Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess

Overview

In the late 1820s a fiery young minister in western Ohio converted nearly 1,000 proselytes to the Reformed Baptist Movement. As these schismatics organized themselves into the new Disciples of Christ church, the Reverend Sidney Rigdon was already aligning himself with another, more radical movement, the Latter-day Saints, where he quickly became the LDS prophet’s principal advisor and spokesman. He served Joseph Smith loyally for the next fourteen years, even through a brief spat over the prophet’s ...

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Overview

In the late 1820s a fiery young minister in western Ohio converted nearly 1,000 proselytes to the Reformed Baptist Movement. As these schismatics organized themselves into the new Disciples of Christ church, the Reverend Sidney Rigdon was already aligning himself with another, more radical movement, the Latter-day Saints, where he quickly became the LDS prophet’s principal advisor and spokesman. He served Joseph Smith loyally for the next fourteen years, even through a brief spat over the prophet’s romantic interest in his teenage daughter.

Next to Smith, Rigdon was the most influential early Mormon. He imported Reformed Baptist teachings into Latter-day Saint theology, wrote the canonized Lectures on Faith, championed communalism and isolationism, and delivered many of the most significant early sermons, including the famous Salt Sermon and the Ohio temple dedicatory address.

Following Smith’s death, Rigdon parted company with Brigham Young to lead his own group of some 500 secessionists Mormons in Pennsylvania. Rigdon’s following gradually dwindled, as the one-time orator took to wandering the streets, taunting indifferent passersby with God’s word. He was later recruited by another Mormon faction. Although he refused to meet with them, he agreed to be their prophet and send revelations by mail. Before long he had directed them to settle far-off Iowa and Manitoba, among other things. At his death, his followers numbered in the hundreds, and today they number about 10,000, mostly in Pennsylvania.

“Rigdon is a biographer’s dream,” writes Richard Van Wagoner. Intellectually gifted, manic-depressive, an eloquent orator and social innovator but a chronic indigent, Rigdon aspired to altruism but demanded advantage and deference. When he lost prominence, his early attainments were virtually written out of the historical record.

Correcting this void, Van Wagoner has woven the psychology of religious incontinence into the larger fabric of social history. In doing so, he reminds readers of the significance of this nearly-forgotten founding member of the LDS First Presidency. Nearly ten million members in over one hundred churches trace their heritage to Joseph Smith. Many are unaware of the importance of Rigdon’s contributions to their inherited theology.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781560851974
  • Publisher: Signature Books, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/28/2006
  • Edition description: Second Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 504
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 2.30 (d)

Meet the Author

 Richard S. Van Wagoner is co-author of A Book of Mormons and sole author of Lehi: Portraits of a Mormon Town, Mormon Polygamy: A History, and Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess. Sidney Rigdon won the Best Book Award from the John Whitmer Historical Association and Best Biography Award from the Mormon History Association. Van Wagoner is also a contributor to The Prophet Puzzle: Interpretive Essays on Joseph Smith and has written for BYU Studies, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Utah Historical Quarterly, and other publications.

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Read an Excerpt

 Chapter 17: Zion

The emigration to this land is very extensive and numerous[.]…[The First Presidency are chiefly engaged in counciling and settling the emigrants to this land. The [prophecies] are fulfilling very fast upon our heads and in our day and generation. They are gathering from the North, and from the South, from the East, and from [the] West unto Zion for safety against the day of wrath which is to be poured out without mixture upon this generation according to the prophets.

—Joseph Smith (1838)1

The Missouri era (1831 to 1839) casts a deep shadow over the history of Mormonism.2 Joseph Smith taught that the area was the land of antediluvian Old Testament narration, that Jackson County was old Eden. Adam-ondi-Ahman, in nearby Daviess County, was the place where Adam and Eve fled when driven from the idyllic garden, and Far West, in Caldwell County, was the “spot where Cain Killed Abel.”3 Mormons hoped initially and perhaps naively that Jackson County, the fabled “land of their inheritance,” would be rescued from non-believing hordes. Joseph Smith advised Lyman Wight and others of the Missouri High Council on 16 August 1834 “to be in readiness to move into Jackson County in two years from the 11th of September next, which is the appointed time for the redemption of Zion.”4

With the passing of time it became clear that Zion would not be redeemed nor would the Saints be redressed for their Jackson County losses. The Missouri legislature moved in 1836 to organize Caldwell County for Mormon settlement; thus most Saints left Clay and Ray counties and established new lives in Caldwell. John Whitmer and W. W. Phelps chose the county’s center for a new city of refuge which they named Far West. Developed on large tracts of wild prairie lands, the village eventually became home to 2,500 people, the largest Mormon population in the state. Between December 1837 and mid-July 1838 more than 1,600 Kirtland Saints migrated to Far West, abandoning homes and flocking to this new colonizing adventure in the wilderness of western America. Land was cheap. In Caldwell County the Saints purchased nearly 250,000 acres of federal lands for $1.25 an acre; nearly thirty townsites were eventually settled.

Far West at its apex consisted of hundreds of log cabins, four dry goods stores, nine groceries, six blacksmith shops, and two hotels. The schoolhouse, where Sidney Rigdon preached shortly after settling in the area, was moved to the center of the town square for use as a combination church, town hall, and courthouse.5 The Rigdon dwelling, a two-story log cabin directly across the street from the town square, was the village’s largest home. Upon leaving Kirtland, Rigdon lost virtually everything he owned, including twelve acres of property valued at $4,211.6 He rebounded financially in Missouri, however, quickly finding sustenance from church coffers.

Mormonism’s theological preoccupation with economics has been evident since the earliest days of the movement. The Book of Mormon implied that the rewards for righteous living included material wealth (Alma 1:29, 31). While the Mormon work ethic, as pointed out by historian D. Michael Quinn, was “communitarian rather than individualistic, and socialistic rather than entrepreneurial or capitalistic,” church leaders such as Rigdon, Smith, and later Brigham Young, seldom went without.7 Rigdon and Smith, upon arriving in Caldwell County, presented their financial plight to the Far West High Council on 12 May 1838. Both leaders indicated that during the previous eight years they had spent their “time[,] tallents],] & property, in the service of the Church, and are now reduced as it were to absolute beggery, and still were detained in service of the Church.” They had now reached the point, they expressed, where either something “should be done for their support.… by the Church” or they “must do it themselves.”

After a lengthy discussion, during which George M. Hinkle forcefully opposed “a salaried ministry,” the high council voted eleven to one to give the two men eighty acres of land each and to contract with them for their services, “not for preaching or for receiving the word of god by revelation, neither for instructing the Saints in righteousness,” but for work rendered in the “[p]rinting establishment, in translating the ancient records &c, &c.” After negotiations, they ultimately agreed to offer Rigdon and Smith an annual contract of $1,100 apiece, more than three times what the average worker of the day could earn.8 Ebenezer Robinson, the high council’s clerk, later wrote that “when it was noised abroad that the Council had taken such a step, the members of the church, almost to a man, lifted their voices against it. The expression of disapprobation was so strong and emphatic that at the next meeting of the High Council the resolution voting them a salary, was rescinded.”9

Angered by this refusal, Rigdon and Smith sought additional sources of church revenues. A revelation given to them in Kirtland on 12 January 1838, but not yet public, was dusted off and presented to the membership. In response to the question: “O Lord, show unto thy servants how much thou requirest of the properties of thy people for a tithing,” the Saints were told: “I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the Bishop of my Church of Zion, for the building of mine house and for the laying the foundation of Zion, and for the priesthood and for the debts of the presidency of my church.”10

Ten days later another revelation explained that surplus tithing was to be “disposed of by a Council composed of the First Presidency…and of the Bishop and his Council; and by my High Council” (D&C 120). On 26 July still further instruction declared that the “first presidency [should] keep all their properties, that they can dispose of to their advantage and Support and the remainder be put into the hands of the Bishop or Bishops agreeably to the commandments, and revelations.”11 For those unwilling to be so “tithed,” the 8 July revelation threatened: “If my people observe not this law, to keep it holy, and by this law sanctify the land of Zion…behold verily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of Zion unto you.”12

Rigdon expanded on the revelation’s warning, adding that noncompliers would be “delivered over to the brother of Gideon and be sent bounding over the Prairies as the dissenters were a few days ago.”13 But fate failed to discriminate between non-tithers and tithe payers. Within four months the entire body of Mormons was driven from their promised land by looting, pillage, and gratuitous violence. Trouble began on 6 August 1838 at Gallatin, the county seat of Daviess County. During the third week of July, Judge Josiah Morin, a Democratic candidate for state senator, informed John D. Lee and Levi Stewart of a Whig plot to prevent Mormons—who voted Democrat en masse—from casting ballots in Daviess County on election day.

Shortly after polls opened on 6 August, William Peniston, a Whig candidate for the state legislature, mounted a barrel and began castigating Mormons. Calling church leaders “horse thieves, liars, counterfeiters,” the agitator asserted that “he did not consider [that] Mormons had any more right to vote than the niggers.” Goaded into action by Peniston’s rhetoric, several Missourians attempted to bully the eight or ten Mormons waiting to vote. A brawl quickly erupted. John L. Butler noted that when he saw what was happening he “hollowed out to the top of my voice…O yes, you Danites, here is a job for us.” He picked up a large oak bludgeon, and “When I got in reach of them, I commenced to call out loud for peace and at the same time making my stick to move to my own utter astonishment, tapping them as I thought light, but they fell as dead men.”14

In the brief skirmish the heavily outnumbered Mormons prevailed. Nearly thirty Missourians were wounded by Butler and others. Fearing vengeance by the regrouped ruffians, Mormons retreated to their cabins, gathered up their families, and hid as a group in a hazel thicket until morning. Word of the fray soon reached Far West. Judge Morin, passing through town, informed Smith and Rigdon that he had heard that “two or three of our brethren were killed by the Missourians, and left upon the ground, and not suffered to be interred…and [that] a majority of the inhabitants of Daviess county were determined to drive the Saints from that county.”15

The signal dram sounded and a Danite company, including the First Presidency, assembled in the town square. One observer said that Rigdon addressed the troops with sword in hand. “Now we as the people of God do declare and decree,” he shouted, brandishing the cutlass, “by the Great Jehovah, the eternal and omnipotent God, that sits upon his vast and everlasting throne, beyond that ethereal blue, we will bath our swords in the vital blood of the Missourians or die in the attempt!”16 Under the command of Danite regimental Colonel George W. Robinson, the well-armed company, which had grown to nearly one hundred men, reached Lyman Wight’s home at Diahman by nightfall. There the men listened to a more accurate report of the election day fight. Instead of returning home the next morning, however, they decided to visit prominent Daviess County men to assess their view of the incident at Gallatin.

Three Danite leaders, Lyman Wight, Sampson Avard, and Cornelius P. Lott, called on Judge Adam Black, a local justice of the peace whom George W. Robinson, the prophet’ s scribe, attested was “[manifestly] an en[e]my of ours.”17 The group demanded the judge sign a prepared statement renouncing his affiliation with vigilantes and pledging not to molest Mormons in the future. He refused. In thirty minutes Danite emissaries, including Rigdon and Smith, surrounded the house. “We have come to be plain with you,” threatened Avard, the group’s spokesman: “the only alternative is for you to sign this obligation.” Fearing the large company of armed men, Black signed a statement of his own which satisfied the Danites.18 Other principal men in the area were visited and enjoined to discuss peace. Robinson added that the company arrived home about midnight and “found all well in Far West.”19

But all was not well outside the Mormon stronghold, particularly in Daviess County. Squire Black, incensed at his treatment by the militia, immediately filed a complaint stating that Mormons had demanded his signature or suffer “instant death.”20 The next day William Peniston also swore before Judge Austin A. King that Mormons not only threatened Black’s life but intended to “drive from the county all the old citizens, and possess themselves of their lands, or to force such as do not leave, to come into their measures and submit to their dictation.”21

The situation quickly exploded. One observer wrote that the standoff could “not be settled without a fight, and the quicker they have it the better for the peace and quiet of the county.”22 While neither Smith nor Rigdon at this point sought confrontation, they were likewise resolved not to back away from one. The 1 September 1838 entry in the “Scriptory Book of Joseph Smith” reaffirms their stance, earlier elucidated in Rigdon’s 4th of July oration: “[I]n the name of Jesus Christ the Son of the Living God we will endure [persecution] no longer.… Our rights and our liberties shall not be taken from us, and we peacably submit to it as we have done heretofore, but we will avenge ourselves of our enemies, inasmuch as they will not let us alone.”23

Rigdon wrote lengthy requests for assistance to the governor and to Judge Austin A. King, imploring them to “protect the citizens of Davies[s] against the threatened violence of the mob.” The letters were accompanied by affidavits, Rigdon later testified, which “could leave no doubt on the mind of the governor or judge, that the citizens before mentioned were in eminent danger.”24 Rigdon’s efforts were partially successful. Major General Atchison and Brigadier Generals Doniphan and Parks marched troops into Daviess County and momentarily defused the situation. Once they left, however, the harassment resumed. Missouri miscreants scoured the countryside for Mormons, forcing them from their homes. “They calculated to drive the people into Far West,” Hyrum Smith later stated, “and then drive them to hell.”25 Mormon messengers sought assistance from the governor but were reportedly told “the quarrel was between the Mormons and the mob,” and that they “might fight it out.”26

Rather than fight, the besieged citizens of DeWitt in Daviess County loaded their wagons and abandoned the town on 11 October. Their arrival in Far West infuriated local church leaders, who urged retaliation. On 15 October, while advising several companies of Mormon fighting men en route to Diahman, an irate Joseph Smith asserted:

The law we have tried long enough! Who is so big a fool as to cry, the law! the law! when it is always administered against us and never in our favor. I do not intend to regard the law hereafter.… We will take our affairs into our own hands and manage for ourselves. We have applied to the Governor and he will do nothing for us; the militia of the county we have tried and they will do nothing. All are mob.… I am determined that we will not give another foot.… God will send us angels to our deliverance and we can conquer 10,000 as easily as ten!

Rigdon joined Smith, chastising the “oh, don’t men” who refused to fight “while others are out on expeditions to other counties doing all they can to support the cause.” In the heat of the moment he proposed that “blood should first run in the streets of Far West,” that “traitors among [us] who had always opposed [our] doings should be slain.” He subsequently mellowed and insisted instead that pacifists simply be forced to march with troops the next day. If they refused, he exclaimed, “they should be pitched on their horses with bayonets and placed in front of the battle.” A hearty “amen” from the congregation sealed his sentiments.27 Reed Peck noted that he, John Corrill, W. W. Phelps, John Cleminson, and several other “anti Danites had the honor of being enrolled in one of these companies and under the bayonet resolutions marched to Daviess County.”28

Smith and Rigdon instructed the “Army of Israel,” lacking sufficient provender and supplies, to live off the land while they battled. Prior to their departure, Major General Sampson Avard informed his captains that

it soon will be your privilege to take your respective companies and go out on a scout on the borders of the settlements, and take to yourselves spoils of the goods of the ungodly Gentiles[.]…[I]t is written, the riches of the Gentiles shall be consecrated to my people, the house of Israel; and thus you will waste away the Gentiles by robbing and plundering them of their property; and in this way we will build up the kingdom of God.29

When some of the inductees opposed these aggressive plans, Avard asserted “there were no laws that were executed in justice… this being a different dispensation” wherein the Lord would personally reign, “and His laws alone were the laws that would exist.” Further protests were silenced when Avard announced that he had received his authority on the matter from President Rigdon the previous evening.30

The company marched to Daviess County resolved to drive their enemies out a final time. This strategy was delayed by a massive snowstorm. The Far West, a non-Mormon newspaper in nearby Liberty, felt “the snow and cold weather will be the best mediator of peace between the parties.”31 On 18 October, however, Mormon raiders were able to ride out. Apostle David W. Patten, known by his Danite tide “Captain Fearnought,” descended on Gallatin with a large contingent of men and, after plundering the small village, burned most of it to the ground. Then the marauders pillaged the Daviess County countryside, depositing their spoils, which they termed “consecrated property,” in the bishop’s storehouse at Diahman. “It should not be supposed,” wrote Oliver B. Huntington, “that we were common robbers because we took by reprisal that with which to keep from starvation our women and children.”32

During the evening of 23 October, 130 Mormon cavalry returned to Far West. According to Albert P. Rockwood, Rigdon gave these “horsemen of Isreall” a “short address suited to the occasion when all the people said Amen.”33 A courier had also conveyed a letter to Rigdon from the prophet which caused him to celebrate, Mormon James C. Owens noted. The letter stated: “[T]he enemy was delivered into [our] hands, and that they need not fear; that this had been given to him by the spirit of prophecy, in the name of Jesus Christ.”34

For a time Daviess County was in the hands of Mormon raiders. “The citizens,” wrote Reed Peck,

men, women and children, fled through the snow in wagons, on horseback and on foot after the plundering and burning commenced, as precipitately as though they had been invaded by a hostile band of Indians: but with this flood of testimony their calamitous report was not generally credited until men expecially appointed for the purpose had visited Daviess Co. and returned with a confirmation of their story.35

Danite atrocities would be confirmed by such prominent Mormons as Thomas B. Marsh, Orson Hyde, Reed Peck, William Swartzell, John Cleminson, W. W. Phelps, and John Corrill. Swartzell, a recent convert living at Diahman, chose to leave the church: “I concluded that I had been fed on such stuff long enough,” he wrote in his diary, “the idea of such a band attacking a State which could call to its aid twenty-five other free and independent sovereignties, more densely populated than itself, was preposterous. God (thought I) can have no dealings with this people, who have been led away by imposters; and I, for one, will leave them to their fate.”36

The most prominent Mormon defectors of this period were Quorum of the Twelve President Thomas B. Marsh and outspoken Apostle Orson Hyde. After witnessing the burning and plundering in Daviess County, Marsh and Hyde traveled to Richmond, in Ray County, where on 24 October Marsh, in a lengthy affidavit, confirmed that a company of Mormons under Apostle David Patten had burned Gallatin. “They have among them,” Marsh continued, “a company consisting of all that are considered true Mormons, called the 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.” After exposing future Danite plans for scourging the countryside, Marsh added:

The plan of said Smith, the prophet, is to take this State, and he professes to his people to intend taking the United States, and ultimately the whole world.… I have heard the prophet say that he should yet tread down his enemies, and walk over their dead bodies; that if he was not let alone he would be a second Mahomet to this generation, and that he would make it one gore of blood from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean; that like Mohomet, whose motto, in treating for peace, was “the Alcoran, or the Sword,” so should it be eventually with us, “Joseph Smith or the Sword.”37

Hyde, in a second affidavit, attested that “most of the statements in the foregoing disclosure of Thomas B. Marsh, I know to be true, the remainder I believe to be true.”38

These affidavits, in addition to Danite activities in the surrounding countryside, caused considerable hysteria in Richmond where citizens expected an imminent Danite attack. Richmond Judge E. M. Ryland in an 25 October express to Governor Lilburn Boggs stated: “the city is expected to be sacked and burned by the Mormon banditti tonight.”39 Judge Austin A. King confirmed Ryland’s position by letter to the governor, adding: “Until lately, I thought the Mormons were disposed to act only on the defensive; but their recent conduct shows that they are the aggressors, that they intend to take the law into their own hands.”40 Sashiel Woods and Joseph Dickson reported to Boggs that Mormons had massacred a fifty-man Missouri militia company. Richmond, they said, was to be attacked at any moment. “We know not the hour and minute we will be laid in ashes—our country ruined—for God’s sake give us assistance as quick as possible.”41

The previous evening a militia company, led by a Methodist minister, Captain Samuel Bogart, had been patrolling the borders of Caldwell County when it encountered a small group of Mormons. They were disarmed, three taken hostage, and the rest allowed to return to Far West where they spread the horrific news that the captives would be shot at sunrise. The prophet, now commander-in-chief of all Mormon military units, dispatched a company of men under Apostle David Patten to “Go and kill every devil of them” and rescue the trio.42 The cavalry unit discovered the Missourians bivouacked on Crooked River, twelve miles south of Far West. Patten’s men dismounted a mile from the militia, left their horses with a small guard, and approached the camp silently on foot. At dawn they rushed upon their enemies, echoing their war cry, “God and Liberty!” The militia fled, leaving one of their number dead. The gunfight also resulted in the deaths of Mormons Gideon Carter, David W. Patten, and eighteen-year-old Patrick O’Banion.

The command post for the operation was Rigdon’s home, although, according to his account, he “was not connected with the militia, being over age.”43 He later recalled that early the next morning the county sheriff reported several Mormons dead in the battle. Rigdon and an unnamed horseman (possibly Joseph Smith) rode out onto the prairie to meet the returning company. Young O’Banion was taken to Sidney’s house where, according to Wickliffe Rigdon, he “lingered in great agony for two days and then died.”44

Although Governor Boggs had done virtually nothing to protect Mormons from predatory Missourians, the Danite assault on the militia at Crooked River put the politician into action. On 27 October 1838 Boggs issued a directive to Major-General John B. Clark, which read in part:

Since the order of this morning to you…I have received, by Amos Rees, Esq., of Ray county and Wiley C. Williams, Esq., one of my aid[e]s, information of the most appalling character, which changes entirely the face of things, and places the Mormons in the attitude of an open and avowed defiance of the laws, and of having made war upon the people of this State. Your orders are therefore, to hasten your operations and endeavor to reach Richmond in Ray County, with all possible speed. The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated, or driven from the State, if necessary for the public peace.45

The governor’s “extermination order,” as it subsequently became known, was supported by the unwritten—though frequently avowed—right of American citizens to expel unwanted groups or individuals from their midst. Rigdon himself had used this reasoning to justify forcing Mormon dissidents from Far West.46 Boggs later said his principal desire was to quell Mormon insurrection without bloodshed. The muster of such a massive military force from his perspective was merely to “awe [the Saints] into submission.”47 Initially Mormons, unaware of the size of the military contingent, were not awed. Responding to a rumor that the governor had called out the militia, Smith scoffed:

I care not a fig for the coming of the troops. We’ve tried long enough to please the Gentiles. If we live together they don’t like it; if we scatter they massacre us for it. The only law they know here is that might makes right. They are a damned set, and God will blast them into hell!

If they try to attack us we will play hell with their applecarts. Before now, men, you’ve fought like devils. But now I want you to fight like angels, for angels can whip devils. And for every one we lack in number to match the mob, the Lord will send an angel to fight alongside.48

Albert Rockwood, impressed with Smith’s bravado, recorded in his diary that “the Prophet goes out to the battle as in days of old. He has the sword that Nephi took from Laban.…The Prophet has unsheathed his sword and in the name of Jesus declares that it shall not be sheathed again untill he can go into any County or state in safety and in peace.”49

Far West was elevated sufficiently for a commanding view of the terrain. On 30 October, an hour before sunset, Missouri militia leader General Samuel Lucas and his army, a cortege more than a mile long, was spotted approaching Far West from the south. After crossing Goose Creek the military formed a line of battle as if to attack the city. Wickliffe Rigdon, later recalling the reaction of Far West residents, wrote that “the women were greatly excited and the men showed great fear as to what might happen.” Young Rigdon saw Joseph Smith in front of the Rigdon home loading a weapon. He was soon surrounded by a panicked throng of forty or fifty men seeking instructions. The prophet told them to get their weapons and come with him. Eight-year-old Wickliffe and his ten-year-old brother Sid tagged along with the men as they established a skirmish line to oppose what they wrongly thought was an undisciplined mob of Missourian rabble.

Within moments Sidney Rigdon arrived on the scene and asked his boys what they were doing. Wickliffe told his father they were there “to see what was going to be done.” “You and your brother go home. You may get killed here,” he ordered. When young Wickliffe argued they were in no more danger of getting killed than he was, Sidney exploded “in anger for us to go home at once and we started.”50 Rigdon, attempting to survey the army through his telescope, was so unnerved, Lorenzo D. Young later reported, that he “could not hold the glass still enough to see anything.”51 Meanwhile, seeing that the Mormons intended to fight, the militia withdrew into nearby woods until morning to await approaching reinforcements and general orders.

Some Mormons, misinterpreting the army’s actions, thought the battalion had been intimidated into retreat. One account alleged the withdrawal occurred because hundreds of angels, bearing the appearance of “legions of armed men,” stood beside the Mormons, visible only to the Missourians.52 Oliver Huntington claimed the troops “all turned and ran pell mell back to their camp, in great fright, declaring they saw too many thousands of soldiers to think of attacking the city,” speculating that they had seen the “Three Nephites, armed for battle, leading the hosts of heaven.”53

Despite rumors of miraculous relief, Mormon leaders were frightened. John Corrill and Reed Peck were secretly sent to scour the area in search of General Doniphan, Smith’s and Rigdon’s friend and personal lawyer, to “beg like a dog for peace.”54 But the couriers did not locate the general until his command was encamped outside Far West. Peck was assured the army would hold off an attack until militia leaders had met with Mormon emissaries the following day.

Few Far West residents slept that night. “If we must fight,” Rigdon was heard to lament, “[we must] sell our lives as dear as we could.”55 Accordingly all hands went to work. Rails, logs, and wagons were formed into a protective breastwork. Women and children, after concealing valuables, lay awake in fear. The vacant second story of Rigdon’s home was “packed as full of women and children as could get into it,” Wickliffe Rigdon later wrote. “[W]e all sat on the floor as close as we could get and there we sat all night.”56 When morning came the Mormon mediators—George M. Hinkle, Arthur Morrison, Reed Peck, John Corrill, W. W. Phelps, and John Cleminson—were briefed by the First Presidency. Peck noted the prophet said “a compromise must be made on some terms honorable or dishonorable.”57 Hinkle added they were told to obtain a treaty “on any terms short of a battle.”58 Corrill said the prophet stated he would “go to prison for twenty years or even die rather than allow his people to be exterminated.”59

The interview between Mormon negotiators and General Lucas and his staff—generals Wilson, Doniphan, and Graham—did not take place until 2:00 p.m. outside the city. After a brief parley wherein Hinkle, the Mormon’s chief negotiator, sued for peace, General Lucas read Governor Boggs’s “extermination order” to the astonished men. “I expected we should be exterminated without fail,” John Corrill recalled of this moment: “There lay three thousand men, highly excited and full of vengeance, and it was as much as the officers could do to keep them off from us any how; and they now had authority from the executive to exterminate.”60

Lucas assured the negotiators that blood would not be shed if Mormons agreed to his demands. The general insisted that they give up their leaders to be tried and punished, appropriate their property to pay for the costs of the expedition and assessed damages in upper Missouri, leave the state en masse, and give up their arms.61 Hinkle argued strenuously against the harsh terms, requesting they be given until morning to decide. Lucas agreed but demanded that Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, Parley P. Pratt, and George W. Robinson be surrendered as hostages to insure faithful compliance. Failure to deliver them within thirty minutes, he threatened, would result in the destruction of the city. Far West would be “consumed by fire and…its contents would soon be in ashes.”62

Returning to Far West, the representatives explained the militia’s terms to Rigdon and the four others. “There is no time for controversy,” Hinkle argued when the men hesitated to give themselves up. “If you go not into the camp immediately, they are determined to come upon Far West before the setting of the sun.”63 A runner then interrupted the huddle and reported that the Missourians, in full battle array, were advancing towards the town. Parley P. Pratt later recalled the urgency of the situation: “There was no alternative but to put ourselves into the hands of such monsters, or to have the city attacked, and men, women and children massacred. We, therefore, commended ourselves to the Lord, and voluntarily surrendered as sheep into the hands of wolves.”64

Colonel Hinkle, escorting the hostages to General Lucas, met him within six hundred yards of the city. Hinkle said: “Here, general, are the prisoners I agreed to deliver to you.”65 Smith and Wight asked for a postponement until morning, but Lucas refused. “You are my prisoners,” he declared, “and there is no time for talking at the present.”66 As the Missourians surrounded the knotted group of men, several militiamen threatened them, forcing Lucas to place a protective guard of thirty soldiers in a double ring around the men. When the hostages entered the encampment, they were met by unnerving clamor from the assembled militia, many of whom were dressed like Native Americans. “The loud cries and yells of more than one thousand voices,” Smith later wrote, “and the horrid and blasphemous threats and curses which were poured upon us in torrents, were enough to appall the stoutest heart.”67

Back in Far West Hyrum Smith and Brigham Young advised all the “Crooked River boys” to flee northward out of the state “for, if found, they will be shot down like dogs.”68 Nearly seventy left. All Mormon plunder, Oliver Huntington later wrote, was “gathered together in one house, lest every man who was found with a saddle or a blanket not his own be hanged for stealing.”69

When night fell Rigdon and the other captives were forced to sleep on the ground in the open air with no bedrolls in a strong rain. Pratt wrote that during the night the guards kept up a constant tirade of mockery, demanding miracles and signs. “Come, Mr. Smith, show us an angel,” one jested. “Give us one of your revelations,” sneered another. “Or, if you are Apostles or men of God, deliver yourselves, and then we will be Mormons.”70

The next morning Hyrum Smith and Amasa Lyman also joined the weary hostages. When General Lucas finally got around to meeting the men, he astounded them by refusing to discuss surrender terms. Their options were Lucas’s terms or a battle. Joseph Thorp, a member of Doniphan’s brigade, wrote that Lyman Wight was the only Mormon who wanted to return to town and fight. “They were about as badly scared set as I ever saw,” Thorp said of the hostages, “except old [Wight] who stood like a lion and said fight, without a sign of fear about him.”71

At 8:00 a.m., Smith sent a message to Far West instructing the Saints to surrender. Although Rigdon and the other hostages felt they had been betrayed by their own negotiators, what they failed to understand was that the surrender agenda had been dictated with no room for negotiation; the terms were unconditional.72

Initially the men feared they would be executed. Lucas held a secret court martial on the eve of 1 November. Mormon T. B. Foote recalled that prior to the hearing he saw the prisoners seated in a wagon, “from all of whom I received a bow of recognition except from S[idney] Rigdon, who sat with his head down and his face buried in his hands.” The dramatic despondency foreshadowed the delirium and anxiety attacks that would soon engulf Rigdon.73

General Doniphan, General Parks, Colonel Hinkle, and a number of other officers during the tribunal argued strenuously for the prisoners, but about two-thirds of the officers voted for conviction. At midnight, Lucas directed the following order to Doniphan: “Sir: You will take Joseph Smith and the other prisoners into the public square of Far West, and shoot them at 9 o’clock tomorrow morning.”74 But Doniphan, later a Mexican War hero, refused the order in a note to Lucas: “It is cold-blooded murder. I will not obey your order. My brigade shall march for Liberty to-morrow morning, at 8 o’clock; and if you execute those men, I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God!”75 Hyrum Smith later related that about sunrise the next morning Doniphan ordered his brigade to take up the line of march and leave the camp. As he passed by the Mormon prisoners he said, “By God you have been sentenced by the court martial to be shot this morning; but I will be damned if I will have any of the honor of it, or any of the disgrace of it; therefore I have ordered my brigade to take up the line of march and to leave the camp, for I consider it to be cold blooded murder, and I bid you farewell.”76

Doniphan’s courageous response, supported by his brigade, prevented the execution.77 Neither Lucas nor any of his officers pursued the matter further. Instead of proceeding with their military tribunal of the civilians, Lucas and his force of 2,500 men marched for Far West at 9:30 a.m. to receive the prisoners and their arms. The Mormon detachment of 600 men marched out of the town into a hollow square formed by the militia, then grounded their arms. Colonel Hinkle rode forward and delivered his sword and pistols to Lucas. The general, in order to gratify the army and let the Mormons see his troops, paraded around the town through the main streets and then marched back to headquarters.

Rigdon and the other prisoners were allowed to see their families, who feared they had been killed. They were given two minutes to get a change of clothing. Wickliffe Rigdon later wrote that when Sidney and George W. Robinson came to bid their families goodbye “the house was so crowded with Missourians that it was nearly impossible to get in or out of the house.” “We also suppose[d],” he added, “it was the last time we should ever see them.”78

The Rigdon family was destitute. Sidney later recalled that when he was allowed to go into his house he found his family

so completely plundered of all kinds of food that they had nothing to eat but parched corn which they ground with a hand mill, and thus were they sustaining life. I soon pacified my family and allayed their feelings by assuring them that the ruffians dared not kill me. I gave them strong assurances that they dared not do it, and that I would return to them again.79

The prisoners were led to two large wagons in the town square. Pratt later recalled watching Rigdon take leave of his wife and daughters “who stood at a little distance, in tears of anguish indescribable.”80 As the men prepared to enter the wagons, hundreds of Mormons crowded around them, anxious to take a parting look or offer a farewell handshake. In the midst of these dismal scenes the orders were given, and the procession, under the command of General Wilson, moved slowly away towards Independence, the erstwhile Mormon City of Refuge.

Footnotes
Unless otherwise stated, all primary sources cited are located in the Historical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

1. Scott H. Faulting, ed., An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989), 193.
2. The Mormon population in the state during this period reached nearly 15,000. The best demographic study estimates the following peak percentages of Latter-day Saints by county: Jackson (57 percent), Clay (15 percent), Carroll (30 percent), Daviess (70 percent), and Caldwell (virtually 100 percent). See Wayne J. Lewis, “Mormon Land Ownership as a Factor in Evaluating the Extent of Mormon Settlements and Influence in Missouri, 1831-1841,” M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1981, 72-74.
3. Reed Peck, “Mormons So Called” (Quincy, IL: 1839), 5.
4. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, B. H. Roberts, ed., 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1902), 2:145; hereafter History of the Church.
5. History of Caldwell and Livingston Counties, Missouri (St. Louis: n.p, 1886), 120-22; hereafter History of Caldwell and Livingston Counties.
6. “Kirtland Saints Land and Tax Records,” in Milton V. Backman, Jr., A Profile of Latter-day Saints of Kirtland, Ohio and Members of Zion’s Camp-1830-1839 (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, 1982), 157.
7. D. Michael Quinn, “The Mormon Hierarchy, 1832-1932: An American Elite,” Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1976, 81-82.
8. Ebenezer Robinson, “Items of Personal History of the Editor,” The Return (Davis City, IA), 1 (Oct. 1889): 145-51; Faulring, 182-83; History of the Church, 3:32.
9. Robinson, 145-51.
10. The revelation was given at the “French Farm” in Kirtland in the presence of Smith, Rigdon, Vinson Knight, and George W. Robinson (Faulring, 191,194-95).
11. Ibid., 197.
12. Ibid, 195.
13. Peck, 8-9.
14. Journal History, 6 Aug. 1838—a multi-volume daily history of the church compiled by official church historians; hereafter Journal History. Other accounts of the Gallatin affair are Reed C. Durham, Jr., “The Election Day Battle at Gallatin,” Brigham Young University Studies 13 (Autumn 1972): 36-61; Stephen C. LeSueur, The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1987), 58-64; John D. Lee, Mormonism Unveiled; or The Life and Confessions of the Late Mormon Bishop, John D. Lee (St. Louis: Bryan, Brand, & Co., 1877), 56-60; and Sidney Rigdon, An Appeal to the American People: Being an Account of the Persecutions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; and of the Barbarities Inflicted on Them by the Inhabitants of the State of Missouri (Cincinnati: Printed By Shepard & Sterns, 1840), 15-18.
15. Journal History, 7 Aug. 1838.
16. William Swartzell, Mormonism Exposed; Being A Journal of a Residence in Missouri from the 28th of May to the 20th of August, 1838 (Pekin, OH: William Swartzell, 1840), 29.
17. Faulring, 202.
18. Document Showing the Testimony Given Before the Judge of the Fifth Judicial District of the State of Missouri, on the Trial of Joseph Smith, Jr., and others, for High Treason and Other Crimes Against that State(Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1841), 161; hereafter Document.
19. Faulring, 202.
20. Missouri State Dept., Commission Dept., Mormon War, 183841, in Marvin S. Hill, Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 85.
21. History of the Church, 3:61
22. Missouri Republican, 11 Oct. 1838.
23. Faulring, 210-11.
24. Times and Seasons 4 (15 July 1843): 271.
25. Hyrum Smith statement, Times and Seasons 4 (15 July 1843): 247.
26. History of the Church, 3:157.
27. Peck, 19.
28. Ibid., 20.
29. History of the Church, 3:180-81. John Whitmer explained that the Danites “commenced a difficulty in Davies[s] Co.… in which they began to rob and burn houses &c. &c. took honey which they (the Mormons) called Sweet oil & hogs which they called bear, and Cattle which they called Buffalo. Thus they would Justify themselves by saying we are the people of God, and all things are god[']s, therefore they are ours” (F. Mark McKiernan and Roger D. Launius, eds., An Early Latter Day Saint history: The Book of John Whitmer-Kept by Commandment [Independence, MO: Herald House, 1980], 165).
30. The official position was that “When a knowledge of Avard’s rascality came to the Presidency of the Church, he was cut off…and every means proper used to destroy his influence, at which he was highly incensed, and went about whispering his evil insinuations, but finding every effort unavailing, he again turned conspirator, and sought to make friends with the mob” (History of the Church, 3:181). This stance is not accurate. Avard was not excommunicated until 17 March 1839 for testifying in court about Danite activities rather than for the activities themselves.
31. As reported in the Missouri Argus, 1 Nov. 1838.
32. Oliver B. Huntington Journal, 33 (Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; hereafter Special Collections, BYU).
33. Dean C. Jessee and David J. Whittaker, “The Last Months of Mormonism in Missouri: The Albert Perry Rockwood Journal,” Brigham Young University Studies 28 (Winter 1988): 23.
34. James H. Hunt, Mormonism, Embracing the Origin, Rise and Progress of the Sect, With an Examination of the Book of Mormon; Also Their Troubles in Missouri, and Final Expulsion From The State (St. Louis: Ustick & Davies, 1844), 226.
35. Peck, 21-22.
36. Swartzell, 33.
37. Correspondence and Orders, 57-59.
38. Ibid. The following day, in a letter to “Bro & Sister Abbott,” Marsh explained that “I have left the Mormons & Joseph Smith jr. for conscience sake and that alone.” He then added that “the disposition in J. Smith and S. Rigdon to pillage, rob, plunder, assassinate and murder, was never equalled, in my estimation, unless by some desperado Bandit. O my what principles to be called the religion of Jesus Christ.” Hyde concurred, “I can say with him that I have left the church…for conscience sake, fully believing that God is not with them” (copy in the Kirtland letter Book, cited in Hill, 96). Although both Marsh and Hyde later rejoined the church, neither ever denied the truthfulness of the statements made in their affidavits or the 25 October 1838 letter.
39. Correspondence and Orders, 57.
40. Cited in Missouri Argus (St. Louis), 8 Nov. 1838.
41. Correspondence and Orders, 60.
42. Ebenezer Robinson, The Return 2 (Feb. 1890): 216.
43. Times and Seasons 4 (15 July 1843): 274.
44. Karl Keller, ed., “I Never Knew a Time When I Did Not Know Joseph Smith,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1 (Winter 1966): 32.
45. Document, 61.
46. Peck, 8.
47. Governor Boggs to the Missouri General Assembly, 5 Dec. 1838, in Document, 14.
48. Correspondence and Orders, 117.
49. Jessee and Whittaker, 25.
50. Keller, 34.
51. Journal History, 16 Aug. 1857.
52. “Elder John Brush, By Two Friends,” Autumn Leaves 4 (Apr. 1891): 173.
53. Oliver B. Huntington Journal, 162, Special Collections, BYU.
54. Peck, 24-25; Corrill, 41.
55. Times and Seasons 4 (15 July 1843): 275.
56. Keller, 35.
57. Peck, 25.
58. Hinkle to W. W. Phelps, 14 Aug. 1844, Messenger and Advocate (Pittsburgh), 1 Aug. 1845.
59. Corrill, 41.
60. Ibid.
61. General Lucas to Governor Boggs, 2 Nov. 1838, in Document, 73.
62. 9 Jan. 1840 Arthur Morrison affidavit, in LeSueur, 170.
63. History of the Church, 3:445.
64. Parley P. Pratt, Jr., ed., The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, one of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Chicago: Law, King & Law, 1888), 203.
65. History of the Church, 3:445.
66. Ibid.
67. Journal History, 31 Oct. 1838.
68. Ibid., 1 Nov. 1838.
69. Oliver B. Huntington Journal, 34, Special Collections, BYU.
70. Journal History, 31 Oct. 1838.
71. Joseph Thorp, Early Days in the West: Along the Missouri One Hundred Years Ago (Liberty, MO: Liberty Tribune, 1924), 89.
72. Five days after the surrender at Far West, Smith wrote to his wife: “Colonel Hinkle, proved to be a tra[i]tor to the Church, he is worse than a [H]ull who betra[yed] the army at [D]etroit, he decoyed us unawares[,] God reward him” (Joseph Smith, Jr., to Emma Smith, 4 Nov. 1838, archives, The Auditorium, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Independence, Missouri).
Reed Peck eloquently related his perspective of the Hinkle team:

The very men who risked their lives at [Smith's] request to open a communication with the army are now branded as traitors[.] When no others would venture we stepped forward and were instrumental in saving the lives of hundreds…by bringing about a treaty[.] Propositions were made to us and we faithfully reported the same to the presidency and they understood the whole matter, still Joseph pretends to the church that he was betrayed by us as Christ was by Judas (Peck, 32).

Peck elaborated that Hinkle and the other members of his committee were held up as scapegoats because Smith and Rigdon had delivered so many brave speeches yet were taken without a fight. The prophet’s most noted embarrassment, Peck pointed out, was the failed 14 October 1838 boast that “I am determined that we will not give another foot and I care not how many come against us, 10 or 10000[.] God will send his Angels to our deliverance and we can conquer 10000 as easily as 10″ (Peck, 32, 19).
In his own defense Hinkle wrote to W. W. Phelps on 14 August 1844 that the negotiators were appointed by Smith to

go and confer with the commanding officers of the Missouri Militia, and effect a treaty if possible, on any terms short of a battle.…Our object was (at least I felt so) to prevent the effusion of blood, which we all saw must inevitably take place, unless something could be immediately done.… When the facts were laid before Joseph, did he not say, “I will go” and did not the others go with him, and that too voluntarily, so far as you and I were concerned, my understanding was, that those men were to be taken and kept till next morning as hostages. —And if they did not, upon reflection and consultation with the officers in the camp of the enemy, during the night, conclude to accept of the terms proposed to us, but chose to fight, then they were to be kept safely, and returned to us in the city next morning, unharmed; and time given us to prepare for an attack by the Militia. During this whole interview and transaction, were not thousands of troops drawn up near the city, ready to fall upon us, provided those demanded as hostages refused to go!…Were we not advised next day, by word sent expressly from Joseph Smith to us, to surrender! When that intelligence was received, did I not draw up the forces under my command, and explain to them the nature of the whole affair, and then request all who were in favor of surendering, to make it known by marching three paces forward! They made a very slow start, but finally all came forward. We then marched out with slow and solemn step, into a partial hollow square of the enemy, faced inward, grounded arms, and marched away and left them. The town was laid under martial law and guarded. Then the authorities commenced taking others as prisoners, and kept them under guard to be tried, as they said, by civil law.
…I have been informed that one of your number is now in an adjourning neighborhood to this, asserting that I sold the heads of the church, in Missouri, for $700.00. Now Sir, as you are the man who was engaged in the whole affair with me, I request that you write a letter for publication…and in it exempt me from those charges, and correct the minds of that people and the public on this subject (Hinkle to W. W. Phelps, 14 Aug. 1844, Messenger and Advocate[Pittsburgh], 1 Aug. 1845).

73. Journal History, 28 May 1868.
74. History of Caldwell and Livingston Counties, 137.
75. Ibid. Wickliffe Rigdon’s account, possibly based on information from his father, wrote that Doniphan said to Lucas: “You have got those men into your possession by promising them protection and fair treatment and now you are going to shoot them in the presence of their families[?]” Looking Lucas “square in the eyes,” he said, “you hurt one of these men if you dare and I will hold you personally responsible for it, and at some other time you and I will meet again when in mortal combat and we will see who is the better man.” Lucas reportedly replied, “If that is the way you feel about it, they shall not be shot” (Keller, 36).
76. Times and Seasons 4 (15 July 1843): 251.
77. Peter H. Burnett, Recollections and Opinions of an Old Pioneer (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1880), 63.
78. Keller, 36.
79. Times and Seasons 4 (15 July 1843): 275.
80. Pratt, 208.

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  • Posted January 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The biography of the REAL creator of the Latter Day Saints movement

    While the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (popularly called the Mormon Church) claims that Mormonism began as a restorationist movement (meaning a restoration of the 1st century Christian church and ancient Priesthoods) none of this, in fact, is true according to actual history<BR/><BR/><BR/>Joseph Smith began the Mormon movement in 1828 in upstate New York as a REFORMATION of existing churches. The Church of Christ--which he and Oliver Cowdrey found in the spring of 1830---was modeled on the Methodist churches of the day and had no Priesthood. It's members were NOT called latter day saints, but were called either Mormon or Mormonites because they accpeted as scripture Jospeh Smith's book, "The Book of Mormon."<BR/><BR/>In the summer of 1830 popular and controversial mid-western evangelist Sidney Rigdon joined "The Church of Christ" along with several hundred of his follwers in Kirtland, Ohio. Rigdon convinced the tiny community of Mormons in New York to move their church's headquarters to Kirtland. Because Rigdon was better eduacted, a better public speaker and had more followers than Joseph Smith, Joseph deferred to Rigdon in nearly all matters of theology and church government. <BR/><BR/>It was Rigdon who first introduced the idea of a RESTORATION into Mormonism--as well as introducing the idea of Priesthood offices, ordinances and authority. He also introduced the phrase "Latter Day Saints" and convenced the Mormons to change the name of their church from "The Church of Christ" to "The Church of Latter Day Saints" in 1834/35. (The name was changed again in the late 1830's to "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" and it's members became known as Latter Day Saints. In the late 1840's, a large number of Mormon following Brigham Young to Utah territory organized their own church and named it "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints"--differentiating themselves from "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" comprised of Joseph Smith's family and others who remained in Illinois.)<BR/><BR/>Until the late 1830's, it was Sidney Rigdon--not Joseph Smith--whom the vast majority of Mormons considered their most eloquent and popular leader. Because of legal and political turmoil in Missouri Mormon communities in the mid and late 1830's, Joseph Smith and Rigdon had a falling out. Though Rigdon remained second in command of the Mormons, Smith publicly denounced Rigdon and asked that the Mormon vote him out of church office. They refused, and following Jospeh's murder in the mid-1840's it was assumed that Rigdon would become the president of the Church. He moved back to Pennsylvania taking hundreds of Mormons with him. Today his own Mormon denomination still remains--with several thousand followers.<BR/><BR/>RIgdon's introduction of Prietshood authority in 1834 so troubled the original New York Mormons that most of them--including most of the witnesses to "The Book of Mormon"--left Mormonism.

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