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Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, p.235

The most prominent Mormon defectors of this period were Quorum of the Twelve President Thomas B. Marsh and outspoken Apostle Orson Hyde. After witnessing the burning and plundering in Daviess County, Marsh and Hyde traveled to Richmond, in Ray County, where on 24 October Marsh, in a lengthy affidavit, confirmed that a company of Mormons under Apostle David Patten had burned Gallatin. "They have among them," Marsh continued, "a company consisting of all that are 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." After exposing future Danite plans for scourging the countryside, Marsh added:

The plan of said Smith, the prophet, is to take this State, and he professes to his people to intend taking the United States, and ultimately the whole world.… I have heard the prophet say that he should yet tread down his enemies, and walk over their dead bodies; that if he was not let alone he would be a second Mahomet to this generation, and that he would make it one gore of blood from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean; that like Mohomet, whose motto, in treating for peace, was "the Alcoran, or the Sword," so should it be eventually with us, "Joseph Smith or the Sword."37

Hyde, in a second affidavit, attested that "most of the statements in the foregoing disclosure of Thomas B. Marsh, I know to be true, the remainder I believe to be true."38

These affidavits, in addition to Danite activities in the surrounding countryside, caused considerable hysteria in Richmond where citizens expected an imminent Danite attack. Richmond Judge E. M. Ryland in an 25 October express to Governor Lilburn Boggs stated: "the city is expected to be sacked and burned by the Mormon banditti tonight."39 Judge Austin A. King confirmed Ryland's position by letter to the governor, adding: "Until lately, I thought the Mormons were disposed to act only on the defensive; but their recent conduct shows that they are the aggressors, that they intend to take the law into their own hands."40 Sashiel Woods and Joseph Dickson reported to Boggs that Mormons had massacred a fifty-man Missouri militia company. Richmond, they said, was to be attacked at any moment. "We know not the hour and minute we will be laid in ashes—our country ruined—for God's sake give us assistance as quick as possible."41

The previous evening a militia company, led by a Methodist minister, Captain Samuel Bogart, had been patrolling the borders of Caldwell County when it encountered a small group of Mormons. They were disarmed, three taken hostage, [p.236] and the rest allowed to return to Far West where they spread the horrific news that the captives would be shot at sunrise. The prophet, now commander-in-chief of all Mormon military units, dispatched a company of men under Apostle David Patten to "Go and kill every devil of them" and rescue the trio. [footnote 42 Ebenezer Robinson, The Return 2 (Feb. 1890): 216.]   The cavalry unit discovered the Missourians bivouacked on Crooked River, twelve miles south of Far West. Patten's men dismounted a mile from the militia, left their horses with a small guard, and approached the camp silently on foot. At dawn they rushed upon their enemies, echoing their war cry, "God and Liberty!" The militia fled, leaving one of their number dead. The gunfight also resulted in the deaths of Mormons Gideon Carter, David W. Patten, and eighteen-year-old Patrick O'Banion.

The command post for the operation was Rigdon's home, although, according to his account, he "was not connected with the militia, being over age."43 He later recalled that early the next morning the county sheriff reported several Mormons dead in the battle. Rigdon and an unnamed horseman (possibly Joseph Smith) rode out onto the prairie to meet the returning company. Young O'Banion was taken to Sidney's house where, according to Wickliffe Rigdon, he "lingered in great agony for two days and then died."44

Although Governor Boggs had done virtually nothing to protect Mormons from predatory Missourians, the Danite assault on the militia at Crooked River put the politician into action. On 27 October 1838 Boggs issued a directive to Major-General John B. Clark, which read in part:

Since the order of this morning to you…I have received, by Amos Rees, Esq., of Ray county and Wiley C. Williams, Esq., one of my aid[e]s, information of the most appalling character, which changes entirely the face of things, and places the Mormons in the attitude of an open and avowed defiance of the laws, and of having made war upon the people of this State. Your orders are therefore, to hasten your operations and endeavor to reach Richmond in Ray County, with all possible speed. The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated, or driven from the State, if necessary for the public peace.45

The governor's "extermination order," as it subsequently became known, was supported by the unwritten—though frequently avowed—right of American citizens to expel unwanted groups or individuals from their midst. Rigdon himself had used this reasoning to justify forcing Mormon dissidents from Far West.46 Boggs later said his principal desire was to quell Mormon insurrection without bloodshed. The muster of such a massive military force from his perspective was merely to "awe [the Saints] into submission."47 Initially Mormons, unaware of the size of the military contingent, were not awed. Responding to a rumor that the governor had called out the militia, Smith scoffed:

I care not a fig for the coming of the troops. We've tried long enough to please the Gentiles. If we live together they don't like it; if we scatter they massacre us for it. The [p.237] only law they know here is that might makes right. They are a damned set, and God will blast them into hell!

If they try to attack us we will play hell with their applecarts. Before now, men, you've fought like devils. But now I want you to fight like angels, for angels can whip devils. And for every one we lack in number to match the mob, the Lord will send an angel to fight alongside.48

Albert Rockwood, impressed with Smith's bravado, recorded in his diary that "the Prophet goes out to the battle as in days of old. He has the sword that Nephi took from Laban.…The Prophet has unsheathed his sword and in the name of Jesus declares that it shall not be sheathed again untill he can go into any County or state in safety and in peace."49


Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, p.239

Back in Far West Hyrum Smith and Brigham Young advised all the "Crooked River boys" to flee northward out of the state "for, if found, they will be shot down like dogs."68 Nearly seventy left. All Mormon plunder, Oliver Huntington later wrote, was "gathered together in one house, lest every man who was found with a saddle or a blanket not his own be hanged for stealing."69


Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, p.246

Charismatic movements, such as Mormonism, maximize events by coloring them with an indelible strain of folklore. Myth is frequently more powerful than the historical reality that engenders it. Thus Sidney Rigdon's and the other Mormon prisoners' mundane two-day wagon trip to Independence became a morality play peopled by the irredeemably evil and the entirely righteous. Prisoner Hyrum Smith, playing upon the passions of the public during sworn court testimony, alleged that the conditions of travel during the forced excursion were inhumane. "We traveled about twelve miles that evening, and encamped for the night [at Crooked River]," he began his deposition. The weather was inclement, snow had fallen, and the prisoners were forced to "sleep on the ground…and for want of covering and clothing, we suffered extremely with the cold."2

Others viewed the trip more positively. Fellow prisoner Parley P. Pratt wrote his wife that on the march to Jackson County the prisoners were "treated with every kindness and respect which we could desire."3 Whereas Hyrum complained "our provision was fresh beef roasted in the fire on a stick,"4 Pratt noted that they fared better than the troops: "[O]ur meals were served to us in the best manner with plenty of coffee and sugar. We had the privilege of sleeping in a tent with the officers, while many of the troops slept in the open air."5

General Wilson, according to Pratt's account, viewed his charges as "wonderful…royal prisoners," and en route he often "halted the whole brigade to introduce us to the populace, pointing out each of us by name."6 Rigdon's more peevish account likened it to a sideshow where "we served the same purpose that a caravan of wild animals would."7 Probably the wayside spectators were merely curious. Pratt added that Wilson allowed no person to "insult us, or treat us with [p.247] disrespect in the least."8 When they arrived in Independence, Rigdon and the others were initially quartered in a vacant house prepared for them. Although under guard, they were well-treated. "Were it not for the absence of our families," Pratt wrote, "we should almost forget that we are prisoners." With an almost audible sigh of relief he added: "we believe that this journey saved our lives from the hands of furious men."9


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