The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt – Revised and Enhanced Edition
Edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor

Chapter 21, Part 1

Remove to Missouri – National anniversary at Far ­West – Corner stone of a temple – Insurrections – Defense – Attack on De Witt, Carroll County – Mob chaplain – Surrender and flight of the citizens of De Witt – Action of the governor – General defense.

April 1838-October 31, 1838

In April, 1838, I took leave of New York, and, with a small colony, emigrated once more to Missouri. We settled in Caldwell County in May. Here I again commenced anew; built a house and made a farm. I also devoted much of my time to the ministry; I visited many different neighborhoods, and was everywhere received with hospitality, and listened to with interest and attention.

On the 4th of July, 1838, thousands of the citizens who belonged to the Church of the Saints assembled at the City of Far West, the county seat of Caldwell, in order to celebrate our nation’s birth. We erected a tall standard, on which was hoisted our national colors, the stars and stripes, and the bold eagle of American liberty. Under its waving folds we laid the corner stone of a Temple of God, and dedicated the land and ourselves and families to Him who had preserved us in all our ­troubles. [1]

An address was then delivered by S. Rigdon, in which was portrayed in lively colors the oppression which we had suffered at the hands of our enemies. [2] We then and there declared our constitutional rights as American citizens, and manifested our determination to resist, with our utmost endeavors from that time forth, all oppression, and to maintain our rights and our freedom, according to the holy principles of liberty, as guaranteed to every person by the Constitution and laws of our country.

This declaration was received with shouts of hosannah to God and the Lamb, and with many long cheers by the assembled thousands, who were determined to yield their rights no more, unless compelled by superior power.[3]

Soon after these things the war clouds began again to lower with dark and threatening aspect. Those who had combined against the laws in the adjoining counties, had long watched our increasing power and prosperity with jealousy, and with greedy and avaricious eyes. It was a common boast that, as soon as we had completed our extensive improvements, and made a plentiful crop, they would drive us from the State, and once more enrich themselves with the spoils.

Accordingly, at an election held in Davies County, a portion of these bandits undertook to prevent the members of the Church of the Saints from voting – forcing them from the poll box, and threatening to kill whoever should attempt to vote. As some voters were attacked they defended themselves, knocked down several of their opponents, gained the victory, and cast in their votes. [4]

This was a pretext for a general rising of the insurrectionists in all the adjoining counties. They were alarmed for fear the “Mormons,” as they called them, should become so formidable as to maintain their rights and liberties, insomuch that they could no more drive and plunder them. Public meetings were held in Carroll, Saline, and other counties; in which resolutions were passed and published, openly declaring the treasonable and murderous intention of driving the citizens belonging to the Church from their counties, and, if possible, from the State. [5]

Resolutions to this effect were published in the journals of Upper Missouri, and this without a single remark of disapprobation. Nay, more: this murderous gang, when assembled in arms and painted like Indian warriors, and when openly committing murder, robbery, house burning, and every crime known to the laws, were denominated citizens, whites, etc., in most of the journals of the State. While those who stood firm to the laws of the land, and only defended themselves, and their homes and country, were denominated “Mormons,” in contradistinction to the appellation of “citizens,” “whites,” etc., as if we had been some savage tribe, or some colored race of foreigners.

In pursuance of the resolutions thus passed and published, a formidable banditti were soon assembled under arms, to the amount of several hundred, and rendezvoused in Davies County. Here they commenced firing upon our citizens, plundering, and taking peaceable citizens prisoners. The people of the Church made no resistance, except to assemble on their own ground for defense. They also made oath before the District Judge, Austin A. King, to the above outrages.

One thousand men were then ordered into service, under the command of Major-General Atchison, and Brigadier-Generals Parks and Doniphan. These marched to Davies County and remained in service thirty days. But, judging from the result, they had no intention of coming in contact with the mob, but only to make a show of defending one neighborhood, while the mob were allowed to attack another. The gang now withdrew from Davies County and proceeded to De Witt, Carroll County. Here they laid siege for several days, and subsisted by plunder and robbery, watching every opportunity to fire upon our citizens.

At this time they had one or more pieces of artillery, in addition to small arms and ammunition in abundance. A Presbyterian priest, “Rev.” Sashel Woods, served as chaplain to the gang, and said prayers in the camp evening and morning. They succeeded in killing a number of citizens in and about De Witt. They also turned a gentleman, named Smith Humphrey, and his wife and children out of doors, when sick, and setting fire to the house, burned it to ashes before their eyes. At length they succeeded in driving every citizen from the place, at the sacrifice of everything which they could not take with them.

This happened during a cold, stormy time in October; and, as many of the citizens were sickly, and robbed of shelter and everything comfortable, they came near perishing. Some of them, in fact, did perish before they arrived in Caldwell, a distance of sixty miles. Here the survivors were hospitably taken in by their brethren. The militia, under General Parks, made some show of trying to prevent these outrages; but all in vain. At length the General informed the citizens that his forces were so small, and many of them so much in favor of the insurrectionists, that it was useless to look any longer to them for protection.

Several messages were also sent to the Governor, Lilburn W. Boggs, the old mob-leader, [6] imploring protection. But he was utterly deaf to everything which called for the protection of the “Mormons,” as he called us. But, on the contrary, he harkened to the insinuations of the mob which were without shadow of foundation. At one time he called out an army, and put himself at their head to march against the “Mormons.” But, as he approached the upper country with this formidable force of several thousand men, he was officially notified that the “Mormons” were not in a state of insurrection, but were the victims of those who were so, and that they needed his help.

His Excellency then disbanded his forces, and returned to Jefferson City, to await till the mobs should compel the “Mormons” to some act which might be considered illegal, which would give him some pretext for driving them from the State.

After the evacuation of De Witt, when our citizens were officially notified that they must protect themselves, and expect no more protection from any department of the State Government, they assembled in Far West to the number of one thousand men, or thereabout, and resolved to defend their rights to the last. A call was made upon every person who could bear arms to come forward in defense of our houses, homes, wives and children, and the cause of our country and our God. In the meantime the bandits, elated with success and emboldened by the negligence of every department of the State Government, were increasing in numbers daily. They were concentrating in Davies County, with artillery and military stores, with open threats that they would now drive the citizens from Davies and Caldwell Counties. [7]

In their marauding expeditions they took a number of citizens prisoners. Among these was Mr. Amasa Lyman, [8] a minister of the gospel, and an excellent citizen of Caldwell County. They kept him prisoner for a number of days, while his family were in suspense and knew not his fate. They abused him in various ways, and held frequent consultations to kill him; but at length he was set at liberty.

The people of Davies County assembled several hundred men for defense. Several parties of the banditti were met, disarmed and dispersed. A detachment under Colonel D. W. Patten, [9] marched against their main body with a posse of about one hundred men, met and dispersed them, with the loss of their artillery and some military stores. Another party were dispersed and disarmed by the Sheriff of Caldwell County and his posse, as they were on the march through that county to reinforce the banditti of Davies.

While these transactions were going forward, small parties of the enemy were busily engaged among the settlements, in plundering and burning houses; driving women and children from their homes to perish with hunger and cold, and robbing them of beds, bedding, furniture, wearing apparel, etc., etc. Hundreds were thus compelled to flee to the cities and strongholds. Many women and children came in at the dead hours of the night, and in the midst of dreadful storms of rain and snow, in which they came near perishing. [10]

While these things were transpiring in Davies, Caldwell was threatened from every quarter. Her citizens were driven from her frontiers, and came pouring into the town of Far West, from day to day, with women, children, goods, provisions, etc.; in short, with everything moveable which they had time to bring. Lands and crops were abandoned to the enemy. The citizens were under arms from day to day, and a strict military guard was maintained every night. Men slept in their clothes, with arms by their sides, and ready to muster at a given signal at any hour of the night.

During this state of alarm guns were fired and the signal drum beat in the middle of a dark and gloomy night of October. The citizens came running together with arms in hand. An express had arrived from the south part of the county, stating that a party of the enemy were plundering houses, carrying off prisoners, killing cattle, and ordering families out of their houses, on pain of having them burned over their heads. A portion of the militia, under Captain Durphy, went with a deputy sheriff to the scene of the riot. I was one of the posse, the whole consisting of about sixty men.

This company was soon under way, having to ride through extensive prairies a distance of some twelve miles. The night was dark, the distant plains far and wide were illuminated by blazing fires, immense columns of smoke were seen rising in awful majesty, as if the world was on fire. This scene of grandeur can only be comprehended by those acquainted with scenes of prairie burning; as the fire sweeps over millions of acres of dry grass in the fall season, and leaves a smooth, black surface divested of all vegetation.

The thousand meteors, blazing in the distance like the camp-fires of some war host, threw a fitful gleam of light upon the distant sky, which many might have mistaken for the Aurora Borealis. This scene, added to the silence of midnight, the rumbling sound of the tramping steeds over the hard and dried surface of the plain, the clanking of swords in their scabbards, the occasional gleam of bright armor in the flickering firelight, the gloom of surrounding darkness, and the unknown destiny of the expedition, or even of the people who sent it forth; all combined to impress the mind with deep and solemn thoughts, and to throw a romantic vision over the imagination, which is not often experienced, except in the poet’s dreams, or in the wild imagery of sleeping fancy.

Chapter 21 to be continued next week.


[1] The Prophet Joseph Smith recorded: “The day was spent in celebrating the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, and also by the Saints making a ‘Declaration of Independence’ from all mobs and persecutions which have been inflicted upon them, time after time, until they could bear it no longer; having been driven by ruthless mobs and enemies of truth from their homes, and having had their property confiscated, their lives exposed, and their all jeopardized by such barbarous conduct” (Smith, History of the Church, 3:41).

[2] A month earlier Sidney Rigdon delivered what was afterward called his “Salt Sermon” because he had taken as his text: “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” [Matthew 5:13]. “The doctrine of the text the speaker applied to the dissenting brethren and intimated that the ‘trodden under foot of men’ should be literal, much to the scandalizing of the church, since the dissenters made capital of it to prejudice the minds of the non-‘Mormons’ of the surrounding counties.” Brother Rigdon built the text of his July 4, 1838, talk upon this saying: “Better, far better to sleep with the dead, than be oppressed among the living.” He went on to give a warning to all: “We take God and all the holy angels to witness, this day, that we warn all men, in the name of Jesus Christ, to come on us no more for ever, for from this hour we will bear it no more; our rights shall no more be trampled on with impunity; the man, or the set of men who attempt it, do it at the expense of their lives. And that mob that comes on us to disturb us, it shall be between us and them a war of extermination; for we will follow them until the last drop of their blood is spilled; or else they will have to exterminate us, for we will carry the seat of war to their own houses and their own families, and one party or the other shall be utterly destroyed. Remember it then, all men. We will never be the aggressors, we will infringe on the rights of no people, but shall stand for our own until death … We this day, then, proclaim ourselves free with a purpose and determination that never can be broken, No, never! No, never! No, never!” (Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:438, 440-41).

[3] Thousands gathered upon the prairies of this frontier town in a sparsely settled area of Missouri, cheering and shouting about their rights as American citizens and decrying the Missouri militia and mobs. To an outside observer, the assembly may have seemed like a gathering for war. Less than three months later, a militia of over three thousand soldiers arrived to put down this supposed rebellion.

[4] This election took place at Gallatin, Daviess County, Missouri, on August 6, 1838. “Local resident William Peniston was a staunch foe of the Saints and desired to be elected against a far greater ratio of Mormons to non-Mormons. The day of the election arrived … and Peniston addressed a crowd of voters in Gallatin … which at that time was a small row of ‘ten houses, three of which were saloons.’ Hoping to excite the crowd against the Mormons, he shouted, ‘The Mormon leaders are a set of horse thieves, liars, counterfeiters, and you know they profess to heal the sick, and cast out devils, and you all know that is a lie.’ With this kind of a speech, emotions ran high, and Dick Welding, a mob bully, punched one of the Saints to the ground. A fight broke out on all sides, with Mormon John Butler grabbing an oak stake from a woodpile and striking Missourians to the ground. Many people on both sides were seriously injured. Though few Mormons braved voting that day, Peniston still lost the election” (Proctor, Witness of the Light, 147).

[5] During this tumultuous time, Parley and Mary Ann Pratt’s first child, Nathan, was born in Caldwell County, Missouri, on August 31, 1838.

[6] Lilburn W. Boggs, a landowner in Jackson County, Missouri, was heavily involved in meetings that formed a secret constitution in 1833 to drive the Saints from their homes and lands in Jackson County. The Saints found it repulsive that Boggs, who actively led efforts to expel the Saints, had been elected governor of the state.

[7] By 1838 the population of Caldwell and Daviess counties exceeded 5,000 citizens, 4,900 of which were members of the Church.

[8] Amasa Mason Lyman, born March 30, 1813, was ordained an apostle on August 20, 1842, and served in the Quorum of the Twelve for more than twenty-three years.

[9] David Wyman Patten, born November 14, 1799, was at this time the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Though Thomas B. Marsh, designated by age as the first member of that quorum, was not excommunicated until March 17, 1839, he was already disaffected from the Church.

[10] Lucy Mack Smith recorded: “The people were all driven in from the country, and there was more than an acre of land in front of our house completely covered with beds, lying in the open sun, where men, women, and children were compelled to sleep in all weather. These were the last who had got into the city, and the houses were so full that there was no room for them. It was enough to make the heart ache to see children in the open sun and wind, sick with colds and very hungry, crying around their mothers for food and their parents destitute of the means of making them comfortable, while their houses, which lay a short distance from the city, were pillaged of everything, their fields thrown open for the horses belonging to the mob to lay waste and destroy, and their fat cattle shot down and turning to carrion before their eyes, while a strong guard, which was set over us for the purpose, prevented us from making use of a particle of the stock that was killed on every side of us” (Smith, Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith, 408-9).

2007 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.