Massacre at Haun’s Mill

Testimony covers period of July 6–October 30, 1838

Massacre at Haun’s Mill

We here introduce the testimony of Joseph Young, 1 an eye witness of one of the most awful scenes which ever stained the annals of history in any age or country.

“The following is a short history of my travels to the State of Missouri, and of a bloody tragedy enacted at Haun’s Mill, 2 on Shoal Creek, October 30, 1838:

“On the 6th of July last I started with my family from Kirtland, Ohio, for Missouri — the county of Caldwell, in the upper part of the State, being the place of my destination. On the 13th of October I crossed the Mississippi at Louisiana, at which place I heard vague reports of the disturbances in the upper country, but nothing that could be relied on.

“I continued my course westward till I crossed Grand River, at a place called Compton’s Ferry, where I heard for the first time that if I proceeded any further on my journey I would be in danger of being stopped by a body of armed men.

“I was not willing, however, while treading my native soil and breathing republican air, to abandon my object, which was to locate myself and family in a fine, healthy country, where we could enjoy the society of our friends and connections. Consequently, I prosecuted my journey till I came to Whitney’s Mills, situated on Shoal Creek, in the eastern part of Caldwell County. After crossing the creek and going about three miles we met a party of the mob, about forty in number, armed with rifles and mounted on horses, who informed us that we could go no further west, threatening us with instant death if we proceeded any further.

“I asked them the reason of this prohibition, to which they replied that we were ‘Mormons,’ and that every one who adhered to that religious faith would have to leave the State within ten days, or renounce their religion. Accordingly, they drove us back to the mills above mentioned.

“Here we tarried three days, and on Friday, the 26th, we recrossed the creek, and, following up its banks, we succeeded in eluding the mob for the time being, and gained the residence of a friend in Myers’ Settlement. On Sunday, October 28, we arrived at Haun’s Mill, where we found a number of our friends collected, who were holding a council and deliberating upon the best course for them to pursue to defend themselves against the mob who were collecting in the neighborhood under the command of Colonel Jennings, of Livingston, and threatening them with house burning and killing.

“The decision of the council was that the neighborhood should put itself in a state of defence. Accordingly about twenty-eight of our men armed themselves, and were in constant readiness for an attack, if any small body of mobbers might come upon them.

“The same evening, for some reason best known to themselves, the mob sent one of their number to enter into a treaty with our friends, which was accepted on the condition of mutual forbearance on both sides, and that each party, as far as their influence extended, should exert themselves to prevent any further hostilities.

“At this time, however, there was another mob collecting on Grand River, at William Mann’s, which was threatening us; consequently, we remained under arms on Monday, the 29th, which passed away without molestation from any quarter.

“On Tuesday, the 30th, that bloody tragedy was enacted, the scenes of which I shall never forget.

“More than three fourths of the day had passed in tranquility as smiling as the preceding one. I think there was no individual of our company that was apprised of the sudden and awful fate which hung over our heads like an overwhelming torrent, and which was to change the prospects, the feelings and sympathies of about thirty families.

“The banks of Shoal Creek, on either side, teemed with children sporting and playing, while their mothers were engaged in domestic employments. Fathers or husbands were either on guard about the mills or other property, or employed in gathering crops for winter consumption. The weather was very pleasant, the sun shone clearly, all was tranquil, and no one expressed any apprehension of the awful crisis that was near us, even at our doors.

“It was about 4 o’clock, p.m. , while sitting in my cabin with my babe in my arms, and my wife standing by my side, the door being open, I cast my eyes on the opposite bank of Shoal Creek, and saw a large body of armed men on horses directing their course towards the mills with all possible speed 3 As they advanced through the scattering trees that bordered the prairie they seemed to form themselves into a three square position, forming a vanguard in front.

“At this moment, David Evans, seeing the superiority of their numbers (there being two hundred and forty of them, according to their own account), gave a signal and cried for peace. This not being heeded they continued to advance, and their leader, a man named Comstock, fired a gun, which was followed by a solemn pause of about ten or twelve seconds; when all at once they discharged about one hundred rifles, aiming at a blacksmith’s shop, into which our friends fled for safety. They then charged up to the shop, the crevices of which, between the logs, were sufficiently large to enable them to aim directly at the bodies of those who had there fled for refuge from the fire of their murderers. There were several families tented in the rear of the shop whose lives were exposed, and, amid showers of bullets, fled to the woods in different directions.

“After standing and gazing at this bloody scene for a few minutes, and finding myself in the uttermost danger, the bullets having reached the house where I was living, I committed my family to the protection of Heaven; and, leaving the house on the opposite side, I took a path which led up the hill, following in the trail of three of my brethren that had fled from the shop. 4

“While ascending the hill we were discovered by the mob, who immediately fired at us, and continued so to do till we reached the summit. In descending the hill I secreted myself in a thicket of bushes, where I lay till 8 o’clock in the evening. At this time I heard a voice calling my name in an undertone. I immediately left the thicket and went to the house of Benjamin Lewis, where I found my family — who had fled there in safety — and two of my friends, mortally wounded, one of whom died before morning. Here we passed the painful night in deep and awful reflections on the scenes of the preceding evening. After daylight appeared some four or five men, with myself, who had escaped with our lives from this horrid massacre, repaired as soon as possible to the mills to learn the condition of our friends, whose fate we had but too truly anticipated.

“When we arrived at the house of Mr. Haun, we found Mr. Merrick’s body lying in the rear of the house; Mr. McBride’s in front, literally mangled from head to foot. We were informed by Miss Rebecca Judd, who was an eye witness, that he was shot with his own gun after he had given it up, and then cut to pieces with a corn cutter by a man named Rogers, of Davies County, who keeps a ferry on Grand River, and who has since repeatedly boasted of this act of savage barbarity. Mr. York’s body we found in the house. After viewing these corpses we immediately went to the blacksmith’s shop, where we found nine of our friends, eight of whom were already dead — the other, Mr. Cox, of Indiana, in the agonies of death, who soon expired.

“We immediately prepared and carried them to the place of interment. This last office of kindness due to the remains of departed friends was not attended with the customary ceremonies nor decency; for we were in jeopardy, every moment expecting to be fired on by the mob, who, we supposed, were lying in ambush, waiting the first opportunity to despatch the remaining few who were providentially preserved from the slaughter of the preceding day. However, we accomplished without molestation this painful task. The place of burial was a vault in the ground, formerly intended for a well, into which we threw the bodies of our friends promiscuously. 5

“Among the slain I will mention Sardius Smith, son of Warren Smith, about nine years old, who, through fear, had crawled under the bellows in the shop, where he remained till the massacre was over, when he was discovered by one Glaze, of Carroll County, who presented a rifle near his head and literally blew off the upper part of it. Mr. Stanley, of Carroll County, told me afterwards that Glaze boasted of this fiend-like murder and heroic deed all over the country.

“The number killed and mortally wounded in this wanton slaughter was eighteen or nineteen, whose names, as far as I can recollect, were as follows: Thomas McBride, Levi Merrick, Elias Benner, Josiah Fuller, Benjamin Lewis, Alexander Campbell, Warren Smith, Sardius Smith, George Richards, Mr. Napier, Mr. Harmer, Mr. Cox, Mr. Abbott, Mr. York, Wm. Merrick (a boy eight or nine years old), and three or four others whose names I do not recollect, as they were strangers to me.

“Among the wounded who recovered were Isaac Laney, Nathan K. Knight, Mr. Yokum, two brothers by the name of Myers, Tarlton Lewis, Mr. Haun and several others. Miss Mary Stedwell, while fleeing, was shot through the hand, and, fainting, fell over a log, into which they shot upwards of twenty balls.

“To finish their work of destruction, this band of murderers composed of men from Davies, Livingston, Ray, Carroll and Chariton Counties, led by some of the principal men of that section of the upper country (among whom, I am informed, were Mr. Ashby, from Chariton, member of the State Legislature; Col. Jennings, of Livingston County; Thos. O’Bryon, Clerk of Livingston County; Mr. Whitney, Dr. Randall and many others), proceeded to rob the houses, wagons and tents of bedding and clothing; drove off horses and wagons, leaving widows and orphans destitute of the necessaries of life, and even stripped the clothing from the bodies of the slain!

“According to their own account they fired seven rounds in this awful butchery; making upwards of sixteen hundred shots, at a little company of men about thirty in number.

“I hereby certify the above to be a true statement of facts, according to the best of my knowledge.

“Joseph Young.
“State of Illinois,
County of Adams.

“I hereby certify that Joseph Young this day came before me, and made oath in due form of law, that the statements contained in the foregoing sheets are true, according to the best of his knowledge and belief. In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand, and affixed the seal of the Circuit Court at Quincy, this fourth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-nine.

“C. M. Woods,
“Clerk of Circuit Court of Adams Co., Ill.” 6


1 Joseph Young (1797–1881), the seventh of the eleven children of John and Abigail Howe Young, was an older brother of Brigham Young. He joined the Church in 1832 and served as a President of the First Quorum of Seventy from 1835–81. He was ever faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

2 This settlement was built around the mill of Jacob Haun.

3 This mob was led by Nehemiah Comstock and Obadiah Jennings, notorious mobsters and killers in western Missouri. 

4 “Amanda Barnes Smith and her daughters saved their lives by running to the woods with bullets whistling by ‘like hailstones.’ But when she crept back to the mill, she saw her husband and ten-year-old son ‘lifeless upon the ground.’ Then she found another son shot in the head under the blacksmith’s bellows where he had attempted to hide” (Proctor, Witness of the Light, 149).

5 The location of this well was known until the late 1870s. It was then lost from history until March 1999, when Dr. F. Richard Hauck aimed to discover it using sophisticated ground sonar. The burial well has still not been identified.

6 This account appears in Smith, History of the Church, 3:183–86.