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Richmond offers a plethora of Mormon history sites

The unveiling ceremony at the Oliver Cowdery Monument, Nov. 22, 1911. (Original photograph by George Edward Anderson)

The unveiling ceremony at the Oliver Cowdery Monument, Nov. 22, 1911. (Original photograph by George Edward Anderson)

By Linda Emley

Previously  I mentioned the 10 sites in Richmond that are a part of Mormon history. These sties are as follows: the Ray County Museum, which has a Mormon History Room;  Pioneer Cemetery, that is now known as the Mormon Cemetery; Richmond City Cemetery, which is the final resting place of David Whitmer; the statue of Alexander Doniphan at the Ray County Courthouse; the site of the Wasson House, where Doniphan once lived; the former location of David Whitmer’s home and his livery stable; the Ray County jail site from 1838 that is located in the Salvation Army parking lot; a white picket fence located on Buchanan Street, which was once a log cabin where Joseph Smith was held in 1838; and the Farris Theatre.

This story begins on page 275 of the 1881 Ray County History Book, which tells the story about how Joseph Smith ended up in Richmond. “In the fall of 1838, the Mormon war caused great excitement in Ray county.

“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, Missouri, 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.”

David Whitmer, who was an important part of the church’s early history, stayed in Richmond and many of the modern-day sites are related to him.

The Farris Theatre is on this list because the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed there. On Nov. 22, 1911, the choir came to Richmond and sang at the Farris Theatre. The choir was here to dedicate the monument that stands in the Mormon Cemetery, marking the grave of Oliver Cowdery. It is also know as “The Monument of the Three Witnesses.”

Richmond Missourian, Nov. 23, 1911, “The Cowdery Monument Dedicated. A special train of 8 Pullmans, a day coach and baggage car arrived here early yesterday carrying the world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir of Salt Lake, officials and guests, numbering over 250 persons, for the unveiling exercise at the Farris Theater and the monument erected at the grave of Oliver Cowdery at the old Richmond Cemetery.” Forty-five descendents of the Whitmer family and many citizens of Richmond were present for this dedication.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir came back to Richmond again in 1918 when Alexander Doniphan’s statue was dedicated at the Ray County Courthouse. Not many small towns in America have had the honor of hosting this world-famous choir, so we are very lucky to have enjoyed their music on two different occasions.

One-hundred years later, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints come back to Richmond to commemoration the 100th anniversary of the dedication of this monument. On Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, a plaque was placed on the site of the old cabin jail where Joseph Smith and several other church leaders were held in 1838. This site is located on Buchanan Street between Thornton and College streets. At 1 p.m. the celebration moved to the Mormon Cemetery. The 1911 musical program was recreated with the singing of “An Angel From on High,” and a new special song was sung, “The Witnesses.” A reception was held from 2 to 3 p.m. in the community room of the Ray County Library. The public was invited to join in the celebration.

The following is a brief history of the Mormon Cemetery, which is also known as the Richmond Pioneer Cemetery. It was the main Richmond city graveyard from 1846 to 1875 and is sometimes referred to as the old City Cemetery. The last known burial there was in 1881. After 30 years, most of the land was used and a new city cemetery was begun on West Main Street.

Pioneer Cemetery is located six blocks north of Richmond Square on the corner of North Thornton and Crispin streets. According to a list compiled from tombstones, there are over 90 people buried here. This is no ordinary cemetery because people from the entire world come to Richmond to visit it each year. There is a lot of history located on this acre of Ray County soil.

John Richardson bought the land from John Thornton in 1845 to be used as a family cemetery. On Aug. 13, 1846, Richardson deeded it to the town of Richmond as a public burial ground for the price of $80.

On March 3, 1850, Oliver Cowdery died in Richmond and was buried here. His wife was a daughter of Peter Whitmer and many from the Whitmer family are also buried here.

In 1878, a cyclone hit the graveyard – trees were damaged and some tombstones were knocked over. After this, there is very little mention of this cemetery until the Mormon Church dedicated the monument in 1911.

The next major event took place in 1949, when the Mormon Church sent Irvin Nelson and his son Rene to Richmond to restore the cemetery. Richmond News, Sept. 5 1949: “Mormons Are Restoring Old Cemetery Here. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly called the Mormon Church, has begun the complete renovation of the old city cemetery on N. Thornton St. Irvin T. Nelson and his son of Salt Lake City arrived here last Tuesday to begin work on the tangle of weeds and old stones that mark the ground where many of Richmond’s founders lie buried. The city authorities have cooperated in every way possible to ease the Nelsons’ task. Irvin Nelson said, ‘Mayor Manley has been extremely helpful and we hope this is the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between our church and the city of Richmond.’”

The clean-up began in the fall of 1949 and continued into the spring of 1950. A complex mapping and marking system was used to ensure that the headstones were returned to their rightful place before a bulldozer filled in the holes and leveled the ground.

Many extra tombstones were found and placed in concrete in the middle of the cemetery. The city of Richmond supplied manpower and a dump truck to haul off the brush and trash that were removed from the cemetery.

In 1949, the city of Richmond leased the cemetery to the Mormon Church for 99 years. The church later bought the house next to the cemetery, which was torn down and a parking lot large enough for tour buses was built. Two markers were added around the Oliver Cowdery monument in 1950 that list the Richmond mayor and councilmen that assisted with the clean-up project in 1949 and 1950.

If you would like a copy of the flyer that shows all of these Mormon sites in Richmond, you can pick one up at the Ray County Museum or at the Richmond Chamber of Commerce.

My goal is to get more out-of-town travelers to spend a little extra time in Richmond as they travel across Missouri visiting historical  Mormon sites.

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