Kenny Ballantine is in the process of producing a documentary called Trouble in Zion. The documentary discusses the events leading up to the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri. It highlights the Extermination Order and Haun’s Mill Massacre, as well as events leading up to these terrible events. Kenny showed a pre-release version of the film at the Mormon History Association in Independence, Missouri in May, and he is also showing the film at Sunstone here in Salt Lake City in August. I really enjoyed the film, and highly recommend it. I thought Kenny was pretty even-handed, and had experts discuss reactions by both Mormons and non-Mormons which escalated the violence.
Following the presentation at the MHA Conference, Ballentine explained that he didn’t want his documentary to look like a Ken Burns documentary. A fan of comic books, Kenny found a comic book illustrator to show scenes depicting the conflict. It took me a while to get used to the comic book art, but it is starting to grow on me. Kenny was kind enough to give me an advanced copy, and I would like to offer some of my impressions about the film and the conflict. I hope he stops by to answer questions too!
I was really impressed with the lineup of experts Kenny interviewed. The most famous people include Richard Bushman, LDS assistant historian Richard Turley, CoC Apostle Andrew Bolton, Washington State University Religion and Sociology professor Armand Mauss, and BYU Church History professor Alex Baugh, among an impressive list of guests. He outlined a series of events leading up to the Hauns Mill Massacre and the Extermination Order. Here are some of the key events:
- July 20, 1833. Bishop Partridge is told to leave Jackson County immediately. He refuses and is tarred and feathered. Three days later, he signs an agreement to leave the county. Ballentine doesn’t really address the reasons why the Missourians were upset at the Mormons, though he does mention that the first Missourians wanted slavery to be legal, while the Mormons from the North were generally against slavery. WW Phelps published an article in the Evening and Morning Star that Mormons wanted to welcome people of all color. This is the reason the Missourians were upset, which is why they attacked Bishop Partridge, and destroyed the Mormon printing press. (Joseph was living in Kirtland at this time.)
- July 4, 1838. Rigdon issued another fiery patriotic sermon (following his “Salt Sermon”) stating that the Mormons and Missourians would wage a “war of extermination…one party or the other”. It seems the subsequent Extermination Order by Governor Boggs wasn’t quite what Rigdon had in mind.
- Aug 6, 1838 – Mormons in Daviess County were prevented from voting. The Whig candidate said Mormons were only supposed to live in Caldwell County and should be ineligible to vote. He was concerned that Mormons would vote for the Democratic Candidate, because Mormons were overwhelming Democrats back then. A big brawl broke out that has often been called a “battle”. There were exaggerated rumors that Mormons were killed.
- Aug 19, 1838 – Mormons were expelled from DeWitt, in Daviess County. Following the election, Missourians decided to expel Mormons.
- Oct 18, 1838 – The Mormons decide to retaliate. Known as the Daviess Expedition, a group of Danites (a secret Mormon militia group) led an effort to expel Missourians from Gallatin, Millport and Grindstone Fork. Mormons plundered the property and burned the stores and houses to the ground.
- Oct 24, 1838 – The Battle of Crooked River. Mormons attack and scatter the Missouri Militia. Many of the Missouri Militia erroneously believe all others are killed. Only 1 Missourian was killed, but LDS Apostle David Patten (known as “Captain FearNot”), Danite leader Gideon Carter were both killed; 9 other Mormons were wounded.
- Oct 27, 1838 – Governor Lilburn Boggs issues the Extermination Order; “the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace…”
- October 30, 1838 – The Hauns Mill Massacre; 18 Mormons are killed, ranging in age from 10-year old Sardius Smith, to 62 year old Thomas McBride. I would like to quote directly from the film.
“On October 30, 1838, a large group of armed Missourians marched on the small and peaceful Mormon settlement known as Haun’s Mill, primarily in retribution for the Mormon gutting of Daviess County.
Amanda [Barnes Smith]’s two little boys, Sardius and Alma had followed their father into the blacksmith shop. The men had hoped to use the shop like a fortress in the event of an attack. Instead, it quickly proved to be a death trap. Seeing no other alternative, the men made a desperate dash for the woods, nearly all of them being gunned down in the process. Many of the attackers looted, humiliated, and brutalized the wounded and dying. The oldest victim was 62 year old Thomas McBride who after surrendering his weapon was hacked to death with a corn knife. And the youngest was 10 year old Sardius Smith. An enraged Missourian leveled his gun against the small boy’s head, and after proclaiming that ‘nits become lice” pulled the trigger.
Amanda found her husband and 10 year old son Sardius dead, and her 6 year old son’s hip was “all shot to pieces.”Apostle Andrew Bolton of the Community of Christ said,
“Hauns Mill was a tragedy: 17 boys and men are killed and another one dies later from his wounds. Hauns Mill was a peaceful settlement of Mormons: 15 miles from the main group in Far West, but therefore isolated and vulnerable in the sectarian war that was erupting around them. Two days before the massacre they reiterated their commitment to live in peace with their neighbors. This was a genuine, authentic group that didn’t want any part of the violence and suffered horrible tragedy. The lesson from Haun’s Mill is the innocent get hurt whenever there is human violence. It spills over, and there is tragedy.
So how does such a tragedy happen? Why do neighbors turn so quickly on each other? In my previous post, I discussed the Rwandan Genocide. Armand Mauss describes the “Moral Panic” in Ballentine’s film. He is professor emeritus of Sociology and Religious Studies at Washington State University. He retired in 1999, but continues to be active on Mormon studies. He is probably most famous for his book The Angel and the Beehive. The Moral Panic explains how groups turn so quickly violent.
When a society is gripped by a moral panic, that society is apt to respond as though their facing matters of life and death. That leads to violence that is considered justifiable in almost any extreme, because of what we see is at stake. It makes it possible for people who yesterday felt very friendly toward another people, suddenly see those people not only as enemies, but as less than human.”
All of the restraints that people normally feel about the way human beings should treat human beings, those restraints gradually melt away, and people who are perfectly nice, decent people, find themselves doing things that they would have never thought that they could do….Under other circumstances a group of Mormons and a group of Missourians might have gone to dinner together and had a good time, but under these circumstances, they faced the Moral Panic.”
It is truly astonishing how quickly neighbor can turn against neighbor. It is truly a tragedy when cooler heads do not prevail.
As I said before, I really enjoyed Ballentine’s film. There is much more to the film than I have presented here. If you get a chance to see this film at Sunstone, I encourage you to see it. I know Ballentine is still trying to obtain financing to finish the film. While it is not yet complete, I think it is an excellent film at this point. If you would like a preview, click here to watch some clips from the official website. I’ve invited Kenny to stop by, and I am sure he would welcome questions and comments.