A Missouri Governor Once Threatened to Exterminate Mormons

A Brief History

On October 27, 1838, Missouri’s governor issued an order for all Mormons to leave the state or face extermination!

Digging Deeper

After Joseph Smith founded the Church of Christ (later called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or popularly known as the Mormon Church), he and his followers had a downright hellacious time finding acceptance in mid-nineteenth century America.  His journeys in Ohio and Missouri were filled with violent incidents.  For example, in 1832 a mob tarred and feathered the first Mormon leader.

The late 1830s were not much kinder.  The situation for the Mormons in Missouri escalated into the notorious 1838 Mormon War by August 6  1838.  In this conflict, Smith faced opposition from among others, Major General David Rice Atchison, a man who later gained fame for allegedly being Acting President of the United States on March 4, 1849

During the “war”, twenty-two people lost their lives.  In the months that the conflict raged, the most notorious aspect of it came on this day in 1838 when Lilburn Boggs issued Executive Order 44 to General John B. Clark, which read in part: “The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace–their outrages are beyond all description.  If you can increase your force, you are authorized to do so to any extent you may consider necessary.”

The events that followed this “Extermination Order” took on the dimensions of a sort of attempted religious genocide rather than a “war”.  At the Haun’s Hill Massacre on October 30th, some 240 Livingston County Missouri Regulators militiamen and volunteers attacked a Mormon settlement in the bloodiest event of the war, killing at least seventeen and injuring perhaps a dozen or so others.  Three of the attackers also suffered injuries; none of the named attackers were ever prosecuted for their actions.

The Missouri state militia then besieged the Mormon headquarters, which ultimately surrendered.  Not only did the Mormons have to agree to leave the state, their leader, Joseph Smith, was nearly executed after a brief trial on November 1st.  Following the conclusion of the court martial, Major General Samuel Lucas of Missouri ordered General Alexander Doniphan to “take Joseph Smith and the other prisoners into the public square of Far West and shoot them at 9 o’clock tomorrow morning.”   Doniphan thought the order to be “cold-blooded murder,” and replied, “I will not obey your order.  My brigade shall march for Liberty to-morrow morning, at 8 o’clock, and if you execute those men, I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God!”  Smith, therefore, owed his life to Doniphan’s sense of morality!

From there, Smith and his followers moved on to Illinois, where he was jailed in 1844.  While in jail, a mob of 150 odd men attacked him, shooting him both before and after he fell through a window.  The death of Joseph Smith was, of course, not the end of Mormonism.  Nor was it the end of conflicts between Mormons and non-Mormons.  For from March 1857 to July 1858, another Mormon “War“, this time in Utah, would rage, taking even more lives than what occurred in Missouri in 1838, but the events of that conflict are something we will save for another day in History and Headlines!

Historical Evidence

For the most recent study of the Missouri War with good coverage of the Extermination Order, please see The Mormon War: Zion and the Missouri Extermination Order of 1838.

The Mormon War: Zion and the Missouri Extermination Order of 1838 (Hardcover)

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For an account of the war in general, see The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri instead.

The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri (Paperback)

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Dr. Zar

Dr. Zar graduated with a B.A. in French and history, a Master’s in History, and a Ph.D. in History. He currently teaches history at multiple universities.

  • Kia Laine T

    I was not previously aware of this historic event. I find it crazy people and just try and kill off all the Mormons. I am impressed that Doniphan stood up for Smith like that. He could have been killed as well.

  • Alexandra Bull

    I was not aware of this event, either. I did not realize the conflicts between the Mormons and non-Mormons were that extreme!

  • Holly Damron

    This event is yet another example of tensions between Mormons and the general population that adopted various other religions that existed throughout history. Although feathering the first Mormon leader is very extreme, it is not difficult to believe considering similar historical events with other religious groups.

  • Alexandria McDole

    Before reading this article I was not aware of what had happened. I think it is kind of bizarre that they tried to kill off all the Mormons.

  • S. Miller

    This is the first time I have heard of this “war”. I was suprised to hear how extreme thing got between the Mormons and the general public.

  • Nathan

    This sounds a lot like a smaller-scale Halocaust. I’m not sure what the Mormons did to deserve this treatment, but I can bet it wasn’t anything to deserve to die. Being of a certain religion is not a reason to kills someone.


  • G Wise

    The decision of the mayor does not seem constitutional in the least, our country is supposed to stand for something. I do not agree with the Mormons way of life, but that does not mean that should be rejected from society. GW

  • Madison Galloway

    It is sad to hear about people getting executed because of their religion, especially in the United States where it is now considered a freedom. Even though the Mormon religion still is not a popular one, it seems very extreme to execute some due to their religious beliefs.

  • Tessa Baker

    It’s crazy that none of the named attackers were ever prosecuted for their actions.

  • Jake Bon

    Ive never heard of this conflict, but it alsmost is a small scale summary of World War II. Also reminds me of a mass amount of school shootings with how religion is a factor to your life or your death.

  • Jacob Pflugfelder

    Here we go again trying to eliminate religions. History will just repeat itself and this time they will be killing the Jews off.

  • Parker Stricklen

    Though I am not too fond of religion I believe people should have religious freedom. The fact that Mormons were being forced out is pathetic. Let people believe what they want to believe, dammit!

  • Kyle Puhl

    With the United States being this supposed “Melting pot” where all religions could worship who they want, this is just sad. This event should have never happened and no lives should have been lost

  • lukas Biglin

    Him declaring this is what lead to many more deaths in the future kicking him out of the state and ending in his death.

  • Ashley Perry

    This is the first time I have ever heard of this war.

  • Anna Ingles

    It is such a shame that people cannot be more tolerant of those who wish to practice different religions. It does not make sense to force your beliefs on a group of people. Instead of minding their own business they chose to fight and declare war.

  • Colin Williams

    It’s sad that something like this would happen in a nation
    that preaches freedom of religion.

  • Brendan E.

    So much irony has occurred in our country involving freedom of religion. Bigotry and hate have and will always be around unfortunately.

  • Kayla Fox

    It seems that the central cause of war in all of history is religion, which is sad because it is something that is meant to bring people together and teach lessons. Instead, it divides nations and ruins families.

  • LF

    it is sad to see that religion, which is meant to bring peace can bring war.