The Danite Band of 1838



The Danites, a secret, oath-bound organization, appeared during a troubled period in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This article examines the Danites’ origin, purpose, and organizational structure. Sampson Avard organized the Danites (also known as the Daughters of Zion) in order to protect the Church from dissenting influence in Caldwell County, Missouri. However, many Church dissenters left Caldwell County after Sidney Rigdon’s famous “Salt Sermon,” so the Danites needed a new purpose. They turned to violence against “Gentiles,” including plundering property. Avard manipulated his followers, justifying their actions by citing scriptures and making violent threats against anyone who violated Danite vows of secrecy and loyalty. When caught, Avard tried to blame Joseph Smith and the First Presidency for the group’s nefarious actions. Though the Danite movement lasted less than five months, it achieved infamy in Mormon history for its violent actions against dissenters and anti-Mormon mobs—all done under the guise of building up the kingdom of God.


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