History of the Expulsion

When the Jackson Countians drove out the saints, only Clay County’ residents welcomed them. Parley P. Pratt reported, “The saints who fled took refuge in the neighboring counties—mostly in Clay County, which received them with some degree of kindness. Those who fled to the county of Van Buren were again driven, and compelled to flee; and those who fled to Lafayette County were soon expelled, or the most part of them, and had to move wherever they could find protection.” Joseph Smith wrote, “The main body of the church is now in Clay County, where the people are as kind and accommodating as could be reasonably expected.”
The presence of so many Latter Day Saints just across the river made many Jackson County residents uneasy. Church leaders petitioned the state to help them recover their lands. Governor Dunklin seemed to favor using the state militia. The Jackson Countians bought a cannon and enlisted volunteers from surrounding counties south of the river in case the Governor issued such an order. Some even tried to force the saints from Clay County, calling a meeting “and stirred up all the feelings there that they possibly could against the saints.”
According to Edward Stevenson, Joseph Smith taught that members should continue gathering to Missouri, “and situate themselves to be in readiness to move into Jackson in two years from 11 Sep next [1834] which is the appointed time for the redemption of Zion.” Church members, following the advice of some friendly Missouri nonmembers, also invited distant saints to immigrate to Clay County. More church members might discourage mob attacks and increase the probability of state help if they did. “Accordingly word was sent forth to the churches to that effect, and in the summer of 1834 a large company emigrated from the eastern churches to Clay County for that purpose.”
The saints originally intended to only temporarily stay in Clay County, while they negotiated their return to Jackson County, but their continuing presence and the arrival of new immigrants began to wear on some Clay County residents. Mobs formed during the summer 1836. A few saints were caught and whipped. One mob numbering over sixty people turned back a few wagons of gathering members. Concerned citizens feared a bloody war. They quickly called a meeting for June 29, 1836 at the Liberty Courthouse. Their petition pointed out that the saints “came to our county thus friendless and penniless, seeking (as they said) but a temporary asylum from the storms of persecution by which they were then buffeted.” They concluded, “We urge on the Mormons to use every means to put an immediate stop to the emigration of their people to this county. We earnestly urge them to seek some other abiding place.”
The northern part of Ray County, immediately east of Clay County, contained few residents. It seemed an ideal place for church members to settle. A few saints who had been evicted from Jackson County had already settled there. “In 1833, three Lyons brothers, who were Mormon exiles from Jackson County, settled at Log Creek, two miles southeast of Kingston. They built a horse mill (the first mill in the county), a blacksmith shop and three cabins for their families.” Bishop Partridge and W. W. Phelps scouted the area during the Spring of 1836. On May 3, 1836 they began buying land around Shoal Creek in Northern Ray County.
On July 1, church leaders responded to the concerned citizens’ request: “We comply with the requisitions of their resolutions in leaving the county of Clay, as explained by the preamble accompanying the same; and that we will use our exertions to have the church do the same; and that we will also exert ourselves to stop the tide of emigration of our people to this county.” They also asked assistance in finding a suitable place: “We accept of the friendly offer verbally tendered to us, by the committee yesterday, to assist us in selecting a location and removing to it.” The Branch by Fishing River chose Morris Phelps and others to explore northern Ray County for suitable land. They left near the end of July and bought out the only Missourians on Long Creek, three in number.
Meanwhile negotiations with Ray County, its residents, and the state legislature, with assistance from Alexander Doniphan, Liberty attorney and state representative, helped find a haven for church members. The original idea was to create a new county from the northern half of Ray County and designate it as a refuge for Mormons. Citizen complaints reduced the proposed area in half. On December 26, 1836, the Missouri legislature approved the formation of Caldwell County and Davies County, appointing Far West as Caldwell County’s County Seat. Davies County was formed from the area omitted as a refuge for the saints. “Most of the non-Mormon settlers in Caldwell, about twenty in number, sold their farms and moved out.”
Church members began pouring into Caldwell County. The first came from Clay County and the temporary camps of immigrants who had been halted on their trip to Clay County. Refugees from Kirtland came in 1837. Joseph moved to Far West in 1838. “The Mormon population in Missouri eventually reached 10,000 and Caldwell County became the largest county in Western Missouri. By the fall of 1838, Far West was the hub of community activity extending throughout Caldwell, encompassing nearly 2,000 farms over approximately 250,000 acres purchased from the Federal Government.” In 1838 Far West reported a population of 4,000.
The founding of Caldwell County coincided with the decline of Kirtland as a Mormon settlement. In November 1836, church leaders petitioned Ohio for a banking charter, but, according to Joseph Smith, what was so freely granted to others was declined on “some frivolous excuse.” Angered, they formed an anti-bank on January 2, 1837. Laws then allowed firms to issue notes and function as a quasi-bank, a practice encouraged by the Whig party. One hundred and eighty-seven people, one of them being Joseph Smith, signed the agreements that formed the Kirtland Safety Society. Joseph served as cashier.
The Kirtland Safety Society issued notes in excess of its liquid capital. The “paper money” fueled a spirit of speculation among some church members at a time when speculation was rising across the nation. The society continued to print notes into June 1837. Joseph transferred his holdings to Oliver Granger and J. Carter that same June and resigned his position in the society before July 7. By July, some local banks began refusing Kirtland Society’s notes. Joseph Smith warned the public about speculators who were buying the notes at a discount and “duping the unwary and unsuspecting, by palming upon them those bills, which are of no worth here.” The anti-bank failed in November 1837.
The failure of the Kirtland Safety Society spurred 13 lawsuits seeking $30,206.44 in damages. The first was filed in June 1837. Joseph was arrested “seven times in four months.” Some church members, including members of the Twelve, accused Joseph of mismanagement and using the Society to enrich himself. When Joseph went on a short mission to Canada from June 13 to June 22, 1837, a young girl claimed to receive revelations about the future through a black seer stone. “David Whitmer, Martin Harris, and Oliver Cowdery, whose faith in seer stones had not diminished when Joseph stopped using them, pledged her their loyalty, and F.G. Williams, Joseph’s First Counselor, became her scribe.” Shortly thereafter, Warren Parrish, cashier at the time and secretary at the meeting that formed the Kirtland Safety Society, claimed that Smith had prophesied that the firm would “grow and flourish and spread from the rivers to the ends of the earth, and survive when all others should be laid in ruins.” Wilford Woodruff recorded only that Joseph prophesied, “If we would give heed to the commandments the Lord had given this morning all would be well.” Parrish subsequently lead an opposition, called the Church of Christ. Three apostles, Luke Johnson, John Boynton and Lyman Johnson, as well as other church leaders participated in this opposition. George A. Smith reported, “One of the Presidency, several of the Twelve, the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, presidents of Far West, and a number of others standing high in the church were all carried away in this apostacy [sic].” Joseph’s popularity among the saints waned so much that Heber Kimball wrote at the time, “There were not twenty persons on earth that would declare that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.”
More prominent and affluent church members began leaving Kirtland for Far West during the latter half of 1837. In January 1838 an armed group carrying a warrant for Joseph’s arrest on a charge of illegal banking prepared to capture and hold him for trial. Joseph learned its intentions on the same day that he received two revelations concerning matters at Far West, one regarding the removal of the stake presidency and the other how to organize a stake. Joseph and Sidney immediately left Kirtland, but Joseph only reported the vigilantes as the reason for their hurried departure: “On the evening of the 12th of January, about ten o’clock, 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.” Joseph and Sidney were among the last of church leaders to flee Kirtland for Missouri. They reached Far West on March 14, 1838.
The Mormon refuge in Caldwell county was brief. Church members, weary of continuing persecution, were becoming sensitive and defensive. Non-members, aware of increasing friction, were growing more critical and antagonistic. A number of events heightened tensions. At Far West on November 7, 1837, “Frederick G. Williams was rejected as second counselor in the First Presidency and Hyrum Smith was sustained in his place.” Williams was re-baptized on August 5, 1838. All three members of the Far West Presidency and Book of Mormon witnesses, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and John Whitmer were removed on February 5, 1838. Oliver returned to the church in 1848, but neither of the Whitmers did. They, along with Lyman Johnson, who had also been expelled, remained at Far West. Dissident, expelled members had not remained among the saints before. Their presence only increased friction.
On Sunday, June 17, 1838 Sidney Rigdon preached his Salt Sermon. Using the text in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Rigdon “called the dissenters the salt that had lost its savor, hence, said he, ‘they are good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot.’ The dissenters made capital of his sermon, using it to prejudice the people in the adjoining counties against the Saints.” The fiery Rigdon followed with a declaration of independence given on Independence Day, July 4, 1838. He said, “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 on 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.”
With Caldwell County well inhabited by Spring 1838, saints had began settling in Davies, Clinton and Carroll Counties. The saints’ aggressive attitude and militant rhetoric made a tinderbox that only needed a spark to set conflict ablaze. That spark was struck August 6, 1838 at Gallatin. “An attempt was made to prevent the ‘Mormons’ from voting; which resulted in a conflict, and was the beginning of the hostilities which finally resulted in so much suffering and the expulsion of the saints from the State.” As hostilities grew and aggressive rhetoric grew on both sides, Thomas B Marsh and Orson Hyde left the church on October 19, 1838. They signed an affidavit at Richmond, Missouri on October 24, 1838 that only fanned the flames. The affidavit included testimony about a secret group, called Danites, “who have taken an oath to support the heads of the Church in all things that they say or do, whether right or wrong” and another company who were ready, if necessary, “to burn Liberty and Richmond.” The affidavit also stated that the saints expected Joseph Smith to control Missouri and eventually the United States: “The plan of said Smith, the prophet, is to take the State, and he professes to his people to intend taking the United States, and ultimately the whole world.” Three days later, October 27, 1838, Governor Boggs issued the infamous Missouri Executive Order 44, or Exterminating Order. It decreed, “The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State.”
The saints migrated from Missouri to Illinois where they were graciously received. Joseph Smith and other church leaders, who were taken captive at Far West and jailed, were released or allowed to escape. Joseph and his fellow prisoners arrived in Quincy, Illinois on April 22, 1839. Two days later, a council resolved, “That the advice of the conference to the brethren in general is, that as many of them as are able, move north to Commerce, as soon as they possibly can.” The saints purchased and drained the overpriced swampland, a tribute to their ingenuity and hard work, building the town of Nauvoo. By 1843, Nauvoo reached a population of 12,000. It became one of the largest cities in Illinois then, but peace and prosperity were brief.
On April 18, 1844 Robert D. Foster, Wilson Law, William Law, and Jane Law were expelled from the church. William Law claimed that Hyrum Smith showed him a revelation on polygamy that the Laws considered an abomination. Along with his brother Wilson, William purchased a press, which arrived in Nauvoo on May 7, 1844. On June 7, 1844 they published the first and only issue of the Nauvoo Expositor. Its purpose was to expose the corruption that they believed ran rampant in Nauvoo: “We are earnestly seeking to explode the vicious principles of Joseph Smith, and those who practice the same abominations and whoredoms.” He described a revelation on polygamy—“I hereby certify that Hyrum Smith did, (in his office) read to me a certain written document, which he said was a revelation from God, he said that he was with Joseph when it was received.” William Law also criticized Joseph Smith’s involvement in politics. Joseph was a candidate for the US presidency at the time: “We disapprobate and discountenance every attempt to unite church and state; and that we further believe the effort now being made by Joseph Smith for political power and influence, is not commendable in the sight of God.”
The Nauvoo City Council met the next night. According to the report published in the Nauvoo Neighbor, Joseph denied all charges that were personally made against him. Hyrum Smith “referred to the revelation read to the High Council of the Church, which has caused so much talk about a multiplicity of wives; that said revelation was in answer to a question concerning things which transpired in former days, and had no reference to the present time.” Hyrum also testified to William Law’s immorality. The following Monday, the City Council declared the paper a nuisance and ordered its destruction. Joseph Smith, Nauvoo’s mayor, immediately ordered the city marshal, John P. Greene, to destroy the press, apparatus and handbills. Mr. Greene reported the job complete by 8:00 PM that night.
The destruction of the Expositor’s press infuriated non-Mormons. F. M. Higbee, who had been expelled from the church on May 18, 1844, “went before Thomas Morrison, a justice of the peace, at Carthage, Illinois, and obtained a writ for the arrest of Joseph Smith” and others. That warrant was discharged by the Nauvoo Court, but another was obtained by different plaintiffs. The second warrant was also discharged. By then, the agitated non-Mormon public demanded a more impartial hearing. Joseph had notified Governor Ford that he and “all who were implicated would go before any legal tribunal at the State capital and submit to an investigation,” but the Governor only agreed to offer Joseph and his comrades the protection of the State Militia if they went to Carthage to answer the charge of riot before the judge who issued the warrant. Joseph fearfully agreed. On June 25, 1844, he went to Carthage and posted a bond of $500, a promise to appear at the next Circuit Court. Joseph and Hyrum were immediately arrested on a charge of “treason against the State of Illinois” and remanded to jail without a hearing.
Governor Ford met with the prisoners on June 26. “On the morning of the 27th he disbanded the McDonough troops and sent them home, took Captain Dunn’s company of cavalry and proceeded to Nauvoo, leaving these two men and three or four friends to be guarded by eight men at the jail.” William Daniels reported that the Carthage Greys had proposed to the Warsaw Militia “to come to Carthage on the following day, and assist them in murdering Joseph and Hyrum Smith,” but the company was met in route with dispatches from the Governor disbanding the militia. Eighty-four of them, determined to carry out their plans, continued their mission. Others followed as spectators. One member of the Greys met the band about four miles from town and delivered the following note; “Now is a delightful time to murder the Smiths. The Governor has gone to Nauvoo with all the troops. The Carthage Greys are left to guard the prisoners. Five of our men will be stationed at the jail; the rest will be upon the public square. To keep up appearances, you will attack the men at the jail—a sham scuffle will ensue—their guns will be loaded with blank cartridges—they will fire in the air.” The Warsaw mob attacked the jail in late afternoon, June 27,1844, killing both Joseph and Hyrum Smith.
Mormonism did not dissipate at Joseph Smith’s death. The Mormons did not retaliate, nor was Nauvoo attacked. A tenuous peace ensued, while the opposition turned political. On January 29, 1845 the Illinois legislature repealed Nauvoo’s charter—a move that, among other things, stripped the city of its legion. The next day, Eliza Snow complained that the charter’s revocation left the saints “naked, exposed to the chilling blast of mobocratic fury which [had] already begin to blow.” Governor Ford wrote Brigham Young on April 8, 1845 with advice on how Nauvoo might provide civil government without a charter. He also urged the church to vacate the state: “If you can get off by yourself you may enjoy peace; but surrounded with such neighbors I confess that I do not foresee the time when you will be permitted to enjoy quiet.” The Governor also advised the saints to leave by February 1, 1846. On September 10, 1845, “’anti-Mormons,’ who had sworn to expel the ‘Mormons’ from the State, because of alleged outrages, began burning houses in the vicinity of Green Plains, Hancock County. It is reported that as many as one hundred or one hundred and twenty-five houses were burned within a short time.” With tensions growing, “They urged the necessity, (to stop the effusion of blood,) to expel the church, or as they call them, the Mormons, from the United States, ‘peacefully if they could, forcibly if they must,’ unless they would transport themselves by next spring.”
Looking back after 30 years Orson Pratt reported the terms of a treaty, perhaps this one. He remembered it in these words: “You must leave all the States of the Union, you must not stop this side the Rocky Mountains, you must go beyond the Rocky Mountains; if you will do this you may depart in peace, but we will take your houses and lands and occupy them without remuneration, we will not pay you for them; but if you can get away without selling your property and you will agree to go beyond the Rocky Mountains you may have the privilege of going, otherwise we will kill you.”
The High Council agreed on January 20, 1846, to send a party of “young, hardy men” and some families West. There job was “to put in a spring crop, to build houses, and to prepare for the reception of families who will start as grass shall be sufficiently grown to sustain teams and stock.” The first group of about 2000 saints, which included the nine remaining in the Quorum of Twelve, left Nauvoo during February 1846 in the church’s move toward the Rocky Mountains. The main body of the saints followed. The last group, under the threat of an armed mob, left Nauvoo on September 17, 1846.
The ten years from the disbandment of Zion’s Camp to the exodus from Nauvoo witnessed the removal of the saints from four places of refuge: Clay County, Missouri; Kirtland, Ohio; Caldwell, County, Missouri; and Nauvoo, Illinois. Before they were driven from their first gathering place in Jackson County, Missouri the Lord explained the consequences of their faithlessness: “Lo, your enemies are upon you, and ye shall be scourged from city to city, and from synagogue to synagogue, and but few shall stand to receive an inheritance” (D&C 63:8f). Like the ancient Israelites, latter-day Israel’s faith had proved insufficient. Their generation was prohibited from finding rest in the Promised Land. The saints were driven from “city to city” as the revelation predicted and few of them were left to return to the land of Zion.
In 1875, Orson Pratt reflected on these events: “Have we had much tribulation? Yes. Look at the many times we have been driven since that revelation was given. We were driven out of Clay County, then out of Kirtland, in Geauga County, now called Lake County, Ohio; and after that we were driven from Caldwell County, from Davies’ County, Ray County, and several other surrounding counties in the State of Missouri, and finally expelled from the State, leaving a great many thousand acres of land for which we hold the deeds to the present day. After that we settled in the State of Illinois, in Nauvoo. We were there but a few years when the Prophet, his brother and several others were killed, and again we were driven.”

Joseph F Smith  2011

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