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Mormons wrote a significant chapter in the history of Ray County

By Linda Emley

Tonight (Thursday, Jan. 10), Keith Bowen will be guest speaker at the Annual Ray County Historical Society meeting. Keith lives in Excelsior Springs and is an interesting person who has a wide variety of interests. You can never talk to him and just have a conversation because you always learn something new when he is around.
His topic for Thursday will be local Mormon history. We are working with Keith on putting together a Mormon History Tour for next spring, so watch for details in the near future.
The Ray County Museum has a Mormon History Room that is maintained by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’ve always wondered how long the room had been part of our museum and I found a clue a few weeks ago while reading the official dedication program from 1976.
On Saturday, Oct 9, 1976 at 1:30 p.m., the Ray County Museum and Recreation Center was dedicated. Howard Hill was the master of ceremonies, Elmer Minnick cut the ribbon, Mrs. Kit Bond was here to represent her husband the governor and a host of other local people helped with this event. The address at the dedication was given by Elder David Haight, who was a member of the Council of Twelve for the Church. He came from Salt Lake City to be a part of this program. The LDS Choir from Independence provided the choral music.
I’m working on a story that will provide the rest of the story about the 1976 dedication but it’s obvious that the LDS church has been a part of our museum from the beginning. During the summer months, around half of the visitors who come to our museum are here to see our Mormon History Room.
Another topic near and dear to Keith Bowen is art history. He has a degree in art education and taught for over 20 years. A few years ago, he left his job as the fine arts teacher in Excelsior Springs to follow his dream of bottling and distributing Excelsior Springs mineral water. He is in the process of getting “Spring Town” mineral water back on the market.
Ray County Historical Society is working with Keith on hosting monthly art history lectures at the Ray County Museum. We are looking for people who would like to be part of this program that will be starting soon one Thursday evening a month. I must mention one more thing about Keith before we move on with this story. He is the person who loaned us the U.S. Flag that was on display at the Ray County Courthouse last November. The one and only flag that flew at the Elms Hotel while Harry Truman slept there on election night in 1948.
The following is a story I wrote last spring telling a little bit about local Mormon history. I hope it helps everyone understand how important Ray County was in the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
There’s a white fence that stands in the middle of the block on Buchanan Street between Thornton and College street. On Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, a plaque was dedicated here 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 that 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 settled in Caldwell County at a location called “Far West”. Incidents of discord developed from the start 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. Major Gen. Samuel Lucas ordered Brig. Gen. Alexander Doniphan to execute them at dawn but Doniphan thought the order illegal and refused to carry it out. He 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.
A trial 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 a 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 it’s 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 Gov. Kit Bond to participate in the church’s annual conference as a good-will gesture during the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial.
At this conference, Bond issued the following Executive Order rescinding the Extermination Order. “Whereas, on Oct. 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 that was caused by the 1838 order, I hereby rescind Executive Order Number 44, dated Oct. 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 25 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.

Have a story or information on the Mormon War or Mormon history in Ray County? You can tell Linda about it in person at the museum or email her at raycohistory@aol.com.

The Mormon Room at Ray County Museum, as well as Mormon historical sites in Richmond and the county, are popular stops for visitors. (Submitted photo)

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