Relations between the Mormons and Missourians were also strained
as a result of dissension in the Mormon Church. The methods adopted
by the Saints to purge dissenters from the Church fostered a militant
and intolerant spirit among the Mormons and aroused the suspicion
of Missouri settlers.
Dissension plagued Mormonism in its early years. Much of the opposition
to the new religion was instigated by apostates: dissenters in Kirtland,
for example, helped to drive Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and other
Mormon leaders from that town in early 1838. Dissenters proved most
troublesome, however, not because they stirred up hatred from without,
but because they generated contentions, doubting, and disobedience
within. Internal strife, Smith said, had led to the Saints' expulsion
from Jackson County. Attempts to redeem Zion similarly failed due
to "the transgressions of my people."25 In 1834
the Mormon prophet issued a revelation in which the Lord warned:
And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of
the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her
unto myself. And my people must needs be chastened until they
learn obedience, if it must needs be, by the things which they
The Far West Saints, not wishing to repeat the experiences of
Jackson and Clay counties, sought to create a righteous community
- one pleasing unto God - by strictly enforcing God's commandments
given through His prophet. Shortly after Smith arrived in Far West,
local church leaders brought Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and
a number of other known dissenters before a High Council court.
Mormon leaders variously charged these men with selling their land
in Jackson County contrary to Smith's revelations, violating the
Word of Wisdom,27 and undermining the Prophet's authority
by falsely accusing him of adultery. Cowdery believed this court
action would lead to "the subversion of the liberties of the
whole church" because ecclesiastical leaders were intruding
upon the secular affairs of their people."28 The Mormons,
however, saw little distinction between spiritual and secular matters
- for God is ruler over both - and Cowdery and the others were excommunicated
in April 1838. Rather than leaving Far West, however, the dissenters
continued to oppose Smith and soon aroused suspicions that they
were plotting to destroy the Church. Consequently, in June, the
Mormons determined to remove the troublemakers from their community.
A group of Mormons met secretly in Far West to discuss how to get
rid of the dissenters. The group adopted the name Daughters of Zion,
which they later changed to Sons of Dan, or Danites.29 Some
of the Mormons proposed killing the dissenters, but these and other
radical plans were successfully opposed by Thomas Marsh, president
of the Twelve Apostles, and John Corrill. The Danites took no action
against the dissenters until Sunday, 17 June, when Sidney Rigdon
preached what later became known as the Salt Sermon.30 Rigdon
denounced Mormon apostates, comparing them to the salt that Jesus
spoke of in the Gospel of St. Matthew. If the salt has lost its
savor, Rigdon said, it must be cast out and trodden under the feet
of men. Rigdon accused the dissenters in Far West of seeking to
overthrow the Church and committing various crimes. Although he
mentioned no names, the Mormons knew of whom he spoke. The next
day the Danites sent a letter to the chief dissenters, warning them
that the citizens of Caldwell County would no longer tolerate their
abusive conduct. The letter, reportedly written by Sidney Rigdon,
was signed by eighty-three Mormons, including Joseph's brother and
counselor, Hyrum Smith, several Far West high councilmen, and George
W. Pitkin, the Caldwell County sheriff. After describing the many
offenses allegedly committed by the dissenters, the letter announced
that the Mormons intended to drive them from the county. "There
are no threats from you - no fear of losing our lives by you, or
by any thing you can say or do, will restrain us," the Mormons
warned, "for out of the county you shall go, and no power shall
The threat of violence created the desired effect. On 19 June the
dissenters fled with their families to Richmond, Ray County. "These
men took warning, and soon they were seen bounding over the praire
like the scape Goat to carry off their own sins," wrote George
W. Robinson, one of the Danite leaders, regarding the dissenters'
flight; "we hav 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 ... ."32 The Mormons seized
their property in Far West and held it for debts allegedly owed
to the Church. The dissenters, claiming the Mormons stole the property,
initiated a series of lawsuits för its recovery.
The expulsion of these men from Far West reflected a growing militant
spirit among the Mormons, revealed a rigid intolerance for those
who opposed their practices and teachings, and demonstrated their
willingness to circumvent the law to protect their interests. Some
Mormons objected to this lawless spirit, claiming that it violated
the principles of republican government, but Sidney Rigdon defended
the Saints' treatment of the dissenters:
... when a county, or body of people have individuals among them
with whom they do not wish to associate and a public expression
is taken against their remaining among them and such individuals
do not remove it is the principle of republicanism itself that
gives that community the right to expel them forcibly and no law
will prevent it.33
- Doctrine and Covenants, 105:2, "Revelation given
through Joseph Smith the Prophet, on Fishing River, Missouri,
June 22, 1834." See also 101:1-8.
- Ibid., 105:5-6.
- The Word of Wisdorn is a Mormon health code forbidding the consumption
of alcohol, tobacco, coffee, or tea.
- Oliver Cowdery to Warren and Lyman Cowdery, 4 February 1838.
Photocopy, LDS Archives (Originals located at the Huntington Library,
San Marino, California).
- John Corrill believed the name "Daughters of Zion"
was taken from Micah 4:13 (A Brief History, p. 32). Albert P.
Rockwood stated that the Mormon Armies of Israel were called Dan
"because [the] Prophet Daniel has said the Saints shall take
the Kingdom and possess it forever" ("journal,"
- For information on the Salt Sermon and the subsequent expulsion
of the dissenters, see Robinson, "Scriptory Book" p.
47; Peck "Manuscript," pp. 6-7; Corrill, A Brief History,
p. 30; Ebenezer Robinson, "Items of Personal History,"
The Return 1 (October 1889): 146-47; John Whitmer, "The Book
of John Whitmer" (Typescript, Sait Lake City: Modern Microfilm,
n.d.), p. 22; and Document, pp. 103-7, 110, 120, 139, testimonies
of Sampson Avard, John Corrill, Reed Peck and John Whitmer.
- Document, p. 103, testimony of Sampson Avard; and Robinson,
"Items Of Personal History," p. 146.
- "Scriptory Book" p. 47. For the dissenters' expulsion,
see also Corrill,
A Brief History, p. 30; Peck "Manuscript," p. 7; and
Whitmer, "Book" p. 22.
- Peck, "Manuscript", p. 8. Rigdon compared their action
to the hanging of gamblers in Vicksburg by a vigilante committee.
(ibid., p. 7).
Stephen LeSueur: The 1838 Mormon War
in Missouri ss. 37-40