By Linda Emley,
There’s a white fence that stands in the middle of the block on Buchanan Street between Thornton and College Street in Richmond. On Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, a plaque was dedicated there that marks the site of an old cabin that was used as a jail in 1838 when Joseph Smith and several other church leaders were held in Richmond.
Many out-of-state buses pull up and visit this location because it’s an important part of church history for the Latter-day Saints.
I am working on a story about all the jail locations around Richmond, but I want to go ahead and share this story because several people have asked me why this location is important.
A lot of research has been done by the LDS church on this story and I’m going to share the highlights as told by the church. At a later time, I will share more about the “Missouri Conflict” that took place in the 1830s, which caused Joseph Smith and the church to leave Missouri. This conflict was also known as the “Mormon Wars.”
In January 1831, the first Latter-day Saints moved to Missouri and eventually settled in Caldwell County at a location called “Far West”. Incidents of discord developed from the start of their stay in the state and escalated until Governor Boggs issued Missouri Executive Order 44, also known as the “Mormon Extermination Order” on Oct. 27, 1838. It authorized the state militia to drive all Mormons from Missouri or exterminate them.
The Missouri State Militia went to Far West and arrested seven church leaders: Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Parley P. Pratt, Lyman Wight, Amasa Lyman and George W. Robinson.
A court martial was held at Far West and these seven men were ordered to be shot. Maj. Gen. Samuel Lucas ordered Brig. Gen. Alexander Doniphan to execute them at dawn but Doniphan thought the order was illegal and refused to carry it out. Doniphan declared that he would bring to account anyone who tried to do it.
Smith and his men were taken to Independence, but on Nov. 9 they were moved to Richmond. It’s said that the Ray County jail was in such poor condition that the prisoners were not held there, but were housed in a small vacant house on the town square. They were kept here for several weeks while awaiting a court inquiry into charges of treason, murder, arson, robbery, and perjury. Other members were also arrested and brought to Richmond for trial and were housed in the courthouse.
At the inquiry on Nov. 28, the prisoners were bound over for trial. Joseph Smith and five others were moved to a jail in Liberty. Parley Pratt and four others remained in the Ray County Jail. Some were here until April 1839 and others until June 1839.
While Joseph Smith and his men were jailed, Brigham Young and approximately 12,000 church members fled Missouri and moved to Illinois. Joseph Smith and several others spent five months in jail awaiting trial, but one was never held.
On April 15, 1839, while being transported on a change of venue to Boone County, Joseph and his brother Hyrum were allowed to escape to join the church and their families in Illinois.
There is an LDS plaque in the parking lot of the Salvation Army in Richmond. This is the location of the Ray County jail in 1838, but as previously mentioned, it was not used to house Joseph Smith because of its poor condition.
Gov. Boggs’ extermination order was forgotten by most outside the LDS church. In 1975, President Lyman Edwards of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints invited Missouri’s Gov. Kit Bond to participate in the group’s annual conference as a good-will gesture for the U.S. Bicentennial.
At this conference, Bond issued the following Executive Order rescinding the Extermination Order. “Whereas, on October 27, 1838, the Governor of the State of Missouri, Lilburn W. Boggs, signed an order calling for the extermination or expulsion of Mormons from the State of Missouri; and Whereas, Governor Boggs’ order clearly contravened the rights to life, liberty, property and religious freedom as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, as well as the Constitution of the State of Missouri; and Whereas, in this bicentennial year as we reflect on our nation’s heritage, the exercise of religious freedom is without question one of the basic tenets of our free democratic republic; Now, Therefore, I, CHRISTOPHER S. BOND, Governor of the State of Missouri, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the State of Missouri, do hereby order as follows: Expressing on behalf of all Missourians our deep regret for the injustice and undue suffering which was caused by the 1838 order, I hereby rescind Executive Order Number 44, dated October 27, 1838, issued by Governor W. Boggs. In witness I have here unto set my hand and caused to be affixed the great seal of the State of Missouri, in the city of Jefferson, on this 25th day of June, 1976. Christopher S. Bond, Governor.”
It’s good to know that “Missouri Executive Order 44” was finally rescinded after 138 years. Thanks to Brig. Gen. Alexander Doniphan, this order was not used on Joseph Smith and that is one of the many reasons why his statue is standing guard over our Ray County Courthouse.