But we have anticipated the current of events. With the publication of the Book of Mormon, opposition grew more intense toward the people who professed a belief in the testimony of Joseph Smith. On the 6th of April, 1830, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was formally organized and thus took on a legal existence. The scene of this organization was Fayette, New York, and but six persons were directly concerned as participants. At that time there may have been and probably were many times that number who had professed adherence to the newly restored faith; but as the requirements of the law governing the formation of religious societies were satisfied by the application of six, only the specified number formally took part. Such was the beginning of the Church, soon to be so universally maligned. Its origin was small--a germ, an insignificant seed, hardly to be thought of as likely to arouse opposition. What was there to fear in the voluntary association of six men, avowedly devoted to peaceful pursuits and benevolent purposes? Yet a storm of persecution was threatened from the earliest day. At first but a family affair, opposition to the work has involved successively the town, the county, the state, the country, and today the "Mormon" question has been accorded extended consideration at the hands of the national government, and indeed most civilized nations have taken cognizance of the same.
Let us observe the contrast between the beginning and the present proportions of the Church. Instead of but six regularly affiliated members, and at most two score of adherents, the organization numbers today many hundred thousand souls. In place of a single hamlet, in the smallest corner of which the members could have congregated, there now are about seventy stakes of Zion and about seven hundred organized wards, each ward and stake with its full complement of officers and priesthood organizations. The practise of gathering its proselytes into one place prevents the building up and strengthening of foreign branches; and inasmuch as extensive and strong organizations are seldom met with abroad, very erroneous ideas exist concerning the strength of the Church. Nevertheless, the mustard seed, among the smallest of all seeds, has attained the proportions of a tree, and the birds of the air are nesting in its branches; the acorn is now an oak offering protection and the sweets of satisfaction to every earnest pilgrim journeying its way for truth.
From the organization of the Church, the spirit of emigration rested upon the people. Their eyes were from the first turned in anticipation toward the evening sun--not merely that the work of proselyting should be carried on in the west, but that the headquarters of the Church should be there established. The Book of Mormon had taught the people the true origin and destiny of the American Indians; and toward this dark-skinned remnant of a once mighty people, the missionaries of "Mormonism" early turned their eyes, and with their eyes went their hearts and their hopes.
Within three months from the beginning, the Church had missionaries among the Lamanites. It is notable that the Indian tribes have generally regarded the religion of the Latter-day Saints with favor, seeing in the Book of Mormon striking agreement with their own traditions.
The first well-established seat of the Church was in the pretty little town of Kirtland, Ohio, almost within sight of Lake Erie; and here soon rose the first temple of modern times. Among their many other peculiarities, the Latter-day Saints are characterized as a temple-building people, as history proves the Israel of ancient times to have been. In the days of their infancy as a Church, while in the thrall of poverty, and amidst the persecution and direful threats of lawless hordes, they laid the cornerstone, and in less than three years thereafter they celebrated the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, a structure at once beautiful and imposing. Even before this time, however, populous settlements of Latter-day Saints had been made in Jackson County, Missouri; and in the town of Independence a site for a great temple had been selected and purchased; but though the ground has been dedicated with solemn ceremony, the people have not as yet built thereon.
Within two years of its dedication, the temple in Kirtland was abandoned by the people, who were compelled to flee for their lives before the onslaughts of mobocrats; but a second temple, larger and more beautiful than the first, soon reared its spires in the city of Nauvoo, Illinois. This structure was destroyed by fire, but the temple-building spirit was not to be quenched, and in the vales of Utah today are four magnificent temple edifices. The last completed, which was the first begun, is situated in Salt Lake City, and is one of the wonders and beauties of that city by the great salt sea. 2
To the fervent Latter-day Saint, a temple is not simply a church building, a house for religious assembly. Indeed the "Mormon" temples are rarely used as places of general gatherings. They are in one sense educational institutions, regular courses of lectures and instruction being maintained in some of them; but they are specifically for baptisms and ordinations, for sanctifying prayer, and for the most sacred ceremonies and rites of the Church, particularly in the vicarious work for the dead which is a characteristic of "Mormon" faith. And who that has gazed upon these splendid shrines will say that the people who can do so much in poverty and tribulation are insincere? Bigoted they may seem to those who believe not as they do; fanatics they may be to multitudes who like the proud Pharisee of old thank God they are not as these; but insincere they cannot be, even in the judgment of their bitterest opponent, if he be a creature of reason.
The clouds of persecution thickened in Ohio as the intolerant zeal of mobs found frequent expression; numerous charges, trivial and serious, were made against the leaders of the Church, and they were repeatedly brought before the courts, only to be liberated on the usual finding of no cause for action. Meanwhile the march to the west was maintained. Soon thousands of converts had rented or purchased homes in Missouri--Independence, Jackson County, being their center; but from the first, they were unpopular among the Missourians. Their system of equal rights with their marked disapproval of every species of aristocratic separation and self-aggrandizement was declared to be a species of communism, dangerous to the state. An inoffensive journalistic organ, The Star, published for the purpose of properly presenting the religious tenets of the people, was made the particular object of the mob's rage; the house of its publisher was razed to the ground, the press and type were confiscated, and the editor and his family maltreated. An absurd story was circulated and took firm hold of the masses that the Book of Mormon promised the western lands to the people of the Church, and that they intended to take possession of these lands by force. Throughout the book of revelations regarded by the people as law specially directed to them, they are told to save their riches that they may purchase the inheritance promised them of God. Everywhere are they told to maintain peace; the sword is never offered as their symbol of conquest. Their gathering is to be like that of the Jews at Jerusalem--a pacific one, and in their taking possession of what they regard as a land of promise, no one previously located there shall be denied his rights.
A spirit of fierce persecution raged in Jackson and surrounding counties of Missouri. An appeal was made to the executive of the state, but little encouragement was returned. The lieutenant- governor, Lilburn W. Boggs, afterward governor, was a pronounced "Mormon"-hater, and throughout the period of the troubles, he manifested sympathy with the persecutors.
One of the circuit judges who was asked to issue a peace warrant refused to do so, but advised the "Mormons" to arm themselves and meet the force of the outlaws with organized resistance. This advice was not pleasing to the Latter-day Saints, whose religion enjoined tolerance and peace; but they so far heeded it as to arm a small force; and when the outlaws next came upon them, the people were not entirely unprepared. A "Mormon" rebellion was now proclaimed. The people had been goaded to desperation. The militia was ordered out, and the "Mormons" were disarmed. The mob was unrestrained in its eagerness for revenge. The "Mormons" engaged able lawyers to institute and maintain legal proceedings against their foes, and this step, the right to which one would think could be denied no American citizen, called forth such an uproar of popular wrath as to affect almost the entire state.
It was winter; but the inclemency of the year only suited the better the purpose of the oppressor. Homes were destroyed, men torn from their families were brutally beaten, tarred and feathered; women with babes in their arms were forced to flee half-clad into the solitude of the prairie to escape from mobocratic violence. Their sufferings have never yet been fitly chronicled by human scribe. Making their way across the river, most of the refugees found shelter among the more hospitable people of Clay County, and afterward established themselves in Caldwell County, therein founding the city of Far West. County and state judges, the governor, and even the President of the United States, were appealed to in turn for redress. The national executive, Andrew Jackson, while expressing sympathy for the persecuted people, deplored his lack of power to interfere with the administration or non-administration of state laws; the national officials could do nothing; the state officials would do naught.
But the expulsion from Jackson County was but a prelude to the tragedy soon to follow. A single scene of the bloody drama is known as the Haun's Mill massacre. A small settlement had been founded by "Mormon" families on Shoal Creek, and here on the 30th of October, 1838, a company of two hundred and forty fell upon the hapless settlers and butchered a score. No respect was paid to age or sex; grey heads, and infant lips that scarcely had learned to lisp a word, vigorous manhood and immature youth, mother and maiden, fared alike in the scene of carnage, and their bodies were thrown into an old well.
In October, 1838, the Governor of Missouri, the same Lilburn W. Boggs, issued his infamous exterminating order, and called upon the militia of the state to execute it. The language of this document, signed by the executive of a sovereign state of the Union, declared that the "Mormons" must be driven from the state or exterminated. Be it said to the honor of some of the officers entrusted with the terrible commission, that when they learned its true significance they resigned their authority rather than have anything to do with what they designated a cold-blooded butchery. But tools were not wanting, as indeed they never have been, for murder and its kindred outrages. What the heart of man can conceive, the hand of man will find a way to execute. The awful work was carried out with dread dispatch. Oh, what a record to read; what a picture to gaze upon; how awful the fact! An official edict offering expatriation or death to a peaceable community with no crime proved against them, and guilty of no offense other than that of choosing to differ in opinion from the masses! American school boys read with emotions of horror of the Albigenses, driven, beaten and killed, with a papal legate directing the butchery; and of the Vaudois, hunted and hounded like beasts as the effect of a royal decree; and they yet shall read in the history of their own country of scenes as terrible as these in the exhibition of injustice and inhuman hate.
In the dread alternative offered them, the people determined again to abandon their homes; but whither should they go? Already they had fled before the lawless oppressor over well nigh half a continent; already were they on the frontiers of the country that they had regarded as the land of promised liberty. Thus far every move had carried them westward, but farther west they could not go unless they went entirely beyond the country of their birth, and gave up their hope of protection under the Constitution, which to them had ever been an inspired instrument, the majesty of which, as they had never doubted, would be some day vindicated, even to securing for them the rights of American citizens. This time their faces were turned toward the east; and a host numbering from ten to twelve thousand, including many women and children, abandoned their homes and fled before their murderous pursuers, reddening the snow with bloody footprints as they journeyed. They crossed the Mississippi and sought protection on the soil of Illinois. There their sad condition evoked for a time general commiseration.
The press of the state denounced the treatment of the people by the Missourians and vindicated the character of the "Mormons" as peaceable and law-abiding citizens. College professors published expressions of their horror over the cruel crusade; state officials, including even the governor, gave substantial evidence of their sympathy and good feeling. This lull in the storm of outrage that had so long raged about them offered a strange contrast to their usual treatment. Let it not be thought that all the people of Illinois were their friends; from the first, opposition was manifest, but their condition was so greatly bettered that they might have thought the advent of their Zion to be near at hand.
I stated that professional men, and even college professors raised their voices in commiseration of the "Mormon" situation and in denouncing the "Mormon" oppressors. Prof. Turner of Illinois College wrote:
Who began the quarrel? Was it the "Mormons?" Is it not notorious on the contrary that they were hunted like wild beasts from county to county before they made any resistance? Did they ever, as a body, refuse obedience to the laws, when called upon to do so, until driven to desperation by repeated threats and assaults by the mob? Did the state ever make one decent effort to defend them as fellow-citizens in their rights or to redress their wrongs? Let the conduct of its governors and attorneys and the fate of their final petitions answer! Have any who plundered and openly insulted the "Mormons" ever been brought to the punishment due to their crimes? Let boasting murderers of begging and helpless infancy answer! Has the state ever remunerated even those known to be innocent for the loss of either their property or their arms? Did either the pulpit or the press through the state raise a note of remonstrance or alarm? Let the clergymen who abetted and the editors who encouraged the mob answer!
As a sample of the press comments against the brutality of the Missourians I quote a paragraph from the Quincy Argus, March 16, 1839:
We have no language sufficiently strong for the expression of our indignation and shame at the recent transaction in a sister state, and that state, Missouri, a state of which we had long been proud, alike for her men and history, but now so fallen that we could wish her star stricken from the bright constellation of the Union. We say we know of no language sufficiently strong for the expression of our shame and abhorrence of her recent conduct. She has written her own character in letters of blood, and stained it by acts of merciless cruelty and brutality that the waters of ages cannot efface. It will be observed that an organized mob, aided by many of the civil and military officers of Missouri, with Gov. Boggs at their head, have been the prominent actors in this business, incited too, it appears, against the "Mormons" by political hatred, and by the additional motives of plunder and revenge. They have but too well put in execution their threats of extermination and expulsion, and fully wreaked their vengeance on a body of industrious and enterprising men, who had never wronged nor wished to wrong them, but on the contrary had ever comported themselves as good and honest citizens, living under the same laws, and having the same right with themselves to the sacred immunities of life, liberty and property.
:2 For a detailed account of modern temples, with numerous pictorial views, see "The House of the Lord," by the present author; Salt Lake City, Utah, 1912.