Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
The Mormon War
Mormons were zealous in their recruitment, and were run out of many communities in Illinois. They gathered in such locations as Carthage and Nauvoo, and the city of Nauvoo grew to a whopping 11,000 people, said to be larger at one time than Chicago!
What was called a sect in those days, Mormonism had been founded in 1830 by Prophet Joseph Smith who claimed he had seen an angel and received Divine inspiration. In 1823, Smith wrote, "Not only was his robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning…He called me by name, and said….that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do."
He went on to describe a deposited book written on gold plates containing the fullness of the Gospel as delivered by Christ Himself to the ancient inhabitants of America.
A very handsome young man from Vermont, Smith showed signs of being a leader when he was growing up in New York and worked in construction. He hunted for gold without much success, but all this changed when he came into possession of The Book of Mormon. The gold plates that he found were inscribed in the language of the lost tribes of Israel, but with Divine help, he translated them into English, after which the plates were returned to the visiting angel.
Although the two miracles must be taken on pure faith, Smith developed a large following. The revelation was credible. The man was barely literate--yet he not only translated material from an ancient language, but he wrote the contents rather well. His greatest achievement occurred in the next few years as he attracted converts and produced vigorous settlements of followers.
Unfortunately in these communities, the Mormon church not only controlled the religious life of the community, but also attempted to exert authority over the political, social and economic aspects. When people did not adhere to these conditions, sometimes they were dealt with harshly. From out of the discipline came accusations--perhaps true; perhaps wild.
Even so, the communities amassed converts and grew until the Mormons began to practice polygamy, according to Clarence B. Carson (Basic History of the U.S., vol. 3, 1985.) There was dissension among the Mormons, and other religious leaders riled up their congregations against Smith's followers. Charged with various crimes from horse theft to murder, Mormons were literally driven out of some communities, and most of these people migrated to Nauvoo.
A mob took Smith into custody and murdered him in 1844. After that, his successor began to prepare large groups of believers for a pilgrimage that would take them west to an unknown land that would later become the State of Utah. In the meantime, Brigham Young sought peace with the "Gentiles." Emissaries were sent ahead to prepare the way for the trek by storing up supplies for them and creating hospices.
According to an Iowa City newspaper in 1845, a young man named Redding was charged as an accomplice in the murder of Col. Davenport. He was arrested in Nauvoo and was being conveyed on a steamer to Rock Island for trial, when he was rescued by a group of Mormons under a shower of stones thrown from a mob on shore.
Brigham Young and other leaders were charged with being instrumental in the murder of a man named Irvine Hodges. The two brothers who hung for the murder in Burlington, proclaimed their innocence and defended the church leaders to the end.
"A high state of voluntary peace cannot long exist between them and the community by whom they are surrounded," said the news reporter. "Even the presence of soldiers would not prevent them from pilfering." Dozens of robberies, missing cattle and horses, and murders were blamed on the Mormons throughout western Illinois. Travelers shunned the town of Nauvoo as if the entire populace was a den of thieves.
"The ‘saints’ are rascals," the reporter concluded. This was part of the background of these people that began the largest pilgrimage since the exodus led by Moses more than 3,000 years earlier. Within a six-year period beginning in 1847, Brigham Young led up to 10,000 across Iowa. Most of them continued westward to their "promised land" destination.
The countryside in Van Buren County was well aware of the accusations and hatred in Illinois that had driven these people out, and had cast a bad reputation on them. Most people watched them with scrutiny, perhaps with awe and curiosity. Many arguments ensued as their prophets visited homes in the evening and condemned the "Gentiles" to hell if they didn’t believe their words.
Still, many people gave them a fair shake. There are two sides to every story. To help fund their journey, Mormons held meetings at night in various towns that included singing and preaching, and the affairs were well attended. Sometimes they were asked to return for another engagement, and the free will offerings were generous.
(part of this information is from a Capital Reporter newspaper article, Iowa City, 1845, contributed by Hal Hotle of Bentonsport)
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick