In the year 1820 a young boy claimed that through prayer he had seen a vision in which he saw God and Jesus Christ. Many rejected his claim stating that he was merely a boy with a large imagination, or that a vision of such consequence could not occur in the modern world. Despite the constant dismissal he received from ministers and preachers of the time the faith grew. Through the faith and hard work of the family and friends of Joseph Smith a church had begun. As members began joining the church many non believers became worried, and regardless of the first amendment in the Bill of Rights, religious based attacks began. These attacks were based on the fact that the people, in general, were different culturally then the rest of the United States. Their interpretation of Christianity was different then the other churches of the time, and their beliefs of how the country should operate were nearly the opposite of their home statesmen’s ideas. This instilled great fear into great fear of economic and social overpowering into the minds of the western natives. Though some fears and accusations had their place, all were “punished” in rash, inappropriate ways, to the extent of a Mormon expulsion from the state of Missouri.
Reasons Why Non-Mormons Disliked the Mormons
The persecution started as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, nicknamed Mormons, began settling together in communities. These communities were commonly looked down upon by the Missourian, Ohioan, and Illinoisan natives because they felt that they were being “taken over” and feared that they would spread. In addition they disliked the social differences that began to occur. The Mormons were anti-slavery, a large jump from their pro-slavery neighbors, the people of Missouri. They feared a bloc vote would endanger the chances of them continuing the practice of slavery or changing other laws that were split between the two groups. Aside from that the Mormons generally did business amongst themselves. Their belief that the Native Americans were dissenters from an ancient tribe of the America’s, called the Lamanites, also conflicted with the norm of American society and as the government believed, posed a threat of inciting a much feared “Indian War”. The non Mormon people were already angered by these changes they feared would come upon their home, that when the news stating that the Mormons had revived the outlawed principal of polygamy, the act of a man having more than one wife at one time, they were infuriated. Though at the time, only a select few were permitted to practice polygamy it was assumed by many non-members that many more men were practicing it. It was polygamy that bothered many people of the United States, namely the Missourians. They felt it was disrespectful towards the women of the society and felt it infringed on the rights of Americans. This soon launches a series of personal and militia based attacks between the Missourians and the Mormons, known as the Mormon war.
Mormon Cities and Militias
In the mid 1930s the Mormons were chased out of their homes in Missouri by mobs. The constant mob harassment drove the Mormons to the east. They settled in an area of Caldwell County, Illinois that was presented to the Mormons for settlement by the government in 1936. Here they flourished in a city the city Far West. With permission from the state Joseph Smith organized a militia to protect the Mormon population from mob attacks. The rumors of a growing Mormon militia gave many local residents fear of an attack or civil war in the state. As the militia grew, so did the mob. Men waiting outside of Far West wanted to be ready for any threat of an attack from the Mormons, until finely the dam broke and a chain of attacks launched at both Mormons and non-Mormons erupted, harming vast amounts of Mormon property.
Attacks on Mormons
In Mormon cities, such as Far West, Nauvoo and Haun’s Mill, mobs would ride through regularly harming the residents of the cities. Mormons were often beaten, raped, threatened, and killed during these “raids”. Another fairly common event, tarring and feathering, consisted of pouring hot tar on a person and plastering them with feathers. The tar would dry with the feathers on the skin and clothes making the tar painful to remove, often ripping top layers of the skin off. In Mosiah Hancock’s journal he illustrates several assaults that he viewed. He wrote that he “saw a thing in the shape of a man grab an infant from its mother’s arms and dash its brains out against a tree.” He continues to describe a number of barbaric instances including a time when he was caught by a group of men, as a child, and beaten upon leaving him near death, as well as the murders a couple of his younger siblings. After the Mormon militia was disarmed the mobs didn’t stop. Hancock and others describe the horrors of that night as the mobs raged through town harassing women and killing children as the men were held in town square. He says that, “They shot the children because they said that ‘Nits make lice.’”
In the city of Haun’s Mill the worst occurred. Where after the order of extermination was received from Governor Boggs was attacked, brutally killing half of the small town’s population. Many reports including that of a young child with their head blown off, and an elderly man who, when putting out a fire on his property, was shot and cut into pieces with a knife.
Not long after these many assaults the Mormons began packing what they had left, some into covered wagons but most into handcarts, a small wagon that had to be hand pushed, leaving their land and cities that they had built up from scratch to find their own land.
After several statehood rejections of Utah, requiring them to cease the practice of polygamy, Utah became a state in 1986. They were allowed only to join the nation when Willford Woodruff set fourth a declaration to the members of the church stating that any new polygamous marriages would result in church discipline, or in other words, excommunication. Along with bringing a new state into our society they have influence the culture with the amount of people who attend BYU Utah every year.
In the 1970s the extermination order was finally lifted and Mormons could finely live in Missouri with the law on their side. Until that time any Mormon could be legally murdered, suffering no punishment. Now both Mormons and other non-Mormons live together in harmony is just about every area of the United States.
With the driving of the Mormons from Missouri an entire state was shaped culturally. As the Mormons traveled westward they blazed new trails, over plains and mountains, across rivers filled with rapids or frozen with ice. Along the way they built temporary settlements to house other Mormons that would soon follow the path. Winter Quarters, a community used to protect pioneers from the cold winters, included farms and food storage as well as housing that were used to support Mormon pioneers forced across the plains in the dead of winter. These settlements and trails were later used by land and gold seeking pioneers who were traveling to the Northwest Territory. As the Mormons became settled they became friendly with the Native Americans of the area. This alliance provided them with needed help in the new land. Through trading and treating them with respect the pioneers gained the knowledge the needed to transform the parched desert into a spectacular city filled with impressive temples and magnificent city buildings. The people spread out and created smaller communities. Farms stretched across the once barren land, providing the inhabitants with a surplus of food. Their economy flourished as Oregon bound pioneers purchased food and supplies from the only stores for miles. Helping these earnest settlers across the expanses of desert and plains they helped to build the northwest as well. Without the help many other pioneers may have perished leaving the west to be settled slower or not at all.