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By Linda Emley
On Sunday afternoon Oct. 27, I went back in time to 1838 and got to witness Alexander Doniphan say, “It is cold-blooded murder. I will not obey your order. My brigade shall march for Liberty tomorrow morning, at 8 o’clock; and if you execute these men, I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God.”
It was a beautiful fall afternoon in the historic Missouri town of Far West I will never forget.
In Caldwell County, there is field that has four corner stones from the Far West Temple. It was the headquarters for the LDS Church from March 14, 1838, until the spring of 1839.
I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to be at Far West when the corner stones were placed and I finally got a glimpse when I found the following story on a LDS history page.
“On July 4, perhaps as many as two to three thousand persons assembled on the public square for the temple site dedication and cornerstone-laying ceremonies for the Far West temple. The day’s activities were conducted in grand style. The festivities commenced at 10 a.m. with a grand parade consisting of military infantry, church leaders according to their offices, ‘ladies and gentlemen,’ and cavalry. The entire procession marched to the public square to the music of a brass band led by Dimick B. Huntington. After assembling at the temple site, the entire company formed a circle around the excavation, with the ladies in front. Joseph Smith offered the opening prayer.”
I’ve visited Far West many times over the years and I’ve always enjoyed the peaceful feeling that comes with this quiet country location. It’s hard to believe this spot was once part of a troubled time in our history.
It’s often referred to as “The Mormon War,” but I think of it as a conflict. Twenty-two people died in a conflict that started Aug. 6,1838 and ended Nov. 1, 1838 when Joseph Smith surrendered to Alexander Doniphan.
The program I got to witness 175 years later took place in a field that was a short distance south of Far West. Around 50 people gathered at 4:30 in the afternoon to be a part of this re-creation. The program was hosted by the Missouri Mormon Frontier Foundation.
Some people who attended were members of the LDS church and others were people like me who just wanted to be a part of history.
The story was narrated by Charles Robinson, who portrayed Joseph Smith III. The play was staged at the location that is believed to be the actual spot where these events that took place between Joseph Smith and Alexander Doniphan.
Many times in history the actual location is lost in time, but after witnessing this program, I felt we were standing on ground that had been a part of history. A friend that also attended this event said he felt the same way about it as I did.
As always, I had to look up this story in our 1881 Ray County history book. It may have started in Caldwell County, but Ray County was also part of this story.
The story starts on page 275: “Mormon War. In the fall of 1838, the Mormon War caused great excitement in Ray County. A considerable force of Mormons under their leader, Joe Smith, had assembled at Far West, in Caldwell County, and serious apprehensions were entertained that they intended to make a descent upon Ray County.
“A portion of the force of Mormons, under the command of Capt. Patton, did march into Ray County, as far as what is now called “Bogart’s Battle Field,” on Crooked River, in the northwest part of the county, on, or about the 15th of November, 1838, and met a company of Ray County militia, under the command of Capt. Samuel Bogart. After a sharp engagement, the militia were repulsed and fell back to the southern part of the county, leaving the Mormons the masters of the battlefield. In this engagement the Mormons lost Capt. Patton, and the day following fell back to their main force at Far West, Caldwell County. The wildest excitement prevailed in Ray County after this slight action.
“A large number of people in the northern part of the county removed their families and their effects to places of safety in the southern part of the county.
“Lilburn W. Boggs, who was then governor of Missouri, issued a proclamation and ordered Major-General David Rice Atchison to call out the militia of his division, in order to put down the insurgents and enforce the laws. General Atchison called out a part of the first brigade of Missouri state militia, under the command of General Alexander W. Doniphan, who proceeded at once to the seat of war.
“There were called out in this expedition from Ray county four companies of militia, commanded respectively by Captains Samuel Bogart, Israel R. Hendley, Nehemiah Odell, and John Sconce. The militia were placed under the command of General John B. Clark.
“General Doniphan, on reaching Far West, in Caldwell County, after some slight engagements, where the principal Mormon forces had assembled, numbering about 1,000 men, commanded by Colonel G. W. Hinkle, demanded their surrender, on the following conditions, viz: That they should deliver up their arms, surrender their prominent leaders for trial, and that the remainder of the Mormons should, with their families, leave the state.
“After some parleying, Joe Smith surrendered on General Doniphan’s conditions. The leaders were taken before a court of inquiry at Richmond, Ray County, Judge Austin A. King presiding. He remanded them to Daviess County to await the action of the grand jury on a charge of treason against the state.
“The Daviess County jail being very poor, they were taken to Liberty in Clay County and confined in the jail at that place. Indictments were presented against Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wright, Colonel G. W. Hinkle, Charles Baldwin and Amos Lyman. Sidney Rigdon was released on a writ of habeas corpus. The others applied for a change of venue, which was granted by Judge Austin A. King, and their cases were sent by him to Boone County for trial. On their way to Columbia in Boone County, under a military guard, Joseph Smith and his fellow-prisoners effected their escape. It is claimed, and believed by many, that the guard, or a portion of it was bribed.”
And now for the rest of the story. When did Alexander Doniphan say his now famous words? Late in the evening on the 1st day of November in 1838, Major General Samuel D. Lucas of the Missouri State Militia issued the following order to Brigadier General Alexander W. Doniphan: “Sir: You will take Joseph Smith and the other prisoners into the public square of Far West, and shoot them at 9 o’clock tomorrow morning.”
General Doniphan promptly replied, “It is cold-blooded murder. I will not obey your order. My brigade shall march for Liberty tomorrow morning, at 8 o’clock; and if you execute these men, I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God.”
Yes thanks to my friend, Troy Milsap, I got to hear these words of Alexander Doniphan Oct. 27 as I stood on hollowed ground in Caldwell County.
As a result of this conflict, nearly all the 10,000 Mormons in Missouri relocated to Nauvoo, Ill. They were then one step closer to their finally destination of Salt Lake City, Utah.
You can write Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org