What is often called the Mormon War of 1838 began on August 6 of that year. (You can read about that in my August 5 posting.) That war ended soon after the “Haun’s Mill Massacre” that occurred 174 years ago today, on October 30, 1838.
In thinking about the Mormon War, the role of Alexander Doniphan (who is fondly remembered in this part of Missouri) is noteworthy. Doniphan, born in Kentucky in 1808, moved to Liberty and opened a law office in 1833.
Along with David Atchison, Doniphan served as a lawyer for the Mormons from the beginning of his practice in Clay County. He and Atchison, though, asked the Mormons to leave the county in order to avoid civil strife.
Subsequently, Doniphan was instrumental in organizing Caldwell County in 1836 as a place for the Mormons to live in peace. But he was also a brigadier-general in the Missouri state militia and was involved militarily in the Mormon War two years later.
On October 27, 1838, Governor Lilburn Boggs issued a statement to one of the generals in the state militia, declaring that the “Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary, for the public peace.”
Three days later, on that fateful October 30 afternoon, 240-250 Missouri militiamen descended upon Haun’s Mill, a settlement around a mill established in eastern Caldwell County in 1835–36 by Jacob Haun, an early Latter-day Saint settler.
By October 1838 there were around 50 Mormon families living around Haun’s Mill, and in the massacre there were 17 Mormons killed and several others injured. It is not clear whether the massacre was a direct result of the “execution order” issued by Governor Boggs three days earlier.
Soon after the Hauns’ Mill massacre, the Mormon headquarters in Far West surrendered, Joseph Smith and other leaders were arrested, and the Mormon War of 1838 came to an end.
Smith and several other Mormon leaders were court-martialed on November 1. Later that day Major-General Samuel Lucas, the commander of the Missouri militia, sent the following order to Brigadier-General Doniphan: “You will take Joseph Smith and the other prisoners into the public square of Far West and shoot them at 9 o’clock to-morrow morning.”
Doniphan refused to carry out that order. Subsequently, Smith and a few others were brought to a jail in Liberty, where they spent several weeks before escaping and fleeing to Illinois.
Now, 174 years later, a Mormon who has been a missionary and a “pastor” for ten years, is running for President of the United States. He may, or may not, win that election. But it is most likely that he will garner Missouri’s ten electoral votes.
One hundred seventy-four years is a long time, but it is still remarkable that a presidential candidate who is a faithful member of a religion that was once literally run out of the state will probably receive a sizeable majority of the votes in that state.
As most of you know, or can guess, I will be voting to re-elect the current President. For many reasons I will not and could not vote for Mr. Romney. But his being a Mormon is not one of those reasons.