The man who refused orders to shoot Mormon leaders during Missouri’s “Mormon War” figures prominently in several military endeavors — and led as many as 10 Daviess Countians in battle against Mexico in 1846. He was also the legislator who introduced the bill to carve Daviess and Caldwell counties out of Ray County. Meet Alexander Doniphan, one of the men who made a difference while living in Northwest Missouri.
Alexander William Doniphan was born on July 9, 1808, in Mason County, Ky. His father, Joseph Doniphan, was the first school teacher in Kentucky. Alexander’s mother was Anne Smith from Virginia. Joseph died in 1813 leaving wife and children of which Alexander was the youngest. Alexander was raised by his older brother, George, at Augusta, Ky.
Alexander was educated by Irishman Richard Keene and later went to a local Methodist College to the age of 19. He was licensed to practice law in Kentucky and Ohio in 1829 and moved to Missouri in March, 1830, and then to Liberty, Mo, in 1833.
Doniphan became a criminal defense lawyer and assisted at nearly all important criminal cases in Northwest Missouri in those early years. Clay County citizens sent Doniphan, a Whig, to the state legislature in 1836, 1840 and 1854. On Nov. 29, 1836, Rep. Doniphan introduced a bill to the Missouri House of Representatives to create two new counties, Caldwell and Daviess out of the northern part of Ray County. The proposal became law on Dec. 26, 1836.
In October, 1838, Brigadier Gen. Doniphan was ordered by the Missouri Governor to help drive the Mormons from Missouri. He proceeded to Far West in Caldwell County, arriving with his command on Oct. 31. The total state forces were about 3,000 men, including five divisions. They faced Mormon militia of about 1,100 men commanded by Col. George Hinkel. Gen. Doniphan refused orders from Major General Samuel D. Lucas to shoot the Mormon leaders held on Nov. 2, 1838.
In Daviess County General Robert Wilson captured Adam-ondi-Ahman without a fight on Nov. 8. The 63 Mormon leaders were held until Nov. 28 when all but 10 were released. Of these two were later released; the remaining eight escaped to Illinois. General Doniphan was in charge of the legal defense of the Mormon leaders.
When Mexico declared war on the United States in 1846, General Doniphan assisted in getting men to enlist. The men in this newly formed unit, the 1st Mounted Missouri Volunteers (856 men), elected Doniphan as unit commander. The unit drilled at Fort Leavenworth with their personal weapons and animals and were clad in buckskins. The unit started west on June 29, 1846, under the command of General Kearney.
Col. Doniphan was placed as Accounting Governor of the New Mexico Territory. In November, 1846, Col. Doniphan was ordered to subdue the Navajos and a treaty was soon signed. In December, Mexican General Ponce de Leon, in charge of 1,300 troops, ordered Col. Doniphan to surrender his men. Doniphan gave no quarter in the Mexican charge and a battle about 35 miles north of El Paso lasted for about 30 minutes. The Mexicans lost 71 killed with 151 wounded. Col. Doniphan captured all the Mexicans’ supplies and baggage and had only eight men wounded, none killed. Col. Doniphan went on to take El Paso on Dec. 27, 1846.
On Jan. 18, 1847, Col. Doniphan, helped by an artillery battalion which arrived from Santa Fe, started south toward Chihuahua with 1,200 men including armed teamsters. On Feb. 28, 1847, the united charged Governor Trias at Sacramento. The Mexican force of 4,000 men were behind earthworks on an elevated position. The battle lasted 3-1/2 hours. A total of 304 Mexicans were killed and 500 captured. Doniphan had 12 men shot of which four died. The city of Chihuahua (population 40,000) surrendered to Col. Doniphan on March 2, 1847.
The unit went on to take Durango, Saltillo and Monterey. Near Matamoras the unit was divided; 700 men were sent by ship to New Orleans and the remainder journeyed by land with the horses. The men got their first pay in June at New Orleans, marking the end of their enlistment. The troops returned to St. Louis to celebrate the Fourth of July — after traveling 4,000 miles with the loss of less than 100 men, mostly by disease.
Daviess County furnished 10 men in this fighting unit. These were Major S.P. Cox, Capt. Benjamin Salmon, Capt. Merridith Morris, Capt. John W. Sheets, Thomas J. Larthen, Jack Edwards, Nathaniel Blakeley, Jno B. Comer, Mr. Stokes and Mr. English. Both Stokes and Capt. Salmon died while in service.
Alexander Doniphan performed many other services to Missouri before his death on Aug. 8, 1887. He and his wife, Anne Smith from Virginia, are buried side by side at Liberty, Mo.
— Researched from a biography written by Rollin J. Britton of Gallatin, dated Feb. 20, 1914.