Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Mountain Meadows Massacre

Toward Zion

The Saints believe that founding the city of Zion in the heartland of the United States is essential toward establishing the Kingdom on Earth. In a vision, Joseph Smith was told that the City of Zion should be built in western Missouri, at the time a wild and hostile place filled with fiercely independent settlers who felt comfortable existing on the edge of Western civilization.

Kirtland Ohio map
Kirtland Ohio map

Shortly after the incorporation of the church, Smith and his band of Saints moved from New York to Kirtland, Ohio. When Smiths followers still numbered only 40, an angry mob destroyed his baptism pool near Palmyra, prompting Smith to set his sights on the Western frontier, wrote historian Sally Denton in an article in American Prospect. By the summer of 1831, his missionaries had converted 2,000 souls and migrated to Kirtland, Ohio.

Hubert Howe Bancroft
Hubert Howe Bancroft
There they bought farms at high prices, making part payments, and afterward forfeiting them. They engaged in mercantile pursuits, buying merchandise in New York and elsewhere in excess of their ability to pay, wrote Utah historian Hubert Howe Bancroft.  They built a steam-mill, which proved a source of loss, and started a bank, but were unable to obtain a charter; they issued bills without a charter, however, in consequence of which they could not collect the money loaned, and after a brief struggle, and during a period of great apostasy, the bank failed. Howe wrote that before the bank failure became public, Smith went to Toronto, Canada, where he preached, whilst his followers circulated the worthless notes of the defunct bank. Brigham Young also succeeded in spreading about $10,000 of the paper through several states.

As a result of the financial crisis, Smith, the bank treasurer, was tarred and feathered. The environment in Kirtland was so noxious to the Mormons that they moved on to western Missouri -- the original site, according to the Prophet, of the Garden of Eden -- where they were met by a settlement of Mormon missionaries and converts.

In his multivolume autobiography, Joseph Smith provided his version of the events that led to the exodus from Kirtland.

A new year dawned upon the church at Kirtland, wrote Smith. In all the bitterness of the spirit of apostate mobocracy, which continued to rage and grow hotter and hotter, until Elder Rigdon and myself were obliged to flee from its deadly influence, as did the apostles and prophets of old, and as Jesus said, When they persecute you in one city, flee ye to another; and on the evening of the 12th of January, about ten oclock, we left Kirtland on horseback to escape mob violence, which was about to burst upon us, under the color of legal process to cover their hellish designs and save themselves from the just judgment of the law.

Independence, Missouri map
Independence, Missouri map

Near Independence, Missouri, the Saints lived in peace and quiet, no lawsuits with each other or with the world; few or no debts were contracted, few promises broken; there were no thieves, robbers, or murderers; few or no idlers; all seemed to worship God with a ready heart, according to Orson Pratts brother, Parley, whose own fortunes would figure prominently in the buildup to the Mountain Meadows massacre. On Sundays the people assembled to preach, pray, sing, and receive the ordinances of God. Other days all seemed busy in the various pursuits of industry. In short, there has seldom, if ever, been a happier people upon the earth than the church of the saints now were.

The peace and happiness would not last. Political demagogues were afraid we should rule the country, wrote Parley, and religious priests and bigots felt that we were powerful rivals. Some of the Missourians reticence about their new neighbors must be attributed to the Mormons. They openly discussed their divine right to the land now occupied by the Gentiles, and they wielded political power by voting en bloc and economic might by practicing their peculiar form of communism. The Mormons, however, could easily justify their actions. Latter-day Saints did not regard nineteenth-century American-style political campaigning and voting, with their accompanying corruption and drunkenness, as an appropriate means for determining courses of action. Mormons strove to free themselves from what they regarded as the cantankerous bickering of Gentile politics. Rather, Mormon-style voting served as a manifestation of an achieved consensus, or as an opportunity to express support for decisions that had already been reached by leaders inspired by the Lord, wrote Eric Eliason in a 2001 article on 19th century Mormonism in the academic journal Religion and American Culture.

The Missourians fought back against the tide of Mormon immigrants, passing resolutions that forbade additional converts from coming to Jackson County, where Zion was to be located, and they demanded that the Mormon newspaper cease publication. Stones and bricks were thrown through Mormon homes, and bishops and church elders were tarred and feathered as Gentile law looked the other way.

Haun's Mill Massacre sign
Haun's Mill Massacre sign

Deaths resulted   on both sides of the feud, but the violence against the Saints reached its pinnacle when a band of vigilantes attacked a Mormon settlement at Hauns Mill. As the marauders laid waste to the settlement, most of the Mormons fled into the cold January night and hid in the woods. Another group of Mormons hid in a blacksmith forge, where they were discovered by the vigilantes and gunned down in cold blood. Witnesses reported that one small boy, begging for his life, was shot in the head as his murderer told him, Nits make lice. In all, 18 men, women and children were murdered that night, achieving martyr status among their Mormon brethren.

Lieutenant Governor Lilburn Boggs
Lieutenant Governor Lilburn Boggs
Eventually, the Mormons were issued an ultimatum: Mormons are the common enemies of mankind, and ought to be destroyed, said Missouris Lieutenant Governor Lilburn Boggs. You now know what our Jackson boys can do, and you must leave the country.

Categories
Advertisement