During the 177 years from the First Vision in 1820 to the sesquicentennial of the arrival in the Salt Lake Valley being celebrated this year - the time early members of the LDS Church spent in Missouri was rather brief.
Yet, from the time the first missionaries arrived in 1830, to the time of first settlements in Jackson County in 1831, to the time the last Saints were driven out of Far West in 1839, it was significantin many ways: a period of doctrinal development as well as a time of trial, foreshadowing the troubled future that awaited them in Illinois.So, it is fitting that Missouri get some attention, too, during this year of historic celebration by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Much of that recognition will come from the open house and dedication of the church's latest temple, finished this spring in St. Louis. The open house started Saturday and will continue through May 24. The dedicatory services will be June 1-5.
For people attending those activities, or for people making a sesquicentennial trek to Nauvoo who may want to visit Missouri on the way, here's a look at some of the significant church history sites and landmarks there. (My brother, who is putting together a church history tour sponsored by the Kansas Topeka Stake for early June, took me on a dry run when we visited this past winter. Our route went from Independence to Adam-Ondi-Ahman in western Missouri, a long day's drive, particularly since most of it is done on secondary roads, but do-able in a day.
Now probably most famous as the birthplace of President Harry S. Truman and home of the Truman Library, Independence lies about 12 miles east of Kansas City.
But for the Mormons, interest in Missouri developed barely six months after the church was organized when a group of missionaries was sent to preach to the Shawnee and Delaware Indians. They arrived in January 1831 but were unable to get a government permit to work with native tribes due to what Parley P. Pratt called "jealousy and envy on the part of sectarian missionaries in the area." So the missionaries settled in Independence and began to preach to the people there.
Later in 1831, the Prophet Joseph Smith and the body of Saints then in Ohio were directed to also go to Missouri.
By 1833, some 1,200 Saints lived in Jackson County, Mo., which accounted for about a third of the county's total population. Tensions began to develop between the Mormons and the non-Mormons.
On July 20, 1831, after failed negotiations for peace, a mob destroyed a printing press run by W.W. Phelps. And on July 23, the Saints were forced to enter into an agreement requiring them to leave the county. They did - but not without further persecution and bloodshed.
Independence is now a bustling city. But a number of sites significant to the church remain. Among them:
- The LDS visitors center near Walnut Street and River Road. It contains exhibits, displays and films telling the story of the Missouri Saints and is the site of the summer pageant, "Independence, 1833."
- The temple lot; 63 acres in a triangle enclosed by Lexington and Pacific streets. Within this area, in addition to the LDS visitors center, is the Church of Christ's (Hedrickite) temple lot, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Auditorium and the RLDS temple.
- The present site on Liberty and Kansas streets of the old log courthouse, former storehouse of Gilbert & Whitney.
- A grave marker in the Mound Grove Cemetery marking the "Earthly Remains of Saints Who Died at Zion's Camp."
Liberty, which became the headquarters for the Saints after they were driven from Jackson County, is best known for the jail where Joseph Smith was lodged after his betrayal at Far West.
By 1836, the residents of Clay County became uneasy, and the situation for the Saints again became critical. By the end of 1836, the Legislature created two new counties farther north - Caldwell and Daviess - where the Saints next settled.
The Liberty Jail was built in 1833. Joseph Smith and several other church leaders were imprisoned there from the end of November 1838 until they were allowed to escape in April 1839.
The jail was built at a cost of $600 and was about 14 feet square, with one heavily barred window to light the upper of two rooms. The lower room was considered the dungeon.
In one sense Liberty Jail, miserable though it was, was a place of "liberty" for the prophet. For the first time in his tenure as leader of the church, he was freed from day-to-day cares and turmoil. Considering the revelations received while he was in jail, the Saints would look back on it as a time of major doctrinal development.
Today a part of the old jail remains, housed in a larger structure built over it by the church, where the dramatic story of the prophet's imprisonment is told.
Other sites of interest in Liberty include:
- The home of Alexander Doniphan, considered a friend and defender of the church, particularly honored for his refusal to execute Joseph Smith following his betrayal at Far West, at 125 N. Main, on the east side between Mississippi and Franklin streets. Doniphan is buried in the Fairview Cemetery southwest of town.
- At the northwest corner of the center square is a bank that claims to be the site of the first daylight bank robbery in the United States - perpetrated by Jesse James. In the museum in the bank is an inkwell owned by W.W. Phelps.
East of Liberty and south of Excelsior Springs, the road crosses Fishing River. A site farther down the river (not accessible by public roads) is important to the church for three reasons: It is the place where Zion's Camp (a group of Kirtland saints marching to help those in Missouri in 1834) was disbanded. It was where Joseph Smith received a revelation setting forth conditions for the future redemption of Zion. And it was there that an outbreak of cholera took the lives of a number of members of Zion's Camp.
Near two forks of Fishing River is also where a mob of Missourians assembled to destroy "Joe Smith's army," but were themselves driven back and dispersed by a fierce storm.
Located in Ray County, Richmond is where Joseph Smith was first taken after his betrayal at Far West and imprisoned in a log dungeon, and where Elder Pratt and a number of other brethren were held while the prophet was taken on to Liberty Jail.
While imprisoned in Richmond, Elder Pratt later wrote of a "tedious night" when the prisoners were subjected to coarse and vile taunts and language from the guards and where President Smith at last rose to rebuke them. Elder Pratt wrote that he had seen the U.S. Congress in session and ministers of justice clothed in magisterial robes in the courts of England, but "dignity and majesty have I seen but once, as it stood in chains at midnight in a dungeon in an obscure village in Missouri."
After the Saints left Missouri in 1839, several former members remained, including the Whitmers. Hyrum Page and Oliver Cowdrey also returned to live there later on.
Places of interest in Richmond include:
- A statue of Alexander Doniphan, in the town square near the courthouse. In addition to befriending the church, Doniphan distinguished himself in the Mexican War.
- Across the street from the courthouse, where a funeral home is presently located, is the probable site of the log dungeon where Joseph Smith was held and rebuked the guards.
- Just off Highway 10, west of town, is the Richmond City Cemetery containing the graves of Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer and Austin King, an avid anti-Mormon who acted as judge in several cases involving the Mormons.
- On Highway 13 just north of the center of town is the Pioneer Cemetery, under the care of the church, where a monument has been erected to the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. Oliver Cowdrey is also buried in this cemetery.
Between Richmond and Far West lies the Crooked River, also a site of importance to the church. In the so-called "Battle of Crooked River" on Oct. 25, 1838 - a confrontation between the Saints and the mob - numerous men on both sides were wounded and a couple died, including Elder David W. Patten, considered the first martyred apostle. Exaggerated accounts of this conflict led to the issuance by Gov. Lilburn Boggs of his infamous "Extermination Order" noting that the Mormons were to be treated as enemies and exterminated or driven from the state by any means possible. (The actual site of the "battle" is not accessible by public roads.)
Located about 55 miles northeast of Independence, Far West, on a high rolling prairie near Shoal Creek, was selected as the primary gathering place after the saints left Clay County. In all, they purchased about 250,000 acres. Some 200 homes were built, in addition to several dry goods stores, three family groceries, half a dozen blacksmith shops and two hotels. A schoolhouse was moved to the center of the town to serve as a church, town hall and courthouse; and a temple site was excavated nearby.
Far West was the largest Mormon community in Missouri before it was abandoned in 1839, when the Saints were driven into Illinois. (But even after that, contact with Far West was not over. Joseph Smith had prophesied that the Twelve would leave from the temple site on missions - a statement well-known to non-Mormons, who boasted it would never happen. But early on the morning of April 26, six days after the last of the saints had left, seven of the apostles returned. After hiding in a grove for two days to avoid their enemies, they met at the temple site.)
That site is all that remains of the Mormon settlement of Far West. Cornerstones of the temple are there, along with a small visitor's center and signs and exhibits explaining events.
Across the street is an RLDS visitors center. Some say it is on the site of Joseph Smith's home, but that is not certain.
Settled in 1834, Haun's Mill was the second settlement in what came to be Caldwell County. Eventually some 30 Mormon families settled around the grist mill, located on Shoal Creek, about 10-12 miles east of Far West.
It was the site of one of most gruesome and horrible events in LDS history. On the morning of Oct. 30, 1838, a mob, rushing to carry out the extermination order of Gov. Boggs, descended on the community.
When the killing stopped, 19 men and boys were dead; countless others injured; property had been destroyed; refugees driven into the woods. In all, the mob members boasted they had fired 1,600 shots.
The site is now owned by the RLDS church. Desolate and lonely, with only a couple of signs to mark important sites, there is little left to show the terror and destruction that occurred there. But as at other battlefields, a haunting feeling of sadness lingers in the air.
This is a place of significance to members of the church because of what happened here in ancient times as well as what will happen there in future times.
According to teachings of Joseph Smith, this is where Adam of old called his posterity together for a final blessing and is the place where Christ will return in his glory at the Second Coming.
In addition to rest rooms, picnic facilities and maps and plaques provided by the church, places of interest at Adam-Ondi-Ahman include:
- Tower Hill, named by Joseph Smith because of the ruins of a Nephite altar found there. It overlooks the "great valley" in which the righteous will assemble in the last days.
- Spring Hill, the location of a temple site dedicated by Joseph Smith and also designated as a future gathering place.
- Adam's altar, located slightly down from the top of Spring Hill, and said to be used by Adam to make sacrifices.
- The site of Lyman Wight's ferry on the Grand River.
- Preacher's Rock, a place where Joseph Smith and others often stood to speak to gatherings.
A few other home sites and places are also marked. It is a placid, peaceful setting, lending itself well to reflection and quiet contemplation.
A number of factors led to the clash of Mormons and non-Mormons in Missouri, not only religious difference but cultural ones as well. Most of the Mormons were from New England; they held different views on slavery and treatment of the Indians than did the Southerners of Missouri. Their numbers also created economic and political influence that many outsiders perceived as a threat. Nevertheless, it was an important period of church history.
In visiting the sites and remembrances of this period a number of things stand out, including an understanding of the distances involved. Still very sparsely populated and scattered out, you wonder how mobs were even able to communicate and gather.
But more importantly, comes a renewed sense of the difficult times the Saints endured there and an appreciation of the fact that, for the most part, they were motivated and sustained by the power of a deeply felt faith - there as well as later on the trail west, faith in every footstep.