“My parents were not people of blood” – so states Mosiah Hancock as he recalls the desperate days of his Mormon family in 1838 in Missouri. Mosiah, then a child, watched his parents blockade their little cabin and stand ready with axes and a rifle to ward off assailants who lurked outside. The parents thought they were doomed, but were ready to make the mob pay dearly before they could harm their children. This poignant scene was one shared in various ways by many other Mormons facing extermination from bloodthirsty mobs stirred up by leading “Christians” and others in the area. As I’ll mention below, there was blame to be spread to both sides, but the inhumanity of the extermination efforts against the Mormons in Missouri should never be forgotten.
Mosiah Hancock and his father, Levi Hancock, were two early Latter-day Saints who knew Joseph Smith. Both left us journals that provide much information about their lives and the lives of early Mormons. I have printed copies that I purchased several years ago for background information when I was writing about the 1838 “Mormon War” in Missouri and the issue of the “Danites,” the group of secretive Latter-day Saints who were the source of some unfortunate and unnecessary violence during those troubled times. Both journals are available online at BOAP.org’s resource, “Early Saints: Journals, Diaries, Biographies and Autobiographies of Some Early Mormons and Others Who Knew Joseph Smith, Jr. and/or His Contemporaries” — a rich resource for studying the early days of the Church. I took up these journals again when I was about to give my printed copies to some of the Hancock’s descendants who just moved into my ward. I’ll still give them away, as planned, but had to spend a little more time with the printed text (always more enjoyable than online reading for me). Below is one interesting excerpt from the Mosiah Hancock Journal that adds his witness to some of the privations suffered by the Saints in Missouri. He wrote his journal decades after his childhood expereinces (he was only four years old in 1838, so much of his description may be based on what he understood from his parents and other Latter-day Saints – yet he still was an eye-witness to several terrible things.
I well remember when Brother David Patten and Brother Carter were killed at the battle of Crooked River; and also several of the brethren wounded! Brother Joseph Holbrack was literally hacked to pieces, and he was brought to our home about the first of April. My mother nursed him for about three months. He had to remain in the hay loft all the time until he was able to get out of the state. One evening, old Sam Bogart and two other men came hunting him. He was hid in the hay loft covered with flax. The men were heavily armed, and they searched the premises around before they came up to the house late at night. I would have all who read this to understand that my parents were not people of blood; yet there had been so much murder, rapine, and crimes perpetrated by the mob, that my father did not know how to treat the “Christians” of Missouri. Father got his broad axe and the “women’s” axe for mother, and said, “We will set the bench before the fireplace for them to get warm—then if they start any trouble, I will grab the broad axe and you take the other axe and we will sell our lives as dearly as possible. We have Brother Holbreck and the three children to defend!” The axes were placed behind the door, then father stood in the door way, and mother stood with rifle in hand…..the bandits made their approach on the outside. Said Sam Bogart, “I have a search warrant for Joseph Holbreck”. Father asked them to come in, but Bogart said he didn’t believe Holbreck was there. So they went away.
I cannot attempt to describe my feelings as I stood on the floor in front of the fire while those three dark figures stood outside our door. I felt sure my mother would get one of them even if they killed my father. I shudder to think of those dark times. I wish all to understand that these things did happen in mobocratic Missouri—-in that Christian land close to where the so-called Christians held their Christian meetings….right here in the land of the brave and the free! I am a witness of these things, and no one can deny them!
This fall we went over to Far West. I was always glad to see the Prophet and the noble brethren associated with him. What good meetings we had in Far West! I well remember the enjoyment we had at a prayer meeting. One evening I heard Brother Tubbs bear his testimony of the truth of the Gospel, and his daughter Betty also bore her testimony.
There was a mob of 1600 camped in the vicinity of Far West. Judas Iscariot [George M.] Hinkle came in and reported the state of affairs in the camp of the mobbers. A person destitute of the Spirit of Christ might think there was something sweet about Hinkle. Someone got up and spoke in tongues; and Betty Tubbs spoke, saying that she well realized that the time had come for all to put their trust in God and not on man, `and for every tub to sit on it’s own bottom’, then she sat down! A few days later, Hinkle formed a brotherhood in a hollow square, and made them cast their arms of defense on the ground. He then delivered the Prophet over to the mob! After they had taken the arms from the brethren, they kept the brethren in the square for three days and two nights without food. The mob became very brave after they had taken the brethren’s arms. One of their officers complimented the men on their bravery, and said, “Now you can go and do as you please with their women”. Many of them left with the intention of committing rapine. When the terrified women ran out to escape those brutal fiends, it was more than the men in the square could stand! They ran out to protect their loved ones; then the mobbers turned loose and shot down men, women, and children! They shot the children because they said that “Nits Make Lice”. I saw C. C. Richardson going from Far West with a white flag of truce. As he and his companions approached the camp, they were fired upon by the mobbers. Luckily, none of the brethren were hit, and a truce was patched up. But the mobbers were not to be trusted. After the brethren had delivered up their arms, father mounted his horse Turk, and rode off to Adam-ondi-Ahman. A party of forty-two of the mobs cavalry started in pursuit of father. A whisper came to him, “Go through the Hale thicket, then turn to the left.” This he did, and it brought him in the rear of the gang that was pursuing him. He said to one of the men in the rear, “Where has that fellow gone?” I don’t know”, was the answer, “but we will soon catch him.” Father stopped his horse and pretended to tighten his saddle-girth and then he escaped from his pursuants.
The night before the surrender, mother had run 250 bullets for father’s rifle. Father and his brothers, and a few others, did not give up their rifles. There were 16 guns that were not surrendered. The owners taking their 16 guns into the thicket caused more consternation against the mob than all the mobber’s guns caused against the Saints. But trouble had started! The nation with “eagle wings” was to make war on the Saints and overcome them. The Saints soon had to start forth to please the State of Missouri. . . .
It is a fact which should be remembered. . . . . the Hancock brothers, Levi, Joseph, and Solomon, with their guns guarded and fed 600 men, women, and children while camped in the woods after they had been driven from their homes. They were waiting for an opportunity to get away. I saw the Prophet marched away; and I saw, oh, the scenes I witnessed! I do not think people would believe them, so I will forbear. The howling fiends, although they wore the uniforms of the U.S., they were not to be trusted! So some of the brethren made three hundred tomahawks for protection.
I can hold it no longer—–and I tell the truth when I say…..I saw a thing in the shape of a man grab an infant from its mother’s arms and bash it’s brains out against a tree! Two men got hold of me and had it their own way for awhile; but before they commenced, they told me I could pray. I rehearsed a part of a piece spoken by a young Indian, “The sun sets at night and the stars shun the day; but glory remains when twilight fades away. Begin ye tormentors, your threats are in vain; for the son of Alnasmak will never complain.” They showed me no mercy! . . I could look upon my body, and I was far above them and was glad; for behold, I saw a personage draped in perfect white who said to me, “Mosiah, you have got to go back to the earth, for you have a work to do!” How I ever came back I can never say!
I saw the fiends tie a young person to a bench—she was scarcely sixteen years of age—-and fourteen things in human form performed “that” upon their victim which would cause a hyena to revolt at their fiendish orgies! It continued long after their fainting victim had become unconscious. This with other things too numerous to mention were enough to cause the Saints to pause and consider the dismal surroundings confronting them.
And they, the Saints, having descended from the mighty Abraham, went forth by the spirit of God to deliver their friends–and the mobocrats melted before them as the dew before the sun. Can you wonder then that these loved ones who were devoted to each other and to those enduring ties of love, freedom, and religious liberty–by right of their own, can you wonder then that they could not longer trust their captors, and were determined to sell their lives as dearly as possible? There were some three hundred men and women determined to march forth with spears and battle axes in hand to have their liberty, and to have their Prophet restored to them again. But, the word of the Lord came through the Prophet that the Brethren should have the Saints be patient. The Prophet’s Brethren were a few staunch men in the Church known as the Spartan Group. Their words were few; but their works were great; and their faith was far reaching. They were of the old honest stamp, and if anyone could make a home or heaven in hell, they could! They were true to the Prophet of God and to the virtues and graces; and they never wanted to hold the fat position that Hinkle and some of the others tried to get. In fact, they seemed to be content with their lot as honest Saints.
Some people tried to class the Mormons with the Danites. The Danites were of a different stripe, however. The Danites tried to hold an outward friendship for the Prophet, and for the teachings of the Savior, but it was not skin deep. They tried to get a hog’s office among the Saints, which proved their love for ‘loaves and fishes’. They usually got a few traps that no decent devil would be justly proud of. Oft times they would locate a dwelling in a neighboring town on the prairie or in the woods. There they would let their bottom door swing in for all sorts of low-down characters to meet; where they could always boast of a deck of cards and a candle; and felt themselves safe from official scrutiny. They usually had plenty of horses when needed; and they were quite able to get up and speak in prayer meeting. They were hale fellows, well met with the black-legs and the apostates of the country. They would pay some tithing in order to pave the way for them to get benefits; and they would say, “Hurrah! for Mormonism” when they were around the Saints, and then some black-leg who belonged to the same gang would bawl out, “I’m a Mormon”! They have always been a clog in the Church and a clog in the country wherever they have been.
The 1838 Mormon war was the culmination of years of violence against Latter-day Saints, who had been driven from two states before Missouri and had been driven from two counties within Missouri. In previous attacks from Missouri mobs, the Saints learned that the government of the state had no interest in protecting unpopular victims of violence. The Saints were on their own, and in 1838, it became a literal war of survival against forces bent on the expulsion or extermination of the Mormon settlers. After having tried to deal with their problems through appropriate civil and military channels, the Saints realized that they would have to take military action on their own to survive. Thus, in mid-October, LDS leaders sent their own state-authorized militias in Caldwell and Daviess counties to actively resist mob efforts. Unauthorized and improper events took place, possibly under influence of the Danites, inculding crimes of burning homes of settlers in Daviess County where the Mormons needed to drive out the gathering mobs. Naturally, the use of force by Mormons, even though it weas in the name of self-defense, only further infuriated the mobs and the pro-expulsionist Governor Boggs. The so-called “Mormon War” would culminate in the imprisonment of Mormon leaders, a genuine massacre of Mormon settlers at Haun’s Mill, and the issuance of an inhumane extermination order from the Governor of Missouri authorizing the expulsion or extermination of Mormons.
In 1838 the Mormons, having settled in the northwestern part of the state, were now gathering in force and were resolved not to be driven out again. Call it self-defence or stubborn militancy, the Saints were prepared to fight and resist the local mobs who were again bringing fear and violence to the Mormons. They would resist, even if it meant driving the mobs out of the area with force. Thus, in October of 1838, several bands of Mormons associated with local and legitimate militia groups appear to have gone well beyond what legitimate state militias were normally allowed to do – but the Mormons were in a desperate bid for self-preservation. Mormon groups marched across county lines from Caldwell County into Daviess County, a place associated with mob attacks against the Saints. Sadly, some of the Mormon troops burned and plundered homes of some Missourians, most of whom had fled the county. For many, such acts were generally viewed as justified by a desperate need to remove the lethal threat of mobs. Orson Hyde and Thomas Marsh, both Apostles, were offended by the militant actions for defense and broke ties with the Church and wrote affidavits accusing the Church of much evil, though they both later repented of what they had done and returned to the Church. Unfortunately, it is probable that burning and plundering occurred under the influence of Sampson Avard’s Danite band, who had been taught by Avard that God wanted the Mormons to have the wealth of the Gentiles and to seek vengeance regardless of the law.
Certainly the Saints made some tragic mistakes and some even committed awful crimes in dealing with their neighbors. They can be said to have brought some persecution upon themselves, but there were plenty of religious bigots more than happy to stir up mob action against the Mormons and drive them out. It’s a good reminder of just how tenuous peace and religious liberty can be, and how important it is to maintain cool heads when things get ugly.