The “Bible Belt” is no homogenous label for the Grand River region in Northwest Missouri. Religious convictions sustained by the Amish community set Jamesport apart. Those of the Mormon faith point to Far West near Hamilton and Adam-ondi-Ahman near Gallatin as historic shrines. Even the formation of Caldwell and Daviess counties in 1836 has a direct link to religion. And what transpired here along during our frontier days is among the most unusual chapters in Missouri history.
Stephen C. LeSueur expertly examines the clashes between gentile and Mormon in his book, “The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri” (University of Missouri Press, Columbia 1987). A copy can be found in the Daviess County Library in Gallatin. The Mormon War literally changed the course of Missouri history. Caldwell and Daviess counties were carved out of the frontier specifically for Mormon settlers experiencing problems in Ray and other organized counties. But problems only multiplied when Mormons settled in large numbers during a relatively short period of time in this region. LeSueur offers a concise chronology of events in an appendix in his book. Visitors to this region may be surprised to learn that:
- Mormon settlers arrived to this region in great numbers, swelling the population to over 2,000 in just months
- after an August election scuffle in Gallatin when Missourians feared majority rule by Mormons, Daviess Countians openly talked of organizing against Mormons
- Mormon “Danites” worked to arouse Mormon unity and were feared by Missourians
- misunderstandings, escalating hostilities and irreconcilable differences spawned vigilante groups, destruction and bloodshed
- a “battle” at Crooked River and a massacre at Haun’s Mill Gov. Lilburn W. Boggs issues his “Extermination Order,” responding to reports of civil and (alleged) Indian disturbances; Gov. Boggs orders 2,800 state militia to stand ready to march into Caldwell and Daviess counties
- 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 Missourian, amounted to over $1 million.
Author LeSueur concludes, in part, the following: “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 the 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 public prejudice against them.”
Today, viewing the beautiful and serene countryside at Far West and at Adam-ondi-Ahman, it is hard to believe such strife once occurred here.
— selected information from “The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri,” by Stephen C. LeSueur (University of Missouri Press, Columbia 1987)