How many people in Northwest Missouri realize they live less than 100 miles from the Garden of Eden? Or that here Cain slew Abel, and their father, Adam, offered sacrifices on a hilltop altar?
I had seen the road signs pointing the way to Adam-ondi-Ahman (meaning Adam’s Consecrated Land) for several years before finally making a visit. The remote spot is reached from Highway 6 by going north on Highway 13 two miles east of Gallatin. Then at the sign a left turn takes you across a railroad track on a winding gravel road into the hills.
At the time of my initial visit not much was to be seen when you reached the summit of the bluff overlooking Grand River except a scenic view of the river bottom. A covered signboard proclaimed the spot to be the site of a Mormon village plated and inhabited in 1838. According to the plaque, here was the spot which Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church proclaimed to be the place where Adam and Eve came after being banished from the Garden of Eden, which he located in Jackson County, Missouri.
Noticing a well-traveled path which led over the brink of the hill, we followed it down a steep incline into a narrow valley where we discovered almost obliterated signs of a wagon road winding among the trees. Remnants of stone foundations and a few rotting log cabins had once stood. Not understanding the historical significance of our find, my husband and I returned to our car quite unimpressed.
A more recent visit to the same spot proved to be a very different experience. White fences bordered the clearly marked smooth gravel road. Large signboards pointed the way to Adam-ondi-Ahman Valley, Tower Hill, and Spring Hill. Taking the road to Tower Hill, the spot we had visited earlier, we found a graveled parking lot and neat picnic area with restrooms.
The area has been cleared and landscaped by missionary families who come from their homes in Utah, Washington and other states during the summer months to work on the farms and help beautify the land held sacred by the Mormons. Approximately 1,500 acres are now owned by the church, much of it under cultivation. A few families stay all year to care for the grounds and conduct logging operations in the timbered areas which are being developed into park-like grounds.
Another road led to an RLDS Church and a large building used as a meeting place and research center for genealogy records. To establish the sequence of events which led to the Mormons westward trek to their permanent home in Salt Lake City, and to relate the roll which Adam-ondi-Ahman played in this journey, it is necessary to go back to the origin of the church.
Joseph Smith was born in New York in 1805. As a young man he professed to have been visited three times by angels in his home near Palmyra. They led him to the hiding place of three golden plates which were inscribed front and back with strange writings. Not fully understanding the miraculous encounter he left them in their hiding place in a hilltop grove.
Some four years later he dug up the plates and proceeded to decipher and record the messages on them. This was the origin of the Book of Mormon which Joseph used in conjunction with the Holy Bible in his preaching career. He was a charismatic young man and soon had a following of several hundred people.
In the doctrine he taught, his followers were assured an exalted place in the society of mankind during the final days of time on earth. Consequently the name “Latter-day Saints” came about. He admonished them to be peace-loving, except in defense of home and family, to refrain from profanity and strong drink, and to follow his direction without question.
Each family was to work independently to provide for their own necessities, but any surplus was to be contributed to a common storehouse for the use of the poor, widows and orphans.
It was but a matter of time until the Saints different life-style alienated them from their neighbors. Soon Brother Smith received a revelation that his followers were to sell their property, pack their wagons and seek a place where they were to build the “City of Zion”. Their arduous journey took them to Kirtland, Ohio, in 1831 where in a matter of a few months the population of their city swelled to 5,000. For the next five years the people were busy building homes, businesses and building a temple. Joseph Smith’s philosophy seemed to be spreading like wildfire.
Some of the wagon trains had stopped but briefly in Kirtland, continuing their journey to Jackson county, Missouri.
Another revelation by Prophet Smith had decreed that Independence was to be the “center place” of the church where a great temple was to be built on the spot which was once the Garden of Eden. The dimensions of the church which God supposedly had revealed to him were minutely detailed down to the number of seats and inches between them.
By 1836 relations with their neighbors were again strained and a mob was ready to run the Saints out of town. An influential friend brought their plight to the attention of the Missouri State Legislature. Since Ray County was large and sparsely populated, it was divided to form Caldwell and Daviess Counties to the north, and Joseph Smith’s followers were given the option of moving to these counties to avoid bloodshed in Independence.
So once again the Saints were on the move, this time setting in a spot east of Kingston which they gave the name of “Far West”. Here again a city was laid out around a temple square, and new settlers arrived daily until the population was soon 4,000. A few wagons (31) moved 12 miles east to Hawn’s Mill on Shoal Creek.
A later arrival of 150 wagons from Kirtland was guided northward into Daviess County to Adam-ondi-Ahman. There the group was joined by 200 wagons from Canada. Joseph Smith made several trips there from his home in Far West to help with the lay-out of the town during the summer of 1838. A clearing on a spot called Spring Hill was marked off for the temple site. He declared another revelation that this was to be the spot where the church officials could gather when informed that the end of the world was near. At this time Adam would return to earth and dwell among them.
At the top of another high hill, which he named Tower Hill, the remnants of a triple-tiered stone altar was found. This altar was described in the journals of several of the settlers as well as one kept by the prophet. It was 36 feet long, with much of the base of square-hewn stones still intact. Other stones were strewn about as if they had tumbled from its higher elevations.
There is no evidence of the altar at the spot today. What happened to it? An elderly man who lived nearby stated that it was carried away by tourists, stone by stone. The bigger stones were thought to have been shipped out mysteriously in five wooden crates in 1922, their destination unknown.
Cabins went up at the rate of three or four a day during the late summer of 1838 and the population of Adam-ondi-Aham swelled to over 1,000. The Saints were determined to exercise their right to vote in an election in Gallatin in August of that year.
Some Gallatin men were just as determined that they would not and tried to block them from the polls. In the ensuing fight two men were alleged to have been killed, though it was later learned they were just wounded.
When Gov. Lilburn Boggs was informed of the incident, he called out the militia to be in readiness to move against the Mormons, and in October gave an infamous “exterminating order” that they should be driven from the state.
The militia, consisting of 240 men gathered from surrounding counties and headed by Col. Wm. Jennings of Chillicothe, converged on Hawn’s Mill settlement on October 30th. As the men ran for the blacksmith shop where they attempted to make a stand, the women and children ran for nearby brush to hide. In the shooting that followed 19 of the Saints were killed and many of their cabins ransacked and burned. The next day the survivors packed their wagons and headed for Nauvoo, Illinois, where they made their last attempt to build a City of Zion before their departure for Utah.
Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were arrested in Far West and its residents ordered to leave. After being convicted of treason by a judge at Richmond, they spent four months in an unheated jail in Liberty. After their release they joined the rest of the Saints in Nauvoo which soon became the largest city in Illinois.
Joseph Smith, who by another divine revelation at Nauvoo, had condoned polygamy for himself and his male followers, was killed in 1844 by an angry mob in Carthage, Illinois. The Saints, once again forced from their homes, fled across the ice on the Mississippi River and gathered supplies for the long journey, led by Brigham Young, to a permanent home in Utah.
The abandoned Adam-ondi-Ahman succumbed to the elements, existing as a city for less than six months. It is still a beautiful spot where, while standing on a hilltop, one feels quite close to God, but to think of Adam and Eve spending a Missouri winter in this spot gives one the shivers. Visitors have the privilege of drawing their own conclusions.
Written by Peggy Wickizer, printed in the Dec. 10, 1983, edition of the Chillicothe Constitution Tribune; historical data from “The Refiner’s Fire”