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Off the beaten path

Monument marks Mormon exodus from Jackson to Clay to Ray County

A granite monument off South Liberty Parkway in Clay County marks an area in which many Mormons settled after being expelled from Jackson County in 1833. Located on property once owned by farmer Michael Arthur, ‘Zion’s Camp’ was also the destination of a 200-person pilgrimage Mormon prophet Joseph Smith led from Ohio in a failed effort to restore Mormon property in Jackson County. (Photo by David Knopf/Richmond News)

A granite monument off South Liberty Parkway in Clay County marks an area in which many Mormons settled after being expelled from Jackson County in 1833. Located on property once owned by farmer Michael Arthur, ‘Zion’s Camp’ was also the destination of a 200-person pilgrimage Mormon prophet Joseph Smith led from Ohio in a failed effort to restore Mormon property in Jackson County. (Photo by David Knopf/Richmond News)

By David Knopf-News Editor

I’m writing this in the first person because it’s a tale of discovery.

In five years working in Ray County, my urban/suburban roots have been transformed by the county’s natural beauty. I’ve grown passionate about the landscape and animals, and almost daily I get pleasure photographing the hills, roads, farms and crops, the river bottom, trees, sunrises and sunsets.

I’ve always loved animals, but now images of hawks, burros, horses, cows, sheep, geese, deer, fox and birds have joined the many cats and dogs I hunt with a camera.

If it weren’t for Ray’s countryside, I might never have seen or taken pictures of those elusive coyotes in the wild. My to-do list still includes owls – I’ve just seen one in five years – and bobcats, of which I’ve seen none.

Those are sightings you can’t predict without going to the zoo. But in Ray County, I never know what I’ll see.

Wandering is what makes all this possible, and the gravel dust on and in my car attests to my back-road meandering.

One day last week, I veered off the straight and narrow and found some beauty and a rich link to Ray County’s early history in my own backyard.

I’d turned off South Liberty Parkway to get a photo of a brilliant orange sun rising through a line of trees. When I was done, I continued on Campbell Drive, a Clay County two-lane as bumpy as anything Ray County offers, looking for a place to turn around.

But on my right, I spotted a tall, four-sided monument behind an impressive stone and wrought-iron fence. It was a remote area, surrounded mostly by trees, a dilapidated farmhouse and an overgrown pasture pocked by junk cars and other trash. I stopped to get photos of this monument in what seemed to me a most unlikely spot.

It wasn’t until I was in the office and could enlarge them that I was able to read the engraving. The monument that was erected marks a spot where Mormons settled after being expelled from Jackson County. It would be just a few years before they were chased out again, this time for Caldwell County, and later, Daviess and Ray counties.

The complete story is in the Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014 Richmond News.

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