Incidents of Persecution in Missouri

Earlier this week Michael Otterson, the head of public affairs functions for the Mormon Church, wrote at the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog that Mormons in Missouri are currently experiencing “a time of healing” from the persecutions they suffered at the hands of Missourians back in 1838. Mr. Otterson wrote,

“In the troubled history of Latter-day Saints in the 1800s, incidents of persecution in Missouri rank among the most heinous. The brutal shooting of seventeen Latter-day Saints, including a ten-year-old child, at Haun’s Mill on Shoal Creek in eastern Caldwell County, in October of 1838 came just three days after Missouri Executive Order No. 44 – more commonly known as the “Mormon Extermination Order” issued by Governor Lilburn W. Boggs. That order was formally rescinded by Missouri Governor Kit Bond in 1976, citing its unconstitutionality.

“Every Mormon knows this history from the Missouri period, and in any dispute it is rare that all the fault rests only with one side. But there was no trace of animosity, ill will or institutional memory as church leaders welcomed guests to the temple open house…

“‘Healing’ suggests not so much a debate on the rights and wrongs of history in which none of us had a part, as much as a willingness to set aside modern personal biases and engage in the kind of mutually respectful treatment befitting a nation that wears religious pluralism as a badge of honor. In such a society in 2012, we don’t call each other ‘cults.’ We don’t automatically assume the worst of those who worship differently from us. We don’t mischaracterize their beliefs or quote their scriptures out of context.”

Along with Mr. Otterson, I’m all for accurate dialog and respectful treatment toward one another. The current Governor of Missouri offered an olive branch of healing to the Latter-day Saints in April (2012); it was a fine gesture. But Mr. Otterson’s message of mutual respect and accuracy does not seem to be getting through to the rank and file Latter-day Saints. Let me provide two recent examples.

While in Missouri a couple of weeks ago I visited the LDS tourist site, the Historic Liberty Jail. A sister missionary began the tour of the jail with a recitation of early Mormon history in the area then opened the floor for tour participants to share their feelings. Immediately a Mormon woman began speaking about Governor Boggs and the 1838 “Extermination Order.” With great emotion, she indignantly finished her remarks with these words: “For more than 130 years it was legal to kill Mormons in the state of Missouri!” Nearly the entire group, as with one voice, murmured in anguish. Another Mormon woman spoke up to declare that it was greed that caused the Missouri government to order that the Mormons be killed, adding insult to injury. And the sister missionary who was leading the tour explained that a “false” accusation of treason* was the vehicle Joseph Smith’s enemies used to arrest and incarcerate him in Liberty Jail.

This tour group of Mormons at Liberty Jail was fraught with “animosity, ill will [and] institutional memory” aimed at the non-Mormons of western Missouri. These people “assumed the worst” of the non-Mormons and “mischaracterized” the facts associated with this turbulent time in western American history. (Please read more about the Missouri persecutions, the alleged legality of killing Mormons in Missouri, and the Missouri Mormon War.)

Another example that Mormons are not necessarily embracing the kind of mutual respect Mr. Otterson wrote about was demonstrated outside the Kansas City Mormon Temple. The same day Mr. Otterson’s blog article posted, a friendly Christian man, Shane, stood on the public sidewalk outside the temple freely offering literature to passers by. This literature discussed various aspects of Mormonism, looking at the faith from a biblical perspective. Here’s what happened:

“A [Mormon] guy pulled up down at the [lower] zone, tried to throw the paper at Shane but missed. He then proceeded to angrily harangue Shane and finally jumped out of the car. Shane quoted Brigham Young saying to take up the Bible and compare it with the religion of the Latter-day Saints and that was the final straw. He grabbed Shane’s jaw with his left hand and gave him a close-fisted punch to the kisser.”

I’ve been to many Christian outreaches at Mormon venues and I have to say that it is rare for a Mormon to become this violent toward a critic. While the idea of mutual respect is obviously absent here, the more pertinent part of this story is the way Mormon officials responded. After the assault Shane called the police, but since he was unable to get the license plate number for identification of the man who hit him there was nothing much the police could do. However, Shane had a witness. A Mormon volunteer assigned to manage traffic for the temple open house saw the whole thing; but he refused to talk to the police. Additionally, the LDS Church has recorded video of the assault; but they are (so far) withholding any offer to allow the police to view it. With what seems like “animosity and ill-will,” are these Mormons unwilling to “set aside personal biases” to come to the aid of another who was physically assaulted by one of their own?

Mr. Otterson has written impressive words that speak of healing and mutual respect, but when the rubber meets the road it’s just the same old slippery blacktop.

*On the charge of treason against Joseph Smith, LDS historian Richard Bushman wrote, “The skirmish at Crooked River led to the charge of treason against Joseph Smith and the Mormon leaders. Resisting a band of vigilantes was justifiable, but attacking a militia company was resistance to the state” (Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, p. 364).

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
This entry was posted in Civil Liberties, Mormon History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Incidents of Persecution in Missouri

  1. TJayT says:

    I’m ashamed when I hear stories like the one above. I have no doubt that Shane didn’t deserve to be treated that way. I hope the man is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

    As to the “Extermination Order” I personally didn’t hear about it until my mid-twenties, and even then I imagined the tale must have been overblown since there where Mormons living in Missouri
    all through the years the order was in effect. I’m not trying to say that it’s not a sore spot for some Lds, just that it’s interesting what different things people hear or don’t hear.

  2. Kate says:

    I had the persecution thing pounded into my head from the time I could talk. I was 39 years old before I ever heard about the battle of Crooked River. I read a book given to me by my pastor called The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri by Stephen C. LeSueur. this book really opened my eyes to this time period and the Mormons were not as innocent as I’d been taught.

    What about Sidney Rigdon’s Salt Sermon in July of 1838? Here’s a quote from that sermon:

    “…it shall be between us and them a war of extermination, for we will follow them till the last drop of 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 part or the other shall be utterly destroyed.”

    This was 3 months before Governor Boggs ordered the extermination of Mormons. How many Mormons today know about the Battle of Crooked River and the mutilation of Samuel Tarwater. In the Mormonism I grew up in, no Latter Day Saint would ever commit such an atrocity. What about the burning of homes in Gallatin? Families forced to leave their homes? Mormons did this. I never heard one word about this during my time as a Mormon. I sure did hear about Haun’s Mill. Of course that happened just because the Mormon’s were persecuted. I was never told the events leading up to Haun’s Mill. That Mormons had done their own atrocities that led to that day.Their is blame on both sides. The key word here is “BOTH.”
    The following link is to letters written by Missourians during that time period. Interesting stuff.

  3. fproy2222 says:

    (Mr. Otterson has written impressive words that speak of healing and mutual respect, but when the rubber meets the road it’s just the same old slippery blacktop.)

    I am one of the ones that have trouble at times a being kind about this.


  4. fproy2222 says:

    In his talk “Should Christians Support a Mormon Running for President?” Bill McKeever addresses some of the same problems today.
    (Mormons do not take criticism of their faith lightly; sadly, many have followed the path of our culture in assuming that disagreement is akin to bigotry.)

    MRM and ya’ll are among the mildest teachers against Mormonism. There are some who get downright nasty and I am afraid ya’ll get lumped together. Ya’ll are paying the price for others extreme actions. It is kind-a-like when you folks take the extreme action of one Church member and then use it to say we are all bad.

    I use the term “against Mormonism” because you, like most mission to Mormons, spend your time telling us why we are wrong and not telling us why you are right. You then say that you are doing the same thing that the LDS Church does and you quota a few examples over and over and over as if they are the norm. Except for a few like me here and at other blogs, the norm is that we spend most of our time telling others why we are following the correct Gospel and only on occasion say that this is an example of why you are wrong.

    So, get your armies of missionaries ready, have them knock on our doors and offer to tell us why you believe you are right. We do it and so can you. Our people will act much like yours, some will slam the door in your face, most will politely say no thanks, and some will listen to you teach why you think your traditional Jesus is the true Jesus.


  5. grindael says:

    Our “army” has been up and running for about ten years now. It’s called the internet. With Facebook reaching almost a billion people now, social media is fast outpacing the old door to door approach. My Facebook page reaches about 13,000 people a week, and it’s been growing at a fast pace. We have been attacked personally, our comments flagged as “hate speech”, (even simple quotes by Mormon leaders) but nothing done by Mormons has done any good. The Mormons doctoring of their history doesn’t work with many who have an open mind, and read and research for themselves. The information is shared, linked, and passed along to thousands, through the social friends network.

    Like a lot of instances of Mormon history like the Extermination Order, Mormons have a vested interest in twisting the truth, (it wasn’t legal to kill Mormons before it’s official retraction – that is a blatant lie), and no one would have been able to use that as a justification to do so, just like the lies about Adam-god, polygamy, and a host of other issues that the Church continues to lie about. Smith did commit treason, ordering David W. Patton (Captain “Fearnaught”) to attack State Militia. Stupidity does not count in such instances, and Smith couldn’t claim the same (or blame it on someone else) when it came to destroying a printing press 6 years later in Nauvoo which resulted in another charge of treason.

  6. grindael says:

    Mormon Missionaries could be called “Anti-Christians” (or against Christians) because they spend their time tearing down other Christians to promote the “restored” Gospel of Mormonism. A good part of and other Mormon sites do the same thing. They have gotten more careful in how they do it, and in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, they were far more open about it. Now we hear the cry, “stop attacking us”, and the reason why? Mormonism has far more to hide than they care to admit, and the spreading of the truth is crippling their missionary efforts. This is the number one objection I see on my Facebook page, that Jesus never attacked anyone, but we have this admonition by the risen Christ:

    “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

    These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

    4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

    7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:1-7)

  7. Ralph says:


    You said it wasn’t illegal to kill Mormons under the order. Can you back that up? Can you tell me you know exactly what Gov Boggs was thinking when he wrote the order? This is the line from the order (thanks to Sharon for this) –

    ”The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace–their outrages are beyond all description.”

    This is also what Sharon wrote in the same blog about this order –

    ”Consider the definition of “exterminate” from Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:
    EXTERMINATE, v.t. [L. extermino; ex and terminus, limit] Literally, to drive from within the limits or borders. Hence,
    1. To destroy utterly; to drive away; to extirpate; as, to exterminate a colony, a tribe or a nation; to exterminate inhabitants or a race of men.
    2. To eradicate; to root out; to extirpate; as to exterminate error, heresy, infidelity, or atheism; to exterminate vice.”

    So if I take what Sharon has written, is Gov Bloggs saying “and must be [driven out] or driven from the state”? If so that is a redundant statement.

    Maybe it should be read with one of the other meanings, like “and must be [destroyed utterly] or driven from the state”

    Or even “and must be [eradicated] or driven from the state”

    Now that brings a more sinister meaning doesn’t it? And it isn’t redundant. If he didn’t mean ‘kill’ Mormons then you can see how his words can be misconstrued to look as if that is what he meant. Or may be that is exactly what he meant.

  8. LWG says:

    The handwritten extermination order.
    While governor of Missouri, Boggs issued Missouri Executive Order 44, a document known in Latter Day Saint history as the “Extermination Order.” A response to the escalating threats and violence of what came to be known as the Missouri 1838 Mormon War, this executive order was issued on October 27, 1838 and called for Latter Day Saints (Mormons) to be driven from the state, by dint of their
    “…open and avowed defiance of the laws, and of having made war upon the people of this State … the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace—their outrages are beyond all description.”
    In an effort to offset the onslaught of unjustified threats and basically defend themselves, a unit of the LDS Caldwell County militia engaged the Ray militia on October 25 at Crooked River. Men were killed on both sides, and wildly exaggerated rumors of marauding Mormons inflamed the countryside. On October 27, without investigating the charges and countercharges, Governor Boggs accused Church members of initiating hostilities and ordered the state militia to exterminate the Mormons or drive them from the state.

    Three days after Boggs signed the extermination order, a unit of the state militia killed seventeen Latter-day Saints and one friendly non-Mormon in the Haun’s Mill Massacre. Another thirteen were wounded, including one woman and a seven-year-old boy. No Missouri militiamen were killed, though three were wounded.

    We need to know Crooked River to understand Haun’s Mill.

  9. grindael says:


    I was speaking in the context of the OP. After the time of the Missouri Wars. Use some common sense, please. And even Governor Boggs later ordered a militia unit under Colonel Sterling Price (later to achieve fame as a Confederate Civil War general) to northern Missouri to stop ongoing depredations against the Mormons. He didn’t rescind the order, but it had no teeth after the Mormons left Missouri, and there wasn’t any instances of anyone using it to persecute or kill Mormons after that time. This comment, “For more than 130 years it was legal to kill Mormons in the state of Missouri!” is blatantly false, and history backs it up.

  10. fproy2222 says:

    grindael says: – April 27, 2012 at 4:47 pm – (Our “army” has been up and running for about ten years now. It’s called the internet. With Facebook reaching almost a billion people now, social media is fast outpacing the old door to door approach.)

    Is you army an un-army, like MRM, that spend it’s time trying to tell me why I am wrong, or are you a pro-traditional-Christian army that teaches why you believe you are correct?


  11. fproy2222 says:

    LWG says: – April 28, 2012 at 8:34 am – (In an effort to offset the onslaught of unjustified threats and basically defend themselves, a unit of the LDS Caldwell County militia engaged the Ray militia on October 25 at Crooked River.)

    Also, the leader of the Ray militia was a known member of mobs that had already been doing harm to the Mormons. He started the action by forcing some Mormons from their homes. Because of his actions, it looked like he was just going to keep doing what he had done in the mobs.

    grindael says: – April 28, 2012 at 8:36 am – (I was speaking in the context of the OP. After the time of the Missouri Wars. Use some common sense, please.)

    Common sense is only as good as who you are in common with. As you said, he didn’t rescind the order.
    Even if no one obeyed the law, it was still on the books, and legal, that Mormons were to be “exterminated or driven from the state”.


  12. falcon says:

    It’s funny, I perused all of the posts above and didn’t notice anything about Mountain Meadows, which usually comes up in these Missouri discussions to show Mormon initiated violence against innocent people.
    I know enough about the 19th century history of the United States to know it was a very violent time. Does anyone recall the war that went on in Kansas (Bloody Kansas) over the issue of slavery? How about John Brown’s attack on Harper’s Ferry or the Nate Turner Rebellion?
    Think of all of the religious sects of that era. How many got involved in a war? Why did the folks in Missouri not take to the Mormons? Who provoked who?
    It’s kind of fun to play the persecution card. It’s part of the “poor me” game played collectively by Mormons.
    I think there’s some strange sense with Mormons that they were/are persecuted because they are the “true” church. Persecution is also a good way to build cohesion within a group. If there’s a perceived threat from the “outside”, folks tend to bond.
    So I get it with Mormons. They don’t want to give this up. Besides it takes attention off the real issues which is Mormonism itself.

  13. falcon says:

    So claiming victim status is very important to Mormons and to Mormonism. First of all there’s a certain psychological advantage they gain. There’s the “good” people and “bad” people labels that can be assigned to the victims and the persecutors. This can even be generalized to “Mormons good” “Christians bad” thinking.
    Can we even say that Mormons have been persecuted and victimized by their own leadership? Has anyone studied the “handcart brigades” that came across the plains during the Mormon migration? The sanitized Mormon version of course has the poor set upon Mormons having to trek across the prairies of the west to find their promised land with the Mormon Moses Brigham Young bravely leading them on. The truth of the matter isn’t all that attractive.
    “The Mormon Church has successfully promoted a history which favorably promotes a positive image, but is exactly opposite of the real history of the event. What was the actual number of lost lives in this “greatest single tragedy in the history of the nation’s move west in the nineteenth century”?
    “An accurate count of the number who died will probably never be known because the authorities tried to keep the full horror of the disaster from becoming public, especially in England.” (Forgotten Kingdom, pg 118)
    Mormon Historian B. H. Roberts gives the best estimate that I have seen as 222:
    “The exact number of those who perished in this company is not of record in our official annals; and it is difficult to fix upon any approximate number with certainty…. All things considered the estimate of Chislett and Jaques, – putting their estimate at 145—is perhaps not far from the facts. And these added to Willie’s seventy seven deaths, brings the total of deaths to 222. (Roberts, Comprehensive History, 4:101)”

  14. falcon says:

    So can’t we say that the persecution and suffering of Mormons at the hands of their prophet Brigham Young were greater than that in Missouri. What happened in this tragedy was the result of a false prophesy of Brigham Young.
    People do suffer at the hands of false prophets.
    Why did these people emigrate to die or be maimed on the plains of America? Mormons oft times answer: Religious Persecution. That answer would only be a partially accurate answer for the Mormon migration to Kirkland, Ohio, then to Independence and Far West, Missouri, then to Nauvoo, Illinois and on to Salt Lake City; however, there isn’t any evidence to support that the Mormon Emigration Handcart Treks were caused by persecution. The Handcart Treks which began in 1856 from Iowa City, Iowa were a drivative of false prophecy.

    The horror of the Mormon Handcart Treks was due to the false prophecy by Mormon Leaders that Jesus was about to return, Europe was going to fall, the wrath of God was about to be unleashed on the earth and the only safe place would be in Zion – Salt Lake City, Utah. Hundreds of Mormons followed blindly the false prophecies of their leaders to “flee to Zion,” and heeded those false prophecies to their untimely, unwarranted deaths. These Mormon Pioneers were told to flee Europe or be engulfed by the wrath of God and that this Handcart Plan was a Divine Plan of God and nothing could hinder them as they traveled to Zion!”

  15. grindael says:

    uh, there were also laws on the books concerning murder that superceded the Extermination Order. Yes, common sense dictates that those that understand this, know that NO ONE would ever have been able to use the Extermination Order to justify “exterminating” a Mormon. Therefore it was NOT “legal” to kill Mormons. You can try to justify your faulty logic all you want, but there it is. The statement in the OP was blatantly false. See how Gordon Hinckley lied about the handcart company…

  16. Mike R says:

    Grindael, I think that this example you cited where Gordon B. Hinckley was in error as to some
    actual facts concerning the Mormon handcart issue is important in that it is shows us how
    a Mormon leader’s personal witness of believing inaccurate facts were then embraced by those
    who listened to him. No doubt these faithful followers also relied on their own spiritual witness
    that he was accurate in what he taught . Such error as this mirrors the sad condition of those LDS
    who have allowed a similar trust in what their leaders have taught about important gospel
    teachings but which are also inaccurate, and this all because of a spiritual witness they
    testify of . May the Mormon people see the type of trust that they place in their leaders as
    a tool that has been manipulated by these men into keeping members submissive to their
    alleged authority . A false prophet can be a nice well dressed man but Jesus said to beware of
    false prophets —-Matt 24: 11 . Grindael, thanks for helping expose false prophets .

  17. falcon says:

    I contend that the Mormon people have suffered more from their own prophets and leaders then they have from the so called persecutors.
    First of all, there have been plenty of groups who have been mistreated in our country over the course of time. Most, like Irish Catholics for example, have moved on. It seems to me that present day Mormons want to jump in with a “me too” sort of attitude like they were the ones who suffered the abuse.
    From what I can ascertain, Mormons of the era being cited, gave as good as they got. They didn’t pull a Gandhi and suffer without retribution. Also I don’t think Mormons were sitting around minding their own business when some bad people attacked them because they didn’t like their religion. They must have done something to get the populace fired-up.
    This idea that Mormons have been under an extermination order in Missouri is just plain stupid. I see it as just more of the hang-dog, poor-me attitude that has absolutely no basis in fact. How many Mormons were actually killed under this so called order? I doubt if it matches the number killed at Mountain Meadows.

  18. Mike R says:

    The Mormon handcart tragedy , one source called it the greatest single tragedy in the history
    of the Nation’s move West in the 19th century . All because of the unhealthy type of submission
    Mormons are taught to render to their leaders . There’s danger to doubt or to reject the spiritual
    witness of a Mormon apostle , he has priesthood authority ! As one Mormon apostle warned
    those who had questioned his credibility on another issue , he told them to repent and get back
    in line ! No wonder the Mormon people have embraced some of the false doctrines that they
    have from these men —-2Cor 11:13 . The Mormon people deserve better .

  19. fproy2222 says:

    (The Mormon handcart tragedy)

    In truth, it was overall successful.

    “In all, more than 2,962 people walked to Salt Lake City with handcart companies. Of these, 250 died on the trail. Only 30 of these deaths were not of the Willie and Martin companies.”

  20. Mike R says:

    Shame on you Fred. “overall successful” ? So you’re into a numbers game with this tragedy?
    For one person to die THIS WAY was a tragedy ! Mormons trusting the spiritual witness of their
    leaders , and their leaders being confused as to what really happened with this event in their
    history , sheds light on the unhealthy submission Mormons render to their leaders. A submission
    that in one case resulted in physical tragedy of those in a Handcart company , and today another
    case that will result in spiritual tragedy for those who continue to follow these leaders in the
    false gospel they’ve promoted —- Matt 15:14 .

  21. Kate says:

    What is truly sad about this is that there were many, many children who died in those handcart companies. As a Mother I can’t even imagine putting my children through all of that. Those children didn’t have a choice. They were dragged along.

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