In 1831, Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Church of Christ—later to be renamed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints—revealed that Zion, or “New Jerusalem,” was to be established in Jackson County, Missouri. Smith sent some of his followers to begin the settlement, but they were soon expelled by locals who were suspicious of their religion and their abolitionist sympathies. Smith led an expedition to regain the settlement, but was unsuccessful. Seven years later, in January 1838, Smith fled to Missouri from Ohio to avoid a warrant for his arrest, and joined the Mormon community in the town of Far West, which became the new Zion. The same prejudices recurred and the Mormons found themselves subject to attacks from non-Mormons, including attempts to prevent them from voting. Despite his abhorrence of violence, Smith decided that it was necessary for Mormons to defend themselves, which resulted in a short and sharp conflict known as the Mormon War. A covert Mormon paramilitary unit, the Danites, was formed to pillage non- Mormon towns, while angry rhetoric rose from both sides. After the Missouri state militia was attacked at the Battle of Crooked River, Missouri governor Liburn William Boggs issued Executive Order 44, which called for Mormons to be “exterminated or driven from the State.” Non-Mormons responded by attacking a Mormon settlement at Haun’s Mill, killing men and boys and firing on the women. Following this massacre, the state militia surrounded Far West and arrested Smith and other Mormon leaders. Smith was tried for treason and narrowly avoided execution, but was allowed to go and join the rest of his followers who were forced from Missouri to Illinois, where they founded their next major town, Nauvoo. There, Smith would be murdered and the church would split into several factions, with Brigham Young leading the movement’s largest group to Utah.
In The Mormon War: Zion and the Missouri Extermination Order of 1838, Brandon G. Kinney unravels the complex series of events that led to a religious and ideological war of both blood and words. The Mormon War not only challenged the protection afforded by the First Amendment, it foreshadowed the partisan violence over slavery and states’ rights that would erupt across Missouri and Kansas. The war also fractured Smith’s Church and led ultimately to the unexpected settlement of a vast area of the West as a Mormon homeland. By tracing the life of Joseph Smith, Jr. and his quest for Zion, the author reveals that the religion he founded was destined for conflict—both internal and external—as long as he remained its leader.
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