Persecution and the financial collapse in Kirtland in 1838 forced Joseph Smith to leave Ohio and headquarter the Church in Missouri, where thousands of Latter-day Saints had already settled. Once in Missouri, he and the other leaders faced the challenge of finding an affordable place for these newcomers to settle, as they previously had contributed their money and lands to help satisfy debts arising principally from the construction of the Kirtland Temple. Daviess County, Missouri, became a strategic settlement area for the Ohio Saints. Shortly after arriving in Missouri, Joseph and other leaders left Far West, Missouri, “to visit the north countries for the purpose of Laying off stakes of Zion, making Locations & laying claims [to land] for the gathering of the saints for the benefit of the poor.”1 The “north countries” had yet to be fully surveyed, which allowed the Saints to settle on the land and qualify for preemption rights that did not require payment until the surveys were completed (fig. 1). After the surveying was finished, these same rights were an impetus for non-Mormon land speculators to force Mormons out of Missouri. The imminent vesting of these property rights further explains the frantic efforts to dislodge Mormons from their lands in Missouri altogether in late 1838. By examining preemption rights and land surveying practices, this article explains why Mormons settled in certain parts of northern Missouri and shows how some Missourians manipulated the situation for their own personal gain. The causes of Mormons’ forced expulsion from Missouri are multifaceted, but this additional information gives us a more complete perspective.2
Land Rights on the American Frontier
The growth of the United States from its original thirteen colonies cultivated the competing concepts of federal and states’ rights. From their inception the colonies collectively expressed hesitation to transfer sovereign rights to the national government.3 Led by the Jeffersonians, this philosophical stance remained the dominant view until after the War of 1812, when a shift to nationalism emerged. The “Great Triumvirate”—Representatives Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun—led the postwar Congress to strengthen the national economy through a centralized system of improvements to the infrastructure of the federal government.4 This included creating a new national banking system, expanding tariffs, and improving roads and canals,5 as well as an aggressive plan to sell the vast accumulation of public lands to fund the growing national government.6 These policies fractured the already fragile political parties and alliances. While the Great Triumvirate experienced some initial success in strengthening the role of the federal government, opponents of federalism struck an almost fatal blow with the formation of the Democratic Party and the election of Andrew Jackson as president in 1828.7 His election marked another shift in federal-state relations. As the voice for free enterprise, states’ rights, and laissez-faire government,8 Jackson ironically expanded executive powers that increased the effort to reduce the federal debt by selling federal lands.9 It is within this national struggle that Mormons entered with their efforts to build communities on the western frontier.
Acquisition and Sale of Federal Lands
Virginia’s cession of the Northwest Territory to the United States in 178410 began the national government’s concerted efforts to obtain vast areas of land. This included lands acquired by treaty from the Indians beyond the Ohio River,11 and land cessions from the colonies such as North Carolina12 and Georgia,13 as well as acquisitions from foreign nations such as France14 and Spain.15 Beginning in 1787 it was understood that these land acquisitions would eventually become states within the union.16 Although statehood put an end to the question of federal sovereignty over the territories, it did not extinguish federal ownership of the land, which was jealously retained.17 By 1829 eight new states had been formed in what were previously federal territories—Ohio, Tennessee, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, and Missouri.18
Andrew Jackson recognized that the revenue generated by the sale of these public lands on the rapidly expanding western frontier could, in short order, eliminate the national debt.19 By his fourth annual report to Congress in 1832, Jackson proposed that inasmuch as the goal of selling public lands to satisfy “the expenses of the [Revolutionary] war” had been met, these lands no longer needed to serve as a source of revenue, but rather could “be sold to settlers . . . at a price barely sufficient to reimburse” the government for its costs.20
Both the power to sell public lands and the establishment of the process for such sales rested securely in the U.S. Constitution.21 The need to superintend the sale of public lands was recognized in 1812 with the establishment of the General Land Office (GLO) within the Department of Treasury,22 which was authorized to subdivide the public domain into land districts for the sale and disposition of public lands.23 Under the direction of the president, the GLO created local land offices to implement its mandate of aggressively selling public lands.24
As waves of settlers moved west, these pioneers, often referred to as squatters, became an obstacle to the orderly sale of public lands. In response, the federal government severely limited the rights squatters would have to these frontier properties. The land policies adopted in 1785, and again in the Land Act of 1787, required competitive bidding on land in an attempt to discourage and often displace squatters. In 1807, Congress even gave the president authority to “employ such military force as he may judge necessary and proper, to remove from lands ceded or secured to the United States by treaty or cession as aforesaid, any person or persons who shall hereafter take possession of the same, or attempt to make a settlement thereon.”25
In an effort to protect themselves from these laws, squatters formed claim associations. The primary purpose of these associations was to intimidate speculators, often referred to as claim jumpers, from bidding on land improved by a squatter. One historian explained, “These associations were makeshifts to tide the settlers over until Congress should enact a law which would give them proper legal protection, or until they were able to pay for their claims.”26 While these associations were formed to protect squatters from the law, the associations were almost universally accepted by public opinion. As one newspaper observed, “It is useless to say anything in justification or explanation of combinations of this character, as they have become a part of the established common law of the West, and are based upon that fundamental element of democracy—popular will, and the first law of nature—self-defence [sic].”27
Within this setting the first universal preemption laws were enacted in 1830.28 Preemption was the process whereby individuals secured a preference right to purchase public land they had improved and inhabited.29 The leader of the movement was Thomas Hart Benton, one of the first two senators from Missouri (fig. 2). Shortly after his first election to the Senate, Benton introduced legislation aimed at protecting squatters, who composed much of his constituency.30 Four years later the Pre-emption Act of 1830 was passed as the first of its kind to extend preemptive rights to “every settler or occupant of the public lands” who was in possession at the date of passage and had cultivated any portion of the land not to exceed one hundred sixty acres.31 This law originally was limited to one year, but it was extended by subsequent acts on July 14, 1832; March 2, 1833; June 19, 1834; June 22, 1838; and June 1, 1840.32
Because of the historical objections to squatters, those filing for preemptive claims were concerned whether their filings would result in legally recognized rights. Squatters’ anxieties were founded, in part, in the tentative nature of unconsummated preemption rights. Such rights could be lost either by settlers’ failure to pay the required price or by the lapsing of the act awaiting extension.33 The U.S. Supreme Court addressed this dynamic in Lytle v. Arkansas:
The claim of a preemption is not that shadowy right which by some it is considered to be. Until sanctioned by law, it has no existence as a substantive right. But when covered by the law, it becomes a legal right, subject to be defeated only by a failure to perform the conditions annexed to it. It is founded in an enlightened public policy, rendered necessary by the enterprise of our citizens. The adventurous pioneer, who is found in advance of our settlements, encounters many hardships, and not unfrequently dangers from savage incursions. He is generally poor, and it is fit that his enterprise should be rewarded by the privilege of purchasing the favorite spot selected by him, not to exceed one hundred and sixty acres.34
Congress faced these concerns every year or so in anticipation of the preceding preemption act lapsing. Timing further exacerbated this situation. Congress anticipated that preemptive claims could be granted and the final sale consummated within the span of the act or its extension, but this was not the case. Western expansion far outpaced the GLO’s ability to manage the growth.
The Preemption Process
The implementation of the preemption process was designed to be straightforward. Yet, implementation proved both complicated and time consuming. During the 1830s, the GLO published hundreds of circulars to clarify the process, while the U.S. Attorney General’s Office issued an equal number of interpretative opinions.
First, a settler would go to the local district GLO and complete a short application that included an affidavit verifying that he was improving and occupying the land to which the preemption right was being claimed.35 (Figure 1 shows the preemption forms filed by Hyrum Smith and others in 1836.) Second, the president would set the sale date for all land sold under the act or its extension.36 It was then the responsibility of the surveyor general over the subject area to have the land adequately surveyed and verified and the corresponding paperwork physically returned to the local land office.37 The local land office would then publish notice that the surveys were complete and the scheduled sale would take place.38 Such notice was required to be published within a reasonable time before the sale date.39 Third, if a settler failed to pay for the preemptive land by the specified sale date, his preemptive right lapsed, and the land could be sold to any other interested party.40
The implementation of this process proved to be thorny. The difficulty centered on the rapid influx of settlers on land for which the township surveys had not been completed and certified by the general surveyor’s office (fig. 3). In these situations, the prospective settler chose the land he wanted to claim (up to one hundred sixty acres), began cultivating it, and then went to the local land office to complete a preemptive application. When such land had not been certified with a township survey (thereby determining to one-tenth of an acre the actual public land being purchased), the local land office registrar could verify only that the applicant had adequately occupied and cultivated the subject land and accept the application for it. This often was referred to as “proofing” the preemption claim.41 The registrar could not accept payment, as the exact price could be determined only after the township plats were received (fig. 4). Therefore, preemptive claims were general rights (for example, 40 acres) until the surveys were completed, whereupon they became specific rights (for example, 39.2 acres).
Once the verified survey was received by the local land office, the registrar published a notice of the receipt, thereby informing the settler that he must pay for the land by the predetermined sale date or be subject to having the land sold at public sale to any interested party (fig. 5). Unexpectedly, however, there was a persistent, and sometimes significant, delay in getting the verified township plat surveys back to the local land office. A settler could file an application for his land and then wait months, or sometimes even years, for the surveying process to be completed, thereby triggering the requirement to pay for the land.
This lengthy surveying process caused untold complications. Daniel Webster aptly articulated the problems in a January 29, 1838, speech on the Senate floor over the proposed extension of the Act of 1830 for two more years:
We are not now at the point when preemption rights are first to be granted; nor can we recall the past. . . . There are now known to be many thousands of settlers on public lands, either not yet surveyed, or of which the surveys are not yet returned, or which, if surveyed, are not yet brought into the market for sale.
The first question naturally is, How did they come there? How did this great number of persons get on the public lands? And to this question it may be truly answered, that they have gone upon the lands under the encouragement of previous acts of Congress. They have settled and built houses, and made improvements, in the persuasion that Congress would deal with them in the same manner as it has, in repeated instances, dealt with others.42
The failure of plats to arrive at the local land office, thus preventing a sale to proceed, was “the worst bottleneck in the administrative system. . . . The end result was the cancellation or postponement of a number of public sales that had been advertised.”43 Understanding these realities provides additional insight into the Mormon leadership’s decision to explore areas that had not been fully surveyed. In fact, these dynamics of the preemption process lay at the center of the Latter-day Saints’ 1838 expansion into Daviess County, Missouri.
Mormons on the Missouri Frontier
Mormons first came to Missouri as missionaries in 1830. By summer 1831, Mormons had settled in Jackson County, and, reinforced by prophetic decree, Church members sought to build Zion there.44 Joseph Smith laid out a city for the Saints, including a site on which to construct a temple. Throughout 1832, Mormons arrived to support the establishment of this new Church center, and by the end of that year nearly twelve hundred Latter-day Saints lived in Missouri.45
Such rapid growth proved dangerous, as the non-Mormon population feared losing political and economic standing.46 Competing religionists and early settlers47 fueled the simmering discontent, which erupted in violence in July 1833 when a mob razed W. W. Phelps’s home and printing office.48 Such violence abated only briefly, eventually leading to the forced surrender and expulsion of virtually the entire Mormon community from Jackson County in November 1833.49
These displaced Saints found temporary refuge in nearby Clay County, immediately north and across the Missouri River. They sought help from the state government, and the Saints were advised to seek redress through legal channels.50 Smith also organized a thousand-mile march with provisions and paramilitary support from Kirtland. However, none of these endeavors proved effective. Efforts to strengthen the Mormon community in Clay County were doomed as the initial kindness of the locals dissipated and was replaced by prejudice and enmity.
Desperate for a solution, Church leaders contemplated moving north to the unsettled Missouri frontier. Fearing the same persecutions might follow, they sought legal help to establish a safe location to resettle. One of the Church’s lawyers and also a member of the Missouri legislature representing Clay County, Alexander Doniphan51 agreed that moving into the unsettled areas might alleviate the tensions between the groups.52 Doniphan sponsored a bill during the late-1836 legislative session that would allow the Saints to settle in the entire unincorporated territorial northern portion of Ray County (fig. 6).53 This bill met with stiff opposition by the representatives from Ray County, resulting in a substantive compromise—the creation of two new counties in Missouri, Caldwell and Daviess, by the end of 1836. Caldwell County was informally designed to accommodate Mormons. This compromise also enlarged Ray by four townships (giving Ray twenty townships rather than the typical sixteen) and left Caldwell County with only twelve townships.54
Anticipating the creation of these counties and seeking to avoid the vicissitudes of persecution, Mormons began moving northward even before the official creation of Caldwell or Daviess counties.55 Mormons built their main settlement in Mirable Township (Caldwell County) and christened the town Far West. With the possibility of settling in northern Missouri and thereby avoiding further persecution, emigration to Caldwell County exploded. Between 1836 and 1838 “more than 4,900 of them lived in the county, along with a hundred non-Mormons.” The Far West area boasted “150 homes, four dry goods stores, three family groceries, several blacksmith shops, two hotels, a printing shop, and a large schoolhouse that doubled as a church and a courthouse.”56 A second community emerged on Shoal Creek, sixteen miles east of Far West, called Hawn’s Mill.57 By 1838, Hawn’s Mill was home to approximately twenty families, with another forty or more families settling on farms in the vicinity.58 The pace of emigration to these settlements accelerated following the economic problems in Kirtland and Smith’s decision to move from Ohio to Missouri that spring.59
Ohio Saints Relocate to Northern Missouri
The exodus from Kirtland was costly. Significantly in debt from the construction of the Kirtland Temple, the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society, and the expense of defending lawsuits, the Church was on the edge of financial collapse. While many have argued that the Saints left Kirtland to escape their financial obligations, the facts demonstrate a concerted and largely successful effort by Church leaders to satisfy obligations before their departure. To meet these obligations the leaders sold most Church properties. Many individuals also donated funds from the sale of their homes, farms, and businesses to pay Church debts.60 The financial sacrifice by the Kirtland Saints was considerable, and it represented an unmistakable commitment to their religion and a social conscience of financial responsibility despite persecution.
Such sacrifice also meant that most of these people arrived in Missouri without sufficient financial means to purchase property. Journals recount the destitute condition of these Saints.61 The plight of Saints from Ohio, coupled with the ongoing emigration of new converts (most of whom also arrived without financial means), placed significant pressure on Church leaders to find an affordable place for them to settle. From this perspective it seems logical that leaders looked to unsurveyed counties in northern Missouri for new settlements.
Smith, his family, and other key leaders left Kirtland for Far West on January 13, 1838,62 arriving in March. The following month brought significant changes in Missouri Church leadership, including the excommunication of former stalwarts Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer.63 By May, Smith’s focus turned to the anticipated arrival of a large contingent of Saints from Kirtland. On May 18, Smith and other key leaders, including Sidney Rigdon, David Patten, and Edward Partridge, left Far West “to visit the north countries for the purpose of Laying off stakes of Zion, making Locations & laying claims [to land] for the gathering of the saints for the benefit of the poor.”64
Some claim that the basis for Mormons’ expansion into Daviess County (the “north countries”) was that Caldwell County had filled up to overflowing with Mormons.65 A review of Missouri land sales, however, belies this conclusion. While Mirable Township, the location of Far West, had been substantially settled or claimed, most of the other eleven townships in Caldwell County remained almost entirely available through 1838 (fig. 7).66 Consequently, the decision to settle the poor on unsurveyed land was not motivated by a lack of available real property in Caldwell; rather the decision stemmed from a need to find affordable land.67 By the time Smith arrived in Missouri in early 1838, Caldwell County had been completely surveyed, including the return of township plats. Therefore, property in this county had to be paid for at the time of settlement.68 It appears Smith’s initiative to scout out communities in Daviess County was motivated by the realization that this land had not yet come onto the market because verified township surveys had not been completed. The law allowed impoverished Saints to secure preemption rights to their property without having to pay until the township plat surveys were completed. Because of the backlog on these surveys, new settlers anticipated working their land and generating the income necessary to purchase the property (at $1.25 per acre).
Mormons in Caldwell and Daviess counties actively participated in this government program of preemption.69 As discussed herein, Joseph Smith and other Church leaders were aware of the preemption process and encouraged the Saints to utilize this option as they moved to Missouri.70
Details about these possibilities had generally been communicated to the departing Saints in Ohio. Writing to her brother Levi on February 19, 1838, from Kirtland, Hepzibah Richards, the sister of Willard Richards, explained:
Since I wrote last the state of things has remained much the same. Less excitement at times. The members of the Church are leaving as fast as possible. A steamboat is to be chartered about the middle of March which will take off a great many families. They are driven out of this place [Kirtland] as truly as the Saints were driven out of Jackson county four years ago, though in a different manner. There they were driven by force of arms; here by persecution, chiefly from the dissenters. People who go from here to Missouri by water take passage at Wellsville [Columbiana Co., Ohio] about 100 miles south of here, on the Ohio river; you can find it on the Atlas; then follow on down the Ohio and up the Missouri river quite to the western part of the State of Missouri. There are thousands of acres of good land which have never been in the market; people take up lots and settle on them, then petition for preemption rights, which are always granted. The probability is it will never come into the market, and if it does, it will be sold cheap.71
During his May 1838 trip to the “north countries,” Joseph Smith met with Saints who already had moved into Daviess County72 and, under his direction, organized the city of Adam-ondi-Ahman. This location was to be a central gathering place for the anticipated influx from Kirtland as well as for converts from other areas.73 Known as the Kirtland Company, a mile-long wagon train of more than five hundred Saints left Kirtland on July 6, 1838, heading to Daviess County.74
Lyman Wight, one of the original Mormon settlers in Daviess County was a firsthand witness of the Mormon emigration:
Joseph Smith, together with many others of the principal men of the church, came to my house, and taking a view of the large bottom in the bend of the river, and the beautiful prairies on the bluffs, came to the conclusion that it would be a handsome situation for a town. We therefore commenced surveying and laying off town lots, and locating government lands for many miles north of this place. This beautiful country with its flattering prospects drew in floods of emigrants. I had not less than thirty comers and goers through the day during the three summer months, and up to the last-mentioned date [last of October], there were upwards of two hundred houses built in this town, and also about forty families living in their wagons.75
At its height, Adam-ondi-Ahman alone boasted a population of fifteen hundred and more than two hundred homes.76 By fall 1838, Caldwell and Davies counties had become home to roughly ten thousand Mormons.77
Missouri Land Sales in Late 1838
Although thousands of Mormons had settled new communities in Caldwell and Daviess counties in 1838, these inhabitants soon faced expulsion. The cause of that expulsion is multifaceted. From the uniqueness of Mormons’ faith, both doctrinally and in practice, to their apparent disposition for allying with the Indians, their overall antislavery stance, and their rapidly growing political power and resulting voting blocs, the non-Mormon residents of Daviess and the surrounding counties grew increasingly uncomfortable with their Mormon neighbors. Much has been written in the defense of the motives of both groups.78 Some have acknowledged that some Missourians enjoyed an unintended windfall of improved land from Mormons’ removal.79 However, a closer look at events leading to the infamous Extermination Order evidences that some Missourians carefully orchestrated the persecution in October and November 1838 specifically to gain control of Mormons’ preemption rights. In fact, this appears to be central to the motives of these Missourians. They did not reap an unintended windfall; rather they orchestrated the deliberate taking of these rights.80
By presidential mandate, the date for the sale of surveyed property under the extended Act of 1830,81 which included the land in Daviess County, was set for November 12, 1838. As previously discussed, this date could be extended only in the event the verified surveys (the “township plats”) were not returned within a reasonable time of the sale date so appropriate notice could be given to the settlers who held pending preemption claims, requiring them to pay for their property. If the verified surveys were not returned, the preemptive rights were required to be extended to the next sale date pursuant to the anticipated next extension of the act. The citizens in Daviess County were aware of this sale date, as notice of the sale had been published in various local newspapers beginning in August 1838.82 The only question was whether the returned township surveys would arrive in time to allow for the proper conduct of the land sales.
In mid-September 1838, the surveyor general’s office in St. Louis, Missouri, completed the township surveys for Daviess County subject to sale on November 12, 1838. These plats were certified and sent to that office by the surveyor general, Daniel Dunklin (former Missouri governor).83 The plats were received by the local registrar, Finis Ewing, at the district office in Lexington, Missouri, on approximately September 24, but the public was not made aware of that receipt until it was published on October 21.84 This, therefore, was the first date the Saints could have learned they would definitely be required to pay for their preemption claims by November 12. It appears more than a coincidence that A. P. Rockwood reported on October 24, 1838, that the Saints’ mail had stopped coming to Far West.85
Before the publication of the October 21 notice, and as the predetermined sale date of November 12, 1838, moved perilously close, Mormons anticipated that the sale date likely would be moved to the following year. Consequently, by September 1838, Mormons in Daviess County had agreed to buy out their non-Mormon neighbors’ preemptive rights and possessions. This option was confirmed by General H. G. Parks in writing to General David Atchison (fig. 8) on September 25, 1838: “On to-morrow, a committee from Daviess county meets a committee of the Mormons at Adam-on-diahmon, to propose to them to buy or sell, and I expect to be there.”86 Joseph Smith wrote on September 26, 1838, “The mob committee met a committee of the brethren, and the brethren entered into an agreement to purchase all the lands and possessions of those who desired to sell and leave Daviess county.”87 Shortly thereafter allegations arose that Mormons were burning homes and farms in Daviess County. Hyrum Smith later testified, referring to the October burnings allegedly perpetrated by Mormons, that “the houses that were burnt, together with the pre-emption rights, and the corn in the fields, had all been previously purchased by the Mormons of the people and paid for in money and with waggons and horses and with other property, about two weeks before.”88
The Land Grab
Yet some Missourians were not appeased by the purchase of their land and possessions (or commitment to do so) by Mormons. These Missourians had no apparent intention of leaving Daviess County. The tenuous peace Mormons thought they had brokered was violated before it could be fully consummated.
By the third week in October these Missourians knew that the surveys had been properly returned and that Mormons’ preemption rights probably would be paid, thereby giving Mormons title not only to their preemptive claims, but also to the newly acquired claims from their neighbors. Some Missourians were determined to thwart this outcome. For example, Sashel Woods,89 a Presbyterian minister and a leader in the military attacks on DeWitt, Adam-ondi-Ahman, and Far West,
called the mob together and made a speech to them, saying that they must hasten to assist their friends in Daviess county. The land sales (he said) were coming on, and if they could get the Mormons driven out, they could get all the lands entitled to pre-emptions, and that they must hasten to Daviess in order to accomplish their object; that if they would join and drive them out they could get all the lands back again, as well as all the pay they had received for them. He assured the mob that they had nothing to fear from the authorities in so doing, for they had now full proof that the authorities would not assist the Mormons, and that they might as well take their property from them as not.90
The ensuing weeks evidenced the implementation of Woods’s strategy by the Missourians.91 The siege of DeWitt, the Battle of Crooked River, and the Hawn’s Mill Massacre proved that any peace Mormons thought they had purchased had been lost. According to Hyrum Smith, some Missourians were “doing every thing they could to excite the indignation of the Mormon people to rescue them, in order that they might make that a pretext of an accusation for the breach of the law and that they might the better excite the prejudice of the populace and thereby get aid and assistance to carry out their hellish purposes of extermination.”92 That goal was furthered significantly by Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs’s issuance of the infamous Extermination Order, on October 27, 1838, just six days after publication of the notice of sale.
The process of driving Mormons from Missouri is telling of Missourians’ motives. By November 1, 1838, massive numbers of troops forced a Mormon surrender at Far West. “The city was surrounded with a strong guard, and no man woman or child was permitted to go out or come in, under the penalty of death.”93 Mormon travel throughout the northern counties was restricted from that point forward.94
In addition to the travel restrictions, General John B. Clark of the Missouri militia commenced the process of systematically arresting key Mormons. By early November, Clark had arrested over fifty Church members.95 These men were not only ecclesiastical leaders, they also were the most prominent landowners in Daviess County. They were taken to Richmond to appear before Judge Austin A. King (fig. 9). A preliminary hearing, or “court of inquiry,” as it was then called, was conducted over two weeks to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to bind over (hold for trial) any of the arrested men.96 It seems hardly a coincidence that the hearing began on November 12—the exact day the Daviess County preemption land sales started. These sales continued for the statutory two weeks, which ran exactly concurrently with the preliminary hearing. Those critical two weeks were the Mormons’ final opportunity to exercise their preemption rights. But during those two weeks, all Mormons in northwest Missouri were either in the midst of their preliminary hearing or “fenced in by the gentiles”97 at Far West—with travel and communication restricted.
One of the purposes behind the restriction on travel is revealed through its results. Although the import of this restriction has been obscured by time, the nineteenth-century Mormons understood what had happened. Parley P. Pratt stated:
The Anti-Mormons were determined the Mormons should yield and abandon the country. Moreover the land sales were approaching, and it was expedient that they should be driven out before they could establish their rights of pre-emption. In this way their valuable improvements—the fruit of diligence and enterprise—would pass into the hands of men who would have the pleasure of enjoying without the toil of earning.98
Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Elias Higbee also articulated this fact in their report to the United States Senate and House of Representatives on January 27, 1840. They acknowledged the persecution against the Saints, first in Jackson and then in Clay, Caldwell, and Daviess counties, was rooted in that
they were a body of people, distinct from their fellow citizens, in religious opinions, in their habits, and in their associations; and withal sufficiently numerous to make their political and moral power a matter of anxiety and dread to the political and religious parties by which they were surrounded, which prejudices arose not from what the Mormons had done; but from the fear of what they might do, if they should see proper to exercise this power.
In addition to this, the Mormons had either purchased of the settlers or the General Government, or held by Pre-emption rights, what were regarded the best lands in that region of the Country. The tide of speculation during this period of time ran high; and the cupidity of many was thus unlawfully aroused to possess themselves of these lands, and add to their wealth by driving the Mormons from the country, and taking forcible possession of them; or constraining them to sell through fear and coercion at prices merely nominal and of their own fixing.99
Even those outside the Mormon community acknowledged this motive. In an article published in the New Yorker dated October 13, 1838, the editor succinctly wrote:
The latest accounts from the Mormon neighborhood in Missouri directly assert that all the trouble is occasioned by the “world’s people” about them, who covet the fine lands on which they have settled, or wish to frighten or drive them from the country before they have taken up any more in the fertile country surrounding their settlement. Of course, this interferes with the trade of the Preemptioners, who are determined to eject them, either by their own force, or by stirring up the State against them.100
William Aldrich, a Mormon resident in Daviess County, noted in his redress petition that he “was als[o] deprived of the privelege of Proveing if my Preemption being under the spetial order of General Clark which prohibited [them] from leaving Farwest in Caldwell Co.”101 Likewise, Joseph Younger, another Mormon resident in Daviess County, claimed loss for his “perremtions Rights five hundred dollars Being cept under gard whil the Land sales at Lexinton was going on.”102 Jabis Durfee similarly explained that he had gained a preemption right in Daviess County upon which he had built a house and mill: “I resided on said tract of land untill October AD. 1838 which—entitled me to a Preemtion right on said land: according to the laws of the United States: Whereas I was prevented from proving up said right and entering said tract of land in consequence of an order from Governor Boggs authorising an armed force to drive me with others from the State.”103 His brother, Perry Durfee, echoed this complaint that he was taken prisoner and “was prohibited from entering my preemption which I held in Davis Co.”104 Perhaps Willard Richards articulated it best, declaring the entire hearing at Richmond as nothing more than “a lie out of whole cloth.”105
Once the time for the holders of preemption rights to exercise them had elapsed, the key actors in the preceding months’ anti-Mormon activities immediately purchased nearly eighteen thousand acres of Daviess County land.106 Based on estimates as to the number of Mormon families then living in Daviess County, it appears most of that land purchased previously had been settled and improved by Latter-day Saint occupants.107 These were strategic purchases. For example, Adam-ondi-Ahman and many other tracts in the vicinity were purchased by Sashel Woods, his sons-in-law Jon Cravens and Thomas Calloway, and Woods’s fellow Cumberland Presbyterian minister, George Houx.108 Within two months the town’s name was changed to Cravensville.109 Other tracts also were strategically chosen. The Original Entry Map for Daviess County substantiates these Missourians’ strategy to take the most valuable improved Mormon lands. For example, Cravens and Woods purchased Jabis Durfee’s claim along with his home and a mill for $1.25 per acre on November 23, 1838, the first day following the lapse of Durfee’s preemption rights110 (figs. 10 and 11). Interestingly, Cravens and Woods purchased no property adjacent to the Durfee site. The two men surgically purchased a mill site—the most valuable of all property in the frontier. This mill site was so ideal that it continued as such for more than fifty years111 (fig. 12). Cravens ultimately sold half (forty acres) of Durfee’s property (eighty acres), which he purchased for $100, to McClain Wilson in 1866 for $1,225,112 thereby reaping a very substantial profit (fig. 13).
Cravens and Woods were not alone. Other prominent figures in the Mormon War acquired significant property holdings in Daviess County, including Wiley C. Williams (aide to Governor Boggs), Amos Rees,113 William Mann, William O. Jennings, Jacob Rogers,114 and others. Most of these individuals had not been residents of Daviess County prior to the land sales, indicating they were speculators who profited from Mormons’ misfortune.115
The Daily Missouri Republican, published in St. Louis, aptly summarized the effect of the Mormon conflict in its December 13, 1838, editorial:
We have many reports here in relation to the conduct of some of the citizens of Daviess and other counties, at the recent Land Sales at Lexington—It is reported, said to be on the authority of a gentleman direct from Lexington, that at the recent land sales the lands of Caldwell and Daviess were brought into market, and that some of the citizens who have been the most active in the excitement against the Mormons, purchased a number of the Mormon tracts of land. Where the Mormons had made settlements and improvements, it is said, these citizens have purchased them for speculation. It is said, that the town of “Adamon Diamond,” a Mormon town in Daviess, in which there are several houses,—a very valuable site for a town—was purchased at these sales for a dollar and a quarter an acre. It is further said, that there is a company formed, embracing a number of persons, for the purpose of speculating in the lands of these people.116
While the causes of the Mormon conflict in 1838 may be multifaceted, the result was not. Some Missourians enjoyed a financial windfall by getting clear title to the Mormons’ lands in Daviess County. Whether this was the primary motive from the outset is still unclear, it is an undisputable fact that key Missourians involved in the Mormon expulsion immediately seized a financial reward.
The nineteenth-century Mormons knew what had happened—and so did these Missourians who reaped the benefits. The Mormon tragedy in Missouri ended with a slow, painful walk to the Mississippi River, where the people crossed to Illinois to start rebuilding their lives. The optimism of Zion planted in Jackson County and the efforts to build refuge communities in Caldwell and Daviess counties were transferred to the founding of the “City of Joseph.”
Yet Mormons did not forget the sorrows of Missouri. While popular history has painted the persecution as religiously motivated, the facts suggest a more base reason: greed, in its most ugly and insatiable form, to “have the pleasure of enjoying without the toil of earning.”117 Such efforts stain some of the earliest land records of northern Missouri. The façade of legitimacy was nothing more than “a lie out of whole cloth.”118 Nearly two years after their forced departure, Mormons petitioned the federal government for redress and put the reality of their losses into perspective:
The Mormons, numbering fifteen thousand souls, have been driven from their homes in Missouri; property to the amount of two millions of dollars has been taken from them or destroyed; some of their brethren have been murdered, some wounded, and others beaten with stripes; the chastity of their wives and daughters inhumanly violated; all driven forth as wanderers; and many, very many, broken-hearted and penniless. The loss of property they do not so much deplore, as the mental and bodily sufferings to which they have been subjected; and, thus far, without redress. They are human beings, possessed of human feelings and human sympathies. Their agony of soul for their suffering women and children was the bitterest drop in the cup of their sorrows.119
Examining the orchestrated loss of Mormon land as recorded on Daviess County abstracts is academically important, but it cannot provide an adequate understanding to the totality of these tragic events.
An Act to Grant Pre-Emption Rights
to Settlers on the Public Lands (May 29, 1830)
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That every settler or occupant of the public lands, prior to the passage of this act, who is now in possession, and cultivated any part thereof in the year one thousand eight hundred and twenty-nine, shall be, and he is hereby, authorized to enter, with the register of the land office, for the district in which such lands may lie, by legal subdivisions, any number of acres, not more than one hundred and sixty or a quarter section, to include his improvement, upon paying to the United States the then minimum price of said land: Provided, however, That no entry or sale of any land shall be made, under the provisions of this act, which shall have been reserved for the use of the United States, or either of the several states, in which any of the public lands may be situated.
Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That if two or more persons be settled upon the same quarter section, the same may be divided between the two first actual settlers, if, by a north and south, or east and west line, the settlement or improvement of each can be included in a half quarter section; and in such case the said settlers shall each be entitled to a pre-emption of eighty acres of land elsewhere in said land district, so as not to interfere with other settlers having a right of preference.
Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That prior to any entries being made under the privileges given by this act, proof of settlement or improvement shall be made to the satisfaction of the register and receiver of the land district in which such lands may lie, agreeably to the rules to be prescribed by the commissioner of the general land office for that purpose, which register and receiver shall each be entitled to receive fifty cents for his services therein. And that all assignments and transfers of the right of pre-emption given by this act, prior to the issuance of patents, shall be null and void.
Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That this act shall not delay the sale of any of the public lands of the United States, beyond the time which has been, or may be, appointed, for that purpose, by the President’s proclamation; nor shall any of the provisions of this act be available to any person, or persons, who shall fail to make the proof and payment required before the day appointed for the commencement of the sale of lands including the tract, or tracts, on which the right of pre-emption is claimed; nor shall the right of pre-emption, contemplated by this act, extend to any land, which is reserved from sale by act of Congress, or by order of the President, or which may have been appropriated, for any purpose whatsoever.
Sec. 5. And be it further enacted, That this act shall be and remain in force, for one year from and after its passage.120
Example of a Postponement by the General Land Office
Land Office at Palestine,
Agreeably to instructions from the Commissioner of the General Land Office, notice is hereby given that the sale of lands in fractional townships 17, 18, 19, and 20, of range 10 west, of 2d P. M., advertised to take place at this office on the fourth Monday in November next, by proclamation, dated 7th of July last, is postponed. All persons having pre-emption claims to said lands are required to establish the same to the satisfaction of the register and receiver at Danville.121
Mormon Redress Petitions Mentioning Preemption Rights
The petitions involving property losses in Daviess County contain numerous references to the loss of preemption rights for cultivated properties. The following is a summary of those petitions that specifically mention this loss, as compiled in Clark V. Johnson, ed., Mormon Redress Petitions: Documents of the 1833–1838 Missouri Conflict (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1992). The spelling, punctuation, and grammar are retained from originals.
1. Crandell, Benjamin: “Loss in Davisse Ct. Mo. in 1838 & 1839—to One qr. sect. and intitled to a preemption wright $800.00.” p. 173.
2. Duncan, Homer: “for preemption write $500.00.” p. 192.
3. Lemmon, James: “To a Preemption wright with a right of Claim to a [illegible] on One qr. Sect at $ [illegible].” p. 270.
4. Lemmon, John: “Davisse County in 1838 and 1839 To improvement imbraceing two (qr. Sect.) One in markit the other not and was intitaled to a preemptive wright, but was prevented from proving it up, by the mob imbodying themselves for that and other like purposses.” p. 271.
5. Sloan, James: “I believe a Person of the Name of Tarwater is now living upon a Preemption right, which was purchased from him in Davis County, and paid for with my Property.” p. 341.
6. Smith, John: “one premtion rite on 160 acre $300.00.” p. 345.
7. Smith, Samuel: “I Samuel Smith made an improvement and obtained a preemption right upon 160 acres of land in Davis County Mo in 1837 on the first of Nov 1838 I was compelled to leave the county by order of general Wilson.” p. 351.
8. Stewart, Urban V.: “I was driven by the threats of the Daviess Co Armed force to leave my possessions consisting of a preemption right to a quarter Section of land with 30 Acres under improvement and a good house.” p. 356.
9. Stoker, Michael: “my bill of Damage against State of missouri in 183 viz pre emption Right with improve ment $100.00.” p. 359.
10. Aldrich, William: “I was als deprived of the privelege of Proveing if my Preemption being under the spetial order of General Clark which prohibited us from leaving Farwest in Caldwell Co.” p. 414.
11. Best, Henry: “I moved into the State of Misouri in the Summer of 1837 and made A preemption right and Commenced to build A House in Davis County whare the Mob Came upon me acting under the Exterminating Order of Govonor Boggs and Drove me of by the forse of Arms.” p. 420.
12. Decker, Issac: “Some time in the month of March A.D. Eighteen hundred and thirty Eight, he removed from the State of Ohio, to Davis County in the State of Missouri, with no other intent or purpose than to become a resident Citizen in good faith under the Laws of the Said State of Missouri, And with that intent he purchased a preemption right to Congress Land.” pp. 439–40.
13. Durfee, Jabis: “I resided on said tract of land untill October AD. 1838 which—entitled me to a Preemtion right on said land: according to the laws of the United States: Whereas I was prevented from proving up said right and entering said tract of land in consequence of an order from Governor Boggs authorising an armed force to drive me with others from the State.” p. 442.
14. Durfee, Perry: “I was prohibited from entering my preemption which I held in Davis Co—and was compeld us to leave the state. . . . I moved into Davies County State of Misouri in the month of December in the year 1837 and settled on the South West Quarter of Section No five in Township No fifty eight North and Range No twenty seven West. I improved said Quarter section by cultivating a portion of the soil, and building a house in which I lived. I resided on said tract of land untill October 1838 which residence entitled me to a Pre Emption right on said land according to the law of the United States. Whereas, I was prevented from proving up said Right and entering said tract of land. in consequence of an order from Governor Boggs authorising an Armed force to drive me with others from the State.” p. 443.
15. Hoyt, Mary Ann: “In March 1838 she moved to Davis County in said state, and there Bought a Preemption Right on 160 acris of Land, and from thence was driven to Diaman, and there Remained until the Governor of Missouri Raised the Militia under Command of General Wilson and Gave me his Exterminating order, and thereby Robed me of my Property and Premption Right, which I Consider worth $300.00.” p. 469.
16. Marsh, Eliphaz: “I lived in Davis county Missouri in March 1837 and was entitled to a preemption right for eighty ackers of Land.” p. 494.
17. Rogers, Noah: “That he Deponant who in the year 1838 moved into Davis Co Mo, & settled on a pece of Land & Cleard twenty Acres Expecting to have a preemption & Corn growing on said twenty acres & was compeld to leave it & form there to Adam ondiaham.” p. 530.
18. Seely, William: “In the Last of March A.D. 1838 he moved with his family to the State of Missouri, and Stopped in Davis County in Said State of Missouri, that in Said County he purchased a pre-Emption right to a tract of Congress Land for which he paid $200.00.” p. 532.
19. Woodland, William: “In the year of 1837 he became a Citizen of Davis Co. Missouri. . . . I was on the place long enough to gain a preemption.” p. 557.
20. Young, Phineas H.: “Also three pre-emption rights, to Congress Lands for all of which he paid the Sum of five hundrd and Eighty five dollars.” p. 559.
In addition to these statements, many petitioners referenced the receipt that they received when they made their application at the Lexington Land Office as a “duplicate” of government or “Congress” lands as part of the preemption process. The following petitions make reference to lost land, evidenced by the words “duplicate” or “duplication.”
1. Allen, Albern: “I gave up the Duplicates and the N. E 1/4 of S. W. 1/4 of Section 32 Township No. 56 Range 28 North of the base line and west of the 5th princepal Meridean also the NW. 1/4 of the South E 1/4 of Section 32 Township 56 Range 29 North of the base line of the 5th principal Meridian Also 80 Acres of which my Duplicate will Show Also 40 Acres I gave up my Duplicate and Cannot asertain the numbers which Land I had to leave after bieng taken prissoner and obliged to assine away My right and Compelled to leave the State by the Exterminating Decree of the Governer.” p. 415.
2. Allred, Martin C.: “The Number of Acres of Land Entered and owned By Martin C. Allred was one hundred and Twenty as My Duplicates will show.” p. 415.
3. Allred, William: “I then Entered in the County of Ray 353 acres of Congress Land I was then obliege to Leave my Land the Same Season. . . . I was obliege to Leave the State to Save my life & my family for which I was obliege to Sell part of my Land at any price they please to give. three of my Boys being on were Business were taken by the Militia & kept in there possesion Some few days the part of my Land that I Sold I was obliege to give up my Duplicates.” p. 416.
4. Bozarth, Squire: “When I sold my land which was at a great sacrifice I had to part with a number of my duplicates, for it is a custom in Missouri for people when they buy land of those who enter it to exact of them their duplicates.” p. 422.
5. Brady, Lindsey A.: “The number not Known in Consequence of Having to give up my Duplicate when on the highway was shot at by one & Chased by 5 and made my escape afterwards taken prissoner for One week & was Obliged to leave the state by the exterminating orders of the Governer.” p. 425.
6. Brown, Alanson: “I then Removed to Daviess Co. and purchased, 80, Acres of Goverment land of the United States one Duplicate was taken from me by the Mob I there until the fall of 1838 under Continual threatning of my life if I did not leave the place although in the diferent Counties they repeatedly Said they had nothing against me only for my Religion.” pp. 425–26.
7. Cole, Barnet: “Removed into the County of Coldwell entered there 40 acres of land in Township 55 Range 28 Section not known in Consequence of which I gave up the Duplicate further Deponent Saith not except that he left the state in Consequece Boggs exterminating order.” p. 432.
8. Herrick, Amos F.: “And this deponent further says that on the 11th day of July 1836, he did in his own name & for his own use, enter forty acres being north east of the northeast qr. of section no. 28. Township no 54 north of the base line & west of the fifth principal meridian, range no 15. as described in the Duplicate. No 11607: & that in the same year he did purchase for his own use also forty acres, adjoining the other forty on the north, partly improved, with two houses on it, & smoke house & hatter shop: & also that he purchased the northwest quarter of section 13 in township 54 north, Range 16 west, & that he had peaceable possession of the two said forties & lived on them three years, & that in november & December 1837 & 1838 being threatened by Mobbers led on by Daniel Davis & Archibald Rutherford.” p. 459.
9. Corrill, John: “Your petitioner further testifies that he acted as Agent, and entered some 2000 acres of land lying in Caldwell county for, and took Duplicates in the names of Joseph Smith Jun, Hirum Smith & Oliver Cowdery, and that the Duplicates for said land were deposited in the office of the Clerk of the county court of Caldwell.” p. 434.
10. Daley, John: “In the year 1837 he entered 800 Acres Land at the Land office Lexington as will be Seen by Certain Duplicates in part accompanying this affidavid.” p. 438.
11. Foot, Reuben: “And that this deponent was in actual and peaceable possession of the lands before discribed, and had in his possession Duplicates of said Entries from the aforesaid Land Office—And That he was by force and arms Compelled to give up said Duplicates to the Citizens of Mosourie. and that without his own free will—was exterminatd from the State of Mosourie.” p. 450.
12. Grover, Thomas: “One hundred and twenty acres of the above I purchased from Government, the remainder from individuals most of the lands were under improvement with good buildings &c &c In the begining of November AD 1838 . . . The mob obliged me to give up my duplicates which I held for the lands which I had purchased from Goverment.” p. 455.
13. Loveless, John: “In 1836 I mooved To Caldwell and enterd land and Settled on it 80 Acres of which my duplicate will Show I was Taken Prisner on my way To far West by the militia In the month of October or November.” p. 491.
14. Martin, Moses: “He bought forty acres of congress land and received a duplicate for a deed that he built a house and made improvements on the land. that in the month of Oct 1838.” pp. 494–95.
15. Murdock, John: “I entered forty acres of land the Duplicate of which I cause to accompany this as proof of the Same the in August or Sep following I entered annother forty in the Same office the No of which I have forgoten & the Duplicate was unlawfully arrested from me & being forced from the State have not had the opportunity of Getting the [con]tent out of the Office.” pp. 502–3.
16. Patten, Charles W.: “I was compelled to give up my duplicates for the land I had bought with my money which Duplicates call for south east quarter of the south west qr. of township 56 also the N W qr. of the N W qr. Sect, 6 twnship 55 & range 29.” p. 516.
17. Reed, Elijah: “In Oct or Nov 1837 I Entered two Forties of land in Said County at the Lexington office & in the Sumer of 1838 . . . I accordingly removed to this place in March the Duplicates of my land I have lost or misplacd So that I cannot Find them.” pp. 523–24.
18. Thompson, Lewis: “A Citizen and in peaceable possession of the SW———SW———of Section No. 17. Township No. 56. Range No. 27. And was Compelled to leave the Same by Govenors Boggs Exterminat[in]g Orde[rs] exeuted by General Clark & others as will be Seen by the Duplicate to the above land refered to.” p. 548.
19. Turner, William: “The enclosed duplicates will Show as to Turner’s enteries at the Land Office at Lexington.” p. 549.
20. Whiting, Elisha: “I had preveiously purchased an 80 of goverment land in the county of Caldwell for which I had paid my money. . . . We being insufficient to meet so large a band of ruffians, were obliged to submit: and for a trifling Sum to Sign away our duplicates.” p. 552.
21. Wilson, Lewis D.: “I hereby certify that I purchased from Congress Two hundred and forty acres of land lying in Caldwell County and State of Missouri and Was compelled to leave the same on a c count of the order of the executive of the State. . . . I had consequently to part with the duplicates I had for the same.” p. 554.
22. Carter, Simeon: “I Certify I had at that time one hundred & Sixty two acres of Land, the Same which I held the Certificates for. I further Certify that I was oblged to give up my Duplicates.” p. 157.
23. Foot, Timothy B.: “In May 1837 I then and there Entered at the Lexington land Office Eighty acres in Section 32 Township 56 Range 28 and about one hundred and eleven acres in Section 5 Township 55 Range 28 on which I resided un[ti]ll about the first of Nov. 1838. . . . I had to give a warrantee deed and deliver the Duplicates that I recievd at the Land office.” p. 204.