In March 1839, while imprisoned in Liberty Jail, Joseph Smith wrote a letter to the Saints in Quincy, Illinois, counseling them to gather “a knowledge of all the facts, and sufferings and abuses put upon them by the people of this State; And also of all the property and amount of damages which they have sustained, both of character and personal injuries, as well as real property; And also the names of all persons that have had a hand in their oppressions, as far as they can get hold of them and find them out” (D&C 123:1–3). The Saints responded to these directions by producing nearly eight hundred redress petitions and sworn affidavits.
Perhaps the most widely published petition was Joseph Young’s. Young, older brother of Brigham Young, was an eyewitness to the October 30, 1838, attack at the Mormon settlement of Haun’s Mill. His statement, sworn before Adams County Circuit Court Judge C. M. Woods on June 4, 1839, provides a descriptive narrative of the tragic events of that fateful afternoon.
Within a few weeks after this affidavit was sworn, it was published by Joseph Young’s brother-in-law, John P. Greene. At a Church conference held during the first week of May 1839, Greene was called to preside over the Saints in New York City.At the time of his departure a month later, Greene had in hand several Mormon documents recounting the 1838 Mormon conflict, including Young’s deposition. En route to New York, Greene stopped in Cincinnati, where sometime in late June or July 1839 he published the documents in a forty-three-page pamphlet, under the title Facts Relative to the Expulsion of the Mormons from the State of Missouri, under the “Exterminating Order.”
Joseph Young’s account was not only the first account of the Haun’s Mill Massacre to appear in the press, but his narrative continued to be published in other works as the principal testimony describing the tragedy. For example, during the summer and fall of 1839, Sidney Rigdon prepared a manuscript, similar in many ways to Greene’s pamphlet, giving additional documented testimony concerning the Mormon troubles in Missouri. Rigdon’s work, published in early 1840, also in Cincinnati, included Young’s narrative.In August of that same year, Ebenezer Robinson and Don Carlos Smith, editors of the Church newspaper Times and Seasons, incorporated Young’s affidavit as part of the Church’s first published history. Still later, Church historians assigned to edit and compile Joseph Smith’s official record included Young’s sworn statement as part of the Prophet’s documentary history. Young’s statement was also included in an 1886 volume on Missouri history, and is still cited by modern American historians.
The manuscript version of the affidavit remained in the possession of the John P. Greene family and his descendants until about 1968, when it was acquired by Steve A. Kovacich. In 1996, David J. Whittaker, Harold B. Lee Library Curator of Nineteenth Century Western and Mormon Americana, acquired the document in behalf of Brigham Young University.This remarkably well-preserved manuscript consists of two lined sheets, folded in half, making eight sides each measuring 31 × 20 cm. The first two sides are blank, and the last six contain text written in brown ink in an unidentified hand. To the side of Young’s signature at the bottom of the final page is the imprinted seal of the circuit court of Adams County, Illinois, confirming that this petition was indeed sworn before a court of law.
A close examination and comparison of the Young affidavit manuscript with the first published version, Greene’s Facts Relative to the Expulsion of the Mormons, shows minor editorial changes, evidently made by either Greene or his Cincinnati publisher. Most of the changes are in punctuation, spelling, paragraph structure, and word abbreviations. A few word changes appear, none of which significantly alter the meaning of the original. An original document recounting an important event, Joseph Young’s manuscript affidavit is here produced.
The following, is a short history of my travels to the state of Missouri, and of a bloody tragedy acted at Haunns Mills, on Shoal creek Oct 30th 1838.
On the sixth day of July last, I started with my family, from Kirtland Ohio, for the State of Missouri the county of Caldwell in the upper part of the state, being the place of my destination
On the 13th of Oct, 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 upon.—I continued my course westward till I cross’d Grand River, at a place call’d Comptons ferry, at which place 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 arm’d 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 Whitneys 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 40 in number, armed with rifles and mounted on horses who inform’d us that we could go no farther, west, threatning us with instant death if we proceeded any farther. I asked them the reason of this prohibition, to which they replied, that we were Mormons, and that every one who adher’d to our religious faith would have have [sic] to leave the State in ten days or renounce their religion. Accordingly they drove us back to the mills above mentioned.
Here we tarried three days and on Fryday the 26th we recrossed the creek, and following up its banks, we succeeded in eluding the mob for the [p. 2] time being, and gained the residence of a friend in Myers Settlement.—On Sunday 28th Oct we arrived about 12 Oclock at Haunns Mills, where we found a number of our friends, collected together, who were holding a council, and deliberating on the best course for them to pursue, to defend themselves against the mob who were collecting in the neighborhood under the command of Col Jennings of Livingston and threatning them with house burning, and killing.—The decision of the council was, that our friends there should place themselves in an attitude of self defense. Accordingly about 28 of our men arm’d themselves and were in constant readiness for an attack of any small body of men that might come upon them. The same evening for some cause best known to themselves, the mob sent one of their number to enter into a treaty with our friends, which was accepted of, 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, upon either party
At this time however there was another mob collecting on Grand river, at William Mannswho were threatning us, consequently we remained under arms on, Monday the 29th, which pass’d away without molestation from any quarter. On Tuesday the 30th that bloody tragedy was acted, the scenes of which I shall never forget! More than three fourths of the day had pass’d in tranquillity as smiling as the preceeding one. I think there was no individual of our company that was apprized of the sudden and awful fate that hung over our heads like an overwhelming torrent, which was to change the prospects the feelings and circumstances of about 30 families.—The banks of shoal creek on either side teem’d with children, sporting and playing, while their mothers were engaged in domestick employments; and their fathers employed in [p. 3] guarding the mills and other property, while others where engaged in gathering in their crops, for their winter consumption. The weather was very pleasant, the sun shone clear; all was tranquil; and no one express’d any apprehensions of the awful crisis that was near us even at our doors.
It was about 4 Oclock, while sitting in my cabbin 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 company of arm’d men on horses directing their course towards the mills with all possible speed.—As they advanced through the scattering trees that stood on the edge of the prairie they seem’d to form themselves into a three square position forming as vanguard in front.
At this moment David Evansseeing the superiority of their numbers, (There being 240 of them according to their own account) swung his hat and cried for peace. This not being heeded they continued to advance, and their leader Mr Comstock fired a gun, which was followed by a solemn pause of ten or twelve seconds. When all at once they discharged about 100 rifles aiming at a blacksmiths shop into which our friends had fled for safety; and charging up to the shop the cracks 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 rear of the shop whose lives were exposed and amidst a shower of bullets fled to the woods in different directions.—After standing and gazing on this bloody scene for a few minutes, and finding myself in the utmost danger, the bullets having reached the house where I was living, I commited 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 [p. 4] of my brethren that had fled from the shop. While ascending the hill we were discovered by the mob, who immediately fired at us and continued so to do, till we reach’d the summitIn descending the hill, I secreted myself in a thicket of bushes where I lay till eight oclock in the evening, at which time I heard a female voice calling my name in an under tone telling me that the mob had gone, and there was no danger.—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 pass’d the painful night, in deepp and awful reflections, on the scenes of the preceeding evening,—After day light appeared, some four or five men, with myself, who had escaped with our lives from the 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 Haunn we found Mr Merricksbody lying in rear of the house Mr. Mc.Brides in front, litteraly mangled from head to foot. We were informed by Miss Rebecca Judd, who was an eyewitness, that he was shot with his own gun, after he had given it up and then was cut to pieces with a corn cutter by a Mr Rogers, of Daviess County, who keeps a ferry on Grand river, and who has since repeatedly boosted [sic] of this act of savage barbarity. Mr York’s body we found in the house, and after viewing these corpses, we immediately went to the blacks smiths shop, where we found nine of our friends 8 of whom were already dead, the other Mr Cox of Indiana strugling in the agonies of death who expired. We immediately prepared and carried them to the place of inter[n]ment. This last office of kind[p. 5]ness due to the relicts of departed friends, was not attended with the customary ceremonies, nor decency for we were in jeopardy every moment, expecting to be fired upon by the mob, who we supposed were lying in ambush, waiting for the first opportunity to dispatch the remaining few who were providentially presserved from the slaughter of the preceeding day
However we accomplished with out molestation this painful task.—The place of burying was a vault in the ground formerly intended for a well, into which we threw the bodies of our friends promiscuously.
Among those slain I will mention Sardius Smith,son of Warren Smith, about 9 years old who through fear had crawl’d under the bellowses in the shop where he remained till the massacre was over when he was discovered by a Mr. Glaze of Carroll county who presented his rifle near the boys head and litterly blow’d off the upper part of it. Mr Stanley of Carroll told me afterwards that Glaze boasted of this fiendlike murder, and heroick deed all over the country
The number killed and mortally wounded in this wanton slaughter was 18 or 19 whose names as far as I recollect were as follows, Thomas M[c]BrideLevi Merrick,, Elias Benner,, Josiah Fuller,, Benjamin Lewis,, Alexander Campbell,, Warren Smith,, Sardius Smith,, George Richards,, Mr Napier,, Mr Hammer,, Mr Cox,, Mr. Abbott,, Mr York,, William Merrick,, (a boy 8 or 9 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 Isacc Laney,Nathan K. Knight,, Mr Yokum,, two brothers by the name of Myers,, Tarlton Lewis,, Mr Haunn and several others. Miss Mary Stedwell while fleeing was Shot through the hand, and fainting fell over a log into which they shot up wards of twenty balls [p. 6] To finish their work of of [sic] destruction this band of murderers composed of men from Daviess, Livingston Ray, Carroll and Chariton led by some of the principal men of that section of the upper country, (among whom I am inform’d were Mr Ashby from Chariton member of the State Legislature, Col Jennings of Livingston,, Thomas O. Bryon clerk of Livingston county Mr Whitney Sr. Randal 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 statements of facts according to the best of my knowledge
[signed] 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 wherof 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[Seal]
C. M. Woods, Clerk
Circuit Court Adams Co