The Massacre at Haun's Mill
The Haun's Mill Massacre happened on October 30, 1838, as a mob of men from Missouri's Livingston County Militia attacked a Mormon (Church of the Latter Day Saints) settlement in Caldwell County, Missouri.
Haun's Mill was established in 1835 by Joseph Haun, an early settler from the Church of the Latter Day Saints, in the Fairview township in eastern Caldwell County in Missouri. By 1838, there were about 75 Mormon families living there.
It was a beautiful spot, by the banks of Shoal Creek. The land all around was fertile, and showed the loving care of hard-working and successful farming families. Sunlight and shadow danced across the checkerboard of neat, well-tended fields. The mill was busy and important place: the place where all the grain for miles around was ground.
The militia involved were led by Colonel William Jennings, the Sheriff of Caldwell County. There were some prominent members of the militia, including Charles Ashby, a member of the Missouri state legislature.
The Mormon families were getting worried. The militia was growing in numbers, and the feeling amongst non-Mormon settlers in the surrounding communities were getting more and more hostile, as the numbers of Mormons, or Latter Day Saints, continued to grow and prove to be a stronger and stronger voting block and political presence in Missouri.
The Mormons themselves were very industrious and peaceful people, for the most part. They met hostility with hostility, though, and were prepared to defend their religion and their way of life to the death. They also wanted to close their community to non-Mormons. They didn't want non-Mormons to contaminate their children.
The Mormons at first referred to the State of Missouri as "The Promised Land", and firmly believed that they had a God-given charter to settle this particular land, this particular state, and create a new Eden there.
Naturally, the non-Mormon population looked askance at this point of view. One of the ironies of the situation was, that Christian, God-fearing Baptists and Protestants and Episcopalians, also didn't want their children contaminated by the ideas of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Polygamy was an ENORMOUS sin to these people; they felt immensely threatened by that point of religious philosophy.
So on Sunday, October 28, the Mormon men held a council. They decided to be prepared for the threat of violence by the Livingston County Militia and Colonel Jenning's men by organizing a defensive force of 28 men and boys, armed with rifles. They decided, and this was the very fatal flaw in their strategy, to use the blacksmith's shop as an emergency fortress, holing up in there while the women and children fled to the woods for safety, in the event of a disturbance.
Militia men riding by, intending to harass the Mormon settlers, found the men oiling their rifles. The scouts reported back to Colonel Jennings, who then sent a representative to negotiate a truce with the Mormon settlers.
Both parties accepted the arrangement, the terms of which are no longer known, for a reason that will soon be apparent...
The Mormons, though prepared for violence, didn't really want violence. They wanted to enjoy the fruits of their various industries in peace and prosperity.
The truce held for a day and a half.
On Tuesday, October 30, 1838, at 4 pm, the militia rode into the Haun's Mill settlement and started shooting. Most of the women and children fled, by pre-arrangement, to the woods south of the settlement, and the men, by pre-arrangement, holed up in the blacksmith's shop.
The shop became a killing box.
The chinks between the logs offered easy access to shooting men. the militia had no mercy, gave no quarter. After several of the men in the shop were shot to death, the rest attempted to surrender.
Seventy-eight year old Thomas McBride surrendered his musket to the militiaman Jacob Rogers, who then promptly blew off his head. Not content with splattering the elderly man's brains on the floor, Jacob then started hacking away at the corpse with a corn knife.
The milita found a ten-year-old boy hiding behind the bellows in the blacksmith's shop.
Militiaman William Reynolds put his musket against the boy's skull and pulled the trigger. William said, "Nits make lice. If the boy lived, he would've been a Mormon."
Women were assaulted, bodies were mutilated, houses were robbed, wagons, tents and clothing were stolen, horses and livestock were driven off, leaving the few survivors with no means to support themselves. It was the end of the Mormon settlement at Haun's Mill.
After the massacre, the dead, at least eighteen people, were dumped in a well and covered with dirt and straw. The rest of the Mormon survivors fled to the settlement at Far West, Missouri, for protection.
Of the fifty-five men known to be involved in the Massacre at Haun's Mill, none were ever brought to justice.
The American West was a really wild place at that time. The early settlers had only a rudimentary legal system, consisting mostly of circuit courts, where the judge would ride into town on his pony, and settle any criminal or civil issues in quick trials, convened in makeshift courts, where most of the participants were ignorant of the laws.
Since it might be months before a judge rode into town, people got used to settling matters themselves, for the most part, with the help of the militia and the sheriffs.
In this case, the perpetrators were the militia, and the massacre was led by the Sheriff.
Question answered? Well, somewhat. I still wonder at the overt hostility against the Mormon settlers in a country which was founded by people seeking freedom from religious prosecution, people who wrote in the Constitution of the United States the right to religious freedom; the right to peace, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for persons of any and all faiths.
How bad was the prejudiuce against the Mormons in Missouri at the time?
It was bad, really bad...
Though this had no impact on the Haun's Mill Massacre, it might have been the reason no one was prosecuted for those murders:
Governor Lilburn W. Boggs, governor of Missouri, issued the infamous "Extermination Order" on October 27, 1838. It reads in part as follows:
"...Open and avowed defiance of the laws, by which having made war on the people of this State...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..."