The Grand River area of Northwest Missouri is among those regions tagged with the homogenous “Bible Belt” label. A closer look reveals surprising diversity. Just 38 miles west of at Bethany on Highway 136 is a Basilica, a significant Catholic Abbey Church at Conception built in 1891. Go east from Gallatin on Highway 6 to find the largest Amish settlement in Missouri at Jamesport. But the religious faithful with the most obvious historical ties to this region are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).
Each year thousands of Mormons visit Mormon historic shrines at Far West near Hamilton and Adam-Ondi-Ahman near Jameson, tracing the path which eventually led to Salt Lake City and other settlements in Utah. The Mormons invite you to visit their nationally-known visitors’ center in Independence.
Daviess and Caldwell counties owe their formation to the Mormons who lived in Missouri in 1838. And what transpired in those days in what was then the Missouri frontier is among the most unusual chapters in Missouri history. This is the site of the Mormon War.
Today there is no evidence of strife. Gazing upon picturesque Adam-ondi-Ahman or the immaculately groomed memorial at Far West makes one wonder if the term “war” is a misnomer. Yet, consider the following:
- Mormon numbers quickly swelled to over 2,000 in just months, causing fears about majority rule Daviess Countians talked openly of organizing against Mormons after an election scuffle in Gallatin
- Misunderstandings, escalating hostilities, and irreconcilable differences spawned vigilante groups, destruction and bloodshed
- Missouri Gov. Lilburn W. Boggs issued his infamous “Extermination Order,” ordering 2,800 state troops to stand ready to march into Caldwell and Daviess counties
- 20 Mormons were killed and about that same number wounded in military engagements; one Mormon was killed and perhaps another 10 injured in beatings by Missourians and a number of Saints died as a result of suffering and exposure while Missourians suffered one dead and about a dozen wounded in conflict
- Following their departure from Missouri, the Mormons sought redress through over 700 petitions to the federal government; Joseph Smith and Elias Higbee argued the Mormons’ case personally to President Martin Van Buren but to no avail since Supreme Court rulings indicated a federal action would infringe upon states’ rights.
The eventual costs of the Mormon War, for both Mormons and Missourians, amounted to over $1 million. The Missouri Legislature appropriated about $200,000 to pay the expenses of the conflict. The Mormons calculated their losses, in both property and suffering, to several million dollars.
The Mormon War literally changed the course of Missouri history with the migration of the Saints first to Illinois and eventually to Salt Lake. Some historians suggest the following conclusions:
Missourians viewed the Mormons’ theocratic rule in Caldwell County, the secret teachings and oaths of the Danite band, the unwillingness of Mormon leaders to submit to local authorities, and the military operations of their soldiers as evidence of Mormon intentions to overthrow the government in western Missouri and supplant it with one of their own. Consequently, following surrender, Missouri officials arrested Mormon leaders on charges of treason.
Conversely, the Mormons believed the disturbances represented a conspiracy by Missourians to drive them from the state and steal their land. As evidence they advanced the unsubstantiated claim that Daviess settlers had burned their own homes and then blamed the Mormons to inflame prejudice against them.