Ep 46 – Mo Conquest and Mythicist Milwaukee pt2
On this episode, we begin with a wrap up of the live God Awful Movies in Chicago and talking about everything the atheist/skeptical community has to offer. After that we jump into a discussion about the Mormon refugee crisis going on in mid-October 1838 in Missouri. Jo had to feed the flock and the only way to do so was through raiding and pillaging the Daviess County locals. We read a warm letter exchange between people on opposing sides of the conflict along with a large excerpt from Benjamin Johnson, the first-hand recounting from a Mormon raiding party participant. After that we move on to part 2 of a discussion with Brian and Sean of Mythicist Milwaukee; be sure to check their podcast feed for part 1!
Mythicist Milwaukee interview pt1
General Parks’ letter to James Sloan
Benjamin F. Johnson My Life’s Review
Reddit post w/ dove and walking on water stories
Outro music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Voicemail Line (864)Nake-dMo (625-3366)
Welcome to episode 46 of the NMPC, the serial Mormon history podcast. Today is Thursday 19th Jan 2017, my name is BB and thank you for joining me.
Before we roundup what happened last historical episode and jump into the meat of today’s episode, we need to take a few minutes and discuss this previous weekend and the live God Awful Movies in Chicago. In case any of you aren’t familiar with it, and I can’t imagine that describes anybody by this point, but God Awful Movies is the podcast where Noah, Heath, and Eli of Scathing Atheist review really shitty Christian movies. It’s truly one of the best podcasts out there and they’ve become successful enough to pull off live events in New York, the U.K. and now Chicago. , last weekend they teamed up with their good friends Tom and Cecil of Cognitive Dissonance, bringing together the most incredible docket of offensive podcasters talking about a horrifically offensive Christian movie. They reviewed “A right to believe” which should have been title the right to be a bigoted asshole because it was all about this Christian newspaper writer wanting to be a miserable hateful fuck against gay people prior to a gay pride parade in his town. I won’t cover any more of the movie because the GAMcast episode rips it a new asshole while simultaneously painting a fantastic picture. Do yourself the service and follow the show notes for God Awful Movies and give it a listen. Before they even began reviewing the movie, Eli came out in what he must have considered a wrestling uniform, it was more Chip n’ Dale like because every wrinkle and fold of his junk was visible for all to see. For better or worse, they don’t record video of these productions, so you’re spared the horrifying visual of a penis everybody came to know as unchallenging, but you still missed out all the other visually hilarious shenanigans. If you have the chance to go to a live God Awful Movies, it will change your fucking life. Nobody left the Victory Biograph theatre unaffected. I also walked down the alleyway in which John Dillinger was shot, lots of cool history in Chicago.
But, of course, the live show was only the beginning of the fun as the majority of the 300 people in the theatre walked across the street and filled a bar to the point of not even standing room. That’s where we all got to properly hang out and actually meet each other and have conversations as opposed to watching the 5 people on a stage entertain us. This hang out was the highlight of the trip, hands down. I was able to meet a bunch of fellow GAMcast, scathing atheist, and cog dis fans. It’s such a fun community to be part of. Surprisingly enough I had the opportunity to meet a couple of faces I’d met before at the Mythicist Milwaukee debate, as well as a few people that actually listen to the show. On last week’s episode, I said that I was hoping to meet some of you there and it happened, I couldn’t believe it! Something pretty funny happened that brought about a fun little chuckle. A big group of us were standing outside talking about the Book of Moron introduction they did a couple weeks back on Scathing Atheist and one guy in the circle started talking about how excited he was for them to read the BoM because the last year with the Qu’ran was pretty rough. The guy literally standing next to me, I mean standing close enough to smell me, said to Noah, yeah all I know about Mormonism is what that Bryce Blankenagel guy has done on the show and Noah pointed at me, standing right next to him, and they guy just stopped for a second and was like, wait, what? Are You? And I said I’m Bryce, nice to meet you. In telling the story it’s kinda lame, but it was a funny at the time. But I spent the night bouncing around the Mythicist Milwaukee guys, Heath, a guy with a tramp stamp that was a giant butterfly with a cock for a body, a tattoo which Tom of Cognitive Dissonance had just enough battery to take a picture of, Andrew Torrez, my good friend and lawyer, guest host of Opening Arguments, the best new podcast in the atheist and skeptical genre, and by the end of the night I was hanging out with Ari Stillman of the Gaytheist Manifesto and Eli Bosnick. If you’re into any of the podcasts I listed, you have to come to an event like this! The next big one will be ReasonCon in mid-April 2017 hosted in Hickory N.C. If there is a single convention you can make it to this year, make ReasonCon it, and there’s still a few months left to plan your trip.
On the Sunday after the show I went up to Milwaukee to do an interview with Mythicist Milwaukee, which you’ll be hearing part 2 of on this episode. One thing we discussed was what it’s like to leave the church. I told Sean and Brian that the church has an amazing social and community based structure in place. Often when people leave the church that entire social foundation is just stripped away from them without anywhere to turn. If you want to take part in an open and loving community, this is it. The best part I find is the overwhelming sense of inclusiveness without pretentions. I mean, Noah and I spent over 4 hours in a hotel room disagreeing about nearly every subject except football because I know nothing about it. We talked about everything from polyandry to the milestones being made in AI advancement with CRISPR technology and what universal technological advancement means for Firmy’s paradox and if an Alien race exists out there far more advanced than us, have they just killed themselves off with their technology as we’ve nearly done a small handful of times? We were constantly calling each other out on our facts and claiming skepticism when a strong case wasn’t being presented. We were able to knock holes in each other’s echo chambers and it was downright fun.
This may not be the case for many of you, but I don’t know if I ever felt that same sense of camaraderie I felt at this live podcast while I was attending church. I felt a friendship with people I spent time with outside of church but church wasn’t necessarily the place where I felt home inside a community. Let’s face it, one of the main reasons people stay in the church when they don’t believe is the sense of community and what will happen with their family/job/friends when they leave. Well, I’m here to tell you that a community exists outside of the church, it just requires more effort to be part of it. Instead of going a few miles to church every Sunday and giving 10% of your overall income, to feel the sense of community I’m describing it requires getting off your ass and finding an open-minded group like the atheist/skeptical community. That means logging in to meetup or facebook groups and actually going out to a local monthly hangout. It means saving some extra cash to be able to afford a weekend in Chicago or North Carolina for a convention or live show, but it shouldn’t cost anywhere near 10% of your gross income. The community won’t come to you, that’s the harsh reality. If you don’t get out there, and put yourself out there, you’ll never have this broader sense of community that’s so important to human survival. Only when you can occasionally stand in a convention center with 1,500 like-minded people do you feel that overwhelming sense of empowering solidarity. It’s something for which I could never have assigned a value without having experienced it for myself. And please, don’t take my word for it. You don’t have to have an experience like my good friend Preston. He wanted to go to an ex-Mormon meetup for quite some time and the day he finally got up the courage and made the time to do it he sat in his Jeep in the parking lot, terrified of what it meant in his life if he joined up with an apostate group. That day he became part of a group that invited him with open arms and didn’t judge him based on how nice his suit was, how many kids he had, or what kind of car he drove.
Maybe I’m just beating a dead horse by this point, but I guess it comes down to whether or not you value a sense of community with kindred spirits, right? Nothing I could say will convince you to go to ReasonCon in April, you have to convince yourself. You have to make a judgement call and decide if it’s worth the investment of time, money, and energy, I can only tell you from having attended a number of these conventions now, the benefits I reap from being there constantly draws me back for more at nearly any cost. It’s almost an addiction, but a pretty good addiction to be suffering from, in my opinion.
All of that aside, Chicago is a great city. I spent the time I wasn’t hanging with other podcasters touring the Chicago history museum, the Science and Industry Museum where I toured a captured German U-boat from 1944, the Lincoln Park Zoo, walked up Michigan Ave, I stared at a gigantic chrome bean, and more than anything else I just absorbed the atmosphere and old architecture. I can’t wait to go back when my hands have finally unfrozen from their current claw-like state. Seriously, Chicago in January is not a habitable place for humans to live.
Alright, I suppose that was everything I needed to mention for now, let’s get to today’s episode. Given the time restraint this last weekend has placed on the regular schedule, today’s episode will be a shorter history segment with a discussion portion tacked on at the end.
Last episode was a discussion with Cara Santa Maria and some random musings from yours truly. The last historical timeline episode covered so much time and a number of confusing events all leading up to Governor Lilburn Boggs’ Mormon extermination order. We didn’t quite get to that specifically as that was getting a bit ahead of ourselves.
Last historical episode we began with proper introductions for General’s Alexander Doniphan and David Atchison, two non-Mormon lawyers and generals of the state militia who were friendly to the Mormons. These two men would be the legal counsel for Jo and Lyman Wight during their preliminary hearing on Raglin’s Farm. This hearing was to determine if there was sufficient evidence to convict the two men of mob violence, as the Danites had surrounded the homes of government officials and imposed their will upon them. Judge Austin A. King presiding came down with the judgement that there was enough evidence to move forward with a Grand Jury trial, a verdict the Mormons saw as unfair but was probably the best option given the angry anti-Mormon mob surrounding them. Anything to stop a riot from breaking out was a good move.
After that we discussed the rumors proliferating that were claiming the Mormons were trying to ally themselves with the Native Americans. There’s no evidence to suggest it’s true, but personally I think it’s entirely possible.
After talking about the rumors and the bias fake news was creating, we discussed the greater impact of the Danites stealing a convoy of 45 guns and taking 3 men prisoner. In response, Dr. W.W. Austin’s troops, who were en route to DeWitt, turned around and made their way to Diahman to lay siege to the Mormon settlement. General Doniphan arrived just in the nick of time before a fight broke out and camped with his troops in no-man’s land between the fortified Diahman and Austin’s troops to stifle the conflict. The Mormons negotiated terms to buy out all the non-Mormons living in Daviess county, in return, Austin’s troops made their way back to DeWitt and laid proper siege until the Mormons there surrendered and moved back to Caldwell or Daviess counties.
During all of these times of combative frustration between the Mormon leadership and the anti-Mormon mobs, the people that suffered were the everyday Mormon or Missourian with very little personal stake in the conflict. Mormons were starving and sick children were dying from exposure after being forced from their homes. Jo had to do something to keep his flock alive through the impending Missouri winter.
We finished out the episode discussing Jo, Mo, and Aversions Crown, all seekers of truth who began as prophets and slowly evolved into military leaders closely mingling religious and secular authority. It all spawned from a quote Jo gave claiming that he would be a second Mohammet to this generation. We’ll discuss that soon, but that does it for the milk of today’s episode, let’s get into the meat.
When we left off Jo and friends, they were looking for some possible way to save the Mormons from the winter that lay ahead. Once DeWitt was taken over, the Mormons realized that no matter who was right or wrong in the situation, regardless of who had the high ground, they were the outsiders to the Missourians and there was simply no way they could legally win the war. So, Jo chose to act in a war-like way to keep his flock alive.
Beginning with October 15th, he called upon the Danites and Army of Israel, there’s some dispute over whether those terms were synonymous, but essentially any Mormon man they could arm was called upon to gather at Diahman to prepare for battle.
This is when the weather begins to have a bit of an impact. The plains of Russia during winter were known to the German soldiers as General Winter, or General Frost. The weather can drastically change tactics or put entire strategies on hold for periods of time. This time approaching late October 1838, General Winter began to play a few cards into the Mormon-Missouri war game.
The Mormons were planning their march but were snowed in for 2 days before they could begin the offensive. I’m going to read this timeframe out of the History of the Church to see how it was recorded and subsequently read by believing Mormons for over a century. I’m reading out of a 1948 publication volume 3:162
“Monday, Oct 15th. —The Brethren assembled on the public square of Far West and formed a company of about one hundred, who took up a line of march of Adam-ondi-Ahman. Here let it be distinctly understood that this company were militia of the county of Caldwell, acting under Lieutenant-Colonel George M. Hinkle, (Hinkle was a state employed militia officer but he was working strictly under the orders of Joseph Smith here so the militia itself was not state sanctioned, that’s a very important distinction and a noteworthy distortion of the truth) agreeable to the order of General Doniphan, and the brethren were very careful in all their movements to act in strict accordance with the constitutional laws of the land.
The special object of this march was to protect Adam-ondi-Ahmen, and repel the attacks of the mob in Daviess county. Having some property in that county, and having a house building there, I went up at the same time. While I was there a number of houses belonging to our people were burned by the mob, who committed many other depredations, such as driving off horses, sheep, cattle, hogs, etc. A number of those whose houses were burned down, as well as those who lived in scattered and lonely situations, fled into the town for safety, and for shelter from the inclemency of the weather, as a considerable snowstorm took place on the 17th and 18th.”
Things were not getting better as Mormons were being chased from their homes and this reinforcement squad of 100-150 armed men marched to Diahman.
“Women and children, some in the most delicate condition, were thus obliged to leave their homes and travel several miles in order to effect[affect] the escape. My feelings were such as I cannot describe when I saw them flock into the village, almost entirely destitute of clothes, and only escaping with their lives.
During this state of affairs, General Parks arrived in Daviess county, and was at the house of Colonel Lyman Wight on the 18th, when the intelligence was brought that the mob were burning houses; and also when women and children were fleeing for safety, among whom was Agnes M. Smith, wife of my brother, Don Carlos Smith, who was absent on a mission in Tennessee. Her house had been plundered and burned by the mob, and she had traveled nearly three miles, carrying her two helpless babes, and had to wade Grand river.”
You see how desperate things are getting?
“Colonel Wight, who held a commission in the 59th regiment under his (Park’s) command, asked what was to be done. Parks told him that he must immediately call out his men and go and put the mob down. Accordingly[,] a force was immediately raised for the purpose of quelling the mob, and in a short time was on its march, with a determination to disperse the mob, or die in the attempt; as the people could bear such treatment as was being inflicted upon them no longer.
The mob, having learned the orders of General Parks, and likewise being aware of the determination of the oppressed, broke up their encampment and fled. The mob seeing that they could not succeed by force, now resorted to stratagem; and after removing their property out of their houses, which were nothing but log cabins, they fired them, and then reported to the authorities of the state that the “Mormons” were burning and destroying all before them.”
This is the history of the church, how faithful Mormons today might read it. There were a few factual inaccuracies throughout, but the largest and most glaring problem was Jo laying it all on General Parks. Parks was friendly to the Mormons, similar in attitude to Generals Atchison and Doniphan, but he had absolutely no part in the Mormon looting, that was all done under the leadership of the Danites which all stemmed from commands issued by Commander-in-chief Jo. We have an 1839 letter from General Hiram Parks to a Mormon James Sloan in Quincy, Illinois, and it enlightens us as to his personality a bit. This is hosted on mormonhistoricsites.org and there will be a link in the show notes.
I have received 2 letters from you since I last seen [saw] you on the subject of your gun but have delayed answering them untill I co[u]ld learn of the Governor what disposition he would make of the guns surrendered by your people15 Shortly after the rise of the Genl assembly last spring he (the governor) directed his Aiddecamp16 Mr. W. C. Williams17 of this place to let the Mormons have there guns by swearing to them besides doing this they had to pay the Justice of the Peace his fees and Mr. Williams fifty Cents on each gun for his tro[u]ble of handing them out to this rule of his I have demonstrated time after time but all to [no] purpose I have no doubt but that your gun is here18 but here but it can not be drawn unless you swear here or some one for you to prove the gun [was] the gun that was surrendered to me at Adam ondiamon [which] I delivered to Maj Genl John B. Clark at Far West who had the command of all the military forces at that time I am verry sorry for such a state of things to exist in the state in which I live but it is not less true that the Governor has holy [wholly] disregarded the19 treaty made with your people and by the officers commanding the forces sent against you at that time [p. 2] I have written to the Governor a few days [ago] in relation to know what he intends to do in relation to the ballance of20 the guns yet at this place and so [as] soon as I receive an answer from him I will write to you and if I can be of any service to you in processing your gun I will certainly do so. I would be glad to here how your familly are and how they are satisfide with their new home tell Mary Jane21 that I would be glad if22 she would send that cow & calf that I own of hers tell her to write to me and let me know how she is doing and if she is married or expects to be in a short time tell Mrs. Sloan23 that I would be glad to see her Write to me on the receipt [of] this Give my Respects to all my enquiring frends and except [accept] for yourself my best wishes for your future welfare I am yours Respectfully H. G. Parks”
Kind of offers a window into the human experience behind these fighting groups of men.
Back to the HC volume 3.
“As I was driven away from Kirtland without the privilege of settling my business, I had, previous to this, employed Colonel Oliver Granger as my agent, to close all my affairs in the east; and as I have been accused of “running away, cheating my creditors, etc., I will insert one of the many cards and letters I have received from gentlemen who have had the best opportunity of knowing my business transactions, and whose testimony comes unsolicited:
Painesville, Oct 19,1838.
We, the undersigned, being personal acquaintances of Oliver Granger, firmly believe that the course which he had pursued in settling the claims, account, etc., against the former citizens of Kirtland township, has done much credit to himself, and all others that committed to him the care of adjusting their business with this community, which also furnishes evidence that there was no intention on their part of defrauding their creditors.
John S. Seymour”
Given Jo’s terrible business practices and persecution narrative rhetorical bullshit that was constantly exploding from the pulpit, was obliged to take action. We read a small excerpt from this next piece last episode to finish out the show, but let’s read the entire Thomas B. Marsh affidavit and put that “second Mohammet” quote into proper context.
“They have among them a company, considered true Mormons, called the Danites, who have taken an oath to support the heads of the church in all things that they say or do, whether right or wrong. Many, however, of this band are much dissatisfied with this oath,, as being against moral and religious principles. On Saturday last, I am informed by the Mormons, that they had a meeting at Far West, at which they appointed a company of twelve, by the name of the ‘Destruction Company,’ for the purpose of burning and destroying,…and if the people of Clay and Ray made any movement against them, this destroying company were to burn Liberty and Richmond. The prophet inculcates the notion, and it is believed by every true Mormon, that Smith’s prophecies are superior to the laws of the land. I have heard the Prophet say that he would yet tread down his enemies, and walk over their dead bodies; and if he was not let alone, he would be a second Mohammed to this generation, and that he would make it one gore of blood from the Rocky mountains to the Atlantic ocean; that[,] like Mohammed, whose motto in treating for peace was, ‘the Alcoran or the Sword.’ So should it be eventually with us, ‘Joseph Smith or the Sword.’… The number of armed men at Adam-ondi-Ahmen was between three and four hundred.
Thomas B. Marsh”
That was the entirety of the quote we just read a small excerpt from at the end of the last historical episode. To solve this refugee crisis on Jo’s hands, he decided to become that second Mohammed. Apostle David W. , known as Captain Fearnaught to the men he led, organized an army of 150 men and they rode to the small town of Gallatin, where the election battle had occurred 2 months prior. The majority of the men of the town were in the town saloon at the time and when they saw the Mormons cresting the horizon en masse, they ran for their lives.
General Lyman Wight organized 80 men together, declaring, “It would be only a breakfast spell to whip the Missourians. Many of them will be drunk and if they come against us we will hew them down like old stumps.” He took those 80 men and rode them to Millport. When they arrived, the town was essentially empty. The violence had been enough to this point that nearly every non-Mormon living in Daviess county had fled, so Millport was basically a ghost town when General Wight and his men arrived.
Captain Fearnaught and General Wight had orders that would serve to be the downfall of the Mormons and cause them to lose 17 of their brothers in a week’s time. They looted everything in these towns and burned them to the ground. They chased the few remaining people from their homes, piled all the looted possessions into the middle of town and burned all the structures before loading up everything they could carry and taking it back to the bishop’s storehouse in Diahman.
This was premeditated. A man named Jacob Stollings owned a small merchant store in Gallatin. When Capt Fearnaught chased Stollings out, well, lemme just read from the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri to describe the situation. This is page 119.
“Some of the Missourians who were threatened or had their homes plundered and burned were actually friends of the Mormons. Jacob Stollings, a Gallatin merchant, had sold goods to the Saints on credit, to be paid for when their crops were harvested. When Captain Patten’s company attacked Gallatin, they plundered and burned Stollings’ store and confiscated his receipt books, which he never recovered.”
If you’re literally stealing the receipt books from somebody you owe a lot of money to, that’s malicious and premeditated. But Benjamin Franklin Johnson, who we’ve relied upon for his first-hand account many times in the past described it well. This is taken from page 42 of his personal history, linked in the show notes.
“Here let me say that it should not be supposed, though we sought to repel mob violence and were compelled to forage for food when hemmed in on all sides by a mob who had driven us from homes they had sold to us and been paid for, robbing us of everything but our lives and the little we could carry away leaving our crops, stock and household goods to our enemies, that we were common robbers because we took by reprisal that with which to keep from starvation our women and children. Ours was a struggle for our lives and homes, and a more conscientious, noble, and patriotic spirit never enthused man than that which animated our leaders in this just defense of our rights.”
A struggle for our lives and homes to keep our women and children from starvation. That is the harsh reality that underlies this entire conflict. That is the human element we need to focus on. From earlier in Johnson’s autobiography:
“Coming one morning just at daylight from off picket duty I saw a squad of brethren, among whom was my then intimate friend and bosom companion, W. D. Huntington, brother of Sister Zina D., and I asked where they were going, but he only took time to say, "Come and see." So without food other than a piece of corn cake or "dodger" as it was then termed, and after an all-night guard and fast, I started upon a two-year-old colt which by some circumstance I had got astride of, and fell into rank with a company of near twenty mounted men, with Cornelius P. Lot as our Captain. I soon learned our destination was to Taylor's on Grand River, about nine miles above, where it was said arms and ammunition were held for the use of the mob. On arriving opposite the houses, which were on the river bank, we saw a commotion, and persons step back into the cornfield which was close by. We hastily crossed the river, surrounded the house, and myself with others, went for those who had fled. One man I saw and followed, and as he dodged behind a large oak stub, Alex. Williams came on one side as I came on the other. Thus we caught him. It was the first prisoner I had ever assisted to take, and I learned something of the influence of fear upon the human heart; for as we put our hands upon his shoulders there was such a look of expectant death, and such begging for his life, and then to see a fine looking married man so filled with fear that [as] he sank upon the ground [his bowels seemed to pour all their contents into his linen pantaloons and into his sockless shoes]. This was one of the Taylors to whom again I may refer. But we calmed his fears, told him for what purpose we had come, and that if there really were no arms or ammunition stored there to be used against us, we should leave them as we found them; but if we found they had those things we would burn them out. There were two men with a number of women and children, and all affirmed that there was nothing of the kind there. After a thorough search of houses, barns, etc., our captain ordered a search in the cornfields to hunt the cornshocks, which soon resulted in the discovery of arms and ammunition and of their falsehoods. The females hastily took from the houses what they could carry, and here I might say there was almost a trial of my faith in my pity for our enemies, even those who were plotting our destruction. Among the women was one, young married and apparently near her confinement, and another with small children and not a wagon, and many miles away from any of their friends, and snow had begun already (in November) [probably October] to fall. My sympathies were drawn toward the women and children, but I would in no degree let them deter me from duty. So while others were pillaging for something to carry away, I was doing my best to protect, as far as possible, the lives and comfort of the families who were dependent on getting away upon horseback. When the horses were brought up for their use, there was one animal with a side saddle, on which the young woman was to get away; but it was taken away by one Sloan, who had kept the boarding house where I stayed, a man of education and apparently a gentleman. It was too much for me, so I took the animal away from him by force, and put her upon it, and then got from another roll of homemade cloth and fastened it on behind her. While others were doing the burning and plunder, my mission was of mercy so far as duty would permit. But of course I made enemies at home, and became more known by those who were our avowed enemies. Before noon we had set all on [fire?] and left upon a circuitous route towards home. As yet I had had nothing to eat and was much in need of food, and before starting went to a beehive and took in the hollow of a half pumpkin some beautiful white comb honey, ate a little as I went, looked at it and wished I might eat more, but as I could not, I set it upon a stump, where I have many times thought of it through the 56 years that have since passed.”
After Captain Fearnaught’s and General Wight’s troops returned to the bishop’s storehouse in Diahman with their mounds of goods heaped on each horse’s back, a man named Seymour Brunson led a troop of 100 armed men to Grindstone where there was rumor of Col. Neil Gilliam gathering an armed force of vigilantes to stop the Mormon conquest. Brunson’s army met with no opposition that day but looted and burned every home from Diahman to Grindstone.
Johnathan Dunham led a company of 50 men to the outerlying countryside and looted every building they could possibly find, taking a few prisoners.
From the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri:
“At the end of the day these companies returned to Diahman with cattle, hogs, and an abundance of property, but they had encountered no enemy troops.”
Thus, ended the Mormon conquest of Daviess County of 18 October 1838. This had many profound effects. First, it showed the Missourians that the Mormons were finally going to make good on the rhetoric they’d been spewing from the pulpit for months now. If they were claiming a war of extermination and saying they wouldn’t deal with the Missourian aggression, this was proof. They went out on this conquest with the resolve to destroy any militia or mob they came against, and luckily for everybody the groups didn’t meet, but they had the motivation and solidarity to act aggressively as an army, raiding and pillaging, living off the spoils of war. The problem the Mormons had of starvation was no longer an issue. Last episode I said that Jo had two problems on his hands. The Mormons were either going to die from starvation or die from too much lead ripping holes in their bodies. He dealt with the first problem first as it seemed more pressing. People were dying from exposure and lack of resources so Jo took care of that problem first before the second problem became an inevitability. Unfortunately for all, this raiding solution vastly contributed to the second problem metastasizing.
As each of these places in Daviess county were raided and the people were chased out, those people had to go somewhere. Most of them spread out to non-Mormon safehavens in nearby Clay, Ray, Liberty, Saline, or Carroll counties. As these people were trickling in to local Missouri towns, they were relaying to the non-Mormon Missourians, many of which hated the Mormons, stories of what they’d just experienced. As is typical for this entire few months of Mormon history, rumors spreading contributed to the problem and effectively burned any bridges the Mormons had with any non-Mormon allies.
Boggs and the Missouri government in Richmond, Ray county were absolutely flooded with reports of Mormon aggression in Daviess county. This was activity on a whole new level and the government needed to act appropriately in response. The first thing Boggs did was fire Major-General David Atchison and promote John B. Clark to Atchison’s position of Maj-Gen of the Missouri militia. Atchison, being the highest-ranking field officer in Missouri, had been unsuccessful in quelling the Mormon insurrection in Boggs’ mind, so he put somebody in that was less sympathetic to the Mormons. Of the many interactions we have on record between Boggs and Atchison, I personally think this was the worst thing Boggs could have done. Atchison was one of the few people in the middle of the situation that understood what was going on and had rightfully claimed multiple times the Mormons were acting on the defensive for the entire conflict up to this point. Another underlying theme in these letter exchanges was Atchison constantly pleading for Boggs to make a personal appearance. Atchison wasn’t the only one pleading for personal intervention from Boggs, Brigadier-General Hiram Parks asked for the same thing many times saying, “He need not order out any forces, those already ordered by me I deem sufficient. You know a word from his Excellency would have more power to quell this affair than a regiment.” (November Court documents)
Atchison being removed from the case left a large workload to fall on the shoulders of Generals Doniphan and Parks, two non-Mormon friendly state militia-men, as well as to Generals Clark and Lucas, Captain Bogart, and Colonel Neil Gilliam all 4 of which hated the Mormons. The Mormons lost their primary ally in the fight. Atchison would stick around and continue correspondence, but he was officially removed from being head General over the case, making way for anti-Mormon militia leaders to take his place.
Governor Lilburn Boggs, of course, was absolutely flooded over the next week with reports of the Mormon depredations in Daviess county. Boggs knew that the Mormons were plutonium to any political career, nobody could safely touch them and come away unscathed. Even Martin Van Buren realized this in the following years when Jo met with him to ask for reconciliation in Missouri, Van Buren turned him away essentially saying he can’t take sides with the Mormons. Generals Atchison and Doniphan would go on after this Mormon conflict in Missouri and have very successful careers, but when the Mormons had such a successful conquest, even they said that the Mormons were fanatics needing to be put down.
Boggs’ refusal to appear in person may have cost many people their lives. He had been responsible for calling together militias and immediately disbanding them upon receiving new intel more than once. You know why those costly and ridiculous situations happened? Boggs would hear rumor that the Mormons were acting aggressively and call together the militia to quell the problem. A few days later some trusted individuals as part of investigative committees would return to his office with reports that the Mormons were acting defensively and there was no need for the militia to answer to Mormon military actions. It wasn’t hard for these committees to ascertain the truth upon personally examining the situation, and Boggs simply needed to do the same to allay his own apprehensions and rid himself of confusion with the whole Mormon situation. When Boggs began his career, he was friendly to the Mormons, now he couldn’t be trusted because he only seemed to take actions against them. And when it came to doing anything on behalf of the Mormons, Boggs simply couldn’t be bothered. There is no question in my mind that if somebody more qualified and active in the conflict were governor, like Atchison, for example, the Battle at Crooked River never would have happened, nor would have the extermination order or Haun’s mill massacre. One person in an important position with a slightly increased amount of give-a-fuck, and this whole story would have been a non-issue in American history.
Let’s look at Jo, Hyrum, and Rigdon for a minute, the leadership of the church and the Mormon militias. I’ll just refer to them royally as Jo because when it all came down to it, he was the prophet and he was calling the final shots in all these situations, Rigdon and Hyrum were merely his counsellors through it all. The Missourian mobocrats, as he called them, had done everything possible in their power to fuck with the Mormons. No matter what the situation, whether it was inflating the cost of a bushel of corn by 300%, refusing to let the Mormons use the mill at Grindstone, surrounding their towns and running military drills outside, all while being supplied by the local non-Mormon population, refusing to buy goods just because they’re being sold by a Mormon, barring their right to vote and inciting a brawl during a hotly contested election, and most of all, chasing the Mormons out of their homes simply because they do not belong there; the Missourians were just assholes to the Mormons. That last one is crucial. So much of the pressure all boils down to who has the right to what land. Mormons had the right to settle on any property they pleased as long as it was acquired through legal means. That’s the case for everybody in America. You get some land for yourself, you have the right to live there and nobody has the right to remove you from your property. Unfortunately, things weren’t so cut-and-dried. The Mormons had acquired most of their land through legal means, but weren’t able to pay for it. The majority of the people chasing the Mormons out of their homes weren’t the rightful landowners given the Mormons defaulting on their loans, they just knew the Mormons weren’t paying for what they were using and saw it as their right to remove the Mormons and allow somebody to settle the land that would pay for it. This is often sold as religious persecution, ignorantly simplifying away so much nuance, nuance which helps to explain the real issues.
The Mormons were reacting to the pressure exuded by the Missourians. More from the autobiography of Benjamin F. Johnson:
“On our way home our company divided to scout in different directions, and we soon came upon a fine looking band of horses following a brood mare with a bell. As I was upon this two-year-old colt and wished one for heavier service I thought it a good time to make trial to get one. So as a comrade offered to take my gun and lead my animal by the halter, I took the bridle and started with two others who volunteered to go with me for the same purpose. It was now in the afternoon, and clouds were rising as though it would rain, but we pushed with hope and earnestness for our animals, who, like the ignis fatuus (will-o'-the-wisp) were always just ahead but never to be overtaken and caught. Yet we followed until it began to rain, and then we lost the track of our party and were lost. As it grew dusk we hastened, but failed to find our way or trail. After dark we struck a trail which we followed for miles, nearing a large body of timber, and knowing that there was a mob gathering on what was called the grindstone, and fearing we were going in that direction, we halted. As one of our party had a flintlock musket we managed by care to get a light started with it, in the trail we were following, and soon discovered that our party had not passed that way. I felt sure we were going in the wrong direction and said we must take another direction. I extinguished the fire, and as I did so and we turned our course we heard but a few rods behind us a party of horsemen who galloped off another direction, which proved we were near the mob encampment. We found and followed another trail until near midnight, and I became so weary and faint through want of sleep and food, I felt I should soon be compelled to stop. We were in some creek bottom among the timber, and soon came to a clearing with a number of houses. There being no moon and cloudy it was very dark and their outlines could barely be discerned. We drew near with great caution and seeing no evidence of life, I determined to ascertain if anyone was there, and if so, to learn if we could get food and chance to rest. I told my companions if anything befell me to come to the rescue, or go and report. I knocked at the first house but no answer; went to the next with same result, and finding the third to be a barn I returned to the first and called my companions. We found doors and windows barred, but forced an entrance through a window. The first step after reaching the floor, I fell headlong into a cellar under the floor, where a part of what were called "puncheons," had been pulled up, with which to brace windows and door. I got out of the cellar, called my companions to bring their guns, by means of which we soon succeeded in making a fire. On lighting up we found some family had apparently just left, as nearly everything but beds, clothing and food, was present. I soon had a fire and on a pile of deer skins made me a bed, telling my companions that I could not watch, and that we should perhaps be discovered before morning. And so, wet, hungry and tired, and more dead than alive, I fell asleep. I had slept perhaps a couple of hours when I was disturbed by some call that broke upon my dead asleep but waking senses. "Who is there?" was repeated again and again. More asleep than awake I answered, "Me!" "What's your name?" came next, I said, "Benjamin F. Johnson." My name was passed around the house and I knew we were surrounded. Directly I beard one of the party say, "I know him," and he at once dismounted and came in. I saw it was Brother John Butler, whose acquaintance I had made in a snowstorm a few days before. When finding him one of our most valiant men with nothing but some green cowhide on his feet as moccasins, I gave him my only shoes that were of any value, and now as by special providence had upon my feet a most excellent pair of new calfskin boots, by which I felt I had been the greatest gainer.
We told Brother Butler how we came there and he said we were then on the right road, but near nine miles from home. He had been out on special commission and was riding the Prophet's black horse, "Charley." He told his companions to return to Diahman, and that he would remain with us, which he did. In the early morning he led the way some mile and a half towards our enemies' camp, to the smoldering ruins of a house apparently burned the day before to find something to eat. The only things to be found were a pile of onions and a flock of chickens, one of which we soon had boiling with onions in a stray dinner pot. But we did not then, so near our enemies, feel great delicacy as to our cooking, for we were governed by the idea of "eat to live" and we felt that the quicker we could eat our chicken and onions and get from there the greater was our chance to live; thus the onions were but half done and the chicken none too tender. Close by was an old bell cow, and cattle scattered about on the prairie; so while we were getting our breakfast, which was not long, Brother Butler had taken a gourd shell with salt and commenced calling, "Sook bos! sook bos!" The bell cow at once started for salt, with all the cattle after her, and soon he was ahead on old Charley with a herd of cattle following. As it went by us we fell in behind and followed to Diahman. When within a mile or two we heard a firing of the cannon which had that night arrived, having been taken from the mob and rooted up by the old sow as related in history. Our animals, nearly forty head of good beef cattle for our famishing people, was a godsend indeed, and so regarded by all.
Here let me say that it should not be supposed, though we sought to repel mob violence and were compelled to forage for food when hemmed in on all sides by a mob who had driven us from homes they had sold to us and been paid for, robbing us of everything but our lives and the little we could carry away leaving our crops, stock and household goods to our enemies, that we were common robbers because we took by reprisal that with which to keep from starvation our women and children. Ours was a struggle for our lives and homes, and a more conscientious, noble, and patriotic spirit never enthused man than that which animated our leaders in this just defense of our rights.”
Over the next few historical episodes we’ll be reading large excerpts from journals and autobiographies because these people were actually there. One thing we try to do here is bring to you the human element that often gets lost in historical studies. We have to try and ascertain what happened by reading first-hand sources and looking at the circumstantial evidence to build a narrative or historical theory to explain the sequence of events. When we talk about this militia chasing people from their homes, or another militia surrounding DeWitt or Diahman, those are just faceless gray masses of bodies. We don’t really understand what it was like to be there until we read the situation recounted through the eyes of people like Ben Johnson here.
It really forces me to reflect on rights. Who had the right to do what they did? With how convoluted the historical record is for this time, it’s hard to determine if/when any single group was in the right in doing what they did. Were the Mormons in the right removing all the citizens from Daviess county from their homes? Were the vigilante militias in the right in chasing the Mormons out of Carroll county only a week before? If it meant life or death, did the Mormons have a right to raid and steal food to fight off impending mass starvation? Did the Missourians have the right to chase Mormons off their land when they defaulted on their loans back in 1833, essentially being a main causal factor in this whole conflict? There’s no simple answer. No single group had the ethical high ground, even if actions taken by the militias against the Mormons were legally sanctioned by the local government, it doesn’t mean they were right.
I guess that’s where the meaning of “right” can broaden its scope a bit to include ethically right. With our expanded definition, who was really right in this whole situation? With a simple story, you have a protagonist, an antagonist, and a story arc. Good guys and bad guys are often fleshed out within the first few chapters or scenes. And, of course, at the end of 400 pages or an hour and a half, the protagonist’s struggle reaches its crescendo and the story ends. Maybe this is why I love studying history so much, because it breaks all the conventions of what we call basic story-telling. Real life is far more complicated than what a story-teller can illustrate for us in a given period of time through a given medium. And the story must go on.
Next historical episode we’ll get into the Battle of Crooked River and Boggs’ harsh reaction in response to Mormon violence. As stated at the beginning of the episode, what you’re about to hear is part 2 of a discussion I had with Brian and Sean of Mythicist Milwaukee last Sunday. Part 1 of the discussion is up on their podcast feed so be sure to follow the show notes to give it a listen. Also, we took 360 video of the interview. It was my first time using my 360-camera for an interview and I learned some things to do and not to do from it, so it’s not great, but the video should be available for supporters of the show on patreon.com/nakedmormonism within the next 24-36 hours. In watching back, it feels like you’re just sitting in the room with us having a conversation with the ability to look around and pan from one person to the next, it really opens up a lot of possibilities for these kinds of interviews in the future. I really hope to hear your thoughts on the video and maybe some ways we can improve the experience for the viewers. If you guys like these 360 interviews, let me know and I’ll get to work on incorporating them into the show any way possible.
Without further ado, this is the interview with Mythicist Milwaukee…
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