The Time Mormons Were Refugees


Col. Alexander Doniphan

In 1831, Joseph Smith designated Jackson County, Missouri as Zion, and the saints began migrating there. In 1833, after two years of growth and mobocracy, they were forced to leave by violence. Just north, in Clay County, they settled, but only under the premonition that it was temporary. By 1836, the Mormon population, fueled by more migrants, had grown too large; it was time for them to leave. This time they did so peacefully.

Now, the Missourians had a decision. What were they to do with them? Mormons had caused some of the violence in Jackson County. They could be a dangerous people. Alexander Doniphan, of Clay County, spoke out in favor the Mormons and persuaded others to carve out a new county, Caldwell County, from the old Roy County, and establish Far West as county seat. Davies County was also created with the understanding that the Mormons would only settle in Caldwell.

How did this work out for Missouri? After a little over two years of peace, Mormons had continued to expand settling in Davies County at such sites as Adam-ondi-Ahman.  By August of 1838, violence had broken out again. Historians continue to debate who caused the Mormon Missouri war. But it lasted, with casualties on both sides[1], until November, when the Mormons surrendered and left the state for Illinois.

Joseph Smith was arrested as a war criminal and was to be executed by the Missouri Militia, without trial. Again, Col. Alexander Doniphan saw the blatant injustice and prejudice. He confronted the militia and worked out Joseph’s imprisonment at Liberty Jail to await trial.

The 1836 decision of the Missourians to accept the Mormon refugees ultimately lead to violence. However, was it the morally correct decision? There was a chance of trouble, but most of the Mormons were peaceful. They clearly experienced some injustice in Jackson County and were deserving sympathy. What would you have done if you were a Missourian in 1836?

Now, the parallels aren’t perfect, there are many differences between the Syrian refugees of today, and our own Mormon saints of the past. Nevertheless, the similarities are powerful. Both have risks for violence. Both are victims of the state. Both have strong religious identity. Both found their religion to be an object of persecution and prejudice.

Today, the roles are reversed.  There are 15 Latter-Day Saints in congress. Now that we have decision making ability. What will we do with it? We will be a Col. Doniphan?


[1] This is a gross simplification, but my point still stands with the complexities added in. Mormons received the vast majority of the casualties, especially in the massacre at Haun’s Mill (17 deaths). See


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