues is discussed below. [Stephen C. LeSueur; BYU Studies Vol. 26, No. 2, pg.13]
Many of the Mormon complaints about the hearing emphasized the deficiencies in the moral character of the witnesses who testified against them. As earlier mentioned, Mormon leaders regarded Sampson Avard as a scoundrel and a liar who testified falsely to save his life. They similarly denounced the dissenters who testified at the hearing. Joseph Smith characterized George Hinkle, John Corrill, Reed Peck, and other witnesses as men "who are so very ignorant that they cannot appear respectable in any decent and civilized society, and whose eyes are full of adultery, and cannot cease from sin."39 Like Avard, these men reportedly testified to save their lives and to seek revenge against the church they had left. [Stephen C. LeSueur; BYU Studies Vol. 26, No. 2, pg.13]
While a variety of motives undoubtedly influenced the decision of these men to testify, the more important issue is whether their testimonies--or the alternative claims of Mormon leaders regarding Mormon activities in Missouri--are substantiated by other sources.
Mormon leaders asserted that their soldiers did not burn and plunder homes or commit other crimes in Daviess County, as testified by the prosecution witnesses. According to Hyrum Smith, the Missourians set fire to their own homes and then blamed the Mormons in order to inflame the excitement against them. He states:
Many people came to see. They saw the houses burning; and, being filled with prejudice, they could not be made to believe but that the "Mormons" set them on fire; which deed was most diabolical and of the blackest kind; for indeed the "Mormons" did not set them on fire, nor meddle with their houses or their fields.40
In addition, the Mormons said that their military operations in Daviess County were authorized by Generals Alexander W. Doniphan and Hiram G. Parks of the Missouri state militia.41 The generals reportedly mustered out the Daviess and Caldwell county militia units to which the Mormons belonged and ordered them to repel the vigilantes. The Mormons thus asserted that they acted in self-defense, under legitimate state authority, and committed no crimes.
Stephen C. LeSueur; BYU Studies Vol. 26, No. 2, pg.14
Evidence from the journals and reminiscences of loyal Mormons reveals, however, that Mormon soldiers did engage in burning and plundering in Daviess County. Oliver Huntington reported that Mormon soldiers, after burning Gallatin, returned to Adam-ondi-Ahman laden with goods, which they deposited at the bishop's storehouse:
The next day I went to Bishop Knights and saw the plunder, and O what lots, I thought; and heard them [the soldiers] tell, in what order they took the place . . . The store they burned, but the goods were preserved.42
Warren Foote, who lived in Caldwell County, said that "the mormons took their enimies corn, cattle, hogs &c according to the usages of war."43 These activities, carried out under the direction and approval of Mormon leaders, were deemed necessary for protection against anti-Mormon vigilantes. Benjamin F. Johnson, a Mormon soldier who participated in several raids, defended their actions:
Here let me say that it should not be supposed . . . that we were common robbers because we took by reprisal that with which to keep from starvation our women and children. Ours was a straggle for our lives and homes.44
These reminiscences from loyal Mormon sources corroborate the testimony given at the hearing regarding Mormon activities in Daviess county.45
The evidence also indicates that during the October expedition to Daviess County--where most of the Mormon military operations examined by the court took place--Mormon soldiers acted on their own and not under the authority of the state militia. When General Doniphan arrived in Far West on 15 October, he probably advised the Mormons to fight in self-defense (he sympathized with their plight); but, for a number of reasons, it is unlikely that he ordered Mormon soldiers to march to Daviess County. First, the Mormons planned and organized the expedition before Doniphan arrived in Far West. Moreover, the Caldwell County militia did not belong to his brigade; he had no official authority over them. Finally, General Doniphan did not have the authority--no one in Caldwell County had the authority--to order the Caldwell troops to Daviess County.46 Similarly, the evidence indicates that General Parks did not authorize the Mormon activities in Daviess County. He did not arrive at Adam-ondi-Ahman until after the Mormons had begun their raids, including the burning and sacking of Gallatin. Neither Doniphan nor Parks reported ordering the Mormons into the field. In fact, as a consequence of the Mormon activities in Daviess County, both generals called out their troops to halt the Mormon military operations.47 Stephen C. LeSueur; BYU Studies Vol. 26, No. 2, pg.15
The testimony regarding the Salt Sermon and the expulsion of dissenters from Caldwell County is similarly verified by Mormon sources. George W. Robinson, a Danite colonel and secretary to the First Presidency, described the incident in his contemporary account of these events:
I would mention or notice something about O. Cowdery David Whitmer Lyman E Johnson and John Whitmer. . . . Prest Rigdon preached one Sabbath upon the salt that had lost its savour, that it is henceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and troden under foot of men, And the wicked flee when no man pursueth, These men took warning, and soon they were seen bounding over the prairie like the scape Goat to carry of[f] their own sins we hav[e] not seen them since, their influence is gone, and they are in a miserable condition, so also it [is] with all who turn from the truth to Lying Cheating defrauding & Swindeling.48
Ebenezer Robinson, who signed the letter ordering the dissenters to leave Caldwell, also left an account confirming the testimony presented at the Richmond hearing.49 None of the defendants specifically denied the testimony regarding this incident. The bulk of evidence suggests that the dissenters' testimony was true.
Mormon leaders made surprisingly few references to the Danites in their public petitions and statements regarding the Richmond hearing. Joseph Smith asserted that Sampson Avard "swore false" concerning the Danite constitution, but neither he nor the other defendants disputed the testimony describing the teachings and activities of the Danite organization.50 Evidence from Mormon sources, particularly Morris Phelps's "Reminiscences," corroborates the testimony about the group's teachings and goals.51 Contemporary Mormon accounts also reveal that the Danites played an active and influential role in Mormon affairs, such as the expulsion of dissenters from Caldwell County in June, the consecrating of property to the Church, the Fourth of July celebration at Far West, and the Mormon expedition to Daviess County after the Gallatin election battle.52 The group operated prominently in northern Missouri for nearly five months. Its teachings and activities were known to non-Mormons as well as to Latter-day Saints. The influential role of the Danites and the presence of Mormon leaders within the organization lend support to the witnesses' testimony that the First Presidency approved of and encouraged the group's activities. There remains a question, however, regarding the extent to which Joseph Smith actively directed the Danites. In a letter to the Saints, Joseph Smith asserted that Avard taught "many false and pernicious things" of which the First Presidency was not aware.53 In addition, nearly all Mormons claimed that Avard--and not Joseph Smith--directed the Danite organization. Their assertions contradict Avard's testimony, but not the testimony of other witnesses for the prosecution. Although Corrill, Peck, and other witnesses believed that Avard received his instructions from Joseph Smith, none of them claimed to have firsthand knowledge of this fact. They all affirmed that Avard was the teacher and active agent of the society."54 The evidence thus corroborates most of the testimony regarding the Danites. Only Avard's assertions that the First Presidency wrote the Danite constitution and directed the organization's activities remain in doubt. Stephen C. LeSueur; BYU Studies Vol. 26, No. 2, pg.16
Joseph Smith's role in directing Mormon activities represented a central element of the prosecution's case. The charge of treason against the Prophet rested on the assertion that he directed not only the Danite organization, but also Mormon military operations in Daviess and Caldwell counties.
Mormon leaders denied the testimony placing Joseph Smith at the head of Mormon troops. Brigham Young stated that Joseph Smith "was in no way connected with the Militia of that state [Missouri], neither did he bear arms at all, nor give advice."55 Hyrum Smith asserted that his brother "never bore arms, as a military man, in any capacity whatever, whilst in the state of Missouri, or previous to that time; neither has he given any orders or assumed any command in any capacity whatever."56 Parley P. Pratt further contended that the Prophet never bore arms or did military duty, not even in self-defense."57 The testimony that Joseph Smith played a leading role in Mormon military operations, these men asserted, was false.
Evidence from Mormon journals and reminiscences, however, contradicts these statements. Albert P. Rockwood reported that, following the Gallatin election battle, "Joseph Smith & Lyman White were at the head of the company (Army of Israel) that went up to the relief of the Brethren in Davis [sic] Co."58 Many Mormons reported that the Prophet organized and led the Mormon troops when the Missouri militia first appeared outside Far West.59 On another occasion, Joseph Smith countermanded an order by state militia Colonel George Hinkle, directing a group of Mormon soldiers to ride to Haun's Mill. James H. Rollins states that Joseph Smith "told us that we were his men, and that we must not go[;] if we did go against his will we would not be one of us left to tell the tale tomorrow morning."60 All Mormons recognized the Prophet's leading role in temporal as well as spiritual affairs. Shortly after the Mormon expedition to Daviess County, Rockwood wrote: You may ask if the Prophet goes out with the Saints to Battle? I answer he is a Prophet to go before the people as in times of old. . . . Bro. Joseph has unsheathed his sword & in the name of Jesus declares that it shall not be sheathed again until he can go into any country or state in safety and peace.61 Stephen C. LeSueur; BYU Studies Vol. 26, No. 2, pg.17
Evidence from loyal Mormon sources thus confirms the testimony that Joseph Smith actively directed many of the Mormon military operations.
Related to the issue of Joseph Smith's leadership role among the Saints is the testimony regarding his alleged disregard for the law. Again, Mormon sources confirm many of the witnesses' reports of various statements and speeches by the Prophet. Warren Foote stated that, prior to the march of Mormon troops to Daviess County, Joseph Smith said "that those who would not turn out to help to suppress the mob should have their property taken to support those who would."62 Regarding "vexatious law suits," Mormon leaders denounced such proceedings in "The Political Motto of the Church of latter-day Saints" and at the Fourth of July celebration, where they publicly warned that they would allow no one to initiate vexatious lawsuits against them.63 Similarly, the Mormons made no secret of their belief that they were establishing a temporal kingdom of God, which, as Daniel prophesied, would eventually destroy all other earthly kingdoms. "The Prophet Joseph laid the foundation of our Church in a Military Spirit," wrote Benjamin E Johnson of Mormonism's early years, "and as the Master taught his disiples So he taught Us to 'Sell our Coats and Buy Swords."64 It was this spirit the witnesses testified of.
When the testimony of the Mormon defense witnesses is compared with evidence from other sources, one glaring inconsistency arises. Numerous prosecution witnesses testified that Lyman Wight led a company of Mormon troops to Millport. Several witnesses stated that they saw Wight near the town shortly after it was burned. In rebuttal, three defense witnesses testified that Wight did not leave Adam-ondi-Ahman during the period in question. In a petition written while he was in Liberty Jail, Wight insisted that he never left his house.65 In affidavits filed in 1843, however, both Hyrum Smith and Lyman Wight stated that Wight commanded Mormon troops in expeditions against the vigilantes.66 Wight reported that he led a company of sixty men to Millport. The 1843 affidavits confirm the testimony of the prosecution's witnesses.
Source materials for this period do not provide the necessary detail to examine each accusation against the defendants. The evidence that is available, however, substantiates most of the testimony by the prosecution's witnesses regarding key issues and events, such as the Salt Sermon and expulsion of dissenters from Far West, the teachings and activities of the Danite band, the burning and plundering committed by Mormon soldiers in Daviess County, and Joseph Smith's leading role in the Mormon military organizations.
The Mormon defendants charged that Missouri officials conspired to prevent them from presenting an adequate defense at the hearing. According to many accounts, Captain Bogart and his men cast into prison nearly forty defense witnesses and drove the rest from the state. Many defendants reported that neither they nor their witnesses were allowed to testify. Several also stated that they were prevented from getting legal counsel. In addition, Judge King and other local officials allegedly threatened Mormon witnesses and forced them to testify at the point of bayonet. The frightened and intimidated witnesses then testified falsely to save their own lives. According to these accounts, he Richmond hearing was a cynical pretense of justice in which Missouri officials deliberately violated standard legal procedures in order to charge the Mormon defendants--people they knew were innocent of any wrongdoing--with all manner of crimes. Had proper legal procedures been followed, these Mormons argued, they could have disproved the testimony against them. Stephen C. LeSueur; BYU Studies Vol. 26, No. 2, pg.18
Evidence from Mormon sources supports the claim that Mormon witnesses were intimidated at the Richmond hearing. Missouri officials apparently threatened to prosecute witnesses who refused to cooperate with the investigation. Morris Phelps, a witness and defendant, reported that he was prosecuted because of his reluctance to testify against the other prisoners.67

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 15  

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