In October 1830 missionaries to the Lamanites began an arduous 1,500-mile trek to share the gospel with the American Indians on the frontier. By Jan. 13, 1831, these intrepid elders had trudged across Missouri to reach the small village of Independence. The report of their early labors and a revelation given through the Prophet on June 7, 1831, brought additional missionaries to the western frontier. (D&C 52.)
Joining them in 1831 was the Prophet Joseph Smith. After 30 days of traveling by wagon, stagecoach, riverboat and on foot he arrived in Independence, and observed: "As far as the eye can reach the beautiful rolling prairies lie spread out like a sea of meadows; and are decorated with a growth of flowers so gorgeous and grand as to exceed description."1 The beautiful prairie the Lord revealed "is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion" - the New Jerusalem. (D&C 57:2.) In the center of this land, a temple site was dedicated by the Lord's anointed on Aug. 3, 1831, the first so designated in this dispensation. (D&C 57:3.) The hope for a glorious Zion in the consecrated land partially dimmed as the Lord warned, "Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation." (D&C 58:3.) This warning was a foreshadowing of the bigotry, persecution, mobbing and extermination that soon followed. However, as the Prophet departed for Ohio in 1831, hopes were bright in Missouri, and the peaceful formation of a Zion-like community seemed imminent.Joseph Smith corresponded with the Saints but did not return to Zion until April 24, 1832, just one month to the day after being tarred and feathered in Hiram, Ohio. In Missouri he sat in "council with the saints which are in Zion" and was acknowledged by them as President of the Priesthood. (D&C 78:9.) His concern for their safety pervaded his thoughts, as he recognized they resided among "a ferocious set of mobbers, like lambs among Wolves."2 The generally rough, pro-slavery Missourians found Mormonism a strange and threatening religion and sought occasions to mock, intimidate and harass. However, strengthened by the prophetic counsel, the Saints rose above retaliation and resolved to build Zion.
In the summer of 1833 building the Zion community halted and hopes were dashed. A tragic irony was realized as savage barbarity and mobocracy reared in Independence, a city whose very name heralds man's inalienable rights. As flames of hatred ignited, Latter-day Saints witnessed the destruction of property and the tarring and feathering of local leaders. These tribulations were but a precursor of the mire they would trod, "for after much tribulation . . . cometh the blessing." (D&C 103:12.)
As the ostracized society of Saints fled across the Missouri River to Clay County in November 1833, W. W. Phelps descriptively penned, "The condition of the scattered saints is lamentable, and affords a gloomy prospect."3 The prophetic reply evidenced compassion: "Your sufferings, it awakens every sympathy of our hearts; it weighs us down; we cannot refrain from tears, yet, we are not able to realize, only in part, your sufferings."4 The divine answer as to why the tribulations: "I, the Lord, have suffered the affliction to come upon them, wherewith they have been afflicted, in consequence of their transgressions; . . . Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham." (D&C 101:2, 4.)
As the Saints endured their Abrahamic test in hovels built on public lands near the bluff of the Missouri River valley, the Prophet Joseph prepared to march to Missouri to assist them in redeeming Zion. He rallied the strength of the Church to form a quasi-military force, the Army of the Lord - Zion's Camp. (D&C 103.) He counseled the men to keep the commandments of God and be united in faith, promising deliverance from their enemies for obedience. If unfaithful, the warning was that the Lord "would visit them in His wrath and vex them in His sore displeasure.
"God was with us," wrote the Prophet, "His angels went before us, and the faith of our little band was unwavering."6 Yet, as the days of the march extended to weeks, failure to heed the divine warning evoked the wrath of God. An attack of infectious cholera erupted in the camp. Sixty-eight members succumbed to the disease and 14 died from it. As the Prophet tried to stop the spreading plague he "learned by painful experience, that when the great Jehovah decrees destruction upon any people, and makes known His determination, man must not attempt to stay His hand."7 This bleak vexation and subsequent dispersion of the camp offered little promise to the exiled Saints.
To help the scattered Saints enjoy a union of believers in their time of trial, Joseph organized the high council of Clay County on July 3, 1834, and set in order the Church leadership before again returning to Ohio. In Ohio the Prophet of God, who had presided over Zion's Camp and "walked most of the time and had a full proportion of blistered, bloody, and sore feet," was charged for unbecoming conduct in camp.8 Cries of "Tyrant - King - Usurper - Abuser" were shouted in a spirit of contention and apostasy. Acquitted by the high council of wrong-doing, the Prophet mercifully forgave his accusers.
However, the repentance of the accusers was short-lived and the cry of "fallen prophet" grew louder. By 1837, "It seemed as though all the powers of earth and hell were combining their influence in an especial manner to overthrow the Church at once, and make a final end," lamented the Prophet.9 As Kirtland teetered toward apostasy, leading Saints in Far West were traveling the same forbidden path. The Prophet journeyed the fourth time to Missouri with the hope of quelling rising discontent. During his 10 days in Far West he often counseled with Church leaders and made plans to urge the Kirtland Saints to "make all possible exertions to gather themselves together" in Missouri.10.
In 1838 the Prophet joined in the gathering, even though he and his traveling companion Brigham Young were "obliged to secrete ourselves in our wagons, sometimes, to elude the grasp of our pursuers . . . armed with pistols and guns, seeking our lives."11 In contrast to the angry apostates, the heartfelt welcome of the Missouri Saints was recorded by the Prophet: "On the 14th of March, as we were about entering Far West, many of the brethren came out to meet us, who also with open arms welcomed us to their bosoms."12
Nevertheless, the Prophet was not to be a stranger to malicious harassment in Missouri. As slanderous hearsay spread, then escalated, attempts to establish truth by the Prophet were dismissed. Amid vexatious lawsuits, name-calling, poverty, and betrayal, the Prophet continued the work of the Kingdom in Missouri. He commenced writing the history of the Church and expressed gratitude for divine revelation to build a temple in Far West. (D&C 115.) With enthusiasm he designated settlement sites, calling one Adam-ondi-Ahman because "it is the place where Adam shall come to visit his people." (D&C 116.) On June 28, 1838, he organized a stake at Adam-ondi-Ahman and appointed his uncle, John Smith, president. Less than two weeks later, on July 8, 1838, he received two revelations - one on the commandment to pay tithes on interest (D&C 119) and the other naming four men to fill vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve. (D&C 118.)
The work of the Kingdom rolled forth amid the escalating abuse. However, on Aug. 6, 1838, the hostilities between the Saints and the Missourians at the election polls in Gallatin caused a halt. Called to arms, the Missouri militia should have quelled the tide of mobocracy, but chose to add brutal force to the religious persecution. The Battle at Crooked River, the Extermination Order, and the Haun's Mill Massacre were outgrowths of Missourian bigotry. (As mob raids began, Mormons armed themselves and fought their attackers; Apostle David W. Patten was killed at the Crooked River Oct. 25, 1838. Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs signed an order Oct. 27, 1838, directing that the Mormons be driven from the state or exterminated. Seventeen men and boys were killed at Haun's Mill on Oct. 30, 1838, by the unauthorized Livingston County Militia.)
Frightened Saints of God were subjected to the glitter of steel and the sheen of muskets as town after town fell to the barbaric intruders. The exiled Saints fled to safety in Illinois.
The Prophet did not escape the extremities of Missouri. "We have been driven time after time, and without cause; and smitten again and again, and that without provocation," penned the prophetic leader.13 He, with faithful Church authorities, was betrayed, imprisoned and court-martialed. This mockery to justice led Parley P. Pratt to pen, "If the vision of the infernal regions could suddenly open to the mind, with thousands of malicious fiends, all clamoring . . . raging and foaming like a troubled sea, then could some idea be formed of the hell which we had entered."14
Yet, the Lord was mindful of His anointed. Speaking in subdued tones Joseph confidently promised fellow prisoners: "Be of good cheer, brethren; the word of the Lord came to me last night that our lives should be given us, and that whatever we may suffer during this captivity, not one of our lives should be taken."15 Although imprisoned in Independence, then Richmond, and finally Liberty, their lives were spared.
As the captives approached Independence, many townsfolk curiously gathered to gaze upon the Mormon leaders. One woman turning to the Prophet inquired "whether
heT professed to be the Lord and Savior." The Prophet replied, "I professed to be nothing but a man, and a minister of salvation, sent by Jesus Christ to preach the Gospel."16
From Independence the prisoners were taken to Richmond Jail on Nov. 9, 1838. As the prison guards boasted of their cruel deeds of murder, robbery and rapine, the Prophet spoke with a voice of thunder: "SILENCE, ye fiends of the infernal pit. In the name of Jesus Christ I rebuke you, and command you to be still; I will not live another minute and hear such language. Cease such talk, or you or I die THIS INSTANT!"17
As large crowds gathered into the unfurnished courtroom to observe and taunt at the Richmond hearings, their hostile remarks intimidated the witnesses and a few defendants, but not the Prophet. He viewed the hearing as a farce, merely another abuse heaped against them by their enemies under the guise of the law. The Prophet wrote to his wife of his illegal tribulations:
"My Dear Emma, we are prisoners in chains, and under strong guards, for Christ sake and for no other cause. . . . I am your husband and am in bands and tribulation. . . . Joseph Smith Jr."18
One day after the hearing ended, six prisoners, including Joseph Smith, were chained, handcuffed, placed in a wagon, and driven from Richmond to Liberty.
On Dec. 1, 1838, the Prophet was locked in the squalor of Liberty Jail. There, his thoughts turned outward to his beloved Saints that were fleeing from the terrors of the Extermination Order. From prison he wrote encouragement, assuring them of the omnipotent power of the Lord: "What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints." (D&C 121:33.)
For Joseph, the Lord's hand was revealed when a change of venue to Boone County provided the way for his escape. One evening the "guard got intoxicated. We thought it a favorable opportunity to make our escape; knowing that the only object of our enemies was our destruction."19 Thus, the Prophet left the state of Missouri a fugitive. He emerged physically scathed by the ordeal yet beloved by his God: "My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if you endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. . . . Fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever." (D&C 121:7-8; 122:9.)
1History of the Church 1:197.
5Millennial Star, 27:438.
6HC 2:73; Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1985, 93-94.
8George A. Smith's journal, 25 June 1834; HC 2:144.
10Elders' Journal of the Church of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith, ed., (November 1837), 28.
14HC 3:243; Pratt, 159-60.
17HC 3:251-54; Pratt, 179-80.
18Joseph Smith letter to Emma Smith, November 12, 1838, as cited in Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Personal writings of Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984, 367-68.
HIGHLIGHTS IN LIFE OF JOSEPH SMITH:
- Mid-July-Aug. 9, 1831, visited Saints in Jackson County, Mo.
- May 5, 1834, led Zion's Camp from Ohio en route to Jackson County.
- July 3, 1834, organized high council in Clay County before discharging Zion's Camp and returning to Kirtland
- October-November 1837, visited Saints in Missouri; arrived back in Kirtland, Dec. 10, 1837.
- March 14, 1838, arrived at Far West, Mo.
- May 19, 1838, visited with others a place on Grand River, about 25 miles north of Far West, called Spring Hill, which by revelation was named Adam-ondi-Ahman; organized stake there on June 28, 1838.
- Nov. 9, 1838, imprisoned at Richmond, Mo.
- Dec. 1, 1838-early April 1839, imprisoned at Liberty, Mo.
- April 16, 1839, escaped from drunken guard, fled to Illinois.