“The Missouri Mormon Experience”: A Conference Report

The following report comes from BCC commenter Mark Brown, aka Mark IV.

BoggsHave you ever wondered why people in you ward never name their baby boys Lilburn? Does your great grandfather’s patriarchal blessing promise that he will help build the temple in Jackson county? Why do Mormons have a love/hate relationship with the Show Me state?

Your questions would have all been answered last weekend. The Missouri Mormon Experience: From Conflict to Understanding was held at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City. The house chamber was the setting for this event, which was billed as an academic and commemorative conference. The presenters were from BYU, the Community of Christ, the University of Missouri, and an archivist who works for the state of Missouri. The keynote speaker was Jan Shipps, and the guest of honor was U.S. Senator Kit Bond. He was honored for his action as governor when he rescinded Executive Order # 44 which had been issued by his predecessor Lilburn W. Boggs, and which we know as the Extermination Order. Governor Boggs is the distinguished looking gent whose picture accompanies this post and who would have been appalled at the prospect of 30,000 LDS people within the borders of his state.

Taken as a whole, the conference was a success, and the organizers and presenters are to be applauded for their efforts. It is anticipated that the papers will be published by the University of Missouri Press within the year.

What follows next are my brief notes and thoughts from the presentations.

1. It is difficult to overstate how deeply convinced our people were that they were building Zion in Independence, MO. Not just in a pure in heart sense, but that this frontier town was the actual, physical place where the New Jerusalem was to be built, the geographic location where God would instantiate Zion. Professor Shipps described how the first log for the first cabin built by Mormons in Independence was carried and set in place by twelve men representing the twelve tribes of Israel.

2. Jacksonian democracy and and 19th century Mormonism were a bad mix. In the presidential election of 1830, Jackson received 210 of 213 votes cast in Jackson county, MO. The Jacksonians believed strongly in the principle of Vox Populi, Vox Dei, or at least Vox white male Populi, Vox Dei. When Mormons appeared in 1831, they professed belief in Vox Dei, period. Our idea of revelation and obedience to God was deeply repugnant to believers in Manifest Destiny. The values embodied in the names of the two most prominent towns — Independence and Liberty — ran counter to the LDS view of cooperation, consecration, and stewardship.

3. Even though most of the early Mormons (including Joseph Smith and Brigham Young) were ardent Jackson democrats, they put their political preferences aside in order to carry out the prophetic vision of Zion-building.

4. It is probably not accurate to describe the adversaries of the Mormons as a mob. They were actually quite well organized, with a command structure, internal discipline, and official recognition. Joseph Smith learned from this experience, and we can see the results in the establishment of the Nauvoo Legion.

5. As far as we can tell, Sidney Rigdon was the first to use the word “extermination” in public. In his patriotic address on July 4, 1838, he said: “And that mob that comes on us to disturb us, it shall be between us and them a war of extermination; for we will follow them until the last drop of their blood is spilled; or else they will have to exterminate us, for we will carry the seat of war to their own houses and their own families, and one party or the other shall be utterly destroyed…” I can certainly understand how Boggs would have considered that a throwdown. At any rate, he issued executive order # 44 on October 27, and the attack at Haun’s Mill occurred three days later, on October 30, 1838.

6. Joseph Smith displayed spectacularly poor judgement in his choice of counselors. See Rigdon above. Also see Bennett, Marks, and Law.

7. In the church now, gathering to Zion is understood to mean joining the church. Yet there are still many who anticipate they will “go back to Jackson county”. The LDS church is, after the federal government, one of the largest landowners in the county, and continues to purchase undeveloped farmland there by the thousands of acres. Why?

Some websites of interest are:


  1. The LDS church is, after the federal government, one of the largest landowners in the county, and continues to purchase undeveloped farmland there by the thousands of acres. Why?

    What do Missourians think of this?

  2. As for “why?”, I think it gives us our “next year in Jerusalem” symbol. It is a tangible symbol of a mythic future. Christians imagine Rapture on some undefined “cloud”; Mormons think of an actual place.

    Perhaps one of our primary source types can further elucidate the history of our “next year in Independence” dream.

  3. Mark Butler says:

    It is pretty difficult to avoid the eschatologically physical implications of passages like the following:

    Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;
    15 But, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers.
    (Jer 16:14-15)


    Wherefore, the remnant of the house of Joseph shall be built upon this land; and it shall be a land of their inheritance; and they shall build up a holy city unto the Lord, like unto the Jerusalem of old; and they shall no more be confounded, until the end come when the earth shall pass away.
    (Ether 13:8)


    Hearken, O ye elders of my church, saith the Lord your God, who have assembled yourselves together, according to my commandments, in this land, which is the land of Missouri, which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints.
    2 Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion.
    (D&C 57:1-2)

    And again:

    Behold, this is the blessing which I have promised after your tribulations, and the tribulations of your brethren—your redemption, and the redemption of your brethren, even their restoration to the land of Zion, to be established, no more to be thrown down.
    (D&C 103:13)

    And finally:

    Yea, and then shall the work commence, with the Father among all nations in preparing the way whereby his people may be gathered home to the land of their inheritance.
    And they shall go out from all nations; and they shall not go out in haste, nor go by flight, for I will go before them, saith the Father, and I will be their rearward.
    (3 Ne 21:28-29)

    So perhaps a better question is not the evidence of physical gathering in the scriptures, but why it is spiritually significant or necessary for there to be a holy land or a holy city at all. Another interesting question is why should tribes, nations, and peoples (considered as extended families) receive a land for their inheritance.

  4. Not a mob, really, since it had a leadership structure and official approval and such? Hmm. It sounds to me like the right word is “posse,” no?

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for the report. I would have liked to have gone, but having already attended three Mormon studies conferences this year, I figured I had reached my quota.

    For most of my life I assumed that the “extermination” in the extermination order meant killing, and the Rigdon rhetoric seems to use it in that sense. More recently, however, someone pointed out to me that the word in the Extermination Order can refer simply to driving the people from the state [which may or may not include killing] (and indeed, the Latin ex termine literally means “from the boundary”). Was there any comment on this particular issue?

  6. Thanks, Mark! Great write-up. I really wanted to attend this; my parents live in Kansas City. I don’t think we can underestimate the pull of Independance to our people. Those that live in the region are well aquainted with the scores of families that move to the region because the felt called to be there.

    I recently read the journal of a man who attended a conference in the SLC Temple at the turn of the cenury. President Snow promised the group that if the church would pay a full tithe (only about 10% were at the time) then the Lord would call them back to Zion within a couple of decades. I wouldn’t be surprized if we were less than 10% now.

    The Church is also developing land in the area. If you want to buy a house that was built be the Church in the Land of Zion, you can; but, you will have to pay market price.

  7. “The LDS church is, after the federal government, one of the largest landowners in the [Jackson] county, and continues to purchase undeveloped farmland there by the thousands of acres. Why?”

    I must have dozed through whatever was said that prompted this conclusion. I can’t imagine that the Church is one of the largest landowners in heavily urbanized Jackson County. Perhaps the reference I missed was to Caldwell County (Far West) or, more likely, Daviess County (Adam-ondi-Ahman)?

    I get a bit annoyed when folks speak of Gov. Bond “rescinding” Gov. Boggs’ order as if Bond’s order had more than political significance. That would be a bit like President Bush “rescinding” the orders to Sherman to burn his way to and through Atlanta. Boggs’ order had no legal significance after he left office. And for that matter it apparently had no practical impact; one of the presentations at the conference addressed how quickly after 1838 there was a significant body of Saints in St. Louis, and the role Missouri played in the exodus to the West.

  8. As to why, I just heard a devotional address yesterday that was delivered at BYU by Alvin R. Dyer in 1967 following his 1966 visit to Adam-ondi-Ahman and Independence with President McKay. The address was titled “The Center Place of Zion.” Dyer spoke of reviving Independence and the area generally in the consciousness of the Church. Apparently, Dyer and the First Presidency felt that by the mid-1960s, Missouri had receded from collective consciousness and there needed to be a reminder that it was the designated place. Very fascinating stuff. The address seemed to be part of a wider effort to revive awareness of the status of Independence as “the center place of Zion.” Dyer went into great detail about the Temple City to be built there and the administration of Christ’s kingdom from that place. We (as a Church body) seem to have once again let this type of vision elude us in the intervening 40 years. Or have we? Perhaps the property issue you highlight is an indication that we have not after all.

  9. To be fair with Rigdon due to a head injury he was almost certainly suffering from some mental malady. One can critique why Joseph kept him. But I can understand not wanting to abandon him when he was so injured by a mob that also attacked Joseph.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    I recall when on my mission reading at article by Graham W. Doxey in the April 1979 Ensign entitle “Missouri Myths” that tried hard to soften the expectations of the Saints regarding Missouri.

  11. From the top:

    Ronan, I don’t think the local citizenry thinks about the issue of church land ownership much at all, and if they do, they have nothing against it. My guess is that development and commerce are welcome. And I think your “next year in Independence” idea is a good way to look at it.

    Mark Butler, those are both good questions for which I have no answer. Shipps made an offhand funny remark in this connection, though. She said that she didn’t understand why, if you are getting an inheritance, you actually have to pay for it yourself.

    Kaimi, yes, exactly. The presenter’s description was a paramilitary organization. Zion’s Camp was a better fit for the description of mob, if we are thinking of a disorganized rabble. Zion’s Camp would have been seriously outmanned and outgunned, so Smith wisely chose to disengage and apply the lessons he learned to the establishment of the Nauvoo Legion a decade later.

    Kevin, here is the relevant phrase from executive order # 44:

    …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.

    Based on the text, I conclude that driving them from the borders of that state was plan A, but that killing them all was a viable plan B.

    JrL, you are right. I was going to include the part of my notes that demonstrated the kindness shown to the LD Saints by the citizens of St. Louis and other parts of the state, but I felt the post was already becoming too long. Thanks for bringing this out in the comments. From 1839 until around 1853 there was a transient population of Mormons passing through St. Louis numbering between 3 and 4 thousand. And you are also correct to point out that the church owns farmland in the other counties in the area as well. I find it interesting, every year or so, to read in the back of the business pages in the Kansas City Star about the church acquiring thousands of acres of corn and soybean fields.

    Clark, yes, it is charitable to keep Rigdon’s medical condition in mind. It can be argued that the quorum of the First Presidency is the fundamental quorum of the church. And yet, for our first 20 formative years, we did not have a functioning First Presidency, at least in any sense we would recognize today.

    john f., that’s interesting, because one of the presenters mentioned the trip by Dyer and McKay. I think they were also accompanied by Joseph Fielding Smith.

    Kevin, when it comes to softening the expectations regarding Missouri, it is an ongoing battle. When a temple was built in St. Louis (3 stakes) before one was built in KC (7 stakes), the explanation given by a visiting Seventy was that the leadership in SLC is concerned about the mass hysteria that might occur among the church membership if a temple anywhere in the vicinity of Jackson county were to be announced.

  12. Steve Evans says:

    Thanks for the report Mark IV.

  13. Mark, I think Joseph (perhaps like George Bush) had a failing of supporting loyalty beyond strategy. People who were loyal were supported even when they shouldn’t have been. And people who appeared disloyal were attacked even if they perhaps were right. You can see this time and time again. It was one of Joseph’s greatest failings (IMO) and definitely hurt the Church time and time again.

  14. Fascinating report, Mark. Thanks for posting it.

    FWIW: When I think of the LDS church buying land in the Midwest, it reminds me of Lex Luther’s plot in the original Superman movie. In other words, my take on it is that some continental catastrophe is going to transform it into beach front property. The question then becomes, “Why does the LDS church care to own beach front property?” I think that the church’s answer is the same as Lex Luthers: “Location. Location. Location.”

  15. It’s always fun to ask people when they think we’ll be gathering to Kansas City. Sometimes they look all confused and say, “Oh, but the gathering will be in Jackson County.”

  16. I think they’re buying up land as a hedge against future population expansion. i.e. so as to be able to have the land say 100 years from now when land may be tremendously expensive.

  17. Mark: Thanks for this summary. It sounds like it was a good conference. I actually think that the Mormons responded to the lessons in Missouri prior to the formation of the Nauvoo Legion. They clearly seemed to have learned from the Jackson County experience, and were far better organized by the time they got to Far West.

    FWIW, I don’t think that the Missouri mob was a posse. A posse is the citizenry in arms called out by the local sheriff or other law enforcement officer to assist in the execution of the law. A better analogy, I think, would be something like the Sons of Liberty in Boston during the American Revolution: a well organized and disciplined paramilitary group acting on the basis of political rather than legal claims of legitimacy. John Adams, for example, drew a distinction between the “mob” that attacked the soldiers at the Boston Massacre (disorganized and spontaneous violence by local rowdies) and the “mob” that dumped the tea into Boston Harbor as part of the Boston Tea Party (hierarchically organized, well planned, and well disciplined).

  18. Ann, you are right. Many LDS don’t realize that Independence is now just a suburb of Kansas City. And I can offer some good reasons why KC should be considered Zion:
    1. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame. Both Jackie Robinson AND Satchel Paige played for the old Kansas City Monarchs. That fact alone is enough to cause me to remove the shoes from off my feet, and my commemorative Monarch’s cap from off my head.
    2. The Jazz Hall of Fame. Its hip coolness makes that ugly pile of bricks by the freeway in Cleveland look lame by comparison.
    3. Barbecue ribs, smoked brisket, and burnt ends. If you enjoy barbecue (and if you don’t, you’re probably not celestial material anyway), KC is a great place to get your grub on. I think the only other place in the U.S. with better hometown food is where you live, Ann. Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue is to Kansas City what Cafe du Monde is to the French Quarter.

    Clark, I think you’re right. The church’s land holdings, whether in Independence or anywhere else, are ultimately investments. And even though the church owns lots of land in the KC area, Deseret Farm Management owns even more in central Florida and Hawaii. By the way, Hawaii makes my short list for the New Jerusalem in case Missouri doesn’t pan out.

    Nate, I think it is fascinating to observe how the church and its leaders adapted to the changing circumstances. I agree, and I think the presenter would agree, with your comparison of the Missouri mob to the Boston Tea Party mob. It is also interesting to note that the commander in Chief of the Nauvoo Legion was the governor of Illinois, who appointed Joseph Smith Lieutenant General. It was noted that one of the reasons Smith trusted and relied upon Bennett so much was because he had experience setting up militias in other states. It was important to Smith that the Legion be officially chartered and recognized so it would considered legitimate.

  19. 3. Barbecue ribs, smoked brisket, and burnt ends.

    I have a testimony of these things. I am actually trying to lay the groundwork that we have BBQ catered for the big meeting at Adam-ondi-Ahmon.

  20. General question…….

    Is the idea of a return to Miss. to await the second coming starting to fade from the LDS mind?

    I rarely if ever hear much about it any more.


  21. Brent Hartman says:

    I’ve already got that covered, Brother Stapley. You should’ve been at the last PC ward elders quorum party. Next time you come to visit your parents let me know and I’ll give you some of the best BBQ you’ve ever had. :)

  22. I’ll look forward to that.

  23. John Adams, for example, drew a distinction between the “mob” that attacked the soldiers at the Boston Massacre (disorganized and spontaneous violence by local rowdies) and the “mob” that dumped the tea into Boston Harbor as part of the Boston Tea Party (hierarchically organized, well planned, and well disciplined).

    When he drew that distinction I hope he did it with the disclaimer that he was a defense lawyer for the British soldiers charged with murder for putting down the mob with force.

  24. Stapley, # 19,

    Amen and amen. Share it, brother. There used to be an AME congregation over by Bannister Road that served barbecue one day a week as a fundraiser for their church. You paid you money, sat down, and they kept bringing you ribs on a paper plate until you told them to quit. On the back of their T-shirts it said “Our ribs will make you stand up and shout Hallelujah!”.

  25. Johnna Cornett says:

    To John F., #8: So Alvin Dyer publicized the idea of a Missouri Zion Center Place? Figures, Phooey. Alvin Dyer, author and publicist of that ridiculous Church and the Negro book, has no credibility with me. The man went around making up theology that turned folk superstition into an algebraic system without the beauty or the compassion or the truth. I don’t like Alvin Dyer.

  26. Mark Butler says:

    I am not under the impression that the leaders of the Church want us to remember it, any more than the scriptures on the subject would indicate to passing readers, in any case. It is counter-productive in the present circumstance. We need members to stay and build up the Church where they are.

    I imagine when the circumstance is right, and the command goes forth, the need for a renewal of the physical gathering will be painfully obvious to all concerned, among the Saints at any rate. I can’t say I expect it tommorrow or the next day – I think we are talking exigent circumstances.

  27. You know, we Mormons are such a funny, strange lot.

    I have nothing against Missouri, but it sounds so hilarious to say “Kansas City is the New Jerusalem.”

    I like it though. It’s so crazy it might just be true.

  28. Thomas Parkin says:

    I found it interesting that the Gospel Principles manual – from which I teach new members and investigators – contains the following in a list of events that will proceed the Second Coming:

    Building the New Jerusalem
    Near the time of the coming of Jesus, faithful Saints will build a righteous city, a City of God, called the New Jerusalem. Christ himself will rule there. The Lord has said the city will be built in the State of Missouri …

    So, in any case, this is being presented to new members as standing doctrine.


  29. I wonder how far “Missouri” is a “conscious myth.”

    Look at it this way. A world scenario that envisages millions of Mormons being allowed to freely descend on Jackson County is a pretty extreme one, so extreme, one wonders how on earth the Mormons of Cambodia, Chile and Carpathia could ever be part of it. I mean, honestly, how the hell are they all going to get there?

    Yet these Mormons are still being taught of “Missouri” (see Thomas Parkin’s observation) and dream of “next year in Zion.” But it’s not an idle dream: it serves as inspiration for building their own Zion in the here and now. For, how can we build a great City of Zion if we cannot build Zion in our homes, Wards, and Stakes?

    This is why I love the Mormon Zion myth. It does not imagine we are readying for some court on high, but an actual place right here on Earth. It’s wonderfully chthonic, the best part of Mormonism.

    I will never live in Jackson County. But I still dream of “Jackson County.”

  30. Mark,

    Good report. I too was at the conference.

    What did you make of the closing remarks by Bob Flanders ( a non-member) ? Seemed to me like a few times he wanted to be just a little critical of the church – and then would stop short. He remarked that what had happened Saturday out on the capitol steps (the good will extended to the church by the state) was not just honorable and right – but sincere – and then asked if the reverse were true. Made me think about the temple dedication ceremony in Nauvoo a few years ago where I was just a little uncomfortable/surprised at how sharp President Hinckley’s words were concerning Ford and Boggs. (shades of the oath of vengeance)

    Flanders also commented that even if he were not aware of which presenters were LDS – he could have easily picked them out – not so much by what was said – but the way it was said. Not sure where he was going with that – although he did add that “inside talk” was very important in close communities.

  31. Whoops – make that Friday (on the capitol steps) !

  32. Mark Butler says:

    I don’t think it is the least bit reasonable to conclude that the whole population of the Church will descend upon Jackson County. The land of Zion has been described as the whole of North and South America. And we generally understand that the land of inheritance for all tribes other than Joseph to be the Old World, with the Old Jerusalem as its headquarters.

    And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem
    (Isaiah 2:3)

    So barring some sort of war or severe religious persecution, I can’t see the majority of members being generally required or even asked to move at all, at least in the short run.

  33. I suppose that I am a Johnny-come-lately to this conversation, but I will still add insight. I believe that the scriptures have indeed made it clear that the center stake of Zion will be in Jackson county. Zion will also be the name of the city in Jackson County, or the “new Jerusalem.” The D&C refers to it as a “place of refuge” from the wars and calamities that will be ravaging the world when it is time to build Zion. I personally believe that the amount of devastation in the world may render Jackson County a clean slate, so to speak. There may not be a Kansas City left. Not particularly referring to KC, but to American cities in general, one might look at 3 nephi and God’s enumeration of the fate of the wicked cities of the posterity of Lehi.

    Barbeque will probably not be a major meal in zion (parts of 3rd nephi, as well as other references in the d&c to the remnant of Joseph, would suggest tacos and enchiladas, or rice and refried beans) as the saints who live through the calamities and are refined to the point of being allowed to construct the holy city will be truly living the word of wisdom.

    Mark said “Barring some sort of war or severe religious persecution,” I belive that both will occur, as well as earthquakes, thunderings, lightenings, famines and pestilence. These will unite and purify the church and form us into a Zion people, ready to reclaim the “land of our inheritance”

    As an aside, someone asked, “If it is an inheritance, why must we work for it?” One must fight for heritage and legacy, to honor it to claim it, and to preserve it to our posterity.

  34. Even though most of the early Mormons (including Joseph Smith and Brigham Young) were ardent Jackson democrats, they put their political preferences aside in order to carry out the prophetic vision of Zion-building.

    That’s an interesting way of putting it, Mark. You are describing the change of opinion in terms of personal sacrifice. Outsiders, of course, would have quickly pointed out that Joseph Smith was the beneficiary of the new order.

    The Jacksonians gave Smith a voice. That’s something but it cannot compete with the prophetic status of Mormonism and all that came along with it.

    The change of preferences coincides with Joseph’s self-interest.

    If one begins to cast self-interest in the terms of virtue then it becomes a lot more difficult to compromise. That’s especially true if revelation plays a role. After all, one can hardly compromise the word of God.

    That’s a problem that continues to plague Mormon culture to this day. It’s almost impossible for Mormon leaders (and some of us followers) to admit that they have been wrong. In a religiously diverse society that makes it very difficult for us to meet our obligations as neighbors and citizens.

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