5—Touching the closet door on the other side of the world
10—‘Mormon History—Revisited’: The Church was growing, and the Saints planning to build a temporal Kingdom of God alarmed the original settlers. The Mormon War was about to start.
30th of October, 1838—Shots were firing inside the blacksmith shop where the men and boys had gathered. The women had been sent away across the stream to go hide in the woods. Were they safe? The men knew they would die. Huddling inside was no use. The logs of the blacksmith shop were too widely spaced to offer shelter. And the boys?
This was unprovoked. This was a time of truce. The call for ‘quarter’ had been ignored for that reason. The attack had surprised the Mormons at work in the middle of the afternoon. Some folks had fled to safety but this was no shelter. The Missourians closed in and jammed their gun barrels through the logs. ‘Like fish in a barrel’. The boys were hiding under the bellows. They heard the men fall—which of them were their fathers?
The Sunday School teacher asked, “Does anyone know what happened on October 30, 1838?”
I was visiting an LDS ward in Utah that summer. It was a few years ago. I knew the answer but I did not say a thing. No one did. So, the teacher said, “The Hawn’s Mill Massacre.”
I knew that date because I had recently read accounts about what was one of the worst tragedies in anti-Mormon persecution, and because October 30 is my birthday.
The tension had been building up between the Mormons and the Gentile (non-Mormon) communities. It was tit for tat. It was almost the frontier in Missouri. Church members had been expelled from several counties. Some started to have enough of such poor treatment. And so several companies of ‘Mormon defenders’ became a law unto themselves. It was their turn to force the other side out of one county. Those Missourians who had been kicked out held meetings to discuss how to get back to the Mormons—any Mormons.
The state militia shouted orders: “Shoot at everything wearing breeches, and shoot to kill!”
And so, late October, some men rode to Hawn’s Mill, a mostly Mormon settlement in neighbouring Caldwell County, made up of cabins and a blacksmith shop with about 75 Mormon families scattered around. The Missourians shouted threats. They took the guns from the residents and on the road back to where they stayed they threatened those “damned Mormon” emigrant trains.
Jacob Hawn was one of the only non-Mormons who had remained in the area where most Gentiles had been bought out. He had his milling business there and did not want to lose it. When Joseph Smith advised the settlers should relocate to Far West for their safety but apparently he reported to the Saints that the Prophet said they should stay and maintain the mill.
On October 30, a mob of over 200 (the same men and the Missouri militia) attacked the Mormons. The state militia shouted orders: “Shoot at everything wearing breeches, and shoot to kill!”
A 12 year-old-boy helped six little girls escape into the woods then ran for cover amid the thunder of guns. One woman hid behind a log. 20 bullets hit it. A 78 year-old man surrendered his musket to a militiaman who proceeded to shoot him dead and then hacked the old man’s body with a corn knife. A 9-year-old boy was dragged from his hiding place. “Don’t shoot, it’s just a boy,” said one of the Gentiles. The man looked at the child and shot in the head at point-blank range. “Nits will make lice, and if he had lived he would have become a Mormon,” he replied. The boy’s father was one of the few Mormons in the shop still barely alive.
18 men and boys were slaughtered and another 13 men, women and children were wounded.
A 12-year-old boy walked in the blacksmith shop after the massacre. He stepped over his dead father’s body, found one of his brothers with the top of his head gone and his other brother with one of his hips blown away—but alive. He brought the boy back to his mother who laid hands on the boy like LDS women used to do. The story still circulates that his deadly wound healed so well that the boy walked again and even served as a traveling missionary as an adult. ¹
No one knew whether the state militia would return or not, so there was no time for proper burials. The survivors were forced to drop the bodies of their loved ones down an old well. The Gentiles came back to occupy the settlement. They forbade the Mormons to even pray and soon expelled them from Missouri.
‘The Extermination Order’ of October 27, 1838, is the only one of its kind in the history of the USA.
Governor Boggs claimed the Saints committed open defiance of the law and had made war to the people of Missouri. He had issued an Executive Order three days before the Hawn’s Mill Massacre. It stated, “The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary…” ²
The ‘Mormon War’ ³ is largely ignored by the state of Missouri but for Mormons, this episode remains a strong symbol of the persecution they faced. Decades later, in Utah, the Saints would often make reference to that tragedy that defined them as the victims of state-sanctioned religious intolerance and violence.
‘The Extermination Order’ of October 27, 1838, is the only one of its kind in the history of the USA. The order was only formally rescinded in June 1976.
A new series of posts about being gay, Mormon and a Fundamentalist will be starting on January 20.